"Perfect love means to love the one through whom one became unhappy." - Soren Kierkegaard
I was raised by three parents: father, mother, maternal grandmother. I used to describe Nana as my third parent, but over the years I have come to realize that in certain essential ways she was often the first. In the relentless emotional shipwreck loop that we called "family", I got to be the designated bad kid. Now, if I handed you a list of my horrid behaviors, you would toss it aside with a dismissive snort, "What? That's all you've got?!" Nonetheless, it was the prevailing wind and I believed what they told me. Blessedly, Nana did not. I cannot count the number of times she comforted me with the same simple guidance. "Oh, when they get like that, you just come and be with me. We're more alike, you and me. (Golden healing balm, that.) Once she had pasted me back together with my self, she would always, always end with, "you just need to love and forgive them." I can still feel her rocking me in her lap, saying the words into the back of my ear, her hands closed around mine in front of me. I can see her watch, her rings, her manicure; I can feel her warm hands squeezing mine rhythmically. Lord, it's all so vivid.
While her prescription may have been a bit of an over-quick jump for a wounded kid, it was also absolutely true. This repeated wisdom from the person who loved me more than anyone else became the single most enduring lesson of my childhood. This bit of background helps explain why the following story captured my attention.
John Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club, How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America, breaks the news that it was Andrew Weil, then a college kid, who got Tim Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) busted from Harvard:
Leary and Alpert had promised Harvard that their research experiments with psilocybin would not involved any undergraduate students. But Alpert, who was a gay man living in the closet at the time, could not resist the temptation to bring a few attractive undergraduates into the project - not that anything sexual transpired, but there was a different sort of bond in sharing the experience brought on by the drug. One of the students Alpert brought in was Ronnie Winston, whose father was Harry Winston, the jeweler. Ronnie's good friend was Andy Weil, who became jealous when he was not allowed into this secret club of psilocybin... He had been writing for the Harvard Crimson and proposed to do an article about the strange research protocol they had and how they were using undergrads even though they said they weren't. Meanwhile, the Harvard administration, which had begun to think of Leary and Alpert as loose canons and was actually looking for a way to oust them, enlisted Weil as a kind of spy. But none of the undergrads would go on record or testify. So Weil went to Harry Winston and said, "Your son is taking this dangerous drug at Harvard, and if he doesn't admit it (to the administration), we're going to put his name in the paper." When the eventual story ran, it was picked up immediately by the New York Times and the Boston papers, and Leary and Alpert were fired -- but also thrust into the national spotlight as the spokesmen for the just-burgeoning psychedelic revolution that was about to sweep the country.
Weil feels terrible about what he did and has apologized repeatedly for it to both Leary and Ram Dass. He has talked at length about his failings then, but let's face it, he was young and Leary and Ram Dass were breaking their agreement and being somewhat irresponsible, so it's not like there was nothing to expose. The problem was the way he did it. The thing is when you talk to Ram Dass about it, even after all these years, you can still feel him tighten and he says some really nasty things about Weil, before "I know I should forgive him, but there's just something about what he did - going to Ronnie's father..." He's still angry about it!
How does this happen? How is it that a famous spiritual teacher cannot forgive something - a fairly understandable something - that happened 47 years ago... something for which the "perpetrator" has repeatedly apologized?
How is it that my small-town hairdresser grandmother understood and practiced a spiritual discipline that eludes the great Ram Dass?
Believe me, it is a discipline. This thing my grandmother initiated in me is not some make-nice, let's-all-get-along, la-la thing. There are people in life who treat us badly, that we can't and shouldn't be around. Even if we can "take it", there's nothing loving about giving someone a place to behave badly. In such a case, loving can mean separation, all the while forgiving. Now multiply that by hundreds, even thousands of possible human energy configurations. This love and forgiveness business can be complex and demanding. It requires reckoning, acknowledgment, conscious reweaving of subtle energies, the artistry of an alchemist...
"Alchemy is the art of taking what exists - whatever presents itself - and transmuting the harmful into the helpful, the useless into the valuable." - Catherine MacCoun, On Becoming An Alchemist
... transmuting what looks ugly into something beautiful. Ultimately, forgiveness of others may be a necessary practice for that most difficult thing we all must come to eventually: self-love and self-forgiveness. In the end, this is the heart of healing most of what ails us.
So what sense can be made of how often we find the love that is forgiveness missing from the very places we would most expect it?
Is this a failing ...or might it actually be a calling?
In the spirit of optimism, I have been toying with this notion of calling; as in, it calls us to notice the missing ingredient in much of what passes for spiritual practice: the Feminine.
Ram Dass (of whom I am a huge fan) has a riff on one of his lecture tapes that goes something like this:
"When I first started meditating, I thought the whole idea was to evolve to some higher state ...to go high... It took me a long time to realize it's about becoming free."
Gong higher, becoming free - these are masculine concepts.
I would ask from my own experience, "Or is it about becoming whole?"... about remembering, realigning with the wholeness that is the Truth, as in It Is All One. The truest thing in the universe is this Oneness.
Wholeness...Oneness... these are feminine in nature, as is the art of making whole...
- ... the way love "connects" things that formerly "appeared" separate
- ... the way forgiveness takes what got broken and re-weaves it into a different wholeness
Conscious love and forgiveness seem to me to be tuning forks that allow us to activate, participate in, and vibrate to some small portion of the ultimate truth of Oneness.
If we were more comfortable with and respectful of HER - the powers that are feminine in nature - might we become more adept at both?