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Forgiveness can help us escape the pain that holds us back

By Nuala McKeever

Published 06/04/2015

Letting go: David Best’s Temple art project was burned in Londonderry as a symbol of healing
Letting go: David Best’s Temple art project was burned in Londonderry as a symbol of healing

In Northern Ireland there is collective pain. It needs a collective solution. It seems as if we think forgiveness means saying that what you did was okay. You killed my loved one. How can I say that was alright? How can I forgive you? That feels like I'm betraying the person you killed. And I don't want to give up my pain sometimes, because it's the only connection I have to that person.

But what if forgiveness isn't that? What if forgiveness is setting myself free to choose how I live? Not to be dictated to by someone else's behaviour.

What if to forgive is to say, "What happened, happened. It hurt. I don't say it was alright, but I am going to stop living in this prison. Because I will decide how I behave, not you. Not forgiving you is like drinking poison and hoping you'll die. I'm punishing myself."

How wonderful it would be here if we could say what we did.

I was picturing the other day, turning on the radio and hearing the IRA leaders actually saying: "Yes I ran the IRA. And I am so sorry for all the hurt my actions caused. And I ask for forgiveness."

Imagine what that would do to us.

We are so trapped in our pain here. But we cannot endure like this. We cannot live in perpetual tension. It's not the nature of human beings. What works for the world and what works for us, is harmony.

But it's impossible to build harmony when there is a deep, deep seam of sadness and pain and no trust.

Trust.

It's hard to keep holding out one hand and not being met by another hand. And yet, if you don't keep holding out that hand, you become less.

It's hard to keep building bridges when it seems there's no one on the other side. And yet if you don't, you stop being who you really are.

It's hard not to let other people's behaviour dictate how you behave and yet, if you do that, you lose who you are.

What if we decided that our behaviour would be OUR behaviour? What an inspiration to other people. When anyone steps through their fear and pain and sadness and their instinctive desire to punish and says, "No, I'm not going to live in that prison", it gives others a chance to say, "I don't want to live in this prison either. I want to step out and do something like that, too."

We are in prison in Northern Ireland. We're in prison in our hearts when we don't forgive each other.

It seems to me we've tried to have a peace process here without any real attempt at reconciliation, particularly from those who are our political leaders.

There can't be peace when there's no reconciliation and there can't be reconciliation without asking for forgiveness, without holding ourselves to account and saying what we have done and showing ourselves to be the same as each other.

We need to acknowledge our pride and our fear and our concern about loss and say that what matters more is that we are all human beings on this one planet, together, at the same time.

To lift our vision up and say: "Look at what we have. Look how rich we are. Look how wealthy we are compared to so many people in the world."

It's such a shame that we have so much and we still insist on focusing on the things we think we don't have and wasting this huge, but brief opportunity to smell the roses.

Keep calm and enjoy the silence

At a Mindfulness retreat last weekend, we ate our meals in silence.

Mindfully. I think that means, with your mind full of what you're actually doing, as opposed to it being scattered hither and thither with thoughts about stuff from the past and wonderings about things in the future. Y'know, the way we normally live?

It was a fascinating experience. Try it and see. Notice the urge to fill silence. Enjoy the calm of realising there's no need.

This moment has everything it needs in it, just as it is. Bon silence!

That gut feeling will help you vote

Missed the Leaders' Debate on television last Thursday. I have a large-screen TV, so I could have watched it, but I was more interested in the bigger picture.

If, as I believe, we are all made of the same stuff, then what we need, in order to make informed decisions about how to vote, is to sit quietly and be open to hearing what comes up, eventually, from our gut.

Politicians, like the PM, are no different than the rest of us. Some are more enlightened. So, if you want an enlightened world, vote for enlightened people. If you want self-interest, vote accordingly.

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