For years I couldn't forgive others for their grievous, even tragic, self-serving, mean behaviors. Never could, and thought I never would. I tried for a good part of my life, and always came up short. No cigar.
Thankfully this inability to forgive others was merely a stopping point along the road to another, even more important, realization.
My forgiveness challenge was transformed when I took a good long look at the Aramaic meanings of "forgive." I was reviewing my translation, from the King James Lord's Prayer back into an Aramaic form, which used the list of word meanings found in The Hidden Gospel, Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz.
"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
(King James Lord's Prayer)
"Set us free from our errors and frustrated hopes, as we set free those who err
(An Aramaic Lord's Prayer, my translation using Aramaic word meanings of the
"Set free," found in the second sentence of my Aramaic translation, is an alternate meaning for the Aramaic "sebaq" (forgive). Other meanings include: "To restore to its original state: loosen, let go, set free, omit." I also checked out Love Forgiveness.com. There, sebaq meanings included "to cancel, loosen or untie." My two favorites were "untie" and "set free." I have a profound appreciation for personal autonomy. So any attitude that "unties" and "sets free" personal choice, and thus offers autonomy, is a magnet to my interest. Sebaq qualifies.
Up popped the questions: How is sebaq to be applied to my daily living, which is riddled with behavioral errors, shortcomings, unwanted surprises and losses? And how can sebaq be applied to dissolve my anger, sadness, anxiety, and disgust? When I reflect on these two questions, a partial list of life-learnings and a couple of critical incidents show up.
Here's the sampling:
I may not be able to forgive others, but I can choose to untie myself from
their behavior through my own self-talk, my own empathic understanding,
and my own reframing of the troubling behavior.
The "sebaqness" may include any of the following realms: physical, mental,
emotional, spiritual (attitudinal).
When I choose to "sebaq", and to the degree I do so:
I can be more free to observe effectively.
I can be more free in choosing how to dissolve threat without using punishment.
I can be more free to use my creative imagination.
I can be more free to respond effectively and empathically to unreasonable demands.
I can choose to honor myself, and thus be less susceptible to shame.
I can increase my capacity to embrace personal responsibility.
I can reduce my psychic pain from negative emotions.
I can enjoy an increased sense of autonomy and its accompanying self-esteem.
I can embrace an ethic of feelings and needs, one that is beyond a moralistic
I can feel bodily relaxation seep into the areas of my body where I hold tension.
In the mid-1990's I was in the last phase of my grad school psychology studies. I had landed one of the rare psych internships, mine being a nine-month mental health counseling position at an inner-city clinic. My grad school supplied two psychologist-supervisors. One was a 75-year-old male seasoned veteran of the field, whose only shortcoming was to occasionally doze off in our weekly 1:1 supervisions. My other supervisor was a Ph.D. in her mid-fifthies, who never smiled. Without an understanding as to why, soon I realized I was in deep supervisory trouble. in her presence my memory kept flashing on the Wicked Witch of the West.
For the first eight months she squeezed out every drop of forgiveness I could generate to titrate her toxic criticisms. During the weekly group 1:1 supervisions, I remember repeatedly saying to myself, "I forgive this woman. I forgive this woman. I forgive this woman." By the seventh month I was seeing a psychologist to reduce my unbearable anxiety.
My classmates confided in me that they had advised her that I was "a good guy and competent," and suggested that she lighten up on me. She didn't. Until the ninth month, when suddenly I was ok. She wrote a final evaluation listing my strengths and including a strong recommendation that I had satisfied all the competencies required by the internship. I had the report mounted in a $110 black walnut frame, and hung it on the wall just over our master bedroom toilet. The new wall decor was good for daily smiles. It was a reminder of the social power of forgiveness. After all, forgiveness had played a critical role in facilitating my internship success and my graduation.
I found out a couple months later that she was going through a nasty divorce, and I looked just like her husband.
My second use of sebaq occurred just after a remarkable orchestral trumpet performance.
One day before a Santa Barbara Symphony concert I was told that the Principal Trumpet was sick and that I was to take his place. There would be no orchestra rehearsal. I arranged for a last-minute sectional rehearsal with the other two trumpet players.
The concert included Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony. Rachmaninoff loved the expressive sound of the trumpet, and used it generously in his symphonic orchestrations. Waves of sonorous brass Russian passion.
The trumpet section nailed it. Total precision. Total risk-laden orchestral trumpet performance.
Just after the magnificent final chord, and just before the applause and bravos, Ernie the second-chair trumpet player, bent over close to me and said, "That's the worst Goddamned trumpet playing I've ever heard." His comment was about my playing, as was obvious from the angry look on his face.
A bucket of icewater over a trumpet player transitioning from the white-hot focus of peak performance.
Luckily for both of us I had been introduced recently to a process of interpersonal communication that was designed to deal with such an emotionally violent scenario (Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication). Immediately I recognised this situation as a sparkling opportunity to apply my newly acquired Nonviolent Communication skills. I applied the process which required setting my needs aside for the moment, and thus being freed to begin generating empathy for Ernie's experience.
"So Ernie, please tell me what about my playing tonight prompted your anger? I'm all ears."
Thus went the communication until I noticed we were the only two musicians remaining on the stage. With the tension being reduced, both his eyes and mine began to smile. Sebaq had made its appearance,
Ernie left the stage laughing to himself. I asked him why he was laughing. He said,"It was your response."
A month later I found out Ernie had a brain tumor.
My conclusions: Sebaq is a keeper...as long as my goal and process is to sebaq (untie) myself from the unwanted behavior of others. I can't untie others from their behaviors, nor can I fathom the complexity driving others to do what they do. I can only untie myself.
KING JAMES LORD'S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen
AN ARAMAIC LORD"S PRAYER by R. Thompson
(As translated using Aramaic word meanings of the KJLP words)
Our Creator, who exists in the place of light without limit, whose light is the pivot point upon which all of creation turns, and whose ruling vision, consent and joy arises in nature even as a host of stars brings its brilliance to the firmament, give to us this day our daily empathic understanding. Set us free from our errors and frustrated hopes, as we seek to set free those who err against us. Counsel us so as to avoid that which would tempt us to be out of rhythm with your vision for us. For your counsel and guidance are empowerment and pure delight, now and forever. Amen