2006 — my year of karmic clearances

I’d been thinking about how to recount some personal changes over the latter half of 2006, when it occurred to me that a new year’s reflection on the past year will be as good an opportunity as any.

2006 will be remembered by me as the year of karmic clearances. Possibly helped along by the last two years of meditation, I’d been thinking a lot about karma over the past months, about what one did to generate positive or negative karma, whether in this life or the next. I’m not all that concerned about being reborn a toad or a cockroach in my next life as with what I might do to reduce suffering — mine and others’ — in this life while I still had it. Buddhism in a nutshell is about the reduction of suffering, or rather the reduction of the pain in suffering. (I am constantly reminded by a story told by Rev. Kusala Bhiksu in his Urban Dharma podcast: that the difference between pain and suffering is that suffering happens when we don’t want the pain.)

With that sensibility brewing in my unconscious most of the year, and prompted by an old school friend to make peace with another school friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in eight years, I embarked on a personal journey I was later to refer to as the ‘repaying of my karmic debts’.

I sent an email to my friend apologising for my anger eight years ago. It took me nearly all of eight years to realise that there is a big difference between being right and needing to be right. The former didn’t really matter either way if the latter wasn’t constantly being justified. The very gracious reply I received, that bygones were bygones, encouraged me to make a list of people I’d severed ties with, shouted at, or generally behaved badly to (10 in all!), mainly between the years of 1999 to 2003, the years I often refer to as my ‘madwoman years’. Out of the list of ten, eight responded, including an old boyfriend with whom the split ended pretty acrimoniously. Eight out of ten is a pretty good rate of return, if you ask me.

I am encouraged and heartened by the propensity for generosity and kindness in human nature, though for me, it was not a matter of forgiveness as a matter of closure on my part, a matter of me acknowledging the part of myself I tend to try and suppress, the part that is easily hurt, angered and had the capacity for such violence in anger. I’ve never understood my anger; I don’t get angry often but when I did, I never just got angry, I had to crush those around me with the force of my anger; it was a force I always felt guilty about later, even if I felt justified in my actions, even if, in some instances, I was the one that was wronged. Another friend of mine whom I told this story to was rather indignant (bless him!), insisting that if his memory served him correctly, I wasn’t always in the wrong in some of the cases. It’s true in a way I still don’t fully understand — if I had the moral highground, why I continued to feel guilty for pushing back. Perhaps the answer lies in the curious epiphany I had (I forget the exact moment now) that being right and needing to be right weren’t the same thing at all. Yes, I had been hurt by some people in some cases, but I didn’t need to continue to be defined by that hurt and by that event.

I don’t quite know how to explain it adequately and I’m not sure it amounts to the same thing as seeking forgiveness, in the sense that I wasn’t looking for forgiveness for a particular historical event but a sense of reconciliation within myself for how I reacted. I’m trying to take responsiblity for my reactions, that’s it. So it doesn’t really matter that the two on my list didn’t respond. They have their own reasons that aren’t necessarily to do with me.

As a result, I feel freer, freer to enter a new year and a new phase in my life. Moulting is always an apt metaphor for personal change on this level (Pluto transiting through the first house!), but there are probably still bits of old skin stuck to my shoe as I try to shake them off, though even those will no doubt fall off with time.

Here’s to growing a new skin in 2007.

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