Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast
Stuck In The Past ( September 2009 )
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My summer in Palestine was one of the most interesting and challenging - but also instructive - experiences I've had in my life. So many facets and dimensions of life I wouldn't otherwise be aware of pushed their way into the foreground of life and my consciousness.
In witnessing the two sides locked in a seemingly intractable confrontation, I saw, among the many dynamics, the incredibly powerful role "history" played ... so strong, perhaps, that peace may only be achieved from neutral outside forces. More on that in our Sept. 20 service.
So many there are so locked into the past - a past of victimhood or other pains - that the resultant fear, anger, self-righteousness, and revenge had grown so overarching that any capacity to work for `a better future' seemed hopeless.
For the Palestinians, it's the wars of 1948 and 1967, in which in which millions of Palestinians were expelled. Today (generations later), for many, the "right of return" back to a land and society their ancestors had, but which no longer exists, remains non-negotiable.
For the Jews, it's their 3000 years of oppression, being ostracized, and the perennial victims to others' prejudice and hatred. I can't tell you how many times I heard them talk about their need to remember ... recalling and honoring the litany of pogroms, banishings, defeats, and tragedies throughout their long history. Their calendar is filled with "days to remember," bringing up, remembering, decrying, and lamenting all the miseries accrued over centuries.
The tragedy I heard most frequently (even more than the Holocaust surprisingly) was the Arab massacre of Jews in Hebron in 1929, in which 67 Jews were killed (though most Jews were saved by hiding in friendly Arab homes) in a race riot. Why this incident? ... because, I believe, it helps serve their political cause (and strong psychological need) of fearing and hating their Arab counterparts.
Ten time zones distant, it's hard for us Americans to feel the depth of those feelings - that willingness (desire even) to stay stuck in victimhood, fear, and anger. But it dominates so many there.
I'm so grateful for the general experience of traveling - this summer's in particular - because exposure to different cultures brings to light facets of our own lives we might otherwise not notice. Seeing the bending of perception and consequent blocks to happiness these attachments to the past created opened my awareness into looking at the pains and resentments I still hold onto - and which limit my future.
Life isn't fair, as they say. No one escapes random or even purposeful injustices. We all get hurt by others.
It's normal, of course, to fall into the false comforts of self-righteousness, self-pity, and revenge. But the pricetag for this self-indulgence is high: the loss of a better, more expansive, and happier future.
What past wrongs and pains still own too much of your life? Can you picture what your life might look like if the attention and energy these hurts occupied weren't there?
We'll look at this in some of our Sunday services this coming year: Coming to terms with the past; Forgiveness; Living in a random universe.
I do think the biggest single lever to opening better futures, though, is simply awareness: What in my past still owns me? Opening to that will start the cogs of release and healing ... as our unconscious and spiritual hard-wiring begin their inevitable work of creating peace for us.
This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader
of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
Read more Spirituality Essays
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