On Forgiveness

 "In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be  recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe."

-Jack Kornfield, in The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace

I just love this story.  I heard it a few weeks ago and it has been working on me ever since.  Since I don't live in Babemba, I'm working on how to adopt the spirit of the story within my relationships and in my work with clients.  It is the opposite of the reflexive response to feeling wronged, which is often to turn away from the one who has acted unjustly or to banish yourself, when your actions have hurt someone else.  Too often, the result of that reflexive reaction is a feeling of isolation and disconnection in both parties.  So I am playing with this image of forming a circle around the one who has offended and reminding myself and them of their innate goodness.   I am also trying to extend that same goodwill and spirit of forgiveness to myself when I am the one who has offended.  It's hard work!

Truth be told, I am a bit obsessed these days by the topics of repair and forgiveness.  Dan Siegel came to speak to a group of more than 700 people last month here in Austin and among many other concepts, he introduced the concept of repair in parenting.  He suggested that instead of aiming for perfect attunement in parenting, that we get comfortable with the fact that we will make mistakes as parents and what matters is the practice of repair and reconnection with our kids.  I've been trying it out with my kids.  They are an easy place to begin, because they are so quick to let me know when I have upset them and equally quick to accept my apologies, forgive, and move on.  In these moments, I feel so grateful for these little people, who act as the villagers in the story, seeing my goodness so quickly after a rupture, reflecting it back to me, and welcoming me again into the circle of our family.  

I invite you to also digest the layers of the story of the forgiveness ritual and seek ways to integrate it into your life.  Notice your reactions when your goodness is reflected back to you by others, even as you have acted unskillfully.  Allow the image and practice of the circle to soften you.  May it lead to greater repair, forgiveness, and connection to the people in your village!