True forgiveness is an essential choice that many successfully embrace in seemingly despicable circumstances. In my younger years, I sensed great truth in the saying “Tout comprendre, tout pardoner.” Translated, this oft-quoted phrase means “if you understand someone else completely, you can pardon all of their actions.”
This supposition hinges on the notion that humans react similarly to various specific challenges, and assumes that we all pursue rational solutions to our problems with others. Does this apply in the face of apparent evil, such as the spasm of terrorism and efforts at counter-terrorism that grip our modern world? Can we truly come to fully understand the life and motives of a terrorist, to the point of “pardoning” their actions? Doesn’t the rampant killing of innocents violate everything that a sane human being holds dear?
Our official response, as a culture and as a nation, is often to label the perpetrators as “evil,” and to base our actions on a standing principle of retaliation when wronged, and on a newer policy, at least in the USA, of destroying anything or anyone we label as “evil.”
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, then-President George W. Bush referred to the rogue states of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil,” which he claimed to be the main source of terrorism at that time. Since then the world has witnessed an expansion of institutional terrorism as well as a spike in “evil” activity by individual, disgruntled terrorists or malcontents across many countries and continents. The concept and consequences of “evil” are as old as time, but the choices we make about how to confront it or root it out in today’s world have more far reaching consequences than ever before.
Episcopal priest Steven Paulikas recently wrote a thoughtful op-ed piece in the New York Times (6/27/16) concerning the “fool’s errand” of trying to stamp out the evil expressed through terrorist acts. He highlighted the writings of philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who was orphaned when his father died as a soldier in the first World War, and who himself spent five years as a French prisoner-of-war held by the Germans. Ricoeur realized that evil exists not as a thing per se, but as a black hole of thought, making it a much tougher entity to simply “extinguish.” He stressed the importance of responding to evil appropriately, mainly in the form of addressing the suffering of the victims. This wisdom espoused by Ricoeur involved “an unwavering commitment to relieve and prevent suffering,” as Paulikas put it.
Ultimately, I believe any such eradication of evil will come from a deeper understanding of the experience, emotions and motives that drive all involved. As much as the National Rifle Association would urge us all to take up arms and take this fight to the level of Armageddon, I know that our ultimate solution will involve love, compassion and forgiveness. Otherwise, it all mires down into an endless cycle of repetitive violence, revenge, and misery for all concerned. The falsehood that one can destroy such “evil” through military might has been exposed and disproven time and again in the recent decades of escalation— the status quo is not leading towards a solution. And these cycles, when replicated on a micro-scale in our own neighborhoods and families, deliver no better results.
The way out? To express our free will in the face of this madness. To break the cycle of revenge and retribution will involve choosing a higher view, one that is broad enough to engage a win-win strategy and that includes all of us together on this journey. This view is no Pollyanna dream, but a potential goal strongly supported by emerging scientific notions of the nature of consciousness, and the ever-evolving evidence that we are all part of One Mind — thus to harm my neighbor (or my enemy) is to harm myself, in a very real sense. Combine this awareness with compelling evidence from the study of the mind-brain relationship: that the consciousness of which we are all a part is eternal, and that the rich literature on near-death experiences (NDEs) offers much evidence for a fundamental reality that is spiritual at heart – a reality that derives its essence from the power of unconditional love at the core of all creation. With clearer vision, one begins to glimpse a pathway out of this morass.
Having your life “flash before your eyes” is not just some recently discovered concept – the “life review” aspect of NDEs has been described across numerous cultures, belief systems and continents for millennia. The life review at the end of one’s physical life is the stage on which our higher souls (and soul groups) judge the various thoughts and actions of our lives that still have important lessons to offer. Given the strong purpose of justice and of learning that is inherent in one’s life review, it serves as a powerful corrective in one’s eternal soul journey, gently but firmly providing lessons that steer us more towards love, compassion and forgiveness. Each lesson helps us to integrate our individual desires with the Oneness so often and affectionately described by the millions who have been there as a result of an NDE or similar forms of spiritually-transformative experiences (or STEs).
The life review of someone who has killed others will be a hellish experience that involves feeling the pain and suffering not only of each of the victims, but also of all the other souls who felt pain when coming to know of their act of killing. This reality comes not from the dogmatic preaching of ideologues, but from the empirical evidence of human experience–from those who have been there, as revealed by the increasing number of stories of NDEs and similar STEs liberally annotated over the internet in recent decades. Much of the absolute tsunami of such evidence comes as a result of enhanced techniques of cardiac resuscitation available to physicians worldwide over the last half century or so. The world is populated with literally millions of souls alive today who have been to the other side and returned to share their experiences. And, the increased number of incidents and expanded reporting through books, media and the internet are not by accident or coincidence. Ignoring such evidence is a choice we should not make.
As the reality of the One Mind, of our interconnectedness, and of the core presence of love as a fundamental constituent of our evolving universe becomes more established and begins to alter our perceptions of ourselves and of our role in this evolution of consciousness, this reality will displace the false sense of separation so prevalent in our current materialistic world view. We will finally begin to mature as a sentient civilization, choosing to move towards the loftiest of realities of human potential—one based in peace, harmony, and a focus on the higher good. Even if only a small percentage of souls currently recognize this reality, it is nevertheless present in every soul’s fundamental essence, waiting to be turned on, to be expressed instead of repressed. On a practical level, we can exercise free will guided by oneness and love in matters of everyday experience as well as in those of international policy.
We are all, truly, in this together. But we have fooled ourselves into a false sense of separation, whether from secularist and deterministic Newtonian science or the competitive dogma spewed to the masses from religious zealots of diverse beliefs that run counter to the original unifying principles in the mystical traditions of all of the great faiths. The fundaments and birthright of this universe are based in love, compassion and forgiveness.
I believe we have reached a major juncture, from which we can choose either awakening to these eternal truths, or committing planetary suicide. The choice is ours. I, for one, am optimistic that our destiny is to choose awakening.
Exercising our Free Will to make choices based on love, compassion and forgiveness is a practice that becomes easier with conscious awareness. If you would like to practice with us, Karen Newell and I will lead a weekend retreat, August 26-28 at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. Together, we will explore how Free Will is our Destiny and share some of our experiences with this process that can help each of us to connect with the Oneness.