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Dead Weight

by on April 7, 2014

Dead Weight
by Marco M. Pardi

“A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, that otherwise would heal.” Francis Bacon (1561-1626) “Of Revenge”, Essays 1625

Show of hands: Who among us has not felt wronged by another at some time in the past?

I thought so. I grew up in a small family in which the phrase “forgive and forget” was never mentioned. Past offenses, even slights, were repeatedly dragged out and massaged but never, like old silver plate, worn through to the dull and unresponsive base. Always fresh, often even gaining in the retelling. But enough about the good times.

Forgive and forget. (Translation: I’m tired of your whining.) Such a facile, almost alliterative phrase. So often spoken with the same depth as, “Have a nice day.” And similarly, just as almost no one really cares if you have a nice day, one rejoins with, “Sure. Good advice.”

Reams have been written on the nature of forgiveness, rarely coming even close to either a standard or to a specific example which any given reader feels fits his circumstances. It’s Ho-Hum, and it’s so nice for the other guy. But we do not speak of this. That would be socially unacceptable, why even spiritually undeveloped. And who among us could withstand that charge?

I admit, right here on paper….or hyperspace, or whatever this floats around on that I do not forgive. I calculate the costs of retribution. When the CoR does not balance I simply enter a notation in that person’s file. But there is a lesson here.

Like classical Judaism, the philosophy of Buddhism teaches by aphorism, allowing the listener or reader to immerse the self in the story and, possibly, attain an enlightening moment. In Japan, for instance, these are known as koans.

Some of my favorite stories involve monks. Having spent years in monastic boarding schools from age 5, I have come to an understanding of and appreciation for monks. I can distinguish between those who were running from something and those who were running to something. Indeed, I am convinced that at least one of my alternate selves, living in one or more parallel universes, is a lifelong monk who very early had the sense to run to something. Maybe he’s adjusting his crimson robes and writing about me now, trying to describe and understand an eclectic, even dissipated life. Oh. Don’t give me that “past life” linear reincarnation crap; that’s for simpletons devoid of even the most basic understanding of mysticism and theoretical physics.

Here is a Buddhist monk story which is a common teaching tool: Walking back to their monastery after a heavy rain in Gopalpur, Govinda and Arjuna came to an intersection. Standing there was a lovely young maiden who, seeing the muddy water coursing through the street, was transfixed by a problem; she needed to cross, but doing so would muddy her sari unless she immodestly pulled it above her ankles. She was clearly in great distress.

As the two monks approached, Govinda silently scooped her up in his arms and carried her across the street. Setting her down on the other side, he kept on walking. Arjuna, walking alongside, was wringing his hands, turning to speak, and looking about. After a couple of blocks like this Arjuna said to Govinda, “You should not have picked up that girl and carried her across the street!”

Without turning, Govinda replied, “I picked her up, carried her across the street, and set her down on the other side. It is you who are still carrying her.”

Are we still carrying weights that should have been put down, in their place, long ago? Is my personnel file of unforgiven acts, even those of mine I do not forgive, a dead weight? How large is my “If I could do it over” file, a file so often kept by those of us slow to realize that second chances are never second chances, but only new chances that could be bettered by past learning?

To me, turning the other cheek is simply inviting the knock-out punch, or the more balanced kick in the ass. But as every pilot knows, aircraft performance can be greatly affected by baggage. How will a stored event, such as an unforgiven act affect my straight and level flight through life? And how, exactly, does one forgive one’s self? Do I have those terrible moments, those terrible memories? Yes. I have those terrible moments, those terrible memories. And I’m not keen on hearing “advice” from someone who has not been there, not that I would accept even that since I was there, and it matters not a rat’s ass if anyone were standing next to me. So, yes, the deep and private hurt is mine. Lots of it.

Ah, but let’s not forget the forget in forgive and forget. This is another glib excretion from the ambulatory orifices around us. How about the last time a tune got “stuck” in your head? How did that work out for you? Like it or not, we have memories – unless we have some disorder. Some of us may be headed for that disorder sooner rather than later.

Trying to forget is similar to the classic mistake made by many beginning meditators. As Eastern philosophies swept through the America of the 1960’s and ’70’s, not so much because they were recognized as intrinsically valuable but simply because they were different from the WASP centered authoritarian norm, Ravi Shankar ragas, incense burners, “yin/yang” posters, and meditation flowed into homes like Crazy Ants in Texas. Across the land people unwittingly near disjointed themselves adopting the Lotus Position, not knowing this is ill advised for those who have not practiced it from childhood. As the pain subsided the initiate then focused on not focusing. The simplistic belief, based on shallow 3rd or 4th hand hearsay from some recently self appointed New Age Guru was that Nirvana was a state of mindlessness, attainable through correct position, breathing, and effort. Sorry, Swami, there are problems.

1. Imagining a desired state is setting up a goal, with measurable progress toward that goal. Inevitably, we get meditators sitting there wondering, “Am, I there yet?” The same holds for trying to forget something; have I forgotten what I’m working to forget?

2. “Nirvana” is a portmanteau of nir (beyond) and vana (wind) Sanskrit. It never meant that one’s mind is completely blank of any ideas or images. Instead, it recognizes that the mind, even in the stimulus deprivation chambers also popular in the ’60’s and ’70’s, produces cacophonous imagery. This is known as “monkey mind”, the imagery being of a monkey flitting through the tree tops leaping from one branch (idea) to another. Nir vana is not the elimination of ideas; it is the calmness that comes from understanding the irrelevancy of the ideas and no longer chasing them.

So what about that irrelevance? Forgive, as in that never happened? Bullshit. Forget, as in do not learn from the event? Bullshit. The old saying, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” carries meaning here. Yes, the memories and thoughts come. No, I will not take pharmaceuticals or chummy pseudo-therapy sessions to suppress them. The pain is a cautionary reminder to not let next events repeat the past. I can remember and observe, but I don’t need to chase.

Well, perhaps you can forgive me for writing this and forget you read it.

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17 Comments
  1. I love the lighthearted feel of this piece. As you started I thought, “he sounds so Jewish”. My husband’s family not only never forgives or forgets, they hold every slight/hurt close to their chest ready to relive any time the chance is arises. It makes it where you must pay very close attention to the family and remember everything. God forbid you should have a family gathering and seat Aunt Rose next to Esther, forgetting fifty years ago Aunt Rose ate the last piece of kiwi fruit on the fruit tray at Esther’s son’s bar mitzvah. While it makes family gatherings tense, it does make it where you are very mindful of all your actions and words. And that is a good thing. I too am of the school forgive and forget is not the best course of action. Nothing is learned and as you say history will repeat. There are those I have cut out of my life completely because forgiveness did not resolve the problem and did not cause a change in behavior. Not allowing those who cause repeated pain to be in your life is as close to “forget”, as possible. For me the best revenge is relegating someone to insignificant in my life.

  2. Thank you, Mary. Your family gatherings must be worthy of hidden cameras.

  3. As they say in the deep south, “Fergit Hell! I’m gonna kill somethin'”. More (serious) to come. Rose

  4. Well, this is a bit uncomfortable for me. Because I value the power of forgiveness. Soooo …., can i beg to differ ?? 🙂
    As about the forgetting, if i may say, i dont think it means to forget the experience and its lesson altogether. but rather, learn what you have to and then drop the weight from your shoulders , no need to carry the sari girl along all the way, right ? That would be so heavy even if she weighed only a few pounds 🙂
    Although I admit, this is a tremendously difficult thing to do, and i can`t honestly say that i have always succeeded myself, although i do endeavor 😉
    (actually, now that you have directed my attention there, 😉 , the `seeing` the lesson has proved to be for me a help in the forgiving thing)
    But I hear you Marco, and i do relate to that kind of feeling…who doesn`t ??

    Now, what you said about ” Nir vana is not the elimination of ideas; it is the calmness that comes from understanding the irrelevancy of the ideas and no longer chasing them.” is one of the most beautiful and profound descriptions of it i have ever read. thank you!
    So succinct yet encompassing in its essential truth. Thank you of course as always !!
    I really enjoy reading all your posts + comments !!

    • Thank you, FOAL. I suppose I fall short of someone’s ideal in the forgiveness area. I’m reminded of the earliest version of the “last words” of Jesus: Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani (Aramaic) being changed by the later Greeks to, Forgive them Father for they know not what they do. The Aramaic version, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, suggested he was not consciously in on the plan and therefore a victim of God, not God himself. The later forgiveness theme elevated him to a higher status, deserving of worship.

      Not only do I fall short of that ideal, I do not understand how or why people actually get there. And, a part of me says I don’t need to worry about other people’s ideal.

      I do have moments when I have to remind the monkey that he is chasing ephemera, and only furthering the hurt attempted by others.

  5. I am better at forgiving than forgetting, because the benefit in forgiving is my own. Pain and anger are like a burning ember held with bare hands; it’s only when released that we can begin to heal. The pain is our own; it doesn’t hurt the one who hurt us. It’s easier to see the sun with our heads lifted than bowed low by the weight of wrongs done to (or by) us. Let them go; just never forget the lessons that came with them.

    I also never truly forget the actions themselves, because to do so would invite them to happen again. I’ve learned to take the lesson offered, and put the rest on a shelf deep within my memory. A repeated transgression causes the worst anger, but I’ve learned to respond to those in the moment (however uncomfortable) and then try to just let it go.

    • Thanks, Rose. Reminds me of someone I knew about whom I would say, “You could mail her a hammer and she would beat herself to death with it.”

      Your words bring to mind Paul McCartney’s ode to his deceased mother (Mary) in the song, “Let It Be”

      Okay, now that’s stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

  6. As I wrote that I worried you might think I was referring to you. Actually, it was my mother. But that raises a new question: How does someone already dead beat themselves to death? I’m sure she has found a way.

    • No worries; I do tend to beat myself up, but hopefully never to death. As for your mother, let’s just remember that Karma is a b…. (you know the rest.)

  7. Dana permalink

    Marco, I used to know someone who lived by the creed, “Revenge is a dish served best ice cold.” This was disturbing to me, particularly not truly knowing what might set this person off, or if revenge would be “served” sometime in the distant future. What a sad, empty manner by which to live.

    I’m not sure if I forgive. Perhaps my idea of forgiveness of those I have known is not holding grudges, or hating them, or being angry at anyone. I seem to be incapable of those.

    Ah, nir vana. Having reached nir vana, or what I think is nir vana during mystical experiences, I can attest to the calmness and freedom from the “chase.” It is very liberating.

    • Thanks, Dana. I’ve heard people say, “Don’t tell me to go to Hell, I’m already there.” Sad.
      So glad you have the mystical experiences. We all can, but only some do.

  8. Marco, you certainly do not fall short in any field ! in case, that would be me !
    it is just two different ways of seeing things regarding this particular topic, and that just seems so OK to me . 🙂

    It`s funny that you mention “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”. These are the words that have always helped me or made it easier for me to forgive people who have (according to me 😉 ) hurt me .
    sometimes i feel they can`t see how much they are hurting other people, and in most cases i came to the conclusion they dont realize exactly what they are doing.

    so in a kind of egotistical way, it makes it easier for me to forgive … feeling myself superior to them ?? No, i don`t think so. but i do have the feeling that sometimes i can see `further` than they do.( i am referring to the people who hurt me in the past )

    And since i can`t bring myself to believe we actually know what the real Jesus`words were (i daresay nobody can ), i`d rather choose these words as my Guidance. They seem much more encompassing…. well, at least to me.

    Ok, now don`t get me wrong ! I am not trying to convert anybody here 🙂 , and i can see your viewpoint very well (and i accept it !!!), i am just saying that this has worked for me in the past and i appreciate the value of these words.
    i really love to exchange these comments here in such way ! i hope you do too…well, …i know you do ! 😉

    • Thanks, FOAL. I think you’ve chosen a marvelous mantra although you and I would have different ideas of Father. I also think the pangs you feel over possible egoism speak volumes about the very highly developed character you are.

      • well, not so highly developed …i often thought that i was able to forgive mostly when it was something done `unto` me, but if somebody hurt my children, i don`t know if i would be able to stick to my beautiful mantra 😉
        Thank you Marco for making us ponder about so many things !!

  9. I agree, FOAL. Harmful intent toward my family brings swift and certain retribution. When my daughter was little, and living with her mother, a man in the condo complex exposed himself to her. Her mother told her that under no circumstances was she to tell me. “Your father will come here and kill every man in the complex.” Wise words.

    • haha ! for some sort of incongruent and paradoxical reason, i kind of like that !! 🙂

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