Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground. Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
~~Crosby Stills Nash and Young
A friend mentions something about their life and says, "I hope I can forgive some day." I hope they can too, for their own peace of mind, for their own health.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sing the haunting melody, "Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground."
It is popular, especially on Veteran's Day or on Memorial Day to wander the cemeteries placing, flags on graves, and toss off casual remarks about death being the cost of freedom. The Cenotaph commemorating the dead of WWI and WWII in this community reads, "To the Glorious Dead" forgetting entirely that there is nothing at all glorious about rotting in the ground, nothing nobel about lives cut short, nothing honorable about kill or be killed. Dying is only the cost of freedom in a very marginal sense and all the millions and millions of dead in thousands and thousands of wars has never brought about real peace. Like death and poverty, war and hatred are with us always and they will be with us always until we all learn a different way. The eternal truth is indeed "hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love."
Some years ago now three individuals set out to destroy my life. The story isn't important. The why's and how's aren't necessary to understanding what I wish to say. It is enough to know that at a time when I was very, very sick and utterly defenceless, they succeeded in that endeavor. My life as I knew it was completely trashed beyond any hope of getting back. It was a breath taking act of maliciousness and of the three, one individual struck the hardest and reviled not only in the destruction of my life but in my illness and my inability to defend myself.
It should come as no surprise that I came to hate this individual.
I do not use hate in it's casual sense here, although in reality hate is never casual. I am speaking of hate as an all consuming conflagration that consumed my mind. At one point I was hospitalized and heavily medicated to prevent me from actively seeking out and killing this individual and, truth be told, if that action had not been taken I may have done exactly that.
Even when medication and time had cooled the fires of hatred to where this person was safe to walk around in the dark, hatred for them still consumed me. While I no longer fantasized actively killing them I did fantasize scenarios where I was able to be a passive agent of their death.
In truth, as terrible and harsh as it is, fantasizing this person's death became the only way I could get to sleep at night and this at a time when I was on a cocktail of six different psychotropic drugs that should have kept me sleeping twenty three hours a day.
In truth, as ugly as it is, I looked forward to going to bed at night so I could run that fantasy if their death around in my head for two or three hours before I fell asleep and in those months I imagined countless scenarios of their destruction. It became harder and harder to come up with new means through which they might die. The scenes in my mind became ever more elaborate and took more and more thought and time.
My hatred of this person was all consuming. It was eating me alive and for a very long time I didn't care. I did not care about the effect this was having on me as long as I could continue to enjoy this fantasy, this hope. In my hatred all reason was lost. It never dawned on me that even if they were dead my situation would be no different, that I would still be left living and left living with all I had lost.
It was draining. It was killing me and one night I realized my hatred had become an addiction and like an addiction it required a greater and greater 'dose' to get me off. The hatred had to grow and grow to satisfy and, also like an addiction, in the end there was not enough hatred to satisfy my need.
Finally the light began to dawn. In the wee small hours one morning I realized that all this hate I bore this individual didn't hurt them one bit. They didn't know how many times or how many ways they had died in my fantasy. The deeper truth is that while I was consumed with them, I wasn't even an infrequent thought to them. Then another truth sunk home. I realized that no sane, healthy, well adjusted person could have done what they had done (just as no sane, healthy, well adjusted person would spend hours every day fantasizing someones death) and there was no value in hating someone who was as warped as this person clearly was.
And, in the end, I let it go. I had to. There was no where else to go, no where else to move. I had to let it go to save myself.
I know there are many who have been in the position I was in. I know there are many, like my friend, who are there still and who do not know how to let go.
I won't say it is easy. I won't say it is done overnight. But it can be done.
In Buddhism there is a form of consciousness called "store" consciousness and it's name also denotes it function. It "stores" seeds: seeds of love, compassion, kindness as well as seeds of anger and jealousy and hatred. These seeds pop into our main consciousness of their own accord. It us up to us whether they stay there and flourish however. Only the seeds that we water stay. If we stop watering the seeds of hatred and anger and rancour they stop growing and go back into storage. Likewise, if we water the seeds of love and compassion and forgiveness they grow and stay and become the foundation of who we are. It is our choice. It is up to us.
I chose forgiveness. It wasn't easy. It was hard to water that seed every day. Probably the hardest thing I have ever done.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean that we love the person who has harmed us. It does not mean they become our best friend or that we go golfing with them. Forgiveness does not mean that we give up discernment and put ourselves in a position to be hurt by the same person again. It does not mean anything like that. Forgiveness just means we forgive, we let go, we stop hating and when we can stop hating we will stop hurting.
The real cost of freedom is not buried in the ground. The real cost of freedom in found in forgiveness.
(Originally posted to Multiply August 27, 2008)