The Indifference of Forgiveness


When the stream of love flows in its full strength it purifies all that stands in its course, as the Ganges in the teachings of the ancients purifies all who plunge into its sacred waters.

There are two people in my life who have taught me lessons about forgiveness.  I find that to forgive someone takes deep love and even deeper commitment.   There are, in fact, many people in my life that I have not felt the need to forgive or to be forgiven by, but that is because I was never able to love them.  I hope someday I will,  although I also believe that in some cases, forgiveness is not necessary, although only in the case of forgetfulness.

The first lesson I learned about forgiveness was from a teacher of mine, the one who took me where I wanted to go with all my heart.  It was hard for me when I later had to admit that he had some moral failings that I happened to find particularly unacceptable and painful to contemplate.  I was, in fact, angry at him for several years, and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.  Yet gradually, I found that when I contemplated what he had given me and where he had taken me, when I considered what had come through him and how perfect it was, the enormity of his gift purified me and I realized that I could forgive him for being a human being and making mistakes.  It was a beautiful, clean moment when I realized that I didn’t even have to think of issues such as forgiveness where he was concerned and further, that whatever others felt and thought did not have to be my concern.

Thus, one of the final lessons he taught me was how to forgive, and all without saying one word on the topic.

The quality of forgiveness that burns up all things except beauty is the quality of love. – Inayat Khan

I was given a further lesson just this morning, and I suppose that is a good sign, but I feel eviscerated and wounded, and perhaps those feelings are a good sign as well, because they take place in the heart and not the ego, if that is what one focuses on.  What happened, you might possibly ask.  Well, I live in a culture that is currently quite polarized as our leaders take us through a process that very probably involves their shadow-projections making us all too aware of our own.  One of them, as you may know, is putting this country through a rather horrifying time, as he is completely unfit to be a leader and seems determined to be exactly that.  We Americans are, I suspect, frightened at this time, and our fear reflects the overall, historic success of our way of government, because however imperfect it is, it has kept us relatively safe for a long, long time;  yet now we are given to realize how fragile and easily broken our way is, that we are not immune to the horrors other countries have known throughout history.  It is easy to judge someone like this person I refer to, and the media fully cooperates in the process of manipulating peoples’ fears and emotions.  It is a time of grave dishonesty, a time when people’s fearful minds are being manipulated at the hand–ultimately–of this person who is at a level of evolution such that this is all he can do.  How does this idea of forgiveness operate in cases like this?  Inayat Khan offers one solution:  he points out that we ought not to judge the person, but that we can certainly judge his actions:

For instance, take a person who is ill, and creating disturbance in his atmosphere by crying, weeping, shouting.  It disturbs us. We say, “How bad, how annoying! What a bad nature!” It is not bad nature, it is the illness behind it. It is that reason which will make us tolerant.  When we see no reason, we are blind to that Light of God, blind to that forgiveness which is the only essence of God which can be found in the human heart. – Inayat Khan

That kind of forgiveness is a tall order, but think of the power in its sincere application.  Yet a global, distant forgiveness of this kind is far easier than forgiving someone who has the power not just to make us angry, but to break our hearts.  To forgive at a distance is a powerful thing, far more profound in its effect than the worst judgment or punishment.

When a friend or family member hurts us, what then?  Once upon a time, long, long ago, Murshid (I mean, here, Hazrat Inayat Khan, my life’s teacher) came to me in a dream.  I am not old enough to have ever met this great soul, although I have been taught by his friends and relatives, so to meet him in this way was very precious to me.  At the time, I was going through the breakup of a marriage, and I was certainly a spiritual infant at that time… and when Murshid came to me, he offered me the premier definition of indifference:  Indifference, he said, means to be so completely in love with the person who causes pain that one doesn’t even see the need for forgiveness, doesn’t even see the wrongdoing, but only sees love in the other.

Another tall order.  In my case, that one took a long time to work, but I know it is the ultimate definition of forgiveness.

And now a friend has hurt me.  We are told that when we find another’s behavior intolerable, we need to look at ourselves first, and I realize that I invited what happened, and that although I would like to think that I handled my end of it intelligently and kindly, it doesn’t matter, because the other person didn’t think so, and lashed out at me.  And so I have given us both the opportunity to learn to forgive.

My thoughtful self,

Bear all and do nothing,

Hear all and say nothing,

Give all and take nothing,

Serve all and be nothing.

While I was roaming through the forest, a thorn pricked my bare foot and cried, “Ah, you have crushed me.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
A wasp flying in the air stung my arm and cried, “Ah, you have caught me in your sleeve.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
My foot slipped and I fell in a pool of muddy water. The water cried, “Ah, you have disturbed me.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
I absently happened to touch a burning fire, and the fire cried, “Ah, you have extinguished me.” I felt sorry and I asked its forgiveness.
I asked my gentle self, “Have you received any harm?” “Be thankful,” said she, “that is was not worse.” – Inayat Khan

“I look to thee, o Lord, when I try to do right and it turns to wrong.” (Inayat Khan)

 It occurs to me that the present time offers, most of all, the opportunity to learn forgiveness.

The Teacher . . . The Lesson


Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. – Buddha

We all have something we’re particularly good at, and what I’m good at is guilt.  I come by this talent honestly:  I remember when I realized that it was a very good way to stay alive.  I was still a child in grade school, and I remember one night escaping into the bathroom at my aunt’s house in a potentially dangerous moment, and perched on the side of the bathtub, knowing that the ax was probably going to fall.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned, here, that I come from the Family from Hell, a phrase coined by professionals who work with such people and have to keep a sense of humor somehow–therapists, social workers and the like–and I also happened to work with such people for many years, as is so often the case with people who come from the Family from Hell:  that’s where we learn to save lives, including our own.  I don’t know who it was who first spoke of how the children of sorrow are often the bringers of joy, but it’s true, I think, because who else would know how to deal with these moments?

As usual, I digress.  There I was, probably about age 9, balanced on the edge of the tub in my aunt’s pristine bathroom, feeling the unbearable weight of all my wrongdoing, at the same time knowing that I was probably going to get it for something that I wasn’t sure I’d actually done, and that didn’t matter whether I had or not:  I would still have to be the scapegoat.  I didn’t know words like scapegoat at that time, and I certainly didn’t understand concepts like corrosive guilt and emotional abuse, but I knew enough to know that I was generally miserable and that I was probably going to be made more miserable before long.  And suddenly, a solution occurred to me:  I’d apologize before the ax fell!  Yeah, that’s what I’d do.  If I took responsibility before it was conferred on me, I could maybe control the force of the blow that was surely coming.  And for the most part, it worked pretty well.  When I was nine and had no other recourse, that is.

The problem with solutions found by children is that while they work at the time they are found, they tend to become entrenched habits and solutions that are pulled out of the hat so often that by the time the child becomes an adult, it seems too late–and too dangerous–to find less painful and debilitating solutions.  It all works together, of course, this mind-body thing:  the mind solves a problem and if the solution doesn’t grow up, the body becomes more and more weary from carrying an unviable solution.  I wrote a post awhile back about Fibromyalgia, a post that has been meaningful to a lot of people, remarking that chronic illness is an excellent example of this phenomenon:  our bodies are the sensors, the recorders of our experiences, and when the writing becomes too deep, the pressure too great, the body begins to collapse, and some form of exhaustion takes its toll.  I often think that I am fortunate:  some people get cancer or even more cataclysmic illnesses.  With my ignominious little chronic body-mind syndrome, I still look healthy and my mind is in relatively good shape (at least I think it is), and it’s probably not really going to get much worse.  I don’t know whether this is significant, but it seems to me that it is a sign that I have not given up yet.  But then, what do I know.

So:  guilt.  “The gift that keeps on giving.”  I know most of the jokes made by chronically guilty people, and I proved to myself as that child sitting on the side of the tub that I wasn’t giving up.  I added another skill at almost the same time:  that of getting even, but that’s an essay for another time, for it helped me make far worse messes than my generally internalized sense of global shame.  Guilt worked the best, although it has long worn out its efficacy.  It’s what I do.  It’s how I stay alive.  It’s a misery, but it’s one I’ve learned to live with, although I continue to cherish the hope of finding another coping mechanism.  Still, if I’m feeling lousy on a particular day, it’s no doubt my fault, and if the window won’t open, that has to be because of something I’ve done in not maintaining my house, and if I have yet to finish my doctoral dissertation or publish seventeen novels, then I am a BAD PERSON.  You get the idea.  I’m sure that some of you play this tape over and over for yourselves too, it’s a popular way of getting by.  It’s my most polished ability.  Just ask my husband!

Here in cyberspace, there is a tremendous amount of good advice going around:  just Google whatever it is you’re thinking about, and you can instantly learn what everyone else is thinking about it.  At one time, we read books, and hopefully we still do, but I think we have learned to consider things in short, sharp bursts of information that, with any luck, hit home.  It’s not a bad way to think about things, either, because we’re all looking for that “Ah Ha!” moment, and sometimes we get it when we read a quote or a news story or a Facebook meme.  I have a vast number of ideas stored away, and yesterday I was considering guilt, which continues to take its toll.  I’m better at ignoring than I once was, mind:  it doesn’t have quite so much power to take me down, but it’s still a bad habit.  Yesterday, I was considering how much energy it takes and how difficult it makes it to see things clearly, and I thought of the idea above, the supposed quote from Lord Buddha:  we have, each time undesirable thoughts come, the opportunity to ask ourselves where they come from, and if we do, we generally find that they come from past feelings and conditioning, past events and ideas and relationships, and if we consider the emotion of the moment, we realize it’s fear of the future that perpetuates them.  In this sense, of course, guilt and fear are synonymous.

Considering this, I did something I’ve done before but not really developed a habit of doing as yet:  I considered my guilty feeling in the moment, relinquishing the past and my fear the future, and I allowed myself to be in the moment.  “How do I really feel RIGHT NOW,” I asked myself, divorcing the constructs that produced this sense of pervading remorse, and I stayed with that for awhile.  I was in pain, yes, but the pain was less, and there was a sense of expansiveness, of freedom.  Suddenly I had more energy.  I didn’t feel so attached to it, and it wasn’t accompanied by all the habitual “shoulds” that plague me (“I’m shoulding all over myself” is a popular phrase, too).  I realized that in this very moment, I really don’t have any problems: I’m warm and dry and I live in a beautiful atmosphere and I’m loved and I have time for the things I most want to do.  But there’s another aspect that this little practice brings, because it’s like meditation:  when I let go of the past and the future, I become pure consciousness.  I live in this soul.  I have always been and I will always be.  What is this?

I have a page here on this blog where I share the Ten Oxherding Poems.  Read them if you are in the mood.  I have loved oriental poetry for many years, and in addition to these, Ryokan, “(1758–1831) … a quiet and eccentric Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit.  He wrote poetry presenting the essence of Zen life, but refused any titles, such as teacher.  His poems are characterised by his playfulness, directness and questioning nature.”  (  It’s the playfulness part that appeals to me:  this man learned to laugh at himself!

Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days’ worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out. – Ryokan

So there I was in that moment, no past, no future, just Being.  A great relief.

We live in an increasingly complicated world.  A hut in the mountains and a life in solitude is something that most of us won’t even consider, and so we continue to try to navigate the pain of living with schedules and possessions and worries and….love.  That’s the problem, isn’t it:  love.  Perhaps our greatest need, and rightfully so:  Inayat Khan said “You are love, you come from love, you are made to love, you cannot cease to love.”  And there we have it:  the ultimate dilemma.  We come from love, and we are made to love, and all the rest of it (including guilt) is an outgrowth of that.  Can the responsibility of love be found in just Being?  What happens to the quest of love if we relinquish past and future as the learning tools we have been given?  It seems to me that the predicament lies in the fundamental process of our own becoming:  we are, after all, thoughts in the mind of God, and ultimately all our experiences arise out of  our quest for realizing what that means in this particular life and being.

How awful!  And how wonderful to realize that my guilt and my worry and my faults and my miseries are all expressions of God becoming God.  I remember my life’s teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, saying over and over that if we knew what love really is, we would be shattered in our understanding.  Could it be that this deadening talent for remorse is right out there on the luminous arch of the bridge into divine understanding?  How may we embrace our share of the agony of knowledge?

There is a well-known story about an event where the Dalai Llama was observed, as an Easterner, not to have the same concept of guilt as those of us in the West do.  I thought about that as I was writing this, and then I found this story, which changes that idea:

The Dalai Lama with (sic) working with an American psychiatrist who was interviewing him for a book on happiness. The subject of remorse was broached: His Holiness explained that one time an elderly Buddhist man came to see him to ask for instructions on how to do a very difficult Yoga pose. The Dalai Lama told the man that he was too old and should not attempt the pose as it would be too dangerous. The old man thanked the Dalai Lama, went home and killed himself so he could be reincarnated as a younger, healthier man who could attempt the pose. After hearing the news, the Dalai lama was overcome with guilt at being the reason for another man’s death.

“So how did you deal with that?” asked the interviewer. “How did you get rid of the remorse.”

The Dalai Lama sat there in silence for a minute or two, thinking hard about the question.

“I didn’t get rid of it” the Dalai Lama explained. “It’s still with me every day. I just continue to live with my heart open.”

(From another, rather wonderful blog:

If our lives are the writing in the book of the divine life, that is what it’s about:  keeping an open heart, despite everything.  It occurs to me that herein is the divergence of Zen and Sufism, although in the core of each that divergence curves back into itself:

The Sufi considers devotion of the heart the best thing to cultivate for spiritual realization. It might seem quite different from what many think, but the ones who close their hearts to others, close their hearts to God. Jesus Christ did not say, “God is the intellect”. He said, “God is love”. if, therefore, there is a piece of God that can be found anywhere, it is not in any church on the earth, nor in Heaven above; it is in the heart of each person. The best place where you are sure to find God is in the loving heart of a kind person. – Inayat Khan

Years ago, I read a wonderful book by Joan Borysenko, Guilt is the Teacher, Love is the Lesson.  The title alone was enough, really:  what if we can learn to bear the cross of guilt, that one that so often seems far more heavy than anyone should reasonably be expected to carry, and bear it not only willingly, but gratefully?

A great gift.



Riding on the horse of hope,
Holding in my hand the rein of courage,
Clad in the armor of patience,
And the helmet of endurance on my head,
I started on my journey to the land of love.

A lance of stern faith in my hand,
And the sword of firm conviction buckled on,
With the knapsack of sincerity,
And the shield of earnestness,
I advanced on the path of love.

My ears closed to the disturbing noise of the world,
My eyes turned from all that was calling me on the Way,
My heart beating the rhythm of my ever-rising aspiration,horses
And my blazing soul guiding me on the path,
I made my way through the space.
I went through the thick forests of perpetual desire,
I crossed the running rivers of longing.
I passed through the deserts of silent suffering,
I climbed the steep hills of continual strife.

Feeling ever some presence in the air,
I asked, “Are you there, my love?”
And a voice came to my ears, saying, “No, still further am I.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan, Alankaras, Complete Sayings



To love enough . . .

Happy Days

Happy Days
Happy Days

Happy days were when your hand was by my side, Signs of your love, my features beautified, when your words crucified, Then my soul resurrected, upward glide.

Happy days were when the wine, we glorified, God was with me while by my side was my bride, when your candle was my guide And my heart, like a moth, your flames would ride.

Happy days were when amidst knowledge and pride, The drunken laughter was dignified, when we drank from the cup in our stride And told tales of the things that we tried.

Happy days were when Beloved would decide, On the sun and moon, in service, relied. Happy days in the tavern I would abide and Saw the things that from the temple would hide, when your signal verified; Made the crooked straight, Hafiz, narrow, wide. – Hafiz , Ghazal 204


There was a time when I did my very best to have at least some knowledge of the ancient Sufis, but I seem to have forgotten most of it as I became increasingly bored with names and forms, but I thought I’d look up Hafiz and say at least a little for folks who may not have much knowledge of Sufi poetry (I am probably one of them).  This is what I found on Wikipedia (in part):  Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, known by his pen name Hafez, was a Persian poet who “lauded the joys of love and wine but also targeted religious hypocrisy.”  I thought that was plenty to say:  that, and that we need to remember, even in this election year, happy days are still available.

Light Being

Rays of sunshine breaks through the dark clouds. Ñoncept of hope for the best, mood changes, enthusiasm, optimism, faith in our own strength, the breakthrough goal

I remember those mornings at dawn with you…

“Shield your eyes for safety, and gaze into the light,

And in that instant recollect ourselves as Beings of Light.”

It worked, that instant shock of recognition, that simplicity of knowing…and then

beyond knowing to Being

How did this happen?  How did I forget…and why?

Light streams through all the cells, molecules, ignites atoms…

This body becomes radiant, this mind clear, but it’s more than that.

No need, no need, no need.

Just light.

It is just to remember, and one day,

Never to forget again.

My Father

When Father’s and Mother’s Days roll around and everyone posts love stories about their parents, I always feel kind of lonely.  I also feel as if I–or someone–ought to figure out how to write the perfect post about being the damaged child of damaged parents.  My parents were the narcissistic and, in my mother’s case, alcoholic offspring of other screwed up people who had their own issues.  I’m sure my mother and her siblings were abused, possibly sexually, and my father lived a lonely, orphaned life until he was 16 years of age, when he got on his bike–this was during the Great Depression–and went off to seek his fortune.  He was an angry man.  And my mother was an angry woman.  Both had good reason to be, but it’s not okay to beat up and neglect your kids because you yourself are frustrated.  However, it was a generation of postwar parents who assumed ownership of their children, and believed the best way to control them was through rage and, often, physical violence.

I am sure that many people reading this are nodding their heads knowingly, but in my case there is a difference that not everyone will relate to, because I have seen time and time again that children who are abused by their parents continue to love them despite everything.

I am not one of them.  I cannot deny that when each of them, in the near past, died, I was relieved.  I grieved, but I realized that I was grieving for the parent I never had, more than for an actual person.  I am aware that, as human beings, we are supposed to forgive those who do us harm, but I never did.  As time goes on, I understand more and more, but I cannot honestly say I have forgiven.  Over time, my anger has dissipated, and I take increasing responsibility for my own part in the conflicts I had with them, but I would still not want to live with either of them again.

Love all, trust none; forgive all, forget none; respect all, worship none. That is the manner of the wise. – Inayat Khan

The thing about being raised by someone you cannot trust is that when you grow up, you tend not to trust most authority figures.  This brief post is about the father I eventually found, my Sufi teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan.  I loved him dearly throughout my life and will until my own death and thereafter.   However, it took me many years to know him as my father and to trust him as I had never trusted my father-of-origin.  The following is a brief story I am reminded of on this particular holiday:


Once upon a time, when I was still in my early twenties, he asked me to come to the (then) New York khanqah (this is the Arabic name for a spiritual commune, so to speak) to have a talk. He ended up giving me Holy Hell over something that was going on in our center, and being a spiritual infant at that time, my ego rebelled, and I felt unfairly blamed.  It took me a long time to get over my resentment of what he said, and he did not give me “equal time” to defend my own point of view.  I remember him saying “I have to try to be your Father and help you to do what’s right.” Without going into what he asked of me, let me just say that it of a political nature and was quite a lot, on that occasion.  Looking back, I realize that to take on the role of spiritual father was a tall order for him, especially given the Father who had raised him (Hazrat Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan).

I was not able to appreciate his comment about his obligation to be my spiritual father, although I do remember feeling a vague sense of comfort, even as I felt anger with him; but as the years went by, I realized that he really did mean exactly what he said, and even though I was only one of thousands of students, he was always there for me, whether in a dream, in a letter or in person. Eventually, I learned to accept what he had to offer on the terms he chose, and I am all the better for it. He was always looking up, and he never gave up.  Now he waits for all his children in the planes of Light.

Thank you, my Father.  It is a great joy to be able to write you a love letter on this day.

The 100th Wedding Anniversary


This year is the 100th wedding anniversary of Pir Vilayat, my life’s teacher.  I use the term “wedding anniversary” in the sense that the death of a teacher is not a death–not for any of us–but a return to the arms of the Beloved, traditionally called God.  Likewise, it is a birth.  I am combining his earthly birthday and his Urs here, because it seems to me that both are a wedding and an initiation.   Traditionally, however, the Urs is the anniversary of the death of a saint, while the birthday is, well…the anniversary of her or his death.  The picture above is of the earthly wedding–celebrated in the heavens and earth–of my husband and I, when Pir Vilayat officiated at that joyful occasion.  I was fortunate in having a dear friend, Greg Blann (find his wonderful paintings with a Google search), take photos unbeknownst to us,  and so it is not perfect, but the four pictures he took mean a great deal to us.  To understand a true wedding one must look behind the outer forms.

Pir Vilayat would have been 100 this year, and he “died” in 2004, 12 years ago.  It amazes me that he has theoretically been gone from this planet for this many years, because to me he is as present as he ever was.  He is, indeed, there whenever I need him, just as he was in this phase of life.  He always came when he was called, whether in a dream or a letter or an actual visit, and he never failed, if one was paying attention.

People who have not experienced being the student of an authentic spiritual teacher don’t quite understand why such events mean so much to those who were, and they need not:  it is not for everyone to come home in this way.  We are all finding our way to return from whence we come, and it matters not how we get there.  Yet for me, and for many like me, he was our best friend, our teacher, the one who went before us and yet stayed with us.  The below is his “final” message:

A Final Message
to his Mureeds

Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Pir Vilayat’s final message was given in Suresnes, France, on January 27, 2004, six months before his death. It was published in Heart and Wings, a publication of the Sufi Order International Secretariat, New Lebanon, New York.

I must say, it has been such a joy to share with you the encounter of our thoughts sparking each other. The mission— the meaning of the Message of the future, all of it has been exciting and overwhelming, and I am very grateful for your sharing with me. From the moment that one has broken bread at the same table, one is linked by a special link, and that’s the reason for the Mass. The Mass is the ritual of eating at the same table together, and we have been sharing this wonderful bread and wine at the same table, and that establishes a link between us that can never be broken, so that we can always find each other. So, I will just say that you can find yourself— you can find me in your heart; and I can say, I can find you in my heart. God bless you. – Khan, Pir Vilayat Inayat (2011-11-01). Life is a Pilgrimage . Omega Publications, Inc.

Traditionally, one has the ability to receive a boon from the teacher on such an occasion.  I asked for and received one as always, and I cannot put it into words, which itself is appropriate, because Pir, as we called him, was always full of surprises.  One never knew from one moment to the next what was coming, whether an inner or outer experience of growth.  And any growth, however painful–perhaps the one that is especially painful–is useful to the sincere seeker, so I look forward to the gift he has given me this time, and I celebrate his wedding with joy and tears and a renewed sense of commitment.  All blessings to you in this world of contrasts.


(Another personal picture taken of me at age 24 or so, in his summer camp at Chamonix-Mt. Blanc, in the French Alps.  It is the perfect picture of the disciple at the feet of the Master, and in reality he was chewing me out for my stupidity, in his own fatherly, sometimes stern way.)