French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, in Gravity and Grace, says forgiveness is knowing I am other than what I imagine myself to be (9). For Weil, our true selves seem to be inextricably intertwined with each other, with the universe; knowing this can bring compassion for the self and world.
Upholding the constructed self that needs to be justified, protected, and admired can cause a lot of stress within our bodies and perhaps violence in relationships. Weil says that the cause of war is that we do not know we have access to the universe in our own bodies (86). Sometimes I feel that we avoid each other, looking in to each other’s eyes, because we cannot bear the weight of energy, the collision of spinning vortex that might occur the closer we move. Our DNA might hold memories, shared vibrations with ancient mountains, and the bodies we inhabit feel so intensely. Every cell seems alive with sensation, and most of us want to avoid the pain that cannot always be extracted from the pleasure that is also ready to be encountered.
One of my students asked me, as we discussed Weil in class, why we should improve, try to become better people, what the point was of anything. I don’t always know the answer to these questions or what might prompt them, but what I think for the time being is that we get up off the floor because there are these moments of intimacy where the universe is felt through our veins, and to experience that, even occasionally, might be worth everything. To do what we might be destined to do, to co-create and do that in healing, pleasurable ways, is to align with something beyond, but not excluding, ourselves.
Weil suggests we do not deserve such moments of grace. She says, “We must always expect things to happen in conformity with the laws of gravity unless there is supernatural intervention” (1). Why is that? If everything is us, if we are choosing and deciding, maybe “improving,” as that student wondered about, then why do we not deserve what may come from our movements? I think it is because these moments must happen in relationship. We need each other to agree, to choose vulnerability and bravery at the same time, to somehow die to self and not let ego create walls or attempt to destroy or possess. Even when alone, our epiphanies, peace that passed understanding, ecstatic sensations are in connection with earlier experiences and encounters, with a reconciliation with our bodies, with books (has anyone else been brought to tears in a coffee shop as I?)
In Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, “A Temporary Matter,” there is a couple that includes one who is a graduate student trying to finish his dissertation and the other who is a young professional. They both are months, perhaps (the book is in my classroom), past the miscarriage of their first child. They have slowly become distant with each other, each taking a separate journey to deal with their experience, until the week the electrical units on their block need to be fixed. The evening dusk without artificial light creates an opportunity for a game the couple plays, one where they use the comfort of the darkness to confess small secrets, ones of love and desire for each other and simple foibles and shames. They seem to be growing closer until one of them reveals that she is leaving him. Instead of the story ending in the violent storm some of us might know when a relationship is threatened, here they end in a sacred coming together. In their mutual acceptance, they sit at the kitchen table together and weep together for all they have come to realize.
Weil says, “Generally what we expect of others depends on the effect of gravity upon ourselves, what we receive from them depends on the effect of gravity upon them. Sometimes (by chance) the two coincide, often they do not” (1). For Weil (at least in my opinion), gravity is the metaphor for natural movements that might pull us down, pull us away from each other. She asks, “What is the reason that as soon as one human being shows he needs another [. . .] the latter draws back from him? Gravity” (1).
I believe that we behave and react out of the wounds of our own souls. Forgiveness with the self and with others does not have to mean an excusing of harm or a justification of it. Julia Kristeva says that, rather, forgiveness is about creating a space for continual rebirth and transformation. The idols that we set up for ourselves and others may need to be recognized for what they are: instances that we have not had “the patience to allow [absolute good] to develop” (Weil 60). For me, “absolute good” might simply be some changeable form of the present that reveals its inherent intelligence, warmth, and wisdom (in the articulated trinity of Pema Chödrön). Patience doesn’t have to be passive or halting though, not completely. It can be wild and fly as well. So be our wild, be our mindful, be our knocking down idols selves on this President’s/Not My President’s Day.
Lache S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures.