Amends: The Myths, The Messes and The Mastery.
The Shaman greeted me with a bow. In his gentle voice, I heard Namaste and as always he began his instruction with, “may you realize each step as a path toward mastery”. Of course because he spoke so low, it was always difficult for me to hear what he said at the beginnings of our meetings. I was accustomed to a higher volume of commotion, noise and chatter in my daily life. After a while, I would become acclimated to his gentle and hushed tone of speaking. Usually, I would miss some words at the beginning but as I became more accustomed to his tone, I would be able to follow “each step as a path toward mastery”. Yet in this instance after hearing him say, “last night, I…was attacked,” I quickly interrupted him. “Someone assaulted you! I can’t believe it.” I wanted to believe that Shamans were immune to transgression and then quickly realized that history is replete with Shaman that have been assaulted. Yet again, what would make them any different from anyone else being assaulted? However, I could not contain myself and asked the Shaman, “How did this happen to you?” He looked in the distance and continued to speak in his low melodic tone, “If you could see what I see, then you could know that it did not happen to me but for me”.
He was assaulted just like anyone else. The difference was his response. He was coming home from dinner when seemingly out of nowhere, the assailant knocked him down from behind and then began to pummel him with unmerciful blows to his face. Somewhere deep inside the Shaman knew what to do to halt the onslaught. First, he put his hands behind him. This startled the attacker as it would seem natural when one is assaulted to move their hands defensively in front of their body. Then, he quietly whispered to the abuser, “have I hurt you?” It was strange that in the midst of an adrenaline and alcohol tirade, the assailant would hear him. Yet he did, and the brutality suddenly stopped. The assailant shook his head from side to side several times as if to wake himself up from a deep sleep or perhaps a bewildering spell. The assailant took a step back as if the Shaman had produced a viable weapon. “No, you never hurt me. I thought you were someone else.” The assailant then proceeded to approach the Shaman and with an alcohol drenched breath and slurred speech, repeated over and over again, “I’m so sorry.”
He was like a child who after hurting someone or breaking something valuable expects by repeating the incantation, “I’m sorry”, everything will be remedied. Though still dazed by the attack, the Shaman began “I believe you regret the harm that has resulted from your actions and wish for me to forgive you. It is not that simple. Your apology seems sincere and my pain is also real as well. Both are real. History is not erased by forgiveness and an apology does not end the pain in my bruised body.” The assailant seemed to become more and more sober as the conversation continued and asked what he can do now. The Shaman replied, “Amends”.
I had so many questions, but I knew that the Shaman wanted to focus on the Amends Process, so I quieted my mind as he had previously taught me and listened. The Shaman differentiated amends into three continuums, myths, messes and mastery. He also described each continuum as being parallel to shame, sham and shaman. The Shaman believes that continuums are more accurate descriptions than categories. He believes in ranges and degrees rather than the categorization of either and or.
The Myth of Making Amends
The Shaman has noted that in the childhood mind, making amends is quite simple. The child might want to believe that by apologizing, the consequences, karma and most importantly punishment will be avoided. “If I say I’m sorry, do I still have to stay in my room?” This is a similar action as the aforementioned assailant pursued after he realized that his assault was directed at the wrong person, the Shaman.
As the Shaman noted, the apology may be sincere and so is the pain from the assault. On one hand, it seems quite plausible and a wonderful opportunity to make amends by repairing the damage resulting from one’s addictive behavior. The opportunity to offer an apology and correct what has been harmed, hurt and in some instances, devastated by addictive actions appears to be a major component of redemption. However, what if at the source of making amends, the individual has either a conscious and/or unconscious wish and need to “undo” what they have done. The “wish” can take the form of an apology, repentance, sorrow, regret and promise to ”sin no more”. Yet, no matter what the rationale for the wish to undo what has been done, one cannot be successful in this endeavor. The intent may be positive and sincere but the egg that has been broken cannot be unbroken. Yes, one can make scrambled eggs from the residue that remains but one is still powerless to fix the egg. Even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again. Of course, intellectually we understand that what has been done cannot be undone. Even the Dalai Lama noted, “The past is past: nothing can change it.”
The Shaman recognizes that for some individuals, amends takes on certain features of grandiosity. Thus, the rules of natural law do not apply to them because they are above the natural. The myth is the regret, remorse mixed with responsibility and even if someone adds sobriety can not only undo what has been done but more importantly will eradicate the undercurrent of shame, inadequacy and failure that haunt the individual in search of redemption.
The commonality found in this individual’s mind, is that even though there are realistic limitations in reality, “they don’t apply to me”. In regard, to the person with an addiction, this grandiosity defines and permeates their lives. “I can drink, smoke, gamble, eat to excess because I can”. The grandiosity found in the addicts’ mind does not leave when they go into sobriety, it can be disguised as hubris, pridefulness and omnipotence.
In this instance, that one can undo what they have done. Thus, when the injured party does not revere them as a prodigal son or daughter because they have repented, the wrath of God is evoked. “Look, I said I was sorry. What do you want, a pound of flesh”. Well, that is what Shylock demanded from Antonio in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” in terms of paying his debt.
This desire for making amends may be rooted in not accepting what we have done and wanting to believe that our reparative actions can undo the sense of shame. The Shaman proposes that it is this profound sense of having to face our self imposed inadequacy, powerlessness and failure (SHAME) that can drive some of us to the MYTH of making amends. He believes that the wish to undo the past has more to do with personalizing our flawed actions and consequently shamefully over identifying ourselves as flawed and damaged. Thus, the myth is that by making amends, someone else in this instance, the injured party, will be able to stop and eliminate the transgressor’s need to personalize and torture themselves with their past injurious actions.
It is their inner struggle with integrating what they have done into their sense of recognizing and accepting the complexity of their own humanity which makes them vulnerable to creating the Mess of Making Amends.
The Mess of Making Amends
All too frequently, when one had injured another either directly and/or indirectly by their actions, the simple solution is to recognize what one has done, assume responsibility for the actions and the consequences therein, be remorseful and regretful and then ask for forgiveness and finally, if possible work on reconciliation.
The Shaman continually speaks to the importance of recognizing that very rarely in life are things that simple. First of all, when one hurts another, a debt is created. It may be like a financial debt but more importantly, there is an emotional debt that carries with it like a financial debt, principle and interest. It is my understanding that the Shaman believes that the “interest” that accumulates on an emotional debt is both a repercussion and complicating factor for forgiveness and reconciliation. The Shaman does not view this “interest” as toxic for the injured party but more of an opportunity. Specifically, the injured one now has to embark on a journey of discovery and recovery. They can discover more about themselves in terms of their resiliency which can promote emotional growth and a more realistic perspective of life. Or, the injured one can stay stuck and struggle with self-discovery and self-recovery. I see this as unfortunately being trapped in one’s own trauma and wounds.
Of course, the Shaman again does not view this as unfortunate but more as the injured one needing to find a guiding light that enlightens themselves and their view of reality. As the Shaman notes, “May you realize each step as a path toward mastery”.
The Shaman views forgiveness as letting go (pardoning) of the debt without needing the person whose actions were hurtful to them to change. Again, pardoning is letting go of the wish and expectation that another owes you and until the debt is paid, one will suffer and be miserable. Thus, forgiveness is an internal process for one in progressing and not to continue regressing.
Interestingly enough, there is a similar journey for the individual seeking to make amends. On one hand, one can stay stuck in a myth of omnipotence that if they find the right actions they can “make” the injured one forgive them. Or perhaps, the myth of pridefulness that the injured one should forgive them and should reconcile with them. That is, they will continue to “should” on the injured one and continue to blame them and be angry with them because they are withholding redemption from them. Thus the one seeking to make amends now sees themselves as a victim. That’s right, “poor me, poor me” and finally, “pour me a drink”.
In this regard, the Shaman shares his version of the Myth of Narcissus.
In his version, Narcissus is warned throughout his entire life that if he does not recognize himself, he will perish. This enigmatic and cryptic message continually haunts him from childhood to adulthood. However, just as the cigarette smoker reads the Surgeon General’s warning about the dangers of smoking and decides to stop reading but not stop smoking. This is what Narcissus does. Thus, one fateful day, Narcissus views an image in a pool of water that epitomizes beauty and perfection. He gazes at the image with pridefulness and begins to personalize what he sees. He wants to believe that he is the powerful image and identifies with it. As he looks more longingly at the image, he is no longer grounded on the earth, but loses his balance and falls into the pool of water and drowns. The Shaman refers to this as the Rule of P’s. That is, when one mixes Personalizing, Pridefulness, Powerfulness and Perfection, they Perish. Alas, if only Narcissus would have remembered the prophetic warning when he was adoringly staring into the image in the pool of water, “to recognize himself”, his life would have been saved.
The Shaman applies this to the mess of making amends by alluding to how in an attempt to make amends, havoc ensues and the repentant becomes a SHAM in the process as well. Again, taking responsibility and being accountable for one’s actions does not lessen the physical, emotional and spiritual pain that has resulted for the injured. Thus, it is erroneous to assume that because you are responsible and sorry, the injured party is obligated to forgive you. This assumption acts as a catalyst for the subsequent MESS that results. The Shaman uses the example of gift giving. Frequently, when one gives another a present, there is an expectation of the person contacting them either orally or sending them a “thank you” card. Yet, a true gift does not require, expect and/or demand an acknowledgment of the present.
However, the person giving the gift may consciously or unconsciously be including an “obligation” with the gift of appreciation and gratitude. Thus, placing a burden on the recipient. If they do not acknowledge the present by some form of appreciation, they may be viewed as rude or ungrateful.
So, where is the gift in this instance? Of course, the gift giver could rationalize to themselves they just want to make sure that the gift arrived and the right one received it. But the bottom line is that the gift is now like a certified letter that one needs to sign for in order to document that they received the letter. The Shaman explains that it is this attitude that adds to the process of making amends into a mess. The repentant is sorry and wishes to give the “gift” of making amends and may unwittingly be placing more pressure on the person who has already been injured by obligating them to be grateful, appreciative and most importantly, forgiving. Thus instead of truly helping the injured party to heal, more and more of a mess is created.
The repentant may be angry and resentful that their gift of amends has not been recognized and the injured party may be angry and resentful, because they are obliged to forgive and be indebted to the one who hurt them.
The Mastery Continuum of Making Amends and Becoming a Shaman
The Shaman notes that one of the steps on the path to mastery has the Hawaiian word, “Ho’oponopono” written on it. Some believe that this word refers to correcting the damage or to set right the injury that has resulted from the intentional and unintentional actions of others. The Shaman’s understanding and transformation of this step refers to all parties assuming responsibility for their own forgiveness and healing. The misstep according to the Shaman is assuming that someone else can do the work for you. This does not negate that the assistance of others and that a higher power can be helpful, but it does clearly focus on forgiveness and healing as being a private domain, while amends is communal. The Shaman explains that forgiveness is making a conscious choice to let go of the debt previously discussed by mindfully recognizing and not succumbing the first five components (personalizing, pridefulness, powerfulness perfection and perish) of the Rule of ‘’P’s”. That is, mindfully recognizing how automatically and seemingly involuntarily one succumbs to these aforementioned pitfalls. Personalizing refers to interpreting what happened as directed at oneself exclusively and not considering that no one is immune to the “endless slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Pridefulness indicates that one believes themselves as superior and special and that life should function according to their specifications. Meanwhile, powerfulness refers to the fantasy of believing that one has the power to change and control others and the universe. Finally, perfection signifies the wish to see oneself and for others to see you in an image reflecting flawlessness, impeccability and faultlessness. Remember, Narcissus.
For the Shaman, it is vital for the individual to recognize the traps and the quicksand that grip someone when they succumb to one or more of the first four “P’s”. One common trap may be found in the process of amends. The offender regretfully apologizes for the hurt that has resulted from their actions and assumes responsibility for what they have done and the consequences therein.
In a humble manner, they may ask the injured party, as the assailant who attacked the Shaman did, “What can I do?” The response may be for some type of restitution, compensation, transformative change, or a commitment “to sin no more”. Yet, this is not amends.
These requests are more in the category of “mends”. That is, to repair and/or to fix the damage that has resulted from the actions that resulted from the egregious behavior. Not that this is not important. But amends is something deeper and more in line with the Shaman’s conceptualization of Ho’oponopono. Specifically, that the debt being released and pardoned is not at all dependent of what the other person is doing and/or not doing. Amends is a process of release and restoration that is exclusively based on the inside. The Shaman refers to this process of becoming your own interior decorator. The challenge is to stop trying to get others to change and do the work of cleaning up the myth and mess on the inside and developing the emotional muscle to redecorate from the inside out. Specifically, focusing on becoming a SHAMAN.
Now what does it mean to become a Shaman in the process of making amends? The Shaman enjoys acronyms and one that he uses as an example of this transformative process is S.H.A.M.A.N. The S refers to being scrupulous, which he means to be trustworthy. The H signifies honorable, which he defines as honest and respectful. The A reflects acceptance which he uses to refer to recognizing and believing reality. The M is the importance of being moral which he relates to ethical and authentic. While the A in this instance refers to being appreciative, which the Shaman uses to indicate being kind and grateful. Finally, the N signifies noble and he implies this as being generous and benevolent.
Yet, the cornerstone of Mastery rests on the warning that was given to Narcissus, “that if he does not recognize himself, he will perish”. It is in recognizing the ever present Rule of “P’s”, that one realizes that each step in their life is a path to mastery. The journey begins with recognizing how easy and natural it is to become trapped by personalizing and the other steps along the way. The key is after the recognition of the first four “P’s”, the next three aspects of the Rule of “P’s” follow: to pause, to pardon and to allow peace to emerge.
Amends does not mean to imply that one should change for another or that another has to forgive. The transformation has to be in oneself. Once again, the Shaman uses a story to illustrate his point. He related once being on a small boat that had approximately 50 passengers. The ocean was especially turbulant that day and the waves rocked the boat unmercifully. Of course, I would say that was quite unfortunate, while the Shaman says the drama that day was fortunate. He noted that a woman was sitting next to him and began to experience significant seasickness. The Shaman offered her assistance and she quickly accepted his kindness. He then instructed her to look intently and exclusively at the lighthouse in the distance. She protested that the waves and their turbulence kept her spellbound. He proceeded to explain to her, that she was over identifying with the waves and therefore her mind and body began to mimic what was going on around her.
That if she wanted to feel better, she needed to identify with the lighthouse. The lighthouse stood solid, grounded and secure in its presence. As she began to focus more and more on the lighthouse her symptoms began to dissipate. Now, the Shaman proceeded to direct her to close her eyes and find a lighthouse within herself.
The Shaman notes that the road to mastery is illuminated by the lighthouse of making amends. Whether the ships that pass in the night see this beacon of light that provides illumination and direction, it still has to stand grounded in its foundation reflecting a beacon of enlightenment for all that wish to see. Amends is a dynamic process that begins with the recognition of the impediments and obstacles that become the foundation of the steps that lead to mastery.
As my lesson was completed for the day and before I went back to my usual life, I asked the Shaman about any physical injuries he incurred from his assault. After all, he told me that the assailant pummeled him in the face and I did not see any apparent injuries. He smiled at me and in his low melodic voice said, “As I mentioned to you, last night I had a dream. In the dream, I was attacked.”
A dream, I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I remember not clearly hearing and understanding what he said to me when we first began to speak but I had no idea that this was a dream. I said to him that I truly believe that he was actually attacked. He smiled at me and in a hushed tone explained. “Yes, I was attacked”, he explained. “In this instance, by myself and most importantly, for myself”. “But, I don’t understand, I reacted with disbelief”. The Shaman quietly responded, “That is another of the Shaman Tales I will share with you in the future. For now, “may you realize each step as a path toward mastery”.