Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Atoning for Power Abuse: Ego and the Path of Penance

Following on my blog post about abuse of power, I wanted to delve a little deeper into the importance of penance and healing. It's an important thing to understand that every abuser is in him or herself also a victim. It's not just that they're acting out pain that's been done to them, it's that they're also burdened by the pain that they inflict on others. In an interesting way, it's like in football. With any big hit, the impact on the hitter as well as the hittee is always a 50/50 split. So no matter if you've murdered someone or simply yelled at someone, the damage to your energy was just as bad. I know that you're thinking how can it be as bad if they're still alive. I think ultimately this is impossible to quantify, but every now and then, you'll meet someone living out a life of penance for another life of abuse. And then you'll have your answer.

Admission of Guilt: The First Step
Power is very much seated in the 3rd chakra, where the ego is also rooted. Subsequently, they're a natural pairing, and one that has gotten horribly imbalanced. To heal this imbalance, you have to admit your guilt. This is different than feeling guilty. Feeling guilty is about suffering through shame. Admitting your guilt is the first step to atoning for it on the spiritual path. It's a hard first step because most of our egos have ingrained in themselves the idea that admitting guilt or being wrong about anything is a sign of weakness. The ego's over-active, auto-protect mode kicks in. You come up with fifteen reasons why you aren't wrong, why the other person totally deserved it, and so on. Well, that's a load of crap, and you know it. You can keep going through that mental cycle, but your suffering and shame will only grow. You may become more violent, irrational, and cold-hearted. But no matter how much pain you inflict on others, that will not free you of your guilt.

After You Write the List, Beginning to Atone
I also mentioned in the last blog that you should list out what you've done. It's not an easy process. A lot of hard feelings will come up as you do it. You need to be with those feelings. Don't fight them. Don't resist them. They simply need to be heard. Once you've written down all the ways that you've abused your power in regards to yourself as well as to others, it's time to begin to atone.

The level of atonement needed for each issue will vary widely. It depends on how severe the issue is. There's a broad spectrum of wrongs from murder to forgetting to return a book to a friend who'd loan it to you. The latter just needs you to return the book and say, "I'm sorry I kept this for so long." The former needs much more work. Here are some ideas for active atonement and penance to bring you peace and forgiveness--if not from others, then from yourself.

  • In-person apology. Just saying you're sorry is a powerful thing.
  • Asking for forgiveness. This is the natural next step. Depending on what happened, the person you are asking for forgiveness from may not give it readily or at all. That doesn't negate the importance of asking for it. If they don't give it, that is simply something you have to accept.
  • Writing a letter of apology. Sometimes it's not possible or easy to do a face-to-face apology for a wrong. A letter gives you space to fully outline how you feel.
  • Service. Depending on your abuse, active service to the person or people you hurt is another powerful way to demonstrate your penance. It also is a physical way to let yourself know that you're taking actions towards atonement and forgiveness. If you graffiti-ed someone's fence, then in this scenario, you'll be repainting it.
  • Confinement. You may need to be confined depending on the hurt you've done. This can mean incarceration, restriction of access to certain people, and other forms of confinement to be accountable for your actions. It's not the best solution, although in some ways you may need to have some kind of separation from a situation before you can make amends.
  • Confessing your abuses and sins to a priest. This really is an important function of any spiritual teacher or clergyman. Done in sincerity, this can be truly freeing.
  • Confessing to God through prayer. God is on-call 24-7; you might as well take advantage of that open and free hotline. Confess it all, and ask for God's forgiveness. This can also be really amazing and powerful for you.

The Power of Forgiveness
Genuinely aspiring for forgiveness will bring you towards the resolution you need. It may not be the resolution that you want. You may feel the brunt of your abuse reflected back to you. The idea isn't for you to now become the victim, and you shouldn't have to have pain inflicted on you. The eye-for-an-eye methodology has locked us in cycles of pain for millenia, but don't expect this all to be a super easy process. It's going to hurt a little as the pain you've brought to others comes home. Now you get a chance to start to feel through what the other person felt. It's not fun.

But you may also find more forgiveness in the other person than you might have expected. Because in so doing, the other person is freeing themselves of a burden that they've carried as victim. You both have a vested interest in the process of forgiveness. It will re-balance both of your senses of power. It's a super vulnerable place to be in, but as I've often found in my own process, vulnerability is at the center of some of our deepest power. In essence, by learning how to become vulnerable to your own emotions and to others you are now learning where your true power is and how to be in that power. Your ego will scream. Your ego will kick. Your ego will scratch, claw, and bite thinking that you're going to be harmed. And this won't be clean or easy, necessarily. But coming through this fire, you will find the path and strength to heal and become whole again. And you may even begin to find out what true power really is all about.

Next blog: Healing Sexual Dysfunction: Promiscuity, Pain Practices, and Other Perversions 

Today's photo comes from my student, Jenn. Thanks!
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