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The unclenched fist is free!

I don’t think I hate any body. An elderly Brother I once lived with used to say, “Damien, life is too short to hate!” How true!

One of the saddest moments in my life was to visit an elderly first cousin of my mothers who was in palliative care. Sadly Zena’s cousin was so angry at life, so bitter, so full of vengeance for the hurts of her life. You could almost see the hardness in her face and certainly her expression. Sitting by her bed was one of the most difficult hours of my life. On another occasion the brother of a friend of mine was estranged from his father. The father was dying. My friend begged his brother to visit his father in hospital, to make peace, to say what needed to be said from the heart. Sadly he could not or would not.

I have recalled before how for many years I lived with the regret that my wonderful father Frank had died without my having any memory of every saying to him, “Dad I love you!” I may have said it when I was three or four – but I have no memory of it. I always believed that one day, when dad was in his eighties I would be sitting by his hospital bed and I would reach out, take his hand, and tell him how much he meant to me. But I didn’t and one July I got the fateful phone call to rush home to Townsville for dad was dying. I did not make it. Fast forward thirty years and I shared this story with a group of 17 year old boys on a retreat. As we moved off to morning tea, the Captain of my mighty Sixth XV, Greg, came over to me and said, “Pricey, your father knew that you loved him!” I tried to dismiss Greg, turning to some cleaning up. Greg was not to be dismissed. He gently put his hand on my shoulder and repeated his line. Again, I attempted to turn away. Again Greg gently insisted. I turned to Greg and the tears swelled up and Greg hugged me. Greg liberated me helping me to unclench the fist I had been beating myself up with.

We can approach life with a closed fist. We can harshly judge. We can hold on to blame. We can exclude. We can lash out. We can “keep a record of wrongs”! We can allow bitterness to wrap its ivy like tentacles around us and strangled our hearts. When we do our eyes grow cold, our love paranoidly selective and our hearts harden.

“Who on their death bed wished they spent more time at the office?” Conversely, “who on their death bed has energy for childhood quarrels, unjust treatment, wills that exclude or reputations or treasures squandered! Too many in our world live with a clenched fist. They are ‘at war’ with everyone and everything. In truth, they are actually at war with themselves.

Sadly many justify their ‘clenched’ fist through religious, political, racial justifications. They are a threat because ‘they’ are not of my tribe. They are a threat because ‘they’ are not of my religion. They are wrong because ‘they’ do not see the world politically the same way I do. How sad. How narrow. How short sighted. I have a friend whose son belongs to a quite fundamentalist Christian church. My friend has, over recent years, embraced various forms of what we might call ‘new age’ religion. My friend is dying and the son won’t even talk to their parent because they “do not proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour!” The Jesus I believe in weeps at such a world view and belief system. I am so sorely tempted to reach for Psalm 95, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts!” Sadly this could be an example of my own ‘clenched fist!’

Ultimately life is about journeying into true inner freedom. Ultimately life is about truly knowing what is truly important and to let go of that which is tinsel, rubbish, propaganda and ego driven hot air. Can you ‘hold lightly’? Can you forgive? When you forgive and when you hold lightly – YOU are liberated!

The American psychiatrist Gerard Jampolsky says:

“From the perspective of love and spirit, forgiveness is willingness to let go of the hurtful past. It is the decision to no longer suffer – to heal your heart and soul –it is the choice to no longer find value in hatred or anger – and it is the letting go of the desire to hurt others or ourselves because of something that is already in the past. It is willingness to open our eyes to the light in other people rather to judge and condemn them.”

Again, another American Robert Enright says of forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgement and indifferent behaviour towards one who has unjustly injured us while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity and even love towards him or her.”

The heart sets and mindsets articulated by Enright and Jampolsky liberate! When you can let go of resentment – YOU become free. When you forgive – even when you were unjustly treated or harmed – YOU become free. This does not for a second excuse what was unjustly done to you. What was wrong is still wrong – but you are liberated – you can look the perpetrator in the eye with an inner freedom.

I have seen too many people growing old holding on to revenge, to judgement, to hatred, having made a golden calf out of their view of the world. They are right and oh so righteous. And what does it all achieve? Nothing, other than a bitter, twisted end. On your death bed – who cares who inherited the money and who didn’t! On your death bed – who cares whether you were given out unjustly on 99! On your death bed – who cares whether you were rich or famous – only loved and loving. On your death bed who cares that someone else was given the accolades for what you actually dreamed or achieved.

Yes, the clenched fist only hardens your heart. Revenge – “an eye for an eye” only leaves the world more blind. And a “tooth for a tooth” only leaves you looking like a front row forward for the Cunnamulla Rugby side! Retribution only shackles the next generation with a endless cycle of war and violence that only creates an endless lose – lose dynamic. Sure, some with false ego with prance around saying, “We won, we won!” But the seeds of revenge, of injustice, of pay back are already germinating in hearts and minds compromised by our childish games.

So how do we liberate? How do we hold lightly? How do we love freely? Firstly grow ever deeper, daily, into great self awareness. Become ‘ego aware’ – become aware of that little egoic voice on your shoulder that stupidly wants to you to frame everything as a battle and war that you MUST WIN and they must lose. Become aware of that little egoic voice on your shoulder that stupidly loves painting all and sundry as the ‘enemy’. From this awareness choose to see the beauty around you and within you. Grow each day in gratitude for what you have – and for what is truly important. Grad an A4 sheet of paper and write on it, “What is truly important?” and pin it to the back of your bedroom door!

Unclench the fist. Disarm – and disarming is not weak. In fact, unclenching and disarming takes great courage, great humility – and great wisdom. But do so – and you will discover a true inner freedom, your eyes will sparkle, you will gain perspective and all around you – will stand back in admiration of your noble humanity.

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