by Roger A. “Pete” Peterson
When I was four my biological father died and my mother remarried my stepfather a year later. Many of us have volatile childhood relationships; mine was no exception. I felt ignored, misunderstood and bullied at home and in school. Catholic school told us: “you’re bad (Original Sin) and you can’t trust your body because it will always betray you.” A week later, I was in public school telling my new teacher about how the local catholic school treated its students. When I asked him how public schools treat students, his face turned red in anger, and he yelled at me: “Sit down, shut up and do as I tell you. I’m the teacher, and I know what’s best for you!”
In my senior year of high school (1959-1960), as soon as I turned seventeen, I quit and joined the Air Force to get away from home and school. I was angry with the world. I was even more upset with myself for not being able to understand and fix what was happening to me.
After being discharged, I returned home to finish high school and attend college. Little had changed. Whenever we had a family gathering and started drinking, Dad and I would open up old wounds and start arguing over who was right or wrong, good or bad. Once, he became so aggressive; I had to grip both sides of his white dress shirt to hold him off. Without warning, he surged forward even more aggressively, and his shirt tore apart in my hands. Shocked, we both stopped arguing.
After graduating from college and spending several years trying to build a business, my wife, our two children and I packed up and moved to California. March Air Force Base outside of Riverside, CA had been my last permanent duty base before being discharged in 1964, and it was the one place I had been truly happy. In Maine, no one wanted to talk about who we are and what reality is, but in California, everyone wanted to talk about it. It was 1973; I was 30 years old.
In college, I had started practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) to help reduce my high blood pressure. One day in the mid-1980s, after completing the mantra portion of TM, I sat quietly. Thoughts bubbled up to the surface of my mind and disappeared. A short way into the process one area of thought grew stronger and took center stage. I was reliving life with my parents.
Brushing the volatile and unhappy moments of our history aside, I began to look at our relationship from a new perspective. Instead of looking at what my parents did in a negative way, I began to look at it in a positive way. As a father and husband myself, I could now evaluate how well my parents did. They managed to feed four boys and keep a roof over our heads despite the challenges they faced in life.
From the time my mother married my stepfather, we had a large garden. When he first married my mother, he had one racehorse. Several years later, we had three, so we went to races and fairs every year. When I turned twelve, dad sold his horses and bought a thirty-foot boat that was rumored to have been used by Joe Kennedy and others to run rum and guns up from Cuba during Prohibition, through the Florida Keys.
During the summer we cruised Casco Bay off Portland, fished, swam, water skied and had picnics on Basket Island. At home, over the years, we had chickens, goats, cats, dogs, rabbits, rhubarb and even flowers in our lives. As kids, we were able to ice skate, run free in the woods, climb trees and make maple syrup.
What more could I ask of my parents, I thought? Weren’t they doing the best they could and trying to learn more to do better? Don’t we all do the best we can and try to understand more to do better? In that moment of insightful clarity, I couldn’t help but forgive them and myself for our real and imagined sins. Still, in meditation, I reached out with my mind and asked them to forgive me for being so distant, angry and ungrateful for so many years.
The tension and negativity that had existed between us for so long, suddenly melted away in a flood of tears, replaced by a profound sense of understanding, forgiveness, and love. If we’re all doing the best we can and learning more to do better, what more can we ask of each other? As long as we’re trying to learn from our experiences, what is there to forgive?
From the moment I forgave my parents and asked for their forgiveness in return, our relationship changed dramatically. During later visits to Maine, my parents and I treated each other in new and loving ways. We often hugged, which is something we never did before. Even though they didn’t directly experience the revelation I had during meditation, it seemed to affect them as much as it did me. Our relationship was no longer guarded and stressful, and from this time on, there was no more heavy drinking or arguing.
This experience has also contributed to improvements in how my wife and I relate to each other and our growing family. For us, it’s no longer about judging experiences; it’s about learning from them. It’s not about right and wrong, good and bad behavior or I win, you lose; it’s about paying attention to our experiences and learning from them. It’s about paying attention and recognizing what works and what doesn’t, what makes us happy and what doesn’t. Instead of using material-centered values like money, power, and privilege to measure success, which tends to create separation and imbalance, we use emotional values like love, truth, and joy to measure success because it supports and benefits all of us?
For years, I was unhappy with many people and things in my life. My current challenge is to give and receive forgiveness in my relationship with everyone. Is it possible to love everyone unconditionally and still not like who they are and what they do at the moment? When we expand our definition of what and who we are and what reality is, we can! It’s a matter of perspective. By paying attention to our experiences and learning the difference between what we like and what we don’t; what works for us and what doesn’t, what makes us happy and what doesn’t, we learn how to create what we want. How can we create the ideal without eliminating the less than ideal?
It seems to me the easiest and least costly way to change the world for the better is for you and me to change ourselves for the better. Life is challenging for everyone, so why beat ourselves up over it? Is it fair to look for fault in others while our own go unattended? What do we gain except misery by picking on each other? Learning how to forgive each other and ourselves is a great place to start. It frees us to live, love, grow and change in new ways.
If you liked The Healing Power of Forgiveness, you may also like: Talk to the Universe. About to leave the military in 1964, with nothing more than a General Educational Development (GED) certificate and a habit of heavy drinking to ease my fears and inhibitions, there was much for me to think about. Late one night, before being discharged, I felt an undeniable impulse to go outside and lie under the stars. This is the story of what happened.
Pete – https://realtalkworld.com
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having (creating) a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Instead of money, power and privilege, would love, truth and joy work better as our dominant measure of success? The first set of values isolates us in the material world of separation, scarcity, and competition while the other establishes our oneness with and separation from All That Is. It also acknowledges that we’re not only products of creation but creation itself. Values like love, truth, and joy encourage us to live for the love of Being and Creation, instead of running from the fear of suffering and death. They inspire us to find and express what we like most about ourselves and ALL That Is, instead of justifying ruthlessness, cruelty, oppression and manipulation for the sake of short-term, personal gain.
In life and business, how often do we ask: is what I’m doing worthy of my ideals? Do my actions improve the quality of life or undermine it? Do they improve humanity’s chances of survival or threaten it?
How we define ourselves and the world around us forms our intent, which, in turn, creates our reality, whether by fault or default, intentionally or unintentionally. If we don’t take responsibility for choosing our beliefs, we unconsciously absorb them from our surroundings. If that is so, how can we afford not to question them?
Should a meaningful “education” include learning to do for ourselves what others will not or cannot do for us?
What do we want most for our children, ourselves and the world?
What can we do today for the selves we’ll be tomorrow?
What works best and makes us happiest?
The secrets of the universe lie hidden in the shadows of our experience. Look for them!
Affirm what you believe!