In response to “Letter from Deborah”, a fellow pilgrim has alerted me to this powerful artwork by Australian Indigenous artist Bindi Cole, made with emu feathers, currently on display at the Queensland Art Gallery. Whilst Bindi’s artwork can be seen as a response to the public apology given by Kevin Rudd in 2008, on behalf of settler Australians, to Indigenous Australians , it is also a very intimate work that addresses her own personal trauma and pain. In the video below, rather than feeling as though the act of forgiveness was giving something away, Bindi talks about how the act of forgiveness empowered her and helped her to heal.
What it means to “forgive” is a uniquely personal response to pain and healing. In 2007, when I went on pilgrimage to the 33 temples dedicated to Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in Japan, I carried prayers on behalf of others that were specifically about “forgiveness”. “Forgiveness” was the theme of the pilgrimage that year.
For so many people that act of writing a prayer offering forgiveness to someone for having hurt them was a transformative and powerful act, even if the one who had inflicted the hurt had passed away or would never receive the words of the offering in person. Sometimes we may think that we have already forgiven the hurt, or that it doesn’t matter, or that it’s better to just forget it and move on, but this action of writing and bearing witness to ourselves is a very important part of our healing journey. Just as Bindi was able to express this forgiveness in her art, so too can we all participate in a creative act of healing by writing down those words – “I forgive you”. There it is – right in front of you – real, tangible, indelible.
For me, offering all those prayers with the recurring mantra “I forgive you” was also a very powerful and transformative experience. As I progressed from one temple to another I became quite overwhelmed by the tremendous energy that was being generated by this act of saying “I forgive you” over and over again. These prayers were being offered to individuals, to communities, to the planet – creating a wave of emu-feather soft energy that swelled in intensity until it was a capital-letter roar! It was such a cleansing and yet profoundly empowering act. And I cried a lot – for my own pain and the collective pain of all of us, sharing in one another’s suffering and yet feeling the tremendous release and freedom that came from the performance of the rituals of prayer. Afterwards, many people wrote to tell me that they felt a great weight had somehow been lifted from their hearts. And so we can help to heal ourselves and one another through these kinds of creative and declarative actions.
A fellow pilgrim asked me recently, “But what does that really mean: to forgive someone?” This is a very good question because it certainly isn’t as simple as it may sound. My feeling is that, although the words themselves are very powerful, somewhere deeper in our heart, forgiveness is an experience of an honest acknowledgment that there is pain, and that this still hurts, even if we are ‘supposed’ to have let it go. However, when we act upon our own pain with the compassion of a mother holding her child who is hurting, a mother who acknowledges the pain and at the same time offers a gentle whisper of unconditional love and support, without anger or recrimination, entirely focussed on the act of loving – then healing begins. I think this is the core of forgiveness – in some ways it is not even about the aggressor, who may never know of this offering of forgiveness, but instead it is about approaching our own pain with softness and dignity. Perhaps it is also about forgiving ourselves for still holding on to past hurts and allowing that this is okay and not to judge ourselves too harshly. Compassionate gentle loving – that is the start of healing.
You can read more about Bindi Cole’s journey of forgiveness in this article here.
Here are two videos about Bindi Cole’s artwork “I Forgive You” – one 25 minutes, one 2 minutes – I recommend the long one!