Watching a news item on the latest political agreement in Northern Ireland, between parties ideologically opposed but seemingly, now, united in a desire to come together in cooperation and peace, reminded me of my first workshop in Belfast, in February 2006.
My visit to Belfast and Londonderry was a highlight of my teaching experience. The Belfast workshop was held on the campus of the famous Queens University. In the afternoon of the second day, we looked at the theory and practice of forgiveness. During the break that followed, my friend Claire suggested that we conduct a forgiveness process between the Protestant and Catholic participants to round off the weekend.
This turned out to be one of the most powerful exercises I have ever witnessed. We asked those who regarded themselves as coming from the Protestant community of this divided province to stand on one side of the room and those who regarded themselves as Catholic to stand on the other. We invited the two groups to form rows facing each other across the room. The moment this was done, what had hitherto been a restrained group, dissolved into floods of tears as the pain of decades, if not generations, of division came to the surface.
Claire and I invited the groups to take one step at a time towards each other. The idea was that they would meet in the middle of the room. In fact, so eager were they to join that the ‘sides’ needed no encouragement. They were in the centre, hugging one another before I knew what had happened.
Although the process occurred rather faster than anticipated, the result was perfect. It was enormously moving to witness and I was so overcome with emotion, myself, that I could barely speak my next words.
This exercise had demonstrated powerfully both the pain of separation and the desire to forgive — to recognise connection and experience healing and joining — in this divided society.
It was also clear to me that, for all of us, wherever we live, the pain of our self-imposed isolation is almost intolerable and that our longing for true connection is massive — despite political, social, religious, cultural, racial, ethnic, economic and class divisions, despite our deeply cherished and fixed positions, our need to be right, to find fault, to point the finger of blame and to justify our claims of being unfairly treated.
We all just want to join with our brothers, in what is merely the recognition of our true state. Despite what the other may have said or done, or what we think or feel, I believe this is always the case. The pain of denying the truth is just too much to bare.
“Let your mind wander not through darkened corridors, away from light’s center. You and your brother may choose to lead yourselves astray, but you can be brought together only by the Guide appointed for you. He will surely lead you to where God and His Son await your recognition. They are joined in giving you the gift of oneness, before which all separation vanishes.” (A Course in Miracles, Text page 290)
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