While preparing for prostate surgery more than a year ago, one of the most helpful practices I found was a meditative CD that helped loosen my anticipated pain and fears. I could envision releasing them through my toes and fingertips.
This visioning practice, if you will, helped guide me for a successful result: removing cancer along with the gland. It’s a technique I try to incorporate occasionally while doing Kripalu yoga or otherwise shedding some unwanted knotted feeling.
Yet how do we release toxicity in our relationships? How do we replace that with something akin to letting in a restorative light, the complementary part of that vision?
The benefits are clear. Yet it’s often so hard to do.
It involves doing so much internal work. Perhaps puncturing our denial or revulsion at actions and attitudes. Seeking more dialogue with less angst about the future. And meeting those who have disappointed us more than halfway on a road toward reconciliation.
Earlier this week, pausing even momentarily to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, I came across an excerpt of his writing that offers something crucial to this endeavor. Indeed, it’s an age-old path to healing, if not grace.
Which feels so crucially relevant today.
Internal cleansing is so hard to do.
In a speech Dr. King gave in 1961 to white liberals—some of whom were objecting to student sit-ins and freedom rides, and preferred a more gradual approach to civil rights—he emphasized the tenets of non-violent resistance.
Those engaged in nonviolent struggle must never inflict injury upon another—not striking back if hit, nor cursing back if sworn at, he told them. Yet in addition to resisting external violence by not retaliating physically, King urged the group to go deeper: reconcile what’s inside of themselves while loving their enemy.
Nonviolence also meant “that they avoid internal violence of spirit,” he said. Which involves meeting others where they are, and embracing them unconditionally.
There’s something so gentle about this approach that one may deservedly wonder how it even applies today. Is this too naïve or soft? Yet consider being consumed by an internal violence of spirit.
Is that what prevails if we fail to search our hearts, truly opening them, to face our own roles in “external” conflicts – whether families are divided, amongst friends, or bigger forces?
That internal din suffocates forward movement and healing.
Was 2017 the year we flushed down toxicity?
Continuing the speech, King referenced one of three words in the Greek language for love: agape.
Agape, he said, “is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not because he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him.“
While it’s pretty difficult to like people who want to do you harm, for example, it’s still necessary to love them, King reminds us.
As 2017 closed, I wondered if it would be remembered as a year when we flushed a lot of toxicity away, or at least faced it. The jury is still out on that one.
Externally, if not within our own circles, will this be a year of reckoning? Of comeuppance and retaliation?
Conversely, how can I apply that message of understanding to lessen my own internal violence?
And it’s knowin’ I’m not shackled by
Forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some lines
That keeps you in the back roads, by the rivers of my memory
And keeps you ever gentle on my mind.
“Gentle on My Mind” by John Hartford