One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same any place in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear. — Dave Brubeck



Showing posts with label Bob Hoffman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bob Hoffman. Show all posts

Saturday, July 17, 2021

How does the past become the past? Therapy, Jesus and Zen

My Facebook Zen friend, James Kenney, asked a wonderfully provocative question: “Is forgiveness an act of will?”

Psychologists define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. 

Whether forgiveness is a will-act, whether it’s voluntary or conditional, and what happens to your state of mind, are also issues worth examining. The psychological definition says it's a choice that allows a person to forgive another for an offense or an act that was illegal or immoral. It is intentional.

When someone forgives someone, they let go of negative emotions. When a debt is forgiven, there is a release of any expectation or commitment for repayment or compensation.

Perhaps in terms of the law and psychotherapeutic practice these definitions are useful, but as a practitioner, I find they don’t go far enough. I’m going to posit forgiveness as being finished with the past in the sense that the trauma becomes a complete chapter of personal history without any holdovers in one’s present everyday life. This includes being able to handle any residual flashes of negative emotion as well as not suffering any real financial or physical consequences from the other person’s action. I’ve set the bar quite high. Forgiveness is like an act of God, but very possible for us humans too. We all make mistakes. We all need forgiveness.

In my response to James’s question on Facebook I mentioned that I was raped by Bob Hoffman within 6 months after I finished the Process of Psychic Therapy, and when a senior Hoffman teacher asked me why I hadn’t been able to “move on,” I said that I chose not to. It’s part of being compassionate.

Then a no-doubt well-intentioned person told me that I just had to forgive Hoffman. I found the injunction extremely annoying, but I could not pin down why. I felt that my respondent had both missed the point and misconstrued my intention. However there was something more. I was told I had to forgive to live fully, but not condone the act. That I had to dispel the darkness, or something. Of course when I went back to copy the response so that I could digest it, the writer had taken it down.

I hate being told what’s in my best interest. But now that I’ve owned up to my off-the-shelf response, perhaps I can examine why I resist this blanket injunction to forgive. I’ve actually written about this in some detail, “Forgive and Forget Hoffman?” where I examine one possible underlying motivations, playing the victim card, which is what I think the senior Hoffman teacher was snidely inferring with his admonition wrongly framed as a therapeutic question: isn’t it time to move on?

Thanks for advice I didn’t request, and, actually, I get to decide when, what and if to forgive. But instead of just firing off a “Fuck off,” I’ll take it the opportunity to spell out my reasons for rejecting the self-serving advicethe teacher does make money selling Hoffman’s Process, and my well-intentioned respondent reads New Age self-help books although I am unsure if he gets a percentage.

It’s not in the past because it’s not in the past. There are limits to being able to just declare something ancient history, to forgive and forget.

I was enjoined to dispel the darkness of past events that are blatantly evil and destructive. I’m going to posit that just dismissing them and their consequences under some command to “move on” is not particularly useful or helpful simply because it’s not honest.

My friend Susan Murphy, an insightful Australian Zen teacher, responding to my question as to whether or not I was playing the victim card, pointed to the story of Jesus at Capernaum when he healed a man whose friends had to lower him through the roof of a house where Jesus was with some friends--the crowd so dense that this was the only way to get Jesus’s attention. Some version of the story appears in all three synoptic gospels.

The writers of the story clearly separate two aspects of Jesus’s healing. First off Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” That’s the most important one: the man’s faith and that of his friends have caught the attention of Jesus, and he does what he was sent to do, forgive sins. But it is after all a teaching story, so there are objections: scribes and Pharisees, also present, at least rhetorically, ask, ‘How can you forgive? That power belongs only to God.’ And here are the words Jesus responded with in Mark’s gospel: "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? “ The man stands and picks up his mat, demonstrating Jesus’s power, but it also says, compared to forgiving sins, that was the easy part.

And, in the blink of an eye, the past becomes the past.

Why the deliberate separation of two events or perhaps two sides of the same event? Forgiveness is an act of grace and god, and then the disappearance of the physical impairment, the man’s disability becoming just part of his ancient history. The implication is that they may not always be a miracle as commonly understood, but, because Jesus is neither a charlatan nor soothsayer nor fake miracle worker, the act of forgiveness belongs to God alone. However depending on factors we cannot fully understand, there may or may not be the sought after physical, magical cure. But this nuance is left for the commentator or preacher at a later date.

And this is Susan’s observation: “When Jesus told the paralysed man who had been lowered through the roof for a miracle, ‘Pick up your bed and walk,’ effectively he was acting not in the name of supernatural power but in the name of the forgiveness he was asserting that [he] had a right to bestow, because ‘justice is mine’, (or was his, as the Lord). What I see here is that the true miracle, then, was not the performance of a nature-bending act, it was forgiveness. He veered away from performing miracles after that. They were cheapening his teaching. . . . Forgiveness is surely the actualising of love.”

I promised Zen! I quoted a Zen teacher’s reference to the Gospel of Jesus. Let me bring Zen to the Gospel.

A small band of Zen monks carry a paralized brother to meet Jesus in Capernaum, and get his blessing. Like many people here in India lining up for darshan, they’re seeking some relief for their sufferings, also a very Zen thing to do, but following their training, they don’t have too many expectations. They set the stage for a Buddhist encounter with Jesus. 

Their Zen training suddenly throws a lot of work into the scenario. They carry the man obviously a long way from a distant Eastern ashram. Then they find the materials and tools to fashion a ladder to get up to the roof. They certainly can’t steal one. After determining where Jesus was sitting, they carefully cut an opening in the ceiling, not hurting anyone in the room with falling debris. Each one of these actions is deliberate, requiring planning and effort. The work is performed as carefully and mindfully as possible. They’re monks after all. I didn’t mention that they might also have to learn Aramaic but there’s already enough to do without that so let’s throw in the magical appearance of a good interpreter.

Somehow they climb down into the presence of Jesus with the brother they’ve just lowered in a sling, and hear, “Your sins are forgiven.” They also hear the Pharisees' question: “Doesn’t forgiveness of sins belong to God?” "Good question," they say, and the dharma combat begins. The Pharisees are often the fall guys in the Gospel stories, but not our Zen monks: What is forgiveness of sins exactly? What is there to forgive? Are a misstep or an evil act the same? These monks live by the Law of dependent origination, Paticca-samuppada. Something in their brother’s past resulted in his paralysis. At least in that regard, on the surface, although Jesus does not talk about any cause for the man’s affliction, there seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that it was the result of something in his past, his sins. In Zen they were taught to chant: “All my ancient twisted karma from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion, born through body, speech, and mind. I now fully avow.” 

I promised therapy. Here is an examination of the mental results of past events.

I will try to frame the conclusion of this conversation with some tested therapeutic hypotheses. I remained in negative transference for years to a man, a trusted therapist, whom I turned to for counsel at a time of personal crisis when I was very vulnerable, and he abused me sexually and emotionally.

I recognize my personal event in this Jesus story, and thank Susan for providing the match up for me to work with. Of course Hoffman’s rape paralized meI am the paralytic lowered through the roof. Hoffman’s abuse surely cut off opportunities that might have been open to me were I not in transference for so long; there were always blocks working with teachers because on some very deep level I couldn’t trust them; there was sexual dysfunction and frustration; there was alcohol and substance abuse; there were the silly issues with partners that popped upwhen I managed to find someone willing to put up with my defensiveness. I certainly would have preferred to exit the dead-ended process earlier. I can imagine the possibility of having time and energy to explore other avenues, but those daydreams didn’t happen.

And yes, I regret those lost opportunities although I’ve managed to find compassion for Bob Hoffman who was himself a closeted gay man racked by self-doubt, psychosis, and loneliness. It is not difficult to be truly forgiving and compassionate when you really comprehend the pain of another person’s life. It seems to actually spring up naturally without effort or responding to a command to move on. And, in my case it happened in its own course after I was willing to do the work of unraveling the complex story of my abuse.

But I am not ready to forgive Hoffman's actiions. They had real consequences. My greatest loss doing the process of psychic therapy was the destruction of an admittedly tenuous relationship with my father. I was in crisis when I undertook work with Hoffman, but my father did not abuse me. Hoffman didhe really abused me, but managed through his psychic therapy to blame my dad (and then forgive in his again fictional way). As a result I had almost zero relationship with my father, a wonderfully kind and good man, for most of my adult life. Hoffman even fed me a wildly speculative made-up story about my father being gay. My father lived to be almost 101 years old, and I was lucky that we shared a few very rich years of real friendship at the end of his life. I missed out on 40, but I am still very grateful. Yes, that past is fully past, but some gifts remain and can be nurtured.

Why do intelligent people believe nonsense? Because when we’re vulnerable and in pain, we need to experience compassion. Instead I had the bad luck to be an object to fulfill a charlatan’s need for sexual gratification. The real answer to the question about "moving on" is that the compassion and forgiveness had to be for myself, not Hoffman. And because I’ve opted for the Zen route, it was not like just falling through a hole in the roof or being lowered into a Blessed Presence. I traveled from afar with the help of companions. That was my good luck, and I remained angry enough at Hoffman’s abuse to get to the heart of the matter. At least for me that route could not be short circuited.

The hip coffee house New Age sage will tell you that not forgiving only hurts you. There’s no one to hurt but yourself so why not “Move On”? By contrast, in legendary Zen a deceptively ordinary lady at the tea stand doesn’t order you around but rather asks a simple, innocent sounding, straight forward question: “hey Mr. Paralytic, is that ‘not-walking-mind’ past, present or future?” A good answer might allow you to step into the radical present. The past is past because it’s past; the future might exist in hopes and dreams, perhaps sadly colored with regret; the only place to walk into is this moment.

If there was a tea stand in Capernaum, you can bet that there were no crowds like the ones surrounding Jesus. Zen is oftimes a lonely practice, but maybe a few stragglers found their way there after Jesus had performed enough miracles for one day. They would be lucky if they came armed with some good questions. But that might take some work, work that’s still to be done, like finding a real path to forgiveness.

In Zen forgiveness is an act of will if you choose the right path and refuse to settle for an easy way out. Then the Blessed Presence thing just happens. That cannot be willed.

And to the Hoffman teacher who told me to “Move on.” Thanks for the free advice, but “Fuck Off.”


P.S. When the Hoffman teacher asked why I waited until now to write a hit piece, I listed all the writing that I've been doing over almost two decades: My Hoffman Process Writings.

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