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Yesterday I returned from my visit to the monastery.
There were some deeply meaningful things that happened there I can’t wait to share but – for now – let’s veer off into something “seemingly” insignificant.
During our welcome orientation, I learned there were two celebrities staying on the property.
One was Sister Helen Prejean (the nun from Dead Man Walking) and the other was a movie star I won’t name for reasons that will soon become obvious.
I should also mention this was a silent retreat, which is where the story gets interesting.
The next morning at breakfast I noticed the movie star brought her dog – a small poodle who was great at observing the rules… with one tiny exception.
The poodle liked me.
I mean, really liked me.
I don’t own a dog and I don’t attract dogs normally but on three separate occasions this one made a beeline for my feet.
The first time I bent over, petted the dog and said, “I like your friend.”
No eye contact.
No response whatsoever.
That afternoon, I bumped into the movie star again and the same thing happened.
Dog heads straight for my feet.
This time, however, I stood there awkwardly – until it became too awkward – then I petted the dog and quickly moved along.
Cut to day two.
That afternoon I went on what can only be described as a glorious hike in the woods across from the abbey.
When I returned to the guest house, I discovered the movie star sitting in the communal area writing in her journal.
Cue the poodle.
Exhilarated from my walk, the sunshine, and the deep gratitude of being in this sacred space, I started petting the dog and smiled warmly at its owner.
“Friendly little guy you have here.” I said.
Except I didn’t get to finish my sentence.
The movie star whipped her arm around – creating a dividing line between us – and said “EXCUSE ME!!!!” very loudly. She then pointed to a sign on the table that read: Silence is spoken here.
The irony of screaming for silence only occurred to me after the fact because – in that moment – all I could do was stand there with my mouth open.
It’s easy to wonder how you’d respond in moments like these.
Get angry and yell back?
Mumble something under your breath and huff off?
In my case it took me a few seconds to process what happened – “Did she really just…?” – but I walked away without saying another word.
For the rest of the day my brain wanted to replay the scene over and over, cementing the anger and resulting in a growing desire to “get even.”
I pictured myself blasting her by name on this blog.
I played out the evil eye I was going to give her at dinner.
And then, thankfully, a loving thought broke through.
Only a wounded soul would have reacted like that.
Suddenly, I realized not only did her behavior say something about the pain she must be feeling – but the inability to let it go said something about mine.
I’ll spare you the psychoanalysis and just note that, once I made a decision to probe deeper into why this was such a big deal in my mind, there were things I needed to release that were completely unrelated to the movie star’s behavior.
This is how projection works, right?
Someone acts in a way that causes us to flare up, but as long as our anger is pointed at them we’re safe from having to look at ourselves.
This, incidentally, is the real work of forgiveness.
– Forgiving the other person for acting from the highest consciousness they could muster.
– Forgiving yourself for whatever thoughts or behaviors came in that window of time when you felt most hurt.
A Course in Miracles draws parallels between forgiveness and the word “atonement”, which can also be read as At-One-Ment.
The state of being at One with ourselves and each other is the Course’s definition of happiness – but achieving it requires a literal moment-by-moment practice of forgiveness and reflection.
In a world where it’s easy to feel helpless about everything that’s going on “out there”, it’s also easy to forget that the big injustices begin – with us – in our tiny decisions to hold on to grievances or let them go.
Did I receive an apology from the movie star?
Have you received an apology from everyone who has hurt you this year?
Probably not – but that’s life.
And so as we enter this season of fresh starts and new beginnings, let’s release them anyway.
Only then can we truly call these holidays “Holy Days.”