Uwe Blesching, Contributor
Make no mistake, bankruptcies or foreclosures, are a serious crisis. The sustained mental and emotional stress commonly experienced during the months or years of bankruptcy or foreclosure process is toxic stress. This type of stress has been shown to increase the risk of developing chronic de- generative diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression, as well as increases in drug abuse and domestic violence. But, we are getting ahead of an all too common story.
You buy a house, your slice of the American dream. You move in and make it your very own beautiful castle. It gives you and your loved ones shelter, warmth, a sense of safety, security, a place to be together and belong among the many other intangible qualities that make life worth living.
Then something happens. A serious illness, a loss of income, a layoff, or an economy going down the drain. You are struggling to make ends meet. You tread water and dig deeper into debt to keep afloat. Your debt is beginning to take its toll, getting worse until it feels like it is drowning you. You take out a second loan to pay off the rising credit cards. Now you are under water. You can’t make your mortgage payments. The bank does not care. It has no heart; it is not human (no matter what Citizens United says) and exists solely to make more money. And, they want it no matter what.
Faceless debt collectors with made-up names start calling. Frequent uses of bullying tactics intimidate with fear, and instill guilt to force you to pay, are an all too often common day practice. The emotional toll begins to add up. The stress from the constant bombardment with no apparent solution in sight is not just unhealthy to your body and your mind, but can also destroy families, crush your spirit, and tear away at your soul.
And, while many lawyers and advocates in local government would be willing to help (see attempts at using imminent domain as a way to protect homeowners), few laws or policies are available to protect your home from loss. (Ironically, the US has six abandoned homes for every homeless person in America.) You have tried everything and by now you know the deck of cards is stacked in banks’ favor. Looking at it from a purely materialistic point of view, it certainly would appear that they have the power, the resources, the time, the laws, and the political system in their corner.
Another point of view deals with the imprisoning emotions associated with bankruptcies or foreclosures, such as fear, anger, and despair. Unexpressed, or inappropriately expressed, these emotions contribute to an already overwhelming experience of dealing with often hostile debt collectors with the power to throw you and your loved ones into the street.
Here, however we can step up and refuse to be imprisoned by these emotions and take steps to set our selves free.
So, how do we begin the process of mapping out potential ways to deal with these emotions, and by extension, the crisis constructively? Well, one way is to look for advice from people who have managed to not just survive, but thrive in the face of constant oppression that also engenders these emotional experiences.
For instance, how did South Africans deal with the threat of constant institutionalized racism rained upon them by Apartheid? Similarly, how do the people of Tibet weather the still omnipresent, violent oppression by the Chinese governmental forces with the directive to diminish the power, culture, and spiritual tradition of an entire people?
After the death of Apartheid, South Africans created a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that heard from perpetrators and their victims alike to begin the process of forgiveness as a way to heal the fear, anger, and hurt to create opportunities to move on.
Bill Moyers asked Desmond Tutu, one of the foremost leaders against Apartheid, “What do you actually do when you forgive someone?”
It would be difficult to find a culture or a spiritual belief system that does not praise the healing balm of forgiveness. We are told that every bit of forgiveness is a gift to you. Even modern science chimes in. In a recent study conducted at the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami discovered that even merely imagining forgiving someone had a measurable effect on your health. So how do you actually do it, and why don’t we do it more often?
Forgiveness is often mistaken for a weakness rather than seen as strength. Some hold it as a shortcut or a copout. Others believe forgiveness to be a cheap justification to just do whatever you want. It is also often mistaken as giving up or admitting failure. Many people also fear forgiveness. If I do forgive I will reopen a wound, a hurt, a humiliation and I don’t want to ever deal with that “awful” feeling again. Yet, others think forgiveness is arrogant or “only God forgives.” With beliefs like these, it is no wonder many don’t want to engage the power contained in forgiveness.
To access the power in forgiveness you must engage your capacity for thinking and feeling. Acknowledge whatever small or large part you may have played in allowing the bankruptcy or foreclosure to enter your experiences. Think of it this way, “you can’t sell the car unless you own it.” Always take the first step on the road to forgiveness by forgiving yourself. Perhaps it is for a bad choice you made? Perhaps it is to forgive yourself for the imprisoning fear or debilitating pain? Maybe it is to forgive yourself for your ill-advised commitment to independence that re- fuses to let anybody help you. What can you learn from this situation? How do you feel about forgiving yourself? What resistances do you encounter? And, can you forgive that resistance?
To own the car so you can sell it, to continue the analogy, consider the following. In the privacy of a meditation, be with whatever feelings your responsibility engenders. Accept, embrace, and forgive that part of your self. Now, that you are forgiving yourself, consider what you don’t have to do anymore. For instance, perhaps I can stop being so paranoid, stop being weak, stop being angry over and over again, or stop always being ready to argue or fight at the drop of a hat. Perhaps I now can see more of the love that was always here, but I could not be seen for all fear I held onto for dear life. Now, how does that feel?
In addition to forgiveness, the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, offers the way of compassion to deal with, fear and despair. He applies reason, patience, and a compassionate attitude as an antidote to these imprisoning emotions.
“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” — Dalai Lama
Considering compassion for yourself in dealing with a hostile bank or aggressive debt collectors can be another nurturing and supportive power in your corner. Ask yourself, is getting angry with the banksters helping you hold on to your home? Is anger helping you to think things through with attention to details? Is the constant presence of anger healthy for you body and your mind? Is losing your patience helping your sense of security and safety? Chances are the answers are no. This does not mean that you can’t express yourself and employ strong counter measures in return.
Ask yourself is it healthy to have compassion for your self? Is it useful to step back and look at the bigger picture? Is it helpful to look at this crisis as a teacher from which you may learn something extraordinary? Chances are the answers could be, yes.
The Dalai Lama teaches one technique called Tong-Len (meaning giving and receiving) to strengthen the power of compassion within you. Tong-Len reverses the habit of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. He instructs you to visualize, in the safety of your mind, a group of people on one side of the room. Now, see these people suffering from turmoil and tragedy of all sorts such as homelessness, war, loss of health, or home. On the other side of the room imagine yourself as self-centered and indifferent to their suffering and pain. Now, in between that selfish you and the group of people in distress place another representation of yourself as a neutral observer. Notice where you feel yourself naturally drawn to? Looking objectively, chances are you will feel drawn to the group of people suffering. Now take in all the suffering of that group of despondent people and give love, joy, success and any type of healing or soothing energy you can muster.
When we think we cannot do the meditation it is because we come up against our own fears, angers and despair. Now we can turn the practice on ourselves.
Take in any present or future suffering such as your fear, anger, despair, and send compassion and forgiveness to yourself. Thus, is the core of Tong-Len.
In the depth of despair, both South Africans and Tibetans discovered a determined vision and commitment to bring about positive changes in non-violent ways. Both refuse being made to feel worthless by an “all powerful aggressor”, by reaching for something larger than them such as a belief in some higher purpose, a deeper meaning, a connection with something deeper, something spiritual, defined by one’s very personal experience or by the religious denomination of their choice.
What all three — forgiveness, compassion, and reaching for something larger than yourself, have in common is that they are subject to conscious intervention. Each is self-empowering and is able to deeply transform your life for the better. The more you own and transcend your imprisoning emotions, and the more you strengthen your expansive ones, the more you contribute to a healing world which, after all, is but an extension of yourself.
About the Author
Uwe Blesching Ph.D., is an author and reseacher in the field of mind-body medicine and his latest book is entitled The Cannabis Health Index: How to Achieve Deep(er) Healing of 100 Chronic Symptoms and Diseases by Linking the Science of Medical Marijuana with the Art of Mind-Body Consciousness. For more information visit: www.cannabishealthindex.com or Amazon.
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