Renewal & The Martial Art of Forgiveness (How Our Interconnectivity Brings Our Vulnerability int

It’s a very special time of year. “The big shift” as my wife calls it. The school year starts, nature begins preparation for change and the windows get a chance to be open for days at a time. The inspiration, motivation and rejuvenating energy makes this season exhilarating for Julia and I. This moment becomes even more pointed as we find ourselves in the interim between two Jewish High Holidays. One celebrates the birthday of the world and the other offers an opportunity to take internal inventory of our moral fiber as well as making amends with those around us. You don’t have to be Jewish to have a desire to make the world a better place by reconnecting to your truest nature, and the natural world around you. The holidays are ritual reminders but how do we shift our perspective so that our world truly becomes sweeter?

Julia and I are listening to a marvelous book called The Overstory by Richard Powers that speaks to the interconnection we have with one another which seeks to sustain us. The novel intertwines the lives of several characters, literally and figuratively in the branches of trees. Mr. Powers reminds us of how a forest is connected by its roots. Just below our line of sight, there is a physical connection between seemingly separate trees. The book points out that the trees actually send out distress signals when there is danger, they intuitively nurture one another and, regardless of species, they connect with one another as a community. This unseen unity is a silent reminder of our interdependence with one another; even between us and the trees. We may see the trees as merely a commodity but they actually sustain our life here on the planet.

I wonder what it would be like if we were all aware of the unseen balance and the relationship that each of us has with everything around us? Would there be less of a sense of isolation? Would there be overwhelming gratitude? Would our perspective shift from the belief that we could only rely on ourselves to make it in the world? Would our suffering give way to sweetness?

I believe most of our suffering stems from a feeling of isolation. This isolation can become augmented as we try to make sense of the daily news which only seems to intensify our fears, frustrations, and feelings of separateness. We have seen, heard and felt the increase of actions stemming from these feelings which result in acts that are less than loving. Because we are all so vulnerable, if we become convinced separation is an inflexible reality, we will inevitably be induced to act out of fear. These actions can be reprehensible. Still, it might be safe to say, that the individual who commits atrocities, is not fully aware of how our roots intertwine. There are levels of understanding and training that enable one to have a greater viewpoint, to be able to reach those who appear to almost everyone else as unredeemable.

What do we do now that we find ourselves in situations that are polarizing in a season that calls for renewal and forgiveness? I recall a recent dinner conversation with friends in which one person suggested that there were some people who could not be forgiven. This is not an uncommon topic for discussion these days. My response was that there may be levels of forgiveness, and in some situations, you might have to have the discipline of a “black belt” to distinguish actions from individuals. Like a cosmic martial arts program.

Stephen Universe

I think of people like the Dalia Llama, Mother Teressa, MLK, and Rabbi Hillel. I see them as wearing black belts. To me, they represent a mastery that sees beyond actions to the life we all share. It is only with a dedicated understanding of the nature of our bond that love can be applied to seeming individuals who perpetrate heinous actions that tear at the heart of our alliance.

This rumination made me explore the theory behind martial arts. Not only was I incredibly surprised to find that there was a nature aspect to the philosophy behind the belts and levels of graduation, but I found it especially synchronous because I was well into writing this article before I researched the meaning behind the belts.

To demonstrate, skim the descriptions of each Martial Art belt below. I had no idea they were related to trees and nature in this way:

White Belt: White signifies a birth, or beginning, of a seed. A white belt student is a beginner searching for knowledge of the Art. The white belt is the beginning of life’s cycle, and represents the seed as it lies beneath the snow in the winter.

Yellow Belt or Sash: Yellow signifies the first beams of sunlight which shines upon the seed giving it new strength with the beginning of new life. A yellow belt student is given his first ray of knowledge, opening his mind, from his instructors.

Orange Belt or Sash: Orange represents the growing power of the sun as it warms the earth to prepare for new growth in the spring. The orange belt is starting to feel his body and mind open and develop.

Green Belt or Sash: Green signifies the growth of the seed as it sprouts from the earth reaching toward the sun and begins to grow into a plant. A green belt student learns to strengthen and refine his techniques.

Blue Belt or Sash: Blue signifies the blue sky as the plant continues to grow toward it. A blue belt student moves up higher in rank just as the plant grows taller. The light feeds the plant so it can continue to grow. The student is fed additional knowledge of the Art in order for his body and mind continue to grow and develop.

Purple Belt or Sash: Purple represents the changing sky of dawn, as once again the student undergoes a new change and prepares for the transition to advanced student. A purple belt begins to understand the meaning of the black belt.

Brown Belt or Sash: Brown represents the ripening of the seed, a maturing and harvesting process. A brown belt is an advanced student whose techniques are beginning to mature, and he is beginning to understand the fruits of his hard work as a beginner.

Red Belt or Sash: Red signifies the red-hot heat of the Sun as the plant continues growing toward it. As a red belt student acquires more detailed knowledge, just as the plant grows slowly toward the Sun, so the red belt student learns to be more cautious with his knowledge and physical abilities. Red is a sign of danger, and the red belt is beginning to become dangerous with their knowledge and abilities.

Black Belt or Sash: Black signifies the darkness beyond the Sun. A black belt seeks new, more profound knowledge of the Art. As he begins to teach others, he plants new seeds and helps them grow and mature. His students, many whom will form roots deep into the Art, blossom and grow through the ranks in a never-ending process of self-growth, knowledge, and enlightenment.

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Jeremy Bishop courtesy of Unsplash

So, let me ask again: What if we understood how connected we really are to everything around us? (Maybe I wouldn’t have wondered how the heck I was going to connect The Overstory to the topic of forgiveness.) Maybe, we can continue to explore and honor our “unseen connection.” The trees don’t need a name for this, it just happens. For us in our complicated beauty, love may be the key.

It is in our love that we are able to see and even carry one another, to expand and to uphold all that we hold dear. We are each an expanding universe and act as mirrors to all that can and cannot be seen. It is this love that allows us to aspire, and forgive ourselves and one another for falling short of what we think is right.

It will take training like Black Belts and the patience of trees, to be able to go past forgiveness and just love.

Beyond what is perceived, that may be all we are… just love.

aspire, and forgive ourselves and one another for falling short of what we think is right.

It will take training like Black Belts and the patience of trees, to be able to go past forgiveness and just love.

Beyond what is perceived, that may be all we are… just love.


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