Relinquishing the ego

Why waste your life in hatred, vengeance and conflict?

Amar Das

I used to laugh reflecting on what people thought I wanted years back, for they were so completely wrong. But perhaps they were only wrong because I was represented by an imbecile, who said on my behalf what I would never have countenanced myself.

Undoubtedly, I was frequently a fool in those days, deserving of a portion of all that scorn reserved for me. I was unbelievably immature, that’s for sure, and certainly not entirely innocent. Nevertheless, much that was attributed to me were the interjections and interpolations of a well-meaning but seriously misguided friend.

If I was mistaken in anything, it was in believing that my friends were good, decent people who had my best interests at heart. I was wrong. Instead, I quickly learned that I had no control over what came out of their mouths at all. If I thought I was seeking lifelong companionship, I did not realise that my advisors were simply seeking conquests, one after the other.

When I think about it, I suppose it is not that surprising that I faced such hatred and contempt. Some of what was apparent to others was based on pure assumption, but much, it turns out, was based on what was said in my absence, by people who knew me no more than my detractors. If only I had had the courage then to be my own man, to speak for myself, to make myself heard. For I was not seeking anything like what was made out at all.

Despite flitting between atheism, agnosticism and monotheism, I continued to carry with me the ethics and morals drummed into me by my parents. We had a very strict upbringing, so those ethics were inescapable. None who warned against me had any idea that my mother had been a hospital chaplain for years and had just been ordained parish priest. None knew that my father was a successful solicitor on weekdays and a lay preacher at the weekend. Indeed, none knew that I had an Indian uncle, who worked at a theological college in east Africa. None that encountered me knew just what kind of family I came from.

The truth is, I never lost those ethics of mine. Through thick and thin, I continued to pursue what I really wanted. It just took a bit longer than I had imagined it would, that’s all. She was waiting for me. The right moment was waiting for us. We both had to find our way first. Then we were united.

In the meantime, I faced all kinds of accusations. Some of it was based upon pure prejudice. Some on hatred and contempt. Some on my own idiotic behaviour. A lot of it on assumptions and speculation. A fuss was once made when I helped two female Bosnian refugee students to access college computers, my intentions found wanting. Nobody cared that I had in fact been asked to by our tutor. Instead, that just became the first of many slanders, until any non-white student was warned away from me.

I remember those days so vividly because they had a profound impact on me. So profound that I have never forgotten the names of any of the people involved. I suppose I could have become a rabid racist based on that experience, although that would have been hard given that my family was already ethnically diverse. Fortunately, it just made me intent on proving them wrong. It’s true that for some years I held a grudge against those people. Understandably, I might add, for they truly broke my heart.

Today, though, I just remember them in my prayers. I ask that they’re given every good thing they desire. Forgiveness, because I have not walked in their shoes. Forgiveness because I don’t know what experiences shaped them before we met. In the years since then, I’m sure they have reflected on our foolishness back then. I am sure they have cringed as much as I have. I’m sure they have regrets too. I am sure they have outgrown their prejudices and have learnt to embrace all people, wherever they’re from and whatever they look like.

Our paths have never crossed since then. We were just strangers rubbing shoulders for a while, then we disappeared off into our worlds. I moved down south. God knows where they are or what they’re doing now. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s enough that I learn to forgive even those that truly despise me.

To practice forgiveness is the true fast, good conduct and contentment.

Baba Nanak

True peace, I think, only comes when you choose to relinquish your ego. Some say true contentment follows, and then a better life. I sincerely hope that’s true.

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