Forgiveness Without Remorse

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships and forgiveness. This past week was an anniversary of sorts for me, marking a year since I decided to stop drinking. Although I’d already started to make other changes like running more and eating better, the decision to stop drinking was when everything started to click. But it didn’t come without a cost. I stopped drinking because I didn’t like who I was when I drank. I stopped because I needed to prove to myself and to others around me that I could. I stopped because I never again wanted someone I loved to use alcohol as an excuse (and it was an excuse, not a reason) for turning their back on me.

An important part of changing my life in 2012 was learning to forgive myself: for drinking too much, for not being richer or prettier, more successful or married or finished with my Ph.D. But forgiving myself wasn’t really that hard, because I had felt so awful about my faults and misdeeds (real and imagined) for so long that, looking at myself with compassion, I understood it was time to let go of that suffering. What do you do when it comes to forgiving someone who isn’t sorry?

Visual aid

The other thing that made me think of forgiveness tonight is that I learned this week that my former fiance has moved to Algeria. It’s been nearly nine years since we met, just over six since we broke up, and about that long since we’ve had any form of communication. We still had a mutual friend, and I would occasionally get pointed feedback from her about how he was living in the same apartment, working the same job as when we broke up. My reaction to these reports was something like Schadenfreude mixed with validation. He broke up with me in a cruel way. He took his time doing it, and in the meantime he spent nearly three months verbally and emotionally abusing me. I was called fat, told that I was unattractive, and he told me he was embarrassed to go to nice places with me because I didn’t dress well enough or have good table manners. He disappeared on me for days when it was convenient. He made me believe that my plans to get a Ph.D. would ruin him financially, and made it clear that he thought I was keeping him from some better future. These things would be terrible to say to anyone, but to say them to someone who had just been through a rape and a trial less than a year earlier–events he knew full well of–were ruinous to me. When it was finally over, I was suicidal. A friend literally drove me to a therapist on my lunch hour because I believed I would kill myself. I believed that I was totally beyond redemption, damaged to a point where I would never be loved by anyone. It has taken me years and many other bad relationships where I put up with bad treatment to get past some of these statements… And even now I still believe some of it might be true, in my darkest hours.

He never apologized to me for what he did. He never showed any remorse, not even to mutual friends. In fact, I found out months later that he’d led his friends to believe that had been the one to break up with him. Years later, I don’t know how to forgive that. I had a lot of emotions when I found out he’d left the country. While he was still living in my hometown, there was always a chance our paths would cross again. I’ve long since left behind any feelings I had for him, but I always had the hope that maybe some day I would see him on the street or at a party, and he’d apologize. I wanted to believe that a person I once loved was capable of empathy and remorse for what he had done to me. But it seems our paths are unlikely to ever cross that way again. In some sense, I was happy that he was gone. I regained some respect for him knowing that he finally did take a leap and do something with his life. But can I forgive him? Sometimes, in life, actually saying the words “I’m sorry” is the only form of justice we get. It’s the only thing that truly heals a wound. Sometimes, forgiveness just can’t be given without being asked for.

One year ago, something else was broken. It was broken by both sides. I apologized for what I did wrong because I knew it was the right thing to do, and I changed. But, once again, I never heard the words that I wanted to hear. I always want someone I loved to redeem themselves. I want to take that cloud off the memory of our time together. I want to know I wasn’t wrong to believe that the other person had a heart, or that it hurt them to break mine.

Perhaps I should just give forgiveness freely. I reflect on my resentments every time I meditate. But some resentments are as hard as stone, and wear away just as slowly.

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The Hungry Ghosts

In the Buddhist cosmos, there is a thing called the realm of hungry ghosts. These are beings driven by obsession, compulsion, and craving.There are 36 types of hungry ghosts, and Buddha asked for offerings and prayers on their behalf. Today, many Buddhists think of this and other realms in metaphorical terms. I, however, think that the hungry ghosts are real, and I think they show up at my house regularly to mess with my laundry and steal my socks.

Charter for Compassion

Well, with my semester grading squared away I’ve been looking forward to some light-hearted posting on training and holiday projects… but first a serious post in response to events yesterday in Newtown, CT. I spent a great deal of time yesterday thinking about what was happening, and why, and how to make things better. Certainly, there will be a lot of political discussion about this in the coming weeks–but I also tend to think about these events in terms of Buddhist ethics. Compassion and empathy are core values in Buddhism, as they are in many other religious traditions, but as a society I think we do not place these values at the center of our lives as we should. We don’t get to know our neighbors. We don’t always feel compelled to reach out to someone in need of help who isn’t getting it. We may teach our kids a sense of community, but we often teach it as something we do on a day dedicated to volunteerism or at the holidays, rather than as an every day ongoing commitment.

This morning I discovered the Charter for Compassion online, and I would encourage everyone to check it out. This is a nondenominational, apolitical effort to get folks to affirm compassion as a value in their lives. Once you read and sign the pledge, you can share it with others and look for ways to help out in your community. Even if all you do is read and sign the pledge, you are becoming part of a normative movement in favor of compassion. The more people who sign and share, the more people will be inspired to at least consider the idea of a more compassionate world: one in which we reflect on our actions, spot people in need, and help wherever necessary.

Gloomy Sunday

I knew today was going to be a lousy day when I started off with a lousy run. Well, actually it started a few hours before that when I was awakened around 3AM by the sirens and shouting of police breaking up a neighborhood Halloween party. I got up a few hours later to run on too little sleep, too little food, too little motivation, and some knee pain left over from last week. Unsurprisingly, I struggled and cut things short just shy of 6 miles, much less than I was hoping to run today.

Though I tried not to be too hard on myself after the poor showing this morning, I failed at that too. Nothing with me is ever as simple as, “I had a bad run, I’ll do better next time.” A day like today reminds me of how out of shape I used to be. It makes me feel like a pudgy girl again. It reminds me of when my fiance, who broke up with me almost exactly six years ago now, told me I’d put on too much weight and how I was unattractive and lazy. It reminds me of how much heavier I was when I was drinking, and how the last guy who broke my heart told me he didn’t want to deal with me because I drank too much and had too many “issues.” Maybe it doesn’t make sense that I lump these things together, but if you’ve been depressed or know someone with depression, I think you’ll understand what I mean. It’s hard to forget those words. Even if you believe they aren’t true or if you’ve moved past that point in your life, the messages never go away. In your worst moments you let them attack you over and over. What is said can never be unsaid. And even a bad run creates the opening for those voices to remind me how worthless and damaged I am, and the extent to which I have failed to create the life that I wanted.

Today I meditated on the disordered thinking. I tried to practice forgiveness for myself and compassion to others, even to the guys who have hurt me and left these messages that haunt me. I cooked myself a good meal. I managed to get just a little work done. I gave some old clothes to charity. I’m not going to say I turned things around, but I survived that one little moment where I wondered if life is worth living. I had a bad run. And now I move on.

The International Vegetarian: Part 2, India

If you are a vegetarian, familiarizing yourself with Indian cuisine is almost a must. Indian food is really a complex array of various regional cuisines from the Indian subcontinent, with some U.S. menus including items that are a fusion including Portuguese- or British-Indian combinations. Wikipedia’s Indian cuisine page contains a lengthy list of different regions and foods, if you’re interested in all this.

Throughout India’s diverse population of 1 billion+, many people are vegetarian for religious or cultural reasons. Even for those who are not, semi-vegetarianism is common. The slaughter of cows is illegal in some areas, following Hindu belief, and pork is taboo for Muslims. Buddhists, of course, are generally vegetarian, and even many individuals who don’t follow these dietary restrictions often go long periods of time without eating meat. What’s the necessity, when there are so many other options?

If you are new to Indian cuisine, going to a restaurant is a good bet. Many have vegetarian-friendly Indian buffets, and given the complexity of some Indian recipes, trying it at home may be daunting at first. If you are cooking and want a shortcut, Trader Joe’s has a variety of prepared Indian Fare you can try, and cooking sauces from brands like Sharwood’s are widely available in U.S. supermarkets. Here are some common dishes for you to try.

  • Korma is a sauce that, in Western restaurants, is generally mild in preparation. This sauce is usually flavored with cashews and coconut, yogurt, and/or cream. If you’re wary of spicy foods, or if you like Thai dishes with peanuts, this may be a good choice for you.
  • Tikka masala is my personal favorite. This tomato and yogurt-based sauce is sometimes dyed to create the vibrant red-orange color. The flavor is tangy, and you can order it hot or mild to your taste in most places. This dish may originate in Punjab, but some have also claimed it was a UK-Indian fusion. It is most commonly seen as chicken tikka masala, but you can usually find a version with veggies, fish, or paneer–a soft cheese that is kind of like a cross between cheese and tofu.
  • Vindaloo is popular in the Goa region and is often a very spicy dish. You could order it milder… but why not be daring? Given Goa’s history of interaction with the Portuguese, some cross-cultural influence is present in the dish, which blends vinegar, ginger, chilis, and other spices. You can often find it with potatoes, which may reflect the European influence.
  • Samosas are a tasty appetizer, usually containing potato, onion, and peas in a fried package. The history of samosas is interesting, as this dish is served widely with variations throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Horn of Africa.
  • Naan is a type of flatbread popular in the Punjab region. It is usually cooked in a clay tandoor oven and brushed with butter or ghee.
  • Basmati rice is often served with Indian dishes. It is fragrant with long, delicate grains.

Vegetable masala over basmati rice, served with half a tortilla because I forgot to buy naan. Note that I am not a professional food blogger. 🙂

I made the vegetable masala pictured above with Trader Joe’s Masala Simmer sauce, a potato, half an onion, and half a bell pepper. The potato should be peeled, chopped, and boiled in water until soft. In a skillet, sauté the chopped onion and bell pepper about 10 minutes. Then add the boiled potato, masala sauce, and heat through. After a minute or so, lower the heat and let everything simmer for 5-7 more minutes. Total cooking time is about 35 minutes, and if you get bored with this combo you can also try adding chickpeas, boiled cauliflower, or cherry tomatoes.

Once you master the basics, you’ll find there’s a lot to enjoy in Indian cuisine. Don’t be afraid to experiment! I’ve pretty much never met an Indian recipe I didn’t like.

The International Vegetarian: Part 1, Ethiopia

Flag of Ethiopia, via worldstatesmen.org

I’ve been wanting to do a mini-series like this for a while. Since re-dedicating myself to vegetarianism at the beginning of the year, a lot of my meal inspiration has come from international cuisines. I’d like to feature some of them here in the hopes of inspiring others to go meat-free, or at least to try something new. Here in the U.S., the average diet is not terribly conducive to vegetarianism. Many of us were raised with meat at least twice a day, and with the idea that the massive amount of meat in our burgers or piled on pizzas constitutes a reasonably sized “serving.” For much of the world, though, and throughout much of history meat has been a rarity. Many cultures have also embraced vegetarian or semi-vegetarian lifestyles for religious reasons. Indeed, Buddhism also played a role in my own decision to try vegetarianism again.

I’m starting with Ethiopia because I’ve been on a bit of an Ethiopian cooking kick lately. Ethiopia is a country located in the horn of Africa which has a very distinct language and culture. Unlike most African countries, it never experienced a prolonged colonial period–though it was briefly colonized or occupied by the Italians, depending on how you read that. The country’s long history of independence allowed it to develop a unique culture, and religious diversity including large Muslim and Orthodox populations also shaped the diet. Many dishes are vegetarian, and you generally will not find pork in Ethiopian meals.

Red lentils, purchased in bulk at Whole Foods

Important terms to know if you visit an Ethiopian restaurant are wat, which basically means stew, and injera, which is the name of the tangy flatbread with which most meals are served. If you are out eating Ethiopian, you will probably want to order a combination of dishes that will be served family style, generally on top of or alongside injera. Some great vegetarian options are Mesir or Yemisir Wat (lentil stew), Shiro (chickpeas), and Spinach Wat. Many restaurants will also have other options. Grabbing a piece of injera and digging in with your hands is part of the mealtime experience, so eat with people you like. And make sure to finish with a strong Ethiopian coffee.

Chickpea wat over rice, from Food.com

If you want to try making this food at home, I’ve found some dishes that are surprisingly easy to make. The hardest part is often finding the right combination of spices. Some of these dishes rely on things you might not have around the house like cardamom, a spice with a very distinctive and earthy smell, and tumeric, which gives food a yellow tint. If you have trouble finding these spices, try Whole Foods. They usually have a rack of spices in small sizes which are reasonably priced and come in small cardboard boxes. Less money, less extra spice if you decide not to use it again, and less packaging. I enjoyed this recipe for a chickpea wat, which was easy to make. This site also has a number of meat and non-meat recipes to try. I made the Mesir wat last night, and I recommend adding more water than the recipe calls for as mine was a little dry. I also used dried ginger and garlic, and I think fresh would have worked better in this case. I have yet to try making injera–I hear it’s difficult to do well unless you have hard-to-find teff flour, but the site linked above has a few options if you’re adventurous. Otherwise, the food is just as good over rice. Enjoy!

For more on Ethiopian cuisine: