“Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned. ”
— James Joyce, Ulysses
We all have secrets. Many of them we keep hidden even from ourselves, in the form of mind hindrances that prevent us from being transparent with others.
Our secrets may take the form of hidden beliefs about self and others, of judgments, or of thoughts associated with shame, blame or guilt. They may even have a lot in common with what we think of as “sins.”
Our “conditioning” in life— circumstances of birth and upbringing, and our ongoing history of encounters with others shapes us all, if a behavior or an attitude of mind has been labeled by others (or by ourselves as the result of the opinions of others) as a sin, we naturally try to hide it; it becomes a secret.
The English Biblical word “sin,” however, is not derived from terms of blame, evil or bad intentions. The original sense of the New Testament Greek word for “sin,” is simply being in error, or missing the mark (especially, we’re told, in spear-throwing). The Biblical Hebrew term “hata” (“sin”) originates in archery, and literally refers to missing the “gold” at the center of a target, but hitting the target, i.e. oops; error.
Our secrets are like embodied errors, wounds incurred by missing the mark. We may have been aiming for love and hit jealousy or blame; trying for generosity and found greed; attempting kindness and winding up with judgment. The winds that blow our “arrows” astray are fear, anger, and unhelpful desires, all shaped by our conditioning.
So why is it so important to identify and release our secrets? And, more importantly, how do we do so?
In Buddhist practice, what some religions call “sins” are regarded as “hindrances,” those secrets within us that keep us from transparency, happiness, clarity and freedom.
Transparency is important because it allows us the chance to feel the absolute freedom of the oneness with Spirit and with others.
Some of our secrets—fear, judgment, lack of acceptance or love—emerge spontaneously. Triggered by circumstances, they just rear up and reveal themselves in the most inopportune times (or perhaps at the most appropriate time to be accepted, looked at, and healed with our love and understanding).
Our deep secrets can affect our relationships with others; our hidden hindrances tend to create a kind of sticky mental and emotional substance in our psyches. When confronted by a similar residue in others, those small secret negativities within us become triggered and exacerbated.
Someone else’s anger, for instance, may evoke our own secret anger, making us feel agitated, anxious, snarky in our speech and actions to ourselves or to others. If, by being mindful, we feel this happening, then we know we have a sticky spot that needs some loving attention.
Once again, mindfulness is both the process and the solution. When you sit mindfully in meditation, ask yourself “What are my secrets?” They will obligingly rise up and present themselves, as if longing to be told. You can identify these mind-states because they make you feel uneasy, uncomfortable, ashamed, afraid, and angry. In fact, when you sit with this kind of intention, your secrets will probably show up even without your invitation.
For some (but certainly not all) secrets, identification of their presence is enough. You may say to yourself “I never knew I thought that!” and resolve to be more conscious about acting based on that unhelpful belief. Other secrets will resist examination: “You don’t want to look at me; it will hurt too much and you’ll feel awful.”
The key is kind attention and steadiness. Let the mind-states just be, and watch them, perhaps while also concentrating on your breathing as an anchor. Let them, as they inevitably will in time, dissipate like clouds around a steady mountain. If they make you feel ashamed, or angry, watch that feeling until it dissipates. Shining the light of your kind attention on your secrets can reveal many things: their origins, their attachments, their relationship to others.
And one more step: forgiving. From Wikipedia:
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.
Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).
Releasing our attachment to our secrets and recognizing them as tools for our growth and self-discovery is nothing less than a profound form of forgiveness, one that transforms guilty secrets to honored teachers.
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