Forgiveness

Easter Sunday

16th of April 2017

A lot of us forget what the Easter period signifies, myself included. Easter is not only a time for eating delicious chocolate eggs, but more importantly it is time for self-reflection and forgiveness. Whether or not you are religious, the message of Christ’s forgiveness to those who greatly wronged him is something we should learn from.

My Own Lesson...

This time of reflection started me to think about a lesson I had learned about forgiveness, which I would like to share. I am by no means any more enlightened than the next person. I’m a work in progress. I only hope by sharing this story you can be encouraged to try and forgive a person or situation, which has caused you distress or anger in the past. And then, to forgive yourself for any harmful memories you’re holding on to. 

My parents founded the Rudolf Steiner School in Devon, England, which I attended from pre school. The Waldorf education is very unorthodox, focusing more on creative arts and developing the child's imagination. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Unfortunately for me it was anything but.

Childhood Traumas...

Growing up we all just want to fit in, but that was impossible for me for numerous reasons. From being teased about my eccentric parents, as well as suffering from dyslexia and attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) led me to standing out like a sore thumb. I was bouncing off the walls from Pre-school, and often in trouble. Things didn’t get really tough until I was around 11 years old. My class was assigned a new teacher, who I’ll refer to as Mrs. Antagonist. 

At our school we had only one teacher for most of the subjects, so we’d pretty much be locked in the same room with whoever was assigned to us. 

Mrs. Antagonist was a ferocious, scary, loud and incredibly strict. 

On arrival she immediately said we’d “had it easy for too long” and she was going to “show us some discipline.” It was like the moment in a movie when you know things are about to get bad.

Because of my Dyslexia & ADHD, I struggled horribly in english. Being the worst in class when it came to reading and writing was something I was incredibly ashamed of.  I began to think of myself as stupid. Believing I was stupid from such a young age has left scars, which still haunt me to this day.

I also found Mrs. Antagonist incredibly dull. I’m the kind of person who thrives on engagement, and if not engaged, you’ll probably know about it.  My disinterest angered Mrs. Antagonist to no end. Very quickly I began to get in trouble - a lot of trouble and often for the most ridiculous things. 

For example, I was playing with a classmate in a pottery class. I accidentally smashed his clay statue. I was called in after school, not only with Mrs. Antagonist but with the other teachers and my parents. Mrs. Antagonist declared me a useless delinquent. 

I remember those words so vividly. They stung. Part of me believed I really could be, even though it was a complete accident.

Other incidents like that occurred and I was always reprimanded unjustly. I think this was partly due to Mrs. Antagonist’s dislike of my parents. Messing with me upset them.

I could only deal with these stupid incidents and constantly being in trouble partly because I had a whole other life. After school finished I was in dance class most days of the week, and rehearsing at weekends. I excelled in dance and all aspects of performing, it was the outlet I so desperately needed with all the trouble I was getting into at school.

Then Downhill...

Things suddenly got worse for me when I started skipping school. I had started avoiding school to escape the toxic atmosphere. I was getting so sick of being ridiculed, shamed and bullied. I returned one day to school only to find out Mrs. Antagonist had initiated a classroom discussion - about me!  The topic was “What is wrong with Emrhys?’It was very personal and humiliating.

Believing I was a stupid, useless delinquent and all the other labels attached to me really messed me up.  I felt vulnerable and victimized. This led to a deep, uncontrollable anger.

After that class discussion, the bullying got worse. I blamed Mrs. Antagonist for this. At 13 years old after multiple suspensions, I was forced to leave the school.

A Fresh Start...

I was moved to a much larger local state-funded school, where I had a fresh start. No one knew me and I could disappear. Interestingly I never really got into trouble at this school. I completed high school at 16 with good grades, considering.

And then...

Let’s zoom forward in time to last year. I was shooting a movie in the Kingdom of Bhutan which was turning out to be a very stressful experience. Our Bhutanese production manager on the film, named Karma, said she was also a spiritual healer. After witnessing my distress on the set, she offered me a healing session to cope with the stress I was under.

Karma put her hands close to my head.  She paused a bit. She said she noticed that I was holding on to something. She told me that there was someone in my life that I needed to forgive.  She said I holding on to the anger has affected me profoundly.

I knew immediately who:  Mrs. Antagonist.

I honestly hadn’t seen it up until that point. I had been consumed with anger and self-loathing.  I was fixated on blaming Mrs. Antagonist for all my troubles that I had gone through growing up, that anger has stayed with me for most of my life. 

Not obviously, but subconsciously it’s always been lurking there. I realized in that moment I had never let go of the torment and treatment I received at school.

An Epiphany...

The moment I said her name out loud, it was an epiphany for me. A light bulb turned on.I knew it was time to let go of my past and move on.

Forgiving isn’t easy.  It can be a struggle. When you’ve held a grudge for so long it becomes part of your core. But in that moment of clarity and self-awareness I made the decision to forgive Mrs. Antagonist for everything.  I suddenly also stopped blaming myself for all of the self-hatred and anger I had held on too for so long.

I could literally feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders. A calm serenity came over me. At that moment despite all the chaos I was experiencing whilst filming - I felt at peace.

How to Forgive...

Forgiveness is firstly a choice. It’s human nature to hold a grudge, to blame others for our negative experiences. But living with that pain is our own choice, and ours alone. 

I doubt Mrs. Antagonist has lived with the same pain as I. She has her own set of problems and experiences that has made her the way she is.

I have empathy for her now. Several years ago, after many complaints from parents at my old school (and after failing two anger management courses!) Mrs. Antagonist is no longer teaching.

It’s easy to go through life taking everything very personally. Especially at school, where everything is magnified and so personal. 

Do you think my treatment in school was personal?  I don’t. 

Mrs. Antagonist was probably just doing what she thought was best, for the class and me. I don’t believe she intentionally did those awful, cruel things. I believe Mrs. Antagonist must have had a tough time herself growing up. Perhaps she had awfully strict parents or teachers, and that is all she’s ever known. 

Or perhaps my learning difficulties made her feel inadequate as a teacher. I will never know the answer, but discarding the notion that it was all about me, and forgiving Mrs. Antagonist has set me free. 

The closure and final chapter of forgiving Mrs. Antagonist for experiences I received at that school came three weeks ago when I returned to Devon for a special screening of my latest film Kushuthara. 

Facing my demons head on was scary. Going back was unpleasant. But I raised nearly 1000 GBP for the school’s art department. Doing good in a place where bad things happened has made me feel free.

I can see that I’ve abused myself more than anyone has. The negative thoughts are mine, no one else’s. But I am no longer a victim. I’ve taken responsibility for my attitudes, and learning to like myself despite my learning disabilities.

It’s liberating when you’re taking control rather than letting your past dictate your future.

Forgiveness from that period in my life is still a work in progress. Old habits die-hard.  I’m still learning to understand my mind, and all it’s crazy eccentricities.

Here are a few steps I took to forgiveness.

1. Learn that forgiveness is a choice.

Breathe deeply, let go of your ego and think of what, or whom you need to forgive.  Maybe you’re not even aware that you need to forgive someone. But the answer is there, if you look for it. Use that moment to try and forgive them. It may take time, but at least you’re starting the process.

2. Realize it’s not personal. 

Everyone has baggage. Everyone has a shadow. We go through life expecting people to be the same as us.  This leads to the confusion. If you can understand where that person is coming from, and why they behave that way, it will help give you closure. 

3. Visualize

Visualize the person you need to forgive. Imagine their best traits. Send them love and positivity. Even if you struggle with this, you’re beginning the process of letting go and moving on!

I hope that my story will inspire you to take action, to let go of anything painful in your past, and to have a clearer understanding of your emotions. 

Have a wonderful Easter.

Love,

Emrhys Cooper

Kushuthara - Pattern of Love is now available on iTunes & Amazon

Emrhys Cooper