My childhood, though unique in some ways, is not that unusual. There were challenges and even painful experiences, but I have come to understand that in order to see beyond pain, first there must be pain.
There were many children born to the some 350 members of the Love Israel Family. Some of the adult members adopted a primarily Old Testament biblical attitude toward children. These beliefs included: children are meant to be seen but not heard, spare the rod and spoil the child, and children belonged to the community. These age-old principles, when taken as fundamental truth, are often in direct opposition to childhood nature. What parent doesn't want their child to behave? But children are naturally curious, playful and loud. Their primary purpose is to engage, explore, test limits and grow. Rigid ideas about parenting, when followed blindly, often lead to frustration and anger -- even violence. I now see that strictly-adhered-to ideas about childrearing are an innocent mistake many parents have made, myself included -- a mistake calling for gentle and compassionate understanding.
My four siblings and I were tenaciously persistent and challenging children. My parents received much ridicule regarding their strong-willed brood. I have memories of my father being a strong, even heavy handed disciplinarian and I was afraid of him. Such painful memories.
The practice of the children belonging to the community sometimes allowed sexual predators access to youngsters and I did experienced abuse of this nature. I hold no animosity and see those who abuse as deeply pained by personal suffering and torment -- their actions a misguided plea for help.
These early experiences of strong discipline, inappropriate attention and uncertainty left me feeling confused and troubled well into my adulthood. I unconsciously questioned my relevance and worth -- feeling that there was something fundamentally and irreparably wrong with me. Perhaps I did not even have the right to be here -- to exist. These painful memories and confusion would not disappear until thoroughly examined, no matter how determined my repression.
Several years ago I became motivated to embrace these painful memories. I developed a willingness to simply be with the pain. As I allowed the pain to be felt I began to see it in a new light. Using the practice of meditational inquiry I stumbled upon a beautiful truth: I have never been hurt. I came to understand that the truth of my being has never been harmed in any way. Now I understand the necessity for much of the hurt and confusion of my early years -- to see beyond pain, first there must be pain.
We left the Love Israel Family when I was 7 years old. I have spoken with my parents about these painful memories on several occasions and they always humbly apologize and together we cry. I have no anger or bitterness toward my parents. We have these shared experiences necessary for our growth and understanding. Later, I came to understand what it means to fall down in my own parental responsibilities. The example of courageous humility and honesty shown to me by my mother and father has been of immeasurable value.
These early years spent in the Love Israel Family have become a blessing for me -- a precious gift. As I embrace and release painful childhood memories what's left is a deep love and gratitude. As I let go of all blame my heart opens and I am free. I experience sincere gratitude and love of all who were there and experienced with me. Perhaps this is the felt understanding of true forgiveness.
From left to right: me, my older sister, my older brother holding my little sister.