Continuing in line with insights from wisdom traditions, today we look at the ancient Christian concept of Metanoia - commonly (mis)understood and translated to the modern adaptation of repentance.
The word repentance has it's root in the Greek metanoia - literally translating to after thought, though is commonly referred to as a change of mind or heart, even as a means to atonement. To put it eloquently, we can view metanoia as a shifting of self after a regrettable act or event has been committed on our behalf.
I have heard equivalent expressions of the concept of metanoia throughout various schools of thought, most notably in the Zen tradition, with "taking the backward step"
The Prodigal Son is a wonderful story encapsulating the idea and essence behind true metanoia.
The Backward Step.
The backward step is not referring to a physical act, nor is it hinting at a sense of defeat. Rather, the backward step is a pointer to turn inwards upon moments of confusion or regret. Often, projection is the default act should we behave in ways we deem inappropriate or reprehensible - even if that act exists in the abstract as malicious thought or intent. We seek to throw responsibility for our behaviour anywhere where we are not. In this instance, to repent means to turn inwards, and investigate where this act has come from, perhaps even uncovering the reasoning behind it's emergence. Far from getting on our knees and pleading for forgiveness from an external entity, repentance puts the power of true forgiveness and change in our very hands.
Herein lies the true change of heart.
It is in the understanding of the abstract motivation of our actions that true metamorphosis is enabled and encouraged. If not for the act and practice of metanoia, we remain sleeping autobots - our every move and thought slave to the whim of our unconscious conditioning and desire. The concept itself invites radical change, rather than mere acceptance and forgiveness of one's actions. Repeating detrimental habits and patterns is understandable when the roots of our behaviour exist below the threshold of our consciousness, however, once uncovered, it is not enough for us to merely accept and continue with the action, lest we are happy with a life lived in darkness. Metanoia is a courageous act indeed - one with far reaching rewards and benefits. In instances of perceived strife and turmoil, it takes tremendous gall to turn around, take the backward step and retreat inward in a true act of metanoia, rather than be pulled in every direction via the strings of fervent emotion. In these ways, metanoia is itself a truly liberating act.
True change occurs only when we are willing and able to turn inward and look inside.
I will leave this post with quotes from two gospels in the Christian faith - both which encourage and encapsulate the spirit of metanoia.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”