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Forgiving the Unforgivable with Anita Sanchez

Dr. Anita Sanchez shares Indigenous wisdom for living in today’s world. A big focus of the conversation is about forgiving the unforgivable. She explains how forgiveness can come even after someone has died. Anita also shares the beautiful story of her mother’s death, and what a peaceful exit means to her.


Find out more here: https://anita-sanchez.com/



Transcript:

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Hi, I'm Sarah Cavanaugh and this is Peaceful Exit. Every episode we explore death, dying, and grief through stories by authors. Familiar with the topic. Writers are our translators. They take what is inexpressible, impossible to explain, and they translate it into words on a page.

Today I'm talking with author Anita Sanchez. Anita is also a consultant, a trainer, an executive coach. She specializes in indigenous wisdom and diversity and inclusion. Anita grew up in a Midwest family, rich and Mexican-American, and Nahua indigenous heritage. She's the author of the international bestselling book, The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom For Modern Times. The four gifts are forgiveness, healing, unity, and hope. I'm so looking forward to our conversation, especially around forgiveness and how forgiveness can even happen after death. Please take care. This is a heads-up that this episode contains talk of racial violence and death by suicide, and it may be upsetting for some.

Welcome to Peaceful Exit.

Anita Sanchez:

Hi, Sarah.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

By virtue of writing this book and putting it out in the world, you're encouraging us all to adopt the gift of indigenous practices. With all the conversation about appropriation, is there a way that we can do this respectfully?

Anita Sanchez:

First of all, it is complicated on one hand because appropriation, people don't want to do that, and people that have any awareness about indigenous people understand so much wrong has been done. They don't want to be continuing the unconsciousness or conscious of just taking. However, when an indigenous person or indigenous community offers, then there's a thing of called reciprocity. There's a giving and receiving. And so for example, in my book where I write about The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom For Modern Times, those four gifts were given by spirit to 27 elders from around the world. And at the end of the ceremony where they got those gifts, they began sharing how they were going to take them back to their communities. And the fire, the flames rose again from the embers. And what came through to all of them was, wait a minute, wait a minute.

These gifts are for all the two leggeds, all human beings, because human beings are creating such suffering from themselves in all of the hoop of life because they've forgotten. Not that they're wrong or bad, but they've forgotten what it means to be in right relationship. And if you use those gifts, those four gifts, then the promise from spirit was that you will remember what it means to be a member of the hoop of life to create harmony and balance. And that harmony and balance is not restricted to this. It is connected to what we call the other side of the camp, or people death. People have different language for it, but for me, we used to talk about being on the other side of the camp and it meant that you could call on because they're all here anyway, everything is here. It's all energy.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Love that. The sacred gift I want to focus on today is forgiveness. It's played a huge role in several of your personal death stories, including your father's death and how you reconcile that relationship, which we'll talk about. But first, let's talk about your near death experience that you weren't even aware happened.

Anita Sanchez:

I didn't remember my near death experience when I was 15 months old. It was when I was 19. I was starting to have this nightmare dream, and in this nightmare I would see this doll falling from the ground and then she'd hit the ground and I'd wake up holding my chest and it would happen night after night multiple times. It was really disrupting everything. It happened again, and I see everything. I see the building, I see the ground with broken concrete and the doll hits. But this time, as the doll hits, I now see me looking at the doll. Then what happened so fast was I don't even like to call it light. I've not seen this light in this way. It's just was everywhere, and it was so beautiful and peaceful. Everything just was and is, and then I came out of it and sat up and held my chest. But that changed it because then after that I was so happy to go into that dream, but I wanted to share my dream as I always have.

So I called my mother. She wasn't there, which was very unusual, and I get my older sister, who's the last person I want to share this nightmare to beautiful dream with, and yet she was the one I got. And so I began to say, I saw this doll and describing the building, and then she started sobbing and she goes, it's my fault. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. And I was like, Paula, what are you talking about? She goes, well, you were on the second floor of the building and I was supposed to be watching you, and you were 15 months old and the railing wasn't strong enough and you pushed it and you fell and you didn't even scream, but we all thought you were dead. And she just started sobbing again when she finally could stop. I said, it wasn't your fault. You were a child too, and it was an accident, but let me tell you that if you could just stop crying, is this the most amazing experience. I told her, I'm just grateful to be here, but I was also grateful to have been there.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

So did that shift your feeling around death?

Anita Sanchez:

Oh, everything.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Yeah.

Anita Sanchez:

It helped me immensely in terms of how I view life and also how I view death.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

And you're from a dream culture?

Anita Sanchez:

Well, I'm Nahua, some people know as Aztec, so I'm indigenous, I'm half indigenous, but I'm also Mexican American. And so I grew up with indigenous grandmother and mother and we would share dreams all the time, and it was really important. They weren't seen as separate from, but rather a very much a part of everything.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

And like dreams, your family talked openly about death.

Anita Sanchez:

Death, it was a part of everything, and it was something that there was sadness. There was never denying the physical loss in either the indigenous or the Latina, but there was also a very much at the same time is that in some ways that person, that energy was even closer to you all the time, ever present that you could call on it and we actually were taught and how to ask for the ancestors, ask for those who passed to be with you, to bring their wisdom, to bring you courage, to deal with what might be coming up, to know that you are never alone, that there are many relatives.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

What you're talking about is grieving and community and how powerful that is.

Anita Sanchez:

Indeed it is. And that grieving, particularly in the Mexican side, the grieving would be, sometimes it'd be wailing. So as a little girl going to funerals first it was kind of shocking, people just wailing. Both there and also in indigenous, there would also then be singing, movement. There was something that happened as you moved, later language and science that everything is stored in the body. So there was these whole rituals that went with this about the movement, the laughter, the picking up instruments, the drumming, of the heartbeat of life, but the heartbeat of the earth, the heartbeat of everything, of all the energy. So the intimacy of that hoop of life is incredible.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

You mentioned the hoop of life, and I know you talk a lot about it in your book.

Anita Sanchez:

The hoop of life, well, in growing up, my grandfather would always put his hands in a circle and my uncle and teaching us, and what they'd say is that we're all everybody, everything, human, non-human, everything spirit, everything is part of this one hoop of life. And in this hoop of life, no one is higher, no one is lower. We're all sacred. Understand that you are part of that not separate, and of course, science is catching up and showing more and more. That indeed that is true.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Yes, it is. Let's talk about the sacred gift of forgiveness. Forgiving the unforgivable.

Anita Sanchez:

In one of the death stories I think where it's so pronounced is in the murder of my father. I was 13 and my father was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He worked in a steel mill, and after work every day, he would go to the neighborhood bar and have a beer. And one summer day in 1967, he did that, but he didn't know earlier that day, a black man and a white man had an argument, a fight. So it's the middle of civil rights in Missouri and Kansas City. And while he sat there to have his beer, he was also a dark-skinned indigenous Mexican person. And the white man returned and just saw him sitting at the same place and the dark skin, and he fired three bullets and killed him on the spot. Well, as you can imagine, that was pretty devastating for a 13-year-old, but also my other five brothers and sisters, we were all nine to 18.

And then my mom, it changed everything, but it changed it in a way that it was really difficult because on one hand it was a great loss to lose your father that way, but he also was my abuser. He was also part of the secret I kept. And so on one hand I felt sad to lose my father. I felt guilty, did do it because I wanted him to stop the abuse. It was all just very confusing. A week after his death, the wife and the son of the man who murdered my father came to our door, and I was by my mom and she introduced herself as the wife, and this was the son. And then she said, "Sanchez, I just had to come see you. I had to let you know my husband was a good man. He would never have killed your husband if he knew he was Indian, if he knew his Mexican, he thought he was black, and you know how black people are."

And she started saying all these horrible things. And I remember standing by my mom and I felt my mom's body get really stiff. And then I never heard my mom yell at a stranger, but she yelled at her and said, "Stop. Stop. You don't even know what you're saying. You don't even know the hatred you're teaching your son, but I want you to stop and know that I am going to pray for your soul, but you get off my porch." And then later she gathered all of us kids, and she told us that we needed to understand something that a white man murdered our father, not the white race. She was teaching us.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Yes.

Anita Sanchez:

And so that led to two things. One was my reconciling the abuse by my father and the death of my father. And I chose a way I would never choose again, but have compassion for myself. So three months after his death, I tried to kill myself. The visions and memories of the abuse with him didn't go away. And so the 13-year-old mine was like, well, if I'm not free, then I'll end it. And fortunately what I chose to use didn't work so I'm here. But during that process of heaving and getting rid of all the pills that I ate and having my brothers and sisters circling me of the bed and my mom as I was just convulsing, I had several visions.

The one that I'll share is of this rocking chair that to this day is in my living room. And it was a rocking chair that my grandfather made only three in his lifetime and one was for me. And I just could feel that love and was like, no, no, I don't want to go. I don't want to die. The image of that, an image of spirit energy was so strong. Fortunately it was not my time, and I was to stay here and be what I was supposed to. And so that is a big forgiveness that some might find that feels hard to forgive that, to want it get so low that you take your own life.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Yes, a huge forgiveness and your ability to reconcile with your father's abuse and his death so powerful, especially when you're so young and you also practice forgiveness later in life, reflecting on your father's murder.

Anita Sanchez:

What happened to me is that I realized there was a piece of me that 13-year-old believed that young white boy was going to be just like his dad, if not literally murdering someone psychologically or other ways, killing being part of the harm. And then what I realized is that, oh my gosh, that summer, that summer day, my brothers and sisters didn't just lose my father. That young white boy lost his father that summer day too. And we have so much of that happening. And the thing as I was, I'm crying because I can remember it. It is so needed at this time. Both the tears and the embracing in a positive, loving action, I could feel in sense that we all are one, and that there isn't anything that cannot be forgiven, absolutely nothing. What an amazing thing to know that it is possible to forgive the unforgivable.

And what that does, it doesn't mean you forget. I'm never going to forget what happened in my life, these big experiences, but it means that I'm not using my energy for resentment or retaliation or it's like, no, I'm worthy of unconditional love. I'm worthy of using my energy for now for what I want to create, which can include changing systems and structures that are destructive and hurtful. So I really believe that the forgiveness, really what it's about, it is a pathway to freedom. It is the pathway to unconditional love of yourself and then the ability to give that to others, but the forgiving the unforgivable, that gift is so powerful.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

What you're sharing with us that is that these things take time, that forgiveness takes time.

Anita Sanchez:

It does. And that sometimes the mind just goes into all these issues. Well, you should have been able to forgive faster. I think if we get quiet enough and realize who we are and what we are, we're here for a reason to be and to do all of that.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

It creates the conditions for peace, and I think peace in ourselves and also peace in the larger culture.

Anita Sanchez:

No, I think that's true. And I think the other part of that is because some things are conscious and some are unconscious. Let me just say what I'm really clear about is that as something starts to come forward, rather than pushing it down or running away from it, what I've learned is it's better to just say, okay, just give me the help to deal with whatever this is in the time that it takes. So not like, okay, I'm going to go a therapist and it's done, or I'm going to be in ceremony and this is the highest ceremony and so-

Sarah Cavanaugh:

And I'm curious.

Anita Sanchez:

... it's going to be done.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Yeah, I'm curious.

Anita Sanchez:

Yeah. And yet at the same time, it can happen that quickly. Yeah. I've heard people and I believe them. I believe them from their behaviors and their energy.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

That's right.

Anita Sanchez:

I believe that is. So there is no one way, no, we're one hoop of life, but hoops within many hoops, and the center is everywhere and the edge is nowhere, which is what Black Elk said.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

How has this freed you up, this forgiving the unforgivable? How has it freed you up in your own life to have your own peaceful exit?

Anita Sanchez:

There is no other exit that I'm aware of, but a peaceful one. What I know from that light of the 15-month-old, what I know from pulling back from trying to take my own life at 13, it is peaceful. That doesn't mean that there isn't some pain and the separation from the physical that might happen in the process of dying. But I will say that my mom dreamt about her death several years before she even died, and she had her death down to the T. I mean, it was incredible. So the last week it happened exactly like she said, people crying, you don't need to cry because it's beautiful. And then people are very upset and trying to bring me back and you'll see my face change. Two days before she died, she had a aneurysm.

When I go to take my last breath, 13 angels in white are surrounding and they're all singing and get this, Sarah, a little over hour before she took her last breath, 13 nuns in white came into the room, circled the bed, and all sang until she took her last breath. So when you talk about peace, how does this bring peace? I just know it is. So, yeah, I hope I don't have to go through a lot of pain, but even if I do, oh my gosh, the end is not the end, it's beautiful being part of the light and this energy, and then to know I'm an ancestor who's going to be available to support life seeking life, because that's really what it's about.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

I love the big smile on your face, and one of the reasons I love it so much is because of the gift your mother gave you. When my mother died, she refused to talk about anything. She refused to talk about death. She was in denial. She was really part of this culture in this country that just doesn't want to talk about death. I mean, the joy I feel in what you're sharing and we're talking about death is super cool.

Anita Sanchez:

It's super cool. It's beautiful. Whenever I say a beautiful death, I know you understand Sarah, what I'm talking about. So it is the most beautiful, most peaceful death. Even with the brain aneurysm, people would go, how could that be? No, let me just tell you. It is so beautiful and peaceful.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

It's awesome. That's just awesome. A dear friend of mine was William Merwin. He's a poet, died about two years ago, and he told me once because my mother died 20 years ago, just to keep the conversation going, and I did. And it's amazing that the relationship has evolved, even though she's not physically here. You believe and talk about ancestors, and so how have those relationships with your mom and dad changed since their physical body is gone?

Anita Sanchez:

Death doesn't end a relationship, right? I mean, I talk to my mom most every day, but now it's more than that. I mean you grow up and you say, gosh, that seems like my mom, or I feel like my mom at a cellular level. It's ignited with her, gone physically. It's ignited me at a cellular level, but at a spiritual level of invigor.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Thank you so much for your time today, and any last thoughts about what you'd like people to take away from your book?

Anita Sanchez:

Consider using the four gifts: forgiveness, healing, unity, and hope and action. You already know them, but it's about using them and integrating in your life that it can make quite a difference. And if you want to heal and forgive, you want to be a better relationship with yourself and others, and if you want to ignite the possibilities and the dreams, then consider listening to these elders in this book, The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom For Modern Times.

Sarah Cavanaugh:

Thank you for listening to Peaceful Exit. You can learn more about this podcast and my online course at my website, peacefulexit.net. If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know. You can rate and review this show on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. This episode was produced by Larj Media. You can find them at larjmedia.com. Special thanks to Ricardo Russell for the original music throughout this podcast. More of his music can be found on Bandcamp As always, thanks for listening. I'm Sarah Cavanaugh, and this is Peaceful Exit.

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