Why You Need the Poison


Transforming Poison into Fuel for Transformation

There is an ancient Hindu story that the peacock derives its brilliant plumage from its consumption of poison. It’s said that this ability to transform poison into nourishment yields extraordinary beauty as well as a proper kind of pride. Thus the peacock is a totem for our own inner transformation.


It was a participant in a forgiveness workshop I was leading who told me the story of the peacock. And while its a poignant tale, it was all the more meaningful because she offered it to me as an explanation for what she saw in me and the healing work we were doing in the workshop.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been offered greater validation. Yet strangely, the recognition of healing is a testament to the processes of transformation rather than me. For in order to practice forgiveness deeply one must first be afflicted with bitterness, resentment, grievance or some form of injury. It is when these “poisons” are digested and used as a catalyst that something beautiful can emerge.

Do you see the irony?

Rather than celebrating our transformation, we must honestly acknowledge that our starting point was anything but virtuous. Who would not seek to relieve themselves of a poison within? There is nothing special in fleeing that which would harm us. It is simple self-interest. We are called to find release from suffering.

That means that a beautiful outcome, in this case the healing of forgiveness, is cause for gratitude rather than self-congratulation. In the Hindu story that is the “proper kind of pride.”


Years ago my first mentor told me that the magic of deep spiritual practice is in its ability to transform that within us which is malignant and has the power to harm. The inner work of releasing alters this poison into something entirely benign.

I remember him shaking his head in amazement as he added, “And the facts don't change, just our perception and experience of the facts.” The details of harms and injuries do not change, but our relationship to them is remade. 

Seeing True

There is a kind of alchemy that takes place when we are transformed, when the facts of some injury or circumstance in our lives are reinterpreted or reframed. Base metal is rendered into gold. The most troubling affairs can become valuable beyond measure.

Seeing True in Action

While there are no easy means for digesting the poisons that are present in our lives, transformation cannot begin without their identification. First, we must break our denial and delusion. Who do I hold grievance against? What circumstances of my life remain painful to me? Where am I unreconciled with myself?

Continue this inner investigation by asking yourself, ”What would it take for me to release this person, or situation, or even myself?” Given this, "What am I actually willing to do?"

Be honest with yourself.

If you are unable or unwilling to move forward by taking the action that will facilitate release, write the consequences of holding onto it.

Once again, tell yourself the truth about yourself.

Repeat the process until the grievance releases.

Updated November, 2017