Sometimes we’re a mystery to ourselves, or perhaps more accurately, sometimes we don’t realise how much paranoia we carry within ourselves. A lot of things tend to ruin our day.

I went to a meeting recently and for most of it felt warm and friendly towards my colleagues, and positive about all that was happening. I was in good spirits, generative and looking for places to be helpful. Then, shortly before the meeting ended, one of my colleagues made a biting comment which struck me as bitter and unfair. Immediately a series of doors began to close inside me. My warmth and empathy quickly turned into hardness and anger and I struggled not to obsess about the incident. Moreover, the feelings didn’t pass quickly. For several days a coldness and paranoia lingered inside me and I avoided any contact with the man who had made the negative comments while I stewed in my negativity.

Time and prayer eventually did their healing. A healthier perspective returned, and the doors that had slammed shut at that meeting opened again. Metanoia replaced my paranoia.

It’s significant that the first word out of Jesus’s mouth in the Synoptic Gospels is metanoia”. Jesus begins his ministry with these words: “Repent [metanoia] and believe in the good news” and that, in capsule, is a summary of his entire message.

But how does one repent? Our English translations of the Gospels don’t do justice to what Jesus is saying here. They translate metanoia with the word “repent”. But for us, the word “repent” has different connotations from what Jesus intended. In English, repentance implies that we have done something wrong and must regretfully disavow ourselves of that action and begin to live in a new way. The biblical word metanoia has much wider connotations.

The word metanoia comes from two Greek words: meta, meaning “above”; and Nous, meaning “mind”. Metanoia invites us to move above our normal instincts, into a bigger mind, into a mind which rises above the proclivity for self-interest and self-protection which so frequently triggers feelings of bitterness, negativity and lack of empathy inside us. Metanoia invites us to meet all situations, however unfair they may seem, with understanding and an empathic heart.

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