When I started to think about forgiveness for the sake of this communal conversation at the studio, I didn’t quite know where to begin. It’s an enormous word - kind of like “love” - in that it’s extremely multilayered, and touches us in the spaces where we’re most vulnerable. Most tender. Most likely to react when tapped. And yet other times, it can be as simple as a clean wipe off the surface. An easy release of something small that was, perhaps accidentally, taken from you or put on to you. Not a big deal, easy to brush off.
To be honest, though, I’m not as interested in that second type of forgiveness for the sake of this conversation. Instead, I’d like for us to go deeper. Because we deserve to.
We live in a time of reactivity. Words organized and used like knives in the news, on our apps, in all of our media to get us to act - to click, to swipe, to share, to comment, to like, to not like, etc. etc. etc. The stimulus we absorb on a daily basis, especially in this town, is immeasurable, and I often think about what that does to our process of thought. How often do we choose to slow down and digest what we’ve just witnessed, listened too, or absorbed in someway? And how often do we really believe in, or feel represented in, our reactions? Do we often just do the thing, and then only after realize we’ve done it? I know I have many many times…
I bring up this quick-paced, frontal-lobe form of thinking because when we talk about forgiveness I think it’s very much about the process of deliberate action versus unconscious reaction. If we’re triggered into a state of dis-ease because of something someone said or did to/at us, it takes time to release that trigger and find equilibrium. Part of that process is being able to see the experience clearly, forgive the other or ourselves for causing the harm, and then letting our minds and bodies fully release the experience. If we don’t take these slow, discerning actions, the trigger experience (whether it be stress, anxiety, tension, etc.) will live in our body and either harden over time and/or gnaw at us until we’re ready to look at it and do the processing we didn’t do initially.
Which is the funny thing about forgiveness, right? It’s not the other person who harmed us that holds and carries the damage of not-forgiving. It’s us.
I want you to think about a time when you were hurt by someone, or perhaps yourself. It doesn’t have to be the most drastic or painful of memories - maybe pick the first one that comes to you. As you think back on the memory, I want you to pay attention to your body and start to notice what types of reactions you have. Is your heart rate increasing? Do you feel tension creeping into your shoulders or hands or jaw? Has your breath become shallow or have you stopped breathing completely? Are your thoughts being pulled into the memory and the emotional experience of it all? Just notice - none of this has to mean anything just yet. Alternatively - do you feel calm when you think about this memory? Do you feel like your body maintained a sense of neutrality or ease as you considered what happened? Are you able to let the memory leave your mind easily?
Based on your experience of thinking back on this memory, do you feel you have forgiven the person who hurt you or yourself? Or do you feel like there is still a hurt lingering in your body that you perhaps haven’t processed yet?
Now imagine all the weight that comes with not letting go of that hurt. Think of all the times you've thought of what this person said or did, and consider how much it has perhaps become engrained, maybe even into what you think of yourself.
And now imagine what it would feel like to be completely free of that memory. Of that person haunting you with their words or actions. To be released from the clench and attachment of that hurt. That'd feel pretty incredible, right?
So what is the process of forgiveness? What steps can we take to truly let go of an experience that has harmed us?
Marianne Williamson has said, "Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” She has also said that, “The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive."
When we allow (or sometimes will) ourselves to slow down enough to start to feel the discomfort from what we’ve been carrying around with us - to truly notice the trigger, the bullet and the wound - only then can we begin the process of letting it go. Any real healing can only be done when the full picture is made clear - defined - and then very tenderly wiped away. This practice requires us to drop our ego, and to step out of the grip of our “identity” because it asks us to not be tied to the pain that was caused. It asks us to see the pain as an experience we might have had, but it does not in any way define who we are, our story, and our experience as a soul traveling through this lifetime.
It asks to the pain pass through us - just like the breath.
There is a sense of grace that comes over us when we allow ourselves to forgive. It's connecting to something beyond (and yet inside of) us, and allowing our humanity to unfold into a sense of something greater. It’s connecting to that slower vibration and resonance within us, that is far deeper and more truthful than any pain we’ve been made a victim of. It makes me think of the name for the heart chakra, ‘Anahata” which translates to: unstruck, unhurt and unbeaten. When we allow ourselves to connect to that place - that place that’s within all of us - we know no pain could ever truly break us.
I’ve read many times that when the heart feels broken, it’s because it’s breaking open. There is no damage, there is only more of us becoming seen. And being in that place of vulnerability is an opportunity to become more fully alive and connected to all of this - all of life, all of experience. Heart completely open, and unafraid because you know you can never be beaten. How amazing to then strengthen from that place, rather than a place of pain.
Forgiveness is courageous. It takes a trusting heart to release the person or action that harmed you back into the world, instead of holding it close enough to control the level of pain inflicted on you. And it takes a trusting heart to know that once all of it’s been released, the space it once occupied can now be filled with compassion - built from within.
Forgiveness is a practice. Like most things, it’s a muscle that must be exercised and tended to in order to become strong and supportive. But being willing to forgive is being willing to be free, so in my opinion, it’s worth the effort.
I’ll leave you with two of my favorite quotes about forgiveness, both by Martin Luther King, Jr.:
"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
May we all build from the heart, and let our bodies and minds be occupied with light.