Last weekend, despite the slicks of freezing rain, I had the most magical getaway. Eighteen ladies who just graduated from my last course--Balanced & Beautiful--retreated to the fields of West Virginia to celebrate the completion of a powerful ten week journey. Our retreat center was simple--good heating in the bedrooms, a big practice space with shiny wood floors and lunches of stuffed peppers and guacamole. (Also we got to hang out under a 400 year old grandma oak tree--see above photo)
So what do so many ladies do on retreat? Well, we meditated in the early morning, sweated during vinyasa flow yoga, and spent an afternoon making vision boards (a personal collage of cut-up magazine images to represent where we want to go in our lives).
And we spent a lot of time processing all the ways we’ve grown during our time together. We talked about these changes in the opening circle, kept it going on crunchy walks through the snow and went deeper while lingering over one more cup of tea after our dinner. A lot had changed for each of us which meant we needed a lot of conversation to process.
One theme that kept coming up was forgiveness. Many of these ladies said that practicing better health habits in a supportive group had given them the awareness and strength to finally forgive themselves for all the achy wrongs of the pasts they been carrying deep inside. These shadows were effecting their marriages, work, and mostly their self-esteem. They knew something needed to change but they weren't sure what. They took a risk, signed up for this course and their hearts opened up in a new way. Armed with self forgiveness, life changed quickly. These ladies are repairing their marriages, restarting their PHDs, finally saying yes to motherhood, and experiencing deep bouts of gratitude after years of fogginess.
This forgiveness thing honestly was a surprise for me. I teach a group of dynamic women how to improve their health based on yogic and ayurvedic principles. We use self awareness and habit change science to practice these habits in a highly-supportive environment. From my own experience, I know this process creates the space for authentic inner and outer change. I expected people to lose weight, sleep deeper, feel better about themselves and make some great new friends.
But forgiveness? That’s really big. With forgiveness everything changes.
So many people stay angry and blocked their entire lives because they can’t bear the pain of letting go that comes from forgiveness. It’s one of the most threatening things to our egos. We hold onto our stories that keep us small and trapped because it feels oddly safe. We yearn for things to change but won’t budge our deepest attitudes. So many great spiritual leaders talk about forgiveness because they know if you want to change your life, you must start with forgiveness.
On the retreat I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how forgiveness arises out of going to bed earlier and meditating in the mornings. The answer that kept coming up was self awareness. I asked these ladies to start paying attention to how they actually felt. It turns out that the same self awareness we use to know where we are getting stuck in our body also shows us the sticky parts of our souls. Once we see it and have the tools to change it, I don’t think we can really stay stuck anymore.
One of the retreat participants said she realized that if she could forgive herself she could forgive anyone. Isn’t that so deeply profound? She was the same one who said she was finally ready to be a mother. Don’t you want someone like that to have kids? I really really do.
Hearing their stories made me remember that forgiveness is a practice. We forgive when we notice we are fighting with life and realize the futility of that battle because life is as it is. We forgive when drop the battle to make ourselves or someone else perfect. Forgiveness is a step back that says, I kinda really love you exactly as you are, warts and all. We forgive when we think we know the best plan and then get humbled but a much richer, truer plan. We lose our clever words, quick defenses, anything but the ability to say "thank you."
I don't know about you all but I have to practice this superpower of forgiveness on a daily basis. If I think I have moved past having to practice forgiveness then I probably need it more than ever.
You see, that shitty voice in your head loves it when you stuff down your sadness, anger and regret. It oddly makes us feel special. But what I've learned is that many of us think our suffering is unique but it really isn't. Our suffering, though necessary for growth, is the most boring part of any of us because it all looks the same. "I was wronged," "My mother didn't help me," "He's selfish," blah blah blah. Isn't it boring when someone goes into all that? Sometimes I even bore myself with my victim mentality.
However, what is on the other side of suffering, what stays blocked when we can't forgive, is our brightest truest self. It's our dreams, our possibility, our capacity for connection. I believe this is the most interesting part of us all. My view is that we all deeply yearn to live out what is on the other side of staying stuck but most of us don't let ourselves. We put other people's needs, financial anxiety, and professional success at all costs in between us and our glory. It would be one thing if we could make it go away by shutting the door but it doesn't work that way. Our unlived, beautiful life will always beckon to us, shining light into all the cracks until the tension gets to be too much. We change or we crack deeper.
Perhaps the discontent we build while staying stuck actually becomes the energy we need to someday catapult ourselves forward. In Chinese medicine, the energy of late winter into spring is the energy of anger. Only with that jolt can the buds burst forth and sprouts shoot up. I like this view because it means everything in good time. We can even forgive ourselves for staying stuck, because we didn't have what we needed in that moment to move forward.
But when you are ready, oh my. It's glorious and scary all in one to forgive, let go, and go flying into a new vision of reality. I've done it myself quiet a few times and now I get to facilitate others through the process. The process has taken me a long time and it's amazing that my lived knowledge makes it quicker and easier for others. Hurray! I carry that with me and despite all that is left undone in this world, I still feel like the luckiest of ducks most days. This gives me a quiet kind of smile as I dramatically trudge through these last soppy days of winter.