The human condition never ceases to amaze me. The more I listen to people as they share thoughts and feelings about life, the more I am amazed at how much of a factor the mind plays in what we can and cannot do in life. Sometimes people share thoughts with me after yoga class or as we’re working individually and in so many ways, I find it comes back to forgiveness. That lack of letting oneself off the hook for something; it could be a specific event or action that one person did to another, or it could just be a feeling of not becoming something that one might feel one needs to become.
I was inspired to write about forgiveness after seeing “Eat Pray Love” today. The scene with Julia Roberts and Richard Jenkins is, in my opinion, one of the best, most touching scenes in the movie. I remember seeing her on Letterman on Thursday night (it was a re-run from about a month ago) and the one scene she mentioned to Dave as what she guessed was the most memorable one to him, being a dad and all, was that particular scene. She said she thought that scene would make him cry, out of all the scenes in the movie (I know this isn’t making much sense to you if you didn’t see it). Well, it was pretty therapeutic for me and it made me think, “What am I not letting myself off the hook for? Is that what’s blocking me?” (yeah, you probably don’t want to go to the movies with me… I’m a really party animal afterwards!)
But even beyond my story, it made me think about forgiveness. It made me think about people that have done horrible things and if they even can move past it. It made me think about people that have done wonderful things but somehow, in their minds, it’s gotten all twisted into guilt. It made me think about car accidents, plane crashes and lay offs. It made me think about trauma and survivor guilt and all the ways that feelings can get twisted up inside and mess with our heads. It made me think about disease, about losing a battle to disease, about living with a disease, about surviving one. It made me think about financial stress, not living the life you want, or living the life you thought you wanted, and somehow, it’s not turned out to be what you wanted after all.
These things, “events” we can call them, can create havoc on our emotional system. And when that happens, we have one of two choices. We can face our fears, face our pain and deal with it, or we can stuff it down and pack it away and think it will never re-surface. But just as John Kabat-Zinn so masterfully says in the title of his wonderful book, “Wherever you go, there you are,” you can travel to Italy, India, Bali or anywhere, but eventually, there you’ll be, the same person you were before you left, facing whatever it is that might have made you pack up and leave.
Many of us never leave; we stay, we “deal with it,” we “attack” the problem. We make lists, we create an action plan, we “do the work.” I suppose this is the stuff of recovery, of making peace with it and for many of us, it’s essential to helping us heal. But at the core of it all, what is needed? At the core, I guess we have to love ourselves. Love ourselves through it all, despite it all and because of it all. There are bad things that happen and I suppose in some situations there are bad choices. We don’t eat the right things, we don’t wear our seat belts. We drive too fast. We use our credit cards knowing we don’t have the money to pay the bill. We miss the doctor’s appointment; or we don’t make it. We call in sick when we’re not, we gossip. We harbor jealous feelings, we say hateful things. We write emails that we regret, we leave voice mails we wish we could take back. We don’t call when we should, we ignore and disregard. We push ourselves, hard, to do more, to be more, to work hard because that’s the only way. Right? Isn’t that what they say?
But no, somehow, we know that really, the only way to letting ourselves off the hook, to letting ourselves really heal, is to be in stillness. The mind works overtime while we are in motion, robbing us of precious moments of presence. I spoke to a student after class today who shared that on a recent hike in Montana, one of the most beautiful places in the country, she realized she was barely taking note of her surroundings because she was so wrapped up in her thoughts. I spoke to another who finally found peace with “what is” in her life right now, through the teachings of author and speaker, Byron Katie. We all harbor much in our bodies, minds and hearts, and for many of us, as we grow older, the layers upon layers of “stuff” we pile on top of the unpleasant feelings and memories gets thicker and heavier. Sometimes I see people running around the Charles River, as I live here in Boston, and something tells me, as I watch some beautiful people struggle to push themselves, I wonder, “What might they be running from?” We can take physical exercise to an extreme and although exercise is healthy, it can be a method used to avoid and suppress. No one more than me wants to believe that through yoga, running and other physical exercise, we create a path to healing. I do believe that’s true but I wonder if that’s enough sometimes. My recent experience with boxing led me to believe that I’m only dealing with the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my own layers of “stuff.”
There is much that we can learn from presence. We can learn that we have the strength to face our fears and move forward. We can learn that through it all, we have the wisdom, the knowledge, the strength, the perseverance, to do what we truly want, not what others may want for us. We can face those ugly, dark corners in our minds and hearts and bodies and say, “I will not believe those things. I will move forward, I will put one foot in front of the other. I will breathe, I will be strong, I will let myself off the hook. I will make peace with my past for to not do so, is to forever be tied to it and to let it hold me back.” This, I will say, resonates with me. I find that as I open my heart to others, as I have the courage to share and take the time to really listen, we all are so similar in our thoughts and feelings about what holds us back. We want more than we have, we regret what we have not yet done. We fear the future; we may regret some of our past. We achieve, yet, sometimes blame ourselves in slippery little ways for our success. We take the time to sit still and then call it a “bad meditation session.” This is the stuff of life and our challenge is to somehow, through it all, stay awake, amidst all these feelings and thoughts.
Did you ever see one of those maps in a shopping mall directory, or better yet, at a trailhead? It shows a visual of the whole area and then, a small arrow sits on the map. Next to the arrow is a saying, “You are here.” It sits there, on the map, a small speck amidst all the stores, or, on the map of a trailhead, the arrow points to a small area in the forest. And the forest surrounds the speck, but yet, there the arrow sits, calming pointing to where you are in this one moment. You are here. You’re not on the other side of the forest, or on the hill. You’re not back at the car, or on the way to the start of the hike. You’re here. In this one moment, there is so much that can be done, so much that can be made of it, if you’ll only give yourself a moment to feel your feet, take a deep breath and connect. Not to the past, not to the future, but to right here, right now.