As I finish packing up the remnants of our nearly vacant, beloved farmhouse, bittersweet memories flood my consciousness of the past six years of our lives. A treehouse that was never entirely built, chipped paint on most of the walls, a long list of land chores undone, piles of unfinished house projects -- reminders of a life spent being too busy to fully, and to simply, live life. Our empty home mirrors a chapter of my life that continues to feel incomplete by my lack of presence in it. It is the beginning of the end, and the beginning itself of a new chapter: the desperately overdue, first and only sabbatical of my entire life.
My daughter and I lived out of my car and on various friends/families couches in the Florida panhandle area until my daughter was seventeen months old. Until one day, when I finally said to hell with it all, threw a giant hiking pack (mostly full of diapers) on my back, my daughter in a sling on the front, hopped on a Greyhound bus to North Carolina, and never turned back.
We have moved easily a dozen times since stepping off that Greyhound bus in 2008. It wasn’t until 2013 that I was able to owner-finance my first home in Leicester, just a few minutes away from Asheville, NC. Needless to say, it has been the only place we have ever really called “home” my daughter’s entire life.
Despite working multiple jobs, often 50-60+ hours a week, and saving everything I could, my daughter and I have lived on the brink of crisis the majority of her twelve years of life. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how much money I made, no matter how many promotions I received, it was still never enough.
Between being a single parent, working more than full-time, and managing a community homestead the past six years, an eventual burnout was inevitable. I had anticipated it for years, but felt like there was nothing I could do to prevent it. I couldn’t stop taking care of my daughter, I couldn’t stop working, and I couldn’t stop paying my mortgage.
Until one day, I decided that I had to stop, because literally, my life depended on it. My physical and emotional health became too fragile to continue at the pace that I had run myself into the ground the past thirteen years.
So, for the first time in my entire adult life... I am taking a sabbatical.
I am still battling the socio-economic guilt of it all. The guilt I feel of leaving my job, the guilt of not being able to answer my loved ones concisely when they ask “when are you going back to work?,” the guilt of watching the bills pile up without knowing how they will be paid. Except, of course, for my blind faith that someway, somehow, my daughter and I will make it through. We always have, and I have no logical or sensible reason for describing how or why. We just have, always.
Regardless, I believe with every ounce of my heart and soul that I deserve this time to heal.
It’s time to begin a new chapter of life for myself and my daughter -- a chapter of slowing down enough to enjoy the simple things in life, a chapter of loving and nurturing myself as much as I have always done the same for so many others in both my personal and professional lives, and a chapter of forgiving the unforgivable.
“Unwillingness to forgive keeps the heart closed.” -Anodea Judith
Through my own prayer/meditation practices, and with the guidance of my mentors/teachers, it has become abundantly clear that forgiveness is the stepping stone from this chapter of life into the next. It is in the practice of forgiveness that the process of letting go, and beginning anew, occurs from within. Forgiving myself for the mistakes I have made. Forgiving myself for hurting others along the way. Forgiving others for the hurt they have caused to me.
Several months ago, when this realization first dawned upon me, I began to ask myself how in the world could I even begin this process? I was grieving miserably, and it felt as if there was no hope, no forgiveness, no forgetting in sight. It’s as if the deeper the grief, the deeper the hurt, the deeper the sorrow, the more unattainable forgiveness seems.
Over the years, I have stumbled upon various forgiveness practices that I will share with you below. It is through these practices that my process is beginning to unfold. Yet, I continue to remind myself that forgiveness is on its’ own timeline. There is no rushing the process allowed. It simply happens when it happens... although, your diligent practice, encouragement, and patience for yourself certainly helps.
Forgiveness takes practice, and what I am sharing with you below are simply recommendations for this practice. Practice over, and over, and over again, until your heart is finally free.
“For most people, the work of forgiveness is a process. Practicing forgiveness, we may go through stages of grief, rage, sorrow, fear and confusion. As we let ourself feel the pain we still hold, forgiveness comes as a relief, a release for our heart in the end. Forgiveness acknowledges that no matter how much we may have suffered, we will not put another human being out of our heart.” -Jack Kornfield
Ho'oponopono means “to make right.” It is a traditional Hawaiian practice of reconciliation, forgiveness, and energetic clearing. It is part of a wider spiritual philosophy known as Huna, which in itself contains various practices to attain forgiveness and healing. Ho'oponopono is both an internal practice and a traditional way of healing external relationships with ancestors, loved ones, and divinities.
The internal practice shared with me from my teachers can be used as a prayer or mantra. It personally feels most effective to me when I feel as if I wholeheartedly believe that I am ready and willing to forgive someone. If the intention feels fake or insincere, the practice feels incomplete. Sometimes, it also feels difficult for me to utter the words “I love you” if they do not feel appropriate at the time. It’s difficult to describe this succinctly, but try to think of it as “divine” or “universal” love if the personal, interconnected feeling of love is too hard to imagine.
The prayer is as follows:
1. I’m sorry.
2. Please forgive me.
3. Thank you.
4. I love you.
Though simple, the effects are profound. Traditions across the globe believe in the effectiveness of these statements in our daily relationships. Even if you are unable to say these words to the person directly, imagine them sitting in front of you as you say them aloud or quietly to yourself.
This is only one practice of the vast, wider philosophies of Huna and Ho'oponopono, and I encourage you to study these practices more in-depth with a knowledgeable writer/teacher for more specific instruction and tangible results in your practice.
“An echo of this Huna teaching is to be found in Matthew 18:22, in which Peter asks Jesus whether it is sufficient to forgive seven times any man sinning against him. Jesus replies with the Mother's greater tolerance stressed, not that of the Father: He says that forgiveness should be offered ‘seventy times seven times.’” -Max Freedom Long, an excerpt from the book Huna: Growing Into Light
Buddhist Forgiveness Meditation
I have personally cherished this practice for many years, as it recognizes the many layers of forgiveness needed within others and ourselves. I also appreciate how this particular practice recognizes how much suffering we have caused to both others and ourselves is unintentional.
The meditation is as follows:
1. I forgive myself for all harm I have caused to others through word, thought, or action, knowingly or unknowingly.
2. I forgive all others for all harm they have caused to me through word, thought, or action, knowingly or unknowingly.
3. I forgive myself for all harm that I caused to myself through word, thought, or action, knowingly or unknowingly.
I personally prefer expressing these statements aloud, but of course they can be expressed internally/silently, as well. Again, I encourage you to seek a qualified teacher for more specific instructions in your practice.
“Believe that you can redeem horrible acts by your own vulnerability. Let go of anything that separates you from other human beings. In so doing you honor all those lost. Your act of forgiveness holds their story in its highest possible glory. And you honor life itself. There could be no greater legacy.” -Phillip Moffitt
Four Steps to Forgiveness
I stumbled upon the book “Four Steps to Forgiveness” by William Fergus Martin one day while researching Huna. It offered a practical, logistical process to me that felt immediately appropriate for my journaling practice.
He also separates the ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation. For years, I have misunderstood this concept within myself, and it was life-changing to read his interpretations on this subject:
“Reconciliation is a process of re-establishing our relationship with someone. Reconciliation is often part of forgiveness, but it does not have to be. Reconciliation is really a separate and distinct process.
Forgiveness is unconditional and always possible; reconciliation sometimes needs to be
conditional and is not always possible.”
The four steps to forgiveness listed in his book are as follows:
1. State who you need to forgive and for what.
2. Acknowledge how you feel about the current situation.
3. State the benefits you will get from forgiving.
4. Commit yourself to forgiving.
This process has felt the most helpful for me in writing, but it also gives us a guideline for how to apply our intentions of forgiveness in our daily lives.
“Forgiveness gives us the freedom to stay and the freedom to walk away.” -William Fergus Martin
Forgiving the Unforgivable
There are those of us who have experienced pain and suffering beyond what feels forgivable, and there are those of us who have caused pain and suffering to others that may also be conceived as unforgivable.
Does this mean reconciliation or forgiveness is entirely impossible?
My personal practices have brought me to the belief that it is possible with our personal choice and intention to let go of the harm that has been caused, while not forgetting the injustice that has occurred. In fact, this realization has inspired me tremendously on my path to forgiveness, because it allows me to recognize that letting go is possible even if the harmful word, thought, or action is entirely unforgivable in itself. It is then the other person, and yourself, that must be forgiven -- not the deed itself that caused you this suffering.
Buddhist teacher and author Phillip Moffitt describes this process of letting go:
“In these personal situations the challenge is just the same as with a national tragedy. You first act to find your own safety, then you act to stop the person from continuing the violations. These outer actions are followed by the hard work of loosening the grip of the experience on your own emotions. Initially it may seem that there is nothing you can do -- it happened, it was awful, and your life was ruined. But, gradually, after telling your story again and again, you realize it's not the circumstances of the trauma, or even the perpetrator, that's hindering you from moving on. It's you who are clinging to the trauma in shock and hurt.”
I believe that forgiving the unforgivable is both possible and necessary for our personal growth, for our collective healing, and for a global transformation towards a future of reconciliation, healing, and justice.
While on sabbatical, my intention is to continue these practices of forgiveness, and any other practices necessary to let go, reconcile my past, and create a new, intentional vision for my future.
During this time of transition, my hope is that my friends, family, and loved ones will accept my plea for forgiveness of any unintentional hurt I have caused to them during my time of suffering. I also hope that my loved ones will understand that my practice of forgiving myself and others is in process, and while partially incomplete, is entirely sincere.
In particular, there is someone I care for deeply that I know I have hurt tremendously… and anticipate that she may perceive my words and actions as unforgivable. My hope is that someday, someway, somehow, she will receive this message, and know that I am sorry with all of my heart.
In all of my prayers for forgiveness, please know that I have asked for yours the most.
“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
-Mary Oliver, from the poem “In Blackwater Woods”