When I was in Costa Rica last December, in retreat with Shiva Rea, one of the things that struck me most about her as a teacher was her level of embodied compassion. Shiva Rea radiates kindness. I remember once when we were all in the middle of our morning session, a student walked in late. Mind you, the class had nearly one hundred yogis and the practice was a deeply meditative one. This student was clearly the black sheep of the group. She walked in noisily and began to cross the yoga room to find a spot to practice. As she walked, you could sense the shame that she carried in her body at being the one single student who didn’t have their shit together enough to get to class on time.
Shiva Rea stopped teaching. The entire class stood still and watched her get off of her yoga mat where she was, as she likes to say, “perched”. She walked towards her student.
“Welcome sister,” she said to her. “You are not late. You are absolutely perfect in every way. We welcome you here.”
And then she hugged her in the most tender of embraces, and walked with her to where there was a small open space in between the mats.
“Let’s make a space for our sister to practice here,” she said.
I’m working on it, Shiva Rea.
I’ve got a suspicion that deep kindness finds its source at the wellspring of forgiveness.
I had an opportunity to explore forgiveness this very weekend at my “Dacherlorette” party. My girlfriends gathered together in Miami to mark the milestone of my divorce; not to celebrate, per se, but to gather and witness the milestone.
Not all of my girlfriends were present- but a good many of my dearest sisters came. When I counted how many years I have known each of them, and added it together, there were 142 years of friendship by my side, all at the same time.
The weekend was a gift I will never forget. To be witnessed, deeply, to be seen, deeply, is perhaps one of the purest and most important forms of love.
I got super loved up.
Inside the love bubble of girl talk and endless saunas and steams and cocktails and hammocks and sun….. I kept returning inside of my own inquiry to the theme of forgiveness. I always pay a lot of attention when something keeps popping up in my mind. It’s a sign that there is some work to be done, a treasure to be found.
Had I forgiven? Was I ready to bridge from the old into the new? But more importantly, had I forgiven myself? Forgiveness is one of those big meta concepts that can hover superficially on the edges of your heart for decades. What does it mean to make it real, to give forgiveness flesh and blood and bones?
Have I asked for forgiveness from those I have wronged?
I burrowed down into my heart and prayed.
Self inquiry is real work. It’s like knitting new neural pathways in your brain. It’s real. Studies show that meditation changes the brain. We are just so pathetically unaccustomed to the amount of stillness and steadfastness it takes to get down deep enough in there.
After a day of big love infusions from all the sisters around me, I had a moment to be still in the hammam, lying down on big heated slabs of marble. In that still place, I meditated like an old lady with a spool of wool knitting a new heart. I sent prayers to those I have forsaken and asked for forgiveness. But surprisingly it was much harder to give that forgiveness to myself.
I was really out of practice.
When I finally found it, when that sweet spill of pure radiant heart energy came out of my prayer and shot through my soul….. I got it.
I got the secret to profound, embodied kindness. It’s right there, in self forgiveness. Because we all fuck up. We all make messes. If you think you don’t need to forgive yourself, there is a book on narcissism you probably need to read.
But when you say sorry? When you admit that you make messes and own them and clean them and then circle back to yourself and FORGIVE yourself for your humanity? Wow, that’s the wellspring of kindness. Then you, too, can greet a total stranger, or a person walking in late to your yoga class and in a fraction of a second- not judge- not condemn- not protect- but say:
Why, hello there messy. I’m messy too. Lovely, so lovely to share in the mess together.
Try on your radical love. It can’t be fake. You can’t paste on a smile and greet a stranger with a “Hello Sister.” Nope. You can only get it the hard way- by facing your own human self.
Maybe, just maybe, through this door of forgiveness and kindness I will learn to be better at holding a partner in my arms.
My friends surprised me this weekend by giving me a book. It is filled with love letters, reminders of who I am just in case I forget as I begin to explore the brave new world of men again. They also told me that they are officially my “boots on the ground” and that they would personally come and kick the ass of any guy who doesn’t treat me like a queen. Ahem.
“I’m trying very hard to accept that it is not ours to save each other from tumbles, but to love each other through them.”
“You are the ultimate Bride married to amazement.”
“Love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t.”’
“I love. That’s just what the fuck I do.”
“I am awed by your courage to let things fall apart.”
“No one anywhere can keep us from carrying the Beloved wherever we go.”
And finally, one friend shared this poem from Rumi, which is a perfect way to close this piece on the power of forgiveness as we move towards deeper love.
“Be thirsty heart,
seek forever without rest.
Let this soundless longing hidden deep inside you
be the source of every word you say.”