I’m taking this amazing online meditation course with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. If you read this, and get inspired or curious, they are offering it again, and you can check it out here. The other day, I was practicing a meditation on forgiveness. In the meditation, I was guided first to acknowledging the harm and suffering I have caused myself, knowingly and unknowingly. Then, I was guided to contemplate the harm or suffering that I have caused others, and I was given the opportunity to forgive myself for that too. As I came to that moment, I felt deep regret for the times that I have been unloving, impatient, or reactive to my children, and my beloved partner. And as I dove deeper into the sorrow and shame and regret I felt, I was able to identify something that had never fully revealed itself to me before…
The suffering. The suffering of the moment. The uncomfortable suffering of a moment when the oldest brother is so unkind to the younger brother, when the youngest destroys the bathroom while playing with my makeup, when beloved partner is late from work (again). Uncomfortable, sticky, not-knowing-what-to-do feelings. There is the suffering of the moment, and then there is the suffering in how to ENDURE the moment. And here, here in this wiggly, itchy, stuck place, I heard a small voice saying “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to fix this.” And tears began to pour from my heart. I remember times in my childhood when a situation felt wrong, or broken, or unfair, and yet there was nothing to do to fix it. I hate the feeling of not having an answer. I hate the feeling of not being able to change something into something better. Helpless. Hopeless. Disempowered.
I noticed the emotions rising, and I allowed them to be. This feeling of “can’t do anything about it, nothing can be done, no change is coming.” The shrugging shoulders, the hands up in the air, the one side of the mouth lifting in a question mark. I felt the claustrophobia, the trapped-ness, and the rage of this reality. I could feel heat rising in my body, up into my face. I could feel my breath getting short, held in. I resisted. No. I’m resilient. I’m the “find a way” girl. I’m the one strong enough to handle this. I’m the one smart enough to figure this out. And yet when that doesn’t work out, I’m the failure, I’m the weak one, I’m the idiot. Hmmm. There’s really no way to win. And I love winning.
And this isn’t just about my own life, and my own struggles, this also plays out in my relationships with my friends and family. I want to be the one that makes things better, that helps, that really “shows up,” that CARES. And yet, these efforts aren’t always successful, and often leave me feeling even less connected despite my valiant efforts. MY. VALIANT. EFFORTS.
So I hear another voice, a stronger, more clear voice ask me “Are you willing to walk with the suffering?” And I ask myself, Am I? Are you? Can you? And I don’t like the question, and I want to say NO! But I know in this moment, that if I am not willing to walk with suffering, I won’t be able to support my family or friends when they go through hard times, and I certainly won’t be able to endure whatever challenges inevitably lie ahead in my own life. Am I willing to walk with suffering? Am I willing to allow it to be there, for as long as it takes, without any answers, solutions, or changes? To just let it be? To just be WITH it? Yes, yes I am. I answer back. And it feels scary and shaky and really vulnerable. But I am willing. And to be willing feels empowering, despite what I’m signing myself up for — the unknown world of unpreventable, unsolvable, uncomfortable tragedy, hardship, or pain? Moments that will likely feel hopeless, helpless, and never-ending… Yes. Yes to all of it. YES.
Because what other choice is there? This trying to be so helpful and resourceful and useful all the time isn’t working anyway, and I’m not solving all the world’s problems anyway and I’m certainly not full of answers and I never will be able to fix EVERYTHING exactly when I want it. And I’m tired of feeling like a failure. So suffering, yes, I’m willing to walk with you. I’m not saying I’ll like it, but I’m willing…
That night I was laying in bed with all three kiddos trying to read a bedtime story, but oldest brother was revving up baby sister, and younger brother couldn’t hear the book through the mayhem. I closed my eyes, I felt the irritation, the frustration, the anger boiling up… that this moment, which I wanted to be this sweet picture of my and my 3 sweeties all snuggled in reading together wasn’t happening, and that I had no idea how to get the older one to knock it off. Tears began to roll down my cheeks as I said yes. Yes to the discomfort, yes to the helpless feeling of not knowing what to do, yes to the staying, yes… My kids noticed the tears, and they all gathering in closer around me, kissing my face, holding my hands, and rubbing my head. And I was able to tell them that I didn’t know what to do, and that I was so tired and frustrated, and they all nodded as they continued to love me up. There were apologies, and more hugs. And then there was the rest of the story, and 3 little heads sticking out of the bed.
A friend going through a divorce. Another friend who struggles with an ex. A former friend that still brings itchy feelings and heat. Wild-hearted children that are as authentic in their rebellion as they are in their loving. A deeply loving partner with his own journey towards balance. A complicated life. A big, full, beautiful complicated life. Which I can’t completely manage or control or fix…
This post rings very similarly to one I wrote a few weeks ago about “The Power of Helpless.” But I’m entering new territory, because now, I am willing to FORGIVE my SELF for not having all the answers, for not being able to fix everything… And, if I deserve my own forgiveness, I absolutely have to be willing to forgive those who have caused me suffering. “How many times? How many times should I forgive my brother?” Peter asks Jesus. And he responds “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Seventy seven times. I’m not keeping track of how many times anymore. And I can’t hold my heart in this armor to protect it in fear of what will happen if the suffering keeps happening, and if I have to keep forgiving. Because this saying yes to suffering is allowing me to forgive, and this forgiving is allowing me to be more brave and loving, and I’m not willing to give that up. Because what I want most is a big huge brave loving heart, and I want that heart to shine out and touch all the people that I love, and even the ones I struggle with, along with all the beings in the world.
When was the last time you sat down with yourself and gave yourself a little forgiveness? Try it, like this: place one hand on your heart, and dive into a memory of something that you’ve done to cause harm to yourself (judgment, unrealistic expectations, unloving behavior of any kind), and then feel the ache, the sting, the suffering of that experience. Then say to yourself “I forgive you.” Over and over and over again until you feel it and believe it. And this might bring up tears, and short fast breaths, and then inevitably long deep breaths and sighs and gulps. And just stick with that, until you’re ready to move deeper into other areas of forgiveness. Because you deserve it. Because we all do.
And there. There it is. A tool that you can use. Simple presence. The acceptance in a moment of suffering that allows you to stay, and not have to solve, or fix, but to just allow and be. And that presence might be all that was needed all along.
Blessings to you on your path! May we all shed the armor of our hearts and shine in the way we were intended! Om. Amen. Hallelujah.