The Practice of Forgiveness
A little over a year ago, my marriage fell apart. There were many years of unraveling trust and connection within a 21-year container. Everything ended suddenly with an infidelity, resulting in broken hearts and damaged souls. It was the most difficult time of my life. I lost a partnership, my best friend, a family unit of six, the future I believed in, and parts of my identity.
It was the middle of fall and it seemed almost like a cruel twist of fate that the season was so aligned with what I was feeling internally – loss, death, a barren landscape. I was stuck. I was choosing suffering. At the time, I was unable to see the gift of my experience. And I had forgiven no one.
I started wandering. Literally wandering around my neighborhood whenever I became physically or emotionally restless, which was often – resulting in about 8 miles a day. Winter arrived and I kept walking. I walked in the rain. I walked in the cold. I walked every day.
And I started to notice.
At first, I noticed my loneliness and isolation. I noticed how lost I felt. I noticed myself and I wasn’t sure I recognized the person I saw. It was unclear how I got where I was and I found myself looking for someone or something to blame.
And then, one day, I noticed crocuses on my morning walk. I noticed camelias. And then daphnes and tulips and hyacinths and daffodils.
Photos by Nicole Rush
I also noticed the days getting longer and the sun shining earlier. I felt less and less like I was just wandering around and more and more as if I were on a path. I was stopping to smell flowers, pet cats, and sometimes just stand with my face toward the sun. I heard different bird songs, witnessed the dogwoods bloom, and remembered where all the quince bushes were.
I started taking walks with my children so I could show them my favorite pink star magnolias. Together, we learned where the best cherry blossoms dropped their petals and later where the sweetest figs hung down. I was suddenly paying attention in a way I never had before.
Photos by Nicole Rush
With each new flower and rise in temperature, I was becoming more and more grateful. I wasn’t going on walks anymore to clear my mind as much as I was looking forward to seeing what had changed. I suddenly understood on a visceral level the temporary nature of everything. I had things to say goodbye to and other things to look forward to. I was present. I was connecting – to my senses, to the world, to others, and to myself.
And I found joy.
The pain of my separation was still there, but I wasn’t suffering. I realized that life is a constant balance of both pain and joy. I didn’t need to hide from pain and I didn't need to grasp tightly to joy. I just needed to be present.
I could sit in meditation and allow myself to be inside of the pain and when I opened my eyes, the flowers were literally blooming. Suddenly, everything was beautiful. And it was so beautiful it hurt. That is the feeling I carry with me now. Life is a journey of wonder and sensuality and sometimes it feels so incredible I can’t contain my joy. And sometimes the joy is the sadness.
This, I believe, is forgiveness – when we are able to be in the presence of pain or heartache and still see the flowers.
Initially after my marriage ruptured, I felt as if I had been punched in the gut. I remember having to force myself to eat three meals a day because I literally couldn’t stomach much. I was depleted, foggy and in a state of anxiety I’d never experienced before. I lost weight, had a panic attack and felt the unease of ambiguity envelope me. Forgiveness simply wasn’t in reach, and that makes sense to me now. I was in survival mode. And I needed to grieve first.
It was through my daily mindful walks, my daily sitting practice, and the grace of time that I was able to slowly meet my own suffering with an open heart and to find myself in the story of life’s ever-changing nature.
This allowed me to see the dissolution of my relationship not as a failure or an unrecoverable event, but as a natural and necessary process of evolution for us both. We were so entwined that I believe we needed something as big as what happened to allow us to move apart.
Sixteen months later, I now see our chapter of separation as a tremendous gift. This perspective didn’t arise out of a conscious effort to forgive, but rather a softening into that tender space.
I think I will probably always look at what happened through a lens of sadness, and that’s okay. It is sad. I have not fully forgiven – I’m just not there. I believe I have more to learn from my experience and that requires time. But I can live with that. I have released (most of) the anger and have let go of the idea of forgiveness as a switch that can suddenly be flipped on one day.
Forgiveness is a malleable thing. It doesn’t always come when we want it to. For me, it is a practice. A slow unfolding. It appears inside of a tulip or a loving kindness meditation one day, but not the next. I feel it in softer, everyday moments, like baking pop tarts with my kids or a funny memory that makes me laugh out loud.
Photos by Nicole Rush
There are some days (or weeks) when I can’t access forgiveness at all, however hard I try. And then there are other days where I am overwhelmed with gratitude and there’s no way not to let forgiveness put her arms around me.
Through this journey of separation, one of my greatest discoveries has been that the act of forgiveness is for ourselves, as much as it is for anyone else. It isn’t glossing over what happened, making light, or forgetting. It is a courageous and vulnerable path of turning towards and integrating our painful life experiences, and then, with time, allowing the process of forgiveness to transform us.
Forgiveness is expansive energy. The more we open up, the more love we feel and are able to give. It started with forgiving myself. I needed to forgive myself for becoming complacent, for compromising my happiness, and for forgetting that this life is my one and only.
My separation has shown me that I’m a morning person, that I love dancing to music while I cook, and that I make delicious strawberry ice cream. I have been reminded of my optimism, love of simple connections with others, and my fire. I am able to see what is possible and prioritize what brings me the most joy.
Photos by Nicole Rush
The biggest lesson of the last year for me is presence. When I am present, there is nothing to fear. When I am present, I am authentic. When I am present, I am being creative. When I am present, I am in love with life. When I am present, I can welcome forgiveness. Dwelling in the past or imagining the future will not touch forgiveness. Forgiveness is here, now.
Below are a few tools that have been meaningful for me. May they help you, in some way, on your own path. 🙏
Steps Towards Forgiveness
1. Take time to feel Allow yourself space to identify your feelings without judgment. Simply notice what comes up when you sit inside of your experience. If you would like to be guided through a practice, listen to this 7-min RAIN Meditation.
2. Get it out Talk it out, journal, run, paint, or whatever feels best to you to process what happened, and move towards release.
3. Stay present Walking in nature and connecting with your senses is a beautiful way to stay present. As you walk, pause from time to time. Look around. Notice colors, flowers, people, sunshine or rain. Listen. Pay attention to your sense of smell. Reach out and touch plants, pet a cat or just notice the breeze on your skin. 4. Release self-sabotaging thoughts When you feel someone has wronged you, it can be easy to repeat self-sabotaging mantras to yourself. “Why am I so stupid?,” “I should have known better,” or “I’m not good enough.” Try pausing, closing your eyes and putting your negative thoughts on a cloud, allowing them to float away. 5. Receive self-affirming thoughts Replace self-sabotaging thoughts with self-affirming thoughts or mantras. Try choosing one that you can easily remember and say it as often as you want. It could be as simple as, “I vow to love myself.”
6. Try a loving kindness meditation
Loving Kindness practice can be extremely helpful for moving through the big stuff. If you have time, listen to this powerful 30-minute Loving Kindness for Self guided meditation. For a self-guided practice, you can explore these simple steps:
Find a grounding posture for your body and take a few moments to settle, soften, and breathe.
Begin with yourself. Offer yourself loving kindness and well wishes (you can do this silently in your mind, in a whisper, or out loud). “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live in peace.”
Move onto the same mantra for someone you love and care for. “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live in peace.”
Offer the same mantra to an acquaintance or someone neutral in your life.
Finally – if/when you feel ready – offer the same matra to the person who has hurt you and is in need of forgiveness.
Sit with yourself, without judgment, and observe the state of your heart.
7. Practice forgiving yourself Turn toward yourself to see if there is anything you can forgive within before looking toward what you might be able to forgive in others. Sometimes, what we are holding onto is not the wrongdoing of the other, but rather our own choices. For example, someone damaged your sense of trust and you are hanging onto shame over your willingness to trust another. It may be helpful to remind yourself that the ability to trust someone is a beautiful act.
Try these beautiful self-forgiveness phrases (as shared by Erin Treat, Spirit Rock) "I allow myself to make mistakes. I allow myself to be imperfect. I allow myself to be a learner, still learning life's lessons. I forgive myself for the hurt or harm I have caused. If I am not able to forgive myself now, may I forgive myself sometime in the future."
8. Cultivate compassion Seeing another person as a struggling human being just like you is sometimes helpful in the journey towards forgiveness. Be careful not to confuse compassion for pity. Compassion recognizes equality in the situation where pity is looking down from above. We all make mistakes. We all fumble. Often in small ways. Sometimes in horrendous ways. When you have been the transgressor, how beautiful is it to receive the kindness of compassion from the one you’ve wronged?
9. Look with a different perspective Oftentimes when we are hurt it is easy to point toward the other person and take on the role of the victim. See what happens if you can release the idea that something was done to you and reframe the situation as if what happened is part of a greater plan - a positive step, even if there is pain or heartache involved - toward something larger than yourself.
10. Integrate the lesson Gleaning the lesson or cultivating gratitude may not be readily available for quite some time, especially if you have been deeply harmed. But with patience, self-compassion, and time, the ability to see and maybe even appreciate the lesson will arise. This form of integration can be very healing. Above all, be kind to yourself and to your heart.
Nicole Rush is Pause's Community Manager and an Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor. Meditation is like digestion for the mind, guiding us to a place where we are able to let go of what no longer serves us, we can recognize the true self within, always there to guide us.
Our days are filled with activities that sometimes feel less than extraordinary, such as cooking dinner, doing the laundry or walking the dog. But, if we pay attention, we will recognize the richness and abundance in the seemingly mundane. We don’t have to wait for a special day to find joy and happiness — it’s available now.
In 2018, Nicole traveled to the mountains of Kathmandu to complete her yoga and meditation teacher training. She also holds a Yoga Nidra certification and a Bachelor of Fine Art from Marylhurst University. Outside of wellness practices, Nicole finds joy in poetry, knitting, long walks, French films and her ever-vibrant family.