Memories of my childhood are full of laughter, fun and love all around. Looking back at pictures + videos of my elementary and middle-school years and talking to my mom about it, I'm affirmed that my friendships came in all shapes, colors, sizes, social classes and family upbringings. Years ago, when the concept of bullying started inundating the media, I remember feeling so lucky that I'd never been a victim of it or, even worse, succumbed to becoming a bully. The thought of it gives me shivers. I thought I was in the clear. As an adult, I never thought I'd go through the debilitating emotional punches of being bullied by a close friend.
When I first moved to a new town, life was an exciting time. My days were filled with new adventures, my nights were capped with new memories and my life in general was unfolding beautifully. Professionally, I wasn't where I was hoping I'd be and some days seemed more frustrating than others but, all in all, it all felt right. I was happily living in the same building as a close friend and up until then we'd only had minor clashes as friends - the type you'd have with just about anyone you spend all your free time with. Everything flipped suddenly. Friendship was replaced with animosity. Words were laced with anger. Energy was contaminated with scorn. And the world around me became pitch-black. For six months, I had to walk through the cloud of darkness that had enveloped around my room, my apartment, my building and even my neighborhood. All interactions were contemptuous and directed at my heart. I had zero drive to pursue a creative career because my creative abilities were ridiculed, and I basically felt insecure about everything else once I allowed that to happen.
One of the best decisions I made back then was to Forgive. I took baby steps toward reclaiming my spirit with the help of people who actually cared about me. I broke a lease in order to find a healthier living environment, I dove deep into a yoga program, I started taking pictures again, I looked for ways of meeting other photographers, and I did everything I could to let go of those dark months. But it still felt as if I was dragging a heavy burden with me. Every time I'd follow a yoga teacher's cues during meditation or Savasana to either think of a person to dedicate the practice to or someone who needs extra love in their heart, that particular person would fly into my sight. It was so frustrating. I was doing everything in my power to let go; to release myself; to move forward. I remember talking to a friend about a physical feeling I had in my sternum. It felt blocked and physically tight, similar to the feeling you get when you feel compelled to crack your neck, knuckles, toes or back, and all I wanted to do was break it open so my heart could be plump again instead of the shriveled weak thing it felt like! She advised me to sit with this feeling, to allow myself to bring this person into my heart, and to forgive. To forgive. After many, many uneasy meditations and tears, I decided to write a letter of forgiveness and actually send it. I remember a specific yoga practice a few weeks after that - I was in my new room, listening to loud melodic music, in the middle of a high lunge pose with my arms reaching far into the sky, all of a sudden the area in my sternum popped. It literally popped! I fell to the floor and started crying because I could feel the new lightness in my body.
The stuff we go through weighs us down. It's no joke. Being bullied brought a darkness to my life that I'd never thought possible, but the power of forgiveness broke the barriers and allowed for light to shine through. The light allowed for love to come into my life once again: I met one of my best friends during that time, I received countless professional inquiries, I met a great guy, I set up an intentional business, I felt the desire to create again and I explored the possibilities of a whole new life in my new town. In a previous post, I mentioned that life can get boiled down to experiences and lessons. If that stage of life taught me anything, it's that our hearts are capable of infinite love and infinite forgiveness. Sometimes the space between the two is not as far as you'd think. In fact, very often they're right on top of each other. Though it feels icky, sticky, dark and difficult, it's a space worth claiming.
I recently finished a book called The Hiding Place, it’s a compelling and powerful story of a Dutch woman who survived the concentration camps during the Holocaust. The book is a remarkable example of this woman - Corrie’s - ability to not only forgive but to build a life of kindness, compassion and love. There’s a ton of context leading up to the time when she and her family were actually captured. An entire chapter is dedicated to a man she loved - Karel. They’d go on walks, talk for hours, exchange meaningful looks and experience all the joys of falling in love. The story doesn’t end well for Corrie and Karel - because of his family’s social status, Karel ends up marrying another woman. In her intense and utter heartbreak, Corrie’s father shares his wisdom,
"Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. God loves Karel - even more than you do - and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way."
This paragraph struck an acute chord with me. How many of you have been heartbroken, felt the hollowing despair of the absence of love? It’s painful! That’s exactly what the absence of love feels like - real, guttural pain! But the part that really hits home is when her father explains the idea that there’s something much bigger that simply loves us for who we are, and that it’s a love that none of us can comprehend. Despite what your religious beliefs are (I don’t categorize myself as anything specific), I invite you to embrace this concept of a majestic element / being / spirit that sees love within you and everyone around you - including those who’ve perhaps hurt you in real ways. In choosing the path of forgiveness, we have an opportunity to let go of the human ties and emotions that impede us from experiencing love and instead we invite love into not only our life, but into the life of those around us as well.
The experience of forgiveness is varied because our lives are all so varied. One thing I know for sure though is that there’s so much more light in the path of forgiveness than in the path of control. As humans, the best we can do is to care for our own hearts and to try to live our best lives every single day. In my life, this includes forgiveness at every chance. I’ve let go of the desire to control outcomes, situations and even people so that I don’t create space for unnecessary disappointment in my own heart. Instead, I choose the higher way of seeing situations or people. When possible, I step out of my own human way and try to see the bigger picture.
Whether you're going through something, have buried a hurtful past or want to cherish your beautiful heart for its infinite love, I want you to use this affirmation today when you find a quiet moment:
My heart is resilient. I spread kindness and goodwill to those around me and forgive those who've hurt me. My heart is open to love.
Sending you all infinite love,
This post is written in collaboration with some of the most stellar and deep-thinking women I've met. It's a series called The Refined Collective, organized by The Refined Woman. Each month, we'll each share our thoughts on an assigned topic. This month is all about Forgiveness. Be sure and check out the other women who are a part of this Collective: Katherine Harris, Lauren Scruggs Kennedy, Chelsey Korus, Danielle Bennet, Joanne Encarnacion and Nikia Phoenix.