We all have people in our life we need to forgive and anger we need to release. Ooh child, don’t even let me get started on mine… But don’t let it eat you alive. Cause guess what, when you’re holding it in, that’s exactly what it’s doing. Your body suffers. Little (and big) aches and pains creep up that you never had before, your skin becomes a hot mess, you always have headaches and dark circles under your eyes, you find it hard to catch your breath – I mean really catch your breath and breathe easy. Sound familiar? That’s the body trying to tell us something, trying to get our attention anyway it can.
What does it mean to forgive? How do we actually do this? For me it means looking at a situation and deciding the person or people who brought the situation about are human. They are struggling with their humanity and purpose on this earth just as much as I am (even if they don’t know it) and they are fallible, they will make mistakes (even if they don’t accept them). The point of forgiving is not about the other person acknowledging and accepting what they did wrong – not to say it isn’t great when that happens, but you could be waiting until camels shake maracas and who wants to be stuck waiting? No, the point of forgiving is that you acknowledge the humanity and imperfection in the offending person, because you yourself are also imperfect, and you release the anger you are holding in yourself towards them. Forgiveness is about you.
Well this is all fine and dandy, but how to implement this so that we actually achieve forgiveness and the peace that follows? That one is a really personal matter and individual to each of our own styles. Last year, I was in serious need of accessing my ability to forgive and I resurrected, with the help of my awesome youngest brother, a tool I’d used several years before: letting go and giving it back to nature.
Some years back, in undergrad, I had fallen hard for one of my best friends, who was also coincidentally the first person I’d ever kissed (in middle school). When I went out to visit him – as a friend, of course, cause that seemed like a good idea at the time – in London where he was studying, turns out he had a girlfriend. I spent 99% of that trip heartbroken and the perpetual rain of January in London did not help. The other 1% was spent getting sloshed as only Brits know how. It wasn’t until I was in Argentina later that Spring on a study abroad that I was actually able to let go of the whole experience. An amazing thing happened. I took a trip to some gorges near Buenos Aires and while standing at the edge (there were barriers) looking out over the beautiful scene of waterfalls and greenery, a bird with a significant wingspan caught my eye. It was flying so powerfully up and out of the ravine, my eyes were magnetized by it. In that moment, I let all my sorrow and heartbreak rest on it’s capable wings and as it flew away I felt my heart lifting and knew that I would now be able to forgive and move on.
Similarly, this past year I was going through another moment of heartbreak – it never seems to get easier – and was in desperate need of some way to let it go, to unstick myself and move on. And surprisingly, packing up and leaving the continent did not do the trick. I returned to Kenya for a short consultancy, this time with my brother in tow so that he could see the country before I officially left “for good.” We decided to go down to the coast for about a week or so and one beautiful evening in Mombasa at dusk while we are having dinner at the oceanfront at my favorite little restaurant Il Covo, my bro comes up with a great idea. We were discussing how we both believe in Yemanja, the goddess of the sea, stemming from Yoruba tradition, and he suggested that I make a list of exes I need to forgive and release them into the sea. So I wrote down a few names on a small sheet of paper, including the two people I had dated for three years each while in Kenya and walked down to the water’s edge. Knee deep in the gloriously warm water of the Indian Ocean with the moon high in the sky lighting my way and the waves inviting me with their ebb and flow to let go, I laid my list down and released it to Yemanja asking her to take it from me and help me heal.
The truth is we sometimes get comfortable with our pain, like an old friend. But I’ve learned to take the power out of a thing by forgiving and thereby reducing it’s ability to keep hurting me. After a while, I start to see these things as if on a movie screen of my life. Yes it happened, no I have not forgotten it, but it is at a far enough distance that it no longer hurts me because I have released it. I let it go.