Cheryl Strayed on FORGIVENESS

3bf3f744485de7e2aa336a1b6d45398f.jpg

"You asked for help with forgiveness, but I don't think that's what you need to reach for just yet. You know how alcoholics who go to AA are always using the phrase 'one day at a time'? They say that because to say 'I will never drink again' is just too damn much. It's big and hard and bound to fail. This is how forgiveness feels for you at this moment, no doubt. It's the reason you can't do it. I suggest you forget about forgiveness for now and strive for acceptance instead. 

Accept that the man you once loved was unfaithful to you. Accept that a woman you once held in regard treated you with disrespect. Accept that their actions hurt you deeply. Accept that this experience taught you something you didn't want to know. Accept that sorrow and strife are part of even a joyful life. Accept that it's going to take a long time for you to get that monster out of your chest. Accept that someday what pains you now will surely pain you less. 

Do you feel the shift? Acceptance has everything to do with simplicity, with sitting in the ordinary place, with bearing witness to the plain facts of our life, with not just starting at the essential, but ending up there. Your life has been profoundly shaken by these recent revelations. It's not your task to immediately forgive those who shook you. Your spoken desire to forgive the woman who betrayed you is in opposition to what you feel. Forgiveness forces an impossible internal face-off between you and a woman you hate. 

Acceptance asks only that you embrace what's true

Strange as it sounds, I don't think you've done that yet. I can hear it in the pitch of your letter. You're so outraged and surprised that this shitty thing happened to you that there's a piece of you that isn't yet convinced it did. You're looking for the explanation, the loophole, the bright twist in the dark tale that reverses its course. Anyone would be. It’s the reason I've had to narrate my own stories of injustice about seven thousand times, as if by raging about it once more the story will change and by the end of it I won't still be the woman hanging on the end of the line. 

But it won't change, for me or for you or for anyone who has ever been wronged, which is everyone. We are all at some point -- and usually at many points over the course of life -- the woman hanging on the end of the line. Allow your acceptance of that to be a transformative experience. You do that by simply looking it square in the face and then moving on. You don't have to move fast or far. You can go just an inch. You can mark your progress breath by breath. 

Literally. And it’s there that I recommend you begin. Every time you think I hate that fucking bitch, I want you to neutralise that thought with a breath. Calm your mind. Breathe in deeply with intention, then breathe out. Do not think I hate that fucking bitch while you do it. Give yourself that. Blow that bitch right out of your chest. Then move on to something else. 

I have breathed my way though so many people who I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn’t change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I’ve breathed in gratitude and out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven’t been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced blank with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage. 

It works. And the reason it works is the salve is being applied directly to the wound. It’s not a coincidence tag you describe your pain as being lodged in your chest. When you breathe with calm intention you’re zapping the white rage monster precisely where it lives. You’re cutting off its feeding tube and forcing a new thought into your head — one that nurtures rather than tortures you. It’s essentially mental self-discipline. I’m not suggesting one deny negative emotions, but rather that you accept them and move through them by embracing the power we have to keep from wallowing in emotions that don’t serve us well. 

It’s hard work. It’s important work. I believe something like forgiveness is on the other side. You will get there, dear woman. Just try."

Michelle BakerMarch