A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece about forgiveness. I got lots of emails, one from a woman who'd just found out her husband had been having an affair. This came to light just hours before the article was posted, and she told me she was struggling to forgive him.
Last night I was talking to a friend of mine, and she told me that one of her closest friends had betrayed her over a business opportunity. She said she knew there was a lesson in it somewhere. That she'd known her friend operated this way, but that there were also amazing things about her. She felt the onus was on her since she'd been aware, and had remained close to her friend, anyway.
Here's the thing. Sometimes we're just hurting, period. Allowing the feelings of pain to have some room and some time is so necessary. Trying to race to forgiveness isn't realistic.
Betrayal is awful, because it always happens at the hands of someone we trusted. It's like a knife in the heart, and it makes us question our own judgement. How could we not have realized? How long were we the brunt of this awful joke that isn't the least bit funny? How did the other person justify their actions? If you try to push down all the rage, and the pain underneath it, where do you think that stuff goes? Now you've had this piercing thing happen, and instead of allowing all the feelings around it to rise to the surface to be experienced and released, you internalize them and make yourself sick.
Part of this tendency can spring from a desire to take care of other people. Sometimes we assume how we would feel in the same situation is how others feel, too. If you tend to be very hard on yourself, you know how much you beat yourself up when you make a mistake. Caretakers struggle with this quite a bit. Instead of nurturing themselves when someone has disappointed them, they rush to make the other person feel okay about what they've done. They take them off the block, so to speak.
If this resonates with you, just understand that telling someone, "it's okay" when it isn't, doesn't serve either one of you. We learn from our mistakes. Worrying that a person won't be able to handle their regret and distress over having hurt you, robs them of pain they might have needed in order to grow and make a different choice the next time. Picking up the tab for someone else's transgression leaves both parties in debt.
Of course forgiveness feels better than rage. Loving someone feels better than being angry, disappointed, or numb toward them. Sometimes people in the spiritual community want to race toward the good stuff. The positive feelings, the light. Let me rise above, let me be the bigger person, let me practice non-attachment, let me not take this personally.
You cannot skip over the pain. If your spiritual practice only serves you when things are going well, I don't see what good it will do you over the course of your lifetime. Because it isn't "all good", and it isn't all positive. Some things will never go in the category of, "thank you for this experience". Some things are so brutally heartbreaking you have to hope a person will be able to go on. To experience joy again, to open to love.
I'd say the best spiritual practice is the ability to face reality as it is. To open to the present moment, even when it breaks your heart, and probably especially then. If you can hold the pain, you'll also be able to hold the joy. If you can lean into the feelings you have around being betrayed, you create a pathway to eventual healing and forgiveness, if that feels right for you. In order to release the heat of feelings like rage, despair, and grief, you have to be able to sit with them. To acknowledge, "I'm hurt. That's how it is right now. It's not how it will always be, and it won't kill me." And then to breathe, and to allow the tears, or go hit a punching bag, or talk to a friend you trust, or go hiking, or get on your yoga mat.
I can tell you I've done more healing on my yoga mat than anywhere in the world. A good sweat and a good cry go a long way for many of the things we face in life. If they're huge heartbreaks, then you might need to repeat that formula every day for awhile. If you want to give that a try, you can practice with me using my online yoga videos.
Denying, repressing or fleeing from painful feelings does not work. If you want to know yourself, you really have to be able to examine your feelings as they arise, and they won't all be pretty. This experience of being human is an inherently vulnerable and challenging one. It can be absolutely beautiful, too. But there's nothing lonelier than being a stranger to yourself, and losing the connection to your inner GPS, your intuition. Developing the ability to be non-reactive, to open to painful feelings without acting upon them, is one of the huge gifts of a consistent yoga and seated meditation practice.
I think a lot of people are hungry for happiness, I certainly spent many years chasing it. But a long time ago, I realized what I really wanted was just to be dealing with the truth. The truth of my own feelings, and those of the people I love. The truth of any situation, even if it's painful. To me, that's the ticket to inner peace.
Photo Credit: Michael Segal