In 2007, I walked away from my hometown with a diploma in hand, ready to face the world, vowing, swearing, and crossing my heart that I would NEVER, ever, return to my hometown in the Appalachian Mountains, where I'd spent my first 21 years of life. I was ready for something bigger and better; I had endured so much pain during my college experience, stemming from my brother dying in a tragic car accident. I needed a fresh start and a chance to begin anew, where people didn’t look at me and automatically think, “Oh, that’s the girl whose brother died.”
So, fast-forward a couple of years and I’m working in Afghanistan. I met a man I fell in love with harder than I’d ever loved, and I cast off the layers of fear and doubt that had superficially guarded my heart in order to nourish this relationship. We traveled to three different continents together and shared love and laughter that was of fairy-tale caliber, all the while planning to leave our jobs and make a life together back home in the USA.
“I made plans, and God laughed.” Ever heard that? Well, that's exactly what happened. Because nowhere in my plans was my being left in the airport in Bangkok, Thailand, after quitting my job, left to fly back across the world solo to walk away from the relationship permanently. I had to start a new life from scratch, and I’m sure you’ve guessed by now where circumstances relocated me; yes, back to that rural community in the Appalachian Mountains.
Since being here, I have moments of pain, fear, and uncertainty that I wouldn't wish upon my greatest enemy. Putting the pieces of your heart back together after it’s been broken open is not only incredibly challenging, but it also takes a conscious, deliberate effort and courage. How often I’ve lashed out at the people who love me, when I wasn't emotionally able to pause and think, “Am I projecting my pain with my response?”
Sometimes during the healing process we forget that we are very much human beings who experience life through emotions — and that doesn't separate the good from the bad. We're conditioned to believe that we need to be happy all the time, and anyone who displays anything different isn't just weak, but also stigmatized. After all of this effort, I've walked away with a clear understanding of the healing process. It happens in layers.
The layers you peel back are directly related to your personal set of circumstances, so it would be impossible for me to categorize them. For example, when I was away from Tennessee, I was not faced with the daily reminders of why I left. I could go on about my business, happily skipping through life as if I had healed, while inadvertently deceiving myself about the status of my heart. I truly believe that if I had indeed healed, then Life (or Divine word of choice) would not have brought me back to this environment. But before I could reach that understanding, I had the pain of a heartbreak to address.
Now, as I expose more of my pain and vulnerability, layer by layer, I'm coming to the core of my forgiveness and of my healing. With that, I can share a few questions that I've found helpful in peeling back my own layers:
1. Who, what, or where is the teacher in my life right now?
There's always a lesson happening in our lives, but we have to want to see it and learn it. Perhaps the lesson is in your husband, or your job, or, like me, where you live; when you find the lesson, you're ready to ask …
2. Am I truly ready to forgive this piece of me that is unhealed?
I knew for a fact that after my breakup, forgiving both myself and my ex-boyfriend would be a long process (one that involved lots of wine, haha). I trusted my heart when it said, “No, I'm not ready to forgive. You need to keep feeling this pain. When it’s time to let go, you'll know.” Sometimes we're not in a practical circumstance to treat emotional pain! Sometimes to keep functioning on a daily basis, we need to hold off on addressing the pain. But you'll always know when it’s time to take a deep breath and let go, so you can move on to …
3. What is the next layer within me that's not healed?
Just like peeling an onion, once you uncover something and have truly let go of it, you can move down to the next layer. We're all coated with experiences that have caused pain in our lives, and I know very few people who have completely healed from everything that’s happened to them. While I sometimes get annoyed by people who complain about “first-world problems,” I humbly remind myself that their lens is entirely different from mine, and they have a totally different set of circumstances dictating their experience. This makes me a more compassionate human being, and I can ask …
4. How do I actually forgive and let go?
Again, this will look different for everyone — but I will guarantee there's a common thread: love and compassion. One of my mantras for the last several years has been, “There is a place inside of me where only love exists,” and when I meditate, I reach deep into that place to connect with the love and compassion from which we are all created. The same love and compassion unites us, and we can access it at any time to practice forgiveness. It takes work, but it's truly beautiful and liberating when it comes together!
If we were sitting in my yoga class right now, I would bow to each of you and say, "Thank you for sharing your time with me. I am so grateful that we can work together toward the healing of all hearts, and I do hope you will continue to work through your layers and transform your life with love and compassion. May your hearts be healed, piece by piece, layer by layer. Namaste."