At the start of the year, I bumped into an old colleague friend of mine named Tasha. It had been two years since I'd seen her, but we had an illuminating conversation during our chance encounter.
As long as I had known her, Tasha was in a terrible marriage; her husband was a serial cheater who left evidence of his indiscretions everywhere, including on the family camera.
Tasha was an open wound: she told everyone within earshot how she had been wronged. In the context of her marriage and the family dynamic, she saw herself as a victim. Tasha and her husband had two children, who sadly had to bear witness to the constant stream of emotional abuse between their parents (as if the cheating alone wasn't bad enough).
But two years had passed since I had last seen Tasha. She had lost 40 previously unwanted pounds. She was smiling, her skin was bright — she radiated happiness. For lack of a better word, she was glowing. So I asked her, "What changed?"
"Everything," she replied.
For the last two years, Tasha had made the decision to walk to and from work, every day. She walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to her job in lower Manhattan, which took about an hour each way. She walked on bright sunny days. She walked through snowstorms. She walked in torrential downpours. She put one foot in front of the other. Day in. Day out.
Her walks became her daily meditation. She cried. She burned in rage. She examined her own behavior. She noticed the beauty around her. But ultimately, she healed.
By the time of this chance encounter, Tasha was in the midst of divorcing her husband. (He was already engaged to one of the women with whom he had been having an affair.) Stunningly, Tasha bore no ill-will toward her husband or his new fiancée. In fact, she welcomed them as an important part of her children's lives.
But the most pivotal decision she made along her journey, the decision that completely transported her to this new, positive place, was to forgive. Taking space and time for her healing, Tasha found it in herself to forgive her husband and, in the process, forgive herself.
Although difficult, the process of forgiveness — of letting go (of hurt, anger, and blame) — allows us to live life with an open and joyful heart. When we radiate peace, we invite better relationships into our life.
Next year, I challenge you to forgive ...
1. Believe that you have the capacity to let go.
Make a mental decision to remain openhearted and loving. Work diligently toward compassion. Forsake bitterness, unkind words, retribution, and revenge. Part of forgiveness is getting over that first mental hump — the one that tells you that you still should hold onto anger. After all, to forgive is to show vulnerability on some level. But that vulnerability is empowering, and liberating.
2. Give yourself time and space to heal.
Forgiveness (and grief) has its own timeline. And this timeline differs from person to person.
So be willing to explore a slew of complicated emotions: anger, betrayal, loss, self-hate, and sadness. Let go of expectations and give your body and mind the space to process everything, so that you may heal.
3. Find a physical practice.
Bodies are meant to move. Pick an activity you enjoy and practice it as a regularly. Take notice of the physical, emotional and mental changes that occur from the ongoing effort. Moving your body can function as a kind of meditation, allowing you to have a deliberate time to take space from negative emotions and be in the present with yourself.
4. Meditate or pray.
Give yourself space to breath daily. Go inward. Get quiet. If you meditate and pray on forgiveness diligently, love, compassion and empathy grow in those very places where contempt, judgment and hurt previously had left your heart barren.
5. Let go of what was supposed to be. Embrace what is.
We all crave the picture-perfect lives we see on television. But, once we let go of "idyllic lives," we are free to live authentic lives. We are able to speak truthfully in a way that connects us to other people. We become spiritual leaders, not followers.
This article was originally published in December of 2014