Before January 1st, I’d made a promise to myself.
While reflecting on my behavior and decisions from previous years, I’d become blatantly aware of how often I would avoid openings and opportunities due to fear.
Fear of what, you may ask? The answer to that question, I believe, is one that many people can probably relate to. I was afraid of exposing my vulnerabilities, afraid of failure, and perhaps ironically, even of success.
As a person who is mostly in touch with her intuition and tends to follow gut instincts most of the time, I felt guided to reconnect with two specific people from my past—albeit, in hindsight, not for the soundest of reasons.
Due to the fact that I have been on an awakening journey that has manifested itself as such in various ways for quite a long time, I suddenly hit up against a thick wall of depression a month ago, and try as I did, couldn’t quite penetrate certain parts of me valiantly enough to step into the spacious light awaiting on the other side.
Unfortunately or not—depending, of course, on how you choose to look at it—this led to a choice that, instead of handing me a jack hammer to break those walls, caused me to pinch my skin and bleed.
I tried to reconnect with former friends I’d known since grade school whom I’d been estranged from for many years.
At the risk of losing face, I’ll be painstakingly honest with you: relationships have never been easy for me.
It is not that I am a bad person, but that for one, I am an undeniably strong introvert. I crave solitude like my throat craves water or my lungs crave air. In this vessel, I feel free to be alone with my thoughts and sense impressions, to reflect, dream, and to simply do whatever the heck I want to do, without any retribution. It’s peaceful. It’s pure. Believe it or not, it can even feel like a sort of paradise. I have a rich inner life and it keeps me occupied. While many others complain of boredom, I find quiet to be my preferred state. I find it far more rewarding than investing excess energy outside of me.
Second, I can sometimes be easily rubbed the wrong way by others, and as a result, withdraw inward and become silent for a while, like a wounded squirrel who scurries off and doesn’t want to be touched when it is in pain.
I can remember feeling irritation on my seventh birthday, because there were too many other kids around me, clawing at me for my attention, and I felt tired that day. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion and celebration for me felt like a roller coaster with no stop button. I wanted to hurl from all of the turbulence, get off the ride, and go rest quietly under a tree in the shade for a while.
When the clown came over to entertain us and asked me how I was feeling, I pursed my lips, crossed my arms, and told him I wasn’t excited about turning a year older.
As I grew into a teenager, I became a tad bit more moody—mostly due to the fact that I was insecure about myself and struggled with anxiety that sometimes resulted in full-blown, spontaneous panic attacks, depression, and with wanting to be someone I wasn’t. I had an image of what the “perfect person” should look, act, and think like, and I tried my hardest to become the character I invented in my head.
Sometimes this meant I would be rude and act coldly toward my friends, simply because I wanted to be one of the so-called “popular girls” in my grade. I wanted to “fit in” with the “cool crowd.” To do that, I had to become a “mean girl,” in hopes that I could be on the well-deserved receiving end of all of the validation I craved and garner a greater sense of self-worth and confidence.
Sometimes I would even ignore my friends for hours or days because I thought that they made me look bad in front of the girls I wanted so badly to impress. Finally, when they’d confront me about my behavior, I’d tell them I thought they were immature. Needless to say, my attitude definitely didn’t earn me any brownie points with them.
Fast-forward to the previous month, in 2022. Feeling repentant and wanting to reconnect with a more simple and innocent time in my life in order to stave off the depression, I reached out to one of the two estranged friends, told her I was truly sorry for the past, that I’d really changed a great deal since she’d known me when we were younger, and that I’d left a marriage and was currently in yoga teacher training, teaching ESL, and writing a book.
I had tried to reach out to this same friend a few years earlier, but at the time, she never responded. I figured I’d try again and that maybe she’d be more receptive to it since people can change so much in one or two years alone. Besides that, I’d told myself that this would be a marvelous opportunity for me to practice the radical art of surrender, because I’d have to let go of any expectation and accept the outcome.
To my surprise, my ex-friend returned my message and told me she’d moved on and did not want to reconcile with me. Instead of taking it in stride, I felt a blow to my heart and actually started to cry, right on the spot. Subconsciously, I’d built up the expectation of reciprocation and fantasized about how lovely it would be to spend time with people I did share many good times with, regardless of the not-so-wonderful moments we shared.
I was shocked by this reaction. Yes, it’s true, I’ve always been a sensitive person, but I’d been practicing yoga consistently, meditating, and reading, The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh. The morning before I received that message, I was actually feeling clear-headed and serene. What was wrong with me? I asked myself. Besides, I knew quite well the risk I was taking. I knew I had to accept the outcome and make peace with it, for my own sake. Yet, here I was, collapsed in tears and feeling damn near heartbroken.
My reaction to the disappointment was to get on the mat and do some restorative yoga in order to cope with the stressful emotions, but since I was on a long-awaited weekend getaway with my mother of all people, this wasn’t really possible. Instead, my mother suggested we go to a Middle Eastern restaurant and order some pita bread. Reluctantly, I gave in.
The entire time we were there, I rehashed all the ways my former friends used to anger me. Remembering this, I wanted to fire back an unkindly email, but then I stopped myself and remembered this:
1. There is that old adage: two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s true.
2. How do I know she was necessarily wrong for choosing not to reconcile our friendship? Perhaps there is a silver lining in this rejection. Perhaps this will teach me something deeper about myself and others.
3. Perhaps this is a test. After all, I am trying to let go of external rewards, the need for validation and approval from others, and expectations of reciprocity. Maybe this is exactly what I needed to release for my spiritual growth.
Fortunately, for me, one of my more positive traits is my capacity to be introspective. I tend to self-reflect and be honest with myself, even if what I find makes me uncomfortable—which, at times, it most certainly does.
Finally, within a few days, I realized that the motivating force behind me reaching out was a desire to escape my depression and relive a much more simple period in my life via reconnecting with people I’d known long before the onset of my awakening—which is a lonely and incredibly painful journey, at times.
Moreover, I’ve noticed that I often quickly outgrow people. I can connect deeply with them on a heart-to-heart level and share meaningful dialogue, but after some time, I can feel the energy between us shift or stagnate. Usually, when that happens, one or both of us decide to let go and part ways. Either way, it hurts.
I’ve often cried over the law of impermanence, like a victim of the law of physics. It’s like gravity: what goes up must come down—but it isn’t necessarily easy for me to accept. I’ve sometimes asked myself why relationships cannot last forever and felt myself deflate, slowly, like a tire on a long, dirt road.
As much as I objectively understand that nothing lasts, there remains a part of me that wishes differently. I’ve always had a hard time reconciling what I know to be true with how I feel, or how I’d prefer things to be. For me, understanding things academically—which I am good at—is less challenging than utilizing what it is that I know. I have wisdom, but my strong emotions can, at times, cloud it—and I come by that with honesty.
Allowing my feelings to take a front seat, I subsequently spent the proceeding few days angry at this estranged friend and even at myself for how I behaved years past. Yes, I was quite a moody teenager at times, with an equally cutting tongue, but that was then and this is now. Besides, we had plenty of good times, too. Why can’t she meet me where I am today and put all that petty teenage drama behind us? That is what I found myself asking.
Two days later, during a crisis line shift, I received a text message from my other former friend, telling me I was a “monster” back then. She ended the note by warning me never to contact our other friend or herself ever again. This time, I felt stabbed in the gut. I wondered, am I really a bad person? Was I really that terrible way back in the day? Did the bad times far outweigh the good? I spent the next few days feeling like a broken piece of trash who didn’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness.
Again, there were times I wanted to revert back to my old patterns and strike back while the iron was hot. That is what I would have done back then. I was sensitive to other people’s treatment of me, and I’d react in kind—although not very kindly—with my sharp tongue. That is what got me into trouble in the first place.
This time, once more, I decided to let it go, knowing that nothing honorable could possibly come out of any kind of heated exchange. Instead, I used this event as a portal to greater self-understanding. I decided to go more deeply within.
When I felt like a horrible person for how I acted in the past, I told myself:
I am not an angry person. That isn’t who I am. I am not a collection of memories and perceptions. I am not how they choose to define me—nor am I how I sometimes define myself. I am not a collection of conditioned memories, thought patterns, and familiar responses. I am deeper than than. Bigger than that. I always was. Back then, I was more entrenched in the ego and had forgotten who I was. And, just like me, how they are treating me is not truly who they are, either. That is their own ego at work. They are choosing to meet me in the past and not in the here and now.
I have two choices:
1. I could get upset with them, like the “little me” would.
2. I could choose to see it for what it is—part of the collective human unconsciousness at work—and forgive them.
I chose the latter.
In the time I have taken to heal, I’ve learned three vitally important lessons from this experience:
1. Forgiveness is a superpower we seldom fully acknowledge as such nor appreciate.
2. Without peace within us first, there can be no peace within the world. As within so without.
3. It really is true: to understand all is to forgive all. No exceptions. When we see things for what they are in their essence, letting go of anger and resentment becomes possible.
Although I am not at all religious, one of my role models, perhaps ironically, is none other than Jesus Christ. I think of him as a human being like any other—albeit a very conscious one with important messages for his time. Even on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
We are all fallen angels with broken wings. No one is immune to anger, resentment, envy, greed, or even—if pushed too far and under the right circumstances—violence of one kind or another. This is not to suggest that we should passively accept or even endorse these behaviors in others, but that we should understand that we each have a shared humanity and know where the evil in us originates.
Nothing is ever truly personal; we’re all prone to acting out of unconscious patterns—some of us far more than others. The mind is a binary and relativistic machine, and we’re all on different levels of this illusory reality; this game if you will, that we call our life. We don’t know what we don’t know and we do our best with what it is we do know. Furthermore, like it or not, when we strike back at those who have hurt us, there is a Putin in us. There may be a Hitler in us, too.
We don’t need more wars. We don’t need more division. It is time for the world to wake up and rise, and it all starts and ends with us. Peace begins within us, in the reality of the yet-to-be-manifested. We complain about terrible leaders, but look at the system we’ve designed that allowed them to gain so much power. They, too, are a manifestation of the collective human insanity.
Forgiveness is what we’re called to cultivate now more than ever, and it’s the only way to put out the fire before we so completely and ruthlessly destroy ourselves and each other more than we already have.
Bottom line? Hardening ourselves to unconscious behaviors is easy and all-too-familiar, but it is softness, grace, integrity, respect, and understanding that will slowly shift our world.