“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Forgiveness is a fearless teacher.
It came to me in one of my darkest moments, a moment that found me writhing in hatred. A fire of destructive rage burned wildly within me, my mind lost in punishing thoughts and ugly ill-wishing.
One year had passed since my divorce from Chris, my children’s father, and while the divorce itself had been relatively free of hostility, now, 12 months later, all our previously buried and unexpressed feelings were surfacing with a vengeance.
The painful irony of how much I was still suffering in relationship with a man to whom I was no longer married did not escape me. I squirmed inside the depressing realization that until or unless I was able to divorce the suffering our dynamic triggered in me, I would remain as trapped as ever.
Our kids were still really little at that time. Our daughter Arayla was six years old, and our son Ezra only two. I’d had such lofty spiritual intentions for having a peaceful and honorable divorce, for not stooping to the mainstream norm of toxic partings.
I was committed to keeping an unbroken circle of love around our children, determined to convey to them the possibility of a relationship changing form without abandoning essential kindness.
For the most part, we had done exceptionally well in upholding this mutual intention, but in the prior couple of weeks, we had fallen terribly short. Now, not only was I reeling in reactive feelings toward my children’s father, but I was also wrestling with a fair amount of shame in my failure to live up to my own ideals. I could feel the poison of resentment flowing through my veins.
As life would design it, the peak of this rage storm happened to coincide with a prayer circle I had been scheduled to attend. As I found my place in the circle, I noticed a glimmer of relief. I recognized there would be no way to escape what was present for me, and strangely this felt comforting.
For all the indignant blame I felt toward my ex-husband, at a deeper level, I knew that everything that was arising inside me was mine to face. If it was appearing in my psyche, my body, and heart, then it was mine to find a way into the right relationship with.
If what I truly wanted was peace, I knew I would have to find a way to make medicine of what was here. Rather than continuing to push against Chris or the situation at hand, I would need to find and receive the soul lessons that were eluding me.
In spite of my inner story of finger-pointing and fault-finding, my heart knew a deeper truth. I knew from a lifetime of experience that the people who trigger the most in us are the ones from whom we have the most to learn. The relationships that humble us in the deepest ways are always the ones that have the power to bring us all the way home to love.
As the dark of night filled the ceremony space, and the candlelight flickered at the center, everyone was silent, turning inward to face whatever piece we each had come to pray with.
Diving into the center of this hate-filled knot of suffering, I was suddenly thrust into a heart-transforming inner dialogue that altered the fabric of my life. It was a dialogue with Her, that aspect of myself or God or consciousness that appears to me as Holy Mother. Apparently, she could tell I was ripe for a proper schooling on the nature of projection, and the vital roles that forgiveness and compassion play in healing.
This inner dialogue went on for hours, as I was shown a myriad of blind-spots and ways self-righteousness and arrogance had gotten the better of me. Toward the end of our dialogue, Holy Mother said, “Unless you can open to truly loving their father, and fully forgiving him, your children will feel there is some part of them you don’t love and forgive. They will feel inherently divided and conflicted in your love. Is that what you want?”
My breath got very still, very shallow in my chest, as I recognized the depth of truth she was illuminating. Then I burst into tears. I could see it now so clearly. There was no choice but to find a way back to love in my heart. There was no choice but to see that it was not him I was most angry with; it was my own self—for all the ways I had betrayed myself in our relationship.
It was not so much him that I needed to forgive; it was my own self—for all the ways I had abandoned my integrity in our relationship, in longing for security and some idealized image of partnership and family.
In that moment, I soberly recognized that the only way to move forward in true reconciliation and freedom—for my own heart, my children’s hearts, and Chris’s heart too—was to take full responsibility for everything his mirroring provided.
I had to finally see the detrimental way in which I was actually attached to him being wrong, attached to judging him as the one to blame, attached to him appearing as the “lesser parent.” There was a real way that I had projected my own dark masculine onto him, for him to carry—which, in many ways, he continuously embodied and confirmed, justifying the projection in my mind. For a while now, this projection had allowed me to feel secure in my own self-image as the one who was righteous, innocent, and good.
When I finally saw what was happening, what my part was in this insidious dynamic that was harming my family, I had to take it all back, meet and claim the projection inside myself. I had to own all the ways I had subtly and at times blatantly judged and incriminated him; the darkness, the laziness, the brokenness, his refusal to heal, his resistance to love. I had to find all those same qualities and tendencies in myself.
In the 10 years that have passed since that catalytic night of prayer, not unlike most divorced parents, Chris and I have worked through many triggering exchanges and challenges in co-parenting. In fact, many of the patterns and dynamics that troubled me then have remained.
I could have easily held on to an incriminating position and taken a different route, but it would have broken the heart of our family in a way I don’t believe I could have lived with. Everyone has to find their own way to navigate the challenges that come with relationships, and I’m not saying there is a right or wrong way. We each have to look inside our hearts to discover what is true for us.
But that night of prayer stands out as a pivotal point of healing for me and my whole family. Not only did I see more clearly than ever before how projection works, but I experienced how it felt. I suddenly understood its impact in a very real way. I could no longer deny the harmful consequences of projection.
That was the shift in perception that radically transformed the way I make use of the challenges every human relationship provides, showing me that when I take responsibility and when I forgive, miracles occur—openings happen where they didn’t seem possible just a moment ago.
What a relief for Chris when I finally saw and took all those projections back! I could immediately see and feel a freedom come over him, and our co-parenting relationship lightened in the absence of blame. I came to realize that Chris is one of my greatest teachers of forgiveness and compassion in this lifetime. Not only did he help to bring our children into the world, but he has helped to grow me into the woman I am today.
As I took responsibility for my own suffering and wholeheartedly forgave myself for all the ways I had betrayed my own intuition and heart in the marriage, I could finally claim a deeper discernment, integrity, trust, and respect for myself, moving forward.
Some would say a miracle is nothing more than a shift in perception. And perhaps willingness is the great underestimated key to making this shift.
The willingness to pray, and to avail ourselves of the help we seek. The courageous willingness to let our hearts break all the way open. The mature willingness to see and own our part in our suffering. The generous willingness to forgive even before the hurt has fully healed. The humble willingness to let gratitude rise up from the ashes of what’s been lost. The willingness to choose love, again and again, and to be chosen by love, in service of true healing, resolution, and evolution.