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May 14, 2021

The Gift of a Heartfelt Apology.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that an apology was a sentiment we extended to someone else—a courtesy extended to others rather than to ourselves.

The closure provided by a heartfelt apology makes moving on possible.

It is entirely possible to reconcile unfinished business with someone else, on our own. Resolution does not necessarily come as a result of an encounter with another person.

Apologies heal others and ourselves.

A true apology starts from a place of self-reflection. Words are exchanged with the intention of making things right. When this is done with a humble heart, both people are released from their pain. As Jennifer Williamson said, “It creates a space of forgiveness which flows both ways.”

The gift is wrapped in the expression of awareness that our actions have caused another harm. We must set aside our ego. The priority becomes making things right.

We are living in the midst of a self-care revolution. People understand that to mean that they take care of their bodies—with manicures, pedicures, massage therapy, and facials.

The truth is that the greatest self-care we can give ourselves is exactly that—care we extend to ourselves. The interpretation here reflects a focus on our inner beauty. The practice of Ho’oponopono helps us to heal the experiences in our life that we’ve either attracted or participated in, or have been affected by. It is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation. It is composed of four phrases that are said to cure anything that needs to be healed. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”

Loving each other and loving ourselves are two sides of the same coin. The currency is healing. Just for a moment, let’s flip the coin and turn our attention and our intention inward. Don’t we deserve the grace of an apology for whatever has wounded us along the way? We wait for someone else to make it right and if they don’t, we decide those words will never come.

I fondly remember a sparkly teaching moment in the “Wizard of Oz,” when Glinda the Good Witch says to Dorothy, “You’ve had the power all along. It’s in your red ruby slippers.”

We have the power to heal ourselves. We can reconcile the consequences of life events that have bruised us or left scars. I often remind my yoga students that if they are carrying around unfinished business, it gets heavier every day it remains unresolved. Eventually, the burden becomes unbearable. It feels like we are dragging around a bag of rocks.

We can lighten that load for ourselves.

If we extended the same amount of compassion to ourselves as we do to others, the world would be an altogether different place. Why don’t we update our definition of what an apology is to include the most authentic expression of self-love that exists: forgiveness. 

“I’m sorry.”

Two words that could heal the entire universe if delivered with honesty. That is the key that opens the heart, where genuine emotion is released. My husband struggles with delivering a smooth, easy-to-swallow apology. So I spoon-feed him exactly what I need to hear in order to feel healed; he digests and delivers his version.

This allows me to hear healing words and it helps to guide him. It enables him to express what is clearly in his heart but gets stuck in his throat. He doesn’t get a pass; he just gets a map to help him find his way. He used to be a pro, but we get lazy over time. We think our spouse knows how we feel. It remains extremely important to choose the right words to tell someone how you feel, particularly in a long relationship.

So he starts with, “I’m sorry,” and I say, “For what?” His eyes roll as he is miles away from his comfort zone. I feel the tightness in his throat as he attempts to choke out the words explaining how he’s feeling. What is he sorry for and why? This question is crucial. The answer shows me that he understands that what he said or did hurt my feelings. When I require the explanation, it is my hope that he is learning what didn’t work and how he might do it differently next time. If I’ve learned anything in 33 years of marriage, I know there’ll be a next time. That’s just life.

The ritual is critical. “I’m sorry” is an expression of regret, remorse, repentance. It doesn’t have to be excruciating, just sincere. I know when it’s real from the tone of his voice. There is a certain sound of surrender in his words when he is in his heart and not his head. When he’s run out of fight, I can feel that he is genuinely sorry. It’s like a light switch goes on. Everything in the room looks different and the energy lightens.

“Please forgive me.”

I set one ground rule in my house when my children were little. It remains steadfast: if someone, young or old, is courageous enough to apologize, the recipient has to dig deep and find a way to genuinely accept the gesture.

Each side of that equation is equally challenging. Accepting an apology graciously takes skill. Watching a parent execute an apology teaches impressionable children that all kinds of people do things that require an apology. Big people can make mistakes and be sorry. This alleviates the need for shame when generating the words. It’s simply what’s necessary to make things right.

“Do as I say, not as I do” sounds so old school. Our children are watching our every action and listening to our every word. So we subscribe to the theory that living by example is the best way to teach. Whether we are the parent or the child, the rules of making things right remain the same. Be honest and express it genuinely.

If asking for forgiveness can be this powerful when reaching out, just imagine the healing that could take place if we reached in? What if we actually said the words to ourselves? “Hey Cathy, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to say those words. I knew they would hurt you. It was just habit and I will do better. Please forgive me.” Don’t we deserve to wipe our own slate clean?

Was I the only child who went to the beach as a kid and got slathered up in thick white sunscreen? No matter how much I protested, it was applied. I wore it as a second skin for the rest of the day. Sometimes I even scrubbed it off in the shower and still felt it clinging to my skin. I’m painting this picture to explain my loose interpretation of a Sanskrit word. Avidya is a concept in Sanskrit that refers to a film-like layer of static, white noise, or recycled emotional garbage that creates a layer of separation between us and the world; it’s a disconnect.

This is what happens when emotions get stale or stuck inside. We start to detach from ourselves. Asking for forgiveness from me, for me, is brilliant. This is why the flight attendant instructs us to place the oxygen mask over ourselves first in case of emergency. We must offer essential care to ourselves in order to be prepared to keep those around us feeling safe. This is a well-kept secret I intend to dispel, ergo the inspiration for this article.

“Thank you.”

Gratitude is one of the world’s sweetest emotions. Is there anything better? In it, I hear the words, “I honor you,” “I appreciate you,” and “I’m lucky to have you in my life.” Sometimes I spell it out as  G-R-E-A-T-F-U-L. I haven’t met a single human being who is annoyed by the genuine expression of gratitude. It feels good, one size fits all, and it acknowledges that the giver recognizes value.

This is where we need to start turning in. In a proud parent moment, I used to say to my little children, “You must be so proud of yourself.” This offered them an opportunity to look for gratitude within themselves for whatever action created their moment in the sun. They are now 24 and 27. Gratitude doesn’t age out. If anything, it becomes more delicious with age.

I thank someone when they hold the door for me. I thank people for doing their job well. I even thank my dog when she makes a pee-pee on her walk. I enjoy looking for reasons to use the words. Those two little words carry superpowers.

When someone conjures up the generosity of spirit to generate an apology or accept one, I thank them twice. It is hard to be humble in the heat of the moment. We have to get out of our own way to deliver an apology that feels worthy of acceptance. It is equally hard to accept an apology at times. There is a certain amount of grace necessary either way.

What I’m suggesting is that we get in our own way. Why not create a ritual of thanking ourselves for something that made a difference. What if we took a moment to acknowledge the good in the same way we would acknowledge someone else. The gratitude muscle gets stronger by flexing it. Use it regularly, and watch it develop.

It may feel awkward at first. Start with baby steps. Be grateful for a car that runs, be grateful for a beautiful blue sky, or be grateful for two feet that steady you to the ground. Give it 60 days, and your gratitude muscle will flex with ease. Use it or lose it.

“I love you.”

I have used these three magical words with people who have kissed me on the forehead, brought me to my knees, and looked into my eyes and seen who I am. This is not “I love ya.” This phrase is expressed in a small club of members who have earned the price of admission, or in some cases, were grandfathered in. Some people love big, and some love in quieter ways, which is no less love.

Do we teach our children to love themselves? We teach them to tie their shoes and ride a bicycle. Do we think they’ll just figure it out? I believe we are too hard on ourselves, and I am speaking to children of all ages.

“I love you” is a gift we should give and receive as naturally as hello and goodbye. What if every time we said it to someone, we said it to ourselves—one for me, one for you. I have a circle of women in my life who hear it at the end of every visit, during every phone call, and often in a text, just because.

My family hears it all the time. It feels completely natural to say and to hear in our house. The words roll off my tongue with ease. I even look people in the eye when I say it. How bold. I find that in order to offer love with ease, it is necessary to develop a level of comfort with receiving.

I often ask my students in preparation for savasana, the final resting pose in a yoga class, these questions:

“What about yourself do you love? What about yourself makes you feel at home? What about yourself makes a difference in the world?  How readily do you express love to others? How do you demonstrate love? Is it a noun or a verb? How easy are you to love? How often do you actually say the words?”

These are all good questions to ask while the heart is wide open at the end of a yoga practice. They can be equally valuable and potentially more important to ask, when feeling closed up on a day you feel you’re walking through mud.

My hope is that the Ho’oponopono prayer may provide a new ritual in your world—a way to allow apologizing to feel a bit more approachable, perhaps less intimidating. It may create a much-needed template for righting wrongs.

I feel more connected to someone when we’ve exchanged forgiveness, whether I’m on the giving or receiving end. I feel more connected to myself when I take a moment to reflect.

There is far more to an apology than uttering the words “I’m sorry.” When we express remorse, ask for forgiveness, and extend gratitude, the tone in our voice changes, and then the tone in their voice changes. The layers of protection over our heart start to melt away. Our facial expression starts to soften and the volume of all the noise in the world gets turned way down.

It is in this moment of quiet that we are able to hear what is actually being said. It is the most sacred prayer that is ever said, whether being offered to others or to oneself.

“I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”

~

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