Those 6 paragraphs from Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, simultaneously ruptured and healed my heart. I read them about 5 times, letting the wisdom soak through me and stitch my heart and soul back together.
That night I was teaching Embody and would be opening the class with a discussion about our Warrior Queen. Bryan’s words about the Wounded Healer in us, the broken part of ourselves that serves as the the doorway for our collective healing, shone a light on this facet of our strength: It is our wounds that teach us mercy and grace.
The words that first broke me open: “We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity.”
It’s why Embody invites you to dance with your pain; to move your body to music that might feel foreign, discombobulating, chaotic, ragey, weepy, and even shameful. Instead of running away from these experiences, you’re encouraged to dance with them. Explore them, get to know where they live inside you, and how they want to express through you and your body.
Why? Because, to paraphrase Stevenson’s point, if I can dance with my mess, I’ll have the capacity to dance with yours.
Instead of fighting and resisting our own mess, we have to get to know it.
By embodying it… by fully embracing and integrating the parts of yourself that you might criticize, be embarrassed by, want to erase and wipe clean, including your weaknesses, your imperfections, your failures, your flaws… you are also able to embody your light, the Love.
You know, those things like compassion, forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, generosity, integrity.
Let’s start with this.
Last week I kept asking myself, “Do you actually forgive yourself?”
My answer, “No, not quite.”
My version of forgiveness has looked something like this: Don’t hold a grudge. Don’t let it define or get in the way of the relationship.
On the outside I carry on as if everything is hunky-dory. It doesn’t matter whether I’ve been hurt by someone else or by myself; I’ve learned to keep the peace, stay friends, pretend that everything is OK.
Unbeknownst to the other, and the deeper parts of myself, on the inside I’m standing in the self-righteous posture of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’.
This is especially easy to do when I don’t even know I’m still holding that stance. My ego cleverly masks it with permission that sounds like, ‘Hey, look at you, you just forgave that person! Now you’re totally off the hook for the part you played.’
It means I live in slight denial of the hurt and pain I am actually experiencing. I’m disconnected from myself and others, choosing to gloss over the reality of the situation to get to the part where everything is smoothed over and back to ‘fine’, ‘normal’, and ‘OK’.
I bypass hell, attempting a shortcut to heaven.
A few days ago I did something that hurt my husband. He was mad. I wanted him not to be mad, and so I found myself asking for forgiveness.
He enlightened me to this: in order to forgive, he needs to to have a basic understanding of why I did what I did. He needs to find the place of empathetic connection where he could put himself in my shoes, in order to say, “OK, I forgive you.”
It blew my mind.
It moved me from the version of forgiveness that sounds like, “I’ll let you off the hook and will be nice to you, but I am still right and you are still wrong.” The punitive, tit for tat version that continues to widen the gap between ‘I’ and ‘other’…
To a new version of forgiveness sounds like, “Oh, I get it. You’re hurting, you’re scared, your ego is on full throttle, you are trying to protect yourself, you were misguided. I am hurt, scared, have an ego, try to protect it, and miss the boat too. I am with you.”
To give for.
To give for someone else.
To give a part of oneself for someone else.
Like a gift. You embrace and accept and see yourself as the whole human that you are with brokenness and shadows and pain and hurt and mistakes, and you offer that to someone else.
You’ve just done the Warrior Queen dance for realz now.
You are no longer above. You are alongside.
You are at last, a part of the Christ.
The Divine incarnate walking on earth, putting itself in someone else’s broken shoes saying, I see you. I am with you. I am for you. I give to you.
You offer this Love for the benefit of the other, and it boomerangs back and ends up benefiting you too.
It’s been a painful and tumultuous few weeks for us Americans. The guilt and the shame and the grief and the outrage and the loneliness and the fear that is swirling around when we hear how our government made a choice to separate children from their mothers as part of a foreign policy; a way of relating with the world that causes pain and creates brokenness.
Have we forgotten the pain and brokenness that was inflicted on our ancestors, on our own mothers, fathers, and their children? Why are we perpetuating that cycle by inflicting it on others?
Stephenson’s words, although written 3 years ago, are timeless: “We’ve become so fearful and vengeful that we’ve thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak—not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken.” [italics mine]
While some may think that recent foreign policies make us tough, less broken, and stronger, the reality is, when you try to exercise strength through a power play, it exposes your weakness.
Denying the wounds of our past, and the pain and brokenness of our present, by taking the binary stance of ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’, and the self-righteous, ‘PS, I’m doing you a favor.’, is our nation’s greatest weakness.
It attempts a shortcut to victory without acknowledging, accepting, and owning where we came from, including the parts of our history that we may be ashamed of and want to erase.
Our Warrior reminds us that strength lies in facing our darkness. Causing someone else pain does not heal our own. Healing only happens when we sit with our wounds.
I was discussing these recent events with another displaced American in Wales, and we were asking each other, “What can we do?”
I’m aware I have an outsider’s view point. I am tucked away in a green corner of the world where the annual volume of rainfall is the primary injustice we lament.
Through our conversation, I also became aware that I’ve been doing my typical numbing and dissociating survival reaction.
Trying not to feel. Trying not to get too close to the loss of the mothers and fathers, the fear of the children, the rage of the left, the indignant posture of the right, the hurt all around, and my default guilt-ridden story of, ‘I could’ve-should’ve done something to prevent this!’
I’ve been trying to keep my distance from the chaos, instead of walking into it as a Warrior does.
Walking in, not to fight or to fix, but just to be present to my own self, so I can be present to others.
I come back to this new-found understanding of forgiveness.
Walking alongside. Empathizing. Cozying up to my mess so I can relate to yours.
It starts with me. With me forgiving myself. Walking alongside my own journey. Really seeing myself for who I am.
My pride that tells me, ‘I would never do that.’
My shame that tries really hard to hide, ‘Maybe I had a part to play in that.’
My guilt that says, ‘Oh crap, it’s possible that somewhere deep inside me I am capable of that.’
Could I forgive the parts of me that make me the same as the other? My arrogance? My self-absorbed ignorance? The people-pleaser in me. The ego that can’t make mistakes. The control-freak that will hurt, harm, and maim to have it’s way.
Could I forgive my 18 year old self that told a cop, ‘I go to Cornell’, and that’s why he shouldn’t give my dad a speeding ticket (say what!?).
Could I forgive my 27 and 36 year-old selves for burying my head in the sand because my single-status and bank account problems were the only ones that mattered.
My 20 and 24 year old self that cast votes based on how significant people in my life voted, so as not to rock the boat in my relationships.
My 10 year old self that twisted the truth, back-pedalled, and covered up the story of how I slammed the door in my sister’s face, so that I wouldn’t be the one in the wrong.
For my 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 year old self that starved, binged, vomited, and then starved myself again just so that I could fit into that one pair of jeans and attempt to like who I saw in the mirror.
It ain’t pretty.
And yet there is beauty. Beauty in slowing down long enough to find a place of connection to those wounded parts of me.
Not to excuse or justify. Not so I can fix and make it right. But just to see. Acknowledge. Accept. Be with me, as I am. And still be on my side. To be for me. To give myself that gift.
Oh, you’re human! So sorry, I got you mixed up with God!
Go dance with your darkness. Dance with your pain and hurt and ugly, messy, chaos.
You don’t have to like it. You just have to be with it; and by being, you love yourself despite your shortcomings.
Then go dance with the person next to you. And yes, they’ve got darkness too.
You don’t have to like them. You just have to love them.
Start with forgiveness. See where that dance takes you. Let’s see where that dance takes us.