Welcoming 50: Embodying Forgiveness and Releasing Old Baggage

I’m days away from turning 50, and believe me, this has been a huge time of self-reflection. As my children grow up and become more independent, as my husband and I move into a new chapter, and as Women For One undergoes a vital transformation in its mission to help women across the globe claim their voices and power, I am floored by extraordinary gratitude.

I’m not overly sentimental when it comes to holding on to the past. I’ve always loved transitions and turning points, and I welcome new phases with a sense of joy and anticipation. They offer me an opportunity to consider all the lessons I’ve learned and to redefine what it means to be ME. During this particular revolution around the sun, I’m considering what it means to truly forgive. Or to put it more accurately: to embody forgiveness rather than just preaching its virtues.

As you know, amid the incredible accomplishments and milestones of the last few years—which have included writing my book, building Women For One into a global community, and creating amazing partnerships with other powerful women—I’ve also struggled to come to terms with historically painful relationships that have required a great deal of my time and energy. These encompass family members, old friends, exes, and an entire cast of characters I’ve attempted to keep my heart open to.

I’ve done my best to remain compassionate and neutral, over and over, and it hasn’t worked quite the way I wanted it to. Try as I might, I keep running into the same pain, disappointment, and difficulties of attempting to meet others halfway.

These days, I’m learning to see the silver lining. I feel that I’m being given a directive by the universe to simply start putting my precious energy elsewhere. The weight of holding on to old relationships and figuring out ways to make them work is exhausting. Not to mention, it dredges up old grudges and resentment that loop in the same never-ending patterns of heartache and unanswerable questions (e.g., “Why is this person the way they are?”; “What did I do to deserve this?”; “How can this be resolved?”).

Being someone who has done as much reflection as I have, I fully understand the difference between processing the unworked-through shit and pointlessly holding on to dead weight.

Forgiveness is more for oneself than it is for the other person. But for me, the “why” of forgiveness seldom translates to the “how” of forgiving. I get the “why,” but the “how” doesn’t always factor out. Sure, it’s great to exercise compassion for the ones who have harmed you—to send them love and attempt to understand their actions, however fucked-up you might perceive them to be. Seriously, those are all noble endeavors, but they simply don’t work for everyone. Most of us have an external focus when we think about forgiveness. Cultivating compassion and love for others is all fine and dandy, but sometimes it comes into direct conflict with our boundaries and ability to care for ourselves, first and foremost.

If there is one true piece of wisdom I have gained, it’s that embodying the ideals of forgiveness isn’t about sugarcoating my reality. It is about taking practical action to unhook myself from the burden of recurring anger and resentment. It is also about setting meaningful, loving, and firm boundaries. It is about saying, “Enough!” when my attention is hijacked by anger, sorrow, and wishing things could be different. And most importantly, it is about asking myself: What would be the most loving thing to do for me right now?

I try to ask myself questions like: How would I feel inside and outside, and what would the state of my soul be, if I were to truly embody forgiveness? How can I live forgiveness in such a way that I’m actually experiencing it on a cellular level rather than spouting platitudes and forming theories about it?

Intuitively, I know that embodying forgiveness is about bringing my focus back to my number one – ME. It’s about diving into what brings me joy and filling up with gratitude, which gives me more space and breathing room. It also allows me to lighten up, figuratively and literally. Through meditation and contemplation, I’m getting that true forgiveness means slowing down to the point that my entire being—body, soul, emotions, all of it—can be transformed. I don’t quite know how I will get there, as I’m still in a curiosity phase—but I am setting the intention to simply stay in the present. I am committing to handling whatever challenges are put before me—and instead of getting overloaded with stress and worry, I will put 95% of my energy into what I love.

Life is too short to spend my remaining time on stressful things like resentment and “what if?” thinking. I was recently on vacation in Bora Bora, and I was able to put down all my usual responsibilities—from work to mothering—and simply be with myself and my husband. I lightened my load tremendously, which allowed me to get in touch with what I actually want out of this next exciting chapter in my life. I want to explore the world. I want to be connected to the people I adore. I want to soak up each glorious moment of my life rather than wasting it on people and situations that do not serve me.

So, for me, forgiveness isn’t about rewriting the past, viewing it through rose-colored glasses, or sprinkling love over all my past hurts. It’s about genuine release: releasing stagnant energy so that I can turn my focus to what actually nourishes me.

Now I finally understand that I don’t have to hold on to the past with clenched fists. I don’t have to nurse the grievances I’ve harbored toward people I’ve felt wronged by or  tie myself into emotional pretzel knots by funneling my energy into “figuring them out.” I can choose to bring myself fully into the present—into this magnificent moment. I can turn those clenched fists into open hands, and with gratitude, recognize just how much I have to give myself, my loved ones and the world.

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About the Author | Kelly McNelis

Kelly McNelis is the founder of global community, Women for One, a speaker, coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance: 7 Tools for the Perfectly Imperfect Woman. With more than 25 years of experience as a nonprofit and small-business consultant, Kelly empowers generations of women around the world to build the relationships, community, and confidence they need to achieve their wildest dreams. She finds daily inspiration in spending time with her husband and children in her home outside of Seattle.

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2 comments to "Welcoming 50: Embodying Forgiveness and Releasing Old Baggage"

  • Linde

    It was the “ taking practical action to unhook myself” that really got me. I felt like you were inside my head while I read this message. Thank you for this finding it’s way to me today, in a transitional period of my very mature life. Your words have confirmed my ideas for putting more focus on myself, for a change….time to take care of me!