It was my first yoga retreat, in the thick of the Costa Rican rain forest. The instructor was calm and engaging, the food organic and fresh, and the steamy climate made my body feel deliciously open.
On the afternoon of our last day together, the teacher assembled us in the yoga hall—a serene, circular room with open windows all around—and told us we'd be practicing a lovingkindness meditation. I'd never done it before, but it sounded pleasant enough. We simply had to close our eyes, visualize all the good people in our lives, and then send healing thoughts and energy their way. This sounds easy,
I thought, and it was. I had no trouble radiating kindness toward my sister, my friends, and the nice pharmacist across the street.
But I felt my newly relaxed brow begin to furrow as the teacher gave the next instruction: "Now send lovingkindness toward someone who has hurt you." I immediately saw the face of the man who had walked out on our marriage. How could I possibly project the same positive feelings toward him? Yet part of me wondered if it might, in fact, be a crucial part of my healing. Could the practice truly help me forgive, forget, and move on? I gave it another shot. I visualized him as he was on our first date, our wedding day...and across the table in my lawyer's office. That's where I got stuck.
Eventually it occurred to me that I was letting him stand in the way of what was potentially my first real step toward emotional recovery. So since I couldn't seem to send good vibes toward him, I directed them toward all those he'd meet in his life—from his faceless co-workers and new neighbors to his next wife. It took everything I had, but I stayed with my version of lovingkindness until the end.
I didn't feel much warmer toward my ex-husband, but I felt good about completing the exercise, and I came to a realization along the way: Thinking positively about him wouldn't right the wrongs he'd done, but it reminded me that I am capable of love and kindness. If I could extend those feelings toward someone who had hurt me, I could take comfort in knowing that surely I deserved the same in return.