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Forgiving the World

We sit on the floor in criss-cross applesauce at the beginning of yoga class, and Jane instructs us to close our eyes and remember a time during childhood when we were hurt or scared, in order to find if there are areas in which we need to release and to forgive. Her soothing voice and evocative words take each of us back to address our own personal boogeymen, troubles that loomed large because we were so small.

This won’t work, says my inner voice. I’ve already exorcised all my demons.

I open my eyes and peek around the room, surprised that my fellow classmates are going crimson in the face as strong emotions rise from their bellies. Something powerful is going on, and if I can surrender my thoughts to my emotions, I may have the chance to release something I’ve carried for a very long time.

Hah, that’s what you think! — comes a reply, also inside my head.

With an exhale I allow my hips and tailbone to feel heavy, to sink into the earth. With an inhale I lift my spine, filling the space between my vertebrae with, well, more space. In an instant

xray childI see Mommy and Daddy walking away. I see them through the droplets of the dank and cold prison they’re leaving me in, the plastic walls and ceiling I’m sealed inside, where I’m having trouble breathing. Don’t leave me! I’ll be good! I won’t scare you any more please just don’t leave me here! I scream and still they walk away. AGAIN. Every night they leave me here. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT! They leave me here in the care of my torturers who stab me with sharp things and make me bleed and hurt me over and over again. They leave me here in a wet and cold bed. They leave me here in a place where I get only icky food. They put masks over my face thirteen times a day and it smells bad. I am suffocating. I am so afraid and uncomfortable and….ANGRY. I am so angry at all of them for putting me here, for leaving me here.

I hate this oxygen tent. I hate the nurse who gives me shots. I hate the doctor who keeps adding days and nights I have to stay here. I hate all the white, and the smell of someone they call Auntie Septy. I hate my lungs for getting New Monya again. I’m mad at my parents for leaving me behind again. I’m mad that I’m so small and powerless still. I’m mad at my body. I hate my life. HATE HATE HATE HATE!

I am shocked to meet my hate-fueled (and scared) 5 year-old self. I am amazed that I could uncover all that in about 5 mindful breaths.

Now what?

We begin our sun salutations, stretching the sides and back parts of our bodies with forward folds and crescent moons, strengthening our cores with plank pose and chaturrangas, then simultaneously grounding and lifting in downward dog. Yoga is a practice of alternating currents, of balancing opposites to bring about wholeness: right/left, upper/lower, front/back, sun/moon, rising/melting, strength/stretch, inhale/exhale, tension/release.

Antao brownd, apparently, my past and my present.

As I move through the rest of the practice, I focus on my breath. With the inhales, I abide with that scared little girl I once was. I am acutely aware of the tension in her body, the balls of wadded up anger, of densely packed fear. With my exhales, I mindfully aim to dissolve those balls of heavy energy, some still residing in my body — mainly in my lungs and hips — using my breath and intention.

The oxygen tent is where I began laying victim patterns that would serve as my template for 30+ years. It was in that cold, wet, lonely place that I realized I was at the mercy of others, that I did not control my circumstances, that I was not the subject in my life but rather an object in others’. The doctors made me endure procedures that hurt, my parents made me swallow icky medicines and stay in fearsome places, my body continually disappointed me by not functioning as it should.

I do my thing: I look at this childhood scene through a rational lens. Of course my parents weren’t persecuting me. Of course it was as hard for them to leave me each night as it was for me to be left. Of course the doctors and nurses weren’t trying to hurt me; they were trying to heal me. Of course I wasn’t abandoned; people were there to make sure I was going to be okay. Of course my body wasn’t malfunctioning on purpose; it was doing the best it could.

But the 5 year-old on my yoga mat with me is not a rational being. I have carried her emotional energy of being scared, alone, abandoned, bereft, unwell. She’s pissed. Mad at those who left her, mad at those who poked her, mad at the body that put her in her predicament. She’s been having tantrums ever since, not having an outlet for her fear and anger.

With my teacher’s invitation to dig deep and excavate what lurks beneath my awareness, I am able to give the girl a voice. I feel my face turn crimson as the anger rises from my belly. Now that I know such a well of fear and anger is there, I can access it, breathe through it, release it.

And forgive. One breath at a time.

Image courtesy of Praisaeng /

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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23 Responses

  1. ((((Lori)))), that was so powerful. I could feel the terror you described so acutely. We don’t realize all those emotions we store in our bodies. Thank you for sharing this.
    As an adult adoptee, it was so hard for me to leave my preemie son in the NICU every night for 98 days and watch him endure painful procedures as well. I pray for healing and wholeness in all of us who have lived through these traumatic experiences. Your voice is making an impact. Hugs!

  2. Whoa! Lori.
    We all have our own things for sure and one of my earliest was also in a hospital.
    Not sure how you didn’t just melt into the floor. But I’m thrilled you let that 5-year-old get angry and stay strong.
    Love you, Lori!

  3. Whooooooa. Incredibly powerful thoughts. Especially accessing memories which were a base for future behaviours. It’s a powerful thought; that we can return to these life changing moments and examine them, release them.

  4. Wow. You just triggered the child inside of me who spent much of her childhood in & out of hospitals due to something she couldn’t understand, nonetheless pronounce, Ketotic Hypoglycemia. I never thought about how helpless I felt. Not only were doctors & nurses constantly poking me but KH causes the loss of all voluntary motor control. I couldn’t even fight back physically. Thank you & your yoga teacher for opening this wound so it can now heal in the rationality of an adult mind!

  5. Wow, Lori… I could have written this post too (or one very much like it). I had bladder/kidney/ureter issues as a child & spent a couple of stints in children’s hospitals undergoing tests when I was 6-9 (strict visiting hours — parents were not allowed to stay with their children overnight back then) — followed by several years of outpatient procedures until I hit my teen years and downright refused to go back. ; ) I did eventually outgrow the problem & stop taking the medication that I took for years (probably far longer than necessary). It was a hugely traumatic experience & I had nightmares about the hospital for years… just visiting people in the hospital was enough to turn me green. A lot of those memories resurfaced as I was going through my roller-coaster pregnancy. And I have since learned that there is a high co-relation between kidney problems & uterine abnormalities (which I have). It makes me wonder what if anything the drs back then were able to see.


  6. It’s so humbling to know someone who consistently tries to make their life easier and more understood. I hold on tight to my core of rage, because in a strange way, it gives me strength (and sometimes amuses me). In the end, it’s probably not the healthiest thing to do, but it’s who I am.

    I also find it so interesting that pneumonia used to require breathing treatments and the infamous bubble. My coworker’s 11 month old was just diagnosed with pneumonia and was sent home with some antibiotics.

  7. It was those 5 mindful breaths that had me breathing with that little girl in you. I have to agree with all the other comments, “Wow, so well-written.” I found myself thinking about my oldest daughter that was very sick in the hospital as a little girl. I am going to have her read your poignant blog post. Like some of us carry a lot of extra baggage, she has a lot of unexplainable fears.

  8. I agree. I was so taken by the imagery. Was also a powerful statement as a parent who had to leave a baby in the hospital night after night. I love the idea of surrending my thoughts to my emotions. When I try to ignore the emotion I become a ball of anxiety. So powerful what we carry. I know I have some stuff that I am almost afraid to unleash.

  9. I can barely breathe, reading this, Lori. Carrying the weight of hate, and fear, for 30 years. Sending the now-you and the little-girl-you a hug, and grateful that you can forgive.

    You’ve written a how-to manual for me, here, haven’t you.

    Tears on the other end of the internet connection tonight.

    I love you.

  10. Lori,

    Thank you for letting us go inside your intense emotional experiences. What a powerful description of the value of connecting with our bodies and focusing on letting pain and hurt flow out of us.


  11. What an amazing experience. I find that yoga helps me to release negative emotions as well. I am happy that you were able to heal…for that poor 5 year old inside of you. Hugs to you both!


  12. Yes! Of course your adult-self knows that the nurses were trying to help you, that your parents needed you to get better … but a 5-year-old doesn’t understand. The writing was so evocative, I was right there with you … wondering trying to figure out just what was happening to this little girl. Thank you for sharing your path to healing. Truly amazing!

  13. Such a great testimonial of the power of the mind body and connection and being in the moment. Yoga practice can be transformative. Perhaps I’ll get back to it after toddlerhood 🙂 “And forgive. One breath at a time.” I think we can all relate to a situation that we could employ this technique. I love this!

    On another note entirely, would you check out my latest post? I’d love to get your feedback on a tool I created to talk to the kids in our family about adoption.

  14. Pingback: 2013 Retrospective
  15. Lori, I have not heard this story before, but I can completely relate. I was much younger when I was very sick and in the hospital — probably experiencing many of the same things you described! What a gift it was for you to revisit it with your adult mind, body, emotions, and to abide with your 5-year old self through the pain and anxiety, yet also be able to heal some of those old wounds. Your words are a gift to me and to many. Thank you!

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