Forgiveness helps us emerge whole from our wounded past, and return to the business of our lives with renewed energy, wisdom and peace. It is the bottleneck through which we must pass to reclaim our happiness and health, says Suma Varughese.
Let us go on a journey, you and I. The journey begins with a universal reality – a hurt. Someone or something has hurt us. It may be a small hurt or it may be an unbearably grievous one. No matter. The process is the same. We humans are born with tender, fragile psyches and in the course of living, our psyches invariably ends up with cuts, bruises, gashes and other injuries. In the battle of life, we are all wounded soldiers, bleeding internally and often silently. “As a therapist, I believe that most people’s issues can be traced to hurts – starting with parents, siblings, extended families, teachers, friends, colleagues in workplaces, bosses and supervisors, spouses and children. In a culture where so much religious teaching focuses on forgiveness, there is no practical training in forgiving people and moving on,” observed Anita Anand, a Delhi-based hypnotherapist.
“Two and a half years ago, I put others’ needs ahead of mine, because I wanted their approval and love. I was out of touch with my own needs. However, a relative said something that hurt me tremendously and I snapped. Almost involuntarily, I cut off all relations with my family, and went through two years of extreme isolation and loneliness. I did not think I could forgive them in this lifetime,” says Ajay Kalra, a Mumbai-based trainer and life coach.
“My hurt and trauma at being subjected to unacceptable behaviour during childhood weighed me down so much, I was unable to lead my life,” says Jasmine Bharathan, an energy psychologist working with the healing modalities of EFT and TAT.
What happens when we carry this accumulated baggage of hurt in our life?
Sri Bhagavan, the spiritual head of Oneness University in Varadaiahpalem, says succinctly, “Accumulated hurt is karma which leads to inner death. With the heart dead, you move away from everybody. You lose all the joy of life. These hurts also manifest as problems in the external world.”
Holding on to hurt put like that, our stories can seem absurd even to ourselves. How can we possibly allow our lives to be hijacked by past events? Why cannot we simply shrug them off like so much garbage and walk on?
Hurt, once experienced, needs to be healed. It will not go away on its own. To heal our hurts, we need to smoothen the grooves they have carved in our consciousness and return to freedom.
So what stops us?
Not forgiving makes us feel righteous and gives us power over the other. Says Swami Chidananda Saraswati, “We hold onto our pain because it identifies who we are; it gives us an excuse for behaving the way we do; it has become such a familiar feeling that — regardless of its self-destructive nature—we cannot let it go. Yet let it go we must, if we want to move forward.”
Says Jasmine Bharathan, “For the longest time, I held on to my hurt because I thought I was right in doing so. The behaviour was completely unacceptable. I thought forgiving the perpetrator would mean endorsing the behaviour.”
At this stage, we need to have patience with ourselves. It takes time to forgive and it is okay not to forgive. The time will come when you will want to. Until then, the more you try, the less you are actually able to. And the guilt will further cripple your progress. How then do we move towards forgiveness? There comes a time when we are no longer willing to pay the price of unhappiness; when we tire of having our minds and hearts dogged with anger, hate and hurt.
We recognise that unforgiveness actually gives enormous power to the offenders. They take possession of our minds and other spaces. We think of them obsessively. Anything we see or do reminds us of them or the hurt they did to us.
The cost we pay
Prolonged lack of forgiveness can have many repercussions for us at the mental and physical level. Our freedom is infringed and our very nature tainted by its existence. It can ruin our lives. A friend’s mother had a grudge against the behaviour of her relatives at a time when she needed them. I have seen this happy, cheerful-heart old lady descend into an angry and alienated person because of her inability to forgive.
At the physical level, lack of forgiveness can lead to grave consequences. Says Louise L Hay in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, “I believe we create every so-called illness in our body.” She adds, “Cancer is a disease caused by deep resentment held for a long time until it literally eats away at the body.”
Observes artist Rekha Krishnan, “By not forgiving, we constrict our heart chakras, thereby constricting the flow of love. When we forgive, we can actually feel a lightness in the heart chakra, and even the flow of love within us quickens.”
Spiritually too, the inability to forgive will debar us from further growth. We have no option but to flush out every last smidgeon of conditioning lurking in our system if we want to attain freedom, joy and peace. It is when we see and deeply experience the harm that our anger, hurt and resentment cause, that we begin the movement to forgive.
Says Swami Suryadevananda of the Divine Life Society, “Forgiveness is not something that we do for others, it is something done for our own selves, for our own inner peace — for our own higher good.” A movement toward forgiveness is also facilitated through a growth in consciousness. Albert Einstein once said memorably that we cannot solve a problem at the same level of consciousness which gave rise to the problem. This is especially true of forgiveness.
Says Roger Walsch, in his book, Essential Spirituality, “It is important to remember that forgiveness does not mean condoning harmful behaviour. Forgiveness is a relinquishment of one’s resentment, not a relinquishment of one’s ethics. Mature spiritual practitioners may be able to forgive, even love someone who has hurt them while simultaneously insisting that the person cease doing any further harm.”
Adds Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, “Every wrong act and every evil deed will be punished by the law of Karma. Whatever pain we cause to another, we will experience ourselves. No one is free from the law of Karma. It is crucial to understand that forgiveness does not mean we absolve someone of their karma. That is God’s role and it is not one that we have the power to play even if we wanted to.”
Doing the work For Jasmine, an incident helped the path to recovery. She was watching two small children at play. A third came along and roughhoused the boy. Jasmine heard the little girl say to the boy who had been bullied, “Let go, no. He is a nice boy.’ She says, “It occurred to me then that I didn’t need to hold the resentment against anyone.”
That was the turning point for her. “That realisation healed me halfway. The rest was about healing specific incidents.” Her healing technologies included EFT and TAT and about two hours of meditation every day. She adds, “Forgiving somebody is nurturing yourself.”
Swami Chidananda endorses this, “We must see the perpetrator as a fallible human being and allow the love in our heart to flow towards him/her.”
All hurt is an internal affair, caused by our life experiences and the belief systems formed through them. When we blame others for it, we tend to externalise the problem, which drains us of energy to handle it.
Taking responsibility for our feelings is a crucial step in the management of all hurt, small or big. As long as we blame another for our problem, we’ll linger in victimisation, unable to move forward. Says Indu Cobh, a Mumbai-based behavioural scientist and corporate trainer, “I don’t think my hurts have anything to do with the other. It has to do with me. I have to release myself from being angry with you.” This ability to manage her hurt enabled her to fashion an amicable divorce.” I wanted nothing from him, no money nor possessions. Most people are invested in teaching the other person a lesson. I had nothing to forgive. He didn’t do anything. We were just incompatible people. It’s not a sin.”
A swami belonging to the Divine Life Society at Rishikesh found inspiration in the unconditional love he had received from his guru Swami Chidananda which enabled him to transcend the anger he had experienced in the course of the day. “Swamiji Maharaj never, ever judged us or found us lacking; never, ever withheld His love from us. He simply radiated blessings towards all, all the time, everywhere, in all conditions.” He adds, “I was then able to look at the anger I had been feeling earlier in the day: It was my anger, I had created it. Was I waiting for someone to ask forgiveness from me? Had I even asked myself if there was somebody whose forgiveness I should be asking for instead? What matters is that I have a divine destiny to fulfil, and everything in life is a lesson on this journey to destiny. As Swamiji Maharaj says, ‘Only God matters. Other matters do not matter.’”
The love of self has a great part to play in our forgiveness journey. For it is only when we truly love ourselves that we can find an inner sanctuary that gives us the strength and stability to engage with the world without being affected by it. Only when we love ourselves can we free ourselves of the emotional, physical and psychological needs that tie us to others. Once free of the other, it is much easier to come to terms with their past behaviour.
The zone of forgiveness
Once the healing is done, most agree that forgiveness is a happening; there is no portentous sense of forgiving another with all its implications of self-righteousness. Says Jasmine, “Once you let go, only love remains.” Says Lathaji, a guide from Oneness University, which engages in many courses for the express purpose of helping people heal from the hurts life administers to them, “Forgiveness cannot be practised as a policy. It is an experience of peace when you fully overcome hurt. When fully experienced pain turns into joy. That is forgiveness.”
What happens when we forgive? We blossom. Says Jasmine, “From having no friends, today I cannot keep pace with the number I have. From being unable to travel in a lift because I could not bear to be with people, today I am comfortable with most people. My circumstances remain the same, but I have undergone a total transformation.”
J. Krishnamurti once told a follower that as long as she was capable of being hurt she was not free of the mind. How true this is. As long as others hold our strings and can jerk us about, our freedom is only conditional. Eckhart Tolle echoes this statement when he says, “Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life—to allow life to live through you. The alternatives are pain and suffering. The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind. Non-forgiveness is the very nature of the mind.”
It is possible through patient inner work to reach a stage when the mind is under our control, and therefore incapable of reactive thinking. Then, no matter what the circumstances or situation, we will maintain our peace, equanimity and balance. No one and nothing has the power to disturb me. We are free, unconditionally free.
We have come a long way, you and I. We have travelled from hurt, to experiencing hurt, to forgiving, and finally to transcending the mind that conceives hurt. This is the journey all souls must take in order to fulfil our ultimate purpose of life — to reach the abode of love, peace and joy where nothing and no one can disturb us, and where hurt will not impose its smudgy footprint.
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