I have never understood how to forgive others. Don’t get me wrong. I see the value of forgiveness. I just do not understand how it is done. Let me explain.
Just like most human beings, I have been hurt a number of times. Not that I have kept a count but some hurts have changed the course of my life. Similarly, I have hurt others. Sometimes I realized later how my behavior must have been hurtful, but I couldn’t help it given my level of maturity at that time. Other times people may have been hurt by their own expectations and I may be an unwitting character in their drama of self-inflicted pain. Either way getting hurt and hurting others seems to be as integral to life, as song and dance are to Bollywood.
The first time I was deeply hurt, it changed my belief system. From being a sensitive, loving, spiritual seeker; I transformed into a self-indulgent, impulsive rebel. I was no longer interested in being nice or seeking the truth. I thought those values had failed me. Became a reason for my exploitation. If I had to survive in this cunning and self-serving world, I had to play the game according to the rules people understood. Power, manipulation, and inauthenticity became my new friends.
This phase continued for some time until I could no longer afford to keep the company of my new friends. The good thing about this rebellious phase was that it got me in touch with my feelings. I no longer suppressed my anger in the name of being a spiritual person. I satiated my senses through pleasures I had felt guilty of indulging in earlier. The intensity of hurt and pain had demolished all my control mechanisms.
Indulging my inner child came with a price. The price was addiction and loneliness. When I gave free rein to my impulses I finally became aware of my addictive patterns. Also, impulsive behavior does not nurture meaningful relationships. It took me a long time to realize that true freedom is not about doing what I want when I want. It is the ability to discern which impulse to follow and which to let go.
I also learned that forgiving others is not a favor I do for others, it is a gift I give myself. Harboring anger, bitterness, and resentment is harmful to me. It is painful every time these emotions pass through me. While I could rationalize my negative feelings in the name of authenticity, they come at the cost of my well-being. By holding on to these emotions, I was punishing myself for the mistakes of others.
Having understood the value of forgiveness, I still did not know how to forgive. Does one visualize the person to be forgiven and say “I forgive you?” Or does one write a letter of forgiveness? Often the other person is not even aware of the extent of the damage he has done to you. On the contrary, in their story, they are the ones who have been wronged. In such a scenario it is pointless talking about it with the concerned person. Sometimes the relationship is no more or talking about it will only lead to more pain and hurt.
What we truly want is to be free of the thoughts that cause us pain. Even if we have ‘forgiven’ but the thoughts continue to create anger and hurt, our inner reality has not really changed. The same rule can be applied to forgiving ourselves. If we are not free of guilt, then our self-forgiveness is ineffective. In such a situation what is one to do?
Of course, the growing self-help industry provides many techniques to heal the past. Hypnotherapy, past life regression, forgiveness workshops, and psychotherapy to name a few. While each process has its usefulness, it would be foolish to assume that any method can clean all our past impressions, like a magical emotional laundry. We are again left with the question, what is one to do?
I wish I knew.
If you were expecting me to give you the ‘formula of forgiveness’, I am sorry to disappoint you. What I have realized though, is that every emotional hurt is a gateway to higher consciousness. What is hurt is the ego. Not our true Self. What has hurt us, gives us an opportunity to rise above the pain. In doing so we grow closer to our divine Self.
Ultimately only Love can heal us. An unconditional love that envelops not just us, but the person hurting us. A recognition of our Oneness. And humanness. When we attain the consciousness of love there is no need to verbalize our forgiveness. The painful thoughts are no longer there. They vanish like the darkness of the night, at sunrise.
When all else fails, I pray. The prayer that arises at such times comes from the depth of my being. When I truly want to forgive and am unable to do so, I simply join my palms and say “Dear God, you know what is happening in my life and the larger purpose behind it. I am unable to free myself from the negativity of the past, even though I want to. Please help me.”
“Does it work?” you ask.
Prayer makes me inhabit a mental space where I recognize my limitations. In that space, I free myself and others, from the responsibility of their actions. At any point in time, we all are doing the best we can, given our current awareness. In the game of life, there is a time to get hurt, time to get angry, and a time to get wise. And wisdom lies in Prayerful Surrender.