The Power of Forgiveness

I’ve written before in this blog about my sister Angela’s struggles with bi-polar disorder and addiction and how I lost her to a heart attack when she was only 45 years old.  What I didn’t mention was that for most of our adult lives my sister was pretty abusive towards me. 

I’ll describe one example but there are many.  When our family was opening gifts on the last Christmas day we spent together, Angela flew into a drunken rage because she was convinced my mom preferred a pair of earrings I gave her to earrings Angela had given her.  As my mother looked on in horror, my sister screamed at me that she wished I was dead and that she hoped my plane crashed on its way back to London.  My brother-in-law had to restrain her from physically attacking me (as she screamed “I hate you!” and “I’m going to kill you!”) and he literally had to drag her out of the house and into their car. 

I vowed I would never speak to her again and I kept this vow for nearly 2 years, carrying hurt, anger and resentment which seemed to hover over my head like a dark ominous cloud. 

But, the truth is – for those 2 years, I really missed Angela.  I missed our usual weekly calls and missed her older sister advice.  I missed how she could make me howl with laughter over the simplest of stories.  It felt as if I’d lost a part of myself. 

I can’t remember exactly how we finally made amends but we did and today I am very grateful that when she died our relationship was in a good place.       

If after that Christmas day someone had said, “forgive and forget” I probably would have replied with “F*ck Off!”.  But what if I had?  What if I had considered her mental illness and the fact that her words were partially driven by alcohol?  What if I had picked up the phone on Boxing Day and said that I understood she was struggling, that I loved her and that there were no hard feelings? 

These are easy questions to answer today because picking up the phone to speak to Angela is not an option any longer.  My sister is gone.  Those 2 years are gone. 

We, humans, are vulnerable, and for us getting hurt, upset, sad, betrayed, and disappointed are all but natural. In our lives, there have been infinite instances when we have encountered at least one or all of these emotions; partly at times due to the insensitivity of people around us.

But there are occasions when the damage wasn’t intentional. Regardless of their objectives, we are the ones who suffered, were deeply wounded, and faced the repercussions.

It so happens that after the initial stage of the hurt cycle, which can last for up to an hour, day, week, or maybe more, we start healing. We learn to replace anger with compassion and try to move on in our lives.

Unfortunately, however, there are a few who don’t know how to move on normally with their lives. They keep carrying the burden of their hurt and betrayal and relive those stressful moments every single day. They don’t realize that these sentiments are taking a toll on their physical, mental, and spiritual health.

As Buddha once said that holding on to rage is like grasping a burning coal with the intention of throwing it at someone else. But you need to realize that it is you who gets burnt.

We don’t realize that holding on to our anger is like holding our breath. It will ultimately start suffocating us. If we intend to practice the power of forgiveness, we need to remember that it is a conscious decision to let go of resentment and revengeful thoughts. It is the journey of freedom from the traumatic past. By learning to forgive we learn the art of compassion, understanding, and empathy for the ones who hurt us.

None of us can change the past. Even apologetic words cannot undo the harm or free the person from their irresponsible words and actions. All they do is minimize the intense wounds caused by such events. It frees us from the pain that is holding us back after all this time. It opens doors to healing, leading to new possibilities. This is something we can do entirely for the sake of our mental peace.

Contrary to this, there are some people who deep down seek vengeance. They wait for the right opportunity to hit back. They want to cause equal or more harm to the person who has been behind their misery and suffering. If this is the case, then remind yourself, you will not gain freedom with this attitude. You will not even venture near inner peace and inner power.  This way you are giving them your power and peace. You are the one who can find freedom and strength for yourself. This is possible by cutting ties from the past. It sounds simple but it isn’t easier, rather it is harder than it sounds. But if you keep lurking at the possible opportunities to hurt them, you won’t get anywhere with it.

In mindfulness tradition, forgiveness stems from compassion; realizing that the person who did you wrong might have their history of suffering, that provoked them to behave in a certain way.  Understand that we are victims of someone’s misbehavior, while they are also victims of someone else’s misbehavior. This mindset in no way justifies toxicity in any form, but it allows people to let go of the past and forgive the people who have harmed them in any possible way.

The primary intention is to reduce the stress pillars and remind people of their mindfulness. As Buddhist scholar Nyanaponika said, “Knowing the mind, shaping the mind and freeing the mind.” Not only do people show reduced signs of stress, but are also positively influenced by their mindfulness practice. What you need to consistently remember is that forgiveness is not an overnight happening, it is gradual and you have to devote your patience to achieve freedom.

Yoga has the power to enhance your forgiveness journey. Mother Nature has bestowed it with a strange subtle healing power; it cannot allow its practitioners to hoard on negative feelings as this is against the fundamentals of yoga. They have to forgive to allow the healing powers to penetrate them. This is the only possible way to restore goodness and positivity to this world.

If you are struggling to forgive, ask yourself 2 questions. They will help you out in your journey of letting go.

  1. Are you ready to be happy and free?
  2. Are you ready to let go of the past by forgiving whoever hurt you?

If you replied with a YES to both these questions, you are fully prepared on your journey to forgiveness and healing. Here are a few things that can help you further.

  • Don’t rush; be patient and don’t expect everything to be okay in a blink. It took a long time for you to realize that you needed freedom from your past.
  • Ponder over the events that caused you to be hurt in the first instance. Reflect on your reactions, and how the whole incident has affected your well-being.
  • What could have been an alternate way to deal with the situation?
  • Step outside the situation and consider why this person behaved the way they did. Are they unwell?  Are they suffering from and abusive type of treatment they themselves endured?
  • Deliberately make the decision to forgive the person who has hurt you and mean it.
  • Visualize sending them some positive energy. They might need it badly. This one isn’t easy to do, but it is powerful.
  • Remember that you are not a victim. You have full control and power to reclaim what you lost consciously or unconsciously to the people who have hurt you.
  • If possible, arrange a one-to-one with them. This is something that not many will agree to. You have a right to talk to the person who has sabotaged your peace and happiness. By sitting in a calm and friendly atmosphere, you can make them realize what wrong they have done.  

If you are still in that resentful and angry stage, your response to this advice may be similar to my own response above – “F*ck Off!”.  That’s ok and normal.  I completely understand how you feel.  I only ask that you let these steps float around in the back of your mind and perhaps action them at some point.  I lost 2 years of my own life to bitterness and 2 years of time with my sister because at the time I had no tools to help me forgive. 

When it comes right down to it, I lost all of this because of a pair of earrings.  Was it worth it?  Hmm, no.

 

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Tina Ward

Tina Ward

Bean counter; life long expat; yoga teacher; passionate advocate for mental health. I am also the founder of Yogaward International, a free online yoga community with one goal - to use the ancient principles of yoga to improve our mental and physical health.

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