In the Bible, the Greek word that’s translated as ‘forgiveness’ is ‘aphesis.’ Its literal meaning is ‘to let go,’ as when we let go of a rope or something else we are holding on to. With forgiveness, the grip we are releasing is a mental one. We are letting go of the judgments and grievances that we are holding against a person or a community, and our beliefs about how they should have behaved.
Unforgiveness is like an unhealed raw wound that keeps hurting and smarting, long after the painful episode is over. Unlike a physical wound which heals after some time, unforgiveness is an emotional wound which festers and grows with time, often coming in the way of our normal living. It haunts our mind, dominates our thoughts, and vitiates our emotions. We become a prisoner of our past, unable to break free from the cage of painful memories. This often results in an inability to move forward to create a new life for ourselves. Furthermore, unforgiveness can also create a host of diseases, including cancer. We become bitter, angry, resentful, and even vengeful, either pitying ourselves for our misfortunes or wishing ill upon our perpetrators. Only when our sense of victimhood becomes overwhelming and we understand that unforgiveness is obstructing us from living fully and is keeping us perpetually unhappy do we realise that we need to do something about it.
Kia Scherr had a horrendous experience in the terror attacks of Mumbai. She lost both her daughter and husband in the firing by terrorists. She shares, “When the 26/11 terrorist attack took place, I was in a state of shock. My heart cracked open and my mind was in an altered state. As my family and I sat on the sofa watching the news and the photo of the lone surviving terrorist came onto the TV screen, I heard the words ‘Forgive them, they know not what they do’ inside my head. These were the words of Christ as he was being crucified. I was brought up in the Catholic faith, so forgiveness was part of my religious education.
“It has taken years to discover the true meaning of forgiveness. It begins with a choice and a willingness to forgive. But it has nothing to do with the terrorist. It has to do with me. What’s done is done. Forgiveness will not change any of that. It will not bring my husband and daughter back. I am the one I have to live with, and I am still here. How do I want to live and what can I bring forth that will be of benefit to myself and others? Love is the greatest contribution we can make. Forgiveness is an act of love. I chose love. Love is what has helped to heal my broken heart. Forgiveness is a necessary ingredient to restore wholeness to myself.” Now she helps others walk the path of forgiveness and is leading a life of peace.
Choosing to forgive can take a moment or it can take years. Forgiveness is not only about drastic events like the ones above. It needs to be done even for small slights which we may be nursing in our hearts.
Mahalakshmi Anand, a holistic healer and psychotherapist from Delhi, says, “Forgiveness is an essential part of healing and growth. Forgiveness helps you heal, helps you let go, helps you move on. You forgive because you don’t wish to carry the baggage of resentment, hurt, and pain any longer, and it has nothing to do with the other person. You may or may not want to continue the relationship and it has nothing to do with your forgiving act. Asking for forgiveness also helps you clear your guilt and remorse; it helps you to reform, change, and grow. So, both the acts are important in healing.”
However, forgiving does not stop at forgiving others for their transgressions. We need to learn to forgive ourselves too for our errors and wrongdoings. Often, the biggest cross that we carry is of our own mistakes which have caused suffering to others as well as ourselves. It is not easy to take cognisance of them as they deal a blow to the picture-perfect image of ourselves that we have created in our eyes.
Mahalakshmi elaborates, “We may be able to forgive others, ask for forgiveness from others, but it gets extremely difficult to forgive ourselves. This is because we cannot ‘accept’ ourselves as having committed the ‘act.’ ”
She shares, “A client of mine was working on her emotional distress which was related to her divorce. Sessions progressed and many of her traumas were worked upon, yet she was unable to experience inner peace. As a response to her query, I helped her recognise that she had not forgiven herself for her actions. This came as a shock to her. As expected, these sessions moved at a snail’s pace. But after many sessions, she finally succeeded in forgiving and accepting herself as a beautiful person with a negative past action that she had forgiven.”
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