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Healing has to happen before forgiveness

by Suma Varughese
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Forgiveness follows when we heal from the wounds inflicted by the perpetrator, says spiritual counselor Suma Varughese even as she details ways to heal and return to wholeness.

When I was five and living in Bangalore, I was playing with my two cousins, who were four and two, at my elder uncle’s place. Just then my uncle came up and offered to buy us chocolates from a nearby ‘Kaka kada’ (as shops run by Malayali Muslims were called). Eager for a treat, I went along only to find that my uncle had excluded me from the offer and bought the chocolates for the other two only. The hurt inflicted on my heart that day took many years and considerable work to heal.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to get right. The hurts and wounds left behind by thoughtless words and actions or deliberate acts of cruelty live on in our consciousness, like a knife buried in our flesh, and send stabs of pain each time we think of the person or encounter something similar. All too often, the acts dent our confidence, self-esteem, and capacity to cope with life.

To live fully, we need to remove that psychological knife every bit as much as we would free ourselves through the surgery of a physical knife. But what exactly would be the equivalent of surgery when it comes to the psyche?

Supporting people to become a better version of themselves has been a mission with me for the last 30 years, which I fulfilled through editing Life Positive magazine, writing columns for newspapers, and strangely enough, even by holding writing workshops based on spiritual principles.

Lately, I have matured spiritually and felt ready to step up my game a notch. So, I started a WhatsApp group called Ask Suma to illuminate issues for people on the quest. I opened it to my community of participants in my writing course, the Zen of Good Writing, and an even larger group of Facebook friends.

The question and my answer that received the maximum response was how to forgive. Many responded enthusiastically to the suggestions I had given. Others had follow-up questions. The flood of interest the subject evoked spoke eloquently for the fact that all of us belong to the contingent of the walking wounded. We have huge gaping lesions in our psyche that need to be stanched. Let us explore if we can heal these gashes and return to wholeness. Most of all, let us attempt to evict the perpetrator of our injuries who is living rent-free in our minds and will not budge till the subject is alive for us. 

Forgiveness is not easy, and we cannot achieve it by thinking our way to it. Even a powerful intention is not enough to let go of all we hold against our offenders. Forgiveness is a happening, and it takes place when we have healed the feelings and thoughts created by the wounds the offender has inflicted on us.
So, the question is not how to forgive the other; it is how to heal myself. 
Once the healing is complete, the forgiveness is also complete. We don’t even think of the other anymore because the wound no longer calls to us for healing.
To begin with, let us recognize why we want to forgive the other. We don’t want to carry the old toxic baggage that keeps surfacing. We are tired of the power the other still has over us, their capacity to plunge us into anger, grief, hurt, et cetera. Moreover, this emotional baggage can potentially impact our health, both physical and mental, and give us further grief.
Therefore, the first thing to remember is that we are doing this for ourselves, not for them. It is not about being a good person and turning the other cheek. Forgiveness enables us to move on. Only forgiveness will restore us back to wholeness. But forgiveness does not mean that you are endorsing their words or actions. It only means you will not be held captive by what happened in the past. It is time to break free from the toxic hurts and pains of the past and take back our lives.  It is time to reclaim our life force. No one must have the power to control or constrict us. We are sovereign human beings given freedom of will. It is this conviction that will enable us to see forgiveness as the only thing that will free us.
Fortunately, there are many techniques at the energetic, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels to help us heal.
So, let’s look at each of these in turn.

Healing has to happen

Forgiveness is not about being a good person and turning the other cheek. Forgiveness enables us to move on. Only forgiveness will restore us back to wholeness. We will no longer be held captive by the toxic hurts and pains of the past. It is time to reclaim our life force.

Energetic tools 

Many energy healing techniques can help. Reiki, Pranic Healing, massage, and even yoga can help us unblock these emotions and the memories associated with them. Many have healed remarkably through these techniques.
In her book, The Journey, Brandon Bays writes about the complete remission she got from a football-sized benign tumor in her abdomen when she went for a cycle of healing from a bodywork healer. During the sessions, she uncovered the traumatic incident that she had gone through at the age of four that was behind the tumor. From that moment the tumor began to reduce in size until it disappeared altogether.


It all begins in the mind. The mind is the true creator of our lives and destiny because whatever you allow yourself to think or feel will eventually manifest in your life or your body.
So, it is the mind that gives us the maximum healing potential.

  1. To begin with, let us put ourselves in the shoes of the other. Why did they do such a thing? What is their background/childhood like? Have I done anything like this myself to someone else?
    I am certain that each of us has a story that has made us do what we do, but that person is not the true us. When I apply this logic to my uncle’s action, I can think of many occasions when I was insensitive, and there may have been countless times I unconsciously imposed pain on another. This discovery inevitably chastens me and frees me of some of my judgment and resentment.
  2. Healing the inner child is crucial. The wounds received in childhood have long-lasting effects and take the longest to heal. There is a helpful technique called Empty Chair. Draw a chair next to you and imagine the offender sitting on it. Express yourself fully and unreservedly. Hold nothing back. Lam into them. Imagine them saying what you always wanted them to say. Apologizing, for instance, or expressing understanding for what you are going through. Close the event by accepting their apology and asking them to forgive you if you have hurt them too. Do this as often as you need to heal.
  3. Here is another lovely method drawn from Transactional Analysis. 
    On a piece of paper, allow the Child in you to express freely, fully, and emotionally all that it wants to say. Don’t hold back. Spew it all out. Then have the Child write to the Adult and express what they need from the Adult to protect them from the other. What should the Adult say and do to safeguard the Child’s boundaries, self-respect, and honor? 
    Finally, let the Adult write to the offender in a neutral tone, expressing their feelings about what happened and its consequences on them. They can also tell the offender what they should do as restitution and to ensure the act is not repeated.
  4. Journal writing is a powerful form of therapy. Putting pen on paper and writing your heart out enables you to free yourself of the baggage and transfer it to the paper. How does this magic happen? Writing brings consciousness to our thoughts and feelings in a way that thinking does not. Our mind allows thoughts and feelings to revolve in a loop fashion until we feel there is simply no escaping these repetitive patterns. Fascinatingly enough, writing provides a loophole. The more you write the more relief you will get, and more clarity. You will find yourself considerably more peaceful at the end of the exercise. Continue to write out all that you feel until you finally get released. Therapists often advocate journal writing to their clients, and with good reason.

Emotional tools 

Techniques like the Sedona Method and Worry Buster help you free yourself of troublesome feelings by clearly understanding that you are not your feelings. It is astonishing how deeply we identify with feelings and even with illnesses. We talk about our anger, fear, arthritis, and so on, creating ownership that further solders these aspects within us. Instead, the techniques suggest, why not embrace these feelings? This is possible once you recognize that they are not you.

The Sedona Method: Identify the emotion that is bothering you, the one you want to let go of. Remember that you are not the emotion. Therefore, you can free yourself from it. Ask yourself, ‘Can I welcome all the feelings related to this issue?’ Keep repeating this question until you feel a little opening, a slight possibility that you can welcome the feelings. After that ask yourself the following three questions, repeating each several times until you feel a slight movement of acceptance.

  1. Could you let it go?
  2. Would you let it go?
  3. When?

Repeat as often as necessary to feel the relief – lightness, a sigh, or zero intensity on a scale of 0-10.

Jesus christ

When Jesus Christ was on the Cross, his last words were: “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”

He had realized that ignorance drove them to crucify him. It was not personal. It was the manic ego at work. Therefore, he could forgive them from the bottom of his heart.

The Worry Buster

1. How strong is your worry on a scale of 0-10, 10 being the strongest?
2. Would you be willing to say ‘yes’ to the worry?
3. Would you be willing to say ‘yes’ some more?
4. And some more? And more? And even more?
5. Say: “I love you, worry, I really love you, and give you permission to leave.”
6. How strong is your worry now on a scale of 0-10?
7. Continue, starting at No. 2, until the worry is down to 0.

Spiritual techniques and perspectives 

This is where the deepest healing comes from, but it is a long journey and requires spiritual maturity.
You can also approach it from different paths.

The Bhakti route: As a bhakta you know that everything that comes to you is sanctioned by God. Therefore, this offense was meant to come to you. Maybe it was setting right some karmic offense you had committed? This might cool the flames of unforgiveness.

Jnana path: Sit with your feelings, no matter how intense, and allow yourself to feel all the mind stuff – the thoughts, the feelings, and above all, the resistance. Resistance is our default state. As you stay with your mind stuff, you will find yourself growing in spaciousness. It then becomes easier to contain your feelings and thoughts and even accept them. This, in turn, reduces the velocity of the mind. And slowly (over a long stretch of time) you will be free of these feelings and thoughts.
Sometimes, an insight or satori can help you see the matter in a totally different light, and that might fully heal you.
For instance, when Jesus Christ was on the Cross, his last words were: “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”
At that moment, he realized that ignorance drove them to crucify him. It was not personal. It was the manic ego doing its thing. Therefore, he could forgive them from the bottom of his heart.

NB: If the wound is deep, do consider going for therapy. We do not need to live in pain.

Illustrations: Navni Chawla for Lotus; Jesus on Cross picture courtesy Lance Brown

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