A friend of mine recently revealed a personal moment of spirit in action. She had been chronically abused by her father and this had led to an array of deep psychological issues during adulthood. Three years ago, her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Reluctantly, she agreed to support her mother on a visit to the hospital. My friend recalled the moment she saw the man who had ruined her life. Lying on the bed, hooked up to monitors and drips, he looked so weak and helpless that something stirred in her heart. Unexpectedly, she then told her father that she forgave him entirely. Somehow, she was able to resolve her pain without compromising her conviction of what she had suffered.
Together, we wondered where such forgiveness springs from. When we analyse a situation within our mind, we generate thoughts of right and wrong, the need for justice, recompense and how to cope with the trauma. And, for years that is all that occupied my friend’s mind. It helped to cope with the issues, but the original suffering haunted her and the hurt lingered.
The Hindu text, Bhagavad-gita, recommends that we shouldn’t just accept the mind’s deliberations on important matters. The mind can be a great friend, it says, but only when it is kept under the control of our higher self. For the Gita, it is the soul - that aspect of our self that is our true identity –which has the clearest vision of what will satisfy us. Whereas the mind generally schemes and plans to maximise enjoyment and minimise pain, the soul hankers for a deeper spiritual pleasure - love - soul-to-soul connection. Forgiveness from the heart happens when the soul asserts its yearning to express love despite the mind’s perception of the awful circumstances we have suffered.
My friend and I concurred that forgiving her father was an instance of her soul reaching out to another tortured soul; superseding, but not ignoring, all the wrong he had done. My friend still cries when she recalls that moment, but now she says they are tears of joy that she could resolve their relationship just two weeks before her father died.
(© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Pause for Thought” on Radio 2.)[ forgiveness ]