But, what does it really mean to forgive?
What I’ve learned for myself and working with others as a qigong healer/psychotherapist is that “forgiveness” is one of the most difficult things to do. Yet, in my opinion, it is ABSOLUTELY necessary in the healing of trauma – whether it is to forgive another, forgive your “God,” or forgive yourself.
In fact, forgiveness is essential to our overall health and well-being, whether or not we’ve been traumatized.
Forgiveness, first and foremost, is a process – an often times lengthy one at that. It is NOT a one-shot deal! Sometimes, it takes doing it over and over, each time letting go of a little more anger, pain, and sadness.
It’s also not about just saying the words, “I forgive you.” Forgiveness does not come from the mind. It comes from the heart. The heart is the entry way into our souls.
However, our hearts can harbor the angst for a long time, a sharp or dull ache that we keep close inside us.
The first thing we need to understand about forgiveness is that it’s NOT about excusing another for whatever pain they caused or you think they’ve caused. It is about releasing the toxic emotions that will make you or keep you sick because you’ve somehow stuffed all the pain in your heart.
You need to let your heart break. It is in the breaking that begins the process of healing. When your heart breaks, it opens the floodgates for the emotions to flow out.
It is this very outpouring of feelings that leads to forgiveness. Several months after I forgave my father, I had an “aha” moment.
Before my daughter visited me in Singapore, she told me it was time to organize, repair and re-frame my father’s artwork. I had the sense decades ago that she would undertake this project; however, over the years, she never mentioned it, and I actually forgot about it.
To give you some background, my father was a child prodigy in art. At age 8, without any training, he was already drawing portraits that looked like they came from an adult who had undergone years of training. Because of this gift, and because his father was very wealthy, my father spent 9 years in Paris studying art, architecture and interior design.
Upon return to China, he established 3 branches of his architectural firm and displayed his Chinese landscape art all over China. He also became chief architect to Chiang Kai Shek, then President of the Republic of China. Because of this position, he was placed on Mao Tse Tung’s execution list, and so, in the dead of night, my parents and I we escaped to the United States, leaving my baby sister behind w/our maternal grandparents.
He became embittered and depressed, at times feeling suicidal, all at the same time struggling to make a living for his family in a country that looked down on him because he was Chinese. He went from wealth to poverty. He went from being highly regarded to a laundryman. He also became abusive, feeling powerless, and living in the past.
As a child, I watched him paint, his only escape from the harsh realities of survival in a new country. I know now it was his way of coping with all that he had lost. But, I didn’t know that then. What I knew then was a father who was either in a rage or distant.
His dying wish at the age of 92 was that his work be brought back to China, knowing that he would never set foot on the land he so loved, his birthplace and mine.
All these years, when I made some feeble attempts to organize his work, nothing fell into place. This time, through a friend, my daughter made contact with a prestigious university that is interested in possibly collaborating with us. In addition, they found my father’s name in a Chinese art history textbook that sites his interest in integrating Western with Chinese art.
Why am I telling you this story? My point is that I finally forgave my father while I was in Bali in 2010.
My “aha” moment came when I realized why organizing his work never took off before. I had to forgive him first before I could represent him and his work.
Forgiveness in and of itself feels like a “coming home to the self,” a feeling of completeness – at once, a sadness that whatever transpired is over, and a release of long-held pain.
Because it is my father, it is fully accepting him as well as myself. A coming home of many sorts. And, once one comes home, there is a feeling of safety, of grounding deep within one’s ancestral roots. I know where I come from, which gives me direction and courage to know where I am going.
Going home after a year away, for me, is more than spending the holiday with my family. It is a returning to soul roots, a deep knowing of who I am because I’ve accepted where I belong.
And, I can be more assured of taking more leaps of faith to build for my and my family’s present and future.
Of course, I didn’t know this before forgiving. It is shown only afterwards.