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The Secret Ingredient in Healing: Forgiveness

May/04/2022 / by Sweta Vikram
Image credit: Shutterstock

I went to my doctor the other day — my chronic illness has had the potential to turn into full blown cancer because of which I must get regular checkups to make sure all is good. The nurse at the oncologist’s office said, “You no longer have to visit the oncologist’s office.” I broke into tears. I was off the cancer watch list. My body was healing. My soul was healing. Trust me, it’s been a journey and not an easy one.

After reading my book, “A Piece of Peace,” several journalists and interviewers inquired about what happened that fateful day. What did I witness that impacted me so badly? How did one incident lead to a full-blown illness in my body? But I have stayed quiet through it all. Not because I am afraid to speak the truth. Because I refuse to give any more energy to that day: what I witnessed, how I was treated for speaking up, how it made me sick, or how the large majority chose to not listen to my story because it felt inconvenient. The world wants to read about my deceased mother but not hear a word about what happens to girls and women in their homes as well as outside.

The worst experience of our lives can become the best teaching moment if you shift your mindset. When I witnessed a crime, when all this transpired, I felt shook up and alone. I felt most disappointed that aside from a handful of people, no one cared about how I was doing. Yes, I wasn’t the victim. But after I caught the perpetrator, he chased me. I froze, felt nauseous, but ran again. I couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe. I have never felt such intense fear in my life.

At first, I was angry. My body started to collapse over the years. First, exhaustion. Fever. Passing out at airports. Cancer alarm. Emotional burnout. PTSD. Ultimately, fighting for my life in the ER. It wasn’t easy not being angry. The person who sowed the seeds of illness in my body was out there living their life while I was suffering. For close to six months, I was homebound. I couldn’t eat, sleep, write, or breathe. My outings were trips to the doctor’s office. I lost my clients and my sense of self as I navigated my frailness in a wheelchair. It wasn’t easy to not be angry and wish unpleasant things to those who hurt me. But I didn’t. Because anger has never healed anyone.

A nurse practitioner once told me that a large majority of women (dealing with cancer or chronic illness) have a problem with unhealed trauma and letting go. It took me some time to process her wise words. Ayurveda educator and sanyasini, Maya Tiwari, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 23, and given two months to live, but healed herself through Ayurvedic and Vedic knowledge. Her miraculous recovery from the death-sentence demonstrated that we have the power to heal ourselves. Anita Moorjani, author of the New York Times bestseller “Dying to Be Me,” who was in the final stages of terminal cancer, reclaimed her health and rewrote her future. Moorjani has been talking and teaching the power of forgiveness and self-love, and reminding her audience what fear does to the mind and body.

Forgiving others was one thing; I had to forgive myself first. For not knowing that this person, whom the entire community revered, would hurt another female. I had to forgive myself for feeling scared and freezing on the spot. I had to forgive myself for becoming a witness. I had to forgive myself for being vulnerable and feeling unheard. I had to forgive myself for taking a chance on people I thought would care. It’s so much easier for me to help other women and show them compassion. Somewhere along the way, I forgot to shower the same kindness towards myself.

As for forgiving those who hurt me, be it the perpetrator or those who ostracized me, I didn’t want to succumb to being bitter. Their actions are their karmic debt to pay. I will never condone or justify that incident or anything following it. But I cannot carry the burden of other people’s actions. In the end, I need to answer myself: Did I live fully? Did I love unconditionally?

I relied on the Yoga Sutras to support my well-being and incorporate forgiveness: abhyasa and vairagya. While abhyasa means diligent practice, vairagya means non-attachment to this practice. I had to practice forgiveness and remain non-attached to those who hurt me. I had to let go of the pain without expecting any apologies in return. I continued to forgive myself for the guilt that I carried — for getting caught up in a situation that changed everything.

It wasn’t easy at first, but I felt a lightness inside of me over the years. The power of daily practice. When I looked closely at my offenders, I saw their pain and suffering. I have seen them battle difficult times. I have heard them ask me for help. When my husband asked how I could help those (through Ayurvedic counseling and other ways) who hurt me, I said to him, “As a healer, I don’t get to choose who I help. This is my life’s dharma. I don’t offer healing while expecting anything in return. I do my bit without any attachments. I let karma do its work.”

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to me. To me, forgiveness has brought much peace. I go on with my life without feeling heavy or impacted by those who hurt me. I feel released from the pain. Abhyasa and vairagya leading to apathy. There is nothing worse than someone not feeling anything for you. It would be so much easier for all of these people if I harbored anger and acted mean. But in forgiving them and aiding their healing process, I became freer. They have no control over me. They are the ones battling guilt.

At the start of this Mental Health Awareness Month, ask yourself if you are ready to forgive? I am living proof of what forgiveness, mindfulness, and Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle can do for your well-being. That said, you will know if and when you are ready. Forgiveness is a process, so don’t rush it.

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh