Sunday, April 13, 2008

Forgiving A Parent

Anyone who has ever had a difficult relationship with a parent or an older family member they were expected to love and respect, would be familiar with the suffering and guilt that goes with not being able to forgive.

Along with hate for this person comes with the hate of oneself for being like them in the very ways that one finds the most detestable. Short of gouging out parts of oneself, there seems no way to get rid of these troubling traits and behavior patterns.

Even after coming to that difficult decision to let go of the past, there is often the question of who should make the first move towards rapprochement. The younger person is likely to see themselves as the innocent victim having the right to an unequivocal peccavi and apology before they are able to make peace. Often the object of hate and resentment is unwilling or unable to do either and the problem continues to fester much to the detriment of both the hater and the hated.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the many religious leaders the film The Power of Forgiveness profiles and he has a remedy for this problem. He says :

Suppose you are angry at your father. Many people are angry at their father, and yet if they don’t do anything to change it when they grow up, they will repeat exactly what their father did to them. They will do that to their own children. That is why we have a wonderful exercise of meditation that has helped so many angry sons and daughters who come to Plum Village:


Breathing in, I see myself as a 5-year-old child. Breathing out, I hold that 5-year-old child in me with tenderness. Breathing in, I see the 5-year-old child in me as fragile, vulnerable, easily wounded. Breathing out I feel the wound of that little child in me and use the energy of compassion to hold tenderly the wound of that child.

But then you continue—breathing in, I see my father as a 5-year-old boy. Breathing out, I smile to my father as a 5-year-old boy. Breathing in, I see how as a 5-year-old child my father was fragile, vulnerable. Breathing out, I feel compassion for my father as a 5-year-old boy.

When you are capable of visualizing your father as a 5-year-old boy, fragile, tender, full of wounds, you begin to understand and feel compassion. When the son is capable of practicing understanding and compassion, he no longer suffers and the father in him is also transformed. That moment, compassion is born in your heart. Now it is possible to forgive.

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