Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: I am searching for peace, and one of my largest obstacles is to forgive my parents. Like many, I had a childhood of physical and emotional abuse. Now, at age 47, I have finally stepped away and realized I have the choice to change how this impacts my life. I have been focused and working on forgiveness, and while I know I am moving forward, a situation will occur and emotions will arise in me that bring all of those feelings back.
I am very conscious of the impact it has on me, and I do not want to experience it anymore. I am facing challenges of my own right now, with my eyesight deteriorating to the point of disability. I want to let this anger and disappointment go and accept that they are not who I wish to be. How do I move to total forgiveness? How do I change so the past does not impact me emotionally today? Does it take situations arising to provide the opportunity to face it, be conscious and work through it? It feels like it. Thank you for your advice—my heart needs it.
— Kelly M., Chatham, Ontario, Canada
It may surprise you, but I don't think this is a forgiveness situation. People often feel that forgiveness is something they can possess or reject. But isn't it more like gratitude? Feeling grateful happens spontaneously. Unless it's genuine and comes of its own free will, there is no real gratitude. If you approach forgiveness this way, it will become something unpredictable. You won't know when and where it will happen, and that's the best way. So let go of having to forgive anyone. It's not a demand made upon you by either yourself, your soul or any higher power.
Let other priorities come first—attend to your present difficulties as best you can. It's hard for anyone who has been subjected to abuse to have a clear conscience. Guilt makes you think you did something wrong. Shame makes you think you don't deserve to be looked at with love and appreciation. With that in mind, be easy on yourself. At the same time, match your present circumstances with your responses. If anger and resentment, grief or despair come up from the past, be as objective as possible. Deal with them as visitors from an earlier version of you—deal with them in the present moment and move on.
In other words, don't make it your program to abolish the past. It can return without taking hold of you. Be lighter about these painful visits if you can. Healing is always good, but so is knowing when you are able to handle the demands of healing. It sounds as if you have enough to heal in the present, so make that your priority.