Q: I need help with forgiveness. My siblings and I were put up for adoption when we were young. About 20 years ago, we found each other. I have had an on/off relationship with one sister. I have learned that she has been deceitful all along and has gained the support of another sister with whom I have been close. They have been so hurtful that I don't want to be around them, although I continue to send holiday cards and Christmas and birthday presents, and to respond to e-mails. Now they want the three of us to get together, but I know if I do they will try to bully me. How do I forgive my sister when she has hurt me so many times? Am I still forgiving even if I do not want a relationship with her?
--Mary Ann

A: It is certainly normal to feel deeply hurt when attacked by your own family, yet it is possible to forgive even though the pain still lingers. Your goal is not to stop feeling hurt but to open yourself to wholeness and comfort. In order to do this, it is important to remember that forgiveness always takes place in the present and protects our minds in the present. Therefore, it is a spiritual practice that is always available.

It is a common mistake to believe that if we forgive people, we also must spend time with them. Forgiveness is merely the decision to be at peace now. It is our preference for a whole mind instead of a conflicted mind. Forgiveness does not seek to change that which we cannot control outside ourselves. It is a change in our own inner state.

The relationship between you and your sisters is complicated by the fact that you were separated and adopted, and later found each other. There must have been great joy at this reunion, and also the expectation that your family was coming back together and would make up for all the lost time. This makes your current estrangement from your sisters even more difficult. In our opinion you have wisely chosen to continue to send cards, presents, and e-mails, rather than breaking off abruptly. These gestures are an expression of your desire to be kind and to extend love, and they leave the door open to positive change in the future.

In line with this gentle approach, it would be better to make an excuse as to why you can't visit with them rather than to be brutally honest, which will add fuel to the fire.

It is also important to remember that forgiveness is not replacing "negative" thoughts with "positive" ones, but rather adding what else is true. This is where your faith can help you. As a person of faith, you have felt stillness and peace within you, and you can be certain that this divine spark is also within your sister. Perhaps it might help you forgive to sit quietly and say:
My sister, the stillness in me is one with the stillness in you. The peace in me is one with the peace in you. The love in me is one with the love in you.

Every time she comes to your mind, sit quietly, hold her in light, and say these words to yourself and to her. The purpose of this meditation is to free your own mind from thoughts that are tormenting you, as well as to bless your sister. There may never be an outward change in her attitude toward you, but you can be assured that on some level your sister will receive the benefits of your efforts.

If you are firm with yourself in this way, you will begin taking responsibility for your inner state. Not only will you no longer feel like a victim of your two sisters, but more importantly, you will no longer be a victim of your own thoughts.

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