St Paul’s chapel stood as a sanctuary and a beacon of hope during the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Many relief workers found rest and comfort there and today the Chapel is a memorial to 9/11. The photos say more than I can so will let them speak for themselves.


I sat down in silence for a while. I hoped for transformation of the pain and anger of that day to be transformed into healing and peace. I also honoured the role of the chapel that day and I wondered:

What are our sanctuaries when we have destruction in our lives, be they people, places, silence within or even books? Where are we just allowed to feel fully? Where can we get a hug and a listening ear? Where can we get restored emotionally and spiritually? And do we give thanks enough to these beacons of hope?

I found a few answers in my heart. How about you?


Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence

Credit: Opnash of

My only exposure to Gandhi, while growing up, was a statue we had at home of him and the movie, Gandhi. But my own transformation from using anger as a fuel for social change to using more love led me to visit the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence in Rochester, New York in October 2010.

Gandhi was thrown out of the first class area of a train in South Africa because he was Indian. This made him want Change. And using nonviolent means, he freed India from British rule.

Conversation with Kit

I truly enjoyed my conversation with Kit Miller, the director of the Center and staff member, George Payne who was my learned guide for the day.

What I took away most from my conversation with Kit was the openness with which she embraces skeptics. I learnt to see skepticism as opportunities for mutual transformation, when handled with humility and empathy.

I confess that I had grown up thinking people who hurt others should be punished and should suffer. It was “justice” in my mind and it is only in the past few years that I have learnt to view this issue differently. So being up close to someone working on restorative justice was special for me. While researching for this post, I learnt about restorative practices in Singapore and would love to hear from those involved about their experiences.

I like that I got to learn about not just the clearly positive parts about Gandhi but also how he was fully human, made mistakes and took responsibility for them. (The video below is a frank portrayal of him and covers both the light and shadow of Gandhi’s life.)

“Be the change” workshop

During the workshop on the day we met, Kit asked us, “What is Gandhi’s relevance today”. It’s sad that his name is mainly only in the history books (and even then I am not sure the children of today know who is was) because his work can help us heal so many kinds of relationships today.

I had read Marshall Rosenberg’s book on Nonviolent Communication, which is where I first learnt about this powerful communication method. Seeing Kit role-play this method  during the workshop made it seem easy and inspired me to practise it more. I find that it is most difficult to practise it with those close to us so I’m looking forward to trying more diligently.

Before the workshop

Honouring The Environment

The Institute is based by a river. George shared with me about their “Riverkeepers” project, in which students, members of the community and the staff clean the river periodically. They do this to save the wildlife, promote the idea of stewardship and thirdly, to change perceptions of such tasks from mundane to sacred. Manual work is given to those who have done a misdeed as a punishment. So this project helps people see all forms of labour as precious. (I offered one more interpretation: that clearing the physical clutter is a symbol for us clearing internal clutter from our minds, hearts, souls and bodies.)

Through this project, I understood how the Institute’s environment informs their work and how they positively influence the environment. Often we don’t see this connection to where we are and what is around us that needs care.

Interfaith Chapel

What really stood out for me was where the Institute is situated – at the interfaith chapel where people of different faiths can pray.

Interfaith Chapel

And this, below, was my favourite poster at the Institute’s office.

Gandhi is no longer a distant historical figure to me. In fact when we put people on pedestals, we somehow think we cannot be like these great souls, when in fact, they often want us to emulate their positive messages.

I had asked a few friends and members of my family what questions they may have for the Institute.

My mum sent me an email when I was in Rochester, saying, “If only a quarter of people practised what Gandhi did, the world would be a different place.” Yes, and the question for us to answer is whether we are one of the 25%.

And my friend, Melissa De Silva, sent me an email, “In terms of non-violence for ordinary people, I’ve wondered about non-violent communication – how we can disagree and work through conflict with those closest to us, family etc, without succumbing to ‘violent’ communication like exploding, harsh, rough tones, etc during arguments…”

If you have wondered the same, Kit shares how in my interview with her. You can also access materials by the Center for Nonviolent Communication. And the public libraries in Singapore carry a range of materials on nonviolent communication, including for parents and teachers specifically.  (Use “nonviolent communication” as search words at

Learn about Gandhi’s life



This had always been a big concept to me which I was incapable of acting on. How do we forgive those who have caused extreme hurt, maybe not just to us, but many others who cannot speak for themselves.

It is only in the few years that I have experienced its power in my life. And it took time to learn from different sources and create a method that worked for me. To be honest, I did not even know what I was doing was piecing together a way for me to forgive. I just felt my way forward slowly.

Why Forgive?

But before I share what works for me, why bother to forgive? Forgiveness really helps the forgiver. Research shows that forgiveness has huge health benefits. Forgiveness expert, Dr Fred Luskin’s website mentions that forgiveness training has helped improve productivity, reduce hypertension and improve immune and cardiovascular functioning.

How I forgive – and grow

This is what helps me —

1. First, I allow my feelings to flow, whether they are hurt, anger or fear. I don’t block them. I write. I speak to wise people. (As I have used the following steps more, these feelings have been replaced by more peace.)

2. I have changed my self-talk from: “These are mean-spirited people” to

– “This person has a Story. He was taught to be this way by his family, teachers and others who shaped his mind, heart and soul. That is what he knows.  This is the best he could do at this point in time. Some of my own weaknesses were also developed this way.  As I extend compassionate understanding to myself, I do it towards him.”

– “This person has a Struggle. He has an emotional/psychological wound. He has been hurt and hasn’t healed his hurt. He may not even know this and may even deny he has wounds to be healed. But he is functioning from his wounds, which causes pain to me and others. I also have emotional and psychological wounds which I inflict on others. As I extend compassionate understanding towards myself, I do the same towards him”. (Please see my ex-professor, Donna Hicks’ work on dignity for more information on dignity violations. It has helped me greatly in understanding why people act unkindly.)

– “This person has some unmet needs.”

– “This person is a mirror to me in an important way. I am particularly upset by his actions and traits because I have done or been those things to others, even if it may not look the same. Alternatively, I may have an unhealthy version of the opposite trait. For example, if someone’s irresponsible action is upsetting me, either I have been irresponsible myself or have an over-developed sense of responsibility. This is very difficult for me to accept but when I do, it offers me an opportunity to grow deeply.

– “This person has Strengths, just like I do. He may be over-using some of his strengths. But he is certainly more than his wounds. He has gifts to offer the world, which if given the opportunity, he could do more of.

– “This person is my Teacher. I can learn some precious lessons which could help be become better, not bitter from this experience. I need to discern what these life lessons are. I am grateful to him for these lessons.”

3. Finally, I send them loving and positive thoughts. I wish the person well; I intend that they will heal and be happy and thank them for helping me become a better person. I NEVER thought I would be able to do this for some people but I do try now and it feels liberating.

Don’t wait for an apology

None of this requires contact with the person who has hurt us. This took me a while to digest that  it does not require an apology from them. This work is done in our hearts and souls. It may result in us making or having new dialogues and connections with people who have hurt us. Sometimes they may not be ready to speak of the past. They may not even know that they hurt us or how badly. And we need to accept this. It is not easy – but it does get easier.

I have found that extending this compassionate understanding gets more difficult with people close to me since they have the opportunity to cause more intense hurts. But I am trying and it’s a process.

I found a way that works for me pretty well. There are other ways that may work for you. Dr Fred Luskin has a nine-step process.

Forgive when you are ready

I think forgiveness shouldn’t be forced on anyone. If you ask me to forgive when I am not ready, I might withdraw from you because you don’t seem to understand my pain. But when we are ready to forgive, there are tools available, which is what I’m making available here.

Forgiveness also doesn’t always mean I need to stay in a relationship with someone. That needs to be assessed case by case.

Hardest person to forgive

For me, hardest of all is to forgive myself for mistakes or weaknesses. In the Fetzer Institute’s website, they write something I find very useful:

“In Spiritual Rx Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat recommend a simple practice to help you recognize the big picture of who you are; it can be very helpful when you are down on yourself. “The next time you tell a story about yourself, instead of saying ‘I am’, substitute the phrase, ‘Part of me is.'”

When it is just one part of me, it is more manageable and I look at it like a child who doesn’t know what to do and made a mistake. Then I can teach this child gently to act in a different way next time.

I’ve discovered that the more forgiving I am of myself, the more forgiving I am of others.

Here are some excellent resources on forgiving yourself:

Have a story on forgiveness to share?



The Fetzer Institute’s Campaign for Love and Forgiveness has an excellent website with podcasts, ideas, e-cards and more.

Below are some stories of people who have forgiven under what most of us would consider unforgiveable circumstances. They give me hope for how strong the human spirit can be.

Related – Video: Joan Borysenko on Forgiveness

Forgiveness helps heart health

How forgiving are you? Take a quick survey.