Perhaps the biggest gift I have received on my spiritual path, and particularly from A Course in Miracles, is an understanding of and a means for practising forgiveness. I have found that, practised as often as the need arises (which is quite often!), forgiveness brings not just an easing of the issue with another person and peace of mind, but a profound step-by-step healing of negative beliefs and conditioning in my own mind. I want to share these ideas, so that others may be able to practice in their own lives.
I have learned that ‘true forgiveness’ is a radical concept, going far beyond what is normally signified by the word. To the world, forgiveness is a noble but slightly soft option. If we are feeling kind and generous we may let someone whom we feel has wronged us ‘off the hook.’ In so doing, we might feel that we have done ourselves a disservice or not been strong enough; we might have been truer to ourselves if we’d stood our ground and maintained a righteous indignation.
I remember one of the first A Course in Miracles groups I attended, when the penny suddenly dropped. ‘Oh, I get it!’ I exclaimed. ‘Forgiveness is for my benefit.’
It is important to remember that in forgiveness we are not condoning behaviour. We are not saying that acts of abuse, corruption, violence, etc. are okay, but we are saying that we don’t want to carry around in our own minds thoughts of condemnation, grievance, anger and hatred that only hurts ourselves.
Holding a grievance is, as Buddhists say, like holding a hot coal in our hands to throw at someone. We get burned. Or it is like drinking poison, hoping the other person will die!
Our issues and grievances with others come about because of what psychologists call projection. Particularly because of early life experiences, as human beings, we take on negative beliefs about ourselves. This conditioning results in pain that we try to get rid of in the following ways: by seeking to get our psychological needs met; through addictions; or by projecting them onto others. On the mind level, we project what we believe about ourselves and don’t like, deny, do not want to look at or disown.
We have a negative emotional reaction to others behaviour because we have seen in them what we secretly believe and don’t like about ourselves. There is the old saying: ‘If you spot it [in another], you got it’! This explains why in any given circumstance some people will get an emotional reaction and others won’t. It’s because the reaction was not caused by the situation, but by the meaning individuals have projected onto it.
A Course in Miracles says that the pain we think was caused to us by another was, in fact, caused by us – by the meaning we have projected onto the behaviour, or the situation.
What forgiveness does is to take back that projection, recognize that regardless of what the other person may have done, in truth, they are pure spirit, innocent and whole, and remain as they were created by Spirit. Once we have taken back that projection, we are free to see their innocence, that they didn’t cause us pain, and that what we think it means about them was made up by us.
The next step is to enable us to see our own innocence, too. Through prayer, meditation or an inner asking for help, we can recognize that we, too, are innocent, remain as we were created and that our negative stories about ourselves are also made up by us and are untrue. Thus, a part of our unhelpful conditioning is healed. All forgiveness is self-forgiveness.
Every time our buttons get pushed, we could see it as an opportunity to have our own minds be healed of another aspect of that conditioning. We could even be the most grateful to those who ‘get our goat’ the most, for they offer us the biggest opportunities to heal.
Step by step, our minds become clearer. We may have to repeat this process many times on a given issue, until it is gone. We may be tempted, when the issue returns, to think that forgiveness hasn’t worked, but we can rest assured that, each time we chip away at it, it is getting smaller.
Forgiveness is a very simple idea, but it is not easy. It is sometimes the last thing I, personally, want to do. There is what Marianne Williamson calls a ‘gravitational field’ in our minds, the ego, intent on pulling us back into grievance. The ego doesn’t want to heal. It believes its job is to maintain the idea that we are victims of circumstance and of other people. But we can forgive it, too.
I find that when I forgive, I immediately feel lighter. Although I can remember what ‘caused’ the problem, I can barely remember what the problem with it was. And I am left feeling love and gratitude for the other person, a deeper connection with them and myself, and the world seems a friendlier place. Try it for yourself and see.
Ian Patrick © 2013 www.miracles.org.uk