|The process of forgiveness
This is a huge challenge for most people. I frequently hear people in my everyday life and on the media saying how something is 'unforgiveable' or that they 'just can't forgive' someone or a situation. And so much of what we see in dramas and soap operas on TV involves people who are judging and unable to forgive so that we have 'role models' who reinforce this view.
Judgment and forgiveness go hand in hand. Lack of forgiveness comes from judgement. Forgiveness lets go of judgement.
We are not saying that we disagree with someone's words or actions but we are instead overlooking these because we know that as immortal spirits and part of the oneness we are excusing them. And by this example they may well start to think in a different way themselves.
We judge someone or a situation on what we think we know but usually we only have partial information and so we are judging someone or something on that basis - and frequently we know that, either intuitionally or unconsciously, and yet we still seem to be unable to hold back and get more information on which to base our judgements.
If you watch the film, The Nephew, on YouTube in which Pierce Brosnan appears, you will see a good example of a lack of forgiveness. It is set in Ireland and is a little bleak but it demonstrates the point as well as being an interesting story.
I was told fairly recently of a family who moved to a new area of the country and the father was criticised behind his back by his neighbours for getting drunk and unruly on a regular basis. He had a reputation in the area for what was considered 'unforgiveable' behaviour. However, it was later discovered that, in fact, his young son had had an incurable disease and passed back into Spirit. The reason they had moved to another area of the country was so that the family would not be reminded so poignantly of the short time he had been in their lives. But it affected his father particularly badly, which was why he became drunk and violent - he just couldn't cope with his loss. He needed friends and help rather than judgement.
There are so many back stories to situations that we come across that we are completely unaware of but we simply take everything at face value. Whilst this is a good idea in many cases, there are many others where it gives us a skewed view and we are so quick to judge on partial information.
And it is not just in these sorts of situations, it is when we are interacting with anyone. We cannot know what is inside anyone's head; we all have masses of memories, some of which we would love to have erased from our minds so that we could have a fresh start. And most of these memories are about situations and people we have interacted with where we have not been at our best and wish that we could re-run them so that we could respond in a better way.
And this is the core of lack of forgiveness - we haven't forgiven ourselves. The reason why we find it difficult, and often impossible, to forgive others is that we cannot forgive ourselves. And quite often, if we talk to someone in whom we can confide about what we cannot forgive ourselves for, it becomes obvious that they don't understand why we are taking them so seriously. To others, what we are agonizing about is often quite trivial. As with all situations, the more you think about them, especially over months or years, the bigger they become making them more and more difficult to forgive.
We then project our feelings about ourselves on to those around us at the slightest provocation, especially when the situations are more serious or the people involved also feel upset and hurt. It is so much easier to accuse someone else of something, regardless of whether or not we have the full picture, than to examine our own behaviour.
We do projection very well. Those who are not good at a sport or perhaps don't play at all are very quick to judge and criticise others' skills in that arena. Parents frequently judge teachers for not helping their children enough when they themselves have had no training whatsoever in teaching and have never stood in front of class after class of children who are really not interested in being in school at all regardless of how they try to engage them. Patients with no medical knowledge at all judge doctors' and nurses' skills and find them wanting, despite the fact that thousands of lives are improved or saved every day of the year by the NHS. Actors, musicians, dancers, artists, writers and other creative artists put their work in the public spotlight on a daily basis and critics then judge that work, often quite harshly. The critics frequently only have the gift of being able to write their reviews coherently but have no experience of applying themselves in the genres they review. The list goes on, and it is part of our social interactions to judge, and then complain about, these and many other issues in our society.
This projection mindset happens in families, in social settings, in workplaces and other places where people get together. Many who criticize are not in professions where they are going to be publicly judged; they do jobs that, whilst they are essential to the smooth-running of our society, have a less obvious profile in general and wouldn't constitute 'news' in our society. So it is a safe way of projecting our own lack of self-forgiveness on to others so that we don't have to deal with it.
It becomes obvious from this that all forgiveness is, in fact, self-forgiveness. When we forgive others, we are forgiving our own projections on to them.
Facing up to our past
There is probably something - or perhaps more than one thing - that comes back to 'haunt' you in your darker moments, or perhaps it is there in the back of your mind for most of the time. It could be any of the above scenarios I've described or something completely different, because this world is diverse and complicated making it a cauldron of boiling emotions and challenging situations.
Everything for which we cannot forgive ourselves is in the past. If it were in the present, we would have a greater chance of preventing ourselves from creating the situation in the first place. But the past is over - it is dead and gone, and cannot be changed. It does not exist. The only thing that keeps the past alive is our re-living of it which, when you think about it objectively, is simply a waste of time because nothing will change as a result of our thinking.
If others were involved in the situation and take pleasure in reminding us, this does make it more challenging to handle but there is a way to resolve even that.
A workable formula for forgiveness
As I said at the start, forgiveness is not easy so there needs to be some structure for achieving it to minimize the difficulty. A Course in Miracles gives us a template for forgiveness because it is the most important aspect of its teachings, and I have found it immensely helpful, and I recognize the importance to my development and that of all other spirits in letting it go of situations and forgiving them and myself for my part in them.
We live in an ego-based world - we play roles in which our persona and looks are of the utmost importance and so we don't react to the world in the way our true Self would respond. This gives a false view of ourselves to others and, we have been projecting this false self for so long that we now believe our own 'publicity'. What we project is what we believe we are when nothing could be further from the truth.
Whilst we don't believe that this and our lack of forgiveness has any effect on us, it definitely does at an emotional and mental level because it is all in our minds as everything is. Living life bearing grudges and treating people in a way that is so unworthy of us as the magnificent immortal spirits we are takes its toll. More and more people are suffering from mental health issues today and many others are moving towards the anti-social end of the scale of interactions with others, probably in an effort to protect themselves from the suffering.
So, the first step to forgiveness is to identify the cause of the feelings of unease and upset that you, like so many other people, are experiencing. The Course tells us that we are never upset for the reason we think because one of the overall causes of upset is the fact that we are rules by ego, which is the greatest power in our world today. It permeates everything.
Unforgiveness allows a person or situation to have power over how we feel, which in turn, gives us a feeling of powerlessness. We have forgotten what we really are and believe in the propaganda that this ego-world peddles. If you sit quietly with your Higher Self (or Great Spirit/God/Allah or whatever you feel comfortable with) and allow the ego to become quiet by seeing yourself as the immortal spirit you are, you are opening yourself up to that Self. In that safe, protected space you can then think objectively about what it is that is unsettling you or giving you emotional pain. You can think in a more detached way about what you are preventing yourself from forgiving.
When you have found the particular issue that is challenging you, hold it in your mind still keeping it detached from your physical presence and ask yourself: 'Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?' This is the crucial question. Are you prepared to let ego lead you by the nose and cause you such pain or do you want to be more like the loving, generous, forgiving spirit you really are? Do you want to live with the pain or do you want to let it go and be happy in your life?
If you decide you want to let it go, which is simply to change your mind about the issue (yes, it really is that simple although not easy), then, in your mind, tell The Holy Spirit that you forgive yourself and pass it over to be undone.
In so doing, you let go of your judgement of the situation or person and yourself and hand it to that Higher Power knowing that you have started the process of bringing yourself back to your True Self so that you can see the world for what it really is. This is called the Holy Instant where you choose the Holy Spirit's interpretation instead of the ego's.
As The Course tells us: Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God.
Once you have done this, Spirit will take care of it for you. But you may have to do it more than once when you first start working your way through the issues that make you feel uncomfortable, uneasy or disturbed.
The freedom of forgiveness
And from here on, if you take this practice seriously, you start to take notice of those situations and people in your everyday life that you are judging - and then not forgiving.
You eventually reach the point where you are so aware of the times when you judge and need to forgive and when you realize that others are judging you in some way and you need to forgive them that you forgive on the spot rather than waiting until you set aside a special time for this practice. And it is important to remember that this kind of forgiveness is not just a way of salving your conscience in a worldly sense, it goes much deeper.
The freedom that you feel by passing the burden of judgement to a Higher Power is indescribable because judgement is exhausting and forgiveness is liberating. Not having to judge anything becomes a pure relief so that you can just get on with enjoying your life rather than suffering through it.
Part of the Buddhist philosophy is that if you refuse to accept a gift it stays with the person offering it. So if you are offered judgement or insult by someone that you know is not valid, you can refuse to accept it so that it stays with that person. But be sure you are genuinely not the person they think you are!
I have come to understand that life is basically a drama in which we all play parts and, before we came here, we agreed that others should appear in our drama playing certain roles in order to help us in our learning. But if we don't learn from one person playing that particular role, another will come along later to play perhaps a different role that will result in the same lesson being learned. Forgiveness is the major lesson we have to learn when we come here because this is where our own and others' development can take major steps forward. Through forgiveness, we impact the oneness, helping all other spirits who are here with us to learn. It is the most likely reason that we bring our awareness here so very many times because forgiveness is the most difficult lesson to learn.
If we treat ourselves and everyone we meet as if they are the perfect spirits that Great Spirit created, it makes it easier to offer our love, respect and forgiveness to everyone, and therefore progress in our spiritual development.
If you would like to learn more about A Course in Miracles, it might be helpful for you to first read The Disappearance of the Universe by Gary Renard because it is a very good introduction to The Course written in a way that is easily accessible in today's world. As the Ascended Masters who visited him have said, 'Heaven is not a reward that is bestowed on you by an outside force for good behaviour or clever metaphysical musings.' It is our home, where we belong, and where Great Spirit wishes us to stay in bliss without returning again and again to this dimension. Forgiveness is a major part of the route home.
The forgiveness strategy above is not the complete exercise given in The Course but it is a good starting point. Knowing how complicated this world is, it is clearly not possible to cover all the issues raised and answered in The Course but it is certainly worth exploring if you are serious about your spiritual development and the final enlightenment.