Many of us think of forgiveness this way: We’ve been unfairly treated, but we’re willing to graciously overlook the offense. We very likely still feel the pain, however, we won’t hold any grudge against the offender.
You did this to me, and it hurt. But I’m inclined to let you off the hook.
What we don’t say – but we certainly think – is this: I won’t forget what you did to me. But I am willing to try and let it go. I expect you will appreciate my generosity and courage, and I particularly hope my taking the higher road benefits me in some way.
Of course, that’s not true forgiveness. Maybe more like forgetfulness. Or, as A Course in Miracles more directly states, it is “forgiveness to destroy.”
The belief that we’ve been unfairly treated is the problem we need to look at.
When I was a teenager, there was a girl I really liked. Her name was Monique. In fact, we had recently started “going out” (a term that, in those days, meant dating).
Outside of studies, I couldn’t get Monique out of my mind. And then one day, she left me for another boy named Bob. I was devastated and cried quite a bit. And then I was angry.
How could she do this to me? What did I do to deserve this? What does this guy have that I don’t? And all those sorts of thoughts.
I eventually composed myself and thought, “I can let this go. Even though it’s painful, I can forgive the two of them.”
Shortly after the breakup, I attended a party with some friends. In walked Monique and Bob, hand-in-hand. I was shattered and had to leave the party.
So much for my forgiveness.
That’s Not Forgiveness
Forgiveness isn’t at all what we think it is.
Deep down I didn’t really forgive Monique. I wanted her to feel guilty for what she did to me. I wanted her new relationship to fall apart. I wanted her to come back to me, apologizing for the hurt she caused.
Or, at the very least, I wanted a ton of sympathy from my “true” friends assuring me that she was “in the wrong” and that I was the innocent victim.
And therein lies the perfect recipe for ego specialness: holding someone else responsible for our feelings.
Or, said another way, by believing that my unhappiness was caused by Monique’s unfaithfulness, I was completely absolving myself.
Feeling Unfairly Treated
There’s a very powerful, and often misunderstood, section in A Course in Miracles called The End of Injustice. In this chapter are these very challenging lines:
Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated. In this view, you seek to find an innocence that is not Theirs but yours alone, and at the cost of someone else’s guilt.
Not only are those lines so painful to read, but we actively resist them.
What do you mean, “temptation to perceive myself unfairly treated?” I’ve clearly been unfairly treated. I’ve suffered immensely. You can see my battle scars. And I have all these people who agree with me.
As if that weren’t provocative enough, a few lines earlier in the Course is this line:
You cannot be unfairly treated.
But at the heart of the Course – and especially these lines – lies not an insensitive dismissal of our misery but rather the compassionate release from all pain.
The Meaning We Give Things
What happens to us, and the meaning we give each thing that happens to us are not the same.
You do something hateful or vicious to me. My body may indeed be affected. But my response to what you did is completely up to me. My choice.
And my response is not just words or actions, but also my emotions.
In other words, my feelings aren’t caused by what you did. My feelings are chosen by me as part of my response to what happened.
And my response is completely dependent on the meaning I give the situation.
Thus, if I’m not at peace, it isn’t because you did this to me but rather it’s the result of me giving the situation a meaning of victimhood.
Turning this around, the way we get to a place of peace is, somewhat ironically, by realizing we’re not at peace.
You can’t be both the experiencer of distress and the observer of it at the same time. It’s one or the other. And when we become the observer, we temporarily step out of what’s known as the ego mind and reconnect with our higher self or right mind.
In the right mind we are like audience members in a movie theater observing the action on the screen instead of identifying with one of the characters. From there we can much more clearly give everything all the meaning it has for us – of which there are only two possibilities: either an extension of love, or a crying out for love.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we simply passively accept whatever happens to us – like meek lambs. When we return our mind to that quiet calm within, we may indeed respond with strong words and aggressive actions. But that response will be coming from a place of peace. From a place of non-judgment. From a place of love.
The Source of Victimhood
Why is it that we cling to our victimization – resolutely seeing ourselves as “unfairly treated”?
Above we talked about the perfect recipe for ego specialness. Well, the one ingredient that seasons that recipe to perfection is guilt.
Deep down every one of us feels a sense of guilt. A sense of unworthiness. A sense of lack.
There’s a horrifically graphic image in the Course that describes this condition:
You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think if anyone could see the truth about you he would be repelled, recoiling from you as if from a poisonous snake.
Every single person believes this, although for many it is unconsciously buried.
Whether we’re conscious of it or not, there is only one thing we can do with guilt that helps us feel better. And that is to get rid of it.
The easiest, and seemingly most effective, way to get rid of guilt is to project it onto others. And the fastest path to lump guilt onto someone else is to make them a victimizer over us.
The more I can make other people (or situations) the source of my misery, the less I see the ugly guilt in me.
The Insidiousness of Guilt
Unfortunately, there’s a nasty side effect of projecting guilt. It’s so insidious yet subtle that we hardly ever recognize it. When we project guilt onto others, we reinforce it in ourselves.
So, while we magically thought we were getting rid of it, we weren’t. We were strengthening it. Which means we need to keep projecting more and more guilt to get rid of the growing backlog.
Like Sisyphus, we keep pushing the immense boulder of guilt up the hill only to have it roll back down requiring us to do it again. And again.
Until, that is, we finally realize that there is another way to get rid of guilt which actually works – and with no negative consequences.
In truth, we aren’t the “home of evil, darkness and sin”. It’s only the ego mind that convinces us this is true.
When we first recognize we’ve chosen the ego – and we know this whenever our emotions tell us we aren’t happy – then we pause to consider this. I feel miserable. I’m not at peace.
From here, we remember the dynamics of guilt projection. I think I’m unhappy because of something that happened. Someone or something did this to me, and it’s not my fault.
Then we consider the meaning of the situation. But I recognize that while someone may indeed have done something unkind, I get to choose how I see this.
And we shift into our right mind from which our perspective is crystal clear. I can see only love. In this particular situation, a crying out for love.
What flows through us now are whatever actions and words are most helpful and loving for the situation. In fact, we don’t even need to think about what to do because it automatically comes through us – we’re simply the conduit.
In that moment, we’ve ended the cycle of guilt projection and experienced true forgiveness. We’ve made the choice to no longer feel miserable.
As the wise sage Ken Wapnick so clearly stated, “Forgiveness is the undoing of the projection of guilt.”
Let us all practice such undoing and experience the deep peace and tremendous release that comes from making the choice for true forgiveness.
Join me in our upcoming live, online video class where we’ll explore the nature of forgiveness and how we can master the habits of living the life we want. I look forward to seeing you then.