A relationship ends and you feel angry, hurt, even betrayed. A friend does not remember an important occasion in your personal or family life, and consequently does not ask you about it and share your joy. A colleague makes a scheduling mistake and, for the second time, stands you up for lunch. How do you maintain your inner peace? How do you cleanse and release the negative feelings that may now be residing, perhaps even growing, inside you? How do you restore the lost trust, harmony, and good will in your relationship with the other person?
We human beings are an imperfect lot. We lead extremely busy lives. We have a lot going on in our minds and thoughts, rendering us off-kilter, distracted, and, often innocently, self-absorbed. At the same time we are very sensitive creations – our feelings can be easily hurt, our egos easily bruised. We can hurt or disappoint others without even knowing it. We can fail to meet their private, unspoken expectations, unintentionally and without malice or rudeness. In anger or fear, we can utter cutting, demeaning words hastily, unfeelingly, regretfully. We are all capable of these small but consequential acts of man’s inhumanity to man.
There is no higher act of love that we can bring to our bodies and health, our relationships and our world than our mutual need for forgiveness. No one, and I mean no one walking this earth, is exempt from the need to forgive and be forgiven. And yet what truly is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not between two people. Nor is it in anyway for the benefit of the person being forgiven. It is a spiritual practice, rising from a humbled, softening, sincere heart, that releases me from the pain and pressure that my unforgiving and unloving thoughts are causing me. The resentments, judgments and grievances that I hold on to are only hurting me – my health, body, moods, sleep and peace of mind and my relationship with others. Forgiveness is about the quality of my life. Holding onto my grievances is exactly the same as my drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Holding on to rage and bitterness about them is like carrying a hot coal in my palm. Whether I only think about doing it or actually throw it, it won’t land anywhere else with the damage it is already causing me.
Two of the lessons from the three hundred and sixty-five that comprise the Workbook for A Course In Miracles are: “I am affected only by my thoughts” and ” I can be hurt by nothing by my thoughts“. Wholeheartedly practicing and applying these lessons shows us that, though it may look as if the world “is coming at me”, in truth, it “is coming from me.” In its entirety, I create my experience of the world. It is my thoughts and my thoughts alone that entrap and frighten me. It is my thoughts and my thoughts alone that can set me free and give me peace.
If these spiritual principles are true, I don’t even have to tell the other person I have forgiven them for it to work. At the core, what I am really doing is forgiving myself for the resentments and attack thoughts that I am generating, that are eating me up inside. Forgiveness is letting go of what’s hurting me. In essence then, all forgiveness is forgiveness of oneself.
Forgiveness also has nothing to do with behavior. It has nothing to do with being nice. Or being the better of the two people involved and pardoning the spiritually inferior or less evolved other person. That is just more ego nonsense. A Course In Miracles calls that “forgiveness-to-destroy”. Instead it is realizing, at a very deep level, that “I am the other person ” – that I too can be manipulative or competitive or jealous or petty or insensitive or inconsiderate or self-centered, or whatever I am supposedly seeing and reacting to in the other person’s behavior. I, too, can and have hurt other people. I, too, will hurt other people again. I, too, can feel, say and do things that are mean and short-sighted when I am overcome by fear or anger, when I am riddled with pain or anguish. To emphasize this once more, who amongst us, if we are being totally honest with ourselves, cannot acknowledge the “secret sins and hidden hates”(ACIM) that we try so hard to pretend are not really there deep within us? What is love for humanity but our mutual and urgent need to forgive and be forgiven?
One more thing. You do not have to hang out with the person you have forgiven, if that is something that you do not choose to do. You may still leave your marriage. You might elect to communicate your feelings of hurt or disappointment to that friend who forgot your important event, but you might also decide to no longer confide in that friend or trust them with tender and personal matters-of-the-heart. You might elect to go to lunch with a different colleague. It is not about the behavior – what you do or don’t do. It is about the complete relinquishment of being anyone’s victim, of having been “done to”. It is about the total release of antagonism and ill-will. It is about the shedding of any moral or spiritual superiority over the other person that you may have granted yourself. It is about seeing and, if you are truly willing, experiencing your shared oneness and your shared humanity with them. It is about touching that place inside of you that realizes that it is not even “you” who forgives. You can only go as far as handing your grievances over. Then, in silence, trust and willingness, you might discover that “God is the love in which I forgive”. (ACIM, Workbook Lesson 46)