“What could you want forgiveness cannot give? Do you want peace? Forgiveness offers it. Do you want happiness, a quiet mind, a certainty of purpose, and a sense of worth and beauty that transcends the world? Do you want care and safety, and the warmth of sure protection always? Do you want a quietness that cannot be disturbed, a gentleness that never can be hurt, a deep, abiding comfort, and a rest so perfect it can never be upset? All this forgiveness offers you, and more.”
-A Course in Miracles, Lesson 122, “Forgiveness offers everything I want.”

What is forgiveness?

A Course in Miracles offers us a practical, radical process for undoing our belief in a world of attack and defense that seems to prevent us from finding permanent peace of mind. Its forgiveness practice has nothing to do with the world’s definition of forgiveness: “to excuse for a fault or offense.” The world’s forgiveness requires us to take the high road, pardoning the horrible thing you did to cause my suffering. A Course in Miracles, on the other hand, leads us to an understanding that although others may cause our physical or psychological bodies to suffer, no one can jeopardize our inner peace because, in truth, there is only one mind that has never left its loving source.

All this sounds very elevated and confusing unless you understand, allow, and continually review the myth at the foundation of the Course’s thought system that explains the repressed guilt that drives our every move. In the beginning there was only one. We existed eternally within the peace and wholeness of our creator. There was no division between creator and created, only infinite love. At some point the idea of separation arose in the mind of the created, what the Course calls “the tiny mad idea.”  Instead of smiling at the absurdity of such a notion, we took it seriously. When we believed we had actually severed our connection with wholeness (thereby destroying our source) our one, terrified mind appeared to split. We now had a wrong mind (ego) that believed we were guilty of celestial homicide, a right mind (Holy Spirit) that retained the memory of our one, invulnerable nature, and a decision maker, the part of our mind that first chose and continues to choose between the two.

Intoxicated by the prospect of individuality while simultaneously terrified of punishment, the ego then pitched its plan to the decision maker. It would create a world into which we could flee and retain our seemingly separate identities while hiding from our source and denying responsibility for our guilt by blaming it on each other (in an ultimately futile effort) to prove we exist but it’s not our fault. At this point, the decision maker followed the ego into an entire projected universe of guilt and figuratively fell asleep, no longer able to remember it even had a mind outside the dream that could choose again for truth.

The Course calls the process by which we learn to choose again for the inner teacher of oneness and allow the undoing of our blocks to all-inclusive love’s awareness forgiveness. It teaches us that everything we think we are experiencing outside ourselves, everything that seems to happen to us, is really an illusory projection of the denied guilt in our mind. Our experience is an outer picture of an inner condition of continually resurfacing guilt that we project (“thrust outward”) in order to prove our innocence at another’s expense. But the guilt inevitably resurfaces within, leaving us pedaling an endless, exhausting cycle of attack and defense.

Our negative feelings are the red flags the Course teaches us to identify as evidence that we have chosen the ego as our teacher rather than our right mind. It trains us to take back responsibility for all we experience by catching ourselves in the act of projecting and choosing again to interpret what we’re feeling with the part of our mind that knows the crazy thought of separation had (and continues to have) no real effects on our indivisible unity. Here’s how it works.

THREE STEPS OF FORGIVENESS (applied whenever we’re tempted to blame or credit anyone or thing external with compromising or enhancing our peace of mind).

  1. YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. I AM NOT UPSET BECAUSE OF _______________. The problem is not “out there.” It is a reflection of my belief in the problem of separation in my mind. Yes, I’m upset (must first recognize and feel what you’re feeling) but not for the reason I think.
  2. MY (FORGOTTEN) CHOICE FOR THE EGO IS THE PROBLEM. My mind is split over the belief that I have separated from my creator. I have two inner teachers in my mind; the teacher of love (Holy Spirit/right mind) and the teacher of fear (ego/wrong mind). If I’m upset, I must have unconsciously chosen the teacher of fear, the part of my mind that took the belief I could separate from eternal, all-inclusive love seriously and then forgot about it. But I can choose again for the teacher of love that remembered to smile at that “tiny mad idea” and experience peace.
  3. PLEASE HELP ME SEE THIS DIFFERENTLY. The final step is taken by what the Course calls the Holy Spirit (or right mind), a lofty name for the memory of the one love we are and have never left that remains in our one mind. As we ask to see things differently we receive/remember the Holy Spirit’s certainty that we remain one despite what seems to be happening to us in this dream of exile from our source. In the “holy instant of release” forgiveness brings—an experience beyond the individual selves we think we are and the imaginary realm of time and space–we no longer see ourselves or anyone else as victims or victimizers and all fantasized boundaries dissolve.

By applying this practice in our everyday lives we begin to observe how much time we spend and waste blaming others, competing with others, defending our uniqueness, and pushing the love we are away to protect and reinforce the seemingly separate identities that have actually cost us everything. The more we recognize the pain our compulsive defending and attacking costs us, the more motivated we become to admit our mistake without judgment and allow the gentle correction and relief choosing again for the teacher of love offers.

As we begin to spend more and more time watching the ego’s antics with the observer in our mind—rather than identifying with the ego—we begin to see the pain siding with the ego brings, motivating us more and more to side with our right mind. Our life takes on new meaning and purpose (in truth, the only meaning and purpose it can possibly have). We experience longer periods of peace and shorter periods of distress. And we develop true compassion, recognizing that everyone here is suffering from the illusion that they have forever squandered real love and will never be accepted back into the loving fold. Eventually—practicing forgiveness day in and day out in the classroom of our lives and changing our mind about what appears to be happening in our relationships–our belief in guilt dissolves and we joyfully reunite with the one, all-inclusive love we never really left.

When our minds are healed through forgiveness, moment by moment, the world we see may or may not change; but it will no longer have any power to jeopardize our peace of mind. In this way, as workbook lesson 121 tells us, “Forgiveness is the key to happiness.”

More thoughts on forgiveness:

At its core, forgiveness means making a habit of watching the ego’s impulse to blame an external source for an internal condition with the part of our mind that knows our defection from perfect oneness never occurred and sees only the truth of our universal innocence.  Through practice with everything and one we hold responsible for our pain or pleasure, we learn to smile gently with our inner teacher at the silly nothingness of it all.

“Forgiveness…is still and quietly does nothing…It merely looks, and waits, and judges not. He who would not forgive must judge, for he must justify his failure to forgive. But he who would forgive himself must learn to welcome truth exactly as it is. Do nothing, then, and let forgiveness show you what to do…”

A Course in Miracles, Workbook, What Is Forgiveness?

NOTE: I am heavily indebted to the work of Ken Wapnick for helping me understand and apply the transformative process of forgiveness A Course in Miracles teaches.

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