Q #258: I have been trying to forgive a major person in my life for some time now, both prior to starting A Course in Miracles and, with more focus, since beginning it. As a result, there have been times when I seem to have let go of much of my grievance, but then something triggers the hurt, and it all comes raging back again. Sometimes it feels like I’m just lopping off the top of this poisonous weed of grievance, rather than pulling it out by the roots. What advice would you have in such a situation? Should I see forgiveness as a process, or is it an either/or, once and for all decision? And if the latter, how do I finally make it?
A: Your metaphor for how you are pulling weeds is an apt one. You’re not yet getting to the root of the problem so long as you keep your focus on the other person, for that is playing into what Jesus refers to in the Song of Prayer pamphlet as “forgiveness-to-destroy” (S.2.II). The ego’s version of forgiveness is to make sin real in someone else and then attempt to “forgive” it. As you’re finding, this just does not work. But that of course is always the ego’s goal — “Seek, but do not find” (T.16.V.6:5).
The Course, in contrast, is attempting to lead you towards an experience of true forgiveness in which you recognize that “what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred” (W.pII.1:1). In the metaphysical sense, this is true at the level of the actual behavior you are holding against this other person, since we are the dreamer of our dream and we assign the roles to the figures in our dream. But the more practical level to understand Jesus’ meaning is to recognize that it is your interpretation of what this other person has done that is the cause of your anger and your grievance, and not what the person actually has done (M.17.4). You are blaming this person at some level for robbing you of your peace, love, joy, security, etc. But no one can deprive us of any of these experiences unless we have first chosen to give them away (T4.IV.3:3). So the good news is that we don’t have to change what the other person has done, which, of course, we can’t do anyway. We only need help with changing our interpretation of what has happened. How do we do that?
What most of us are not in touch with is that we carry within our minds a huge burden of unacknowledged guilt that unconsciously controls our interpretations of all our interactions by dictating that we seek and find guilt in everyone but ourselves (T.19.IV.B.i.12). The source of our guilt is the mistaken belief, which we cling to, that we have established a separate individual existence apart from God, at His expense. And the cost to Him has been His total annihilation. Guilt at such a horrendous offense is unimaginable, and so our defense is to project it outside of our minds. Our anger at someone else then is always our attempt to justify seeing the guilt of separation outside of us, thus obscuring the projection we are making (T.6.in.1:2).
All of us are trying to do exactly the same thing. We are all walking around with intense guilt, covered over with a seething rage that is our attempt to deny the guilt within and see it outside. We may try to put a nice, socially appropriate face of innocence on all of this (T.31.V.2), but the anger, and the guilt fueling it, are always bubbling just below the surface. And there they will remain, affecting all our interactions, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly, until we are willing to do the challenging and difficult work of looking within, past the anger to the guilt buried beneath it. So forgiveness then really has nothing to do with the other person, which explains in part our resistance to practicing it. For, rather than justifying our anger, if we really want to heal, Jesus is asking us to recognize that our grievances are nothing more than a cover for our guilt. Anger then becomes a signal that there is a dark place within our mind. And Jesus helps us see that our guilt, like our anger, is not what it appears to be. It only seems real and heavy and serious while it remains shrouded in darkness. Its unreality becomes apparent when we allow the light of true forgiveness to shine upon it. This is the release we seek and yet, while we remain identified still with our ego, it is also a cause for fear.
We resist looking within, preferring to hold on to our anger and to continue to project our guilt, because these are the layers of defense that we unconsciously see as protecting our individual self (T.21.IV.1,2,3). And so beneath the anger and the guilt is fear — fear that if we forgive we will disappear, that God will seize back the life we stole from Him. For all these reasons, forgiveness will be a process for us, as you suggest, and not simply a once-and-for-all decision — until the very end of the process, when we are ready to let go completely of our ego identity.
The more we are willing to uncover our own guilt and allow it to be healed, the more we will come to recognize that those against whom we have been holding our grievances are only in need of the same release that we have been seeking. And their guilt is no more real than our own. With that recognition, we can experience real forgiveness, for the interpretation of what has happened between us is now the Holy Spirit’s and no longer our own.
For further discussions of the process of forgiveness, you may wish to look at Questions #44 and #69.