Choice To Forgive

"Forgiveness is a choice. I never see my brother as he is, for that is beyond perception. What I see in him is merely what I wish to see because it stands for what I want to be the truth. It is to this alone that I respond, however much I seem to be impelled by outside happenings." --A Course in Miracles

The heart of the teaching and practice of the Course is the process and experience of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the means by which the experience of separation is undone, the guilt and pain of the past are released, and fear is rendered causeless. It is the bridge to what the Course calls the "real world”—which is this world seen in a light so loving that it perfectly reflects Heaven.

The attainment of the real world is the necessary preparation for the final step of awakening from our dream of separation. The Course teaches that God will take this final step Himself once we are ready.

We ready our minds to remember God,or more precisely, we let ourselves be restored to the awareness of our eternal readiness, by allowing the Holy Spirit in our minds to guide us gently through the healing process of forgiveness.

Forgiveness bridges the gap between the ego self we believe we are and the Self that God created.

As we are willing to offer forgiveness to others—to see past their illusions about themselves, to see past their fear and their defenses, to see past the mask of their ego to the spark of Divine Light that is the truth in them—we receive our own forgiveness as well.

This is a process and journey of healing everyone must undertake in one way or another, because in this world we will suffer the pain of forgetfulness.

Like the prodigal son, we find ourselves in misery, deprivation, fear, and loss because we have forgotten that we are our Father’s sons and daughters. And like the self-righteous son in the parable, our judgments against ourselves and others—judgments that declare God’s children unworthy to re-enter their Father’s house—merely block our own homecoming, our own acceptance of our Father’s gifts to us.

Yet our judgments and the self-righteous arrogance of our egos cannot keep us ultimately from being where God wills us to be. They can merely delay our experience of the richness of our Father’s love.

Forgiveness reveals to us that we are still our Father’s daughters and sons, no matter what the ego has taught us about ourselves. Each time we forgive, we are a step closer to home. And every step we take is upheld and strengthened by the power of God and by the efforts of all who take the journey with us.

“Sooner or later must everyone bridge the gap he imagines exits between his selves. Each one builds this bridge, which carries him across the gap as soon as he is willing to expend some little effort on behalf of bridging it. His little efforts are powerfully supplemented by the strength of Heaven, and by the united will of all who make Heaven what it is, being joined within it. And so the one who would cross over is literally transported there.” --A Course in Miracles

Forgiveness is a Shift in Perspective

"The bridge itself is nothing more than a transition in the perspective of reality."

Forgiveness, as the term is used in the Course, is an inner process, a change in the way we are looking at a situation and, as a result, a change in what we see.

Gerald Jampolsky calls forgiveness "an inner correction that lightens the heart," a healing process by which we return to peace of mind by letting go of thoughts, interpretations, and judgments that are not helpful to us—that lead us deeper into feelings of separation, victimization, fearfulness, defensiveness, anger, guilt, powerlessness, and blame.

One helpful way to understand forgiveness is to think of what are called "figure-ground" drawings. These are line drawings in which two different images can be seen in the same drawing. Probably the best known of these is a drawing that can be seen either as two faces in profile looking at each other or as a wine goblet.

Generally, when we first look at a figure-ground drawing, we will see only one of the two images. Others may tell us the other image is there as well, may even try to point it out to us—but until we actually see it we cannot really grasp what they are talking about. We may believe them—and certainly the second image is already there in the picture—but until we see it for ourselves, it isn't real to us, it doesn't exist for us in our experience.

What is necessary in order to see the second image in a figure-ground drawing is to let go of our definition, our idea of what we are looking at. We need to let go of the mind-set that has interpreted what our eyes are physically seeing in a particular way. Letting go, we essentially return our perception to a state of innocence, of not knowing what we are looking at. In that freshness and openness, we suddenly see the second image, as if it had been revealed to our sight. Once we’ve seen it, it is hard to imagine ever having not been able to see it that way.

Once we can see both images in a figure-ground drawing, we can continue to see either one. But we cannot see both at once. At any given moment we can see one image or the other, because that is the nature of perception. We can shift our perception back and forth between the two, but at any instant we are choosing to see and experience only one. To see one literally denies the other to our sight.

The Course teaches us that we need to look upon this world much like a figure-ground drawing—as neutral, lacking inherent meaning but reflecting back to us the meaning we want to see in it, what we want to experience as real for us. In any situation, in any person, we can see two different pictures—the picture the ego sees or the picture the Holy Spirit sees. We can see either one. We can even see both—but not at the same time. We must choose.

Choosing What We Would See

"Two ways of looking at the world are in your mind, and your perception will reflect the guidance you have chosen."

The two possible "pictures" we can see in any situation are illustrated by the story told in John 9, the story of the healing of the man who was born blind.

"As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. His disciples asked him, 'Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents' sin?'
"Jesus answered, 'His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents' sins. He is blind so that God's power might be seen at work in him...'
"After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man's eyes and told him, 'Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.' So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing." John 9:1-3, 6-7

The picture the ego sees in any situation is a picture of guilt, a picture of sin, a picture of unworthiness and punishment and fear. This is clearly what the disciples were seeing as they looked at the man who had been born blind. Although they seemed to be asking Jesus a sincere question, they were really asking what the Course calls a "pseudo-question."

The disciples were, in fact, making a statement, disguised in the form of a question. They had already decided what was going on in this situation. They were certain that the man's blindness was punishment for sin, a sure sign of guilt. The only question left was: Who is the guilty one—the man himself or his parents? They never called into question their basic premise and assumption—that someone was guilty and being punished.

Jesus’ answer to them was that they were looking at the situation incorrectly. This was not a punishment, he said. It had nothing to do with sin, with anyone being guilty. Rather, it was an opportunity for the presence and power and love of God to be made manifest. Jesus offered them a different perception of the same facts, the same outer situation. They could choose to see it that way instead.

The man who was blind had a choice to make as well. He could perceive his blindness as the disciples did, as punishment and proof of guilt. Or he could share the interpretation, the way of seeing, that Jesus was offering—that this situation or problem in his life was a means to become more aware of God’s living presence and love, and nothing else.

That he did as Jesus instructed him symbolizes his willingness and choice to share Jesus’ understanding and definition instead of that of the disciples. And in that choice—the willingness to accept what the Course calls the Vision of Christ—he accepted the healing given him. His blindness was undone, and he received the gift of true sight.

Perception and Choice

"Perception is a choice and not a fact."

These two mutually exclusive interpretations and ways of seeing are the only choices offered us in any situation—no matter how different the outer form and expression of these pictures may appear to be. Either we will see a symbol of separation—of sin, guilt, punishment, and fear—or we will see an opportunity for healing—a chance to become more aware of God’s presence, power, and love. The first of these, the ego’s perspective, is a picture of judgment and condemnation. The second, the perception of the Holy Spirit, is a picture of forgiveness and release.

As with a figure-ground drawing, we can see either of these pictures, and we may even alternate between the two. But we cannot see both at once. Choosing one hides the other from our sight.

The question really is—Which do we prefer? Which one do we want to see?

“You see what you expect, and you expect what you invite. Your perception is the result of your invitation, coming to you as you sent for it.

Whose manifestations would you see? Of whose presence would you be convinced? For you will believe in what you manifest…” --A Course in Miracles

In fact, neither of the two pictures we can see in a figure-ground drawing is any more “real”’ than the other. The drawing is no more, or less, a wine goblet than it is two faces looking at each other. The only meaningful criterion we have for deciding which picture to focus on is, Which do I prefer to see?

In a similar light, the Course teaches that forgiveness—being part of the illusory world of separation and needed only within that world—is itself an illusion. But the picture it shows us points beyond itself, beyond illusion, reminding us of the truth we have forgotten.

Forgiveness can be understood as the choice to see the picture the Holy Spirit would show us in a given situation—the choice to see our brother and sister and ourselves with the Vision of Christ instead of through the eyes of the ego. This choice, the Course teaches, releases us from the web of illusions rather than binding us deeper to them.

This choice is possible to make in every situation where we are tempted to judge, separate, condemn. It is this we are here to learn.

"This is the lesson God would have you learn: There is a way to look on everything that lets it be to you another step to Him..."

"Let all your brother's errors be to you nothing except a chance for you to see the workings of the Helper given you to see the world He made instead of yours... This world has much to offer to your peace, and many chances to extend your own forgiveness. Such its purpose is, to those who want to see peace and forgiveness descend on them, and offer them the light." --A Course in Miracles

The Choice to Forgive

The idea of choice, of preference in perception, is extremely important to understanding the practice of forgiveness.

Think for a moment about a situation or person you have not forgiven, about which you are carrying a grievance. As you bring this person or situation to mind, pay attention to how you feel. If you are honest with yourself, you are probably feeling some degree of physical or emotional discomfort, even pain.

You may feel tense, angry, anxious, powerless, fearful, upset. Your stomach may be in knots, your blood pressure may rise, your breath may feel constricted, your heart may pound. You may be aware of a holding on, a tightening and gripping of the mind, a hardening and armoring of the heart. These feelings are the price we pay for unforgiveness.

The situation you are thinking about can be thought of—like everything else in the world—as a figure-ground drawing. It can show you evidence of someone's guilt, or it can be looked at as an opportunity to become more aware of God's healing presence, power, and love.

Just as when we first look at a figure-ground drawing we generally see one picture or the other, in any situation in which we are carrying a grievance, we are already focusing on and seeing the picture of guilt—and experiencing the feelings that result from that perception. We need to ask ourselves these two simple questions:

Is the picture I am looking at bringing me happiness, a sense of safety, peace of mind?

Do I like how I feel?

The Course assures us that the picture that forgiveness would show us leads to a very different experience.

"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 can never 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

Just as in a figure-ground drawing, the picture that would give us all of this can already be seen in the situation, exactly as it is. Nothing outside of us has to change for us to have a new perception. But in order to actually see the alternative, we have to be willing to let go of the way we have been looking at the situation, of our own ideas and interpretations, which in fact are causing us pain. The Course asks us simply,

"Do you prefer that you be right or happy?"

One picture brings us pain, the other offers peace. As it was for the disciples and the man born blind, the choice is ours to make. We are asked only to be honest about which choice we have made and whether we like the results it has brought us. If not, we can change our mind and choose again.

"...whenever you have listened to His interpretation the results have brought you joy. Would you prefer the result of your interpretation, considering honestly what they have been? God wills you better."

Each time we choose the perception that forgiveness offers us, we take a step across the bridge that carries us from the world of illusion to the real world and the memory of home.

Recognizing That We Share the Ego

Unforgiveness always seeks to separate and make different. It focuses on and attacks the manifestations and mistakes of another's ego while protesting that we are not like that, we would never do such a thing, and so on. The first step in forgiveness often entails recognizing that we share the same insanity, the same basic ego thought system, as the person we are judging, even if we express it in a very different form.

Unforgiveness looks at the manifestations of the ego's insanity, condemns them, and demands punishment.

Forgiveness recognizes them as expressions of fear, as deeply pained calls for love. It hears the prodigal crying out to be reminded that he is still his Father's son. And it answers with love, with a perception that offers us the gentle certainty that our true identity can never change.

"The power of love is extraordinary, and it begins in the human heart and can travel to infinity. So I practice opening my heart, so that I can see the Divine in others. So that I can see beyond the package—which is all the stuff they're doing that's not to my liking—to the gift inside the package, the essence, the beauty buried under the fear—theirs or mine.

“For however unacceptable the package, there’s always a Holy Miracle inside; inside the surly teenager sitting coldly across from me at dinner is a confused little boy yearning to become someone he’s not, and too afraid to risk being who he is. Inside the angry mother yelling at her crying child in the supermarket is an overwhelmed woman, herself a crying child, bone-tired and bone-lonely.”

“My heart, no stranger to suffering, can easily cross the bridge to another suffering heart, when I get my judgments out of the way.” –Sheila Morgan

Forgiveness begins with a recognition that we share the same ego thought system—and thus the same need for correction, healing, and love—as the one we have been tempted to judge. But it cannot stop here or we will remain prodigals together, still separate from home and from our source.

"...true forgiveness is not the adopting of a morally superior position. Nor does it acknowledge someone else's cruelty and pronounce it acceptable, for to do this would be dishonest. Forgiveness sees that no real grounds for condemnation exist, and for that to happen, new grounds for innocence must be recognized.

Certainly the person's behavior cannot be rationalized away. He did behave the way he behaved. Possibly another motivation can be attributed to his behavior, such as fear instead of selfishness, and although this can be a good first step, it is not sufficient in itself to allows us to see the splendor of God's light within him. Forgiveness is a gentle turning away from what we see with our body's eyes and a searching for the truth that lies beyond the individual's ego." -Gerald Jampolsky

Forgiveness begins with the recognition that we all share the painful insanity of the ego's thought system and thus share the same need for the gentle healing and correction of the Atonement. We have forgotten who we are and in that forgetting believe that we have changed our reality, our original nature as creations of God.

"Could you not look with greater charity on whom God loves with perfect love? Charity is a way of looking at another as if he had already gone far beyond his actual accomplishments in time. Since his own thinking is faulty he cannot see the Atonement for himself, or he would have not need of charity. The charity that is accorded him is both an acknowledgment that he needs help, and a recognition that he will accept it." --A Course in Miracles

Like the prodigal son, we believe that we are no longer worthy to be called our Father's daughters and sons. Forgiveness is the means by which we learn that this painful belief about ourselves is not true. As we forgive, we recognize that we too are forgiven.

As we are willing to see past the mistakes of others' egos—willing to see their hearts of innocence, the light of Christ that shines in them beyond their veils of forgetfulness and fear—we open to the presence of that light in ourselves as well. And we begin to remember our Father, who loves us all with a perfect love.

"Forgiveness is the means by which we will remember. Through forgiveness the thinking of the world is reversed... Holding no one prisoner to guilt, we become free. Acknowledging Christ in all our brothers, we recognize His presence in ourselves. Forgetting all our misperceptions, and with nothing from the past to hold us back, we can remember God." -A Course in Miracles

The world teaches that God's son is guilty, deserving of our condemnation and blame. In the mistakes and manifestations of our brother's ego it sees evidence for its judgment and does not raise its interpretation to question.

"An unforgiving thought is one which makes a judgment that it will not raise to doubt, although it is not true."

Unforgiveness always focuses on the body for its proof of guilt—pointing to something the body did, or failed to do, or, as in the case of the man born blind, to a condition of the body as proof and demonstration of guilt. And it demands some kind of retribution from the body—some punishment or change—as payment for release from guilt.

Forgiveness does not look to the body for proof of innocence, nor is it based on anything the body's eyes show us. Its vision does not stop with the body and its errors, but looks further and deeper to the light of God beyond.


To Forgive Is to Overlook

"To forgive is to overlook. Look, then, beyond error and do not let your perception rest upon it, for your perception rests upon it, for you will believe what your perception holds. Accept as true only what your brother is, if you would know yourself." --A Course in Miracles

It is easy to misunderstand this idea of overlooking error and to see it as encouraging psychological denial.

Forgiveness does not ask us to deny the events and facts of this world, or to pretend that certain behaviors and actions have not occurred.

To overlook means to look beyond, to look further and deeper than the behavior, than the outer layers and expressions of personality and defense that seem to separate us and make us different from one another.

Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was once giving a speech, when suddenly an angry voice in the audience demanded, "Where were you when Stalin was committing his atrocities?"

The room fell into stunned silence. Khrushchev's gaze slowly scanned the audience. He asked, "Who said that? Stand up. Identify yourself."

Fear gripped every heart. No one moved. No one answered. "My friend," said Khrushchev finally, "where you are right now (that is, too frightened to come forward) is just where I was when Stalin was in power."

To forgive is not to condone or approve of actions that are harmful and destructive within this world of form. Nor does the forgiveness process ask that we deny or ignore the level of our human experience. There is a saying,

"If a blind man steps on your toe, it still hurts."

At the ego level, the human level, that is certainly true. We need not pretend that the man didn't step on our toe or that it didn't hurt.

To forgive does not mean we should let the man continue to stand on our toe because he is blind. Nor does it preclude taking action that will make it less likely to happen again.

Forgiveness merely sees that whatever our brother did that was unloving was an expression of blindness. When we are caught up in the insanity of the ego, we are, in a very real sense, blind.

In our blindness we have done things that were insensitive or unloving to others and to ourselves. As the Course points out, "Frightened people can be vicious," and we have all at times acted hurtfully out of our fear.

Forgiveness does not close its eyes to such actions. But its vision does not stop at the outer appearances. Rather it sees past them to the terrible fear that underlies all attack, to the overwhelming guilt that hides behind all anger, to the profound pain and sense of worthlessness that give rise to all cruelty.

It sees that behind all hurtful actions—no matter how extreme the form—stand, not monsters, but children of God lost in forgetfulness and fear—prodigal sons deeply mistaken about themselves and everyone around them, desperately calling out to be reminded of who they really are.

"...deep urges for goodness exist in everyone's heart no matter how overlayed they may be with guilt, defensiveness, dishonesty and inhumanity.

Forgiveness looks past the more superficial motivations of the individual, no matter how extreme these may be, to the place in his heart where he yearns for exactly what we yearn for.

Everyone wants peace and safety. Everyone wants to make a difference. And everyone wants to release his potential for love. It is deep into this desire that forgiveness gazes, and seeing there a reflection of itself, it releases the other from judgment." -Gerald Jampolsky

Just as we all share the insanity of the ego, so we all share the deep desire to go home--to be reunited with the Love that created us, the love that we are.

Forgiveness hears our brother or sister afraid, crying out for love, and recognizes our own cry. And forgiveness answers our fear with love, recognizing that mistakes call for correction and learning, not condemnation and punishment.

"True forgiveness is based on reality ... The truth of our reality is that each of us is innocent and loved completely by God.

It's not that we haven't made countless mistakes and will probably continue to do so for some time ... All mistakes come from the ego and are part of a learning process that everyone must go through.

Forgiveness is a gentle vision that sees the maturity, the goodness of heart, and wholeness of character that will come in time to each person. And it recognizes the inappropriateness of condemnation to this growth process." -Gerald Jampolsky

No matter how different our paths may appear, we are all traveling the same journey of learning, healing, remembering. Forgiveness shows us a glimpse of what awaits us at journey's end, on the other side of the bridge, and gently urges us on.

The Price of Unforgiveness

We pay a heavy price for unforgiveness. We can keep a brother "guilty" only by keeping ourselves in pain, only by continuing to separate ourselves from inner peace and love.

"The unforgiving mind is full of fear, and offers love no room to be itself; no place where it can spread its wings in peace and soar above the turmoil of the world. The unforgiving mind is sad, without the hope of respite and release from pain. It suffers and abides in misery, peering about in darkness, seeing not, yet certain of the danger lurking there.

"The unforgiving mind is torn with doubt, confused about itself and all its sees; afraid and angry, weak and blustering, afraid to go ahead, afraid to stay, afraid to waken or to got sleep, afraid of every sound, yet more afraid of stillness; terrified of darkness, yet more terrified at the approach of light. What can the unforgiving mind perceive but its damnation?

"...The unforgiving mind is in despair, without the prospect of a future which can offer anything but more despair. Yet it regards its judgment of the world as irreversible, and does not see it has condemned itself to this despair." --A Course in Miracles

The unwillingness to forgive imprisons us in a nightmare of torment within our minds. The story is told of two Hindu monks whose order forbade them to have any physical contact with women. As the two were on a journey one day, they came to a river. There an old woman pleaded with them to help her cross. One of the monks took pity on her, lifted her onto his back, carried her across too the opposite bank, and there set her down. Thanking him, she went on her way.

As the monks continued their journey, the second monk began angrily berating his companion for breaking his vows. This went on for hours. Finally the first monk, a deeply compassionate man, turned to the second and said gently,

"My brother, I did carry the woman across the river. But then I set her down. You have been carrying her ever since."

One of the most graphic examples in literature of the effects of unforgiveness is the character of Miss Haversham in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.

Having been jilted on her wedding day, Miss Haversham stopped her life at that moment. The room in which the wedding feast was to have been held was frozen in time. The table remained set for the banquet. The room was never dusted or aired out. The curtains were kept drawn against the sunlight.

Miss Haversham never wore anything but her wedding gown and never ventured outside. She lived but a grotesque parody of life—all to bear grim witness, decade after decade, to the injury that had been done to her.

The value of such an extreme example is that we can look at it and somewhere inside ourselves say, "enough is enough!"

Despite what had happened to her, we recognize that Miss Haversham could have, at some point, decided to let it go and get on with her life. That she didn't was ultimately her own choice, and she was the one who paid the price.

In withholding forgiveness, we choose to continue living in fear, separation, and pain. In being willing to forgive, we free ourselves to return to love and to the peace of God within us.

As we begin to recognize and understand clearly what we are choosing between, we also begin to recognize that there is only one choice that , in our hearts, we truly want to make.

"This ... is the time to make the easiest decision that ever confronted you, and also the only one. You will cross the bridge into reality simply because you will recognize that God is on the other side, and nothing at all is here. It is impossible not to make the natural decision as this is realized."

Forgiveness is Turning Within

Forgiveness is not something we do. It is something we choose and allow through our willingness to turn to the Teacher of forgiveness— the Holy Spirit—within our mind. We ask to share His perception, knowing that what He will show us will restore our minds to peace. For He will show us Christ, in our brother or sister and in ourselves. And we will cross the bridge of healing together and as one.

"As we behold that Christ in any person, in some measure at least he is healed of his humanhood and of all finite limitation, and as he beholds that in us, we, too, are lifted up. Enter into the sanctuary of your own being, and there in silence and secrecy behold the true identity of friend or foe. Lift up the son of God in him to your level, knowing that the christ of him is the Christ of you."

--Joel Goldsmith, Gift of Love


Love Always Answers by Diane Berke The core practices of A Course in Miracles are forgiveness and listening to the Holy Spirit, our inner teacher, the voice for God within us.





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