When asked to describe A Course in Miracles in one word, most students would probably choose ‘forgiveness’. Indeed, the Course is replete with poetic descriptions of how the practice of forgiveness is the way out of all misery. Take for example lesson 122, called “Forgiveness offers everything I want”: “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” (W-pI.122.1:2-2:1).
All these treasures, however, are unfortunately unattainable as long as one does not realize just what Jesus truly means when he talks about forgiveness. To really grasp Jesus’ notion of forgiveness, some basic understanding of the Course’s metaphysics is necessary. A Course in Miracles is a strictly nondualistic spirituality, which means it holds that God is the only reality; totally perfect, totally abstract, and completely outside time and space. God has but one Son (T-2.VII.6), Who is the extension of God’s Love. In the quantum possibility that God’s Son considered what it would be like to be separate from God was the ego-thought born. Desiring to be autonomous, the now split mind of the Son of God believed the ego’s conclusion that he had sinned against his Father, that this stain could never be removed, and that he was forced to flee and hide from the Creator by fragmenting into the billions of pieces we now call the physical universe.
In time, this seemed to happen long ago; in reality, it never really happened at all (M-2.2:7). “Not one note in Heaven’s song was missed” (T-26.V.5:4); God (Love) is completely unaware of this quantum tale, and we, as the now-sleeping Son of God, are in reality still safe at Home in His Love. However, seemingly fast asleep in the “waking dream” in time and space we call our lives, we all still stubbornly cling to the belief that this separation did indeed happen, for we still cherish our individual personalities so much. In reality though, there is still only one Son of God. And although there certainly seem to be billions of egos, in content all these egos are in fact of the one same ego. It’s only because we continually project out our own ego onto others that the illusion of many still stands.
So from the perspective of A Course in Miracles, forgiveness is not really about forgiving the bad behavior of others, as (1) behavior is only an effect, not a cause, and (2) in reality there is no-one else out there. Rather, forgiveness is only about forgiving myself, as the sleeping Son, for the projections of my own ego I had thrust upon everyone and everything around me, with the secret purpose to see evil everywhere save within myself. Since the seeming multiplicity in the dream we call our lives is an illusion, I am always upset at something that only seems to be outside of me, but which is really merely a projection of some dark spot that I refuse to see in my own conflicted mind. Still, though I may refuse to see it, unconsciously I realize this is my judgment upon myself, which no doubt is the way God judges me now, which is why everyone walks this planet “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1), however much we try to hide that.
I know this metaphysical talk might be a bit hard to follow. Therefore, let’s look at two common examples you and I encounter in our everyday lives. Firstly, let’s say that the neighbors are loudly partying in their back yard — again! — until about five o’clock at night, and this is keeping me from getting a good night’s sleep. Politely discussing this issue with them afterwards doesn’t seem to improve things. My frustration mounts as I accuse them of (a) wasting their lives, and (b) hindering me in my night rest and also probably my alertness in practicing my workbook lesson the next day. Should I then remember Jesus’ call to forgive, and all I subsequently do is secretly say to them (in my mind): “Okay, I hate you for your despicable juvenile behavior, but I’m going to forgive you anyway, for Jesus tells me this is the way out of pain”, I’m really getting nowhere. This is not at all what Jesus means by forgiveness.
Instead, Jesus would have me realize that their ‘despicable’ behavior is but form, which masks the underlying content of their fear. These neighbors are choosing to party all night long only as an unconscious distraction against a deep-rooted fear! What is the fear? Unconsciously, they fear that they are indeed miserable sinners, that their guilt is real and punishment by God totally justified. Also, following the blocks to Love that peace must flow across (T-19.IV.A-D), unconsciously they are deathly afraid of the Love of God which would mean the end of their individuality, personality and autonomy! Hey, but wait a minute, we just said there is no-one else out there! Ouch – I am really talking about my own fears here! Since I do not want to face these fears, I seek to see it in “others”. I choose to feel upset by these “others” so I don’t have to look within and conclude that there is no sin (T-21.IV.3:1). If I would look, I’d immediately sense the end of my own little separated self, and God knows I’m not yet willing to give that up (Well, God thinks otherwise actually (T-23.I.2). Once I can realize that my frustration (Jesus uses the imagery of a sword) is aimed solely at myself, I can forgive myself for my silly projections, and ask the Holy Spirit how I could see “peace instead of this” (W-pI.34). Seeing myself in another light, I can now see my neighbors in another light, and silently express to them the love that we all seek, knowing we are one.
A second common example is with the people whom we consider ‘authority figures’, which would include for example your parents and your boss. Whenever you notice you’re getting upset with them because of how awfully they treat you or accuse you of everything you do poorly, it’s no use saying to yourself: “I really hate you for your unjustified accusations, but I’m going to practice forgiveness anyway, because the Course tells me that my forgiveness of my brother is the way out of hell. I’m going to be spiritually superior here and discard all the ego-based feelings that are keeping me in chains.” Except that in this practice, the feelings (thoughts really) are not discarded at all; they are merely driven underground, only to resurface again the next time something ‘unreasonable’ comes up – and sooner or later it always does. That’s why Jesus calls this “forgiveness-to-destroy” (S-2.II).
Again, in cases like these Jesus wants us to realize that we’re never upset for the reason we think (W-pI.5). The behavior we dislike is merely form; it’s the effect of a deeply rooted underlying fear of being unworthy of the Love of God, and of having to give up our most cherished possession in the face of our reunification with Oneness: the relinquishment of the individual self. This is our (that is, the ego’s) fear of the Love of God, and we’ll do anything to distract our minds from discovering the road to the “real world”, in which our perception is cleansed of such silly perceptions. Taking it one step further, since there is no-one else out there, this underlying fear I sense in others, is really merely a shadowy projection of that very same fear I hold deep within myself. Having made it to that point, I can now ask Jesus or the Holy Spirit to help me see myself differently. To the extent I can muster the courage to allow the Holy Spirit to undo this darkness in my mind, will my perception of my parents and my boss change for the better as well. I now realize we’re all on the same journey Home. That is true healing.
Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often remarked that, regardless of our interpretation of the behavior of others, people are either expressing love or expressing a call for love (T.14.X.7). Although the latter sometimes takes on rather vicious forms, both psychologically and physically, it’s still a (desperate) call for love. And since in reality there is no-one else out there, I am either expressing love or expressing a call for love, regardless of the form this takes. Which will serve me best? Will I keep myself in misery through continued condemnation of everything I perceive outside of me, this being just a projection of what I refuse to see in my own mind? Or will I stop, raise my mind above the battleground (T-23.IV) and ask the Holy Spirit to help me “see peace instead of this” (W-pI.34)? The choice is mine to make. Jesus cannot make this choice for me. Keeping the Course’s metaphysics close to my heart, in the knowledge that you and I and everyone around us are still safe at Home in the Heart of God, I can take Jesus’ hand and affirm that “Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world” (W-pI.62). Only then can I understand the beautiful lesson 122 in the first paragraph of this blog post. And although forgiveness only exists within the dream and is itself illusory, it is the only illusion that breeds no others (W-pI.198.3); this can therefore truly be called the greatest gift I can give to myself. Happy practicing!
— Jan-Willem van Aalst