PRACTICING FORGIVENESS IS YOUR ONE RESPONSIBILITY AS AN ACIM STUDENT
The practical application of the Course is all about forgiveness. It’s the means we’re taught to use to undo the ego and heal our split mind of our erroneous belief in separation. It sounds simple enough in theory, but our immense resistance to the truth by no means makes it easy to practice.
It’s only ever hard however, because we don’t really want to do it. That’s all resistance is. The wrong-minded part of our mind does not want to let go of our belief in the separation because that would mean letting go of our individual, special existence- the only reward the ego can offer us for our allegiance to its insane thought system.
This fear of letting go of our individuality needs to be recognized for the deeply frightening prospect that it is. We have no idea who we’d be without it, and nor do we want to find out. This is because unconsciously, we know exactly what we think we’d find within us if we were to remember that we are not a body but a mind: an unforgivable ‘truth’ too horrific to face. The idea that we sinned by attacking God and destroying Heaven, which is thankfully, not true at all.
ACIM IS A RECOVERY PROGRAM FOR EGO ADDICTION
We’re so accustomed to thinking with the ego though that it feels almost impossible to stop- let alone stop long enough to remember that we didn’t do this terrible thing we think we did. We’re completely hooked on the ego’s utterly false and savage thought-system, and its tools of judgement, attack, hate, anger and condemnation.
In this sense, we’re just like an addict, struggling to kick the habit that gives us something we desperately want and feel we need for our ability to cope, but is also crippling us at the same time. Our choice of drug on the metaphysical level is the ego. Beneath that, the trauma it is intended to soothe and distract us from is the false idea that the separation really happened and it’s all our fault.
And just as anyone in recovery knows, the journey to healing often feels like an unwinnable struggle against a part of yourself you have no control over. It can seem as though you take one step forward, only to immediately take three steps back; three forward, twelve back and so on. This is why our practice of forgiveness requires great willingness, earnest diligence, and constant repetition. It’s a process– not a single use technique for instant enlightenment.
THE 3-STEP FORGIVENESS FORMULA
So how do we forgive truly in practice? What exactly does each step actually involve? The practice of forgiveness is summed up super succinctly in a three-step formula that should be applied to any negative state. It’s further simplified by the fact that you are only responsible for the first two steps. The Holy Spirit is responsible for the last:
- Identify the true cause of your upset (you recognise)
- Choose to let it go (you release)
- The cause is replaced (the Holy Spirit replaces)
In short, recognise and release the real cause of your upset. That’s your job. Sounds doable- and it most definitely is- but it’s worth elaborating on each step to understand how this practice depends on, and operationalises, the metaphysical theory of ACIM.
1. Identify the real cause of your upset (Recognise): your responsibility
To identify the cause of your upset, you first need to recognize when you’re upset. This might sound redundant, but we often aren’t aware of what we’re really thinking and feeling, and how baseline miserable we typically feel. To become more self-aware requires disciplined self-inquiry and piercing honesty. Its also extraordinarily uncomfortable.
So implicit in this step is taking note of when you’re experiencing any negative thought or emotion. This would include, but is not limited to, feeling irritated, worried, annoyed, depressed, frustrated, anxious, angry, sad, furious, guilty, ashamed, envious, and so on.
Being aware of when you feel upset ultimately refers to any state that does not align with God, so it’s also helpful to think of this idea in the negative. Pay close attention, not only to when you do feel upset, but also to when you don’t feel peaceful, happy, loving, strong or safe.
The bottom line is that it’s important to notice all negative states, regardless of whether they seem big or barely noticeable, significant or unimportant. Whatever the form, upsets are all the same because they are all equally illusory. Their apparent magnitude makes no difference because there is no hierarchy of illusions, which is why there is no order of difficulty in miracles. That is, some states are not more serious than others, any more than some are harder to fix- they’re all the same in that they’re not real.
This helps us recall that all form is illusory. It’s your dream you’re viewing, and you made it all up. Your problem, or the apparent external cause of your upset, only exists within this dream.
This is also why you’re never upset for the reason you think: it’s never the external person or situation that is the real cause of your upset. The cause of your upset is never in the world but in the mind. Your distress is never external but internal; never about form (the way a problem appears in the world), but the content of the mind (an interpretation or meaning accepted by the mind).
And what is the content of the mind being expressed when you’re upset? It is our unconscious guilt, fear and belief in sin, which constitutes the content of our ego-ruled wrong-mind. This is what is always the real source of every upset- no exceptions.
Note that if every negative state you experience in relation to anything in the world reflects your unconscious distress over your belief in the separation, this must mean that feeling upset is always a pre-existing condition. The negativity you feel pre-dates whatever appears to have happened and caused it externally. It even pre-dates your appearance as the individual self you identify with. The upset you feel in connection to anything already exists in your unconscious mind as guilt over your original belief in sin. It’s just that you’re not aware of it on this level because it’s been covered up by denial and projection.
The experience of upset only appears to be triggered in you consciously by specific external problems because you secretly want to find someone or something outside of you to blame for the state of misery you’re already unknowingly suffering from at the level of the mind. Whatever occurs in the world that upsets you can therefore be helpfully thought of as an alarm bell that symbolically reminds you of what’s already within you– the fear, anger and guilt that you unconsciously attack yourself with that lies hidden within your mind, ready to be projected externally onto anyone and anything.
Recognize that feeling upset always indicates that you must have chosen the ego as your guide on the level of the mind. This simply means that you’ve lost sight of the real problem: that you unconsciously accepted the ego’s interpretation of your original upset. You believe that the separation really did occur, and it constitutes a grave sin against God for which you will inevitably be punished. This is exactly what we’re able to remember, re-evaluate and choose against through forgiveness. But we must be willing to first look at and confront, what we mistakenly think we did to God. This begins the process of healing the split mind.
When you’re upset then, you’re basically projecting your unconscious guilt onto the world and bodies that appear to be at fault in your manifest problems. This is only because you’ve chosen to side with the ego’s wrong-minded interpretation of the separation, which further means that you’ve become afraid of God for two reasons. First, you judged yourself to be something you’re not: a guilty sinner. And secondly, you judged God to be something He is not: an angry vengeful Father, capable of something other than the perfect love He really is.
2. Choose to let it go (Release): your responsibility
Now that we’ve established that the real cause of upset is actually within your own mind, you can now re-evaluate your choice for the ego and its thought system of guilt- the true source of the problem- and thus fix it by letting it go. This means taking back your projections on the world of form, from whoever or whatever you projected your guilt onto, blamed for your lack of peace, and thus saw as the cause of your suffering.
You want to recognize that no matter how justified your upset may seem on the level of form, your emotional and psychological state is always and only determined by you. How could it be otherwise if everything that seems to upset you in form is just an illusion? Being upset is always a choice we make. This means it is also our responsibility, and within our power, to change that decision. This process will gradually shift our identity from body to split mind, and eventually Spirit once the split mind is healed.
Once you’ve taken back your projections and recognize that the guilt that is the cause of your suffering is in your mind, you can consciously choose to let this unconscious guilt, fear and belief in sin go, by recognizing that the ego’s version of the separation is flat-out wrong, and you no longer want to uphold it.
This also includes recognising that your perception, not just of yourself but of all others, must also have been mistaken because you had been interpreting everything through the ego’s wrong-minded lens of separation and difference.
You are now free to change the content of your mind by choosing the Holy Spirit’s right-minded interpretation of the separation, which is the foundation for His thought system of Atonement. His version of events is wonderfully reassuring: the separation never occurred (the Atonement principle), so you’re still one with God in truth. You didn’t attack God or destroy Heaven. This means that you never sinned so there is no guilt in you, which consequently means that you have nothing to fear. What seems to be the reality of separation from God is simply a perceptual error caused by your belief in it. Despite appearances, you are still innocent and safe at home in God’s perfect oneness.
Choosing to release the true cause of your upset (your unconscious guilt) thus entails switching from the ego’s guidance and wrong-minded thought system to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and right-minded thought system. This effectively withdraws your belief in sin, guilt and fear, redirecting and investing it instead into the Holy Spirit’s Atonement principle (the idea that there is no separation), forgiveness, unity, innocence and love.
This change of mind enables you to perceive everything through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, meaning that you’re thinking about and understanding yourself, the world and others completely differently. This is because you now recognise that despite appearances, the world and all its embodied individuals are just symbols of you. There is only one mind that falsely appears fragmented and differentiated as many bodies.
So how exactly is this right-minded perception different to the ego’s? The Holy Spirit’s true perception is literally the opposite of the ego’s false perception. While the ego’s false interpretive lens would have you perceive the apparent reality of separation, difference, attack, sin, guilt and fear, the Holy Spirit’s true perception would lead to you noticing the sameness, connection and shared interests behind the apparent images of separation.
Instead of being fooled into believing in the reality of the separation, you’re aware that the world of separation is nothing more than a dream- your dream. This helps you recognise that everyone in it is the same as you in content, albeit not in form.
That is, you understand that they represent a fragment of your split mind that is capable of choosing the ego or the Holy Spirit, and thus of demonstrating the wrong- or right-minded thought system while in time. This helps you recognize that as part of you, everyone else is secretly terrorized by the same made-up guilt and fear that you suffer from. Everyone therefore shares the same deep yearning for forgiveness, peace and love that you do. Moreover, you also remember that just like you, everyone must also be Spirit in truth; one with God in the eternal love that is our non-dualistic Reality.
Choosing to let go of the true cause of your upset helps you learn that irrespective of your choice for the ego or the Holy Spirit (or anyone else’s), your true identity and that of everyone else, is one as Christ, the innocent and Holy Son of God. This remains unchangeable because you’ve never separated from God, let alone sinned against (i.e. attacked) Him. We are still whole and one in Truth.
This further means that no matter what happens in the dream of form- what you or anyone else appears to do, or not do- we are all equally, changelessly guiltless, and both have and are His peace, happiness and love in the non-dualistic Truth of perfect Oneness.
If you’re not aware of this, it’s not because the peace or love of God was taken from you, as the ego would have you believe, but rather that you simply closed your eyes to it. You made a mistake on the unconscious level of the mind that can be consciously corrected via your symbolic, yet seemingly real, problems using this process of forgiveness.
In other words, forgiveness gives you the ability to remember:
- who you really are = the seemingly split mind that is the holy Son of God (Spirit) in truth,
- where you really are = the mind that is one with God
- what you really have = perfect innocence, safety, love, peace and joy without opposite
You attain this awareness by making a better decision right now: you release the ego and its lies for the Holy Spirit and His right-minded thought system of forgiveness, thereby switching your identity from body to mind in the process. This is what will help you recognise at first intellectually, but ultimately also through experience, that you never really separated from God to begin with.
3. The cause of your upset is replaced: the Holy Spirit’s responsibility
This is the only step that doesn’t depend on you. It is exclusively the Holy Spirit’s function, while the first two steps are your responsibility. Once you’ve remembered that the real cause of your upset is your mind’s unconscious guilt, and are willing to let it go in favour of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and right-minded thought system, the guilt is gone.
The Holy Spirit’s role is to heal your mind of the split within it. To heal every trace of darkness, which is a metaphor for the guilt and fear you accepted and protected from the light of His correction. He is the one who ensures your guilt completely disappears from your mind, replacing it with true perception that reflects, rather than obscures, the Truth: the innocence, love, peace and joy of God, which is what you really are and have in Spirit.
As exemplified by the first two steps, your role is simply to first give the Holy Spirit your willingness to look at the problem with Him as it really is on the level of the mind, rather than the false shadowy form on the level of the world that you unconsciously set it up to appear as and hide behind. You then release, and thus choose against, the ego’s explanation of, and solution to, the apparent separation from God in preference for the Holy Spirit’s. In this way, you’re taking back the belief and power you invested in the ego’s wrong-minded thought system of sin, guilt, fear, attack, judgement and hate, and instead transferring it into the Holy Spirit’s right-minded content of forgiveness, love, innocence and wholeness.
It may be hard to wrap your head around the fact that you’re not asked to do anything in this final step, so it can be helpful to liken the Holy Spirit’s function in it, to that of an eraser. Imagine you make a silly mistake while trying to solve a math problem using pencil on paper. Let’s say you answered 1+1=X, with 3. If you want to erase the mistake, you’ve got to do two basic things.
First, you need to identify the problem so you can be motivated to pick up the eraser to fix it. That is, you realize you made a mistake: 1+1 does not =3. The correct solution to the problem is 1+1=2. This is the same as identifying what the true cause of your upset is. For example, it’s not that difficult person behaving badly that has made you angry (1+1=3), it’s your choice for the ego as inner teacher, and false belief in your sin and guilt that is the real cause of your lack of peace (1+1=2).
Once you’ve recognized that you made a mistake and have the eraser in hand, you have to do the work of repeatedly rubbing it against the paper to erase the wrong answer. This is the equivalent of choosing to let the cause go: you have to be willing to clear the space on the paper with your previous wrong response (1 + 1 = 3; external difficult person + their bad behaviour = my anger), to make space for the correct answer (1 + 1 = 2; my internal choice for the ego + my unconscious belief in sin & guilt = my anger).
While you are willingly putting in the effort to rub the eraser against the paper until the mistake you had written down completely vanishes, you are not technically doing the job of making the pencil marks disappear- the eraser is. This is akin to the Holy Spirit’s role in the final step of the forgiveness process. He is the eraser, the paper is our unconscious wrong-mind, and the penciled-in mistake we’re rubbing out is our choice for the ego, and thus our belief in the separation.
The Holy Spirit automatically replaces our guilt with love by virtue of making the error disappear. We don’t need to do anything to replace it, or personally write in the correct answer, because what we find once we’ve erased the mistake is that the correct answer was there all along. The answer had been given to us from the start; we already had it. We didn’t know this because it was simply hidden from our sight, buried beneath our mistake that we’d drawn on top of the answer.
This is analogous to having had the answer already embedded into our paper, just like the answers printed besides math problems in the answer section at the back of a textbook. All we did was completely cover up the given ( i.e. correct) printed answers and forget we’d done so. It’s as though we blotted out the answer by colouring over it with our pencil until we couldn’t see it anymore, and then wrote the wrong answer beside it in its place. All forgiveness does is erase the false answers we have written over the correct answer that was always there, yet covered up by our mistake.
This is how forgiveness heals our mind without us needing to do anything to replace our mistakes. This is also why the Course does not aim to teach us the meaning of love or how to be loving behaviourally. We simply need to recognise and release everything we currently believe that is not loving. Only then can the love that already resides hidden within us- and has been there all along- be free to be expressed through us in whatever way is most helpful.
Forgiveness simply reveals the truth that has always been within our right mind and still remains there, albeit hidden from our awareness while we seem to dream of separation. All we’re doing when we forgive then, is erasing the errors we’d penciled-in that covered up the truth of love within us.
As our Eraser then, the Holy Spirit is able to make our past mistaken choices for the ego, and all the effects of that choice, disappear on the unconscious level of the mind. How he does this is beside the point and beyond our understanding because the Holy Spirit’s function is symbolic, and quite frankly, none of this happened to begin with. We needn’t be concerned with His function; we simply need to ensure that we fulfil our own.
That is, we must be solely focused on our responsibility in the forgiveness process: to identify & release the true cause behind our mental, physical and emotional pains. We must first be willing to look with Jesus or the Holy Spirit at the true cause behind our every distress and problem, and then be willing to release it by deciding to shift from the ego’s destructive false perception, to the Holy Spirit’s healing true perception.
As Jesus puts it in the Course:
“…you are not trapped in the world you see, because its cause can be changed. This change requires, first, that the cause be identified (step one) and then let go (step two), so that it can be replaced (step three). The first two steps in this process require your cooperation. The final one does not.”
(W-pI.23.5:1-4. Italics mine.)