The Process of Forgiveness: Three Steps

From: Forgiveness and Jesus: The Meeting Place of A Course in Miracles
and Christianity, pp. 59-66, Fifth Edition, By Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D., 
copyright 1994, Foundation for A Course in Miracles®, 
reproduced here with permission

You are not trapped in the world you see, because its cause can be changed. This change requires, first, that the cause be identified and then [second] let go, so that [third] it can be replaced. The first two steps in this process require your cooperation. The final one does not (A Course in Miracles Workbook, W-p1.23.5:1-4).
(All Citations for quoted material reference A Course in Miracles 
using the standard system of annotation for the Second Edition)

The process of forgiveness essentially consists of three steps that lead us from our egos back to God.

    1) The first entails the recognition that what we have attacked and judged against in another is indeed what we have condemned in ourselves.  This is the first step in reversing the process of projection and undoing its effects. As long as we maintain the problem is not in us but in someone else, our attention will have been successfully diverted from the source of the problem. The ego fixes our attention away from the guilt and, by convincing us that it is not inside us, we devote our attention to correcting the problem where it is not. All projection has this as its aim: to be a distraction or smokescreen so that we may never look within to where the problem truly is. Thus the Course states the ego's dictum: "Seek and do not find" (T-12.IV.1:4).

If we think of the coffee granules in the special relationship jar [an example previously discussed in the book] as representing the belief in our own sinfulness or guilt, the ego's goal is to keep us from ever approaching them. We either confront, as we have seen, the terror of oblivion and nothingness, or else the awesome spectre of a wrathful God waiting to annihilate us. Thus, by denying the guilt we hope magically to escape the anxiety it engenders.  What the ego does not reveal, of course, is that beyond the guilt is the God Who is always with us, and whose loving Presence dispels the ego's fearful world which is based on separation from, Him. This Love is the proof that the ego's premises are mistaken.

The ego, therefore, seeks always to keep us from approaching our guilt, and it offers many seductions, both in positive and negative forms, to distract us from becoming too close to it. Following the ego's guidance, we continually seek lids for the jar, and these searches constitute the various life problems and involvements -- both large or small -- that serve to keep us from the fundamental life problem of undoing the separation and returning to God. The Course elaborates on this ego ploy:

Everyone in this world seems to have his, own special problems. Yet they are all the same, and must be recognized as one if the one solution that solves them all is to be accepted. Who can see that a problem has been solved if he thinks the problem is something else?   ... That is the position in which you find yourself now .... The temptation to regard problems as many is the temptation to keep the problem of separation unsolved. The world seems to present you with a vast number of problems, each requiring a different answer.... [Yet] all this complexity is but a desperate attempt not to recognize the problem, and therefore not to let it be resolved   (W-p1.79.2:1-3; 3:1; 4:1-2; 6:1).
As a prominent aspect of the ego's distraction attempts is the past, so an essential element in forgiveness must be releasing the past: to forgive and forget. The ego tenaciously holds on to past mistakes, using them against the attacked person, saying, "I will never let you forget what you did to me. May your sin remain forever before your eyes as a damning witness to your guilt."

By seeing only past sins, the ego overlooks the person's present reality where God is made manifest. it is impossible to forgive and not forget. Just as light and darkness cannot coexist, neither can forgiveness and guilt. If forgiveness is to be real, the other's past must be forgotten. Regardless of the seeming justifications for it, holding on to what has happened can only be a defense against the peace and love that is happening now, but must remain hidden in the darkened shadows of the past.

The first step, therefore, questions the reality of the smokescreen so we may realize the problem is not elsewhere. The guilt is our own. We recognize it is not the other who needs to be changed, but ourselves. In this step we say: "The problem that I see is one I made up. It has no reality beyond my belief in it. It is my interpretation that has caused my loss of peace, and thus it is my interpretation that must be changed." While this step does not resolve the problem of our guilt, it at least leads us closer to its resolution. By maintaining the problem is outside, and thus its solution as well, we are fulfilling the ego's purpose of keeping the problem from God's Answer, the Holy Spirit He placed within our mind to correct the mistaken thought of separation. By withdrawing our belief in the projection, we have taken the first step towards allowing, God to speak to us from within, where He is. We sometimes see this Process at work in dreams, as in the following example where an ego dream masked the message of the Holy Spirit:

A man dreamt he was back in college, taking a program he was close to failing. The dream concluded with a stern, older woman informing him that he was too far behind in his work. There was no recourse but that he would flunk out of school. The dream offered no solution and the man awoke, paralyzed with fear. It was suggested to him that perhaps there was a way out of the dream's problem; in fact, there might be another dream behind this one which would present a solution to him. Despite his fear and overriding sense of failure, he gave the  idea some thought and began to meditate, trying to set aside his ego's way of looking at the situation. After a while, he fell into a twilight sleep in which he dreamt of a second woman, more kindly and understanding than the first, who presented a viable way he could meet the requirements of the course and go on to complete his education. By withdrawing his investment in the ego's dream he opened himself to the possibility of receiving the Holy Spirit's. This time he awoke feeling at peace, confident in himself once more.

Another example of the ego's use of distraction involved a man about to enter his analyst's office. For reasons of which he was totally unaware, he removed his shoes. Since feet are often seen in psychoanalysis as important sexual symbols, he and his analyst spent a great deal of time trying to understand the significance of his action. No explanation seemed to account for it, and it was not until much later the analyst realized her patient had unconsciously set up this shoe incident to distract their attention from a problem he was reluctant to discuss. Bringing the problem to the answer is thus the burden of this first step. It is recognizing that our projected anger is a decision we had made to avoid our guilt by seeing it in someone else, and is now a decision we wish to change.

    2) The second step entails our understanding that the guilt, too, represents a decision, and one that can now be changed. The shift is not something we can do by ourselves, but it must be something we want. This can be our choice.

Our guilt is not God's gift to us.  It comes from a mistaken belief about who we are and Who our Creator is.  Its correction is the key step in our healing, and it ultimately rests on how we experience God and our relationship to Him. Guilt, as we have seen, cannot be separated from the belief that there is something inherently wrong with us and that nothing but punishment is deserved because of our reprehensible nature.  From this constellation of sin, guilt, and fear, experiencing God as a loving and forgiving Father is psychologically impossible. There is no way we can hold to this ego view of ourselves and at the same time feel assured of God's loving Presence in us. Love must wait behind the veils of guilt and hate, just as peace cannot be experienced where there is fear and conflict.

In this second step, we must begin to look at this relationship differently. Examining the underlying premises of the ego's thought system lets us see how impossible they are if God is truly a God of Love. Mutually exclusive premises cannot be maintained without perpetual conflict. If we believe our identity is the ego, we must also believe that God is not Love for He must punish us for our attack on Him. Love and forgiveness have no place in the ego's world.

The ego's system is heavily secured by this belief in the wrath of God, which may at any moment descend upon our guilty heads. In fact, most threatening of all to the ego is the idea that God does not condemn us, that He loves us with an everlasting Love. To believe a God of Love can change into a God of hate, and therefore fear, is to attribute to Him the ego's use of projection and attack. This insane idea constitutes the third law of chaos, which is described this way in the Course:

God ... must accept His Son's belief in what he is, and hate him for it. See how the fear of God is reinforced by this .... Now it becomes impossible to turn to Him for help in misery. For now He has become the "enemy" Who caused it, to Whom appeal is useless.... Atonement thus becomes a myth, and vengeance, not forgiveness, is the Will Of God (T-23.11.6:6; 7:1-3; 8:2).
God, through His Holy Spirit, reaches down to us in our world, but He hardly adopts our insane premises in the process. Thus, the ego's thought system demands that God be this vengeful and insane Father, and it can never forgive Him because he is not.
[Those involved in special relationships] hate the call that would awaken them, and they curse God because He did not make their dream reality (T-24.111.7:5).
It is, therefore, not the forgiveness from God we need, but ours of Him.  We must forgive Him for not seeking to punish us for our sins against Him. If God were indeed a punitive Father, our ego's premises would be true and its thought system validated. The fact that He is not undermines the ego entirely, and it is for this our ego can never forgive Him. The ego's belief in guilt is superseded by the reality of God's Love, and it will have no part of this Love if it can help it. The Course states we must "forgive [our] Father it was not His Will that [We] be crucified" (T-24.111.8:13). Our egos must forgive God for loving us instead of vengefully seeking our punishment.

The 19th century composer Wagner has given us a powerful portrayal of the ego's difficulty with God's mercy. In Wagner's final opera "Parsifal," the sinner-penitent Kundry describes her own hellish odyssey which began with a life of sexual immorality in the time of Jesus. Standing beneath him at the cross, she looked up, sneered contemptuously at his torment, and laughed. Jesus mercifully looked down upon her and his eyes of forgiveness shone through her guilt, but her inability to accept it drove her into a frenzy. As a result, she wandered through the ages, endlessly compelled to repeat her life of sin, at the same time yearning for the repentance which finally comes through Parsifal, the Christ-figure who is not tempted by her seduction and sees beyond her ego to who she really is.

This second step thus questions our decision to be guilty, now that it has been brought to our awareness. We decide now to abandon our investment in the ego as our self and our creator, choosing to identify instead with our real Self, knowing that God is our loving Father. Here we say: "I have chosen wrongly about myself and now I wish to choose again. This time I choose with the Holy Spirit, and let Him make the decision of guiltlessness for me."

    3) This opens the way for the third step, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. If we could undo our guilt by ourselves we would not have needed salvation in the first place. It is precisely because we are so enmeshed in our ego that the Holy Spirit enters our world of fear and guilt. It is a particularly tempting ego device to convince us that we can undo our guilt alone, without God's help. The Course urges:

You prepare your mind for it [undoing our guilt through the holy instant) only to the extent of recognizing that you want it above all else. it is not necessary that you do more; indeed, it is necessary that you realize that you cannot do more. Do not attempt to give the Holy Spirit what He does not ask, or you will add the ego to Him and confuse the two (T-18.IV.1:4-6).
The Holy Spirit asks only for our little willingness, that He may join it with the unlimited power of God's Will.
Do not assume His function for Him. Give Him but what He asks, that you may learn how little is your part, and how great is His .... Never attempt to overlook your guilt before you ask the Holy Spirit's help, That is His function. Your part is only to offer Him a little willingness to let Him remove all fear and hatred, and to be forgiven (T-18.IV.6:7-8; T-18.V.2:3-5).
Thus, the first two steps of forgiveness represent our decision to let the Holy Spirit do His healing work in us. The third step is His. There is a prayer the Course urges us to use whenever we are not joyous, and it contains within it the three steps we are describing:
I must have decided wrongly, because I am not at peace.
I made the decision myself, but I can also decide otherwise.
I want to decide otherwise, because I want to be at peace.
I do not feel guilty, because the Holy Spirit will undo all the
    consequences of my wrong decision if I will let Him.
I choose to let Him, by allowing Him to decide for God for me.
(T-5.VII.6:7-1 1)
Our one responsibility is in deciding it is His life we wish and not the ego's, for the Holy Spirit can take away our guilt only when we have withdrawn our investment in it. This is why the Course states that "the sole responsibility of the miracle worker is to accept the Atonement for himself" (T-2.V.5: 1), meaning to accept the unreality of our guilt through forgiveness.

In summary, then, the decision for God is a decision to look on our special relationships, to forgive rather than condemn, and to see that nothing has been done to us because we, in fact, have done this to ourselves. "The secret of salvation is but this: That you are doing this unto yourself" (T-27.VlII.1O:1). We realize that we are not the victims of the world we see (W-p1.31), but rather of ourselves, and that we now can look at this differently.  The first step forgives others; the second forgives ourselves. Thus, our investment in anger and guilt is undone and replaced by the Love of God, the final step in our healing. As it is summarized 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 and then [second) let go, so that [third] it can be replaced. The first two steps in this process require your cooperation. The final one does not (W-p1.23.5:1-4).

What has been given you?   The knowledge that you are a mind, in Mind and purely mind, sinless forever, wholly unafraid, because you were created out of Love.
(A Course in Miracles Workbook,W-p1.158.1:1-2).




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