Forgiveness (With A Lower Case F)

After much gnashing of teeth and wailing – and moody walks in the forest – I’ve managed to get a newsletter out. If you signed up, you should see it soon. If you haven’t signed up – and would like to – by all means do.

I have been thinking a great deal lately about forgiveness – with a lowercase f. That is, we all know that forgiveness in A Course in Miracles is really a way of seeing our specialness – the separation – with Jesus and the Holy Spirit as a means of healing it.

It’s not about taking note of the wrongs other people do to us, then agreeing to overlook them because we’re following a spiritual path. In ACIM terms, that is a way of making error real. We can’t be hurt or wronged. To believe we can be is the separation and it forces our brothers and sisters into separation as well.

That’s well and good – better than well and good, actually – but how are we to handle the fact that we aren’t always there? What do we do when we believe that we have been treated unfairly or poorly?

In this world – in these bodies – that is going to happen from time to time, even to those of us who are maybe starting to feel pretty consistently peaceful and happy.

I think in those situations, forgiveness with a lowercase “f” – just accepting that bad stuff happens, people screw up, including us from time to time, and so why not just let it go?

“I forgive you.” We don’t have to say it out loud. We don’t have to make a big production out of it. But we can let our hearts enter that space: forgiveness is loving. It’s okay.

It is particular loving and helpful when we can yoke it to the metaphysics behind A Course in Miracles. That is, can we have a forgiving heart here in the world while remembering that there is another way to see this? And – as importantly – being willing to try and see it that way?

More and more I realize the importance of kindness: it is a kind of service. When I am in the space of kindness, my mind is less boxed in by the ego. There is more room to remember that what I am in truth has no form and can’t be injured in any way.

Forgiveness in the world isn’t going to bring us to Heaven. But there is a gentleness to it, a lovingkindness. It is a way of saying to our brothers and sisters, “we’re in this together and I don’t want to get hung up on the little things.”

Really, I am just talking about being nice! It sounds so simple but it’s hard. If you look around, you can see this. People are scared and stressed out and sad. They’re impatient and overwhelmed. I am too! It happens. The question is: what can we do about it?

We can be nice. Why not? It opens a little space in which we can remember – and maybe even share – that this world is not our home.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • JayCee September 9, 2013, 3:53 pm

    I was thinking about that word forgiveness. I agree with all that you said. As I was looking at this word and remembered the I AM that I AM, I put a space in the word as I said, I am for giving: I am for giving love, I am for giving kindnesses, I am for giving a listening ear. I am for giving. I am for giving a thumbs up for the news letter…..

    • Sean Reagan September 9, 2013, 3:56 pm

      Awesome word play!

      (and thanks for the kind words re: the newsletter – honestly, I don’t get blocked much as a writer but that was like pushing boulders up a hill)

      🙂

  • Pamela September 9, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Sean, I like the idea of being kind as a forgiveness dynamic. The desire to be kind, I believe, tugs at the love that is truly in us. In a sense, it is ‘deep calling to deep.’ which Psalm 42: 7 uses to express the notion that God calls us to deeper meanings in what we perceive IF we listen and trust Him – and what could be deeper than the love that He and we are?

    I also think that the idea of being of service is helpful in this regard. If we think of ourselves as our brothers’ servants in the sense that they can rely and trust that we shall do our best to be ofl use to them, I think this also welcomes that same love and the forgiveness that it unfolds as it surfaces to consciousness. When I was 22 and expecting my second child, in a loveless marriage with no way out, I made my husband a cup of coffee one morning. He really enjoyed that cup of coffee and he expressed his appreciation in a very strong way. I listened to what he said and something clicked for me, something cut through the general malaise I had been feeling for quite awhile. I noticed that what he said made me feel good; and it wasn’t some kind of ego feeling as in it felt good to be appreciated. No, it was that it felt good that he had enjoyed the cup of coffee I gave to him. Looking back on it now, I think that I had a spark of understanding the truth that:

    God established HIS relationship with you TO MAKE YOU HAPPY, and nothing YOU do that does NOT share His purpose CAN be real. The purpose GOD ascribed to anything IS its only function. Because of HIS reason for creating HIS relationship with you, the function of relationships became forever “to make happy.” AND NOTHING ELSE.

    In other words, I felt good simply because that cup of coffee I served to my husband made him feel good. So profound was the feeling that accompanied this insight into service and another’s happiness being linked to my own happiness (even though at the time I could not have expressed it this way at the time), I decided to think of myself as being there to serve people and make them happy by doing so.

    For the next three months, I never looked at anybody, no matter what he or she did or said, as being there other than for me to serve them. I enjoyed doing anything and everything they wished me to do. In fact, it gave me pleasure beyond my ability to express. I woke up each morning eager to serve and looking forward to the day. It moved me from depression to a continual feeling of joy. Because I had no large conceptual framework to understand the spiritual nature of what was going on with me, I slowly returned to my standard and habitual ways of functioning but when I read the Course for the first time, I understood what was going on with me during those three months; and now I am utterly convinced that service to others is also a forgiveness dynamic. Of course now I also know, “A miracle is a service. It is the maximal service you can render to another,” and that has greatly expanded my concept of service and the forgiveness I believe that it engenders.

    • Sean Reagan September 9, 2013, 8:23 pm

      Thank you Pamela. That was wonderful and clear. I’ll only add two quick thoughts: the first is that there is a lovely line in the Manual for Teachers that we become teachers when we make a deliberate choice not to see our interests as apart from someone else’s. Your deep and extended experience of service reminded me of that very much. I share your conviction that service and forgiveness are deeply connected.

      And then, thank you as well for the reference to Psalm 42 (to which I am linking, in case anybody feels like reading it). It is truly beautiful and relevant.

      Thank you again, Pamela.

      ~ Sean

  • zrinka September 9, 2013, 6:35 pm

    Dear Sean, congratulations for the newsletter! Beginning is always hard, but you did it:)
    I loved the part where you speak about our overwhelming fear of the outcomes,∼∼∼ fear that so often prevents us (from within) ∼ to truly live and give what we are. Taking *too much responsibility* for what shall become* isn’t helpful, because it leads either to lack of self-confidence (self-criticism) or a sense of self-grandeur (if we momentarily feel ‘recognized’). Most often, it leads to both, for they are the same thing. I like the idea of doing what we can and leaving to God’s will all that follows. So that the only thing I (and all of us) have to do is share our beauty, our heart and our dreams in the way we like (writing, teaching, crafting, mothering, whatever we feel most at home). Sounds wonderful:) And it is. But it so hard to be a “child” that way. To accept guidance of something greater than yourself, let go of judging the outcomes And just express your*self, ride the waves of soul, laugh and have fun:)
    So many amazing human beings have written beautiful, soulfull writings, yet lived in solitude and poverty, unknown, only to be loved centuries later. It is so interesting how life unfolds. We can see it in the stories of our ancestors. I like to think of the past as of reminder that whatever we do has an equal meaning. Nothing is more worthy or more beautiful. This thought humbles so much. It can set us free, when we truly realize that every human life, no matter the outcomes, is equally worthy. An equally beautiful:)

    • Sean Reagan September 9, 2013, 8:38 pm

      Thank you Zrinka. That radical equality – all lives mean the same – is so important and yet . . . fear or ego slips in and insists on control. Or argues for it. That is what resistance is, I think – an insistance that God (whatever word we use) is insufficient and therefore our resources matter. There is so much peace in letting go it is almost fascinating that we dno’t do it more often or more consistently. How deeply attached to pain we are – to death – which I think was part of Dickinson’s allure, how close she got to that space without slipping over . . . Anyway, thank you so much for reading and sharing. You honor me.

      Sean

      • zrinka September 10, 2013, 8:58 am

        🙂

  • Xavier Nathan September 10, 2013, 3:58 am

    Another post that cuts through to the chase and addresses the basics. I found it thought provoking and it definitely got across the message that we are all in the same boat. I don’t however subscribe to the perception that it is all doom and gloom and we are all ” scared and stressed out and sad”. Yes, of course we do experience these feelings sometimes but we also experience the highs. I perceive our existence as more getting on with things without actually thinking too much about our “plight”. It is the over thinking that we get bogged down. The Holy Spirit can’t do its job if we keep interrupting! The kindest most loving thing we can do for ourselves and others is to get on with our daily tasks and appreciating even a simple thing like making the bed or the taste of the toast and coffee in the morning. Thank you Sean.

    • Sean Reagan September 10, 2013, 9:44 am

      You’re welcome, Xavier. Thanks for sharing – I always learn from what you offer.

      I agree – we experience the lows and the highs. And that is the very definition of suffering. That is what A Course in Miracles calls “separation.” We do not experience eternal love and peace – we experience only what shifts and changes. Sometimes good, sometimes bad and no real way to know when one or the other’s going to show up. Hence our ontological fear and guilt. Hence our anger at God – or what is, or whatever phrase or word works for one. Life is not fair.

      I have written extensively on this site about how thought is the problem – not overthinking nor underthinking – but thought itself. I am all for doing our daily tasks – chop wood and carry water and all that – but the reality is that that is just another activity. It’s just another external form. On the one hand, yes, we have to choose some form that works for us – gardening, writing, teaching, healing, whatever – but confusing the form with anything other than meaninglessness is a mistake.

      Thought will always insist there is something we can do in the world. But there is no solution out there – and our bodies and our thoughts are also “out there.” They are also external to what we are in truth. The course calls us gently but insistently to a place where all of that is let go not because it’s “less than” or “not as good as” but because it’s unreal. It’s not really there.

      The cost of realizing what we are in truth is accepting that “nothing outside yourself can save you; nothing outside yourself can give you peace (W-pI.70.2:1). But the flip side is also true: once we realize that everything, including thought and all activity in the world is nothing, then we see the beauty of the truth that “nothing outside yourself can hurt you, or disturb your peace or upset you in any way (W-pI.70.2:2).

      In the world of form, it is all doom and gloom – in part because at times it seems to be very lovely and beautiful – full of roses and beautiful sunsets and delicious pies and lovely men and women and laughing babies and running dogs. But because none of that stays – but forever changes form – it cannot bring us lasting peace. Knowing this – and this knowing is at a very deep level – we are ravaged by guilt and fear. Hence our need for help – which, for some of us, takes the form of A Course in Miracles.

      I agree that it is not feasible to simply quote the metaphysics and then wash our hands of the world. Most of us are in it still and we have to do something. Kindness, simplicity, service, humility all seem to be very helpful. But I don’t want to confuse those things with Truth itself – or God. The course promises it can clear the blocks that obstruct love and that when it does we shall almost immediately be delivered up to Heaven. That is metaphorical language because Truth is beyond what can be taught, but still. Make tea, butter the toast – and scale the ladder unto Eternity.

      🙂

  • Aleta September 11, 2013, 6:14 pm

    I think sometimes as Course students we (I’m mainly speaking of myself here) get too caught up in the terminology of forgiveness as the Course describes it — that it means to overlook perceived injustices done against us because they never happened anyway, etc. — and we overlook the miracles that can take place just by our being kind. In other words, we overthink the forgiveness stuff. Just be nice. Be kind.
    Thanks, Sean, for another great post!

    • Sean Reagan September 12, 2013, 2:17 pm

      Keep it simple, right?

      Thanks for reading, Aleta – hope your garden is faring well.

      Sean

  • Emily September 17, 2013, 8:20 am

    Dear Sean,

    I just want to thank you for your beautiful post. I assume there must be many people like me that follow your posts and yet rarely have any time to comment on them. But I keep up with all of your posts and I feel very grateful that you keep on posting and I wanted to say thank you.

    I am a relative newcomer to ACIM, I´ve been doing the workbook about one year now and combining that with other teachings and forms of daily contemplation. My life has been always spiritually oriented but never linked to a specific religion. I struggle from time to time with negativity, when the issue comes up I am always helped by remembering that forgiveness is always of ourselves. It is not some sort of favor for someone “out there” who has wronged me. Afterall, who is the one feeling negativity? Who is the one suffering? It is always myself. I am only wronged if I am vulnerable. And we only experience what we hold on to. So then, when negativity arises in whatever shape or form, letting it go is through forgiveness and the realization that the forgiveness can only be of oneself through reqlinquishing all positionality. My daily practice of ACIM is now focused on just experiencing whatever arises and letting it go. In any case, I often feel very comforted by your posts and I thank you for that.

    • Sean Reagan September 17, 2013, 9:11 am

      Thank you for the kind words, Emily. I am so glad that you are finding the course helpful – that was my experience as well. It seemed to really bring my spirituality into a sharper and more practical focus, largely through forgiveness. Though I had an intellectual appreciation for ideas like “God is Love” and “Giving is Receiving” they were not really a part of my experience until I began to study and practice the course. It’s not the only way, but it is a pretty good way, especially for those of us who are called to it.

      Thanks for being here –

      Sean

  • Bet Carbery September 23, 2013, 8:38 am

    My mother has been the mother from hell – she’s still alive aged 98. All my life I have been frightened of her and have tried to please her in a sycophantic way I suppose which is not attractive. I have also tried to defend myself when I have been accused of what I know I am not guilty of. So, not so long ago, I forgave her (with a small ‘f”). It seemed daft not to as holding on to fear, etc, did not serve any purpose. Instead of seeing her as frightening I saw her as fearful and then I thought maybe she says those awful things to me because in a way she trusts me not to turn on her or reject her – does that sound half cracked? Also I ceased defending myself and thought ‘fine think what you like about me, I don’t have to agree with you or defend myself’. Then on reading ACIM it seems I have projected my anger on to her so then I blamed myself (something I find easy to do). She had not ruined my life – I had ruined it. This was a really difficult time. What kind of a cretinous fool ruins their own life?
    Yet some small part (very small) found comfort in the fact that none of it had happened. The larger part couldn’t get a grip of that, but I’m working with it.
    However, as you say in your article, just working with ordinary forgiveness can help.
    Maybe it’s just coincindence but she’s mellowed. Perhaps because she is ill and old and has no energy for a row although I’ve made that miscalculation in the past. It’s fantastic not being yelled at, abused and given the treatment and I can see another side to her.
    What I’m saying is, as you say, ordinary forgiveness is a start, a step in the right direction and it can alter the dynamics of a situation so creating a bit of space whilst working on the real healing stuff.
    Also, as you and your readers say, I’m (trying) doing things for her for the pleasure of doing them rather than just trying to appease her.
    I’m thinking I’ve written a load of woffle but your words were helpful.
    Thanks Sean
    Bet

    • Sean Reagan September 24, 2013, 4:47 am

      Hi Bet,

      Thanks for writing. When it comes to parents (and children) I think often of those lines from the Manual for Teachers:

      The third level of teaching occurs in those relationships which, once they are formed, are lifelong. These are teaching-learning situations in which each person is given a chosen learning partner who presents him with unlimited opportunities for learning . . . They may even be quite hostile to each other for some time and perhaps for life. Yet should they decide to learn it, the perfect lesson is before them and can be learned (M-3.5:1-2, 5-6).

      It’s probably no solace but I do think that when we can be present to those hard relationships – bringing love to the ones who we do not believe deserve it (and we all have those people in our lives) – then we are moving in the direction of healing ourselves. Because as you note, we are not really hating someone else – we are hating ourselves. We are projecting that which we fear and despise about ourselves onto this other.

      Easier said than done, yes, and I’m not saying I’m perfect. But when you write about not giving up, trying to figure it out, going as far as you can with forgiveness and all that I think: yes, that’s it. There is nothing else to do. We are learning how to love – and it takes a lot of teachers and a lot of time.

      Thanks for reading, Bet!

      Sean

      • Pamela September 24, 2013, 9:02 am

        Bet, I so can relate to what you are saying and want to share my story with you. My mother was quite insane. She had Borderline Personality Disorder and the best example of a mother with this disorder can be found in the mother of Tony Soprano (if you watched that series). My childhood felt like psychoemotional torture on a daily basis; it was filled to the brim with being told how the whole family hated me because “you don’t mind me,’ or “they see that something is wrong with you; you’re not normal,” and such. My aunt had tried to get my mother to let me live with her but to no avail. When I had a nervous breakdown at 16 my therapist told me that, if he could, he would have me removed from her care but that was ‘back in the day’ and such things were not easily done. By early adulthood, to say that I detested, abhorred, and loathed my mother would have been putting it kindly. But then, in 1989, I read A Course in Miracles and realized that I had to forgive which is to say that I had to see all of this differently, see it in a way that promoted love and not hatred.

        I asked The Holy Spirit how I could possibly do this and was told to spend five minutes twice a day doing nothing but seeing an image of my mother bathed in a golden light and myself kneeling down before her offering my hand. I did this for one month and I didn’t forgive BUT I softened emotionally. I also had a small sense of my mother being holy – a perception I would have thought impossible just one month before. It also increased my motivation to want to forgive and so at the end of that month I found myself calling for help from my uncle who I loved deeply and who had died a few years prior. I prayed to him, saying, “Uncle Frank, you loved her. I want to see her like you did.” That night I had a dream. It began with seeing my uncle standing in a deep blue light. He was holding a book that looked like the bible. He told me, “If somebody wants to fully understand any book, they should first read all about the life of the author and only after that should they then read the book. However,” he said, “you do not have time for that.” He then opened the book and said, you must only read and do what it says on this one page.” He handed me the book and on the page, in huge in huge letters was written: Cherish the good and ignore the bad.

        When I woke up, I thought of the section of the Course entitled “The Savior’s Vision” in which we are told that the vision begins with searching for and focusing only on what is good in another person. Specifically, the text states that, “By focusing upon the “good” in him, the body grows decreasingly persistent in your sight, and will at length be seen as little more than just a shadow circling round the “good.”

        That dream made that section of ACIM come alive to me. I began to ask for and find ways to see good things in what my mother said and did. She had several interests, none of which I shared, but I still asked her about each of them and noticed her joy when she discussed these. I asked her advice about little things and looked for whatever small amount of insight she could offer. She was a book-keeper and so I asked her a lot of questions about money and budgeting and she loved sharing this information with me. I could see it. I could see her joy and I liked seeing it instead of the tight-mouthed, twisted, and angry face that I usually saw. I went out of my way to find things that she liked to talk about and would bring them up whenever I could. Interestingly, at this same time, a cousin of mine, discovering that I was reading ACIM, called my mother on the phone and told her that I was into ‘some cult’ and that people who read A Course in Miracles were all being duped. She told me this; then she looked at me and said, “I don’t believe him, honey. I think you are really onto something.” Her seeing things that way and speaking to me like that, NOW THAT WAS A MIRACLE!!!

        Anyway, I had moved close, very close to forgiving my mother. I actually enjoyed being with her. She made me laugh and I made her laugh. We did things together and enjoyed ourselves! She looked prettier. Her movements seemed more graceful. Her interests that I thought so shallow, I was now interested in them too! Holy of Holies, we were sharing! Finally, one night in my meditation, in my mind’s eye, The Holy Spirit showed me a picture of a woman standing in a doorway, a small child standing close at her side. Both of the woman and the child were just standing in the doorway looking out at a beautiful garden. As they did so, a loud noise sounded behind them in the house and the woman was startled. Her hands flew out and up and as they did so, they hit the child standing beside her and the child fell down, not because the woman meant to hit the child but just because in fear, her arms had flailed outward. “That,” said The Holy Spirit, “was all that happened with you and your mother. No evil intent was present. No deliberate malevolence occurred.” And, Bet, I saw it! I got it at the mental and emotional level! I got it in the marrow of my bones! I knew in that moment I had forgiven.

        During the last two years of her life, after two strokes, my mother came to live with me following a period of convalesce. She couldn’t walk without a walker and could do little but feed herself. It meant two years of bathing her daily, changing her diapers, giving her an endless array of medications, and all the other tasks that come with taking care of somebody in an enfeebled condition. I did it with joy. I did it without complaint. I did it with love. When she passed on, the home hospice nurse looked at her and said, “I’ve seen many people who have died in their sleep; but never have I seen somebody who looked so peaceful and so at rest.” I took that as a tribute to what she and I and the Precious Holy Spirit had accomplished in terms of forgiveness.

  • Marilyn August 8, 2014, 7:15 pm

    My dear brother…Sean,
    I post my thoughts here in response to the topic of forgiveness, as well as my questions and struggles with it. And I do this with the learned awareness that all thoughts stem from the level of conditioned personality/ego, and therefore not related to Eternal Laws, or that which is of Spirit, as Tara spoke of. Like you, however, it helps me to express what lingers deep within with another being, in hopes that through my sharing, I may find salvation through my Holy Encounter with you – the Holy Instant…the miracle.
    Like Tara, I would like to tell you a story.When I was 4-yrs old (you have young children so picture them at this age), while trying to be a “good, mommy’s helper,” I picked up my 10-mos old crying baby sister. In my attempt to console her, she slipped out of my hands and her head hit the corner of the table…and then, utter silence. Instinctively, I knew this was bad, and fetched my mother. She ran over and grabbed my baby sister, then rushed to my next door neighbor who had a car, and rushed off to the hospital. My mother returned late that night…but without my baby sister, and without words. All I remember was calling out to her, “Mommy, Mommy,” as she always slept next to me on the floor (Asian custom), but she never came…so my older sister laid next to me until I fell asleep. What followed were only memories of the loss of affection and love from my mother; she was grieving and fell into a deep depression. I played beside my despondent mother, nevertheless. This tragedy was followed by my mother’s own death (cancer) only a year later. These two major events occurred before I was 6-yrs old, and so…much of my emotional hardships that followed in my own development, tied back to those events. I know people make mistakes, and at some point, should be able to “let it go,” and move on with their lives. I have moved on, but bare this cross which I carry or which carries me…I don’t know. All I know is that we’ve been endowed with the capacity to feel and experience physical and emotional pain. The CIM teaches that both types of pain are, but an illusion, a misperception of our true state. All I can say is that I struggle with this immensely, and seek release from these illusions. But how? How do I bring the CIM into application related to self-forgiveness? I intellectually understand what I need to do, but its the process of completely “emptying my bowl,” “the bowl that’s been Given.”
    PS – I would appreciate your response to my email address provided with this post. Thank you kindly.

    • Sean Reagan August 9, 2014, 1:22 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing, Marilyn. I sent you an email: let me know if you get it okay.

      Love,
      Sean

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