Forgiveness is the key to happiness.
I want to talk a little about what can happen when we do the lessons of A Course in Miracles. There is a tendency to write or share about the lessons as if there is only one way to learn – using Lesson 121 as an example – that forgiveness is the key to happiness. But this is not true. The daily lesson meets us where we are, and goes with us as far into healing as we are able to go.
Application of the ACIM daily lesson is by definition a personal experience. It occurs in the context of our own need for healing which, because we are invested in a world of differentiation, including the bodies within that world, is always different from that of other students.
The lessons are effectively starting points, and although there will almost be certainly be similarities in terms of where we end up and how we get there, the pathway of healing is never perfectly identical.
One of the critical concepts underlying Lesson 121 is that forgiveness in A Course in Miracles is a learned skill, one that we have to practice and get good at. It is not inherent in the mind, which “cannot sin” (W-pI.121.6:1-2).
As sin is an idea you taught yourself, forgiveness must be learned by you as well, but from a Teacher other than yourself, Who represents the other Self in you. Through Him, you learn how to forgive the self you think you made, and let it disappear (W-pI.121.6:3-4).
We study – and then practice – how to overlook the appearance of separation in order to learn that in Mind, which is the undivided will of God, there is no separation. We are doing this in the explicit context of bodies in the world. In practice, it resembles learning how to swim or meditate.
The lesson invites us to look at three “individuals.” The first is someone with whom we are angry or hate or just plain refuse to acknowledge (all of which are forms of fear), the second is a friend, one that we cheerfully identify as an ally, and the other is our own self to whom the first two appear.
Our goal in looking at the first person – the so-called enemy – is to find in the image of them a tiny spark of light that we can then magnify, so that the one we hate might be perceived in love.
When I do this, I often see literal sparks around the subject’s eyes. Or – in the specific instance I am thinking of as I write – their hair becomes whiter than driven snow. Sometimes I project a halo around them, a soft golden glow like the Catholic church used to paint around a saint’s head.
Often – and, again, I am recalling a specific example from my practice here – a second “enemy” will appear beside the first. They are different people and I am hostile towards them for different reasons and yet – in my anger, in my fear, in my resistance – they are the same. Indeed, they sort of merge – the one as close to the other as a shadow.
As I gaze at them, I realize that the “light” to which Lesson 121 refers is not a literal light (like sparks or a halo) but rather is the light in which these two individuals appear. I am thinking here of Lesson 92‘s emphasis on strength.
Strength . . . keeps it steady gaze upon the light that sees past [appearances]. It unites with light, of which it is a part. It sees itself. It brings the light in which your own Self appears . . . The strength in you will offer you the light, and guide your seeing sothat you do not dwell on idle shadows that the body’s eyes provide for self-deception (W-pI.92.4:2-5, 9:1).
Even with my eyes closed I can “see” in this way.
When I shift this “light” to my friend, the difference is instantly clear. My friend – a man who stood by me at my wedding, with whom I attended law school, et cetera – is bright and luminous. It is easy to see him. The light is large and steady.
Yet when I shift back to my so-called enemies, they are dim and cramped and shadowed. This interior light – this strength – clearly treats the two images differently.
When I bring the images together – allow the weaker and stronger lights to merge – I became distracted. I start thinking about dinner plans, when I have to pick up my daughter, and so forth.
And when I tried to see the friend and two enemies extend their shared light towards me – when I try to allow myself to appear in this light – I grow deeply fearful and resistant. I open my eyes. Is the the ten minute lesson over yet? Only halfway? That’s good enough, isn’t it?
If you look closely at the text of Lesson 121, you will see that what I describe here is not precisely what the lesson instructs us to do. Yet it is precisely what happens when I do the lesson. The distinction matters.
In the moment when I cannot bear to be gifted with the light of strength, which is the light of Love, I see briefly yet with utter clarity – as in a lightning flash – the “unhappiness” which characterizes a mind that believes it is capable of sin.
That is, I see precisely the unhealed mind which Lesson 121 says is the very mind in which all my living is enacted.
The unforgiving mind is in despair, but 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. It thinks it cannot change, for what it sees bears witness that its judgment is correct. It does not ask, because it thinks it knows. It does not question, certain it is right (W-pI.121.5:1-5).
What an apt description of my anguish and confusion! And – especially in the last two sentences – what a concise and accurate description of my approach to – or refusal to approach, really – “healing.”
And so I come back to the lesson in a state of humility and desperation. I close my eyes again, and give attention to what happens. I see how scared I am of my “enemies,” certain that they want to hurt me. In this light, I even doubt my friend. What if he talks to my enemies? What if he agrees with their judgment?
How quickly the mind which believes it can sin – and thus believes that other minds must sin – makes a mess of itself. How far away the possibility of healing seems.
I breathe deeply, smile at the messiness. I let it be. “You take over Holy Spirit. I can’t figure this out.” And what do I get? What happens next?
I get a bit of peace because I no longer judge myself for failing to do the lesson correctly. I get a little clarity that it’s okay to be a learner, a beginner even. I relax into the posture of a student who trusts his Teacher.
Critically, I get a sense that I deserve the happiness that comes with healing, and resolve to continue my practice, however half-assed and imperfect it might be. Throughout the day I remind myself that “forgiveness is the key to happiness,” and that what I am in truth is neither mortal, nor fallible, nor full of sin but rather “the perfect Son of God” (W-pI.121.13:6-7).
Is this enough? Is this the learning A Course in Miracles anticipates?
Yes. It is. Our work is not meet our interior standard of perfection but rather to let that standard go altogether, and allow a new Teacher to set a new standard. That Teacher becomes our guide – evaluating us, offering helpful prompts, reminding us of this or that insight, introducing new study partners or curricular aids.
In this light – which is the light of Love, whether we are ready to see it as such or not – our learning has but one outcome: the shared happiness of all God’s children.