A Story to Shed Light on Forgiveness

Once when I was a young lawyer another lawyer – a guy maybe twenty years older than me, a skillful attorney I admired a lot – humiliated me publicly. During a meeting before about two hundred other lawyers, he spoke from the podium about how he hated working with “dumb young lawyers” and – pointing me out in the audience – used a recent interaction with me as an example. It was devastating and remained so for years. Over a quarter century later it still burned.

One day the memory of that moment came up but didn’t burn. It was the strangest thing. Same memory but no pain. No anxiety or bitterness at all. Instead, I saw with complete and perfect clarity that when that lawyer had spoken, it wasn’t about me. It was about him. It had nothing to do with me at all. Not then and not now.

When I saw this I cried. I literally cried because I realized that by making that incident about me, I had hurt my brother. I had turned him into a cruel and sadistic attacker, a torturer even, and I had locked him into that role for over twenty-five years. I had held my brother – who was innocent, who could only attack me because he believed he was guilty – in the worst possible light.

He cried out for love and I responded with fear and hate. And we both suffered.

What would a loving – an ACIM-style, say – response have looked like?

This: in that moment, as he speaks, I realize that his behavior reflects his belief that his feelings of guilt and fear are real. Therefore, his behavior is a projection of that guilt and fear; it has nothing whatsoever to do with me. Seeing the projection as a projection means recognizing that my brother is calling out for love and then responding accordingly. Had I realized all that, my response would have been clear and helpful in the moment, and it would have healed both of us. I might have laughed, tried gently to redirect, gone up to him after to say that he’d embarrassed me. Who knows.

But it would not have been a twenty-five year resentment and pity party.

Here is how A Course in Miracles puts it.

When you become disturbed and lose your peace of mind because another is attempting to solve his problems through fantasy, you are refusing to forgive yourself for just this same attempt. And you are holding both of you away from the truth and from salvation. As you forgive him, you restore to truth what was denied by both of you. And you will see forgiveness where you have given it (T-17.I.6:5-8).

When we feel victimized, healing means noticing that we are accepting the projection of another’s guilt, and also that we don’t have to. There is another way. We can see their “bad behavior” as a symbol of fear – a cry for love – and we can respond with our own “good behavior” as a symbol of friendship and forgiveness.

Whenever we are hurt by another it is because we are confused. We think somebody is doing something to us. But really, love is just crying out to be remembered in us. By refusing to listen, we enter fully into the illusion that somebody else can hurt us, and when we see our brother or sister as capable of hurting us, then we do not see our brother or sister. We see, instead, our own projection of fear and hate.

Thus, our work has to do not with managing our feelings but rather with noticing and updating how we are looking at the world.

In the situation I described, the work was to look at my brother not as a bad guy doing a mean thing to me but as a good guy who had forgotten he was love itself and needed my help to remember. What he did was not an attack on me but a cry for an extension of love from me.

My failure to do this for him was a failure of love, no different than the failure I noticed and condemned in him.

This clarity was profoundly healing. It turned out that it could be applied to literally every painful memory I’d ever had. Little ones, big ones. In-between ones. It was like I’d been given a balm that undid all grievances and painful memories in seconds.

I also discovered that no matter how far back the incident was, no matter how far removed I was from the other or others involved, it wasn’t too late to offer the love that I’d thought they were depriving me of in the first instance. So that lawyer I’d failed to help all those years ago? I just loved him. It wasn’t hard. I was grateful to him for being so helpful, for bringing to light such a simple principle of peace.

In this way, I learned yet again that I am not separate from any of my brothers and sisters. Love does not require bodies; it doesn’t even require time and space.

So this is healing and, like all healing, it is welcome and exciting.

But what’s even more welcome and exciting is when the lesson begins to generalize, which begins when you realize that it’s never too late to respond to a call for love, and that this is true because you are not separate from your brothers and sisters.

You stop applying it to specific instances and it still works. It’s like you had a medicine you could take for an infection but now you can’t be even be infected any more. You don’t need healing; you are healed and you heal. You have no problems.

Healing works not because it’s magic or supernatural but because it reflects a fundamental truth: there is only love. You are only love. Your brothers and sisters, too.

And when you realize this, then all the painful memories just stop coming up because the grounds which supported them have evaporated. They’re gone. And as far as your life in the day-to-day world goes . . . behavior from others that would ordinarily hurt you is seen for what it is: a cry for love, and so you respond with love. And when you cry for love?

Your brother or sister answers with love.

To response or answer with love more than anything means not taking things personally. Not allowing your brother or sister to hurt you is an enormous gift to them. The more nondramatically and gently you can give this gift, the more likely you are to experience the dramatic healing love offers all of us who yet believe we are separate from creation.

This healing appears behavioral but is in fact the abstract recognition of love by love for love. When you live only in awareness of love and love’s endless longing to be with itself, your function changes. What you value changes. It is easier to be happy because happiness is what you value, and your happiness is no longer separate from anybody else’s. It is a natural effect of knowing what you are in truth.

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  1. Lingering throughout this post of course are two significant ideas. When the mean lawyer ridiculed me, that was not only his projection of HIS guilt and fear onto ME, but also MY projection of guilt and fear onto HIM. The projections were not only mutual but literally happening simultaneously.

    Therefore, it wasn’t two separate people battering each other with their separate projections. Rather, it was two fragments of one mind using each other to confirm the illusion of separation and dissociation.

    Implicit in that characterization is that two minds which believe they are separate can – by by becoming responsible for their projections and declining to accept the projections of others – use each another to remember that they are one.

    That’s the first idea: it’s all mind and it’s all either love or a call for love. Becoming responsible for projection – which means noticing it and its painful effects – is how we love AND respond to calls for love.

    The second idea is related to the first.

    The first idea suggests that the incident appearing to happen in the world and appearing to involve at lest two separate bodies was actually one movement in a unified mind. So the second idea is that forgiveness means seeing this error clearly, which includes wanting to fix it and then choosing to correct it (which we do by – say it with me – becoming responsible for projection).

    Projection is the way that separation is both brought into being AND sustained. In no trivial way, our work is simply to see this, notice its painful effects, and seek another way to relate to one another.

  2. Thank you always Sean for some very helpful thoughts. As I was reading this, I was layering it on top of what I’m working with these days.

    “I am responsible for what I see, I choose the feelings I would experience, I decide upon the goal I would achieve, and everything that seems to happen to me, I asked for and I receive as I have asked. T-21.II.2.”

    My current balm is in knowing that at some unconscious level I’ve asked for what I’m experiencing – which helps me remember that my brother is innocent. When I experience attack, I can reframe it as a call for love that I asked to hear. It’s another forgiveness opportunity.
    Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

    1. Thank you Claudia. I’m glad it was resonant with your own work. Yes, it is forgiveness opportunities all the way down apparently; and remembering innocence – ours and everyone else’s – does seem to be integral. Hard work but worth it, as you know. We’re lucky the company along the way is so good 🙏

  3. Very clear teaching and example of the truth from ACIM that sets us free. Thank you for sharing your experience and taking the time to articulate this written work. I’ve benefitted from reading this and hope to choose wisely in future encounters as I continue in my classroom .

    1. You’re welcome, Debra. Yeah, as I was saying to Claudia, it does feel like life is one big classroom full of forgiveness opportunities. I’m grateful to have found a practice that helps me respond to it, and grateful too for the good company along the way. Thanks for reading 🙂 I hope all is well.


  4. Hi Sean:

    “So this is healing and, like all healing, it is welcome and exciting.”

    Amen, my brother. Water finds its own level, sooner or later.

    Much love.

  5. Wohhh…this sums up everything in life!
    So very, very clear. Utterly practical and helpful. Thank you!

    PS: Love your definition of projection, “Projection is the way that separation is both brought into being AND sustained.” That ‘sustained’ part we tend to forget or misunderstand.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, Janine . . . Yes, the “sustained” part is important and easy to overlook . . . giving attention to projection is so so integral to healing and remembering what we are . . . Love, Sean

  6. thanks sean… yesterday after reading the post i had an obligation to be somewhere…..so i was rushed and could post only how i felt ” oh! my god ” seemed to say it all for me…..what a gift to be experientially guided thru this process of projection……an unspoken deeply wished for prayer has been answered….to see clearly the entanglement of victimhood and projection in an actual living experience is very helpful…..and brought some peace into my life…..yes oh my god !


    1. you’re welcome Dennis . . . thanks for reading and sharing . . . I’m grateful to have people to share all this with. It’s good to see the ego clearly and deepen our commitment to no longer giving attention to it & this seems to work best with folks who share that same energy.

      ~ Sean

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