Six years imprisoned by blame was quite enough for me, but I cursed the bars that held me, not realizing that my freedom only required that I merely walk out the door of the prison that I had built.
In 1981 I was “dismissed” from a software company at which I had worked for seven years. It was work that I enjoyed; I made a comfortable living at it and many of my friends worked there. As Vice President of Sales for the company, I put in my share of blood, sweat and tears to help the company grow from five to seventy five employees, from 30 clients to over 500. And I was in line, or so I thought, for a “piece of the action” since I had played an important part in getting the company started.
But a growing disagreement with the president of this company became a rift that would not soon be healed. As this rift evolved into my being fired, I saw two of my close friends, fellow members of the executive staff of the company, abandon me to my fate. I felt betrayed by their abandonment. This feeling only deepened when, soon after my separation, one of my “friends” took my position as VP of Sales, the other became President of the company soon thereafter.
Bitterness wrapped me in its arms and held me very tight. Every day that passed, I thought of the ways that I could get back at my “betrayers”; I fantasized about the calamities that would befall them. The anger would sometimes boil into a rage, sometimes simmer in a contemptuous regard for their extreme lack of integrity. There was never a doubt in my mind that I judged them “rightly.”
From time to time I would hear of the successes experienced by my “betrayers” from mutual friends. Their company was prospering, new marketing programs were resulting in rapidly increasing sales, the company was growing and its employees seemed to be happy with their management. But even envy could not squeeze through the cracks of my contempt for them.
In the mean time, my life was taking a nose dive. Two failed business ventures wiped out the equity in our home, our circle of close friends had dwindled from a dozen or more to just three, the rest undoubtedly driven away by my bitterness. And these three were also friends of my “betrayers” – for me that was the salting of an open wound. My fortieth year was approaching and I was exhausted by my climb to the middle of my life. I saw nothing ahead but a slow decline to old age and death. I was broken by blame.
One of my three friends that had remained by my side (saints, each one of them), suggested that I had lived with my lack of forgiveness long enough. I thought his suggestion of forgiving my “betrayers” was absolutely absurd. But he was persistent. Finally, I called one of my two “betrayers” to suggest that the three of us – he, the other “betrayer” and I – get together to talk about what had happened six years prior.
The Friday night following that phone call we got together to share our views of what had happened – the seeming betrayal, the harsh words, the pain of losing the friendship that we all cherished. We realized that no one was “right” or “wrong.” We were each doing what we thought was right at the time. With continued contact, the wound of our friendship closed and our mutual trust, once again, became a possibility. But it took six years and much pain to get us to this point.
Time was my ally in this experience. Its span allowed me to ease into the possibility of forgiveness. But true forgiveness, which I have come to discover since this experience, does not need time for the healing. True forgiveness would have saved us six years of pain and separation.
Traditional forgiveness does not work
How often have you forgiven someone only to find that when that person committed another transgression, you pull out the first occurrence as evidence of a character flaw? If the person had been truly forgiven, the past error would not have been an issue in your situation.
Traditional forgiveness fails because in stating “I forgive you for the (whatever) you did to me,” two assertions are made that are not true. The first assertion is that “you” and “I” are separate. As we arise in consciousness, we realize that “you” and “I” are not separate, we are the one Son of God, joined in Christ and enveloped in God’s Love. We share the same Christ Self – in Truth, we are one.
The second assertion is that “you” can do something to “me” that will hurt me. Certainly each of us, either as children or as adults, has experienced physical pain inflicted by someone else. But the body can almost always heal the physical pain that is inflicted. The enduring pain that we experience in any relationship is not physical pain, it is the emotional pain – of fear, anger, grief, guilt or shame. And it is the emotional pain for which forgiveness is necessary. But if I do not “buy into” this pain – if I don’t accept this as my burden, it cannot be inflicted upon me. Experiencing emotional pain (including every grievance) is always my prerogative – no one can cause me emotional pain unless I choose to be hurt. In my experience with my “betrayers” some years ago, I chose to be hurt. And I chose it repeatedly.
Dynamics of a grievance
A grievance must be present for forgiveness to be necessary. But what causes a grievance? If I have an “expectation” (an emotional attachment to a particular outcome) in any situation, circumstance or relationship that does not come to pass, I will have a grievance. That grievance might be described with many different words including “irritation”, “disappointment”, “anger” or “rage.” Gautama Buddha describes the dynamics of a grievance in a very similar way. Paraphrasing from Houston Smith’s The World’s Religions: “The cause of dukkha (roughly translated as ‘life’s dislocations’ or ‘emotional pain’) is tanha (roughly translated as ‘selfish attachment to outcome’).”
When I become emotionally attached to any outcome, I set myself up for a grievance. I establish a “yard stick” against which I will measure the outcome of the situation. If I see the results are higher than my expectation, I am “happy.” But if I see the outcome is lower than my expectation, I am “grieved.” The degree of difference between the outcome and my expectation determines how “happy” or “grieved” I am.
The key to true forgiveness is to dissolve all selfish attachments to outcome. When I dissolve my expectations, I have nothing against which to measure the outcome of any situation. Without that comparison, no grievance can arise. Without a grievance, forgiveness is unnecessary.
A Course in Miracles states:
“And that in complete forgiveness, in which you recognize that there is nothing to forgive, you are absolved completely. True forgiveness is a state in which I recognize that there is nothing to forgive.”
“But wait,” you may say, “how can I achieve the goals of my life, even get done today what needs to be done, if I don’t have plans and expectations that those plans will be fulfilled?” The answer lies in the difference between “making plans” and “being attached to those plans.” Making plans is an effective way for me to manage my life. The problem arises when I become attached to those plans, when I let the achievement of those plans dictate whether I am happy or grieved.
When was the last time you had a thought such as: “This (situation) had better work out or I’m going to be unhappy”? That thought sets you up for a grievance. Regardless of the perceived outcome, you have relinquished your happiness to the outcome of some external event. So whether the outcome is worse than or better than what you expected, you have put your trust in the material world, forgetting your true nature as the Son of God. And that is the basis of our pain.
During my six years of imprisonment by rage, each time I heard of another success of my “betrayers” or their company, I became angry again. I was very attached to the idea that their lack of integrity (or so I judged) would cause them to fail. And each time they succeeded, my expectations were dashed! Each time I became angry, the whole painful scenario would replay in my mind – sometimes for days.
I’m ready. Show me how.
“OK. So I want to learn true forgiveness. How do I dissolve my selfish attachments to outcome?” The solution is always available to us, and it is simply this: give Love to the moment. We live in an ocean of Divine Love. It is always present. If we are not feeling the Presence of Divine Love, it is only because we are not aware of it, not because it is absent. How do we give it? By becoming aware of it, we let it flow through us, unattached, into this moment.
Here’s an exercise that you can practice any time you are feeling separate from Divine Love. Bring to mind someone for whom you care a great deal – this may be a spouse, a friend, a parent, a child – or even a pet. With the image of this “person” in mind, feel the love that wells up in your heart. Now pay attention only to the feeling of love. Some describe this as “a warm, loving energy;” others, unable to describe this loving feeling, still know what it is. However it feels to you, focus on the feeling. Let this Love fill your heart, let it come through you into this moment -– but don’t attach this Love to anyone, not even to the person that initiated the feeling. Just let it flow into this moment. Dwell upon this feeling until it fills your awareness…
This point is critical to understanding true forgiveness. When you let Love flow into the moment, unattached, all aspects of this moment will reflect back to you the glow of this Divine Love. By not attaching it to anyone, by not dividing it or qualifying it, it remains the Holy (whole) Love that it was before it came through you.
Mr. Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, put it this way:
“Love never sees anything wrong in that which it loves. If it did, it would not be pure love [Divine Love]. Pure love is without discriminating power. It simply pours itself out upon the object of its affection, and takes no account of the result. By so doing, love sometimes casts its pearls before swine, but its power is so great that it transforms all that it touches.”
This Love has the power to heal every aspect of your experience, as long as it remains in your awareness and unattached. While in the awareness of this Divine Love, your expectations of this moment seem so trivial that they literally disappear. Without the expectations, the grievance cannot arise.
During the period of increasing tension with the President of the company, my expectations were that my two friends (my “betrayers”) would stand by me, regardless of how I interacted with the President. If I had practiced true forgiveness when I was fired, if I had given Love to the moment, my expectations of my friends’ support would have dissolved. Their supposed “betrayal” would have been viewed much differently. I could have seen their actions as being merely what they thought was appropriate in that very difficult situation. Our relationship would have continued, and I would have saved myself, and them, six years of pain.
What about past grievances?
This process of true forgiveness also works for past situations in which your expectations were not met. Acknowledge that you have been brought to the brink of this present awareness because of that experience of your past. What greater gift is there than to be brought to the gate of heaven? You see, this is where you are right now – at the gate of heaven. As you appreciate the gift that was given you by that past experience, notice that Love is flowing into your consciousness with that appreciation. Let this Divine Love sweep the past experience of all expectations, cleansing it of all grievances, leaving it truly forgiven.
Traditional forgiveness helped me close the wound of my experience with my “betrayers.” But true forgiveness was necessary for me to truly heal our relationship. In looking back on it, I saw the gifts the experience held. The gifts included the lessons about myself that I learned in the experience – and there were many. So I appreciated that gift of increased self-knowledge, opening my consciousness to the flow of Love, “washing” the situation of my expectations, and allowing my grievances to dissolve. Our relationship is now on a more stable foundation because it is not threatened by this past experience.
You can treat each past situation one at a time, or you can cleanse all situations of the past in the same way, remembering that every experience of your past was necessary to bring you to this point in consciousness. Giving Love to this moment or giving Love to all past moments is essentially the same process. Love your past – including all of its pain. It has brought you to the awareness in this moment. The effect of giving this Love to the past is to release you of all the grievances that have imprisoned you. Your past is truly forgiven. You will be, as I have been, lifted by Love.
An attitude, not an action after the fact
Each moment that arises, entered into with Divine Love in your awareness, becomes an experience of true prayer, a realization of heaven, untainted by selfish desires, unencumbered by grievances. This whole process can be done in as little time as it takes for a breath. Feel each breath as a prayer of Love. As you inhale, appreciate the Presence of Divine Love; as you exhale, surrender to the Presence of Divine Love. True forgiveness is not an action after the fact, it is an attitude with which you can enter each moment, each breath, beginning right now. Let Love lift you. In joy.