Virtually all students of A Course in Miracles are aware that forgiveness is the Course's central teaching. Yet this almost universal awareness is accompanied by a nearly universal complaint: "I don't know how to forgive."
Is this not a strange state of affairs? Forgiveness is something you do, something the Course dearly wants you to do. Yet the above complaint, which is heard from even long-term students, creates the impression that the Course never tells us how. If this is true, then there is something seriously wrong with A Course in Miracles . Twelve hundred pages of teaching focused on forgiveness and in all that space it neglects to mention how one actually forgives? That's not an oversight; it's a disaster.
Thankfully, the truth is quite different. The Course does tell us how to forgive. It even gives us dozens of practices which help our perceptions shift from seeing a sinful world to seeing an innocent one-which, of course, is the essence of forgiveness. Yet, in addition to these, there is a specific family of lessons in the Workbook which contain exercises for selecting particular individuals and then forgiving them.
Recently, this group of Workbook lessons caught my eye. There are six of them (46, 68, 78, 121, 134, 161) scattered throughout Part I of the Workbook. What I noticed is that they are a great deal like each other. They look more like each other than like the lessons immediately around them. They are their own little family. My thought was this: If the Course contains six exercises for selecting and then forgiving particular individuals, and if we can locate elements that repeat throughout these exercises, and if we combine these elements into a single exercise, then we would be standing right at the heart of how the Course sees the act of forgiveness.
So that is what I did. I went through and catalogued those elements that appear in two or more of these six exercises. I then arranged those elements into their proper order to produce the basic skeleton of an exercise. Here is what that skeleton looks like:
Time: 10-15 minutes
1. Selecting a person to forgive
We are asked to think of someone who arouses in us any one of various negative reactions. While we read a list of negative reactions, a person will come spontaneously to mind. This is how the Holy Spirit selects the person we are to forgive.
2. Getting in touch with our current perception of him as sinner
Forgiveness is a shift in perception, in which we release our perception of another as a sinner and see him as holy. Before we can release our current perception, we must first get in touch with it. This has two aspects:
a. Visualizing his appearance
Just picturing the person in our mind brings up our negative perceptions of him.
b. Reviewing the ways in which we think he has negatively affected us
We mentally review his faults, his neglect, his mistakes, his sins.
3. Inviting a new perception of him as our savior
Now we are given a practice, and it is what invites the new perception into our mind. This practice takes the form of a series of sentences which we are asked to silently repeat and concentrate on. These sentences simply dismiss our entire current perception of this person. They contain an alternative for our basic picture of who he is and what his relationship is to us. Specifically, they contain three elements:
a. Stating our intention to see him as our savior
That our brother is our savior is a very misunderstood concept in the Course. It does not mean that he saves us by pushing our buttons and so making us aware of our ego. It means that if we see him for who he really is, we will see the holy Son of God standing before us. And it is the holy Son of God who is our savior.
b. Seeing him shining salvation onto us and revealing our holiness
Many of us are familiar with the idea that an enlightened being can transmit illumination to us simply by looking at us. Your brother is an illumined being; he just doesn't know it. But if you see him as he is, you will see the Christ looking upon you with the Love of God and seeing perfect holiness in you. This will reveal the divinity in you.
c. Having a sense of uniting with him
If you see your brother as a holy being who recognizes holiness in you, then the two of you are exactly alike. The only logical thing to do now is to unite with him in your mind.
Having completed the skeleton, I felt I found specific support for it. I realized that one of the six lessons, Lesson 78 ("Let miracles replace all grievances"), contains all of these elements in this basic order.
I then decided to turn this skeleton into an extended exercise. This required words that would direct people through the exercise. Rather than using my own words (although I did use a couple sentences of my own near the end), I decided to use the Course's words. I therefore pulled sentences from all over the Course to put the flesh on this skeleton and turn it into a real exercise.
The result, I believe, is genuinely transformative. I have been using it for some weeks now and receiving great benefit from it. We also just used it as a focal point for a weekend retreat on "Forgiving an Important Relationship." We actually heard many reports of wonderful, even miraculous experiences during it.
Consequently, I wanted to make it available to a broader audience. I would encourage you to actually sit down and use this as an exercise, not simply treat it as reading material.
Give yourself about twenty to twenty-five minutes to go through the exercise (my composite version ended up being longer than the Workbook exercises I based it on). Find a quiet place and a comfortable chair. Then simply read a line, close your eyes, and attempt to do what it says. Try to let each line sink in before going on to the next. The italicized lines are ones you are meant to say directly to your brother or to God. Give the exercise as much focused attention and concentration as you can. Try to be fully awake and alert before you sit down to do it.
If you find the exercise helpful, there is no limit on how often you can use it. You may even want to use it every day in relation to a particular person until you feel that your resentment toward that person is healed.
Composite Forgiveness Exercise
We will select one person you have used as target for your grievances,
and lay the grievances aside and look at him. (W-pI.78.4:4)
Someone you do not like,
who seems to irritate you,
or to cause regret in you if you should meet him;
one you actively despise,
or merely try to overlook. (W-pI.121.10:1)
Someone, perhaps, you fear
and even hate;
someone you think you love who angered you;
someone you call a friend, but whom you see as difficult at times or hard to please, demanding, irritating or untrue to the ideal he should accept as his, according to the role you set for him. (W-pI.78.4:5)
You know the one to choose; his name has crossed your mind already. (W-pI.78.5:1)
He will do.
You will attempt to hold him in your mind,
first as you now consider him. (W-pI.78.6:2)
See him…as clearly as you can,
in that same form to which you are accustomed. (W-pI.161.11:2)
You will regard his body
with its flaws
and better points as well. (W-pI.78.6:4)
See his face,
his hands and feet,
Watch him smile,
and see familiar gestures which he makes so frequently. (W-pI.161.11:3-4)
[Then] you will review his faults,
the difficulties you have had with him,
the pain he caused you,
and all the little and the larger hurts he gave….
Think of his mistakes
and even of his "sins." (W-pI.78.6:3-4)
Catalogue his "sins," as one by one they cross your mind.
Briefly consider all the evil things you thought of him. (W-pI.134.15:1,3)
Then think of this:
What you are seeing now
conceals from you the sight of one who can forgive you all your sins;
whose sacred hands can take away the nails which pierce your own,
and lift the crown of thorns which you have placed upon your bleeding head.
Let us ask of [the Holy Spirit]:
Today we will go beyond the grievances….
We will not wait before the shield of hate,
but lay it down and gently lift our eyes in silence to behold the Son of God.
He waits for you behind your grievances,
and as you lay them down he will appear in shining light where each one stood before. (W-pI.78.2:3-3:1)
Then let us ask of [the Holy Spirit] Who knows this Son of God in his reality and truth,
that we may look on him a different way,
and see our savior shining in the light of true forgiveness, given unto us.
We ask Him:
Let me behold my savior
in this one You have appointed
as the one for me to ask
to lead me to the holy light in which he stands,
that I may join with him. (W-pI.78.7:1-3)
As you think of him who grieved you,
let your mind be shown the light in him beyond your grievances. (W-pI.78.7:4)
What is in him will shine so brightly in your grateful vision
that you will merely love him and be glad.
You will not think to judge him. (T-20.V.4:4-5)
Overlook [his] mind and body,
seeing only the face of Christ shining in front of [you]. (M-22.4:5)
Behold the Son of God,
and look upon his purity and be still.
In quiet look upon his holiness,
and offer thanks unto his Father that no guilt has ever touched him. (T-13.X.11:10-11)
There is no way to think of him but this,
if you would know the truth about yourself.
I thank You, Father, for Your perfect Son,
and in his glory will I see my own. (T-30.VI.9:3-4)
Say…to your brother: (T-15.XI.10:4)
Because I will to know myself,
I see you as God's Son and my brother. (T-9.II.12:6)
Look on your brother, and behold in him the whole reversal
of the laws that seem to rule this world. (T-24.VI.5:1)
In him is Heaven.
See sin in him instead, and Heaven is lost to you.
But see him as he is, and what is yours shines from him to you. (T-20.IV.2:3-5)
Be willing, then, to see your brother sinless,
that Christ may rise before your vision and give you joy. (T-20.VIII.3:3)
Your brother's holiness is sacrament and benediction unto you. (T-24.VI.8:1)
His holiness gives life to you. (T-26.I.7:2)
Your brother may not know who he is, but there is a light in his mind that does know. This light can shine into yours. (T-9.II.5:8-9)
Say, then, to your brother: (T-15.XI.10:4)
The light in you is all that I would see, [name]. (W-pI.RII.88.2:3)
Light and joy and peace abide in you.
Your sinlessness is guaranteed by God. (W-pI.93.11:3-4)
Your brother's sinlessness is given you in shining light,
to look on with the Holy Spirit's vision and to rejoice in along with Him. (T-20.VIII.3:1)
Perceive him now as more than friend to you,
for in that light his holiness shows you your savior,
saved and saving, healed and whole. (W-pI.121.12:3)
Before this light [his] body disappears,
as heavy shadows must give way to light….
In glory will you see your brother then. (T-29.III.3:7,10)
Behold him now, whom you have seen as merely flesh and bone,
and recognize that Christ has come to you. (W-pI.161.12:3)
Behold your Friend, the Christ Who stands beside you.
How holy and how beautiful He is!
You thought He sinned because you cast the veil of sin upon Him to hide His loveliness.
Yet still He holds forgiveness out to you, to share His holiness. (T-19.IV(D).14:1-4)
Look on your risen Friend, and celebrate his holiness. (T-20.I.4:8)
Brother, come and let me look on you.
Your loveliness reflects my own.
Your sinlessness is mine.
You stand forgiven, and I stand with you. (W-pII.247.1:5-7)
The light has come.
I have forgiven you. (W-pI.75.10:5-6)
Be very quiet now, and look upon your shining savior.
No dark grievances obscure the sight of him. (W-pI.78.8:6-7)
Within the darkness see the savior from the dark,
and understand your brother as his Father's Mind shows him to you.
He will step forth from darkness as you look on him,
and you will see the dark no more. (T-25.II.8:1-2)
He [will] come forth to shine on you,
and give you back the gift of freedom. (T-26.I.8:4)
See how eagerly he comes, and steps aside from heavy shadows that have hidden him, and shines on you in gratitude and love. (T-29.III.5:2)
The savior from illusions has come to greet you,
and lead you home with him. (T-20.II.10:5)
Ask this of him, that he may set you free:
Give me your blessing, holy Son of God.
I would behold you with the eyes of Christ,
and see my perfect sinlessness in you. (W-pI.161.11:6-8)
Take his blessing, and feel how your heart is lifted and your fear released. (S-1.III.5:5)
Take his blessing, and feel how your heart is lifted and your fear released.
And now the light in you must be as bright as shines in him. (T-29.III.5:5)
[How] could [he] fail to welcome you into his heart with loving invitation,
eager to unite with one like him in holiness? (W-pI.162.6:2)
Come, let us join him in the holy place of peace. (T-14.V.11:9)
Join him there. (T-28.III.8:2)
Now he has led you to the holy light in which he stands.
And you have joined with him.
You stand with me in light, [name]. (W-pI.RII.87.2:3)
You stand with me in light, [name].
You stand with me in light.