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August 22, 2020
Another week of classes and gatherings has gone by, although we had to cancel the Wednesday Text class (a storm knocked out my Internet). Emily and I will discuss the section we had prepared for—“The Little Garden” (T-18.VII)—next Wednesday.
Rather than try to recap all the offerings of this past week, I wanted to write about something I discussed briefly in Tuesday’s Workbook class. The opening line of the section we discussed was “Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred” (W-WI.1.1:1). Several people in the chat asked how is that so? How is it the case that “what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred”?
My answer was on three levels:
1. You did not see clearly what your brother did, due to your ego’s distortions
When our ego is activated, we will never have an accurate view of what our brother said and did. Our ego will always distort his words and deeds to suit itself. We see an example of this in the original dictation of the Course. Helen at one point said, “I don’t think Bill wants this course….He is very snappy.” Jesus then responded, “I think this is slightly true because something is bothering him, but he certainly is not very snappy. So why not try to help him instead of blowing it up into an obstruction? He helps you all the time.”
Do you see what happened there? Bill was a little off because something was bothering him, but then Helen exaggerated it in her mind, imagining him to be “very snappy” and concluding from it that he didn’t want the Course. She took something small and blew “it up into an obstruction,” when she should have just tried to help Bill with whatever was bothering him.
In my experience, we have no idea how much we do this.
2. You ascribed a wrong meaning to what your brother did
This is the Course’s main focus. Our brother’s actions were just forms. Before they could affect us emotionally, we needed to attach a meaning to them. And according to the Course, the meaning we attached to them as wrong. We saw our brother as benefiting from his attack on us, swelling with a sense of pride and dominance, when in fact he lost, making his attack a plaintive call for help. We saw him injuring our identity, when in fact our identity can never be changed, being forever as God created it. We saw him as hurting our feelings, when in fact we freely chose to have hurt feelings, so that we had just cause to punish our brother. I could keep going, but you get the idea. We ascribed a wrong meaning to our brother’s actions and that meaning is the most important element of our experience, being what generates our feelings about it. Thus, the event we saw—that form plus that meaning—never occurred.
3. You ascribed reality to actions that happened only in a dream
If this world really is a collective dream—a fact that has been revealed to people in spiritual experiences since the dawn of time—then the things that happen here don’t really happen. I once woke up in a dream and turned to a friend (who I hadn’t seen in years) and bet him it was a dream. But then I thought that when I woke up I would get that money! That bet, of course, was never made. Likewise, in a very real sense, the actions we have performed here, including all the mistakes we have made, never happened. The Course openly speaks of this: “In his dreams, he has betrayed himself, his brothers, and his God. Yet what is done in dreams has not been really done” (T-17.I.1:4-5).
This may sound rather lofty, but it is also incredibly liberating. I once read a man who had a near-death experience say that in his experience it was clear that even someone like Hitler could be forgiven. Why? He said that “Much like the slogan ‘What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,’ what happens on Earth is all forgiven in the afterlife.” Our mistakes truly stay on earth, so to speak, because they happened in a realm that was never real in the first place. Who wouldn’t be freed by that idea? Through forgiveness, we can give that freedom to our brother.
In summary, when we hear, “what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred,” we ideally should hear all three levels at once:
· My ego distorted what my brother actually did
· It then ascribed a wrong meaning to what he did
· And it then ascribed a sense of reality to what he did, when in fact it happened only in a dream
If all three of these are in fact true—and I believe they are—then it is literally the case that what we thought our brother did to us has not occurred. And that is what allows us to forgive.