What are your thoughts on the one-two-three method of forgiveness?

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

Vivian Blair asks: While doing Lesson 60, forgiveness jumped out at me. I particularly feel at a loss with it and struggle with finding an effective way to help me to remember and practice throughout the day. What are your thoughts on the one-two-three method for forgiveness as I interpret from Gary Renard?

  1. I forgive [you?] for seeing me as separate from God
  2. I forgive myself for seeing me as separate from God
  3. Holy Spirit, I can do this through You…

Answer: I understand your struggle. Forgiveness as taught by the Course does take a long time to grasp, both on a conceptual level and a practical one. Along the way, we students search and search for clear summaries that will condense it all down into something we can easily understand and remember. Unfortunately, however, the summaries we pick up usually fail to be truly consistent with the Course.

A case in point is the process you mention from Gary Renard. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of what you report about his three-step method. Here, however, is a forgiveness exercise I found in Disappearance of the Universe (p. 256), which has points in common with the three steps you listed:


A Thought Process Example

You’re not really there. If I think you are guilty or the cause of the problem, and if I made you up, then the imagined guilt and fear must be in me. Since the separation from God never occurred, I forgive “both” of us for what we haven’t really done. Now there is only innocence, and I join with the Holy Spirit in peace.

Only very rarely do I address the specific teachings of another Course teacher. In more conventional discourse in the world, such a thing would be perfectly natural. It would be an understood part of the search for truth. Yet in spiritual circles, people get quite uncomfortable about it. However, since you have brought it up, I’ll do the uncomfortable thing here, which I think has relevance. The fact is that whether we talk about these other interpretations or not, they often profoundly influence how we understand and practice the Course.

The basic problem with Gary’s teaching on forgiveness is that you are getting someone’s interpretation of someone’s interpretation of the Course. You are getting Gary Renard’s interpretation of Ken Wapnick’s interpretation of the Course (as you may know, I am personally convinced that Gary’s masters are fictional). Further, Ken’s interpretation is based on the idea that the Course’s language is mostly metaphorical, being meant as a kind of buffer to protect us from the real meaning, which we couldn’t handle. Ken’s interpretation, therefore, is intentionally distant from the literal meaning of the Course. So in Gary’s teachings, which are his interpretation of Ken Wapnick’s teachings, you are two big steps removed from what the Course actually says.

This has at least two results. One is that his interpretation is formulaic. You see this throughout the chapter on forgiveness in Disappearance of the Universe, where the basis for forgiveness is often said to be the fact that nobody is out there, or “I made you up” (in the words of the exercise above). As a result, forgiveness is repeatedly boiled down to this: “I forgive both my projected images and myself for dreaming them” (p. 240). This kind of simple formula is quite alien to the Course, which weaves a rich tapestry of themes into its concept of forgiveness.

The second result is that this simple formula is fundamentally at odds with the Course’s teaching. Central to the Course’s concept of forgiveness is that I am forgiving a real brother, a real Son of God, and that my forgiveness is a genuine gift to him, a gift that is consciously aimed at relieving him of his burden of guilt. The Course says, “Remove all trace of guilt from his disturbed and tortured mind. Help him to lift the heavy burden of sin you laid upon him and he accepted as his own” (T-19.IV(D).16:4-5). Does this sound like my brother is my projected image? Does it sound like “nobody is out there”?

Instead of embracing a simple formula that goes against the Course’s concept of forgiveness, we need to do the reverse. We need to understand the essential concept accurately and then apply it in all the variety that the Course does.

The basic concept is this: Forgiveness is letting go of resentment and retaliation. My resentment and retaliation are based on a certain perception of the other person. I perceive him as an attacker who is separate from me, who hurt me, who gained from my loss, and who is thus deserving of anger and punishment. To forgive, quite simply, is to release this perception and adopt a new one. In this new one, this person is not really an attacker, but a Son of God who attacked only in a dream. He is not separate from me; we share a common Self. He did not really hurt me, for my reality is invulnerable. He did not really gain from the attack; all he “gained” was the pain of guilt. And he is not really deserving of anger and punishment; God created him eternally deserving of love, and he can never change that.

If I can adopt this new perception, my resentment and desire to retaliate will automatically go, to be replaced by love. This is because emotions and behavior follow from perception. Shift the perception, and emotion and behavior will shift automatically.

There are many more themes that are woven into the idea of forgiveness, but that is the basic idea. Forgiveness relinquishes the perception of another that justifies resentment and retaliation, in exchange for a perception that justifies love and joining.

Once you get this basic concept, you see it all over the Course, both in the form of teaching and in the form of a tremendous profusion and variety of practices. In fact, the lesson you were doing—Lesson 60—includes a review of a key forgiveness practice in the Course: Lesson 46. In Lesson 46, you search your mind for people you have not forgiven and then to each one say, “God is the Love in which I forgive you, [name]” (W-pI.46.4:4). The basis for this practice is simple. If you saw this person from the vantage point of God’s Love, a love so pure that it cannot even conceive of condemnation, then forgiveness would be effortless.

Just a few lessons after Lesson 60 comes another forgiveness exercise: Lesson 68. There, we again search for people we have not forgiven. To each one we say, “I would see you as my friend, that I may remember you are part of me, and come to know myself” (W-pI.68.6:3). We normally think that to keep ourselves intact, we have to keep this unsafe person at arm’s length. Our identity, in other words, depends on his distance. This practice, however, implies just the opposite. It implies that perceiving this person as an enemy who is split off from us causes us to lose touch with our identity, to forget who we are. Therefore, we need to reverse this perception. We need to see this person first as friend (not enemy), and then as part of us (not split off). Only then, with the two of us at one, can we ourselves become reacquainted with our own true identity.

These two practices are very effective in shifting our perception of other people. Yet notice how different they are. On a surface level, they have virtually nothing in common. They are anything but repetitions of the same simple formula. Further, both clearly imply that there is a real person there, a real person to be loved (46), to be befriended (68), and to be at one with (68). This is poles apart from the “nobody out there” perspective.

Yet these, of course, are just two forgiveness practices. There are scores, if not hundreds more in the Course, and they are all different. So instead of using some formula that is always the same, make use of the variety in the Course. You won’t get bored so easily, and each new practice will give you a slightly different angle from which to experience forgiveness. And only by approaching it from all those angles will you really understand—on an emotional level—the spacious, magnificent idea of forgiveness.

My advice, then, is to make sure your understanding and practice of forgiveness are directly rooted in the Course (which I know is why you are asking). First, seek to understand the basic concept of forgiveness as taught by the Course: shifting your perception of another from one that justifies resentment to one that justifies love. And then practice forgiveness in all the many multifaceted ways that the Course recommends.