“Everyone you offer healing to returns it. Everyone you attack keeps it and cherishes it by holding it against you. Whether he does this or does it not will make no difference; you will think he does. It is impossible to offer what you do not want without this penalty. The cost of giving is receiving.” (T-13 III. 5:4-7, italics mine)
Lying in bed unable to sleep a couple of nights ago I noticed myself getting increasingly angry as I thought about my daughter and a situation at school that I’ve been dealing with for over a week. At my daughter’s request, I’ve been trying to set up a meeting with her teachers so that we can look at ways in which she can improve in their classes. My daughter has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), which makes it difficult for her to focus and keep on task. It has been my experience that with a little willingness on her part and some minor accommodations from her teachers, she is able to compensate and do fairly well.
The problem is that her teachers have been unresponsive to my request for a meeting. A week and a half after my initial request, I was feeling powerless and frustrated; a victim of the circumstances. I blamed the teachers first for not caring enough and the public school system for offering me no real recourse. There are almost no consequences to a tenured high school teacher who doesn’t do his or her job. I know the system fairly well since I was employed by a public high school district as a teacher for over 10 years.
As I considered the magnitude of my anger, it seemed disproportionate with the size of the problem. Compared to the financial hardship that some people are going through right now, or some of the ongoing atrocities that happen in the world, my pity party over three unresponsive teachers seemed pretty trivial. It was tempting that night to just turn off the light and force myself to sleep, forgetting everything about it.
But having been in this path for a while, I know that covering up anger is not the way to go. Lesson 5 of the Workbook, “I am never upset for the reason I think,” encourages us to practice looking at all the forms of upset, as the same, regardless of their seeming magnitude. To help us prepare for the exercise, the lesson suggests we repeat: “There are no small upsets. They are all equally disturbing to my peace of mind.” Though it appears that it’s the form, or the specific circumstances, that make us upset -- in my case I believed I was upset because my daughter’s teachers didn’t seem to care about her -- in reality, the only real cause of all our upsets is that we are choosing to perceive ourselves as separate from our Source.
By perceiving ourselves as separate bodies – cut off from our Creator -- we live the illusion that we are in exile living in a cruel, dangerous world. The pain and guilt that the separation has caused us is barely hidden below the surface in our unconscious mind waiting for the right opportunity to erupt. In a way, we are looking for excuses, big and small, to project that anger or pain onto others.
Whenever we see the world as threatening, or as the cause of our upset, what we are looking at is nothing more than a picture of our unconscious mind where the guilt and pain over the separation reside. This is why the Text urges us to “See no one, then, as guilty, and you will affirm the truth of guiltlessness unto yourself.” The world provides us with an opportunity to look at our guilt, which is otherwise hidden in our unconscious mind. We see it in our interpretation of the events that we witness or in the people with who we become in contact.
As we recognize that we are not upset because other people make us upset, but because we are looking at them through a thick veil of guilt, we have the opportunity to hand over our faulty perception to the Holy Spirit (the memory of God within us) who through forgiveness will transform it. As we forgive others what we are doing is forgiving the guilt in our own unconscious mind and getting closer to the awareness of who we really are.
By looking at the situations in which we are upset as a mirror of the guilt in our unconscious mind, we begin to recognize that nothing external has the power to take our peace away. One of my favorite quotes in the text is "The secret of salvation is but this: That you are doing this unto yourself," (T-27.VII.10.1)
The Course tells us unequivocally that our anger (frustration, fear, sadness, annoyance, distrust, etc.) is NEVER justified. That does not mean that we should deny our feelings or ignore them or try to stifle them. When we feel them, we simply notice that we must be perceiving with the ego and we forgive ourselves for it. After all, that is what egos do and our goal is not to make our ego better, but rather to withdraw our identification from it.
The reason we don’t justify our anger is that when we blame somebody else for our unhappiness, our frustration, our anger, what we are doing is reinforcing the belief that the world real. For somebody to be guilty, he first has to be real. A character in a dream can have no power of its own to hurt us. If we experience any pain it is undoubtedly because we have given that character power to hurt us within the dream.
So every time we turn on the TV and allow that politician to push our buttons; or when our best friend, our spouse, or our child says something that hurts us; or when we become desperately frustrated because the environment is falling apart; or when we allow our child’s teacher to take away our peace; we are making the world real. We are choosing to believe that there is a power outside of God; that the separation is real, and that the world can have an effect on us.
As seen through the eyes of the ego, the purpose of all problems, no matter how big or small, is to create a perfect set-up for us to fall into the trap of believing that we are separate bodies, subject to powers beyond our control. The problems will come in whatever the most compelling form is for us to believe them. Our kids, our work, our loved ones, our beliefs, the environment, politics, all are suitable subjects and will provide us with plenty of perfect set-ups. Once we fall for the set-up – and we know we have when we feel anger, annoyance, frustration, sadness, confusion, fear, etc – we have fulfilled the ego’s purpose of reinforcing the separation. The ego’s only hope of survival is that we believe the set-up is real and that we react to it. As long as we fight, the ego will remain alive and well.
Forgiveness looks at the set-up, recognizes it as such and does not buy into it. It recognizes it as a dream that can have no effect on reality. The Workbook says that “Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred,” (W. PII. 1. 1) By forgiving the guilt we see in others, what we are really doing is undoing the guilt in our own unconscious mind. The Course entreats us to “See no one, then, as guilty, and you will affirm the truth of guiltlessness unto yourself. In every condemnation that you offer the Son of God lies the conviction of your own guilt. (T-13 IX. 6: 1,2)”
When we forgive others, we take responsibility for the interpretation we give to what we see. And while the situation may not change immediately, or at all, all the mental effects that we suffered as a result of it – all the anxiety, the anger, the frustration, the sadness – will dissipate and we will experience peace instead.
As I forgave the situation with my daughter’s teachers that night, a sense of love and compassion replaced my anger. I was able to see that these teachers are doing the best they can at the moment and even if it appears as if they are not interested in helping my daughter, it is still my choice to suffer. In reality, nothing has happened except in my mind.
When we met with my daughter’s school counselor yesterday morning, being free from all sense of blame, anger and frustration, I was able to listen to some options I hadn’t considered before. Every decision came easily, inspired by love rather than anger. We were able to come up with a solution that gave my daughter a huge sense of relief. Later yesterday, one of the teachers sent me an email agreeing to meet with me and my daughter today. During the meeting, unclouded by my previous judgment of her, I saw her as she is. Without the past to cloud my judgment, I saw her as loving, helpful and encouraging.
For all I know, this teacher was always the way I saw her today. I may have completely misinterpreted her emails of the past week. What I’ve come to realize is that it does not matter who is right or wrong, or even what happened. Every problem exists first and ONLY in our mind and only there can it be solved.
These ego set-ups when given to the Holy Spirit, their purpose changes. As we recognize them and we pass them over to our right mind for forgiveness, we begin to see people and problems as they are in reality and not as the ego set them up by projecting them into the world (T-27.VII.2:2). Given to the Holy Spirit these set-ups become holy opportunities to inch our way back home.
"Can you imagine how beautiful those you forgive will look to you? In no fantasy have you ever seen anything so lovely." (T-17 II. 1,2 Italics mine)