Volume 20 Number 4 December 2009
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
"I NEVER THOUGHT I'D SEE THOSE TREES AGAIN"
Recovering Our Innocence – Part 2 of 2
Forgiveness: Our Greatest Joy
The greatest joy this world can ever hold is knowing that we are truly forgiven; truly, truly forgiven. This joy is greatly increased by virtue of its contrast with the profound sadness brought on by our guilt. The contrast is nothing less than extraordinary, and is reflected in the juxtaposition of the wrong- and right-minded thought systems found in Lesson 93:
You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think if anyone could see the truth about you he would be repelled, recoiling from you as if from a poisonous snake (W-pI.93.1:1-2).
Light and joy and peace abide in me. My sinlessness is guaranteed by God (W-pI.93.8:2-3; italics omitted).
Becoming at last intolerant of negative feelings about ourselves, we call out in desperation and hope that there must be a "better way" (T-2.III.3:6), another Teacher we may choose to learn from, a different thought system to identify with. This invitation to the Holy Spirit begins our ascent up the ladder the ego led us down (T-28. III.1:2), the same journey Helen and I symbolically took that follows the miracle's healing path from the ego's devastating twin worlds of guilt (mind) and destruction (body) to the innocent world of light and joy and peace. All thoughts and feelings that are not totally loving to all people can be traced back to the unforgiveness of ourselves (guilt) over our perceived sin of "wresting in righteous wrath" (T-23. II.11:2) the innocence that belongs to another (and Another). As we read from the workbook:
Certain it is that all distress does not appear to be but unforgiveness (W-pI.193.4:1).
Stated in straightforward English, all distress is unforgiveness, and it is this distress that permeates our lives. As indicated above, our distress-filled lives as seeming prisoners of a body that is referred to as a "rotting prison" (T-26.I.8:3) are tolerated through our special relationships, which seem to bring a modicum of peace and succor in a world we all know on some level is not our home. But somewhere within we know that this comfort is not what Jesus offers us when he says at the close of the workbook:
You do not walk alone. God's angels hover near and all about. His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless (W-ep.6:6-8).
What worldly experience can ever come close to the joyous comfort that Jesus brings us through forgiveness? It is nothing less than the peace of God that comes when we know, not only that we are a mind, but a guiltless mind that is free from the illusions of an insane thought system, and therefore identified with the thought of truth:
Can you imagine what a state of mind without illusions is? How it would feel? … Without illusions there could be no fear, no doubt and no attack. When truth has come all pain is over, for there is no room for transitory thoughts and dead ideas to linger in your mind (W-pI.107.2:1-2; 3:2-3).
All pain is resistance, our fear of the truth of our identity as God's one Son. Within that Self, the Christ that God created one with Him, there is no place for our special, individualized identity. From deep within our minds we know that this little self, and the thought system and world that are its foundation and protector would dissolve into the Love that created us, as we read:
You have built your whole insane belief system because you think you would be helpless in God's Presence, and you would save yourself from His Love because you think it would crush you into nothingness. You are afraid it would sweep you away from yourself and make you little. … You think you have made a world God would destroy; and by loving Him, which you do, you would throw this world away, which you would. … And it is this that frightens you (T-13.III.4:1-3,5).
In order to preserve this illusory self, we built a world of separation and differences (the hallmark of the special relationship), and it is the ego self in which we have placed our faith that is the cause of our pain and suffering. This is why A Course in Miracles focuses on the healing of relationships as the means of our returning home, and forgiveness as its central teaching. Forgiveness undoes the belief that salvation comes at the expense of others—one or the other—by inculcating in us the vision born of the principle together, or not at all (T-19.IV-D.12:8). One cannot imagine this vision of all-inclusiveness more movingly described than in the inspiring words of the text's stirring final section, in which Jesus sings to us:
To your tired eyes I bring a vision of a different world, so new and clean and fresh you will forget the pain and sorrow that you saw before. Yet this a vision is which you must share with everyone you see, for otherwise you will behold it not. To give this gift is how to make it yours. And God ordained, in loving kindness, that it be for you (T-31.VIII.8:4-7; italics mine).
Yet the painful fact is that we all, to a person, do not do the simple things (of forgiveness) salvation asks (T-31. I.2:2) that we attain this vision. Nothing is more emphatic in A Course in Miracles than Jesus' constant exhortations for us not to judge, but our everyday lives are damning witness to our resistance to this simple thing. Judgments, criticisms, attacks are the bell ringers of our lives, and what can these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors be but our ego's ways of keeping us from the only truth within the illusion: the universal sameness of God's Son. While our bodies bespeak separation and differentiation, our split minds remind us that, in the words of prominent American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan, "we are all much more human than otherwise," possessing the same wrong- and right-minded thought systems, and the decision-making ability to choose between them.
To understand this strange situation of not practicing a thought system that we most deeply believe in, we need to understand our split-minded allegiance to two mutually exclusive goals: awakening from, or remaining in the dream; seeing the trees of light, love, and hope, or remaining forever in the darkness of despair and death. From our choice of goal arises our perceptual world, along with the means—vision or judgment—of attaining it. The section "The Consistency of Means and End" provides a helpful summary of our situation:
You recognize you want the goal. Are you not also willing to accept the means? … A purpose is attained by means, and if you want a purpose you must be willing to want the means as well. How can one be sincere and say, "I want this above all else, and yet I do not want to learn the means to get it"? … And when you hesitate, it is because the purpose frightens you, and not the means (T-20.VII.2:3-4,6-7; 3:4).
When Jesus asks us to be honest and hide nothing from him (T-4.III.8:2), this is what he means: He is asking us to be honest with him (and ourselves) about how fearful we are of the goal of seeing those trees again, and so we cling to the ego's means of judgment and attack. If we are truly desirous of the goal, however, we would joyfully accept the means and never see them as difficult. This desire and acceptance translates into our greeting each new day with the happy thought that it contains the very opportunities for us to learn the Holy Spirit's lessons of forgiveness. Painful or challenging situations or relationships would no longer be greeted with fear, anxiety, and resentment, but rather with the gratitude of knowing we are in class and learning the lessons that will speed us along our path, gently opening our eyes to see what we never thought we would look upon again, and remembering the innocence we thought was gone forever. Thus would forgiveness end the Othellian nightmare of guilt, paving the way for the "new and clean and fresh" vision that is Jesus' gift to us, the final act of our journey home.
Act VI: Awakening from the Nightmare
Shakespeare's tragedies have five acts, at the end of which most of the protagonists meet not-very-happy deaths, but we can envision a sixth and final act for Othello, wherein our hero awakens from his nightmare, realizing it was all a dream and that the trees of innocence had never left him. One can then envision that all that happens from the time Othello and Desdemona enter their bed chamber (II,i) until the play's end is a dream of sin and guilt (Othello having "stolen" the innocent Desdemona from her father Brabantio and eloping with her), leading to the ultimate punishment of death—homicide and then suicide.
In this new act, however, Othello awakens and recognizes that the source of this dream was his mind's decision to be separate, for Acts II-V were nothing more than "an outside picture of an inward condition" (T-21. in.1:5), a "pictorial representation of [his mind's] attack thoughts" (W-pI.23.3:2). Because it was his mind's decision to dream the nightmare, his sleep can be changed to a happy dream, from sin to innocence, guilt to forgiveness. Othello is now free to choose to listen to the voice of his true Friend and not the voice of the prevaricating enemy. His inner ears having opened, he is able to hear the sweetest song we could ever imagine in this despairing dream of death, the voice of Jesus again singing to us and offering us the hope this world can never give:
How can you who are so holy suffer? All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing. I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance. They are beyond destruction and beyond guilt. They came from the Holy Spirit within you, and we know what God creates is eternal. You can indeed depart in peace because I have loved you as I loved myself. You go with my blessing and for my blessing. Hold it and share it, that it may always be ours. I place the peace of God in your heart and in your hands, to hold and share. The heart is pure to hold it, and the hands are strong to give it. We cannot lose. My judgment is as strong as the wisdom of God, in Whose Heart and Hands we have our being. His quiet children are His blessed Sons. The Thoughts of God are with you (T-5.IV.8).
Jesus' love does not really erase our destructive and guilt-ridden thoughts, but rather calls us to realize that they were truly nothing. Withdrawing our belief from them is the cause of their gentle evanescence, and thus we learn that nothingness can have no effect on us for dreams are not reality. This allows the space for the memory of the Love that created us to dawn upon our minds. The Thoughts of God that Jesus speaks of—the innocence of our true Self—have never left us, nor have we left Them. In gratitude do we awaken from the dream of sin and death, remembering the home in Heaven we never abandoned. Through tears that are born of the most wonderful joy imaginable, our reawakening right-minded self exclaims, as did Helen: "I never thought I'd see those trees again." And we are glad and grateful it is so (W-pI.200.11:9).