A Path to Self-Forgiveness

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Last week I discussed a way to approach forgiveness that treats a challenging person as energy we carry in our consciousness. Forgiveness is less about efforts toward reconciliation and more about the act of releasing the negative energy we harbor toward another. While reconciliation may be a part of our forgiveness process, our primary focus is the activity of our own mind, where our actual quality of life begins.

I was asked to continue the same theme, but with emphasis on self-forgiveness. I’ve started this title with A Path … rather than The Path … because there are various ways to approach this subject. The following are but a few questions we might want to consider:

The first is: What do I accomplish by beating up on myself? On the surface, the answer may be nothing. But at a deeper level I may draw some gratification from the act of self-flagellation. According to an article in Psychology Today, research conducted in the field of social psychology suggests at least three major reasons why people might, at times, choose to punish themselves. They have come to believe that 1) they deserve to suffer, 2) suffering will make them a better person, and 3) they are supposed to suffer.

The second question is this: What is accomplished by caving to another’s accusation that I am responsible for ruining their life? In other words, why can people make me feel guilty for not making them happy? The answer is probably related to one of the three previous items.

The most important question of all is this: Who is this self I cannot forgive?  The answer? It is the self-image, the mask that I have developed from the various roles I have played in my life. It is probably true that, given the chance, I could replay any one of them better than I did the first time around. But then again, maybe not.

The critical understanding here is that I am not the self-image that played these roles. For better or for worse, all of this passes and I, the complete soul, am left standing. It makes as much sense to blame my shadow for not representing my body’s true shape. If, as Jesus suggested, knowing the truth will set us free, then distinguishing between the self-image and the soul provides the primary path to self-forgiveness.

The Grasshopper Element

[From, A Spiritual Journey. Adapted from, A Practical Guide to Prosperous Living, revised edition, J Douglas Bottorff]

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The Old Testament offers a good illustration of the importance of self-image and the role it plays in determining how our circumstances unfold. Found in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Numbers, the story tells of how the nation of Israel, after having wandered in the wilderness for many years, was led by Moses to the border of the land the Lord had promised Abraham a few generations before. Moses, desiring to measure the strength and numbers of the occupants of this land, sent in twelve spies to gather intelligence. Upon their return, he summoned the twelve to give their assessment of the situation. They returned from their mission with good news and bad news. The good news, and all twelve agreed on this, was that this was indeed a land of abundance, a land flowing with milk and honey. The bad news, of which they did not agree, was whether Israel was capable of overcoming the inhabitants. The majority of spies, eleven to be exact, reported that the people of the land were strong and the cities were large and well fortified. Their conclusion? “We can’t take on these people, for they are stronger than us.”

There was one spy, Caleb, who thought otherwise. His advice to Israel was this: “Let us go up at once and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

How could it be that Caleb and his eleven companions could see the same people but evaluate them in two completely different ways? The answer is simple. These conflicting evaluations were not based on the actual people they saw. Their evaluations were based on how they saw themselves. This interesting fact is revealed in the report of the eleven when they said, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers and so we seemed to them.”

Naturally, if you see yourself as a grasshopper, it is going to affect the way you interact with your circumstances. A grasshopper mentality affects what you believe you can and cannot do. These grasshopper beliefs influence the decisions you make, your decisions determine actions that are in keeping with your grasshopper beliefs and your actions influence the way your circumstances unfold. In other words, if you see yourself as a grasshopper, you will naturally want to create an environment that is safe for grasshoppers.

Because they saw themselves as grasshoppers, the eleven did not believe they could overcome the inhabitants of the land. They recommended to Moses and the assembly that Israel should take no action against these inhabitants. If the assembly had accepted their recommendation, Israel would never have occupied their land of promise. The circumstances of an entire nation would have been adversely affected by the grasshopper self-image of these eleven spies.

Caleb, on the other hand, did not see himself as a grasshopper. He saw himself as a warrior for the Lord who was simply accepting the land that the Lord had promised Israel through Abraham years before. This divinely sanctioned self-image gave him quite a different perspective of the situation. It caused him to believe Israel, through the strength of this sacred promise, could overcome these inhabitants. Caleb’s recommended action was that they proceed. If they had, they may have avoided the necessity of wandering for decades in the wilderness.

The eleven spies, operating from their grasshopper self-image, their strong sense of personal inadequacy, evaluated the problem from the basis of their inventory of external assets. Because they were physically smaller and probably outnumbered, their inventory appeared to be lacking, which meant they would be unable to defeat these inhabitants.

Caleb considered these obvious facts, but he did not allow them to influence his recommendation to move forward. Because the spiritually grounded individual does not base his or her decisions on appearances, they do not need all the answers to apparent problems before they begin moving forward. Armed with the awareness of their unlimited spiritual capacity, they know that solutions to every problem will present themselves as needed.

The important point of the story is this: Had the Israelites made their decision based on Caleb’s opinion, they wouldn’t have wandered aimlessly through the wilderness for all those years. Since they made their decision based on the majority’s opinion, their circumstances unfolded in quite a different way. The difference can be traced to the quality of the collective self-image held by this group.

The better you understand this dynamic, the less likely you are to call yourself a victim of circumstance. You will more likely take charge of your own destiny. If you measure what you can do in life by what you have in your personal inventory of external assets, you may not experience the life of your dreams. This inventory will never be quite large enough to instill in you the confidence to strike out in your desired direction. You can blame circumstances as the cause for not moving ahead, and you’ll probably get plenty of sympathy.

Remember, Caleb was the only one of the twelve who voted to go forward. The eleven, I’m sure, felt perfectly justified with their decision, even though they drew the strength of their conviction from each other’s opinions rather than from their spiritually sanctioned capabilities.

The problem often is not that a thing can’t be done. The problem is that when the majority agrees that it can’t be done, the chances are good that it won’t even be attempted. Caleb illustrates that the seemingly impossible is often possible, but the power to achieve it comes only when you agree to move forward.

A Different View of Meditation

[excerpt from, A Spiritual Journey]

All of us have undoubtedly filled our conscious and subconscious files full of information about the various approaches to the practice of meditation. Our actual attempts at being still and knowing, therefore, may look very much like a search on our computer’s hard drive for an abstract notion that we deem an experience with God.

Setting aside our preconceptions of what it means to experience God, I suggest turning attention instead to our actual objective. Assuming that your soul is complete and accessible, your single interest is that of moving your awareness from your self-image to your soul. This transition can occur during your busy moments throughout the day and during those times you set aside specifically for this purpose.

It is important to understand that your soul is now and has always been instructing you on how to return. The spiritual homesickness you feel is your soul calling you home. It is also important to understand that you are responding to this call. Your dissatisfaction with your existing state of affairs and with that information you were given concerning spiritual matters can and should be taken as an indicator that something in you already inhabits the spiritual home for which you long. That something, of course, is your soul.

Most of us will interpret our dissatisfaction and spiritual restlessness as some form of lack that is ours to fill. Like the prodigal son in the far country, we come to ourselves and decide to return home, but we take it upon ourselves to begin devising the conditions that we believe are necessary for our successful return. The prodigal worked out the scheme of returning home as a servant in his father’s household, not only questioning his worthiness as a son, but also reasoning that life even as a servant would be better than the life he was leading now.

Among other things, this parable illustrates that our return home is unconditional. There are no natural barriers between where your self-awareness may be now and where it can be in its rightful home. One of the greatest unnatural barriers that we erect is the belief that our spiritual ignorance and immaturity are things we must overcome before we can return home. This false belief is generated by the self-image. The prodigal obviously believed his riotous living had compromised his right to return home at any level of heir privilege. It had not dawned on him that the sun shone just as brightly through his moments of ignorance and starvation as it had when he lived his relatively carefree life at home. “… for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

In building our understanding of meditation, the architectural concept of form following function may serve us well. When we understand that the function of every spiritual practice is the realignment of our self-awareness (I, ego) with the soul, then these practices take the forms that best address our understanding of this function (see Chapter 11 of The Complete Soul – Meditation Exercises). Most importantly, the practices become our forms, not those passed on by other people. When you look at a problem that you know you can solve, you will eventually find the solution. If you are struggling with meditation, it is probably because you are working from another’s definition of both the problem and the solution.

 

The Importance of Context

In these presentations, I am suggesting that you are a complete soul who has, for whatever reason, taken on the consciousness forming equipment and a physical body that allow you to interact with the material environment. That you have done this successfully is a more important acknowledgment than trying to figure out why you may have done it. Your reason for doing so, after all, may no longer be relevant.

Our primary motive behind our quest for spiritual understanding is that we are seeking a sense of context, an understanding of ourselves as an unlimited soul that has taken on the proper equipment to interface and interact with the material plane. We may clarify our motive with a statement like this:

I am a complete soul that has taken on a body and the consciousness forming equipment that allows me to interact with the material plane.

The problem is we have so identified with the virtual reality we have created that we have moved our self-awareness from our soul to this interfacing equipment. This would not be unlike the person who has become so addicted to the virtual reality of social media that they disconnect from the reality of their actual life.

Our first approach to meditation may be the simple contemplation of the idea that our soul is now complete, that the restlessness we feel is our soul calling us home. This, of course, does not fit the meditation model of sitting still, eyes closed, attention turned away from senses input, seeking an experience of some inner light that eludes us. At some point, we need to come to grips with the fact that our attempts at this approach have been frustratingly unsuccessful, and that doing more of the same will only produce more of the same results.

The reason this does not work for us is that it is not our method. We’re attempting to apply ideas that are still foreign to us, trying to understand the problem as someone else has explained it. We have not grasped its simplicity, or associated the concept of meditation with known feelings that allow us to work out our own solution.

While this suggestion may make some a bit uncomfortable, it will be to our advantage to lay aside all preconceived forms of meditation and develop our own method. We place our mind in the correct position by first getting a firm grasp on the function of meditation. What needs to happen? We want to move our self-awareness (the I) from our senses-based self-image to our soul. To do this, we need to experience the soul at some level. If we do not have some measure of experience with our soul, we will not know where we are going with any meditative practice. We’ll close our eyes and continue to grope in the dark.

To experience your soul, you first have to believe it is present and fully accessible. The simple statement, my soul is present and fully accessible, spoken frequently through the activities of your day, will begin to open the intuitive portal of your imagination. The opening of this intuitive aspect will begin utilizing the visualizing counterpart of your imagination without direction or any prompting on your part. In biblical terms, this is the Immaculate Conception, the emergence of the soul into the awareness without the aid of the intellect (Joseph). New inspiration and imagery will follow. These provide the type of experience that will ignite and direct your faculty of faith to your complete soul, and send you into productive bouts of active stillness. You may come to the same practices taught by the mystics of the ages, but you’ll do it on your own terms. This is your soul, after all.

When your self-image says to your busy mind, peace be still, the storm rages on. When your soul speaks these same words, the storm subsides. You gladly turn away from these internal distractions at the authenticity of the soul’s voice. From this point on, you will call no man on earth your father, your teacher or your guide. The training wheels come off.

To reach this point, four conditions are necessary:

  1. First, you accept the truth that your soul is complete and fully accessible.
  2. Understand that you are not your self-image. You are your soul.
  3. The only problem you face is that your self-awareness is attached to your self-image.
  4. The single purpose of all your spiritual endeavors is to move your self-awareness from your self-image to your soul.

Keep your eye single. Your motive for moving your self-awareness from your self-image to your soul has to be narrowed to the single purpose of knowing yourself as the soul that you are. If your motive is grounded in any other purpose than this –- i.e., the attainment of wealth, health, etc. – your eye is on some form of mammon and you will not be successful.

A Guiding Principle in Relationships

[Excerpt from, A Spiritual Journey]

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A question I hear often has to do with relationships. What is the best way to deal with, or interact with a negative person? There are, of course, many kinds of relationships. Some are close and long-term while others are casual and short-term. Because of the wide variety of relationship types, there are no pat answers to prescribed actions. There is, however, a guiding principle in relationships that you will eventually discover, if you have not already.

We are trained to think it is our religious duty, or the mark of a spiritually enlightened soul, to love everyone in spite of his or her immature, manipulative or needy behavior. Love, however, is not something we do for others. Love is a word that describes the true nature of our being, and being true to our spiritual nature is our first responsibility, our guiding principle.

If a loved one decides to sit waist deep in a pit of mud and asks you to join them, and they express clearly that if you do not grant their wish, they will be very hurt; would you feel it is your duty to appease them? Of course, you wouldn’t. You can offer your hand and help them out, but if they don’t want to come out, you will do the most for them by staying out of the pit.

There are many who desire to control others with the goal of building or maintaining their not-so-grandiose empires. If you allow yourself to be a pawn in their scheme, you become resentful. You will resent them for using guilt, shame, and pity to get their way, and you will resent yourself for confusing your compliance with love.

To love is to be a giver, but not necessarily at the level the requester is making. I give most when I believe in others, when I see that they are the inlet and may become the outlet to all there is in God. If I only give at the level they request, then I encourage them to stay at that level. This is not a very loving act when you think about it.

The best way to deal with a negative person is to continue to act from the highest that is in you. Either you’ll inspire them to follow your example or you’ll pry their fingers from your arm and move on. Either way, things will ultimately improve for you both.

Anchoring in the Eternal

[Excerpt from my book, A Spiritual Journey]

In one of my books, I wrote about the moth and why it circles streetlights. It is believed by some who research such things that the moth uses the moon as a navigational beacon. With the advent of artificial light, the moth mistakes the streetlight for the moon. It begins with large circles around the light that gradually tighten into the frantic aerobatics we see on our night walk.

What struck me about this bit of information was the fact that we humans do very much the same thing. Our natural navigational beacon is our spiritual center, our soul that rises up from our eternal Source we know as God. We become so centered in the roles we play – careers, relationships, service organizations, etc. – that we lose our conscious contact with this deeper aspect. Like the moth, we often find ourselves rapidly circling a multitude of “light” sources that leave us feeling empty. We come to believe that our life is about the sum of these artificial lights. While we go through periods where these various centers of interest are satisfying, none can provide the permanent anchor we crave and we find ourselves flying in tight and meaningless circles.

To re-establish the moon as our true beacon, so to speak, it is necessary to go out into open country, away from the city lights. That is, we take time to lay down our roles and all issues that surround our involvement with them, and simply allow ourselves to be. I find that when internal pressure is building, when my thought and emotion is invested in resolving the many issues that rise in my own city of lights, it is always because I have lost my center. I am flying around streetlights. My life has become an endless process of resolving problem after problem in an artificial world. There is little in the way of true satisfaction, little in the act of circling the streetlight that is peace enhancing, regardless of how bright and promising it is. Only the true light that “lighteth every man” gives us the inner peace we seek.

Anytime we seek fulfillment in the roles we play, we are putting impossible expectations on these roles. We cannot draw from them what we are looking for. Many try to convince the world that this is possible, that they are spiritually enlightened because they were ordained, or they are at peace because they are wealthy, or that they are prosperous because their kids are in the right schools. We can only draw what we are looking for from our inner depths. To make the role meaningful, we bring to it the healing balance we find within. If we never venture into our depths, then this inner disconnect will send us flying from streetlight to streetlight, from role to role, accomplishment to accomplishment, circling, hoping we can take away from these the satisfaction we can only find within.

We’re all in this world but not a single one of us is of it. Try as we may, we cannot draw our true being from any source outside of ourselves. Attempting to do so leaves us flying in unsatisfying circles. The resulting unrest can be our signal to momentarily leave the city, let it all go for a time and reconnect with that true beacon, that eternal anchor that we are when we allow ourselves to be free of the roles we play.

Event Versus Experience

[Excerpt from A Spiritual Journey]

I am sometimes asked how I can say on one hand that the soul is complete, and on the other hand acknowledge the challenges of the human condition. Are not these challenges evidence of a partially evolved soul? And will not the human condition as a whole be vastly improved when we finally reach the tipping point in our evolutionary process, where the lion lays down with the lamb, the hundred and first monkey begins reproducing and a new age marked by world peace finally begins?

If we ask whether Jesus was a highly evolved soul, the vast majority of the New Thought community would likely agree that he was. What this same group may ignore is that the Gospel accounts tell us that from the moment of his birth to his death, Jesus lived in the swirl of controversy that culminated in his crucifixion. As the designated Lamb of God, he left in his wake a string of carnivorous lions that threatened him throughout his life. Would we not expect a highly evolved soul would demonstrate a peaceful and prosperous life free of contention?

What we may not consider is that our Gospel accounts represent an evangelical interpretation of a series of events that, strung together like beads, present a snapshot of the life of Jesus. Virtually nothing is known of how Jesus actually experienced these events. Unlike Paul, we have no letters expressing feelings and viewpoints that would have been important to him. Considering some of his sayings, it would appear that Jesus did not equate the character of events with the quality of internal experience. The tribulation that occurred in his external world did not seem to be the yardstick by which he measured his own inner experience of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).

Failure to discern the difference between events and experience is, I believe, a significant contributor to the conscious disconnect we have with our own wholeness. Our “eye” is indeed single, but it is turned on events. We are like a person with a telescope pointed to the ground and asking, Where are the stars?

Few of us in New Thought have trouble with the idea of a spiritual body that we conceive as maintaining its wholeness even when the physical body displays episodes of illness. One healing technique is to mentally and emotionally lay hold of this spiritual body and see it manifesting throughout our physical body. In the best way we know, we take our attention away from the event of physical illness and place it on the wholeness of the spiritual body until we experience this wholeness shining forth through the physical. We may be distracted by pain and other significant inconveniences, but we slowly move the telescope of our attention from this terrestrial event of physical limitation to the heavenly experience of the vast universe.

Spiritual teachers of all time have warned against determining what is true by looking to appearances and events. To look at the turmoil in one’s life and determine that its presence is the result of spiritual inadequacy is a false judgment that forever keeps us locked into an event-oriented measure of spiritual progress. This is like looking out the window on a rainy day and thinking we are in some way responsible for the sun not shining. Despite the presence of clouds, the sun still shines. The event of rain has nothing to do with the behavior of the sun. Nor does it have anything to do with the constitution of our consciousness. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. It’s how we choose to experience the rain that makes the difference for us. If we see the clouds and the rain as effects of our inadequate understanding, then inclement weather will always serve to remind us that we have some evolving to do. If, on the other hand, we know the sun shines regardless of whether or not it rains, and that we have absolutely nothing to do with how weather systems play out, then we are free of this impossible burden. Even when we turn our telescope to the stars and see nothing but clouds, we still know the stars have not gone away. The event of a cloud cover does nothing to alter our conviction that the star-studded sky remains.

It is the dominating belief in the power of events that keeps us from experiencing the completeness of our soul. It is easier to believe in the advanced state of a Jesus, or the advanced soul of one of our favorite authors than it is to believe in ourselves. We turn our attention to these people, strip them of their life’s events and imagine that their superior understanding has allowed them to navigate through this life in ways of which we can only dream. Our experience may seem anything but divine, so we look to others with the hope of learning how they did it so we may do it as well. Regardless of how pristine an experience another may have had, looking to them for spiritual help is looking in the wrong direction. We have turned our telescope to the earth. Not a single spiritual teacher worth his or her salt ever said, Turn your telescope toward me. To the contrary, all have said, that which you are seeking is within you. Do not judge your spiritual status by the events transpiring around you. Do not compare yourself with me. Connect with your own completeness, your advocate, your comforter, your Christ. Love the lord your God.

In this way alone, you find the peace for your restless soul that longs to step forward into the full field of your vision, your understanding of yourself. Events are things that happen. Experience is the way you choose to relate to events. You do not change your experience by changing events. You change your experience by knowing the truth of your completeness.

Revisiting Forgiveness

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There is much written about forgiveness and how important it is in relation to our spiritual advancement. And yet I think so much is written about it because we find it difficult to put into practice. Because it involves personal feelings of being wronged by another, it’s usually easier to advise a friend or family member of the need to forgive while overlooking our own reluctance to do so.

In his book, From Science to God, Peter Russell makes this very helpful observation:

The conventional understanding of forgiveness is of an absolution or pardon: “I know you did wrong, but I’ll overlook it this time.” But the original meaning of forgiveness is very different. The ancient Greek word for forgiveness is aphesis, meaning “to let go.

In this sense, letting it go carries a very different feel than merely letting it pass. While we may be completely justified in our anger toward one who has wronged us, the impact of clinging to a falling-out has the effect of binding us to that negating energy we abhor. It was with this idea in mind that I shared this thought with our Facebook audience:

Forgiveness is the choice to leave behind a bit of baggage that no longer serves your highest good.

Probably one of the most common issues I have faced in ministry is the challenge of letting go of people who, in their moment of anger, have been moved to inflict harm on myself or my ministry. Even now, our church is rising from the ashes of one such incident. There are those who are quick to suggest reconciliation as the right and spiritual thing to do. I have found, however, that letting go is the better way. Those who have sought to inflict harm once are usually repeat offenders. There is no principle that says you must demonstrate your spiritual strength by again placing yourself in the path of an oncoming train. It’s much better to let it go by stepping off the tracks and letting the train pass.

If you are dealing with the question of forgiveness, try thinking of it as the act of leaving behind a bit of baggage that no longer serves your highest good. This simple shift in attitude could be the very change you are looking for.