Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Practice of Forgiveness

“Practice?!” To most of us, the word practice elicits thoughts of drudgery and repetition, images from childhood of sitting for hours practicing scales on the piano, or standing at the foul line shooting hundreds of free throws, or yet one more pliĆ© at the ballet barre. We are taught that through practice we’ll get better at something, and once we’re good at it, it will ultimately be fun and rewarding.
For instance, in learning to play piano, before you can play a Beethoven Sonata, you must train your fingers to move across the keys in a proscribed and controlled way, often through learning scales. The movements have to become second nature, so you can eventually play scales without even thinking. When you then move to actual musical pieces, the finger skills required have been learned and can be applied to the making of real music.
In a similar way one can practice forgiveness. There are specific techniques you can learn, and through repetition, you can improve these techniques, so that the process of forgiving can become second nature. Of course, along with the technique, there needs to be a willingness, and we’ll discuss this as part of practice as well.
The Definition of Practice
There are multiple definitions of the word practice in the dictionary, but for our purposes we will look at two of these.
Definition 1: repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency: Practice makes perfect.
Definition 2: the action or process of performing or doing something: to put a scheme into practice.
In our piano example, the first definition is the time we spend at the keyboard playing scales and musical pieces over and over in order to improve our abilities. The second definition relates to our need to find time and venues where we can perform our piano skills, and reap the joys of making real music.
In regard to forgiveness, we find these same two meanings of practice come into play. We need to learn how to forgive, through the teachings of the Course, and we need to put forgiveness into practice, overcoming the ego’s attempts to prevent us from forgiving.
The Technique of Forgiveness
Before we can practice forgiveness, we must first learn how to forgive, a technique we can repeat over and over to hone our skills of forgiveness. In reading the Course, the process of forgiveness is presented in various ways, but for our purposes we’ll focus on a specific technique that can be used repeatedly in many different situations.
This will involve three basic steps. The first is to learn to connect with the Holy Spirit within our minds. Next we will identify a specific non-loving thought where we know forgiveness is required. Finally we will apply a simple procedure to forgive, using the help of the Holy Spirit to overcome any resistance.
Step 1 – Connecting with the Holy Spirit
The first step in our technique is learning how to connect with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is simply the part of our selves that remembers our connection to God, the part of us that knows only truth and knows only love.
The Holy Spirit is present within all of our minds and can be perceived in different ways. Some may see a loving God-like figure, others may see an inner guide, but no matter how you see the Holy Spirit, you must look within the mind. There is nothing real outside the mind, so the Holy Spirit, our connection to the Mind of God, must be found there.
The first task on the path to forgiveness is to experience this Holy Spirit, a little glimpse of the wonder of God. Take a moment and think on the place in your mind where you know there is peace and love available to you. You may initially only be able to feel this place for a fleeting moment, before the ego fills your mind with all of its non-loving thoughts, but by practicing this regularly you will begin more and more to know and feel comfortable in this place.
Step 2 – Identifying a Non-Loving Thought
Once you’ve made the connection to the Holy Spirit, no matter how small it may seem, you can begin the process of forgiveness. The next step is to identify within your mind a non-loving thought. This can be a thought of anger, fear, guilt, pain, or any other thought where you feel upset or discomfort with someone or yourself or some experience.
So let’s try an example. Think about a non-loving thought you’ve had in the last day or two – any thought with feelings of fear, anger, guilt, etc. associated with it. Bring that thought to the front of your mind, focus on it intently. Feel all the emotions surrounding it. If possible, imagine those emotions as something physical, like a dark, roiling ball of ugliness.
Step 3 – Forgiving the Experience
Now holding that focus, begin to forgive everything associated with this experience. We’ve learned from the Course that all these feelings and thoughts are illusions presented to us by our egos. Knowing that, forgive each person with any connection to these thoughts, saying “I forgive…” followed by the person’s name, repeating it several times. Then forgive the experience itself, saying “I forgive…” followed by what you call the event, and then “… knowing this is just an illusion created by my ego.”
Next take that roiling ball of ugliness, with all the emotions tied into this experience and hand it off to the Holy Spirit, who remembers your place in the Mind of God and knows these emotions and thoughts are illusions with no power whatsoever. This releases the experience, the emotions, and the non-loving false thoughts. The ego loses some of its hold on you as your awareness of the Holy Spirit reminds you of where you belong.
As one final step, say “I forgive myself”, for it was you, as your ego self, that had all these thoughts and emotions originally. By forgiving yourself you release yourself from the heavy weight of responsibility for this negative experience, and because of this you will naturally feel closer to the Holy Spirit.
Practicing Forgiveness
Once you have completed this, select another non-loving thought and follow the same procedure. In this case you might try something further in the past, perhaps something in a relationship that has bothered you for years. The process is the same no matter when the thought and associated emotions first occurred. It’s still an illusion and the Holy Spirit stands ready to release you from it.
Now you’re ready to begin a regular practice. Set aside a brief time every day to forgive a few of your non-loving thoughts. After awhile, you can increase this process to several times a day as it becomes more and more natural. Eventually you may find yourself doing it without having to think about it too seriously.
Putting It All Into Practice – Continual Forgiveness
Once this daily practice becomes second nature, you can begin to apply the technique in real-time to events in your life. The ultimate goal is for you to realize when non-loving thoughts occur and to instantly forgive them. This can lead to a state of continual forgiveness, a state where every unpleasant experience in your life is immediately turned around through forgiveness.
Think about it. All the fear, pain, anger, sadness, guilt that you’ve felt over the years being instantly forgiven. This state of continual forgiveness will lead to the state of Peace the Course talks about, for if all your non-loving thoughts are being forgiven, the ego has lost its hold on you, and all that will be left is love.
You will experience resistance along the way, for the ego will not let go easily. So it’s important that you maintain your intent and focus to overcome the obstacles placed in your way. You must put forgiveness into practice, applying it to all the events of your life, if you want to free yourself from the ego’s hold.
So maybe practice, practice, practice isn’t such a bad thing after all. If practice, through both learning the technique and performing the act, frees us from the ego and brings us closer to the Love of God, why wouldn’t we do it? So get to work practicing forgiveness. You have everything to gain.

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