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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Spiritual forgiveness

Spiritual forgiveness

        
    It is very common in couple counseling to hear the complaint “She doesn’t love me anymore. I know that she could if only she would, but she won’t because she is holding out on me. I’ve tried to get her to change and I have grown more frustrated and discouraged. I’ve talked to this one and that one. Their advice hasn’t helped. People are growing tired of me complaining and have told me to go for counseling.  I’m not crazy, but I don’t know what else to do. What should I do? Can you help me?”

            When the other person gets a turn, the other person says the same thing. They both have the misguided notion that the other has the power to make them happy. An objective outsider, observing this dance of mutual recrimination, recognizes that neither one of them can make the other happy. They can’t make themselves happy, let alone take the responsibility for someone else’s happiness.

            If one were aware, they would understand that they don’t have the power to make other people happy nor do other people have the power to make them happy. We, each, have the responsibility for our own happiness. To project this responsibility on anyone else is to give our power away and to deceive ourselves, barking up the wrong tree as they say, preventing us from  coming to an accurate understanding of how to achieve true happiness.

            It says in the introduction to A Course In Miracles “The Course does not aim at teaching the meaning of Love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of Love’s presence, which is our natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite. The course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.”

            The course is not talking about romantic love, or brotherly love, or altruistic love, or parental love, or aesthetic love, it is referring to something much larger, more fundamental, some might say transcendental. The course is referring to Divine Love, Grace, being one with everything. What did the monk say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything. The monk handed the hot dog vendor $5.00 for the $2.00 hot dog and when the hot dog vendor failed to give him his change, the monk complained, “Where is my change?” The hot dog vendor said, “You, monk, should know more than anyone that change comes from within.”

            On the earth plane we suffer under the illusion that “special relationships” will make us happy. “Special relationships” are romantic relationships, parent/child relationships, best friends. As we develop these relationships we expect them to be permanent and we project all kinds of expectations and requirements onto them, that if met and fulfilled, we believe, will make us happy. When our expectations and requirements are not met we complain of betrayal, disappointment, frustration, discouragement that leads to resentments, recriminations, grievances, that can becomes so severe that they culminate, in the extreme,  in homicide and suicide. The suffering experienced because of unfilled expectations at a spiritual level is totally unnecessary and can be absolved if we can forgive ourselves and our loved ones for sins and dysfunction which, at a spiritual level, never existed anywhere but in our own insane minds.

            As the Rolling Stones sang several decades ago, “I don’t get no satisfaction” and “You don’t always get what you want.” Rarely would we admit that our pain and suffering is self generated by our own conditions which we put on our efforts to love another. We don’t say it, but we think it. “I’ll love you if…….” This, of course, is conditional love. We pay lip service to unconditional love but it is rare in our own behavioral repertoire, and few people are mature enough to actually practice it, if we are honest enough to admit it.

            When our conditions, meaning our expectations and requirements, are not met we first become afraid that we won’t get what we want, and then we become angry and frustrated, and then we become discouraged and depressed. In psychotherapy we say “You can either be mad or be sad.” It usually hurts a little less if we are angry, and when we deal with our fear of loss with anger we look for someone or something to attack with blame, accusations, and sometimes mental, emotional, and physical abuse. When we act out our feelings of anger and sadness we often think of ourselves as a victim while we also are being a perpetrator.

            Often times in counseling when our conversation turns to the observation that the client is powerless to get their partner to love them the way they want to be loved I will ask, “Do you think your partner is unwilling or incapable of loving you the way you want to be loved?” Often times, the question is met with confusion and puzzlement, and rarely can the client clearly and immediately answer. This view of the relationship and situation has never been raised before, and the client may ask, “What do you mean?”

            I will say, “Well considering the person’s personality traits, the way they are neurologically wired, the way they were raised with certain values, beliefs, opinions, and practices, do you think the person is capable of loving you the way you want to be loved? Maybe they are just incompetent. It’s not that they are unwilling, and holding out on you, but they can’t.” It is frustrating to expect and require things from people that they are incapable of. While somewhat degrading I will ask them if they ever heard the joke about the farmer who tried to teach his pig to sing? When they say “no”, I say, “Frustrated the hell out of the farmer and annoyed the hell out of the pig.” I quickly will say, “I am not saying that your partner is a pig, but you are acting like a farmer who is trying to teach a person to do something that they are incapable of doing.”

            It is at this moment of awareness that the person is incapable, not unwilling, that we come to the realization that we need to forgive ourselves for having inappropriate expectations for gratification from a “special relationship” that are not going to be met through no fault of the person we are expecting the gratification from. We come to understand that “special relationships” based on expectations and requirements for our satisfaction will eventually make us unhappy.

            One of my best professors in my graduate Master’s In Social Work program used to tell us that we have to “take the client where they’re at, not where we want them to be, or think they should be, or ought to be, we have to take the client where they’re at.” When we can take people where they’re at we can begin to love them unconditionally and we experience peace and love ourselves.

            So often what we call love is really egotistical attempts to decrease our fears of loneliness, isolation, and death. Unconditional love, on the other hand, begins with first loving our self and then extending our sense of well being and gratitude to others for our awareness of Love’s presence in our lives. If we want Love in our life we have to be more loving, loving unconditionally without expecting or requiring anything in return. When we do this we should have fun doing it which adds abundant grace to our lives and great peace.

            Unconditional Love is not of this world. It does not reside on the ego plane. It is something that seems strange and unattainable and yet it is present constantly often outside our awareness blocked by the nonsense and illusions which we create and project onto our lives and relationships. Our egotistical desires, intentions, and thoughts often get in the way and block our awareness of Love’s presence like clouds blocking our sight of the sun. When we see glimmers of the sunlight of Love we become aware of being a part of ever widening and more encompassing systems of being, an interconnectedness with life we hadn’t been aware of so much previously. This growing awareness leads us to enlightenment.

            So often my clients who are frustrated and discouraged say to me, “I just don’t understand!” And I quietly say, “Yes, you do. I think you understand it very well. You just don’t want to accept it. As the Buddhists say, ‘It is what it is’. You need to forgive yourself for your expectations and requirements, and your partner for their failure to meet them. You need to recognize the torture you put yourself and your partner through because of the conditions you project that are not getting met. Forgiveness, in this case, means recognition, acceptance, and rising above the situation.

            Spiritual forgiveness is “rising above” the ego plane and letting the projected illusions go. Drop the conditions projected by your expectations and requirements. As the spiritual masters have counseled in all faith traditions for centuries, let go of your attachments. As they say in Alcoholic Anonymous, “My life is unmanageable. I need to turn my life over to my Higher Power. Let go and let God. You do your best and the universe will do the best.”

            Wayne Dyer, the psychologist, perhaps said it best when he said, “Forgiveness is really just correcting our own misperceptions.” The purpose of other people is not for them to meet our expectations. The purpose of other people is for us to learn how to forgive ourselves our juvenile resentments and to love unconditionally. Humanity will have arrived when everyone loves everyone all the time. The path to this kind of love is forgiveness and the recognition that what I do unto another I do unto myself.


Discussion guide:

 Describe a time when have you been afraid, angry, frustrated, disappointed, sad when someone let you down? How were you able to take care of yourself in spite of the distress?

 Describe a time when you were so upset about a relationship that you thought of killing yourself or someone else. Perhaps, simply, you thought that life was not worth living. How did you manage these feelings and get yourself out of this situation?

What role, if any, has your faith played in your managing the above situations?

 What else has helped you manage these situations?

What has been your experience with forgiveness? What did you learn as a child about forgiveness from your family, church, friends?

If you are a parent what have your taught your children about how to do forgiveness?

Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person has to be right about everything and will never or rarely say they are sorry? What do you think about these kinds of relationships in terms of what causes this dynamic and how it should be handled?

Do you believe in a God that loves you unconditionally or do you believe in a God of judgment who will punish you for what you think are your sins? Where does this belief in a punishing God comes from?

 Do you hope that God or fate punishes some people in your life or in the world for the bad things you think they have done? If yes, who are the people and what have they done that deserves punishment? Do you think they could ever be forgiven?

Who do you need to forgive for what? What will it take for you to do it?

What do you need to forgive yourself for? What will it take for you to do it?


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