One of the most common fears to grip us, from a very early age, is the fear of darkness. This phenomenon appears to be a natural part of child development likely due in part to children’s vivid imagination. I can remember from the time I was a preschooler, asking my mother to turn on the bathroom light at bedtime. Being able to see some light gave me the peace and comfort I needed to fall asleep. With the light on, I could see clearly that no monsters were going to attack me while I was lying helplessly in bed. Whereas in complete darkness, who knows what sinister evil creatures may be lurking about?
Even in adulthood, utter darkness has a way of putting us on edge. For example, when walking into a completely dark room, we immediately feel uncomfortable. We can’t see where we’re going and fear that we may injure ourselves or break something valuable. So what do we do? Turn on a light so the darkness disappears. Now what the darkness had previously concealed is no longer hidden. Uncertainty has been transformed into certainty. We can walk confidently about the room with a sense of peace until our mission is accomplished because the presence of light has made that possible.
Darkness is not only physical; it is also present in our relationships with others. This form of darkness might be called relational darkness. As physical darkness blinds us to what is easily seen in daylight, so relational darkness blinds us to the true nature of others. Fear and uncertainty always accompany relational darkness.
The current COVID-19 pandemic, political unrest, and confrontational public discourse surrounding both are symptoms whose root cause is relational darkness. The country is reeling with fear and uncertainty, but we have the power to change that. How? Relationally speaking, we need to turn on the light. That’s the purpose of this post.
Fundamentally, our collective problem is one of perception. As the anonymous saying goes, “We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.” What we see is subjective, a learned perception, a world that we imagine to exist. It’s this perception that is our reality.
Yet, all life is united in a finely tuned, integrated whole. In order to thrive, we must love our neighbors as ourselves because they quite literally are part of ourselves. But our learned perception doesn’t see it that way. We see separate people, living separate lives with diverging interests. We accentuate our differences rather than what we share in common. Thus it becomes easy to deceive ourselves into viewing our neighbor as an adversary rather than an integral part of ourselves. When we engage in conflict with our neighbors, we bring harm to ourselves. This is the deceptive work of relational darkness.
So, where do we find the light to help us see our neighbor as he truly is? That is where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood concepts in human affairs. We normally think of it as something we do for someone else when that someone offends us. Upon being wronged, we, in a spirit of kindness and generosity, graciously extend a pardon to the guilty party, recognizing their inappropriate actions but excusing them in order to restore peace to the relationship. But that’s not what true forgiveness looks like.
What does it look like? Let’s examine a hypothetical situation. You find yourself engaged in a discussion about the coming November 2020 elections, and someone insults you for expressing a heartfelt belief. What do you do? How do you respond? What does forgiveness look like in this situation?
The first thing to remember is that it is your own limited perception that sees what was said as an insult. You have projected your own thoughts onto the other person. We see what we have learned to see. Then consider this passage from A Course in Miracles:
“Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes. Can anyone be justified in responding with anger to a brother’s plea for help? No response can be appropriate except the willingness to give it to him, for this and only this is what he is asking for.” [T-12.I.3:3-6]
Our learned impulse is to interpret a cry for help and healing as an attack. How tragic! Then we use our mistaken interpretation as an excuse to counter attack or hold a grudge. We hurt the other person by failing to address his real need, but the hurt doesn’t stop there. Since our neighbor is part of ourselves, what we have done is also self-destructive.
We need to view “the insult” from a totally different perspective. When we are offended by what we see or hear, we are responding to an effect – an outer manifestation of an inward source of pain – rather than the root cause. The only way to help the other person and, by extension, ourselves is to recognize the insult as an expression of the other person’s emotional pain. Then our perception shifts. We can choose to overlook (forgive) the insult, dismiss it as nonexistent, and embrace the other person’s need for help and healing.
Yes. Dismiss the insult as nonexistent. How does that make any sense?
Forgiveness has to do with a change in our perception. When exercising forgiveness, we establish an entirely different view of reality. We exchange our belief in separation and conflict for belief in unity and peace. That shift in perception now brings us into harmony with the fundamental premise governing all relationships: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
So forgiveness changes everything. It is the light that shines away relational darkness. What we formerly thought of as an attack instead becomes a plea for our help. We no longer have any enemies, only friends. As we become reunited with our neighbors, our selves become enlarged. Peace replaces conflict. Everlasting love, joy, health, and well being replace fear, sorrow, sickness, and loss. All of this because the light of forgiveness has shined away the darkness, so that the darkness that once deceived us remains no more.