Early in my years as a Course student, I worked as a volunteer at a medium security prison for men. One day a participant of the program I was facilitating came to class looking visibly upset and angry. When I asked him why, he explained that the paperwork needed to transfer him to a facility he preferred hadn’t been done correctly, and that his opportunity for a transfer was gone; there was no way to bypass the heavily bureaucratic system under which the prison operated. He’d been counting on the transfer, and was quite disturbed by the feeling that those in control of something so important to him had made such a blunder, and that an impersonal system prevented it from being corrected.
He and I talked some about it, and about the difficulty of feeling powerless. Principles from the Course came to me, and gave shape to how I responded to his hurt and resentment. Something was said that helped him see the situation in a different light, and his anger suddenly released. I could see the darkness in his mood was gone, and peace had entered where anger had been.
The next day he approached me before the start of class looking quite shaken and bewildered. “What happened?” I asked.
He explained that after yesterday’s class he had gotten called into the office, and told that his paperwork had been done, and that he’d been accepted for the transfer. It was impossible—these things didn’t happen—but happen it did. There was no explanation; it was as though the original mistake had never been made.
I’d been learning about the ego’s use of cause and effect, and about how ego creates a sense of continuity in the world of form through the use of cause-and-effect. This continuity has an obvious practicality in the world of form, but becomes problematic when used in the service of blame. I realized that through forgiveness this young man had undone what he had done in laying blame at the feet of the bureaucracy and its workers, and that this undoing was being reflected in the world of form by showing up as though the original mistake had never happened. He was bewildered because none of it made sense from the standpoint of ego. From the standpoint outside of the ego, however, it made perfect sense.
The split mind creates relationships between things, calls one cause and the other effect, and then uses them to create a sense of continuity within the dream, guaranteeing that they will perpetuate via the belief that such a relationship between cause and effect actually exists. Forgiveness allows us to slip the bonds of cause and effect, and return to the open freedom of the present moment, where the past cannot impose itself upon the present.
It’s important to note that this understanding can’t be used to create an outcome. Attempting to use forgiveness to gain a desired result is simply another ego activity, one that will never work. Forgiveness is not a means towards gaining a result; it is a means of giving up what’s not true so that Truth can be remembered, and known. Remembering and knowing Truth—God, Self, Oneness, Love—is our greatest joy, and the experience towards which the Course continually reorients us with gentleness and love.
“Cause and effect are very clear in the ego’s thought system, because all your learning has been directed toward establishing the relationship between them. And would you not have faith in what you have so diligently taught yourself to believe? Yet remember how much care you have exerted in choosing its witnesses, and in avoiding those which spoke for the cause of truth and its effects.” (T-16.III.2:6-8)