Most of us are familiar with that toe-curling, tummy-twisting feeling of shame over something that we did or said and which we feel is irreparable. Whether it was 5 minutes ago or 50 years ago the memory produces a similar contraction and this can occur whether our error (as we perceive it) was minor or a ‘biggie’.
Recently I found myself talking with a friend about something she felt deep remorse over and which has weighed heavily on her heart for years. Self-forgiveness appeared out of reach and the ‘soul-eating’ emotion of shame (as described by Jung) was impacting on her life, behaviourally and physically. Of myself I found it difficult to find the right words, yet in turning to A Course in Miracles the help simply flowed. Sharing ‘what came’ allowed greater awareness and the warmth of healing light into my friend’s heart, and my hope is that what is written here may be helpful to anyone who may also be carrying a similar burden.
First of all, when we feel ashamed about something we have done, we can be sure that we are analysing the situation with the same ‘inner teacher’ that led us to take the mistaken action in the first place, and that teacher would be the ego. ‘The devil made me do it’ and now he’s punishing me for it. This is a double-bind indeed!
Additionally it is our ego that convinces us that the shame we still feel now is because of those things that occurred, and because they are in the past there is nothing we can do about it. This is a crippling ego device that ensures our guilt stays locked in place forever, playing havoc with our thoughts and actions now and in the future.
‘Now has no meaning to the ego. The present merely reminds it (the ego) of past hurts, and it reacts to the present as if it were the past.’ T.13.IV.5.
Another tactic of the ego is that the shame must be kept hidden and not addressed at all. So that ‘bad thing’ is buried deep within, avoiding any possibility of release and healing, thereby continuing to drive present suffering. There can be a feeling of sickness or avoidance when the possibility for healing comes up (therapy for example) and this response is the ego’s warning of ‘don’t go there’.
‘The ego cannot tolerate release from the past, and although the past is over, the ego tries to preserve its image by responding as if it were present.’ T.13.V.5.3
The ego would rather cripple you through guilt than see you be vulnerable and open to healing, so it defends against that. It ‘exerts maximal vigilance about what it permits into awareness’ T.V.1.3. This can go on for the entirety of a person’s life. The trouble is denied guilt (pushed away out of awareness) can lead to illness, to outbursts and to projection which may hurt others and self. Those who deny their feelings rather than allowing them up into the light of awareness may become ill, or self-harm in the form of ‘accidents’ for example.
My friend had found herself making poor choices in relationships because of the belief that her past dictated her current deservedness. ‘It (the ego) dictates your reactions to those you meet in the present from a past reference point.’ T.13.IV.5.4 The ego is a cruel teacher for sure, telling us we will never be able to change the past, and thus we are restricting our ability to be happy right now because of something that is impossible to change. Essentially we are holding fast to something that doesn’t exist at all. The past is gone. It is just a story made up of a bundle of thoughts, and these thoughts and their residue we can be free of.
Blessedly, A Course in Miracles offers us a way out of the grip of the ego’s thought system, and that is the choice to move beyond it (out of it) and to change our inner teacher. As soon as we have had enough of suffering we can ‘choose again’. We can turn to the Holy Spirit – the Presence of Love that resides within our mind – to help us look at our troubling actions through His loving and non-judgmental eyes.
‘You have let the belief in darkness (guilt) enter your mind and so you need a new light. The Holy Spirit is the radiance you must let banish these ideas of darkness.’ T.5.II.4
We say ‘I want to see this/myself differently now. Please help me’. Our willingness to be relieved of guilt allows this Inner Presence to use whoever or whatever is available to us in our lives to help us ‘let it go’. The Holy Spirit will show us that the mistakes we made – and which we judge ourselves so harshly for – were really ‘calls’ for the love that we believe we do not have inside of us.
I felt prompted to share these words with my friend: “You would not have done the things you think are so terrible if you were not seeking for the love you felt you do not have. There is no ‘sin’ or crime in seeking for love. Everyone here is seeking for love and completion in their own way, and some ways of seeking for this are hurtful to ourselves and others. Again, there is no shame in this, only a mistaken perception because in truth you ARE the love that you seek.
The Holy Spirit will teach you to accept that all things, no matter what the ego may tell you, work together for good. And this includes what you would call your ‘past’ and your ‘mistakes’. Can you see that your mistakes led to a magnificent opportunity for you to learn to forgive yourself and others (this naturally follows forgiveness of self) – and there is no greater purpose than this. Additionally your part in the situation you feel guilty about was contributory to the potential healing and growth of all others who were involved. Your actions were an offering, or an invitation if you will, to those souls to remember their true nature and to learn forgiveness too. This is why A Course in Miracles teaches that ‘only appreciation is an appropriate response to your brother. Gratitude is due him for both his loving thoughts and his appeals for help, for both are capable of bringing love into your awareness if you perceive them truly’.” (from T.12.6.1)
How loving and gentle is this interpretation in comparison to the harsh judgment that we often accept for ourselves?
We are all operating in a veil of forgetfulness in which we believe we are bereft of love, and therefore everyone is frightened and confused. The deep, ontological guilt over the seeming separation from our Source is what drives our sense of ‘lack of love’. We are unaware of this deep inner pain yet it is there, unconsciously denied and consequently projected outwards onto others. This is why relationships are so conflictual. Frightened people unknowingly projecting their fear and self-hatred onto each other (and onto themselves) – for they have quite forgotten their shared innate divinity and innocence, and their true nature as Spirit. The Course says that we live in a world that is ‘made mad by guilt’. That means a world made mad by the misperception of who we truly are – as divine Children of God – and when we look around, isn’t that misperception glaringly obvious?
The Course tells us repeatedly that we are infinitely loved, lovable and loving, and we are innocent – and not even the worst mistake will ever change that, and it implores us to hand over (to Jesus or the Holy Spirit) our ‘dreams’ (beliefs) in our ‘sinfulness’. ‘Nothing you can do can change Eternal Love. Forget your dreams of sin and guilt, and come with me instead to share the resurrection of God’s Son’ (M.5.6.10) which means hand over all your feelings of shame to the Loving Presence within your mind so that you may remember the innocent Child of God that you are.. and be free of all you have held against yourself! If we continue to suffer we are simply aligning with a concept of self that is not true and this need not be!
Jesus tells us that the only thing that is real are our loving thoughts and actions – our creations or extensions of love. All else is gone because he has ‘saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance.’ So with that in mind, when thoughts of shame arise in the mind one could ask oneself: ‘How can you who are so holy suffer? All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing.’ T.5.IV.8.3
Tell yourself ‘I would not allow my mind to be deceived by the belief the dream I made (the story I have told myself) is real an instant longer’ and then ‘give the Holy Spirit everything that would hurt you’. With a little willingness to see ourselves differently, and with the Divine Help that is totally accessible and simply waiting on our invitation, the emotions of shame and guilt can be released and dissolved back into the nothingness – the falsity – from which they came.
Let shame be gone now – and with its release the present and the future are born anew. We can rejoice knowing that the past IS gone and it can touch us no longer. I am looking forward to seeing beautiful things unfold for my friend as she allows this new awareness into her heart! ♥