By Karen Bentley
America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock, recently moved out of the house in California she shared with bad boy husband, Jesse James, after allegations surfaced that James carried on an 11-month affair with tattoo model, Michelle Bombshell McGee. Oh my goodness, what’s the world coming to? If Bullock doesn’t have what it takes to keep a man faithful, who does? After all, Bullock is rich, smart, and enormously successful. Oh, and she also has a perfect body and a perfect face, the kind men swoon for.
After getting caught with his pants down, so to speak, an upset James responded with a public statement. “There is only one person to blame for this whole situation,” he said, “and that is me. It’s because of my poor judgment that I deserve everything bad that is coming my way.” Click on any talk show and you’ll hear the same question over and over. Should our beloved Sandra forgive the dastardly Jesse? And if yes, then what are the steps towards forgiveness that need to be taken?
As we explore the concept of forgiveness, the most important thing to keep in mind is that there’s a radical difference between the popular social version of forgiveness we all know and practice and the uncompromisingly spiritual version of forgiveness, which is still a mystery to most Earthlings. One type of forgiveness makes you feel bad about self or another. The other one makes you feel good. A quick and easy way to tell the difference is to do an experiment in your own life. Try both methods and see which one makes you happier.
First, let’s take a look at the social forgiveness conventions around infidelity. Typically, forgiveness is only extended and accomplished when a set of certain mandatory conditions are met, and which may involve a rather extended period of time. The person to be forgiven must admit his or her badness or wrongness and must express genuine remorse. Then he or she must apologize. This apology might need to be repeated several times – perhaps the remainder of life. And lastly, he or she must vow to never be unfaithful again. Adulterers get bonus forgiveness points if they come up with a plan of action to prevent future problems from cropping up, such as marital counseling, sex rehab, or other prescriptive activities.
Even after the unfaithful spouse does all this jumping through hoops and posturing, the spouse doing the forgiving is still not socially obligated to forgive. After all, a breach of the exclusive love contract is a grievous assault! The wronged spouse has the option of staying hurt and offended for as long as subjectively deemed appropriate. Ultimately, forgiveness can be denied. Forgiveness can be delayed. Additional acts of contrition can be demanded to make up for the pain and humiliation of betrayal. The adulterer’s infidelity can be brought up as frequently as desired and as long as desired , even if the requisite “I forgive you” words have been expressed. This is the treachery that routinely passes for forgiveness of infidelity in our culture and in many others.
Ultimately the social version of forgiveness is a waste of time and totally dysfunctional because it doesn’t undo the hate in the mind of either spouse. Instead, it keeps hate alive and ever-present. Judgment of an adulterer as a bad person is a lethal but unrecognized form of hate. This hatefulness is more than just socially acceptable. Rather, the collective practice of judging adulterers to be the swarmiest rats of the world is socially desirable and actively encouraged!
Contrary to popular belief, however, there is no such thing as “good” hate, which is justified and warranted, and “bad” hate, which is unfair and never justified. Hate is hate, and it blocks happiness. Always. Here’s how it works. The adulterer judges self as bad and feels guilt, which is self-hate. The wronged spouse judges the adultering spouse as bad and feels anger, which is hate of another. Hate makes you unhappy whether it’s directed towards self or another. That’s the bummer of it all. We think we can secretly hold hate in our mind for another, but unfortunately the hateful thought bites you in the ass and gets used against self in one way or another. Maybe it makes you sick. Maybe it makes you afraid. Maybe it rattles you so badly you can’t do what you need to do in life. Only love can make you happy, and love is experienced whenever hateful thoughts are neutralized and undone.
Spiritual forgiveness is different from social forgiveness because it neutralizes and undoes the hateful thoughts in your mind. It requires a tiny willingness to change the desired outcome. The goal of social forgiveness, as everyone knows, is to get something, and that something could be retribution, justice, power over another, the fulfillment of demeaning conditions, and maybe a dose emotional pain and punishment thrown in for good measure. Whereas the goal of spiritual forgiveness is to be something, and that something is the experience of Self as Love. In fact, the whole dramatic betrayal scene has the potential to be exploited, deliberately and strategically, to override or transcend the automatic impulse to hate.
Transcendence is accomplished by replacing the hateful thought with a harmless one. When you notice a hateful thought in your mind, you simply change your mind and have a different thought. Since the mind can only hold one thought at a time, a benign, neutral thought is chosen to replace the harmful one. That’s really all there is to it. It’s not rocket science, which is great because that means everyone can do it. It doesn’t require a counselor. It doesn’t require a set of conditions or steps. You don’t have to express an out loud verbal statement of any kind. For now, you’ll just have to trust me about the hidden power of spiritual forgiveness. Once you try it, you’ll come to self-discover there’s nothing so uplifting and so fulfilling as the intentional experience of Self as Love when the impulse to hate is banging on the door and calling your name. You absolutely need the pressure and leverage of a challenging relationship to bring the love that is your Truth into your life experience. This is how you come to know yourself as a loving being, and it only happens under fire.
Transcending the judgment of badness is not to be confused with passively overlooking the problem that’s in your face, making nice and going with the flow. Here’s how transcendence works using a more tangible example. Let’s say your teenager accidentally forgets to turn off your stove after cooking something, and your house catches on fire and burns down. The correct, most functional and loving action is to solve the problem at hand, which is dealing with your burned down house, but without assigning blame or judgment. Okay, so first you make sure everyone is safe and you salvage whatever you can. Next you figure out where to temporarily live. Next you submit your insurance claim. Next you talk to your teenager, find out how it happened, and put preventive safety measures in place so it doesn’t happen again. And on and on it goes. These are all active, non-passive steps you take to solve the problem at hand. What’s different is that you’re not making your teenager bad or wrong while you’re at it. See how it works? It’s so subtle you could easily miss it.
Now let’s get back to the dear and wonderful Sandra and Jesse, who do the thankless service of representing us. Sandra has four basic choices. 1) She can whine and complain about what she doesn’t want, which includes obsessing about Jesse’s bad behavior and whether or not she can ever trust him again, and stay married, but unhappily. 2) She can whine and complain about Jesse’s bad behavior, leave him, and be unhappy about the wretchedness of the situation ever after. 3) Alternatively, she can ask Jesse for what she wants, overlook his mistake, and stay married, happily. 4) Or, she can realize she wants something Jesse can’t deliver and leave with no bad feelings. The last two options are the loving, functional and practical choices because they solve the problem, but without judging Jesse or making him bad or wrong.
Philandering is not unique to Jesse James, and yes, he’s a descendent of the famous outlaw with the same name. It’s a persistent problem common to both genders. According to www.infidelityfacts.com, 57% of all married men and 54% of all married women admit to infidelity. Even more revealing, 74% of married men and 68% of married women say they’d most likely have an affair if they knew for sure they wouldn’t get caught. If you’re married, there’s a high probability you’ll either be the one who commits adultery or you’ll be the wronged spouse. You think it can’t happen to you, but the odds say it will. So why the surprise? Why the public scorn and moral outrage?
Disappointment with unfaithful spouses is born from the grown-up fairy tale that love is special and exclusive. Every girl and boy believes there’s a special someone out there, ”just for me,” a soul mate who traveled through time and eternity with the life purpose to have this special love relationship. Our marriage vows add to this by reminding us we are to “forsake all others.” The dream of special love is made stronger and more concrete by one of the most fundamental beliefs about God. Most people, for example, believe that God not only sanctions and blesses exclusive, special limits on love, but that He (and please excuse the writing convention of a male pronoun) mandates or orders this limit on love.
Even more, the 7th Commandment from the Christian and Jewish traditions, explicitly prohibits adultery. This is widely interpreted and accepted as a rule given to us directly from God, which makes adultery the worst kind of sin, the kind that puts you in hell forever. Yet we already know that love does not judge. So if you believe, like I do, that God is love and only love, then His judgment of our badness or wrongness is not possible. Instead of damnation and suffering, we are instead asked to be “in his image,” which is another way of saying we are asked to love in the way that He loves.
God’s love shines on a Mother Teresa and a Charles Manson equally. It’s a love without limits or conditions of any kind. It’s a love that is for free. God is not concerned if we love Him back. And we cannot strike a bargain with Him to make ourselves more worthy of His love or to get more love for ourselves. Like the sun, God’s love shines on everyone. We can ignore it. We can block it. We can deny it. But we cannot turn it off or influence it in any way.
Awakening to the realization that love is not special does not have to be a terrible, unwanted experience of pain, suffering and humiliation, but is usually perceived that way. Consequently, no one willingly wants to wake up. No one. Not even me. This is why public transgressors like Jesse James and others are so vigorously condemned and forced to conform. It keeps the dream going a little longer. I’m not suggesting we throw out our social and religious conventions and indulge the urge to have extra marital affairs whenever an opportunity presents itself. What I am suggesting, however, is that the time has come to reconsider the harsh and extreme judgment of badness that’s assigned to people who make marriage mistakes.
You’ve probably made a marriage mistake just like this, too. So what? Forgive yourself. Forgive your spouse. We all make mistakes as we figure out how to bop along through life. Forgiveness, which is the transcendence of hate in the mind, is always appropriate. Forget everything you think you know about forgiveness and replenish your empty heart with an uncompromisingly spiritual way of thinking that will leave you renewed. Tune out the well-intentioned, good-looking media-savvy counselors and others who do not understand the path of Love. They will lead you wrongly.
Put your faith in the miracle of Love. Every problem is solved through Love. Listen to your heart, not to me. Love is the only thing that really matters – especially love of self.
Karen Bentley specializes in writing about the power of Love and the mind-body-spirit connection. She’s the author of The Book of Love, America’s Spiritual Reviewer, the My Thin Lifestyle Reviewer, and the creator of The Sugar-Free Miracle™ Diet System. For more information, go to any of Bentley’s websites: www.karenbentley.com