I first learned of the Atonement when I read A Course in Miracles. Atonement is the place where we are abolished of all guilt and shame. Our true identities reside there, untouched and unscarred. But there is one condition in accepting the Atonement, we must be fully aware that this is not an act of admitting guilt in order to be resolved of it, it is an act of accepting with all of our heart that we have never created anything but love. It is not the ego that is being offered the Atonement, it is our true-self. The ego will claim to have accepted the Atonement but, deep down, it adores guilt and it adores shame. It adores these things because they are powerful allies at keeping us stuck in delusion. They strengthen the false impression of existing as an individual person. They serve as lead weights around our feet to keep us stuck in the dream.
In A Course in Miracles, Jesus explains that what we call sins are actually the times when we miss the mark; the junctures in life when we aren’t making choices from the soul, but the ego. These are the moments when we are fast asleep, and during those times, the ego comes up with a story, a justification, or an urge to convince us to do something that does not sit right in our gut. After we have followed the ego's instruction, it changes tactic. Now it wants to crucify us for doing what it told us to do. Every reason that it initially used to persuade us what choice to make, has now been replaced with a vicious and scathing commentary about why we shouldn’t have done what we did, and furthermore, we will be punished for our actions. We will suffer.
The ego has many members in its allegiance, and guilt, shame, and fear are probably the toughest trio to conquer. They are a huge stumbling block to awakening and so the universe is going to make absolutely sure that we have faced them. It will do this by finding the spots in us that are the weakest. It will aim unswervingly for our Achilles heel, and it will stick its finger directly in the wound. In an instant, the ego will rise up like a tsunami in a mixture of pain, rage and despair, sucking us straight back into the story of mistaken identity. The line is so thin, so delicate, that we can cross it in a second, but this doesn’t make us stupid or weak. When we created this game so very long ago, we did not create a scenario that was easy to figure out or escape from. After all, how much fun would that be? A Course in Miracles states that ‘It is a mistake to believe that a thought system based on lies is weak. Nothing made by a child of God is without power. It is essential to realise this, because otherwise you will be unable to escape from the prison you have made.’
Guilt and shame are conmen of the highest order, and with their silver tongues and vicious words they will tie us in knots, weighing us down with bricks of culpability and dishonour, and before we know it, we’re sinking to the bottom of the river, swallowing their convincing lies, and dropping like a stone. But the universe is probing us just where we need to be probed. In awakening, no stone can remain unturned. We can’t stuff down our secrets as they will always learn to swim. And just when we think we’ve got it sussed is the exact time that we need to be the most vigilant, because the ego has saved the best for last, waiting to blindside us with its clever antagonists of guilt, shame, and fear.
My beautiful reward
They have come for me in the worst way possible, this trio. They have torn the unhealed scab from my heart and plunged their fingers into my most tender parts. It feels as though there is concrete on my chest and fire in my brain; a horrible sickness that spreads through me, for I have sabotaged the one thing most precious and sacred to me, the one thing that I thought was my beautiful reward for all that I’d endured before. I’d been handed the Holy Grail and I’d grasped at it too soon, I’d not shown the patience and the honour that it deserved, and for that decision I would be punished. And the worst feeling was the realisation that I had caused my twin to feel all of this too. He would also have to face this battle; this awful tearing between supposed right or wrong, good and bad; the molten hot lava of shame, the suffocating, wretched guilt, and the crushing anticipation of divine retribution and suffering.
Every regret and misdemeanour I’ve ever acquired joins in this battle, clambering aboard my fiercest regret, weighing me down even further. I try so hard not to sink, but I am. I’m never going to be happy. There is no escape. This is the stage in awakening where I will fail spectacularly. I want to kneel at the feet of these beasts and beg them to set me free. I want to implore them to have mercy on me. I want to run from them and live somewhere that they don’t exist to pollute all innocence and punish every foot put wrong. This is the one battle I will never win, the burden I have carried since I was just a little girl. I am responsible for everything and the blame is all for me. My conditioning has been carved into me with such utter severity that I know I will not be saved. I have nothing left to defeat these accusations with, no strength left to brace myself for the never-ending punishments that will surely come.
So many thoughts run through my head, but the overwhelming feeling is one of hopelessness. The load is so encompassing and cloying that I know I will punish myself forever, that I, as the ego, will sabotage any smidgeon of joy or perfect love to come my way. I cannot forgive myself because I have crossed lines that should never have been crossed. I am doomed to lose every time, every way. These forces of guilt and shame and fear are so substantial that I can taste them, touch them, feel them, and know them. They cling to me like mud. I have become them.
A chink of light
But eventually, in the stillness, a chink of light breaks through my torment and self-loathing. For if I am love, doesn’t that mean I deny my very self if I say that I am not love, and am instead, guilt and shame? And if lines were not meant to be crossed, how is it so that my little-self was able to cross them? It crossed them because it was afraid of not crossing them. It crossed them because it had to know what it was not, in order to remind itself of who it was. It crossed them because that’s what the little-self does. It ties itself in knots for the exact reason that it can persecute itself later. It does this because the ego is insane.
My opponents are convincing, they’re the ego’s star players after all, but anything that tries to make love blasphemous is not real, anything that tries to contort love into something ugly is not real. Anything that would take an act of two people that dearly love each other trying to make the other one happy and turn it into a mistake, is not real.
This divine knowledge rises up in me like a brute force and bursts free, and it is a force far stronger than guilt or fear or shame. It is brighter and truer than any perceived threat of punishment. There is only love. If a promise had to be broken, at least it was broken for love, no matter the tormentors that danced around it, at the centre of it all, always, was love. And, furthermore, if everything happens perfectly and cannot ever go wrong, then all that ever happens is right, all that ever happens was meant to be.
In the book I Am by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, there is a part where the interviewer tells Nisargadatta about a young boy who was born blind. He asks him why this was so and if the guru can help him? The guru explains that the blindness was a part of the boy’s destiny and would all have been agreed to. The interviewer then asks if even the fact that he is there asking about the boy’s blindness was written in the boy’s destiny? And Nisargadatta says, 'yes.' As I recalled that line, the room seemed to fall away. For all that has ever been and all that ever will be, is an intricate cog of destiny no matter what we choose to label it as. The soul knows this. It resists nothing. It is only the ego that claws against the current and torments itself with regrets or persecution of itself and others.
Yet again, as all parts of this awakening have been, it is a choice between the unreal and the real, and just because the voices of guilt, shame, and fear are thick with persuasion, does not mean we have to be taken in by them. We, like the sky, have always remained untouched and unaffected by any storms that pass through it, and we have every right to accept the Atonement. So what if instead of allowing these visitors to drive us deeper into the dream, we used them instead to escape it? What if we trusted in our entirety that the only thing ever missing in any situation where guilt, shame, and fear dominate us, is love?
My identity as the soul is as the knowledgeable master, and the thoughts and the emotions known as guilt, shame, sorrow, and fear? They are the confused and lost children that run around in hysteria within me. They wish only to be loved, and it is my job to love them. It’s not my job to condemn them, criticize them, or identify with them. Neither is it my job to deny them. They run to me, all of them; remorse, self-loathing, inadequacy, worthlessness, and my task is to embrace them with tenderness. It is not my task to pick them up and use them as weapons to forget myself with or punish myself with.
We are not responsible for anything that happened while we were sleeping. Even the part of us that plays the game of suffering is not who we are. A Course in Miracles states, ‘You associate guilt with a weird assortment of ‘ego ideals’ which the ego claims you have failed. Yet you have no idea you are failing the son of God by seeing him as guilty. Believing you are no longer you, you do not realise that you are failing yourself.’
So, in essence, there is only one mistake, and it is not amongst the huge selection that the ego ruminates over; it is the simple mistake of forgetting ourselves.
Whatever guilty story it is that mocks you or sabotages you, whatever collection of shameful events it is that haunts you, they don’t belong to this love. They don’t belong to you, unless you choose to identify with them and claim them as your own invention. The soul cannot hurt anyone. The truth does not cause pain. Love only ever chooses to expand, not to restrict. The ego is the impostor here; the intruder who plots to steal your happiness and desecrate your love, then blame you for its actions. But perfect love cannot be damaged or destroyed. It can’t be hijacked and turned into something that it is not by the presence of anger, disgrace, or anything else. It can only be momentarily camouflaged.
The heart of the universe
So if the ego should dare to dangle your twin flame love in front of you, and declare that it is no longer a perfect diamond, but one with a crack in it, know that the crack is a pathway to the love that your union holds at its centre. It’s a signpost to guide you to the heart of the universe and the heart of yourself. And if you follow it, it will lead you all the way back to the Atonement, back to the innocence that you are.
As the Leonard Cohen song goes: ‘Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ But maybe the crack is actually there so that the light can get out, so that it can flood the world with its iridescent truth. So that it can heal us. So that it can save us. And so that we can finally understand that not only is it our divine and blessed right to accept the Atonement, we are the Atonement.