Q. I don't believe in forgiveness. I believe that everyone should take responsibility for his or her actions. In fact, I think a good case could be made that too much forgiveness has turned us into a people of shaky values, no real focus, and no courage or toughness. Your comments please.
-Ted, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

A. Forgiveness is not a behavior. It has little to do with refusing to fire a dishonest employee or with giving in to your ex. A truly forgiving person would not necessarily be more likely to recommend parole for a convict than would an unforgiving person.

Forgiveness is an act of flushing out the poisonous, repetitious thoughts that destroy our happiness and cause havoc in our lives. It restores the mind to wholeness. It's something nice we do for ourselves, not something nice we do for someone else. Through forgiveness we take responsibility for our thoughts and mental state, but no particular action is implied.

Since forgiveness is taking responsibility, it is accomplished by first acknowledging the nature of our own thoughts and seeing clearly the conflicted beliefs that our mind holds. It is not accomplished by denying our thoughts, arguing against them, or by trying to replace them with "good thoughts."

Once we admit that we have certain dark impulses, once we know what those are and how they operate in us, then and only then can we turn to the place of stillness and wholeness within us. If we take this second step before the first step is completed, the disrupting lines of thought soon return and repossess our mind.

Q. Our family of seven includes my husband's parents, whom we care for in our home, and his three strong-willed teenage girls from a previous marriage. Frankly, the thought that this is the start of a new millennium just depresses me because I know my life will stay the same, and right now there's not much in it to cheer about. How should I approach the new millennium?
-Roxanne, Shreveport

A. In the last several decades of weary cynicism, many people stopped believing that they or any other person can truly change. Interestingly, this lack of faith now can be set aside by those who are willing to stop defending themselves against hope.

Because this is the start of a new thousand-year era, hope has momentarily grown in power and acceptance. What this means for you, Roxanne, is that change has become easier because your heart is connected to all those hearts filled with new hope. The effect is similar to closing your eyes and trying to still your mind in a room filled with others trying to still their minds at the same time--stillness comes more quickly and easily.

In the case of the new millennium, you are sitting not just in a room but in an entire world that has turned to hope, at least temporarily. Why, then, lose this opportunity?

The approach to the new millennium we suggest is to forget warring with your circumstances or even your habits, and focus instead on your heart. Naturally, you should make peaceful changes in your situation if you can, but you probably already know that change of this kind does not eradicate unhappiness.
Use this new era to begin again, to start with a fresh mind and a kind heart. Turn loose all old grievances, grudges, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. Turn instead to the One who is always with you. Ask for help and receive it. As a powerful aid, turn also to this new hope in the world. Feel the hope and act on it. Truly forgive; truly put the old behind you; truly start over.

There is another way of looking at and experiencing the situation you are in. It is the ancient way of gentleness, peace, and understanding, and it will make you happy. Work for only modest gains each day and not for one great breakthrough. The small efforts you make will have a cumulative effect. Just try to be a little more relaxed, a little more peaceful, a little kinder to yourself and those around you. In this way you will progress a thousand years.

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