Weekly Questions and Answers, 09/22/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #578: If all is illusory, what is the point of voting?
Q #579  Memories of past guilt seem to be sabotaging my quest for peace?.

Q #580  How does one speed up the development of a personal relationship with Jesus?
Q #581  How can I develop trust in the thoughts in my mind?
Q #582: Is the Course's concept of guilt related to the Catholic "original sin"?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #578: I have had some very strong feelings about one presidential candidate in particular, but now realize that that is ego running wild. I have asked to see differently, and now realize that he is running frightened and asking for love. My feelings are becoming more peaceful, and I am able to bless this person some of the time, but I am confused by the idea of voting. Since this is indeed an illusionary world, why should I bother to vote at all? How should I look at the coming elections in November?

A: Since we believe we are bodies living in the world, the fact that the world is an illusion does not stop us from taking part in any of the normal activities we engage in: sleeping, eating, working, exercising, watching movies, or participating in elections. We do these things because we think we are here, and they are part of our experience as bodies. Jesus tells us early in the text that we should not deny that we have chosen to identify with the body (T.2.IV.3). In fact, doing so means denying ourselves the learning opportunities that are essential to the Holy Spirit’s curriculum of healing. The political arena, especially elections, affords us a very interesting opportunity to look at a vast array of judgments so they can be given to the Holy Spirit for correction. Very few people escape the charge of feelings around elections. These feelings range from a strong determination not to be involved, to strong judgments in favor of, or against candidates or groups. One may choose to vote or not to vote for many reasons, but it is not the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles that provides the guideline for this behavior. The Course is teaching us only to change our minds through the process of forgiveness, not to change our behavior. This means recognizing, not denying, the ego thought system that underlies our beliefs and judgments, so it can be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

The Course teaches that the world is the domain of the ego, that it was chosen as a substitute for Heaven. We have established its political structures as the foundation of organized society governing the way we live in the world. It is understandable, then, that politics is a very powerful symbol of the ego’s thought system, and politicians are significant authority figures. Both politics and politicians are, therefore, fertile fields for a very important cornerstone of the ego: the authority problem.

When we choose to believe the separation is real, we make this choice because we want to create ourselves; to "be our own person." In doing so we believe we are usurping God’s power: The issue of authority is really a question of authorship. When you have an authority problem, it is always because you believe you are the author of yourself and project your delusion onto others. You then perceive the situation as one in which others are literally fighting you for your authorship. This is the fundamental error of all those who believe they have usurped the power of God" (T.3.VI.8:1,2,3,4). We decide for ourselves who we are (separate bodies), rather than accept who God tells us we are (His one innocent Son). Guilt for committing this "sin" is projected on to authority figures, whom we accuse of all kinds of "sins": lying, abandoning us, betraying us, neglecting our needs, stealing from us. These are all recognizable accusations hurled at politicians and governments, along with other significant authority figures. In every accusation we find the victimization theme, and all the feelings we associate with authority. This is the projected version of our authority problem with God. It is the "root of all evil" (T.3.VI.7) because it has its birth in the original decision to separate from God and identify with the ego. Thus it is our conflict with God over authorship of our identity that is behind all thoughts and feelings associated with elections, politicians, and politics in general. No wonder political debates and discussions are heated. All parties (pardon the pun) are "right." The ego tells us we are right about being bodies, being in the world, being liberal or conservative, being different in millions of ways, and right about voting or not voting. The Holy Spirit tells us we are wrong about who we are, and the only thing we can be right about is learning to identify with His definition our Identity. As we experience the next few months of election activity, we can look at all the feelings and judgments about candidates and voters alike, recognizing in them our own cherished choice for separation. This is the way we see differently, and is the first step in forgiving ourselves for our mistaken judgment. However right we may be about a candidate’s superior suitability for office, if we judge the "other guy" as the sinner responsible for our distress, we are wrong. That is the important thing for us to learn at the polls in November, and in everything else as well.

Q #579: Over the past two years or so I have made a conscious effort to remember the moments and periods during my life when I actually feel peaceful. They are far and few between and always seem to be swallowed up as my familiar fears, concerns, etc., come flooding back in. One of the answers [Question #355] used the analogy that each of these moments can be thought of as a golden thread. As you have more and more of them the thread becomes a string, the string a rope, until you can climb out. This is my favorite image and has greatly helped me during difficult times. I have come to realize the enormity of my resistance to having these experiences but have also realized it is all right. These moments are always associated with forgiveness of some darkness in my mind, if only for a little while. However, there are certain seemingly minor events in my life that evoke such feelings of self-hatred and shame that have more recently come back to me from the distant past. Could it be my ego is "fighting back" as my separate identity is challenged?

A: The ego will always pull out all the stops in an attempt to preserve itself, and that certainly can explain at least in part your experience. But it may also be helpful to think of these old memories as resurfacing now because you are increasingly willing to look at the darkness and bring all of its various expressions in your mind up into your awareness so you can make a different choice about them.

Although the thoughts seem to be about events from the past, they are simply symbols of guilt, which you are still holding onto now, that are buried in your unconscious, where they continue to operate out of your awareness, robbing you of peace. By allowing them to come up into your conscious awareness, you are giving yourself another opportunity to release them into the light. The feelings associated with these thoughts, as you remember the past, may not be comfortable, but if you can learn to begin to welcome both the thoughts and the feelings as the opportunity for forgiveness that they present, they will increasingly lose their power to disrupt your peace. Nor will they continue to operate at a subterranean level in your mind, like seismic forces that affect you on the surface without your feeling as if you have any choice about the effects.

In A Course in Miracles, Jesus introduces a discussion of ego "dynamics" with reassuring words that can just as easily be applied to your specific experiences: "No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected. There is no need to shrink from illusions, for they cannot be dangerous. We are ready to look more closely at the ego's thought system because together we have the lamp that will dispel it, and since you realize you do not want it, you must be ready. Let us be very calm in doing this, for we are merely looking honestly for truth. The "dynamics" of the ego will be our lesson for a while, for we must look first at this to see beyond it, since you have made it real. We will undo this error quietly together, and then look beyond it to truth" (T.11.V.1).

Q #580: How does one develop a personal relationship with Jesus? Is there any way of "speeding up" the process of accessing, and more importantly being continuously aware, of the loving presence in one’s mind? Is there anything else to do other than working on letting go of the ego and then waiting patiently for that inner peace to appear?

A: Since Jesus is the symbol of the part of the mind that remembers God, and A Course in Miracles is one of the forms he has given us to help us awaken from the dream of separation and realize that we are at home in God, one meaningful way to develop a relationship with him is by reading, studying, and most importantly applying its teaching to our lives. The relationship becomes personal by applying Jesus’ message of forgiveness to the specific relationships and events of our lives. [For more on forgiveness see Question #59] Jesus asks only that we be willing to do this, and it is this willingness that determines the "speed" of the process of "removing the blocks to awareness of love’s presence"(T.in.1:7). The degree to which the relationship with Jesus is real, love’s presence is kept in awareness, and inner peace is experienced is commensurate with the degree of our willingness to practice forgiveness. Jesus himself gives us the guidelines for our relationship with him: "If you are willing to renounce the role of guardian of your thought system and open it to me, I will correct it very gently and lead you back to God" (T.4.I.4:7). Although this process is clear and simple, it is not easy. That is because we are very attached to the ego’s thought system of separation. We cling to our belief in the body and to our judgments about everything. However, as soon as we are willing to question our interpretation of any event in the light of the Course’s teaching, we have reached out to take Jesus’ hand. The forgiveness process begins with this questioning. The correction Jesus offers is another way of looking at every experience, interaction, thought or judgment we may have. The important thing is to apply the forgiveness Jesus teaches as often as we can. Each step we take toward letting go of our own judgment deepens our relationship with him, making him real to us. The speed of our progress is not our concern; in fact, we are told we have no idea how to evaluate our progress: "Put yourself not in charge of this, for you cannot distinguish between advance and retreat. Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success" (T.18.V.1:5,6). We are thus relieved of any sense of urgency on our journey. [For more on our relationship with Jesus see Question #271.]

Q #581: After a dry and desert time, I have come back to A Course in Miracles and find that I can more easily distinguish between my own projection and expectation of connections with the Holy Spirit and the unexpectedness of help from the Holy Spirit, because I can hear His Voice again. But I still am often unsure if the voices or thoughts in my mind are real or illusory. For example, when I connect to this Forum over the Internet, I experience a deep heartfelt love. And immediately my mind responds by interpretations and assumptions and guesses. How do I know that what I experience is true, or would it be an illusion of goodness that my mind has made up, imitating the real stuff from God? I feel that I am not trusting at all even trying to ask you this.

A: Listening to the misgivings and suspicions of the ego is a wonderful way to tie ourselves up in "nots." The most helpful thing to remember as all the doubts and questions arise is that it’s not necessary (or even helpful!) to take all of this as seriously as you find yourself doing. Is it my ego or is it the Holy Spirit, our egos desperately ask, guaranteeing that our experience is anything but peaceful. But that’s okay, it’s just fear and fear is only temporary.

If you can begin to recognize that the volley of thoughts that ricochet through your mind is nothing more that the voice of the ego and it doesn’t have to be taken seriously, but it also doesn’t have to be changed in any way, perhaps you can begin to allow yourself to relax a little more about the process. All we need to do is recognize our ego and then release any judgments we have about it. The Rest will follow naturally on Its own without our needing to be concerned or figure out anything. But once you find your mind heading again in the direction of needing to know and understand, all you have to do is acknowledge that your ego has stepped back in and would like to regain control of your mind to protect itself. If you can recognize your ego again, without trying to change it, it will begin to lose its ability to persuade you that it ought to be taken seriously. All it really merits is a smile of amusement.

Q #582: Having been raised as a Catholic with a belief in "original sin," I already believe I am "guilty" and "defective" as a human being. Furthermore, I have feelings of low self- esteem, shame, and I know I want to be liked by others. Are these feelings and this belief system equivalent to what A Course in Miracles describes as the guilt that arises from my ego's decision to be separate from God? I'm having trouble understanding the metaphysical principles of the Course as they apply to my understanding of guilt. I want to know if these two forms of guilt are "identical" because I am uncertain that I can identify the specific forms of guilt that I am trying to cover up. In my conscious self I already know that I feel guilty. In fact I take more responsibility for mistakes than is warranted. If these two forms of guilt are equivalent, perhaps I can reach the love and forgiveness the Course says lies underneath. Can you help me here?

A: Rather than equating the ontological guilt of the Course with "original sin," it would be more accurate to describe the Course’s teachings on guilt as correcting the Christian doctrine of "original sin," as well as explaining the doctrine’s origins in the ego thought system. The biblical story of Adam and Eve that recounts the original sin of the first parents in the Garden of Eden could be considered a symbolic outpicturing of the ego’s myth of sin, guilt and fear. One of the major differences between Christianity and the Course is that Christianity asserts, whether it views the story as literal or symbolic, that sin -- attack on God -- is real and has had serious negative effects on our relationship with Him. The Course, in contrast, teaches that sin is not real, that our relationship with God has not been disrupted in any way, and that the only problem is our belief in sin. And so the correction or atonement for sin would be very different within each system. Christianity needs a savior figure to be sacrificed to God to undo the effects of our sinfulness, which we have inherited through the decision of our original parents to disobey God at a point distant in time. The Course says we ourselves are choosing in our minds right now to embrace a false belief in sin and separation and the only solution to this problem is to change our minds now about what we believe (more about this later).

So within Christianity, guilt is very real -- the result of the sinful acts of mankind against its Creator. The nature of the original sin is discussed and debated in various theological circles, but its reality is not really questioned. Within the Course, guilt is made up and is simply part of the ego’s defense to prove to us that sin is real. God is not angry because nothing ever happened and so He does not need to be appeased. Furthermore, the world and our experiences as bodies in that world are not the outcome of God’s creative activity but are the results of our feverish imagination to convince ourselves that the separation and attack on God are real. Any misdeeds by first parents or any guilty sins of omission or commission that we accuse ourselves of are simply part of the ego’s smokescreen to keep us unaware of the decision we have made in our minds, and not in the world, to believe in sin and guilt.

The Course would say that it is our acceptance of the ego’s myth of sin, guilt and fear in our mind that has resulted in everything else: the story and the doctrine of original sin, the world of separate bodies with separate thoughts that can seem to make choices in opposition to God, and the feelings of guilt that seem to result from all those choices. So at a practical level, when you are in touch with all the feelings of guilt you describe, you are experiencing the effects of your choice to see yourself as separate, but the cause is buried deep within your mind and has nothing to do with the self you believe you are, which is only its effect. To repeat, that self is not God’s creation but our mind’s own miscreation, meant to distract us from the source of the problem, the decision for separation within our mind. But the feelings of guilt that we experience in relationship to this self in the world nevertheless can be used to direct us back to an awareness of that choice in our minds, if we do not impose our own interpretations on the meaning and cause of the feelings.

Since not only the guilt and sin, but the self we believe we are, are all part of the illusion, it is not that easy for us to accept that the guilt and sin are not real, for then we are accepting that we are not real as well. That is why, in practicing the Course’s process of forgiveness, we need the help - - Jesus or the Holy Spirit -- that comes from outside our thought system to release the guilt that we have made real. And that help is a reflection of the love that down deep we truly seek. So when we are willing to accept that help, we are already joined with the love and forgiveness that is buried underneath the belief in sin and guilt. And that joining is what allows us to know that the sin and guilt are not real and that nothing therefore must be done about them.