Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/27/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #603: Should I ask for help looking at specific forms of guilt, or the broader underlying ontological guilt?
Q #604  What will be my experience after the death of my body?.

Q #605  If we project what we do not want onto others, why do some others seem to be more gifted than us?.
Q #606  I still feel conflicted when talking to, or comparing myself with, those on a different spiritual path.
Q #607: Why do we choose suffering as a defense against our guilt?  Why not pleasure? 

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #603: You say, "If I choose the Holy Spirit, my lesson will be that I now have the opportunity to make a different choice about the guilt that I believe is buried in my mind, releasing it to the healing light of forgiveness rather than continuing to hold on to it and projecting it in some disguised form" (Question #385). Do we have to be conscious of the particular guilt or reason behind the situation? Or do we simply look at the guilt and punishment the Course speaks of because we have denied our real Self and rejected our Father -- always the same reason -- and ask the Holy Spirit to look at this with us? Is that enough or do we have to wait for a specific answer about a specific situation, guided by the Holy Spirit, and then ask Him to join us? When I ask how should I look at various situations, no matter how different they are, I only bring to my memory the same words I had read from A Course in Miracles. I never obtain a specific answer, such as "you are punishing yourself because you've been mean or selfish (or whatever) on this or that occasion." In other words, I never identify reasons from the world of form. So then, when a situation comes up again, I feel I did it wrong and don't feel confident in obtaining any results or progress from what I'm doing, at either the level of mind or the level of form. Can you help me with this?

A: The underlying ontological guilt in the mind over our belief that we have separated from God, attacking and destroying Him in the process, is the only problem we ever need to address. How we get in touch with that guilt, however, depends on how our mind has disguised it through projecting it outside the mind onto our body or other bodies in the world. Usually, we begin with our reactions to specific situations or events, or our memories about them, which the ego has cleverly but deceptively set up to be perceived as the cause of our feelings, so that we don’t look to the mind for the cause.

This is where the Holy Spirit turns the tables on the ego. What was made in the world as a subterfuge and a smokescreen to keep the guilt in the mind hidden becomes instead a a symbol of that hidden guilt and so a means for returning attention to the mind, where we can get back in touch with it. But for this reversal (T.28.II; W.pI.11.1) to work, we must be willing to accept the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of events rather than our own, which means acknowledging that we are wrong in our conclusions about what has happened.

Now the ontological guilt in our mind can be projected into many different forms -- e.g., illness in our own body (as Question #385 is addressing), anger at others for hurting us in some way, or guilt over what we believe we as a body have done or failed to do. All of these serve the ego’s goal of mindlessness, because they keep our focus on the world outside rather than within our own mind. But once we can accept that they are merely symbols of the underlying guilt in our mind, projected out from within, we can return to the source of the problem in the mind and, through joining with Jesus or the Holy Spirit in our right mind, release the illusory guilt that has been covering the love underneath.

So, to answer your question, it is not necessary to be in touch with the specific thought or judgment behind the guilt you may be experiencing in a particular situation. The fact that you are feeling guilty (or angry or sick, etc.) is all that you need to recognize and acknowledge. But you do want to be honest with yourself that you are not somehow unconsciously refusing to look at the specific reasons for the guilt because you believe that would be too painful or difficult (see Question #335 for a related discussion). Jesus addresses this issue, in the context of fear, but it applies to guilt as well, in the following passage: "It is not necessary to follow fear through all the circuitous routes by which it burrows underground and hides in darkness, to emerge in forms quite different from what it is. Yet it is necessary to examine each one as long as you would retain the principle that governs all of them. When you are willing to regard them, not as separate, but as different manifestations of the same idea, and one you do not want, they go together" (T.15.X.5.:1,2,3).

In other words, you don’t want to use what could be only an intellectual understanding of a Course principle as a way of avoiding getting in touch with what you believe to be the ugliness of your ego. But if you allow yourself to feel the unworthiness, the self-loathing, the sense of inadequacy, or some other variation of the guilt, and do not shrink back from those feelings but look at them openly and honestly, then the specific reason the ego may want to give for why you feel that way is not really important.

The fact that you feel that you are repeating the same mistakes and are not really making progress at any level could reflect a number of different things. As already noted, if you are using the idea of the less specific, more abstract guilt in the mind as a way of avoiding looking at what you really believe about yourself, you may wish to be as honest with yourself as you can about your willingness to uncover the darkness -- a very frightening process indeed for any ego-identified mind.

But you may also be being unreasonably impatient with yourself -- Jesus after all admonishes us that we are in no position to judge our progress (T.18.V.1:4,5,6). Simply because I find myself losing my peace in a familiar old situation right now does not mean that I was a failure earlier when I thought I was able to release my guilt in a holy instant. But my ego would want me to believe that about myself. For then there is little reason for hope and good reason to despair, an outcome the ego relishes.

So you want to remember that your part is simply to uncover the darkness -- identify the occasions of sin and guilt in your own mind as they are projected in various forms out onto your body and into the world -- and that it is the Holy Spirit’s gentle love that will release you from them if you offer them to Him. If you will do merely this, you can trust that you are climbing the right ladder that will lead you home and you need not be concerned with how many rungs there are or how many steps you will have to take.

Q #604: If the ego invented the concept of afterlife, and nothing happens when the body dies, since it never lived, my question is: as long as I am not yet in the real world, hence identify with the self I think I am, what will be my experience after the "death" of my body?

A: When the body dies, the person you identify with as a body will no longer seem to exist. If the mind is not healed at that time, the thought of separation that identified with this body continues as a thought. Since the mind is not contained in the body, it does not change with the death of the body. It changes only when it chooses the Holy Spirit instead of the separation. It is this choice that eventually undoes the separation, and leads us to awaken from the dream of death where bodies seem to live and die. As long as the mind chooses to believe in the thought of separation, this thought, along with the guilt that inevitably accompanies it, will be projected out in some bodily form (physical, esoteric, energy, etc.). The result is the ongoing experience of the birth- death-rebirth cycle, until a different choice is made in the mind. The mind, therefore, is the place where the action is, and the only action is choosing.

While we remain asleep in the dream, our only purpose or goal, whether in the body or out of the body, is to learn to make another choice. Therefore, to answer your question more directly, your experience after the death of your body will be the same as it is now: learning to choose.

In A Course in Miracles, Jesus tells us we are always learning, because we are always teaching: "…to teach is to learn …teaching is a constant process; it goes on every moment of the day, and continues into sleeping thoughts as well" (M.in.1:5, 6). We may thus paraphrase "learning continues after the death of the body as well." The important thing Jesus is teaching us is that we are not bodies, but minds with the power to choose.

Q #605: A Course in Miracles says that we project what we do not want to another person. I have a friend who is extremely intelligent, IQ was tested at Berkeley and recorded as 240. This is obviously a quality that everyone would want and not something to project. I guess the same applies to being wealthy. Everyone wants it but only a few are actually wealthy. This does not make sense.

A: When the Course says we project what we do not want, it is referring specifically to the guilt in the mind. And the ego’s real but hidden purpose in projecting the guilt is to keep it, although it tells us projecting it is how to get rid of it (T.7.VIII.1,2,3; T.13.II.1,2). The other half of the ego’s game of guilt, which it also keeps hidden from our awareness most of the time, is that we want to be victims so that it’s very clear that the guilt rests outside of us. In order to have this wish fulfilled, the ego has made up a world of differences, where we all differ from each other in many different ways, including intelligence, wealth, beauty and health, to name just a few.

If we were all completely the same at the level of form, there could be no victims. And so, it meets our ego’s hidden objective that some of us are smarter or wealthier than others, so that those of us who have less can feel somehow unfairly endowed by God or our parents or fate. But this does not mean that those who have more may not also feel the burden of greater responsibility or awareness or expectation for their greater "gifts." That is the beauty of the ego’s game of differences -- no one ends up being happy and everyone feels somehow deprived and victimized.

It is Jesus’ purpose through his Course to help us understand the ego’s disguised intentions so that we can make a different choice. For it is only our decision that gives power to the ego (e.g., T.7.VIII.5). And when we truly understand that we are giving up everything in order to have a little bit of nothing, Jesus is confident that we will make a different choice.

Q #606: I have been studying A Course in Miracles since l989. My lesson more and more is that differences do not matter. Obviously this is a process and not easy. My experience is that I feel a bit shut down when I "quietly smile and do nothing". I still feel superior to others when I identify with what the Course teaches and hear what some others espouse. On the other hand, I also feel inferior when I speak with those who are on a different path, as they tend to sound very together and peaceful. I understand the Course would say that nothing needs to happen and I just need to look with Jesus on this. There certainly is a struggle between the right mind and the wrong mind, and I find that I am still predominantly in my wrong mind. It seems like such a long process. But at least I am aware of that. Could you speak to this experience? Am I mixing levels?

A: It does not sound as if you are mixing levels. Practicing the Course can at times feel like a very long process. But time is relative and fifteen years is not very long, when you consider all the lifetimes it took to get you this confused! And comparing your experience with that of others, whether they are on the same path or different paths, is a sure-fire ego way to catch yourself in irrelevant differences! We are simply not in a position to judge anything that is going on for ourselves or others, insulting as this fact may be to our egos. But in our right minds, that awareness can be a relief, for it releases us from the burden of responsibility for trying to understand what is happening -- nothing is happening (T.18.IV.7)!

Realize too that the struggle between the right and wrong minds is a one-sided one. Only the ego struggles. The Holy Spirit never struggles (T.14.VII.5:2,3), for He knows the powerlessness of the ego and that there is truly nothing to battle. That realization can help you to relax and allow the process simply to unfold. Nothing needs to be forced or moved along.

Because our part in the process is so simple -- which is not to say easy -- we may be inclined to dismiss the power of the simple act of looking at our egos without judgment. Our ego, feverishly geared toward ceaseless activity at any cost, crusading to right wrongs and make the world -- its home, not ours -- a better place, is pleased when we make such an underestimation. But as the manual for teachers points out, a teacher of God can afford to be patient when he knows that the outcome is certain (M.4.VIII.1:1,2,3,4).

Q #607: In your answer to Question #388, you say that A Course in Miracles "tells us that true prayer is the prayer of the heart, and it is always answered because in the dream we have and experience anything we truly desire." Why then, do we suffer? Your answer, I assume, is that we want to reinforce our guilt because we unconsciously believe that would save us from God's wrath. This is a very unsatisfying answer. Why don't we just always select pleasure in the world as a defense, and leave out the pain altogether?

A: The Course offers a clear and simple answer: "It is impossible to seek for pleasure through the body [or the world] and not find pain" (T.19.IV.B.12:1). That is because when the mind chooses to identify with the body, it simultaneously denies its true Identity, and pain is the inevitable outcome. Our prayer is thus answered by the power of the mind to choose. By choosing to believe that the body and the world are real, and then defending that belief, we do get what we desire: a body in the world that proves that our individual and special self is real. The problem is, in making this choice, we have thrown away the only thing that can truly bring us happiness: the Identity God gave us as His Son. We are then left with a painful sense of emptiness and loss that nothing in the world can fill. All seeking of "pleasure" in the world is actually an attempt to ease the pain of this loss. However, the pleasure we seem to find in this world does not last and does not truly meet our need. We are thus bound to seek further in an unending and exhausting cycle of attempting to heighten pleasure and minimize pain.

As long as we believe there is something in this world that can truly satisfy us, we remain confused about who we are and will experience pain. We are not only confused about who we are, we are confused about what makes us happy and what causes pain. Jesus tells us in the text: "Anything in this world that you believe is good and valuable and worth striving for can hurt you, and will do so. Not because it has the power to hurt, but just because you have denied it is but an illusion, and made it real. And it is real to you. It is not nothing" (T.26.VI.1:1,2,3,4). This is a very important and difficult lesson for us to learn because we cling to our specialness as bodies, and fiercely defend our belief that happiness can be found in the world. While we seek endlessly to make the world real and pleasurable, Jesus tells us in the Course that it is not real and our experience here is hell. We are being taught through the Course that our choice is not between pleasurable or painful experiences in the dream; it is between awakening from the dream by identifying with the Holy Spirit, or remaining in hell with the ego. We are offered another clear and simple response: "Reason will tell you that there is no middle ground where you can pause uncertainly, waiting to choose between the joy of Heaven and the misery of hell. Until you choose Heaven, you are in hell and misery (T.22.II.7:7,8).

The question then is: why do we continue to choose hell? That is where your observation is correct. Having chosen to identify with the ego, we are consumed with guilt and a feeling of unworthiness. We believe we do not deserve God’s Love in Heaven because of our sin. And yes, we banish ourselves to hell to punish ourselves, before God (the ego’s God) gets His chance which we believe means total annihilation. Our suffering and victimization serve very effectively to prove we are right about our sinfulness. Just as the credit card ad tells us, "we cannot leave Home without them." Our "prayer" for separation has been answered. Our hope lies in the fact that our prayer for the peace of God is just as easily answered through our choosing it. We experience this peace each time we are willing to question the value we place on the world and turn to the Holy Spirit in our minds for the prayer we share with Him: to "…accept yourself as God created you, [and] …be incapable of suffering" (T.10.V.9:5).