Weekly Questions and Answers, 12/25/2002

This week's questions:

Q #43: A question about identifying the "Voice" of the Holy Spirit.
Q #44: A question about how to forgive.
Q #45: A question about Course "training" and "certification."
Q #46: A question about our feelings.
Q #47: A question about re-thinking past decisions.
Q #48: A question about "The Power of Now".

Q #43: How can you tell for certain that you are following the Voice of the Holy Spirit rather than the ego's voice? I know the Course says that we will feel peace when following the Holy Spirit but in practice I don't find it that simple. For one thing, I am often so filled with fear that I can't let go enough to feel the Spirit's peace. For another thing, my ego is quite capable of conjuring up such good facsimiles of the Holy Spirit's peace so that sometimes I feel I am following the Spirit, only to find myself badly mistaken. There are many examples today and throughout history of adherents of spiritual paths, committing fear and hate-based acts, all the while believing they are following the will of God, or the Voice of the Spirit. Course students are not immune to that mistake. Until we develop to the point where are can reliably tell which voice we are following, isn't it better to have some sort of outside framework, such as rules against killing, violence etc., by which we can judge our guidance?

A: In our experience, this is the second most commonly asked question, the first being, "How could the separation have happened in the first place?" Your question is everyone’s question who practices the Course. We have addressed it in our book, The Most Commonly Asked Questions about "A Course in Miracles," question 43, in which we comment on the section in Chapter 14 of the text, "The Test for Truth."

In general it can be helpful, as you conclude, to have an external framework or set of rules as a guide to keep our egos within certain boundaries. In addition, plain old common sense should never be lost sight of either. Unfortunately, and obviously, that does not stop people who appeal to God’s Will or the Holy Spirit’s guidance to justify whatever they do, thinking they are no longer bound by the world’s laws and now follow a "higher" authority. But conforming to normal laws of civilized people is always advisable. Such conformity, though, should not be used as a measure of spiritual advancement.

What you describe as your experience over the years is typical of most students. The theory is simple, but the practice is anything but that because of our investment in our lives as individual, special, needy persons -- an investment we either overlook or sorely underestimate. We are entrenched in our defenses without even recognizing they are defenses. That is why Jesus stresses over and over again, especially in the workbook, that the heart of the practice of this Course is looking with him at all of the hatred and guilt in our minds. Consistently practicing this would enable us to recognize more clearly how our egos operate, what form our projections would most likely take, and how we defend against the fear of letting go of judgments, specialness, etc. Our focus should always be on letting go of the ego thoughts in our minds, and not behavior.

If we do this "right," which means look within with the love of Jesus as our "eyes," we would experience peace for more and more extended periods of time as we go along. But it usually takes the assessment of another person who knows us very well, to help discern whether the peace is genuine or not. Most people do not experience the Holy Spirit or Jesus as a voice speaking to them, such as was Helen Schucman’s experience of Jesus. Her experience should not be taken as a criterion of what hearing the Holy Spirit should mean. That we are hearing the Voice for God is often indicated by our discovering that we have become less judgmental, less demanding that our specialness needs be met, less angry, less selfish, less depressed, etc. But again, this is not easy. We are masters of self-deception. Humility can go a long way toward keeping us honest.

Q #44: How do I act in the world of form before I have been able to forgive a situation? If I act lovingly without really feeling it I will feel resentment. If I act according to my true feelings I will feel guilty. Either way I lose!!!

A: The key is always to be aware of your motivation in a conflict with someone else -- the underlying purpose it serves, as you seem to struggle over how to act. "What you do comes from what you think"(T.2.VI.2:7), as Jesus points out. "It is only at this level that you can exercise choice...It is pointless to believe that controlling the outcome of misthought can result in healing....You must change your mind, not your behavior, and this is a matter of willingness....Change does not mean anything at the symptom level, where it cannot work" (2:6; 3:1,4,7).

We are stubborn creatures, not prone to forgiveness, although it is the most natural thing we can do in this world. But the world is an unnatural place. And so we resist what really would be kindest and most helpful to ourselves. So long as I think that acting lovingly towards others is a charitable whim I bestow on an undeserving someone outside of myself (W.pI.126.4:1), I will resent not getting in my "justified" licks against you if I feel you have treated me unfairly. But if I can honestly look at how a retaliatory attack on you will really make me feel, I may be more open to a right-minded solution. If I can begin to recognize that my reaction to you has nothing to do with what you have done and everything to do with the guilt in my own mind, which is the cause of all my pain and for which I am always seeking a target on which to project it, I may think twice about reinforcing that guilt in my own mind by a further overt attack on you. Forgiveness is not a gift bestowed on someone else, unmerited and unjustified. It is a gift I offer first and foremost to myself. When I accept that gift for myself, then I will automatically know how to respond to you who had seemed to offend me, offering you the same gift I have just accepted for myself, in the form in which you will most likely be able to accept it. And I will have no sense of resentment or loss associated with it.

Okay, but what if I’m still too stubborn to believe and accept what is truly in my own best interest for a particular situation -- I am not ready to forgive because I still want to hold on to my grievance against you so that I can believe the guilt is in you and not in me? Then I would want at least to be able to acknowledge that I am still identified with my ego, where my "choices" seem to be limited to either overtly attacking you in retaliation or sacrificing my right to retaliation in a feigned "loving" show of "forgiveness" (still an attack). Either option will reinforce my guilt if I act without awareness of my underlying motivation. And so these are not really different choices at all, at the level of content. So now it will be important that I at least be honest with myself, and recognize that it is neither kindness nor righteousness nor any evil within me that is guiding me to act in whatever way I finally choose with my ego, since I have already decided against choosing at the only level that can really help. It is my own fear of love and of the quiet, gentle peace that accompanies the release of grievances that is behind my resistance to asking for help from a different Teacher. If I can recognize that and not judge myself for it, then I have at least minimized the guilt that I am reinforcing in my own mind for continuing to identify with my ego. And that is always a goal of the Course.

Q #45: My question refers to the process of helping others. In studying the Course, I realize that the world’s salvation and my own is my only function. However, is there an accredited program or some kind of certification based on the Course that could be pursued, in a field such as psychotherapy or counseling.

A: To address the second part of your question first, sorry, but there can be no formal training based on the Course to prepare someone for the role of therapist or counselor because the Course has nothing to say about specific forms or roles. This does not mean that there may not be those who offer such a curriculum, but it is not really in line with the intentions of the Course as a spiritual teaching. You could be trained, for example, in psychoanalysis or behavioral therapy or Rogerian counseling, each of which employs a very different theoretical model and different techniques and practices from the other approaches, and still utilize the principles of the Course in your work with patients. This is because the Course is intended to help you change how you perceive situations and relationships within your own mind and has nothing to say about how you behave or act with others. And so any form of therapeutic practice, even if it may have initially been made to maintain separation, can be used for a truly healing outcome when it is placed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The pamphlet, Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process and Practice, does provide a helpful application of Course principles in a therapeutic context, but a careful reading of it makes it very clear that Jesus is only talking about what is going on within the mind of the therapist and is never making recommendations for how the therapist should act with the patient or client. The insights a therapist develops from the Course about the nature of reality and the purpose of the world and the self -- first from the ego’s perspective of the reality of sin and guilt, and then from the perspective of the Holy Spirit’s healed perception -- may or may not be things that would be appropriate to discuss with a patient. But it would always be the content of forgiveness and not any specific words or concepts that the therapist would want to share with the patient. And the content is shared in any instant when the therapist has released all the judgments he may be holding in his own mind against the patient, which are nothing more than the projections of judgments he is holding against himself. The pamphlet describes this process: "The therapist sees in the patient all that he has not forgiven in himself, and is thus given another chance to look at it, open it to reevaluation and forgive it. When this occurs, he sees his sins as gone into a past that is no longer here....The patient is his screen for the projections of his sins, enabling him to let them go" (P.2.VI.6:3,4,6,7).

And to turn to your opening comments with just a few clarifications. When you speak of helping others, and observe that the Course speaks of the world’s salvation and our own as our only function, you want to be sure that you understand what the world’s salvation means. The workbook says that "salvation of the world depends on me" (W.pI.186.h). But the world’s salvation does not refer to doing anything in the world or to having an effect on anything external, including others, in the world. The salvation of the world depends on my withdrawing the projections of guilt that I have placed upon the world, and then releasing those judgments from myself as well - - the same process that we have just read from the Psychotherapy pamphlet. In the end, having no further purpose, the external world will disappear, just as the guilt we have projected on to it vanishes in the light of forgiveness. In other words, "there is no world" to save (W.pI.132.6:2).

And so, in the meantime, before our mind is completely healed, we would not want any actions we take in the world to come from our own perception of what help others need -- we do not know. All of our perceptions are based on a belief in the reality of separation, scarcity, lack and loss, so our own interventions will only serve to reinforce that belief in ourselves and others. We cannot possibly know or understand what real help is, in a separated state of mind. But when we release our own judgments, grievances and guilt, then the part of our mind -- the Holy Spirit -- that does know is free to express Itself through us. And the help will then always be a reminder that sin and guilt and separation are not real, expressed in a form that can be accepted in another without increasing fear (T.2.IV.5). But we will have not made the decision on our own about how that is best done. As Jesus not so subtly observes, "Your function here is only to decide against deciding what you want, in recognition that you do not know. How, then, can you decide what you should do? Leave all decisions to the One Who speaks for God, and for your function as He knows it" (T.14.IV.5:2,3,4).

Q #46: What does the course say about feelings??? I know it says we shouldn't deny our feelings. Could you say more on this. Are we to listen to what our feelings are telling us?

A: Feelings is not used very often in the Course, since it’s focus is on thoughts. But in order to access our thoughts, it is very important that we be in touch with our feelings. If we are not aware of how we feel, then we are that much farther removed from our thoughts. So one of the first practical steps a student of the Course may take is that of becoming more and more aware of how they feel. This can often times be a painful process, since more often than not, our painful feelings are denied. Once we allow these feelings to arise within us, we are tempted to shove them back down again because they are unpleasant. For some of us, we may only deny particular feelings, such as anger, grief, or jealousy, etc. Society teaches us what we "should" and "should not" feel, and then the Course comes along, and as spiritual seekers, we impose additional "shoulds" and "should nots." It is no wonder no one knows how they feel!

Once we are in touch we how we feel, we can then begin the process of discovering what thought caused the feeling. We do not have to don our Sherlock Holmes hats and search and search for these thoughts, as over-intellectualizing the process simply becomes another obstacle. Search your mind as best you can, but more importantly, give Jesus or the Holy Spirit your willingness to know what the thought is. And in most instances, even those having to do with anger, you will find that your thoughts have to do with loss of some kind. Once you are aware of the thought you then have the choice to change the thought, or not. But at least you have found the true source of your pain. It is not anything outside of you, but rather the thoughts you hold within.

As Jesus tells us in the text:

This is the only thing that you need do for vision, happiness, release from pain and the complete escape from sin, all to be given you. Say only this, but mean it with no reservations, for here the power of salvation lies:

I am responsible for what I see.

I choose the [thoughts and] feelings I experience, and I decide upon the goal I would achieve.

And everything that seems to happen to me I ask for, and receive as I have asked.

Deceive yourself no longer that you are helpless in the face of what is done to you. Acknowledge but that you have been mistaken, and all effects of your mistakes will disappear (T.21.II.2:1,2,3,4,5,6,7).

Q #47: Seven months ago, I thought I made a decision in a peaceful and loving way. I had advice and support in my decision. Now, I have recently been given information that has made me question the action. At the time, I felt this was the most loving and kind thing. I find this very disturbing and have revisited the tapes on "Rules for Decision." I think I’ve never given up the guilt or the blame for taking the action. I know the Course is a process; I’ve been a student for 12 years, but when this happened I questioned that I’ve made any progress. I know that the Course is not about doing things in this world. Am I dealing with 2 different situations or am I still in the original one problem?

A: If you felt you did the most loving and kind thing, then you should stay with that. You know, we have limited ourselves so much, and have erected so many layers of defenses by choosing to think we are bodies, that we simply are not in touch with what is going on beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. We cannot see the larger picture at all; therefore, we do not know where we are on our Atonement path. So it is not helpful to question our progress. That is where having Jesus as our teacher is so helpful. By following his directions in his Course, we are led deeper and deeper into our minds, and we slowly begin to get in touch with the underlying motivations for our actions and thought patterns.

So the experience you had is not at all uncommon. We all can look back at decisions we’ve made that seem to have been the right ones, but now, because we have uncovered more of what we had kept hidden about ourselves in our minds, we realize that we had overlooked something or had simply deceived ourselves. That is to be expected as we go along, but feeling guilty over it is not helpful. Feeling guilty will only reinforce the problem and keep the solution concealed.

The "proper" response is to feel grateful that you have learned something more about how your ego operates, so that you now can be more vigilant for those kinds of ploys. It is a humbling experience, but if you accept that your purpose is to journey -- with Jesus’ love guiding you -- into the darkness in your mind, you will not be so surprised to discover these instances of self-deception. Ultimately, you will recognize that the whole thing is a defense against the light and the love that is there, and that is our true reality.

Q #48: I have been reading "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle, and find it in line with A Course in Miracles. Have you at the Foundation come across this book? If so, would you comment on the ideas in the book, and how they do or do not coincide with the Course.

A: It has always been our Foundation’s policy not to discuss the work of other authors and teachers of A Course in Miracles, or any work relating to the Course. One of our reasons has been the concern that this could very easily lead to divisiveness, which would override any potential usefulness to such discussion.

What we can say, however, is that A Course in Miracles is unique among spiritualities or spiritual approaches, both contemporary and ancient ones. This certainly does not mean that it is necessarily the best, but only that what it teaches, and the way in which it teaches it, is different from other paths. One can state this uniqueness in general terms as being the integration of a non- dualistic metaphysics, which states that only the non-material God is real, with a sophisticated psychological approach, heavily based on Freud’s insights into the human psyche. This integration helps us live within the illusory world under the principle of forgiveness, taught to us by the Holy Spirit .

In general, we can also say that if a student of A Course in Miracles benefits from another spiritual path, and such integration helps the student become kinder and more forgiving, then that needs no justification or comment. It is always helpful to return to the basic Course teaching of content rather than form, and to recall the statement at the end of the manual for teachers: "The curriculum is highly individualized, and all aspects are under the Holy Spirit's particular care and guidance" (M.29.2:6). Therefore, read and study whatever is helpful. What is most important is the degree to which you are able to practice forgiveness, rather than seeking to understand it.

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