Weekly Questions and Answers, 11/17/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #618  It is reasonable for a caregiver to have expectations ?
Q #619  What did I do to deserve my illness?

Q #620  How can I reconcile all the differences between the Course and the Bible?.
Q #621  Circumstances are keeping my wife and I apart. How should I deal with this?
Q #622  Should I end a relationship if my partner wants to have sexual affairs with others?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #618: My sister was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago and was given six months to live. At that point my husband and I joined in helping her with alternative therapy. She could not work so she has become financially dependent on us for help. She has obviously had some success but continues to look for negative signs of health conditions. We feel she could do more for herself in that she continues to smoke, not exercise, and depends on magic too much. Her dependency on us keeps growing and we feel she is losing sight of her own power. How can she become independent of us while we are still helping her? Can we have expectations of her?

A: In A Course in Miracles, Jesus tells us, "It is not up to you to change your brother, but merely to accept him as he is" (T.9.III.6:4). And his words apply equally to sisters! Now, before you decide you don’t want to read any further, know that these words are not speaking about what you should or should not do with your sister, but only about your attitude toward her. The point is, and the section on "The Correction of Error" from which the above line is taken clarifies this, we can do nothing but reinforce our own ego and the egos of those with whom we are in relationship if we make our decisions on our own. For in situations such as you are experiencing with your sister, we will inevitably feel put upon, taken advantage of, and used. And those simply are not right-minded feelings. Any action we take based on them will not be loving to anyone.

It may very well be that the most helpful thing for your sister is for her to become more independent of you. But so long as you have a personal investment in her becoming independent, anything you do will be an attack, not only on her but on yourselves as well. And it could also be that the most helpful thing would be for her to remain dependent on you. You are in no position to judge what will be most helpful for her, because you do not know what is most helpful for yourselves. These may seem like strong words, but that is Jesus’ point when he asks each of us to consider, in the very earliest workbook lessons, that "I do not understand anything I see" (W.pI.3) -- notice he doesn’t simply say we don’t understand a lot of what we see! -- or "I am never upset for the reason I think" (W.pI.5), and "I do not perceive my own best interests" (W.p.I.24). He means all of these statements quite literally, although our egos have their rationalizations and justifications for what would simply have to be unreasonable extensions of these principles!

Now you may simply find yourselves unwilling to tolerate your sister’s apparent manipulations any further and you may feel compelled to establish some limits or set up some conditions with her for your continued support. Although such feel   ings and actions may not be without your own ego investment, it is still possible at least to acknowledge how far along the path you are willing to go with Jesus at this point, and where you feel you need to take over in the decision-making process. For if, on the other hand, you proceed to "tolerate" your sister, seemingly against your will, and end up feeling self-sacrificing and resentful towards her, that also is not loving to any of you. The key would be to be aware of whatever guilt you may feel in the situation, which could be projected as anger toward your sister, and bring that to Jesus to release before proceeding.

Identified with our egos, we are always concerned about what others are doing and what we should or should not do about it. And Jesus is not asking us to release our egos but for an instant. For in that moment we can find the clarity we are looking for, which has nothing to do with what we do and everything to do with how we see -- ourselves and others. Remember, he only ever asks of us a "little willingness" and he promises the rest will be provided (T.18.IV; V.2).

Q #619: I have been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. And I know A Course in Miracles would say that's a perfect way for the ego to get you. There is no cure as of yet. But I am doing other things to help in my healing, alternative things, praying for my highest good, asking what the lesson is I am supposed to learn in all this. Does it all go back to guilt? I ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit to help me see this differently. My father died four months after I was diagnosed. My brother gives me no emotional support. I have prayed for a healing between my brother and myself, and it only seems to get worse. Sometimes I just can't take it anymore.I have been sober for 16 years. Have I not learned anything? I feel so alone sometimes. But the cancer has taught me compassion, that I already thought I had. I want to be a channel for God's Love. I have my skin-care license. That's what I love, and wanted to use that as my way of giving back. How can I be a channel if I am sick?

A: Compassion is the key word in what you have said. But you must apply it to yourself, which means being more gentle: specifically, lightening up on the judgmental thoughts against yourself, such as "Have I not learned anything?" I am sure you would never say that to another person with a serious problem. Why be so hard on yourself? Our perception is too limited to know why this condition is in your script, but it need not be looked upon as totally negative. The lesson you can learn is that the only important aspect of it now is which teacher you will choose to help you through it: the ego or Jesus. The ego would "guide" you in such a way that you would wind up feeling alone and guilty for somehow failing this Course. Jesus would help you see this differently by guiding you to the peace deep within you that is untouched by anything of the body or the world. Surely, a difficult lesson, but Jesus and the Holy Spirit would help you approach your condition as a classroom in which you can begin to recover a sense of your true Identity outside the dream of separation.

This does not entail denial of your physical and emotional pain. And it does not mean that you should not pursue whatever treatment you want to, including psychological counseling for your intense feelings. There are truly kind counselors available for people who, like yourself, are undergoing a life-threatening illness. The kind, gentle approach of the Course combines both levels: doing whatever is helpful to alleviate the physical/emotional condition, and doing the inner work of bringing all your anger and grievances to the loving presence in your right mind, where you will feel that you are not being judged, but only loved. Your interaction with doctors and other medical people would then be an opportunity to choose against the ego’s goal of separate, conflicting interests, and for the Holy Spirit’s goal of shared interests. Our guilt prevents us from experiencing that love, so that is the importance of being open and honest about unforgiveness toward yourself and others. Learning how to look with Jesus -- which means non-judgmentally -- at the contents of our wrong mind puts us on the right path to healing and peace.

Finally, resuming skin-care work could very well be an expression of kindness toward yourself, since that is what you love to do. But rather than doing it "as a way of giving back," which sounds a little sacrificial, you might consider approaching it as a wonderful classroom -- a means of joining with others through sharing a common interest. That would help you gradually to go to a deeper level of joining, where you recognize more and more that you and your clients are joined both as the separated Son of God journeying back to your true home in Heaven as God’s eternally innocent Son. Your work then, combined with your "little willingness," would be the means the Holy Spirit could use to heal your mind of all thoughts of separation. So it is a matter of doing whatever you can for your body, and at the same time in some part of your mind knowing that the cancer in your body is not really the problem. Your belief that you are separate from the Love and peace of God is the problem.

Q #620: A web search on A Course in Miracles produces many anti-Course articles -- everything ranging from the view that the Course is Satan-inspired, to opinions that those who are involved with it are anti-Christian, anti-Biblical cultists. As one who came to the Course after having validated its principles of forgiveness and peace in real life before ever reading a word of them in print, I perpetually wrestle with the fact that I believe in my heart the Course is valid but that its Jesus does contradict the Bible. This is starting to cause me much anguish, as the Bible itself says there will be many false prophets in the end times and to test their words against the Scriptures. I can certainly understand differences in interpretation, but all of the direct contradictions are causing me to have serious doubts.

A: Many students have anguished over this issue, some returning to their prior religious affiliation, and others remaining with the Course. There is no doubt that the theology of the Course and that of the Bible are mutually exclusive. No one can make this decision for you. You should follow whatever path brings you closer to God, and leaves you feeling peaceful, and with love for all people. To make your decision based on fear, though, would seem to be counter- productive, as it would be hard to feel love for a God Who binds you to Himself and His Word out of fear. Fear and love cannot coexist. And there would also continue to be conflict if part of you still believed the Course to be a valid spiritual path.

Some people have said to themselves as they continued with the Course still with lingering doubts and fear that they could be making the wrong decision: What is the worst that can happen? I can always go back -- the Course will always be there for me. And what’s wrong with becoming more compassionate, more kind, less judgmental, and less guilty? Suppose I spend the rest of my life undoing my guilt, my hateful thoughts, my fear of love, the obstacles to peace? Would God be upset with me because I got the theology wrong? What do you think???

What might interest you is our book, co-authored by Kenneth Wapnick and Norris Clarke, a Catholic priest/philosopher, A Course in Miracles and Christianity: A Dialogue.

Q #621: My wife and I are both in the army. We got married last July and haven't been able to spend more than a month total together since, because I just spent a few months in Korea. I returned in November, we were stationed far away from each other during the time before she got sent to Iraq in January, a day before her birthday. I tried really hard to get sent there to be with her, but it's just not going to happen. I did receive word, however, that I'm going to Afghanistan in a couple months... it's a lot more dangerous there and my safety isn't guaranteed. My father, who introduced me to A Course in Miracles, tells me to just smile because everything is as it should be. I am so frustrated and angry at the current situation and I'm not really sure whom I'm supposed to forgive. My wife and I are both students of the teachings of Jesus, but can't really seem to figure out why our love is constantly being tested. It's been a long time now since we have seen each other, and this is a constant burden on the both of us. It has been a constant battle with the military since we got married. Why do I feel like we are being attacked? What is your advice for us?

A: Although the Course reminds us that there is no hierarchy among illusions (T.26.VII.6:5), that does not mean that we will not experience some of the times and circumstances of our lives as much more difficult, frustrating and painful than others. Your father meant well, but his advice is not strictly in line with the Course’s teachings. Only through forgiveness can we be certain that we are where we are supposed to be -- in our right mind -- learning the lessons of forgiveness that we have, on a level we are rarely in touch with, given to ourselves. And we can’t force a smile on ourselves over situations where we still feel unfairly treated and victimized.

So being honest with yourselves, as you are doing, about how you are feeling -- not denying what feels like the injustice of it all -- is an important first step. But of course you don’t want to stop there. The answer to your question that you’re not sure whom you are supposed to forgive in fact holds the key. For the Course is telling us that we really only ever need to forgive ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves for believing that we can be bereft of love. And our lives, sometimes in subtle and other times in more blatant ways, are set up, by our unconscious choice, to prove to us that we will never have the love we need and deserve. Your repeated forced separations from each other certainly must reinforce that belief that all of us who find ourselves here in the world share.

Many times, we are in situations where we are simply not in control of what happens to us. The army would be a prime example. But the one choice we always have, no matter the external circumstances, is which teacher we will choose to be our guide in interpreting what happens to us. If we choose the ego, we will believe that we are the victim of other people’s choices, which are robbing us of our happiness. If we choose Jesus as our teacher, we will be expressing a willingness to learn that the love and peace we want is always available to us within our own minds, regardless of external circumstances. This is not an easy lesson to learn, and our lives have been set up to prove just the opposite, but the willingness to consider that possibility opens the door at least a crack to a different experience. It is only natural to want to be together, but because you are not together physically does not mean that you’re not still together in the thoughts in your mind. And the Course tells us the mind is where the only genuine experience of joining can be found (T.18.VI.11,12,13,14). In those moments when you can allow yourself this different experience that transcends time and space and the body, you will know that you can never be deprived of what you truly want, regardless of where you find yourself. And over time, with practice, this awareness can grow in your experience until you will want nothing else (W.pI.231.1).

Q #622: My partner and I have been together for a while. He is a teacher of A Course in Miracles and I am recently challenged with something I need guidance with. My partner would like the "freedom" to have sexual affairs with other women because he says it is ‘his nature’ to be able to do that and not feel guilty about it. He is not willing to relinquish that freedom, and he told me so that he will not feel guilty when it happens. I love him and we share an incredible relationship in which we both have agreed to build a future together to help other people and ourselves grow. But I can’t help but feel nauseous and wonder why he would want to do this. Is this a fantasy that he can’t relinquish or am I wrong in not wanting him to explore "his nature," for I don’t have the same desire to seek out other men for sex or companionship. I am so confused on what the Course would have me do or think and can’t help but ask myself, am I wrong to want a partner who would want the same things as me. I love him dearly but I am afraid this will end us and if so -- so be it -- but I need to know first if there is another way?

A: Rather than focusing on your partner and his expectations for the relationship and how those may conflict with your own, the Course would invite you first to get in touch with your own ego purpose for the relationship. We of course consciously seek out special love relationships in order to have our needs met and so have implicit and explicit expectations for how we would like the other person to be so that we can get what we want. And both partners have their own set of expectations based on their own needs as they perceive them. We see our own happiness and satisfaction in the relationship as dependent on whether or not the other fulfills our expectations. This is why everyone in the world seems to enter into relationships.

However, the deeper, usually unconscious purpose the ego has for all special love relationships is to prove that love cannot be trusted and that we will in the end be betrayed, abandoned, or in some other way victimized by our special love partner. And the love will then turn into hate -- demonstrating from the Course’s perspective that it wasn’t ever really love (T.16.IV.4:1,2,3,4) but dependency. And yet such feelings, regardless of how justified they seem to be, have nothing to do with the other’s behavior but only with our own deep-rooted sense of guilt and unworthiness and our overwhelming desire to project responsibility for those feelings outside ourselves on to someone else. This is the real ego purpose behind all of our relationships.

Now there is nothing wrong with each of you being clear about what you want in the relationship and then looking to see if there is a match. The only mistake would be in believing that what either of you wants and would insist on having has anything to do with anything spiritual. As egos, we all want what we feel is best for ourselves and we do not really care about anyone else. So conflict is inherent and inevitable in all special relationships, and it’s just a matter of time before the conflict surfaces. Justifications for or against faithfulness at the level of behavior are all ego-based (see Question #417 for a further discussion of the issue of fidelity).

So should you stay or leave? Jesus would like you to recognize that that is not really the question. The question he would have you ask is are you willing to give the relationship a different purpose, and that would be the other way you are asking about. The different purpose would be to use the relationship as a mirror rather than as a screen, that is, as a reflection of what is buried within your own mind but projected outside rather than as a way to see the selfishness and guilt in someone else and not in yourself. And this you can do whether you remain in the relationship or not. For we are all accusing ourselves down deep of having been unfaithful to God and of looking for love and satisfaction outside of that one Relationship. And the guilt we feel over the self-accusation is enough to make anyone feel nauseous!

So be gentle with both yourself and your partner in this process of self-examination, which has been facilitated by acknowledging the conflicting aims for the relationship that you are experiencing with him. Any attempts to change another in order to find our own happiness are doomed from the start (W.pI.71.2,3). But every attempt to change our mind about how and with whom we are perceiving a challenging situation, if we are willing to release our own investment in any specific outcome, is assured of success.