Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/12/2005

This week's questions/topics:

Q #654  Should I judge those who claim to be "enlightened"?
Q #655  How can I deal with my desires to over-eat ?

Q #656  If bodies are made to limit love, what on earth are we doing here?.

Chronological List of All Questions.
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Q #654: I recently spent six weeks with a man who describes himself as an enlightened being. I saw in him a vacillation between littleness -- the desire for the worldly, power, property and prestige -- and grandiosity -- he believed his almost constant image- enhancing repetitive words about himself as to what it was like to be enlightened. I have since done some soul-searching about whether I had a responsibility to help the others there see what looked to me like a very effective enlistment activity for building a cult. But possibly I was helpful merely by holding consistently to the view that both he and I are simply equally valuable human beings.

After this adventure, I came upon a prayer of Thomas Merton’s that begins "I cannot know, Father, if I am doing your will." My joy is tentative and rests on the possibility that, in just being myself, in being authentic, the consistency of the Holy Spirit has been demonstrated -- the truth being the equal value of all of us -- and I have done my Father’s Will and have been of help. As I look back, I can see that if my ego had become involved at all in trying to help, in a willful way, that my actions would have been more like a misguided attempt at rescuing. I never argued against the magical I saw around me, but simply recognized that people caught up in this type of thought system cannot make sense.

A: Perhaps one of the most difficult lessons Jesus attempts to teach us in his Course is that he is not at all concerned with our words and actions -- or anyone else’s -- but only with our thoughts (Question #637ii for an in-depth discussion of this important issue), and this is where he wants our focus to be as well. It is a wonderful ego device to have us deliberate over whether our action or inaction in any particular situation has been ego-based or guided by the Holy Spirit.

Now it does sound as if you deported yourself admirably in difficult and challenging circumstances. A Course in Miracles, however, always invites us to focus on how well we are able to recognize external circumstances as a screen for the projection of any unhealed thoughts of separation and guilt within our own minds -- thoughts and feelings of judgment, irritation, annoyance, defensiveness, anger, etc., regardless of whether we act upon them. And one of the measures of whether we have been successful in recognizing and releasing our own ego thoughts is that we will come to a recognition of shared rather than separate interests with all our brothers and sisters, despite all the differences in form. In the end, this means recognizing our equality with each other, not as human beings -- for we are very different from each other in many different ways as human beings, with different talents and skills and limitations -- but as minds that are all ensnared in ego illusion, sharing the same need to be released from the pain of belief in separation and to awaken.

This is not to make any judgment, one way or another, about the validity of your observations of what you perceived as cult-like activity, or to justify anything that anyone else may have been doing. It is just that Jesus cautions us that "analyzing the motives of others is hazardous to you" (T.12.I.1:6) because it is "never without your own ego involvement. The whole process represents a clear-cut attempt to demonstrate your own ability to understand what you perceive" (T.12.I.2:1,2).

And so the only way we can be certain that we are doing the Father’s Will is to be willing to look at our own ego judgments and reactions, bringing them to the healing light of the Holy Spirit, Who can then teach us that there are only calls for love and extensions of love -- and that our own reactions are our own calls for love (T.12.I.3,6,7,8). Recognizing whether a brother is extending love or giving a call for love is not a distinction we can make on our own, for on our own we will only succeed in making separation and differences real. But if we succeed in releasing our own ego blocks, then whatever comes through us will simply be a reflection of the love that is shining within our mind -- and everyone else’s.

Q #655: I have discovered that my form of attacking the Sonship is overeating. I felt that I was ready through reducing what I eat to look at the guilt and hopefully reduce the fear of God’s Love and not use that particular form of attack any more. What I have found is that it is INCREDIBLY difficult to do this, even though I know exactly what purpose my overeating serves -- to attack God’s Son and keep God’s Love away, or to reinforce separation.

I was hoping you could help me with this process. When I reduce what I eat, there is a very strong feeling of "hunger" that overwhelms me. I think at that point I want to turn to the Holy Spirit and "look" at the guilt in my mind so that I can see that it is not real. When I do this I am not getting any clear thoughts about how to do this. The strong thought is the hunger and need to eat a bunch of junk so the feeling will go away. What does it mean to "look at the guilt"? Do you have any suggestions for how I can get past this block that I have to the awareness of love’s presence? What are some of the "truths" I can use to help me become less afraid and get past this form of attack?

A: You’ve got part of it right, but there’s an important aspect of your current approach to food that you may want to reconsider, in light of the teachings of A Course in Miracles. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get a guilt-based, addictive behavior, such as overeating -- or drinking, or gambling, etc. -- under control, and that can sometimes be a very helpful first step. But if that is your primary goal, even if you acknowledge that it is a form or symbol for your attack on the Sonship, you’ve put the cart before the horse, from the Course’s perspective! That puts you in good company, since most students want to try to change their behavior rather than their minds. And this is only a "natural" desire, while we are more identified with the body in time and space than with the mind outside of time and space. But it’s playing right into the ego’s grand design of keeping our attention focused on effect (the body) and relegating cause (the mind) to a secondary role.

An alternative approach, which reflects the Course’s emphasis on thought rather than behavior, would be to shift your goal from reducing your food intake to merely watching the thoughts that accompany your cravings and your eating binges. We believe the problem is our destructive behavior, but Jesus says that the behavior is only ever a symptom of the underlying destructive thought of guilt in the mind (T.2.VI.3). The behavior helps us recognize that the guilt is there in the mind, but our purpose, believe it or not, is not to change either the behavior or the guilt, but merely to acknowledge the guilt and ask for help in seeing ourselves differently. You see, the overeating in itself is not the attack. The thought that motivates the overeating is the attack -- and that thought is not real. And if our goal is to change either, we are saying both the thought and its effect -- the overeating -- are real. Obviously, since both feel very real to us, we cannot be the ones to undo them.

The thought of guilt may be experienced as anxiety, fear, neediness, scarcity, inadequacy, self- loathing, etc. The ego wants us to make the specific interpretation -- that we are hungry and craving food and the way to address the problem is to eat. The Course invites us to dissociate the thought from the specific context and recognize that the underlying thought is really a statement we are making about ourselves, that we are empty and missing something inside -- the love we unconsciously believe we have thrown away (T.30.III.1,2,3). And this thought is the source of our guilt. Whether we eat something or not is irrelevant as we allow ourselves to get in touch with the underlying thought, which may bring up both fear and pain. We don’t want to minimize this step, but we also don’t want to stop with it.

And so the Course process of looking with the Holy Spirit or Jesus means that we take what seems very real and powerful to us -- our guilt, in whatever form it seems real for us -- and look at it with Their gentle, nonjudgmental presence beside us. If we are successful in joining with Their love in this process of looking, we will experience some level of reduction in the intensity of our guilt-based feelings. Our continuing investment in the ego and the self we think we are, which are protected by the guilt, will determine how willing we are to release the guilt in any particular moment. So we do not want to judge ourselves if the feelings do not seem to diminish, but just continue to look as honestly as we can and ask for the help to see ourselves in a different light. For what we believe about ourselves -- that we are sinful, guilty, weak, limited creatures -- is an ego- based lie. And the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our minds is proof that it is a lie, for our minds could not be home to Their gentle presence if we were the limited selves we have up until now insisted we are. This process of looking at and releasing our guilt is likely to take time so it is important that we be patient with ourselves. Over time, the need to use food to push away those unpleasant, even terrifying thoughts, may also diminish, and food itself will recede in importance as a focus of concern.

A more in-depth discussion of this process and these issues can be found in "Overeating: A Dialogue" (published in both a small book and a single tape format), which presents a discussion Ken Wapnick held with three students around issues of food addiction and preoccupation with weight.

Q #656: In one answer you wrote, "A Course in Miracles teaches us that the body was made to attack and replace our true Identity, and to limit love (T.18.VIII.1)." If that's the case, what on earth are we doing here then? That seems like an incredibly cynical view of humanity. If being incarnate means that we are inherently attacking each other, why do we even come here?

While I think the Course has a lot of great points and insights, I think, like all spiritual texts, it can be interpreted so literally that it becomes fundamentalist and basically useless to individual people and where they are in life. For years I have stayed in bad relationships with different people while I tried to see their "innocence" and to see our oneness. Recently, I have decided to just stay away from people who hurt me (I no longer care if it's an illusion or not) and I have to say I feel a tremendous amount of power in myself and forgiveness for them. If the Course assumes that we have common sense, it's sadly mistaken. Many of us born into insane, addicted families have no common sense, and for people like me, using texts like this can be dangerous. If Jesus really meant to heal us with this text why didn't he take into account those who literally can not differentiate between joy and pain, guilt and love, let alone realize that the pain is an illusion. For years I honestly thought that guilt was love. How do you explain the Course to someone who believes that?

A: The Course, like any written teaching, is certainly open to misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misapplication. And since its purpose is to completely reverse, undo, and replace our whole thought system, it is even more likely to be misunderstood -- for we all have a strong investment in not understanding it. Its passages are all too easily taken out of context, if we do not understand the teaching as a whole, which will be most students’ experience as they begin to study the Course and attempt to put its principles into practice. And while the Course says nothing about common sense specifically, it is clear that Jesus does not overestimate our ability to understand and make sense of our experiences (T.18.IV.7:5,6; 8:1), for he repeatedly describes us as insane (e.g., T.4.III.10:3,4; T.10.V.10:4, T.13.in.1:7; T.14.I.2:6,7; T.14.XI.2:2; W.pI.53)!

He knows and describes in great detail the confusion we all share between pain and joy (e.g., T.7.X), imprisonment and freedom (T.8.II), and guilt and love (e.g., T.15.V.2,3,4,5; T.15.VII.2,7,8,9,10; T.15.X.5,6; T.15.XI.4; T.16.IV.3). And he knows his challenge as our teacher is to help us recognize our own confusion -- he is very aware that we have great resistance to accepting the truth of what he says (e.g., T.7.X.3,4,5; W.pI.44.5; M.5.II.1).

One of the more common mistakes students make with the Course is thinking that it is advising them how to act and behave. And so your belief that the Course is asking you to remain in abusive relationships and see the other’s innocence and your oneness with them is, unfortunately, one of the more common misinterpretations of its teachings. Jesus’ primary goal is to help us look at our own ego thoughts, and our relationships are merely the means for helping us identify those thoughts, which we can do whether we physically remain in the relationship with another or not. The relationship in the mind goes on regardless, and that’s where Jesus wants us to focus.

The Course’s teachings on the ego’s purpose for making the world and the body, central to understanding what it means by forgiveness, are, as you remark, quite challenging and uncompromising. And yet the Course also offers us another purpose for our "coming here." With the Holy Spirit as our Teacher, the world and our bodies can become the classroom in which we learn our lessons of forgiveness, in the context of all of our special relationships, so that what we made to harm can now be used by the Holy Spirit to heal (T.25.VI.4:1). Nevertheless, not everyone will be drawn to this particular expression of "the universal course" -- it is but one path among many thousands (M.1.4:1,2). And if you can not accept the Course’s teachings on this pivotal point, rest assured there will be another path to lead you back home that you may experience as a gentler road to travel. That is a decision each of us can make only with our own internal Teacher, Who knows what we each truly need to heal the thought of separation and pain in our minds. So please, be gentle with yourself. The last thing Jesus is intending for any of us is to reinforce our pain and guilt. His goal is only to help us make the choice, in a form that we can find most comforting, that will truly alleviate our pain.