Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/19/2005

This week's questions/topics:

Q #657  What could be causing my headaches, depression, etc.?
Q #658  How can I deal with my negative feelings toward a family member ?

Q #659  What is your view of Course-based psychotherapy?.
Q #660  Why do I feel better about my friends than they feel about me?.
Q #661  How should a Course student view disasters like the recent tsunami?.

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #657: I am beginning to feel times of peace and feeling good, sometimes most of the day. However, the times that I don't, hurt even worse. I get headaches, depression, all sorts of signs of extreme tension. How do I go from the ego to the Holy Spirit? How can I more easily experience these times of choosing the ego?

A: At the beginning of Chapter 18 in A Course in Miracles, Jesus talks about our mistake of choosing to be separate from God, and how the world became the screen on which we projected that mistake (T.18.I.6). He tells us that truth remains within our minds "in quiet" and is not part of "the mad projection by which this world was made." Then he tells us how to respond to the insanity of the ego world: "Call it not sin but madness, for such it was and so it still remains. Invest it not with guilt, for guilt implies it was accomplished in reality. And above all, be not afraid of it." That is how you can make the process easier for yourself. Whenever you become aware that you have chosen the ego, try to remember Jesus’ advice: "Be not afraid of it." Try to be nonchalant about it: "Oh, there you are again." The only power the ego has is what we give it. That is what Jesus is trying to get across to us, and obviously by being afraid of it or fighting against it we are acting as if it had tremendous power over us. Then just be patient. Let the process take as long as it needs, and know that the seeming passage of time has no effect on Jesus’ caring love for you. Jesus knows the ego is nothing, and by your being nonchalant about its appearances, you will be joining with him above the ego’s battleground. Over a period of time then it will have less and less an effect on you.

Finally, if the physical/emotional symptoms persist, it would be a good idea to have them checked out by a doctor or therapist. Combining attention to your body with attention to the thought system in your mind is the most effective way of practicing the gentle message of this Course as we make our way up the ladder of healing.

Q #658: I have a sibling whom I loved dearly for many years and considered the epitome of truth and honesty. Now that we live near each other and I see her often, the pedestal I kept her on for so many years has been steadily eroding. Mostly, her demeaning attitude towards our elderly father often sends me into a blind rage. Knowing what I know now about projection, perception, forgiveness and so on, I've been trying to see it differently. To my surprise and dismay, the negative feelings became even worse. Can you tell me why?

A: If you try to "see it differently" when you are in a rage, you are fighting against yourself, and that is never helpful. It is far more helpful to just watch yourself being angry or not being able to let go of your negative feelings, and then not judge yourself. It is part of the healing process to become aware of the part of you that does not want to see it differently. One way of defining right- mindedness is: looking at wrong-mindedness without judgment. That in fact is the first stage of learning to "see it differently," which many students tend to skip because they think that hatred is sinful and they therefore want to get rid of it right away. Looking at the hatred without judgment, and then realizing that you cannot hate and be at peace at the same time is what will eventually spark the shift. So when you ask for help to see the situation differently, all of that comes into play. Patience and gentleness with yourself is extremely important. Specialness has deep roots, and it takes a while to work through all the layers to the love underneath.

Special love (the pedestal) is deceptive, we are taught in A Course in Miracles, because it always conceals hatred. That is why it is harder to work with than the more up-front, blatant special hate relationship. If you had your sister on a pedestal, you must have been feeling separate from her the whole time; and, given the ego dynamics involved in comparisons, you must also have been secretly accusing her of having stolen her saintliness from you! These are not conscious dynamics, but they help explain the worsening of your negative feelings, because the hatred that was hidden inside the pedestal of special love has been exposed now that the pedestal has been shattered. "In looking at the special relationship, it is necessary at first to realize that it involves a great amount of pain. Anxiety, despair, guilt and attack all enter into it, broken into by periods in which they seem to be gone" (T.16.V.1:1,2).

It is not unusual at all for things to get worse before they get better when specialness is involved, as special love is a defense, and a defense is needed only if there is fear -- intense fear! So when the defense of special love is threatened, you would have to feel tremendously threatened because a crucial layer of self-protection has been weakened, if not destroyed. Until you realize that you do not need a defense at all, you will react to the threat, which results in increased agitation -- the attack-defense-attack cycle. Perhaps, too, realizing that the saintliness of your sister is not the truth about her (in your mind) is reminding you of the same thing about yourself. This would intensify your anger toward her. The first half of "The Two Pictures" section in the text (T.17.IV) describes the purpose of special relationships in relation to our determination to keep ourselves separate from God; it is particularly clear about our need for special relationships as a means of self-preservation.

Q #659: A Course in Miracles is a self-study course by its own definition. What would be your view about Course-based psychotherapy?

A: Although the Course has been written as a self-study course, there would be nothing in its teachings that would preclude seeking out therapy for help along the way. Every relationship provides the opportunity to practice forgiveness and the therapist-patient relationship is no exception. Now it is true that nearly all the world’s forms of psychotherapy are concerned only with helping us make better ego-based adjustments to our life circumstances (P.2.in; I). And some may reinforce the belief in the dynamic of victim and victimizer, as experiences of abuse from the past may be uncovered or focused on. Nevertheless, therapy with a non-judgmental, accepting therapist can provide a useful context for identifying ego patterns and feelings that may be difficult to recognize on one’s own.

That Jesus is not opposed to psychotherapy as a supplement and support for his teachings is apparent from the pamphlet, Psychotherapy: Purpose, Process, and Practice, scribed by Helen Schucman from Jesus in a manner similar to how she took down the Course. However, a study of the pamphlet also makes it clear that, as a form of therapy, there is really no such thing as Course- based therapy. Jesus’ focus is only on the thoughts and attitudes in the mind of the therapist in relationship to the patient. He never makes any specific suggestions or recommendations about what the therapist should say or do with the patient -- that is not his concern for that is not what brings about true healing. Healing only occurs when the therapist releases every judgment being held about the patient, recognizing that the two of them are really the same, walking together on the same path back home, with the same problem and the same need, to release the insane belief in the reality of separation.

For more extensive discussion of these issues, please look at Question #45 and #102.

Q #660: I have this ongoing pattern in my life that I was hoping you could comment on. If you asked two different friends to define their relationship in separate rooms they would probably describe the relationship the same way -- "We are good friends or acquaintances, etc." But I have this pattern of seeing my relationships with other people differently from how they do. It seems that I think that I am better friends with people than they see me to them. Can you comment on this?

A: Without knowing more about how you experience these differences between yourself and others in perceiving your relationships, we can only offer you some general points to consider. From the Course’s perspective, the only question we need ask of anything is, "What is it for?" (T.24.VII.6:1,2,3). So for the pattern you have identified, you need only ask yourself what purpose it is serving in your life. And to answer that, you will want to look honestly at how these differences between yourself and others in valuing the relationships seem to make you feel.

Now if you don’t have much reaction one way or another, then you can just chalk it up as further support for the ego’s first law of chaos, "that the truth is different for everyone" (T.23.II.2:1). In this world of differences we all see through our own special set of filters and so differences in perception are inevitable and unavoidable. However, since the pattern has gained your attention sufficiently that you are inquiring about its significance, it seems more likely that you are having some reaction to the difference. We can suggest a few possible reactions and their implications, but you will have to decide for yourself what is going on for you.

You may feel disappointed, perhaps even taken advantage of, that your feelings are not being returned. Jesus speaks of the "‘laws’ of friendship, of ‘good’ relationships and reciprocity" (W.76.8:3) that we believe must be obeyed, which are all part of the ego’s deliberate plan to keep us looking outside ourselves to have our needs met and find happiness through our special love bargains (e.g., T.7.I.4, T.21.III.1). And these rules also allow us to gather the ammunition we need to demonstrate that we are victims of others’ lack of appreciation and care and concern. Of course, these defenses are merely the smokescreens that keep us from looking within ourselves to the guilt that is the real cause of all of our feelings of unhappiness and lack.

Or perhaps you feel that you are just not good enough and that, despite your best efforts, others will simply not be interested in getting to know you better. This may seem to be a step closer to acknowledging the guilt within yourself than the previous reaction, which blames the other. But so long as we are still harboring blame against anyone, including ourselves, Jesus tells us (T.11.IV.4,5), we are still trapped in the throes of the ego thought system. For it is not the self in the world that we each believe we are that is the problem, but the mind that thinks it needs this self as a defense against the guilt it is holding onto.

On the other hand, you could perhaps feel a certain sense of superiority because you are more open to experiencing intimacy and are not afraid of getting more involved and caring more deeply about others than they do towards you. If this is your reaction, it would be helpful to acknowledge the specialness that necessarily underlies this feeling. And then to recognize that this too is a defense against the guilt in your own mind for choosing against the loving Intimacy that we have all turned away from when we sought to be on our own, independent and autonomous, not needing Anyone else. For we always accuse others of what we have first accused ourselves (T.31.III.1,2).

Now there may be other reactions you are having to this pattern in your relationships, but perhaps it is clear from the three examples just described that the path will always bring us back to our own guilt, if we’re willing to take it where it leads. And while the ego purpose for all of our relationships is to reinforce unconsciously our own guilt while trying to see it outside of ourselves, our relationships can all be given another purpose when we are willing to recognize them as the vehicles for getting in touch with our belief in our own guilt. For it is only when we can acknowledge that guilt within our own mind that we can make a different choice about it, with the Holy Spirit or Jesus as our Guide for looking rather than the ego.

For further discussion on issues related to reciprocity in relationships, see Questions #66 and #398.

Q #661: Could you please comment on the recent tsunami in Southeast Asia? As a Course student, how should I view it?

A: The short answer is, with the Holy Spirit. But let's explore what that means. A Course in Miracles teaches us that everything we go through is something we have scripted. If life is our dream and we are the dreamer, then it is our mind that has chosen what to dream about. Shared events like a tsunami are ones that collectively we have chosen to experience. In terms of why something happens, or where it comes from, we don't need to go any further than that. It isn't the dream figure, or individual self we're identified with that made the choice. So we don't need to feel personally responsible (in fact, doing so would only serve the ego's purpose of reinforcing our guilt). What we do need to do is use our reaction to an event such as this to help us awaken and return to the part of our mind that can make a different choice.

Remember that the entire purpose of the Course is to remind us that we can change teachers and change thought systems. We can shift our focus from the voice of the ego (that tells us the world is real and we are its victim) to the Voice of the Holy Spirit (that tells us this is all made up and we are still at home in the safety of God's Love). Once you know that's true, you can say, as Jesus does in the Course "There is no order of difficulty in miracles. One is not 'harder' or 'bigger' than another." (T.1.I.1:1,2)

Jesus can make a statement like that because he is coming from outside of time and space -- from outside the dream in which all the events of the world seem to be happening. So from his perspective, a tsunami, a war, or a holocaust is no more important or serious than a schoolyard fight, an unkind thought, or a stubbed toe. To him, they are all the same.

Of course, for us (who think we're bodies) to pretend we share his perspective would be ludicrous. But what we can do is realize that, on the level of the mind, the process of dealing with any of these situations (in other words, getting to the point where we can experience the miracle -- the change from the ego's view to the Holy Spirit's) is the same.

As Course students, in whatever situation we're confronted with, we need to ask Jesus or the Holy Spirit to help us honestly look at all the thoughts and feelings we're experiencing. That means observing our own reactions in the nonjudgmental light of compassion that recognizes our underlying guilt and fear. The world is truly a blank screen onto which we project everything we don't want to see in ourselves. So looking at our reactions to the events of our lives and the world is the only way to take back our projections and eventually see that they are simply covers obscuring God's Love in our mind.

From that perspective, a dramatic event such as the recent tsunami offers us an excellent opportunity. Virtually anyone learning of an event that has claimed over 150,000 lives would have a strong reaction. Generally our reactions will be some sort of affirmation of the belief that we are victims. Perhaps (despite being Course students) we wonder if this catastrophic event is punishment from God. Maybe it scares us to be reminded that we live in an unpredictable world in which our body, or the bodies of loved ones could be struck down at any moment. We might feel guilty that others are suffering and dying while we remain physically unaffected. Or possibly we feel angered by the thought that more should have been done before or after the event to help its victims.

But when we take the Holy Spirit's Hand and truly look, we'll see that, tragic as this event was on the level of form, ultimately what it's bringing up is simply a variation of what we feel about everything -- again, an affirmation that we are bodies being victimized by external sources. The Holy Spirit's Voice will teach us that the exact opposite is true; that external sources cannot hurt us because, regardless of what happens in our personal or collective worlds, nothing can take the peace of God away from us.

Once we've really learned that lesson, our thoughts, words, and actions will automatically reflect the love it inspires. Then in any situation, we'll know how to respond lovingly to our brothers -- whether they look like victims or villains, and whether they're half a world away in an actual tsunami, or standing right in front of us.