Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/01/2003

This week's questions:

Q #49: A question about the neutrality of the world and the body.
Q #50: A question about the difficulty of forgiving.
Q #51: A question about looking at the ego with humility.
Q #52: A question about guilt about worldly suffering.
Q #53: A question about trying to improve the external world.

Q #49: The Course says the world was made as an attack on God. It also says that the body is neutral. Since they are both illusions, should they not be seen as neutral?

A: The Course also says that "the body is a limit on love....it was made to limit the unlimited" T.18.VIII.1:2,3). Everything of the ego, including the power to choose or decide, and all the defenses to protect and maintain the ego’s survival, was made as an attack on the Love and the Oneness of God. But everything that the ego made to separate, the Holy Spirit can use for healing, if we are willing to offer it to Him. It always comes down to a question of purpose -- any illusion, once invested with our belief in its reality, can be used either for the purpose of the ego or for the purpose of the Holy Spirit.

So yes, both the body and the world -- made to defy God and His creation and prove that we are more powerful than He, but then covered over by the belief that we are our bodies, vulnerable and frail, victims of the overwhelming forces of a victimizing world -- now become neutral, awaiting our choice as to whose purpose they will serve. And that is what makes the Course’s teachings so gentle, not seeing the body and the world as obstacles in themselves to be overcome on the journey back to God. Sacrifice of what we think we cherish -- things of the body and of the world -- are called for by most other spiritual teachings. However, the Course asks only that we be willing to have their purpose transformed until, in the end, we willingly discard them as no longer of value to us, "functionless, unneeded and cast off....to be replaced for greater good" (W.pII.294.1:9,10). But so long as the body and the world still have value to us, we are not asked to give them up.

It is our beliefs or thoughts about the body and the world that are not neutral. The Course makes this very clear: "No belief is neutral" (T24.in.2:3); "You have no neutral thoughts" (W.pI.16.h). And so it is at the level of thought or belief that the Course teaches that change has to be made. It is our beliefs or thoughts that give everything in the world its purpose. And all thought comes from either the ego or the Holy Spirit. Accepting the ego’s thought system reinforces our belief in the reality of sin, guilt and fear and their defenses -- the world and the body. Turning to the Holy Spirit’s thought system undoes that belief, first allowing us not to take the things of the world, including ourselves, so seriously, and then leading us in the end to recognize that all of the ego’s beliefs and their manifestations are unreal or illusory. Once we have recognized their unreality, they will no longer have any value for us and can be easily released.

Q #50: If the process of forgiveness is the basis of the Course, why does Jesus not just concentrate on that and give us all the techniques or advice in the most "practical" way possible? Any way do you have any techniques, advise or other? I am just desperate with the difficulty of the work!!!

A: First of all, you have a lot of company! Many, many people share your feelings about their work with the Course.

The Course is highly practical, but unfortunately, not in the way we would like it to be. We would like it to tell us what to do behaviorally in specific situations. It does not offer us practical advice or techniques on that level, though, because that is not its focus. It is a Course in changing our minds (content) not our behavior (form). It is a Course in cause, not effect, as Jesus tells us in a moving part of "The ‘Hero’ of the Dream" section in Chapter 27 of the text:

"In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects. How else could He correct your error, who have overlooked the cause entirely? He bids you bring each terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while. You judge effects, but He has judged their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed" (T.27.VIII.9:1,2,3,4,5).

Therefore, the Course says nothing about behavior, which is what so many students find frustrating. We would like to be told exactly what to do as we go about interacting with people and having to make all kinds of decisions about our lives. It does tell us what to do, but not in the behavioral sense. The workbook lessons are very specific about what we should do when we become upset, angry, judgmental, fearful, sick, etc. But the instructions are geared exclusively to the decision-making capacities of our minds, from which our behavior flows. Our behavior emanates from the thought system we have chosen in our minds. So the work of the Course centers entirely on that dimension, because that is where the cause of all of our problems and distress lies. Our bodily states are just the effects of the cause. Therefore, we can be helped most effectively by working with the contents of our minds. That is the kind of help Jesus offers us in his Course. This is part of what makes the Course unique in its approach to spirituality.

Yet sometimes concentrating on behavioral changes is helpful and even necessary, especially when addictions are involved. Often, internal work cannot begin until one’s emotional and physical status is fairly stable. But the relief from pain, anxiety, guilt, fear, etc. is usually not permanent when changes are made only on the behavioral level, with no corresponding change in the mind. The Course teaches us that we have concealed the deepest sources of motivation in our minds, so if we don’t get to that level, we will never have lasting internal peace, despite behavioral changes. By applying the teachings and principles of the Course, we are promised an end to all of our pain and all of our problems.

There are two striking passages, among others, that describe the Course’s orientation and approach to healing the pain and solving the problems of our lives: "Certain it is that all distress does not appear to be but unforgiveness. Yet that is the content underneath the form" (W.pI.193.4:1.1); "Of one thing you were sure: Of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them" (T.27.VII.7:4). So Jesus tells us in these passages, as well as in dozens of others, that we know neither what our problems are nor their solutions. We had best, then, ask his help and follow his guidance, as he knows what our problems truly are, and how they can be solved.

One should not mistake its emphasis on content to mean that the Course advocates complete license to behave in whatever way one chooses. This is clearly not its direction. It does not focus on behavior because of its metaphysical premises, primary of which is the principle that the world is nothing but the projection of a thought in our minds. And since "ideas leave not their source," the world remains in the mind and therefore is not what it appears to us to be. Neither is the body. So by staying on a behavioral level, we are limiting the extent of healing that can occur. For some people, however, changing behavior is a helpful place to start the process of getting back in touch with the power of the mind that we have dissociated. It often would reflect the mind’s decision to be more loving and kind to oneself, which is actually an application of Course principles. Having completed some other therapy or training, a person may choose to return to the Course, and then be better able to learn and practice what it teaches.

Q #51: I was intrigued by Ken Wapnick's phraseology in his discussion of The Song of Prayer and the use of language in the Course. It reads: "This...is...a wonderful portrait of the Course's path of forgiving the arrogant world of guilt, illusion, and specificity through looking at the ego with humility and without fear." How do I look at the ego with humility? I can hardly imagine looking at it without judgment, never mind with humility!

A: Looking at the ego without judgment is looking at it with humility. The ego in its arrogance would have us shrink back in horror when we realize the extent of its deception, scheming and viciousness. This horror comes from the arrogance of trying to fool ourselves into thinking we are egoless, more spiritually advanced than we actually are, or that we are capable of evaluating ourselves at all. To begin with, it takes humility to recognize just how much we don’t want the peace of God, how firmly we cling to our belief system, the pursuit of our selfish interests, and our individual specialness. Reacting with shock and dismay in recognizing this comes from arrogance. The Course tells us it is our arrogance that has us hold a demeaning image of ourselves, thus denying our true identity: "Arrogance makes an image of yourself that is not real. It is this image which quails and retreats in terror, as the Voice for God assures you that you have the strength, the wisdom and the holiness to go beyond all images" (W.pI.186.6:1,2). One of the most frequently repeated lines in the Course is "I am as God created me" (W.pI.94). In our arrogance we deny this identity, deciding for ourselves who we are, what we do, and why. The ego even has us believe humility is looking upon ourselves as lowly and unworthy. The Course teaches us just the opposite. We are told: "Humility consists of accepting your role in salvation and in taking no other" (W.pII.61.2:3). It asks us to learn to see ourselves along with all our brothers and sisters as worthy of God’s love. It does indeed take humility to look honestly but calmly, without judgment, at the arrogance of the ego, and then, as has often been stated, smile at it. We look at the ego with humility when we are willing to question our point of view, our interpretation and our definition of ourselves, of everyone and everything we encounter. If we are then willing to let go of our interpretation, we can step out of the ego’s arrogant stance and accept the Holy Spirit’s perception. This is true humility.

Q #52: Is it wrong to feel guilty about tragic world events, such as starvation in Africa, etc.? Often, when I see situations of people suffering in poorer countries, I feel guilty and think, "Look at the easy life I have. I really have nothing to complain about." Is my guilt in this situation really just an attempt to retain a sense of specialness and separateness?

A: Guilt and blame are never justified, according to the Course. But the guilt you are feeling more than likely is coming from a deeper source than you mention, and can be undone only on that level. All of us would feel a deep sense of guilt simply because we are here. Our existence in this world is at God’s expense, so the ego has convinced us. We in essence stole God’s creative power and conferred it on ourselves so that we could direct our own lives in a world that could give us the specialness and individuality that was not available in Heaven. The guilt associated with our existence here is enormous as a result, and is deliberately kept out of awareness through denial and projection.

This dynamic of projection requires that there be a world in which terrible things happen, so that we can perceive both victims and victimizers outside us, rather than in the bloody battlefield in our minds, where we are terrified that God will come storming after us and destroy us for our abominable attack on Him. So there is a second tier of guilt in our minds that comes from our wanting there to be suffering in the world to keep our defense of projection working, which in turn maintains this system of existence outside Heaven and God.

Even though the ego assured us that we would be free of guilt by projecting both ourselves and our guilt from the mind, we wind up feeling guilty as bodies in a world of bodies anyway. We feel guilty when we are doing well because deep within our minds we know we got it all illegitimately. And we feel guilty when we see others not doing so well, because on an unconscious level we feel responsible for their suffering and poverty. It reminds us of our complicity in a plan to have a world of affliction and unsolvable problems so that we would never remember that the only problem is that we made the wrong decision in our minds, and that we can simply go back to our minds, guided by Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and now make the right decision.

Finally, we have to be wary of our tendency to interpret events by form only. In other words, the external form cannot tell us what is going on in a person’s Atonement path, the content. Perhaps suffering or poverty is the classroom that that mind is using to learn that the body is not our true reality. We don’t know that, so we should be cautious about judging what appear to be unfortunate situations. We really cannot see the larger picture. We also need to remember that one of the central principles of the Course is that there is no hierarchy of illusions. The bottom line is that kindness and gentleness to all people, regardless of their situation, should be our guiding principle.

Q #53: Does being active in political and social programs inappropriately reinforce the dream from which we are trying to awaken? Should one work solely on the self? Isn’t that the best way to address the world’s ill?

A: First, the Course is exclusively about the healing of our minds, because that is where our one and only problem and its solution reside: our decision to be separate, and our capacity to undo that choice."Forget not that the healing of God’s Son is all this world is for" (T.24.VI.4:1). On one level, therefore, we can help the world most effectively by undoing the guilt in our minds, because the projection of this guilt is what made the world and all its problems, and what sustains it as well. The world, thus, is but an idea in our minds and has never left its source in our minds. If we could identify with this totally and then undo the guilt, the world would disappear back into the nothingness from which it came, and we would be back home in God. Then "nothing you remember now will you remember" (T.19.VI.6:6).

However, because we have not fully integrated this principle, our experience is that there is a world and we are influenced by it in many ways. It is a highly significant part of our dream and of our script. Therefore, on this level we cannot ignore it or be indifferent or passive about what takes place in the world, just as ignoring or denying bodily conditions is an "unworthy form of denial" (T.2.IV.3:11). Two principles that can guide us on this level are (1) there is no hierarchy of illusions, and (2) purpose is everything. Thus, being politically or socially active is no different than performing surgery, competing in sports, or eating and breathing in order to stay alive. In this sense, we cannot say that one reinforces the dream more than another. They are neutral once we identify with bodily existence. It is only when we consider purpose that we can begin to evaluate the helpfulness of what we do for our Atonement path. Being involved in political or social movements, or just stopping to help a person injured in an accident, can either reinforce the separation or undo it, depending on whether we have chosen the ego or Jesus as our teacher. It is not the behavior, in other words, that helps or hinders our spiritual advancement. The pivotal issue is whether we have chosen in our minds to see our interests as separate or the same as another person’s.

None of this should be taken to mean that one must be involved in political or social programs. It is entirely a matter of how one is guided. It is neither inherently wrong-minded nor right-minded to be active in the world. We just need to be vigilant about using Course principles to justify aloofness or indifference. It is indeed a fine line to walk and requires considerable experience and maturity to both integrate the teachings of the Course and yet do what normal and compassionate people do who are citizens of a country.

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