Weekly Questions and Answers, 02/09/2005

This week's questions/topics:

Q #670  What is meant by "Ask me which miracles you should perform"?
Q #671  What is the meaning and significance of ghosts?

Q #672  If the Holy Spirit does not speak to us, why do I feel guided by it?
Q #673  What is the meaning and significance of dreams?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #670: My question is about miracles. Lesson 345 in the workbook of A Course in Miracles says, "I offer only miracles today, For I would have them be returned to me" (W.345.pII). When I am offering a miracle, am I offering love and forgiveness? Jesus says, "Ask me which miracles you should perform. This spares you needless effort..."(T.1.III.4:3,4) What does that mean?

A: Lesson 345, like all the lessons in part II of the workbook, is a beautiful prayer to ourselves to remember the important teachings of the text and first part of the workbook, and to apply them in our lives all through the day. In this specific lesson we are reminded to see everything that happens as an opportunity to have the hateful judgments of the ego transformed to the miracle of forgiveness. The miracle occurs when we remember that nothing external to the mind has any effect. This means that nothing others do or say, nor anything that happens can take our peace away. Our loss of peace is caused only by a choice in the mind to believe the separation is real, instead of joining with the Holy Spirit, Who represents the part of the mind that remembers we are one with our Father. Offering miracles then, means not blaming anyone or anything for the lack of peace we experience, and remembering that it is the effect of the choice we made in the mind. We thus forgive others by releasing them of responsibility for our state of mind and for our experience in the dream. That is how we learn to "…forgive the Son of God for what he did not do" (T.17.III.1:5).

We are not asked to deny that others may do hurtful things to us, but we are asked to accept responsibility for the choice in our minds that causes the feelings of hurt and betrayal that seem to come from others’ behavior toward us. The recognition that we are responsible for the choice we make in our minds is the most loving thing we can do for ourselves and for others. Acknowledging that everyone has a mind, and that we are all the same in the power we share to choose to listen to the ego’s lie of separation or to the Holy Spirit’s message that we are one with our Father, is the miracle we offer and receive. When we are willing to practice forgiveness in this way, we invite the Holy Spirit to respond with love through us. It is He Who is in charge of extending love. That is what is meant by the lines you quote (T.1.III.4:3,4).

Jesus tells us to ask him for guidance because he, along with the Holy Spirit, represents the part of our minds that remembers our oneness with God. Because we have dissociated ourselves from that part of our minds, it is helpful for us to have a symbol such as Jesus or the Holy Spirit to serve as guides to the right minded perception that does not see the distortions of the ego. Turning to them for guidance reflects our willingness to let go of our judgments and to see as they see, and is the heart of the forgiveness process whereby the blocks of our judgment are removed.

Asking which miracles to perform means not deciding on our own how to perceive any situation, nor how to respond to anyone, because we do not know. This requires that we first be willing to see the judgments we make with the ego and then, with willingness to let them go, ask for a new perception. This clears the way for the extension of love, which is effortless because it is natural: "Learning of Christ is easy, for to perceive with Him involves no strain at all. His perceptions are your natural awareness, and it is only the distortions you introduce that tire you" (T.11.VI.3:7,8). The only "effort" we are asked to put forth is a "little willingness" to question our interpretation of our identity and our experiences. It is enough to introduce a slight suspicion that we may be wrong in our belief that we are separate from our Source and from each other: "Salvation, perfect and complete, asks but a little wish that what is true be true; a little willingness to overlook what is not there; a little sigh that speaks for Heaven as a preference to this world that death and desolation seem to rule" (T.26.VII.10:1). Each time we make this little effort, our belief in the ego’s thought system lessens and our fear of the Holy Spirit’s loving perception diminishes. This is the miracle we offer to ourselves and to the entire Sonship.

Q #671: Ghosts? Prevalent belief in the world, indeed. Consider the parallels -- the lost soul, living in a dream world, no physical presence, refusing to realize the death of the body, and not wanting to leave the world they know. It seems like there's something to that idea of ghosts -- a widely held belief made up by the ego to explain away our remembering reality and the separation?

A: One of the more common deceitful tricks of the ego is to take an aspect of its thought system and give it a more circumscribed definition within our experience so that we don’t see it as a pervasive part of our "reality" under its malevolent reign. And so it requires someone outside of this thought system, or at least not completely identified with it, to see beyond the veils of deception and confusion that have been interposed between this false "reality" and our true Identity.

So, for example, we seem to experience differentiated states of sleeping and waking, with dreaming apparently an accompaniment of the sleeping state. And so we believe we know the difference between sleeping and waking, and dreams and reality. We never question whether the various states of mind we experience in the world might not be meaningless shifts within a single continuous dream, while we sleep on and on. Because we think there is a difference between our waking state and our dreaming state, we never question our assumption that we know what it is to be awake. But Jesus does (e.g., T.10.I.2,3; T.18.II.5).

We also have definitions of insanity and mental illness that apply only to some people, but not to others, believing that we know and experience sanity within this world. And so, because we think we know what insanity is, we never even consider the possibility that all of our thinking here is insane. But Jesus knows otherwise (e.g., T.9.VII.6; T.10.V.10; T.23.II.14).

And then we believe we know the difference between life and death, which to us are obviously mutually exclusive states of the body. We know we are alive and we can identify by very objective criteria who is dead. And so we never question whether our entire existence may not be a form of death predicated on the belief that we can separate ourselves from Life. But Jesus can lead us to a different conclusion (e.g., T.23.II.19; W.167).

And of course, we think we can tell the difference between love and hate, because we believe we can recognize the forms of each so easily. And so we never question whether what we call love may not simply be a disguised form of hatred. But Jesus is not fooled (e.g., T.16.VII.5; T.23.II.17; T.23.III.1,2; T.29.I.6,7).

And so, yes, ghosts become another distraction of the ego -- are they real, is there individual life after death? -- hiding a deeper truth. After all, ghosts, were they to exist, we know would be something other than what we are -- alive and solid and real. And so we never consider whether in fact the self we think we are is nothing but a shadowy ghost of our real Self. And again, Jesus knows otherwise, and he tries to help us see the ghastly nature of this ghostly existence we call life.

And so he notes the consequences of our choice for the ego, against our true Self:

Deny your own Identity, and you will not escape the madness which induced this weird, unnatural and ghostly thought that mocks creation and that laughs at God. Deny your own Identity, and you assail the universe alone, without a friend, a tiny particle of dust against the legions of your enemies. Deny your own Identity, and look on evil, sin and death, and watch despair snatch from your fingers every scrap of hope, leaving you nothing but the wish to die (W.191.3, italics added).

Yet Jesus does not leave us caught in that ego trap, but recognizing how like small children we are, he reassures us:

Children perceive frightening ghosts and monsters and dragons, and they are terrified. Yet if they ask someone they trust for the meaning of what they perceive, and are willing to let their own interpretations go in favor of reality, their fear goes with them. When a child is helped to translate his "ghost" into a curtain, his "monster" into a shadow, and his "dragon" into a dream he is no longer afraid, and laughs happily at his own fear.

You, my child, are afraid of your brothers and of your Father and of yourself. But you are merely deceived in them. Ask what they are of the Teacher of reality, and hearing His answer, you too will laugh at your fears and replace them with peace. For fear lies not in reality, but in the minds of children who do not understand reality. It is only their lack of understanding that frightens them, and when they learn to perceive truly they are not afraid. And because of this they will ask for truth again when they are frightened. It is not the reality of your brothers or your Father or yourself that frightens you. You do not know what they are, and so you perceive them as ghosts and monsters and dragons. Ask what their reality is from the One Who knows it, and He will tell you what they are. For you do not understand them, and because you are deceived by what you see you need reality to dispel your fears.

Would you not exchange your fears for truth, if the exchange is yours for the asking? For if God is not deceived in you, you can be deceived only in yourself. Yet you can learn the truth about yourself from the Holy Spirit, Who will teach you that, as part of God, deceit in you is impossible (T.11.VIII.13,14,15).

Q #672: A Course in Miracles teaches that the Holy Spirit does not speak to us and does not interfere with the things of the world. It teaches that the Holy Spirit does not guide or direct us, but sometimes it feels like I am being guided and directed. Where do hunches and intuition come from? Are these messages of the ego? Are we totally alone here to make our own decisions? When we free ourselves from guilt and judgments are we more open to receive ideas and thoughts that are more loving and more helpful on our journey here on earth? Where do these thoughts come from?

A: The fact that the Holy Spirit does not intervene in the world does not mean that He is not present in our minds as a Guide and Teacher. The entire Course really is about learning how to correct our original choice to be guided by the ego rather than the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, we have identified with the ego thought system to such an extent that we no longer experience ourselves as being directed by it, and for the most part never experience the other part of our minds (the Holy Spirit) that contains the memory of what we were and where we came from before we made that foolish choice to hear only the voice that speaks for separation. So Jesus is teaching us throughout the Course that we are always choosing to be guided, and that the guide we have chosen is insane (the ego), but there is another Voice in our minds that we can choose to listen to: the Voice of sanity (the Holy Spirit). Hunches and intuitions therefore can come from either of these two thought systems in our minds.

In light of this, you are correct in saying that as we let go of guilt and judgments through the practice of forgiveness, we are more open to the truly loving and helpful thoughts and ideas coming from our right minds. It is so important to remember, though, that we are always choosing to be guided by either the ego or the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the loving and helpful thoughts and ideas inspired by the Holy Spirit are not directed at making our lives in the world work better. Rather, by choosing against the ego, we are removing the interferences to our awareness of love’s presence (T.in.1:7), which means that our perception of ourselves and the world will shift from a self-centered/separate interests orientation to one in which there is a growing realization that we all share the same interests, and ultimately the same Identity. It is also true that we would tend to function better in the world -- that is, make fewer self-destructive choices -- when we are not motivated by the unconscious need to project our guilt and to be special, but that does not necessarily mean we will be more successful in the world (as the world typically views success).

Jesus urges us to turn to the Holy Spirit as frequently as we can, not for help to improve our lives in the world, but to be "absolved of guilt. . . . [for] following the Holy Spirit’s guidance . . . is the way out of hell . . ." (M.29.3:3,10,11). We must first realize that our lives in this world are "hell" because of our selfish choice to leave our true home and take on a false identity, which has burdened us with unending needs, limitations, and problems. The only meaningful help, consequently, would be what would lead us home and restore to us our true Identity as God created us. Jesus instructs us that "the Holy Spirit knows the truth about you. The image you made does not. . . . To ask the Holy Spirit to decide for you is simply to accept your true inheritance" (M.29.4:6,7; 5:4). Thus, our natural state as we journey home is to be joined with the Holy Spirit, meaning we are never alone. Indeed, thinking that we are on our own and need to make decisions our own is the fundamental error that Jesus is helping us to recognize and correct, as the concluding section of the manual stresses.

Unfortunately, because of the many tangled layers of self-deception resulting from our choice to substitute illusion for reality, and then blot that decision from our awareness, it is not readily apparent to us most of the time whether we have chosen the ego or the Holy Spirit as our teacher. In fact, that is the topic of one of the most frequently asked questions since the publication of the Course, and one we have addressed in our book The Most Commonly Asked Questions about A Course in Miracles (#43). In general, it seems that only after a great deal of experience and feedback from trusted friends or family members can we begin to trust our own discernment. "The Test for Truth" section in Chapter 14 of the text offers guidelines that will help in this process. Most important is focusing on asking Jesus’ or the Holy Spirit’s help in setting aside the ego thought system, rather than asking for help with things in the world. By denying the validity of the ego thought system we affirm the truth of the Holy Spirit’s thought system of Atonement.

Q #673: No one has satisfactorily explained the need to sleep and dream. The phenomenon of night dreaming is common and it is the one aspect of our experience that can question the reality of our world. We know the sayings of the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu about his dream of being the butterfly. Also, hallucinating is very rare and thought to be abnormal. Did the ego make a mistake? Or on the contrary, are sleeping dreams an intervention of the right mind to give us a hint about the unreality of our world? Or perhaps an expression of compromise between them?

A: Everything of the body -- physical and psychological -- is part of the ego’s plan and strategy to keep the separation from God real. A Course in Miracles does not explain the bodily phenomena of sleeping dreams and hallucinations; rather it points out their value in teaching us about the power our minds have to distort reality to suit our own purposes. This is the central point in "The Basis of the Dream" in Chapter 18 of the text (T.18.II), where Jesus describes some of the characteristics of our dreams; for example: "Dreams are chaotic because they are governed by your conflicting wishes, and therefore they have no concern with what is true. They are the best example you could have of how perception can be utilized to substitute illusions for truth. . . . They provide striking examples, both of the ego’s inability to tolerate reality, and of your willingness to change reality on its behalf. . . . Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be, and that because you want it you see it. And while you see it you do not doubt that it is real. Yet here is a world, clearly within your mind, that seems to be outside" (T.18.II.2:1,2,5; 5:1,2,3).

Since we all can relate to what Jesus is saying about our dreams, he can then use these examples to teach us about the dynamics going on in our minds all the time, but that we are not aware of. Thus while sleeping and dreaming are aspects of the ego’s miscreations, they can be used to help us let go of our belief in the ego thought system: "The Holy Spirit has another use for all the illusions you have made, and therefore He sees another purpose in them. To the Holy Spirit, the world is a place where you learn to forgive yourself what you think of as your sins" (W.pI.64.2:2,3).

The point that Jesus stresses is that there is no difference between our waking dreams and our sleeping dreams; they are different forms of the same dream of separation, and therefore they can be either right-minded expressions or wrong-minded expressions. "All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and waking dreams have different forms, and that is all. Their content is the same" (T.18.II.5:12,13,14).