Weekly Questions and Answers, 03/02/2005

This week's questions/topics:

Q #682  What does Jesus mean by "abilities"?
Q #683  How can I work as a hospice nurse if the Course teaches there is no sickness or death?

Q #684  How can I stay longer in the "present" moment ?
Q #685  What is meant by the "appointed ending of the dream"?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #682: What is Jesus referring to in A Course in Miracles when he talks about "abilities"? In Chapter 7 in "Healing as the Recognition of Truth" and in "Healing and the Changelessness of Mind", abilities are mentioned several times, and also in the Teachers Manual #25: "Are Psychic Powers Desirable?"

A: The Course tells us that the only meaningful ability is the mind’s ability to choose between the insanity of the ego (separation) and the Holy Spirit’s healing (undoing separation). Jesus tells us in the text: "Healing is the one ability everyone can develop and must develop if he is to be healed" (T.7.V.3:1). In the curriculum of the Course, this healing is accomplished through forgiveness. Forgiveness, therefore, is the only ability we truly need to develop and practice, practice, practice. It won’t get us to Carnegie Hall, but it will eventually get us to our home where we belong, and never truly left.

When the mind chooses the ego and identifies with the body, it misuses the power it shares with God by projecting it into a variety of "abilities" that mimic the mind’s true function. The ego thus develops its own logic with "abilities" that serve its goal of separation. What appear to be the use of reason, e.g. thinking, learning, imagination, memory, are actually functions of the body’s brain. They serve the ego well by using the logic of its "reason" to support and defend the belief that the separation is real and life outside of Heaven is possible. In the section "Healing as the Recognition of Truth" (T.7.IV), as in many sections of the Course (T.9.III.8, T.14.VI.5, T.21.III.6, W.pI.64), we are told that the Holy Spirit can use everything the ego has made for His purpose of healing. Indeed, the study of the Course requires many intellectual abilities. It is, in itself, an example of how the Holy Spirit uses the ego’s abilities for the purpose of learning His curriculum. He uses the ego’s distortion of the mind’s power to return it to its only meaningful ability, which is to choose, then guides it in learning to make the only real choice, which is to accept the Identity God gave us as His innocent Son. We are not asked to deny that we think we are bodies with specific abilities. In fact, a very important part of the learning process is seeing how impressive and important we think our abilities are. But Jesus tells us in the text: "The body is merely part of your experience in the physical world. Its abilities can be and frequently are overevaluated" (T.2.IV.3:8.9). "Overevaluated" is an understatement, considering Jesus tells us elsewhere in the text: "At no single instant does the body exist at all" (T.18.VII.3:1). It is only our belief in it and its abilities that requires the Holy Spirit’s help and the curriculum the Course sets forth to show us the way out of the ego’s thought system, using the specifics it made. And so we are told: "Abilities must be developed before you can use them. This is not true of anything that God created, but it is the kindest solution possible for what you made. In an impossible situation [belief in the separation], you can develop your abilities to the point where they can get you out of it. You have a Guide to how to develop them, but you have no commander except yourself (T.6.IV.9:1,2,3,4). In other words, only we can decide whether our "abilities" will be used by the ego or the Holy Spirit.

Awareness of abilities may be heightened as they are given to the Holy Spirit for His purpose of healing. This explains why a person may seem to have new psychic ability as fear of the mind’s power is diminished: "Those who have developed "psychic" powers have simply let some of the limitations they laid upon their minds be lifted" (M.25.6:7). The ability has always been there and is the same for everyone. Once it is discovered, like any ability, it can be used to strengthen belief in the ego or the Holy Spirit. It is important to remember that the ability is nothing in itself. It is the purpose it serves that is extremely important: Only two purposes are possible. And one is sin (separation), the other holiness (undoing separation). Nothing is in between… (T.20.VIII.9:1,2,3). However impressive they may be, these abilities are only shadows of the mind’s ability to remember "the glorious surprise" of Who we are (M.25.1:5). Our concern remains, as always, to apply every ability we may have to the process of forgiveness (healing) that it may serve ultimately to undo our belief in the body and all its "abilities."

Q #683: I am working as a Hospice Nurse, since I began living the Course I am finding it difficult to "help people die." In A Course in Miracles it says that by believing in sickness and in death, I am denying God, since He did not create these illusions, and that by believing in these illusions I have created another god. I do not believe in what I am doing, however I am unable to change vocations due to money issues. How can I live by the truth and still be involved with "magic" and illusion?

A: The Course teaches that "there is no death" (T.3.VII.5:11) because "there is no life outside of Heaven" (T.23.II.19:1). This truth applies to our reality as minds. However, when a choice is made to believe that the separation is real, identity with the ego and the body follows. In this choice is God denied, and sickness and death become part of the illusory experience that is the effect of this choice. The goal of the Course is to teach us that we are minds with the power to choose between truth and illusion. What we choose then determines our experience in the dream. We are not asked to try to change the beliefs that make up the thought system of the ego, nor to deny that we do believe them. Doing so makes them real, thereby giving them power over us. We are asked to pay attention to our beliefs and judgments, because they show us the choice made in the mind that has been denied and forgotten, so we can choose again. Though in truth sickness and death are not real, and thus have no effect, to bodies they seem to be real indeed. Their purpose is to make the body real, and to keep us rooted in the belief that the separation actually occurred. Belief in sickness and death is relinquished as the mind is healed of the thought of separation. This is not something we can do by trying to convince ourselves that what we see and experience is not real. In fact, Jesus tells us gently, but clearly that we should not deny our belief in the body: "The body is merely part of your experience in the physical world. Its abilities [including sickness and death] can be and frequently are overevaluated. However, it is almost impossible to deny its existence in this world. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial" (T.2.IV.3:8,9,10,11).

What we are asked to do is recognize that we do believe we are bodies in the world, that we get sick and die. The very fact that we experience ourselves as bodies in a dream of death is a magic trick. It occurs when the mind that chooses separation projects the guilt for this choice outward on to the body and world. The hope that Jesus’ loving message in the Course offers is that all the magic we believe in can be transformed by the Holy Spirit through forgiveness. "The body was not made by love. Yet love does not condemn it and can use it lovingly, respecting what the Son of God has made and using it to save him from illusions" (T.18.VI.4:7,8). Fortunately for us, this applies to every illusion we experience in the dream, including sickness, death, jobs, and magic. Learning to forgive ourselves for our mistaken beliefs helps us bring more compassion and understanding to all our relationships, since everyone shares these beliefs. This is how any job, as well as every aspect of our lives, become a classroom for applying the Course’s teaching of forgiveness. Seeing that nothing external in our lives needs to change, because it is part of our classroom, corrects the ego’s first law of chaos the there is a "hierarchy of illusions"(T.28.II.2:3).

In our interactions with people at work or in our personal lives, all our thoughts and judgments based on differences show us the choice for separation we have made in our minds. Being willing to recognize that whatever we experience is the result of a choice taking place in the mind, rather than the circumstances of our lives, is the first, and very important, step in the transformation from magic to miracle. It is a process of bringing illusion to truth, and is the way to "live by truth" while being "involved with ‘magic.’"

Q #684: I am new to A Course in Miracles and I would like to ask about remaining in the present moment. If I remain present, is that when I will feel the peace of mind that I am seeking? I have experienced brief moments of inner peace and calm when I remain present with the Holy Spirit. I just don't know how to remain present for longer than five minutes.

A: Until the mind is fully healed, the experience of peace is limited to our willingness to choose it. Meanwhile, the mind is split, and in conflict between two mutually exclusive "realities": belief in the separation (ego) and the memory of Oneness (Holy Spirit). Early in the text we are told: "The separation is merely another term for a split mind. The ego is the symbol of separation, just as the Holy Spirit is the symbol of peace" (T.5.III.9:3,4). The unhealed, split mind experiences itself in the dream, in conflict with itself. While seeking peace, it fears that total peace will mean the disappearance of the specialness of being a body with a unique personality. This split in the mind causes us to have divided goals: "The ego's goal is as unified as the Holy Spirit's, and it is because of this that their goals can never be reconciled in any way or to any extent. The ego always seeks to divide and separate. The Holy Spirit always seeks to unify and heal" (T.7.IV.5:1,2,3). Choosing the Holy Spirit and the holy instant results in the moment’s peace you refer to, while the choice to cling to separation brings this peace to an end. How little time we spend in peace shows us the degree to which we are attached to our identity with the ego and afraid of peace. Healing the mind of this split is the goal of the Course. It happens gradually through the process of forgiveness, which begins with the recognition that the separation is a choice made in the mind, and everything we experience in the dream is an effect of that choice.

Denial is key to the ego’s success in convincing us of the reality of separation. The mind forgets/denies its choice in order to defend it. It is then possible to believe the ego’s story that we are not minds, but bodies vulnerable to attack by external forces beyond our control. That explains why it seems that peace comes and goes, and we are at the mercy of its whims. The Course tells us that we are anything but victims, and that we can learn to recognize the mind’s choice by paying attention to our feelings and judgments in the dream. Loss of peace in its myriad forms (anger, depression, anxiety, irritation, excitement …) makes us aware of the choice the mind has made. Paying attention/looking is the key to undoing denial, which is the beginning of salvation, because it tunes us in to the fact that we have a mind with the power to choose. Only by recognizing the painful effects of choosing to identify with the ego will we be motivated to make another choice. Otherwise, we remain unaware of the mind’s activity, puzzled by the feelings that seem to come upon us from "nowhere."

Though they may be of short duration, moments of peace are very important to the Holy Spirit’s curriculum, which makes good use of contrast for teaching and learning. It becomes increasingly obvious that feeling truly peaceful is preferable to the turmoil of unforgiveness. What is difficult is learning to associate the lack of peace with the judgments that we are engaged in constantly. Peace just seems to disappear for no reason. What actually occurs is that our minds have chosen to identify with the ego and our specialness. Guilt follows that choice, and is inevitably projected in some form of judgment against ourselves and others. This happens very quickly and, thanks to denial, imperceptibly. In the Course, Jesus is asking us to pay very careful attention to our thoughts, to become aware of the judgments. They show us the choice for separation we have made and have forgotten.

Both the peace and lack of it are useful experiences. One shows us how it feels to be free of judgment, the other the pain of choosing the ego. The important thing is to remember that when we are not at peace, it is for no other reason than our choice to be separate. We have chosen to identify with the ego rather than with the Holy Spirit, and preferred guilt to peace. We now have the opportunity to consider the cost of our mistaken choice and choose again. This mindfulness is how we remain in the present, and how not being peaceful becomes a useful tool to lead us back to peace. We also need to remember not to judge ourselves for long periods of forgetfulness and short periods of peace. Allowing the Holy Spirit to heal our minds of the thought of separation is a process. Our function is to be mindful of every judgment so it can be forgiven. Gradually the balance will shift to longer experiences of peace, until that becomes our only choice.

Q #685: In the workbook of A Course in Miracles, I was engaged with Lesson 122, and a very beautiful lesson it is, when a word in paragraph 10 caught my attention: "We are close indeed to the appointed ending of the dream" (W.pI.122.10:4). Could you please elaborate on "appointed?"

A: In this context, the ending of the dream is "appointed" because it is certain, and in reality it is already accomplished, because "… the separation never occurred" (T.6.II.10:7). Everyone will come to this realization in his/her own time, and will awaken from the dream: "Forget not once this journey is begun the end is certain. Doubt along the way will come and go and go to come again. Yet is the ending sure. No one can fail to do what God appointed him to do" [accept the identity God has given to His Son] (C.ep.1:1,2,3,4).

The "appointed" moment does not refer to a specific time in the dream, but refers to a decision in the mind that is outside of time and space. However, Jesus knows that we believe we are actually separate from God, living in time and space, and so he speaks to us on the level of our experience in the dream. He tells us throughout the Course that to end the dream all that is required is for us to remember the truth that we have denied, to forget everything else, and in an instant we would awaken. That is why the ending is "close"; it is always only an instant away.

While we continue to choose separation, however, we use time as a delay mechanism to defend our choice: "Delay is of the ego, because time is its concept" (T.5.III.5). Time is one of the ego’s best defenses for its tale of sin, guilt, and fear. Only in time can we defend our belief in the punishment from God we think is our due for the terrible "sin" of choosing against Him in the past. The ego insists that one of these days God will get us. We also use our concept of time to project salvation outside of ourselves to a distant moment in the future, because we are afraid of accepting it in the present. Thus, contrary to the popular saying "time waits for no man," time is actually under the command of the ego. For its purpose of refusing to accept our oneness with God, which would end the dream, we have all the time in the world. Time will indeed wait for us to choose again, because we made it up explicitly to serve our delay tactics. That is why, in our experience, the dream seems to be lasting eons. In the insanity of our split minds, we both fear it will last forever, and hope it will. In his kindness, Jesus assures us it will end, but not abruptly: "Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality. Time is kind, and if you use it on behalf of reality, it will keep gentle pace with you in your transition" (T.16.VI.8:1,2).

The "appointed" end of the dream, therefore, is as certain as the Holy Spirit tells us it is, and only as close as we want it to be. In the text, we are told "Time is your friend, if you leave it to the Holy Spirit to use. He needs but very little to restore God's whole power to you. He Who transcends time for you understands what time is for" 15.I.15:1,2,3).The dream’s concept of time serves the Holy Spirit’s purpose when we use it to heal our minds of the thought of separation, seeing each moment as an opportunity to choose forgiveness rather than judgment in the present. Thus the past "sin" and future punishment are released of their power to delay us on our journey, bringing the truth closer to our awareness.