Weekly Questions and Answers, 03/09/2005

This week's questions/topics:

Q #686  To me, not everyone seems "uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear"
Q #687  What might be the best kind of ministry for a devotee of the Course?

Q #688  After many years of working with the Course I sense no change...
Q #689  Could it be that I really don't know how to give up sickness?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #686: In the end of the text, Jesus says that all walk the world "uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear" (T31.VIII.7:1). I know that this may seem silly, but I just don't believe that sometimes. I look at someone like Donald Trump; rich, secure, seemingly happy, and it doesn't seem that he feels the way Jesus describes. I know enough now that this question probably reflects my fear that A Course in Miracles is asking sacrifice of me, but some people seem so happy without the Course.

A: It is important to remember that in the Course Jesus is addressing our minds; more specifically, the part of our minds that remembers the truth of who we really are (the right mind). However, since we have dissociated from our minds and identified with the ego, and thus with the body, we hear his words as applying to the body. He is not speaking to our bodies. It is the mind that identifies with the ego/body that walks the world "uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear." Though they may not be apparent, the loneliness, uncertainty and fear that underlie everyone’s’ existence in the world are the motivation for everything that we seek: money, power, friends, and family. Having believed we are separate from our Source, we feel bankrupt and therefore compelled to fill our physical, psychological, and emotional warehouses to the brim with wealth, health and "happiness." The ego is ingenious in making up its interpretation of "happiness," "success," "achievement," even "love," based on the deep sense of loss that inevitably accompanies the choice for separation. The world offers the illusion of happiness, and on its terms it seems to "work" for some people. They seem to "have it all." It is possible to experience the satisfaction of getting what we want, or what we think we want, and it is this that the world calls happiness. However, as it turns out, it is never enough, not even the "perfect life" here in the world, and so we seek for more. No doubt Donald Trump, along with many other wealthy, and successful people, would admit that there are more fortunes and more power to be had: "You never can be too rich or too thin."

Jesus tells us in the Course, that in choosing to identify with the body and seeking everything the world has to offer, we have short-changed ourselves. "To identify with the ego is to attack yourself and make yourself poor. That is why everyone who identifies with the ego feels deprived. What he experiences then is depression or anger, because what he did was to exchange Self-love for self-hate, making him afraid of himself. He does not realize this. Even if he is fully aware of anxiety he does not perceive its source as his own ego identification, and he always tries to handle it by making some sort of insane ‘arrangement’ with the world" (T.12.III.6:1,2,3,4,5, italics ours). The insane arrangements are all the things we do to avoid feeling the self-hatred, this is what compels us to seek outside of ourselves for comfort and fulfillment. Every value the world holds has its source in the pervasive feeling of emptiness that is the effect of choosing the ego instead of God. Yet nothing ever fills that void. Jesus tells the Donald Trump in all of us that the world/ego is a bad investment: "The ego is trying to teach you how to gain the whole world and lose your own soul. The Holy Spirit teaches that you cannot lose your soul and there is no gain in the world, for of itself it profits nothing. To invest without profit is surely to impoverish yourself, and the overhead is high. Not only is there no profit in the investment, but the cost to you is enormous. For this investment costs you the world's reality by denying yours, and gives you nothing in return" (T.12.VI.1:1,2,3,4,5).

A close look at the satisfactions and "happiness" the world offer reveals that they are short spent and do not last. Every enjoyment is shadowed by the knowledge that it will end, not to mention that it is nothing but an illusion: "Illusions will not last. Their death is sure and this alone is certain in their world. It is the ego's world because of this" (C.2.1:1,2,3). We cannot effectively extinguish the gnawing sense that everything we seek and achieve has an end, including this "life" in a body, and thus we become imprisoned by the relentless pursuit of pleasure, comfort, and meaning in the world. This often extends to the search for meaningful religious experience and fulfillment, in an attempt to calm our fear that we are, in fact, wrong about who we are, and wrong about everything we believe is true and meaningful. As the very first lesson in the workbook tells us: "Nothing I see…means anything" (W.pI.1). How, then, can what is meaningless bring us happiness, comfort, or peace? Not only is it meaningless, everything the world offers is actually a defense against recognizing what is meaningful, since it is the place made by the ego, "where God could enter not, and where His Son could be apart from Him" (W.pII.3.2:4).

There is no need to worry that we will have to sacrifice or be deprived of anything we think we need as long as we think we need it: "Only the Holy Spirit knows what you need. For He will give you all things that do not block the way to light. And what else could you need? In time, He gives you all the things that you need have, and will renew them as long as you have need of them. He will take nothing from you as long as you have any need of it. And yet He knows that everything you need is temporary, and will but last until you step aside from all your needs and realize that all of them have been fulfilled" (T.13.VII.12:1,2,3,4,5,6). Let’s not be fooled by anything else.

Q #687: I have been a student of A Course in Miracles now for a year and a half. I do a great deal of study of other religions, in an effort to understand others better, seek common ground and connectedness, and to find what feels most "right" for me. I have come to realize that there is a number of metaphysical based religions, such as Christian Science, New Thought, Unity, and Religious Science. I am wondering what organized religion do you see as being most closely identified with the teachings of the Course? I feel my purpose, or calling, is toward ministry, but not in the traditional sense. Can you offer any suggestion for direction?

Also, I am a reader of various authors who write from the perspective of the Course, and I have varying reactions to their teachings. How can one be certain that a teacher, who proclaims to understand the Course, has the correct interpretation, given that so many have interpreted the bible in opposing ways?

A: Although, as you observe, the Course shares some principles in common with other religious teachings, it really has its own unique contribution to make to facilitating achievement of the objective of any true spiritual teaching -- to lead us along the path to egolessness. And so we would suggest that it may be more helpful to understand how it differs from other teachings -- so one can make an informed choice about whether this is the path to embrace for oneself -- than to identify its similarities with them.

So, while the Course, for example, shares an emphasis on forgiveness with many other teachings, including Christianity and the metaphysical religions you mention, it defines forgiveness and its practice in a unique way, based on the metaphysical principles that the world and the self we think we are illusory, projected symbols of guilt (W.pII.1). And although it shares with other paths an underlying assumption about the primacy of mind, its purpose in understanding the "power" of the mind to manifest in form is not to access that power in order to control it but rather to demonstrate how painful the results ultimately are if the power is guided by a belief in need and limitation. And while the Course shares the basic premise that the world is an illusion with other spiritualities, including some Eastern religions and New Age teachings, it attributes no divine purpose to the illusion and offers a unique explanation for the world’s origin -- that it is the result of an ego-based conspiracy promulgated in opposition to God, including a seeming attack on love in order to exclude it from the mind and the mind from it (W.pII.3).

The Course is also unique among the world’s spiritualities in its blending of the practical and the sublime, in a beautifully integrated whole that never lets us forget where we are heading, at the same time not asking us to deny where we believe we are. It does this through its use of a sophisticated psychodynamic understanding of the ego thought system -- drawing on the insights of Freudian psychology with its analysis of guilt, denial and projection as they play out in our special relationships -- presented within the uncompromising framework of its non-dualistic metaphysics, which holds that the thought of separation, as well as all its seeming consequences, is an illusion.

In response to your feeling of being called toward non-traditional ministry, the Course offers a relatively unique perspective on that as well (M.in;1). It would never advocate any specific role for any of us in the world, but rather would ask us whether we are demonstrating its principles of forgiveness in how we live our lives, whatever we may be doing. And this demonstration has nothing to do with our words and actions, and everything to do with our underlying thoughts and attitude. Are we choosing to remember in each moment that genuine happiness and peace come only from a recognition of our shared interest with all our brothers and sisters, rather than from a belief in separate, competing interests based on meeting our own personal needs? And the way we remember is to become vigilant for all of our ego motivations, so that we can recognize them and then choose a different teacher -- the Holy Spirit -- to guide us in our thinking. And that is the most powerful ministry we can embrace, for it will serve as a reminder to all our brothers and sisters that the same choice for peace lies within their own minds as well.

Jesus invites us to be a part of his ministry by sharing in his peace. In his own words, "Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you" (T.11.VI.7:3,4). And we demonstrate this by recognizing that our only responsibility is to choose forgiveness. The extension of the peace that follows from this choice is not our concern (T.16.II.1:3,4,5). We are not the ones who extend peace or persuade others to change their minds. The Holy Spirit does that through us, when we are His willing instruments. And again, we become his channels by getting ourselves out of the way, through practicing forgiveness.

As for discerning genuine teachers of the Course, it is always the underlying content that defines the real teacher, regardless of the specific form they present. Just as we have described the nature of a real ministry being defined, not by the externals, but by the underlying thought of forgiveness, so any authentic teacher of the Course will be committed to a consistency across every level of thinking, with a willingness to step aside from the ego in every moment and let the love and gentle wisdom of the Holy Spirit flow through. This may not be easy for us to discern since, so long as we remain identified with our own egos, our own projections of guilt will interfere. But so long as we maintain a willingness to recognize our own ego, we can trust that our ability to discern the help we really need will become increasingly accessible to us (e.g., T.11.V). The true teacher will be one who always directs us to our inner Teacher, with no interest in establishing himself or herself as our teacher.

Q #688: In your response to Question #457, you say that it is a trap to believe the Holy Spirit’s answer to our calls for help would be a change in the external situation. Yet you quote from "The Hero of the Dream:" "You judge effects, but He has judged their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed" (T.27.VIII.9:4,5). This has confused me much of the time in my last eleven years of working with A Course in Miracles.

Further in the same answer you advise: "And that does not mean that you should not do everything you possibly can to rectify the financial situation -- consulting a financial advisor, etc." Does this mean you split up the situation and ask the Holy Spirit for help with finding peace and seek out a financial advisor to solve your money problem? Didn’t Jesus help Helen Schucman find shoes and coats? Are we not worthy as well?

I am at my wits’ end because after all this time I feel like it’s such a futile effort. I hear no voice, I see no change in the destitution I perceive, and I have no way of knowing that Someone hears me at all. How do you ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit for help? How do you "bring each terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while" (T.27.VIII.9:3). Please answer me and guide me to other sources of reading if possible.

A: The only reason we ever experience a sense of upset or lack, whatever external form it may seem to take in our lives, is because we believe we are unworthy of love (T.4.IV.7). And so we repeatedly make the unconscious, and at times perhaps conscious, choice to keep love out of our awareness. We believe there are many external things that we need and that we are unhappy because we don’t have them. But they are all only symbols for the experience we all want -- truly knowing that our guilt is not real and that we are loved without any reservation. And, believe it or not, that experience is in no way dependent on having any of our external needs met.

When we bring each "terrible effect" to the Holy Spirit, you will notice that Jesus says that we will look together at the cause -- the thought of guilt in our mind -- and not the effects -- the external situation in the world and, in particular, our thoughts and feelings about it. And His judgment is that the cause is silly, for our sin and guilt are not real (W.pI.156.6). When we share His perspective on the cause, all its effects -- our fear and upset and concern -- simply vanish. The external situation in the world may or may not change, but we will no longer be concerned about it, since in that moment our mind is healed and we have no needs. It is possible to have this experience of release in any instant, but it is our own fear of love that prevents us from accepting it all of the time. And we are fearful of love because there is no place for our limited self with all its seeming needs and desires in that place that reflects the boundless joy of the Infinite.

Now there is nothing wrong with asking Jesus or the Holy Spirit for the specific things we think we need, as Helen did for a while, although if our requests seem to be answered, it will not really be because Jesus or the Holy Spirit have intervened in our lives and delivered some of the goodies we want, as Helen seemed to experience (see a discussion of what is really happening in such situations in Absence From Felicity, the section in chapter 17, "Helen and Jesus: The Illusion and the Reality," by Kenneth Wapnick). But what Jesus is trying to help us see is that having such needs met does not address the underlying guilt in our mind, which we still believe is real and which is the real cause of such feelings as futility, desperation, and depression. So when we are not blocking the love, we may indeed find that some of our specific needs are met. But again it will have nothing to do with Jesus or the Holy Spirit but rather with our own decision to allow ourselves to experience love in a specific, limited form that we can accept without increasing our fear.

Seeking out help in the world from those who offer help in the form you think you need, such as a financial advisor, a therapist, a doctor, a lawyer, etc., can be done in a state of peace if you have first asked for help from the only real Help in your mind. So this is not really an either-or situation in terms of who offers what kinds of help, but rather a way in which we can learn to approach all of our seeming challenges in the world in a peaceful way, remembering where the only real problem and its only solution lie -- in our own mind, and turning there for help first before we return to our busy activities in the world (T.18.VII.7,8). Of course, this may be easy to describe, but it can be very difficult to put into practice. But again, it is only our own resistance to the experience of love, because we feel unworthy, that makes the most natural thing in all the world (T.7.XI.1:1,2,3,4; W.pI.41.8:1,2,3) seem difficult!

In addition to the section from Absence from Felicity cited above, you may find the discussions about asking for specifics presented in Questions #538 and #555 helpful in clarifying the process, as well as Question #86 on the power of the mind to project.

Q #689: I have been a student of A Course in Miracles for twenty years and have never been able to help myself much. I just read it over and over and think that I am applying it, but I don't get results. For over a year I have had a painful condition in my shoulders, and the pain just doesn’t go away. Recently I have been drawn to these statements about sickness in the manual: "It is the choice of weakness, in the mistaken conviction that it is strength" (M.5.I.1:5); "One need but say, ‘There is no gain at all to me in this’ and he is healed" (M.5.II.1:2). Could it be that I don't really know how to give up the sickness even though I keep saying all of the word's on the page, and really think that I believe them?

A: Yes, more than likely that is what is going on. As this section in the manual goes on, Jesus explains why we will strenuously resist his teaching that sickness is a decision of the mind and has nothing to do with the body. Our acceptance of this, he advises us, "will cost the whole world [we] see, for the world will never again appear to rule the mind" (M.5.II.3:4), meaning we could no longer justify thinking that the world affects on us in any way. That is a major shift, to put it mildly. Thus, he is not simply talking about getting rid of physical pain so that we can go on with our lives pain free. He is talking about a decision to change the very thought system in our minds that governs all our thinking and actions.You can see, then, why reading these words again and again, while a good start, will not alone do the trick.

In the workbook, Jesus opens the lesson about wanting the peace of God by stating, "To say these words is nothing. But to mean these words is everything" (W.pI.185.1:1,2). That could well be said of the statements about sickness, too. Later in the workbook he tells us that acceptance of these truths is a process that unfolds in stages: 1) we first repeat statements again and again; 2) we then accept them, but with lots of reservations; 3) we move on to a more serious consideration of them; and finally 4) accept them fully without reservation (W.pII.284). In other words, in one part of our minds we are clearly aware of the radical changes we would have to make in our thinking if we were to accept fully what Jesus is teaching, and we are not entirely sure we want to go that far. We would much rather compromise with him and have him just fix things for us, so that we could carry on business as usual without so many encumbrances. That is fine, as long as we realize that when we do that we are only on the first rung of the ladder, and that he has invited us to go all the way to the top with him. Honesty with ourselves and him about this is terribly important, as is being gentle with ourselves and not judging ourselves for our fear and resistance.

What you can do therefore is focus not on getting rid of the pain (although we hope you have sought medical advice and treatment), but on learning the important lesson that your inner state of peace is not conditional on your being without physical pain. That is what Jesus teaches throughout his course. The peace of God is permanent; it does not come and go depending on what is happening in our bodies and the world. Jesus means quite literally that we are not bodies; and how best to learn that than when we are most tempted to believe that is all we are. We are thus asked to learn how to identify with the peace that is our true Identity as God’s creation, while not denying that we are experiencing something else as real. That means far more than we realize, which is why we need help from a gentle Teacher. It is a gradual process of getting more deeply into our minds where our secret purpose is concealed, as the two statements to which you have been attracted reveal.