Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/08/2003

This week's questions:

Q #54: A question about intelligence.
Q #55a: A question about secret hate of good people.
Q #55b: A question about "the pearl of great price".
Q #56: A question about why we choose the life we do.
Q #57: A question about 12-step programs & the Course.
Q #58: A question about seeing "calls for love."


Q #54: What is the definition of intelligence as it is used in the Course? Is intelligence a part of the ego or a glimpse of the Divine?

A: Intelligence is a function of the brain, it is therefore part of the operational system of the body, not to be confused with the mind, which is not in the brain and does not require intelligence. That is not to say that the mind does not make use of the brain, as it does the body, in our illusory experience of being in a body in this dream state. The Course statements regarding the body can thus be applied to the brain/intelligence. It is neutral, and can be used by the Holy Spirit or the ego for their respective goals. This is true of any ability or skill attributed to the body. The Course itself is an example of the use of the intellect as a form, using language, metaphysical principles, psychological terms, etc., to reflect a choice in the mind to turn toward the love and truth which is the content. It is one form helpful to the Sonship to learn to accept love, but it is not the only form. In the Manual we are told: "This is a manual for a special curriculum, intended for teachers of a special form of the universal course. There are many thousands of other forms, all with the same outcome" (M.1.4:1,2).

We easily become confused when it comes to the brain and intelligence because we still think "that [our] understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, and makes it what it is" (T.18.IV.7:5). We hold our intellectual abilities in high regard, failing to realize that the mind is the true home of thought, having nothing to do with the illusory thoughts that generate from our brains. The healing of the mind through forgiveness does not require intelligence, it requires willingness, which is a function of the mind. The mind can be willing and can in fact make a choice for healing without the need for intellect/intelligence. Otherwise intellectual ability and/or intelligence would obviously be a requirement for salvation and that would exclude a large segment of the Sonship (those who are mentally incapacitated, have brain dysfunctions, are comatose, etc.) We certainly have all had the experience of being completely baffled by a particular passage at one time only to have absolute clarity as to its meaning at a later reading. Our intelligence had nothing to do with the confusion or with the clarity. The confusion came from our resistance; the clarity from our willingness. A person with limited intelligence may come to the Course with little resistance and a high degree of willingness and thus be open to learning the content of the Course: its message of love and forgiveness. An intellectually gifted person, on the other hand, may be blocked by tremendous resistance and fail to grasp the true message of the Course, in spite of intellectually mastering the principles of its metaphysics. Although we are making use of our brains to read, study and even apply the teachings of the Course in our lives, the real activity is going on in the mind that is choosing to turn toward the light and truth of the Course’s message. The intellectual activity is the reflection of that choice, but it is not a requirement, and it is certainly not a glimpse of the Divine. Very intellectually limited persons have been brilliant reflections of light and love in the world, while intellectually gifted persons have remained entrenched in the ego’s darkness.

In our study and practice of the Course it becomes apparent that however much we intellectually understand or do not understand the principles of the Course, it is the application of these principles with sincere willingness that makes them effective in bringing about our healing and the experience of peace. As we read: "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. In joyous answer will creation rise within you, to replace the world you see with Heaven, wholly perfect and complete. What is forgiveness but a willingness that truth be true?" (T.26.VII.10:1,2,3)


Q #55-a: Can you help me understand why we must secretly hate those who have positive qualities that we ourselves do not possess, such as being very spiritual, unselfish, kind, etc.?

A: The ego would tell us this, based on its "law" that "you have what you have taken" (T.23.II.9.10). This "law" rests on the fundamental ego belief in separation and differences. Differences are real and important, and need to be evaluated (the ego’s hierarchy of illusions). The concealed origin of this in our minds is our belief that we got to be who we are by stealing our existence from God. He would not give us the special, individual existence we wanted, so we took it for ourselves and left Him behind, seemingly destroyed and "out of the picture." We justified this theft by projecting responsibility for it and declaring that God withheld from us what rightfully belonged to us.This is the Course’s mythological rendering of the origin of our existence. There are many more dynamics and levels to this story, obviously, but this is the aspect that is relevant to your question.

It is this core belief about ourselves that is the lens through which we perceive each other. Thus, when we perceive others as having qualities that we lack and wished we had, we must automatically -- though unconsciously -- conclude that those qualities originally belonged to us and were stolen. Again, this is coming from the deeply buried belief that we took from God what rightfully belonged to us, a perversion of what we really believe, which is that we brutally "killed" God so that we could exist the way we wanted, not as He created us. This is the ego thought system. The other aspect to this is that even if we think we simply admire qualities in others, we are secretly upholding the ego’s thought system of separation.

Jesus corrects these mistaken beliefs by helping us look at our need to see others as different from us, whether in a positive sense or a negative sense. When we see where this need is coming from and can begin to evaluate it as nothing but a "tiny, mad idea" worthy only of gentle laughter, we are ready to shift to Jesus’ way of perceiving each other. He would have us learn to see one another as sharing a common interest, both in our wrong minds -- motivated by fear -- and in our right minds -- motivated by our willingness to join with him and undo our belief in separation. The differences we perceive then will have less and less significance to us, and we will be more and more inclined to see what makes us all the same. Our resistance to this is far stronger than we realize, though. The world intractably values "differences that make a difference," and so this invitation to shift our way of perceiving will be met with fierce resistance.

What all of this means ultimately is that you can never truly love someone who you perceive is different from you. That deserves a lot of thought. A prime example of this -- particularly relevant for students of the Course -- is Jesus. As we know, the Bible identified him as God’s "only begotten Son," the innocent, sinless Son who had to be sacrificed for our sins. Thus, for thousands of years he has been portrayed as qualitatively, ontologically different from us. It is hard to feel truly close to someone who is so far beyond what we could ever be, and who was killed because of our sinfulness.

Jesus addresses this in so many ways in the Course, basically imploring us to see that image of him as having come only from the ego’s obsession with separation, guilt, and sacrifice. It is simply not loving. This is one of the major corrections he presents in his Course. He says he is different, but only temporarily, and that "walking with him is just as natural as walking with a brother whom you knew since you were born, for such indeed he is" (C.5.5:6). Jesus would have us see our sameness; the ego would have us see our differences.


Q #55-b: When the Course talks about the pearl of great price that we think was stolen by another, what does it mean?

A: This is discussed in the context of the fourth law of chaos "you have what you have taken" (T.23.II.9.10.11). The "priceless pearl" is whatever we think is missing or lacking in us. Ultimately, on the ontological level, this would be the innocence we believe we sacrificed when we chose our individuality over our inheritance as God’s one Son, from then on seeing ourselves as sinful and in conflict with God, Who we are sure will come after us to punish us for what we did. The "priceless pearl" can also be thought of as our specialness. This, too, is rooted in the sense of lack or scarcity that we all feel deep within, along with the ongoing feeling that we are at war with God.

We experience this guilt (lack of innocence, scarcity) in different forms, such as inadequacy, deficiency, inferiority, envy, etc. And "behind the scenes," we would always be blaming someone for what is lacking in us (projection). These dynamics rest ultimately on the ego principle of one or the other. If you are guilty, I am innocent. If I am guilty, you are innocent and I must do whatever it takes to get that "priceless pearl" from you, because it was mine and you unjustifiably stole it. This is the underpinning of the psychological cannibalism that we all engage in, and obviously the forms of physical cannibalism as well.

It is no wonder that Jesus uses the label "laws of chaos"!


Q #56: If on one level, as the Course suggests, we are responsible for our lives and our choices and deeds, why would I choose to be such a fool? Why wouldn't all of us or most of us choose to enter this world as children of loving, spiritual, intelligent, wealthy and genetically sound parents?

A: Yes, if it’s really my choice, why indeed would I set things up so miserably for myself? The answer lies in understanding that my secret goal, kept hidden even from myself, is to be the victim of others in all of my relationships so that I never get in touch with the real cause of my misery. We think the world, beginning with our parents and continuing with all our subsequent relationships, is the cause of our pain and unhappiness. But it is not. The world and all of our relationships are only a clever, self-manufactured diversion to keep the real source of our unhappiness -- our all-consuming desire that the separation be real, at any cost -- hidden from ourselves. But why would we want to keep the real source hidden? The reason is that we value our individual, separate self more than all the love and happiness in the universe, and we’d even be willing to kill for it. But we’d rather not admit to that. Because if we did, then we might be more willing to let go of our identification with the ego and the special individual self that we each think we are. For what could our experience be but pain and unhappiness and lovelessness if we could in reality separate ourselves from Love?

We make up an external world, starting with our parents, out of all the guilt, pain, attack and murder that we have imagined in our mind -- thoughts that seem very real and frightening to us once we seek to make the separation real. As the Course describes it, "The world you perceive is a world of separation. Perhaps you are willing to accept even death to deny your Father...it is governed by the desire to be unlike God...The world you made is therefore totally chaotic, governed by arbitrary and senseless ‘laws,’ and without meaning of any kind. For it is made out of what you do not want, projected from your mind because you are afraid of it" (T.12.III.9:1,2,5,6,7)

The world then is the effect and not the cause of how we feel, no matter how much we may have convinced ourselves otherwise. And so it follows, "If the cause of the world you see is attack thoughts, you must learn that it is these thoughts which you do not want. There is no point in lamenting the world. There is no point in trying to change the world. It is incapable of change because it is merely an effect. But there is indeed a point in changing your thoughts about the world. Here you are changing the cause. The effect will change automatically" (W.pI.23.2).

And so even if we could make the world and all of our relationships in any way we want, the building blocks are still the contents of the ego mind, and the goal remains the same -- to see myself as a victim, with anyone but myself responsible for all my problems and how I feel. And that is what determines our experience in the world, regardless of the form the world may take, so long as the ego thought system remains our choice. As a result, even if I set it up to be the child of "loving, intelligent, wealthy and genetically sound parents", I will still not be happy. And I will still find some reason to blame others, starting with my parents, for my unhappiness, until I’m ready to ask for another way. And that other way will involve looking within my own mind to uncover the blocks that I have placed there to the awareness of love’s presence, so that they can be removed (T.in.1:7). And the happiness I will then experience will have nothing to do with anything in the external world, including my parents.


Q #57: I have recently entered a 12-step program for substance abuse. It seems to be making a positive difference. I know Ken has said that we have to deal with some problems on the world's terms, but only so that we can see them for what they are. Is there anything else I should know in trying to reconcile this program, which makes the problem very real, with my continuing study of the Course?

A: It is usually very helpful to attempt to resolve the symptoms of whatever illness we may be dealing with before we will be ready to address the deeper, underlying causes of our distress that the Course helps us get in touch with. If we are experiencing a medical crisis such as a heart attack or appendicitis, we would first want to get the appropriate medical attention to relieve the physical symptoms. Likewise, if we are trapped in some kind of addictive, self-destructive behavior, the first step would be to bring the addiction under control. And twelve-step programs are usually very effective for bringing about such changes. Now it is true that, from the Course’s perspective, such programs do not resolve the underlying source of the distress, but developing some discipline and control around self-abusive behavior is often an essential first step in the process.

As a student of the Course, we would want to recognize that such interventions can be extremely helpful and that there are further steps then to be taken. Anything that attempts to solve a problem at the level of the world, rather than addressing the underlying cause of the problem in the mind, is what the Course calls magic. Most of us live our lives using magic much if not all of the time to deal with what we see as our problems. The interventions for the medical problems and addictions described above would all be considered magic, from the Course’s perspective. Although the Course teaches that magic does not heal (T.2.IV.4:3) -- true healing comes only from releasing the guilt of self-condemnation in our own mind -- the Course should never be construed as taking a position against magic. In fact, Jesus recognizes that while our fear is still too great, "it may be wise to utilize a compromise approach to mind and body, in which something from the outside is temporarily given healing belief" (4:6).

Furthermore, since all form in the world is neutral and the Course teaches that our only real concern should be the purpose we give it (T.4.V.6:8,9), the key in using anything such as a 12-step program to deal with a problem like an addiction would be to be aware of how you are using it. If you use it to reinforce your belief in the reality of your weakness and limitations, and as a means to see yourself as separate and different from others, then it will be serving an ego purpose. But if you see it as a means of being kind to yourself, of recognizing that you need help that comes from outside your ego self, and that you are the same as everyone else -- despite differences in the forms of our lives, we are all caught in the ego trap of believing in guilt and attack and fear -- then it will be serving the Holy Spirit’s purpose. And it would not be unusual to find yourself vacillating back and forth between these two different purposes.

You are right, of course, that the Course and the 12-step program cannot in the end be reconciled as spiritual paths -- they are saying different things and any attempt to combine them will significantly diminish the efficacy of both. You may find it helpful to remind yourself, as you participate in the 12-step process over time, that the only problem is our addiction to the guilt in our mind, which we think keeps us "safe" from love. We project that guilt out into the various forms of conflict in our lives to avoid getting in touch with the real problem in the mind. And substance abuse is just one of the many forms of external conflict we set up for ourselves in the world to avoid looking at the guilt within. But once you understand what you made the problem of substance abuse for, you can give it a different purpose.

Substance abuse then, rather than being the real problem, is seen as a symptom or manifestation of the underlying problem of the guilt in your mind. By acknowledging the external problem, you provide yourself an avenue to get back in touch with the problem of the guilt buried deep in your mind. And by releasing the guilt and judgment that you have associated with your substance abuse, you will find that your need for a defense against the guilt in your mind, which the substance abuse has provided, diminishes over time. So the ultimate focus for your healing work is not on the external problem of substance abuse but on the buried guilt it is allowing you to get in touch with. However, through an in-depth examination of your substance abuse problem, including identifying those whom you may blame for driving you into the abuse and evaluating the effects of the abuse on your current and past relationships -- areas for which a 12-step program can be very helpful -- you will be able to trace your guilt through its "circuitous routes" (T.15.X.5:1) in form back to its origins in your mind, where it can then be undone.


Q #58: Recently while having a fight with my wife I turned to the Course for help by reading the passage about seeing only an expression of love or a call for love. Later I was able to reach out to her in a loving way. I find that I don’t consider her small outbursts and annoying irritations "big" enough to qualify as calls for love. It seems best not to take them seriously, though I resent that they take away the feeling of success in practicing the Course that I had when I applied the Course to the fight. Is it better to shrug off these small irritations or should I see them as calls for love also?

A: The Course does in fact say that everything is either an expression of love or a call for love (see T.14.X.7). Therefore, when someone is having an outburst of any kind, large or small, it is always a call for love and the Course asks us to respond with love. If our response is anything less than love it is of the ego, and we are in the same insane situation as the other person: we too are calling for love. It is very important in our practice of the Course to be vigilant for any underlying feeling or reaction in our experiences and our relationships. Even when we seem to be shrugging things off or waiting for an outburst to blow over, there is probably some annoyance, irritation or judgment going on. As the Course so clearly states; "The degree of the emotion you experience does not matter. You will become increasingly aware that a slight twinge of annoyance is nothing but a veil drawn over intense fury" (W.pI.21.2:4,5). This puts all of our interactions in the same category: there is no distinction between "big" or "small," neither in the call for help nor in our reaction to it. The Course tells us that a choice to turn away from the light of the Holy Spirit in our minds, to throw our peace away by denying our unity with God, precedes that situation or interaction that seems to cause our reaction. The guilt and pain of that choice is the source of what appears as anger, annoyance, or irritation. Then a situation or an interaction with another person occurs, which we use to project our guilt onto, in the form of a reaction, or as the Course tells us "an interpretation": "Perhaps it will be helpful to remember that no one can be angry at a fact. It is always an interpretation that gives rise to negative emotions, regardless of their seeming justification by what appears as facts. Regardless, too, of the intensity of the anger that is aroused. It may be merely slight irritation, perhaps too mild to be even clearly recognized. Or it may also take the form of intense rage, accompanied by thoughts of violence, fantasied or apparently acted out. It does not matter. All of these reactions are the same. They obscure the truth, and this can never be a matter of degree. Either truth is apparent, or it is not. It cannot be partially recognized. Who is unaware of truth must look upon illusions" (M.17.4). The truth that is obscured can be understood on two levels: 1) we have made a choice, as explained above, that is causing us pain, anger, or annoyance, and now we blame a person or situation; 2) neither the choice nor the guilt we feel about it can have any effect on the Father’s love for us, nor our love for the Father; in other words, nothing has happened. It is clear that there are no degrees or distinctions in any of this; we are expressing love or calling for love, we are at peace or not at peace, we are with the truth or with illusion, seeing with the ego or with the Holy Spirit.

Our practice of the Course, therefore, is always optimum, whether we apply its teachings to something seemingly insignificant or to something we may judge as life threatening; nothing is too small or too big. It also means that every situation is important to our learning, and nothing should be overlooked or left to blow over. The decision to see differently, to listen to the Holy Spirit’s interpretation, will bring us the same peace no matter what kind of a predicament we think we are in. It may also be helpful to remember: "… the Holy Spirit’s vision is merciful and His remedy is quick. Do not hide suffering from His sight, but bring it gladly to Him. Lay before His eternal sanity all your hurt, and let Him heal you. Do not leave any spot of pain hidden from His light, and search your mind carefully for any thoughts you may fear to uncover. For He will heal every little thought you have kept to hurt you and cleanse it of its littleness, restoring it to the magnitude of God" (T.13.III.7:2,3,4,5,6).


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