Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/15/2003

This week's questions:

Q #59: A question about how to forgive.
Q #60: A question about the use of white lies.
Q #61: A question about special relationships and attack.
Q #62: A question about "positive thoughts."
Q #63  A question about dealing with anger.

Q #59: After all this time of studying the Course, I'm still not real clear on what forgiveness really is. Let's say my ego mind labels someone as being a jerk. Well, I know on one level that I can't possibly be right in that evaluation -- I don't really know this person and besides, I can't judge another even if sometimes I do. So, what's the next step? Not only have I made an unfair judgment; I've ended up feeling guilty for it.

A: When you take a minute or two to think differently about your judgment of another person, as you describe in your question, you have begun the forgiveness process, "A light has entered the darkness" (M.1.1:4). The first step is being willing to admit that we are wrong in our evaluation, and that there is another way of looking at the person. The next steps are being willing to let go of the original judgment, ask for another way of perceiving, and accept the new perception when it comes to you. This does not mean that you will no longer see people do foolish things. It means that you will not confuse the person’s true identity with the foolish behavior, nor condemn him for it, nor consider it a "sin." People do and say foolish things; that is a fact. There are then two interpretations: one according to the ego, which says this foolish behavior makes this person a "jerk"; the other according to the Holy Spirit (forgiveness), which says the foolish behavior does not change the real fact that this person is not a "sinner," and does not deserve my condemnation. This applies as well to the judgment against yourself. We might say that calling another person a "jerk" is foolish behavior. This does not mean you are a sinner deserving of punishment, but that you have made a mistake, and are in need of a new perception, a correction, forgiveness. The guilt that seems to be at the end of the process, after judging a person as a "jerk," was actually already present in the mind prior to the "attack." The guilt was projected out to the "jerk" in the form of the judgment, which then seems to cause the guilt. This is an example of the Course teaching: "Ideas leave not their source, and their effects but seem to be apart from them. Ideas are of the mind. What is projected out, and seems to be external to the mind, is not outside at all, but an effect of what is in, and has not left its source" (T.26.VII.4:7,8,9). The origin of the process is a thought of separation in the mind, followed by a judgment against yourself for the thought, and guilt for having thought it. The guilt is then projected out to someone else in the form of an attack, and it then returns to the mind in the form of guilt for the attack. This is the circular thinking of the ego’s game of guilt. Forgiveness asks that we recognize the original thought, and accept responsibility for the process. The way to forgive yourself for the original thought of separation is to offer forgiveness to the "jerk" by seeing him as no different from yourself; i.e., being in need of healing and of correction, and no different in his true identity as a holy Son of God: "Let not the form of his mistakes keep you from him whose holiness is yours. Let not the vision of his holiness, the sight of which would show you your forgiveness, be kept from you by what the body's eyes can see. Let your awareness of your brother not be blocked by your perception of his sins and of his body. What is there in him that you would attack except what you associate with his body, which you believe can sin? Beyond his errors is his holiness and your salvation. You gave him not his holiness, but tried to see your sins in him to save yourself. And yet, his holiness is your forgiveness" (T.22.III.8:1,2,3,4,5,6,7).

Q #60: I seem to remember a passage that states the use of "white lies" may at times be appropriate in dealing with some relationships. What is Jesus saying here? I can only seem to relate it to the 12-step saying where we should always try to make amends except when to do so would cause more harm.

A: We have all experienced occasions when it is obvious that telling someone the truth on the level of form is simply not the loving thing to do. While there are no passages in the Course that specifically mention "white lies," there are two passages that address this issue, and that relate to the 12-step saying you mention: "The value of the Atonement does not lie in the manner in which it is expressed. In fact, if it is used truly, it will inevitably be expressed in whatever way is most helpful to the receiver.This means that a miracle, to attain its full efficacy, must be expressed in a language that the recipient can understand without fear. This does not necessarily mean that it is the highest level of communication of which he is capable. It does mean, however, that it is the highest level of communication of which he is capable now. The whole aim of the miracle is to raise the level of communication, not to lower it by increasing fear" (T.2.IV.5).

In another passage Jesus says, "Recognize what does not matter, and if your brothers ask you for something ‘outrageous,’ do it because it does not matter" (T.12.III.4:1). Importantly, he qualifies this later by saying, "I have said that if a brother asks a foolish thing of you to do it. But be certain that this does not mean to do a foolish thing that would hurt either him or you, for what would hurt one will hurt the other" (T.16.I.6:4,5).

The key element in the Course’s approach is honesty, which is the second of the ten characteristics of a teacher of God, discussed in the manual for teachers (M.4). Jesus states there that honesty means consistency: "There is nothing you say that contradicts what you think or do; no thought opposes any other thought..." (M.4.II.1). In other words, there is a consistency between your words (form) and your thoughts (content). If we set aside any ego investment in the situation, then only love will flow though us, and it will be expressed in a form that would be appropriate in that specific situation. The emphasis is on the content in our minds. If we are kind within, we will be kind on the outside. Our attention, thus, should be on searching for any unkindness lurking in our thoughts, and asking for help to let that go. Once we have gotten past the unkindness, whatever we say or do will be kind, in a form that is appropriate to the circumstances.

Q #61: I'm studying special relationships at the moment and I am wondering -- if person 'A' feels anger, resentment, hate, etc., towards person 'B', is person 'B' likely to learn these feelings as part of himself, and feeling them, does he project them back onto person 'A' in either a passive or aggressive way? So now person 'B' would then see these same traits or similar ones in person 'A'. If this is so, is this now a circle of destruction? And if person 'B' doesn't project them back onto person 'A', is person 'B' (if he believes them to be true) likely to project them onto his own body? If he does, can this manifest through illness? Can illness then be a form of attack on both ourselves and on those with whom we are involved in special relationships?

A: Despite what our experience in the world seems to tell us, none of us has the power to cause anyone else to feel guilty or hated or attacked. These perceptions of ourselves are inherent in our own experience whenever we choose to identify with the ego, which seems to be our "natural" state until we remember otherwise. So no one else teaches those perceptions to us, no matter how they may act toward us -- we have learned them on our own (the basic condition of the ego). That is because the ego thought system is predicated on the belief in our own sin and guilt, which we then try to protect ourselves from by projecting outside of ourselves onto others. The only effect we can have on others is to remind them of what is already present within their own mind. So I can be a reminder to you of your own sin, guilt and fear when I choose the ego as my teacher, or I can be a reminder of the love and forgiveness that are present in both of us when I choose the Holy Spirit as my teacher. But you first make your own choice as to which thought system you will identify with and then my choice can only reinforce the choice you have already made. But if you have made the choice for the ego and I have remembered the Holy Spirit, then I can serve as a reminder to you that there is another choice present in your mind as well.

Early in the text, Jesus explains that "when you project... [on]to others you imprison them, but only to the extent to which you reinforce errors they have already made. This [their errors] makes them vulnerable to the distortion of others, since their own perception of themselves is distorted" (T.1.III.5:9,10). So in that sense, we do set up a vicious cycle of attack and counterattack with each other -- the "circle of destruction" as you call it -- that reinforces the perception of guilt in ourselves and each other.

But again, the origin of the guilt and its ramifications in my own mind never comes from anyone or anything in the world outside of myself, but only from my own decision. In fact, the only purpose of the world and all the figures in it is to serve as a smokescreen to hide that fact from us. And so then it appears that indeed others are the cause of my concept of myself (T.31.V.5).

As for the second part of your question, the guilt over separation in my own mind -- which I have chosen -- is intolerable and must be projected so that I see it as yours rather than my own. And I can project it either by a direct attack on you with whom I have a special relationship or by an attack on my own body, expressed as some form of illness. And yes, the latter represents an attack not only on myself, but on you as well, as Jesus graphically describes in "The Picture of Crucifixion" (T.27.I) -- "A sick and suffering you but represents your brother’s guilt; the witness that you send lest he forget the injuries he gave, from which you swear he never will escape. This sick and sorry picture you accept, if only it can serve to punish him" (T.27.I.4:3,4).

How do we break out of the seemingly endless circle of attack and counterattack? The solution has nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with a change in our perception of ourselves, within our own mind, with the help of the Holy Spirit. We have to recognize that the sin and guilt we have made real in our own mind as an attack upon ourselves by our belief that we could separate from God has never really happened. As the Course says, "You will never realize the utter uselessness of attack except by recognizing that your attack on yourself has no effects. For others do react to attack if they perceive it, and if you are trying to attack them you will be unable to avoid interpreting this as reinforcement. The only place you can cancel out all reinforcement is in yourself. For you are always the first point of your attack, and if this has never been, it has no consequences" (T.12.V.3; italics added).

Q #62: I have been A Course in Miracles Student for many years, and I am now passing (or so I feel) from the "beginner stage." My question is: Can it be helpful to a student to reflect on positive thoughts rather than entertain the negative thoughts of the ego mind? I realize situations that trouble us should be looked at with Jesus or the Holy Spirit or even God, but it seems to me that the time our minds aren't in the holy instant have to be spent somewhere. I am not talking about affirmations here, but thoughts that have deeply moved us. I will appreciate guidance in this regard.

A: Our minds are either in the holy instant or with the ego. There are no other options; there is no in between. Our thoughts reflect the choice we have made either to think as the ego thinks, or as the Holy Spirit thinks. The Course would not define these thoughts as positive or negative, it tells us rather that the ego’s thoughts reinforce illusion, while the Holy Spirit’s thoughts reflect the truth. When we have experiences that deeply move us, they reflect a choice made on the level of the mind to turn away from the ego toward the Holy Spirit, Who is the symbol of God’s love in the dream. A beautiful musical work or a sunset can be symbols of the love and peace in our mind when we have chosen the Holy Spirit instead of the ego. What is truly helpful, however, is to be vigilant for the thoughts we think with the ego, to become aware of them, and to recognize their purpose. Since many of the ego’s thoughts appear to be "positive," we can easily be fooled. Seemingly positive feelings can be insidious forms of spiritual specialness. The ego also comes up with many ingenious excuses for indulging its thought system and holding on to grievances. This may be what you refer to as "[entertaining] the negative thoughts of the ego mind." It takes a great deal of honesty and patience with ourselves to practice looking carefully at our thoughts without indulging them and without judging them. We do well to stay close to the guidelines the Course offers; "Your task is not to seek for love, (what we may call "positive" thoughts) but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. It is not necessary to seek for what is true, but it is necessary to seek for what is false" (T.16.IV.6:1,2). If we are honest in our search we will recognize the thoughts we are holding that interfere with our ability to be in the holy instant. It is then our choice to either hold on to these thoughts or let them go in exchange for the Holy Spirit’s perception. When we try to be the judge of our thoughts -- deciding which ones are positive or which ones are negative -- attempting to fill our minds with what we have determined to be "positive" thoughts, we will be putting ourselves in charge of the Atonement, leaving little or no room for the Holy Spirit. It is His thoughts we seek, His perception, His judgment. Doing our part faithfully will allow Him to take us to the holy instant. The Course is clear in this regard and very specific; "The Holy Spirit asks of you but this; bring to Him every secret you have locked away from Him. Open every door to Him, and bid Him enter the darkness and lighten it away. At your request He enters gladly. He brings the light to darkness if you make the darkness open to Him. But what you hide He cannot look upon. He sees for you, and unless you look with Him He cannot see. The vision of Christ is not for Him alone, but for Him with you. Bring, therefore, all your dark and secret thoughts to Him, and look upon them with Him. He holds the light, and you the darkness. They cannot coexist when both of You together look on them. His judgment must prevail, and He will give it to you as you join your perception to His" (T.14.VII.6). In another passage the Course gives us a very encouraging follow up: "And if I need a word to help me, He will give it to me. If I need a thought, that will He also give. And if I need but stillness and a tranquil, open mind, these are the gifts I will receive of Him. He is in charge by my request. And He will hear and answer me, because He speaks for God my Father and His holy Son" (W.pII.361.5:1,2,3,4,5). Our hope lies in our dedication to searching our minds carefully, inviting the Holy Spirit to be our guide, our "judge" and our teacher. His perception will then lead us to the holy instant.

Q #63: We were discussing anger in our study group and it was suggested that to experience anger, we would not "express" it outwardly, but instead, as the Course encourages us, be "Above the Battleground" (T.23.IV), "Be lifted up, and from a higher place look down upon it" (5:1). This certainly sounds better than overtly abusing another with our anger. But what about the idea of yelling into a pillow or hitting a punching bag? Is that still considered attack? What if my anger is so intense that I am unable (unwilling) to "Be lifted up, and from a higher place look down upon it"?

A: Your question suggests a confusion that many students often make in their work with the Course. The Course, like the Holy Spirit, is only concerned with content (thought) and not form (behavior). If I am in conflict and am feeling anger, I am no longer at peace, whether I act on that anger or not. Anger and attack are in the mind and that is where correction is needed. Being disciplined enough not to act out the anger, or to direct it at an inanimate object (such as a pillow or a punching bag) rather than at a person, has certain advantages in that it does not set in motion a possible sequence of overt attack and retaliation at the level of behavior which will almost certainly serve to reinforce the guilt in both your mind and the mind of the person you are attacking back. But the attack is still alive and well in your mind and the problem of the anger will not be resolved until you address it at its source in the mind. This will involve recognizing that your angry feelings and thoughts of attack have nothing to do with the other person at whom those feelings are directed and by whom they seem to have been elicited.

To "be lifted up, and from a higher place look down upon" your anger is to remember that you are a mind that has a choice whether to look at the conflict with your ego or with the Holy Spirit as your teacher. When you "look" with your ego, you will still believe that your angry feelings are somehow justified, that at some level you have been treated unfairly and that your reaction is a reasonable one, even if you choose not to act on it. If that continues to be your perception, no healing has occurred.

But when you look with the Holy Spirit, you will come to understand that the problem is not the other person but rather a choice you first made within your own mind to see yourself as separate from love. That choice, as it always does, produces guilt, which you find unbearable. And so the guilt must be projected outside yourself, onto someone else whom you will want to see as treating you unfairly, upon whom the guilt can then rest. And so the feelings of conflict that have come from your own decision to separate in your mind from love then seem to be caused by what this other person has "done" to you. And yet if you had not chosen guilt in the first place, their words or actions would have absolutely no effect on you. The fact that they seem to only tells you about your prior decision to turn to your ego and away from love. Once you have accepted this realization and the correction offered by the Holy Spirit -- that you are not separate from love and never have been -- the guilt vanishes, as well as the anger and the conflict that were its effect, and you no longer need to see someone else as your opponent, deserving of your attack (in self-defense, of course!).

By the way, although the Course says that "anger is never justified" (T.30.VI.1:1) -- and why that is true should be apparent from what we have just discussed -- the Course never says we should not get angry. In fact, much of the Course is addressed at telling us what happens when we do get angry and how it can be corrected, and this is only because Jesus understands that we will continue to become angry and will need the correction he offers us. And sometimes we may be able to put the brakes on acting out our anger and sometimes we may feel compelled to act it out, but the problem -- the guilt in our mind -- and the solution -- recognizing the choice of purpose we have in all of it -- remain the same. Rather than denying our anger, Jesus wants us to look at it with him so we can recognize its real source, rather than attempt to justify it based on our mistaken perceptions of our own victimization. Our justifications, quite simply, are always invalid.

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