Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 8/03/2005
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This week's questions/topics:
Q #774 How can I let go of painful past incidents and memories?
Q #775 Why is it so difficult to release our addiction to this world?
Q #776 What is meant by a "real attack that calls for punishment"?
Q #777(i) How do we distinguish between form and content?
Q #777(ii) Does the ego know that God loves His Son?
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Q #774: I understand that the basic goal of A Course in Miracles is to reorient perception, and from there, experience. However, while I can get a handle on this intellectually, I feel like I'm emotionally handicapped on this one. There are a number of things from my past which are still present in my mind, causing me severe bouts of depression at times, and I have a great deal of trouble releasing them. How can I let go of them? Do I simply “not think about them” anymore? Do I ignore them as “non-existent”? Every so often, these issues seem to pop back up, and I seem unable to recondition my own responses. They are making me extremely tired, and they have unpleasant effects in my relationships. Help!!!
A: Bringing purpose into the picture is important for understanding what is happening. Jesus tells us, “The memory of God comes to the quiet mind. It cannot come where there is conflict, for a mind at war against itself remembers not eternal gentleness” (T.23.I.1:1,2) . Part of us wants to remember our true Identity in God, and part of is terrified of letting go of our false identity so that we would remember the truth. That fear causes us to do things that would prevent our minds from being quiet, as Jesus indicates in the quote. These are our defenses, and we all have a grab bag full of them that we pull out the instant this fear arises to threaten us. One very effective defense is to recall painful events from the past -- this is a “favorite” of many students. (How curious that we would resort to something painful to cope with fear!) Recalling the past thus is purposeful, for we then begin to obsess about what happened years ago, as if it were happening right now, and that leaves us with no doubt that we are bodies, the innocent victims of what has been done to us -- or we could remember how we cruelly victimized others. We don't realize that this is a defense that is consciously chosen, as are all defenses -- an important dynamic that Jesus describes at the beginning of Lesson 136 (W.pI.136) . He also points out in a thought-provoking section in the text, “The Present Memory,” that “remembering is as selective as perception, being its past tense” (T.28.I.2:5) . Why are only certain events of the past brought into awareness, when so many other things happened as well?
The section in the text called “Shadows of the Past” (T.17.III) is likewise enlightening with respect to how the ego uses the past to reinforce in our minds our belief that we are separate. Elsewhere in the text Jesus teaches us about the ego's use of time in contrast to the Holy Spirit's. For the ego, time “is nothing but a teaching device for compounding guilt until it becomes all- encompassing, demanding vengeance forever. The Holy Spirit would undo all of this now . Fear is not of the present, but only of the past and future, which do not exist” (T.15.I.7:7; 8:1,2). The context of the discussion is the ego's ferocious need to keep alive its doctrine of sin, guilt, damnation, and hell. Linear time was devised by the ego for this purpose. The Holy Spirit, however, uses time to teach us how to learn only from Him so that we would have “no cares, no worries, no anxieties, but merely to be perfectly calm and quiet all the time” (T.15.I.1:1) .
Once you realize the purpose of recalling the past, you can simply look at that and then dwell more on the purpose of these recollections, than on the past hurts. When you no longer want the purpose served by your remembrance of these hurts in the present, they will be easier to let go. But you never want to try to convince yourself that something is non-existent when it is still causing you pain. That will only worsen the situation. “ Do not fight yourself ,” Jesus emphasizes (T.30.I.1:7) . It is fine to have defenses. They are not the problem; the problem is our thinking that we need them. But that takes years of practice to undo, along with patience and gentleness with yourself: “ Defenses, like everything you made, must be gently turned to your own good, translated by the Holy Spirit from means of self-destruction to means of preservation and release” (T.14.VII.5:8) .
Finally, it is sometimes a good idea to seek help from a therapist when events from the past are so painful and compelling that you are unable to function well. This would be no different from getting medical help for an ankle injury that prevents you from walking.
Q #775: Could you talk a little about the process that A Course in Miracles seems to set into motion? Why, even after working with the Course for a long period, is it so difficult to let go of the addiction to this world (i.e., sin, fear, etc.)? Could it be that a part of ourselves (the real Self) has long done so and simply left the remnants of the "ego" playing about there "in darkness" and doesn't take any interest in it any longer? Is it not simply an illusion that we are still involved here, as God does not teach nor bother with what seems to happen "down here"? Will the ego be either healed or destroyed once Atonement is achieved?
A: You might say that there are two processes that the Course “sets in motion,” although both in fact represent very deliberate and conscious choices on our part: forgiveness, and resistance to practicing that forgiveness. Our mind, joined with the Holy Spirit, joyfully embraces the Course's teachings on forgiveness and strives to make its promises (W.pI.122) our reality. Our mind, joined with the ego, resists the release from pain and guilt and fear that forgiveness offers, every step of the way (W.pI.121.2,3,4,5; W.pII.1.2,3) . This is because we have convinced ourselves that we are the ego, and we believe forgiveness will annihilate who we are. And so we fight desperately to maintain its existence in our mind, not wanting to recognize all the cruel outcomes its thought system condemns us to.
Our true Self, the Christ, has never even been aware of the false ego self, and for It there are no remnants or fragments existing anywhere in the mind. So yes, it is nothing more than an illusion that we seem to find ourselves still caught in the world of separation, sin, guilt and fear. But nothing will happen to the ego once we accept the Atonement for ourselves, except that it will no longer seem to exist and, for one brief instant, we will realize that it never has existed. And nothing but this recognition needs to occur for the ego and all its effects to return to the nothingness from which they came (T.10.IV.1:9; M.13.1:2) .
Q #776: In “The Justification for Forgiveness,” Jesus states: “You are not asked to offer pardon where attack is due, and would be justified. For that would mean that you forgive a sin by overlooking what is really there. This is not pardon. For it would assume that, by responding in a way which is not justified, your pardon will become the answer to attack that has been made. And thus is pardon inappropriate, by being granted where it is not due”; and later he says, “You do not forgive the unforgivable, nor overlook a real attack that calls for punishment” (T.30.VI.1:6,7,8,9,10; 2:3). What does this mean? What would be considered unforgiveable? Could you present a few instances or examples that illustrate your answer?
A: This section presents A Course in Miracles' distinctive view of forgiveness. The world's view, which Jesus in this same section calls false forgiveness (T.30.VI.4:1) , is that while we at times pardon sinners, we never forget that they have sinned (T.30.VI.3:7) . In this sense, they do not really deserve our forgiveness, but we grant it anyway. This kind of pardon is inappropriate, Jesus is saying, for we are attempting to overlook what we think is real, and that simply cannot be done -- at least not without sacrificing our rights (T.30.VI.2:6) . If we judge an attack as contemptible and deserving of punishment, but then forgive because that is what we think we are supposed to do, we would think that we have forgiven the unforgiveable -- an “unnatural” response and “inappropriate to what is real” (T.30.VI.2:4) . An example of this would be forgiving the 9/11 terrorists even though you think what they did was unforgiveable; or less dramatic, forgiving the person who stole your money through a clever scam. In both cases you would think that you have to overlook what was done in order to forgive.
Jesus is teaching us that true forgiveness is quite different. This cannot be understood, though, without knowing the metaphysics of the Course. Jesus begins the section with two very important principles: “Anger is never justified. Attack has no foundation” (T.30.VI.1:1,2) . When people attack, they do so as a reaction to their own state of fear. They have rejected love and identified instead with the ego thought system, which rests on nothing real. This is a mistake or an error, not a sin. Jesus is asking us to learn to see beyond the behavioral attack to its origin in the mind. This does not mean that we deny what our eyes see; it means that we learn how to give the situation a different interpretation. This is only about what goes on in our minds. Instead of the “normal” inclination to retaliate and punish, we learn how not to take personally what anyone else does, for we would know that we (in our right minds) are invulnerable and can never lose the peace that is our natural inheritance as God's Son, and we know the same is true for everyone else as well. If these principles are the basis of our perception, then it would be impossible to condemn the “attacker,” regardless of what was done. (Again, this does not rule out prosecution, etc.) We would be aware that this act has come from the profound terror in the person's mind, the result of his having made the wrong choice. How can that be condemned? Thus Jesus says, “you are merely asked to see forgiveness as the natural reaction to distress that rests on error, and thus calls for help. Forgiveness is the only sane response. It keeps your rights from being sacrificed” (T.30.VI.2:7,8,9).
If you shift from your wrong mind to your right mind, in other words, you would perceive everyone as sharing with you the same wrong mind, the same right mind, and the ability to choose between the two. In that vision, terrorists are the same as those they attack; scam artists are the same as those they cheat. That is the only sane way of perceiving each other and what goes on in this world. Forgiveness, then, is meaningful and completely honest. The behavior is not denied; it is seen at its point of origin in the content of the mind. (See also Q#771)
Q #777(i): (The following two questions were posed by the same person.) A Course in Miracles tells us that love and fear are content; not form. How do we distinguish between form and content?
A: One of the most important teachings of the Course is that we are minds, not bodies. This is the fundamental distinction between form and content. Our experience as bodies (form) is an illusion; the projection of a thought in the mind (content). The content is either love (identifying with the Holy Spirit) or fear (identifying with the ego). The way we are able to determine whether the mind has chosen the ego or the Holy Spirit is by the presence or absence of judgment. Judgment of any kind means the ego's thought of separation has been chosen. We can also be certain that the ego has been chosen whenever we perceive differences; i.e., any form of specialness. Thus form reveals to us the content of the mind, which is the body's usefulness. That is why in the Course, Jesus asks us to pay attention to our thoughts, not behavior, which can look very “good” even when the mind is filled with thoughts of judgment and attack: “Be not deceived when madness takes a form you think is lovely”(T.23.II.17:10).
While belief in the body is held, form can be used to undo the belief in its reality, which is the goal of forgiveness, the promise of the Holy Spirit's curriculum in the Course. As we are told in the text: “Forgiveness is an earthly form of love, which as it is in Heaven has no form. Yet what is needed here is given here as it is needed. In this form you can fulfill your function even here, although what love will mean to you when formlessness has been restored to you is greater still. Salvation of the world depends on you who can forgive. Such is your function here”(W.p.I.186.14:2,3,4,5,6). Fulfilling this function means being willing to look beyond all form to the content, uncovering any hidden thoughts of judgment, specialness, and difference. In the section “The Two Pictures” (T.17.IV), Jesus uses the symbol of a frame (form) containing two pictures (content). The picture is a portrait either of the ego's thought system or the Holy Spirit's. One offers death, the other life, while the glitter and “beauty” of the frame distracts from the ego's message. Jesus' instruction to us is clear: “Look at the picture. Do not let the frame distract you”(T.17.IV.9:1).
Q #777(ii): Does the ego know the truth that God loves His Son?
A. The ego cannot know truth because it owes its existence to the denial of the Love God has for His Son. It does, however, have an awareness that there is something beyond itself that it perceives as a threat to its existence. Its very life depends on defending against this something (God's Love): “The ego therefore opposes all appreciation, all recognition, all sane perception and all knowledge. It perceives their threat as total, because it senses that all commitments the mind makes are total. Forced, therefore, to detach itself from you, it is willing to attach itself to anything else. But there is nothing else. The mind can, however, make up illusions, and if it does so it will believe in them, because that is how it made them. Do not let the frame distract you.” (T.7.VI.5:1,2,3,4,5). This explains the incessant, feverish activity of the ego, its devotion to form and its focus on the frame. As the maker and protector of form, it is incumbent upon the ego to avoid the memory of truth that resides in the mind, and to avoid the mind altogether for that matter. It literally keeps us out of our minds. To heal us of this insanity the Holy Spirit enjoins us to return to our minds so another choice can be made. Thus, the distinction between form and content, truth and illusion, is at the heart of the message of the Course, as learning to distinguish them is the core of the practice of the Course. We are asked to see in every relationship and situation an opportunity to choose to look at the frame or the picture, and to remember that we always choose between truth and illusion (T.16.VII.10:1), God and the ego (T.17.III.9:5), miracles or murder (T.23.IV.9) .