Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 9/07/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #794 Even if the world of form is illusory, are some forms of social order more beneficial than others?
Q #795 When a relationship goes wrong, does the Course imply that we will have another chance in a future life?
Q #796 How can I learn forgiveness if I see the ego as a hostile evil entity?

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Q #794: You often say the ego thought system is based on perceived separate interests, while the Holy Spirit’s thought system, in contrast, is characterized by our all sharing the same interest in undoing the dream of separation. Now it is surely the case that the social system that currently dominates the world expresses, and in turn reinforces, the dog-eat-dog mindset of the ego, thereby undermining any sense of shared interests, except when these are mobilized against some "external" threat.

Given the illusory nature of the world, it must of course follow that any and all social systems that man has devised are illusory as well. Even so, it does seem to me that some forms of social organization might be more conducive to the perception of shared interests – and that, conversely, the present world system is particularly well suited to the promotion of the fear, vulnerability and aggression on which the ego thrives. Or does any of this really matter in the end?

A: In the end, it does not really matter. But it is not simply because the world, and all the social systems within it, are illusory. For the value of everything in the world, while we still believe the world is real, depends only on what purpose it is given. Anything used for judgment and attack is valueless, for it being used to reinforce a meaningless thought system. Anything used for forgiveness and joining has the only real value anything in the world can hold.

Each of us always has the choice to see either separate or shared interests, regardless of what appears to be happening in the world around us. And as much as the ego may wish us to believe that form affects the content of the mind, which is what is behind your question, the world of form only ever reflects the collective content of the Son’s split mind. Any shift must first occur in the mind, whether we are conscious of that choice or not, and only then can it be reflected in the world of form. The purpose of A Course in Miracles is to help make that choice conscious. That is why Jesus tells us in the Course, "seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T.21.in.1:7).

It is in fact worth quoting the entire paragraph in which this admonition occurs: "The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less. Therefore, to you it is important. It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause. And that is why order of difficulty in miracles is meaningless. Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy. Nothing perceived without it means anything. And where there is no meaning, there is chaos" (T.21.in.1; italics added).

In other words, the only meaningful question is which teacher have we chosen to guide our perception. If we choose the wrong teacher, we can only see some form of specialness -- either special love or special hate -- around us. But if we choose the right Teacher, we will be guided to see in everything around us either an extension of love or a call for the love that we each believe we have thrown away (T.12.I.3:1,2,3,4). There are no other alternatives, which is what makes the Course so simple. Once we become concerned with form in the world, we are caught in the ego’s web of complexity, and the possibility of healing and release will seem daunting, if not hopeless.

It is even possible that when the forms of the world, such as specific social systems, appear to be encouraging what we may believe to be shared interests, they may in fact simply be reinforcing the very deceptive special love relationship that the ego holds out as its "most boasted gift" (T.16.V.3:1). For they may be simply covering over the ugliness of the ego’s thought system, keeping a lid on the guilt, but doing nothing about undoing it in the mind. The point is, we can never judge what is most helpful with any confidence based on form.

For example, was the politeness and civility of the first half or so of the 20th century, at least within the United States, which some folks speak so nostalgically about, really bringing the Sonship closer to awakening from the dream than the uncivility and overt attack that seems so pervasive in today’s world? We may have our opinions about what is more helpful, based on our perspective of ourselves as bodies in the world who want to feel safe and secure, but we are simply not in a position to judge. Perhaps yes, but just as likely, perhaps not.

Unfortunately, it does appear that fear and pain are the greatest motivators for asking for another way. And the ego is eager to foster the complacency that comes from having one’s life function smoothly and comfortably, with everyone "helping" everyone else. The point is not that we should value pain and attack, but that we want to be vigilant in every situation and circumstance for the choice we always have between the ego and the Holy Spirit. And that choice becomes clearer only as we become increasingly aware of our ego in all its subtle and not so subtle expressions.

Q #795: I have a question about the following passage from the manual on the holy relationship between two people: "As with the first level, these meetings are not accidental, nor is what appears to be the end of the relationship a real end....Yet all who meet will someday meet again, for it is the destiny of all relationships to become holy" (M.3.4:4,6). Does this imply the idea of karmic relationships until total forgiveness on both sides has been learned?

A personal example: I became friends with someone who seems very similar to me. But over time she became hostile towards me and as a result I became hostile towards her. I found myself quoting A Course in Miracles when things got worse between us, but then I was accused of being crazy and even mentally ill. The more I opened myself, the more it seemed I was accused and attacked. I honestly started doubting my own sanity after a while.

It feels that we had to part in hostility. But it is a horrible state of affairs, and I find myself blaming the Course rather than my ego for the outcome. Yet I strongly feel deep regret and a willingness to end the dispute now and make this a good relationship again. But I don’t see how I can do this and forgive myself without her. It seems we have to wait for "a next life" repetition. Is there another approach I do not see?

A: There is another approach that offers you an answer right now, but you would have to be willing to set aside many of your assumptions about what has happened in this relationship and why, and what the Course has to say about it. And none of this requires that you deny your experience, but only that you be open to a different interpretation of the situation and the problem.

To begin with -- the passage you cite does seem to suggest future lives and karmic relationships and, on the level of how we experience our lives, this may certainly be true. But there is a deeper level of meaning, which becomes clearer as we begin to grow in our understanding of the Course’s teachings -- on the nature of who we are as mind and how we defend against the truth in our mind. Every difficult, hostile relationship we see outside ourselves reflects an unhealed spot of guilt and hatred within our own mind. And until that spot of darkness within is healed, we will continue to deny it in our own mind and project it outside ourselves in the form of difficult, conflictual relationships, so that we don’t have to heal the spot within -- in other words, the projection of the guilt is very deliberate, if still unconscious (T.6.II.1,2,3). But at some point we must come to the realization that the inner and the outer are the same (W.pI.31.2:5; W.pI.32.2:1), and that the relationship that truly needs healing is within our own mind -- the relationship with our wrong mind, and not with anyone who seems to be external to us.

The "meeting again" that the passage refers to is in fact a meeting with the part of our own mind that we have denied and projected outside ourselves so that we don’t have to accept responsibility for it. And so it is inevitable, and no accident, that we will meet that unhealed thought again (and again), projected onto a seemingly external relationship, until we realize that it is only ever ourselves that we need to learn to forgive. In other words, the other person is simply holding up a mirror for us that allows us to see the contents of our own mind reflected back at us (T.7.VII.3:9,10; T.24.VI.8; T.31.VII.8:4; W.pI.73.5:1; W.pII.304.1:3,4). Since the mind of the Son is one, it is inevitable that we will heal all our projections so that our holiness and oneness can dawn once again upon our mind -- "it is the destiny of all relationships to become holy"

With this view of the manual passage you cite in mind, let’s turn to the personal example you provide and consider an alternative way of thinking about how that relationship developed and how it can be healed. It is interesting that you have a sense that you and your friend are very similar, or at least perhaps felt that way when you first met. Since every external relationship must represent a split off part of ourselves, a sense of similarity is not at all unexpected, although we more often choose to focus on the differences rather than the similarities, a favorite ego device that provides the foundation for either special love or special hate (T.15.V.8:2,3,4; T.18.I.2).

Your experience then was that she changed and became hostile, which in turn caused you to become hostile. That of course is exactly how our egos would like us to perceive the shift to special hate, that our feelings are triggered and elicited by the other’s attacks. But the Course suggests a very different explanation -- that we would never react with anger and hostility to someone else’s hostility unless we believed the guilt within our own mind was real and were looking to defend against it by holding someone else responsible for our feelings of hurt and upset (T.27.VII.1,3,4,7). Another’s hostility can have no effect on us if we do not first believe we are guilty. Now most of us do believe we’re guilty, at least unconsciously -- guilty of attacking God and separating from love -- and so we experience others’ attacks as real and deserving of attack in return. But that is all just part of the insanity of the ego thought system

Your reaction, by the way, of trying to use the Course as a defense against her attacks is a natural one, but almost never helpful. The Course’s purpose is only to help us look within and see ourselves differently, after which we will see others differently. It is not intended as a method for changing someone else’s behavior towards us. So employing it for any purpose but healing our own perceptions will invariably serve the ego’s purpose of increasing conflict. If someone else is already identified with the ego, it is likely they will perceive a verbal defense based on the Course as crazy, even "mentally ill," as you learned in your dealings with your friend. In most situations, the words of the Course are best kept to yourself, as a guide and support to your own inner thinking, and not to be used as a tool for attempting to change anyone else’s perceptions.

Another common, related error students make with the Course is to see it as a guide for behavior rather than for thinking (T.4.IV.2:1; T.21.VII.7:8). Your observation that you blame the Course rather than your ego for the outcome of the relationship suggests you have fallen into that trap. Now this is not to say that there may not be valuable forgiveness lessons in your experience with your friend, but forgiveness lessons only ever present themselves after we have first turned to our egos for guidance. So long as we remain under the Holy Spirit’s direction, our egos will not be involved, there will be no anger or guilt, and no need for practicing forgiveness. Of course, this is the ideal that we are striving for, but it is likely to be our experience only intermittently as we progress over time with putting the Course’s principles into practice. Your own experience may have not been so conflict-filled and painful if you had been able to recognize from the beginning that all your reactions to your friend represented projections of your own guilt and really had nothing to do with her hostility towards you. Granted that is a very difficult lesson to learn, and not one that the ego will readily allow us to accept. Most of us will first try to "fight the good fight" before we become willing to look at and begin to deal with the consequences, and then perhaps ask if there is another way, as you are asking.

The final point to be made, which may perhaps be apparent from what we have discussed already, is that since the healing that the Course is attempting to bring about is a healing of the thoughts of guilt and anger within our own minds, which our external relationships only bring into our awareness, it is not necessary that your body and the body of your friend, in this lifetime or in any other lifetime, physically come together again, despite what the ego may teach (T.15.VII.8). Now it may seem easier to uncover that buried guilt in the "presence" of its projection onto an external relationship, but you can still continue to work on healing the relationship by looking at the guilt in your own mind with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, independent of what your friend chooses to do in relationship to you. If it really required the physical presence of someone else for healing to occur, then we would genuinely be at the mercy of others in our forgiveness process. But the Course makes it very clear that we are never the victim of the world we see (W.pI.31) and so, rest assured, any further healing awaits only your own willingness. It is even possible that some change with your friend at the level of form could follow your change of mind from judgment to forgiveness, but this would only ever be the effect of the inner shift, and never a cause or a prerequisite for it.

Q #796: As I learn to draw distinctions between the ego's voice, and that of the Holy Spirit, it actually becomes more difficult to view the ego without judgment -- that is, as a value-neutral illusory effect. The ego has intelligence. The ego has an agenda. It is desirous of and intent upon self-preservation, and as such -- a thinking, choosing, "intelligence" with an agenda for its own survival -- it is very difficult for me not to see it as an "entity". A pretty darn "non-neutral" entity. I can still choose against the ego, but I suspect that my ability to really "choose again" in the sense that Jesus calls us to, will be divested of the miracle if I am unable to "choose for forgiveness."

A: The ego is a thought. It is the name given to the thought of separation taken seriously, and it is the cause of the illusory world. When the mind chooses separation, the tremendous guilt that results is projected out, and does indeed seem to give the ego a life of its own as an entity, giving rise to the entire physical universe, which certainly seems real. This attests to the power of the mind to misuse its creative ability, rather than the power of the ego as an entity. The ego does not have any power of its own; it is merely the expression of the mind that chooses separation. This repeated choice of the mind sustains the "agenda" of the ego. In A Course in Miracles, Jesus clarifies for us the true characteristics of the seemingly "intelligent" ego, and gives us several good reasons not to take any judgments regarding the ego seriously: "…the ego knows nothing,…is nothing,…is incapable of understanding content,…makes no sense" ( T.8.II.1:9, T.11.II.7:6, T.14.X.8:1, T.9.III.3:3). Nothing it makes means anything, because it makes illusions (T.9.III.3:4, W.pII.332.1:1). We would accept these statements and dismiss the ego without another thought, but for our fear of identifying with the power of the mind that makes the ego’s nothingness seem powerful, intelligent, and substantial. Fear of the mind indeed makes the ego seem ominous. Thus, we do not understand the ego or the mind, and fear them both. Fortunately, we are not asked to make choices for or against what we do not understand, but rather to take small steps in the practice of forgiveness in our everyday lives.

The ego is divested of its seeming, autonomous existence as an entity by our remembering that the mind is the active agent, and is responsible for choosing. Recognizing the ego’s dynamics as the inevitable effect of the mind’s choice for separation is how to look at both the ego and its antics without judgment. This important principle is the foundation of the Course’s teaching of forgiveness. The mind must be recognized as the real source of every experience in the illusion, including the perception of the ego as a force to be reckoned with. It may be tempting to translate the old excuse to avoid responsibility: "the devil made me do it" to "the ego made me do it." However the power of the mind that gave rise to the ego in the first place, is thereby negated, the choice for separation is camouflaged, and hope for any real change is lost. What Jesus tells us toward the end of the text applies until the Atonement is complete: "What waits in perfect certainty beyond salvation is not our concern. For you have barely started to allow your first, uncertain steps to be directed up the ladder separation led you down. The miracle (forgiveness) alone is your concern at present" (T.28.III.1:1,2,3). A choice is made for forgiveness and against the ego each time we are willing to look at a relationship differently, by recognizing in it the judgments that reflect the mind’s choice for separation, instead of limiting our perception to what the eyes see. That is the miracle. And, as Jesus tells us, this is our only concern for now. Our hope lies in taking these small steps that will lead us to the final choice, and then back home to God.