Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/29/2003

This week's questions:

Q #70: A question about beauty in art and nature.
Q #71: A question about feeling victimized in relationships.
Q #72: A question about God's "plan".
Q #73: A question about deciding against pain.
Q #74  A question about our preoccupations.

Q #70: What we see and experience are the forms of the mortal mind. Is it right to think about forms of beauty in nature and art and all lovable things, as the underlying content of divine Mind?

A: A Course in Miracles actually teaches something different. There is nothing in the world of form that comes from the divine Mind, including the underlying content. This is the strict nondualism that is the core of the metaphysics of the Course. It is uncompromising on this level. The extension of God’s Love -- known in the Course as creations -- has no equivalent in the world. Therefore, to the extent to which we are identified with the world of form, we would not be able to understand what these creations are.

The world of form and everything we see and experience -- whether beautiful or grotesque, lovable or repulsive -- comes from the split mind, the post-separation mind that seems to have broken away from its oneness as a Thought in the Mind of God. This, of course, is all illusory, and is why the very first lesson in the workbook is "Nothing I see…means anything" and is followed by "I have given everything…all the meaning it has for me."

The focus of the teachings and exercises in the Course is the mind rather than the outside world. The training is geared towards having us recognize that our perceptions are directly caused by the choice we make in our minds to identify either with the ego (our wrong mind) or the Holy Spirit (our right mind). Thus, we are taught that the world "is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition" (T.21.in.1:5). This means that if we have chosen the Holy Spirit’s thought system of forgiveness to direct our thinking, this will be the content of all our perceptions. Then anything at all could be a source of inspiration to us and remind us of the truth and beauty of God. But this would not be because of some quality inherent in the form itself. A work of art or a beautiful scene in nature could inspire us and lift us out of our finite world only because a choice has already been made in our minds to let go of our investment in seeing separation and limitation as reality. The content of the divine Mind is pure Love, pure oneness, pure formlessness. Within the illusion, within the dream, we can experience the reflection of this in our minds, but again only because we have first denied the denial of truth, which removes the barriers to the awareness of the love that is always present in our minds.

The key is to regard everything we perceive as a symbol of either the Holy Spirit or the ego, remembering "that neither sign nor symbol should be confused with source, for they must stand for something other than themselves" (T.19.C.11:2).

Q #71: I have a "pattern" of what seems to happen to me in relationships. I keep seeing the situations end up with me being alone and feeling like something has been taken away from me and that the other person has something I want and need. They get it and I don’t.

I have been trying to ask for help in every way I can imagine. I end up seeing my Teacher as torturing me and I am afraid of Him. Lately I have been asking for all the things I want for myself for these other people. It seems to bring some relief but the underlying thought of my Teacher torturing me is still there. How do I trust someone that is torturing me?

A: It appears that the situation you describe in your relationships is one of being victimized by your partner, a situation that you have projected on to your Teacher. Since you capitalize "Teacher" and "Him" you must be referring to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It may be helpful to make this assumption in answering your question. The Course tells us that while our minds are not healed all our relationships are marked with the victim/victimizer theme. This takes the form of feeling needy, unfairly treated and deprived. We blame others for causing our sense of scarcity. The Course invites us to see the real cause of this so it can be "undone". The real cause of feeling deprived is that we have denied our true identity and taken on an identity as separated individuals, being on our own apart from God. The guilt we feel for having made this choice to identify with the ego is too much to bear, so we project it onto others, including Jesus. We blame them for treating us unfairly. We are then caught in a vicious circle because the guilt is not undone by projecting it. It stays in the mind impelling us to continually find situations and people to project it onto. That is why you notice a pattern in your relationships. We do the same thing over and over hoping for different results. The Course asks us to accept responsibility for the choice we have made. This is the process of undoing that is the real solution to our predicament. Although we may still perceive our partners or Jesus as causing our feelings of victimization, there is a part of our mind that now knows that the feeling comes from within and not outside ourselves. This does dissipate some of the feeling and is the beginning step of the forgiveness process. This is what the Course means when it says "Be willing to forgive the Son of God for what he did not do" (T.17.III.1:5). Since we project the same feelings onto Jesus, He is obviously included in the forgiveness process as well.

There is another reason why it is normal for students of the Course to feel victimized by Jesus. The ego recognizes that by following His teaching in the Course the underpinnings of its thought system are being pulled out from under it and eventually our identification with it will be relinquished. This can indeed be experienced in a mild form as having something taken away, or in the extreme as "being tortured." The Manual describes this process: "First, they must go through what might be called a period of undoing. This need not be painful, but it usually is so experienced. It seems as if things are being taken away, and it is rarely understood initially that their lack of value is merely being recognized" (M.4.I.A.3:1,2,3). The very title of this section, "The Development of Trust," indicates that we are starting from a place of not trusting to be led through a process of developing trust. Our learning process with Jesus as our teacher may be viewed as similar to the healing relationship with a doctor or dentist. When we see a doctor or dentist we know that their help may seem to hurt us but they will treat our illness and eventually we will feel better. In this sense Jesus is our "doctor"; he is a teacher who is teaching us a new thought system to heal our sick minds. It seems to hurt because we are so confused and lost in our misperceptions about everything and we are attached to the thoughts of the ego that have actually made our minds sick and in need of healing. It may help to try to relate to Jesus as you would to a kind and loving doctor who is helping in the gentlest way possible. Just as the dentist or doctor would not take groans or complaining personally, neither does Jesus. In fact he expects that we have grievances against him and knows that we are just learning to trust him: "Forgive me, then, today. And you will know you have forgiven me if you behold your brother in the light of holiness. He cannot be less holy than can I, and you can not be holier than he" (W.pII.288.2:1,2,3). Our forgiveness then includes Jesus and all of our brothers. It is the answer to our problem of separation and our feelings of deprivation. In the process it is important not to deny the negative feelings towards Jesus, but not to think they have any effect on his love or his ability to help in spite of our fear or lack of trust. The fact that you ask for help must mean that on some level you do trust him and you do know he can help you.

As we learn to see the ego dynamics at work in our relationships and understand their purpose, we learn to be willing to take responsibility for the way we feel and no longer believe the ego’s interpretation or projection. It then becomes easier to accept that Jesus is not the cause of our dilemma; rather he is offering us a way out of hell through the teaching of the Course. He is not forcing us or rushing us, but nudges us gently along the path from the ego’s dream of darkness to the light of his love: "How can you wake children in a more kindly way than by a gentle Voice that will not frighten them, but will merely remind them that the night is over and the light has come? You do not inform them that the nightmares that frightened them so badly are not real, because children believe in magic. You merely reassure them that they are safe now. Then you train them to recognize the difference between sleeping and waking, so they will understand they need not be afraid of dreams. And so when bad dreams come, they will themselves call on the light to dispel them" (T.6.V.2).

Q #72: The Course references "God's plan" in several places: "We will accept the way God's plan will end, as we received the way it started." (W.pII.in.10:6). Further in the workbook at the introduction to Section 10 it also states: "God's Final Judgment is as merciful as every step in His appointed plan to bless His Son, and call him to return to the eternal peace He shares with him. Be not afraid of love. For it alone can heal all sorrow, wipe away all tears, and gently waken from his dream of pain the Son whom God acknowledges as His." (W.pII.10.4:1.2.3). This seems to be in conflict with the claim that God is unaware of the physical world. So, why would God need a plan? It would appear from this that God is aware that His Son is sleeping. If not, how can it be so that God would have a plan to "call him to return" and to "gently waken from his dream of pain" if God is not aware of this need for His Son Whom according to Truth is not sleeping and therefore has no need in Truth to return to the Father? If as the Course states the physical world is an illusion and God is not aware of the illusion what is the need of a plan to awaken the Son? Do these passages not infer that God is in fact aware of that which is not real?

A: Your question is a very good one. One of the challenging but essential things to understand about the Course is how it uses language. If you can remember that the Course has come only as a correction for the thought of separation -- which is very real in our experience -- and so must use the symbols of separation to bring about the correction (T.25.I.7:4), everything will begin to become clearer. The ego’s myth of separation, which we at a deep unconscious level believe, spins a wild tale of attack and counterattack between the Son and the Father, with the Father in the end seeking to destroy the Son for his malicious attempt to usurp the Father’s position of superiority in the Kingdom (e.g., M.17.7). That this story is widely accepted is evident in Christianity’s foundational belief that God’s plan for our salvation requires His one and only Son to suffer and die an ignominious death in order to atone for our grievous offense against Him, a sin so heinous we ourselves are completely incapable of atoning for it. And Christianity’s basic premise is only one specific expression of the ego’s underlying myth, predicated on the reality of separation and sin. Parallels can be seen in the other formal religions of the world that emphasize the need for and value of suffering and sacrifice in approaching God.

The Course comes as a correction for the ego’s false story, but it would hardly be helpful if the correction were nothing more than a statement that none of this is real, since we are convinced otherwise and are still desperately clinging to this sinful self that we believe the separation has made real. And so the Course tells a different story, a story of a loving Father whose plan for our salvation -- our happy return to Him -- has not a single element of violence or revenge in it, nor exacts any sacrifice or pain from His children. This corrective story of God’s plan for our salvation uses the same dualistic symbols of separation as the ego’s story, but as a metaphorical rendering rather than a literal account. And so the symbols are infused with a completely different content that reflects the unified Love of Heaven rather than the fragmenting hatred of the ego. The purpose of the Course’s correction is to begin to undo some of the guilt and fear that we have made real in our minds so that we can begin to approach the part of our mind where the Holy Spirit -- the Correction -- resides (even this is metaphorical) as a reflection of the unity and wholeness of our true reality as Christ. (The tape set, Duality as Metaphor, provides a much more extended treatment of this whole issue.)

Q #73: Why should I decide against pain?

A: Because it hurts, and because not to decide against pain keeps us in hell. However, there is really no obligation to decide against pain. As long as pain is tolerable, denied, or temporarily assuaged, it is conceivable that no decision against it will be made. The physical, emotional, and psychological pain experienced in the body is a reflection of the pain in the mind, which is the result of denying our identity as God’s one Son by choosing to separate from Him. Pain, therefore, is the condition of the separated Son: "Pain is the thought of evil taking form, and working havoc in your holy mind. Pain is the ransom you have gladly paid not to be free. In pain is God denied the Son He loves. In pain does fear appear to triumph over love, and time replace eternity and Heaven. And the world becomes a cruel and a bitter place, where sorrow rules and little joys give way before the onslaught of the savage pain that waits to end all joy in misery" (W.p.I.190.8). Why then would we want it?

Since we have found numerous ways to adapt to the very painful experience of denying our true Self, and identifying with the ego, our pain often goes unrecognized. This adjustment to pain is compounded by our confusing pain and joy, as the Course tells us: "You no more recognize what is painful than you know what is joyful, and are, in fact, very apt to confuse the two. The Holy Spirit's main function is to teach you to tell them apart. What is joyful to you is painful to the ego, and as long as you are in doubt about what you are, you will be confused about joy and pain" (T.7.X.3:4,5,6). It is when the true depth and searing pain of the ego’s thought system is recognized, and becomes intolerable, that steps are taken to decide against it. This is the goal of the Course. Until then, tremendous energy, time, and money are spent in making accommodations to live with the pain of being in this world.

The decision against pain is inevitable, because the decision for God is inevitable. We could paraphrase a very familiar line in the Introduction to the Text: "It is a required decision. Only the time you make it is voluntary" (T.in.1:2,3; italics added). From the moment of birth we seek to alleviate or avoid pain. This is a drive natural to physical bodies. Unless some specific pathology exists, we naturally seek relief from every imaginable physical, psychological, and emotional discomfort, whether we do so consciously or unconsciously. The Holy Spirit makes use of this natural aversion to pain to lead us gently to make another choice, which will end our pain and lead us out of hell. When we have had enough of the pain in our psyches caused by our destructive ego choices, we will be willing to accept His help and find the relief forgiveness offers: "Do you not then begin to understand what forgiveness will do for you? It will remove all sense of weakness, strain and fatigue from your mind. It will take away all fear and guilt and pain. It will restore the invulnerability and power God gave His Son to your awareness" (W.pI.62.3:2,3,4,5). Being without weakness, strain, fatigue, fear, and guilt would seem to be a convincing enough reason to decide against pain, not to mention the peace that will replace it, whenever we are ready to accept it.

Q #74: I read in Absence from Felicity about how Helen used shopping as a defense against Jesus. It almost totally preoccupied her, and succeeded in keeping Jesus safely away from her attention. My work and commitments are doing the same for me. Although I never thought I was using them as a defense -- only being normal. Can this be avoided?

A: A major focus of the teaching and training of the Course is to get us to think in terms of purpose. "What do I want to come of this? What is it for?" (T.17.VI.2:1.2); "The test of everything on earth is simply this; ‘What is it for?’ The answer makes it what it is for you. It has no meaning of itself, yet you can give reality to it, according to the purpose that you serve" (T.24.VII.6:1.2.3). There are only two purposes that are open to choice in our minds. Either we have chosen to reinforce our belief in separation or to undo this belief, and there is never an instant when we are not making this choice. Another way of stating this is that we are always choosing either to push the love of Jesus away, or join to with it. This means that it is never the activity that we are engaged in that is the problem or the reason we are not peaceful, it is the choice we are making to use the activity to keep us separate or in conflict, etc.

The Course teaches that we made the world to be a distraction and a smokescreen, so that we would forget entirely that we have a mind that at every instant is choosing to identify with the ego’s or with the Holy Spirit’s thought system. We become preoccupied with our work, our families, etc., never realizing the underlying purpose that has been chosen in our minds. We justify our immersion in our lives in the world by saying, "Everyone does that" or "It’s normal." But it is all very purposeful, as reflected in this statement: "Every special relationship you have made has, as its fundamental purpose, the aim of occupying your mind so completely that you will not hear the call for truth" (T.17.IV.3:3). We, of course, are not aware that this is going on, which is why the Course is so helpful.

In view of this, your question regarding how to avoid using work, or anything else, as a defense against the love of Jesus in a sense is the wrong question, or focus. As the above quote indicates, that is the very purpose of our being in the world with all of our obligations and commitments -- to be preoccupied with what is outside our minds so that we will forget entirely that we have a mind that is choosing at every instant. In that sense, then, we can’t avoid using the world as a defense, because that is why we are here! So what would help you most is simply to be honest about this as your underlying intention in being busy. The purpose is not what you think, just as Jesus informs us in Lesson 5 that we are never upset for the reason we think. Helen knew this clearly. She knew that her shopping was a way of keeping Jesus away. If you can be clear about that, the problem will not be worsened by guilt over the dishonesty. Being afraid to get close to love is not sinful, therefore, shame and guilt are not justified. Fear is not a sin, and it has no effect on Jesus’ love for you. When Helen knew she was ready to accept Jesus’ love, her experience was that he told her she didn’t have to go shopping anymore, and there was no sense of sacrifice. She was always clear about the purpose of what she was doing. That is what we all need to aim for. We are never busy for the reason we think!

The correction comes when we first recognize the purpose we have chosen in our wrong minds, and then ask Jesus or the Holy Spirit to help us shift our purpose so that we would use everything as a means of undoing the separation and seeing our interests as shared with everyone else’s rather than in conflict with them. The challenge is learning how to do both -- how to be aware of what is going on in our minds and at the same time conscientiously fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities in the world to the best of our ability. It is possible to do this, but it takes a great deal of practice. That is what the exercises in the workbook are designed to do. We learn how to function in the world effectively, while learning that we are not of the world.

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