Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 11/09/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #831 How can we see through the illusion from within the ego?
Q #832 How can we overcome fear of loss of self and identity?
Q #833 Does meditation assist with studying the Course ?
Q #834 Why is what I "have not been giving" what is lacking?

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Q #831: What aspect of our mind(s) truly understands "seeing through the illusion"? It is obvious we cannot see through the illusion from within the illusion. To say merely that we "see it with Jesus" implies another separation between subject and object; i.e., there's a "me" and a "Jesus." Can we use the duality to undo the duality? In a way, I think that is what the Course is "doing."

Still one is almost helpless in the face of the forces one faces here. We have continued, from a linear perspective for "millions of years," to actively delay our recognition of oneness, with an almost total underestimation of the extent of our denial. There was only one denial but it has taken a million billion forms. As a seeming individual who wants neither to be a victim nor a victimizer anymore, the dream itself still appears virtually to force an either/or orientation to any given situation. If there is "another way of seeing this," is there a corresponding symbolic shift in the world we still see, or is this just another delusion?

To learn A Course in Miracles and finally and totally "renounce the ego in oneself" appears to be a goal almost completely impossible, due to the duality inherent in the illusion, which seems to prevent the renunciation itself. Despite forgiving over and over again, I still get caught up and trapped in the illusions of the world. What would you recommend that may or may not be reflected in the Course to deal truthfully and effectively with this recurring nightmare, once and for all?

A: You are right in that, so long as our attention remains focused on the world and all its many challenges and complexities and limited either/or choices, there is no way out. But the Course does offer us something to help us extricate ourselves from this quagmire we have placed ourselves in -- it’s called a miracle. The miracle quite simply involves a shift in our attention from the world back to our mind. And rather than denying the world, the Course invites us to use the world itself to facilitate this shift. For the Course teaches that the world is nothing more than the projection of the contents of the mind. And at the level of mind, the choice is really quite simple - there are only two alternatives, the ego’s content of attack and guilt and fear, or the Holy Spirit’s content of love and joining and forgiveness. And we can tell quite easily which we have chosen by looking at how we are experiencing our world. Now this choice obviously is still within the realm of duality, but in the end we will come to recognize that there is after all no duality, for only one of the alternatives -- love -- is real.

We are not being asked to try to stop seeing duality, nor to recognize that duality is unreal and the world is an illusion. Nor is it our responsibility to try to see beyond the illusion of duality to oneness. The Course’s approach is an indirect one (T.14.I). Duality is not inherent in the world but in the split mind. The illusion can reinforce nothing unless we still want it to be true. We are being asked to look at all the ways we block any experience of oneness, which really boil down to one -- our judgments, which keep separation and differences real and alive in our mind. In other words, nothing must be done to achieve a state beyond duality except to become aware of our continuing investment in duality, and in particular, in the judgments that maintain it, and then to recognize that each of our judgments has a cost. Forgiveness is the Course’s process that allows us gradually to release our investment in duality and separation -- this investment is the real obstacle and not the world, which is its effect. And you are right that it is a mistake to underestimate the extent of our denial. But it is critical that we understand that we are not forgiving the world and all of our external relationships, but our own choice for the ego.

In other words, there is nothing that has to be done -- only undone. And so our part is to continue to look at and beyond all the obstacles we have placed in our minds between ourselves and the awareness of love’s presence. This does require patience, and while it is true that our belief in linear time can make this seem like a daunting process, that is why the Course invites us to use Jesus or the Holy Spirit to help us join in a holy instant outside of time.

The conundrum you feel is in a sense part of the problem, for it simply continues to reinforce in your own mind the density and reality of the illusory ego. We cannot imagine how we can possibly get out of this nightmare because we still think that we have to get out of it. And the point is that the very self that is trying so desperately to understand and let go is in itself the obstacle. The self that wants to understand is part of what must simply be looked at and smiled at and in the very end released.

There are steps in the process of coming to recognize the world, as well as the self we think we are, is illusory. Since we can’t imagine what it’s like not to get caught in the illusion, Jesus simply asks us to take the little steps that first allow us to begin to take the world and our problems and issues less seriously. This is the symbolic shift in how we see the world that you ask about, away from the oppositional roles of victim and victimizer. We begin with a change in the purpose that we give to the world and to our bodies, reflected in the recognition that our interests or purpose are shared with, not separate from, all our brothers and sisters. Acknowledging our one shared purpose begins us on the journey to recognizing our one shared Self.

In the meantime, yes, as you observe, Jesus and the Course are using duality to undo duality rather than maintain it. While we continue to believe we are separate, we need a thought within the illusion, even if it seems separate from us, that reminds us of oneness. So Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, symbolize the part of our mind "that truly understands ‘seeing through the illusion," as you put it. As Jesus tells us in many different ways through the Course, we must learn to separate from our ego. And so he uses the idea of duality or separation to help us begin the process of separating ourselves from the ego. Once we begin to release our investment and identification with the ego, our willingness to recognize its illusory nature will gradually increase and we will no longer need the defenses that the world and our bodies provide against experiencing the oneness that is our reality.

Consider the following examples in the Course of how Jesus uses the language of duality and separation to facilitate this process, giving the words another purpose (italics added):

"The reason you need my help is because you have denied your own Guide and therefore need guidance. My role is to separate the true from the false, so truth can break through the barriers the ego has set up and can shine into your mind. Against our united strength the ego cannot prevail" (T.4.III.2:4,5,6).

"You have regarded the separation as a means for breaking your communication with your Father. The Holy Spirit reinterprets it as a means of re-establishing what was not broken, but has been made obscure. All things you made have use to Him, for His most holy purpose. He knows you are not separate from God, but He perceives much in your mind that lets you think you are. All this and nothing else would He separate from you. The power of decision, which you made in place of the power of creation, He would teach you how to use on your behalf. You who made it to crucify yourself must learn of Him how to apply it to the holy cause of restoration" (T.14.VI.5).

"He [the Holy Spirit] will separate out all that has meaning, dropping off the rest and offering your true communication to those who would communicate as truly with you" (T.14.VI.7:4).

"It is the body that is outside us, and is not our concern. ...To see our Self as separate from the body is to end the attack on God's plan for salvation, and to accept it instead" (W.72.9:2,5).

We are simply asked to trust a process that will gradually lift us out of the dualistic quagmire we have made real in our minds. But while we remain too fearful to let go of duality, Jesus simply uses the dualistic symbols of separation to undo our belief in separation. And he promises us release from the pain of our self-imposed conceptual prison if we allow him to guide our perception, as we look with him.

Q #832: There are many questions in the index regarding the loss of individuality/identity. I think what people are wanting to hear is that even though they no longer exist as an individual, they still exist. I had a dream in which I was waiting in line at the motor vehicle bureau to get my driver's license renewed. I was idly looking around at the crowd of people waiting along with me, at the officials behind the windows, etc. Suddenly I became aware that the air was charged and as I looked at people’s faces it dawned on me that we were all the same, one person, although we all still had different physical features. My sense of identity, even though I was no longer just me, did not diminish. It expanded--it felt completely safe, completely full, because there was no sense of separateness. But there was still a sense of being.

My question is this: Is this sense of oneness of being, but still of being, what is meant by giving up one's separate ego identity? If it is, I can say that there is nothing to lose... because we have only one Identity, and it belongs to all of us. We lose nothing by sharing in it.

Does it follow then that only the ego can fear loss, because only it equates being with having, and with having a body? So that when you have a fear of loss of your identity, it's just the ego panicking in its dualism, and in truth, you have nothing to lose? You cannot in fact lose your identity, because you exist, just not as the person you think you are?

A: You can think of your dream as a helpful symbol reflecting the oneness of spirit. It is of course difficult for us to understand what it means to be spirit while bodily thoughts so dominate our awareness, but then that of course is their purpose. They are there only by our choice, to affirm a false identity and deny our true Identity. And so symbols such as your dream give a reassuring glimpse of the reality beyond the illusion.

Yes, only the ego can fear loss, because it is the belief that loss is possible and it is in fact the desire for loss. For the ego originated from the belief in separation, that we can take only what we want from God -- our separate, individual self -- and not accept the All that He is offering us. And that is a choice for limitation, which is loss -- loss of the All that we have excluded from our individual self. It is in Heaven that having and being are equated, for there is no difference between them (T.4.VII.5:7). In contrast, the ego asserts that we have only what we have taken -- a dynamic spelled out clearly in the fourth law of chaos (T.23.II.9) -- as if there were someone other than ourselves that we can take from. And so, ironically, the ending of limitation, which is really an expansion of our awareness, is experienced as loss of self so long as we remain identified with the ego. And it is not simply the body, but the personality and all the many ways in which we define ourselves as different and special and unique that are part of the false self we release when we identify with our true Self.

If you consider the underlying nature of your dream, you can see that it is really no different from any other dream, except that you had an experience, much like a lucid dreamer, of what was really going on, incorporated into the dream itself. For in our dreams, all the characters are us -- it is our sleeping mind that is dreaming all of them and giving them their seeming existence. But there is only one dream and one dreamer. And the self you thought you were in the dream was as much a figment of your mind as all the other characters in the dream. So it’s not the figures in the dream that are one and share a single identity, but the mind that is asleep and dreaming of all the figures that is one and has a single identity. And when we awaken, nothing is lost and nothing real is taken away.

And so it is with our waking dreams, as Jesus refers to our lives (T.18.II.5). All of the seeming separate individuals that seem to people this dream world, including the one we identify as ourselves, are really the projections of the single, sleeping mind of the Son, of which we are all a part. And so it is not the self that we think we are in the world that awakens, but rather the mind that is asleep and dreaming it is a figure in the world. And yes, its being does not depend on having a body.

In your question, you seem to use the words existing and being interchangeably. In a couple of sections in the text of A Course in Miracles, Jesus makes a distinction between the words, with existence pertaining to the ego and being to spirit:

"The ego arose from the separation, and its continued existence depends on your continuing belief in the separation. The ego must offer you some sort of reward for maintaining this belief. All it can offer is a sense of temporary existence, which begins with its own beginning and ends with its own ending. It tells you this life is your existence because it is its own. Against this sense of temporary existence spirit offers you the knowledge of permanence and unshakable being. ... Existence as well as being rest on communication. Existence, however, is specific in how, what and with whom communication is judged to be worth undertaking. Being is completely without these distinctions. It is a state in which the mind is in communication with everything that is real. ...Remember that in the Kingdom there is no difference between having and being, as there is in existence. In the state of being the mind gives everything always (T.4.III.3:2,3,4,5,6; T.4.VII.4:1,2,3,4; 5:7,8).

In other words, our true being is always unaffected, but when we awaken, we will not seem to continue to exist as we experience ourselves now. Your dream, while not representing being, nevertheless reflects a helpful bridge between the two experiences, one illusory and one real. For it still is experienced in the realm of consciousness, which is an ego state, and an experience of being is beyond all dualistic consciousness. (For more on the ego nature of consciousness, see Questions #27, #127, and #636.)

Q #833: I have begun the lessons in A Course in Miracles. My question is, is it good to do any kind of meditation during this time when I am doing the Course? Last week I went to a meditation group, and since then I have had a pain in my back, like having a knife inside my body. How can I bring the pain to the Holy Spirit, or is there something else I should do or not do? Does the Course bring me automatically into the present to stay all the time mindless? Sometimes I feel like something from outside of me --it feels like a bad energy -- is coming inside my body. In these moments, fear always comes up in my mind. Is this normal? In these moments also, a person comes into my mind whom I want to blame for these attacks. What should I do in these moments to be still and practice forgiveness?

A: It is enough to know that the ego is always ready to do battle any time we make the decision to find peace, using whatever forms it can to distract us from our purpose. These can include bodily symptoms and pain, energetic shifts and fear, and thoughts of anger and blame, as you are experiencing. All of these are not uncommon and are normal reactions of anyone still identified with the ego -- which includes just about all of us! Once we recognize where the distractions must be coming from, all we need to do then is to acknowledge that the ego is their source and, as best we can, not become too concerned about the forms of its various attacks. We are simply afraid of the peace and it will not be helpful to try to fight ourselves, for that only gives power to our egos. And the Course’s purpose is to help us learn how to withdraw that power from the ego -- of itself it has none (e.g., T.4.IV.8:9; T.7.VIII.4:6; T.8.I.2:1).

As for practicing meditation while doing the workbook lessons, there is nothing wrong with doing that if you find it helpful. But there is also no need for any specific meditation practice other than the meditation-like exercises presented in the workbook lessons themselves. The Course’s practice is forgiveness -- releasing judgments in the context of our relationships -- and not meditation (T.18.VII.4:9,10,11;5:1,2,3). The workbook’s meditative-like exercises are provided simply to help us become more aware of the two different contents present in our mind -- the ego’s and the Holy Spirit’s -- so that we can become clearer just what the Course is inviting us to choose between as we learn to practice forgiveness (W.in.3:1;4:1).

The Course itself does not automatically do anything for us -- nor does Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Each is a symbol that reminds us of the choice that only we can make to release the ego’s past and bring our mind into the peace of the present instant (T.5.II.7:1,2,3,4,5,6,7). This present state, by the way, would not be called mindlessness in the Course, for mind has a different meaning in the Course from other spiritual teachings that equate the ego with finite mind and its constant idle chatter. The Course in contrast uses mind (with a lower case m, since Mind with an upper case M refers to God or Christ [C.1.1:2]) to refer to all the capacities of the split mind, including consciousness, perception and decision-making or choice (T.3.IV.2). From the Course’s perspective, we are mindless when we are identified with the ego, for we believe all of our problems come from our body and the world around us, rather than from our choice to identify with the ego in our mind. And so we forget that we have and are a mind that has a choice about how to look at our experiences and begin to choose against the false perceptions of the ego in our wrong mind, allowing them to be replaced in our consciousness by the gentle and healing perceptions of the Holy Spirit in our right mind.

So be kind to yourself as you proceed with your study and practice of the Course. The process can be a very simple as well as gentle one, if we don’t try to force anything and simply learn to step back and watch the silliness of our ego as it attempts to convince us to continue to take ourselves and our lives seriously. As we are able to disengage our mind from the ego’s endless strivings and manipulations, we will find ourselves smiling more of the time (W.pI.155.1:1,2,3), if only in our minds.

Q #834: The idea presented in A Course in Miracles that "Only what you have not been giving can be lacking in any situation" (T.17.VII.4:1) is something that I am very resistant to. I feel that I am not getting the proper respect I deserve from certain people. Is the Course saying that at some level I am not giving them proper respect? I feel that I am! I feel that I have been overly respectful in content and form and some people are still disrespectful back. Can you explain the meaning of this phrase?

A: The passage you quote is understood in the light of one of the Course’s fundamental principles of salvation: "…giving and receiving are the same"(T.26.I.3:6). This rests on the fact that all minds are joined (T15.XI.7:1), and therefore everyone is included in the individual mind’s choice to receive, and thereby give, the ego’s message or the Holy Spirit’s. These are the only two thoughts the mind can choose between. Only one of them can be held/received at one time, and only what the mind holds can be given. Allied with the ego and driven by the emptiness it fosters, we will not give or receive true respect in any relationship, because the love that the Holy Spirit brings will be lacking, no matter how seemingly respectful the behavior may appear to be.

Choosing to listen to the ego’s tale of separation means denying one’s true Identity, and is an attack on the Sonship. The result is a profound feeling of lack. Special relationships with people and things are then sought to fill the void left by separation. A multitude of specialness needs are brought to these relationships: e.g., the need for respect, acceptance, recognition. Relating to others in order to have individual needs met is truly a lack of respect, even when the behavior is courteous and seemingly "respectful," because its origin is the attack thought in the mind. The respect that is not being given is thus lacking, as the line you quote indicates.

The mind receives the respect it deserves when it chooses the Holy Spirit. In the moment that His Love is received it is given to the entire Sonship, just as the separation attack included everyone. Only then will there be no need to seek respect or anything else from others, for nothing will be lacking. In fact, any show of disrespect will be perceived as a call for love (T.14.X.7). If someone’s behavior evokes any other response or reaction, it means the mind has decided to put out receivers for the ego’s message. The only thing that will correct the judgments and feelings that follow this decision is to decide differently. That is accomplished through forgiveness, which begins with acknowledging that the feeling of being treated unfairly/disrespectfully comes from a choice in the mind, not someone else’s behavior. The ego’s message was received and given because it was chosen. The Holy Spirit’s Love is therefore lacking. The true respect we owe ourselves and everyone is to recognize that the source of one’s feeling deprived of respect, and the other’s attack of disprespect, is the mind of each, and then to see in both a call for help. As Jesus tells us in the text: "I have emphasized that the miracle [forgiveness], or the expression of Atonement, is always a sign of respect from the worthy to the worthy" (T.2.VI.8:1). Choosing respect in this way guarantees that what is received is given, and nothing will be lacking in any part of the Sonship. Awareness of this fullness may be blocked, but it nevertheless remains true.

That is not to say that someone could not be kindly asked to discontinue some form of discourteous or disrespectful behavior. If guided by the Holy Spirit there would be no attack in the request, no judgment, and, most importantly, no expectation that the behavior change. The important thing to remember is that the respect we all seek is found in our minds, where we choose it by choosing the Holy Spirit instead of the ego. In the instant of choosing it, it is given to ourselves and everyone: Its [forgiveness’] offering is universal, and it teaches but one message: What is God's belongs to everyone, and is his due" (T.25.IX.10:9,10).