Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 11/16/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #835 How can I forgive someone who attacks my child?
Q #836 Can the Course be construed as escapism?

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Q #835: Forgiveness comes relatively easily to me when it involves the interaction of myself and another, but I am having difficulty in forgiving attacks against a child of 14. My ability to forgive my husband for attacks levied against my son (his step-son) has been only partially successful, as they recur even when I believe I have done my best to appeal to the Holy Spirit to let me see the situation differently. How can I change?

A: Perceiving another as unfairly treated is the same as perceiving oneself unfairly treated. It is the projection of guilt for attacking the Self by denying Its true Identity as God's Son, and choosing identity with the ego instead. In the ego's version of who we are (separate bodies), everyone in every relationship is projecting, attacking and defending. That is how the “game of guilt” (T.26.X.4:7) is played, and in it everyone loses. What is lost originally is the awareness of innocence in the mind. This is then experienced in the world as the loss of peace, which seems to be caused by the attacks of one person upon another. It does not matter who is perceived as victim or victimizer, the result is the same: identity with the body is established, defended and maintained. This in turn serves to keep belief in the reality of the separation alive. The first step in changing the perception of victimization is to acknowledge that this is, in fact, the dynamic that is in operation, regardless of the judgments and feelings you may have about the situation, or what the circumstances may be. The judgments and feelings are not denied, but their true source (beliefs held in the mind) must be acknowledged for change to occur.

An important goal of A Course in Miracles is to teach us that everyone has a mind (including children), and that attack against oneself occurs in the mind when the ego is chosen. Recognition that the mind is the source of guilt for choosing the ego, which is then projected on to someone else, is already a change in the way one views the situation. A little willingness to recognize projection in operation is enough to begin the process of forgiveness, which is the only meaningful change. It is willingness to forgive your husband “for what he did not do” (T.17.III.1:5) . He has attacked your son, but he has not taken away his peace or yours. That can only be done by each one's choice in the mind. When this is understood, it becomes clear that forgiveness is total, applying equally to your husband, your son, and others.

When an attack occurs, the Holy Spirit can help if we are willing to recognize that we have already judged the situation and that we are wrong in our interpretation. Only then can the Holy Spirit replace our perception with His. Any belief that the attack has had a real effect blocks the Holy Spirit's message, because a decision has already been made to listen to the ego which tells us the body is real and that attacks external to the mind are the source of pain and conflict. In lesson 24 of the workbook, we find a way to clear the ego's static by generalizing its message to all relationships. Slightly paraphrased it tells us: “We do not perceive anyone's best interests” (W.pI.24). We must therefore question all the expectations we bring to relationships, and all the things we think bring happiness and well being to others. They are all based on the belief that we are bodies. If we are at least willing to introduce doubt in this belief system, the door opens to receiving the Holy Spirit's perception of a situation that seems to have only the interpretation the ego assigns to it. In the Course, Jesus teaches that in all relationships everyone acts out the same choice, the same guilt, and the same fear. That is what relationships are for, it is what we came to the world to do, and what the Holy Spirit needs us to see so He can reinterpret them for us. Although the attacks may not stop, the way they are perceived will change with the Holy Spirit's help.

It is always difficult to see loved ones attacked. The choice to invite the Holy Spirit's light into the conflict will ease the burden of trying to fix it, and His peace will gradually ease the pain and tension. There could not be any greater comfort than the acknowledgment that the body is not our true identity, and that attack need not abolish peace. Whether or not your husband's behavior changes, on some level the peace that you experience as a result of accepting the Holy Spirit's definition of who we are and His interpretation of attack will be communicated to him as well as to your son. One of you will have chosen sanity by choosing the Holy Spirit/the right mind. You, your husband, and your son will thus know (again, on some level not necessarily consciously) that the original attack of believing in the separation has had no real effect. With this mindfulness, whatever you choose to do to help your husband and your son, your peace will be your comfort and theirs.

Q #836: Though a longtime Course student, I am asking the following question from a “normal” or “worldly”' perspective -- finding it useful to step outside of the Course, and its own internal assumptions. It has sometimes been suggested that the Course's message -- that the world we seem to inhabit is not actually real -- will appeal particularly to individuals who happen not to be happy in their relationship with the world. Stating this in an extreme way, for the purpose of clarifying what is meant, there could be seen to be some similarity with suicidal thinking, in terms of the wish for escape.

Conversely, it might be the case that individuals who have a healthier psychological relationship with the world will be less drawn to A Course in Miracles , as its suggestions of escape are of little interest to them. The Course might thus be viewed as an unhelpful, even damaging, affirmation of the reality-avoiding thoughts of unhappy people. How would you answer such a criticism “from the outside”?

A: In attempting to step outside of what you refer to as the Course's internal assumptions, you may be getting yourself tangled in some faulty assumptions that could trip you up in some perhaps not so helpful ways! Probably the most questionable assumption is that the Course's purpose is to provide an escape from the world, which would therefore make it especially appealing to those who are quite miserable and, in the extreme, considering suicide. That is a misreading of the Course's intent, which in turn reinforces one of the ego's cherished defenses -- that the world outside is the problem. Although occasionally the words of the Course may on a superficial reading seem to suggest it -- for example, Workbook Lesson 23, “I can escape from the world I see by giving up attack thoughts” -- the Course's purpose is not to help us escape from the world, for the world is not the problem, as the text of this lesson makes quite clear (W.pI.23.2; 4:2,3) . And so anyone drawn to the Course, thinking and hoping it will provide an escape from the world and all its problems, will be sorely disappointed. The Course also makes it clear that death -- and this is true no matter what form it seems to take, including suicide -- offers no peace or escape ( e.g., T.3.VII.6:11; T.27.VII.10:2; M.20.5) .

Yes, the Course does teach that the world is not real ( e.g., W.pII.3:1) . But if the world is not real, why would we need to escape it? The belief that escape is necessary only reinforces the belief that the world is real and is the problem, that it is something that needs to be escaped. It may be more accurate to say that the Course teaches us how to escape from the ego thought system that is the source of the world. But even that is not quite right. Rather the Course teaches us how to escape from our belief in and desire for the ego thought system, since the ego thought system itself is no more real and no more of a problem than its shadow -- the world.

The Course addresses a pivotal question: if the world is not real and can not victimize us, why do we believe that it is real and that it can hurt us and cause us unhappiness? And to accept the Course's answer to that question requires an honest self-evaluation that most of us are not yet willing to engage in, and certainly not anyone who is seeking simply to escape from the pain and suffering of the world. Believing that the world is real serves a very specific and deliberate purpose in the ego thought system -- it is the smokescreen that keeps our attention rooted outside on the seeming externals of the world so that we never look at the thoughts of separation, sin and guilt within our own mind that are the real cause of our pain and suffering (e.g., W.pII.3:2,3) . And so we conveniently believe that sin and guilt exist outside us in the world -- in others and not in ourselves, thereby keeping us from ever examining our own thoughts and thus protecting the fragile ego and all its (our!) cherished beliefs.

And so the Course does not ask us to deny the ego's effects -- the body and the world -- for we still find safety and comfort and our personal identity in those beliefs. Instead the Course teaches us how to use our body and the world for a different purpose -- the Holy Spirit's rather than the ego's ( e.g., W.pII.3:4) . Again, we joined with the ego in making the world to prove to ourselves that the separation is real, along with its effects of attack and sin and guilt, so that the world, rather than our choice for separation, would seem to be the cause of all of our unhappiness. And so the Holy Spirit teaches us how to use our body and the world to uncover those thoughts buried in our minds and eventually to learn how to demonstrate that the ego and the world can have no effect on us unless we want them to. In other words, the world and the body are transformed from prison house to classroom, where we can learn the Holy Spirit's gentle lessons of forgiveness.

Rather than suggesting that we can ignore the world because its not real, the Course teaches us to look very carefully at the world and our reactions to it so that we can get in touch with the buried contents of our split mind. And of course, once we can look at and beyond our belief in sin and guilt in the wrong mind, we will find the peace and the memory of God's Love that is reflected in the right mind. But we cannot get to that happiness and joy without first allowing the contents of the wrong mind to be undone. And that means getting in touch with our unhappy thoughts, which we do by looking honestly at their projections onto the screen of the world and all our painful and difficult relationships. This is no mindless denial or escape and in fact most people have great resistance to this looking process, not because there really is anything horrible there, but because we believe there is.

Now it is true that the Course will have appeal to many who are not particularly happy in their relationship with the world. Most people do not seek another way if they are content with the road they are already traveling along. However, most people who are drawn to the Course, at least initially, are looking for a spiritual path that will make their experience in the world and their relationships in the world better, and perhaps make the world itself a better place. In other words, most Course students are not looking to escape from the world but rather to make it work better for them in meeting their specialness needs. And of course, as students progress in their understanding of the Course's teaching, they struggle with their growing realization that the Course does not offer this kind of help. Rather, it is attempting to help us recognize how unhappy we really are so that we will be willing to choose, not against the world, but against the ego thought system. Since the problem is our belief in and desire for the ego thought system, the Holy Spirit's task is to help us become clearer about the ego's expressions and costs, so that we will gladly allow our desire for and belief in it to diminish (T.14.II.1:1,2,3,4,5).

As to whether those who have “a healthier psychological relationship with the world” might be less drawn to the Course, that may or may not be true. It can however be said with certainty that it is not the purpose of the Course to help us develop a healthier psychological relationship with the world. True, one of our developmental tasks as we mature as human beings is to learn how to adjust to the world and all its demands so that we can successfully meet all our needs as best we can at the various levels, from physical to social and emotional and psychological. And those who are considered well-adjusted and healthy tend to be those who have mastered the various skills to make their way through the world, dealing with both the positive and the negative with a certain degree of equanimity. But the Course has a different definition of health: “Health is seen as the natural state of everything when interpretation is left to the Holy Spirit, Who perceives no attack on anything. Health is the result of relinquishing all attempts to use the body lovelessly. Health is the beginning of the proper perspective on life under the guidance of the one Teacher Who knows what life is, being the Voice for Life Itself” (T.8.VIII.9:8,9,10). And later , “Your health is a result of your desire to see your brother with no blood upon his hands, nor guilt upon his heart made heavy with the proof of sin (T.27.II.7:7). Few therapists or psychological self-help books offer this kind of direction and perspective! Health from the Course's perspective is really a reflection of the wholeness or oneness that is our true reality in Heaven. And so in the split mind, health is represented as the outcome of forgiveness, where differences are not seen as important and guilt and sin are not real, because we are allowing the Holy Spirit to heal our perception.

The psychologically healthy may have reached a compromise with the world that allows them to function with some degree of satisfaction, as well as a certain level of acceptance of their personal and the world's limitations But there is a quiet desperation that must lie beneath the surface, for life in the world is like a house of cards, always on the verge of falling apart. On the other hand, many who have successfully negotiated their way through the world and could be perceived as having a healthy psychological relationship with the world may come to the very honest recognition that they are still not happy, not really happy, and so will be open to another way ( e.g., T.31.IV) . They may at last be coming to the recognition that their attraction to the world and all its special relationships is causing them pain rather than joy.

Interestingly, recent psychological research suggests that those who have less accurate self-perceptions are less likely to be depressed. Or alternatively stated, those who have more accurate self-perceptions are more likely to be at least mildly depressed. So the price of experiencing happiness in the world seems to be denial, which can be an effective defense only temporarily. And that of course is the case for all happiness that depends on our relationship with the temporal world. We will eventually have to recognize that the world cannot make us happy, but not because the world is the problem, but only because that recognition will reinforce our willingness to look for and ask for another way of thinking about the world.

And so Jesus and his Course are leading us to a place of healing within our minds that will allow us eventually to be in the world, fully present to everything that seems to be happening to us and around us, without taking it seriously and without getting caught in the ego's reactive, judgmental mode. Clearly, this in no way can be construed as an escape from the world, but rather represents accepting a different perspective on the world -- the Holy Spirit's rather than the ego's. The path of the ascetic or the monastic or the hermit who withdraw from the world is the path that would have greater appeal to someone who is seeking an escape. The Course in the end will lead us out of the world's thought system, but only as a result of participating in the world fully, so that we can recognize its meaninglessness (W.pI.155).

If our motivation for studying the Course remains to escape the world, we will sabotage its process by never allowing the world to serve the purpose the Holy Spirit would give it in place of the ego's. For the ego would have us see ourselves as victims at the mercy of the world, but the Holy Spirit would have us recognize the ego's unspoken purpose for the world as the vehicle for fulfilling our secret wish to see ourselves unfairly treated. And the world serves that purpose well so long as we see ourselves as separate from the world, with the world existing outside ourselves.

We will never leave behind the thought system that made the world until we first look honestly at the world and our reactions to it, and then use those reactions as an opportunity to uncover the thoughts of ugliness and guilt and sin that we harbor within our own minds. For to reiterate, the world is not the problem from which we need escape -- in fact there is nothing that truly needs to be escaped. Rather we need to look honestly at our own thoughts which are mirrored in the world outside until we can come to recognize that they actually have no power at all and can be released, not because they are miserable and wretched and unhappy, but because they are truly nothing.