Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 11/30/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #841 Are we in the process of the Last Judgement?
Q #842 Is it true only my interpretation of the world can hurt me?
Q #843 Why does the Course make me feel fearful?
Q #844 If I think I am being helpful does that mean I probably am not ?
Q #845 Why bother with the Course? It seems to have no practical value?

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Q #841: Are we in the process of the Last Judgment? Is this the Apocalypse?

A: Many people view the disasters that have occurred and are still occurring around the world as heralding the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment, as described in the Bible. According to the Bible, the Last Judgment is the final phase of God's punishment of sinners. The Course's definition of the Last Judgment is radically different. In A Course in Miracles , the Last Judgment is the end of the process of creation, not of punishment: “It is a final healing rather than a meting out of punishment, however much you may think that punishment is deserved. Punishment is a concept totally opposed to right-mindedness, and the aim of the Last Judgment is to restore right-mindedness to you. The Last Judgment might be called a process of right evaluation. It simply means that everyone will finally come to understand what is worthy and what is not” (T.2.VIII.3:3,4,5,6) . The true meaning of the Apocalypse flows from this; it is solely connected with the process of freeing our minds to “choose to preserve only what is good . . . . [and] inevitably disown its [the mind's] miscreations which, without belief, will no longer exist” (T.2.VIII.4:3,5) .

This is why Jesus assures us that the world will end not in a conflagration but rather “with the benediction of holiness upon it. When not one thought of sin remains, the world is over. It will not be destroyed nor attacked nor even touched. It will merely cease to seem to be” (M.14:2:9,10,11).

From the perspective of A Course in Miracles , thus, the Last Judgment pertains to life and love, not to death and fear (T.2.VIII.5) . It is the merciful call within our own minds beckoning us to return to the eternal peace in which we were created by God (W.pII.10.4:1) . Correcting the traditional view, Jesus therefore assures us that God's Final Judgment is not to be feared, but gladly welcomed: “You are My holy Son, forever innocent, forever loving and forever loved, as limitless as your Creator, and completely changeless and forever pure. Therefore awaken and return to Me. I am your Father and you are My Son” (W.pII.10.5:1,2,3) .

Q #842: Is this correct? The only thing that can hurt you are the thoughts you have right now. Nothing external or in the world can hurt you; only your interpretation of it can hurt you. The thoughts in your mind will try to convince you that what is happening in the world is you and is happening to you. In light of this, can I go through my entire life as a body in the world with paranoid and angry thoughts and still know -- even though it seems otherwise -- that all this has nothing to do with me ?

A: The core message Jesus conveys to us in many ways throughout A Course in Miracles is that nothing other than our own thoughts can hurt us. “I can be hurt by nothing but my thoughts” is the title of a workbook lesson (W.pII.281) , echoing what he said in an earlier lesson: “. . . once you understand it is impossible that you be hurt except by your own thoughts, the fear of God must disappear” (W.pI.196.8:3; see also W.pI.75.5; W.pI.190.5; T.20.IV.1). Yet, in the end, even our own hurtful thoughts are nothing. We have never stopped being the invulnerable, perfect Son of a perfect Father. Imperfection of any kind is impossible in reality.

Importantly, what Jesus adds to this teaching is that “I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt” (W.pI.284) , which means that if you go through your entire life with paranoid and angry thoughts, you have elected not to change them. Note, though, that Jesus does not say “I must elect . . . .”; just “I can elect . . . .” Granted, these thoughts are coming from your ego self, not your true self, but they would not be there at all unless you had a reason for not letting them go. That really should not be ignored, given the craftiness of the ego in sustaining its presence. Because our minds are split, we can be aware of terribly hateful, judgmental thoughts, yet know they have nothing to do with who we truly are. But if you are not experiencing your true, right-minded self, then, as a decision-making mind, you must have chosen to identify with your wrong-minded self instead. As minds, we can observe our ego thoughts, which is what Jesus strongly urges us to do; but the purpose of the observing is to enable us to take the next step with him and realize that the decision to hold onto these thoughts is a decision not to be peaceful.

Thus, you just want to be sure that your ego is not sneaking in the back door in your practice of this principle. Recalling the old saying that the devil can cite Scripture for its own purpose, we can say something similar about the Course: the ego can use Jesus' teachings in the Course as a means of sustaining itself (T.5.VI.4) .

Q #843: I have a question regarding the fear of being rejected, ridiculed, etc., when quoting or even referring to A Course in Miracles . I have never read any other spiritual book that leaves me with such fears, but also with such calmness and protection. Does this mean that the Course is my path or should I rather turn away and find something that “lifts me up” easier? I sometimes am quite afraid that what the book does is manipulate and brainwash me into a stupid numbness. Is this just the resistance to “learning”? Personally I do feel a very strong sense of relationship with Jesus, but that looks quite a bit different, and is much easier. Does Jesus mean to “crack us open” and cut us out of the eggshell we have surrounded us with? I find this definitely frightening. I seem to be losing all the people that I love and/or depend upon. Will this ever be getting any better?

A: The Course stirs up fear in most of its students. This is normal, but temporary, because it is bringing to the surface of our minds some awful stuff we have been afraid to look at. Jesus' purpose, though, is not to make us more fearful, but rather to help us see that our fear of what is within us is not justified. It has all been based on false beliefs about God and ourselves. When you look within with Jesus' comforting love next to you, as he asks us to do, your fear would begin to subside, or at least stay under control. If you already have a nice relationship with him, which you seem to have, why not just stay with that? After all, that is the whole point of working with the Course -- to develop a trusting, close relationship with Jesus, so that you would feel less guilt and fear. You would be practicing the Course if you did just that, and shared only that with others. You needn't talk about the Course's teachings at all. And it would be perfectly fine to bring in the other spiritual books and paths that help bring you closer to God's Love.

Q #844: In the answer to Question #589 on psychic powers, you told the questioner that if he or she thinks they know the specific purpose for something that they are doing or saying to be helpful to someone, then they are probably coming from their wrong mind. Could that be a general rule of thumb for all of us following this path even if it does not concern psychic powers, that we really do not know why what we say or do for someone may be helpful?

A: Yes, that is a pretty safe bet. And the reasoning behind this is that nearly every reason we may come up with for what is helpful about what we are doing will come from the perspective of seeing ourselves and others as bodies, with specific needs (T.1.VI.1,2) . But from the perspective, of A Course in Miracles , there are only two possible reasons for doing anything. Either we are wanting to reinforce our investment in the ego thought system or we are wanting to release that investment through forgiveness. And when our focus remains on bodies, to the exclusion of the mind -- where the only problem and the only real choice reside -- we are maintaining our commitment to the ego and its belief in the reality of the separation and all its effects. That is not to say that this is our conscious intention, but then the ego never wants us to be aware of what we are really up to when we are listening to its voice.

Using the Course's metaphor of the dream for our lives, our reasons for doing things always come from the perspective of the dream figures, and not from the perspective of the dreamer, which is who we really are within the split mind. And so all our seeming reasons for doing things continue to make the dream and all its figures real and keep us asleep and dreaming, which of course is the ego's purpose. But when we are in our right mind, all of our choices will be leading us to identify increasingly with the dreamer, so that our understanding will grow that we are only ever choosing between continuing to dream and waking up ( e.g., T.4.I.4:4,5,6,7; T.10.I.2,3; T.18.II) .

And so that is why Jesus tells us very early in the workbook that we are never upset for the reason we think (W.pI.5) . We think we are upset because of what seems to be happening to the dream figures in the world, but Jesus is trying to help us see that we are upset because we are choosing to dream a dream that represents the ego's content of sin, guilt and fear, so that we do not have to take responsibility for our choice in the mind for the ego. And so if none of us is ever upset for the reason we think, and our upset has nothing to do with what is happening in our lives -- the dream -- how could we know what specifically would be truly helpful for ourselves or anyone else?

We are only ever truly helpful to ourselves and others when we are remembering the only meaningful choice we ourselves have -- to which teacher shall we listen, to guide our perception of what seems to be happening to ourselves and others -- the ego or the Holy Spirit (T.26.V.1) . And our remembering of that choice serves as a simple reminder to others that they have the same choice (M.5.III.2) . That is the only real reason for doing anything. The form of what we do will then reflect an appreciation of shared rather than separate interests, but the form itself is never what is helpful. It is always the underlying content, which will be leading us all gently out of the dream of separation, toward an awakening to the glorious Self that we all share, and are (T.22.IV.7:8) .

Q #845: In one of your statements you said imagine walking through this world loving everyone you meet, which would be a state of complete forgiveness. However, I have not known or heard of anyone who has ever reached this state no matter how long they study A Course in Miracles . In fact, I read about people who have been studying the Course for twenty years who are still at square one, carrying hate, envy, etc., for someone. And I'm around Course students all the time who have been studying for years and they don't seem different from anyone else. More knowledgeable concerning the Course, yes -- more capable of forgiving, no. I don't know any Course students who have moved up the ladder in any real sense. Why continue studying the Course if after 15 or 20 years one is still losing one's temper, not being able to forgive, still begging for help in seeing these difficult life situations through the eyes of Jesus? What's the point when the Course teaches it's already over and no one is left behind? Why put all this time into something so difficult to understand when it gets you nowhere? The Course is beautiful but it does not seem to have any practical value.

A: You sound pretty frustrated with your experience with the Course. Jesus never says it's an easy path and it does require a great deal of patience with ourselves (and others!), as we uncover all the various aspects of the ego thought system and become increasingly aware of the connection in our beliefs between our judgments and attacks and our need to preserve the self we believe we are.

In one sense, because the ego is a total thought system, which in itself is not mitigated nor modified in the least by our study and practice of the Course, we are always back at square one when we are identifying with it. The ego is pure, unadulterated hatred, attack and murder and this does not change, no matter how long we have been studying the Course. What hopefully changes is how long we continue to give life to the ego before we are willing to ask for a different Teacher, for the Holy Spirit too is a total thought system -- one of pure, unadulterated love. So it's not that we stop getting angry and judging and hating, but the periods of time when we choose against that anger and hatred gradually increase, as we begin to recognize sooner when we have chosen the ego and can acknowledge its cost to our peace and joy. Yes, at the very end, at the top of the ladder, we will no longer get angry or hate or judge. But to expect ourselves -- or others -- to be free of judgment and anger as we progress up the ladder is not a realistic expectation. After all, Jesus nowhere in the Course tells us not to get angry -- he just asks us to accept that it is never justified ( e.g., T.30.VI.1:1; M.17.8:6) .

It is helpful to remember that we are simply not in a position to judge anyone's progress with the Course, including our own (T.18.V.1:5,6). When we judge others, we rely on external behavior -- form -- and we simply do not know how another's mind may be vacillating between right-minded and wrong-minded content. If we can have compassion for the fear and resistance that others may experience in this process of letting go of judgment, we will also be able to be gentler with ourselves when the resistance is great. Again, it is helpful to remember that the judgment and hatred serve a purpose -- self-preservation of the ego, and therefore, of the self we believe we are. And so the resistance will be tremendous and the progress may at times seem snail-like in its pace. But again, we are not in a position to judge anyone's progress on this path, including our own.

It may also help to consider a larger context for the healing process that the Course is attempting to foster, acknowledging at the same time that using a linear temporal framework can be a bit misleading. The Course has been available for about 25-30 years. We are attempting to undo a thought system that we have spent thousands, even millions of years investing in and making real (T.2.VIII.2:5) . Twenty years of attempting to understand the ego's thought system as well as the Course's thought system of correction and then applying its principles, which will necessarily shift in terms of their application as our understanding of the Course deepens, is nothing in comparison. Of course, it's not really the amount of time studying and practicing the Course but the level of guilt and fear we allow ourselves to get in touch with so that they can be undone that determines our progress. And for most of us, the fear of losing the self we cherish as real is what secretly motivates us to continue to judge and hate and attack and justify those perceptions. And because of the many levels at which the Course is written, which really reflect corrections for the many layers of the ego thought system, we can fool ourselves into believing we are practicing its principles when we are subtly reinforcing our egos.

And so each of us who sees the Course as our spiritual path must ask ourselves honestly -- am I putting the Course's principles into practice or am I simply studying the Course, attempting to keep it as primarily an intellectual exercise? It can take many years of study before our fear level subsides enough to allow ourselves to hear what Jesus is really saying. The Course's purpose is not simply to teach us to stop judging and hating, but to learn to recognize at deeper and deeper levels what the costs of that judgment and hatred are. For that is what motivates us to let go of our judgments and hatreds and release the fear that maintains that forgiveness will lead to self- annihilation.

Your experience with the Course and its students sounds quite negative, but there are many who, although not claiming to have reached the top rung of the ladder, do report experiencing major shifts in their perceptions of others and themselves as a result of applying the Course's principles of forgiveness. And many students also report that others -- friends and family -- have observed big changes in the Course student without knowing just what exactly may have brought it about. It is only the ego that would want to deny any shifts in allegiance away from the ego and toward the Holy Spirit.

You may also wish to consider that A Course in Miracles may just not be your own particular spiritual path, and that certainly has to be okay. There may be some other form of spirituality that will help you to release your own anger and judgments and take the steps that will lead you back home, where we are all heading, no doubt stumbling and falling at times along the way, but still progressing surely towards that inevitable outcome, when we will truly know that “it's already over and no one is left behind.”