Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 12/21/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #853
What are the three selves in "All are Called" ?
Q #854 How do I reach God, as described in lesson 41?
Q #855 Why don't I perceive my own best interests, as in lesson 24?
Q #856 What exactly is the meaning of "Atonement"?

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Q #853: Chapter 4 of “All Are Called”, volume I in The Message of A Course in Miracles , goes through a lengthy description of our three selves. I got bogged down several times trying to “cut to the chase.” Please tell me if I got it right: self A is the holy Son of God who for a brief moment freaked out and thereby was no longer a whole. As a result, self A realized that he was now in the land of good and evil and felt guilty for that. Next, self A figured out that if he blamed somebody else -- self B -- then he wouldn't feel guilt any more. So self B became an innocent victim of self A. Self C becomes the victim of the body and hates everybody. And around and around it goes?

A: A valiant effort, but let's see if we can get a little more clarity on this central part of the ego's myth of separation and sin, as uncovered in the Course. The description of the three selves you refer to in Chapter 4 of The Message of A Course in Miracles, Vol. I, is actually an extension to the level of the world and individual bodies of what was presented in Chapter 2 to explain the initial A-B-C split at the level of thought in the mind, prior to the projection of bodies and the world. And so it is there, in the mind, that we need to begin, if what you refer to in Chapter 4 is going to make any sense.

Beginning then at the level of mind, self A is not the holy Son of God, but an illusory thought of a separate self that we as the sleeping Son believe we have wrested from God when we wanted the separation from Him to be real. It is a fiction we have made up in our feverish ego dream and identified with, calling it ourselves. And this separate self is the original home of sin and guilt, according to the ego's story, because its life came selfishly at God's expense, destroying His Oneness to bring itself into a separate, autonomous existence.

At this point in the Son's delusional mind, there is nothing else -- no land that self A seems to occupy, no world, and no other self. Now to deal with the immense guilt his ego says is real over destroying God Himself, yes, the Son as self A would like to blame someone else, to dump the guilt elsewhere. But there is no one else to blame, no other self. So the solution, drawing on the only dynamic available in the Son's split mind -- the thought of separation -- is to separate self A into two selves, B and C, identifying with self B and pushing all the guilt onto self C. Self C, in the Son's insane imagination, now becomes the angry wrathful God who is going to punish the Son, self B, for his sin against Him. But of course, the sin and guilt in self C, now seen as separate from self B, are nothing other than the sin and guilt of self A, split off. But this is what enables the Son, now identified with self B, to believe that the guilt is no longer in him, that he is now “innocent.” All of this is as much a delusional fantasy as the initial making of self A.

And so self A has seemed to vanish from the scene, leaving only self B and self C in the mind. As the Son we are now identified with the “innocent” self B, who is the potential victim of self C, in whom all the sin and guilt now reside. Again, this is all happening only at the level of thought. For the drama to play out and allow us to convince ourselves that we are truly “innocent” victims, we need a world of time and space and, in particular, bodies. For bodies are vulnerable and weak, and demonstrate quite convincingly that we are powerless to change in any significant way what happens to us -- clear-cut criteria for victimhood. And so the mind seems to fragment into millions of pieces, but each fragment retains that same progression from a guilty self A to an innocent self B, with all the guilt now residing in a guilty self C, the self split off from self A that we no longer identify with. And every fragment in the Son's mind seems to play out this conflict, now projected from the mind onto the screen of the world, each desperately attempting to affirm its innocence by demonstrating everyone else's guilt. And you need a body to be able to point the finger of blame. Except that every fragment is trying to play the same blame game. And so to ourselves, we are each an innocent self B, but to everyone else, we're another victimizing self C. And the guilt is swapped back and forth, but its reality is never questioned.

It is only when we can shift our identification away from the B-C split in the world back to the guilty but forgotten self A in the mind that we can begin to look at our own guilt, which has nothing to do with the seeming relationship between B and C in the world. For they are only shadows of the thought of guilt in the mind. And when we return our attention to the illusory self A in the mind, we can at last begin to question the reality of the guilt. It is through this process of recognizing first where the guilt originates, and then questioning its reality, which is what the Course means by forgiveness, that we begin to remember the truly innocent self A' that we all share (see chapter 5 of volume I of The Message ). At the same time, while we still remain identified with the body in the world, we will begin to see self B' and self C' as the same, rather than as different -- both caught in an insane thought system, believing that guilt is real and desperately looking to escape it. Over time, as we practice forgiveness, we will identify more and more with the innocent self A', a reflection of our true Self as Christ, Who has nothing to do with any As or Bs or Cs.

For additional discussion of the splits in the mind which are expressed in the world, see Questions #176 and #630.

Q #854: I come from a completely non-religious background and was never “involved” with God in any way, form or fashion until I “met” A Course in Miracles (for which I am so grateful). I am “stuck” on Lesson 41 “God goes with me wherever I go.” I've been doing this lesson daily for about a week now because the concept fascinates me so, but despite the diligent practicing as set forth, I have not “reached” God in any sense, although the Course tells me that it is quite possible to do so. It also says: “The way will open, if you believe that it is possible.”(8:4) I want to believe, but how does one do that?

A: Another of way of stating the content of this lesson is: “the separation never happened, and we remain with God.” We cannot truly be anywhere else, and that is why God is with us. However, there is a very important message in the first line in the fifth paragraph: “We understand that you do not believe all this” (W.pI.41.5:1). With this single statement, Jesus explains the “stuckness” almost everyone experiences in the practice of the workbook. The first goal of the lesson, therefore, is to help us realize that we do not believe what it says. We learn by contrast just how much we do believe the ego and do not believe the Holy Spirit, which is one of the important goals of the workbook. A necessary part of the learning process is arriving at precisely the dilemma you describe: the message of the Course inspires us, yet despite diligent practice nothing seems to happen, but we are assured it can be accomplished. The usefulness of this situation is learning to appreciate the intensity of resistance and the full scope of attachment to the ego's belief system. Without this clear recognition, real progress is impossible because the ego's best game is denial. Its life depends on the belief that the body is our true identity, which in turn rests on the denial of the mind's existence, not to mention its power to choose. Jesus tells us early in the text: “Few appreciate the real power of the mind, and no one remains fully aware of it all the time. However, if you hope to spare yourself from fear [guilt, separation] there are some things you must realize, and realize fully. The mind is very powerful, and never loses its creative force” (T.2.VI.9:3,4,5).

Finding it difficult to experience God with you is a way to get in touch with the choice in the mind to believe in the reality of the separation, and to identify with the ego thought system. This choice has made the world and the body real in our experience, thereby making God unreal. The mind cannot hold the thought of separation and the thought of God at the same time. Thus, identity with the ego/body and the guilt that accompanies this choice keep the memory of God from awareness. In fact, it is an attack on God: “ If the ego is the symbol of the separation, it is also the symbol of guilt. Guilt is more than merely not of God. It is the symbol of attack on God” (T.5.V.2:8,9,10). When guilt is gone, God is there.

Guilt is relinquished through the process of forgiveness, which begins with the willingness to look at the ego in our lives in light of the principle of projection of guilt. This important principle of the Course tells us that everything we experience in the world is the result of the mind's projection of guilt for choosing to be separate, and to identify with the body. This means that nothing outside of our mind is responsible for how we feel. Learning to look at every relationship in this way takes patient practice, because it is not the way we have taught ourselves to interpret our relationships or our experiences in the world. Doing so teaches us that others are not to blame for our condition, they are guiltless. Seeing others as guiltless is how we learn that we, too, are guiltless, which opens the way for us to remember that we are God's Son and He goes with us: “Unless you are guiltless you cannot know God, Whose Will is that you know Him… He cannot be known without His Son, whose guiltlessness is the condition for knowing Him” (T.14.IV.7:1,4).    

The instructions for practicing the workbook lessons do not ask that we believe the lessons, nor that we practice them perfectly. It asks only that we do them (W.in.8,9). It is important to honestly recognize that we do not believe them, and then forgive ourselves for being afraid of the Course's truth. If we truly knew that God was with us, we would not need the workbook, nor the Course for that matter. The fact that you have become aware that this truth is not your experience means that you have achieved one of the important goals of the workbook lessons: to appreciate the contrast between what you have learned from the ego, and what the Holy Spirit is teaching you in the Course. You then realize how much you need the Holy Spirit's help to unlearn the ego and learn His lessons instead. Practicing each day's lesson as sincerely as you can is sufficient to make steady progress, for that is all you are asked to do. In this is the way made open, because it reflects and strengthens the part of the mind that does believe .

Q #855: In A Course in Miracles, I am currently doing Lesson 24 “I do not perceive my own best interests” (W.pI.24) where Jesus asks us to say all that we would like to happen in each situation, and that some of the goals we have in each case would conflict with each other. I did my lesson and in each subject my goals did seem to be unified. Now I know that Jesus is correct, and I am not questioning that, but I would like to understand the lesson better, especially when it says our goals are not unified.

A: First, we do not perceive our own best interests because we have split off the part of our minds that does know and that contains the memory of our true Identity. Our goals therefore almost always have to do with preserving and enhancing our lives in the world, because the fundamental goal of the ego is self-preservation. Most of us think that is in our best interests. Now you might say that is a unified goal, but conflict is bound to erupt because bodies are inherently limited and always changing. Our needs are always changing -- I might need something from you today, but not tomorrow or next week. What I want from you may conflict with your needs and goals, or with what someone else wants. Today my need might be to alleviate my guilt by forgiving you; other days my need would be to alleviate my guilt by attacking you (projection).

Jesus returns to this theme later in the workbook, discussing it in the context of the functions we believe we have in the world -- our “self-made roles” -- these in contrast to our only function, which is to accept the Atonement for ourselves through the practice of forgiveness: “We will accept the function God has given us [forgiveness] , for all illusions rest upon the weird belief that we can make another for ourselves. Our self-made roles are shifting, and they seem to change from mourner to ecstatic bliss of love and loving. We can laugh or weep, and greet the day with welcome or with tears. Our very being seems to change as we experience a thousand shifts in mood, and our emotions raise us high indeed, or dash us to the ground in hopelessness. . . . The images you make give rise to but conflicting goals, impermanent and vague, uncertain and ambiguous. Who could be constant in his efforts, or direct his energies and concentrated drive toward goals like these? The functions which the world esteems are so uncertain that they change ten times an hour at their most secure” (W.pI.186.8:2,3,4,5; 10:2,3,4).

In the exercise in Lesson 24, Jesus asks us to think of unresolved situations that concern us and to uncover the outcome we want in these situations, then recognizing there are several goals implicit in the outcome we want -- “these goals are on different levels and often conflict” (W.pI.24.4:3) . As an illustration let us say the unresolved situations are: (1) I am looking for a job; (2) My son is having problems in school; (3) I am having a dispute with contractors about your house.

The different goals and the conflicts could be as follows: (1) I want a job so I can eat. But on another level, I don't want a job so that I can continue to feel unfairly treated. (2) I don't want to see my son having such a hard time; but on another level, there's an ego payoff to seeing him victimized. There might also be authority issues: I would feel severely threatened if my son did better than I did in school -- my self-worth would diminish. (3) Authority issues usually flare up in disputes with contractors or anyone else you hire. You want your house to look nice and be free of defects, so you will be comfortable and others will think positively of you, but it must be done your way; you will have no regard for anyone who stands in the way of your achieving what you want. Everything is to be done on your terms. Moreover, your ego would love the fact that the contractor did a poor job -- another victimizer, another innocent victim!

What Jesus is helping us to recognize is that adopting forgiveness as our one and only goal would unify every aspect of our days -- in fact, our entire lives. Conflict would gradually dissolve and we would go about our daily lives more calmly and peacefully.

Q #856: Give me a good meaning of Atonement. I know it means at-onement, no separation, but I need a stronger explanation.

A: At-onement is not a term used in A Course in Miracles to define Atonement. Neither does Atonement have any of the meaning traditional Christianity applies to it, which is reparation for sin. In one word the Course gives a new meaning to the term Atonement: sinlessness. As simple as this is, it is in fact a very strong message to the ego whose thought system rests entirely on the belief that the Son of God is guilty for having taken the separation thought seriously. Accepting the Atonement means listening to the Voice of the Holy Spirit, Who speaks for God and tells us that the separation thought is not only not a sin, it never even happened. This is the heart of the Holy Spirit's teaching of Atonement in the Course. Accepting this truth is a process by which guilt is relinquished through forgiveness; the Holy Spirit's correction for the mistaken belief in separation. In the “Glossary-Index for A Course in Miracles, ” Kenneth Wapnick defines the Atonement as “the Holy Spirit's plan of correction to undo the ego and heal the belief is separation.” Our function in this plan, and what makes it meaningful in our daily lives, is the practice of forgiveness: “Forgiveness is the only function meaningful in time” (T.25.VI.5:3) .

Atonement, therefore, is not just an intellectual concept to be understood. It has life and becomes our life, to whatever extent we are willing to apply the principle of forgiveness in our relationships. This means seeing in every judgment the projection of our guilt for the mind's choice for separation. That is our only responsibility in the Atonement process: “ The sole responsibility of the miracle worker is to accept the Atonement for himself [learn complete forgiveness] ” (T.2.V.5:1) . Since the choice for separation in the mind is the cause of what we feel, no one/nothing external to the mind can be blamed. Releasing others in this way is how we learn that we, too, are sinless. In that recognition is the Atonement accomplished.

What makes the Atonement a process are the heavy layers of guilt that accompany the choice for the ego and block the Holy Spirit's light. “It [Atonement] is perfectly clear because it exists in light. Only the attempts to shroud it in darkness have made it inaccessible to those who do not choose to see (T.3.I.6:6,7). In the ego's twisted thinking, guilt is the justification for not accepting the Atonement. It would have us believe that we are not worthy to be God's innocent Son, and are thus doomed to remain cut off form our Source. What the ego does not tell us is that this is the means by which the separation thought is maintained, the ego is protected and guilt is perpetuated. This vicious circle of the ego is undone only by the mind's decision to choose the Holy Spirit, Whose message is that the belief in the separation has had no effect and the Son of God is innocent. This is stated very simply in the text: “Everyone has a special part to play in the Atonement [accepting it for himself] , but the message given to each one is always the same; God's Son is guiltless ” (T.14.V.2:1). Every encounter is an opportunity to choose between judgment or forgiveness. As forgiveness becomes the goal in every relationship the Holy Spirit's inclusive circle of Atonement gradually replaces the ego's vicious guilt circle of separation and exclusion. Jesus puts the choice before us in the section “The Circle of Atonement:” “Each one you see you place within the holy circle of Atonement or leave outside, judging him fit for crucifixion or for redemption. If you bring him into the circle of purity, you will rest there with him. If you leave him without, you join him there” (T.14.V.11:1,2,3).