Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 01/04/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #861 What might be the psychological effects of a bad childhood when trying to study the Course?
Q #862 What is the meaning of "Salvation" and what is the body?
Q #863 Did the original error precede any desire to attack God ?
Q #864 Why don't I feel any better after I ask the Holy Spirit for help?

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Q #861: In terms of people who have not developed psychological soundness due to inadequate parenting and childhood traumas (drawn to study A Course in Miracles in order to heal their minds), what psychological phenomena could they be projected to experience as a result of working toward understanding the concepts presented in the Course?

A: There's a very common assumption implicit in your question that it would be good to take a look at first before we can offer a satisfactory answer. And that is the belief that how we are as adults is a result of how we were treated as children. At one level, in the world's terms, this is certainly true. But the Course does not address anything in the world's terms, except as a jumping off point for recognizing what our minds are always choosing, so long as we remain identified with our egos.

It is pretty much the nature of being human that we all experience inadequate parenting and childhood traumas as we're growing up, although the number and degree of severity at the level of form can vary widely across individuals. Until we become aware that there is another way of looking at our situations and our lives ( e.g., T.25.VII.8:4, 9:1) , we all pretty much feel that many if not most of our problems and limitations as adults are the direct result of what happened or didn't happen to us as children. It may be helpful at first to explore psychologically how we seem to carry the wounds of abuse and neglect that were inflicted many years earlier, when we were pretty much helpless and unable to defend or protect ourselves. There is real value in developing a certain degree of ego strength, or psychological soundness, that allows us to cope with the many challenges of living as a separate self in a demanding and at times menacing world.

But getting in touch with all of these thoughts and memories and perceptions is, from the Course's perspective, only the first step in the forgiveness process we are invited to join. For things are not really as they appear! This common childhood experience of some level of feeling unfairly treated or victimized in fact is quite deliberate and serves a definite purpose from the ego's perspective. Now when we say it's deliberate, we are not attributing choice or intention to the young child, but rather to the mind that has chosen to experience itself as a child, physically weaker and emotionally more vulnerable than most of the people around it, including especially the parents.

You see, we all want to believe our pain and unhappiness come from what others have done to us. And a major goal of the Course is to help us get in touch with the real source of that pain (T.27.VII.7; T.27.VIII.10,11, T.28.III.5:1) -- a decision in our own mind, outside of time and space, that we seemed to make in the past but are still making right now, which is the only real problem, to see ourselves as separate from love. Each of our lives as individual bodies in this world is predicated on the assumption that the separation from God is real, but that someone else is responsible for it -- perhaps God, or maybe our parents who decided to give birth to us. And Jesus is telling us in his Course that we are never victims ( e.g., W.pI.31; 57.1) , and how we feel right now is a direct result of the choice we are making in our minds right now for the ego, and not the consequence of things that happened to the selves we believe we are, in either the distant or more recent past. This is a radical statement, with revolutionary implications for our thinking, if we are willing to take it seriously. And, by the way, this does not mean that we then should ignore or deny what we remember as having happened to us in the past but rather, we want to begin to recognize that there is another way of looking at all those painful memories, so that Jesus can help us understand what purpose they have served for us in keeping us mindlessly oblivious to the power of our own minds to choose between happiness and pain right now.

And so, to answer your question about what psychological phenomena those of us who have experienced inadequate parenting and childhood trauma are likely to encounter as we study the Course, high on the list for most of us would be resistance. For the Course threatens all of our cherished ego beliefs and defenses that ironically make us feel safe and secure in the role of victim. And so we will not want to hear the Course's very challenging message that will turn our whole world upside down. And closely related to our resistance would be fear, fear that we may be punished for all of our selfish decisions to project guilt and blame outside of ourselves, believing with the ego that they are sins. And then a still deeper fear that we are about to lose the self we still so strongly identify with. None of this is true, but the ego will use any deceit to keep us away from a genuine experience of peace and love. Anger would be expected as well, perhaps at the Course, perhaps at Jesus, perhaps at ourselves, as we will want to dig in our heels and not have to accept full responsibility for how we feel.

But with the willingness to begin to look within our own minds rather than outside ourselves for the cause of our unhappiness, we will also be drawing closer to the love that we all genuinely seek, despite having turned our backs on it. And so there will also be experiences of release and relief and peace and joy, as we begin to awaken to the recognition that the sin within that we have thought we must defend ourselves from is not real and has no effect, unless we want it to (T.17.I.1) .

Q #862: What is the meaning of salvation as used in A Course in Miracles ? What is meant by the body?

A: The Course uses the term salvation to refer to the Holy Spirit's correction for the ego's thought of separation. Early in the text, Jesus defines salvation for us: “Salvation is nothing more than “right-mindedness,” which is not the One-mindedness of the Holy Spirit, but which must be achieved before One-mindedness is restored” (T.4.11.10:1). When the mind of the Sonship chooses separation, it becomes split and experiences itself in conflict between the thought of separation (the ego) and the memory of truth (the Holy Spirit). These two parts of the mind are also referred to as the wrong and right minds. An important goal of the Course is to teach us that we have a mind, with the power to chose between these two thoughts. As the above passage tells us, salvation lies in choosing the right mind, and learning to do so gradually heals the mind of the thought of separation, which is the ultimate goal of the Course. In reality, salvation is already accomplished because the separation never happened. Nevertheless, it is experienced as a process because the mind continues to choose to believe in the illusion of separation. Thus, we are “saved” each time we are willing to choose the Holy Spirit/right mind. When the ego is no longer chosen, the mind's oneness is restored.

Jesus gives us several statements to define the body: “It is nothing. It is the result of a tiny, mad idea of corruption that can be corrected (T.19.IV.C.5:5,6). “ [It is] an isolated speck of darkness; a hidden secret room, a tiny spot of senseless mystery, a meaningless enclosure carefully protected, yet hiding nothing”(T.20.VI.5:2). And even more to the point: “At no single instant does the body exist at all”(T.18.VII.3:1) . However, that is not our experience because along with the choice for separation, and imperative for its defense, comes the choice to identify with the body. In answer to the mind's loss of identity when it decides to split itself off from its Source, the ego proclaims: “I am a body.” It is important to remember that although this cannot actually be accomplished, the power of the mind makes the impossible seem true. The mind seeks to escape the guilt for choosing separation by denying its true Identity. It convinces itself that the separation is real because the body, which it conveniently forgets it fabricated, is obviously real. So goes the “logic” of the ego. Thus, the split mind is the source of the experience of finding ourselves in bodies, wondering how we got here. It is also the real answer to what the body is, beyond the obvious physical composition. As Jesus tells us in the text: “Although you are one Self, you experience yourself as two; as both good and evil, loving and hating, mind and body . This sense of being split into opposites induces feelings of acute and constant conflict, and leads to frantic attempts to reconcile the contradictory aspects of this self- perception. You have sought many such solutions, and none of them has worked. The opposites you see in you will never be compatible. But one exists (W.pI.961:1,2,3,4,5, italics added ). The “one” that exists is the mind. And it alone is the source of everything the body seems to experience.

The fact that “I am not a body” (W.pI.84,91,136,199,201 through 220) is the most frequently repeated phrase in the Course (47 times) is an indication of our intense attachment to the body and the need to unlearn this identity by learning to identify with the mind. This is accomplished through willingness to see in the body, and in every relationship with other bodies, the reflection of a choice in the mind to identify with the ego or with the Holy Spirit. The body, which of itself is nothing, thus becomes an instrument for communicating the ego's message or the Holy Spirit's. (See: The Body as a Means of Communication T.8.VII ). Through its pain, “joys,” suffering and death, the body is used by the ego to prove that the separation was accomplished. To the Holy Spirit, it is the means whereby the mind is healed of the thought of separation through the practice of forgiveness. Thus, what the ego made to keep us separate from our Source and from each other can be used by the Holy Spirit to undo the separation. By its choice for or against the ego, the mind imbues the body with purpose : “The body will seem to be whatever is the means for reaching the goal that you assign to it. Only the mind can set a purpose, and only the mind can see the means for its accomplishment, and justify its use. Peace and guilt are both conditions of the mind, to be attained (T.19.IV.B.10:7,8,9) . Recognizing the negative effects of choosing separation (guilt) experienced through the body, the mind is motivated to choose the Holy Spirit (peace) instead. When the mind decides to see in everything an opportunity to make another choice, the body becomes an instrument of salvation.

Q #863: Is it not possible that the original “tick in time” (sorry to be harping on the famous question, but I can't seem to get past it) occurred not out of a sense of discontent (would not discontent require duality and perception?) but out of a playful kind of “what if” feeling on the part of the mind of the Son? Sort of like a six-year-old getting into mom's car in the driveway and while pretending to drive, inadvertently releasing the emergency brake, putting it in drive, and sending the car rolling into a busy street. It just seems to me that inherent in the original impulse could not have been an element of wanting to attack God. I feel that the belief that we had attacked God, and the attending birth of guilt and the ego mind came once we were out in the middle of traffic in a vehicle we couldn't drive, with no memory of how we got there! In other words, the belief in the attack on God came only after we were hurled into the dream by our own inadvertent misuse of creativity. Or is there something I am not understanding?

A: There have been many, many mythologies throughout the centuries, and in practically all cultures, about the origin of life. Your notion of a “playful kind of ‘what if' feeling” sounds similar to some aspects of Hindu theology. The myth presented in A Course in Miracles , however, consistently ascribes the ultimate origin of life in this physical cosmos to the thought in the mind of God's Son that being part of God's perfect Oneness was not acceptable. This is articulated in different ways in the Course: for example, God did not grant His Son the special favor he desired (T.13.III.10:2) , the quest for “something more than everything” (T.29.VII.2), “a power past omnipotence, a place beyond the infinite, a time transcending the eternal” (T.29.VIII.6:2) .

The Course is equally clear that this was all just a silly thought, “a tiny, mad idea at which the Son of God remembered not to laugh” (T.27.VIII.6:2) . Sin, guilt, and fear came after the “tiny, mad idea” -- the consequences of taking it seriously. And therefore the Course's entire spiritual path centers on training us to return to this choice point in our minds in order to give ourselves the opportunity to choose again, this time remembering to laugh, which means accepting the Atonement for ourselves -- the thought that we never truly separated from God. While there are many profoundly rich and inspiring theological and metaphysical concepts in the Course, that is not what Jesus would want us to be focusing on, however. “Theological considerations as such are necessarily controversial, since they depend on belief and can therefore be accepted or rejected” (C.in.2:4). His purpose is to teach us about how and why we are blocking awareness of the Love that defines us, so that we may consciously decide whether or not we wish to continue on that way.

Q #864: Why do I not feel any different after I ask the Holy Spirit to see my anger through His eyes? I still feel the same angry emotions that I felt before I asked. It doesn't seem to get any better. Every day is the same, feeling very angry, asking the Holy Spirit for help, and still feeling all the anger and emotional disturbance that I felt before I ask. There seems to be no relief from my anger and negative emotions. All the promises in A Course in Miracles don't seem to have any practical value. Studying the Course is a very uncomfortable, disturbing, and mentally unhealthy way to go through life, so it seems.

A: Seeing your anger through the eyes of the Holy Spirit means, above all, that you not feel guilty about not being able to let it go. By being upset about your anger and negative emotions you are giving the ego a power that it does not really have. Yes, anger is an ego thing, but nowhere in the Course does Jesus say that we should not be angry; he asks only that we not justify the anger. So practicing this course means learning how to be more gentle with yourself when you discover that you cannot let go of grievances. You have a lot of company! It is not easy, and we are not asked to do it perfectly. Your willingness to let go of the anger is what is spiritually helpful. That there are “shadows” surrounding it is normal and to be expected (T.18.IV.2) . If you could do everything the Course asks of you instantly and perfectly, you would not really need the Course.

We all have tremendous resistance to letting go of grievances because they serve the ego's purpose of hiding the love that is in the other part of our minds, just as any form of bodily preoccupation serves to block awareness of ourselves as spirit. We are intensely afraid of the pure love in our minds and of our true identity as spirit because we know that acceptance of that means the end of our identity as individuals. So Jesus leads us slowly and gently along his path, which focuses on reducing our guilt and fear as much as we are able to at any given time. That is why it is so important that you not be hard on yourself -- or on Jesus and his course -- because you are still angry. Inviting Jesus or the Holy Spirit to look at it with you will help you be less frustrated and upset. That is the goal -- simply to watch your ego in action without being disturbed by it. That should lead to more peace and internal comfort, for you would be spending your time in the presence of one whose love for you does not depend on your letting go of your anger.