Weekly Questions and Answers, 02/05/2003

This week's questions:

Q #75: A question about "the Great Rays"
Q #76: A question about the role of the body.
Q #77: A question about the Holy Spirit's quietness.
Q #78: A question about forgiving others without meeting them.
Q #79  A question about conflict in the family.

Q #75: A Course in Miracles speaks of the "Great Rays." Could you explain what are the Great Rays?

A: The "Great Rays" is a term used to refer to the light that radiates from God, extending to Christ, His one Son. Symbolically, a spark of this light is present in the right mind of the separated son. Neither the "Great Rays" nor the spark are physical forms of light, but are symbols having nothing to do with the actual seeing of the body’s eyes. The term is used to symbolize a reality that is spirit, not physical, in contrast to the ego’s identification with the body. When we begin to identify less and less with the ego, we will be more aware of the truth of who we are as God’s one Son, not limited to the body. This awareness is a form of seeing, and is symbolized by a spark of light and the "Great Rays." As we learn to "see" with the Holy Spirit, we grow from having a tiny suspicion, a spark of awareness that there is a reality beyond what the body’s eyes behold, to a clearer realization of the reality of spirit. We "see" that there is a light in our minds that reflects the truth, and represents the memory of God, the Oneness we all share. We will ultimately learn to dismiss any ego thought that darkens our awareness. When we do, only the light will be left: "And from this light will the Great Rays extend back into darkness and forward unto God, to shine away the past and so make room for His eternal Presence, in which everything is radiant in the light" (T.18.III.8:7). With terms such as this, it is important to remember what the Course says about words: "Words can be helpful, particularly for the beginner, in helping concentration and facilitating the exclusion, or at least the control, of extraneous thoughts. Let us not forget, however, that words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from reality" (M.21.1:8,9,10). Just as we need to go beyond the symbol to learn the message the Course is giving us through it, we learn to go beyond the body to the light that is in everyone we see. "As the ego would limit your perception of your brothers to the body, so would the Holy Spirit release your vision and let you see the Great Rays shining from them, so unlimited that they reach to God. It is this shift to vision that is accomplished in the holy instant" (T.15.IX.1:1,2). This does not necessarily mean that we see actual rays emanating from anyone. It is a shift in our perception that will take place in our mind, when we allow judgment to be replaced by forgiveness in the holy instant.

Q #76: A number of philosophers and psychologists have noted that Western civilization, in the development of science and the growth of the self into an individual, autonomous ego -- the healthy and mature adult ego -- has been characterized by an acute split between body and mind (i.e., ego mind -- the brain). This division also shows up in the split between man and nature in our civilization. The psychological repression and alienation from nature has produced a lack of vitality, enthusiasm, and zest for living in our culture. Now the Course does not seem to deal with this problem and even appears to increase the alienation by saying the body and the world do not exist. It seems that in order to transcend the ego we will first need to recover much of what was lost. I think the Course is saying that as we look at our egos with the Holy Spirit and practice forgiveness, we begin to heal the repression and alienation. Is this correct? It seems that even if this is correct there is a real danger that people who study the Course will not realize the importance of having a strong, sensitive, alert, healthy body in order to have the vitality to transcend the ego.

A: There can be no doubt that the experience of the ego thought system, in whatever forms it may be manifested, will be one of profound repression and alienation. These are core elements of its basic premise -- the desirability of splitting off from the Whole followed by the denial of responsibility for the decision and its seeming consequences (T.6.II.1,2,3). And so what you describe as characterizing Western civilization is just one of the many different but inevitable consequences in form of the desire for separation.

While the Course does assert the unreality of the body and the world, for the most part our understanding of this will be only intellectual and not experiential until the very end of the journey. And this should not be a student’s focus as we attempt to put the Course’s principles of forgiveness into practice, or we will risk going even deeper into denial about what is buried in our unconscious mind. It will be much more important that we acknowledge the purpose for which we have made the world and our bodies -- to play the roles of victim and victimizer -- than that we simply deny that they exist.

And so if we practice forgiveness as the Course teaches us -- releasing the judgments we have been holding on to, thereby making the differences we have been perceiving between ourselves and everyone and everything else in the world no longer important -- we will no longer see our purpose as separate from everyone and everything else. This will inevitably reduce feelings of alienation and isolation between ourselves and all that we have seen as outside of ourselves.

And since the body is really neutral in all of this (W.pI.294), our focus need not be on the body but on our thoughts about the body and the purpose for which we choose to use it. That is not to say that while we believe that our body is real and we are so intimately identified with it that we may neglect or abuse it. But our belief in its vulnerability and weakness and need for protection is nothing more than a displacement of our underlying belief about ourselves (our mind), separated from the Whole and identified with the ego. And it is that belief that needs correction and healing.

Q #77: Why does the Holy Spirit speak so softly? It seems it would be so much easier to follow His guidance if He could shout sometimes.

A: You join a chorus of many hundreds of Course students fervently pleading with the Holy Spirit to turn up the volume! Unfortunately, or rather fortunately, the problem is on our end, which means it has something to do with a choice we are making, which we can now change. It is the interference we generate that seems to make the Holy Spirit’s Voice inaudible, just as radio transmissions often don’t come through clearly because of static. There is nothing wrong with the signal. The problem is on the receiving end, not the sending end, Jesus tells us in what seems to be a gentle rebuke: "What answer that the Holy Spirit gives can reach you, when it is your specialness to which you listen, and which asks and answers? Its tiny answer, soundless in the melody that pours from God to you eternally in loving praise of what you are, is all you listen to. And that vast song of honor and of love for what you are seems silent and unheard before its ‘mightiness.’ You strain your ears to hear its soundless voice, and yet the Call of God Himself is soundless to you" (T.24.II.4:3,4,5,6). This is reinforced in the manual when Jesus says, "only few can hear God’s Voice at all" (M.12.3:3).

This is hard to take, yet rather than be discouraged, we can be grateful that at least we know what the problem is, and that we can work hand-in-hand with our loving brother Jesus to restore the communication to full clarity. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we will nod in acknowledgment that his explanation for our not hearing the Holy Spirit is indeed the truth.

As we continue to work with the material, it becomes clear that the two requirements Jesus is insistent about are honesty and humility. It is profoundly humbling to run into passage after passage in the Course in which he tells us that we are wrong about everything we think and have thought, and that we are just spiritual children, even referring to us at times as babies (e.g., T.4.II.5:2). He talks as well about the methods he must use to get through to us, because we have erected so many blockades to truth in our minds. For example, "How do you teach someone the value of something he has deliberately thrown away?" (T.4.VI.5:1). And then there are many passages that speak specifically of the "damage" we have done to our own minds, one example being: "what you have done to hurt your mind has made it so unnatural that it does not remember what is natural to it" (T.16.II.3:1). It is just so easy to forget that we are the ones who banished the Holy Spirit from our minds. We conceal this and then wind up thinking that His absence from our awareness somehow has to do with a deficiency on His part, or even with Jesus’ instructions. So we are ultimately thrust back to a very humble position, from which all our efforts must proceed.

Another important factor to keep in mind is that the Holy Spirit’s guidance can come in many different ways. We should not expect it to be only in the form of words specifically telling us what to do. His Presence could very well be felt as an impulse to be kind or compassionate in a given moment. Often His guidance is in the form of an idea that suddenly occurs to us, or something that happens in a dream, or simply while we are talking with a friend. The Holy Spirit’s correction of our wrong-minded thinking can come in any number of ways.

And finally, we always want to be careful that we have not defined the problem, and then expect the answer to come on terms we ourselves have set. This is an all too common form of interference on our part that makes access to right-minded thinking more difficult. "Be willing, for an instant, to leave your altars free of what you placed upon them, and what is really there you cannot fail to see [hear]" (T.21.II.8:1). Jesus has guaranteed that our efforts will meet with success, and in fact they already have. We need only accept this with no reservations and then the Voice for God will be the only Voice we hear.

Q #78: I recently watched a movie based on a true story of a prisoner in Alcatraz who was put in solitary confinement for over a three year period. In this time, he was in total darkness, had no contact with people, with the exception of hour per year, at Christmas, and lived in the most horrendous conditions imaginable. Consequently, he went insane (based of course on what would be considered insanity in the world of illusions). I am having a great deal of trouble with how a person in his situation would apply the Course, with absolutely no contact with people or the outside world. How could he join with his brother? How could he practice forgiveness, or experience miracles? If it were Jesus stuck in there, what would he do? This type of scenario obviously brings up a great deal of fear for me, and I’ve been pondering this for days. I guess I am trying to figure out, that in even in this most horrific a situation, can one still find the peace of God?

A: Since the Course teaches that everything occurs in the mind, there is no need for contact with people in order to practice forgiveness: "...there is no world outside....(T.12.III.6:7). All of our relationships (thoughts) remain within, so we are able to practice forgiveness with those who are seemingly alive, as well as those who are seemingly dead: "Like you, your brother thinks he is a dream....Think...of him as a mind in which illusions still persist, but as a mind which brother is to you. He is not brother made by what he dreams, nor is his body, ‘hero’ of the dream, your brother....Your mind and his are joined in brotherhood (T.28.IV.3:1,2,3,4,5,6).

In the section, "Shadows of the Past" (T.17.III), Jesus explains how we always see people in terms of the past, whether it be things we believe others have done to us or other people, or it be the needs we believed we had, which were not met. In essence, it explains that we don’t ever really have a relationship with anyone in the present, since these "shadows" are always with us, until they are forgiven. This simply reiterates the teaching that you do not need a physical body present in order to join or forgive.

Regarding maintaining one’s peace in such an extreme condition as you suggest, while it does seem formidable, it is nonetheless possible in principle. Otherwise, you are saying that the peace of God is limited to certain people, places, or situations. It would be very difficult to be a serious student of A Course in Miracles, practicing your lessons of forgiveness, all the while holding in the back of your mind the nagging doubt: "What if God abandons me now?" (Of course the ego would like nothing more than this, but that’s another topic!)

Throughout history there have been many people who have maintained their peace in the cruelest of circumstances. Many such stories have come out of the concentration camps, like those involving the Ten Boom sisters, Victor Frankl, etc. From the point of view of the Course, all these people had right-minded experiences, wherein someone elses interests where not seen as separate from their own. This is difficult enough to do on a day-to-day basis here and now, let alone in such extreme circumstances. But it has, and can be done.

Q #79: The relationship I have with my 5 siblings is, for the most part, one of special hate. Our conflicts have been escalating around the care of my mom and the dispersal of her property. I find it easiest simply to disassociate myself from the family and the conflict. This does not give me peace but it does minimize the anxiety. I do know that this is my classroom but I feel like avoiding my family to the point of not attending my mom's funeral when the time comes. My question is: can I work on forgiveness with my siblings while I am choosing to avoid them?

A: You are wise to recognize that avoiding your siblings does not give you peace or eliminate your anxiety, but only minimizes it. The ego is very clever at offering us ways that seem to reduce the guilt and conflict and fear, through denial or avoidance, so that we never address the problem, thereby assuring that the conflict remains and never is resolved. "Minimizing fear, but not its undoing, is the ego's constant effort, and is indeed a skill at which it is very ingenious" (T.11.V.9:2).

So it may be becoming apparent to you already that there is no way you can really avoid the conflict, whether or not you are actually in contact or in the physical presence of your siblings. That is because all relationships exist only in the mind and, believe it or not, the real conflict has nothing to do with your siblings. But it has everything to do with what they symbolize for you, because the real conflict also is only within your own mind. And so any changes in your relationships will have to begin first within your mind.

Alluding to this process, Jesus observes, "Everyone makes an ego or a self for himself, which is subject to enormous variation because of its instability. He also makes an ego for everyone else he perceives, which is equally variable. Their interaction is a process that alters both, because they were not made by or with the Unalterable. It is important to realize that this alteration can and does occur as readily when the interaction takes place in the mind as when it involves physical proximity. Thinking about another ego is as effective in changing relative perception as is physical interaction. There could be no better example that the ego is only an idea and not a fact" (T.4.II:2; italics added).

So, yes, you can work on your forgiveness lessons with your siblings without being in contact or around them physically, provided you are not also determined to avoid looking within your own mind at the conflict they represent to you, projected out into the world. Your siblings are providing you with the opportunity to get in touch with the guilt that is buried deep within your own mind that you have not wanted to look at, but have preferred to see outside yourself in others, in this case, your siblings. So once you recognize where the real problem lies, your siblings move from the foreground to the background in the forgiveness process.

What then is the next step in the process? Jesus tells us that "there is a very simple way to find the door to true forgiveness, and perceive it open wide in welcome. When you feel that you are tempted to accuse someone of sin in any form, do not allow your mind to dwell on what you think he did, for that is self-deception. Ask instead, ‘Would I accuse myself of doing this?’" (W.pII.134.9).

To uncover the self-accusation, you simply need to identify, at the level of content rather than the specific form of what your siblings may be doing, what you are accusing them of. It will most likely be some aspect of putting their own self-interests above everyone else’s, wanting to control or manipulate the situation to make sure that their own needs are met, with no real concern for anyone else. And so you need then to be honest with yourself in acknowledging that you at times operate in exactly the same way, even if you may not be in this particular situation involving your mother.

It is then that self-accusation that you will want to bring to Jesus or the Holy Spirit to heal, for Their perception of you will be different from your own. Theirs is a nonjudgmental acceptance that always perceives fear and a call for love in place of attack and sin. When you can share Their perception of yourself, you will release the guilt in your own mind, simultaneously releasing your siblings from the chain of guilt you’ve been binding them with. Now this release is not likely to be total and complete, once and for all, in a single attempt, for our own fear is too great to accept total release for ourselves. When we let the guilt back in, we will need once again to project it. And siblings with whom we have a long history of grievances make easy targets. And so the forgiveness process with your siblings will be a process that will most likely take time. But at least now you know where the real problem lie

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