Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 02/08/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #879 How is quiet reflection possible in a world of interruptions ?
Q #880 Why would we be shocked to discover the dream is not real ?
Q #881 If I am attacked I feel angry. How is that a symbol of my own guilt? 

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Q #879: I seem to have an inescapable problem in following the Rules for Decision (T.30.1). I try to follow the preparation, “a quiet moment for reflection” during the day for “the kind of day you want” (T.30.4:1) so that “I will make no decisions by myself” (T.30.2:2). But because I seem to be continually caught up in unexpected situations in which I must respond immediately with no time to go inward and, “sit by and ask to have the answer given,” (T.30.5:3) later, upon reflection, I realize that I made up my mind and then decided (T.30.3:2), but only then do I have time to ask and listen for Jesus' guidance. In any situation in which I have prior time to prepare, e.g., making a phone call, visiting someone or receiving a visit, I do, “sit by and ask”(T.30.5:3) and try to prepare my mind. But my days are full of the unexpected: how do I handle this? At this point all I can say is, “Jesus -- help,” and hope his wisdom guides me.

A: Jesus does not expect that we will have time to sit quietly every time we have a decision to make during a busy day. This could cause serious traffic problems, to say the least. The quiet time spent at the beginning of the day is intended to help us set the purpose of the day in terms of content, not form. The question is: will this day be spent in learning the Holy Spirit's lessons of forgiveness, or serving the ego's goal of making the separation real by having all the ego's specialness needs met? Jesus knows that because of his students' intense identification with the ego we will spend a good part of the day doing the latter. That is why the formula in the Rules for Decision includes a corrective measure for the inevitable opposition that will arise from the ego, once a decision has been made to follow the Holy Spirit.

Jesus does not expect or require perfection. In fact, in the very beginning of this section in he tells us: Do not fight yourself ” (T.31.I.1:7) . He knows that by the time we say Today I will make no decisions by myself ” (T.30.2:2) we have probably already made a hundred. The point is to become aware of how “natural” it is to think and decide with the ego because we have learned its lessons so well. That is why Jesus' directives are gentle and considerate of our resistance. The important thing is to learn to pay attention to our thoughts and remember the morning's question “…any time you think of it” (T.30.4:1) . Remembering the goal in this way, if only for an instant, is enough to bring a different perspective to everything that happens, for it means the ego is no longer supreme ruler of the day.

There is no need for anything in form to change; it is the purpose/content that is of concern in the practice of A Course in Miracles. The only decision we make is between the ego and the Holy Spirit. When Jesus tells us to ask ourselves what kind of day we want, it is assumed we want a day that will make us happy. He goes on to tell us we can have the happiness we seek if we learn that our happiness lies in choosing the Holy Spirit instead of the ego, not choosing between A or B in form. That is the message in these rules, as well as the goal in applying them throughout the day. In lesson 64 we find the same message in another format: “ Prepare yourself in advance for all the decisions you will make today by remembering they are all really very simple. Each one will lead to happiness or unhappiness. Can such a simple decision really be difficult to make? Let not the form of the decision deceive you. Complexity of form does not imply complexity of content. It is impossible that any decision on earth can have a content different from just this one simple choice. That is the only choice the Holy Spirit sees. Therefore it is the only choice there is” (W.pI.64.5:3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10).

To help us through the confusion and complexity of the insanity of separation we are told in many different ways throughout the Course that there are only two choices: the ego or the Holy Spirit, illusion or truth, fear or love. In our experience, the choice is camouflaged in the seemingly diverse and multitudinous events that occur in our lives. Applying the rules for decision means being willing not to be deceived by the form of the disguise, but to remember each time there is a decision to be made that the true choice lies in the mind and the two options are always the same. That is how to avoid what seems to be an inescapable problem in practicing the teachings of the Course.

It is also helpful to remember that the choice for the ego is reflected in just such complex dilemmas that are intended to impede the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit's curriculum. If the situation seems complicated, we know the ego has been put in charge. The Holy Spirit's perspective simplifies every situation, as seen in the workbook passage quoted above. His guidance is concerned only with the content of the mind, not with decisions related to behavior or form of any kind. Having overlearned the ego's lessons, it seems natural for us to think we know what will make us happy, and being right is high on the list. In this section, Jesus makes it very clear that we will be happy when we learn that we have been wrong in choosing to identify with the body, wrong in deciding to listen to the ego, wrong about being right. Earlier in the text, he asks us: “Do you prefer that you be right or happy?”(T.29.VII.1:9). Probably the best part of the day to remember this question is when all the unexpected things pop up and catch us unprepared. These are the things we have not decided upon already, have not braced for with defenses about how things should be. The truth is we don't know how things should be, nor what will make us happy. That is why Jesus tells us “… any time you think of it” (T.30.4:1) , no matter how much we think we know what we're doing, we should remember to say: “I want another way to look at this” (T.30.11:4) . That is all we are asked to do.

Q #880: In A Course in Miracles , Jesus states that we would be too shocked and frightened to find out that there is no dream at all, so the interim solution would be to live a “happy” dream with positive attitudes etc. I wonder how can we be shocked at finding out that even the “happy dream” has been an illusion, if there isn't anything to cling to or split from? If we are pure consciousness, the realization must surely be natural? What is shocked and frightened must still be a part of the dream.

A: Yes, the frightened figure in the dream is part of the illusion along with consciousness, the happy dream, the real world, and the process of awakening. This is because “In reality [the separation] never happened at all” (M.2.2:8) . Although we are too frightened to believe him, Jesus does in fact tell us there is no dream (T.18.II.9:2) , no world (W.pI.136.6:2) , no body (T.18.VII.3:1) and no ego (T.9.IV.5) . This does not stop us, however, from believing in the existence of the whole package, and actively choosing not to believe the true and natural. Jesus tells us several times that we do not believe his message: “ Perhaps you do not feel you need a course which, in the end, teaches that only reality is true. But do you believe it? When you perceive the real world, you will recognize that you did not believe it” (T.11.VIII.1:2,3,4). The only explanation for this insanity is that we are too afraid to accept the Course's message and awaken to the truth. When we are no longer afraid of love and no longer devoted to the ego's specialness, it will indeed be natural to awaken from the dream entirely. Meanwhile, both attachment to specialness and fear of our true Identity as God's one Son keep the dream very real in our experience.

Because falling into the sleep of separation was a choice, awakening requires our willingness to make another choice. The very fact that we choose to remain entrenched in the ego thought system is simple proof that Jesus is right about our fear of accepting the true and natural. Our fear is such that we do not just cower and hide from the truth, we are quite actively opposed to it: “You attack the real world every day and every hour and every minute, and yet you are surprised that you cannot see it” (T.12.VIII.1:3). In keeping with the ego's upside-down thinking, we have become very good at doing the unnatural and avoiding what is most natural; i.e., our identity as minds with the power to choose. However, in order to defend its choice for the unnatural (the ego and the body) the mind conveniently denies its power and projects the separation thought, making it look like events external to the mind are the cause of the body's seeming existence. The mind then becomes afraid of the natural in order to further support its belief in the unnatural. It has identified with the body and is terrified that it will be destroyed if it accepts its true identity. That is why we need the gentle process of forgiveness that Jesus teaches in the Course. Its central message is that nothing external to the mind has any effect on it, and everything in the dream is the reflection of a choice in the mind. The goal is to restore to the mind awareness of its power to choose, so it will decide to make another choice, motivated by the pain of choosing separation. Guilt for this choice is what keeps the figure in the dream in a deep sleep wherein the call to waken is but dimly heard. Each time we are willing to see judgment against others as the projection of our own guilt for having chosen the ego, we loosen its grip and fear lessens. As fear and guilt are gradually undone in this way, the dream lightens and becomes a happy dream, until the attainment of the real world that will end all dreaming. Only then will the illusion of separation be forgotten and the knowledge of oneness (our natural state) restored.

Q #881: I have studied A Course in Miracles for many years, but still find it hard to believe that if someone goes out their way to intentionally undermine, attack, abandon, betray me, etc., that my natural reaction to get angry or fearful from the perceived attack is unjustified and merely a symbol of my own guilt. This for some reason doesn't wash with me. I consider myself a genuinely loving and tolerant person, and if I am attacked for no apparent reason, I am hurt by these actions, which makes me fearful, which leads to anger. Where in this cycle does the guilt from being separate from the Love of God fit in?

A: The Course's teaching on this subject is quite radical. There may be no other system that teaches that we are responsible for absolutely everything we experience -- not for what other people do , but for our reaction to what other people do. The basic reason is that before we react, we first choose to identify either with the ego or with the Holy Spirit in our minds. Then our reaction to what others or we ourselves do -- the interpretation of actions and behavior -- flows from the thought system we identify with in our minds. Thus, if you are identified with the love and forgiveness thoughts in your right mind, you could not be angry at another's attack, even if the attack had serious consequences in your life. You would not deny the objective facts in the world and in your life, and you could pursue legal action if that were warranted; but your internal state of peace would not change to anger. That is the main point. This is an advanced state, to be sure; but this is what Jesus is teaching us. When the ego thought system is gone from your mind, you would experience everyone else as either calling for love or expressing love. No other interpretation is possible if there is only love in your mind (T.12.I ; see also W.pII.347,348) . Again, this is a very advanced state -- the top of the ladder. Lesson 284 describes the gentle process of attaining this ideal (W.pII.284) .

Anger is thought to be a normal human emotion; and it is normal on the human level. But the human level derives solely from the ego; it is a defense against our natural state of invulnerability as spirit, God's creation. When we choose against our true Self, we will feel guilty and will have to do something about that self-hatred and the threat of punishment automatically connected with it. That choice is not usually conscious -- although the object of the mind training of the Course is to have it become conscious -- so it seems unreasonable to be told that our anger is never justified, and even that we are deceiving ourselves when we feel victimized (T.21.II.2:6) . Note, however, that Jesus never says not to get angry, and that when we do become angry, he says we should not judge ourselves for it. But if you look at the full spectrum of ego dynamics, especially its goal of keeping us mindless as bodies in space and time -- you can see why Jesus would teach that anger is not justified. The ego's major strategy is to keep us thinking we are innocent victims of what others have done to us. That way, we would never think to look within for the source of our problems and pain, and the ego's existence consequently would be secure, as would be its doctrine of separation: I am angry at you -- two separate persons!

Jesus is helping us to see the insanity of the ego's system of “protection” -- that we must suffer at the hands of vicious, cruel people or forces in order to be protected from the pain of the guilt we feel deep in our minds -- they are to blame, and they deserve to be punished. That is where the ego always wants us to wind up. Our lack of peace is thus always attributed to something else -- anything but our own decision to cherish our individual, special existence at the expense of our oneness, our true Identity as God's one Son in Heaven.

It is really important to see this teaching as ultimately liberating and merciful, not some kind of spiritual admonition that squelches human emotions. We are not aware of the thought system of fear that spawns all of our reactions to seemingly outer events. That is what Jesus is helping us with in this course so that we will be permanently free of fear and pain, and rest peacefully in our oneness. “I am affected only by my thoughts. . . . in this single thought is everyone released at last from fear” (W.pII.338.title; 1:2) . This is the ideal, once again, and we need to grow in trust that he is right -- that we will be okay without anger and judgments. We don't need anyone to remind us that we are not peaceful when we are in a state of anger -- that is obvious. But at the same time it seems unreasonable -- risky at the very least -- to accept Jesus' way to peace. That decision is ours alone.