Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 03/01/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #890 How can we know which teachers have really obtained enlightenment?
Q #891 When life is going well I am not interested in Course principles.
Q #892 What is the meaning of the "near death experience" ?

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Q #890: In addition to the valuable changes in perception that practice A Course in Miracles provides, are there any Course students who have had some degree of enlightenment experience? Are the Course's teachers mainly talking from the perspective of belief and conceptual understanding (as opposed to direct experience of non-duality)? Given Zen's emphasis on a human teacher (who has experienced some degree of enlightenment) to ensure that the student doesn't confuse progress with ego milestones, how is this avoided in the Course?

A: We don't know whether or not any Course students or teachers have had direct experiences of non-duality. There would be no need to announce, really, that one has had such an experience, and having that experience is not the immediate objective of the lessons in A Course in Miracles ( see T.8.I.1,2; T.24.in.1; M.26.2,3) . There is only one qualification that Jesus gives for becoming a teacher of God. In his somewhat startling definition he states: “A teacher of God is anyone who chooses to be one. His qualifications consist solely in this; somehow, somewhere he has made a deliberate choice in which he did not see his interests as apart from someone else's” (M.1.1:1,2) . That is the only qualification, which actually is one of the major themes running through the entire Course. Learning to perceive each other and relate to each other in the context of the common purpose we all share as God's one Son -- now fragmented, but desirous of returning home to our oneness in God -- is the means of approaching the non-dualism of reality. The perception that we all share the same mind -- wrong mind, right mind, and decision-making power -- reflects the ultimate ontological non-dualism of reality.

We are both drawn to the truth and terrified of it; attracted to union and terrified of being without our individual identity. Believing we are individual, separate human beings, we would have to be terrified of pure Oneness; and if we weren't, we would not need the Course or any other spiritual path. Therefore, abstract Oneness must be represented and taught in a form that we can understand and accept. We need teachers who can communicate to us on our level, recognizing our tremendous fear and resistance to letting go of our individual self. They must use the language and symbols of the world of separation and individuality to gently and gradually lead us beyond it ( see T.25.I.5,6,7; W.pI.184.9,10,11) . One form in which that need is met is Jesus and this course.

Teaching in A Course in Miracles is thought of in an entirely different light from what is typically thought of in the world as teaching. In the manual for teachers Jesus tells us that his course “emphasizes that to teach is to learn, so that teacher and learner are the same” ; and he continues with this important description of teaching: “To teach is to demonstrate. There are only two thought systems, and you demonstrate that you believe that one or the other is true all the time. From your demonstration others learn, and so do you” (M.in.1:5; 2:12,3) . The Course says virtually nothing about the formal classroom-type situation, but a great deal about the content that is taught, and how it is taught: “. . . the content of the course never changes. Its central theme is always, ‘God's Son is guiltless, and in his innocence is his salvation.' It can be taught by actions or thoughts; in words or soundlessly; in any language or in no language; in any place or time or manner” (M.1.3:4,5,6) . A student, therefore, does not have to be in a formal classroom to learn this course. Jesus stresses only the need to develop a relationship with the Teacher within our minds Who reflects to us the abstract truth of Heaven.

In view of all this, if you are in a class on A Course in Miracles , you are going to learn either that separation is reality or that oneness is reality; that separate interests are valued or that shared interests are the only value. That is what will be communicated, regardless of the words, teaching aids, and techniques used -- and regardless of how well versed the instructor/facilitator is on the thought system of the Course. In the text, Jesus talks about “right teaching and right learning” (T.4.I) , and there he warns about the “ego-oriented” teacher who “is concerned with the effect of his ego on other egos, and therefore interprets their interaction as a means of ego preservation. I would not be able to devote myself to teaching if I believed this, and you will not be a devoted teacher as long as you believe it” (T.4.I.6:4,5,6) . This is a helpful guideline that alerts us to the ways in which specialness can creep into the teaching/learning situation. But it is only after considerable practice in monitoring our minds and observing our reactions in our daily lives that we will be able to discern the message we are giving and receiving. This is why in the text Jesus cautions us about putting ourselves in charge of our own spiritual process: “Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success” (T.18.V.1:6) . This does not mean, however, that we need to turn to an external teacher because of our deficiencies, although it would not be wrong to do so. The process is primarily an internal one between ourselves and the Holy Spirit, Who holds for us the memory of the truth of Heaven.

Q #891: I find that I'm only willing to honestly look at my thought system when things are going badly. When I'm comfortable, when all seems “right with the world,” I have very little motivation to make the kind of extraordinary commitment to change as is necessary for learning the course. That said, I feel as though on some level I make things in the world bad so that I will be willing to learn. For as long as I believe the world is real (and obviously I am very invested in that belief), I feel that studying A Course in Miracles equals discomfort in every day living.  I realize intellectually that Jesus is not punishing me, but I do react that way.  How would you recommend that I think about this differently?

A: Part of the ego's scheme to convince us that there is life outside of Heaven, and we are enjoying it, is to make a vast array of enticing substitutes for the true happiness that is our inheritance as God's innocent Son. When all seems “right with the world,” it can only be due to the fleeting pleasure of having all the ego's specialness needs satisfactorily met. Your experience of wavering motivation in practicing the Course is common. As long as we are satisfied with a life filled with the exhausting effort of finding the “happiness” the ego offers, only to have it vanish without notice in an instant, we will not change our minds and awaken from the dream. The ego does a clever job of disguising and denying the pain that permeates its thought system, which is why we need the Holy Spirit's help to uncover the misery that lies beneath the ego's “good times.”

One of the important goals of the Course is to help us see the inevitable and unavoidable pain of identifying with the ego. As Jesus tells us in the text: “Anything in this world that you believe is good and valuable and worth striving for can hurt you, and will do so. Not because it has the power to hurt, but just because you have denied it is but an illusion, and made it real” (T.26.VI.1:1,2). The goal is not to look for ants at every picnic, but to not be fooled by the meaningless glitter of what does not truly satisfy and does not even exist. The ego would have us believe that when things are rosy we have found a wonderful substitute for Heaven, and when they're not so rosy it's not our fault; God must be punishing us. Thus, the ego gets us coming and going. And just to be sure all the bases are covered with no escape possible, the ego cleverly claims that the only way to learn the Course is to be miserable. This exemplifies its fool-proof case for dismissing the Course altogether (T.5.VI.10:6) , or at least delaying progress by strengthening the belief that the world is real. The Holy Spirit uses all the distinctions between rosy days and gray days to teach us they are all the same, in that they serve as a classroom to practice forgiveness.

Jesus straightens our backwards and upside-down interpretation of everything: “You who are steadfastly devoted to misery must first recognize that you are miserable and not happy. The Holy Spirit cannot teach without this contrast, for you believe that misery is happiness” (T.14.II.1:2,3). You are not actually making things bad, but are seeing that the world does not work as a substitute for Heaven, no matter how convincing the ego's story seems. If that serves as motivation to follow a path that leads out of the dream of separation to our true home, a bad day takes on a very useful and positive purpose. And that's not so bad. In fact, it can be seen as evidence that the mind has decided to turn away from the ego toward the Holy Spirit, which gives a happy ending to a bad day.

What makes the happiness of this world misery is the fact that it will end (not to mention that it is not real in the first place), and what does not last cannot bring happiness. Jesus takes this a step further: “ You can be sure indeed that any seeming happiness that does not last is really fear” (T.22.II.3:5). This means that when we think we are happy about anything in this world we are really afraid, and when we are not happy we are afraid. Obviously we do not know what happi­ness is. The only way to see this differently is to learn that nothing in this world will make us truly happy. As long as anything in this world is perceived as desirable, misery is inevitable. Keeping this in mind will provide a steady motivation to practice the forgiveness that will lead us out of the nightmare of separation where nothing is truly “right.” We need not be totally free of our mistaken ideas about happiness and pain, it is enough that we be willing to admit that we do not know what will make us happy. This is easier said than done since identity with the body depends on being right about who we are. That is why resistance is so great and motivation to learn this Course can be sluggish. Jesus thus tells us what we need to hear more than anything else: “Step back now, teacher of God. You have been wrong. Lead not the way, for you have lost it” (M.22.5:7,8,9, italics added ). When all seems “right with the world,” it may be helpful just to gently remind yourself of this, without trying to change anything. This introduces doubt, which weakens belief in the ego's version of what is right or wrong, or good or bad, and opens the way to a different interpretation. When the obstacle of the ego's “rightness” is removed, the Holy Spirit's is revealed.

Q #892: I've read much about “near death experiences” over the years and have found these accounts almost always inspiring and reassuring. The nature of many of these experiences would seem at odds with the ego's purpose to keep us attached to our bodies. I have read many accounts of NDEs where the experiencer is ecstatic to be free of the body; and most are angry/sad/disappointed at finding themselves back in their bodies after the event. I read an earlier reply to an NDE question where you said that they are sometimes given a 'special' mission to carry out on their return (pandering to the ego); however I have never read one where the returnee felt this experience made him feel 'special'. Mostly they feel extremely grateful to have been given a glimpse of, what they now think, is their true state; and the experience often makes them much better people. I'm wondering how the wonderful feeling of liberation from the body and sense of oneness with everything that many NDEers experience actually serves the ego?

A: If there is a feeling of oneness with everything -- without the slightest need to let others know of it, or the slightest hint of specialness over having had the experience -- then it would not be an ego event. From the point of view of A Course in Miracles , however, the person's mind would not be fully healed if the feeling of liberation and all-inclusive love is diminished or changed upon “finding themselves back in their bodies after the event.” The Course teaches that love is our reality, not the body; and therefore when your mind is fully identified with that Love of Heaven, you would clearly see the body -- as did Jesus -- as simply a vehicle through which that Love flows. You would see either that expression of love everywhere or else calls for it; and therefore there would be no sense of sadness or disappointment, as you would know you are not in the body. Your identity remains as it is -- apart from the body. The love in your mind would be expressed in bodily form, so that others still identified with their bodies could recognize it and accept it in a way that would not overwhelm them with fear. An NDE, thus, can be a non-ego experience; but that same experience of being beyond the body can occur at any instant we choose against the ego. In other words, it is always accessible to us, as it is solely a matter of the choice we make in our minds, and has nothing to do with the condition of our bodies.

A Course in Miracles teaches that the body is a projection of the mind and has no reality in and of itself. In this sense, the mind is the cause and source of all bodily conditions and experiences; the body is only an effect of the mind's decisions. The mind is split between the ego thought system and the correction of that, which is the Holy Spirit's thought system of forgiveness. Thus, all seeming bodily occurrences -- physical and psychological -- can be understood as symbols reflecting to us our mind's decision for either the ego or the Holy Spirit. This is not our “true state,” but true perception, or right-mindedness, leads us there, as Jesus explains: “It cannot be emphasized too often that correcting perception is merely a temporary expedient. . . . accurate perception is a steppingstone towards it [knowledge] . The whole value of right perception lies in the inevitable realization that all perception is unnecessary” (T.4.II.11:1,2,3). Our true state is as Mind (capital M ) -- pure spirit, pure oneness, beyond all perception entirely. We experience the reflection of our true state whenever we do not perceive our interests as apart from anyone else's, the consistent practice of which leads to the perception that we are the same.