Weekly Questions and Answers, 02/12/2003

This week's questions:

Q #80: A question about "Is my knowledge real knowledge?"
Q #81: A question about forming a special relationship with the Course.
Q #82: A question about the nature of dreaming & the real world & duality
Q #83: A question about the name of God
Q #84  A question about overeating and other hurtful activities

Q #80: The more I read the Text, and continue to do the lessons, the more I realize that I am God's perfect creation despite what I see with my physical eyes. In the first three chapters in the Text, the theme to me is -- the only reality is -- that I have never been separated from God -- it is powerful, simple and it is the truth. I KNOW this. Knowledge does not question. Only the ego does. Is this a type of intellectual experience or a 'real' experience -- the former being one disguised by the ego?

A: Your experience may very well be valid and real, a reflection of the knowledge that is present within all of us as the Christ, God’s only Son. And the most useful perspective on the experience (unless you feel you have already transcended any need for the Course and its practice) may be this: If the experience is helpful in deepening your understanding and practice of forgiveness, which is at the core of the Course’s teaching and purpose, then you can simply be grateful that you have allowed yourself to be open to it -- for that is all that really matters. In other words, if the experience has allowed you to recognize that your interests are not separate from your brothers and that any judgments you have been holding against either your brothers or yourself are without merit or justification, then you have taken a big step forward in your healing process.

As the Course says of itself right at the beginning of the text, "The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence, which is your natural inheritance" (T.in.1:6,7). "Removing the blocks" is what forgiveness is all about, and this requires a willingness to look at our ego, in all its self-centered viciousness and guilty deceptions, so that, with Jesus’ love beside us, we can then look beyond those blocks to the joyful truth about ourselves and our brothers. If your experience is providing you with a glimpse of the Course’s final destination, then hopefully it can enhance your motivation for the means -- forgiveness -- the Course provides for arriving there. Bon voyage!

Q #81: I have read that all relationships are special, and that one can even have a special relationship with the Course itself. I often wonder if I myself have a special relationship with the Course. How can I know if I do or not? And is this really even a "problem" I should concern myself with? (One reason I suspect I may have a special relationship with the Course is because I often think that all the world's problems would be solved if everyone would just read the Course.)

A: Yes, all relationships are special, and that includes our relationship with the Course. What makes the Course "special" is individualized, and varies in form, but it usually involves perceiving the form of the Course as having special power to meet our special needs. Another form the specialness frequently takes for students is feeling "special," and often "superior" to believers of other traditional forms of spirituality. This specialness includes the reason you give -- that everyone should read the Course. And with that you have answered the first part of your question. As the Course itself tells us in the Manual: "There is a course for every teacher of God. The form of the course varies greatly. So do the particular teaching aids involved....This is a manual for a special curriculum, intended for teachers of a special form of the universal course. There are many thousands of other forms, all with the same outcome" (M.1.3:1,2,4:1,2).

Our relationship with the Course is no more or less a problem than anything else. It is an opportunity for forgiveness. The ego uses everything for its purpose of separation and judgment, including the Course. All of our relationships, without exception, need to be looked at in the light of the Course’s teaching: "…let us look more closely at the relationships the ego contrives, and let the Holy Spirit judge them truly. For it is certain that if you will look at them, you will offer them gladly to Him. What He can make of them you do not know, but you will become willing to find out, if you are willing first to perceive what you have made of them" (T.15.VII.5:3,4,5). It is important to recognize the specialness, being very honest about the specific feelings and judgments involved in it, and see how you are using it to be separate and special. This applies whether the specialness takes the form of love or hate, because seeming special love for the Course is the same as special hate. The specialness with the Course reflects how we perceive other people; the people we "love" who follow the Course as we do, and those we "hate," who do not study it as we do, or do not study it at all. Behind the specialness with the Course stand all our brothers, thus is the world divided and our relationships defined to suit our needs. The Course therefore, fits in with everything else in our lives and in our world by reflecting back to us the choice we have made to be separate. Jesus does not ask us to "love" the Course, or preach it. He asks us to study it, practice it, and apply its teaching to everything, including the Course itself: "Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you" (T.11.VI.7:3,4).

 Q #82: The Course says we are already Home. Then that would mean that we are already in Heaven now. Heaven has no outside or inside. It is everything. Does this mean that this world is in Heaven and Heaven is in this world? Is this similar to the Vedantic statement, Atman is Brahman?

A. The non-dualism of the Course is an absolute non-dualism that states that reality is infinite, formless, changeless, and eternal; nothing finite or of form is real in any way. That would mean that the finite, physical universe has no reality. It is entirely illusory. There are other non-dualistic systems that place the world within the being of God. These are the different forms of pantheism -- both east and west -- which give reality to the world, but not as a creation outside God’s being. The Course’s non-dualism is absolute, giving no reality to finite multiplicity. Thus reality is perfect Oneness, "nothing outside this Oneness, and nothing else within" (T.18.VI.1:6). And in stating that "the world was made as an attack on God" (W.pII.3.2:2), Jesus makes it clear that the world is not in God nor of God.

This is the metaphysical foundation of the startling statement that "you are at home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality" (T.10.I.2:1), and why Jesus asks "who is the you, who are living in this world?" (T.4.II.11:8). The entire Course is addressed to a mind outside time and space that has chosen to deny its true Identity as the formless extension of its infinite Source, and "become" instead an individualized entity limited by time and space. At the same time, this mind conceals the memory of its true Identity as the one Son of God. Only in a dream or a fantasy could this occur, but not in reality, as the Course teaches. Therefore, we, as we know ourselves in this world, have no reality. All that exists is God and the undifferentiated, eternal, changeless, and perfect extension of His infinite being, a reality having no counterpart in the world, nor can it be understood in this world.

"No one asleep and dreaming in the world remembers his attack upon himself. No one believes there really was a time when he knew nothing of a body, and could never have conceived this world as real. He would have seen at once that these ideas are one illusion, too ridiculous for anything but to be laughed away. How serious they now appear to be! And no one can remember when they would have met with laughter and with disbelief" (T.27.VIII.5:4,5,6,7,8).

Separating from infinity, from totality, is impossible, the Course teaches. God creates only like Himself. Therefore His creations share His being, but without ever being less than He is: "Yet could God’s Son as He created him abide in form or in a world of form?" (C.2.2:4). In this sense, the Course’s teachings are similar to the Vedantic statement, Atman is Brahman, as echoed in another passage: "What He creates is not apart from Him, and nowhere does the Father end, the Son begin as something separate from Him" (W.pI.132.12:4).

Q #83: Lessons 183, 184 focus on the Name of God. The lessons say it is one word and that it has such power that one should become oblivious to all other words as it will bring great healing even to the world. At the very beginning it suggests the concept of surname -- so assume from Jesus Christ that God's surname is Christ. A later lesson says God's Name is Love. I looked at the review lessons but still it doesn't say -- basically my question is: What is God's Name?

A: Lesson 183, "I call upon God’s Name and on my own," is to be read like beautiful poetry, using words to remind us of what must lie beyond words. When it speaks of God as having a Name, this is not to be taken literally. A careful reading of Lesson 184, "The Name of God is my inheritance," makes the figurative nature of Lesson 183 more apparent, as it describes the origin and purpose of names in the ego thought system. And in fact, Lesson 184 asserts quite unequivocally, "God has no name" (W.pI.184.12:1).

The reality of God and Christ is beyond all words, all names, all symbols, all concepts. These are all the products of consciousness, which perceives dualistically, differentiating between a perceiver and a perceived, a self and an other, which are necessarily predicated on a belief in separation. Lesson 184 explains how names are part of the ego’s plan to divide the unity of reality into separate, identifiable, segments -- each name assigned to each seemingly separate entity asserts its independent, discrete, and meaningful existence. But these divisions are all illusory (W.pI.184.1,2,3,4,5,6).

Now Jesus knows that separation and its effects are all we understand and so he acknowledges that we will need to continue to use its symbols for a while (W.pI.184.9:1,2; 11:1). But he wants to teach us to recognize their ultimate unreality by having us give words and names a different purpose. So calling upon the Name of God is a symbolic way of expressing the final learning that we are moving towards -- "all things are one, and at this lesson does all learning end. All names are unified; all space is filled with truth’s reflection. Every gap is closed, and separation healed" (W.pI.184.12:2,3,4). By acknowledging that God’s Name is our Name, we are accepting the Correction for all the little names we have given everything in the world, including ourselves, our brothers, and God. And so the one Name is used symbolically to undo all the ego’s little names, until we are ready to move beyond all symbols to the reality that is beyond all names.

 Q #84: I have heard it said that in order to remove guilt from our ego mind we must invite the Holy Spirit into everything we do and thereby cleanse the activity from guilt. For example, if we overeat we need to invite the Holy Spirit in every time we eat so that there is no guilt from the activity. It is the guilt that is the overweight not the activity itself. Well what about people who beat their spouse or murder other people? Surely you aren’t saying that as long as they remove the guilt from these activities and invite the Holy Spirit into them that they will be absolved of the consequences of that activity? Then how is it that you learn to cease a detrimental activity? I know you cannot ask for help from the Holy Spirit to stop you from doing the activity because God doesn’t know eating too many cookies or flying a plane into the World Trade Center. He only knows that his Son is sleeping and He wants him to awaken. Just as an example, how do I stop myself from eating too much or the "wrong" foods?

A. First, it is important to understand what inviting the Holy Spirit in means. If we invite the Holy Spirit into our minds, we are asking to share His perception of everything, and to have His purpose be ours in all that we do. If we truly accept that, then we would not see our interests as separate from anyone else’s, we would never try to gain at another’s expense, nor would we see sin within ourselves, and so there would be no motivation to attack either ourselves or anyone else. Since our minds would be free of all conflict and guilt, we could not see ourselves as needing anything from others, nor could we see ourselves as victimized by others. There is no unconscious guilt that would get projected onto one’s own body or that of another.

Given this, it would hardly seem possible that someone sharing the Holy Spirit’s perception and purpose would do something violent with the express intent of inflicting pain and causing harm to another or oneself. If we identified with the Holy Spirit’s thought system and had no ego at all, it would be impossible to be cruel: "There is no cruelty in God and none in me," as Lesson 170 tells us. In this sense, "cleansing an activity of guilt," means cleansing our minds of guilt by choosing against the ego. Then whatever we do would be loving and kind.

It is also helpful to remember that we are all heavily invested in our identities as individuals, and that on an unconscious level, we have equated our existence with sin. It isn’t that easy for us, as a result, to exchange our ego identification for the Holy Spirit’s. So even though we may think we are inviting Him in, we have so many hidden reservations that we wind up listening largely to our ego, thinking it is the Holy Spirit. After years of experience, however, most of us develop a deeper sensitivity to the strength of our investment in the ego’s thought system, and know that if we truly, without reservation, wanted to let go of our ego, we would in an instant. But our fear is too great, and we therefore do it a little at a time, in holy instants. That means that we will be in our wrong minds most of the time, and then the healing process would be focused on looking at our wrong minds without judgment and without guilt. This is another way in which we invite the Holy Spirit in. We look at our ego without judging ourselves or others for having an ego, trusting that when we are less fearful, we will accept the correction.

In light of this, it is clear that the Course is not saying that we can do whatever we wish -- cruel or not -- as long as we don’t feel guilty about it. Yes, guilt is always the problem, because guilt makes the error real and always gets projected, which leads to an endless guilt-attack cycle. But that does not translate into a license to do anything one wishes to do, as long as there is no guilt. The guilt is never in the activity; the guilt is in the mind, stemming from the decision to believe, for example, that our interests are best served at another’s expense, which leads us to attack others, or in our belief that we deserve to be punished for our sin of separating from God, which leads to self-destructive behavior. The ultimate source of guilt is our belief that we have indeed attacked God by separating from Him, and therefore whenever we perceive separation as real, we are cultivating the breeding place of guilt. So that is where our attention needs to be directed, if we are to become guilt-free. This is a process that goes on in our minds.

On the other hand, if we already have done something to harm ourselves or another person, we can then remind ourselves -- without rationalizing or justifying what we did -- that feeling guilty over it is not helpful or healing: Only fearful people attack, and so I must have been identified with my ego when I attacked, or I would not have been fearful. Being afraid is not sinful, though, and therefore there is no need to feel guilty about what I did. It cost me dearly, because I am not peaceful; but it has had no effect on Jesus’ love for me. I know that I cannot attack myself or others and feel his love at the same time: "You cannot enter God’s Presence if you attack His Son" (T.11.IV.5:6); but I also know that he will not stop loving me because of what I did. I have paid a high price, but that still does not justify feeling guilty. It was a mistake, and one day my fear will be diminished enough that I will be able to accept the correction. That kind of honesty is what heals and keeps us moving in the right direction. Being aware of the price of our attack on ourselves and others would provide the motivation for change as well, although the tolerance for self-inflicted pain varies from individual to individual. We must reach the point, though, where being happy is more valued than being right, before we will ever take that next step.

To direct this to your specific issue: If you continually hurt yourself by overeating or by eating the wrong kinds of food, you can at least tell yourself that you know that what you are doing is coming from your ego, because it is hurtful not kind, but that is the best you can do at the moment, and so you are not going to make it worse by judging yourself for it. You can further remind yourself that you must be very fearful of Jesus’ love, and so you push it away in the form of this attack on yourself in order to prove that you are not worthy of his love. There would always be a grievance of some sort lurking in the background as well. (Our book and tape, Overeating, go into this topic in detail, if you haven’t yet run across them.)

The reason we repeat destructive behavior is that we want the outcome it provides. Strangely, as Jesus teaches us in the "Obstacles to Peace," we are attracted to guilt, and so we will keep doing whatever will leave us feeling guilty (T.19.IV.A.i). That is why the Course focuses so heavily on looking within at the thought system of guilt that we have allowed to rule our minds and motivate our behavior. Sometimes, though, the most loving thing one can do is accept behavioral therapy for eating disorders, as a reflection of a decision to be more kind and less cruel to oneself. It is a good starting point. But we must eventually get to the root of problem, if the behavioral change is to last.

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