Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 04/12/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #915 Would forgiveness make me less liable to experience pain and fatigue?
Q #916 How can I experience peace and let go of fear and guilt?
Q #917 Why does the fear of death not cause an illusory world where we live forever ?
Q #918 I know the world holds nothing that I want, but if I deny myself things I become depressed?
Q #919 Are there still minds separating from God?

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Q #915: I am a builder, and practicing the forgiveness process while I work has helped me greatly in taking the pain and frustration out of much of my work. I can actually go to work and instead of feeling that I have to ‘attack' the day aggressively and fight with my work and materials, the work just gets done peacefully one step at a time now, and I'm very grateful for that important change. Another problem my activity causes me, however, is regular physical pain, hunger, and fatigue. And so I wonder to what extent forgiveness could help me there. The pain, hunger and need for rest and sleep seem like normal by-products of my activity, but if everything here is just a reflection of what is in the mind, and if all body needs and reactions are the manifestation of guilt on some level, then I imagine I should be able to do something about them. Am I off on the wrong track?

If I see these physical symptoms as other manifestations of ontological guilt, then conceivably I could allow even more peace in my daily activity, whether or not that translates into physical changes -- would that be right? And would I be right in assuming that 'anything' that is a mental, emotional or physical reaction within me is a sign of guilt and a request for forgiveness, because in the real world there are no more reactions as such since there is no real ‘me' anymore? If so, that would give me a lot more to work on while at the building site.

And another little side question -- I rarely come into contact with other people in my work since I work alone and live in an isolated part of the country. And so I wonder if I can fulfill the forgiveness process fully because we are supposed to have encounters with others and that just doesn't happen in my life. I would like that to happen, and would like to be with people, but that's just not the way things are for the moment. Forgiveness can be complete nevertheless, because all minds are joined, no?

A: Wherever you seem to find yourself, that's your classroom, and, rest assured, there your lessons will be. So your particular situation, despite its physical isolation from others, still provides you with the opportunities to practice forgiveness, as you have surmised. Physical pain certainly is an indication that there remains an unhealed, projected thought of guilt in the mind, and so your suggestion that you could use such symptoms as a reminder to look within is a good one. And the goal and the focus of your practice, from the perspective of A Course in Miracles , would be to release the guilt, and not to relieve the bodily pain -- although that certainly could be an after- effect of the forgiveness.

The “normal” reactions of the body, such as hunger and fatigue, indicate simply that you are still identified with the body, which will be the case for each of us until the very end of our individual Atonement process. Likewise, if you see what you believe to be yourself staring back at you from a mirror, you still must be believing that you need a defense against the buried guilt in your mind. So it may be helpful to remember that the body, once we have made it real in our experience, becomes a wholly neutral thing (W.pI.294) . And all of its normal functions, including eating and sleeping, are simply limitations that will in general seem to accompany that bodily experience.

What determines the body's meaning is the purpose we give it (T.26.VIII.3:7) , and that may be a further fruitful focus for your attention. Specifically, how do you see yourself in relationship to others? Their bodies do not have to be present for you to have “encounters” with your brothers and sisters in your mind -- which in reality is where all encounters occur, with all the accompanying forgiveness lessons. During all your time by yourself, do you find that you spend some of that time thinking about others in your life -- family, friends, acquaintances -- both past and present? And what is the nature of those thoughts? Are there still grievances, irritations, annoyances, etc., in relationship to others that come to mind? Are there feelings of special love associated with certain ones? All these will be projections of your own guilt, and hence opportunities once again to look within and acknowledge and release the buried guilt.

Your willingness to use everything that your ego presents to you (always presented by your own choice!) is all that Jesus is asking of any of us. Each of your reactions, as you note, at every level, provides another opportunity to choose again. A passage from the workbook describes very clearly the kind of shift you are alluding to, which will become permanent only at the end of our journey back home, although there will be glimpses and then greater lengths of time where this will be our experience, in those moments when we have suspended all thoughts of judgment and attack:

      “Now is the body healed, because the source of sickness [ the mind ] has been opened to relief. And you will recognize you practiced well by this: The body should not feel at all. If you have been successful, there will be no sense of feeling ill or feeling well, of pain or pleasure. No response at all is in the mind to what the body does. Its usefulness remains and nothing more.

      “Perhaps you do not realize that this removes the limits you had placed upon the body by the purposes you gave to it. As these are laid aside, the strength the body has will always be enough to serve all truly useful purposes. The body's health is fully guaranteed, because it is not limited by time, by weather or fatigue, by food and drink, or any laws you made it serve before. You need do nothing now to make it well, for sickness has become impossible” ( W.pI.136.17,18 ) .

Q #916: I have been wanting for so long to have some peace, some love in my life and I am so sad. I am so hard on myself and I don't know how to be anything else. I am trying so hard to do what the Course says, about looking at my ego with Jesus. I have been doing this again today and I was reading an answer you wrote to someone (Question #387) about if they were identified with their ego they would have difficulty hearing Jesus' direction, let alone accepting and following it. I would like to say that I am no longer identified with my ego but I am, so is there hope for me? I am not looking for an easy way out. I do believe that every word in A Course in Miracles is the truth. I want it to work, I want to let go of my self-hatred and my fear and guilt. What would you suggest that I do?

A: You first want to learn to be gentle with yourself. And this begins with accepting yourself exactly where you are, identified with your ego, feeling unhappy, miserable, alone, frustrated, filled with guilt and self-hatred. And this genuine self-acceptance can seem like one of the hardest things in the world to achieve, for we believe when we have such feelings, that we have to do something to change them, as if the feelings were the problem. But they are not -- they are only the effect. The real problem is that we want to feel however we are feeling, and so saying we want to change how we feel is denying the power of our mind to have chosen to feel that way in the first place. We still believe there are external circumstances, such as lack of love in our lives, that are the cause of how we feel. And then no matter how willing we believe we are to look within for the answer, we keep looking for the external to change.

The next step is to ask yourself why you would want to feel the way you do. Believe it or not, we all take a certain comfort in our so-called bad feelings. They are very familiar, and a lot of how we identify ourselves is tied up in those feelings. Who after all would I be without my sadness and self-hatred and hopelessness? And if I choose to keep myself in pain and despair, how angry can God really be at me for stealing my miserable little life from Him. Now these thoughts generally are not conscious, but they nevertheless continue to dictate our decision for unhappiness until we become more conscious of them. So after beginning to accept how you feel without trying to change your feelings, you may want to begin to ask for help in seeing how those feelings are really your choice. The awareness may be fleeting, or it may hit you like a ton of bricks, but your part is only to be willing to allow it to come to the surface. They are really very silly thoughts, but while we continue to keep them buried, they can seem quite dark and serious.

Did you know that you are setting yourself up for failure with the Course? In commenting on the answer to Question #387, which says it's difficult to hear Jesus when you are identified with your ego, you conclude that you will only hear him when you are no longer identified with the ego. That is not what this answer is saying -- that would be a nearly impossible, hopeless state to attempt to achieve, for it would mean you could only hear Jesus once you no longer needed his help! The answer to Question #387 simply means you will vacillate between moments of being identified with your ego, when Jesus will seem miles away, and moments when you have temporarily disidentified with your ego, and are able to observe it without judgment. In such moments, Jesus' help will be available, until you become fearful again and push his love away. And it could only be your ego that would deny that you have ever had such experiences of Jesus' love and guidance!

The Course is not something that you should have to work hard at. Jesus only asks us to have a little willingness, and that willingness is simply the willingness to look at what we have chosen and wanted to make real in our lives, without judging ourselves for having made that choice. As we look with Jesus at our foolish choice for the ego, we will be begin to be able to smile with him at how silly we are, and in those moments, the effects of having chosen guilt and sin and pain will simply dissipate. It really is that simple, and only our own resistance, because we do not want to believe we are worthy of love, makes it seem at all difficult.

Q #917: The Course's separation myth emphasizes the making of the world as a defense mechanism against the guilt and fear that God would take away the separate existence the Son desired (and the result is billions of fragments). I don't see how this relates to what I think is the most basic fear: the fear of death. And I wonder why this separateness didn't produce individuals that could last forever.

A: From our perspective as separate bodies in the world, it does seem that the fear of death is one of our most basic fears. And yet, from Jesus' perspective, our problem is not our fear of death but our attraction to it, as discussed in great detail in the third obstacle to peace (T.19.IV.C) . For the belief in death is the cornerstone of the ego's thought system -- our seeming separate life came at God's expense, requiring His death, the destruction of Oneness, according to the ego myth. And the belief that God eventually is going to steal back the life we stole from Him, culminating in our death and the end of our individual existence, is simply further proof that the separation is real, a sin punishable by God.

The irony of all of the ego's defenses, including the fragmenting of the mind and the seeming projection of those fragments out into a world of form, is that none of them works, in terms of the purpose the ego has promised us they will serve. While we remain identified with the ego, nothing can make us safe, nothing can protect us from God's wrath, except temporarily, for in the end death is inevitable, and it is this we believe we fear.

But what the ego defenses in fact do accomplish, which we do not allow ourselves to see or accept, is to keep our focus outside ourselves, on the world and the body and death, so that we do not see that we have made up the entire situation, from the beginning to the end in death, and none of it is true. Bodies may seem to die, but we are mind, created eternal by God, and the death of the body has nothing to do with us, unless we want to believe that it does. And we only want to believe that it does if we want the thought of separation and death to be real and we want to remain identified with the ego -- which we do! And so that is why Jesus speaks of our attraction to death, conveniently hidden by our apparent fear of death.

Nearly all of our conscious thinking is upside down and backwards, and our conclusions seem quite justifiable because they seem to be all that we know. And so Jesus, through A Course in Miracles , is attempting very gently to peel back the layers of defense that we have embraced to keep our real attraction to death out of our awareness, so that we can see what we really believe and are choosing. As it becomes clearer to us that we are really choosing to believe in death, Jesus knows that we will be willing to make a different choice -- for life, which has no opposite in death (W.pI.167.1) and has nothing to do with bodies.

Regarding your final question, while there are many different forms and stories that the ego could have produced, individuals who live forever is not among them. For the separation was made to be the opposite of God and Heaven, which alone are eternal, and so the ego can only attempt to mimic infinity and eternity ( e.g., T.4.I.11; T.4.V.6:1,2) . Even today's scientists see its apparently most impressive accomplishment, the expanding universe of time and space, as eventually collapsing back upon itself.

Q #918: I dabble with one line that we are supposed to repeat/meditate on: "The world I see holds nothing that I want" (W.pI.128). Of course, I know that this is not true. I live in a body and denying things I want/strive for seems to hold down my life energy and makes me feel depressed. Of course, the Course goes on with the additional statement, "Beyond this world there is a world I want" (W.pI.129) but I find that, as the Course also states, I want both worlds. Why do I have to decide between the two when true Heaven "holds no opposites"? I am somewhat puzzled by that. Also, in a channeled book by Doreen Virtue, the Angels advise not to worry too much about the "afterworld" but to go on enjoying our lives here in this world (of illusion). Now isn't that a more direct path toward living a "happy dream" rather than rejecting this world, even if it is an illusion and transient and ending as it is? I can't stop living in a body other than by just dying, can I? But dying is, according to A Course in Miracles , a sign of wrong-mindedness as well, just a way out by not deciding at all -- is my understanding correct? I find the more I do the Course, the worse and more confusing things get.

A: Jesus knows that the world we see holds nothing that we truly want, but he's not so naive as to think that we don't believe there is value in the world. That is the reason he is presenting us this lesson, as he makes his case for encouraging us to accept and believe this thought, knowing all the while that we do not believe him. He challenges us to question the real value of all that we seek after in the world, knowing they are only projections of a thought of guilt and lack in the mind and could never truly satisfy us.

But it would be a misreading of these lessons to think that Jesus is asking us to reject the world or to deny ourselves anything we think we need or want. The world, once we have chosen it, is neutral, and can serve either the ego's or the Holy Spirit's purpose. What Jesus is inviting us to do is to reject the ego thought system and its purpose for the world, which is to reinforce our belief in lack and deprivation, all the while holding someone else responsible for how we feel. The world is nothing more than a projection of an inner choice of what we wish to see, and we will perceive it differently depending on which inner teacher we turn to -- the ego or the Holy Spirit.

While it is true that Heaven has no opposite, it is apparent that we can believe that we have made an opposite to Heaven, as witnessed by our seeming experience here in the illusory world of time and space and bodies. And while we continue to believe in the reality of that thought of opposition and its effects -- the tiny mad idea of separation and the world that came from it -- Jesus will work with us within that system of opposites to help us recognize more clearly the consequences of our choice for separation, so that we will be more willing to accept his correction for that choice -- the true perception of the Holy Spirit, acquired through forgiveness. Not that the world of true perception is any more real that the world of false perception, but it does reflect the reality of Heaven's oneness, where there are no opposites.

These lessons are not comparing the world of our experience to an afterworld that comes after death -- that would still be a part of the ego thought system according to the Course ( e.g., M.27.4:1,2) -- but to a different way of perceiving the world now! And as we practice that new perception, through forgiving all of our judgments, we will come to recognize more and more clearly that we are not living in this body we have thought of as our self. And we will then know that the body and the world are not escaped by death, but merely by changing our mind about who we think we are.

You will almost certainly confuse yourself if you try to reconcile the Course's teachings with other spiritual paths and channeled works, for they are based on different explicit or implicit theologies, using different sets of symbols, and the steps they will lead you on may very well contradict, at least at the level of form, the specific steps the Course would invite you to take. This does not make either of them wrong, only different. And if you are more drawn to another form of teaching, which makes more sense or is less confusing to you than the Course, then, by all means, follow it.

Q #919: Are there still minds deciding to separate from God, thus making new splitoffs which appear here in this illusion where we think we are currently?

A: A question such as this makes sense from within the perspective of the illusion, where we all still believe we are, but it assumes aspects of the illusion, such as number and space and time, as well as the reality of the separation, which simply are not true. A Course in Miracles says that the separation seemed to happen in a single instant, and just as quickly was over (M.2.2,3) , and now we only seem to be “reviewing mentally what has [ already ] gone by” (W.pI.158.3,4) .

And so, the decision that seemed to be made once in an ancient past by one mind, and all the fragmenting that seemed to follow from that choice, only happened in a single unholy instant (T.20.VI.8:6,7,8,9) , and “in reality it never happened at all” (M.2.2:8). So there can be no new splitoffs, recently deciding to separate from God, because time is not real and the separation never happened in the first place!