Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 05/24/2006
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This week's questions/topics:
Q #940 Did Jesus dictate A Course in Miracles?
Q #941 What is the ultimate goal of A Course in Miracles ?
Q #942 Is there any point to attempts at improving oneself or the world ?
Q #943 Why does the prctising Course always seem to make things worse?
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Q #940: I just started reading and studying A Course in Miracles and my question is: Do I understand correctly that Jesus dictated the book? I've had problems accepting Jesus, for the way I have been taught, and the importance given to the fact of his crucifixion to free us from all our sins. It just didn't sound right to me. Now I'm baffled watching me accept this wonderful opportunity to join this brother offering me a hand so openly to walk the walk to God.
A: Yes and no. In Kenneth Wapnick's book, “Absence from Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of A Course in Miracles, ” he relates that the voice Helen heard dictate the Course identified itself as Jesus. Thus, Helen's experience in form was that she heard Jesus' voice dictating the Course. Like all of us, Helen had a split mind, part of which identified with the ego (wrong mind), while the other part held the shinning light of the memory of God's love (right mind). The nature of a split mind is such that one part of the mind dissociates from the other. So when the mind chooses to identify with the ego, it cannot recognize the right mind as part of itself.
It was too fearful for Helen, as it is for most of us, to identify fully with the right mind, shared by all the Sonship, which is the source of the Course's loving message of forgiveness. However, she was able to receive the message as long as she perceived its source as the symbolic figure of Jesus, who had been an important figure for her throughout her life. He is also a significant figure for the western world, Christian and non-Christian alike, and since one of the goals of the Course is to correct the distorted teachings of traditional Christianity, it is important that Jesus be the identified source of the Course. Although “Some bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world” (C.5.5:7) and we must learn to forgive him our illusions of him (C.5.5:8) , his authority as “spokesperson” of the Course's loving message of forgiveness is readily recognized.
The authorship of the Course, therefore, can be seen as trinitarian: Helen's right mind, the right mind of the Sonship, and Jesus as the symbolic figure representing both. Its content, that the world is an illusion, the separation never happened, and God's innocent Son is at home with Him in Heaven, is beyond any form including the Course itself. Helen Schucman and William Thetford's joint decision to find a better way to relate to each other and to their colleagues reflected their choice to accept the content of the right mind. This decision found expression in the form of the Course.
Belief in the crucifixion of the historical Jesus is not a requirement for the study of the Course. In fact, the traditional Christian teaching that Jesus' crucifixion atoned for Adam and Eve's sin and reopened the gates of Heaven for everyone is presented in the Course as one of Christianity's mistaken beliefs in need of correction. Every basic principle of the Course refutes the teaching that Jesus died for our sins; e.g., there is no sin (T.26.VII.10:5) , no guilt (T.14.V.1:12) , no world (W.pI.132.6:2) , no death (T.3.VII.5:11) , no separation (T.8.V.2:8) . Jesus is not the savior of the world; rather, salvation is accepted when the mind that mistakenly chose to identify with the ego (wrong mind), chooses instead to identify with the memory of God's love (right mind), symbolized by the Holy Spirit and Jesus. Helen's fear of identifying fully with her right mind is everyone's fear. Thus, while we remain dissociated from our true selves, we need a symbolic figure such as Jesus, who dictates the Course and whose hand we hold in the process of learning we are one with him. Jesus himself encourages us to do so: “If it helps you, think of me holding your hand and leading you. And I assure you this will be no idle fantasy” (W.pI.70.9:3,4). Remembering that Jesus is the name we give to one who represents the right mind of the Sonship, and comes to us from outside the dream in a form that we can relate to, will help keep him real to you without being baffled.
Q #941: Please explain the Holy Spirit, specifics, and A Course in Miracles ' ultimate goal.
A: Jesus tells us in the Course that the Holy Spirit " is the Christ Mind which is aware of the knowledge that lies beyond perception" (T.5.I.5: 1) and " is in your right mind, as He was in mine" (T.5.I.3). In other words, the Holy Spirit is the memory of God's Love that remained in our mind when we fell asleep and dreamt up this world of separation. We can think of Him as an internal Teacher to whom we can turn for guidance. He will correct our painful thoughts of separation with forgiving thoughts, which reflect the truth that we are still "home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality" (T.10.I.2: 1) .
Of specifics, the Course says, "The Holy Spirit will answer every specific problem as long as you believe that problems are specific" (T.11.VIII.5: 5). Then it goes on to tell us that "Problems are not specific but they take specific forms, and these specific shapes make up the world" (T. 27.V.8: 1). So, the Course lets us know that there is a loving presence to which we can turn for help with the specific challenges we seem to face in our lives. At the same time, it sets out a curriculum that will lead us to realize that the multitude of specific problems we think we have are just reflections of our one real problem -- our belief that we exist at God's expense and deserve to be punished for it.
Jesus wants us to use the specific problems in our lives as classrooms that will ultimately help us to awaken. The first step in this process is to bring our problems to the light of the Holy Spirit in our mind so He can reinterpret them for us in a loving way. This will not necessarily change a problem on the level of form, but it will take away all our pain and conflict about it. Over time, all our specifics will begin to seem more and more alike and we will automatically stop asking the Holy Spirit for help with our specific problems and instead ask Him to help us (to paraphrase the Course) change our mind about our problems.
This brings us to the Course's ultimate goal. The rather ambitious goal of the Course is to teach us that this world is nothing more than an "outside picture of an inward condition" (T.21.in.1: 5) , that this condition is making us miserable, and that -- with the Holy Spirit's help -- we have the ability to change it. The Course would have changing this inward condition become the central focus of our lives. We could think of studying this Course as taking the initial step on a lifelong journey of forgiveness and ever-increasing self-awareness.
As Course students, it is important to remember that "This course is a beginning, not an end" (W.ep.1: 1) . The end of the journey -- the real world -- will be when we, like Jesus, have nothing but the Holy Spirit in our mind. Happily, when that happens and what it looks like is not our concern.
Q # 942: I don't understand how A Course in Miracles views the use of personal effort in advancing oneself or in helping others. Is making an effort to do anything worthwhile in terms of the Course? For instance, I do volunteer work with children. Is this worth doing? What about donating money to help others who have less than I do? Is doing so just a reflection of my guilt? How about getting an education? According to the Course, is this just my ego trying to better itself and bring accolades and a bigger salary? Finally, what about exercising and living a healthy lifestyle? By my understanding of the Course, attempts to improve physical health only reaffirm an attachment to the ego. So why bother trying?
A: Undoubtedly, many students of A Course in Miracles have asked themselves those questions. But it is important to remember that the Course is not a guide for behavior. It is only concerned with motivating us to exchange the ego for the Holy Spirit as our internal Teacher. This is why Jesus never says anything in the Course about what we should do . Rather he tells us to ask of everything, "What is the purpose" (T.4.V.6: 8,9). He also tells us that we give everything we see all the meaning that it has for us (W.pI.1) . In other words, nothing here has any inherent meaning -- things mean whatever they symbolize in our mind.
Now, it is true that we initially fell asleep and dreamt up this world because we listened to the ego. So on one hand, everything here is a symbol of our apparent separation and triumph over God. On the other hand, now that we are having this dream, we can choose to reinterpret it with the Holy Spirit as our Guide. When we do that, everything becomes a symbol of forgiveness, helping us to get closer and closer to reawakening to God's Love. That is what the Course urges us to do -- use this world as a classroom in forgiveness until we do not need it anymore.
It is very helpful to realize that the Course is written on two levels. On level one -- the level of absolute truth -- this world is a dream. But on level two -- within the dream, where we all believe ourselves to be -- this world can either be a prison or a classroom. And so Jesus does not want us to pretend we think this world is an illusion. Rather he advises us to "Use all the little names and symbols which delineate the world of darkness. Yet accept them not as your reality" (W.pI.184.11:1,2) . That means we should keep doing everything so called normal people do, but do so with a different purpose. Were we to stop all activities that we judge as wrong minded, we would be denying the Holy Spirit the only arena He has for correcting our thinking. And so again, we do not change what we do, only how we think about what we do.
You asked whether giving money to others and getting an education are worth doing from a Course perspective. The answer is: From a Course perspective, extending love is worth doing, while projecting guilt is not. Whether or not you should engage in a specific activity depends upon what it symbolizes to you. This is why Jesus says "The curriculum is highly individualized " (M.29.2:6) . If you suspect you are drawn to doing something for the wrong reasons, that is the perfect time to simply ask the Holy Spirit to look at it with you. He will bring love to the situation and then you will know what to do.
You also asked if attempts to improve the body reaffirm an attachment to the ego. The Course informs us that the "body is a wholly neutral thing" (Lesson 294) and that to deny its existence is to engage in "a particularly unworthy form of denial" (T.2.IV.3: 11) . Clearly, Jesus does not want us to stop caring for the body as a path to letting go of the ego. This is because denying the body is merely the flip side of indulging it. As long as we are identified with the body, we should simply give it the care and attention it requires while asking for help to recognize that it does not have the power to affect our mind.
The fact that you are wondering, "why bother trying," makes it seem likely that you have fallen into one of the ego's classic traps. We adopted the ego as our guide because it convinced us that to do otherwise would destroy us. Then along comes the Course telling us we would be much better off if we chose the Holy Spirit as our internal Teacher. The ego knows that if we believed that message, its gig would be up. So it sends out a warning signal telling us, "If you accept Jesus' message of love and forgiveness, you will lose!" It does not tell us that we will lose only our pain and guilt, and that we will gain the lasting inner peace and true happiness we have always wanted.
When you feel a gnawing sense of loss or despair in relation to being a Course student, it is because the ego slithered its way into becoming your study partner. Rest assured, our journey back to Heaven and into God's Loving Arms is not predicated on sacrifice. And neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit will ever make us give up anything we really want.
Q #943: I notice that when I practice the Course, my life seems to get worse. I realize that "things seem as though they are being taken away from us," and I do feel that this is happening because of A Course in Miracles . Ken has often said it's like the ego telling us that if we continue down this path, we will be destroyed. And yet, we must work through our fear. I know that in psychotherapy things often seem to get worse before they get better; and I know you say this course is gentle, but that is not my experience, and it seems very insulting. Again, I believe this is the process.
A: The feeling that things are being taken away is a common feeling among Course students, and it stems in part from our confusion about who we are and what truly belongs to us -- “I do not perceive my own best interests” (W.pI.24) . We have chosen (a choice we immediately concealed from our awareness) to take on a false identity as individuals in order to have the specialness we thought we could not have in our true Identity as God's one Son in Heaven. A Course in Miracles thus is helping us reverse this insanity of maintaining a false identity; but since it has become our identity and we no longer know of any other, we will go through a stage in the correction process of feeling as if something valuable is being taken from us -- it is like an identity crisis: “Now must the Holy Spirit find a way to help you see this concept of the self must be undone, if any peace of mind is to be given you. Nor can it be unlearned except by lessons aimed to teach that you are something else. For otherwise, you would be asked to make exchange of what you now believe for total loss of self, and greater terror would arise in you.
Thus are the Holy Spirit's lesson plans arranged in easy steps, that though there be some lack of ease at times and some distress, there is no shattering of what was learned, but just a retranslation of what seems to be the evidence on its behalf” (T.31.V.8:3,4,5; 9:1).
This process is really only about shifting the purpose of everything you do; it is not about behavior -- ending relationships or getting rid of material possessions. It is about going through daily life now with Jesus or the Holy Spirit as your Teacher, so that you will use your life in the world to teach you that you are not a limited, vulnerable body, and that everyone else is joined with you on the journey and learning the same lessons. That will lead to peace and joy as you realize that following the ego has cost you true peace and joy. Thus, what we lose by following the Course's path is guilt, anxiety, fear, loneliness, hatred, etc.-- all the effects of separation. And the conflict we feel will lessen, because we will have a unified purpose, in accord with our true nature.
This sometimes can be difficult, for our fear is: Who would I be if I never felt guilty or fearful ever again? We made a secret vow to be faithful to the ego, and so if we are not aware of that, we will experience tremendous conflict in practicing the Course's principles -- we will be fighting against ourselves, basically. Trust therefore is essential as we proceed -- that we are being led out of desolation and into abiding peace. In the manual for teachers, Jesus outlines six stages in the development of trust (M.4.I.A) , and the experiences you have related correspond to the first three. The process continues from there, and ends in a state of real peace, where we realize “in glad astonishment, that for all this [we] gave up nothing!” (T.16.VI.11:4) . This process is rarely pain-free, but only because of our concealed commitment to the ego, and our fear that we will be nothing without it. Jesus understands this and encourages us accordingly: “ . . . you believe that without the ego, all would be chaos. Yet I assure you that without the ego, all would be love” (T.15.V.1:7) .
Once you realize that all this course is doing is helping us all let go of what has brought us only pain -- because of the mistaken choice we made in our minds -- it would be hard not to feel grateful. And we find assurances from Jesus all along the way: “How light and easy is the step across the narrow boundaries of the world of fear when you have recognized Whose hand you hold! Within your hand is everything you need to walk with perfect confidence away from fear forever . . . .” (T.30.V.8:1,2) .
Finally, in the Index to Topics on this Service there is a category called Process/Progress, which you might wish to look at -- we have responded to other students having similar concerns. Also in the Index, under A Course in Miracles , there is a category called Study and Practice of, and under that is the topic “practice is causing fear and discomfort.”