Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 07/19/2006
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This week's questions/topics:
Q #974 How should I handle OCD therapy, given my knowledge of the Course?
Q #975 How could the ego mind possibly prevail?.
Q #976 Isn't "the real world" necessarily the final step?
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Q #974: I have recently begun therapy sessions for my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) problem. Others in the class who share the same affliction readily tell me that the cause of OCD is a chemical imbalance in the brain. I recently voiced my opinion, hopefully in accordance with A Course in Miracles , that the cause of the distress exists in the mind and that not only do I have a brain, of course, but I also have a mind. I gave an analogy to explain that certain thoughts do trigger a host of chemical reactions in the body or brain. For example, the thought of sex (pleasure) can and does fire off chemical reactions in the brain that bring about arousal, but if I didn't have a mind such a thing would not occur at all. Several people shook their heads in disagreement, even the psychotherapist intern.
I have a number of questions. Was I correct in my assessment, based on the principles of the Course? How should I handle myself during the classes while remaining true to the concepts of the Course? Should I remain silent about my ideas? Often people speak of "body over will," meaning they see the body as the cause of strange, unwanted thoughts or tendencies over which they have no control. When they do, the psychiatrist usually suggests either medication or downplaying these strange, new thoughts by acknowledging their absurd meaning. Isn't the doctor's suggestion to use medication simply a preoccupation with the effect, which gives it power? On the other hand, I know the Course promotes medication for those overwhelmed with their symptoms. Still, I say to myself that it's just the mind doing what it's supposed to -- making that ongoing experience of symptoms because the individual believes in it.
However, I do find myself considering medication. My plan was to take it temporarily until I have a "change of mind," but what if I become dependent on it while I am waiting around, so to speak, for a miracle to occur? I have asked the Holy Spirit so many times, whom do I need to forgive "to see this differently," but I feel I have not heard an answer.
Recently, I was trying to use a lot of what the Course says on the dynamics of the mind for my own personal purposes with my condition. As a result, I decided to stop the workbook lessons for a while, because I was getting too distracted with my condition and I was feeling a little guilty for using the book in this way. But if the Course's purpose is healing, isn't this okay?
I am thinking that I may be on a bit of an ego-trip in the therapy sessions, because I am applying or "projecting" my Course-based beliefs on to the others, even when I'm in silence. I don't think they have ever heard of the Course. I feel at times, when I'm reading the text, that I have to give up my ego completely in order to be finally rid of this disease. And that seems like too great a step. Can you comment?
A: Your observation that the cause of OCD is in the mind is in line with the teachings of the Course. From its perspective, the mind is always the cause and the body and its symptoms are always the effect (T.24.V.2:2; T.28.II.8:2,3,4,5,6,7,8; 9:1,2,3; T.28.III.5:1) , despite the world's thinking to the contrary -- the world and the body after all were made as defenses against remembering that we have a mind. However, the specific example you offered, that the thought of sex is the cause of the subsequent arousal in the body, although valid as far as it goes, does not really get to the heart of the Course's causal explanation. Thoughts about the body are still defenses against and covers for the deeper underlying cause in the mind. It is the mind's choice for separation and guilt that is the underlying cause of the world and the body and all its symptoms (T.27.VIII.7:2,3,4,5,6,7; 8:1,2,3,4,5,6,7) . And all of our defenses, whether they be physical or emotional conditions, addictions, routines, rituals, distractions, etc., are simply means we employ in our futile attempts to keep the underlying guilt and fear at bay, rather than looking at the guilt and fear with the Holy Spirit or Jesus so they can be undone.
However, it not likely to be very helpful to yourself or to others in your therapy group who are not students of the Course to engage in this kind of discussion, for the Course offers a radical alternative to the thinking of the world that most people are not really open to. It is radical both in the sense that it goes to the root or source of all our problems in the mind and that it asks us to accept complete responsibility for all of our experiences (T.21.II.2:3,4,5,6) , a step that most people are not yet ready to take. And so it is best to think of the Course simply as providing you with a framework for observing your own thoughts and feelings about what seems to be happening around you. But there is generally no need to share these observations with others, especially those who are not familiar with the Course's challenging principles. That could end up simply serving the ego's purpose of making you seem different and separate from everyone else. In contrast, the purpose of healing is served by being open to recognizing and accepting the ways in which we are all really the same. Acknowledging that you and the others in your therapy sessions share the same condition as well as the same need for help in coping with its effects can become a basis for experiencing joining with them. Remembering this purpose may also help you recognize what your ego is up to when you find yourself wanting to use the Course's principles to compare and judge the others for not understanding what you have begun to learn for yourself from the Course.
A helpful way to think about participating in the therapy would be to remain open to what is being offered there as an explanation that does work and make sense at the level of the body. After all, unless you are ready to release completely your identification of yourself with your body, it is very likely that you continue to operate under and accept the usefulness and practicality of most of the other “laws” of the body that the world accepts, such as the value of breathing and eating and drinking, wearing protective clothing depending on the weather, not stepping out in front of oncoming traffic, taking the stairs or an elevator rather than stepping off a balcony to get to the ground, etc.
The point is, we all still operate within the belief system that the body is real and the outcomes could be disastrous at the bodily level if we tried to deny those beliefs by acting counter to them. Jesus makes it clear he is not asking us to deny the body (T.2.IV.3:8,9,10,11,12,13) . And so part of our belief system includes believing that taking things into our body can be beneficial to our health, whether it be food, vitamins or medication. Yes, all of it ultimately is magic, the Course teaches, but there is also no hierarchy among illusions (T.26.VII.6) , and no illusion is more or less acceptable, or more or less spiritual, than any other. We simply need to be honest with ourselves about what we personally believe will be helpful for us and then accept the particular form in which that help comes, not denying that we still need help. Your fear of becoming dependent on any form of magic, such as medication, is simply another trick of the ego to keep your mind in conflict. Whether medication may be helpful for you in your particular situation is something you would want to discuss with your doctor, leaving your thoughts about the Course's view of the relationship between the mind and the body outside the office.
Perhaps most difficult to accept, while we still see ourselves as bodies, is that the Course's purpose is to help us heal our minds, not our bodies (T.28.II.11) . While we keep our focus on the symptoms and their amelioration, we miss the opportunities for real healing. You say you have asked, without receiving an answer, for help in identifying whom you need to forgive, to see differently, so that you may experience a miracle and move beyond this condition. And you are thinking it must be about someone else. And so you don't see the answer that is staring you in the face!
The place to begin is to learn to accept without judgment your OCD, recognizing that it is merely a defense you have unconsciously chosen to handle your fear. And at some level, it has worked in making the anxiety and conflict more manageable, which is always the ego's goal (T.7.VIII.2:2,3,4) . But rather than wishing the OCD away when, unconsciously, you really want it and are choosing it, it would be much more helpful to look at it and see what you can learn from it. For whenever the symptoms appear, this is simply an indication that you have become afraid of the limitless love that embraces us all and are feeling guilty and fearful of your desire and decision to be apart from that love. That is all that is ever happening and, if you can begin to recognize that, ever so slightly, you will begin to find the symptoms more tolerable, even if they are not going away. The helpful goal is to be able to look at the symptoms without judgment or fear, rather than change them. Gradually, the symptoms may then begin to lose their seeming power over you. And then, whether they go away or not will be much less your concern. Perhaps they will remain until you release your ego completely, perhaps not -- it will matter little to you. But for as long as they remain, they can come to serve as simply a reminder that here's another opportunity to practice forgiveness, which is all the Holy Spirit ever asks of us.
The Course does provide insight into the operation of the ego mind, and if you have found any of its clarification of the dynamics of the ego helpful in gaining greater understanding of the nature of your OCD, there is certainly nothing wrong with that -- no need for any guilt here. However, understanding is not the same as healing, and only forgiveness -- accepting all of what seems to be, without judgment or condemnation -- heals (P.2.VI.5) . So don't forget, as you engage in fascinating analyses of your mind's machinations, that there is another step to take.
Q: #975: A Course in Miracles says there is an ego mind, and a real, Holy Spirit mind, which is part of God's Mind, where Heaven lies. What confuses me is this: How could the ego mind actually make us think with it instead of the one real mind that we all have? When something horrible happens to me, I try to remember to forgive. But instead I let all my anger out, and then feel terrible about it later. I blame the innocent mind because I don't think the evil mind has any strength at all compared to the real mind. I'm sure I'm misunderstanding something. Would you please clear this up for me?
Also, I don't read the Course as much as I used to because I feel like I know everything about the Course now. I want to continue reading it, but I just don't have the motivation for it that I used to.
A: Although the language of A Course in Miracles often makes it sound like we have two minds that are in opposition to each other, this is not really the case. In fact, what we have are two opposing thought systems in the separated mind. One, inspired by our misplaced ontological guilt, keeps us firmly planted in this dream of a physical existence filled with suffering. The other, inspired by our memory of our reality in Heaven, brings forgiveness to this dream and thus will gradually lead to our awakening. Neither thought system is true, for truth is impossible within a dream. However, dreams always reflect the thinking of the dreamer. Thus, the Course addresses us not as the individual we think we are within this dream, but rather as the dreamer of the dream. We could envision that dreamer as the mind's decision-maker, outside of time and space. It is always choosing between the loving truth of the Holy Spirit and the made-up guilt of the ego.
The ego does not actually make us do anything. Rather, our own decision-maker chooses to listen to the ego. Once that decision is made, the ego appears to be running the show. But, as you stated, the ego itself has no power. The ego's apparent power comes only from our own choice to take it seriously and follow its dictates. Like the tiny mad idea at which we remembered not to laugh, the ego is merely a tiny mad thought system at which we continually remember not to laugh. Therefore the ego has no strength and is not evil. It is, once again, just the thought system of guilt -- that demands punishment -- which we grab onto whenever we become afraid (a state that most of us, unfortunately, live in the vast majority of the time).
So, given that all our ego-driven thoughts and behaviors are really nothing more than reflections of our intense fear, feeling terrible for choosing them is not helpful. Indeed, feeling terrible only deepens the conviction that we are guilty, which is the very thing that led us to choose the ego in the first place. The way out of this vicious circle is to ask the Holy Spirit to help us watch our thoughts and actions through His loving, non-judgmental eyes. He will teach us that our inability to forgive another is a reflection of our belief that we are unforgivable. And as we learn that this is untrue, we will increasingly extend forgiveness rather than projecting attack and blame.
That is the process that A Course in Miracles lays out for us. Ultimately, this process is the real Course -- not the word-filled pages that comprise the book. Obviously, if the Course is our path, we should study it and learn to understand what it is saying. But there are no rules about how many times or how often we should read it. Sometimes not reading the Course is a defense against it, but, on the other hand, obsessively reading it can be a defense too. The important thing is to internalize its message and, in a sense, become the Course. The journey to achieving this will be different for all of us.
Q #976: I have read that the goal of A Course in Miracles is not Heaven but the real world - - the state of mind in which we have forgiven everything and everyone. That must include forgiveness for ourselves -- forgiveness of the self-image (the ego or "I") that we made as part of our separation from God. But if we completely forgave the world and ourselves, wouldn't the ego disappear too and along with it, any kind of separateness that made reflection possible? Who would be left to notice that there was a real world (consisting only of forgiveness) if there were no "I"? In other words, if I forgave the world totally, wouldn't it simply disappear? Is this why the Course says it is very easy for God "to take the last step" -- because basically we will have already taken it?
A: One of the difficulties in trying to understand A Course in Miracles is that we use our linear brains to analyze a process that is not linear. Basically, the Course speaks to us as if the process of awakening consisted of discrete steps because that is the only way we can conceptualize it. But in reality, it does not work that way. And from our perspective, within this dream of separation, we cannot even begin to comprehend the final step or what it means to be fully awake. Jesus lets us know this is so when he states "while you think that part of you is separate, the concept of a Oneness joined as One is meaningless" (T.25.I.7:1).
For this reason, the Course does not aim to get us back home. Rather, it strives to help us set up the conditions in our mind that will facilitate our return -- conditions the Course refers to as the real world . That means returning our mind to a state of total forgiveness. Having taken back all our projections of guilt, we will be free from the fear that compelled us to fall asleep and will have no more need of this world. At that point, it will no longer matter to us whether we seem to be here or elsewhere because outer conditions will have no effect on our inner peace. The world will not have disappeared but its ability to affect us in any way will. What happens from there -- our awakening -- will involve no effort on our part. And so, happily, we need not concern ourselves with it. Jesus states this symbolically by telling us that God will take this final step -- a poetic way of putting our mind at ease about it (T.17.II.4:4-5) .
We could think of the real world as coming just before our total awakening and being similar to a lucid dream. While we will still experience ourselves as here in form, we will know that it is just a dream and that we are not the I we thought we were but rather the dreamer of the dream. This awareness will have allowed us to choose the dream's content. Thus, we will have chosen to make it one of love and forgiveness. We may still see all the cruelty and pain in this world, but we will see it through eyes that extend a continuous blessing. From that point, our awakening will be as easy and natural as waking up spontaneously after a good night of sleep.