Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 07/26/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #977 What is "the Atonement" and is a person who has achieved it an "ascended master"?
Q #978 How and what do we "learn" from other people?.
Q #979 As a company executive, what is an appropriate way for me to discipline my workforce?

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Q: #977:   I'm totally new to A Course in Miracles . So far my understanding is that we are pretty much lost and confused, wandering in the fields of illusion but not aware of it. I gather that the Course is our guide out of these illusions or more precisely, a guide to help us become aware of them. Is that what the Course means by the Atonement? And with Atonement, can we experience the illusion at will without becoming lost and confused again. Can we enter the illusion simply to be at play in it or to provide guidance to others? Would individuals who can do this be the Ascended Masters I've read of elsewhere?

A: It is tempting to try and understand A Course in Miracles by relating it to other spiritual teachings.   But while the language of the Course does bear a resemblance to other spiritualities, its metaphysical and psychological teachings are unique.

In the Course, Jesus gives us the following advice for getting in touch with God's Love in our mind, "Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything" (W.pI.189.7:5). This same statement (though a rather tall order) provides an excellent guideline for approaching the Course itself.

So, in order to answer your questions, we first need to take a brief look at what the Course actually teaches. It is true that, as a number of spiritual paths do, the Course tells us our entire physical existence is an illusion. The Course also informs us that this world came from an attack thought and therefore is not a nice place. Jesus refers to this as "a dry and dusty world, where starved and thirsty creatures come to die" (W.pII.13.5:1). Of course, Jesus wants us to know that we did not really come here at all. But we came here in our mind in an effort to escape the terror of the thought that we could separate from God and destroy His Love.

Uniquely, the Course teaches that this world was the ego's answer to the conflicted and terrorizing belief that we had killed God and that God will somehow rise back up and strike us down in punishment. The ego lulled us to sleep with its promise that if we just accepted it as our teacher, we could banish all memory of God from our mind and thus be safe from such horror.

But the Course further teaches that despite the ego's best effort, the memory of God and His Love remains in our mind. From the ego's perspective this memory of God's Love is an awful thing that, should we ever get close to it, will be its demise. And since we are almost fully identified with our egos, we think God's Love will be the end of us.

However, the Course lets us know that there is another part of our mind. Jesus aims his message at the decision-making part of our mind that chose the ego. He reminds us that there is another internal Teacher still available to us -- the Holy Spirit. He informs us that choosing the Holy Spirit instead of the ego will result not in our destruction, but rather in our gradually waking up and finding ourselves at home in Heaven, still safe within the Love of God.

The Holy Spirit represents the memory of God's Love that we brought with us into this dream. If we turn to the Holy Spirit for help, He will transform any situation in our lives into a classroom in forgiveness. He does this is by reminding us that we have not separated from God's Love nor have any of our brothers. As we begin to know this more and more, we will see that we all share the same attacking ego (that dreamed up this attacking world) and the same loving thoughts inspired by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, we will recognize that there is nothing to forgive because we are not separate (from each other or from God) and so nothing has really happened. At that point we will know that this is all an illusion.

This is what the Course means by Atonement -- the undoing of the ego and the healing of the belief in separation (facilitated by our turning to the Holy Spirit for help).

At the very end of the journey we will awaken and know this was all a dream. But the end of the journey is not our concern. Our task is to turn toward the Holy Spirit and let Him transform our life into a classroom. In so doing, we will become more loving and less filled with anxiety and pain. Increasingly, we will come to know that our body (physical and psychological) is nothing more than an idea in the mind that never left its source. As we recognize this, the love in our mind will naturally extend to all we encounter.  

The idea of entering this illusion to be at play does not make sense from Jesus' perspec­tive. Only the ego thinks that there is fun to be had here. After all, if we knew we were at home in Heaven and perfectly safe, why would we go looking for fun in a world that was made to keep us feeling "barren and separate" (T.19.15:1) ?

Likewise, the Course does not concern itself with the concept of Ascended Masters. It does inform us that anytime you come from the Holy Spirit's Love instead of the ego's attack, you are a Teacher of God. But that does not make you ascended. It just makes you sane for however long your right-minded thinking lasts.

Basically, anyone who thinks he or she is here has the same lesson to learn. We all desper­ately want to know that the separation never happened, we are not guilty, and we are just "dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality” (T.10.I.2:2).

Somebody like Jesus would be an example of what the Course calls a Teacher of teachers (M.26.2:2). Jesus seemed to be here but knew he was not. He only appeared in order to serve as a reminder of truth for the rest of the Sonship. But again, Jesus represents the end of the journey and that really is not our concern (other than to let him serve as our guide and inspiration).

The Course helps us recognize that we are at the beginning of the journey. If we study it sincerely and with an open mind, we will realize that this is a journey worth taking and that there is a strong and loving hand we can hold along the way.

Q #978: The manual for teachers section of A Course in Miracles discusses three different levels of relationships. But what specifically does Jesus means when he says that we "learn" from another person? For example, he says that the second level of relationship is a more sustained one in which two people enter into an intense relationship and then appear to separate. When he says that we learn from the other person, this does not necessarily mean that he or she verbally teaches us something, right? Does it mean that we learn to not project our guilt onto the person and that there is no separation between us? Does it mean, as Jesus implies earlier, that we learn not to see the other person as separate and then watch the artificial demarcations between us disappear? Or can it be any and all of these?

A: Your understanding of what Jesus means by learning from another person is essentially correct. In form , the learning Jesus refers to could look many different ways. It is the content that he is concerned about. And that content will always consist of an internal shift from guilt to forgiveness, and from the perception of separate interests to the knowledge of shared interests.

The Course teaches us that the purpose behind the Son of God's decision to dream up this world of separate bodies and separate interests was to have others onto whom we could project our guilt. To the ego, projecting our guilt is the one purpose of every relationship - - regardless of the form the relationship takes. In the section of the manual for teachers to which you refer, Jesus emphasizes that just as the ego has one unified purpose for every relationship, so does the Holy Spirit. His purpose is to use all of our relationships (again, regardless of their form) as opportunities to help us shift our minds from the projection of guilt to the extension of love. Thus Jesus tells us, "Each teaching-learning situation involves a different relationship at the beginning, although the ultimate goal is always the same; to make of the relationship a holy relationship, in which both can look upon the Son of God as sinless" (M.3.1:1,2) .

Because our learning is really about a single shift from guilt to love, Jesus states that "levels of teaching the universal course is a concept as meaningless in reality as is time" (M.3.3:1) . In other words, in reality there can be no levels of learning because there is only one lesson we need to learn. But this is not our experience. And so Jesus returns to our level of experience and tells us that because "each person involved [in a relationship] will learn the most that he can from the other person at that time" we can speak of levels of teaching (M.3.4:1,2) . Then he identifies the three types or levels of relationships (teaching-learning situations) as: apparently casual encounters, relationships that are more intense and circumscribed, and lifelong relationships in which the partners offer each other unlimited opportunities for learning.

Again, the main point of this passage is that with the Holy Spirit as our internal Guide, everyone -- from someone we see briefly on a bus, to a lifetime partner, to leaders we see on television, to deceased loved ones who exist only in our memories -- offers us a teach­ing-learning opportunity. And this is so, because in reality we do not learn from the other person at all. We simply allow others, whether we perceive them as loving or hateful, to be the impetus for our decision to once again take the Holy Spirit's Hand and remember that His Love still exists within our own mind. Therefore, other people are teachers for us not because of who they are or what they say or do, but because of a decision we make . This is why Jesus can confidently tell us that we cannot fail to find the help we need (M.3.5:8) .

Q # 979: I am the managing director of a company with 290 sales consultants. While many of them do their jobs well, others produce unsatisfactory results. Some of the less successful consultants do things such as work only a few hours per day, fail to visit all their customers, fail to follow company rules, take many sick days, and even embezzle money or goods. These cases are often reported to me and I am expected to do something about them. Being a student of A Course in Miracles , in every case I ask myself what the appropriate action or non-action would be. Can you help me?

A: The Course does not give us any specific guidance about what we should do on a behavioral level. It does, however, tell us the one thing we need to do in our mind to resolve every problem: remove the blocks to love's presence (T.in.1:7) . Again, it is impor­tant to remember that Jesus is not telling us what to do behaviorally. Rather, he is teaching us how to change our thinking. Once we have done this, our actions will automatically reflect the loving kindness of our thoughts.  

Jesus speaks to us from the perspective of a healed mind, which knows that despite the apparent complexity of this world and of our lives, there is really only one problem and one solution. The problem is our choosing the ego's thought system of sin, guilt, and fear. The solution, therefore, is to turn away from the ego and choose instead the Holy Spirit's thought system of love and forgiveness. With this in mind, Jesus first has to make us aware that most of the time we listen to the ego, and that as long as we do so we will be unable to solve our perceived problems. He tells us "… in your state of mind, solution is impossible… You are in conflict. Thus it must be clear you cannot answer anything at all…" (T.27.IV.2:2; T.27.IV.1:5,6). Then he lets us know where the true hope for solution lies: " Therefore, God must have given you a way of reaching to another state of mind in which the answer is already there. Such is the holy instant. It is here that all your problems should be brought and left. Here they belong, for here their answer is. And where its answer is, a problem must be simple and be easily resolved" (T.27.IV.2:3,4,5,6,7) . The holy instant, of course, is the moment we choose the Holy Spirit as our internal Teacher -- something we want to do because "Only the Holy Spirit can resolve conflict, because only the Holy Spirit is conflict-free. He perceives only what is true in your mind, and extends outward only to what is true in other minds" (T.6.II.11: 8,9) .

What is true in our mind and in the minds of others is that the memory of God's Love remains there, and we are simultaneously terrified of it and desperate to remember it and awaken from this guilt-induced dream. Because of this conflicted state, we live our lives unconsciously at war with God. And since it is unconscious, the dynamics of this internal battle with God get projected outward onto other people and objects, which serve as sub­stitutes for the ego's "real" enemy. This then explains what drives people to do the many unconscionable things they do in this world, such as lying to, and embezzling from their place of employment -- a potent symbol of authority and therefore a worthy opponent to the ego.

So, to answer your question, the first thing you would want to do when confronted with unethical behavior by your consultants is to recognize that their actions reflect "the delusional [thought] system of those made mad by guilt" (T.13.in.2:2).   And since guilt caused their behavior in the first place, the answer lies in recognizing that they are not guilty. Of course, on the level of behavior, they are guilty -- as are we all. But on the mind level, they have simply made the mistake of first misperceiving themselves as guilty and then acting in accordance with that misperception. So your job becomes to ask the Holy Spirit to help you see past the guilt in your own mind, so you can look at them without judgment and know the most helpful action to take.

The tricky part is to be sure to genuinely ask the Holy Spirit for this help and not to pre­judge on your own what a loving or "spiritual" person should do. As a director, paid to ensure the quality and integrity of your company, it is likely that the appropriate actions for you to take would be exactly the ones expected of anyone in your position. The difference would be the attitude with which you do them. Rather than doing them with anger or a desire to punish, you would do them in order to help your consultants stop hurting others and themselves.