Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 09/06/2006
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This week's questions/topics:
Q #999 Why does the Course raise so many conflicts?
Q #1000 Why does the Course say the world is a "fact"?
Q #1001 All I know is loneliness and pain. The Course promises peace but how do I find it ?
Q #1002 I am confused and afraid the Course may lead me in the wrong direction.
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Q #999: Why does A Course in Miracles raise so many conflicts? I have never come across any spiritual or psychological practice that focuses so much on our resistance. I understand why the Course does this, but I find it personally unbearable. I guess as even Helen Schucman (the Course's scribe) was unable to fulfill the Course's high goals, I can also let it slip by. But is there not another way? I find the Course is a detour into battle. Surely this was not Jesus' intention!
A: You are correct that Jesus did not intend the Course to be a detour into battle. However, he did mean for it to be a tool that leads us into looking directly at the battle that is already raging within our mind -- the battle between our longing to return to God's Love and our desire to maintain our identity as an individual, autonomous being. For this reason, the Course can seem to cause us to experience more conflict. In reality, it is simply causing us to recognize our own internal war to keep the memory of God's Love from our awareness.
The fact that we believe we are actually in this dream world shows that we have chosen to align ourselves with the ego and its insistence that we are safer and happier here than we would be in our true home in Heaven. Therefore, it is not surprising that students typically struggle with the Course's message that nothing in this world will ever make us happy. To the ego, nothing is more unbearable than facing the fact that all the roads of this world "but lead to disappointment, nothingness and death" (T.31.IV.2:3) . However, Jesus is not appealing to us as egos -- he is really speaking to the decision making part of our mind that chooses between internal teachers. He is laying out a process for shifting from the ego to the Holy Spirit as our internal guide. Every time we do that, we automatically go from projecting anger, guilt, and attack, to instead extending love and forgiveness.
The goal of the Course, however, is actually not that high or lofty. It is not meant to get us to permanently make that internal shift and become radiant beams of light. Rather, it is meant to help us see that this shift is possible -- that the Holy Spirit does exist in our mind -- and to motivate us to watch how our own choice against making this shift, rather than anything in the external world, keeps us miserable. This is why the Course states that it is "a beginning, not an end" (W.ep.1:1) . When we approach the Course this way, we will experience it differently -- as a source of inspiration rather than guilt.
This also means that we cannot know or judge how another person has been affected by the Course. You brought up the example of Helen Schucman. Certainly the book Absence from Felicity: The Story of Helen Schucman and Her Scribing of A Course in Miracles , makes it clear that she seemed to experience resistance to Jesus' love. It also makes it clear that she was aware of this resistance and, more often than not, continued to follow his guidance. In that sense, we, as Course students, could view her life as quite inspiring.
One final note: If you find working with the Course to be continually and consistently unbearable, it is possible that it is not the right path for you. Remember that the Course says, "There are many thousands of other forms [i.e. spiritual paths], all with the same outcome" (M.1.4:2) . Ultimately, it is not the form of the path you take that matters; only that you find one that helps you awaken to God's Love for you and yours for Him (T.4.III.6: 3) .
Q #1000: From "There is no world!" (W.pI.132.6:2), to "What the world is, is but a fact" (M.11.1:9). Certainly in the illusion the world seems to us a fact and we experience it as a fact. I was surprised to find this reference to the world as a fact in the manual. Is this a reference merely to the natural world (grass, mountains, trees, etc.)? After all the references in A Course in Miracles to the world as an illusion, is this but one more example of another contradiction in words in the Course? Or is it an emphasis on informing us we must deal with the world we made as a fact? I am thinking here of: "There are decisions to make here, and they must be made whether they be illusions or not" (S.I.1:2:4). I found myself rather unsettled and somewhat confused after reading the statement in the manual.
A: Yes, Jesus is making different points about the world in different places in the Course. This is why we stress the need to distinguish between the two levels on which the Course is written. Level One contrasts truth and illusion, wherein only God and Heaven are real (including His Son, Christ and the creations of Christ). All else is illusory and not real: "There is no world!" But since we are too fearful of accepting that and living accordingly, Jesus talks to us about the world as though it were real -- because we think it is. This is not really contradictory, as the sentences preceding and following the one you cite about decisions explain: “You have been told to ask the Holy Spirit for the answer to any specific problem, and that you will receive a specific answer if such be your need. You have also been told that there is only one problem and one answer. In prayer this is not contradictory. . . . You cannot be asked to accept answers which are beyond the level of need that you can recognize” (S.1.I.2:1,2,3,5) . Jesus is letting us know that this is a process -- like climbing a ladder. He thus gently and gradually helps us change our minds about the reality of the world by having us see that our perceptions are really interpretations emanating from the prior choice we make in our minds to take either the ego's hand or his as we go through our day. This is the other level on which the Course is written -- Level Two, which contrasts the wrong-minded (the ego's) and right-minded (the Holy Spirit's) ways of looking at the world.
The process involves bringing our wrong-minded perceptions to the truth of Heaven reflected in our right minds. And when at last our perceptions are all right-minded -- meaning we listen only to the Voice of the Holy Spirit -- our minds will no longer be split, and then love will just flow through us directing us in all we think and do. In that state of mind -- what the Course calls the real world -- we know the world is illusory and we will see all people as either calling out for love or expressing it. Jesus is gently leading us in that direction in all of his teachings and lessons.
Q #1001: I am a high school drop-out. I have made an ego that never was able to make an adult life for herself. I feel so isolated and helpless to change the loneliness that I want to die. In my 55 years I have failed at everything that I have tried to do. Mental illness and emotional disturbance are what my life has been and I see no hope out of this living hell. But this is just the ego I made up. Jesus says I could see peace instead of this because I am not this wretched ego! I know that intellectually, but it doesn't make any difference -- it doesn't stop the pain. Can you please point me in the right direction as I try to accept God's help and experience peace?
A: It may be of some comfort for you to know that you are not alone. The pain you describe is the inevitable experience of everyone when the mind chooses to believe that separation from God is possible and has been accomplished. The anguish is often denied, covered over, and camouflaged, but it is universal for all the separated ones. The pain of separation cannot be dismissed with an intellectual understanding of its origin as taught by the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles. In fact, using the principles of the Course to try to squelch the pangs of pain only exacerbates the problem. The Course's teachings are meant to be applied gently, beginning with the kind acceptance of oneself, no matter what the ego's baggage may look like in one's life. The Course's message of forgiveness is that the thought of separation is not a sin, whatever form it takes, nor is anyone a sinner who comes here seeking what cannot be found here.
Jesus acknowledges the feelings the separation engenders when he tells us in the workbook: “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think if anyone could see the truth about you he would be repelled, recoiling from you as if from a poisonous snake. You think if what is true about you were revealed to you, you would be struck with horror so intense that you would rush to death by your own hand, living on after seeing this being impossible” (W.p.I.93.1:1,2,3, ) . Notice he does not say some of you may think this. These words apply equally to those who view themselves as failures and to those who consider themselves great successes on the world's terms. Everyone holds this secret (or not so secret) thought about themselves. The key words in this statement are: “you think you are….” Jesus is not saying that we are these things, but he acknowledges, without judgment, that we perceive ourselves in this way. This is a very important distinction and a very important passage. In it we find recognition of the condition in which we seem to find ourselves, acceptance of it as our experience, and most importantly, no judgment in its regard. This is one of the many ways Jesus provides us with a model for our learning. He does what he asks us to do: look honestly at how we truly feel, accept that these are our feelings, and not judge them as sinful. The real anguish does not come from being a failure in the world, but in the judgment that this failure is proof that you are a miserable sinner who deserves to die. It is always the interpretation of a situation that gives it meaning. These interpretations are what Jesus asks us to question so we may determine whether we have chosen to think with the ego, which fills our lives with conflict, or with the Holy Spirit, Who fills us with peace. Finding peace then requires willingness to exchange the ego's perception for the Holy Spirit's, which implies willingness to let go of the ego's interpretation.
The Holy Spirit sets a standard for success and failure in direct opposition to what the ego teaches. The world bombards us with the message that we can, and must find happiness in this world, and our success is measured by this happiness. Our judgments against ourselves are founded on this belief. The Course teaches that this belief system is backwards and is based on the belief that the separation has not only occurred, but has been a smashing success. The ego views mental and emotional distress as failure; the Holy Spirit sees it and every aspect of our lives as a classroom in which to reinterpret everything according to His message. He is teaching us that the sickness we all suffer from is in the mind that believes it is a body which suffers emotionally and psychologically because it identifies with the thought of separation. The problem is not that we think monstrous things about ourselves, it is that we believe they are true, take them seriously, and more significantly, judge them to be sinful. The ego tells us that someone with mental illness is more in hell than someone who is emotionally balanced. Hell is hell. While the world offers many different Band-Aids with the illusion of relieving the pain of separation, none of them contributes to true healing. A successful life does not bring healing, and emotional distress does not prevent it. The only way to set yourself in the direction of peace is to be willing to accept that what you believe about yourself is not true, and to put your faith in the practice of forgiveness as the Course teaches. In the text, Jesus gently calls us to faith: “Have faith in only this one thing, and it will be sufficient: God wills you be in Heaven, and nothing can keep you from it, or it from you. Your wildest misperceptions, your weird imaginings, your blackest nightmares all mean nothing. They will not prevail against the peace God wills for you. (T.13.XI.7:1,2,3).
If the pain and misery of your life have led you to the teachings of the Course, they have served a useful purpose. There remains only the choice to accept the hope it offers by taking the first small step of acknowledging that the mind that chose devastation can make a different choice. Since the ego has failed you, you now have the opportunity to succeed by pursuing the Holy Spirit's curriculum with an open mind. This requires only that you consider that maybe you have been wrong about who you are, maybe you are not a hopeless failure, and maybe the Holy Spirit is right. You have already set yourself in the right direction in seeking Jesus' message in the Course and are therefore “…no longer wholly insane, nor no longer alone” (T.17.VII.10:2). This in itself is no small comfort.
Q #1002: I am new to the Course and am confused about how to forgive, how to continue to work as a massage therapist since the body is an illusion, how to practice another belief system while learning the Course. I was intensely abused by someone who believed that their system was the only way and I was to go against my nature and be part of them. I am afraid that I may be misled again. Are there things here that can help us in our learning, even though we do not know where we are going?
A: Since A Course in Miracles is a thought system that completely reverses the ego's thinking, it is important to be gentle and patient in applying its teachings to our lives. This reversal means allowing the Holy Spirit to transform every judgment we have about everything. Obviously this is a process that takes time, not because time is real, but because we believe it is real, along with everything else in the illusory world. The first change from the ego's perception to the Holy Spirit's is to see one's life as a classroom for learning the lessons of forgiveness. This lays the foundation for all subsequent steps in reversing our thinking. Each step requires that we not skip steps. Remembering how invested we are in identifying with the body helps to set the gentle pace of looking at everything differently. While learning to apply the principles of the Course to our lives, we continue to live and work as usual. It is not helpful to deny our experience as bodies, nor to try to believe that our perceived needs, experiences, and relationships are illusory, since we still believe they are real. The Holy Spirit needs them as teaching tools in His classroom for learning forgiveness.
We are not being coerced or pressured in any way to do anything we are unwilling to do. “ …God's Will cannot be forced upon you, being an experience of total willingness” (T.8.III.2:3) . In fact, there is a safeguard against coercion in the Course, for it tells us we will not learn anything we do not want to learn. Our practice and learning is therefore commensurate with our willingness. Willingness is the only requirement for our practice of the Course. Neither perfection nor complete understanding is required. It begins with willingness to look at every grievance as the projection of the mind's guilt for having chosen to believe the separation is real. Thus every relationship, indeed everything in our lives, is useful in the practice of forgiveness. Anything that is not perfect peace, from a slight annoyance to raging anger (See W.pI.21:2) , reflects back to us the mind's decision to listen to the ego's tale of separation, rather than the Holy Spirit's truth of our oneness as God's Son. Forgiveness means recognizing that this decision is the true source of all pain and conflict in our lives and in the world. Thus, the problem is in the mind, not in other people or the world, or even one's own body. The solution, therefore, is found in the mind as well. The goal of the Course is to train us to look at everything in our lives from this perspective (See W.in.) , and to gradually learn that nothing external to the mind has any effect on it.
The Course is not the only spiritual path that leads us back home. As we are told in the manual, it is one among many forms (See M.1.3,4) . Every mind will eventually choose to accept the truth of our oneness with each other and with God. That is the content at the heart of the Course's teaching. As you familiarize yourself with its fundamental principles, you will find that they are distinct from the teachings of other spiritual paths. In many cases they are in striking contrast to most theological and spiritual disciplines. Trying to follow another belief system while learning the Course will eventually introduce conflict in your practice and impede progress. And since the ego already presents us with a vast array of distractions and obstacles, another conflict is an unnecessary burden. If you resonate to the Course's teaching and choose to take it as your spiritual path, you will find that it requires only that you proceed gently and patiently, one step at a time, at a pace set only by your own desire and willingness. This may mean combining the Course with other paths for a time. The Holy Spirit will never take them away from you. If we are willing to question our interpretation of things, and ask for help, the Holy Spirit will use everything as a learning tool, and “…will respond fully to [the] slightest invitation” (T.5.VII.6:6).