Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 09/20/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1008      How should I respond when I am not given proper respect?
Q #1009(i)   How should I respond if I sense someone is getting irritated with me?
Q #1009(ii)  Am I not being "myself" if I am concerned solely with others?
Q #1009(iii) Can we experience the love of God if we live in isolation, without communication?
Q #1010      How is everyday life possible without making judgements?

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Q #1008: I need advice about how to respond when people don't treat me with respect or consideration. For instance, what should I do when people are dishonest or when we make plans to get together and then they don't show up and don't call to cancel? I don't want to be a doormat.

A : First, we need to be clear that A Course in Miracles does not tell us what to do behaviorally. The guiding principle of the Course is: "seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T.21.in.21:7). However, Jesus is not telling us to become doormats. He simply recognizes that our behavior reflects our thinking; therefore, that is what we need to focus on. In fact, by changing our thinking we can entirely change our experience of this world. This does not necessarily mean that our experiences in this world will change -- they may or may not -- but rather that we can learn to be at peace no matter what is happening externally.

The Course teaches us how to make this internal shift, which will result in our knowing how to handle every challenging situation we encounter. But before we can make it, we need to understand Jesus' healed perspective of our experience of conflict, summarized in the following statements: "You cannot be unfairly treated…. The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. No matter what the form of the attack, this still is true. …you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream." (T.26.X.3: 2; T.27.VII.10:1,2, 4,5,6).

In other words, Jesus knows our lives here are merely dreams and that in reality we remain at home in Heaven, at one with our Creator. As real and as difficult as life in this world seems to be, it has no effect on God's Love for us. So the key to being at peace within this dream is to realize that the Love of God is still available to us anytime we choose it. The Course conceptualizes the process of making this choice as dropping the ego's hand and instead choosing the Holy Spirit (the memory of God's Love) as our internal Teacher.

Every time we feel unfairly treated by another, we choose a teacher and learn a lesson. If we choose the ego (as most of us are accustomed to doing), the lesson will be that we are victims, that our happiness is dependent on the other person's action, and that unless he or she changes, happiness is impossible. And, of course, this guarantees that happiness is impossible because even if this particular person did change, it would not be long before someone else did something we perceived as unfair or unkind. Thus, the ego teaches us its ultimate lesson: My experiences, my pain, my very existence are someone else's fault.

On the other hand, when we choose the Holy Spirit as our Teacher, He will teach us that we need not be in pain about what seems to be happening to us. He will tell us that the other person's actions have nothing to do with us. They are simply a reflection of the guilt and fear in that person's mind -- the same guilt and fear that is in our mind. That person could not act in an unloving way unless he believed he was unlovable. And we could not be upset about it unless we unconsciously believed that we were getting the treatment we secretly think we deserve -- again, stemming from the thought that, having destroyed God's Love, we are unlovable.

Holding the Holy Spirit's hand, we reconnect with God's Love in us. And filled with that Love, we cannot help but react lovingly to anything a brother does. So, whenever we are upset, the one thing we need to do is ask the Holy Spirit to help us look at the situation through His loving and non-judgmental eyes. This does not mean we will not express to others our desire that they be honest with us; that they show up when they say they are going to, and so forth. But it does mean that we will express it without any sense of wanting to attack them.

Knowing that we have not been hurt, we will automatically know what would be the most loving thing to say or do. And coming from this place of love, we truly model for others how we want to be treated.

Q #1009(i): (The following three questions were submitted by the same person.)
If I am with someone and sense that he or she is getting irritated with me, how can I tell what action would be appropriate to take? How can I know for sure what another is thinking and feeling?

A: A Course in Miracles is a guide to changing our own thoughts and therefore does not offer advice about developing the ability to read the thoughts of others. It does, however, tell us that there are really only two types of thoughts: those inspired by love and those motivated by guilt and fear. The Course teaches us that up to this point, the vast majority of our thoughts have been driven by our unconscious guilt. It describes this kind of thinking as listening to the ego -- an internal teacher that insists we destroyed God so we could exist as individuals and that now we are separate both from our Source and from each other.

In contrast, we have the ability to choose the Holy Spirit as our internal Teacher instead. This is a Voice born of our memory of God's Love. The Holy Spirit in our mind will always provide us with a love-inspired correction thought for any angry, guilty, or fearful thought we have. In a nutshell, the purpose of the Course is to teach us how to turn away from the ego's thought system of attack and toward the Holy Spirit's thought system of love.

This can actually make relating to others very easy. First, we can know that whether another person is feeling loving or attacking toward us is merely a reflection of his or her internal choice, and that the choice another is making at any given moment is not really our concern. Our concern is the thought system we are choosing right now. If we are feeling less than loving toward another, then our actions toward the person will undoubtedly reflect that. On the other hand, if we are feeling love, then that will come through in our actions. Thus, ultimately, all we have to do is ask the Holy Spirit to help us watch our own thoughts and feelings through his non-judgmental eyes. As we do this more and more, the growing awareness that the Love of God is still within us will automatically cause us to act toward others in a loving way.

Q #1009(ii): The other day I told a friend that I don't have any needs when I'm with other people -- I try to just give others what they want. My friend said that what I am doing is not being myself. This made me feel very confused. Am I not being myself if I behave with only respect toward the thoughts and feeling of others? What is "myself"? How am I supposed to act around people?

A: The Course teaches us that all the needs we seem to have within this world are, in reality, our attempts to find substitutes for the one thing we think we destroyed and can never get back: the peace of God. Further, we are not the individuals we think we are -- we are just figures in a dream and, upon awakening, will find that we remain a "Oneness joined as One" (T.25.1.7:1) , at home with our Creator.

Of course, none of this makes much sense from our perspective, within this dream of separation and individuality. Within this dream, we do seem to have many needs (air and water being among the most basic) and the last thing we want to do is pretend not to have them. But we can begin to recognize that we do not need anything from others in order to be at peace. And we can start to see how our identity has, until now, been very much defined by all our needs and ask ourselves who we would be without them.

The fact that you want to act with respect toward the thoughts and feelings of others is a very helpful goal to have. Only you can know if you genuinely feel that you have no needs when you are with others or if you are denying something. As a Course student, there is no single way that you are "supposed" to act around people. But, ultimately, if you continue to monitor your thoughts, you can, with the Holy Spirit's help, begin to feel peace no matter whom you are with.

Q #1009(iii): Can we experience the Love of God by ourselves (for example, by living in a cave for years), without communication being perfect, or is it dependant on us having perfect communication?

A: We can experience the Love of God no matter where we are or whom we are with. When the Course refers to "perfect communication," it does not mean anything that we do with our bodies. It has nothing to do with speaking or the presence of another person. Jesus is talking about our letting the Holy Spirit become our internal Voice, perfectly communicating to us only thoughts that stem from the remembrance of God's Love. The moment the miracle occurs -- our shift from the ego's wrong-minded thought system of separation to the Holy Spirit's thoughts of shared interest -- we could be said to be in perfect communication. Again, this is a communication that happens only in our mind -- the one place in this dream where the Love of God is always present.

Q #1010: Within the world of form, in our daily interactions with people, how is it recommended we conduct ourselves without judgment? We meet people and carry on conversation of one type or another, but, invariably, someone else's name will come up and a "judgment" seems to be made; or in conversing about the current events -- political, spiritual, or otherwise -- judgments are made. I have felt it very difficult to maintain a "right mind" while living in this world, and have wondered what I will talk about -- if not about expressing an opinion about one thing or another, be it positive or negative.

A: It is normal within the world that emanates from the thought of separation to have a point of view and to express it; in fact, it would be impossible not to have preferences and to spend time with some people and not others. Right-mindedness does not mean you cannot have a point of view; you would just not take it seriously; and when you are called upon to make an objective judgment or evaluation, you would do so without the element of condemnation that reinforces differences and separation. A helpful guideline to follow -- in terms of the content in your mind -- is that if what you say about someone is not true of everyone, it must be coming from your ego, and therefore is an attack. People's forms differ of course -- including opinions -- but the forms have nothing to do with what is real about us. Content alone is meaningful, and that content is that everyone, without exception, has a wrong mind, a right mind, and the power to choose between the two. That is the vision that should inform the content in your mind. Once you are clear about that, and you have no investment in one side or the other in a discussion, you automatically will do or say whatever is most loving. That could mean participating in the discussion, not participating, or leaving the gathering.

Course students many times reinforce separation and differences by not participating in conversations that involve judgments about others -- gossip and the like. They assume it could never be the right thing to do, without their first having asked for help and remembering that the content of joining with others, not the form of joining is all that matters. They wind up judging people for judging others, thus making the very mistake they accuse others of making. In terms of content, it may be a loving thing to do what others are doing so that you do not make yourself separate. There is no right or wrong behavior in these situations -- only on the level of thought. Jesus tells us to do the “outrageous” thing a brother asks of us (T.12.4:1) , but he cautions us not to do it if it is going to harm oneself or someone else (T.16.I.6:4) . Discernment is therefore needed.

What will also help is to keep in mind that the emphasis in Jesus' teachings about judgment is that it is not sinful; it is just impossible -- meaning we do not have the knowledge needed to make judgments. We got ourselves into trouble at the beginning by judging against what was in our best interests -- we chose to listen to the ego instead of the Holy Spirit; so we should not put much stock in our ability to make good judgments. That is Jesus' point, and so he encourages us to proceed from a base of humility. These ideas are discussed in “How Is Judgment Relinquished?” in the manual for teachers (M.10) , and in Lesson 151 in the workbook (W.pI.151) . An attitude of humility helps keep our minds open to have the Voice for God judge through us.

This common problem in students' processing of the Course's teachings is addressed in our tape albums, “To Judge or Not to Judge” and “The Meaning of Judgment.” Question #692 on this Service also is relevant.