Weekly Questions and Answers, 03/05/2003

This week's questions:

Q #95: Confusion and fear while studying the Course
Q #96: Is praying for others beneficial?
Q #97: Why did Jesus not return as a body to give us the Course?
Q #98: Is the Course "required"? What difference will it make?
Q #99: About low self worth and relationships
Q #100: If we are Love, how could non-love have entered our existence?

Q #95: I have become more and more confused about life and how to function. Although I have gone through periods like this before, this one has lasted a long time and is quite unsettling. It goes along with knowing that no fantasy or things I hoped for in the world will work to bring happiness. I don't know what I want anymore and have found it hard to know how to be in relationships, my job, making decisions, practicing A Course in Miracles, etc. There is fear involved in this state. I know this is part of the process and perhaps part of letting go of images of myself and what I think is true and an ego ploy to keep me in conflict. Could you please comment on working through this unsettled state and still trying to be normal in the world? Thank you.

A. Yes, more often than not, the state you describe is a normal part of the process of undoing our mistaken beliefs about ourselves and the world, and in that sense it is positive. In a way, it is not unlike the pain and disorientation of going through withdrawal from an addiction. We have indeed been addicted to our special identities as individuals, and so we can expect considerable discomfort when we make progress in "dislodging [y]our mind from its fixed position here, as Jesus says. But he assures us that "this will not leave you homeless and without a frame of reference. The period of disorientation, which precedes the actual transition, is far shorter than the time it took to fix your mind so firmly on illusions" (T.16.VI.8:3,4,5). This takes a lot of faith and trust. In the manual for teachers, as you probably know, Jesus talks about the stages in the development of trust, describing the fifth stage in particular as a "period of unsettling" (M.4.I.A), which may go on for a while.

What can be helpful when going through this is to shift the frame of reference for your day-to-day living. Instead of the usual way of thinking about what you want in life and what the world has to offer you, you can approach the circumstances of your daily life as a classroom in which you are going to learn more about undoing what separates you from love. You then can become motivated by a desire to see shared interests instead of separate, competing interests, for example. In other words, what you want is what would shift, as Lesson 129 tells us, "Beyond this world there is a world I want" (W.pI.129). You can become a happy learner (T.14.II) eager to learn more about forgiveness and what you are doing and thinking that keeps you feeling separate from the people in your life, because you know that all of that is just a cover for the love that unites you with Jesus and with everyone in your life. Each day then can be seen as an opportunity to recognize more of the ways in which you keep love hidden: you must become aware of what you are choosing before you can choose against it. The focus of your day, in other words, would be the learning that takes place in your mind, and your joy would come more from your experiencing yourself and everyone else as sharing a common journey, rather than from an ego focus and the ego’s version of joy, which is always getting our needs met at someone else’s expense.

This can be done while at the same time focusing on your job and whatever other responsibilities you have in your life. It is like a split consciousness: part of you carries out your responsibilities with care and conscientiousness, and part of you views all of these interactions as a classroom, in which Jesus or the Holy Spirit teaches you how to undo the separation that you have made real and continue to make real. Rather than being discouraged and listless, therefore, you can use this time as an opportunity to shift the whole focus of your life in a way that you have not yet done. All of your practice with the Course has led you to this point, where a new level of functioning and relating is opening up.

Many times, this shift of focus can actually make functioning on an everyday level easier, because you no longer are thinking along the line of "what’s in it for me?" which inevitably results in a great deal of tension and conflict. There is tremendous fear of making this shift, as you say, because the only self you recognize and identify with is fading in importance, and the self that is replacing it is not yet fully apparent to you. Trust in the process is extremely important at this stage, as is gentleness, and giving yourself permission to set the whole thing aside for a while if that would give you a sense of relief. At the very least, you can be assured that you are not going through this alone. At least intellectually you know that within your mind is the reflection of Heaven’s Love, supporting you each step along the way.

Finally, it should not be overlooked that sometimes psychotherapy or some other form of professional intervention can be helpful in getting through a difficult period. It is never wrong, as we go along in our process, to avail ourselves of the help of a kind and compassionate therapist, and in many cases it can speed things along. It might also serve the purpose of helping us avoid the mistake of skipping steps in our process.

Q #96: Is praying for others beneficial to them? If so, what is the best and most helpful way to pray for others -- ones in difficult times and those in happy times -- our loved ones (those here and those who have passed on) and our "enemies" -- those we know and those we don't know in our community, our country and our world -- or should we pray for others at all?

A: A Course in Miracles does not ask us to pray for others in the usual sense, but rather to release our brothers from all our judgments of them, including the fact that we think they are in need of our prayers. We are told that our only function is forgiveness: "Salvation of the world depends on you who can forgive. Such is your function here" (W.p.I.186.14:5,6). The prayer the Course calls us to then, is forgiveness "…the only meaningful prayer is for forgiveness, because those who have been forgiven have everything. Once forgiveness has been accepted, prayer in the usual sense becomes utterly meaningless. The prayer for forgiveness is nothing more than a request that you may be able to recognize what you already have" (T.3.V.6:3,4,5). What we have, along with everybody else, is the identity God gave us as His innocent Son; an identity that has no opposite. Recognition of this identity in ourselves and in all our brothers, with no exclusion of distinction, is our prayer for them. Only this is truly beneficial to others, as well as to ourselves, and it applies to all persons in all situations.

Since all forgiveness is ultimately for ourselves for having misperceived, so all prayer is for ourselves: "Let it never be forgotten that prayer at any level is always for yourself. If you unite with anyone in prayer, you make him part of you. The enemy is you, as is the Christ. Before it can become holy, then, prayer becomes a choice. You do not choose for another. You can but choose for yourself. Pray truly for your enemies, for herein lies your own salvation. Forgive them for your sins, and you will be forgiven indeed" (S.1.II.6:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8). Forgiveness is not only our only function but our only need, and this is true for everyone. This is the prayer we may offer each time we think we see someone "in need of our prayers" or in need of anything: "Let me know this brother as I know myself" (T.5.in 3:8). When we encounter someone we think is in need of our prayer, our response is first to ask that our perception be corrected to perceive the person truly, so that we can be an example of one who has accepted the Holy Spirit’s perception in our own mind. Thus we appeal to the power of the person’s mind to choose the corrected perception himself. If we practice with sincerity we will come to know ourselves and everyone as sinless, whole, and healed of all misperceptions. No one could ask for or need anything else.

Q #97: Why did Jesus use Helen's body as the scribe for A Course in Miracles? Why didn't he come back into the world as a body himself? Once someone is in the real world and lays his body aside, would/could he come back into this world as another body? Would he then remember who he is, and his past lifetimes?

A: Although your questions make sense from the perspective of the world and the bodily selves we think we are, that is not the perspective from which the Course is coming and these are not the selves the Course is addressing. If you can shift your perspective from the world to the mind and recognize that we are the dreamer of the dream and not the figures in the dream, things may become a little clearer.

Jesus is a symbol in our mind of the Atonement -- the correction for our delusional thought system of separation, sin and attack. That symbol of love can take many different specific forms in the world, but the various forms, such as the man we call Jesus, "a separate being, walking by himself, within a body that appeared to hold his self from Self" (C.5.2:3) are all illusory. The love that Jesus represents takes whatever form can be most helpful to us, caught in believing in a dream of our own making that we’ve forgotten we have made. There really is no more definite answer as to why the message comes in whatever form it does.

We can still speculate -- perhaps, because of the specialness that has become associated with the physical being of Jesus in Christianity, obscuring his central message of forgiveness, it is more helpful for us to have the message come to us in the form of a book, so that we do not become so easily distracted by the specific form of the teacher. And Helen was always very clear that she was the scribe and not the source of the material, so that any confusion of her form with the Course’s content could be minimized.

As to your questions about being in the real world, this is a permanent shift in perspective from the world to the mind, from the dream figure to the dreamer -- it has nothing to do with laying the body aside. Once you are in the real world, you know you are not a body, no matter what other minds still identified with the dream may think about you. And so it is not a matter of deciding to come or to go -- there is no coming or going but only a different kind of seeing. You may then become a symbol of love in the dream for others who still believe in separation, but you will not be identified with any dream figure and so will be unaffected by anything that happens in the world. You will know that none of it is real. Memory for past lives will have no value for you as you recognize their illusory nature. But if reference to any of those specific forms may be helpful to others in their own process of awakening, then your mind may share the correction using those symbols.

Q #98: A Course in Miracles seems to be saying very clearly that it is important for the individual reading the book (and each and every Son of God who believes he is separated) to fulfill the Holy Spirit's purpose for the world and time by accepting the Atonement, that is, that the separation never happened, and that the Son of God is one (the Christ) and at home in God the Father.

My question is this: It appears from the above that it will make a difference when "I" or "All" the Sons of God accept the Atonement. Otherwise why would Jesus and the Holy Spirit and God go through all this trouble of bringing the Course into the dream and working with us daily in our struggle to recognize the truth? So what is that difference?

I realize our real Self never separated from the Father so nothing happened in reality. But still, here is the Course, telling us our realization of what the Course teaches is "required." I don't mean this facetiously, but very sincerely: What difference will it all make?

A: It may appear that Jesus or the Holy Spirit have some investment in our accepting the Course’s message, but that is really only a projection of our own ego. The reference to the Course being "required" (T.in.1:2) was really intended only as a message for Helen when she was questioning whether she wanted to do what it was asking her to do, even though she in fact knew it was the answer to her and Bill’s request for another way.

It may also seem that Jesus and the Holy Spirit -- God could not be involved because He is beyond all words and symbols, including the specific symbols of the Course (M.21.1:7) -- have gone to a lot of trouble to give us the Course and get us to practice it, but that is not in fact the reality. They simply are a presence in our mind that reminds us of the alternative to our ego’s thought system (T.5.II.7.1,2,3,4) and it is our own split mind that gives form to that reminder, in a way that we can understand and benefit from. For a more detailed discussion of this, you may wish to refer to the section, "Helen and Jesus: The Illusion and the Reality," in chapter 17 of Absence from Felicity by Kenneth Wapnick.

Nevertheless, although there is no pressure or urgency as far as Jesus or the Holy Spirit are concerned to have us follow the Course’s teachings -- they know nothing here is real even if we don’t -- your question still calls out for an answer. What difference does it make when we accept the Atonement for ourselves? The only difference is how much time we spend in pain -- and that is our choice. As Jesus observes, "Nothing is ever lost but time, which in the end is meaningless...Yet since you do believe in it, why should you waste it going nowhere....it is hard indeed to wander off, alone and miserable, down a road that leads to nothing and that has no purpose" (T.26.V.2:1,3,6). And so the Course offers us a gentle process for undoing time and its effects, with no demand or insistence about it. Jesus only ever offers us gentle encouragement to look at the consequences of our choice for the ego, describing, in what we may experience as excruciating detail, how we are inflicting pain upon ourselves and how we can make a different choice.

Q #99: I'm currently dating a man who I've been seeing for about three months. I've known him for 3 years and believe that I "love" him. The problem is that my feelings for myself include feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing because I'm overweight. I often feel jealous of his female friends even though I trust that they are just friends. I keep expecting this nice man to run away from me so I keep setting up tests where I tell him very negative things about myself and then ask if he still wants to remain with me. What advice would A Course in Miracles give me to help me to heal the pain of low self-worth and to develop a healthy, holy relationship with this person? He is very considerate of me and respectful toward me.

A: The Course can first of all help you to recognize the real source of any feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing. The cause is not your weight or any other feature or deficiency that you may think makes you less desirable. It also does not have anything to do with what others may think or say about you. All of this, of course, goes totally opposite to what the world tells us. But the world, and our relationships here, are what we have made to keep the real cause of our self- hatred hidden from ourselves. The real source is our belief that we exist on our own, apart from love, because of our decision, buried deep in our unconscious mind, to separate from God, regardless of the cost to Him and to ourselves.

We are convinced we are loveless and unlovable because we have chosen against love, which is our reality. But rather than question the premise that we in fact can separate from love, which the Holy Spirit tells us is impossible, we maintain our sense of a separate identity and then proceed to look for love and affirmation of our value from sources outside of ourselves, never remembering that what we want -- love -- has remained there within us all the time. And so we look to others to give us what we believe is missing in us, which only reinforces our underlying belief that we are lacking and empty to begin with. And once we embark on that search, we are lost, for we have chosen to look everywhere but where we can find love (T.29.VII).

There is nothing we can do on our own that will undo our feelings of unworthiness and offer us the love we so desperately desire. But that is in fact the good news, because the truth is there is nothing that we need do to establish our value. "Your worth is established by God. As long as you dispute this everything you do will be fearful, particularly any situation that lends itself to the belief in superiority and inferiority....nothing you do or think or wish or make is necessary to establish your worth. This point is not debatable except in delusions" (T.4.I.7:2,3,6,7).

Now Jesus doesn’t expect that we will recognize our worth simply because he tells us so. So our relationships become the classrooms in which over time we learn to recognize our worth as the guiltless Son of God. And we learn by recognizing all the ways in which we try to convince ourselves otherwise, with a growing awareness of what we are really up to. We want to see others as holding the key to our happiness so that we don’t have to accept responsibility for our own choice to be separate and miserable. The Course provides no specific guidelines on how to make a relationship work in the world’s terms. But it does provide a means for healing our perceptions of ourselves and others, no matter what form the relationship takes over time. And so the fear, guilt, shame and anger that seem almost universal in the special relationships of the world now become the signals to us that there is another way of looking at ourselves and others.

Q #100: I wonder about the passage T.27.VIII.6:2. I know my ego is quite resourceful and finds ways to delay progress, which is why I have grown to walk over this passage. Now, with all my basic human understanding, the only way to remember not to laugh is that at one time, for some reason, prior to this event, we had also not laughed; for it is not possible for a mind to "remember" or to "re-call" what has never entered the mind. And at this section, Jesus is not talking about us reliving that instant, hence, creating our world and its constancy. If we understand oneness, perfection, Love, how can something that is not oneness, perfection, Love be remembered? How could it had been part of our existence?

A. The language of A Course in Miracles can be a stumbling block for many people, which appears to be the case here. In one sense, your analysis of the function of memory is logical; but logical analysis can often get in the way of truly understanding Jesus’ message. The Course is not written as would an academic or scholarly treatise, in which precision and consistency in language is essential. While intellectually on a high, sophisticated level—with a clearly recognizable, internally consistent metaphysics—the Course is nonetheless expressed in more of a poetic fashion, where the meanings of words and concepts are permitted to be stretched, and as a result are not always consistent. There are several other instances of seeming inconsistency, in addition to the one you point out.

Anticipating this type of question no doubt, Jesus explains in the introduction to the clarification of terms: "This is not a course in philosophical speculation, nor is it concerned with precise terminology. It is concerned only with Atonement, or the correction of perception…All terms are potentially controversial, and those who seek controversy will find it. Yet those who seek clarification will find it as well. They must, however, be willing to overlook controversy, recognizing that it is a defense against the truth in the form of a delaying maneuver.…A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary. It is this experience toward which the course is directed. Here alone consistency becomes possible because here alone uncertainty ends" (C.in.1:1,2; 2:1,2,3,4,5,6,7).

As these passages indicate, the Course does not lend itself to the kind of logical analysis you engaged in, as that is not its purpose. It was not meant to be approached that way, and if it is, one will not get very far with it before being tempted to dismiss it because of the looseness of its language and apparent changes in meaning. What is also helpful is to recognize that the meaning of words is often relative to the point that Jesus is making, or to the essence of what he is teaching in that particular passage, which could differ when he is making some other point. This can be frustrating to readers, without a doubt. On the other hand, though, it is purposeful, in that it forces readers to pay very careful attention to what they are reading in order not to miss the point Jesus is making.

Moreover, the Course makes it clear that the human intellect itself is often an impediment in the quest for truth: "You are still convinced that your understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, and makes it what it is" (T.18.IV.7:5). It is a paradox that we must learn, by first using our intellectual powers, that our intellectual powers are a defense against the truth, which goes along with the Holy Spirit directing us to use the world and time as a means of learning that the world and time are illusory. We are just challenged on every single level to examine the premises and the values and expectations we bring to our study of the Course, so that we can identify exactly what we are thinking and doing that keeps love and truth out of our awareness.

For some further study of this issue, you might want to consult our tape album, "Duality As Metaphor in A Course in Miracles" and Chapter 2 "The Course’s Use of Language -- I" in Few Choose to Listen, Volume II of The Message of A Course in Miracles.