Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 11/08/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1038 What is the difference between "mind" and "spirit"?
Q #1039 Should I feel guilt about not giving away money? .
Q #1040 Three questions concerning the dream and the illusion.

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Q #1038: At the beginning of A Course in Miracles, Jesus talks about mind and spirit. Could you please explain, as I always thought it was mind...but either wrong mind or right mind.

A: The terms Mind and spirit refer to the true identity of God's Son, and are used in contrast to the body identity of the ego thought system. Though both terms are contrasted to the body, there is a slight distinction between them as they are used in the Course: “Whatever is true (our identity as spirit) is eternal, and cannot change or be changed. Spirit is therefore unalterable because it is already perfect, but the mind can elect what it chooses to serve” (T.1.V.5:1,2). Thus, spirit refers to our true identity as God's one Son, which is changeless, and remains unaltered by the mind's seeming escapade into the insanity of separation. In truth, God's Son, whose only reality is spirit (T.1.III.5:5) , cannot split off and be separate from his Source (T.7.V.6:15).

  The term mind, however, is used to help us understand the seeming separation. We are told that a “tiny, mad, idea” (T.27.VIII.6:2) entered the mind of the Sonship, and was taken seriously. When the mind chose to believe that separation was possible, it split into a right mind, a wrong mind, and the power to choose between them. This is the Course's explanation of an event that never occurred (M.2.2) , in which we believe we can have an identity (body) other than the one given us by God. One of the important goals of the Course is to teach us that we are mind/spirit, and that neither is found in the body. That is why the most frequently repeated phrase in the Course is: “I am not a body” (W.84.1:4). Clearly, Jesus is making a point. In fact, the practice of forgiveness rests on learning to see every experience as the reflection of the mind's choice to believe in the ego's separation (wrong mind) or the Holy Spirit's oneness (right mind). It is only in practicing forgiveness in this way that meaning is given to the terms used in the Course. Each application of the mind training we are taught in the workbook breathes life into our forgotten identity as spirit. Eventually the body will be forgotten, the mind will be healed, and only spirit will remain.

Q #1039: As a mail man, I meet the public daily, and I am in a quandary about my brother who asks me for money daily. I know there are no chance meetings. At first I perceived he needed monetary assistance. I then JUDGED that he was freeloading. Is my lesson to give all the time (he looks for 5 dollar bills) because the Son of God has it all? I finally told him I couldn't give any more because I can't afford it. I felt terrible about it for a while, until I conceded I just don't have the faith required to give like that, and knowing the One Who Knows keeps working with me. My brother stopped asking me but I know I'll come to this crossroads again.

A: Your decision to stop giving away money you can't afford to give seems to be a good one. When A Course in Miracles tells us we have everything, it is referring to the only need we truly have, which is our need for the Holy Spirit, Who represents the right mind. In other words, having a right mind that holds the memory of God is everything . It is all we truly need. Obviously, this has nothing to do with meeting physical needs, our own or someone else's. However, while we identify with the body, its needs must be met. Having our one true need met through the presence of the Holy Spirit does not mean that we have an unlimited supply of physical things, such as money. So, there is nothing wrong with using common sense in the distribution of funds, while at the same time seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to search the minds for thoughts that reflect the choice for separation.

Whenever guilt enters awareness, it means the mind has chosen separation, regardless of the apparent external catalyst for the guilt feeling. In choosing to be separate from God, the mind decides to be author of a separate identity, thereby stealing authorship from God. The insanity of this delusion of creative power is the source of tremendous guilt that is projected out of the mind onto a situation in the dream; e.g. meeting a brother in need of financial assistance. In the ego's twisted thinking, his need is perceived as the result of his somehow having been robbed of his rightful share of earthly goods. Fundamental to the ego's thought system is the belief that in order for someone to gain, another must lose. Thus, if this brother doesn't have what I have, I must have stolen it from him. Since stealing power from God is how the separated self came into being, whatever I have, I stole. That is why it is so common to experience guilt when confronted with those who are deemed less fortunate. Once this system is set in motion, one misperception follows another. Resentment for having been exploited by a freeloader follows the choice to give money; guilt for being selfish and unkind follows the choice not to give money. We come to this vicious circle whenever we decide to listen to the ego. You can't win on the ego's turf.

The only way out of this unwinable situation is willingness to pay attention to the feelings and judgments that come up in any situation, seeing in them the effect of the mind's decision to be separate. What the ego ultimately goes for is the turmoil of guilt that keeps the mind rooted in the world's dilemmas, rather than the quiet peace of the right mind. Every situation can be transformed when a decision is made to choose the Holy Spirit instead of the ego. The question then becomes, to whom will I listen: the ego or the Holy Spirit? The specific behavior of giving or not giving is of no concern to the Holy Spirit. His agenda is only the content of the mind that has the power to choose to remember or forget its identity as mind. The crossroads in every situation consists in one road that leads to the guilt of the ego's thinking, and one that leads to the peace of the Holy Spirit. Whether you give or don't give, the ego's road is paved with the guilt that originates in the mind that chose the ego, not from the act of giving or withholding a hand-out. Likewise, choosing the Holy Spirit brings peace whether you give or not.

The mistake lies in thinking that the external circumstances can generate or abolish guilt, or have any effect on the mind whatsoever: “…all external things are only shadows of a decision already made” (P.2.IV.2:4). This fact rests on a very fundamental principle of the Course's teaching: “ Ideas leave not their source” (T.26.VII.4:7) . That is why there are no specific guidelines for behavior in the Course. Rather, it teaches us to see everything in our lives as an opportunity to shift the focus back to the mind by becoming aware of its thoughts and judgments. That is how we begin the practice of forgiveness in every situation in which we find ourselves, which is the only meaningful thing we can offer another. What we all truly need is the healing of our minds of the thought of separation, and until our minds are healed we are all begging for forgiveness. Remembering this frees us to be guided by the Holy Spirit to give a few dollars or not, without the burden of the ego's guilt.

Q #1040: Regarding parts of Question #167: Since we are only ever "reviewing mentally what has gone by" because "this world was over long ago," what is the point of forgiveness unless through forgiveness one (any individual mind/body) can actually skip over part or all of this dream/illusion by forgiving everything all at once, if that is possible, and just really let this whole world/cosmos truly be over and done with?

And the concept of enlightenment/awakening is a conflict-maker for me because I do not understand how one can be both awake and asleep (this “awake in the dream” concept), because either one is awake and not dreaming or one is asleep and dreaming.

And since both Jesus and A Course in Miracles are also illusion/dream, which is telling the illusory student/reader that he/she doesn't really exist as anything other than a dream character in some dreamer's dream, how can one trust anything at all in this worldly experience, including Jesus and the Course? It seems to me that all dreams are unreliable since they can and do change in an instant and if we are truly just dream characters, everything that seems to happen to us isn't up to us dream characters at all.

A: Addressing your questions in the order you present them -- yes, forgiveness, also referred to in the Course as the miracle, allows us to skip over part or all of the dream. For most of us, our forgiveness in any instant is incomplete or partial and so we skip over only part of the dream. Jesus discusses this time-saving nature of the miracle a number of times very early in the text: “The miracle is a learning device that lessens the need for time. It establishes an out-of-pattern time interval not under the usual laws of time” (T.1.I.47:1,2 ).

And a few pages later: “The miracle minimizes the need for time. In the longitudinal or horizontal plane the recognition of the equality of the members of the Sonship appears to involve almost endless time. However, the miracle entails a sudden shift from horizontal to vertical perception. This introduces an interval from which the giver and receiver both emerge farther along in time than they would otherwise have been. The miracle thus has the unique property of abolishing time to the extent that it renders the interval of time it spans unnecessary. There is no relationship between the time a miracle takes and the time it covers. The miracle substitutes for learning that might have taken thousands of years. It does so by the underlying recognition of perfect equality of giver and receiver on which the miracle rests. The miracle shortens time by collapsing it, thus eliminating certain intervals within it. It does this, however, within the larger temporal sequence” (T.1.II.6).

In the next chapter, Jesus elaborates further: “Just as the separation occurred over millions of years, the Last Judgment [ the “final healing” ] will extend over a similarly long period, and perhaps an even longer one. Its length can, however, be greatly shortened by miracles, the device for shortening but not abolishing time” (T.2.VIII.2:5,6).

In reality, it would be possible to let go of the whole illusion at once, a complete and total collapse of time if you will, if our fear of losing this self we believe to be ourselves were not so great. For it's not simply that “this whole world/cosmos [will be] truly over and done with” but so will this self we identify with, or any specific self we may wish to identify with, for that matter. And then, our ego self asks,   who would we be? That's why Jesus assures us, “Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality” (T.16.VI.8:1).

I am not sure where you have drawn the conclusion that the Course says we are “awake in the dream.” Jesus does say that, “ You are at home in God, dreaming of exile,” but this is not the same as saying we are awake and dreaming at the same time, for he adds to that thought, “but perfectly capable of awakening to reality” (T.10.I.2:1).   Repeatedly through the Course, Jesus contrasts the alternative states of dreaming and waking, as in the following passage: “Could it be some dreams are kept, and others wakened from? The choice is not between which dreams to keep, but only if you want to live in dreams or to awaken from them. Thus it is the miracle does not select some dreams to leave untouched by its beneficence. You cannot dream some dreams and wake from some, for you are either sleeping or awake . And dreaming goes with only one of these (T.29.IV.1:4,5,6,7,8; italics added ).

The Course does say that we cannot change our reality (T.19.II.3) and the Self we truly are continues on, unaffected by our nightmarish dreams (e.g., T.30.III.10; W.pI.190.6; W.pII.6.1) . But awakened does not describe our state in Heaven. It is a dualistic term that refers to the state of the final correction in the split mind for the dreaming of the ego, when we recognize it is all a dream (T.17.I.1) . Another term Jesus uses to describe the awakened state is the real world , but this is still part of the illusion (e.g., T.26.V.12:3) . In the real world, we know that the separation has never happened and that to think that it could happen is only silly. We are still aware of the dream, but we are no longer personally identified with any of the figures within the dream, although others who are still asleep and dreaming may continue to see us as a figure within their dream. There may be an intermediate step, before we awaken, when we become aware that we are dreaming, much like the state of lucid dreaming some people experience at night, when we are still asleep but become aware that we are asleep and dreaming, but choose to continue to sleep and dream.

As for your final concern, you have been ensnared in the ego's very deliberate delusion that you are “the dream character in some dreamer's dream” ( e.g., see T.27.VII.8) rather than the dreamer yourself of the dream (T.27.VII.9) . If you keep your identification and focus on the dream symbols, the dream figures, of which the self you think you are is just one, you're right, nothing in the dream can be relied on, for none of it is true, not even Jesus and the Course. But symbols can be used to serve either of only two contrasting purposes, and it is at the level of purpose that we can distinguish between what can and cannot be relied upon. The purpose for the dream is always assigned, not within the dream itself, but in the mind outside the dream. And quite simply, symbols within the dream may be used either for the purpose of keeping us asleep and dreaming by supporting the mind's identification with the dream figures, or for the purpose of awakening by helping the mind disidentify from the dream and its figures (T.28.II.4) . Clearly people can and do use Jesus and the Course for both purposes. So we're not being asked to trust or believe Jesus or the Course as figures/symbols within our dream. Our only concern should be whether those symbols are being used in our own mind to maintain our belief that something of value is happening within the dream, so that we remain content with continuing to dream, or are being used to point to a reality beyond the dream that reinforces our desire to awaken. We are the only ones who can make that choice. In the end, we will all awaken, and that outcome is certain, since sleeping and dreaming are only illusions. But we can continue to believe we are asleep and dreaming for as long as we want, with all the sorrowful consequences of a seeming life lived outside of love. Yet, to return to the point we made earlier, we can always choose to shorten the duration of the nightmare through the practice of forgiveness, or the miracle.

For further discussion of the nature of the dream and awakening, you may wish to refer to Question #893.