Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 12/20/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1063 If I share someone's joy for worldly success, is that choosing for the ego or the Holy Spirit?
Q #1064 I am searching for a better understanding of whether we should try to alleviate suffering in the world ? .
Q #1065 I've been working really hard on myself spiritually but my life seems to have gotten worse and worse. Why?

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Q #1063: If I feel joy with someone for something he or she has received, I used to think this is a "good" thing, in that I feel with that person. But lately, through working with the Course, I had a sense of, maybe this is only fostering the illusion that we are all living in. Is this really real? Why would I want someone "special" to me to receive a certain award or be knighted etc.? I feel that idols stand decidedly for "special relationships" serving our egos sometimes too well as means to project on good and bad things.

I don't know any more which is the ego's voice, the one which feels joy with that -- special -- person or the one that says, it all means nothing. What is the Course's stance on this issue? Certainly the Holy Spirit would just go with me and say, okay, feel joy and idolatry and admiration? But then I might never let go of the illusion and projection because that person would then stand for something I would like to do/ live? Or is it just my ego trying to use the Course to get me away from feeling joy?

A: Nothing in the Course asks that you not feel happiness for someone's good fortune. In fact, the Course tells us we should not only feel our emotions, but should pay attention to them as well as to the thoughts that accompany them. That is how we become aware of the mind's choice for separation. The feelings are not the cause of attachment to specialness; they are its effect. The mind's choice for separation gives rise to specialness that is then expressed in all the emotions experienced in our lives. Paying attention to your feelings and questioning them as you are is precisely what we are asked to do, for behind them are the values and beliefs that sustain the ego. Jesus' directive in this regard is very clear: “To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold” (T.24.In.2:1).

Another very important step in the learning process of the Course is to become aware of the two voices that express mutually exclusive interpretations of everything in the dream. Correctly identifying the two voices, as you have, is a significant accomplishment in itself. It means recognizing that every external situation is nothing but the reflection of the mind's choice to listen to one of the two voices. This is the foundation of the forgiveness process. The next step is to evaluate the feelings, thoughts, and judgments that are associated with every situation in this light, rather than be deceived by the specifics. You are fulfilling your part in the Atonement if you are willing to be honest with yourself about how you perceive the attainment of an award, without guessing at what the Holy Spirit's perspective would be, or thinking that you should be feeling differently. When Jesus tells us “…seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world”(T.21.in.1:7) , he is not only referring to the planet, but to the tiny world of our experiences. Changing our minds about it means seeing beyond the form to the content (the two voices). This opens the mind to the possibility of change, which is an invitation to the Holy Spirit. That is all we are asked to do. In this process of forgiveness the ego's perspective is not given full credit or credence, which weakens it. Questioning its interpretation gradually reduces the ego's hold on the emotions that flood our lives, thereby loosening their grip. They are gently changed by the simple process of questioning them, rather than by trying not to have them. This will eventually lead to the true happiness that is the goal of the Course. In contrast to the ego's roller coaster of feelings, the Holy Spirit's happiness is constant, not bound by the specialness of specific situations or relationships. Jesus distinguishes true happiness from pseudo happiness for us: “Elusive happiness, or happiness in changing form that shifts with time and place, is an illusion that has no meaning. Happiness must be constant, because it is attained by giving up the wish for the inconstant . Joy cannot be perceived except through constant vision. And constant vision can be given only those who wish for constancy” (T.21.VII.13:1,2,3,4). When we are ready, this happiness will be ours. Meanwhile, knowing that the learning process leads us gradually to true joy is itself a source of happiness.

Q #1064: There is a lot of media coverage about alleviating world poverty. Also many people seem to be on a mission to change this world. Dr. Wapnick often points out in his tapes and text that this is a mistake, as we can't change the world. Whilst I know that this is true on the level of truth, when I pray about it and ask Jesus what to make of it, I find myself reading parts of the text like "For They Have Come" and I get the impression that Jesus is ecstatic about it (collaboration). Jesus didn't not heal the sick or raise the dead just because sickness and death are part of the illusion (and I like to think he did do these things). On a practical level, I'd like to think if I were starving to death, someone was desperate to help me. Has this got something to do with true empathy? I almost feel guilty writing this, as I know people die of poverty as we speak.

A: Let's begin by clarifying what you think you heard Dr. Wapnick say, and what the Course is saying, about changing the world. It's not that we can't change the world -- at this level people do it all the time. The point is, the world is not the real problem and to focus on it is to attempt to change effects rather than getting to the root cause of our unhappiness, which is in the mind (T.21.in.1) . The world, from the perspective of the Course, is nothing more than a projection of the thought of separation in the mind and, in the end, we will come to realize that neither of them is real. To seek to change the world outside is to avoid solving the real problem within.

This kind of admonition is directed to students of the Course and has meaning only from the perspective of the Course's metaphysical principles. For someone who resonates to a different spiritual path, it most likely will make little or no sense. And so it would certainly be a mistake to use the Course's teachings to judge others who are seeking to bring about what they perceive as meaningful change in the world, such as alleviating suffering. We simply have no way of knowing what will be most helpful for others on their Atonement paths.

It's important to understand that the Course is never speaking about behavior, but only about the thoughts in the mind and, in particular, what purpose those thoughts are giving to whatever we seem to find ourselves doing in the world. The Course would never say don't help others in need, or don't try to eliminate world hunger, for example. But it would say pay attention to whatever thoughts are behind your actions. And if, for example, you are seeing the poor and the helpless at the mercy of unscrupulous governments and corporations or impersonal forces of nature, you are reinforcing your belief in victims and victimizers, as well as in differences, separation and loss. And that kind of false empathy, which makes distinctions between the innocent and the guilty, truly helps no one for it denies the power of each mind to have chosen its external circumstances as a way to protect its decision for individuality and specialness, and therefore to make a different choice for healing and wholeness (T.16.I.1,2) . And this is what we all continue to do until we are at last willing to ask for another way, which has nothing to do with changing the world and everything to do with changing our own mind.

Following up on this third point, it is a misunderstanding of Jesus' meaning in “For They Have Come” (T.26.IX) to interpret it as if he were speaking about what bodies do with each other. He is referring to a change in perception, which happens in the mind, which may or may not then be expressed in actions. Yes, he does speak of how “no one on earth but offers thanks to one who has restored his home, and sheltered him from bitter winter and the freezing cold” (T.26.IX.7:3) , but only to make the point of how much more grateful we will be to have our true Home restored to us.

As for whether Jesus performed the miracles reported in the gospels, it is important to remember that the gospel writers, whom many biblical scholars believe were not eyewitnesses to his life, were writing their accounts to demonstrate that Jesus was special, different from everyone else, divine. If persons experienced healings in the presence of Jesus' love, it seems very unlikely that it would have happened in the magical ways described in the gospel stories. Rather, being reminded of the love that was within them, they would have released the guilt in their minds and no longer have needed to maintain its projection in the form of their symptoms (M.5.II.2) .

Jesus' compassion was not for the suffering and crippled bodies the eyes see, but for the suffering and crippled minds that were choosing to believe that illness and pain were somehow necessary for salvation. That those who witnessed his compassion two thousands years ago misunderstood his message and interpreted it in terms of expressing care and concern for those less fortunate than oneself -- reinforcing a belief in real differences and separation -- is not surprising. For just look at how Jesus' students today continue to misunderstand his message in the Course, even though it is presented in much more direct and unambiguous language.

Q #1065: I started working really hard on myself spiritually about 20 years ago, using the Course for the last ten years. I thought that the fact that my life had evolved from one of extreme difficulty, pain and hardship to one very much improved signified I was on the right track. All that ended when I lost the one really good job I've ever had due to a downsizing six years ago. Since then, I have had three very long periods of unemployment in between two horrible jobs that also were eliminated.

These past six years have been a real "dark night of the soul" for me, and I have faced some even deeper and more horrifying things about myself than I had realized were there. My guilt seems so vast, and my ego seems to be especially vicious. Despite my attempts to have a relationship with Jesus, I feel that I receive no help from him or from anyone else.

While I realize that I shouldn't expect to see any outward manifestation of my spiritual efforts, I do need to be able to support myself financially. I would give anything to understand what happened inside myself to suddenly change my circumstances. I feel that I have been doing everything I possibly can to help myself, but I feel as though I am at the mercy of something I have no control over.

What does it take to put an end to extreme circumstances caused by (what I am guessing to be) an ego investment in victimhood/martyrdom? I feel that "I" am not choosing these situations for myself, yet I am forced to deal with the consequences. Is it really enough to say, "Oh, that's just my ego acting up and causing trouble," and then just do whatever I can to feel at peace? Please tell me specifically step by step what my thoughts should be.

Is there any validity to the idea that feelings of worthlessness are broadcast to the universe as an invitation for mistreatment (in order to intensify guilt)? What concept, idea, or lesson from the Course could I focus on to make the biggest difference to me right now? How do I convince myself that Jesus does care, even when I see no reason to believe he does or to have faith in him?

A: There really can be no satisfactory answer at this level to explain why each of our lives plays out in the specific form that it does. And so to look for specific causes in our thoughts, such as “the ego's investment in victimhood/martyrdom” only serves to reinforce our feelings of guilt, as you are experiencing. The Course has no prescription for changing our life's circumstances. Rather it offers a different way of perceiving or interpreting the events of our lives, whatever they may be, which will allow us to be increasingly peaceful and eventually to disidentify with the self we have believed we are. As Jesus says early in the text, “How else can you find joy in a joyless place except by realizing that you are not there?” (T.6.II.6:1).

You are right, the self you believe you are is not making the decisions about what will happen in your life. While there may at times seem to be some correlation between our conscious thoughts and our external circumstances, the correspondence is by no means consistent nor predictable. And believing that there should be some congruence, as you thought when your situation seemed to be getting better as you integrated various spiritual teachings into your life, can be a real ego setup, as you then found out. Yet we are not victims of some powerful mind over which we have no control. It is just that, because of our own fear of accepting responsibility for the ego, the part of our mind that is making choices is usually out of conscious awareness for most of us other than for the briefest instant (W.pI.136.3,4,5) . And so it is unlikely that we will understand all of what is involved in determining our specific experiences as bodies in the world, nor is it necessary. So judging ourselves and laying a guilt trip on ourselves for what we judge to be our difficult life circumstances is both misguided and counterproductive and you should stop doing it right now!

The notion that our feelings of worthlessness invite mistreatment from the universe may be part of other spiritual teachings, but not the Course. The Course would say that we believe that guilt calls for punishment (T.26.VII.3:1,2) and so we seek to suffer in order to atone for our sinfulness, but the suffering is always simply the result of a choice for separation in the mind and not the consequence of anything external. In other words, a mind identified with guilt will interpret an external event or situation as punitive, while a healed mind not identified with guilt will see nothing punitive about the same external circumstance. These alternative ways of viewing the same event are clearly contrasted in Jesus' discussion of the crucifixion (T.6.I) . And so it is most helpful to think of guilt as dictating our interpretation of what seems to be happening to us in the world, rather than as dictating what the events themselves shall be at an individual level.

Having said this, your external circumstances nevertheless can be used by the Holy Spirit if you allow yourself to see, not the externals themselves, but your reactions to them as expressions of your identification with the ego in your mind, which is the one thing you have a real choice about. What is most challenging and difficult about this process for most of us is that the outer situation may not change and most of us want to see “positive” change in our lives as proof we are healing our mind. But the Course's purpose is to lead us to an ever-deepening experience of peace (T.8.I.1:1,2; T.13.II.7:1) , no matter what may seem to be happening to our bodies.

As for the vastness of your guilt, that is your perception simply because you are looking at the guilt with your ego, which must see it as huge and serious in order to maintain its own existence in your mind. The ego can not tolerate your considering it as insignificant or silly. And that specifically is what Jesus can help you with. If you're looking to him to help you get your life back on track, you'll be sorely disappointed in the long run. But if you're looking to him to remind you that your guilt is not real and that you already have what you need to be happy in your mind -- you're just blocking it from your awareness - he's always ready to help. You just have to ask.

And so the specific steps you ask for would be first to acknowledge, whenever anything in your life circumstances seems to be upsetting you, that the real problem is that you have chosen the ego as your teacher to help you interpret what seems to be happening to you, and the ego's only teaching goal is to reinforce the buried guilt in your mind by viewing the situation as a punishment for that guilt. The next step is to recognize that, if the ego is a choice, there must be an alternative teacher available in your mind, and Jesus is simply waiting on your invitation. His purpose will not be to change the external situation but to help you look at the guilt you have made real in your own mind and see its insignificance. When you are willing to join with him, this is what he will help you see, or rather, not see! Then, when you look back at the external situation, you will no longer be looking at it through the lens of guilt and you will no longer need to see it as punitive. And what is called for is not faith in Jesus that he will help you, but faith in your own power of choice, that you will be willing to look at the guilt you have made real in your own mind and then ask for the help to see through it and beyond it to the love that is always there.

You may find the section in the text, “ The Real Alternative (T.31.IV) , a helpful one for reflecting on the issues that you are confronting. In very clear and direct language, Jesus addresses the futility of looking for any answers in the world, but also reminds us of where the happiness we are looking for can truly be found.