Weekly Questions and Answers, 03/12/2003

This week's questions:

Q #101: Has any Course student become "enlightened?"
Q #102: Are self-help books useful?
Q #103: What is meant by "our creations?"
Q #104: Is "to forgive" the same as "to give over?"
Q #105: What is the best method to study the Course?
Q #106: What are the differences between the Course and Ghandi/MLK/Chavez, etc.?
Q #107: About anger and strife in the workplace

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Q#101: I would like to know if anyone who has practiced A Course in Miracles has become enlightened. Do you know of anyone who feels/knows that they are in absolute connection with God and therefore, never out of a state of peace?

A: We don’t have any reports of this nature, but that does not mean anything. A truly enlightened person would have no need to let others know of his or her having totally transcended the ego. In fact, that might be a helpful way of evaluating someone’s claim to having achieved enlightenment. If such a person goes around announcing it, that is almost a sure sign that there is still some ego left. As the Course portrays the state, there is basically only one characteristic that might stand out, which is that the person would smile more frequently: "There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be. You do not change appearance, though you smile more frequently. Your forehead is serene; your eyes are quiet. And the ones who walk the world as you do recognize their own" (W.pI.155.1:1,2,3,4).

There are numerous accounts of students, though, who have experienced significant shifts in their thinking and in their reactions, so that what formerly had "pushed all their buttons," for example, no longer evokes the same reaction. Forgiveness works, in other words, and so that should be the focus of each day.

Finally, with reference to someone being in "absolute connection with God," we refer you to the section in the manual, "Can God Be Reached Directly?" (M.26). There Jesus tells us: "Sometimes a teacher of God may have a brief experience of direct union with God. In this world, it is almost impossible that this endure. It can, perhaps, be won after much devotion and dedication, and then be maintained for much of the time on earth. But this is so rare that it cannot be considered a realistic goal. If it happens, so be it. If it does not happen, so be it as well. All worldly states must be illusory. If God were reached directly in sustained awareness, the body would not be long maintained" (M.26.3:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8).

Thus, direct union with God is not the goal of the Course’s curriculum. Reaching a state of peace is its goal, where we rise above the battleground with Jesus and look back down with compassion for everyone. "This Course will lead to knowledge, but knowledge itself is still beyond the scope of our curriculum. Nor is there any need for us to try to speak of what must forever lie beyond words.…It is not for us to dwell on what cannot be attained. There is too much to learn. The readiness for knowledge still must be attained" (T.18.IX.11:1,2,5,6,7).

Q #102: I am really into self-help books. I have read that psychotherapy and counseling can be helpful for the student of A Course In Miracles because it can help reveal the ego's blocks to the awareness of love's presence. Is this the case for self-help as well? Or do self-help materials hold more potential than formalized counseling to enmesh readers in their own problems?

A: An advantage of psychotherapy and counseling over self-help books is that there is someone else to observe your ego, hopefully in a non-judgmental way, and point out its dynamics in areas you may be very effectively keeping hidden from yourself. It is usually easier to recognize someone else’s defenses rather than our own. But self-help books still can be of value in helping you identify your own maladaptive patterns of behavior and underlying thoughts, if you’re willing to be honest with yourself.

For any self-improvement tool that you’re considering, including therapy, you may want to ask yourself the following questions in evaluating its usefulness:

Is this helping me to take more responsibility for my thoughts and feelings and actions or is it reinforcing the ego dynamic of seeing and holding others responsible for my dysfunction and unhappiness (although uncovering a dynamic of blaming others can be an important first step in the healing process if we have not allowed ourselves to be in touch with that before)?

Is this likely to help me uncover my hidden motivations or is it more likely to help me keep them buried in an emphasis on changing form, such as behavior and appearance, rather than underlying content, such as thought and purpose (although sometimes an important early step that indicates a willingness to change at a deeper level is to modify maladaptive and destructive behavior, such as addictions)?

One of the limitations of nearly every therapeutic approach in the world, regardless of whether it involves a therapist or work on your own, is that its purpose is to make the dream better, rather than to lead you along the path of awakening, which is the Course’s goal. And self-help is really about helping make a better ego self. Not that there is anything bad about that, but it won’t take you where the Course is leading you and it could end up leading you in the opposite direction. The only truly healing practice is forgiveness, and we may find clever ways to avoid it for as long as we can stand the pain. But in the end, we will find that releasing our judgments to the Help of the only real Therapist is the only way to find the Self we are really looking for.

Q #103: What does Jesus mean when He refers to our "creations"?

A: Our creations exist only on the level of spirit. They are not things or beings, and are not part of the illusory world of form. The term is used in the Course to refer to the love that is present in the mind of the Sonship. Our creations are the loving thoughts in the Christ Mind. The term is used as a symbol to help us understand that in truth we are the Father’s creation, and like Him we "create" by the Thoughts of love that extend throughout the Sonship and return to the Father. They are "the extensions of our spirit…as extensions of Christ, our creations are part of the Second Person of the Trinity; creation is ongoing in Heaven, beyond time and space, and independent of the son’s lack of awareness of it in the world" (Glossary-Index for A Course in Miracles, Kenneth Wapnick). When we fully let go of our ego identity, and accept who we really are as God created us, we will know and accept our creations. This occurs outside of the dream, where we are at home in God. That is where we find our creations. The Course uses this beautiful image to encourage us to seek our truth; "Heaven waits silently, and your creations are holding out their hands to help you cross and welcome them. For it is they you seek. You seek but for your own completion, and it is they who render you complete…Acceptance of your creations is the acceptance of the Oneness of creation, without which you could never be complete" (T.16.IV.8:1,2,3,6).

Q #104: A question about "to forgive" or "to give over." I am studying A Course in Miracles in German, my native tongue, but am also using the English version as a cross reference. An identical semantic problem arises in both German and English. In the Text I found three places where Jesus is using "to give over" instead of "to forgive." They are T.3.VI.9.1; T.13.VII.6.6 and T.15.IV.4.2.

I have been studying the Course for nearly 10 years and always had a difficulty with "to forgive" because the dictionary definition for it is "to give up," while "to give over" seems much more to the point particularly when we come to the place where Jesus is asking us to forgive him. This is something I can only understand in the sense that we should give over to him our critical thoughts we have about him. Could you please explain why "to give over" is hardly ever used, and "to forgive" so frequently?

A: It is always helpful to remember that the Course has come as a correction -- first as a correction for our ego, but then also as a correction for some of the ego’s specific expressions, including its distortion within traditional Christianity of Jesus’ original message of love and forgiveness. So the Course uses the words of traditional Christianity, such as crucifixion and resurrection, Atonement, miracle and forgiveness, but gives them a different meaning. This reflects the Course’s basic approach to all of our special relationships -- keeping the same form but providing it a different content, as a reminder that the problem is not the form (in this case, the word) but the ego content we have given it. It is our ego that always focuses on form so that we overlook the content.

So it is important to develop an understanding of how Jesus is using these concepts in the Course and not rely on our prior understanding of their meaning or dictionary definitions, which will reflect the meaning our egos have given those terms. In the case of forgiveness, the ego has told us that to forgive means to give up our need to right the wrongs of others through punishing them or extracting some kind of payment from them, all the time holding on to the reality of their transgressions, or sins. Contrast this with the Course’s use of the term: "Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin. And in that view are all your sins forgiven. What is sin, except a false idea about God’s Son. Forgiveness merely sees its falsity, and therefore lets it go" (W.pII.1.1:6; italics added).

In the Course’s use of the word, we are not really talking about anyone else when we are speaking of forgiveness. We are speaking of releasing ourselves from the very same judgments that we had projected on to our brothers, including Jesus, believing that we had relieved ourselves of that burden of guilt by placing it on them. The Course teaches us that blame can not be gotten rid of by seeing it elsewhere (T.11.IV.5:3). It must be undone at its source, in our own mind. And that involves simply a letting go, a releasing, a giving over, or a giving up, to the light of forgiveness, in which the unreality of sin and guilt becomes apparent.

Q #105: What is the best method to study A Course in Miracles? In my experience, study groups bear little resemblance in content to what is expressed by the Foundation, so I do the work alone. Should the text be read first, before beginning the workbook, or hand in hand? If I begin the workbook and miss several days or weeks, do I need to begin again or pick up where I left off? Does it matter? I would prefer to work with other people, but most of them I've spoken to aren't even aware of the non-dualistic nature of the Course. I find when I try to explain that aspect, generally people are not willing to hear it and try to convince me that I have it wrong. Also I've heard people say they like the Course because they can combine it easily with their other spiritual practice - - I find it nearly impossible to do that and have moved away from spiritual teachings I used to hold dear. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm the one who is confused. Please advise.

A. (1) In keeping with the actual theory of the Course, there actually is no best method for studying it. It in essence is a curriculum undertaken by the student under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or Jesus. The "training is always highly individualized" (M.9.1:5). Jesus advises us to study the text very carefully and not proceed too quickly lest we plunge unnecessarily into overwhelming fear (T.I.VII.4,5), and he also explains that the "theoretical foundation.…the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in this workbook meaningful" (W.in.1:1), so he clearly expects his students to spend time with the text at some point in their process. But he does not say which should be done first. So if you are comfortable studying the text while you are doing the lessons, that is what you should do.

He also tells us not to do more than one workbook lesson a day (W.in.1:6). The middle of Lesson 95 might be helpful in answering your question about what to do if you miss several days or weeks in your practice of the lessons. The instruction there focuses on recognizing the ways in which the ego creeps into the process, and that we ought to respond to "our lapses in diligence, and our failures to follow the instructions for practicing the day’s idea" with forgiveness (W.pI.95.8:3). That is the key. Jesus does not keep track of how punctual we are in following he instructions for the day; his interest is only in helping us train our minds to think more and more in terms of forgiveness. It makes the most sense, though, to pick up where you left off, rather than begin all over again.

(2) The Course says nothing about groups. Some people find it helpful to study with others; some do not. It depends entirely on the preference of the individual. In our experience, it is more common than uncommon that people find the uncompromising nature of the Course’s non-dualism intolerable and fear provoking, which then causes them to dilute its message to make it say something that it does not, or to mix it with other systems, thereby doing justice to neither. One of the Course’s strengths is the manner in which it integrates a metaphysics of non-dualism with living in the world. This is quite a challenge, but the Course gives us all the support we need in our journey back to our home in Heaven, the state of perfect Oneness.

Q #106: Over the past five years I have been studying A Course in Miracles in unison with my study of the ethics of Nonviolence as taught by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez. I had at one time considered the two philosophies -- A Course in Miracles and Nonviolence -- to be almost identical in aim (this appraisal of mine was aided by the fact that even some authors have mentioned the similarities of the philosophies). Both paths teach that everyone is connected, that we are not victims, and that we should be gentle with one another. But lately I am considering that the two paths may be quite different in emphasis.

A: If we focus on the religious or spiritual foundation of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolence, based on some of the highest teachings of Hinduism, there are many striking parallels with the teachings of A Course in Miracles. Ideas shared in common, for example, include viewing the world as an illusion or a dream, seeing the nature of reality as one so that separation and separate interests are not real, and focusing on internal decision-making about one’s intention rather than on external outcome.

But these religious underpinnings of Gandhi’s ideas on nonviolence are generally not the focus of most studies of his contributions to the field. And Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez grounded their philosophy and practice of nonviolence in a more traditional Christian perspective that views the world and its inhabitants as created by God, a significantly different assumption from the Course’s basic premise that "the world was made as an attack on God" (W.pII.3.2:1). With this premise, we see the Course departing significantly as well from the Hindu teachings guiding Gandhi.

The study and practice of nonviolence, as a philosophy for action and for political and economic change, often then becomes concerned with outcome in the world. The Course, in contrast, encourages us to choose to change our mind about the world rather than seeking to change the world itself (T.21.in.1:7). If we look at gentleness and defenselessness, two of what the Course identifies in the manual as characteristics of an advanced teacher of God, they certainly share something in common with what is meant by nonviolence. But a careful reading of the Course’s discussion of both traits (M.4.IV,VI) makes it apparent that the emphasis is on thought or state of mind and not behavior, and the only outcome of concern is in the mind -- there is no investment in the outcome in the world. Changes may or may not follow in the world, but they are irrelevant to the goal of inner peace, which can be attained irrespective of external circumstances.

So, as you remark in your question, there is simply a different emphasis with the Course and with nonviolence. That is not to say that one is any better than the other, for in fact the spirituality from which they both spring is quite similar. But the Course is not concerned with how we act in the world. Nevertheless, when we act in the world, guided by the principles of A Course in Miracles, our actions may be very similar to the actions of those guided by nonviolent principles. It is the emphasis that is different.

Q #107: I have a question regarding the idea: "It is impossible that anything be lost, if what you have is what you are? "(T.26.VII.11:4) This statement is in the context of describing our true Identity. Is this also true of our experiences as an ego? My work environment brings out a lot of my guilt, either projecting onto others or internalizing it. I can think of many times when an idea I have is challenged and I become very offended, hurt, angry, etc. It seems I have become that idea, that it represents me. So, is this the same idea, meaning, what I have is my decision to choose the ego so that is what I am? I become or reflect what I choose? Therefore, if I could step back and look with Jesus at these work situations and choose vision then I would become that vision? Is that right?

A. Yes, you are on the right track with this. Each step in our descent from the state of oneness entailed a choice, then becoming what we chose, but denying that we chose it. The goal right from the beginning was to acquire and maintain our individuality but not to take responsibility for it. Therefore the prevailing experience of human existence is victimization, which reinforces the internal belief, "I am not responsible." Considering only our ego-identification, not our right minds, our lives here cannot be anything other than one experience after another of feeling offended, angry, resentful, fearful, shameful, etc., because the world is nothing but our thoughts of sin, guilt, and fear projected outward, "the outside picture of an inward condition" (T.21.in.1:5). We need to take things personally, otherwise we cannot hold others responsible for our condition. We have become the thought system of the ego, in other words; and so learning forgiveness would be initially perceived as tremendously threatening. That is why what the Course calls forgiveness-to-destroy is the commonly accepted version of forgiveness in the world. Sin has been made real and there is still a separation between the forgiver and the forgiven, directly antithetical to what the Course teaches.

The lessons in the workbook emphasize over and over the importance of stepping back and looking with Jesus at what we are doing and thinking. We need the help of a teacher who is outside the thought system with which we have identified so thoroughly, otherwise we would have no way of getting beyond it. So you are quite correct in concluding that looking with Jesus, and choosing against the ego would automatically give you the same vision as Jesus. The key is remembering that we always have a choice; the ego’s efforts are directed towards keeping us mindless. Who we truly are, God’s one Son, has never changed, and has never been affected by the dream of separation. We need only deny our denial of that truth (T.12.II.1:5), and then what we have made invisible will once again, through our joining with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, be all that we see (T.12.VIII.3). In the words of a lovely prayer, "I have nothing, I want nothing, I am nothing but the love of Jesus."