Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles:5/2/2007

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1135 When I try to help others I am often rejected. Why ?
Q #1136 Would a believer's experience of death differ from that of a non-believer?
Q #1137 Must I "right" all the "wrongs" I have ever done before I can progress toward atonement?
Q #1138 Is other people's suffering real, or just in my mind?

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Q #1135: I was hoping that you could help me by commenting on this inner dilemma that I am having as I am training with the Holy Spirit to become a Teacher of God. Jesus himself says in his Psychotherapy pamphlet that there is nothing holier or more noble in this world than helping a brother who asks for help. This is inspiring to me and I feel good that I am learning to be a messenger for the Holy Spirit. But, the dilemma that I am having is that others do not always see me the way that I see me. For example, a friend asks for help and I see it as an opportunity to teach and learn and think highly of myself and do believe that this Self-exaltation is coming from grandeur and not grandiosity. But, sometimes the other person does not see it this way and instead sees my "kindness as a weakness” -- like that I have nothing better to do than help them with their problem for example! I guess that I feel undervalued and confused because I may not have the worldly credentials that other teachers of God have but I know that I have a lot to offer. But others only judge me on my worldly credentials and status. Why would the Holy Spirit guide me to a situation to have me be His messenger only to find out that the other person sees me as needing their approval or something? Do you think that this is a pattern that I am getting some unconscious payoff or purpose from?

A: You've been caught in a very common confusion, thinking that Jesus is talking about doing things for others when he speaks of helping our brother. The line in particular from the Psychotherapy pamphlet that you refer to says, “Nothing in the world is holier than helping one who asks for help” (P.2.V.4:2). While we still think we are bodies, we will interpret such statements at the level of the body and think, as you have, that we are being guided to come to the assistance of others who have some kind of need for specific help. There is nothing wrong with doing this, but it is not what Jesus means by this line. And if we believe we are being guided by the Holy Spirit to offer our help to others at the level of behavior, we may find ourselves very surprised at their reactions, as you have experienced. Despite what we believe to be our best intentions, this usually means that our ego has joined the relationship, and other egos can be very quick to react to ours! For we are seeing others as in need and ourselves as having what they need, even if we believe the Holy Spirit is the Source of what we think we have been sent to offer them. And this makes differences -- and separation -- very real.

“Trust not your good intentions. They are not enough” (T.18.IV.2:1,2) is Jesus' caution to us when we think we know what we need to do in any situation. And earlier in the text Jesus advises: “Do not attempt to ‘help' a brother in your way, for you cannot help yourself. But hear his call for the Help of God, and you will recognize your own need for the Father” (T.12.I.6;10,11).

Perhaps the most helpful thing to keep in mind as you are putting A Course in Miracles into practice is that it is never speaking about behavior. What we do as bodies in relationship to other bodies is not where Jesus is asking us to focus our attention and efforts. For Jesus is not addressing us as the bodies that we think we are, he is speaking to us as minds. Over time, as you begin to recognize this deeper level at which the Course is written, you may be astonished at how many of the lines and passages that you thought you understood now take on a whole new meaning. And how many of the passages that you simply overlooked because you didn't understand what they were saying now become very meaningful. Yet this is the experience of most students who commit themselves to an open-minded study of the Course, acknowledging that there is much yet that they are not ready to understand but will, as their own practice of forgiveness deepens through first recognizing and then releasing their own guilt and fear.

Consider, for example, the lines that come a few paragraphs later in the same section as the above line on helping. These put the above sentence in a completely different light, as they negate the idea that there is any need for helping, or healing, as Jesus refers to it in this context; clarify what the true nature of help is -- forgiveness of oneself for all the false self-accusations; and identify who is truly being helped -- only ourselves. “We are deceived already, if we think there is a need of healing. And the truth will come to us only through one who seems to share our dream of sickness. Let us help him to forgive himself for all the trespasses with which he would condemn himself without a cause. His healing is our own” (P.2.V.7:4,5,6,7) .

In other words, we are always the ones in need of help, so long as we believe we are these individual selves in the world, and our brother is simply the mirror that allows us to look within. And the only help we can offer a brother is to remember the choice that we always have about whom we are going to turn to for help in any situation -- the ego or the Holy Spirit. As Jesus observes earlier in the text:

“The only meaningful contribution the healer [helper] can make is to present an example of one whose direction has been changed for him, and who no longer believes in nightmares of any kind. The light in his mind will therefore answer the questioner, who must decide with God that there is light because he sees it” (T.9.V.7:4,5).                                                                                                                                             

The issue of credentials then becomes irrelevant, for the help we are being invited to offer our brother has nothing to do with any specific form. In fact, our brother may not even be consciously aware of the help that is being offered through us, for we may not say or do anything at all. But we will be remembering the truth about both ourselves and our brother -- that our guilt is not real. And that is the only help that any of us ever needs.

Q #1136: My father has always had a fear of death or nonexisting. He believes this world and the body are all that exist because he has no proof otherwise; and therefore he gets very depressed when he has health issues My views are totally different. If he dies with the beliefs he has and I die with mine (both with the Holy Spirit), but at the time of physical death he still believes only in himself (ego), would we experience death differently? Also, does the Holy Spirit have any influence on us in terms of controlling how long we remain in the body/ world once we invite His memory back to guide our life?

A: From the point of view of A Course in Miracles , death is always a decision we make in our minds (W.pI.152.1:4; M.12.5:6,7) , and that decision can be made with the ego or with the Holy Spirit. If it is made with the Holy Spirit, there will be no sense of regret, fear, bitterness, loss, or blame in one's mind. The mind would simply continue on as before; nothing happens to the mind because the body is no longer classified as “living” according to the world's standards (W.pI.167.3,4) . Everything takes place in the mind and not in the body. That is what Jesus is always trying to help us realize. We, as minds, are always and only choosing to uphold the ego's thought system of separation and judgment or the Holy Spirit's thought system of oneness and forgiveness. Our experience reflects only that choice, never what goes on in our bodies. That is very difficult for us to accept, because we want so much to have Jesus validate our belief that we are real as bodies. He cannot do that, though, because it is a false belief. “There is no death. The Son of God is free” (W.pI.163) .

In answer to your second question: No, the Holy Spirit does not control the length of time we remain in our bodies once we accept Him as our Teacher. The Holy Spirit represents in our minds the truth that we split off when we chose to believe we had our own individual lives in a world apart from the world of Heaven and God. To be guided by the Holy Spirit means to think in accordance with what is true about ourselves and reality, rather than what is false. To share His perception means to consciously practice seeing everyone as having the same interests, and excluding no one from our love and compassion. Eventually, we will let go of all investment in having separation be the truth, and then there will be no difference between the Holy Spirit's perception and our own (T.14.VII.7) . But all this means is that we have at last accepted back into our awareness our true Identity and the oneness of the Sonship. The Holy Spirit has not done anything. We retain our bodily identification only to the extent that we choose to keep ourselves split off from the truth. When the pain of that rejection is no longer worth it, we change our minds, and then all interferences to love and truth fall away, and we regain what we never lost. “And what am I except the Christ in me?” (W.pII.354.1:7).

Q #1137: I was recently reading a Christian book and it said that if you lie or cheat you should turn yourself in. Several examples were given that left me feeling very upset, because of the implications for my life. Is God really the originator of all the moral codes that we believe in and should I follow them to the letter? I think everyone lies and steals to a certain degree. Would a person who has accepted the Atonement not do these things in any degree? It might be easier for me to follow a moral code going forward, but the thought of the sacrifice of paying for my past actions now is overwhelming -- like quitting my job, giving back to people what I accuse myself of taking from them, fixing things I think I have done wrong, and believing I have to "redo" something the right way fills me with fear, and I know I will never actually follow what my fears demand of me. So will I ever be saved?

A: “All morality is of the ego, since it is based upon certain prescribed standards of behavior or conduct, all geared around what the body does or does not do.... Just as ‘a universal theology is impossible' (C.in.2:5) , so too is a universal morality, as values differ from one culture to the next, and change over time within individual cultures themselves. This relative nature of morality is proof that no ethical system can be of God, in Whom only the changeless and universal reality of non-dualistic truth can exist” (p. 336). This quote is from Kenneth's All Are Called , Volume 1 of The Message of “A Course in Miracles,” where you will find a comprehensive presentation of ethics and morality in the context of the Course's teaching contrasted with other systems. Another discussion of this topic appears in chapter 17 of Kenneth's Love Does Not Condemn . Also, our answer to Question #637, part 2, discusses several important passages from the Course pertaining to morality and behavior. A study of them will help avert serious misunderstanding and misapplication of the Course's principles.

A Course in Miracles teaches that the body has no independent existence; it is simply a projection of the mind, as part of the ego's strategy to make the separation real. The body expresses the thought system the mind has chosen to uphold: either the ego's or the Holy Spirit's. Therefore, there is nothing in the Course about guidelines for behavior. Its exclusive focus is on the mind's power to choose, and the consequences of the choice the mind makes. It is thus a course in mind- training, not in how to behave in the world. Our behavior flows directly from the thought system with which we identify, and so that is where our attention needs to be directed. Our sense of sin and guilt, according to A Course in Miracles , comes from our decision to reject the truth about reality and ourselves and make a substitute for it. All of this is denied and then gets projected onto our bodies and the world, which ends with our thinking that our problems and their solutions are in the body (behavior) and the world.

Since the ego was born of selfishness, murder, deception, and theft -- it knows nothing else -- then when we choose to identify with the ego, the content in our minds will be the same as the ego's. We cannot but act that out in the world as long as we have elected to have the ego as our teacher. We don't realize, however, that this is what runs our lives, which is why we need help from a source outside our thought system entirely: Jesus or the Holy Spirit. This is the core of the Course's teaching and exercises. Understanding the form-content distinction is central to the practice of A Course in Miracles as it was meant to be practiced.

Salvation in A Course in Miracles has to with changing our teacher from the ego to Jesus or the Holy Spirit -- or any other ego-less presence we are comfortable with. If we do this, which we would when our pain and despair causes us to cry out for “another way,” then we would begin the process of thought-reversal ( e.g., M.24.4:1) -- of going back into our minds, with this loving presence guiding us, and looking without judgment at all manifestations of our mistaken choice: judgment, specialness, selfishness, authority issues, one-or-the-other and kill-or-be-killed type thinking, etc. As students of this course, we learn that choosing this insane thought system was simply a mistake in need of correction, not a sin deserving of punishment. We realize, too, that it has not brought us the peace and happiness we were led to believe it would. Now, happily and thankfully, we allow our new teacher to guide our thinking.

When, once and for all, we let go of the ego, the only content in our minds will be love; we will have restored to our awareness what we had split off and concealed -- the memory of our true Identity as Christ. This is the acceptance of the Atonement, for which no sacrifice is necessary (W.pI.192.6:1). Guided only by love, everything we then do would be loving. It would be impossible to do anything that would hurt ourselves or anyone else. What that looks like specifically (form) cannot be formulated. The same behavior can originate in one's wrong or right mind (content). In your case, therefore, whether or not you should return what you claim you stole is between you and the Holy Spirit. When in a holy instant you are free of ego interference, you will just know. And if there is no clarity, then just be as ego-free as you can for a moment, and then do what seems most loving for yourself and the others involved. We will never run out of opportunities to learn our lessons of forgiveness! (T.31.VIII.3)

Finally, God has nothing to do with any of this, as the separation, the ego and its dynamics, and the undoing of all that is inherently unreal. That is why Jesus uses various metaphors and images to talk about it: a nightmare dream of separation, a journey, a ladder. Correcting various religious traditions, he also makes it unmistakably clear that God, as Love, can only love and extend that love for eternity -- condemnation and love are mutually exclusive: “God does not forgive because He has never condemned” (W.pI.60.1:2; see also W.pI.198) .

Q #1138: I have for some time wondered about the following question in relation to the metaphysics in ACIM: How real is other people's suffering? Are there people out there having there own perceptions of suffering ( sorrow, pain etc) or are these perceptions “only” in my mind. More concretely : It bothers me to perceive that other people -- my ex wife -- are having problems of different kinds (and of course we always have to do what we can to help on a practical level). Seen from a metaphysical level are they “only” perceptions of suffering in my mind and “not really out there “ in these people?

A: Yes, suffering is not really “out there” because nothing is really out there. Whatever is perceived in the dream of separation is a reflection of the mind's choice to listen to the ego or the Holy Spirit. A Course in Miracles teaches that all suffering is caused by the belief that the oneness God shares with His Son can be shattered by the dream of separation. To be separate is to suffer, thus everyone who believes in separation is suffering, whether it appears so in form or not. Even the ego's “joy” is a camouflage for suffering, a deceptive ploy to keep the mind from realizing the painful impact of maintaining belief in the illusion of separation. The first thing to remember, therefore, is that all separated ones are suffering the devastating effects of believing that the mind of the Sonship that God created one with Him can be limited to life in a body in a physical universe filled with pain. Life's ups and downs, pleasures and woes are part of the ego's scheme to keep the painful consequences of accepting its thought system from awareness. That is why an important part of the Course's learning process is getting in touch with the misery that underlies the experience of life in a body. Jesus does not mince words in this regard: “You who are steadfastly devoted to misery [separation] must first recognize that you are miserable and not happy. The Holy Spirit cannot teach without this contrast, for you believe that misery [separation] is happiness” (T.14.II.1:2,3) .

So much for all the effort and energy spent finding “happiness” in this world as bodies. The mind's decision to be separate and identify with a body is a painful distortion of the truth; a lie that can only cause pain. Therein lies the source of all suffering, including the disquiet seemingly caused by perceiving pain in someone else. So you are correct; being upset by another's suffering is the reflection of one's own pain. This does not mean being indifferent to others' pain. True empathy, as the Course teaches, begins with realizing that being upset by another's pain means one is in as much pain as the other. Both have made the same mistake (choosing to identify with the ego); both have a mind that can choose differently. Thinking along these lines identifies the true source of pain and opens the mind to true healing. Meanwhile, on the level of form, it is appropriate to do whatever may be helpful to comfort oneself or another.

The ultimate goal of the Course is to lead us to the release of all pain and suffering by our awakening from the dream of separation. This is accomplished as guilt is undone through the process of forgiveness. As belief in illusions is weakened guilt diminishes, thereby diminishing pain. Each instant of forgiveness sets in motion the mind's healing of the belief in separation. Thus, the most compassionate response to suffering -- one's own or another's -- is willingness to allow the healing of forgiveness to transform perception: “A dying world asks only that you rest an instant from attack upon yourself, that it be healed” (T.2.V.5:5).