Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles:6/20/2007

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1163 What are the risks in studying the Course out of sequence?
Q #1164 I'm having trouble understanding exactly who my brother is.
Q #1165 Should I pray for specifics or not? The Course seems contradictory on this
Q #1166 Can the ego learn?
Q #1167 I can handle attacks against myself but how do I handle attacks against loved ones?

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Q #1163: In the first chapter of A Course in Miracles , Jesus talks about a traumatic experience that could result from starting on later stages of the Course without the preparation that careful study of the earlier sections would provide, because awe would then likely be confused with fear (T.1.VII.4,5). How exactly can your studying of the Course result in a traumatic experience? Which, more precisely, are the early sections and which the later ones, that Jesus is referring to in the text?

A: Jesus does not identify specifically which sections in the text are the early ones and which are the later ones. But he is basically talking about not jumping from the bottom of the spiritual ladder right up to the top without taking the intervening steps. Many people want instant enlightenment and do not want to do the often unpleasant and uncomfortable work of looking at their egos and how their lives have been directed by their choice to have the ego as their teacher instead of the Holy Spirit. That's not a pretty sight in our minds, but we will never be able to truly get beyond the ego and all its hate and selfishness without looking at it and humbly admitting we were wrong in wanting the special identity the ego offered in place of our true Identity as Christ. We must learn how to do that, trusting Jesus' word more and more that we will not be punished -- even annihilated as the ego warns us -- for having made a substitute for God's Love. We must practice every day how to shift the purpose of our lives and our relationships from the ego's to the Holy Spirit's; but we cannot do that without seeing -- sometimes shockingly so -- the extent of our investment in the ego and how we manifest the ego's madness of separation 24 hours a day, usually.

The point is, we have covered all of that over because we were convinced that unspeakably horrific things would happen if we ever remembered we have a mind and then would go back there and look at what we chose. There is such fear buried there that if we were to approach God directly, we would surely be thrown into a disabling panic. We need to approach God indirectly, through forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit first, because of all the distorted notions we have implanted in our minds about Who God is and what we can expect of Him when we meet Him face to face. Jesus discusses this indirect approach in Chapter 14 of the text in the section called “The Conditions of Learning” (T.14.I). Earlier in Chapter 12 he tells us: “You cannot lay aside the obstacles to real vision without looking upon them, for to lay aside means to judge against. If you will look, the Holy Spirit will judge, and He will judge truly. Yet He cannot shine away what you keep hidden, for you have not offered it to Him and He cannot take it from you.

We are therefore embarking on an organized, well-structured and carefully planned program aimed at learning how to offer to the Holy Spirit everything you do not want. He knows what to do with it. You do not understand how to use what He knows. Whatever is given Him that is not of God is gone. Yet you must look at it yourself in perfect willingness, for otherwise His knowledge remains useless to you. Surely He will not fail to help you, since help is His only purpose. Do you not have greater reason for fearing the world as you perceive it, than for looking at the cause of fear and letting it go forever?” (T.12.II.9:6,7,8; 10)

This is the process Jesus wants us to focus on and not slip past, thinking we are already too spiritually advanced to have to engage in such work, and that we don't need any help.

Q #1164: I am having a problem identifying who my brother is.  I know you are supposed to love your brother as yourself, no matter who he is. I am on chapter 25 now and I get confused as to who my brother is.  Is it myself? I know this sounds preposterous but I really do not know.

A: The source of the physical universe, including all the bodies it contains, is the thought of separation taken seriously in the one mind of the sonship. This thought gives birth to the brotherhood of all the separated ones. From within the dream of separation there appear to be a multitude of separate bodies living separate lives, all of whom are referred to in A Course in Miracles as “your brother” because they are split off parts of the one mind. That is what is meant when Jesus tells us: “One brother is all brothers. Every mind contains all minds, for every mind is one. Such is the truth” (W.161.4:1,2,3). Thus, everyone is your brother. Everything the Course teaches about the practice of forgiveness in relationship with “your brother” applies to everyone. As long as the split mind perceives other bodies as separate from oneself, there is need for forgiveness. What simplifies the practice of forgiveness is its universal applicability. Every encounter is an opportunity to see the mind's choice for separation reflected in the thoughts and judgments projected onto others. In the manual, Jesus tells us there are no accidents, no chance encounters, no strangers (M.3.1,2) . Your brother is the person you are with at the moment: [a stranger] in an elevator, a child who is not looking where he is going running into an adult 'by chance,' two students 'happening' to walk home together” (M.3.2.2).

To love a brother who is a seeming stranger is to recognize that any perceived differences are irrelevant in the face of the underlying oneness that unites every fragmented part of the Sonship. Every brother has a mind that holds the ego's lie of separation, the Holy Spirit's memory of truth, and the power to choose between them. To love a brother as one's self is to recognize that perceiving him as separate is a projection of the mind. When the mind chooses separation, it projects guilt for this choice onto the body -- one's own, as well as that of others -- and then mistakenly believes that external agents are responsible for what is experienced in the illusion. Thus, in the practice of the Course, to love a brother is to forgive him for what he did not do (T.17.III.1:5) . He may attack in a hateful, hurtful way, but he cannot take away the peace that abides in the mind. That is relinquished only by the choice to identify with the ego rather than the Holy Spirit.

To speak of separated parts is to speak in dualistic terms that apply within the dream of separation. In reality there are no “brothers”; only the one Son joined with the Father in a oneness that cannot be expressed in the language of separation. Jesus uses dualistic language in the Course because we believe in the duality of separation. He teaches forgiveness that we may undo this belief by learning that we are minds, not bodies. To that end, Jesus tells us: “Think [of your brother] as a mind in which illusions still persist, but as a mind which brother is to you. He is not brother made by what he dreams, nor is his body, 'hero' of the dream, your brother. It is his reality that is your brother, as is yours to him. Your mind and his are joined in brotherhood” (T.28.IV.3:3,4,5,6). The process of learning that as minds, we are all the same will lead to the awareness that we are all one.

Q #1165: In “Rules for Decision” of A Course in Miracles we are told: "Throughout the day. . . tell yourself again the kind of day you want; the feelings you would have, the things you want to happen to you, and the things you would experience, and say: if I make no decisions by myself, this is the day that will be given me " (T.30.I.4:1,2). However, The Song of Prayer states, "The secret of true prayer is to forget the things you think you need. . . in prayer you overlook your specific needs as you see them, and let them go into God's Hands" (S.1.I.4:1,3). This seems to be a bit of a contradiction. Can you please clarify?

A: About the “Rules for Decision” passage . . . At the beginning of the preceding paragraph, Jesus explained that our major problem is that we first determine what our problem is, and then we ask for help. Thus, in the passage you quoted, he is teaching us not to decide on our own. He wants us to learn that ultimately that we have only one problem, which is that we chose the ego instead of the Holy Spirit. So by not assuming we know the cause of our unrest or agitation, we are giving Jesus a chance to teach us where to look for the real cause: the decision we are making in our minds to uphold the ego thought system. It is important to realize that throughout the “Rules for Decision” section, he is talking about content, not form. Thus, when he asks us to think about the kind of day we want, he is talking about whether we want our day to go the ego's way, or his way. He is not talking about having a successful day in terms of winning the lottery or something like that. How we experience our day will correlate directly with our decision to choose the ego as our teacher -- more guilt, fear, specialness, and separation -- or Jesus as our teacher -- more peace, compassion, kindness, and love.

This parallels what he teaches in The Song of Prayer pamphlet. Prior to the passage you quote, he reminds us that he made a few statements in the text and workbook (very few, actually) where he instructed us to ask the Holy Spirit for specific help, and that we would receive specific answers to our requests. Yet, in two lessons he emphasizes that there is only one problem and one answer (W.pI.79,80) . “In prayer this is not contradictory,” he states in The Song of Prayer (S.I.1:3) ; and this is because prayer is a process -- like a ladder with rungs. On the bottom rungs, all that we are comfortable with is asking for specifics, which is the point of Jesus' statement in Lesson 161: “The mind that taught itself to think specifically can no longer grasp abstraction in the sense that it is all-encompassing” (W.pI.161.7). As we grow spiritually, however, we become less and less attracted to the specifics, and more and more attracted to the love itself that is the substance of the answer. This is characteristic of the gentle nature of the Course's healing process. “You cannot be asked to accept answers which are beyond the level of need that you can recognize. Therefore, it is not the form of the question that matters, nor how it is asked. The form of the answer, if given by God, will suit your need as you see it. This merely an echo of the reply of His Voice. The real sound is always a song of thanksgiving and of Love” (S.I.1:2:5,6,7,8,9) .

Q #1166: Can the ego learn?

A: No. The ego is the thought of separation taken seriously. It is the effect of a decision made by the part of the mind that chooses (sometimes called the decision-maker). As such, it does not learn. What “learns” is the decision-maker mind that is able to experience the effects of its choice, so where it chose wrongly it can choose again. When A Course in Miracles says the ego can learn (T.4.I.2.:13) , it refers to this decision making part of the mind.

In deciding to identify with the ego thought system, the mind confuses itself with the body, denies its power to choose, and becomes oblivious to its natural condition. It uses the body as the depository of its guilt, proving that the sin of separation has had serious consequences. Thus the mind reinforces its belief in guilt and in separation. The goal of the Holy Spirit's curriculum of forgiveness is to teach the mind that separation not only had no effects, it never even happened (M.2.2) When the mind accepts the Holy Spirit's goal, the body serves as a mirror to reflect back the choice it made and subsequently denied. Learning to choose again is the only learning that ever occurs. It is more a process of remembering than learning. Each time the mind decides to remember its power to choose and chooses the Holy Spirit, it unlearns the ego-identity and weakens belief in the separation. Eventually the mind is healed of the belief in separation, and the memory of God returns to awareness: “By healing you [the mind] learn of wholeness, and by learning of wholeness you learn to remember God” (T.7.IV.4:3).

Q #1167: I find it fairly easy to not defend myself from others, see they are looking for love, not take offense, not take things personally; when someone is, from the world's standpoint, "attacking" me. Several have noticed and commented on what a “forgiving” person I am. However, when someone "attacks" my loved ones, my full defense mechanisms come on for their sake. Try as I might, I can't look at them as looking for love when they are "hurting" my family or friends. Can you suggest any readings from A Course in Miracles that could help me in this aspect? I need to see my loved ones as safe as I see myself! Why can't I?

A: Most students run into what you are experiencing. You seem to be heading in the right direction; you just need to continue the process of generalizing what you have learned. The key principles to keep in focus as you practice are that differences are not real, and that there is no hierarchy of illusions or attack. When you truly see another's attack as a call for love, you are no longer you ; you have become the extension of love, not one person forgiving another person. And since love is all-inclusive, when you are identified with love, everyone else, without exception, would also be enclosed in that circle of invulnerability and innocence. If, therefore, you perceive your loved ones as vulnerable and victimized, it is because you have left your right mind and once again identified with the thought system of vulnerability and victimization -- a thought system that has you project your guilt and see it in the form of guilty victimizers harming innocent victims. Then, in league with the ego, you will believe in a hierarchy of attack, and forgiveness will be harder in some situations than in others ( see T.12.VII.1) .

To the ego, relationships are between persons, while Jesus teaches that relationships are only in the mind, because there is no one outside the mind. That is tremendously difficult to grasp, but it is essential to keep in focus in order to avoid making differences important and then using them as means to maintain the reality of separation, often under the guise of being loving and protective. When you choose against the ego, you are choosing against separation in all its forms. As you learn to generalize, you will gradually perceive everyone the same way: as minds always choosing between illusion and truth (T.12.VI.6:4,5,6) -- both victims and victimizers are calling out for love. You would then gradually focus less and less on bodies and specific identities (family, friend, stranger, etc.). This is not easy to do because of our obsession with form at the expense of content ( see T.14.X.7,8,9; T.22.III.6).

So try to get past the form to the content when thinking about your loved ones. They, too, are either calling out for love or expressing it. This in no way means that you must sit back and allow them to be attacked. We are talking only about your thinking, not your behavior. Seeing attack as a call for love does not mean that you should never try to stop someone from hurting you or your loved ones. In your right mind you may be guided to do or say something, or to do or say nothing, but it would not be you making the decision.

In addition to the readings noted above, the section in the text called “True Empathy” (T.16.I) is always a good one to read when faced with the kind of issue you have raised.