Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 8/15/2007
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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1195 What is the lesson to be learned if we unintentionally cause sorrow ?
Q #1196 What is the reason a baby would get sick?
Q #1197 Are we not responsible, in a way, for the acts of others?
Q #1198 Where do we "go" after we die?
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Q #1195: If one makes an unintentional mistake that causes sorrow in others, how should one look at this situation? What is the lesson to be learned?
A: If it is appropriate, the first order of business is to apologize in a normal fashion. Then the truly important business is to look at the thoughts that arise as a result of the mistake. There may be self-recrimination, arrogance in believing that one is responsible for the happiness or distress of others, guilt, shame, self-defense (“I didn't mean to do it”), and on and on. All are forms of upset that serve the ego well in its scheme to keep the mind focused on externals, swirling in tides of guilt. Having these thoughts in support of the ego's strategy is the real mistake. The real correction begins with willingness to see the erroneous beliefs that are hidden in a seemingly “innocent” mistake. It means being willing to recognize that if you are upset by any situation it is because you want to be upset. If after an apology you notice that the upsetting feelings persist, you have a clear indication that the mind is choosing to be upset. This can only mean it is making a purposeful choice to make the separation real, and to engender guilt to keep itself in conflict rather than to accept the Holy Spirit's peace. That is the important lesson to be learned. The situation thus becomes a lesson in forgiveness, wherein the Holy Spirit reminds the mind that nothing outside itself is the source of its upset, which is likewise true for the sorrow experienced by the others. This is a very important lesson that is more difficult to learn than it seems; for the existence of the physical universe depends on the belief that the mind can go outside itself and be affected by externals.
A Course in Miracles calls magic the belief that something outside the mind can have an effect on it. The miracle teaches us to return to the mind the power of causation: “The miracle is the first step in giving back to cause [the mind] the function of causation, not effect” (T.28.II.9:3). This principle of cause and effect is fundamental to the thought system of the Course. It is important to keep it in mind when practicing forgiveness in any specific situation. The key is to remember that whatever circumstances seem to be the cause of any form of upset, a choice in the mind is the real cause. Workbook Lesson 5 puts this forth in unmistakable terms: “I am never upset for the reason I think” (W.pI.5). It is sufficient to be willing to remind oneself that this is true, no matter how real and convincing the external “cause” may seem to be. The reminder strengthens the mind's belief in its power to choose, and diminishes its belief in the power of externals. More is learned in this simple application than is immediately apparent. In fact, it holds the only purpose for the world -- to serve as a classroom for forgiveness. Thus, the lesson to be learned in every situation is the same: “It is impossible the Son of God be merely driven by events outside of him. It is impossible that happenings that come to him were not his choice. His power of decision is the determiner of every situation in which he seems to find himself by chance or accident” (T.21.II.3:1,2,3). This is true whatever appear to be the circumstances, feelings, or cause of an event. All we are asked to do is remember this, and know that in so doing the Holy Spirit is invited to correct the mistaken beliefs at the root of every conflict.
Q #1196: We read that sickness is an attempt by the ego to make the body real. However this can be considered and contemplated by an adult mind, what purpose would illness serve in a baby who could not consider the implications of sickness as a learning device?
A: Although this is extremely hard for us to grasp, a baby has the same mind and the same power to choose the ego or the Holy Spirit that an adult has; its brain, of course, differs from that of an adult. But it is only the mind that makes decisions, as we discuss in Questions #117, #391, #825iii, and #901. It is not the baby that chooses sickness. The form of the body is irrelevant, not in this illusory world, obviously, but rather in terms of our spiritual journey. The differences in form are part of the ego's clever strategy to keep us away from our minds, lest we realize we chose against love and peace so that we could exist as separate individuals: “Nothing so blinding as perception of form. For sight of form means understanding has been obscured” (T.22.III.6:7,8). If we realized that all of our misery is rooted in that one decision, not in the world or the body, we would rather quickly question the wisdom of that choice -- especially since we would know that we chose against the other option open to us. The ego thus is ferociously intent on keeping us mind-less, which it does by having us dwell only on the body and all of the problems that arise from bodily existence. A mind choosing to project itself as a helpless, deficient, or sick infant is all part of this plan.
Through A Course in Miracles , Jesus is helping us unlearn what the ego taught us so that we will recover a sense of ourselves as minds all sharing the same purpose of recognizing our mistake, choosing again, and returning Home. Our perception of innocent, vulnerable babies and children thus can serve either the ego's purpose or the Holy Spirit's purpose. We can see them as proof that differences, separation, and victimization is real, or as part of our classroom in which we are learning that we all share the same interests and the same identity. It is important to remember that this is only about the content in our minds, not behavior. Thus, you would still act appropriately and do what you usually do with babies, but you would do so with a growing awareness of the content in your mind.
Q #1197: In the teachings of the Foundation, based on A Course in Miracles, I have often heard it said that I am not responsible for the acts of others but that I am responsible for my interpretations of their acts. On an experiential level this certainly seems to be the proper way to take responsibility and to ask for help to change my mind about what others do rather than trying to change them. However, as I more and more begin to question "who is the [I] who [am] living in this world?" (T.4.II.11.8), is it not helpful to remind myself that I am responsible for having fragmented my Self into the self that is experienced as myself and into the others and then pitting these fragments against each other in order to maintain the belief in separation, guilt, sin, etc. (T.28.VI.4.7), and thus that I am responsible not only for my interpretations but also for the acts of others? And is not this very reminder (that we are all one) one form of correcting the belief in separation and separate interests?
A: Yes, both levels of correction are a part of the process of undoing the ego thought system we have accepted as a replacement for the truth. Using the metaphor of a ladder, the second step is well beyond the first one you describe, of recognizing that we always interpret what others do, and more often than not, that interpretation comes straight from our ego -- and that that is the problem, not what others do or do not do. Our self-concept gradually begins to change as we practice this and become more comfortable thinking this way. It must change, for our “normal” self-concept is almost totally defined by the perception that “I am the thing you made of me . . .” (T.31.V.5:3). Therefore, when we begin to realize we have built our self-concept on what turns out to be an insidious plot to give ourselves innocence at God's and everyone else's expense, and then decide to ask for help to undo this deception, our sense of who we are undergoes a transition. This happens without our actually focusing on changing anything other than our interpretations.
This is what takes us to the next step -- not a linear process, of course -- of beginning to get in touch with ourselves as minds that are always deciding to split off from oneness and remain in a state of separation and individuality, blaming others for that condition, or to undo the progression of splits and accept our true Identity as one with God, our Source. So, yes, at some point we would realize that our decision to be separate required that we split off into a multitude of figures that would victimize each other and be victimized by forces and circumstances in the world itself (T.18.I.4,5) . On a very deep level that is where our guilt is overwhelming -- that we want there to be catastrophes, disasters, and brutality so that our plan to remain separate but not be responsible for it would work.
It is essential to remember that the self that is responsible for this is not the self we think we are and that interacts in the world -- it is the mind outside time and space that makes these decisions. But we should not force ourselves to try to experience that larger self, as we all have tremendous fear of letting go of the self we are familiar with. Jesus thus talks about his plan to help us awaken gently and without fear (T.27.VII.13) , and so our focus should be on developing trust in Jesus and his guidance (T.4.VI.3:1; 6:1) . His loving presence within us is always there to look with us at the hideous plot we support in our minds so that we will take the next step with him of realizing it is all just an expression of a “tiny, mad idea, at which the Son of God remembered not to laugh” (T.28.VIII.6:2) . That is why he tells us that when we think about “the mad projection by which this world was made” that we “call it not sin . . . invest it not with guilt . . . and above all, be not afraid of it ” (T.18.I.6:6,7,8,9).
Q #1198: I just want to know where we go, after we die. I know its not a "place." Do we go to the Beatific Vision, or do we go to such complete absorption into oneness that we have no "awareness" of our self, or awareness of any "self," so that the Buddhists term of the Void is more appropriate? If there is a God, but I do not "know" Him in some way after death, then its almost like there is no God, at least to this little speck called "me." Does the God I've prayed to disappear with me at the time of my physical dissolution, or does the part of me that knows and prays continue in some form?
A: All the parts of the puzzle regarding death are answered in A Course in Miracles' most important teaching -- the Son of God is a mind, not a body. In choosing to identify with the illusion of separation, the mind gives birth to the idea of a self, a world, and a God who relates to them. All of these notions are made up in support of the separation thought. Without this thought, neither life as we know it, nor death, have any meaning. It is this thought that persists beyond the “life” of the body until the mind fully accepts the Holy Spirit's correction, by which belief in separation is undone. The mind then awakens from the dream of separation to awareness of the oneness with God that never changed. This is accomplished not by death, but through forgiveness of every shadow of belief in the ego thought system. Nothing happens when the body dies (see Questions #68, #175, #187, and #260). In fact, we learn in the Course that there is no death (T.27.VII.14) because “There is no life outside of Heaven. Where God created life, there life must be. In any state apart from Heaven life is illusion. At best it seems like life; at worst, like death. Yet both are judgments on what is not life, equal in their inaccuracy and lack of meaning” (T.23.II.19:1,2,3,4,5). Thus, we do not go anywhere when the body dies.
When the mind accepts the truth of its Identity as God's Son, it returns to the awareness of what never changed. Removing the obstacles to this awareness is the healing goal of the Course and our only concern. The mind cannot see or understand what it fears. While fear remains, what lies beyond the body and the world is incomprehensible. As we read in the introduction to the Course, love cannot be taught (T.in.11:6); neither can it be understood. It is possible, and indeed essential to our awakening that we see and understand the mind's intentional choice against love and its devastating effects in our experience. That is why in the Course Jesus repeatedly encourages us to look at the ego thought system at work in our lives and see its painful consequences. Forgiveness is the miracle that shifts the focus from externals (form) to the mind (content). Only by so doing can the mind remember its identity as mind, gradually dissociating from its identity with the body. The question of the body's seeming life and death evaporates as the mind returns to awareness of itself as the Son who never left the Father.