Weekly Questions and Answers, 04/09/2003

This week's questions:

Q #124: What is the meaning of "magic"?
Q #125: Concern about progress with the Course, and "waiting" for something.
Q #126: Did Jesus heal by seeing "The Christ" in another?.
Q #127: If there is only one Mind, why do I perceive myself as unique?
Q #128: How do I heal depression spiritually instead of medically?
Q #129: What advice do you have if I have "wandered" from the Course?

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Q #124: What does the term "magic" mean when used in A Course in Miracles?

A: Magic is "an attempt to solve a problem where it is not….guilt is projected outside our minds onto others (attack) or our bodies (sickness) and sought to be corrected there, rather than being undone in our minds by bringing it to the Holy Spirit…" (Glossary-Index for A Course in Miracles, p.143, Kenneth Wapnick). The ego uses magic in its interpretation of any problem or conflict; it sees the problem as outside of the mind, and seeks to solve it by external means. When we choose to believe this ego version, and identify with the ego thought system, we use magic to solve our problems, and it does seem to work. For example, when we take an aspirin for a headache and the pain goes away, we believe the aspirin took the headache away. The Course is telling us that what actually happens is that there is a decision in the mind to experience pain in the form of a headache, and then a decision in the mind against pain, which is symbolized by taking an aspirin: "Special agents [i.e., medicine] seem to be ministering to him, yet they but give form to his own choice. He chooses them in order to bring tangible form to his desires. And it is this they do, and nothing else. They are not actually needed at all" (M.5.II.2.8,9,10,11). Of course, there is nothing wrong with using "magic" forms -- money, clothing, social contacts, medicine, etc. In fact, we cannot function in this world without them, and we should not feel guilty or "unspiritual" when as we use them. But we can do so without endowing them with the power to make us truly happy or meet our real need, which is joining with the Holy Spirit, the memory of God, in the mind.

The same magic principle is at work whenever we think we can effect change in the world by resolving conflicts through changes in behavior, never realizing that the conflict originates in our mind and only there can it truly be solved. The Course asks us to learn to recognize the problem where it is, in the mind, so it can be healed: "…decisions are of the mind, not of the body. If sickness is but a faulty problem-solving approach, it is a decision. And if it is a decision, it is the mind and not the body that makes it" (M.5.11:4,5,6).

A Course in Miracles also tells us there is only one problem -- the thought of separation from God. Believing this thought is the cause of tremendous guilt and feelings of emptiness, despair, and need. This drives us to seek to fill our need and assuage our pain externally through magic, making the whole world a "magic show": "In this world, you believe you are sustained by everything but God. Your faith is placed in the most trivial and insane symbols; pills, money, 'protective' clothing, influence, prestige, being liked, knowing the 'right' people, and an endless list of forms of nothingness that you endow with magical powers" (W.p.I.50.1:2,3). Whatever form of magic we choose it will not truly work. The Course is asking us to undo our belief in magic by recognizing the problem: "If you could recognize that your only problem is separation, no matter what form it takes, you could accept the answer because you would see its relevance. Perceiving the underlying constancy in all the problems that seem to confront you, you would understand that you have the means to solve them all. And you would use the means, because you recognize the problem" (W.p.I.79.6:2,3,4). The "means" we have is the power of our mind to choose, and our choice is always between magic or the miracle; between seeking outside ourselves in the illusion, or going within to the mind where our decisions can be changed.

Q #125: I have been studying A Course in Miracles for about 3 years. I have two questions. First, where are you at, as far as the Course goes, in other words, is there a point at which it all comes together? Second, I feel as if I am and have always been in "a waiting mode" -- I want to say a state of anticipation, but not really. I'm tired of "waiting" my life away. Can you give me some advice on this?

A: We are not quite sure of what you mean by "a point where it all comes together." The Course works, if that is what you mean. It is an individualized curriculum (M.9.1:5), and therefore the specifics of the process vary from student to student. Our learning is always in the context of the relationships and circumstances in our lives, and the goal of the exercises in the workbook is generalization, so that as we go along, we would gradually learn to apply the principles every minute of every day, without getting stuck in specifics. That is when "it all comes together." Our habitual response to all happenings in our daily lives would be to bring our ego thoughts to the love of Jesus in our minds; and then as our resistance is brought to light and relinquished, we would choose against the ego and allow our minds to be healed, thus restoring to them the awareness of love's presence that we had banished. Our lives then would be directed from this quiet center of peace: "And you will be more aware of this quiet center of the storm than all its raging activity. This quiet center, in which you do nothing, will remain with you, giving you rest in the midst of every busy doing on which you are sent. For from this center will you be directed how to use the body sinlessly. It is this center from which the body is absent, that will keep it so in your awareness of it" (T.18.VII.8:2,3,4,5).

It is difficult to respond to your second question without knowing more about you. So we will just speak in general about the pattern you describe, which is not all that uncommon. The Course speaks a great deal about fear -- and even terror -- that is the consequence of our having listened to the ego instead of the Holy Spirit. We are not consciously aware of the fear at this level of our minds, and the fear of which we are aware is always attributed to something in the world or in our physical/ psychological experience, both of which are outside the mind. But the fear that Jesus talks about accounts, in part, for the different patterns our lives take. The fear is related to our expectation of punishment by God for having separated from Him, and is also related to the promise we made to the ego to be faithful to it no matter what. Our very existence as individuals, therefore, is associated in our minds with fear and dread on a scale that nothing in the world can approximate.

Instead of bringing the fear to Jesus who would help us realize that it is totally unjustified, we listen to the ego who warns us that we had better do something about it. Then our lives are essentially constructed as a defense against this fear. This manifests in different ways; but one way would be to never get your life going -- like waiting at a traffic light that never turns green. Unconsciously, the fear would be that no matter what you do, you are doomed. The maladaptive solution to that fear is to stay in neutral so that you never have to take responsibility for anything, because deep within your mind is the thought "I set out on my own once before, and look what I did. I killed love off so that I could exist. I'm a terrible person, so I'll see to it that I never make anything of my life, so that I will not be caught and held to account for the awful thing I did."

Nothing can change in such a situation until the internal state of terror is acknowledged and looked at. Sometimes this requires the assistance of a compassionate therapist, but not always. Jesus encourages us to take this step with him by our side: "We are ready to look more closely at the ego's thought system because together we have the lamp that will dispel it, and since you realize you do not want it, you must be ready. Let us be very calm in doing this, for we are merely looking honestly for truth" (T.11.V.1:3,4). We need the help of someone outside this thought system of sin, guilt, and fear, who sees its unreality, but who sees as well the destructive effect is has had in the minds of those who have forgotten that it is all just a made-up fable.

Q #126: Did Jesus heal by simply seeing the "Christ" in another?

A: Since you use the past tense "did" in your question, we should first clarify that the teachings of A Course in Miracles on healing are not based on, nor related to, the Gospel accounts of healing by the historical Jesus. This is an important clarification, because the Course interpretation of "healing," "Christ," and "Jesus" differs from the traditional Christian interpretation. With that in mind, we begin by recalling that the Course tells us healing is always of the mind: "Since only the mind can be sick, only the mind can be healed. Only the mind is in need of healing" (P.in.1:2,3). Therefore, no one, including Jesus, actually heals another: "Healing does not come from anyone else. You must accept guidance from within"(T.8.IV.4:5,6). By the same token, anyone whose mind is healed, including Jesus, serves as a reminder to someone who perceives himself as unhealed; that he too can make the choice for healing by accepting the truth about himself. A "healed healer," one of whom is Jesus, thus serves as a reflection of the truth for anyone who is truly willing to be healed. This may be what you refer to as "seeing the Christ in another." It means looking without judgment, without difference, and seeing the other as sinless. This is what heals the mind.

Accepting the truth about ourselves, which is healing, inherently means accepting ourselves as joined with the entire Sonship. Thus when we accept healing for ourselves, we accept it for the entire Sonship. This is what the Course means when it tells us we are not healed alone -- the truth of who we are is the same truth for everyone, and includes everyone. "That is why it makes no difference to what part or by what part of the Sonship the healing is offered. Every part benefits, and benefits equally" (T.5.in.2:6,7). We are not separate individuals seeking individual healing. There is no "individual" to be healed. Therefore, when Jesus accepted the Atonement for himself we were all with him, and were healed along with him. Only our acceptance is required for us to bring this healing to our awareness. Since all sickness is separation, all healing is joining: "Healing is the effect of minds that join, as sickness comes from minds that separate" (T.28.III.2:6). We are healed when we choose to join with Jesus in accepting our healing. This is how the Course tells us healing is accomplished.

Q #127: Can you help me reconcile the fact that there is only One Self or One Mind and that I perceive myself as a unique consciousness? Is my perception of having a unique consciousness an illusion?

A: As real as it seems to us, our unique individual consciousness is in fact part of the ego's bag of illusions. In fact, consciousness is the first trick the ego pulled out of that illusory bag. A Course in Miracles tells us early in the text that "consciousness, the level of perception" is in fact within the illusory ego realm, and that it is "the first split introduced into the mind after the separation." If you think of the fact that perception necessarily involves a self that is perceiving and an other that is perceived, you may be able to understand why the Course says that consciousness necessarily involves a separated mind and so can't be real. In Heaven, the realm of knowledge or One-mindedness, on the other hand, there is no separation and so there can be no perception, that is, no self to perceive an other (T.3.IV.1,2,3).

Near the end of the book, the Course refers to the illusory nature of individual consciousness, observing that "in this world, because the mind is split, the Sons of God appear to be separate. Nor do their minds seem to be joined. In this illusory state, the concept of an 'individual mind' seems to be meaningful" (C.1.2:1,2,3). And in case we have still not gotten the point, it adds that "consciousness has levels and awareness can shift quite dramatically, but it cannot transcend the perceptual realm. At its highest it becomes aware of the real world [totally healed perception], and can be trained to do so increasingly. Yet the very fact that it has levels and can be trained demonstrates that it cannot reach knowledge" (C.1.7:4,5,6).

So consciousness will be left behind, or transcended, when our mind is completely healed of the mistaken thought of separation and returns to the realm of knowledge or One-mindedness. It is this seeming loss of individual, unique consciousness that is at the root of all the fear we ultimately associate with the practice of forgiveness. Yet we will never be called upon to relinquish this false self and will let it go only when it no longer has any value or meaning for us. So the ego's fear of annihilation is just one further trick it pulls from its illusory bag to keep us rooted in its thought system.

For further discussions of mind and consciousness, you may wish to review Questions #27, 32, and 65.

Q #128: I have struggled with clinical depression for the last five years or so. When I do not take medication I become very tired and am not able to concentrate. I find this condition difficult to live with. However, when I do take the medication I am able to concentrate and I do not feel tired. My question is: A Course in Miracles says that we are not bodies. Our bodies are projections made by the ego. If there is something wrong with the body, the ego caused it. What do I have to do to heal this depression on a spiritual level so that I will not have to take this medication anymore?

A: Forgive. That's all you have to do.

In case that answer seems too flip, a few more words may be helpful. Everything we do here in the world to address our bodily limits and needs is what the Course calls magic (for a further discussion of magic, in the context of addictions and 12-step programs, see Question #57). It's all magic because we are not addressing the real problem and source of all of our symptoms, including experiencing ourselves as a body. The real problem is always and only the guilt in our ego mind. And the only way to address that problem is through practicing forgiveness, which means learning, with the help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, not to judge the projections of our ego so that they can be withdrawn and healed in the mind where they originated.

Now there may be a stigma associated in your mind with taking medication for depression and that may in fact be where you want to begin with your forgiveness process. The fact is, eating and sleeping are also forms of magic we use to cope with what otherwise would be unpleasant or dysfunctional states. But most of us do not ask what we would have to do to heal our hunger or weariness on a spiritual level so that we would no longer need to take food or to sleep anymore. And the Course tells us that all illusions are the same -- there is no hierarchy in reality (T.26.VII.6). So you may first want to learn to forgive yourself for your limitations, that is, learn not to judge yourself for the fact that you perceive yourself as a body, with all the needs that accompany seeing yourself in a bodily state, including taking medication for depression. Jesus gently reminds us, "Do not despair, then, because of limitations. It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them" (M.26.4:1,2).

Then, rather than attempting to find a spiritual means to wean yourself from your antidepressant, it may be much more beneficial to ask for help in getting in touch with the underlying guilt that is triggering the symptoms of depression, so that can be healed. All symptoms are simply signals that we still want the separation and all its ramifications to be real. But that desire has a cost and that cost is what we want to begin to get more in touch with. Seeing ourselves as eternally separate from love, with no way home, is the most depressing state we could possibly experience.

But the good news is that the separation is not really true. As we see the cost of believing in the separation -- which includes depression over the perceived hopelessness of our present "reality" - - the desire for a different way of seeing will gradually grow within us, until that becomes all that we want. For we will have learned that the only place of real hope is in our mind, where the presence of love is always available to us to lead us back home.

Q #129: I have been a student of A Course in Miracles for over 20 years, and in that time I have noticed that my active involvement waxes and wanes significantly. I find that my ego is once again getting the upper hand, and apart from some very useful self-insight, I'm more or less back to where I started. I sometimes wonder if my little willingness perhaps is a bit too little. I understand that our investment in our egos is far greater than we realize, but I sometimes get frustrated that after all these years my mind still wanders so easily after so much effort to train it. In the end, I'm still looking for even an inkling of the peace of God. Do you have any comments, or advice, or encouragement to help me (and perhaps other students like me) see this from a broader perspective, and maybe get back on track?

A: There are several thoughts that might help you "get back on track" and put your experience in a positive perspective. First of all, you are not alone in this experience, it is "normal," and the process of forgiveness is difficult. It may not seem particularly comforting, but we are clearly told that we are learning impaired, and so we should not be surprised when we have difficulty in our Course practice. "You have learning handicaps in a very literal sense. There are areas in your learning skills that are so impaired that you can progress only under constant, clear-cut direction, provided by a Teacher Who can transcend your limited resources. He becomes your Resource because of yourself you cannot learn. The learning situation in which you placed yourself is impossible, and in this situation you clearly require a special Teacher and a special curriculum" (T.12.V.5:1,2,3,4). Please remember that this message applies to all students of the Course, and the obvious implication is that the training program the Course teaches is difficult for us. It is simple and clear, but it is not easy. The Course teaching ultimately leads to the undoing of everything we believe about everything, including, and especially, about ourselves. It is very understandable that we would be inconsistent, and even quite resistant, in applying its principles to our lives. As has been stated on many occasions, if the Course were easy we wouldn't need it. It is designed by a very wise Teacher as a life-long study, with good reason. In the process, it is very important not to judge yourself for apparent "failures," as this will certainly result in more guilt, and would accomplish the ego's plan to defend itself against the learning of the Course.

It might be helpful to consider all the thoughts you have about the degree of your willingness, and your feelings of frustration, as typical ego ploys to keep you off track (or off course, if you'll pardon the pun). If you think it would be helpful, you might introduce some structure into your study, either by using the guidelines in the Workbook Lessons, or setting aside a specific time of the day to read a passage of the Course. Sometimes it is helpful to make a practice of reviewing the day before going to bed -- to identify the thoughts that caused any discomfort, or often stronger emotions. These thoughts and feelings represent the judgments that are making peace impossible. The review also seems to help keep us in tune with ourselves, and keep us more vigilant the next day. Any attempt is worth the effort, as it will rekindle the tiny spark of willingness.

Another important thing to remember is that our usual understanding of time does not apply to our practice of the Course. Since all there is is the present moment in which I choose either to listen to the Holy Spirit or the ego, in one sense we are always at the starting place. Furthermore, whenever we apply any of the Course teaching to our lives, or to our relationships, however "little" it may seem to be, time becomes irrelevant. It may be heartening to realize that whether 20 years, or 20 minutes have passed since the last practical application, the time lag has no effect on the efficacy of our learning. No doubt you are aware that the entire thought system of the ego can be undone in an instant. And when you make the mistake of turning again to the ego, it is possible to start over, free of judgment, and confident that One goes with you as you wax and wane, unconcerned with your detours or meanderings.

When the ego proffers its interpretation and evaluation of our progress it is helpful to remember that the Course does not qualify "little willingness." No willingness is too little, and we are not equipped to judge our progress in the first place. We do well to remember: "Your little effort and small determination call on the power of the universe to help you, and God Himself will raise you from darkness into light. You are in accord with His Will. You cannot fail because your will is His" (W.pI.69.7:2,3,4).