Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 02/06/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1288 Can my outward misfortunes be attributed to my lack of forgiveness?
Q #1289 How can I feel "shared interests" with criminals, rapists, etc?
Q #1290 Why would an "advanced teacher" not just be another case of "specialness" ?
Q #1291 I learn by teaching - but do I learn by what others teach?

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Q #1288 : I was born into a difficult, abusive, and painful life. Spiritually, I began working very hard on myself using the principles of A Course in Miracles . I thought the fact that my outer life had so dramatically improved was an indication that I was doing okay spiritually. Then, through "no fault of my own" (downsizings and company closures) I lost my very good job, my house, my 401K, and even my friends. I went through a long, very dark, and angry period and turned away from the Course, Jesus, and God entirely. Eventually, I worked through it, and, overall, I think I have been willing to face some horrible things inside myself, as well as my apparent need to be a victim. I think I have also shown a willingness and an effort to forgive others and to try to believe that I don't deserve to be punished. I know the Course does not say that a person's outer circumstances will change to correspond to inner changes, and I shouldn't expect them to, but I am certainly not far enough up the ladder to entirely give up wanting and hoping for at least a little positive feedback in my outer experience. I don't understand what happened in my mind to change my life so dramatically or why my inner and outer efforts haven't seemed to make any difference. Could all of this have happened because of my feelings of separation from other people? If so, how do I truly fix my perception at a time when I am feeling more separate and more different than ever? Can my script be changed?

A: In circumstances such as yours, it is really hard to avoid wondering “What am I doing wrong?”; but that is always the wrong question, and it would seem that part of you is aware of that. It is not helpful to dwell on it, first, because there is no way of knowing why you chose this script, and second, because the only relevant issue now that you are experiencing these conditions is whether you will invite the ego or Jesus to guide you and comfort you. Hear Jesus teach about this choice:

Temptation has one lesson it would teach, in all its forms, wherever it occurs. It would persuade the holy Son of God he is a body, born in what must die, unable to escape its frailty, and bound by what it orders him to feel. It sets the limits on what he can do; its power is the only strength he has; his grasp cannot exceed its tiny reach. Would you be this, if Christ appeared to you in all His glory, asking you but this: Choose once again if you would take your place among the saviors of the world, or would remain in hell, and hold your brothers there. For He has come, and He is asking this” (T.31.VIII.1).

The ego would have you gaze outward and assess what you do not have. Jesus would have you look within and identify with the treasures that are unconditionally yours. It seems as if you have already experienced the peace of God that is not conditional on anything external, and now part of you is questioning whether that is enough to sustain you -- a normal wavering for a mind still split between two allegiances. In the lesson “I am sustained by the Love of God” (W.pI.50), Jesus asks us to look at what we place our faith in as a means of sustenance, happiness, and protection. An honest assessment will reveal that our faith is in whatever will enhance and guarantee our continued life as a body. Yet, Jesus teaches us that “all these things are your replacements for the Love of God” (W.pI.50.2:1). That is why, however successful we may be in the world's terms, we will never be truly happy and peaceful -- we would be living a lie, forcing us to conceal the tremendous guilt and fear that choice engenders.

What might help you, therefore, is to look upon your distress as a crisis of trust: is the peace of God enough? is the Love of God enough? If your trust were unconditional, you would not need this course; you would not need a teacher who asks only for “a little willingness” (T.18.IV.2). You do not have to be at the top of the spiritual ladder to apply this -- Jesus approaches us with this lesson very early in the workbook. What better time to work with the lesson than when you are in the midst of a struggle? “Do not breathe life into your failing ego,” Jesus gently urges us in our moment of wavering (T.17.V.8:4) .

This obviously will not get you a job or money or other things you would like to have; and it is not meant to deny the frustration of not being able to get a job despite your many attempts to do so. This course should not be used as a means of avoiding one's responsibilities in the world under the guise of spiritual advancement, although, unfortunately, it has been used that way by many. Its purpose is to help us see that the only meaningful aspect of our lives is learning how to use our experiences as a way of getting in touch with the content in our minds that we are always choosing. As we choose against the ego and for Jesus and his thought system of forgiveness more and more, we will approach our problems entirely differently -- not that we will ignore them, but that we will no longer give them power to disrupt the peace that defines us as God's Son. Jesus thus encourages us:

“You surely have begun to realize that this is a very practical course, and one that means exactly what it says. I would not ask you to do things you cannot do, and it is impossible that I could do things you cannot do. Given this, and given this quite literally, nothing can prevent you from doing exactly what I ask, and everything argues for your doing it. I give you no limits because God lays none on you” (T.8.IX.8:1,2,3,4).

Q #1289: I know the goal of A Course in Miracles is to move toward seeing shared interests with people as opposed to separate interests, but part of me is resisting this. I struggle to understand how I am supposed to see shared interests with someone who just got sent to prison for murder or with a convicted rapist. Maybe I just don't have a good understanding of exactly what shared interest means and how to apply the concept practically to my everyday life. Could you please help with this?

A: To understand the Course's concept of shared interest, or shared purpose, you have to recognize that the Course is never talking about bodies. Indeed, the Course tells us that the physical world and our existence within it are illusory. Thus, being an illusion, bodies have no inherent purpose. However, they can serve the purpose that the mind gives them. And, within this dream, there are only two purposes: to stay planted in this painful, made-up world with our fear buried and our personal identity intact; or, to remember our real identity as God's one Son and awaken to our true home in Heaven.

The Course states, "God gave you and your brother Himself, and to remember this is now the only purpose that you share. And so it is the only one you have" (T.24.1.7:5,6). In other words, the one and only purpose that has any meaning in reality (and thus will lead us beyond this dream) is the recognition that the Love of God is still in our mind and is available to us anytime we choose it. Because, in reality, we are not separate, the separate interests we seem to have as bodies are not real either. Learning that this is so will gradually lessen our fear and guilt until, eventually, we are ready to awaken. That is the interest that we share. Again, to put it another way: The one and only need any of us really has is to realize that choosing the ego's pain and guilt makes us miserable while choosing God's Love would make us very happy.

That remains our only need regardless of whether we have lived a seemingly admirable or contemptible life. Therefore, in this way, you share exactly the same need as a murderer or rapist. Of course, this has nothing to do with behavior or the issue of holding people accountable for their actions. Most of the time, it would hardly be loving or productive to simply excuse criminal behavior. But what it does mean on a practical level is that we can hold the criminal accountable without hating him. We can recognize that he made a different choice in response to the same fear and guilt that is in our own mind. In this way, we step beyond our fear into love and compassion, realizing that our doing so helps our brother and that his doing the same would be helpful to us.

Q #1290: I don't understand about advanced teachers. Isn't that just another way of saying someone is "special," thereby creating a hierarchy, with teachers more advanced being superior and less advanced inferior. And the ego madness continues...

A: That is how the ego would perceive it, and then the temptation would be to toss A Course in Miracles into the unholy spiritual junk heap. That couldn't be the meaning of “advanced teachers,” though, if the Course's message is understood correctly. Its whole approach is to restore to our minds the awareness of our oneness as God's Son and to help us realize that all forms of specialness represent a rejection of that oneness (T.16.V.2:3; T.17.IV.2:7) . The startling feature of spiritual advancement according to A Course in Miracles is the joyful acceptance of our sameness and a corresponding disinterest in having or being something that is not shared with everyone else. An attraction to all-inclusiveness and selflessness replaces the former ego-generated attraction to exclusivity and self-importance. Thus, specialness fades into its own nothingness as one advances along the path. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, you would recognize in someone who appears to be beyond the ego but a reflection of your own holiness, rather than someone who has something you do not have. The ten characteristics of God's teachers described in the manual (M.4) lead to a state that is the exact opposite of specialness. An advanced teacher would be indistinguishable from others, except perhaps that he or she would smile more frequently (W.pI.155.1:1).

Q #1291: A Course in Miracles says: "As you teach so you shall learn" (T.5.IV.6:4; T.6.I.6:1), but do others learn what you teach or do they only learn what they teach?

A: This seems like a fairly simple question calling for a simple answer. It isn't, though, because the Course's approach to teaching and learning differs significantly from the world's, which rests on the premise that everyone's interests are separate from everyone else's. This is the mistake that Jesus attempts to correct throughout the Course. In this context, the idea “as you teach so shall you learn” flows from the general Course principle that giving and receiving are the same , the correction of the ego's deception that what you give to another you lose, and that you can affect another without affecting yourself (see W.pI.108.1,2,3,4,5,6,7; W.pI.126, W.pI.187. ) The world's emphasis on form at the expense of content is what sustains this ego approach.

The most concentrated discussion of this issue is found in the Introduction to the manual for teachers. We quote only in part, but the entire Introduction is relevant.

“The role of teaching and learning is actually reversed in the thinking of the world. The reversal is characteristic. It seems as if the teacher and the learner are separated, the teacher giving something to the learner rather than to himself. Further, the act of teaching is regarded as a special activity, in which one engages only a relatively small proportion of one's time. The course, on the other hand, emphasizes that to teach is to learn, so that teacher and learner are the same. It also emphasizes that teaching is a constant process; it goes on every moment of the day, and continues into sleeping thoughts as well.

To teach is to demonstrate. There are only two thought systems, and you demonstrate that you believe one or the other is true all the time. From your demonstration others learn, and so do you. . . . You cannot give to someone else, but only to yourself, and this you learn through teaching. . . . Teaching but reinforces what you believe about yourself. . . . the self you think is real is what you teach.” (M.in.1; 2:1,2,3; 3:7,10)

We generally equate teaching with form. Thus, for example, I may say that by profession I am a teacher and that I teach subjects in which I have expertise, which might include A Course in Miracles . This implies that I have what my students lack and I am going to supply them with it. While this analysis is correct on the level of form, we need to remember that this is a course in content : “This is a course in cause and not effect” (T.21.VII.7:8) is how the text expresses it. Effect is the form or behavior, having to do only with bodies and the world, whereas cause is in the mind and reflects either the ego's content -- guilt, separation, fear, and hate -- or the Holy Spirit 's -- forgiveness, peace, and healing. The Course, therefore, emphasizes only content, and so teaching, according to the manual, has nothing to do with behavior or form.

On the level of form, my true interest as a teacher is the same as your interest as a student, and that is to learn that the Holy Spirit's thought system is true and the ego's is false. Therefore we are the same in content -- what I teach, I learn; what you learn, you teach. Teachers and learners alike share the thought systems of the ego and the Holy Spirit, and the power to choose between them. Again, it is not my demonstration of expertise in a particular subject matter that is important, but the demonstration that either the ego's or Holy Spirit's thought system is true. I teach the ego's separation by my special relationship with you, while I teach the Holy Spirit's Atonement by transcending specialness, choosing to see our interests as shared.

Your “learning” reinforces the decision you made for the thought system of separation or Atonement. For example, your special relationship with me -- regardless of its form -- reflects that you believe that separation is real and that your needs have to be fulfilled at my expense. If I am coming from that same point of view, my interaction will tell you that you made the right choice. Since egos are attack and I have identified with my ego, I will attack you. Thus do I give the ego's gift by reinforcing its message that you are an innocent victim; and you, of course, reciprocate. And so we continue our dance of death: my decision for the ego reinforces your own, which strengthens my decision that in turn strengthens yours -- and both of us lose.

However, when I am in my right mind and not defensive, and I perceive our shared interests, my right-mindedness calls you to choose peace as I have. The peace you experience coming through me is now yours, if you so choose. Yet, if you are in your right mind and I am not, and I attack you as the object of my specialness, your defenseless non-judgment teaches me, even though I may be in the role of teacher. Your not becoming upset demonstrates that my attack had no effect, and thus you remind me that I have another choice.