Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 03/05/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1303 I often experience strong, forceful emotions while studying the Course. Can they be part of my awakening?
Q #1304 Is it appropriate to make changes to my external circumstances to try to improve my Course progress?
Q #1305 Help! How am I supposed to watch my daughter's sickness and feel peaceful?
Q #1306 Was I "wrong" to fire someone who stole from me?

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Q #1303: My experiences with A Course in Miracles do not seem to fall into the category of "gentle awakening." I sometimes have extreme experiences of the ego's hate; and sometimes apparent glimpses of God's Love for me that are overwhelming. Recently, before falling asleep I was thinking about how much "I want to be love," and I was woken out of a doze by a formless voice/roaring that was as powerful as the whole universe, and it nearly vibrated me apart. It happened several times. I really didn't know what to make of these experiences, so I forgave them, telling myself that God would do nothing to cause me pain. I wonder whether this is a stage on my spiritual path that will eventually pass. Can you help me make sense of this, as I want to do my part in healing the mind.

A: Speaking in general, one can say that the Voice of the Holy Spirit is always quiet, gentle, and peaceful; and therefore disquieting experiences would always be from the ego. The intensity of such experiences would reflect the intensity of one's fear and resistance.

We all have tremendous fear of awakening from the dream, but it is almost totally unconscious. Our decision to study A Course in Miracles symbolizes our choice to awaken and to let go of the ego as our teacher; but our fear does not suddenly evaporate because of this decision (although in principle it could). The defensive shields that were protecting us from our fear begin to weaken and then the fear starts to rise to the surface, taking various forms and in varying degrees of intensity. We decided to bury it and then keep it buried because we experienced it as overwhelming, having chosen to listen to the ego's warnings that we would be brutally punished and then destroyed if we ever turned back and asked God to accept us back.

The idea is to learn that the only power fear has is what we have given it, although we have no awareness of having made it. It is simply the result of our having identified with the ego and then forgetting we have a mind with the power to reverse that decision. We must respect the depth of this fear; yet, we needn't deny it, run from it, or confront it as though it were an enemy to be defeated. We just need to remember to be gentle with ourselves, and be sure to take whatever behavioral steps we can to alleviate the anxiety when it starts to overwhelm us. Looking at it with Jesus is the way we begin to let go of our belief in its reality.

Q #1304 : I know that A Course in Miracles is only concerned with the mind (cause). I seem to be getting the message that I should not ask Jesus for help making decisions concerning what external decisions may facilitate clearer thought. For example, I get caught up in the idea that my very physical job works against clear thought and consistent practice. Should I be solely concerned with forgiveness and let the physical world take care of itself? Or, is it appropriate to make physical changes that may put me in a better physical state to more clearly see my attack thoughts/forgiveness needs?

A: A Course in Miracles does not tell us that physical changes are wrong. It does tell us, though, that we do not need to make external changes to change our mind. We could see our attack thoughts and forgiveness needs even if we were nailed to a cross or in a concentration camp. This is why Jesus says: "Change does not mean anything at the symptom level, where it cannot work…. You should ask… for help in the conditions that have brought the fear about. These conditions always entail a willingness to be separate" (T.2.VI.3:7; T.2.VI.4:3,4) . In other words, our pain comes not from anything external but rather from the fear and guilt engendered by our belief that we are separate from God and His Love.

For this reason, we cannot expect external changes to change us internally. However, it will help us to change internally if every time we are tempted to make an external change, we first ask for help getting to an internal place of love and forgiveness. This is why the Course never says that there is any type of decision for which it is wrong to ask Jesus for help. Indeed, the Course's stance on decision making is summed up in the following passage: "…you cannot make decisions by yourself. The only question really is with what you choose to make them. …You will not make decisions by yourself whatever you decide. For they are made with idols or with God. And you ask help of anti-Christ or Christ, and which you choose will join with you and tell you what to do" (T.30.I.14:3,4; 7,8,9) . Thus, whenever we make a decision, we listen to an internal teacher in our mind. The choice is whether we listen to the ego or the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is always a good idea to ask Jesus or the Holy Spirit for help.

Where we must be careful, however, is in making sure that we are actually asking for help rather than simply requesting confirmation of a decision we have already made. For example, you do not want to decide that your job is the source of your unhappiness and then ask Jesus what to do about it. It would be far more productive to simply bring your unhappiness to Jesus and ask him to help you look at it through his nonjudgmental eyes. Let him reveal to you what internal shift needs to happen so that you no longer feel that external circumstances can rob you of the peace and Love of God. When you do that, you will automatically make decisions that reflect the love in your mind. Then, if you do make any external changes, they will be based solely on simple preferences and will not be difficult.

Q #1305: I know the Course says sickness is a defense against the truth and that you shouldn't feel sorry for someone who is sick -- that that depreciates the power of the person's mind. I am having such difficulty learning this lesson. How does one learn the lesson when her daughter has a serious chronic illness, an illness that causes pain and prevents the person from living a "normal life"? Nearly every day my daughter suffers and I suffer with her. I know this doesn't help her or me, but it's not been something I can change my mind about. I pray for help for her (and me) and my friends pray and then I learn, in "The Song of Prayer", that prayer doesn't help either. God doesn't even know we're here. Prayer is only for oneself, etc. What can I do? How can I change my mind and not see my sick, suffering daughter? This has been going on literally for years and I sure need some help, please.

A: It is hard to imagine a more potent emotional trigger than watching your daughter suffer on a daily basis and being unable to do anything to alleviate it. The fact that her pain causes you pain is a very normal reaction. The purpose of A Course in Miracles is not to make you feel guilty or wrong for having this reaction. Nor should you feel that you are hurting her by having it.

The Course does say that sickness is a defense against the truth (W.pI.136) . But it would make the same claim about absolutely every aspect of our apparent existence and human experience. Breathing is a defense against the truth, thinking is a defense against the truth, speaking is a defense against the truth, and so on. This is so because believing that we are here is a defense against the truth . Yet, we all believe that we are here. And as long as we do, we cannot pick one element of our seeming existence, such as sickness, and convince ourselves that it is unreal. Unfortunately, the fear most of us have of illness often tempts Course students to do just that -- seeking to know that illness is an illusion, while still believing in other parts of this dream. From Jesus' healed perspective, desperately trying to let go of our belief in sickness makes no more sense than desperately trying to stop breathing. To him, neither of these is real and neither is something to feel guilty about.

Because we all choose the scripts of our lives on a level of the mind that we are not aware of -- outside of this dream of time and space -- we cannot know why we or others experience particular life events such as chronic illnesses. And we cannot will illness away or easily break the emotional hold it has on us. But the Course does tell us what we can do: "Perceive in sickness but another call for love, and offer your brother what he believes he cannot offer himself. Whatever the sickness, there is but one remedy. You will be made whole as you make whole, for to perceive in sickness the appeal for health is to recognize in hatred the call for love. And to give a brother what he really wants is to offer it unto yourself, for your Father wills you to know your brother as yourself. Answer his call for love, and yours is answered" (T.12.II.3:12,3,4,5) .

In other words, your daughter's pain and the pain you feel because of it are the same in content. You both feel victimized by something you cannot control, which seems to make it impossible to experience the Love and peace of God. So the way you can truly help your daughter is to allow your own call for love to be answered. Although, as you stated, God does not know about this dream world and thus cannot answer our prayers by directing the external events in our lives, help is available. We access it by asking the Holy Spirit (the memory of God's Love in our mind) to help us look at the events in our lives through His eyes. When we do this, we see that nothing makes it impossible for us to experience the Love of God because His Love is in us. And once you get in touch with this Love, you will see that though your daughter's body is sick and suffering, this has no effect on her own ability to feel God's Love. She may not realize this and you may still have strong feelings about her pain, but you will know that your only job is to watch the situation with loving eyes and continually ask for guidance to do the loving thing, whatever it may be.

Ultimately, whether our body appears to be healthy or sick, whether our life is one that the world judges as pleasant or miserable, we are all on the same journey. We all have the same opportunity to use our life as a classroom or a prison. Each of us can make the choice at any moment to drop the ego's hand, releasing our grip on this illusory world of pain, and take the Holy Spirit's hand instead, which gently awakens us and lifts us back into our true home in Heaven. You can only make this choice for yourself, but in so doing, you light the way for others.

So, during challenging moments with your daughter, do not feel bad about your thoughts or emotions and do not try to change them. Simply ask the Holy Spirit to help you remember that a happy end is assured for both your journeys. Let Him remind you that though your daughter may face many challenges, God's Love surrounds her and she will never be left comfortless (W.ep.6: 6,7) .

Q #1306: I have been studying A Course in Miracles for seven years, and my mind has changed for sure! Now I would like to ask your opinion about a situation that is causing conflict in my life. I fired my maid, who had been working for me for nine years, when I discovered that she had been stealing money from me. I feel at peace about what I did, and I don't feel any anger toward her. I am still in touch with her, but feel that I cannot trust her enough to give her a job in my house again. A professional colleague told me that by firing the maid, I did the opposite of what A Course in Miracles teaches -- a few other Course students agreed with that. But I still feel that I did the right thing, and feel peaceful about it.

A: From the Course's perspective, the issue is not about the behavior of firing your maid. Firing an employee is neither loving nor unloving in itself. Only the content in your mind determines whether it is loving or not, which means you can be motivated by the ego or the Holy Spirit. With your ego, you would perceive yourself as the victim and your maid as the victimizer, and therefore you would feel justified in being angry and punitive. With the Holy Spirit, you would not perceive a victim and a victimizer; and therefore the love in your right mind would direct you to do whatever is best for both of you in that situation. That could mean firing her or not firing her; but there would be no hatred, anger, guilt, or fear. You would feel peaceful.

There is nothing wrong in recognizing another person's ego at work and then limiting that person's ability to act it out. You would not hire a known pedophile to stay with your children while you were away; but that does not mean you would not see him as a Son of God with the same right mind, wrong mind, and decision maker that you have. It is just common sense not to allow him to stay with your children while you are not there. Similarly, if you served on a jury, you could be motivated by love to vote “guilty,” which could result in the defendant going to jail for a very long time. Again, you would see the judge, the defendant, and the person bringing the charges as part of the Sonship with you -- no hatred, no anger, no one or the other . It is a serious mistake to think that forgiveness means that you must keep a dishonest person on your staff, have a pedophile take care of your children, or never vote “guilty” on a jury.

Without realizing it, many Course students are saying there is a hierarchy of illusions -- that some things and behaviors are always holy or spiritual and others are always unholy or unspiritual. How can that be, though, if everything here is illusory? One part of an illusion cannot be better or worse than another. The very first lesson in the workbook points us in that direction: “Nothing I see in this room . . . means anything” (W.pI.1). Jesus is training us to focus on the choices we are making in our minds rather than on the external behavior; and he wants us to learn also that there are only two choice we can ever make: to believe that our existence as separate from God is real, or that that is just a mistaken belief that we can now correct through the practice of forgiveness. All of the interactions in our lives, then, can reflect back to us which of these choice we have made. That is the only meaningful part of our lives here.