Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 4/30/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1333 Does the Course inspire authoritarianism or aggressiveness?.
Q #1334 Ii it true to say the things we dislike about ourselves are projections of our guilt?
Q #1335 As a result of my upbringing I feel difficulty connecting with Jesus.
Q #1336 The Course no longer seems to have a calming effect on me. Am I doing something wrong?

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Q #1333: I read your reply to Question #913 with great interest. I have also noticed the Course making people more assertive and aggressive, even unbalancing otherwise rather "normal" and friendly people by perhaps influencing them subconsciously. You/the Course seem to say that this is simply the ego fighting back, but I wonder whether A Course in Miracles , in itself, is very assertive in the way it presents its "truth," and therefore (deliberately?) causes these emotional storms, aggressive behavior, and hateful thoughts to come forth. Is the Course some sort of "provocative therapy" much like homoeopathy only in much more powerful degrees? It uses sentences like "I told you" and "do this," which sound very authoritative. As justification of its authoritative way of presenting its point of view, it says it comes directly from Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or even God. Is my interpretation correct?

A: Your interpretation is not quite right. To explain why, let us address your final point first. The Course does not claim to have come from God. It is written in Jesus' authoritative voice, but this is not the result of a calculated attempt to justify a point of view. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that it was inspired by a source of love from outside this dream of time and space -- one which many of us within this dream, including the Course's scribe, experience as coming through the voice of Jesus.

The Course teaches that until now we have been listening to the voice of the ego, and it asks us to look honestly at the misery this has caused us. It informs us that we have access to another internal Teacher, the Holy Spirit, and that we would be much happier if we dropped the ego's hand and took the Holy Spirit's hand instead. It is unequivocal about the fact that this world is an illusion born from guilt and that therefore, we will never find lasting happiness or peace from anything within this world -- we will only find it by changing our mind. The difficulty is that, "To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold" (T.24.in.2:1).

As long as we are listening to the ego, it is very difficult to hear that we are wrong about everything and should question all our values. Indeed, under the ego's guidance, it is virtually impossible not to hear that as an attack and react with emotional storms, aggressive behavior, and hateful thoughts. It is not the Course's goal that we experience these things, but Jesus realizes that it is almost inevitable that we will. He knows this because he recognizes that as long as we believe we are here, we merely reenact the original instant in which we stormed against God, insisting that we were right and God was wrong. Thus, when Course students seem to become overly assertive or aggressive as a result of what they are learning, it is not because they are fulfilling part of the Course's curriculum, but rather that they are reacting to the fear it has engendered.

Jesus is not out to provoke us, but neither does he try to protect us from feeling provoked by his message. He simply tells us that what is true is true, what is false is false, and asks us to watch our own internal process as we learn to distinguish between the two.

Q #1334: I have a question about the idea of a "self-concept" and its relationship to guilt. My understanding of the self-concept is this: I look in the mirror and assess the things I like and do not like about my body; whom I think about; who I am in the world financially; how I believe that I look compared to others; where I am in the world compared to others; etc. I see that there are things that I "like" and "dislike" about "myself." Is it correct to say that according to A Course in Miracles , the things that I don't like about myself are really projections of unhealed guilt that I am projecting onto my made up and false "self" in the world and onto my body; is that correct?

A: Without more specific information about what you dislike about yourself it is difficult to determine whether or not it is a projection of unhealed guilt. No one likes to hear this, but even things you like about yourself can come from unhealed guilt. It all depends on the goal you have chosen to pursue in your mind. If you (the decision-making part of your mind) are intent on validating your existence as an individual, then being kind and generous (seemingly positive traits) can be a way of having people notice you as someone very special. This would be the ego's way of dealing with unhealed guilt -- cover it over with a self-concept that makes it appear that you are really a good, innocent person. But you can also use those same traits in the service of forgiveness, which would have the effect of lessening your investment in being special and different from others, a very effective way of dealing with guilt. Similarly, any form of success in the world can be an expression of your ego, but it can also be given the purpose of helping you learn that your interests are not separate from anyone else's. This is why Jesus tells us that “Love makes no comparisons” (W.pI.195.4:2) and that “the ego literally lives by comparisons (T.4.II.7:1) . Comparing yourself with others ultimately makes differences real, which is essential for the ego's survival.

What is helpful to remember is that on one level (Level One), all self-concepts, whether judged as positive or negative, are of the ego, because they are substitutes for our true Self as Christ, which we have denied. This is a major theme in “Self-Concept versus Self” (T.31.V). But on another level (Level Two), our self-concepts can be a means of helping us get in touch with the content in our minds and our power to choose to identify either with the ego or the Holy Spirit. This points out the importance of learning to focus on purpose . Thus, Jesus stresses: “This is the question that you must learn to ask in connection with everything. What is the purpose?” (T.4.V.6:8,9). If you shift to this focus, then your work with self-concepts can be more helpful in healing your mind of the guilt that the ego has convinced us is real, but which Jesus is helping us learn is made up and never justified.

Q #1335: Please comment on our relationship with Jesus, and the importance of this in A Course in Miracles . My struggle is that I have difficulty connecting with Jesus, and I would like to drop this resistance. I have felt "spiritually void" for most of my life, after negatively experiencing my Christian (Catholic) upbringing. I understand that forgiveness is the answer, and I feel I have forgiven; however, I don't feel within my relationship with Jesus. It was not something that was deeply cultivated in my childhood, and I have no real basis for the feeling of a "return."

A: Yes, forgiveness is the answer, as it is in any relationship. Try to bring to the surface the negative images you have of Jesus, any anger or resentment. He reminds us that “some bitter idols have been made of him who would be only brother to the world” (C.5.5:7) , and therefore we all need to become aware of what we are projecting onto Jesus, as these images and grievances prevent us from experiencing the positive elements in the relationship that are always present. Practically all formal religions of the world teach in some way that we are not worthy of God's Love, and that we must sacrifice to purify ourselves of our sinfulness. The centerpiece of Christianity in particular has always been that Jesus, wholly pure and innocent, had to die because of our sins, and that his sacrificial death was part of God's plan. And all of that has been presented as a supreme act of love. How could we not be mired in guilt and shame and highly conflicted in our relationship with Jesus?

Jesus comes to us through A Course in Miracles to tell us that sacrifice can never be part of love, and that it is only we (identified with the ego in our minds) who have convinced ourselves that we are sinful and guilty. The theologies that teach of sin and sacrifice are simply expressing the core principles of the ego thought system. Jesus is helping us to see the perversion of truth in that system, and he is asking us to allow him to help us undo our belief in it. This is what he means in saying of himself, “Forgive him your illusions, and behold how dear a brother he would be to you” (C.5.5:8). This is the basis for any relationship with Jesus, also well expressed in this passage: “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. . . . We will undo this error quietly together, and then look beyond it to the truth” (T.11.V.1:3,6). This is a process of gradually developing trust in the non-judgmental presence in your mind that wants only to help you look within at all the ways in which you are keeping love away. He assures us, “You have very little trust in me as yet, but it will increase as you turn more and more often to me instead of to your ego for guidance. . . . My trust in you is greater than yours in me at the moment, but it will not always be that way” (T.4.VI.3:1; 6:1). The love is always there. In looking without judgment at all of our unkind, unloving, judgmental thoughts, we are turning to Jesus for guidance and letting go of the interferences to our awareness of that ever-present love.

Q #1336: I recently had a panic attack, and I recited verses from A Course in Miracles that usually bring me peace, but it was different this time, and my feelings of being scared only increased. I am in the middle of the workbook, so I had to be doing something right -- at least that is what I am thinking now. But what did I miss?

A: You did not necessarily miss anything. It is not unusual to experience bouts of intense fear while doing the lessons. Our egos get very threatened when we take what the Course says seriously, and things can appear to get worse, as many students have observed. See, for example, Question #155, which deals with panic attacks, and Questions #384 and #533, which deal with fear. It is important to be gentle with yourself and not force yourself to keep going with the lessons if you think you want to take a break from them for a while. The ego is ultimately nothing, and all fear comes from identifying with the ego; but it usually takes a long time and a great deal of practice to reach that level of experience. We just need to go slowly and not feel pressured in any way, knowing that Jesus' love is with us every instant.

There are some therapies in the world that have helped people deal with panic attacks; and as we mention in Question #155, it would not hinder your work with the Course to avail yourself of that kind of help, if you feel you would like to.