Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 5/14/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1341 Is there a point beyond which study of the text doesn't really help ?.
Q #1342 After studying the Course for years, I have lost my enthusiasm for conventional activities.
Q #1343 I seem to be torn between the Course and a hedonistic lifestyle.
Q #1344 How do I get past the pain of my illness, to benefit from the Course ?

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Q #1341: Is there a point at which the intellectual comprehension of the Course only has the benefit of aiding in communicating ideas? I recently heard someone make a loose comparison between the Course and Buddhist mind-training, in that both have the main goal of altering the student's perceptions through their repeated practices. So, it would seem the foundation of the Course (or text) is only to help the student understand why such practicing is necessary. In other words, trying to understand the Course intellectually through study of the text and other means only serves to help refresh one's sense of context once they have committed themselves to its mind-training, and doesn't actually further enlightenment in itself. Is that correct?

A: Neither the text nor the workbook stands alone; together they comprise the spiritual path of A Course in Miracles , as the introduction to the workbook explains: “ A theoretical foundation such as the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in this workbook meaningful. Yet it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible. An untrained mind can accomplish nothing. It is the purpose of this workbook to train your mind to think along the lines the text sets forth” (W.in.1). Thus, an understanding of the Course's metaphysics and general principles would ground the lessons so that their full meaning could be better integrated in their practice. Moreover, doing the exercises without ever studying the text, although not wrong and not without some benefit, can actually be misleading in terms of knowing what the Course is really about.

We would agree that the study of the text in itself does not lead to enlightenment, if the focus is solely on the text as a conceptual thought system. On the other hand, however, the text of A Course in Miracles is not the typical text book devoted exclusively to the systematic presentation of theory. Written more along the lines of a symphony with themes and variations, the text invites and encourages its readers, in the midst of expounding its theories and ideas, to process the material in a very personal way. There are many profound, deeply meaningful, and moving passages in the text that can engage the mind open to spiritual transformation. Of course, not all readers would respond positively to its teachings, as they are not compatible with traditional biblical teachings and practices. Yet, for those who relate to its message, there often are transformative experiences of the loving source of the message they are reading. Such instants usually initiate a life-long process that advances through the application and generalization of the principles, which is the aim of the workbook exercises.

Q #1342: I've been studying A Course in Miracles for a number of years, but recently I have started to feel sad or anxious because the activities that once made me feel excited about life and engaged in living now seem flat or empty. I see friends and coworkers going about their lives improving themselves, going back to school for another graduate degree or planning trips to interesting places, and I can't find that enthusiasm in myself for much of anything. Today I noticed that I felt "left out" of things, like I was watching life from the sidelines. At times I have tried joining in, but I can't quite get into it like I used to. Much of the time I feel quiet inside and happy for others. Yet, at other times I find myself searching for something to throw myself into. There is a kind of desperate quality to the search. Could what I'm experiencing be an example of the "period of undoing" referred to in the manual for teachers? Is it expected to go back and forth between peacefulness and agitation?

A: What you describe is very common with students who have been studying and practicing the Course for a while. You will notice some parallels in Questions #599, #971, and #1115; and you may find our discussions there supportive as you work through this phase of your spiritual journey. More than likely you are experiencing the effects of your willingness to undo your ego. When you are driven to find something in the world to throw yourself into, you probably are responding to a sense of lack and emptiness coming from your decision to let go of your ego. Shifting away from what you have identified with and valued all your life (W.pI.133) understandably can result in fear and panic, along with peace and relief because you are no longer fighting against the truth of who you are. So it is quite normal to feel desperate at times and then attempt to quell the storm by dropping another anchor in the familiar world. Moreover, as you shift your attention from the outer world to the inner, you would naturally feel different about the activities that formerly gave you pleasure, satisfaction, happy anticipation, etc. You are no longer firmly grounded in that world -- a good thing! -- but you are not yet firmly grounded in the inner world, and as a result, you would tend to feel suspended between the two.

As you settle into your new role of being a happy learner (T.14.II), however, you will find that there is a way to engage in activities without the highs and lows that characterized your participation before. Once you give your day the single purpose of being a classroom in which to learn the lessons that would help you awaken from the dream, you will find yourself simply doing the things you need to do, but with less intensity and more peace. You can still enjoy television and movies, traveling, sports, or anything else that has been part of your life, but there would be a different feel to those experiences now. You have to do something; you have to eat something; you have to take care of your body; you have to interact with people, and so on; but you would go about everything differently now, in the sense that you would not take any of it as seriously as you used to. You would try to see all of your interactions as the means of learning that we all share the same interests. This would actually make your interactions more meaningful -- even exciting, from the point of view of knowing this is helping you on your path back to God. The form of your activities would thus come to express the content in your mind. Your friends might not notice any difference, other than that you are more peaceful and light-hearted (W.pI.155.1), but you will be experiencing everything in your life from a new perspective, having chosen a new teacher who will help you see and judge everything through his eyes.

Finally, as you continue this process of forgiveness, the bouncing back and forth between your wrong and right mind will become less and less of a disturbance as you recognize the connection between undoing your ego and remembering to laugh at the “tiny, mad idea” (T.27.VIII.6:2). Your fear and resistance will become familiar to you and not be more than minor detours from which you will calmly find your way back to your chosen path and teacher.

Q #1343: Let go my ego! That's how I feel sometimes. I have been studying A Course in Miracles for about two years, and it seems the ego is very clever at using the Course in its own favor to set me up to remain guilty. Recently I have done several things that leave me with a lot of guilt that could hurt me and my family if I continue to hold this guilt and buy into the illusion. I think I may be depending on alcohol and sex outside of a committed relationship (which is causing me much pain). I tell myself I'm not going to go out with these friends or drink anymore, but I have asked Jesus to look at this with me and I do have peace when I truly allow that. When I'm not peaceful, I live in horror of getting an STD or ruining the relationship I have with my children's father whom I live with. When I drink I lose my judgment (how ironic is that?). It is such an escape for me. Is this a normal process in learning the course?

A: The ego's goal is to maintain the reality of guilt in our minds, which would then maintain our belief in the reality of our existence as separate individuals apart from God. Therefore, when we identify with the ego (our wrong minds), we would be attracted to guilt and then do the very things that would cause us to feel guilty (T.19.IV.A.i). This guilt must always be projected in the form of attacking our own bodies (illnesses, addictions, etc.) or other people's (outright physical assault, judgment, condemnation, etc.). Understanding this dynamic is one thing; but to undo our investment in our ego identification is a process that usually takes many, many years of hard work, as our fear of letting go of the ego is much more intense than we at first realize.

Sometimes this process can be facilitated by turning to professional therapeutic sources in the world when destructive behavior continues with no change, despite clear awareness of its harmful consequences. Moreover, turning to a professional for help fits in nicely with the gentleness of the Course's approach to the healing of our minds and is even encouraged ( see, for example, T.2.IV.4,5). Making progress on the behavioral level would reflect our mind's choice to let go of our investment in the ego thought system and accept instead the loving and peaceful correction in our right minds. Once the behavior is under control, then the principles of the Course can be practiced more effectively. In his ever gentle and patient guidance, Jesus never wants us to fight against ourselves (T.30.I.1) since he assures us that his love for us is unconditional and awaits only our acceptance of it as our fear subsides. He therefore asks us to be patient and gentle with ourselves, accepting help on the level where it is most immediately needed.

You might find it helpful to look at Question #84, which provides an overview and discussion of the issues involved in destructive behavior and the healing approach of A Course in Miracles .

Q #1344: From the perspective of A Course in Miracles , how does one deal with a chronic health situation where there is the experience of continual physical discomfort and disruption of one's day to day life. Say that person is able to see the illness as the result of his/her own wrong choices in mind and has earnest willingness to choose again, and seeks to forgive themselves for that wrong choice. How does one proceed if there is no available, known medical treatment for relief. What would be the kindest, gentlest way of forgiving oneself in this scenario, and how does one even begin to look past continual physical discomfort and/or pain to find peace when there is not even a "magic" solution to provide the illusion of momentary relief?

A: The situation you describe is extremely trying, and we certainly hope that some form of medical help will turn up for you soon. It is terribly difficult to be in a peaceful state when your body is wracked with pain all the time, day in and day out. Forgiving yourself in this context means being kind to yourself and not dwelling on the “wrong choice” that you see as responsible for your condition. It is a given that the choice to see oneself as justifiably guilty is the cause of all physical conditions, whether a sprained wrist or an inoperable brain tumor -- there is no hierarchy of illusions. But practically no one is directly in touch with that choice so as to evaluate and change it to a right-minded choice. It is also entirely possible that one has chosen a physical condition for right-minded reasons: for example, to demonstrate the body's irrelevance to the experience of God's Love and peace, or that one's identity transcends bodily limitations. Moreover, since we cannot see our own or anyone else's full Atonement path, we really cannot know why a specific condition exists -- whether it is the result of a wrong-minded or right-minded choice -- and so we best not attempt to judge it.

What the Course teaches us is to ask for help in learning that our suffering cannot affect the peace of God within us. Even if we are only able to say the words, that is enough to start the healing process ( see W.pII.284) . Most people do not immediately experience any change in the symptoms, but we need to resist the temptation to conclude therefore that “it's not working!” The willingness always works, because the real sickness (separation) is only in our minds, and therefore healing takes place only at that level. The call for help underlying sickness is always being answered by the reflection of Heaven's love in our minds, and so we need only, in an act of kindness toward ourselves, acknowledge the truth of that, and then rest in the confidence that when we are ready, we will accept it into our conscious awareness. To judge ourselves because we seem not to be ready is to give support to the ego's aim of keeping guilt real in our minds. When our mind is free of guilt, our body's condition would no longer be the focal point of our attention. But this is a process that requires daily practice, usually for an extended period of time: “The resistance to recognizing this is enormous, because the existence of the world as you perceive it depends entirely on the body being the decision maker” (M.5.II.1:7) . We cannot fail to get to this level, however, because it is the natural state of our minds, as Jesus reminds us: “Love is your safety. Fear does not exist. Identify with love, and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self” (W.pII.5:4,5,6,7,8).

Supportive discussions of sickness and healing may be found in Questions #1045, and #1111.