Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 6/4/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1353 Is gratitude really a tool, or merely an effect?.
Q #1354 Where or what exactly is the "observer" in Course metaphysics ?
Q #1355 Where and when and by whom has my "script" been written?
Q #1356 Why have I never felt any burning passion or attachment to anything?

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Q #1353: I wonder about gratitude and its usefulness in practicing A Course in Miracles . Other Course friends frequently bring up the practice of gratitude as being very helpful to them and how they feel. I'm not really sure what I'm to be grateful for as a Course student. I do feel grateful when I experience relief from fear or pain, joy in relationship to another, the experience of peace. But, can this be a tool? Or is it an effect? I am bothered when I hear people say that the practice of gratitude has changed their whole perception of a situation.

A: Gratitude is integral to the practice of the Course. This is particularly evident from a study of the workbook lesson “Love is the way I walk in gratitude” (W.pI.195). There Jesus contrasts the world's view of gratitude, which reflects the ego's strategy to keep us separate, with the Course's view, which reflects “the Love that is the Source of all creation” (W.pI.195.10:3).

On our Web site, under Teaching Materials/Excerpts, we have posted the edited transcript of a workshop Ken presented called “Our Gratitude to God.” We refer you to that series for an in- depth discussion of this important dimension of the healing of our minds. As with most of the concepts addressed in the Course, gratitude is approached first from the ego's point of view and then from the corrected perspective in our right minds. Our resistance to being grateful is also considered.

Briefly stated, our gratitude is threefold: 1) to God for sharing everything of Himself with us in our creation; 2) to Jesus who is present to us as a brother helping us to remember God; 3) for all the circumstances and people in our lives, for they form the classroom in which we learn to awaken from our dream of fear.

If we are honest with ourselves we would recognize within us some rather strenuous resistance to these levels of gratitude. This would have to be the case considering the thought system from which our individualized existence emanates: The ego basically said to God, “Who needs You? I can make it on my own. Watch me!” This underlying attitude is present in the minds of everyone, and therefore to the extent that we value our independence and autonomy we would find very little justification for being grateful to God for creating us. This would also have to be true of our relationship with Jesus, as he symbolizes the Love of God for us. Being grateful would conflict with our unconscious need to prove that we can make something of our lives on our own. We might need some help from others now and then, but the ideal held out to us, especially in this country, is self-reliance and independence. “I did it my way,” as the popular song proclaims. What all of this means is that before we can experience true gratitude, we must look at the ingratitude we feel and what it represents, which is basically valuing separation. As we recognize the pain associated with that, we can turn to the loving, gentle teacher within, who will look at it with us. Choosing against all else but that love, “our gratitude will pave the way to Him, and shorten our learning time by more than [we] could ever dream of” (W.pI.195.10:1).

Q #1354: I am reading “A Vast Illusion: Time According to A Course in Miracles” and am trying to understand the idea of the observer. I think you are saying that the observer is still part of our split mind, but on another level from form. Is this correct?

A: Yes, the observer is the decision-making part of the split mind. Form, however, has to do only with the projections of the mind, the ego's way of trying to prevent us from looking at the content in the minds so that we will not remember that we have the power to change our minds about our having chosen the ego instead of the Holy Spirit. The observer, or decision maker, is thus the capacity of our mind to choose to identify either with the ego's thought system or the Holy Spirit's ( see, for example, T.14.III.4) . When it chooses the Holy Spirit's thought system of forgiveness, it then looks at or observes all the ego thoughts in the mind without judgment. They then begin to fade, and finally they disappear, because their nothingness becomes apparent when they are seen in the light of truth (the right mind).

Your question is raised frequently by students, and so for further study, we refer you to previous discussions of this topic in the following Questions: #264, #663, #713, #715, and #814.

Q #1355: Where do our individual lessons, our "scripts," come from? Who, in what realm, is the part of me that has already written my script? Are our individual projections, the pictures we draw on our computer screen, the people and relationships we attract or repel, all based on what we, as separate egos, need to learn? Is that why people's life circumstances can be so different? And how do we find those that we need to play out our roles with? Is the plan we all follow a function of our higher selves or the Holy Spirit or is it more random? Somehow it seems the whole idea of forgiveness and the fact that it actually works has to do with this issue. I know the ultimate learning is to step out of the dream, no matter what it may be, and that we can choose once again, so free will obviously must come into play as well. But this is perhaps another question...Any clarification would be appreciated.

A: A proper treatment of your questions, all of which are intelligent and appropriate, would require a book-length answer. Fortunately we can refer you to one authored by Ken Wapnick: A Vast Illusion: Time According to A Course in Miracles ,” and also to other Questions on this Service that have addressed some of these issues: for example, #266, #489, #935, 1#014, #1109, and #1141.We also have audio material available that you might find helpful: “From Time to Timelessness,” “The Time Machine,” “The Metaphysics of Time.”

One caution to keep in mind as you probe this intriguing subject is that our intellects can take us only so far, because our reference point is the limited one of linear time and space, and the mind's process occurs outside time and space, beyond our intellects. Jesus reminds us of this in one of his discussions about our journey:

“There is no need to further clarify what no one in the world can understand. When revelation of your oneness comes, it will be known and fully understood. Now we have work to do, for those in time can speak of things beyond, and listen to words which explain what is to come is past already. Yet what meaning can the words convey to those who count the hours still, and rise and work and go to sleep by them?” (W.pI.169.10).

It is understandable that we would want to know how everything works, but because we have denied our identity as minds and taken on a limited bodily identity instead, it is vexedly difficult for us to understand what Jesus is telling us about our mind's process. In essence, we are trying to understand something a part of us does not want us to go anywhere near, because the very foundation of our existence as we know it would be profoundly shaken if we did. The Course is saying that by following the ego's strategy, we wound up in a state of mindlessness, and it is from there that we are attempting to understand mind. Jesus assures us, however, that our questions will tend to diminish as we begin to have experiences of forgiveness -- and that is where he would like our focus to be. We can practice forgiveness without fully grasping its metaphysical basis, but, as you say, some understanding of the principles on which forgiveness rests can help us with our practice. We thus use our intellects to transcend our intellects.

With this in mind, we can briefly address some of your specific questions here, but for comprehensive explanations and discussions, we again recommend that you turn to the sources mentioned above. The basic premise is that at the instant the separation from God occurred (which did not occur in reality), every conceivable expression of separation spun out, and just as instantaneously, the correction for the separation spun out as well. These are our scripts -- wrong- minded and right-minded -- which our minds are always choosing between, based on whether we want to remain separated or change our belief in separation. Jesus talks about this metaphorically in terms of a carpet (T.13.I.3) and as a process of substitution and fragmentation that resulted in our present state of ignorance and confusion (T.18.I.4,5). Linear time is the ego's way of perpetuating sin (the past), guilt (the present), and fear (the future). The mind training in the Course aims at helping us get back to our minds and this concealed content that underlies and motivates all of our activities in the world of time and space. Thus does Jesus tell us, “Each day, and every minute in each day, and every instant that each minute holds, you are but reliving the single instant when the time of terror took the place of love” (T.26.V.13:1). “Life” in a temporal-spatial universe of form is intended to keep this content hidden: “Nothing so blinding as perception of form. For sight of form means understanding has been obscured” (T.22.III.6:7,8).

A major difficulty in comprehending this is that our experience does not square with what the Course tells us is happening. We are taught for example that we are “reviewing mentally what has gone by” (W.pI.158.4:5), and that “this world was over long ago” (T.28.I.1:6). Yet that is not our experience, and so our tendency would be to try to bring these teachings into our experience instead of trying to raise ourselves to this other level that is outside time and space, and be content with what we can comprehend at this point in our journey (T.18.IV.7:5,6,7). Thus, we must hear over and over and in many different ways that the world “is an outside picture of inward condition” (T.21.in.1:5), and that all perception “but witnesses to what you taught. It is the outward picture of a wish; an image that you wanted to be true” (T.24.VII.8:9,10). Some philosophers have had intimations of this, but for the most part, it feels as if we have run into an intellectual brick wall when we read these lines. These basic principles, however, should ground any discussion of time, scripts, and free will.

Thus, our lives and relationships in this world reflect the choice made by our decision-making minds, not the Holy Spirit, either to keep the belief in separation going or to undo that belief. This mind is always expressing in form the content with which it has chosen to identify: the ego's or the Holy Spirit's, and therefore it is either projecting guilt or extending love. There are also collective decisions of minds that we as seeming individuals would recognize as couples, families, groups, etc. All of this flows from the desperate need of the ego to keep differences real and prominent in our experience, for only thus will the ego survive. What appear as choices we make in the world, thus, are but the effects of the thought system our minds (not our higher Self, which is not part of the illusion) have chosen to follow. That is indeed hard for us to understand and even harder to accept, but that is what the Course teaches. The exercises in the workbook lessons are geared toward facilitating this kind of thought reversal ( see W.pI.11.1:1; 126.1:1; also in the manual, M.24.4:1). Jesus is always addressing this mind that has decided not to be a mind but to be instead an autonomous individual in bodily form. The circumstances of our lives constitute the curriculum which Jesus uses to redirect our focus back within so that we will re- identify with our nature, within the illusion, as decision-making minds.

When we have chosen once and for all against the ego, all that remains is the selfless love that had been concealed by the wrong mind. At that point there is no longer a decision maker and the mind then is the channel through which the love flows, taking whatever form is helpful to those minds that are still in the process of healing.

Q #1356: All my life I have been very troubled by the fact that I lack a burning passion for anything, or anyone. However, I do feel like I love my wife and family members (although not as much as I always thought I should) and I think that I am sensitive to the needs and feelings of other people in general, caring, good-natured and, although slightly introverted, not what I would consider antisocial or reclusive.

Moreover, I have never really felt the strong sense of attachment or belonging to any institution (religious, academic, or otherwise) that I see so many other people exhibit. The general lack of passion that pervades my entire life, as well as my inability to find a ‘river of interest' (career-wise) in which I could get completely absorbed, has been a great source of angst for me. I have had multiple careers in this lifetime and I've searched incessantly over the past 15 years or so in an effort to find the meaning and purpose of my life.

Only in the past couple of months have I found A Course in Miracles . The words contained in A Course in Miracles , and other materials directly related to it, seem to resonate with me in spite of the fact that for most of my adult life I have always been very skeptical about the existence of God or the existence of anything other than what science could demonstrate as true.

Recently, feeling somewhat anxious but unable to identify a specific cause, I tried to slow down my thoughts and recall some of the passages from A Course in Miracles while asking the Holy Spirit's help to put things in perspective. After a minute or so, I had a somewhat startling thought. Perhaps my lack of attachment and lack of passion for things here are a result of me picking up where I left off in my efforts during a previous “lifetime” to see the illusory things in this world for what they really are. Is it possible that my inability to find real meaning in anything was “meant” to keep me searching until I found what I was supposed to find?

Being so new to A Course in Miracles , I am unsure whether this is a rationalization or justification of the way I “am” in this lifetime (ego?), or if this might be a genuine flash of insight (Holy Spirit?). I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this.

A: We cannot evaluate anyone's inner experiences, but since you were startled by the thought, it would seem that it is somehow an answer to your seeking. It could well be that you are picking up where you left off in a previous lifetime in this sense: “Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one, and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought to you” (T.31.VIII.3:1). In processing this, it is crucial to remember the Course's teaching that our minds function outside time and space, and that linear time is a primary device the ego uses to keep us from connecting with our identity as decision-making minds so we would never uncover the true nature of our problems. This is the meaning behind Jesus saying, “Each day, and every minute in each day, and every instant that each minute holds, you are but reliving the single instant when the time of terror took the place of love” (T.26.V.13:1). Jesus is describing the content in our minds which we, as minds, keep well out of awareness by being preoccupied with bodily existence in the world. The key part of this is that we are always denying and then projecting what is going on in our minds so that it appears as if our problems are rooted in the world, including our own bodies. This means we are living a lie by believing we are really here in the world, not of our own choosing, and that our existence here is significant and meaningful. Guilt must result, as long as we continue to repress this massive self-deception.

The anxiety you are experiencing could be related to the guilt that would be triggered over being exposed as living a lie. Ultimately, this is good, as the insight probably came from the sane part of you that is inviting you to make another choice and end your opposition to God and your true Self. The buried guilt over setting up an existence in opposition to God and your true Self could manifest itself in a lack of passion for anything or anyone, in the sense that deep within you would know that its real purpose is to give truth to a lie. Partial commitment would thus protect you from even further guilt, reflecting the gnawing suspicion that God will surely punish you (all of us) for setting up a personal existence at the expense of His Love and Oneness.

From another point of view, you would know that you don't really belong here and so you would be very reluctant to throw yourself into anything wholeheartedly. There is no real “fit,” as Jesus poignantly describes in Lesson 182: “This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true. . . . We speak today for everyone who walks this world, for he is not at home. He goes uncertainly about in endless search, seeking in darkness what he cannot find; not recognizing what it is he seeks. A thousand homes he makes, yet none contents his restless mind” (W.pI.182.1:1,2; 3:1,2,3).

The Course offers us a way out of this painful dilemma by teaching us that the Holy Spirit can use what we made to harm to heal our minds of their mistaken beliefs. Thus, “The body was not made by love. Yet love does not condemn it and can use it lovingly, respecting what the Son of God has made and using it to save him from illusions” (T.18.VI.4:7,8). The world and our lives now become classrooms in which, by choosing the right inner teacher, we learn the lessons that will lead us out of this nightmare of separation from God. Forgiveness is the means to this end. Giving your relationships and roles this purpose will supply the deeper meaning for which you yearn, and as you progress, you will feel much more connected to people, for you will be parting the veil that has hidden your oneness with everyone as God's beloved Son. Being on such a journey is truly joyous. “Learn to be a happy learner” (T.14.II.5:3).