Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 6/11/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1357 Why must I ask Jesus before I perform a miracle?.
Q #1358 Are "ego-ideals" part of the "level-confusion" error?
Q #1359(i) Is it normal to feel the strength of the ego growing as I study the Course?
Q #1359(ii) I am supposed to help others cope with grief, yet 'm taking medication to help me cope with my own grief.

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Q #1357: In the text of A Course in Miracles Jesus tells us to ask him before we perform a miracle (T.1.III.4:3). I don't understand what I would do that would require me to ask Jesus if I should do it. Is there another process that I will be doing in the future that I don't understand yet?

A: The central theme of the early principles and the first chapter in the text that you refer to is that miracles shift our perception, and that is why they heal. The focus of our attention, however, is almost always on our bodies -- our planning and activities almost always center on what is good or not good for bodies. Therefore, right at the beginning of the text Jesus begins to train us to focus differently -- not on our bodies, but on the choices we are making in our minds, because those choices are the root of both our problems and their solution. Later he thus urges us, “Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world” (T.21.in.1:7) .

The primary means of changing our focus from the external to the internal in the early stages of our work with the Course is to learn to ask Jesus' help before we act. This gradually gets us out of the habit of assuming we know what is best for ourselves and others -- that we know which miracles to perform, in other words. Thus, it not so much about doing something, but about gradually learning to focus on the purpose we have chosen in our minds for what we are doing. Jesus is teaching us that what we do is not important in terms of our spiritual journey; it is the choice of teacher we have made in our minds to guide us in what we do that is important. That choice, and that choice alone, is what will keep us asleep in the dream of separation from God or help us realize that we are the dreamers of that dream, which will eventually lead us to awaken from it entirely.

Q #1358: From what I gather, “ego ideals” are part of the level-confusion issue: I think that if I'm a "good" person and do "good" things, the Holy Spirit will look on me more favorably, or I'll be more "advanced"; on the flip side, if I "waste" my time watching basketball on TV or I treat someone poorly, the opposite terms apply. In this case, there's usually fuel for thinking myself guilty, and this is where the harder part comes in. It's obvious that on the level of behavior we have so many decisions to make, and some aren't morally good: If I decide to skip a meeting I know I should be at but feel is utterly unimportant, I feel the lack of integrity in myself, create the guilt that I project onto the Holy Spirit thinking I'm guilty and undeserving of peace, as though my skipping the meeting is part of the spiritual landscape. From what I'm understanding, skipping the meeting is not the issue, but instead it's that I have done all this unconsciously to create guilt by using the "ego ideal" as a defense against love? Another example: my parents are taking my family on vacation to a place I don't really care for; plus it'll be crowded and crazy. I'm planning on not going but spending some time alone, etc. My wife has no problem with this, and though I know my parents might frown some, I have made it into a big deal, as though there's a right moral choice: I should go to fulfill my duty and be a good son. Same thing as the meeting, right? Or am I in denial?

A: You're on the right track, but you haven't gotten to the core of the problem yet. The “ego ideal” is not in itself the defense against love. It is the convenient external criterion the ego invokes and employs as a smokescreen to deceive us about why we feel guilty. But the only reason we ever feel guilty has nothing to do with anything external. It is that we have already made an internal decision to be selfish, to put our own self interests above everyone else's, to see ourselves as separate and in need of taking care of ourselves first and everyone else be damned -- that's the core of the separation thought. And it comes from our fear of love, which denies the truth of who we are. Any decision about external events or situations that proceeds then from this internal decision for selfishness will simply reinforce and seem also to account for those feelings. But we will be deluding ourselves about the real cause.

The Course's only reference to ego ideals describes their role in obscuring the source of the guilt in our mind: “Yet consider how strange a solution the ego's arrangement is. You project guilt to get rid of it, but you are actually merely concealing it. You do experience the guilt, but you have no idea why. On the contrary, you associate it with a weird assortment of "ego ideals," which the ego claims you have failed. Yet you have no idea that you are failing the Son of God by seeing him as guilty. Believing you are no longer you, you do not realize that you are failing yourself” (T.13.II.2, italics added ).

The goal then is not to be able to make decisions that protect our self-interest without feeling guilty, but rather to turn to our Inner Guide whenever we feel that we have an important decision to make, so that we can be reminded of what is the truly important decision -- who we make it with. Now the ego would tell us, “Sure, turn to the Holy Spirit and you know He'll tell you that you need to do what you don't want to do” -- the ego always confuses sacrifice with love. And the ego's focus is always on behavior, or form, rather than on the mind, or content. And so morality - - doing the right thing -- is an ego concern. For the ego is preoccupied with rules for behavior. But the Holy Spirit is concerned only with rules for decision. In that sense we can say that the Course is an a moral thought system -- it is not concerned with what we do, but only with how we think.

So the guilt is not coming from the “ego ideals,” which would dictate the “moral” or “right” choice, but rather from that fact that you are making decisions on your own. And so, in the examples you describe, you have already made up your mind what the problem is and what you want to do before you ask for help, hoping that you can decide on your own and get what you want without guilt. The guilt however is not coming from what you are deciding to do or not to do, but from the fact that you are deciding on your own, which means with the ego (T.30.I.14). In the section of the text titled “Rules for Decision,” Jesus says: “This is your major problem now. You still make up your mind, and then decide to ask what you should do. And what you hear may not resolve the problem as you saw it first. This leads to fear, because it contradicts what you perceive and so you feel attacked. And therefore angry. There are rules by which this will not happen. But it does occur at first, while you are learning how to hear” (T.30.I.3).

Jesus offers the solution in the preceding paragraph: “The outlook starts with this:

Today I will make no decisions by myself. This means that you are choosing not to be the judge of what to do. But it must also mean you will not judge the situations where you will be called upon to make response. For if you judge them, you have set the rules for how you should react to them. And then another answer cannot but produce confusion and uncertainty and fear” (T.30.I.2).

In other words, the important decision is not whether to participate in a certain meeting or go with family on a special vacation, but whether you wish to have the ego or the Holy Spirit as your interpreter and guide in whatever you end up doing. And since we never know what is in our own best interests, we will never know what the “right” thing to do is ahead of time, regardless of the ego's “moral” judgments. But whatever we end up being guided to do, we will be at peace about it, because we have not decided on our own, from a belief in our own guilt and limitation and lack. And our experience then will be one of peace and joy, free of conflict and pain and guilt, regardless of what seems to be happening around us.

Q #1359(i): ( The following two questions were submitted by the same person.)

I have only been studying A Course in Miracles for two months. At the end of the first month I felt elated -- people commented about their perceived change in my face. But just today I ended Lesson 31 in tears -- I did not know before I began the Course that I held such anger and fear. Is it normal to feel the strength of my ego growing the more I am learning about love and forgiveness? Are ego and evil synonymous? I want to escape from this illusory dream world today.

A: It would help you a great deal to remind yourself often that the ego is not an entity that has power over you; it is nothing more than an erroneous thought that you (and everyone else) are holding on to. You simply have forgotten that it is only a mistaken way of thinking that you adopted and then forgot you did it. Thus, the purpose of your work with the Course is to ask Jesus to help you look at -- not change -- these beliefs, so that you will see them for what they are. To look without judgment is to join with Jesus, and your fear then will be kept to a minimum. He never judges you when you choose your ego; he never does anything but love you and invite you to look with him at the silliness of your ego.

A major point in the Course's teachings is that the ego has only as much power as we give it; it has none of its own. That is why it can't hurt us and we needn't be afraid of it. There really is no “it” -- Jesus speaks of the ego as though it were an entity because that is a way of meeting us where we are (T.4.VI.1) . But as we continue to bring the darkness of our ego to the light of his love, we will gradually realize that our feelings of guilt and fear are not justified, and then their power to disturb our inner peace will fade and eventually disappear. It is like turning on a light in a darkened room -- the darkness just disappears. But at first, the fear and anger that were buried begin to rise to the surface and then it feels as if things are getting worse. Things were always bad -- for all of us! Our defenses protected us from the madness and chaos in our minds, that's all. That is why this is a process of undoing what we believe we have done. So it is important that you be very gentle with yourself and not try to force or rush the process. If you do, you will only be making it real, and that will not help.

There is no need to make the ego go away; there is only a need to look at it without judgment -- then its seeming power will begin to dissipate. Progress comes in realizing that you are undoing something that never even happened (that you separated from God), so it makes no sense to pressure yourself into letting go of the ego immediately. That is the wisdom of Jesus' gentle approach of simply looking with him, quietly and calmly, at the thought system of separation that you have made real in your mind, but that is not real at all (T.11.V.1) .

Finally, remember that the ego does not take kindly to one's decision to learn and practice A Course in Miracles -- it senses a threat and therefore fights back in an attempt to maintain its dominance. That is when our discomfort can increase dramatically. Jesus tells us that the ego's range of response varies from suspiciousness to viciousness (T.9.VII.3,4) , and that sometimes we will rush right back into darkness after having had a glimpse of the glorious light of forgiveness (T.18.III.2; T.25.VI.2) .

It might help you to look at some other discussions of the kind of difficulty you are experiencing - - many students go through this as they work with the Course in undoing the ego thought system. See, for example, Questions #384, #533, #812, #843, #913, #943, and #963.

Q #1359(ii): My husband died of Pick's dementia a year ago at the age of 59. I am choosing to become a recluse because my ego says it is safe in this house and studying the Course is the best thing I can do for myself right now. And yet I have just completed hospice volunteer training because I thought I have the skills and love and now forgiveness is needed to help end-of-life patients. Oh, the ego guilt for having to take meds to increase the seratonin that regulates my emotions when I should be able to regulate my own brain!

A: With regard to the loss of your husband, it is quite normal to feel isolated in your grief. But you probably have helped yourself move on by participating in the hospice training program. Be assured that there is no conflict in working in that field while you are studying this course. Your hospice activities (form) can be viewed as the classroom in which you can learn that you share the same interests as your “patients,” and that you are not separate despite the appearance of separation (content). Our relationships with others are the means Jesus uses to help us learn our forgiveness lessons. Thus, if we see that as the purpose (content) of all that we do, we can become happy learners, regardless of what we do (form).

This same gentle approach can be applied to your need for medication. Jesus himself tells us that it is not wrong or “unspiritual” to use medication or other forms of magic -- in fact, it is the wise thing to do, rather than hurt ourselves by denying our bodily/psychological needs or judging our­selves because we have such needs (T.2.IV.3,4,5). When we judge ourselves, we are simply affirming the ego's evaluation of us as guilty sinners deserving of punishment. Jesus would only comfort us, seeing our fear and our longing to be told that we have not done the terrible thing we accuse ourselves of doing -- separating from God and destroying Love. He therefore is helping us learn that judgments are never justified. We remain as God created us. Nothing has ever changed that or ever will. We are simply dreaming that we have changed it. The good news is that we are “at home in God, dreaming of exile” (T.10.I.2:2).