Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 6/18/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1360 Could a dissociative disorder be attributable to perception of separateness?.
Q #1361 A Course student struggles to cope with an abusive husband.
Q #1362 What is the Course's explanation for a failure to put theory to practical use ?
Q #1363 How could a thought of separation have arisen out of perfect oneness?

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Q #1360: I suffer from a dissociative disorder, meaning that in times of stress or fear, I experience myself as being split into parts, with only part of me being present as long as the episode lasts. My understanding is that I am dissociating within the dream of dissociation, and that it is my split-off ego self that is dissociating further within the dream. It seems that I experience fear or guilt and then "deal" with it by dissociating further, rather than by dealing with the feelings, which are too painful to face.

To date, my "solution" has been to be extremely open with my "unacceptable" thoughts and feelings, sharing them with the person I am with at the time, in the hope that I would thereby dispel the "unacceptable" label I put on them and remain fully present in the situation. But this often only makes me feel more guilty, particularly when the "unacceptable" thoughts are judgmental and hurtful of that person, as they often are.

Recently, it has occurred to me that the reason I dissociate around others is because I experience them as being different from myself and therefore threatening to me, and because this experience reminds me of the original difference -- the one I made real between myself and God -- and all the guilt and fear that I associate with this. So in avoiding others, I am trying to avoid dealing with my guilt and fear.

Am I on the right track? Is it necessary that I try to deal with this disorder by spending more time around people, placing myself in situations that I find fearful, where I am likely to dissociate? Or is it enough that I ask for help to try to see others as the same as me, and to be mindful of this when I am around others?

I was hesitant to ask this question, as it seems like it is fairly clinical and clearly involves a psychiatric disorder for which I have sought treatment, albeit with little improvement. I have been studying A Course in Miracles for several years and it has been the only thing that has ever truly helped me.

A: Yes, you're on the right track. For all of us in fact, everyone else is a symbol of our own guilt and fear, although the form in which we may experience those feelings will be different from person to person. In addition, our own self and our body are symbols of that guilt and fear.

Tracing the process from the beginning to where we find ourselves now, we first foolishly believed, as one Son, that we could dissociate ourselves from God, that is, end our association with Him so that we could be on our own. To convince ourselves that we really did it, we made guilt real in our minds, asserting that dissociation involves attack. We then had to dissociate ourselves from the guilt as well, because it seemed too painful. Each dissociation seems to create another “other” -- someone else outside the newly defined self we see as ourselves -- an other both to be feared and to feel guilty about, since they are literally made from our own denied guilt and fear (Part I of Kenneth Wapnick's two-volume set, The Message of A Course in Miracles, Many Are Called , especially chapters 2 and 4, as well as the two audio sets, Separation and Forgiveness: The Four Splits and Their Undoing , and The Four Splits of Separation Revisited , provide more indepth presentations of this series of dissociative steps and the projections involved).

The massive dissociation in our mind that seemed to lead to a world and countless “others” to fear and feel guilty about was our crowning dissociative accomplishment. But the dissociative process need not stop there, as you have found, for it can seem that the self that we by consensus have defined as the final dissociation -- the apparently “stable” individual self identified with a single body (see Questions #165 and #609 for further discussion of this process in the context of dissociative disorders) -- can experience further dissociation within its arbitrarily defined limits and seem to split into more fragments. After all, there is no natural boundary within the mind -- all boundaries are unnatural!

And so we live our so-called lives as separate, individual selves, believing that there are others outside ourselves who can hurt us and whom we can hurt, never realizing that we are simply looking at all of our own dissociated selves in the mirror that we self-deceptively have called the outside world. And then we either seek or avoid special relationships with others “out there” to help us manage and assuage the guilt we still carry within us but want to deny, never realizing that it is our own integrated, guiltless self that we all ultimately long for. But every split off part of ourselves, whether it seems to be physically separate from us or simply haunts a seemingly separate corridor of our mind, is made from our own guilt and fear. And consequently, guilt and fear are all that each dissociated part can represent or symbolize to us, so long as we remain with the teacher of dissociation and guilt and fear.

Although in some respects, you're dissociative processes may seem more extreme than what most others experience, resulting in a clinical diagnosis, they really are no different. It is only because this is a world based on differences that there is a need to see only some of us as having dissociative disorders so that we never come to the recognition that we all do. The ego is very clever in this respect (see Question #671 for further discussion of this aspect of the ego's arsenal of deceitful tricks). In a sense, you are more aware than most of what your mind is doing, including its attempts through dissociation or compartmentalization to shut off the painful, guilty and fearful thoughts within your own mind.

Of course, the problem with all of our dissociative defenses is that they do nothing about our belief in the reality of the guilt and fear -- in fact, they reinforce that belief -- “All defenses do what they would defend,” as Jesus points out (T.17.IV.7:1) . And although your “solution” of acknowledging your unacceptable thoughts and feelings to the other person would seem to be a step in the right direction, it is not likely to work, as you have found, while the two of you both still believe in and are very much identified with the ego's thought system. The one we want to share those fearful, guilt-ridden thoughts with is Jesus, for he's the one who knows that they are not real.

Now Jesus is also an “other” who, along with the Holy Spirit, has been dissociated from our self, but he can represent to us something other than guilt and fear if we are willing to allow him to. For while we still believe the guilt is real, we need an “other” who seems to be different from ourselves to remind us that we are wrong about ourselves. It is in a relationship with him that the release of our guilt and fears can be experienced, as part of an integrative process that will begin to allow us to recognize that we are all the same, first as egos who believe in the power of dissociation, and eventually as the one guiltless Son who knows there is nothing to fear, for there truly is nothing outside our Self, integrated and whole.

For this process of integration, or forgiveness, to happen, it's not necessary that you seek out others who trigger your dissociations. These experiences will begin to happen as you are ready to release more of your inner guilt and fear and they can be part of a gentle process that you need not put yourself in charge of. Your part will be simply to look at your resistance to trusting that you will never be abandoned by your inner Guide as your guilt and fear arise, although you will be tempted many times to abandon Him through dissociation. And when the fear becomes too great and you find yourself falling back on familiar defenses, there is no need for self-condemnation -- you simply became afraid and Jesus will never judge you for that. And over time, as your relationship with him grows, you will find that you are increasingly willing to associate your self with the love he is always holding out for you, and me, and everyone else, while we still believe there is anyone else.

You mention, by the way, that you have received treatment for your condition, although it is not clear whether you are still in any kind of treatment. There certainly is nothing in the Course that would advise against therapy, and there can be real value in seeking out some form of professional help, as you continue at the same time to do your inner work. And it is not at all necessary that the therapist be familiar with A Course in Miracles . A strong background in dealing with dissociative disorders, on the other hand, would be one of the more important criteria for selecting a therapist.

Q #1361: I've been married for a year, and I have a husband who constantly verbally abuses me. Any little thing I angers him, making him swear at me even in front of others. We have fought about this, but I found it of no use. It was during that time I began to practice A Course in Miracles . Sometimes the Course works, and sometimes doesn't. But somehow I feel I just can't take it anymore. I am full of hatred and self-pity. I don't want to forgive him and I hate myself for doing this. I don't know what to do.

A: Being a student of A Course in Miracles does not mean that you must stay in an abusive relationship in order to practice your lessons of forgiveness. That is a mistake students often make. While it is not the purpose of the Course to advise us on behavior, it does advise us -- and that is the focus of its training -- on the kind of thinking that would help restore our minds to their natural state of true innocence, because from that state, you would know what the most loving course of action is for both you and your husband. You would not have to agonize over it. You would either stay or leave, but whatever you choose, you would do it without conflict, guilt, anger, or fear. It is not easy to reach that state, as you have discovered in the short amount of time you have been working with the Course -- normally, it is a process that occurs over many years. But holy instants in which you are free of ego investments are within reach at any stage of the process: “The necessary condition for the holy instant does not require that you have no thoughts that are not pure. But it does require that you have none that you would keep” (T.15.IV.9:1,2). That instant without fear or guilt aligns your thinking with the compassionate truth that is always present in your right mind.

It is vital that you be gentle with yourself when you practice forgiveness imperfectly as well as when you refuse to forgive. There are many layers of fear in our minds that account for our resistance and all the difficulties we have with forgiveness. Jesus is our model to follow in this: he never judges us, for he sees our ego choices only as mistakes in need of correction, not sins demanding punishment. He asks that we have this same attitude when we are tempted to judge ourselves for our unwillingness and our imperfect practice. There is no merit in fighting against yourself just in order to be spiritual or a “good” Course in Miracles student (T.30.I.1:7) .

It is important, too, to understand that forgiveness is never about the other person; it is solely about recognizing all anger as a projection of our own guilt, and that our concealed ongoing choice to believe in our sinfulness is the real and only source of our unhappiness and lack of peace, not what other people do or do not do to us. That is why the overriding emphasis in the Course is on looking within at the contents of our minds and restoring to our awareness the power we have to choose to follow either the ego's teachings or Jesus'. That is the function of the miracle: “The miracle establishes you dream a dream, and its content is not true” (T.28.II.7:1).

Questions #501 and #675 also address the type of situation you find yourself in. The discussion elaborates on some points made here, with particular emphasis on the ego pitfalls that students are apt to miss in their attempts to deal with the pain and anger of abusive relationships.

Q #1362: What might be stopping someone from making the transition from student to practitioner in any health field? For at least five years I have undertaken much study in bodywork modalities, yet I have not felt confident enough to make the transition from student to practitioner. Sometimes it's hard to know if your reluctance to start practicing is because you truly are not ready and don't have the appropriate skill base to begin, or whether it is because of something more related to your self-concept, responsibility, power, etc. I am wondering if this whole difficulty in making the transition from student to practitioner could in some way be related to the ontological split as described by A Course in Miracles . Do you have any ideas as to what the "bigger picture" might be relating to all of this?

A: Many times this type of block is related to a guilt-laden self-concept. The guilt, of course, is ultimately rooted in the ego's response to the separation from God: it was a terrible sin deserving of severe and eternal punishment, if not death, by an avenging God. This deep layer of guilt in our minds would unconsciously motivate our life in the world in different ways. We might try to hide our “sin,” for example, by never being successful in the world. That way, we reason, God would go easy on us if He were to catch up with us. We might also feel terribly unworthy of success. Since we accuse ourselves of having destroyed God's Kingdom and our true Identity to get our personal existence -- we stole it -- we might never allow ourselves to be successful or in a position of power or authority over other people for fear of destroying them as well. At an unconscious level we would know that we are living a lie here, and fear being exposed as such, and therefore one solution to that dilemma would be to stay in the background, as we would judge that.

All of this has been described as a “maladaptive solution to a non-existent problem.” The problem, in other words, is not the inability to make a transition in the world. The problem is that we believe we are here at God's expense and that we are going to have to pay dearly for that terrible act, so we had better do something about it. We listened to the ego's tale of sin, guilt, and fear and ultimately wound up believing we really exist as individuals and that our problems all have to do with the world, including our own bodies, physical and psychological. Not true! says Jesus in the Course. It is impossible to separate from infinity and therefore we are not justified in accusing ourselves of sin. This is the Atonement principle. Thus, as students of A Course in Miracles we learn to see our lives and relationships in the world as a classroom in which we are going to learn the lessons that will undo the erroneous beliefs that are the source of whatever seems to be bothering us. It is the choice we are making in our minds to believe the ego's tale that is the problem. Therefore, the purpose we now give to our lives is to remember to laugh at all of the expressions of the tiny, mad idea that we could be separate from our Source (T.27.VIII.6:2). We can do this in any role, profession, or career, on any level. The chosen content in our minds would direct all of our functioning.

Q #1363: If God is One, perfect Oneness, then what is the thought that took the tiny, mad idea seriously? How can there be a separate thought that would do this in the first place, if there is only God?

A: This question is asked more frequently than any other. It is a good question, and it occurs to just about every person who studies A Course in Miracles . For our answer, we refer you to our previous discussions in the following Questions: #10, #88, #100, #148, #171, #350, and #568.