Weekly Questions and Answers, 05/07/2003

This week's questions:

Q #144: How should one deal with anxiety?
Q #145: How do we know we are making the choice to undo separation?
Q #146: Why is a part of me fearful of Jesus?
Q #147: How do I bring peace to someone else's mind?
Q #148: How could a state of Oneness lead to the thought of separation?.
Q #149: If I think my mind is healed, why do I still feel pain?.
Q #150: How do I undo the damage I have done by attacking someone?.

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #144: How would one deal with anxiety from the perspective of A Course in Miracles? If you've used cognitive behavioral techniques to deal with feelings of anxiety, and you've looked at your anxiety from a psychotherapeutic angle, and you also approach it as a student with the Course's principles but still find yourself anxious in a particular situation, what are you doing wrong?

A: You don’t say how specifically you have approached your anxiety using the Course’s principles. But the fact that you are continuing to feel anxiety does not mean that you are doing anything wrong other than continuing to identify with your ego thought system. Maintaining a false separate identity is very anxiety-producing as we have set it up in our mind.

The Course refers to the source of anxiety in several passages: "When you are anxious, realize that anxiety comes from the capriciousness of the ego" (T.4.IV.4:1). "The ingeniousness of the ego to preserve itself is enormous, but it stems from the very power of the mind the ego denies. This means that the ego attacks what is preserving it, which must result in extreme anxiety" (T.7.VI.3:1,2). "If you...distort reality you will experience anxiety, depression and ultimately panic, because you are trying to make yourself unreal" (T.9.I.14:4). By establishing a false ego self, we believe we have set ourselves up in opposition to God, Whom we perceive as an insurmountable force Who will in the end seize back what we have stolen from Him -- our separate, individual existence. So trying to maintain that identity has to arouse intense anxiety.

You also don’t say what the particular anxiety-arousing situation is, but it must be a symbol in your mind for the separation, which means that it is a situation in which you are perceiving your interests as separate from, and so in competition with, others. It does not matter who you perceive as right or justified in the situation, the fact that you’re not recognizing your shared interests at a deeper level with everyone else in the situation is the source of the anxiety. For it is a reminder of your initial attack on God, when you perceived your interests as separate from His.

The first step in dealing with your anxiety is to recognize that you have displaced this existential anxiety on to an external situation so that you do not remember its source in the mind, where you could do something about it. Jesus points out how we deceive ourselves: "Even if he is fully aware of anxiety he does not perceive its source as his own ego identification, and he always tries to handle it by making some sort of insane ‘arrangement’ with the world. He always perceives this world as outside himself, for this is crucial to his adjustment. He does not realize that he makes this world, for there is no world outside of him" (T.12.III.6:5,6,7).

Once we return our focus from the outer to the inner, where Jesus or the Holy Spirit are waiting for us, we can ask for Their help in seeing the real source of anxiety -- the belief in separation -- differently. By joining with Them and asking for Their help, we have moved beyond separate interests. For we are now joined with their love, which reminds us that the Love of God that we thought we had attacked and destroyed remains unchanged and available in our mind.

Q #145: In answering Question #74, the statement was made that "either we have chosen to reinforce our belief in separation or to undo this belief, and there is never an instant when we are not making this choice." It is really difficult to deal with a decision you have made when you don't even know what it is you have done. What is a simple way of knowing that we are making the choice to undo separation?

A: If you are perceiving another’s interests as the same as yours, you are undoing the separation. If you respect another person’s choice for the ego, do not take his attacks personally, and see only a call for help mirroring your own, you are undoing the separation. If you would rather be happy than right, you are undoing the separation. In most cases, though, it is easier to recognize when we are upholding the separation, because that is what we do most of the time. For example, it is almost second nature to us to perceive other people’s interests and goals as clashing with ours, as it is almost second nature to us to get upset over what other people are doing, and then oppose them and try to get them to "see the error of their ways." We are right and they are wrong! So when we don’t see another’s interests as separate from our own, when we don’t take sides, when we don’t oppose, we are undoing the separation. We are speaking here, though, only about what takes place in one’s mind. We are not talking about behavior. Perceiving others’ interests as the same as ours means recognizing that we all share the same insanity (the wrong mind) and the same sanity (the right mind). The forms become irrelevant. We all share the same hell of the ego, and we all share the same longing to go home and be met with love not punishment.

We think we truly want to get beyond all thoughts of separation and return to our home in Heaven; but our fear of totally undoing our belief in separation is far more intense than we normally realize, because on a deep level we know that to undo the separation is to undo the individual identity we work so hard to sustain. Most students experience strong resistance to letting go, as witnessed to by the recurrence of grievances and conflict. By not judging ourselves for these thoughts, and being more and more consistent in bringing them to the love of Jesus in our right minds, we gradually undo the guilt that is the source of our perceptions of ourselves and others.

Q #146: I have been a student of A Course in Miracles for a little over a year. I thought I had only loving feelings towards Jesus, and therefore I have been perplexed about another part of me that seems to be fearful of Jesus’ love and closeness -- especially since my goal of being a student of the Course is to join with him and practice forgiveness. Also, I was thinking that since the decision making part of my mind had already decided there must be another way (i.e., choose Jesus as my teacher instead of the ego), why would part of my mind now tell Jesus to stay away from me and not to hurt me? Can you help me understand this?

A: This is a good example of the split mind spoken of in the Course. One part is sane, reflecting Heaven’s love; the other part is insane, filled with the hatred of the ego. We all -- as part of the one Son of God -- have both parts, and our decision maker is always choosing one or the other. Jesus reminds us time and time again in the Course that there are only these two choices open to us. We can usually tell by our experience whether we have chosen the ego or the Holy Spirit as our teacher, but we are generally not consciously aware of making the choice. Jesus teaches us, however, that even though our decisions seem to take place out of our awareness, that really is not what happens. See for example, Lesson 136, paragraphs 3,4,5.

While other factors may be responsible for the fear in individual cases, in general we can say that the ego part of our minds would have to be intensely afraid of Jesus and also hate him because of what he represents. What sustains the ego is guilt, and therefore someone such as Jesus who represents the end of guilt would be hated and feared. Thus, "to the ego, the guiltless are guilty" (T.13.II.4:2). Jesus represents the end of our identity as an ego, so to the extent to which we identify with our egos, we will fear and hate him. Of course that is not our total identity, but that is what we must learn, and what Jesus goes to great lengths to teach us. So until we can let go of our identification with the thought system of the ego, we will want to keep Jesus at a safe distance, at the very least, and at other times we will experience outright hatred of him. The idea is not to feel guilty about this fear and hatred, but to understand where it is coming from, so that we can give ourselves a chance to make a different choice. Jesus already knows about it, which is why he asks us in the Course to forgive him (T.19.IV.B.6) and why he talks about the "bitter idols [that] have been made of him who would be only brother to the world" (C.5.5:7,8). We project our own guilt on to him and give him our own ego-based traits. This is largely the image of Jesus portrayed in biblical Christianity. But in essence, the true Jesus, the Jesus of A Course in Miracles, stands for the opposite of everything we are -- as egos. That engenders tremendous conflict in our relationship with him. We both love him and are drawn to him, but we also fear him and would rather he be more like us so that we do not have to change.

The only mistake we can make is to deny these "blasphemous" (to the ego) thoughts and hide them, and then attempt to replace them with lovely, beautiful thoughts of our dear sweet Jesus. This defense will never work; it will lead only to further guilt, which will lead to an endless cycle of projection and attack. The most helpful approach is to look calmly at these thoughts, not be horrified by them or ashamed of them, and bring them to the true Jesus in our right minds. He will lovingly and gently teach us where they came from, and help us distinguish clearly between the gifts the ego offers us and the gifts he offers us.

Q #147: How can I approach Jesus to bring peace to someone else’s troubled, fearful, restless mind while not being able to practically communicate with this other person (either verbally or otherwise)? Is it at all possible, because it is often (to put it mildly) hard enough to bring peace to one’s own mind?

A: Since A Course in Miracles tells us that peace is the result of choosing to identify with the Holy Spirit or Jesus in our minds, it is not really possible to ask Jesus to bring peace to someone’s mind (M.5.III.1:1,2,3,3:6). Moreover, Jesus does not bring peace to our own minds. The Course teaches that a lack of peace is the result of having made a choice in the mind to identify with the ego thought system in some way. This results in a feeling of guilt, which replaces peace in our awareness. This person’s fearful, restless mind is calling for help. To be helpful to them, we must first recognize that this is the choice they have made, and acknowledge the ability of their mind to choose differently. We then review our own mind for any judgments we are holding against this person, and any disquiet we may be experiencing, thus recognizing our own need for healing. Our "prayer" for someone else begins with our asking the Holy Spirit or Jesus for help in letting go of our judgments and misperceptions about ourselves and the other person. This is because if we perceive another person as in need, or lacking peace, we have first perceived this lack in ourselves, as you point out. If we do let go of our misperceptions and accept the Holy Spirit’s correction, we will experience peace. The peace in our mind is then extended throughout the Sonship; it joins with the peace that is present in everyone’s mind, whether or not they choose to be aware of it. This is the process by which we "offer" peace to a brother. The real action is always in our own mind. There is no need to communicate externally with the other person. By choosing peace ourselves, we are a reminder of the peace that is theirs, but neither we nor Jesus can choose for someone else, as He tells us: "I cannot choose for you, [or someone else] but I can help you make your own right choice" (T.3.IV.7:11). Once we have allowed the Holy Spirit’s thoughts to replace ours, he will guide us to act in a way that would be loving toward this person, or not to act at all. This will be the under the guidance of the Holy Spirit if we have in fact done our own "homework," as outlined above. This is how we can live the following prayer from the Text, which holds the answer to your quest for peace as well as your friend’s: "I desire this holy instant for myself, that I may share it with my brother, whom I love. It is not possible that I can have it without him, or he without me. Yet it is wholly possible for us to share it now. And so I choose this instant as the one to offer to the Holy Spirit, that His blessing may descend on us, and keep us both in peace" (T.18.7:3,4,5,6).

Q #148: If we were all in a state of Oneness with God how could we have had the thought of separation in that "tiny, mad moment"? What would have possessed us to leave that oneness which was peace and bliss? And how could it have happened? What was the scenario do you think?

A: This is the "famous" question. It is famous because it is the most frequently asked question of students of A Course in Miracles (please see Question #10). The "famous" answer is that it is not really a question, but a statement that the separation did in fact occur (C.in.4; see also The Most Commonly Asked Questions About A Course in Miracles, Kenneth Wapnick, pp.17-22)—that is the assumption behind the question. The Course teaches us that the separation never did occur. In fact, it is impossible for the Son to separate from the Father. With this as the starting point, the Course goes on, at great length, to explain how we "got here," since we believe we are here. The explanation it gives us is a kind of myth, explaining something that could never happen. It tells us that the Son of God fell asleep, and dreamed a dream of separation: "You are at home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality" (T.10.I.2:1). Our experience as bodies in the world is a dream. Nothing has happened, and we are in truth still at Home in God.

What A Course in Miracles tells us "happened" in the mind of the sleeping Son is a wish for more than everything: "No one who comes here but must still have hope, some lingering illusion, or some dream that there is something outside of himself that will bring happiness and peace to him. If everything is in him this cannot be so. And therefore by his coming, he denies the truth about himself, and seeks for something more than everything, as if a part of it were separated off and found where all the rest of it is not" (T.29.VII.2:1, 2,3). Enticed by the "rush" of being autonomous individuals, thinking this will bring a happiness beyond the "peace and bliss" you mention, the Son chooses this thought of being separated from his Source. Although this seems to have occurred millions of years ago in some distant forgotten past, it is actually occurring instant by instant each time the choice is made to believe the separation is real. This is the only "explanation" for how we seem to be here, so real, so "alive," so identified with bodies. It is a choice, and the Course tells us this choice is purposeful. It establishes our separate identities, which we have learned to prefer to the truth of who we are. We prefer this made up identity because we very mistakenly believe this will give us happiness. We have convinced ourselves that the ego is right and God is wrong about who we are. Clinging to this belief keeps the separation "alive and well" in our minds. This is what makes it happen, over and over in our minds. Again, the thought that drives us is that autonomy is better that unity, God is not enough, and the ego will give us the "more" that we seek.

In summary, the foundation of the Course’s teaching rests on this very important recognition of the power of the mind to choose. We are told that we chose wrongly by choosing to believe the separation occurred, and we are urged to "choose once again" (T.31.VIII.). In every situation where we find ourselves in conflict, pain or uneasiness we find the opportunity to question our experience in the light of this teaching and choose again: "The images you make cannot prevail against what God Himself would have you be. Be never fearful of temptation, then, but see it as it is; another chance to choose again" (T.31.VIII.4:1,2).

Q #149: If one is terribly ill and in pain with cancer and, as a student of A Course in Miracles, strives to have the Holy Spirit help with forgiveness and peace in the matter, but still suffers physically, what does this mean? The Course indicates that when our mind is healed we will feel no pain.

A: You already know the answer to your question! When our mind is healed, we will feel no pain. Until our mind is healed, we will feel pain. And because our mind is not healed, we will experience pain as if it were in the body, caused by factors outside of our control, rather than recognizing that it is in the mind that has thought it could separate itself from love -- a very painful state. And that is how we protect the thought of separation in our split mind.

We use pain to convince ourselves that the body is real, for we still want the body to be real. Jesus tells us that "pain is a wrong perspective. When it is experienced in any form, it is a proof of self-deception… Pain is but witness to the Son's mistakes in what he thinks he is… The body is the Son of God, corruptible in death" (W.pI.190.1:1,2; 2:3; 3:7).

What is most important though is that, while we continue to experience pain -- whether it’s the pain of cancer or the pain of a broken leg or the pain of emotional abuse or any other form of pain we experience -- we do not judge ourselves for feeling it. That would serve no purpose but the ego’s. Because of our fear of losing ourselves, we heal the pain in our mind through forgiveness in small steps.

And in those moments when we accept that we do not know the truth about ourselves but there is a Comforter Who does, with Whom we are always joined in perfect peace and joy, then the seemingly painful concerns of the body will fade from our awareness. Because of our fear, we will most likely not be ready to embrace fully the healing in the mind and release our limited bodily identity, and so we will turn again back to pain for the defense that it provides. But with each moment of recognition, shared in the holy instant of healing, our investment in guilt and pain will diminish. And we will never again be totally convinced that the world, or anything outside our mind, can cause us pain.

For a consideration of some other issues related to the question you raise, you may also wish to look at Question #142.

Q #150: I attacked someone but the next day I imploringly asked for forgiveness and truly forgave all that had hurt me and made me attack. Since then, however, because of the attack, the other person has broken off all communication. I have tried to renew it but without success. Keeping in mind that it was my attack in the first place that brought this situation about, how can I look at it with Jesus and regain my peace of mind? Obviously I have caused irrevocable pain.

A: You may first want to begin by looking at the thought that you have caused "irrevocable pain." Believe it or not, it is arrogant to claim such power for yourself. You may have reinforced a perception of pain that your friend already held, but you can not be the cause of it. To believe that you could is to deny the power of your friend’s mind to choose its experiences, and to see your mind as more powerful. And that is the arrogance.

This is not to say that you may not have been unkind, even cruel, in your attack. But none of us can feel attacked unless we want to feel attacked (T.28.VI.4:3,4,5,6,7). And we all want to feel attacked so that the guilt we carry in our own mind over the separation -- believing we have attacked and destroyed God (another arrogant thought!) -- can be projected on to someone else.

The pain is already there in each of our own minds, by our own choice, caused by our own thoughts (W.pI.190.5:1,2,3,4,5). When we think we feel pain over someone else’s attack, the pain that has always been there in our mind is just brought to the surface so that we can attribute it to someone else -- always the ego’s goal.

So, in genuine humility, let yourself off the hook for how your friend feels. If you can recognize that this friend simply shares the same ego-based thought system that you do, and that you both have been calling out for the help that only forgiveness can offer, then you can become a reminder to your friend that you both have the same choice to see the situation differently. And that is all that you need to do. That recognition in your mind reinforces the power of decision in your friend’s mind to make a different choice about how to perceive the situation. Whether you at this point say or do anything else with your friend will not be your concern. Nor will your friend’s readiness to accept what you are offering be your concern. For you will have placed the Holy Spirit in charge of the forgiveness process, knowing that whatever is needed for healing has already been provided.