Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 7/16/2008

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #1380 Why is the beneficial effect of reading about the Course so short-lived?
Q #1381 Is it necessary to know the exact cause of an effect in order to forgive it?
Q #1382 How do we know we have really forgiven?
Q #1383 Must every relationship be a special relationship, and is that always bad?
Q #1384 Why does the Course provide no guidance for dealing with the emotions it unleashes?

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Q #1380: I discovered a while ago that by printing the Q&As that I like the most I could have them at hand and read them whenever I wanted. Now when I am confronted in a particular situation I read one or several of them. The instant I read I feel better, I feel that I am in my right mind and I accept as best I can that the guilt is in my mind and that I made the choice for separation. But as soon as I finish reading, I forget the whole thing entirely, I hardly remember what I read an instant ago and I have to read it over again. I do not understand why I have such a short memory in those occasions. It is as if the ego does not want me to use my right mind and brings me back to my wrong mind as soon as I finish reading. Is it that I am trying too hard and that I am falling into the ego's trap?

A: Fear of oneness and peace does funny things to all of us. And understanding something from A Course in Miracles very clearly and experiencing the release it offers in one moment and then feeling totally clueless about it all in the next is just one of those funny things, and a pretty common one at that. The main thing is, don't judge yourself for it and don't try to fight it. Just smile at yourself and rest assured that the understanding is never lost, only temporarily blocked from your awareness by your own decision, motivated by a desire for “self”-preservation.

As the experience has become familiar enough that you recognize the pattern and can ask about it, you may just want to watch yourself the next time you turn to the printed pages for the support, and see if you can notice, perhaps ever so imperceptibly at first, that almost unconscious decision to forget. But don't make a big deal about it. Just see if you can very quietly sneak up on your ego as it tries to sneak up on you.

And it may be helpful to remind yourself that those sheets of paper do not hold the answers -- your mind does. They are only symbolic, seemingly external, reminders of what you already know but have been afraid to remember. Your decision to turn to the pages simply reflects your willingness to remember. And your amnesia simply reflects your fear of knowing who you really are. And while right now it may seem that your remembering is only temporary, be assured that       the amnesia is what is truly temporary, for “the outcome is as certain as God” (T.2.III.3:10; T4.II.5:8) .

Q #1381: My question is about the relationship between cause and effect, specifically, the principle that if the effect can be shown, through forgiveness, to have no effect on anyone, the cause then disappears, as does the effect. The example often given is that of Jesus rising from the dead to prove death is not real. However, isn't this using forgiveness at the level of the body instead of the level of the mind? If one wishes to get rid of an effect, one should, through forgiveness, forgive the cause at the level of the mind, and then both the cause and effect disappear. Also, is it necessary when forgiving the cause of an effect to know the exact cause or thought that produced the effect? This has psychiatric ramifications -- one may need professional help to identify that particular cause.

A: Understanding the cause-effect relationship is essential for one's work with A Course in Miracles , both in terms of grasping its theory and practicing its teachings of forgiveness. We must be brief in our discussion here, but we refer you below to some of our publications for comprehensive presentations of this theme. Our answer is based largely on A Talk Given on A Course in Miracles ,” Chapter 5 -- “Jesus: The Purpose of His Life.”

What Jesus ultimately demonstrated was that sin is not real, which in turn means that separation is not real. “Now, if the greatest effect of sin in this world is death, demonstrating that death is an illusion simultaneously demonstrates that there is no sin. This also says that the separation never occurred” (p. 120). This is one of the most important messages in A Course in Miracles , and it corrects what the Churches have traditionally taught about his life and message. “. . . Jesus took on the most compelling witness to the reality of this world and he showed that it had no hold over him. That was the whole meaning of his life, his mission, and his function. To overcome death is to show that death is not real, that its seeming cause [sin] also is not real, and that we therefore never really separated ourselves from our Father” (pp. 121,22). That was the objective of Jesus' teaching -- to demonstrate to us that we never truly separated from God. He chose a way that would be extremely meaningful to us, who have a most difficult time believing we are not bodies! His teaching is deliberately -- and lovingly -- designed to meet us where we are. He focuses first on the body so that he can lead us beyond it.

Applied to the practice of forgiveness in our daily lives, these principles mean that we should strive to demonstrate to others that their seeming sin (attack) against us has had no effect, that whatever they did had no effect on our inner peace. If their sin had no effect, it is causeless; and if it is causeless, it does not exist. Thus, we forgive others for what they did not do to us, the Course's unique approach to forgiveness. In the process, we also learn that we, too, are forgiven - - our seeming sin of separating from God had no effect, and therefore we do not need defenses to protect ourselves from the consequences of the sin we accuse ourselves of committing -- we were just mistaken in believing we sinned.

Jesus is our prime model and teacher in this. The attacks of others appeared to be causing him to suffer, but by not attacking back and continuing to love and forgive the “attackers” instead, he demonstrated that their sin against him had no effect, which meant they had not sinned -- they were simply mistaken and were calling out for help. (See “The Message of the Crucifixion” in Chapter 6 of the text.) That is how Jesus forgives us, too. And he asks that we be like him -- to approach all of our seeming grievances and experiences of being unfairly treated the same way. Not easy, for sure! But that is why he remains within us -- to help us learn and practice this.

Sometimes the help of a professional is needed to uncover dynamics that are responsible for the way we experience our lives and interactions. Traumatic experiences can result in psychological blocks that inhibit or even halt further growth, and therapy can be useful in identifying and getting past these blocks. Ultimately, however, it is always the guilt in our minds and the fear of letting it go that are the core of our problems, whether physical or psychological. And so, in that sense, it is not always necessary to single out specific causes on other levels to make spiritual progress. It is enough to have the willingness to forgive -- to want to choose the right teacher, and to want to look at one's ego non-judgmentally. (See the Psychotherapy pamphlet: P.2.VI.5. ) Again, though, it is never wrong or spiritually retarding to seek professional assistance.

Finally, the effects you want to “get rid of” are all the perceptions and experiences of separation, the results of the ongoing choice to remain apart from God as special individuals. It is normal to want to get rid of “effects” such as pain, physical/emotional inadequacies, financial problems, and other bodily conditions and circumstances -- and one should do whatever one can on that level -- but that should not be the focus of one's work with this course, as you seem to point out. Our focus should be turned within -- toward the choice we are making in our minds to interpret what goes on in our body and the world the way we do. When we finally shift from the ego's interpretation to the Holy Spirit's, the conditions and circumstances of our lives will no longer be an issue, even though there may have been no external changes. We will approach everything from that “quiet center” (T.18.VII.8:3) , assured once and for all that nothing can disrupt the peace within that is our inheritance as God's one Son.

For further study of the cause-effect theme, see Kenneth's “Cause and Effect” (cd, mp3); “Cause and Effect” in Forgiveness and Jesus, Chapter 2.

Q #1382: How do we really know we forgive others or a situation, and how do we actually do it? Do we continue to mouth 'I forgive you' over and over silently or quite literally until we might begin to mean it? For example, I am trying to forgive my company and the rather insufferable working and living conditions I must endure. Life in a presumed body is difficult enough without compounding the difficulties by accepting life conditions that are below basic minimal standards of the developed world. Sometimes I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, but is this too gross a question to ask, being preoccupied with material conditions and survival and so forth? And how do I know for sure it is the Holy Spirit that answers and not my predilections?

A: There is nothing in A Course in Miracles or its teachings on forgiveness that advocate staying in situations that make you miserable or threaten your health and well-being. That would not be the Course's gentle approach to spiritual advancement. As long as we still believe we are bodies, it is quite normal to want to live and work in conditions that meet one's preferred standard of living, and it is not wrong or unspiritual to be thinking about that. Denying our bodily and psychological needs is something Jesus strongly cautions us against (T.2.IV.3:8,9,10,11). The Course's path is a gentle one, meeting us where we are right now.

Forgiveness is not achieved through forcing yourself to believe something you really do not believe or to do something you really do not want to do. We all have split minds, which means part of us truly wants to learn this course and another part is resisting it tooth and nail. But, again, this is a gentle path, and therefore it places great value on our “little willingness” to do what it asks of us. So rather than mouth words hoping one day they will be more than words, it would be more helpful to acknowledge how much you do not want to forgive your company, and how much you want to hold them responsible for your misery, feeling perfectly justified in doing so. That is more honest. Then you can simply look at that ego dynamic and not judge yourself for it, knowing, too, that Jesus is not judging you for it either. Love never judges. At some point, you will realize that your judgments against your company are keeping you from being peaceful, and that it's not worth it to continue that way. You will then realize “there must be another way.” This does not mean, to repeat, that you have to stay in that situation until you have forgiven. The same lesson will reappear in different circumstances, you can be sure; so you needn't fear that you are losing your one and only opportunity to get past your ego.

Q #1383: I am perplexed as to the warnings presented by the special relationship. I have renewed a sacred friendship with a woman whom I knew in college almost thirty years ago. I love her dearly and she loves me, and although we almost never actually see each other, we have taken on the task of reintroducing each other to God and ourselves. Why is this a bad thing? Why does the text render this as “the renunciation of the Love of God . . .” (T.16.V.4:2)? Yes, we are sexual. Why should I reject that gift?

A: The purpose you give the relationship is what will determine whether or not it is a renunciation of God's Love. God's Love is our very Identity, our only real relationship, all we ever truly need (T.15.VIII) ; and therefore if our peace and happiness depend on having another person's affection, comfort, approval, gifts, attention, or anything else -- physical/emotional/psychological -- then it has become a substitute for God's Love, which in our ego minds we believe we rejected because it did not offer us the specialness we demanded. That is what the rest of the passage you cited explains: [the special relationship is] the attempt to secure for the self the specialness that He denied.”

Jesus is not asking us to sacrifice what we think we want; he is helping us realize that we have already made an extremely painful sacrifice and are trying to deal with it in a maladaptive way: “You but seek in them [special relationships] what you have thrown away. And through them you will never learn the value of what you have cast aide, but still desire with all your heart” (T.15.VIII.2:1,2,3). The emptiness and loneliness we feel deep within because of our rejection of God and our oneness with Him impel us to seek for fulfillment outside -- in another person, substance, object, etc.; and Jesus is helping us learn that the special relationship will never succeed in giving us true and lasting happiness and peace because we are not addressing the real cause of our sense of lack and need. That is why we need his help and guidance with our relationships.

It is probably safe to say that every relationship starts out as a special relationship and that many never get beyond the level of mutual fulfillment of needs because we are not aware of the true origin of our desires and needs. Yet, we are not asked to give up our special relationships, for if we so choose, they can serve to heal our minds of all thoughts of separation, and then, rather than being replacements for the Love of God, they can bring us closer to God by becoming reflections of His Love. This is the process of transforming a special relationship into a holy one.

In working through this process, it is important to distinguish between form and content. This is the primary focus of Kenneth's discussion in his book and audio album, Form versus Content: Sex and Money. The content is the purpose we choose in our minds, which can either reinforce our separateness or undo it, by our choosing the Holy Spirit's purpose of seeing our interests as shared, not separate and conflicting.

This is a common concern among students of A Course in Miracles , obviously. We have addressed it in other Questions which you might wish to look at. See Questions #366, #899, and #987, for example, that elaborate on some of our discussion above.

Q #1384: The most common concern I hear from people who have seriously attempted to study and practice A Course in Miracles is that it provides no help for processing the emotions that arise in the context of the truths the Course brings out.

A: There is no doubt that emotions get stirred up once one begins to take the Course seriously. This is bound to happen since the Course basically reveals to us the illusory nature of everything we thought was real and important about us, our relationships, and the world -- and even worse, that it was all made as “an attack on God” (W.pII.3.2:1). We gradually realize that we have been in massive denial and have constructed elaborate defenses to protect us from ever getting back in touch with the pain and the chaos that we think is the permanent condition of our minds (a erroneous conclusion, of course). It would be surprising if there were not a strong reaction to these realizations -- along with gratitude, too, for finally understanding why our lives have never seemed to work, but that there is something we can do about it.

Despite our sometimes intense fear and anxiety, Jesus assures us in different ways in the Course that we are in no real danger because we are essentially undoing what never happened, and that he is ever present in our minds to comfort and guide us as we proceed on our journey. He knows what we are going through -- which is a comfort in itself -- and wants to help us every step of the way if we will grow to trust him (T.4.VI.3:1; 6:1). In the workbook in one place he very personally and lovingly invites us to take his hand as we pass through the clouds we have gotten lost in to hide the light of truth from ourselves: “Try to pass the clouds by whatever means appeals to you. If it helps you, think of me holding your hand and leading you. And I assure you this will be no idle fantasy” (W.pI.70.9:2,3,4).

Given all this, most students find that they still need external support of some kind, and so they work with another Course student or go to classes or group discussions where they can talk about what is happening in their process. But it must always be remembered that the process of salvation takes place exclusively between the student and Jesus (or the Holy Spirit).

The way to process emotions is to regard them as projections of thoughts. You never want to deny them; you want to use them instead as a means of getting back to your mind. For example, when you choose the ego, you will feel the emotions of fear, anger, anxiety, etc.; and when you choose Jesus or the Holy Spirit, you will feel peaceful and loving. Feelings, thus, are not what they appear to be; they are reflections of the decision we have made in our minds to identify either with the ego or the Holy Spirit. Adapting a statement from the text we might say, then, that “emotions are the outside picture of an inward condition” (T.21.in.1:5). They can be useful, therefore, in get­ting us back to an experience of ourselves as decision-making minds, a primary objective of our work with the Course.