Weekly Questions and Answers, 06/10/2003

This week's questions:

Q #174: How can I forgive abuse ?
Q #175: Can we expect peace after death?
Q #176: Clarification of the second and third splits.
Q #177: Can I practice the Course without accepting its theology?.
Q #178: What prayer or words will help me "dispel" the ego?
Q #179: Is it an attack to force one's will on one's children?

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #174-a: How does A Course in Miracles deal with severe woundedness? For many years, I have struggled with the inequality of parents and children, focused on abuse I received on all levels, resulting in impoverished development even though I am very bright. I have two questions:

#174-b: How can I forgive evil? What happened to me is evil, sourced in escape of responsibility and outright violation -- emotionally, spiritually, mentally, personally.

#174-c: What am I? What does it mean to be a spiritual creature (my body is light) while living in a world made of hate, conflict, and power?

A: The world is a desperate, cruel place, filled with the effects of evil thoughts. People can be unconscionably vicious and brutal to each other, abusing those over whom they have power, much as they have been abused by those who have had power over them. It is a vicious cycle from which no escape seems possible. Yet escape is possible, if we are willing to look beneath the surface of our ready judgments of good and evil and our facile distinctions between the guilty and the innocent.

Now there may be a way of understanding what motivated your parents to treat you as they did, but that does not mean there is any justification for it. Yet you also are recognizing that holding on to the judgment and the pain only keeps you trapped in mental anguish that paralyzes you and prevents you from experiencing the joy and peace that we are assured is our God-given inheritance (W.pI.104).

The Course recognizes that "frightened people can be vicious" (T.3.I.4:2). This awareness holds the key to releasing ourselves and everyone else from the grips of evil. It is fear that motivates all of us to act out our evil thoughts, and not inherent evil. No one in the world is immune from having thoughts of evil -- that is the nature of the ego thought system that we all share. Some of us may have become better than others at curbing our overt behavior. But rage bordering on the murderous simmers within each of our minds until we learn how to uncover the guilt that fuels the rage and allow it to be healed in the light of the Holy Spirit’s forgiveness. The ego is complete and total darkness -- there is no light within its tightly sealed boundaries -- and we all grope for our way, stumbling without hope while we remain identified with its evil purposes.

We are all one in sharing the wrong-minded ego, although we may differ in how we give it expression in our lives. But until we acknowledge its presence within us, we will be caught in dysfunctional attempts to defend against the guilt and self-hatred that are the inevitable companions of our belief in the darkness within. We will seek to project that guilt outside ourselves and on to others. And so we will lash out, wanting to hold others responsible for the pain that comes from feeling separated from love. Some find socially appropriate but still ego-motivated ways to channel this overwhelming experience of pain and guilt. Others direct it out with little or no concern for its effects on others. And so these become the rapists, the murderers, the child abusers. And it becomes easy to see the sin and guilt within them, as a testament to our own "innocence." Yet what drives them is no different from what drives all of us who have not uncovered these unconscious dynamics in order to begin to heal them. And so the first step in our own healing -- after acknowledging our judgments against the murderer, the rapist, the abuser -- is to recognize the common "humanity" that we all share -- a desperate, pain-filled identity that places self-interest and self-preservation above everything else. We all do it, but our cover may just be better.

If we can begin to get in touch with the fact that our own pain is the same as everyone else’s pain, and it is only that pain which leads all of us to act in insane ways, we have opened the door to a more merciful and compassionate view of both ourselves and everyone else. For we will have begun to see that whatever cruelty any of us acts out is only a defense against the guilt and pain within -- the same guilt and pain that we all experience.

This is not to say that our own experiences of abuse should be denied. But there is a step beyond acknowledging the pain that we have felt at others’ hands that we will take when we are ready to move beyond the pain. The problem in the present is not the events of the past themselves but the interpretation we are continuing to give them. And the Course provides us a different way of looking at those past events, helping us to understand what at a deeper level motivated the abusive actions, and how we share that same deeper motivation in our own life as we have been living it with the ego’s guidance. Only then can we recognize the choice we have in the present to be released from the pain of our own self-judgments.

We are all looking for a way out of our pain, but we blindly think and act in ways that continue to inflict pain upon ourselves -- judgments and attacks against others that only reinforce the belief in separation that is the foundation of the ego thought system. When we begin to recognize the content of fear behind the ego’s cruelty -- either someone else’s or own -- the judgments we have been holding onto can begin to dissolve. We will have begun to shift from the self-interest of the ego to the shared interest of the Holy Spirit, Who recognizes that we are all joined in the same need for release from the guilt and pain of the ego thought system. That recognition of shared interests is a reflection of the love that we all yearn for and the Oneness that we all share as the holy and innocent Son of God, an Identity that transcends the shared ego and its manifestations, from which the illusion of evil has arisen.

Q #175: The following three questions all address the issue of death and so will be answered together:

i: I would like to know more about "death solves nothing."

ii: It is common for us to say when a person dies that he or she is finally "at peace." Does death of the ego not release us from it’s fear based thinking and grant us peace?

iii: Would you kindly explain what A Course in Miracles teaches regarding finding peace after death?

A: Since everyone in this world suffers the excruciating pain of believing they are separated from their true Home and their Creator, there are times throughout one’s life that the thought of escape from this pain would seem to be a blessing. In this instance, death represents escape from our pain. And yet, A Course in Miracles teaches us that we are not our bodies: "The body is the symbol of what you think you are. It is clearly a separation device, and therefore does not exist (T.6.V.A.2:2,3). Therefore we need not escape from our bodies, whether they be physical, psychological, emotional, astral, etc. What we do need to escape from, however, is the thought of separation, and this is accomplished through the process of forgiveness. If the mind has not been totally healed of the thought of separation once the body "dies," the unforgiveness that it holds will be played out in other times and other forms until forgiveness is perfected.

"When your body and your ego and your dreams are gone, you will know that you will last forever. Perhaps you think this is accomplished through death, but nothing is accomplished through death, because death is nothing" (T.6.V.A.1:1,2).

At other times, we are may believe this world to be a spiritual testing ground, and death symbolizes an end to our testing, and our ticket back Home. Or we may believe that once we die, our egos are automatically transcended, and we will be at peace. Beliefs such as this tempt one to want death to come sooner rather than later. "There is a risk of thinking death is peace, because the world equates the body with the Self which God created" (T.27.VII.10:2). It is important to keep in mind that the "death of the ego" does not come from the body’s death, but rather from the process of forgiveness, which only occurs within the mind. And, our bodies may die with or without completing this process.

You can see in any of this instances how we are tempted to attribute pain to our body rather than to our mind. Once we have learned where the real problem lies, the Holy Spirit can begin to use our body to teach us our true identity as a mind: "The Holy Spirit, as always, takes what you have made [the body] and translates it into a learning device....He reinterprets what the ego uses as an argument for separation into a demonstration against it (T.6.V.A.2:4,5).

So death (which is nothing) of the body (also nothing) solves nothing (the thought of separation, another nothing). Nothing plus nothing equals nothing!

Q #176: I am reviewing the workshop on "Separation and Forgiveness" from 1989. Could you please go over the second and third splits. It's almost like they overlap one another.

A: The second split represents the split mind dividing into the right and wrong minds, the thought systems respectively of the Holy Spirit and the ego.

The third split occurs only within the wrong-minded ego, and expresses the ego’s attempts to keep its separation intact by first splitting off from the right mind, and then splitting its sinful separated self (what we call self A) into two components: selves B and C. Self C is the projected repository of sin (formerly part of self A), which leaves the separated self B as sinless. In other words, the separated and sinful self A, minus sin (self C), leaves a separated and sinless self (self B): A - C = B.

All this is explained in much greater detail (along with the first and fourth splits) in Kenneth’s book, The Message of A Course in Miracles: All Are Called, Chapters 2 and 3. Keep in mind that this schema is merely a symbolic attempt to portray the dynamics of the ego thought system that A Course in Miracles sets forth. These dynamics focus on the ego’s strategy of having us keep our separated self, but without the sin that would bring God’s punishing wrath upon our heads. Now the sin rests in another (self C), who deserves the punishment we secretly believe we deserve.

Q #177: Is it necessary to comprehend the mythology in order to begin study of A Course in Miracles, and to use the principles of the Course properly? I have great trouble with the metaphysics of the Course surrounding the origin of guilt yet the practical applications of the Course (i.e., choosing the ego or Jesus as your teacher) seem logical and helpful. Can I truly practice forgiveness as the Course defines it if I don't really accept the Course's mythology surrounding the origin of the world?

A: The benefit of practicing forgiveness is that we will feel better, because we will be letting go of the pain of self-deception involved in blaming others for our problems. It is practical in that sense. And it is very comforting to know that there is a loving, wise teacher within, of whom we can always ask help. We can go along nicely with that for quite some time, and even stay on that level indefinitely if we so choose. The Course can be used that way, and be of tremendous personal benefit and comfort. The metaphysical principles of the Course are not needed to experience the gentle guidance of Jesus, and to withdraw our projections of guilt onto others. If staying on that level brings one closer to God, what could be wrong with it?

But since you specifically mentioned "forgiveness as the Course defines it," it is necessary to go further. And so we will. The beginning and the end of the Introduction to the workbook shed some further light on this. Jesus begins by talking about the relationship between the text and the workbook: "A theoretical foundation such as the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in the workbook meaningful. Yet it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible. An untrained mind can accomplish nothing. It is the purpose of the workbook to train your mind to think along the lines the text sets forth" (W.in.1).

At the end of the Introduction to the workbook (W.in.8,9), Jesus acknowledges the problems of credulity and resistance we probably will run into regarding the ideas and concepts presented in the lessons. And his advice to us is to concentrate only on using and applying the ideas exactly as he directs us to do, without judging them or evaluating them, because their meaning and their truth will be manifested to us through our using them.

The implication would seem to be that somewhere along the line, the student is going to come face-to-face with the theoretical principles of the Course. For example, as it becomes clear that forgiveness means forgiving the other person for what he did not do -- a truly startling, deeply challenging statement -- we are led ultimately to question the reality of guilt itself. That would take us directly to the metaphysical dimension of the Course. Indeed, the Course’s view of forgiveness cannot be fully appreciated without being aware of its metaphysical underpinnings. It would be too easy to slide into the traditional view of forgiving what truly happened if the illusory nature of sin and guilt were not an integral part of one’s thinking and approach to grievances.

The answer to your question, therefore, is both yes and no. One can benefit from practicing forgiveness and turning to Jesus for guidance; but the process of forgiveness as presented in the Course would be short-circuited and not fully appreciated if the Course’s theory of the origin of guilt were ignored. If this theory were explicitly not accepted, it would make the practice of the Course’s version of forgiveness impossible.

Q #178: In A Course in Miracles, we are constantly reminded that to dispel the ego we must simply "look" at its machinations without judgment. In other words, with the Holy Spirit or Jesus. It is this process of looking that is a stumbling block for me. Does the Course provide a "mental" formula in the guise of a prayer, phrase or verse that I may employ when I recognize my ego is at work (which is, of course, all the time)?

A: Recognizing your ego is at work is a major component in its undoing, since the ego itself would never allow you to look at its shenanigans. The stumbling block arises because as quickly as you "see" your ego (the right-minded choice), you just as quickly become afraid, and then judge what you have "seen" (the wrong-minded choice). Your fear really then has come from your ability to look with the Holy Spirit’s or Jesus’ nonjudgmental gentleness and patience at your ego thought system, and that is why you run away. So you want to be gentle with yourself over your not being gentle with yourself. Since it has been determined that you have already become afraid, you certainly do not want to make yourself more fearful by punishing yourself for your lack of gentleness. At the end of Chapter 5 in the text is a lovely prayer you may employ whenever you experience this stumbling block:

I must have decided wrongly, because I am not at peace.

I made the decision myself, but I can also decide otherwise.

I want to decide otherwise, because I want to be at peace.

I do not feel guilty, because the Holy Spirit will undo all the consequences of my wrong decision if I will let Him.

I choose to let Him, by allowing Him to decide for God for me (T.5.VII.6:7,8,9,10,11).

Q #179: I just recently began studying A Course in Miracles. I would like to incorporate the Course’s teachings into my parenting. I primarily try to guide my children through the natural consequences of their choices, which seems to me the way God teaches us. However, sometimes it seems I must exert my will over theirs for their own best interest. For example: bedtime is bedtime on school nights; or if you have pneumonia and need a shot, there is no other option. In these situations, I am forcing my will on another, which kind of seems like an attack. Do you have any suggestion for parenting in alignment with the Course’s teachings?

A: What will help is to focus always on the purpose of what you do, not so much the behavior;: the content rather than form. Distinguishing between content and form is essential in applying the Course principles. Second, as students of a spiritual path, we should never lose sight of common sense. Thus parents are parents and children are children; they are not equals. And parents do know better than their children what is best for them.

Exerting your will over your children’s wills is an attack only if you mean it that way. If you are angry, punitive, tyrannical, demeaning, etc., then the content is attack. But if you are simply being firm with undisciplined children, then that is not an attack. It is not at all loving or helpful -- as many studies have confirmed -- to let children have their own way in everything. They would not grow up as healthy individuals, able to cope in the world, if they had no sense of limit, etc. It is entirely possible to set aside one’s ego needs in order to discipline and train children. Parents’ behavior might appear to be aggressive, behaviorally, when they are simply responding to the child’s aggression in a way that is needed in those circumstances. Thus the behavior itself is not enough to determine what the content is. Obviously, though, if a parent is beating a child into a bloody heap, chances are pretty good that it is an attack.

So the point is to practice discerning in yourself the distinction between form and content. Then bring the ego content to the love of Jesus in your mind and ask for help to shift to his content. When the content in your mind is loving, the message your children will be getting when you discipline them is that they are loved and cared for, and that they can trust you always to take care of them. We teach the principles of the Course to children by demonstrating them in our relationships.