Weekly Questions and Answers, 07/09/2003

This week's questions:

Q #195: How can I reconcile the need to compete - with the Course's teachings ?
Q #196: Do people need to feel like victims and victimizers?
Q #197: What is the soul?
Q #198: Why did God create One-ness?
Q #199: How can I ask for help from a mere abstract concept?
Q #200: Question about the Course, relationships, and childhood molestation
Q #201: How do we return to the point at which the original error occurred?

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #195: As an athlete, competition is how bills get paid. How do you reconcile beating an opponent and striving daily to get better at beating your opponents as, say, a boxer or football player would? I’m a musician myself and if I allow my skill level to drop below a certain point I lose work. So how do we deal with the challenges of competition and everyday survival and not be aware of dualism?

A: The focus of our work with A Course in Miracles is not on getting beyond our awareness of dualism; it is in becoming more aware of which teacher we have chosen to guide us in our daily life: the ego or Jesus, and therefore whether we are learning how to reinforce our belief in separation or to undo it. Since there is no hierarchy of illusions, we can learn our lessons of forgiveness in any occupation at all. Competition permeates just about everything in this world, because the world is nothing but the outside picture of the ego thought system of competition in our minds. The ego is in a perpetual state of competition with what it senses as a threat to its very existence. Hence, "kill or be killed" describes practically every dimension of physical and psychological existence in the world that is rooted in that thought system.

Your role as a musician (the form), thus, can now be seen as a classroom in which -- if you choose Jesus or the Holy Spirit as your teacher -- you can learn how to undo the separation you ordinarily perceive between you and your colleagues (the content). So you would practice and do whatever you need to do to maintain your competence (the form), but you would do it with Jesus or the Holy Spirit (the content). Your purpose would not be to beat others for a position -- although the form would look like that. Your purpose would be to learn that your interests are not separate from anyone else’s, and that gaining or acquiring something at another’s expense is truly valueless. Thus you could learn how to compete for first chair in the orchestra -- for example -- while at the same time learning that the only thing of real value is perceiving yourself and every other person in the orchestra as part of the one Son of God. You would go about it differently, in other words. Your attitude or the content in your mind is what would have changed. Ultimately, it makes no difference whether one person is a better musician than another

In principle, we can practice the Course in any role whatsoever. "There is no order of difficulty in miracles. One is not ‘harder’ or ‘bigger’ than another" (T.1.I.1:1,2). So it is perfectly possible to learn the Course while playing football or being a boxer. There have been many examples of professional athletes who played their sport in a "gentlemanly" manner, and were still ranked among the best.

Finally, we always need to guard against judging our own or another’s spiritual progress based on form, as it is impossible for us to see in its totality our own or anyone else’s Atonement path. Perhaps being a defensive lineman on a football team is the role a mind has chosen in which to learn the valuelessness of victory or the insignificance of the body. In principle, we cannot rule this out. Analogously, the Bhagavad Gita tells the story of Krishna advising Arjuna to be the best warrior he can be, because that is his dharma. "How can the immortal die?" Krishna reminds Arjuna, who was troubled by his having to kill others.

Q #196: Do people really most of the time feel like victims of an outside world? Having been abused as a child, it seems to me that life wasn't tolerable until I put the sin and guilt on to myself, feeling like the victimizer. How can this be explained?

A: Your question seems to be open to at least two interpretations. You may mean that you have assumed the victimizer role later in life in your relationships as an adult. But you may also mean that you have reinterpreted your victim experiences as a child and have chosen to see yourself as having some responsibility, even control, in those situations so that in some sense you have victimized your abusers (e.g., unwanted pregnancy, difficult childbirth, chronic childhood illnesses). Or perhaps there is yet another meaning you intended. But regardless of your specific meaning, the answer is basically the same.

When we see ourselves acting as the victimizer, we are always feeling at some level that our attacks are justified as a defense against the victimization we have suffered at those times when we have been more helpless, less powerful. Our desire is to seize power as a protection against those outside forces so that what has happened to us in the past can not happen again, even at the risk of seeing the sin and guilt in us as well. But always, at least at an unconscious level, we are continuing to identify with the victim role for, as A Course in Miracles says, "All defenses do what they would defend" (T.17.IV.7:1). Whether we are arrogating power in the present or reinterpreting the past to claim that power in retrospect is all the same -- our goal is to defend ourselves against feeling vulnerable and at risk. But we never question the assumption that we are vulnerable and at risk, which can only come from a case of mistaken identity -- seeing ourselves as this limited physical self.

This dynamic is described in the section "Self-Concept vs. Self," which comes near the end of the text. In talking about the face of innocence, Jesus observes, "This aspect never makes the first attack. But every day a hundred little things make small assaults upon its innocence, provoking it to irritation, and at last to open insult and abuse. The face of innocence the concept of the self so proudly wears can tolerate attack in self-defense, for is it not a well-known fact the world deals harshly with defenseless innocence?" (T.31.V.3:3,4; 4:1).

We all defend against the sin and guilt of separation buried deep in our minds with a variety of strategies. To understand how these strategies work, we must recognize that the goal with each is to keep ourselves mindless. That is, we keep our focus on the world we seem to live in and our reactions to it, rather than ever getting in touch with the real guilt buried deep in our mind, which has nothing to do with the external world. Being abused as a child is one part of the strategy, but striking out against others as a defense against the powerlessness we feel over having been abused is simply another. But once we uncover the truth that they are flip sides of the same ego coin, we can now be open to another choice, at a completely different level. Victim and victimizer are both false roles we assume to keep the separation alive and real in our mind. But when we look on both of them as equally untrue, the truth of Who we are -- the innocent Son of an All-loving Father -- can at last dawn upon our minds.

Q #197: What is the soul? Is it Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the process of forgiveness?

A: To quote from the clarification of terms of A Course in Miracles: "The term ‘soul’ is not used except in direct biblical quotations because of its highly controversial nature. It would, however, be an equivalent of ‘spirit,’ with the understanding that, being of God, it is eternal and was never born" (C.1.3:2).

The term soul can also be equated with mind in the Course, the split mind. Jesus frequently refers to our spiritual process as a journey on which we have embarked, and that it surely encompasses more than one lifetime. We can say in this sense that our "souls" move on.

Q #198: Why did God create the Oneness in the first place?

A: It’s not so much that God created Oneness, but that Oneness is the nature of God. In other words, He couldn’t help Himself. And this is impossible to understand by a brain programmed by the ego to only understand duality. The only way to understand God is through experience, and that will come in time as you practice more and more your lessons of forgiveness.

Q #199: Yesterday I experienced something that probably could be termed existential fear; fear without any external cause, but so intensive that it made me physically sick. I was able to look at it for a second or two and go beyond it and sense a great release. These brief moments brought a lot of pain followed by a feeling of freedom, so that I tried to evoke this cycle again and again. Today I realized that sensing this fear was very important, but I cannot do it myself any more, I cannot go through this threshold alone. Also, I realized that I never seriously asked Jesus or the Holy Spirit for help. They do not exist within my reach. How can I ask for help if I see them as total abstractions (opposed to how I see myself -- specific individual!)? I wonder if in such situations it would be possible to seek for help from other people without getting my ego involved?

A: The experience you describe, especially since it included a release from the fear, is a helpful one. And the fact that you experienced release means you were not going through this process alone, whether or not you consciously invoked the Holy Spirit or Jesus for help. Your ego mind will want you to dismiss their accessibility to you, especially after such experiences as you describe, so that you will not trust that you have help already available. You may see Jesus and the Holy Spirit as total abstractions, but they can be as specific in your mind as you want and need them to be. You only need to ask them. Jesus himself, at the end of the workbook, assures us, "Of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless" (W.pII.ep.6:8).

There is also nothing wrong with seeking help and support from another specific individual person as long as that is how you perceive yourself. You would want to be sure you ask someone who is open-minded and nonjudgmental and who can recognize the value of what you are experiencing -- and that need not be a student of A Course in Miracles.

But a caution to consider, that you don’t make repetition of the experience a goal in itself. The lessons of forgiveness can take many different forms, and this kind of experience is only one of them. If it will be helpful and you are willing, more opportunities will present themselves. But in the meantime, any of the more specific forms of fear -- which may show up as anxiety, anger, pain, stress, depression, etc. -- are just as valuable in the process of healing your mind and releasing the fear.

Q #200: I am in my first year with A Course in Miracles. I was sexually molested as a child. The severe shame I feel from this has made relationships difficult. With each new failure to keep or maintain a relationship, they seem to become progressively more difficult. I don't mind being in the constant process of forgiving the perpetrators. But my life struggle seems to be in sustaining forgiveness of myself. Is there any way I can address this specifically in my renewed relationship with God?

A: It is your ego that has convinced you that the shame you feel now is the result of those traumatic and shameful abusive experiences of your childhood. That way, the problem remains in the past, never really capable of being undone. But you are not alone in thinking this way. This is the purpose of the world, to keep our focus away from the real problem in the mind, the original and only source of guilt and shame, and on events in our lives that have happened to us and cannot be reversed.

This is not to say that those childhood experiences were not horrific or that you don’t continue to be haunted by thoughts related to those experiences. But what the Course offers you now is another way in the present of looking at all of that so that it need not maintain the grip on your life and your mind that it has up until now.

The guilt buried deep in our mind over the thought that we would want to and could separate ourselves from love is the real source of all of our shame. And it is a shame so severe that we believe that we do not deserve to be loved, that a lifetime beginning with abuse by those who are responsible for us is a fitting punishment for our "crime" of assaulting love. We carry the belief that we are somehow fatally flawed and that is the real cause of our shame.

But we never go back and look at that source of shame in our mind, where with the gentle support of Jesus, God’s symbol of love in our mind, we might begin to question the validity of that original self-accusation. Instead, we shift our focus to the world of bodies and the shame associated with being helpless and abused by others over whom we have no power or control. And then this seems to be the shame that poisons our whole life, and all the relationships we embark upon in search of the love that is missing that we yearn for. But the good news of the Course is that the problem is not where we are seeing it, in the world of bodies, but rather in our minds, where the solution -- forgiveness -- is as well.

And so this is where your renewed relationship with God and His representative, Jesus, and his Course, offers hope. For as you are willing to uncover the deeper ontological guilt and shame that your lifetime of personal shame is pointing to, looking at it with Jesus’ love beside you, you will gradually allow yourself to recognize that there is nothing to be ashamed of. For with his love there with you, you will begin to recognize that you have not abandoned or betrayed love, and love has not abandoned or betrayed you.

For a discussion about forgiving the perpetrators, see also Q#174.

Q #201: Regarding the prayer for the "Decision for God", (T.5.VII.6:7,8,9,10,11), how do we "return our thinking to the point at which the error was made" when our decision to separate from God is unremembered.…or unconscious?

A: The journey of our "return" is a process of walking backwards, starting from the place where we think we are, which is in the body, in the world, in the dream. Though the original choice to separate from God is indeed unremembered, we seem to be experiencing the very real effects of that choice. Looking clearly and directly at the effects will indicate the true nature of the mistaken choice of believing in the reality of the separation. Our return begins when we are willing to look at any situation differently. Any person, event, condition or situation that seems to cause us pain, discomfort, or lack of peace is an opportunity for us to question what is really going on. A Course in Miracles tells us that the conflict experienced here in the dream is really caused by the guilt in our mind which is being displaced from our mind and projected onto the body or the world. The purpose of the projection is to free us of the responsibility for having made the choice to separate. The ego, on the other hand, tells us that persons and events outside of us are to blame for our misery. We have been victimized by outside agents and cannot be held responsible. Through the process of forgiveness we learn to identify the cause of our problems as a choice in the mind rather than to blame others. This is one level of returning to the point at which the error was made. In this way, the people we hold grievances against are cleared of responsibility; thus they are forgiven for what "they did not do" (T.17.III.1:5). When we have been able to practice forgiveness with everyone, and every situation in our lives, and have disidentified sufficiently with the ego’s belief in separation, we will identify fully with the mind rather than the body. We will no longer believe in victimization, but in the power of our mind’s ability to choose. This will free us to make a different choice. Instead of the error of believing that the separation was real and has had serious consequences, we will laugh gently at the absurdity of such a thought. This is the final return to the "point at which the error was made." We will then awaken from the dream of separation.

Meanwhile, every time we are willing to recognize any situation, or the dynamics of any relationship, as the direct result of a choice made in our mind, without projecting blame onto others, we are strengthening our belief in our true identity as mind, and weakening our belief in the ego’s tale of separation and identity with the body. We are thus led to the point of final choice, and the decision to return no more to the darkened world of illusion and separation.