Weekly Questions and Answers, 11/13/2002

This week's questions:

Q #13: A question about the meaning of  "purification".
Q #14: A question about the healing of the body.
Q #15: A question about death and grief.
Q #16: A question about the reality of the body.

Q #13: What do you think the phrase "purification is necessary first" means?

A: Since this seventh miracle principle, "Miracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first" (T.1.I.7:1) comes on page 3 of the text, students of A Course in Miracles may believe that Jesus is speaking about purification of the body. Students’ past experiences will bring to mind all of their beliefs about the meaning of the word "purification." To some, this may mean the cleansing of the "soul" through baptism, or the atonement of sin through penance and sacrifice. To others, "purification" may have the connotation of ridding oneself of human desires through meditation and disciplined practices. Whatever one believes, their belief forms the foundation on which they begin to build their understanding of the "purification process."

What a surprise to learn, as we make our way through the text, that Jesus is not speaking to us about purifying the body at all. He couldn’t be since the Course teaches that the body is an illusion. And being an illusion, there is nothing that we have to do to it or with it. The body does not need to be purified because it is not impure. "It does nothing.... it is neither corruptible nor incorruptible. It is nothing. (T.19.IV.C.5:3,4,5). What is impure are our thoughts, which means it is our thoughts that have to be purified, not the body. And the Course’s method of "purification" is forgiveness; forgiveness of the one thought of guilt which keeps us separate from the love of God. The Course’s "purification process" is illustrated in this quote:

"Give Him your thoughts, and He will give them back as miracles which joyously proclaim the wholeness and the happiness God wills His Son, as proof of His eternal Love. And as each thought is thus transformed, it takes on healing power from the Mind Which saw the truth in it, and failed to be deceived by what was falsely added [guilt]. All the threads of fantasy are gone. And what remains is unified into a perfect Thought that offers its perfection everywhere (W.pI.151.14).

 Q #14: Please explain the many passages about healing that seem to refer to healing of the body. It seems to me that, although the Course is very clear about the process of healing our minds of the misperception of our reality, it is equally clear that a healthy body is an effect of a mind that is healed. How does this translate into our personal lives as Course students? I would be satisfied to totally disregard my body and it's condition were it not for these many passages. I am left wondering, that although the goal of a healed body is not the point of the teachings, it seems to be something that we can expect as we follow the voice of the Holy Spirit. Why does Jesus even bother to mention this, if it is not something that we should consider?

A: You are correct in saying that a healed body is not the point of Jesus’ teachings, nor should it be the goal of our practice of the Course. Jesus talks about the body so much not because he thinks it is important or real, but because we think it is important and have not recognized its purpose in the ego’s strategy of keeping us away from our minds. A major part of the ego’s strategy is to have us think that our bodies are completely vulnerable to outside forces -- that both sickness and healing come from the outside. Jesus therefore is correcting this by teaching us about the cause and effect relationship between the mind and the body. That is the point of all of his references to a healed body. The focus really is on the power of our minds, not on having a healed and whole body: "The miracle is useless if you learn but that the body can be healed, for this is not the lesson it was sent to teach. The lesson is the mind was sick that thought the body could be sick; projecting out its guilt caused nothing, and had no effect" (T.28.II.22:6-7). This is his point.

But he is teaching us about the Holy Spirit’s thought system in the context of what we know best and can relate to best; and for just about all of us that is the world of bodies. He thus uses our bodies to teach us, ultimately, that we are not our bodies. That awareness, however, comes at the end of a long process, which for most of us, takes many, many years to complete. To simply disregard our bodies, therefore, would be to deny ourselves a multitude of opportunities to learn and apply the principles of the Course. Our physical / psychological needs and experiences constitute the curriculum that Jesus can use to teach us how to interpret and perceive our bodily experiences in a way that will help us undo the separation rather than reinforce it. As long as we still think that without oxygen and food we will die, then we still believe we are bodies, and it would be detrimental to our spiritual advancement to ignore or disregard what we still think is real. As Jesus cautioned us in this regard, "The body is merely part of your experience in the physical world. Its abilities can be and frequently are overevaluated. However, it is almost impossible to deny its existence in this world. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial" (T.2.IV.3:8,9,10,11).

The focus, once again, is always on the training of our minds and the way we think, so that at the end, we simply will no longer choose to be limited. This is quite different from merely disregarding the body. As he says in the section "Beyond the Body" in Chapter 18: "What really happens is that you have given up the illusion of a limited awareness, and lost your fear of union." He is teaching us how to get to this stage.

Q #15: I want to change my mind about death. I just had several loved ones "gently lay their bodies aside" yet it is grief that I am drawn to. Grief is not love, therefore it does not exist. Right? I must have made it? Can you articulate for me, based on various Course passages, a general response that would incorporate the Course’s theories so that I may apply them to this experience of grief in the world of illusion. What about repression and denial of this experience?

A: The Course never asks us to repress or deny what we are experiencing, whether it be grief or anger or pain or fear or any other ego-based reaction. But before we can change our mind about our feelings, we need first to understand what purpose they serve and why we have chosen to experience them. The feeling of grief reinforces the ego’s assertion that loss and death are real and that we can be and are deprived of love. Our experience cries out that Jesus is wrong, that we have been hurt and abandoned and left on our own. We are not being asked to deny that this is our experience. But that does not make it true.

In a graphic description of the world, Jesus says, "The world you see is the delusional system of those made mad by guilt...all the laws that seem to govern it are the laws of death. Children are born into it through pain and in pain. Their growth is attended by suffering, and they learn of sorrow and separation and death. Their minds seem to be trapped in their brain, and its powers to decline if their bodies are hurt. They seem to love, yet they desert and are deserted. They appear to lose what they love, perhaps the most insane belief of all. And their bodies wither and gasp and are laid in the ground, and are no more. Not one of them but has thought that God is cruel" (T.13.in.2:2,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11). And this is what we all believe. Would it not be better if we are wrong?

Jesus reminds us that his life, ending in apparent death, had the purpose of "teaching that communication remains unbroken even if the body is destroyed, provided that you see not the body as the necessary means of communication" (T.15.XI.7:2). But we still see the body as necessary for communication and believe that real communication ends with the death of the body, because we still want to see ourselves as a body. The body affirms our independent existence and its seeming experiences of loss and pain do not seem to reflect simply a choice in our minds. The ego does not want us to remember that the source of all our grief is the belief that we ourselves abandoned love and exiled ourselves from Heaven. Thanks to the ego defense of projection, it feels instead as if these are things that happen to us against our own will, that we are not responsible for how we feel. So we must begin by acknowledging that these are our feelings, but then we must also have a willingness to question whether our interpretation of the world and the events of our lives is correct.

The shift away from our pain and grief is a gradual process because we are afraid of the limitlessness of love, in which our individual lives, our personal selves with our unique personalities, have no meaning. And so Jesus gently reminds us both of the eventual outcome and the process: "Loss is not loss when properly perceived. Pain is impossible. There is no grief with any cause at all. And suffering of any kind is nothing but a dream. This is the truth, at first to be but said and then repeated many times; and next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations. Then to be considered seriously more and more, and finally accepted as the truth" (W.pII,284.1:1,2,3,4,5,6, italics added).

These words are not simply to be used as a "holy mantra" proclaiming what is true in order to drown out our ego’s interpretation and the accompanying feelings of loss and grief. Implicit in the process of changing our mind is the necessary but at times very unsettling task of looking at what we still want to believe and recognizing both its purpose -- to keep separation and guilt alive -- and its cost to us -- suffering and pain. It is from a growing recognition of what we inflict on ourselves when we accept the ego as our teacher that the motivation develops to ask for help from a different Teacher. With that help, we can begin to see the losses of our lives in a different light, realizing that we do have a choice about what we experience and that we are not the victims of circumstances beyond our control.

Q #16: When I tell myself in meditation that I'm not a body and I'm free I feel peace of mind. But once I open my eyes, there it is -- my body. This doesn't upset me as much as it confuses me. When I look at myself I feel I'm beautiful, but I worry that I might be just feeding the ego again rather than appreciating what I have. It's a puzzle. Any thoughts on this?

A: Although the Course tells us in many places that we are not a body (e.g., Lesson 199 and the following review lessons), it also recognizes that we have a strong investment in seeing ourselves as a body. Jesus observes, "Look at yourself and you will see a body....without a light it seems that it is gone. Yet you are reassured that it is there because you still can feel it with your hands and hear it move. Here is an image that you want to be yourself. It is the means to make your wish come true." (T.24.VII.9:1,3,4,5,6 italics added).

We may have brief experiences where we seem to transcend our bodily identification, as you describe, but we are not likely to maintain this for any length of time because we really don’t want to. Our "wish come true" is seeing ourselves as a separate, special, individual self and our body affirms that identity. The Course tells us that although we are the ones who have chosen and made this limited self as our identity (in fantasy but not in reality), we have not wanted to accept responsibility for that decision. And that is because buried deep in our unconscious is the (made- up) belief that we gained this separate self by attacking the Oneness of God and our true Identity as spirit, a horrendous sin of destruction and murder according to our ego. So once we seem to be bodies born to other bodies, our separate existence does not seem at all to be of our own making. Our parents made us. And we may even believe, much to our ego’s delight, that somehow God has been involved in this special "creation" of our individual self, as many religions teach.

So the Course’s goal, knowing how strongly identified we are with our body and how fearful we are of letting go of the protection we believe it affords us, is not to have us relinquish our bodily identification (that happens only at the very end). The Course is instructing us in how to give our body a purpose different from the ego’s original purpose of sin, guilt and fear. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the body becomes a vehicle for learning our lessons of forgiveness, in the context of our relationships with our brothers and sisters, also seen as bodies. And we will continue to see ourselves and everyone else as a body until the forgiveness process is complete and we no longer have any guilt in our mind that we need our body as a defense against.

And as to seeing yourself as beautiful, there is nothing wrong with that, so long as you realize that when the Course speaks of how beautiful we are (e.g., W.pII.313.2:2), it is not speaking of our physical body or our personality. It is referring to the reflected beauty of the Christ in all of us, a beauty which we all share equally as spirit.

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