Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/01/2003

This week's questions/topics:

Q #269: How do pets return to God ?.
Q #270: About the existence of the ego
Q #271: How can we develop our relationship with Jesus?
Q #272: A basic explanation of forgiveness.
Q #273: Is Lucifer a symbol for the separation?
Q #274: Is suicide ever an acceptable decision?

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #269: In reference to Question #134 about pets being part of the Sonship, since pets, whatever form they take, are incapable of reason, how do they get back to the Oneness of God. Are we responsible for their return?

A: The question you ask makes sense to us, self-identified as bodies. But the question is based on a faulty premise, that it is the brains in our bodies that understand and reason and decide. It is the collective mind -- of which our individual mind is a fragment -- outside of time and space that is projecting the figures that we each identify as ourselves within the dream of the world, And that same mind is projecting the figures of the animals, as well as the plants and the rocks, etc.

An analogy may help. When you watch a movie, you are looking at one single picture (actually a series of individual pictures in succession, creating the illusion of movement, time and causality on the screen, but that is another subject) projected onto the screen in front of you from the film running through the projector. But your mind separates out figures on the screen and generally focuses on those that may be seen as human and makes the idea of individual bodies real in front of you, even though the total screen image is a single projection. Any figures of animals, or bushes and trees, or furniture, or buildings and other scenery that are also being projected onto the screen are really no different from the figures you identify as human. They are all simply shadows of varying colors and shapes, made by the film blocking the light that is extending from the projector, producing various patterns on the screen that you interpret as real. It is the interpretation that you give your perception of those images that gives them their meaning to you.

If you want to make any changes to the figures that are being projected on the screen, the process is always the same. None of the seemingly separate figures on the screen have any more or less power than any others to effect changes on the screen. They are all the effect of what is being decided by the projectionist in the projection booth -- it is there that the power of decision rests for what will be seen on the screen. If you are the projectionist in the booth, you can decide on a different film, or you can decide you are no longer interested in the projections on the screen and want to return to your life outside the movie theater. Now it makes no difference which figure you may have been identifying with on the screen -- an image of a human, or a dog, or even a rock -- when you pull your attention back from the screen to the film and the projector, you realize that it is all one projection. And all the figures that seemed separate and alive on the screen just disappear into the light when they are no longer being projected. The equivalence of all projected forms in the world is reflected in Jesus’ observation: "How holy is the smallest grain of sand, when it is recognized as being part of the completed picture of God’s Son! (T.28.IV.9:4).

Now there are certainly limits on the analogy, but the point is that no decisions are being made by figures on the screen of the world that we see ourselves in -- neither humans nor animals nor plants nor minerals. Thinking we are here on the screen rather than back in the mind is simply a trick we are playing on ourselves to convince ourselves that the separation is real. But the mind, when it no longer wants to project the shadows of guilt out onto the screen of the world, can pull back the projections and allow the light that has always been there in the mind simply to extend. And that is the return to Oneness. And since minds are joined, when we make that decision for ourselves, we make it for the whole Sonship (T.14.III.9:3,4,5). And the realization is that none of us ever left in reality, and so return has never really been necessary.

For further related discussions on mind-brain, animals, and choice, see Questions #117 and #211.

 Q #270: The answer to Question #10 does not feel as right to me as the rest I have read on this site. It says that to answer questions i-iii justifies the ego’s existence and I agree. But if you give that answer to this specific question, I believe that answer should then be given to all the questions submitted, and to any question on A Course in Miracles. Just by typing words or acknowledging the Course you are acknowledging the ego’s existence, since words and all things of this world never are 100% truthful (or knowledge) and must then be "not God."

My point is that everything "here" is not valid so why not try to answer this question when other equally invalid questions are being answered. The Course says there is no difference in the magnitude of any beliefs "here" -- they are all of the same illusion. But the ego seems to get some sort of extra importance which is not to be questioned and answered in the same manner as other parts in the book. My feeling is that the Course simply does not give as clear an answer about the ego’s existence as it does to other issues, and it should just be acknowledged that we do not know about the origins of the ego -- it is unclear

A: Did your nonexistent ego put you up to that? Very clever! But the Course is very explicit about the ego’s origin and existence -- it can have no origin because it doesn’t exist, it is not real. The Atonement principle, upon which the Course’s forgiveness process is based, asserts the unreality of the ego -- the thought of separation -- in very definite terms. Consider the following:

"The full awareness of the Atonement, then, is the recognition that the separation never occurred. The ego cannot prevail against this because it is an explicit statement that the ego never occurred" (T.6.II.10:7,8; italics in original).

"Atonement corrects illusions, not truth. Therefore, it corrects what never was.…The instant the idea of separation entered the mind of God's Son, in that same instant was God's Answer given. In time this happened very long ago. In reality it never happened at all" (M.2.2:2,3,6,7,8; italics added).

The Course would not be true to its basic metaphysical principles about what is real and what is illusory if it provided any answer that accepts and affirms the ego’s existence. However, from that it does not follow that every answer to any other question addressing aspects of the ego must also be affirming its existence. The key, as the Course emphasizes repeatedly (e.g., T.IV.5.6:7,8,9; T.17.VI.2:1,2), is what is the purpose: does the answer further reinforce a belief in the ego, or does it in some way begin to undo that belief? Clearly, to explain the ego’s origins, or even to say its origins are clouded in mystery, would be to affirm its existence.

But to explain what a belief in the ego entails and how that belief can be undone through the practice of forgiveness is not an affirmation of the ego’s existence. It is simply a very practical way to begin to undo the illusion. Here we find a major contribution of the Course to the world’s spiritualities. For it does not ask us to deny our experience of ourselves as separate but it nevertheless offers us a way out of our conundrum of mistaken beliefs. All of us, by the very fact that we believe we are here, are screaming, "The ego is real and I am my ego!" Jesus knows he has to meet us where we believe we are and use what we have made real to show us in the end that none of it is real. If he did not, we could not bridge the gap between false belief and truth on our own.

The Course never attempts to change the ego (T.22.V.1:1,2,3,4,5,6), because it does not acknowledge its existence. But it does attempt to change our belief in the ego. The only thought that does not reinforce belief in the ego is forgiveness. Forgiveness, as noted above, rests on the Atonement principle, which uses the ego’s own words to state that the separation, the ego, never happened.

And true to its metaphysical underpinnings, the Course makes no claim that forgiveness has any more reality than the ego. In fact, Jesus explicitly includes it within the domain of the illusory: "Forgiveness might be called a kind of happy fiction; a way in which the unknowing can bridge the gap between their perception and the truth.…they need an illusion of help because they are helpless" (C.3.2:1;3:1; italics added).

So the whole practice of the Course is never directed at modifying the ego -- that would make it real -- but rather at stepping back and looking at the ego and all the consequences of believing in it, until we come to recognize that none of it is real. And then the question of where the ego has come from can no longer even be asked. But while we believe it is real, Jesus will gently help us see it all differently.

Q #271: How can we develop our relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, and perceive them as a reflection of Love, so we can look, with them, at our ego thought system without judgment?

A: A relationship with the Holy Spirit or Jesus begins with the honest recognition that all our efforts to make ourselves truly happy and to find peace on our own terms have failed. As long as we think we can find our way back home to God by our own devices, we will not truly seek the help of those who represent the memory of Him in our minds. When we are willing to acknowledge our failure, we come to the point where we can say sincerely: "I do not understand the world, and so to try to lead my life alone must be but foolishness. But there is One Who knows all that is best for me" (W.242.1:2,3).This is the birth of the relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. They are the symbols of the part of our minds that reflects the memory of God, but because we believe we are separate bodies we perceive them as "persons" who are separate from us, and we relate to them accordingly. This is necessary as long as we continue to identify with the body.

Since A Course in Miracles comes from the same part of the mind of the Sonship that Jesus and the Holy Spirit represent, studying and applying the Course teaching is also a way in which we relate to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Our relationship with them develops as we deepen our understanding of the true nature of the ego thought system in all its apparent devastation, and we realize that we cannot embark on its undoing without help. From this acknowledgment comes our cry for help. It comes to us in the form of Jesus or the Holy Spirit reminding us that we are mistaken, and in need of a different way of looking at every situation and relationship we find ourselves in. The effectiveness of the help is commensurate with our willingness to seek and accept their perception. This is what is meant by listening to the Holy Spirit’s voice rather than the ego’s, and in doing so we practice what the Course asks: "Resign now as your own teacher" (T.12.V.8:3). The Course tells us later in the text: "Remember nothing that you taught yourself, for you were badly taught" (T.28.I.7:1). It is clear, therefore, that in order for our relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit to be meaningful and have results, it must be based on the willingness to unlearn everything we have taught ourselves. This is what we find so difficult, and it is what limits our relationship with Them. Looking at what we have taught ourselves with Them means looking at the beliefs we hold with willingness to first question them, and eventually let them go. Looking with the intent to uncover what was hidden so it can be healed is looking without judgment. We are not asked to do this perfectly; only to do it as best we can. In itself it is loving because it initiates the process of undoing the ego thought system, which is what will lead us back home to God. With this as our goal, Jesus and the Holy Spirit become kind and loving guides on our journey.

 Q #272: As a newcomer to A Course in Miracles, I am sure you have answered this lots of times. When the Course speaks of forgiveness it refers to: (my paraphrase) what you think has happened, has not. No one has ever hurt anyone or done anything terrible. My mind goes on tilt. Are the facts of a past situation just illusions? If there is a clear written pamphlet or paper on the subject, I would appreciate a reference.

A: Forgiveness, as it is presented in A Course in Miracles, can be understood only within the framework of the metaphysics of non-dualism; otherwise it will make no sense, and its meaning will be distorted and made indistinguishable from the more traditional meanings. It cannot be detached from what the Course teaches is the origin and purpose of the world and our seeming presence in the world as individual bodies with a past, present, and future. The Course’s understanding of forgiveness is unique and follows logically from this base, but it is difficult to put into practice because our lives and experience are based on premises that are the opposite of what the Course teaches.

In order to "forgive your brother for what he has not done," we must -- at least intellectually -- begin to accept that all anger and all feelings of victimization are projections of our own unconscious guilt, which itself comes from a belief that we have sinned by attacking God so that we could have our own individual lives. All of that is illusory, of course; but because we think we are individuals, those premises are still present in our minds. Having made that sinfulness real, and not wanting to give up our individual identities and return to the oneness of God, we then deny the sin and project responsibility for it onto something outside us. Thus, the guilt that we projected is now in others who are perceived as mean, hateful, violent, insensitive, selfish, etc., and we are the innocent victims. The "we" in all of this is always the decision-making mind outside time and space, which has been forgotten and replaced in our awareness by a self that seems to exist in time and space.

That in barest outline is the origin of our perception and feeling that we or others have been unfairly treated, victimized, etc. There obviously is a lot more to these dynamics, but this at least begins to give you some idea of how the Course’s theory of forgiveness evolved. We can see from just this much, though, that the only reason we would experience ourselves as unfairly treated is so that we would be able to say that someone else is guilty. This does not mean that we are to deny the "facts" of the external events. The Course is talking exclusively about how we experience them. That is the key. Perceiving yourself as unfairly treated is an interpretation coming from an unconscious need to perceive the situation that way. (Question #262 discusses this in the context of Jesus’ own view of the crucifixion.) We are not aware of those dynamics, but not being aware of them is an integral part of the ego’s strategy of projection.

The first step in the process of forgiveness, therefore, is reversing the projection and its effects. This means recognizing that what we have attacked and judged in someone else is what we have first condemned in ourselves. It is recognizing that our projected anger is a decision we made to avoid our own guilt by seeing it in someone else. Again, this does not mean denying what someone else has done, nor does it mean that you should not do something about it. The second step entails understanding that the guilt, too, represents a decision, which is now brought back into our awareness and reconsidered. Instead of choosing to identify with the ego’s thought system of guilt, we choose instead to identify with the Holy Spirit’s thought system of guiltlessness. This paves the way for the third step, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the first two steps of forgiveness represent our decision to allow the Holy Spirit to do His healing work within us. But the Holy Spirit can take away our guilt only when we have withdrawn our investment in it. Once our guilt is gone -- even for just an instant -- we are identified only with love and kindness, and we would not take anything personally. That love and kindness alone would flow through us as we respond behaviorally in the situation, and therefore our response would automatically be what is most loving for all concerned. Behaviorally, it might appear the same as anyone else’s response; but the content would be love. In terms of our spiritual progress, that is all that matters.

These steps are described in two places in the Course: T.5.VII.6:7,9,10,11; W.pI.23.5:1,2,3,4.

Brief summaries and explanations of the Course’s approach to forgiveness are found in two of our publications: Forgiveness and Jesus: The Meeting Place of "A Course in Miracles" and Christianity, Chapter 2; A Talk Given on "A Course in Miracles: An Introduction," Chapter 4: "Anger-Forgiveness." Finally, if you have had a chance to read some of the other questions and answers, you probably have run across several applications of these principles.

 Q #273: In the Bible it speaks of Lucifer the fallen angel. Is that a symbolic expression of our separation from God? When the Bible speaks of hell is that also another symbolic expression of our living in this nightmare on earth that we think is real?

A: Neither the Bible, nor traditional Christianity, refers to Lucifer or hell as a symbols. In Biblical terms Lucifer was the leader of the angels who refused submission to God, and hell is viewed as an actual place of punishment where those who reject God are doomed to an eternity in God’s absence. The teaching of the Bible is based on beliefs that are not similar to the principles of A Course in Miracles. Since the Course teaches that the separation never really happened (T.6.II.10), it follows that it cannot have any symbolic expression. The separation is a thought in the mind of the Sonship of something that could never occur in reality. It becomes a "reality" in our awareness when we choose to take it seriously and to believe it is real. Guilt over this choice is then projected out of the mind in the form of the physical universe, which is made to keep God out: "Thus the world was meant to be a place where God could enter not, and where His Son could be apart from Him" (W.pII.3:4). Since hell is defined as the absence of God, the world becomes hell in our experience; not a symbolic expression of it. The Course is very clear that God cannot be found in this world of form. However, when an individual chooses to identify with the part of the mind that holds the memory of God, the world becomes a reflection of that choice, and is no longer perceived as hell: "The world becomes a place of joy, abundance, charity and endless giving. It is now so like to Heaven that it quickly is transformed into the light that it reflects" (W.249.1:5,6).

The important distinction for students of the Course to make is that because separation from God is not possible, there is no hell, there are no "fallen angels," nor a world where God can enter not. The sick mind that believes in separation makes them real; the healed mind knows they are not.

Q #274: Do you think that, in the view of A Course in Miracles, there could be a point in some scripts where suicide would be considered in keeping with the "gentle laying aside of the body" when use for it is done?

A: It seems unlikely that suicide would be the means for the "quiet choice" (S.3.II.2:1) for death when "the end has come for usefulness of body functioning" (S.3.II.1:10), if by suicide you mean deliberately directing an action against the body for the purpose of causing its apparent death. If the "choice" represents the simple recognition of the end of the body’s purpose in the world of form, the body would simply no longer seem to be infused with "life" and a whole variety of so-called natural or accidental causes could be seen in the world’s view as the cause of the death. But any action seemingly taken by the body against itself for the purpose of intentionally bringing about its death would only serve to reinforce the belief that the body is real and is a cause and not an effect, not only in the mind of the individual committing the suicide, but also in the minds of others learning of the suicide. This is not likely to be a helpful lesson for anyone. Furthermore, if the one committing suicide has any sense of the death as an escape from physical or emotional limitations and problems, there would remain lessons unlearned in the mind that would still need to be addressed in another lifetime, since limitations never originate in the body or in the world.

Now it is also true according to the Course that everything that seems to happen to us, including our seeming death, is chosen by the mind (e.g., T.21.II.2:3,4,5; W.pI.152.1). And each decision may be directed by either the ego or the Holy Spirit, either to reinforce guilt or to help undo it through the relinquishment of judgment and attack thoughts. And so there may be circumstances in which a choice for suicide could reflect a right-minded decision -- although it would not be the simple laying aside of the body when its usefulness is over. Suicide is after all simply another form of magic intended to change the dream and take away pain, similar in content if not form to taking aspirin to get rid of a headache. So, for example, one who still believes in the reality of the body and its pain, who is racked with a physically devastating illness, might choose, without judgment or guilt, to commit suicide in order to escape the apparent pain of the disease-ridden body. It is not the final lesson that could have been learned, but there is no sin in choosing to postpone the lesson when the fear level is too high, which the intense physical pain would reflect. And if the suicide were done with the recognition that it is not God’s Will that we suffer and that death is not final, the experience could reflect further steps along the Atonement path. Purpose, after all, is all that ever matters in every choice we make (T.4.V.6:7,8,9).

See also Question #135 for a much more in-depth discussion of suicide from the perspective of A Course in Miracles.