Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/08/2003

This week's questions/topics:

Q #275: What is the meaning of "extension" ?.
Q #276: Can I still learn & practice Course principles in a group that I don't care for ?
Q #277: Am I in your dream or are you in mine ?
Q #278: If the ego has no power, how can the ego become "vicious" ?
Q #279: Could long study of the Course bring about fearful mental symptoms ?
Q #280: Is there any positive or beneficial form of denial ?

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #275: I am struggling with the exact meaning of the verb “to extend” in A Course in Miracles. I learn in the Glossary-Index and on page 114 of the text that the laws of mind in the world are different from the laws of mind in the Kingdom: the mind of the world projects and perceives and cannot go beyond this, while the Mind of spirit only extends. Since I am from a non-English-speaking culture, I am struggling to understand what seems to be a very fundamental concept. I would really appreciate your help.

A: As you may have noticed in the Glossary-Index, to extend, or extension, has two levels of meaning in the Course. At the level of knowledge -- the oneness and totality of Heaven or the Kingdom, which the Course says is our only reality -- extension is synonymous with creation (e.g., T.11.I.3:4,5; T.14.V.3:4). But the meaning of neither of these words is comprehensible to our finite minds, since they refer to a totally abstract activity or process of Mind/spirit that has nothing to do with time or space or bodies -- all illusory dimensions of the physical world made by the false ego mind. In Heaven, we are God’s extensions or creations, and like Him, we can extend or create. But even this statement cannot be taken literally, for it suggests that we and God are separate, that He has somehow brought us into being as an entity separate from Him. Because our non-dualistic reality is one, unified, perfect and eternal, extension of that reality cannot involve adding more to it or increasing it in any way that our limited minds would understand (W.pI.105.4:2,3,4,5). And so there is little more to be said about the meaning of extension at this level that would be helpful.

The Course’s other meaning of extension refers to the level of perception, the level of the illusory, dualistic, split mind. The meaning is still somewhat abstract, but a little more comprehensible than at the completely abstract level of knowledge or Heaven. Our experience in the world of time and space and separate bodies is based on the law of mind that governs all thought at this level, the inevitable dynamic that leads us to perceive outside of ourselves the content within our minds that we have chosen to see as real. And there are only two contents to choose between within the split mind: the ego’s guilt or the Holy Spirit’s forgiveness. We see outside ourselves whatever content we have chosen within. If we have chosen the Holy Spirit as the guide for our thoughts, the Course refers to the process as extension. If the ego is our guide, the process is called projection.

The ego seeks to use the dynamic of projection to place the guilt outside of our minds and then to deny its origin in our minds. In other words, rather than seeing the guilt outside us as an extension of the same guilt in our minds -- which it is -- the ego wants us to believe that we can literally project the guilt outside of our minds so that it is now separate from us, thereby supposedly regaining for us the innocence we believe we lost with the thought of separation. And for this defense to work, we have to forget that we projected the guilt from our own mind. Of course, this is not how mind works, for denial does not alter the fact that the mind is indeed the source and “ideas leave not their source” (T.26.VII.4:7,8,9).

The Holy Spirit’s goal, in contrast, is to teach us to recognize the correspondence between what we perceive outside and what content we have chosen in our mind so that we can make an informed choice about what we will extend or project until our split mind is healed. The ego desperately attempts to hide this dynamic from us, for the success of its projection depends on our failing to recognize that we project or extend only our own thoughts (W.pI.30.2). And the ego’s strategy is very successful most of the time, for our anger and judgment reflect our belief that the outside world is indeed independent of us. So the Holy Spirit seeks to reinforce our awareness of the continuity between within and without as a result of extension, while the ego always seeks to deny the source in our mind and assert that what we see outside of ourselves -- guilt -- exists separate from and independent of us. The Course’s purpose is to help us see that the choice of what we extend or project is ours alone -- each with its own consequences for our peace of mind.

Q #276: I belong to a group that meets weekly to study A Course in Miracles. It is essentially a leaderless group, in that we meet at each others' homes, and the host(ess) sets the form and tone of the meeting. Overall, there is an agreement that we will study the Course, and that to understand and practice it is our purpose. However, over the years, it has regularly happened that someone will bring up the ideas put forth elsewhere. Sometimes these thoughts are brought up, discussed, etc., and we're back to the main theme again. Other times, the meeting gets quite sidetracked and the theme becomes decidedly un-Course-like. What to do then? Sometimes one of us will make a comment to get things back on track, and that works fine, but sometimes that comment is clumsy, and others don't make any indication that they support it. Other times no one says anything at all. We have tried, over the years, to make a better definition of our purpose, but our egos have a field day with that, and we have really argued with each other, and at one point part of us split off and formed another group. So, the question I think is, “How can I practice the loving lessons of the Course, when I’m still in the process of learning those lessons?” I will appreciate your comments.

A: Readiness does not mean mastery, Jesus tells us (T.2.VII.7). You simply practice as best you can; then review what happened, bring your mistakes to the love of Jesus, and ask his help to forgive yourself for not being perfect. There actually is no more effective way to learn this Course. The willingness to apply whatever you have learned is all that counts in the end, not how well you applied it. The ego would be thrilled if you put the practice of the Course on hold until you thought you had learned everything. Jesus, on the other hand, just asks that we turn to him and ask his help every step of the way, without judging ourselves. The essence of the process is learning how to trust, and identify with, his loving presence in our minds. He asks us to “trust implicitly your willingness, whatever else may enter. Concentrate only on this, and be not disturbed that shadows surround it. That is why you came. If you could come without them you would not need the holy instant. Come to it not in arrogance, assuming that you must achieve the state its coming brings with it” (T.18.IV.2:3,4,5,6,7).

There is nothing in the Course about how to conduct group study, and it is not essential to be part of a group in order to learn and practice the Course. If you want to be in a group, however, it can be an excellent opportunity to practice what you have learned about special relationships and the authority problem. You can be there with the Holy Spirit or Jesus guiding you, in which case you would be learning how to perceive your interests as the same as everyone else’s, despite the differences in form and behavior. Or you can be there with the ego, in which case you would be reinforcing the ego’s view that your interests conflict with others’ interests and that the differences among you are serious and meaningful. It is no different than any other special relationship in that sense. You may choose to leave the group and form another one with the ego guiding you -- which will result in condemnation, resentment, frustration, specialness, etc., or with the Holy Spirit or Jesus guiding you -- which will result in your being peaceful, and without judgment of yourself or anyone else.

Q #277: The following answer combines responses to two different but related questions:

a) Since one person's life has many relationship connections, when something devastating happens to that person, many family members’ and friends’ lives are affected. So whose projection of guilt caused this, since many experienced the outcome? Is it everyone's in their life projections or just the person directly involved with the devastating experience? Also, with something like the attack on the World Trade Center, is everyone in the world responsible for this projection of guilt?

b) When A Course in Miracles students, including myself, go to a Course student I know to counsel with him about our problems and dramas, he tells each of us that we are the only one here. I know that there is only one Son of God, but which one is he? It seems confusing that I should think I'm the only one here and yet others also think they're the only ones here. So am I in your dream or are you in mine and who is affecting whom?

A: All events in the world reflect a level of joint decision to experience them among the seemingly separate minds that are apparently affected. But the interpretation of any event in each individual mind is what determines the nature of the experience for that mind. Two individuals can go through the same external event together and one can feel victimized and the other remain at peace because of how they choose to see the event in relationship to themselves, and perhaps, more to the point, how they view themselves. If guilt is real in the mind, external events will be taken personally. If guilt has been released, events can be observed without any personal reaction. This is true whether we are speaking of minor events involving just two people or major world events, such as the attacks of September 11th or the recent war in Iraq.

All that is important in any situation is my own reaction to the events I am experiencing. For this reason, it can be very helpful to eliminate anyone else from the equation and realize I need only be concerned about my own interpretation of what is going on. The one Son of God is not anyone in the world, but the one mind that seems to have fallen asleep and fragmented into billions of seemingly separate, individual dreamers. When you are analyzing one of your night dreams, you are not concerned with what was going on in the minds of the other figures in your dream, for they all simply reflect different aspects of your own mind -- you’re the only one here, but it’s your mind that is the only one here, not your body. And here is not in the world, but in an illusory state of separation. As all of this becomes clearer in your mind, dealing with the so-called events of the world becomes increasingly simple, for the only solution is to turn to the Teacher of peace within, leaving the teacher of separation and guilt behind.

For additional discussion of some of the issues related to joint decision-making in the dream and the levels at which choices are being made, see Question #37 and #233.

Q #278: It has been said that the ego is not real, it is a mouse roaring like a lion, it is just our belief in it that gives it power. So why then when we decide to change our teacher to the Holy Spirit, has it been said the ego becomes vicious? This makes it sound like its an entity that is striking back, like it has a life of its own. Once we change our mind, why does it not render the ego gone? How can the ego become any more vicious than it already is? This makes me confused as to how much power the ego really does have and makes me a little afraid of it getting back at me for wanting to ignore it.

A: The ego is the thought of separation. Though it is not real, it is a thought that is both weak and powerful. It is weak because it is a thought of separation from God that could never happen, and what can never happen has no effect. Yet, it is powerful because belief in it keeps us rooted in hell with love blocked from our awareness, and our minds darkened by guilt. Attachment to our identity with the ego thought system is very strong, which is why the decision to identify with the Holy Spirit is perceived as a threat and causes us to become fearful. It is this fear that motivates attack, as the Course tells us: “… frightened people can be vicious” (T.3.I.4:2, italics ours). Since it is nothing in itself, the ego does not actually become vicious, it does not do anything: “…the whole separation fallacy lies in the belief that the ego has the power to do anything. The ego is fearful to you because you believe this. Yet the truth is very simple: All power is of God. What is not of Him has no power to do anything” (T.11.V.3:3,4,5,6,7). We cannot do anything worse than what we have already done by taking the thought of separation seriously, thus denying the truth about our Self.

When we choose the Holy Spirit the ego is gone, because we cannot hold two mutually exclusive thoughts in our minds at the same time. The part of the mind that identifies with the ego realizes that if identity with the Holy Spirit is chosen permanently, belief in the separation is no longer possible, and the separated self disappears. Being unwilling to allow the disappearance of the self, the separation thought is chosen once again in the insane belief that it will have a different outcome -- that happiness will be found in separation and specialness. There is nothing more painful or more vicious in our experience than the repeated choice for separation. It is important to remember that this is a choice we make. It is not something that the ego does to us.

We are not asked to ignore the ego or this choice; we are asked to look at it and uncover all the ego’s schemes. Only by looking will we become aware of our responsibility for choosing to believe the ego’s lies, and realize the price we pay for this choice. The Course tells us this is the source of all pain: “The cause of pain is separation, not the body, which is only its effect” (T.28.III.5:1). Although it is a death blow to the ego and may be perceived as painful, choosing the Holy Spirit, whose thought system undoes the separation, is the only way out of pain. When the confusion you mention comes upon you it may be helpful to consider this beautiful reminder from Jesus: “Ours is simply the journey back to God Who is our home. Whenever fear intrudes anywhere along the road to peace, it is because the ego has attempted to join the journey with us and cannot do so. Sensing defeat and angered by it, the ego regards itself as rejected and becomes retaliative. You are invulnerable to its retaliation because I am with you” (T.8.V.5:4,5,6,7).

Q #279: I know that, as A Course in Miracles says, all illness is a defense against truth. Are you aware of any case of someone who, after many years of continuous study and practice of the Course, started to feel an abstract fear of this apparent reality, like losing his mind -- agoraphobic-like symptoms?

A: It is not surprising that fear may appear to become more intense as we work with the Course over time. We are after all in the process of removing all the many defenses we have constructed to minimize fear in our awareness and to disguise it as other seemingly more manageable feelings, such as anger or excitement.

Jesus is well aware that our fear will seem to increase over time as we study and apply his Course: “You have not yet gone back far enough, and that is why you become so fearful. As you approach the Beginning, you feel the fear of the destruction of your thought system upon you as if it were the fear of death. There is no death, but there is a belief in death” (T.3.VII.5:9,10,11). And later in the text: “As the light comes nearer you will rush to darkness, shrinking from the truth, sometimes retreating to the lesser forms of fear, and sometimes to stark terror” (T.18.III.2:1).

The form that our increased fear may take will in most cases keep our focus on the external world and on threat to the body’s life and well-being, since that is the identity as egos we are trying to maintain. Agoraphobia is certainly a specific form in which the fear could be expressed, as the experience of oneness that the Course is leading us towards is one of no limits or boundaries -- the ultimate spaciousness, if you will.

No matter what form the fear takes, the answer is always the same. All fear ultimately comes from the belief that we have attacked and destroyed love and that we will be attacked and destroyed in return. If we can quiet our minds just enough to ask for help, joining with the presence of love that has remained always there despite our beliefs, we will know that love cannot be destroyed, and so neither the guilt of attack nor the punishment we have believed it calls for are true. In the words that conclude the introduction to the text, “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God” (T.in.2:2,3,4).

You do not say whether this is simply a theoretical question you are asking or whether you are describing your own or someone else’s actual experience. If the latter is the case, should the symptoms persist and continue to be unsettling and problematic, it is always a wise course of action to see a professional therapist for help in alleviating the symptoms.

Q #280: Is there a positive form of denial? Would denying the countless, tiny, fearful, negative thoughts that bombard me throughout the day be one way of applying, in practical terms, what Jesus calls, “Denial of Error”?

A: It depends on what you mean by denying. If you mean that you are aware that they are there and that you (as the decision maker) are responsible for them, but then you deny their power to take away your peace or change your reality as God’s Son, then you are using denial in a helpful, positive way. Then you would be denying the error, or denying the denial of truth (T.12.II.1:5). The mistake we all made was to take the “tiny, mad idea” of separation seriously, instead of smiling at the silliness and insanity of believing that we could exist as separate individuals apart from God (T.27.VIII.6). We repeat this mistake every time we judge our ego thoughts to be so awful and so bothersome that we need to repress them or escape from them. We correct that mistake every time we look squarely at our ego thoughts, and remember that the only power they have is the power we give to them by our belief that they define us and that they can truly affect us. So that we don’t skip steps, then, we first must deny their seeming power. And we can do that most effectively by looking at them with the love of Jesus next to us. As that love becomes more and more real to us, our ego thoughts will become less and less real to us. And then one day we will simply regard them as meaningless, as we will have finally accepted the love of Jesus as the only reality in our minds.