Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/15/2003

This week's questions/topics:

Q #281: A question about guilt, responsibility, and upsetting incidents.
Q #282: Will Buddhism help or hinder my progress with the Course?
Q #283: How do I reconcile taking care of my health with the Course's teachings ?
Q #284: A question about being a police officer and studying the Course.

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #281: My question pertains to responsibility. I understand that I am responsible for what I think, and that by choosing to agree with the ego, I am making the world real. In the text of A Course in Miracles, chapter 5, section V, The Ego's Use of Guilt, paragraph 7, “Guilt is inescapable by those who believe they order their own thoughts…This makes them feel responsible for their errors without recognizing that, by accepting this responsibility, they are reacting irresponsibly”. Please clarify.

Secondly, regarding making the world...I understand making the world real, or the mistake real, but literally making the physical world is difficult to wrap my head around experientially. If I am upset at some other car hitting my car in an accident, am I responsible for making it real by getting upset, or am I responsible for making the accident happen so I would have something to blame my anger on. To clarify, do I go out and find an excuse to be upset, or do I literally make the excuse happen. Did I cause that car to hit my car, or am I just using this occurrence as an excuse to be upset instead of choosing to be at peace looking at the whole accident with the Holy Spirit.

A: In order to understand responsibility as meant in A Course in Miracles, it is essential that you first understand just who it is that the Course is addressing. It is never the self we believe we are, living in the world, that Jesus is speaking to. That self has no power to do anything, for it is only the effect of thoughts in the mind. And it is to the mind that the Course is addressed. It is just this distinction that Jesus is making early in the text when, in the context of our learning to heal our perception and ultimately come to realize that “all perception is unnecessary,” he observes: “You may ask how this is possible as long as you appear to be living in this world. That is a reasonable question. You must be careful, however, that you really understand it. Who is the “you” who are living in this world?” (T.4.II.11:3,5,6,7,8; italics added). Since, as the Course states repeatedly in Lesson 132, “there is no world” (W.pI.132.5:1,6:2,7:1,10:3,13:1), there can be no “you” that is living in this world. There is only mind in which the seeming world is contained. We have an experience of this when we awaken from a sleeping dream and recognize that a complete world seemed to exist in which we moved about and acted, yet both the world and the self we thought we were while we slept both remained completely within the dreaming mind.

To understand the Course’s teaching on responsibility then, it is important to allow a shift in our perception of who this responsible self is -- mind, not body. We may understand this only intellectually at first, but it is helpful to be willing at least to begin there. And so, to consider the Course lines you quote: In this particular paragraph, Jesus is using the word responsible in the ego’s sense of guilty. We believe that we really can think apart from God and order our thoughts independently of Him, and then we assume responsibility, or blame, for having done that, never calling into question the reality of our belief that we can separate ourselves from God. And on our own, apart from God’s Help, there is no escape from the awful burden of this responsibility, because we cannot question its reality on our own. And so to accept responsibility for sin is to buy the ego’s lies, thereby acting irresponsibly. Jesus is not asking us to deny that it is our own decision that brings about this experience of guilt (T.5.V.8:1), but he does not want us to associate blame or guilt with that choice or we will not believe it can be undone.

As for how we could possibly have made the world and everything that seems to happen in it, remember that it is not the self you think you are but the mind of the Son, which we are all a part of, that is responsible for falling asleep and dreaming of a world of separation. Again, that the mind has the power to make up a world is apparent from our sleeping dreams (T.18.II.5). Still, this is usually not the most helpful perspective from which to consider the events of our lives, including such things as car “accidents.” To focus on how we are choosing the events of our lives is usually not helpful because the choice is far from conscious awareness for most of us most of the time, and such a focus is more likely to induce feelings of responsibility in the ego’s sense of guilt or blame.

The more helpful and healing perspective is to recognize that it is our interpretation of the events of our lives that we always have a choice about, in every moment. And while events can not be undone, interpretations of those events can be undone in an instant, if we so choose. We never become upset at external circumstances, but rather make the choice for separation and guilt in the mind first and then look for something external to which we can attribute our upset. This serves to keep ourselves mindless and beyond the hope of any real solution to our loss of peace. The self we think we are in the world is never the cause of anything, so it becomes irrelevant to ask whether we choose the events of our lives, so long as we see ourselves as “living in this world.” The only helpful choice to be in touch with is our choice of how to interpret what we believe is happening to us. The ego’s interpretation is always that we are victims, and not responsible for how we feel. The Holy Spirit, in contrast, says all events in our lives are the opportunities for learning to make a different choice -- releasing guilt and fear rather than reinforcing them.

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 Questions #37, #233, and #277.

Q #282: In addition to being a student of A Course in Miracles, I am also a Buddhist. I find that Buddhism and the Course fit very well together. I am considering taking up robes and becoming a Buddhist nun, in order to further my spiritual understanding. By letting go of a “normal” lifestyle of having a job, paying bills, etc., am I postponing lessons that I will need to learn, or is the adoption of a monastic lifestyle a great step forward in letting go of my attachment (forgive my Buddhist terminology) to the world of illusions that my ego has created?

A: A Course in Miracles focuses only on the content in our minds, not form or behavior. And that content is either of the ego or Holy Spirit. So whether you are in a monastery or in a corporate office makes no difference from that point of view. What makes a difference, spiritually, is whether you see your interests as different from everyone else’s or as the same. The Course encourages us to see our life circumstances and settings as classrooms in which we can choose to learn either the ego’s curriculum, which is based on separation, or the Holy Spirit’s curriculum, which is based on the undoing of separation. It teaches us to think always in terms of purpose: Are we using the world and our relationships to reinforce our belief in separation or to undo it? The world and the body, thus, are not the problem; the way we use them is the problem. And that always is the result of the choice we make in our minds to be taught by the ego or by Jesus. Thus, what would be most helpful in your situation is to ask for help in undoing any specialness that might be involved in the decision you are making. That would go a long way toward removing the doubts and conflicts you experience.

Q #283: I have been a student of A Course in Miracles for six years now and practice at it daily. Every time I have a questions to ask it gets answered in some form by you. so thank you for all the help. Now I am a little confused on how to handle this situation. The last eight years I have gained 30 lbs and being 69 years of age it is a concern because the additional weight can lead to many diseases and I am not comfortable with it. So I went on a diet of healthy eating and exercises. I am comfortable with my game plan but I am confused because I know that all the illnesses, aches and pains are only my own guilt about the choice I made on leaving God and that guilt is projected on to my body.  So, if I stay aware of this fact and continue on my plan will that be OK? How do we handle following the Course and doing what we think is necessary in this world. This question could be used in many different situations. Again thank you for all your help.

A: You are correct. This question can be applied to many different situations regarding behavior.

As you undoubtedly know, the focus of A Course in Miracles is not on changing our behavior, but rather on changing the teacher who will guide us through our daily lives. And yet, we have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is basically where we find ourselves right now. It doesn’t matter that yesterday I was practically sitting at the right hand of God when today I’m a hateful, spiteful, blankety-blank!

So, we start where we are. As you stated, you know your ailments come from your guilt. This recognition alone gives you more knowledge than 99.9% of the population. You are off to a good start right there! You want to lose weight to live a longer and healthier life, and as an aside, to perhaps feel better about your looks as well (although you didn’t say so). You have a plan, which seems complete and well thought out. You imply that you have implemented your plan, at least for a little while, and then you became confused -- about your plan, about your guilt, etc.

Sounds like you made a right-minded decision to take better care of yourself, to love yourself a little more, to “let go” of some of your guilt, and to be worthy of good health and happiness. It also sounds like once you started implementing your plan, a tiny voice began to whisper in your ear -- the content of its message, no matter what the words, being “who will I be without my guilt?” Once heard, you began to get confused. Should I? Would I? Could I? All of this a direct response to your right-minded decision.

This is a perfect example of what we all do in various aspects of our lives. We make right-minded decisions, become afraid of them (and their implications) and jump right back into the arms of the ego until we tire of its insanity and begin the entire process again — over, and over, and over. We continue this way until our fear is totally diminished and we make the final right-minded choice, at which point we are in the real world, and the tiny voice of the ego is heard no more. And, if you can generalize this process to your entire life, you’ll be able to more quickly and easily recognize signs of fear as they creep into your thoughts, no matter what form they take. This will help you take your doubt and self-sabotage less seriously than you have in the past, simply stating:: “Of course, I’ve gotten afraid again. So what else is new?”

Q #284: I have been a police officer for over six years. Since joining the police force, I have become interested in various spiritual teachings, including hatha Yoga and A Course in Miracles. As a result, a few years ago, I decided to resign from my police job and try to find a job more in line with living a spiritual lifestyle. The police work seemed to become more difficult as I tried to come more and more from a place of love and non-judgment. I felt as if I was becoming too vulnerable for that type of intense work.

But then I returned to the police job after taking about a year off, having concluded that I could not run away from my projections because they followed me wherever I went. Only the form changed. I went back to the police force for about two years before again feeling a strong desire to leave. I am currently on a leave of absence from my job, studying to become a certified Yoga teacher. I have almost finished the program and must make a decision on what to do next. I have thought a lot about becoming a monk in the Vedanta order since this seems to me to be the closest to what I believe to be the Truth, but I think this might just be another escape mechanism. I have continued to study the Course along with Yoga, even though in many ways these two practices seem contradictory, since Yoga focuses on using the body as a means to cultivate stillness.

My main question is, from a Course perspective, is police work a more difficult path to walk while trying to wake up, since it involves dealing so often with very intense situations and seeing egos at their worst? Is this conducive to practicing forgiveness? What about monastic life? Since the Course’s focus is on forgiving relationships, it might not agree with monastic life, i.e., renouncing the world. If I could only be willing to hear the voice of Jesus or the Holy Spirit and stop confusing myself. It's a bummer to have the awareness that I am doing this to myself, but not enough willingness to stop doing it.

A: Although you say you have one main question, it would appear that you really have two distinct, but nevertheless interrelated questions. And the prior question is to which spiritual path, Yoga or the Course, do you want to commit yourself? You recognize that they are not the same, but if you attempt to maintain a foot on each path, as they diverge more and more in your experience over time, you will feel increasingly split and confused. So this is the first question you may wish to answer, at which point an answer to the second question -- what line of work or career should you choose -- may be more readily apparent. Although the deeper metaphysical teachings of the Course and the Vedanta -- both assert the non-dualistic nature of reality -- are the same, the means to remembering that reality and awakening are different.

Jesus, addressing the student who has made a commitment to the Course, points out how the Course differs from other paths: “Nor is a lifetime of contemplation and long periods of meditation aimed at detachment from the body necessary. All such attempts will ultimately succeed because of their purpose. Yet the means are tedious and very time consuming, for all of them look to the future for release from a state of present unworthiness and inadequacy. Your way will be different, not in purpose but in means. A holy relationship is a means of saving time. One instant spent together with your brother restores the universe to both of you.” (T.18.VII.4:9,10,11;5:1,2,3).

In other words, the Course’s process to awaken is forgiveness -- not meditation -- practiced in the context of all of our relationships in the world. Some relationships are more intense than others, but all provide opportunities to heal our projections of the guilt we have sought to place outside our minds, by withdrawing those projections and seeing them within, where they can then be released.

And so which path you wish to pursue is the first decision you may want to address. The Course makes no claim to being the only way -- “There are many thousands of other forms, all with the same outcome (M.1.4:2). The only basis for decision is listening to your own inner teacher and becoming clearer with which path you really resonate. Should you decide that Yoga is your path, the choice to become a monk and renounce the world may then be the next step.

Should you on the other hand decide that the Course is your path to awakening, you may look at your choice about work differently. Police work is no doubt very challenging and for this reason provides tremendous opportunities to practice forgiveness, as you increasingly recognize that any reactions or feelings of vulnerability you experience are only projections of your own thoughts. But the Course would never insist that only one line of work or only certain specific relationships will afford you those learning opportunities. As you said, your projections will follow you wherever you go. So relax. Perhaps you can find some comfort in the fact that the confusion you feel is not over which line of work to pursue. That is only ever a distraction from your real choice, since salvation does not depend on anything that happens in time, but only on what happens in your mind, outside of time and space. Choosing between the ego and the Holy Spirit, between reinforcing guilt or accepting healing and forgiveness, is the only choice that ever really matters. Even if it is simply resistance to your lessons of forgiveness that is impelling you to turn away from police work, the most important thing would be to get in touch with the resistance, not to force yourself to stay in the job.

Once you are clear what your goal is, the rest will follow (T.17.VI). For if your goal is forgiveness, everything can be seen to serve that end. And then you can simply sigh a huge sigh of relief, for you don’t really have to figure anything else out!.

For some relevant previous answers, you may wish to look at Questions #90 and #141.