Weekly Questions and Answers, 11/20/2002

This week's questions:

Q #17: A question about undoing separation.
Q #18: A question about the meaning of "will."
Q #19: A question about the nature of guilt.
Q #20: A question about friendship & romance.
Q #21: A question about the meaning and purpose of art.

Q #17: I heard that in the real world the separation is seen, but separate interests are not. Is that true? What does that actually mean? Which came first the separation or the guilt? (I imagine the separation) Can the guilt be undone without undoing the separation or are they all tied together? You see I'd quite like to get rid of the guilt…and seeing my brothers interests as my own sounds good since it ends the terrible sense of conflict and competition…but losing my individuality does not feel like a price I am willing to pay. I would rather be a non-guilty non-conflicted non-competitive, non-frightened, happy, individual. Is that possible?

A: First, you are correct in concluding that the separation came before guilt -- guilt is simply the psychological experience of sin -- the feeling that results from being sinful.

Most students reach this same impasse that you have described. What you are feeling is quite normal and understandable, given the strength of our identification with our existence as specific individuals. For the most part, we know no other way of being and find it quite difficult -- to put it mildly -- to integrate Jesus’ teaching that this identity is a replacement for our true Identity as God created us. So Jesus emphasizes throughout the Course, that this is a gradual, gentle process, and we can take as long as we would like to complete it with him. He comforts us by saying: "Do not fear that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality" (T.16.VI.8:1), because he knows well that we are terrified of letting go of this identity.

As we choose to forgive more and more -- to let go of grievances -- we will feel better about ourselves, and therefore we will want to do that more and more. And as that process continues, we will begin to identify more and more with Jesus’ way of thinking and approaching our lives, which means that our point of reference for our lives will gradually shift from simply having our needs met to realizing that we all share a common interest, both in our wrong minds and in our right minds. As we become less and less preoccupied with using the world and other people to meet our needs -- i.e., as we see the purpose of our lives differently -- our self-concept will begin to shift, without our even having focused directly on that.

When we become totally identified with Jesus’ way of thinking, our only attraction will be to his love. And when all of our thinking and perceptions flow from that love, our sense of individuality will be meaningful only to the extent that it can be a means of extending Jesus’ healing love to other minds that are calling out for it. That is the state of mind known as "the real world." It is the natural outcome of the practice of forgiveness. So when we reach that advanced stage, we will no longer be thinking of ourselves as persons with needs and goals that have to be fulfilled. We will perceive from a vantage point "above the battleground" only people who are calling out for love, not knowing they are simply figures in a dream that they themselves are dreaming.

 Q #18: The Course speaks throughout about will. It states that will is not involved in perception (C.1.7:2); that I have imprisoned my will (T.9.I:4.1); and that if I did not have a split mind, I would recognize that willing is salvation (T.9.I.5:4). Just what is will as it is related in the Course, and what purpose, if any, does it serve in the dream?

A: When the Course speaks of "will" it is always referring to God’s Will; "God's Will is all there is." (C.3.6:1). It is speaking on the level of the Mind where our will is one with God’s, where truth is true and everything else is false (T.31.I.1:7). This is an example of the Course’s non-dualism; there cannot be a will apart from God’s, His Will is our salvation, our true will is one with His. We are "willing," i.e., exercising the power of our will, only when we choose to accept the truth about ourselves, and this is our salvation. The Course distinguishes between willing and wanting. When we choose to make sin real, to believe the ego’s lie about who we are in the dream, we are "wanting" to make an illusory alternative to God’s Will and to defend this made up self. This is the imprisonment of our true will; this is how we deny it, and this is the origin of perception -- we see what we want to see.

To help us in our learning, the Course uses a related term, "the little willingness," in reference to our experience in the dream. Being willing, in this sense, is agreeing to choose to see differently; to accept a different interpretation; to question the meaning and value we place on all our relationships, and our entire experience in this dream; to see the effects of the ego choices we have made, and consider their cost. This is enough, the Course tells us, to turn us around in our journey, heading back in the direction of our home in God and the one Will we share with Him; He is our Father, we are His innocent Son. In this way we can make choices in the dream, in the practice and application of the Course that put us in tune with the Will we share with God.

Q #19: The Course, as I understand it, says that at the base of all our suffering lies guilt, and that this guilt is repressed. The Course then seems to suggest that this guilt be dealt with through forgiveness of the external world (rather than by means of a process of uncovering it such as psychoanalysis). If so, of what use at all is the idea of guilt, if it appears to remain at a purely theoretical level?

A: The guilt the Course is talking about is an ontological guilt that comes from believing that we could separate from God but in so doing He had to be destroyed -- separate individual existence and total Oneness are mutually exclusive states that can not coexist. Since the separation from God is only an illusion, and a fragile one at that, a seemingly powerful defense was needed to maintain its seeming reality. All-consuming guilt over our lethal attack upon the All became that defense, burying the question of whether in reality we had or could have attacked. But this guilt is not simply a theoretical construct according to the Course. The Course says that the external world was literally made from that ontological guilt, as a seeming projection outward of what was too horrible to maintain within the mind. So when we practice the process of forgiveness with our external relationships in the world, we are actually addressing, albeit in a piecemeal fashion, aspects of that original ontological guilt. It is an indirect approach with a practical and direct effect on the underlying problem. By seeing what we have made real in our external world as a projection of what is buried in our unconscious, we are actually making that buried guilt, over time, conscious. This undoes the ego strategy of distracting us from the guilt in our mind with the problems and associated guilt in the world. And it allows us to begin to recognize that the underlying premise, that we are separate and Love has been destroyed, from which that basic guilt has been generated, is simply not true.

The process of uncovering guilt within psychoanalysis, as generally practiced, actually plays into the ego’s defensive game plan, although it could be directed to the same end as the Course’s. The guilt it is seeking to uncover is still part of the external smokescreen of the world that the ego mind has constructed to keep us from getting back to the real problem in the mind. It is guilt still related to the body and its relationships to other bodies, and this guilt is still an effect and not the underlying ontological cause that the Course is addressing.

Q #20: I would like to understand why many of my relationships with men begin with a notion of romance but do not sustain themselves as friendships. I value the people I meet and I would like to develop and grow to the point where I can express brotherly love for women and men. As a single woman, I meet men who are often attracted to me, then we date or whatever, and then it ends. I'm responsible for what and how I am communicating. Is there a way to communicate "let's be friends" when something more was expected or desired and disappointment has set in?

A: Our egos are not proud and will use whatever forms of specialness work to get us involved in relationships that in the end do not meet our needs. Although we are usually not aware of this, we have an underlying goal of demonstrating that love can only fail us and that we are the unwitting victim of others’ misleading and confusing overtures. The Course is unique -- and for this reason probably also not that popular -- among spiritual paths in identifying this underlying intent behind all our relationships in the world, no matter how good we believe our intentions may be at the start, until they are given over to the Holy Spirit for healing.

And, often to our disappointment, the Holy Spirit only works with content and not form, so that there can be no guarantee of what will happen in our relationships except that we will be given another opportunity to get in touch with our own buried guilt and feelings of unworthiness and self-hatred so that they can be healed. But if we are able to put the Course’s principles of forgiveness into practice, we will find that over time we experience a sense of peace and joy in our relationships, regardless of whether our brothers or sisters reciprocate in any way on the level of form. And we will know that we are truly "friends" who have a shared purpose of healing the pain buried in our minds. But this is a process that can take time to achieve. So, in the meantime, just know that you are doing the best that you can and don’t stop trying. Jesus needs our special relationships to teach us the other way. It is only fear that ever stops any of us from allowing ourselves to experience greater intimacy in any form.

Q #21: If the art may be seen as a form of special relationship the artist makes as a substitute for God's Love, are forms of art to be considered as a call for love? And how do these forms differ from the forms expressed through "channeling" like Mozart's music? Can we say that the "channeled" art more of expression of love rather than a call for love? And how can we "justify" human distinction between great and mediocre art on Level two of our experience here in material world?

A: First, we cannot judge whether the specific work of a specific artist is a substitute for God’s Love, the manifestation of a special relationship. Only the artist would be able to discern that. We usually cannot tell just from the form whether it has come from the wrong (ego) mind or the right (Holy Spirit) mind. If the reflection of God’s Love is the source of a particular work of art, then, yes, it is an expression of love. Our mistake would be, then, to venerate the work, rather than to identify with the content behind the form.

All special love relationships are defenses against the searing pain in our minds that comes from the guilt we all feel over having rejected God’s Love in favor of giving ourselves existence on our own terms. Following the ego’s counsel, our attention gets directed away from our guilt-laden minds to specific individuals, substances, or activities that can shut out the pain and fill up the loneliness that is in our minds. In essence, our special love relationships are telling God that we don’t need His Love, and that we are perfectly capable of filling the void and experiencing completion and worth through relationships in the world. This is the content underlying the form of all special love relationships. The good feelings that come from these types of relationships hide the hatred that is their basis.

At the same time, in another part of our minds, we are longing to be told that this whole thing was just some silly mistake, that we have been forgiven, and therefore our guilt and our defenses against that guilt are no longer necessary. This is the "call" that is present in our minds that are split between these two attitudes or ways of thinking.

Any form can be used by the Holy Spirit to remind us of the truth about ourselves. One is not more or less inspiring than another, in this sense. In other words, once we believe the separation has occurred and we are here in the world as bodies, the world and our bodies are regarded as neutral. Therefore, anything at all in this world can become a means of leading us beyond the world, or more deeply into it, depending on whether we choose the ego or the Holy Spirit as our teacher. We can be enthralled with Michelangelo’s statue of David and be reminded of our perfection and oneness with God; but the same experience can occur while we are looking at a diseased tree in our yard. When we become dependent on a particular form in order to have a "spiritual" experience, then we have gotten caught in a special love relationship.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with having preferences in this world, provided we don’t take them seriously. We can say that one work of art is better than another, just as we can say that a particular musical composition is better than another, one method of education is better than another, one medical treatment is better than another, based on criteria we have set up in those fields. From the Course’s point of view, they all are equally illusory. Yet, it is natural to evaluate things in a somewhat objective way in the world. The lesson, though, is not to take seriously any conclusions we reach about things in the world -- we should do it with a gentle smile somewhere in our minds, because we know that it is all made up.

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