Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/28/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #375: What is the meaning of "correction must be introduced vertically from the bottom up"?
Q #376: What is a good example of using "The Rules for Decision"?.
Q #377: How do I "let him release me" from a special relationship?.
Q #378: How do I "look within"?
Q #379: A question about the "Authority Problem".

Q #380: I feel guilty because I vented my fury in a special relationship.

Chronological List of All Questions.

Interactive Index of all topics

Q #375: What is the meaning of "correction must be introduced vertically from the bottom up" (T.1.VI.3:3)?

A: In several places in the Course, Jesus uses the metaphor of a ladder to talk about our separating from God and then the process of undoing that separation. Our choice to separate from God initiated a series of dynamics that led us all the way down to the bottom of the ladder, which is what we now experience as our selves and our lives. Our return, therefore, must begin with where we are, and then with the Jesus gently guiding us, we go back up the ladder step by step until we reach the top: "…salvation will proceed to change the course of every step in the descent to separation, until all the steps have been retraced, the ladder gone, and all the dreaming of the world undone.…What waits for you in perfect certainty beyond salvation is not our concern. For you have barely started to allow your first, uncertain steps to be directed up the ladder separation led you down. The miracle alone is your concern at present. Here is where we must begin" (T.28.II.12:7; III.1:1,2,3,4).

Thus the correction is focused on our present experience as bodies in a physical world. That is why we need to be vigilant about not skipping steps by denying our bodies or our physical experience in an attempt to jump from the bottom of the ladder right to the top. Any healing we would experience if we did that would be short-lived, because the underlying guilt would remain. The healing process starts with our experiences as individual physical beings because that is what we believe we are, otherwise we would not be having those experiences. "The Holy Spirit takes you gently by the hand, and retraces with you your mad journey outside yourself, leading you gently back to the truth and safety within" (T.18.I.9:3).

Q #376: My question involves the "Rules for Decision". Because I do want to have the dream of judgment undone I want to understand these rules but I'm not sure I do. I would be truly helped by an example applied using the rules or something to make the concept clear.

A: First of all, you want to understand that how we experience everything in our daily lives represents a choice or decision. Then, you want to be clear that there are only two alternatives we are ever deciding between, no matter how many choices our lives and the world seem to present to us -- the ego and the Holy Spirit. Each one represents a thought system and a way of looking at the world that is diametrically opposed to the other, leading to effects that are mutually exclusive.

Now, so long as we are not aware that we have a choice that determines how we experience our lives, we will continue to make an unconscious and unrecognized decision for the ego, with all the consequences that follow from that choice, including guilt, fear, anger, pain, anxiety, depression, distress and conflict. It is the Course’s purpose to help us recognize that not being aware of the choice is really a choice in itself, so that we can decide otherwise -- for the Holy Spirit rather than the ego.

Once you understand that it is only this level of choice that the rules for decision refer to, the rules should become clearer. The day we really want, despite what our ego may tell us, is not one in which we get our own way and all the things we think we want, but rather one in which we do not identify with the guilt in our own mind and therefore have no need to project that guilt outside ourselves onto others and the world around us. And so the rules then describe ways in which we can learn to decide that we do not want to be the judge of what our day should look like, for that is a choice to follow the ego’s rules, based on a belief in our own separate interests, rather than the shared interests the Holy Spirit leads us to recognize.

Jesus knows us well and recognizes that, despite our apparent best intentions to accept him as our teacher, we will become afraid many times during our day and once again will identify with the ego and its guilt and believe we know better than Jesus what we need. We will then need another rule to help us out of the ego fix we have chosen for ourselves. And so as we progress through the section, Jesus offers us ways to undo our unhappy choices and return our mind to his gentle guidance, which will allow us to use everything that seems to happen to us during our day as an opportunity to practice forgiveness. But if we have become entrenched in our ego choice and our own need to be right, then we may need further gentle persuasion that leads us to acknowledge that our own self-centered choice does not make us happy, opening the door to asking for help again.

And so, for a specific example: I may begin my day by expressing a willingness to recognize my judgments as soon as they arise in my mind so that I may ask for help in releasing them and returning to an experience of genuine peace. And I may be moving through my day, periodically getting caught in thinking, for example, that finding a parking place near where I want to shop will make me happy or completing a project without any interruptions will allow me to be at peace. And then I find my irritation level rising as my goals are frustrated. At this point, I want to be able to recognize that I have accepted the ego as my teacher again and have defined my happiness and peace in terms of mastering external situations, thereby setting myself up as their potential "victim." If that recognition comes quickly, I can also then just as quickly abandon the ego and return to Jesus’ gentle guidance.

But perhaps I have a run-in with someone I especially don’t like and we end up butting heads. And there is no way I’m going to back down on this one, because I know I’m right. At some point, I may at least be willing to hear Jesus gently asking me if I like what I’m feeling now. And if I can have enough honesty and humility, I may be able to admit that I don’t. And once again, that opens the door for another way of looking at the situation, one that doesn’t place my own self-interest ahead of everyone else’s and that allows me to see my own call for love being mirrored in the reactions of my "antagonist." And so, as I practice these rules for choosing the Holy Spirit to guide my perceptions of my experience rather than the ego, increasingly I will find that I can have the kind of day I really want -- one filled with a sense of peace and ease and joy -- no matter what seems to be happening on the "outside."

You may find the tape set, Rules for Decision by Kenneth Wapnick, which addresses this section in depth, helpful. Portions of this tape set are also included in our Excerpt Series on our Web site.

Q #377: "Whenever your thoughts wander to a special relationship which still attracts you, enter with Him into a holy instant, and there let Him release you." (T.16.VI.12:1) But how? How do I "enter with Him into a holy instant" -- and then "let Him release me"? "He needs only your willingness..." (next sentence). I sincerely want to be released from this relationship because I find it ridiculous anyway -- but to date I have been failing miserably and do not know how to get out of it.

A: You have found the key to answer your question in the next sentence: "He needs only your willingness…" However, the willingness required here is not the same as wanting to get out of a relationship because it is ridiculous or in some other way undesirable. It is the willingness to recognize and take responsibility for the ego’s use of the relationship, which is always to make the separation real and hold on to guilt.

Any relationship that attracts you, whether you characterize it as special love or special hate, holds a multitude of thoughts, beliefs, and judgments about yourself and the other person, all based on the belief in separation, thus giving rise to guilt. You enter the holy instant with the Holy Spirit through the process of forgiveness. The first step in this process is to be willing to recognize all the beliefs and judgments you bring to the relationship, and then to question them in the light of the teachings of A Course in Miracles to whatever extent you understand them. This changes the purpose of the relationship from the ego’s goal to the Holy Spirit’s. If you are willing to have these beliefs and judgments transformed by the Holy Spirit, you will be released of them, and His perception will replace yours; thus you enter the Holy Instant. "Never approach the holy instant after you have tried to remove all fear and hatred from your mind. That is its function. Never attempt to overlook your guilt before you ask the Holy Spirit's help. That is His function. Your part is only to offer Him a little willingness to let Him remove all fear and hatred, and to be forgiven" (T.18.V.2:1,2,3,4,5). Your release is the release of guilt. The relationship will fall away when you no longer have any attraction to the beliefs, judgments and their ensuing guilt in the specific form that this relationship represents.

Q #378: I have a question for you about "looking". I am stuck on what I perceive as contradictory statements in A Course in Miracles and with what Ken says. The Course encourages us to look within and we will see the unreality of sin, guilt, and fear. Ken instructs us to get in touch with how much we don't want to look within and how much we don't want forgiveness and to ask the Holy Spirit for help in undoing this. I have done this but am struggling to find peace as a result. I am stuck on how long to look. How clearly do I look, how directly do I look, etc.? Early in the text we are encouraged to deny the denial of truth, by first accepting responsibility, then quickly asking the Holy Spirit for help. Further on in the text we are asked to look clearly at the ego, and our hatred "even if it frightens you." Then in T.9.IV.4, I understand this passage to mean that the ego's plan would have us go through a similar process by looking clearly at the error.

A: A point of clarification to begin with: "the ego’s plan" that you mention from chapter 9 is not referring to looking at error within ourselves. The ego’s plan is to have us see error very clearly in someone else, who is therefore deserving of our judgment and condemnation, and then attempt to forgive that -- what The Song of Prayer pamphlet refers to as "forgiveness-to-destroy" (S.2.II). In fact, this is the ego’s major defense, one intended to keep us from looking within by focusing on the guilt in everyone else. We see the sin and guilt outside ourselves in our brothers, never recognizing that it is nothing more than a projection of our unconscious belief in our own sin and guilt. The ego would never encourage us to look truly within our mind at our sin, for if we truly look, as the Course says, we would recognize its unreality. But the kind of looking the Course is referring to is not the ego’s guilty, fearful, furtive glances within, which assume the guilt is real and seek only to affirm its reality by not really looking. Rather it is a calm and gentle viewing of the contents of our mind with Jesus or the Holy Spirit as our Guide for seeing, for they know that what we see as heavy and repulsive is nothing more than shadows that vanish in the light of true forgiveness.

However, this looking within is also not simply a reviewing of our past, inventorying all the self- accusations we harbor against ourselves as this self we believe we are, with its history of transgressions and omissions. For those "sins" and their accompanying guilt are as much covers over the guilt Jesus is inviting us to examine as are our projections of blame and attack against our brothers, for they also distract us from looking within our minds to the real source of guilt. But that does not mean that identifying and becoming aware of our judgments against both ourselves and others can’t serve a different purpose from the ego’s purpose of reinforcing rather than releasing guilt.

We are fearful to look within because we have accepted without question the ego’s assertion that we are "the home of evil, darkness and sin" (W.pI.93.1:1). But even that is a defense, for at a deeper level, our resistance to looking within is really our fear of losing our individual identity. Your struggle with looking within is really your ego’s attempt at self-preservation. While you remain identified with the ego, you believe your own survival is at stake. Yet it is not the Course’s purpose to take away our sense of self but only to help us undo the guilt that we have associated with it. At the very end of the process, we will see no value in saving the false individual self, and that will be a choice we will make most willingly, when we are ready.

In the meantime, to help us release the guilt, the Holy Spirit very cleverly turns the tables on the ego, using what the ego has made as a defense against looking within as the means now for uncovering what is in our unconscious. In other words, the error or sin we see in our brother that so arouses our anger and judgment, or the failures we hold against ourselves for not living up to some ego ideal of how we should act and think, can be given another purpose when we begin to understand their origins. No other judgment is necessary or even possible without the initial self- judgment of the ego that we have sinned by seeking to separate ourselves from God and establish our own separate identity. The very self we believe we are is predicated on a crime so horrendous, we believe, that it can never be forgiven and always calls for God’s vengeance. So anything we accuse ourselves or anyone else of is, in contrast, a pale shadow of that primal guilt. Yet each accusation is literally a shadow or projection of that initial accusation and, if we are willing, we can use every ego reaction to anything that seems to be outside our minds as a means of remembering the ontological guilt that is always necessarily underneath the reaction. If we are willing to withdraw our projections from all bodies -- ours as well as our brothers -- what we are left with is an experience of the guilt we have tried to keep hidden within our mind. And that is what we want to look at with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Not that we will remember or need to remember our so-called original attack on God, but that guilt, stripped of any interpretation that attributes its origin to bodies, will be the naked guilt of the ego thought system. It will be a guilt that says: I matter to me more than anyone or anything else, and I hate everyone and everything that prevents me from having my way. There is nothing beyond that recognition to look at or examine. But if we are able to join Jesus in looking within at that guilt, we will simply not take it seriously. For we will have joined with the part of the split mind that knows that the split is not real and that love can not be attacked or destroyed. And in that recognition we will experience the peace that depends on nothing outside itself, for there is nothing outside it.

Q #379: I experience myself as being told to review all I can of the "authority problem." I have Ken Wapnick's set on the authority problem, but the world of the ego is preventing me from having the time to listen to it. I am wondering if you would have some other words of wisdom concerning this subject or any writings to which you could direct me.

A: We recommend that you set your ego straight! Work things out with your ego and listen to the tapes.

Question #304 summarized the key ideas involved in the authority problem, which Jesus tells us "is the root of all evil" (T.3.VI.8:3). It is understandable that there would be intense resistance to this topic, because it pervades all wrong-minded thinking, and to delve into it stirs up our ultimate fear that in some way or other, we are going to lose the battle of existence with God. Concealed in a dark corner of our minds is the "truth" that our existence as individuals is not authentic and can be extinguished the instant our defenses are exposed and demolished, which is inevitable. This ontological doubt about our very existence then seeps into all levels of our experience, so that we wind up challenging every single authority in our lives -- either secretly or overtly. Or we go in the opposite direction and become completely submissive to authorities, secretly resentful, though, of their power over us. Either way works in the ego’s service, because the separation is maintained.

A Course in Miracles teaches us that the healing of this conflict begins when we ask for help to look at our wish to be autonomous individuals rather than part of the one Son of God, and we will be motivated to ask for help when we have recognized that wanting and defending a life of separate interests has not made us happy. The ego would have us believe that it is always one-or- the-other: either a tryrannical God is in charge or we are. Jesus corrects this erroneous thinking by assuring us that when we let go of our imagined need to be independent, we will feel as if we have just been released from imprisonment, and we will then experience the unending peace that is our inheritance as God’s Son (T.3.VI.10).

Q #380: I thought I have been quite a consistent student recently. Thinking, reading, applying, uncovering all my negative thoughts. And (exactly with a scenario Ken described on one of the tapes) finally I got so mad about my special relationship person. Just couldn’t stop blaming him! When I felt that a storm is coming, my first reaction was to read something from the text of A Course in Miracles or from a workshop (usually it helps to calm down). This last time it didn’t work for me, so I "indulged" myself with a fury! But strangely enough, I felt such a relief, no guilt at all! I know I did wrong, but there is no need to "correct" my mistake, to apologize, or something. I know this outrage can stop our relationship altogether, but there is another thought behind all of that -- I had to do it to stop pretending I can "stuff" my feelings, get beyond mistakes I perceive in this person! I don’t know where this will lead me to. Is there any hope that I wasn’t with my ego one hundred percent?

A: First, what you want to look at is your concern that you were one hundred percent in your ego. A key part of the forgiveness process is learning not to fear the ego or to feel ashamed because you indulged yourself in a full-blown attack. We are trying to learn that the ego is really nothing but a "tiny, mad idea" we forgot to laugh at. So when we judge ourselves for indulging our egos, we are implicitly affirming that it is real, not just a "tiny, mad idea." It would be more healing to just be honest about the attack, saying "I attacked and it felt great!" Period. It was "wrong" only in the sense that attack will never restore peace to your mind and will never lead you home to God. But that does not make it sinful. It just points out to you the cost of indulging your ego. When you no longer feel the cost is worth it, you would ask for help to go about things differently. The measure of progress with the Course is not whether you still have ego attacks, but rather, over a period of time, how quickly you remember not to justify them. Whenever we identify with the ego, we will be hateful, judgmental, fearful, etc., because the ego never changes. The amount of time we spend with it is what changes.

Second, the process of the Course does not force you to choose between forgiveness and stuffing your feelings. Rather, it helps you learn why you attack -- where your feelings are coming from. Thus, early in the workbook we are taught, "I am never upset for the reason I think" (W.pI.5). The practice of the lessons involves looking squarely at our negative thoughts and feelings, recognizing their source in our decision to reject love and then project responsibility for that, and, finally, asking for help to change that decision if we are so inclined. So stuffing our feelings and pretending that we are forgiving is not helpful. Our anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, anxiety, and whatever else we are feeling is our curriculum. These feelings are indicators of what teacher we have chosen and are usually our only means of surmising our mind’s decision. Therefore, we need to be in touch with what we are experiencing. Otherwise, as our teacher, Jesus would have nothing to work with. He never judges us when we have ego outbursts. He just asks that we learn to recognize the ego dynamics behind them so that he can help us make the correction.

When your ego is out of the way, you would relate to your special partner without defenses. You would experience both of you as sharing the same wrong mind, the same right mind, and the same ability to choose. Anger would be impossible in that state, because you would clearly see the origin of that person’s pain and the healing of it as well, and you would know that it reflects yours. That is the state of mind Jesus is helping us to attain. It is not stuffing our feelings; it is attaining an ego-free state in which such negative feelings would never develop. We would share the perception of the Holy Spirit, Who sees either a call for love or an expression of love (T.12.I).

Finally, anger is not bad. Jesus never tells us not to get angry. He teaches us not to justify it -- an important distinction.