Weekly Questions and Answers, 02/04/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #381: How do I learn to respond with love to attacks?
Q #382: Should I take "signs" seriously?.
Q #383: Why does Kenneth Wapnick say "Say not no to the ego" ?.
Q #384: Why do I feel anxiety after studying the Course?
Q #385: Did prayer heal a tumor, or was it misdiagnosed?.

Q #386: Does physical healing require acceptance of the Atonement?

Chronological List of All Questions.

Interactive Index of all topics

Q #381: In the answer to Question #58, it was stated that A Course in Miracles asks us to respond with love to someone having an outburst of any kind, and if our response is anything less than love, it is of the ego. What would be a response of love to a supervisor who is yelling at you in front of others while demeaning you and slamming papers on the desk? It was also stated in that same answer that we are to be vigilant for any underlying feeling or reaction. I feel I need specifics to do while this outburst is taking place. I am certain that I have the small willingness to help both him and myself, yet I am not sure of what to do to help us.

 How responsible am I for having someone like him in my life? How responsible am I for having bad things happen to me?

A: One of the first things it may be helpful for you to do is to understand that the Course teaches us on different levels. Although Jesus is aware that we that we are dreaming of a multitude of experiences in form, he is speaking to the mind; specifically the power of the mind to choose. This is a Course is content (mind), not form (bodies). However, while we are still convinced that we are bodies in the world interacting with other bodies, it is never helpful to try to respond to a specific situation in our lives on the metaphysical level of the Course’s teaching. The principles of the Course that you refer to from a previous question is the Course’s explanation of what is occurring on the level of the mind. It is the real reason why you feel all the things you feel when you are being yelled at, i.e., the effect of a choice in the mind to identify with the ego’s thought system, rather than with the love of the Holy Spirit. It is true that the ultimate goal of A Course in Miracles is to teach us to perceive only a call for love or an expression of love, but that is at the end of the process. Meanwhile, it is important to be honest about what you feel, without judgment, and without trying to come from a place in the mind with which you do not yet fully identify. The Course does not ask us to behave in any way that is not normal, on the level we believe ourselves to be. Your feelings during your supervisor’s attack are certainly normal. As long as you have them, they should not be denied, ignored, or judged. That is not to say that you might still be willing to review them when you are studying the Course, to learn how its principles apply to this situation. It is very important, however, not to dismiss or diminish your feelings. They are indications that what the Course says is true -- that we have a strong attachment to our identities as bodies. This is not a sin; it is a mistake in identity, and needs to be corrected by the Holy Spirit. Our function is to recognize that all the feelings we have when being attacked, as normal as they may be, do in fact come from this mistaken identity. During the actual attack it may be possible for you to ask for help. The help you may want is to feel better and not be attacked. The help you need is to learn to interpret the experience differently: “You are not coerced, but merely hope to get a thing you want. And you can say in perfect honesty: I want another way to look at this” (T.30.I.11:2,3,4). As we are told in the very beginning of the Workbook: “I am never upset for the reason I think” (W.pI.5). Even though you may not believe this during the attack, remembering to ask for help by recalling one or both of these thoughts when you are being attacked, gets you in touch with the part of your mind that does believe them. This is the beginning of the forgiveness process, and although it may not seem like much, it is a very important step.

At first, you may remember these ideas only long after the actual attack takes place, and you have already been very upset. This does not matter, if you are willing, and try to be faithful to remembering, the time between the attack and your remembering will eventually shrink. It is not your function to try to think or feel differently, or to help your supervisor or yourself in any way; that comes from the Holy Spirit. With His help, your thinking will gradually shift, and you will no longer be upset in the same way by an attack. Until then, it is important not to judge yourself in any way for being upset, for forgetting to ask for help, or for any reaction you may have to the attacks. Only your honesty and willingness are required. It may be helpful for you to re-read the instructions in the Introduction to the Workbook (W.in.8,9).

In answer to the second part of your question, it is important to remember that since the world was made as an attack on God, it is filled with conflict, pain and “bad” things. A Course in Miracles is not a program for learning to control the form of our lives and our environment so as to avoid suffering. The goal of the Course is to train our minds “in a systematic way to a different perception of everyone and everything in the world” (W.in.4:1). We are learning to interpret ourselves, our experiences, and all our relationships differently. “Bad” things are bound to occur in this world, because it was made by the ego as “a place where God could enter not” (W.pII.3:2). As students of the Course, our goal is not to have a life free of difficulties, but that we learn they need not take our peace away. In the Holy Spirit’s classroom, these difficulties are opportunities to recognize our mistaken perception about who we are, so we can ask for, and be willing to accept a new way of perceiving. This learning process is the way to remember that we are in fact home.

Again, the Course is addressing the mind. When it tells us that the figures in the dream act out our projected guilt it is because everything in the dream reflects a choice made in the mind to identify with the ego or the Holy Spirit. The figures in the dream speak and act according to what we want to hear and see, just as the figures do in our night dreams. They reflect back to us our choice to for shared or separate interests. You are not responsible for having a supervisor who attacks, you are responsible for the choice in the mind to identify with a body that seems vulnerable to attack. You are also responsible for all the steps you are taking in practicing the Course so as to learn gradually, gently, and patiently that you are not a body with separate interests.

Q #382: I just started reading A Course in Miracles. For the last two years I've looked within and discovered some not so pleasant things about myself as well as some beautiful things about myself and others. My question is, are signs valid? I ask for signs on specific things and always receive positive signs giving me hope, encouragement and reassurance, which all lead me to feel secure and peaceful. Being that there are no coincidences in life, wouldn't that mean that they are valid? Maybe the signs are supposed to happen to get us to believe in ourselves, which will make us more likely to believe in others. People are less judgmental when they are happiest as a person.

A: It really is difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate another person’s experiences. We all have different ways of experiencing the Holy Spirit’s guidance, as well as the ego’s. If you are more peaceful and secure and are being kinder to yourself and others, what can be wrong with that? If there are any lessons that you have not learned, they will become apparent to you in your interactions with others at some point. The only caution to observe, perhaps, is with regard to any specialness you would be tempted to feel because you receive positive signs that other people might not receive. Also, depending on these signs or taking them as a measure of your spiritual progress would not be helpful on your spiritual journey. In the “Song of Prayer” pamphlet, Jesus stresses early in his teaching that what we want to learn to want is the song itself: “It is the song that is the gift. Along with it come the overtones, the harmonics, the echoes, but these are secondary” (S.I.3:2,3). And in the text, he similarly points out the need to go beyond symbols to what they represent, if we are to advance spiritually (T.19.IV.C.11:2,3,4). If these signs are coming from the love that is in your right mind, then by identifying more and more with that source, your need for encouragement, reassurance, and security will diminish and eventually disappear. But this is a process that happens gradually. Having that as your goal, however, will help you recognize potential ego snares.

Q #383: What does Ken mean when he says “Say not no to the ego” I believe this was said in an audio-tape series.

A: We are not saying “not no” to the ego. If it was stated this way on the tape, it was misspoken. The ego can be understood as a “no” to God, and to the Identity that God has given us as His innocent Son. Saying “not no” is a way of saying that we deny the reality of the ego’s thought system, and accept the truth of who we are as God’s Son. It means we do not say no. This is related to the idea that A Course in Miracles is a process of unlearning who we are not, so that who we are can return to our awareness. The truth does not require any affirmative response on our part to be what it is -- it only requires that we say “not no.”

The Course tells us that God established our identity as His innocent Son: “I am your Father and you are My Son”(W.pII.10.5:3). We have responded: “No, I am not; I am who I say I am.” And we have a long list of who we say we are. The process of forgiveness is teaching us to let go of all these concepts of the self, attributes of our made up identities, in this process we are saying “not no.”   When we have said “not” to all of our no’s, we will have cleared our minds of all the obstacles that blocked awareness of our true selves: “When every concept has been raised to doubt and question, and been recognized as made on no assumptions that would stand the light, then is the truth left free to enter in its sanctuary, clean and free of guilt. There is no statement that the world is more afraid to hear than this: I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself. Yet in this learning is salvation born. And What you are will tell you of Itself” (T.31.V.17:5,6,7,8,9).

Q #384: I experience a free-floating anxiety or unsettled feeling sometimes after I read A Course in Miracles. This awareness doesn’t seem to have any content other than since I believe the truth of what I read, I should feel peaceful, not unsettled. Yet, what I read doesn’t seem to “stick” in my memory as something I can draw on. My life has been filled with beliefs that have filled my time with worldly concerns about who I am in relation to others and why I am afraid of money, etc. Since I started studying the Course again, I know my fears are not real and I don’t experience fear very often. I’ve experienced some deep feelings of peace and clarity lately and I wish this would become more frequent. I think perhaps I’m trying too hard or that I’m too focused on ME as being solely responsible to learn and not asking the Holy Spirit to help me learn what I need to learn. I’ve felt alone all my life – believing in God but as somehow separate from me.

A: To your right mind, the Course’s message is one that opens the door to peace. But to your ego, or wrong mind, the Course’s message will at some level be experienced as a threat, for the purpose of the Course is to teach us how to undo the ego. So long as you remain identified with your ego in any way -- as all of us here continue to do -- it is not surprising that you may at times experience anxiety or other unsettled feelings as you read the Course. And you are certainly not alone in finding your memory failing you when you want to be able to apply the Course’s principles, which you may have just been reading and studying five minutes earlier and now find you haven’t a clue as to what you were looking at. Anyone who has attempted to do the workbook lessons and remember them at various intervals throughout the day has found these lapses all too familiar. But again, the “forgetting” is simply an ego defense to protect itself from being undone. The preoccupation with the things of the world --our personal and bodily needs and concerns -- is yet another form of defense that keeps us rooted in our ego identity, oblivious to the actual choice such a perception of ourselves represents.

We may know intellectually that our fears are not real and experience some peace as a result of this realization. But there are layers to our fear, so while we may move beyond fear of some of those old familiar monsters under the bed, we find there are others still lurking behind the shut doors of the closets of our minds, continuing to affect us until we are willing to open the doors and let the light shine on their nothingness. But there is no need to be concerned that they still linger for, again, that is to be expected until we get to the bottom of the layers of fear and release all the guilt that is concealed beneath them. And that is a process that for most of us will take time. So be patient with yourself and yes, please don’t forget that you are not alone in this process, that in fact you cannot do it alone, and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are ever present in your mind, available to help you remember the way back home, which is where we have been all along, simply with the covers pulled over ourselves so we can’t see beyond the darkness we have hidden ourselves in (T.11.VIII.13,14; T.12.II.4,5).

Q #385: My partner was diagnosed with lung cancer in early March. Last Wednesday they surgically removed the tumor only to discover that not only was the tumor not in her lung but it was benign. Everyone is saying it was a miracle....prayer changed the tumor. As a student of A Course in Miracles, I'm ashamed to tell you that I think the doctors misdiagnosed the tumor in the first place. I think that doctors are always looking for cancer and so they find it everywhere. I feel guilty for my lack of faith. Do you have any words of comfort or wisdom for me?

A: There is an assumption implicit in your question that you may not be aware of. And that is that it is somehow more spiritual to believe that prayer changed the tumor than to believe that there was a mistake in the diagnosis from the beginning. From the Course’s perspective, neither is true! Except for very rare exceptions in those who have healed their minds, symptoms of illness in the body are only ever shadows of guilt in our mind, projected onto the body. Illness always reflects a choice in the mind to see oneself as the victim of forces beyond one’s control. And we all make the choice to be victimized repeatedly through our lives -- illness being only one particular expression of that choice -- and then forget we ever made the choice, as a defense against the truth of who we are as spirit (W.pI.136.2,3,4).

Since each symptom represents a choice within our mind in each instant, we can make a different choice at each subsequent instant as well. The initial choice for illness is made with the ego. The choice for a different experience may be made with either the ego or the Holy Spirit, depending on our purpose. If we identify the guilt in our mind behind the symptom and bring that to the Holy Spirit for healing, then the symptom will diminish or vanish, for we will no longer feel a need to punish ourselves. It is possible for this shift to happen without our being fully aware of it, although the goal of the Course is to make our decision-making more conscious.

The alternative is that we simply make a different ego choice, never really addressing the buried guilt, and so one symptom disappears, at some point to be replaced by another symptom, perhaps similar, but perhaps not. That is how we all experience our lives when we are identified with our egos, moving from one problem to another, seeming to lose our peace over each problem, feeling a sense of relief when it apparently is resolved, and then losing our peace apparently over the next problem, never in touch with the real cause of our loss of peace -- the ongoing decision to see ourselves as separate from love.

What hopefully is apparent from this explanation is that God and faith have nothing to do with the healing of physical symptoms. The decision-making part of our mind that most of us are rarely in touch with is responsible for the appearance and disappearance of symptoms. In light of this then, it may also be apparent that whether the symptom at the level of form was cancer and then changed or was never really cancer at all is really beside the point. The only question we want to ask ourselves, as students of the Course, when we are aware of reacting to symptoms in either ourselves or others, is: “With which teacher do I want to learn the lesson this symptom brings with it?” If I choose the ego, my lesson will be that guilt and punishment are real. If I choose the Holy Spirit, my lesson will be that I now have the opportunity to make a different choice about the guilt that I believe is buried in my mind, releasing it to the healing light of forgiveness rather than continuing to hold on to it and projecting it in some disguised form.

Q #386: Does physical healing require complete and final acceptance of the Atonement? If so, why do people who have never heard of A Course in Miracles and have never practiced forgiveness experience physical healing many times during their lives? I have a serious vein disease, which I've been trying to heal by following the Course. One time, for a very short while, I was able to see myself as not being my body. I experienced a wonderful feeling in my legs and for about 2 hours they seemed to be healed (at least they were pain free). Was this the kind of physical healing the Course talks about? Later the pain returned. Now, I cannot find my way back to that awareness of not being my body. But perhaps this is not necessary, because the Course says that the Holy Spirit will guide me if I only give my “little willingness.” I am not sure I understand the “little willingness” that I must give to the Holy Spirit.   The Course says that if I give this “little willingness,” I will receive very specific instructions that will lead me out of my illusions and pain. The Course says that I should not try to free my mind from fear and pain because that is the Holy Spirit's role. I tell the Holy Spirit that I am willing to follow His way, but nothing seems to happen. Perhaps my understanding of the “little willingness” is not accurate. How can I give the Holy Spirit my “little willingness” in the right way?

A: First, final acceptance of the Atonement is not required for there to be a change in a physical condition. Our minds are extremely powerful, and they can both bring about physical symptoms and remove them, whether we have undone our belief in separation or not. A major teaching in the Course is that our bodies are not autonomous; they do only what our minds tell them to do. We cannot judge by observing physical states whether a person has identified with the wrong mind or the right mind. (See “How Is Healing Accomplished? M.5.)

Second, A Course in Miracles is not really about healing the body or any condition in the world, even though there is a great deal in the Course about healing. Healing in the Course is equated with forgiveness. One of the key guiding statements in this context is: “Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose rather to change your mind about the world” (T.21.in.1:7). Jesus is teaching us how to shift our focus from conditions in the world and our bodies to the thoughts in our minds that lead us to believe that the world and our bodies are the cause of our problems and our unhappiness. It is natural to want painful physical symptoms to be removed, and we should use whatever remedy we can to alleviate the pain and correct the condition. But ridding the body of all symptoms is not the goal of our work with the Course. Achieving a state of inner peace regardless of external conditions is the goal. Ultimately, of course, we will awaken from the dream of separation, but the more accessible goal for us is to learn that our inner peace is not dependent on anything external. The peace of God is our true Identity, and so if we are not peaceful, then somehow we have dissociated ourselves from that Identity. Thus, the way to reverse the dissociation is to choose Jesus or the Holy Spirit as our Teacher -- not in order to have the symptoms removed, but to help us change our perception and our purpose. Then, as we go along, we will be more and more content with inner peace, and as a result we will automatically begin to disidentify with our bodies; but it is usually very, very difficult to try to “not be a body.” We are very much attracted to being a pain-free, problem-free body, but not to be a body at all is a terribly frightening thought to most of us.

That is why Jesus teaches us to concentrate first on the purpose for which we use our bodies, and why his help is directed at helping us break the connection between external conditions and our internal state of mind. We have used our bodies primarily as a way of proving that duality, not oneness is reality; so he helps us turn that around through our gradually and gently learning that nothing can truly disrupt the peace of God that is our natural state of being. So physical or psychological healing (removal of symptoms) is not the focus of the Course, although it never says it is wrong to treat the symptoms. In fact, denying our bodily experiences would hamper our progress spiritually (T.2.IV.3:8,9,10,11). We usually need to alleviate pain and discomfort so that we can feel more free to work on the inner process. The point, though, is that if the underlying conditions are not dealt with, then other symptoms will arise to take the place of those that are healed, which is the experience of almost everyone. “Thus is the body healed by miracles because they show the mind made sickness, and employed the body to be victim, or effect, of what it made. Yet half the lesson will not teach the whole. The miracle is useless if you learn but that the body can be healed, for this is not the lesson it was sent to teach. The lesson is the mind was sick that thought the body could be sick; projecting out its guilt caused nothing, and had no effects” (T.28.II.11:4,5,6,7).

Finally, one essential aspect of willingness involves looking at our certainty that we know what our problems are and what their solution should be. The reason for our lack of peace often seems so obvious to us, and we feel so sure that we would be peaceful and happy again if only that condition or situation were removed or cured. Jesus is teaching us, however, to let go of that tendency to think that we know, because it is basically blocking access to our right minds where true healing is. And sometimes we could be setting ourselves up for failure if we concentrate exclusively on asking for help with a physical condition. It is not wrong to do so, as Jesus point out in the “Song of Prayer” pamphlet, where he speaks of a “ladder of prayer” (S.1.I,II), but the temptation would be to be disillusioned and then blame someone if there is no change, or to confine Jesus in our minds to the role of physical healer. The change that Jesus truly wants us to have as our goal is the experience of sharing his mind, which knows only of invulnerability, love, and peace.

For related discussions on healing and illness, see Questions #57, #128, and #142.