Weekly Questions and Answers, 02/11/2004

This week's questions/topics:
Q #387: What should I do if I feel "stuck" and in a "dead end"?
Q #388: A clarification about the nature of prayer.
Q #389: Could separation and the ego just be "natural" learning devices?.
Q #390: How do I attain peace in desperate financial and personal circumstances?
Q #391: Clarification about the brain, the mind, thinking, and intelligence.
Q #392: How do I avoid fear and ego-attacks when trying to follow the workbook?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #387: I have begun reading A Course in Miracles and find that I'm very attracted to its teachings. I believe it has practical application to this world. My dilemma is that although I'm not new to spirituality and I believe in God -- I have studied the Bhagavad-Gita for many years and believe it was spoken by God (Krishna) -- I have great difficulty in following the Holy Spirit's directions. My problem is that I work a mind-numbing job as a janitor, which I dislike most of the time. I feel stuck and grudgingly accept my lot in life. I work much on my own and that of course allows my "little self" to indulge in all sorts of judgments and criticisms, bitterness and anger at my position, etc. I also use tobacco to attempt to diminish my "awful" condition. I want to change. I know I'm doing wrong by my thoughts and the tobacco use but my "little mind" tells me that this is the only way I can get through another day of "drudgery." Please give me some constructive advice.

A: Arjuna may have been on an external battlefield in the Gita as he turned to Krishna for guidance, but it sounds like you’re beginning to recognize your battleground is in your own mind. Fortunately, that is where you’ll also find the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Now since the battleground is in your mind, that is where the Holy Spirit will help you to make changes, and not in the external world -- the job, the tobacco, etc., -- which are only ever projections of the inner battle. This is not to say that changes won’t happen on the "outside" as well, but that is never the Course’s focus or goal. Those externals are only symbols or symptoms of internal conflict and guilt, and it is only within the mind that meaningful shifts can occur. The inner conflict is always the battle that your ego is waging against the quiet truth that the Holy Spirit represents. And when you are identified with your ego, you can expect to have difficulty even hearing the Holy Spirit’s direction, let alone accepting it and following it.

The challenge you feel in listening to the Holy Spirit may be two-fold -- there is often difficulty in understanding just what He is asking of us, although it is very simple, and then, once we understand, being willing to follow-through on His counsel. You may believe that it is your lot in life, trapped in a dead-end job that you don’t like, which is the reason you are so unhappy. But the Holy Spirit wants to help you see that the problem is that you are trapped in a dead-end thought system in your mind, and that is what He wants to help you free yourself from. And any addiction to nicotine is nothing compared to the addiction to guilt. All those thoughts of judgment and criticism and bitterness and anger merely keep you going around in your mind in the cycle of attack and guilt. But the Holy Spirit is not asking you to stop those thoughts. Rather He wants you simply to step back from them and look at them, being honest with yourself about the feelings that accompany them and the purpose that they serve. They keep you trapped in the belief that it is your external situation that dictates how you feel. This kind of thinking assures that you remain mindless and that the guilt in your mind -- the real cause of your unhappiness -- is never undone. You want to learn that the guilt in your mind is not real, but you’ll never know that if you don’t look at it, instead seeing the external situation as the cause of your misery and grief.

So, once you understand the very simple request that the Holy Spirit is asking of you, all you need do is put it into practice. And that means nothing more, but also nothing less, than being willing to pull back your projections of blame on things outside yourself and accept complete responsibility for how you feel. And then ask for help that your perception of yourself as one who deserves to suffer be changed. This is the process, to be remembered and then put into practice as we are willing. And none of this means you should not look for or take a better job should you have the opportunity, or seek support that may help you give up smoking. But you want to remember that changes only at this level will not bring you the real happiness and peace you seek and deserve.

Q #388: I have been thinking and meditating a lot on the concept of prayer. It seems to me that the only thing we can do in prayer is to give thanks. Because God does not and cannot enter the human form, we cannot ask for anything, but it seems that many people say that they prayed and God did this or that for them and thus their "miracles." What happens here in these instances? Tell me more about prayer. I understand it seems silly to ask God to do what is already being done. What would Jesus say?

A: "The Song of Prayer" pamphlet may answer many of your questions regarding prayer. It describes different levels or steps, and uses the image of a ladder reaching up to God. The prayer you describe, whereby people ask for certain "things" (material, psychological, or emotional) for themselves or others, is at the bottom of the ladder. It is a form of magic, in that it seems that someone or something outside (in this case, God), granted a wish. What actually takes place is a process in the mind. A person wants something and uses the power of the mind to obtain it. But, because the person is unaware or afraid of the power of their mind, it appears that a petition is made and then granted by God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit. This is then called a "miracle." As you may know, the miracle A Course in Miracles teaches (which is a change in perception), has nothing to do with anything external. Since the Course is teaching us that we do in fact have a mind and that it has the power to choose, it certainly would not want us to think that God grants prayers in the way described above. It tells us that true prayer is the prayer of the heart, and it is always answered because in the dream we have and experience anything we truly desire. A very important principle of the thought system of A Course in Miracles explains this: "There is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release. Change but your mind on what you want to see, and all the world must change accordingly. Ideas leave not their source"(W.pI.132.5:1,2,3).

The simple prayer of the Course then would be our willingness to change our minds. All of our efforts in practicing and applying the teachings of the Course -- forgiveness, letting go of grievances, paying attention to our thoughts and beliefs, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance to have them transformed, remembering our goal as often as we can -- is the form our prayer takes. It is the expression of our willingness to accept the healing of our minds, the desire of our hearts, as we look honestly at all the forms our resistance and opposition take in our interactions and pursuits throughout the day. This prayer will eventually lead to the awareness of what we truly want, the top of the ladder of prayer when: "You have understood that you forgive and pray but for yourself. And in this understanding you are healed. In prayer you have united with your Source, and understood that you have never left. This level cannot be attained until there is no hatred in your heart, and no desire to attack the Son of God" (S.3.IV.4:3,4,5,).

Q #389: a. According to A Course in Miracles, God is O.K. and we are not O.K. Very similar to the biblical point of view: sin of Adam, etc. We have God Who is always right on the one hand, and deluded, deteriorated mankind on the other. The old religious cliché?

b. We are not we at all. We are ego and ego is bad, unreal, does not exist at all, so we do not exist. Ego is an illusion so we are in the illusion. But who is deluded? The mind of the Son of God is? Why does that mind prefer to abide in illusion? It doesn’t like truth? It doesn’t endure truth?

c. It seems to me that the Course wants to blame every natural human thing like love relationships, the drive to know things, to ask questions, to explore. All these are the ego’s things, bad things and they do not even exist. What is this powerful Monster-Ego that, although it does not exist, holds all of humanity in its grasp and even God can do nothing about it?

d. Can it be that the separation is a part of the natural process of the Son of God’s evolvement? And conceived by God purposely? And ego is just a natural thing? And not opposed to God? It’s written "the body is just a learning device". Maybe the ego is just another learning device?

A: It may seem as if the Course and Jesus are saying the negative things about all of us that you state. But they are not -- we are! The Course is simply trying to help us get in touch with all the false beliefs we hold about ourselves, but these certainly do not represent how Jesus views us. According to the Course, in reality we are more than OK, we’re perfect (e.g., T.1.I.32:4; T.1.II.3:3; T.2.I.1:3; T.2.II.5:7; T.2.III.5:6,7; T.6.IV.10; T.9.I.13:1,2; T.10.IV.1:4). But we are the ones who keep denying that we are (e.g., T.6.III.2:3; T.15.III.4:9,5:6; T.21.II.13:1,2). The Course, unlike the Bible, is very clear that sin is not real (T.19.III). Again, we are the ones who keep insisting, with the ego, that sin is real (T.21.IV.1,2,3). The Course does not say that we are the ego but rather that we have chosen to identify with the ego, which is not who we are (T.4.III.3,4; T.4.VI.1;3). The Course also does not assert that the ego is bad -- the ego says the ego is bad, in order to have us take it seriously. And although we are not the ego, we believe we are and so we think we are bad or sinful (T.5.V.3:1,2,3,4,5,6;4:1,2,3). Again the ego’s view of us is certainly not Jesus’ view of us. He is trying to help us see what we believe and what accompanies it so we can decide whether we want to continue believing it. But he takes none of it seriously for he knows none of it is real (e.g., T.2.VII.1:2.3).

As to why the mind of the Son of God has chosen to abide in illusion, as compelling as that question seems to be -- you are assuming that it is true that we do abide here, and certainly that seems to be our experience. The Course and Jesus’ position is that it’s not true, but so long as we believe it is, he’ll speak to us in the only language we allow ourselves to understand right now (T.25.I.7:4), about the things we think are real, in a way that will lead us to understand that they are not. It is not that God can do nothing about the illusion but rather that there is nothing to be done! There only seems to be much for us to allow to be undone. The Course passes no condemnation or blame against the inventions of the ego -- all its questions and seeking and relationships. We are the ones who make the accusations. The Course merely attempts to help us see the consequences of our choices and beliefs. But it never attacks them, for that would mean they are real and have to be dealt with. It is only the ego that sees itself -- or tries to persuade us - - that it is big and powerful (T.22.V.4).

Now the Course is not insisting that we accept its particular symbolic myth of the origins of the world and the cause of our pain and unhappiness. And you do seem to have some pretty strong objections to its particular logic and arguments. The Course says what it says quite emphatically and without compromise, and it is helpful to understand what it is saying in order to evaluate whether it speaks to you personally or not. But if it does not make sense to you, that is O.K. too, and there will be another path that uses other symbols that is more suited to your own particular needs. Other teachings, including many New Age paths, speak of duality and the world as creations of God and describe the soul as evolving and developing through its experiences in the world of form. If you resonate more to these teachings, it would be foolish for you to keep butting heads with the Course. It makes no claim for the universality of its form, only its content. In its own words, "There is a course for every teacher of God. The form of the course varies greatly. So do the particular teaching aids involved. But the content of the course never changes. Its central theme is always, ‘God's Son is guiltless, and in his innocence is his salvation’ (M.1.3:1,2,3,4,5). So know that peace will accompany you wherever you go, and trust that you will find what will serve you well on your path to God.

Q #390: I have been studying A Course in Miracles for a little over a year now. Your insights regarding the following would be greatly appreciated. I am undergoing a severe financial loss due to a disability that has left me unable to work. I am my only financial support. I feel that my willingness to atone is greatly present, and I feel that I am totally willing to accept responsibility for my experience. Clearly I need the Holy Spirit's help with the undoing of the extreme guilt and separation I obviously feel, but as much as I ask for help in this regard, I neither see nor experience any semblance of change in my experience. I don't feel any peace in my thoughts, only growing fear as my savings dwindle. I am facing eventual homelessness in my earthly existence. I don't know how to "rise above" this outcome. I don't know how to feel peace without an experience of help from the Holy Spirit. I understand that my ego is fighting my choice to follow the Holy Spirit, but at what point does the Holy Spirit take over and actually bring me the experience of peace. I thought that this was what Jesus is promising in the Course.

A: First, it is entirely in keeping with the teachings of the Course to do everything you possibly can to get financial assistance of some kind and to get help in finding a place to live if it becomes necessary for you to move. And it is also quite normal to feel fearful as you see your savings dwindle and face losing your home. This is a difficult lesson; but you are moving in the right direction in the process of restoring peace to your mind -- the goal of the Course -- by not blaming someone else for your circumstances, which is not easy to do. Hopefully, you are not blaming yourself, either. Our first inclination usually is to pin the blame for our conditions on other people, or on the "system," or even on God. And if we don’t do that, we usually blame ourselves, but, still, we are always tempted to hold someone else responsible, even for blaming ourselves. So to get beyond blaming is a major step.

The next major step -- not easy to do at all -- is to let go of any investment in the outcome -- that the only acceptable outcome is a means of income and not losing your home. Your pleading with the Holy Spirit seems to be pointed in that direction, and your peace seems to be conditional on that outcome, which is how most of us would react in these circumstances. But that assumes that that solution would be the best one for you. In the world’s terms, yes, it would seem to be. Yet, there is no way of your knowing what your spiritual path is, and what would help you most on that level. Perhaps -- but also perhaps not -- these extreme circumstances are the means you (a decision-making mind outside time and space) have chosen to learn the lesson that nothing can truly take away the peace of God from you; nothing external to your mind has any power over you. In the words of Lesson 190: "It is your thoughts alone that cause you pain. Nothing external to your mind can hurt or injure you in any way. There is no cause beyond yourself that can reach down and bring oppression. No one but yourself affects you. There is nothing in the world that has the power to make you ill or sad, or weak or frail" (W.pI.190.5:1,2,3,4,5). Clearly the "you" Jesus is referring to is not the self we are aware of. But how freeing it would be to have this experience, and surely the whole Course is directed towards helping us attain this state. Thus it is not that we petition the Holy Spirit and then He decides when to give us the gift of peace; it is we who do the work of identifying and then dismantling the barriers to peace that we have erected in our minds.

So the help Jesus offers is to be with you, as a loving brother who sees you as you truly are, as you work your way through these difficult circumstances, assured that his love for you and your love for him is all that matters. "My trust in you is greater than yours in me at the moment, but it will not always be that way. Your mission is very simple. You are asked to live so as to demonstrate that you are not an ego…" (T.4.VI.6:1,2,3). That does not get bills paid, to be sure; but to know and experience that your real security and safety lie forever invulnerable beyond anything this world could provide would more than sustain you through this part of your journey. With fewer interferences, without guilt, anxiety, and conflict, it will easier for you to know what to do. "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it" (T.16.IV.6:1)

Q #391: I’m having difficulty understanding the difference between what you refer to as "brain thoughts" and "thoughts in the mind." Even though I am still almost completely identified with my body, I cannot conceive of the brain thinking at all, but only the mind. And so to me, "brain thoughts" are simply the thoughts of the ego mind identified with the body, which is ascribing those thoughts to the "thinking organ" of the body -- the brain. In the answer to Question #54, you say: "Intelligence is a function of the brain, it is therefore part of the operational system of the body, not to be confused with the mind, which is not in the brain and does not require intelligence." Has the ego mind then "made" intelligence?

A: The ego doesn’t have a mind, but rather, it is the belief (in the mind) that the separation is real. Yes, this belief made intelligence, since intelligence is of the brain, which is part of the body (the home of the ego). And yes, you are correct in your description of "brain thoughts." The distinction between brain and mind is difficult, because we have such high regard for the brain, and because we do not know we have a mind. Although the ego made intelligence, the Holy Spirit can use it to serve His purpose rather than the ego’s. A Course in Miracles itself is a good example of using words, ideas, and concepts, as seemingly understood by the brain, to reflect a choice that is made in the mind to "unlearn" our belief in the separation. The Course offers a very sobering description of the brain: "You also believe the body's brain can think. If you but understood the nature of thought, you could but laugh at this insane idea. It is as if you thought you held the match that lights the sun and gives it all its warmth; or that you held the world within your hand, securely bound until you let it go. Yet this is no more foolish than to believe the body's eyes can see; the brain can think" (W.pI.92.2).

The mind doesn’t actually think either. The Course uses the word thought, or thinking, in reference to the mind because this is a way for us to understand. We are cautioned, however, to remember that the form is limited: "…words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from reality" (M.21.1:9,10). The mind chooses between two beliefs, two "thoughts" (the separation is real or it is not), or two teachers (the ego or the Holy Spirit). You might also say the mind says either "no" or "not no" to the truth of the Identity given to us by God, which is His innocent Son. So it does not think -- it chooses -- that is all. When it chooses the ego, the illusion of thinking, judging, feeling, and acting in the dream goes into operation. When it chooses truth, it is still and rests in quiet certainty.

Q #392: Reading the following passage in the text of A Course in Miracles brought up a question I’ve had for some time now: "Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality. Time is kind, and if you use it on behalf of reality, it will keep gentle pace with you in your transition. The urgency is only in dislodging your mind from its fixed position here. This will not leave you homeless and without a frame of reference. The period of disorientation, which precedes the actual transition, is far shorter than the time it took to fix your mind so firmly on illusions" (T.16.VI.8:1,2,3,4,5).

Some three years ago, I was doing selected workbook lessons and had reached a state of mind quite different from my "normal" functioning in the world. I was experiencing myself as at one with everyone and everything and aware that the mind is only one. This lasted for quite a while. But it was followed by a period of most intense and vicious ego attacks and I felt completely out of control - seemingly unable to prevent my ego from hurting me in all kinds of ways - sickness, finances, inner state of turmoil, attacking others, attraction to death, etc. I’m now doing the workbook again. How do I know whether I’m being gentle? And how do I sincerely attempt to do what Jesus asks in the workbook without holding back? My prior experience was that doing any one lesson could take me home if I did it wholeheartedly. How does one know that one’s head is far enough above the water to withstand the inevitable return of fear as long as one’s mind is split?

A: The "retaliation of the ego" is really the eruption of the part of your own mind that does not want to relinquish its independence, which would have happened had you continued to identify with oneness. If all at once in a flash you could accept oneness without reservation, chances are you would not be here in the world in the first place. So your response should be respect for the depth of your fear of oneness, but also gratitude for your willingness to return to the pure oneness of Love. Now it’s a matter of patience with yourself and trusting in the process that has begun. It is a gradual process of growing into what seems to be a new identity, but is really just accepting back your natural state of being, which you swore you would never do (T.19.IV.D.6). The strength of our resistance and our fear usually takes us by surprise. One of the most commonly asked questions is how to tell if one’s head is far enough above water to withstand the inevitable return of fear. There really is no way of knowing; but being too concerned about that can detract from our work of forgiving right now.

There is a way of acknowledging and respecting your fear without giving it power over you or denying it either. As you go along, a sense of balance should develop between these two extremes. You never want to force yourself to work with the lessons or to study the text. Any need you might feel to do the lessons perfectly and as quickly as possible always comes from your ego, as time is nothing to Jesus. He’s big on patience and gentleness, not perfection. Readiness does not mean mastery, he tells us (T.2.VII.7:8,9); and being too serious about the lessons just makes the error real. After all, we are undoing something that never happened, and "the outcome is as certain as God" (T.2.III.3:10).

The practice of forgiveness itself will gradually reduce your fear and sense of disorientation. Specifically, the more you practice seeing your interests as not different from anyone else’s -- and feeling comfortable with that perception -- the more you are undoing the underlying belief in separation, which is the source of all fear. Jesus clearly knows what is involved in this process, and he instructs and reassures us many times, such as in the passage you quoted.