Weekly Questions and Answers, 03/03/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #404: Why did I leave Heaven?   Why did Jesus leave Heaven?
Q #405: If I acted inappropriately, believing I was practising the Course, what should I do now?.
Q #406: Should I feel guilty because I have not done my best "in the world"?.
Q #407: Can we do miracles?  How do we "offer miracles to others"?

Q #408: What should I do after I "finish" the Course?

Chronological List of All Questions.

Interactive Index of all topics

Q #404: My question has to do with my understanding about my choice for the separation. I have known all my life since I was very little that I actually chose to come here, and further, that I chose to come to my mother. Now that I am reading A Course in Miracles, I wonder about it. It has always felt as though I left "Heaven" consciously to come here and that everyone does. I never saw it as a choice against God. I have always felt very connected to God. I am struggling with this. I understand from the Course that I do not need to understand things, just be willing to follow the path the Holy Spirit shows me. That seems very right. But I keep coming back to my question of how I could choose to separate from God. Was I supposed to? Is that part of salvation? I am learning that my mission here now is forgiveness -- that seems right. But why did I come here in the first place? Is there temptation even in Heaven? I know I was in Heaven before I came. I know I will be there again after this life -- why did I leave there in the first place? Jesus chose to come, but he did not choose against God, did he?

A: Your confusion is understandable. It arises at least in part from superimposing the world’s conception of Heaven and earth on the Course’s language. For the memory of the choice that you recall making to "come here" into this lifetime is a memory, from the Course’s perspective, that would still be from within the ego thought system of separation and duality. In other words, the Heaven you think you remember leaving to have the experience of this lifetime is not what the Course means by Heaven. It is the mind, not the body, that seems to exist outside Heaven in its choice for separation, and our bodily existence is simply a symbolic representation of that choice for separation, and not the choice itself.

There is a conscious, seemingly separate or split mind that makes choices about bodily experiences and lifetimes. It is to the ego’s advantage to convince us that the contrast between these two seemingly different levels of existence -- separate mind outside of time and space, and body in time and space -- is real. And to persuade us that once this life in this body is over -- as if life in this body is the separation and the problem -- that we will be back in Heaven. But until we make the decision to release all judgments based on the belief in individuality and specialness, which are thoughts in the mind independent of bodies, we as split mind will continue to choose experiences that seem to provide us evidence that the separation is in fact real. And we will continue to find ourselves believing we are outside of Heaven.

With respect to Jesus, you are falling into a similar kind of confusion, based on the world’s commonly held beliefs about the nature of Jesus. There is no Jesus in Heaven, for he is simply a symbol in our split mind that we have given form, who represents the true memory of our home in Heaven, where all is one and individuality has no meaning. Now, while we still believe we are separate from the oneness of Heaven, there is nothing wrong in using these symbols, such as Jesus, to help us learn our lessons of forgiveness. In fact, we need to if we are going to benefit from the Course as our spiritual path back home (T.27.III.5). But it would be a mistake to take the symbols for reality, for the reality of Heaven is beyond anything we can comprehend with our split minds.

Q #405: My question arises out of learning I'm wrong. I thought for a long time I was following guidance and doing what I perceived to be significant work. This point may not be so much wrong as something I can't judge. Even so I am concerned I've misled people. I feel responsible for this. I was practicing A Course in Miracles but people I dealt with didn't understand that even when I told them. Is there a reason, perhaps, to declare that I may not have been practicing the Course, if I am wrong? It seems related to ask what happens with the concept that I need what others need, or that I should do what anyone else would do, if what in fact occurs is that what I end up doing is quite unusual? I acted based on what I thought I needed. Now I see how very important it is to the Course to comprehend what it is to need nothing, even if I still have a long way to go. I find it very very difficult to do everything right, even for a short time.

A: If I understand your question correctly, you are saying that in the past you have felt you were following guidance on how to act based on the Course’s principles and have, as a result, done unusual things, which you have justified to others as coming from your practice of the Course. And now, since you are not sure if you have really understood and may have been mistaken about what the Course is asking of you, should you acknowledge that to others whom you believe you may have misled about the Course? Furthermore, isn’t it possible that you may be called upon to act in unusual ways as a result of your perception of your needs and your guidance?

It is very easy to get ourselves all tied up in knots when we become concerned about our behavior, and what is right and what is wrong. The focus on behavior, or form, is one of the ego’s clever tricks for keeping us in conflict, pondering what seem to be reasonable questions. And so it is helpful to understand that the Course is never really concerned with modifying or directing our behavior, but only our thoughts (T.2.VI.2,3). And the only distinction the Course makes is whether a thought has its origins in the ego thought system, which would be something that reinforces the belief in separation, differences and guilt, or the Holy Spirit’s thought system, which would recognize the common purpose we all share of finding a way out of our confusion and pain, despite all of our differences on the level of form.

So the question no longer becomes am I doing everything right or not, but am I looking with my right mind or my wrong mind at whatever I am thinking and doing? If I am feeling guilty and conflict-ridden and confused, I can recognize that’s my ego. But if I am clear that the only thing I really need to learn is to look on all choices, both my own and others, without judgment or fear or attack, then I am looking with my right mind. If I make that my focus, the question of what specific behaviors I should carry out will begin to recede in importance. Not that I won’t continue to get caught from time to time in focusing my attention on my behavior and its consequences rather than on my thoughts and their consequences. But I will begin to recognize the ego conflict that always underlies that focus on form, and I will begin to ask for help more frequently in looking at the situation differently.

There is nothing in the Course that says that you need to acknowledge your mistakes to others. You need to acknowledge your mistakes to yourself and Jesus or the Holy Spirit, so that no guilt is involved. Once you do that, you may or may not be guided to acknowledge them to others. But the latter will not be your focus or concern, when you truly ask for help with releasing your judgments.

Now it is possible that, at times when you have done your part to recognize your ego and step back from your identification with it, you may be guided to do something that the world perceives as unusual. But this will not be based on your own needs, as you have identified them, for the Course tells us that our only need is for forgiveness. And in general, it’s helpful to know that, with the Course’s focus on thought and not behavior, if you are practicing its principles, you will look pretty much like everyone else most of the time. For the only significant work to be done is in our own minds. In the Course’s own words, "There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be. You do not change appearance, though you smile more frequently. Your forehead is serene; your eyes are quiet. And the ones who walk the world as you do recognize their own. Yet those who have not yet perceived the way will recognize you also, and believe that you are like them, as you were before (W.155.1, italics added).

Q #406: In question #3, it was stated that if one believes he is still in this world that he should do his best in his role in it. This has bothered me quite a bit. I have been bothered by a voice that began in college that dictated to me what I should do in any situation. As I noticed it I would do the opposite of what it said and follow my gut. I was most surely not "doing my best" and was careless in my actions. Others made me feel guilty for this. Over time the guilt became horrible every time I would not listen to the "reason" of the voice. I began looking in my past with this voice and I still am haunted constantly with my mind bringing up my actions to this day. A Course in Miracles has been such a release from this torment and this tyranny. Does not the Course say be careless in all things but in forgiveness and love? Doing the best you can to me only implies judgment. Even though I did not do the best I could, in my mind and other people’s minds, I have been carried to safety and have been very successful. Please help me to understand this because the Course is my refuge and I don't understand what you mean. It scares me to think the Course might not mean what I think it means.

A: First of all, rest assured that the statement you refer to from Question #3 is not meant to be taken as an admonition to evaluate your past and present performances and judge your adequacy or inadequacy in meeting the roles you have assumed. For the Course is never concerned with the specific forms that our lives take and our actions in the world. And it is also not concerned with cataloguing the errors of the past as a means of reinforcing our guilt. Its focus is on correcting only one error, which we are making in the present -- our ongoing choice for the ego. And everything you describe of your voice for "reason" and your reactions to it are nothing more than your ego’s attempt to keep you in conflict within yourself and deprive you of peace in the present.

Having said that, let’s clarify what that statement in Question #3 about doing your best means. As that question points out, the forms or roles of our lives -- although initially chosen to make separation, differences, specialness, and guilt real -- become the classrooms in which we learn our forgiveness lessons, once we accept the Holy Spirit as our Teacher. In other words, our roles as student, employee, spouse, parent, etc., are the forms onto which we have projected our unconscious guilt, which now become the means, if we pay attention to our thoughts and reactions to them, for getting back in touch with that buried guilt in our mind.

Now it is not that there is some ego-ideal or standard that we should be striving to meet, against which we should be measuring ourselves in terms of fulfilling our roles -- that’s an ego trap with all its trappings of grandiosity. The point being made here is that it is only a very practical concern with being true to the classroom that we have chosen for ourselves so that we can move more swiftly on our journey back home to the Role God has assigned us as His only Son. If we now or in the past have failed to meet our responsibilities in the world, it is not a sin and should not be employed as a means for reinforcing guilt -- that would serve no helpful purpose.

But it is helpful to be honest with ourselves -- rebelling against the so-called responsibilities of our roles is as much an ego ploy as slavishly trying to conform. Lack of attention or concern about those responsibilities at the level of form is almost always an expression of our authority problem -- with the authorities of this world who, in our minds, represent the ultimate Authority, God, from Whom we have attempted to steal our independence and autonomy. And resistance to accepting the responsibility of our roles represents our resistance to uncovering the hidden guilt so that it can be released. Jesus is only asking that we be honest, but he will never condemn us if we’re not yet ready to look deeper.

As for the quote in the Course about being careless that you refer to, let’s look at it in the context of the whole passage:

You may wonder how you can be at peace when, while you are in time, there is so much that must be done before the way to peace is open. Perhaps this seems impossible to you. But ask yourself if it is possible that God would have a plan for your salvation that does not work. Once you accept His plan as the one function that you would fulfill, there will be nothing else the Holy Spirit will not arrange for you without your effort. He will go before you making straight your path, and leaving in your way no stones to trip on, and no obstacles to bar your way. Nothing you need will be denied you. Not one seeming difficulty but will melt away before you reach it. You need take thought for nothing, careless of everything except the only purpose that you would fulfill. As that was given you, so will its fulfillment be. God's guarantee will hold against all obstacles, for it rests on certainty and not contingency. It rests on you. And what can be more certain than a Son of God? (T.20.IV.8; italics added to complete sentence).

You may notice that this passage begins by commenting on how much must be done in time. In particular, this is referring to all the special relationships that we must forgive, which include all the roles our lives assume. The key to taking "thought for nothing, careless of everything" comes earlier in the paragraph: "Once you accept His plan as the one function you would fulfill." In other words, we will experience no resistance to anything we may seem to be called upon to do in the world because we will know that our only purpose is to forgive. And we will learn to welcome all the seeming challenges our lives present us, recognizing that each, looked at through the eyes of forgiveness, brings us one step closer to home. And so, we need not have care or concern for the form of our lives, because we will know that we are doing the only work that really matters.

Q #407: The following two questions address the topic of miracles and so will be answered together:

i. Jesus did many miracles while he was here on earth, such as raised the dead, made the blind see, etc. Can we, Sons of God, do miracles in this world as well?

ii. What does A Course in Miracles mean when it says we should offer miracles to others?

A: Scripture scholars differ in their understanding of the historical accuracy of the Gospel accounts of what Jesus did during his lifetime. However, regardless of the accuracy of the Gospels, the Course teaches a different meaning of miracles. What the Course means by a miracle is a change of mind. It is a course in miracles because it is a course in learning to change our minds from thinking with the ego to thinking with the Holy Spirit. It is a process of undoing the ego by learning a new perspective that reverses the ego’s view on everything and everyone. The ego tells us we are bodies, separate from God and from each other, subject to change by external forces. The Holy Spirit tells us we are minds, one with our Father and with each other, subject to change only by the power of the mind to choose. We accept miracles for ourselves to the extent that we accept this teaching, and apply it to all events, situations, and experiences in our lives. We offer miracles to others as we recognize the same power of their minds to choose. As Jesus tells us in the text: "The miracle extends without your help, but you are needed that it can begin. Accept the miracle of healing, and it will go forth because of what it is. It is its nature to extend itself the instant it is born. And it is born the instant it is offered and received. No one can ask another to be healed. But he can let himself be healed, and thus offer the other what he has received" (T.27.V.1:3,4,5,6,7).

A further extension of this principle is the process of forgiveness, whereby we recognize that nothing external to our minds can cause us to feel anything positive or negative, and therefore, no one is responsible for how we feel. That is what is meant by Jesus’ invitation: "Be willing to forgive the Son of God for what he did not do." Thus forgiveness is the miracle we offer to our brothers. In recognizing that our experience is the result of a decision in our minds to identify with the ego or with the Holy Spirit, all our brothers are released from blame, and their innocence is brought to our awareness. This is the miracle of the healing of the mind, given and received.

Q #408: I am almost through with the workbook and with reading through the text of A Course in Miracles. While I see a dramatic difference in my level of peace and perceptions from when I started, I realize that reading all the way through the text and teacher's manual and going through all the lessons in the workbook isn't the end of working the course. But I don't know where to go from there. Should I start back at the beginning of the text again? Do I simply meditate and listen to the Holy Spirit? What should I do to fully realize the Atonement?

A: The workbook epilogue agrees with you: "This course is a beginning, not an end" (W.ep.1:1). Accepting the Atonement is a process that requires the mind training that is the purpose of the workbook (W.in.1:4), and, as with any training program, patience and perseverance will serve to ensure progress. Once the principles of forgiveness are understood, their effectiveness lies in applying them to every situation, event, and relationship in your life. As long as there is anything that causes any form of upset or distress, no matter how seemingly insignificant it may be, there is need for forgiveness. And so, what follows the initial reading of the Course is a lifetime of practice, practice, practice.

Since we are deeply attached to our identities as bodies, and therefore to the thought system of the ego, it does indeed take time and effort to train our minds to think with the Holy Spirit. We are reminded frequently in the Course that our resistance to learning its teachings is considerable. In this regard, we may generalize the message in Lesson 44 to the practice of any of the teachings of the Course: "…you may find that you will encounter strong resistance. The reason is very simple. While you practice in this way, you leave behind everything that you now believe, and all the thoughts that you have made up. Properly speaking, this is the release from hell. Yet perceived through the ego's eyes, it is loss of identity and a descent into hell" (W.pI.44.5:2,3,4,5,6). Our practice, therefore, requires careful attention and vigilance in monitoring our minds for every thought and judgment, along with the willingness to let them be transformed by the Holy Spirit, which is how they are undone. Although no structured practice for this is established, once the workbook has been completed, any of the instructions it offers can be used as helpful exercises. Certainly it would be good to do anything that helps you "stay tuned" to your thoughts; quiet time, meditation, rereading any part of the Course. Several re-readings of the text are helpful, as its subtleties become clear only when our layers of guilt are removed through the daily practice of forgiveness. As you become familiar with the workbook lessons, they will come to mind during the day. Their effectiveness, however, lies exclusively in your willingness to apply them to whatever situation or relationship in which you find yourself. It is this specific application, in every relationship and event of daily life, that is the true work of a student of the Course. And again, this takes practice, as well as patience and perseverance. A review of the instructions in the introduction to the workbook may be helpful: "…do not allow yourself to make exceptions in applying the ideas the workbook contains, and whatever your reactions to the ideas may be, use them. Nothing more than that is required" (W.in.9:4,5).