Weekly Questions and Answers, 12/04/2002

This week's questions:

Q #28: A question about forgiving horrific acts.
Q #29: A question about Jesus' apparent act of "anger".
Q #30: A question about giving up addictions.
Q #31: A question about the meaning of "sin".
Q #32: A question about whether consciousness is illusory.
Q #33: A question about letting go of grievances..

Q #28: How do I forgive others for their horrible acts? How can I forgive the sniper? Is this not real? Is it the distraction of the ego? I also fear what is real. When I say, above all I want to see, I become terrified. I have a hard time giving up this world we created. I love some of my creations, like my family. Don't I need to die to return to my reality? Won't I be lonely?

A: The forgiveness the Course is teaching us is a process of looking at a situation such as the sniper killings and asking ourselves what this event is telling us about what we believe. We begin by looking honestly at our reactions to these killings which include all kinds of feelings and judgments about the victims and the victimizers. All these feelings and thoughts are useful in uncovering the hidden beliefs of the ego thought system; that the world is real, that we are bodies, that what we call death is the end of what we call "life", that we are vulnerable to attack…the list goes on and on. The Course then asks us to recognize that all these are feelings and thoughts about ourselves that we have projected on to the victims as well as the victimizers. We are learning that the feelings/thoughts along with the pain they cause were already with us before the event took place. The event only seemed to cause the feelings. This is why the Course says we forgive our brothers for what they did not do. "Be willing to forgive the Son of God for what he did not do" (T.17.III.1,5). The snipers did not cause our feelings, our mistaken beliefs did. If we are willing to look at any situation in this way we are beginning to question the ego’s lies. We are then in a position to ask for another way of seeing. This is sometimes very difficult to do, it takes practice and a lot of honesty, but it is the only way we can get in touch with the beliefs that are keeping us rooted in a thought system that is causing us a lot of pain. This pain is coming from believing the ego’s lies and not from the situation, in this case the killings. It is very important that we practice this without denying any of the feelings or thoughts we do have about the outrageous events in this ego world of fear and hatred and without forcing ourselves to try to accept a new belief system that challenges our usual ego perspective. This will only entrench us in our mistaken views and make us more afraid. If we are willing to just say "maybe I’m wrong about this", then the world we’ve made and all our relationships, including those we "love", become our classroom for learning the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of everything we experience rather than serving as a distraction. (Note: the Course uses the term "made" for the ego’s world. "Creation" refers to God’s extension of love on the level of the Mind only.) The Course tells us the Holy Spirit will not take any of our special relationships away from us but will instead give us a different interpretation and a different purpose for them. Without them we would not be aware of the mistaken beliefs about ourselves or the judgments (whether for good or for bad) that keep us in our deep sleep. We have made ourselves afraid of what is real and that is why we have a Teacher who is inviting us to take small steps with Him toward a new way of thinking. If we do this with Jesus or the Holy Spirit by our side we will not be lonely or dead. Eventually we will fully waken from the dream with the realization that we were in fact only dreaming, with no thought or need for dying. Meanwhile each step in forgiveness brings us more peace and takes us closer to our truth where our family will include everyone and we will not experience any sense of loss.

Q #29: When Jesus turned over the table in the Temple, it seemed to reinforce the ego thought system. He was angry, and ultimately was punished, by being crucified. I keep repeating in my mind, there must be a different way of looking at this, to speed up the healing I submitted this question to the Foundation.

A: In "Forgiveness and Jesus: The Meeting Place of A Course in Miracles and Christianity" and "A Talk Given on A Course in Miracles; An Introduction" (by Kenneth Wapnick, published by the Foundation for A Course in Miracles) this Gospel passage is discussed at length. The full explanation presented in these books is summarized here.

As you may know the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ sayings and actions are not necessarily historical fact. It is likely that the incident in the Temple did not happen in the way that it is depicted in the Gospel. This view is accepted even by many Christian Scripture scholars. It is also important to note that the Gospel account does not say that Jesus was angry, although in the movies of Jesus’ life he has been portrayed as angry. If something of this nature did occur in which Jesus appears to be angry, without truly feeling any anger, he would have been using this outburst as a teaching tool to make a point for the large crowd of people present in the Temple at the time of the Passover. In this case the point would have been that the "chosen people" had distorted the Old Testament teaching by using the Temple for purposes other than as a "house of prayer." This is close to the traditional interpretation of this incident by Christian scholars. As a good teacher Jesus acted in a dramatic way to more effectively draw attention to his message. One could also consider a final option; that Jesus was actually angry, having an "ego attack." If this were the case there are at least three conditions that would have to be present; Jesus would not be at peace, God would not be his in his awareness, he would perceive the money lenders as his enemy. It is inconceivable that Jesus, whose message and presence were filled only with love and peace, would have "lost it" in this way. It is also possible to believe that Jesus did have an ego attack, but if one chose to believe that, why would one then choose to identify with his ego, rather than with the love and forgiveness he teaches us in A Course in Miracles? Moreover, even if it were possible for Jesus to have such an ego attack, the Course tells us he would certainly not be punished for his "sin" by being crucified. "There is no sin." (T.26.VII.10:5) The central teaching of the Course is that God’s Son is innocent; "You are still My holy Son, forever innocent, forever loving and forever loved, as limitless as your Creator, and completely changeless and forever pure" (WpII.10:5). Since there is no sin there can be no punishment. The Course’s teaching on the crucifixion, therefore, is from a very different perspective. In Jesus’ words "The crucifixion is nothing more than an extreme example" (T.6I.2:1), much like the example of the Temple incident, if it did in fact occur. Jesus says later: "The message the crucifixion was intended to teach was that it is not necessary to perceive any form of assault in persecution, because you cannot be persecuted. If you respond with anger, you must be equating yourself with the destructible, and are therefore regarding yourself insanely" (T.6.I.4:6). Jesus would not regard himself insanely, and since he knew he was not a body he remained at peace during the crucifixion, fully aware that nothing was happening.

As we learn our true identity as God’s innocent Son, we also learn that we too can be at peace in the midst of seeming persecution. We, like Jesus, cannot be harmed in any way. This true identity is not to be confused with the ego identities we choose as bodies which do die. Since there is no real life here in the body, there is also no real death. This is what Jesus knew when his body was crucified. This is what he is teaching us.

Q #30: I play computer games, which I really like to do. I believe I have to quit playing these games one day, because I want the Holy Spirit’s alternative. There is another distraction I cherish, which is even an addiction. The addiction pulls me completely out of right-mindedness; it is a kick, a thrill, but with many side effects, disadvantages, the burden of anticipation etc. When I really look at it with Jesus, I do not want it anymore. And this is still not what I choose (up until now). There is an unwillingness to let go of these things. That they conflict with the Course…[Jesus] went shoe shopping with Helen for awhile, but then also advised her to let it go.

A: Keep in mind that this is a process, and that it takes a long time for most of us. Patience and gentleness with ourselves are key parts of this process; otherwise, we fall into the ego’s trap of making the error real. An important piece of advice Jesus gives us at the beginning of the "Rules for Decision" is: "Do not fight yourself" (T-30.I.1:7). Therefore, the most helpful approach would be to simply look at your reluctance to accept the Holy Spirit’s alternative, and your feeling that Jesus’ love is not enough for you, and then not condemn yourself for feeling that way. Just continue to be honest with yourself and with Jesus about how much you do not want to believe and accept what this Course is teaching you, and then don’t judge yourself for it. You will be practicing the Course in a very effective way if you can do this. That is what forgiveness is all about. You will be learning that the "sin" you have accused yourself of has had no effect, and that it was only a "tiny, mad idea" that has not changed love in any way.

Jesus is always and only interested in purpose. Thus, Helen was ready to change the purpose of her shopping sprees. She no longer needed to "protect" herself from Jesus’ love; therefore, she did not need to go shopping anymore. When our fear of accepting Jesus’ love lessens, our involvement in our defenses against accepting that love will lessen as well. While the specific activities may still be a part of our lives, their purpose will have changed entirely. It is always content, not form. The experience of peace or conflict has nothing to do with the activity or object itself. Peace and conflict are the result of our having chosen our ego or Jesus as our teacher.

Finally, speaking in general with regard to addictions: It often is necessary to deal with the behavior first -- to take whatever steps can be taken to curtail or stop the destructive behavior. This would reflect the mind’s decision to be more loving towards oneself and others. Then, when the behavior is more under control, the person can begin to deal with the cause of the addiction in the mind. Addictions most often are rooted in overwhelming self-hatred and guilt, which then gets projected onto one’s own and/or another’s body.

Q #31: Please explain how one is to interpret sin. What is it? Does it exist or not? Can one substitute the words "lack of love" when reading the text? Thank you

A: If you were to ask the ego to interpret sin, it’s meaning would be death (T.19.IV.A.17:3), while the Holy Spirit’s meaning would be a mistake to be corrected (e.g., T.19.II, III). The Course teaches us that to the ego sin is the death of God, or better yet the murder of God, and we are the murderers. Therefore, separation is a symbol of God’s death. We are reminded of our sin daily, whenever we see ourselves and others as separate, which is the only way we can see because the ego made the body to "see" this way. However, our attitude can yet be one of unity, even though our bodies’ eyes still see separation. This is one way the Holy Spirit can use what the ego made to serve another purpose (T.28.I.2:8).

Practically speaking, if we are identified with the ego, we interpret sin to be whatever takes away our peace, and the sinners we perceive outside ourselves are those who take it. No matter how big or small the situation, anything which "robs" us of our peace is called sin. It may even be ourselves who take away our own peace, but inevitably someone else made us this way, so we are once again made sinless.

As to whether sin exists or not, the Course teaches us that the separation never happened (M.2.2:6,8). And since separation is the entire foundation of the ego’s meaning of sin, then indeed it does not exist.

Finally, substituting "lack of love" will not necessarily have the same impact on a student as "sin." We all have conscious and unconscious beliefs around the word "sin," and by substituting other words for it, we deny ourselves the opportunity of forgiving all the associations we have made. "Lack of love" as a substitute makes it sound as if we are "lacking in love," something which, of course, would not be our fault. Words such as "withholding," or "selfish," would be more in tune with what we really believe sin means.

Q #32: I have read that Freud said the point of psychoanalysis is to make the unconscious conscious. I know that the Course is based in some ways on concepts of Freudian theory, but doesn't the Course say that all consciousness is inherently illusory? Doesn't this clash, then, with the main objective of psychoanalysis? Or am I having a case of level confusion?

A: The Course does indeed identify consciousness with what is illusory, describing it early in the text as "the level of perception, the first split introduced into the mind after the separation, making the mind a perceiver rather than a creator. Consciousness is correctly identified as the domain of the ego" (T.3.IV.2:1,2). But like all things the ego has made to support and maintain the belief in separation, the Holy Spirit can give it a different purpose. And so later, Jesus observes that "consciousness has levels and awareness can shift quite dramatically, but it cannot transcend the perceptual realm. At its highest level it becomes aware of the real world, and can be trained to do so increasingly" (C.1.7:4,5).

So yes, although consciousness metaphysically speaking is part of the illusion and so is not real, since we believe in its reality and experience it as an inherent part of ourselves, the Course provides us a way to use our consciousness in order ultimately to transcend it. The process of being trained to attain the real world is really a matter of making conscious what our ego has made unconscious through fear, so that the false perceptions of the ego can be healed and replaced by the true perception of the Holy Spirit, preparing us for our return to knowledge (the Course’s term for Heaven), beyond all consciousness and perception.

We have made the split mind -- where consciousness resides -- unconscious, and instead believe that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the body or, more specifically, of the brain. We have also made unconscious all the guilt in the mind that we have concocted as a defense of consciousness, projecting the guilt out into a world of form where we would never suspect its origin. So all of the ego’s defenses must be made conscious -- or as the Course more eloquently describes it, we must "be willing to bring the darkness to light" (T.18.III.6:2) -- so that their unreality can be recognized. And so we use the consciousness of the split mind to do this until, in the end, all of our false perceptions have been made conscious and healed, and consciousness is no longer needed. At that point, we are ready to leave the realm of consciousness and perception and "disappear into the Presence beyond the veil...not to be seen [perceived] but known" (T.19.IV.D.19:1).

Q #33: When I am "stuck" and don't feel I am being completely willing to let go of a well-established defense, I very often ask Jesus to help me with my unwillingness in the situation. I have experienced what I believe is success with this tool from time to time. I must also say that it doesn't always work -- I still feel the discomfort and unhappiness of retaining the grievance even though I've asked Him to help me with my unwillingness. Is this some kind of sophisticated ego ploy?

A: Being totally honest with Jesus about your unwillingness to let go of a grievance is helpful in itself, especially since you are experiencing the effects of not letting it go. This stubbornness does not make you sinful and does not affect Jesus’ love for you. So feeling like a failure, or any form of self-condemnation would be the only mistake at that point -- you already are aware of the price you are paying to hold on to the grievance. You can just stop with that, acknowledging that forgiveness is a process, and that when the underlying fear lessens, you will take another step. If you really wanted to forgive, you would. You might ask yourself what you would feel like, or what would happen, if you really did totally let go of the grievance. That might disclose the nature of the fear behind your unwillingness. Then you and Jesus could deal with that together. That would help to keep you honest, too.

There is no way of ever being totally sure whether you are listening to the ego or the Holy Spirit. After many years of experience, you become more familiar with your favorite means of self- deception, but usually you need someone who knows you well to help you discern. It’s a difficulty most students experience, because of the tremendous fear we all have of returning home to God.

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