Weekly Questions and Answers, 07/07/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #516: Is all my previous learning just a distraction and a waste of time?
Q #517 i   Is mathematics a language of God?.

Q #517 ii  Does the Course teach that we inflict all warfare and suffering on ourelves?
Q #518: If I try to correct errors, am I just making them real?
Q #519: I am conflicted because a special relationship is keeping me from a relationship with God
Q #520  Remaining focussed on peace seems difficult when a family member is ill

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #516: For years I studied about reincarnation, past lives, hypnotic regression, soul mates, communication with spirit guides, guardian angels, and deceased loved one, etc. I learned how divine friends help us plan each lifetime -- selecting our family, country, trials and tribulations, etc. -- in order to balance our karma and progress spiritually by overcoming our problems here. Now A Course in Miracles tells me that the ego has set up our lives, not to experience spiritual growth, but to continue to be victimized and victimize others. If all these guides and helpers are miscreations of our egos, can they serve a holy purpose? Are past life memories stored in the brain or are they in the ego mind? I also studied the power of thought to attract all the worldly things we may want. Is this the brain or just our ego mind miscreating by wanting something? I learned through religion to pray to God through Jesus for help and received many, many answers, for which I thanked them. Now the Course tells me they weren't listening. So how were all those prayers answered -- the ego mind again, or the brain?

I see now what a distraction all this was for me. Some of what I was sure was the "gospel truth" (according to the ego) certainly kept me from looking elsewhere. But through it all many truths showed up that prepared me for the Course. So how should I look at all this?

A: Perhaps it would be most helpful simply to remind you that everything, including A Course in Miracles, comes within an ego framework (C.in.3:1). And the only criterion for evaluating anything in the world of form (which includes everything you’ve listed in your question) is to ask whether it has been helpful in learning to forgive ourselves and our brothers and sisters. And what is helpful depends on where we are in our process of remembering who we are (M.25).

It is only the ego that would want to judge whether the manner in which we have spent our time in the past has been helpful or not. If what we have done has prepared us for accepting the truth of who we are at a deeper level, that is surely enough. And if it has provided us comfort in knowing that we are loved and that guilt serves no useful purpose, it has been a reflection of the one Love that joins us all, in a form that our fearful minds could accept.

Yes, if we remain stuck in any particular form, it is likely that we will fall into the trap of using it to reinforce specialness and separation. But anything that leads us to recognize that there is more to us than the limited reality of our meager lives in this world of conflict and pain is helpful. And anyone or anything, although appearing separate from us -- be it angels or guides or ascended masters or whatever -- that helps us learn that we deserve to escape from our limitations has served a holy purpose.

No matter what the form of our lives as we have set them up, they always have two possible purposes, depending on which teacher we choose to learn from. The Holy Spirit, in contrast to the ego, will never direct us to do anything that will deliberately cause us pain. Rather He will support our choice to learn from our experiences that there is an alternative to pain and suffering. And so guidance from the Holy Spirit, whether it seems to occur prior to or during a specific lifetime, may direct us to participate in certain relationships -- not to be victimized again, but to heal them by learning that victimization is impossible.

It is the mind -- and never the brain, which only follows the programing of the mind -- which determines what our experiences will be. And the mind, not the brain, holds all the memories that it can choose to access as either past, present, or future lifetimes. In the "reality" of the split mind, they are all simultaneous.

No doubt more questions will continue to arise in our minds, curious to know how this illusory world and the self that we made and still seem to love work. And yet, in the end, all of our questioning will cease and our need for all forms, including the Course itself, will subside. And then we will be ready to accept Jesus’ gentle suggestion:

Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God (W.pI.189.7).

Q #517: i. Would something like mathematics be a language of God, or would it be what would seem a faultless creation of the ego in order to prove that the world and everything in it does indeed have a sensible and coherent structure and thus is real?

A: The view of reality as presented in A Course in Miracles is that it is non-dualistic, a perfect Oneness, and therefore anything pertaining to form cannot be of God. The "beauty" of mathematics may indeed be used as a reminder of the beauty of oneness, but as a language of quantity, mathematics can only have come from the ego. The concept of coherence, for example, implies duality: parts sticking together. The language of God could never be understood by minds that believe they are individualized, which Jesus tells us many times in his Course, most notably and eloquently in Chapter 25 and Lesson 169: ". . . for while you think that part of you is separate, the concept of a Oneness joined as One is meaningless" (T.25.I.7:1); "We say ‘God is,’ and then we cease to speak, for in that knowledge words are meaningless" (W.pI.169.5:4).

ii. My second question is concerned with what is happening in Iraq and the rest of the world at the moment (or maybe throughout history really). Millions of the casualties of wars and sanctions have been children. Would A Course in Miracles be saying that in some way these people have imposed this suffering on themselves?

A: To answer your question adequately, we would have to explain the metaphysics of the Course and the entire thought system of the ego, which we obviously cannot do here. So we will just answer briefly, and then refer you to answers we have given to some other Questions that might help you.

The Course does not teach that we, as individual human beings, impose suffering on ourselves, mainly because "we" (infants as well as adults) are the effects of the mind’s choice to project its guilt outside itself. Indeed, the world itself is the effect of the mind’s projection of its guilt. This is very difficult to comprehend, let alone accept, because we do not experience ourselves as having a mind -- a brain, yes, but not a mind outside time and space. That lack of awareness is a direct result of the ego’s "success" in achieving its goal of making the Son of God mindless and having the conflict and forces in the world be the cause of victimization. And so Jesus’ objective in his mind-training exercises, especially in the early lessons of the workbook, is to help us recover this dimension of ourselves. There is no hope for our release from suffering until we make progress in this and bring the hatred in our minds to the gentle presence of Jesus, where it can be dissolved in his love, for the ego would always seek to keep us bound to its merciless thought system by having us continually look outside ourselves for the causes and solutions of our problems and suffering. So despite the seeming escalation of brutally destructive forces in the world, the ultimate cause of suffering is still the mind’s choice to absolve itself of its guilt over having rejected Love (an illusory rejection, of course) by projecting it onto a world that then embodies that guilt in the form of an endless series of victim-victimizer relationships.

It is important to keep in mind as one works with these teachings and principles that none of this means that one should not be active in the world or act to prevent cruelty and oppression. That would be a serious misunderstanding of what this Course teaches and advocates. We are encouraged only to become more and more discerning as to whether we are proceeding with the ego or Jesus directing us.

A review of these Questions might be of further help: #239, #365, #371, and in Kenneth and Gloria’s book, The Most Frequently Asked Questions About A Course in Miracles," #27 answers the question "Are babies born innocent?"

Q #518: I have been a student of A Course in Miracles for the past two years, and I recently read a book called I Am David. In the book the young boy is imprisoned for a period of months. He asks God why has this happened to him. After a sleep he wakes up and realizes that it was his own hatred of another boy that has imprisoned him. Now as I understand it, God showed him in his sleep the reason for his imprisonment. On waking, he understands this and writes a letter to this boy apologizing to him. He then finds a way to escape. Would it be correct to understand that Lesson 198 "Only my condemnation injures me" (W.pI.198) is saying exactly this? When things go wrong for me I try to see where I have done this, and then put it right. When I do this am I making my errors real? Should I just understand them, hand them over to the Holy Spirit, and just not do it again or should I try to put it right?

A: The lesson you refer to teaches us that our belief that we can in truth judge and condemn others or ourselves is the problem. The belief that we can rightfully judge and condemn makes us feel vulnerable, because we would then believe that others have that same ability and can use it against us to injure us. But Jesus is helping us realize that attack is impossible in reality; it can not be a part of us as God created us, and therefore it can only be part of an illusory existence: "The stillness of your Self remains unmoved, untouched by thoughts like these, and unaware of any condemnation which could need forgiveness" (8:1). So Jesus is talking about a deep layer of belief in our minds, which can be undone just by our forgiving ourselves for ever having thought it could be true -- it is just a silly thought.

The application of this in our everyday lives involves first recognizing the cause and effect relationship between our unforgiving thoughts (our judgments and condemnation) and our suffering (9:5), and then the healing power of forgiveness (9:6). Forgiveness may or may not extend to behavior (making things right in form). The important aspect of this process is the perception of separate, conflicting interests -- seeing our own interests as separate from another’s. If that perception is not first present in our minds, attack and condemnation would be impossible, regardless of what has been done in the world. Thus if behavioral corrections are undertaken without a corresponding correction in perception, nothing of real value has been accomplished, even though relationships may seem to have been repaired externally. Further eruptions are inevitable if one’s perception has not been corrected. And that is done simply by bringing the unloving thoughts of separation to the loving presence of Jesus or the Holy Spirit in our minds, where they will be seen as meaningless and without effect.

One final observation. You say "when things go wrong for me I try to see where I have done this, and then put it right." What you mean by "things going wrong" is not clear. All kinds of things may go wrong in a person’s life -- for example, being robbed or cheated, losing a job, being wrongfully accused -- but that does not necessarily mean the person is holding onto grievances or judgments. (Jesus’ life did not seem to go all that well in the end, but his mind was totally without guilt.) The world was made to be a place where things go wrong, and egos can be quite vicious. However, if you do not perceive yourself as a victim, then you will not experience suffering. So we must be very cautious about judging simply on the basis of form or external appearances.

David’s experience therefore should not be taken as the norm of forgiveness. If you are aware of having attacked another person, it is always best to ask for guidance as to what is best for everyone involved before going to apologize. In other words, don’t take it for granted that a literal apology is always the best expression of forgiveness. On another level, David’s story could also be taken as symbolic of the Son’s need to forgive himself for having accused himself of committing the "unforgivable" sin of destroying the Oneness of Heaven in order to have his own special existence as an individual. Forgiveness as taught in the Course is radically different from the world’s version, which always sees sin as real but pardonable in certain instances and under certain conditions. The concept of sin is entirely an invention of the ego, and so our inner work is ultimately aimed at exposing and then letting go of this faulty belief.

Q #519: I'm aware that my special relationship is standing in the way of my relationship with God and I know I must therefore "really" want the relationship with God more than the special relationship. Do you have any hints about how to deal with the moments of crisis when I can't seem to think clearly?

A: The first thing to recognize is that this is not an either-or situation. It is the ego that tells us we must give up or sacrifice our special relationships, as if we have to appease God’s need that we have no false gods before Him. That is only the ego’s foolishness. A Course in Miracles is very clear that it is not our relationships that we need to give up, but the purpose that we have given them (e.g., T.17.IV.2:3,4,5,6,7; T.21.III.6).

The second point to remember is that it’s not a sin to want a special relationship more than God. Jesus would tell us it’s pretty foolish, because we’re giving up everything for a little bit of nothing. But it’s no cause for feelings of sinfulness and guilt, as the ego again would have us believe.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, you don’t want to forget that it is through our relationships with our brothers that we in fact find God (e.g., T.4.VI.7,8; T.19.IV.D.11). The Course’s means for us to remember God is to practice forgiveness in our special relationships, which allows them to be experienced as holy (T.18.VII.5:1,2,3). If they were already holy, we would not need to forgive them. And if we were to give them up, we would have no classroom in which to learn the Holy Spirit’s lessons of forgiveness. As Jesus reminds us, "Only appreciation is an appropriate response to your brother. Gratitude is due him for both his loving thoughts and his appeals for help, for both are capable of bringing love into your awareness if you perceive them truly. And all your sense of strain comes from your attempts not to do just this. How simple, then, is God's plan for salvation" (T.12.I.6:1,2,3,4).

Q #520: My sister has been treated for cancer for the last two years. It has a hold over the whole family. This is her illusion of herself, but we have all joined in with her. I am very judgmental about how the rest of the family reacts: some don't ever want to hear anything bad. I am dealing with my feelings of going to Jesus constantly and trying to understand that he is my teacher, and this is the classroom I have chosen. I don't get any relief from my anxiety about her condition. I just say to myself that I need do nothing, for really there is nothing I can do. It is difficult to go on with my daily life, many miles away from the situation, without thinking of this situation constantly, even waking up in the earliest morning hours thinking about it. I feel that it is the ego saying to me, "So you think you are going to be peaceful now and relax and let others live their lives and not be bothered by it. How about this new situation!" How can it be that the ego seems more real than Jesus. Though I know it is not.

A: The process of having the ego become less real and Jesus more real usually extends over many, many years. A great deal of patience is required, a process he describes in the manual of A Course in Miracles in the section called "Development of Trust" (M.4.I). When we first start asking for help, we are not all that aware of what is involved, especially the depth of our fear of letting go of the ego totally, and having the love of Jesus be the only reality in our minds. It seems as if we truly want that more than anything, but there must be something in the way, otherwise the ego would just vanish. So as we go along, we begin to get in touch with the obstacles, and how we probably are secretly asking for a compromise: we want the love of Jesus, but we also want a happy, problem-free life here in the world, where things like cancer don’t happen or are cured quickly. That is why Jesus so often in the early workbook lessons directs us to search our minds for thoughts we have covered over or locked away beyond reach. We all say we want to develop a relationship with Jesus, but we have secretly set up our own terms for the relationship instead of coming to him with empty hands and altars cleared of all expectations and demands.

Jesus would want you to bring to him your judgments about your family and all of your anxiety and sense of helplessness about your sister, so that together you can look at it all quietly and calmly from a perspective above the world’s complexity and despair. You shift from the seeming reality of the ego to the love of Jesus simply by learning to look at the ego without judging it, being afraid of it, or trying to drown it out with right-minded thoughts. The ego becomes less real as you practice more and more being at peace within yourself (without denying your feelings) whatever the outcome of your sister’s situation. This is a very difficult lesson to learn, and no one finds it easy. But Jesus assures us that we cannot fail to learn it, and that his love is totally unaffected by whatever the ego throws up at us -- its seeming power cannot even stop the fall of a button, he tells us (T.18.IX.6:4). Hear him say to you and your sister: "Have faith in only this one thing, and it will be sufficient: God wills you be in Heaven, and nothing can keep you from it, or it from you. Your wildest misperceptions, your weird imaginings, your blackest nightmares all mean nothing. They will not prevail against the peace God wills for you" (T.13.XI.7:1,2,3). What is so extraordinarily helpful about this passage, besides its comforting reassurance, is that Jesus is telling us that he knows about our thoughts, our discouragement, our craziness, and our resistance, but none of that matters to him. The lesson is that we learn to trust that all of our mad ego attacks are nothing but attempts to hide the love underneath that is our permanent identity. The more we approach the ego this way, the more we are telling Jesus that we know his love is more real than the ego.