Weekly Questions and Answers, 07/21/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #527:  What is the distinction between regular type and italics in the Course?
Q #528;  Is the identity I gave myself responsible for my unhappiness?.

Q #529:  Issues about application of Course principles in the workplace
Q #530:  Should we bother trying to change the world, if it is illusory?
Q #531:  What is the meaning of "What you take from one, the other will obscure"?
Q #532:  Why would the Holy Spirit want to embarrass us?
Q #533:  How should I respond to the fear I feel while doing the workbook?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #527: What is the distinction between paragraphs in regular type and paragraphs in italics in the workbook of A Course in Miracles? Many of the lessons in the latter part of the workbook have one paragraph in regular and one in italics.

A: Beginning with Lesson 221, the italicized paragraphs are all prayers from us to God, our Father, and the other paragraphs contain the teaching. It is purely a stylistic matter.

Q #528: If I gave myself a name and an identity, is that the reason that I feel myself so terrible, worthless and unreal? Is it only necessary to look at it and accept it?

A: It’s not only because you gave yourself a name and an identity, but what you believe you had to do to God in order to accomplish it, that explains why you -- and everyone else here -- feels terrible, worthless and unreal. In Heaven, there are no individual names and everyone shares the same Identity as Christ, God’s only Son. It is the desire for something else and the willingness to do whatever it takes to bring that something else about -- including the destruction of God and His All-encompassing Love-- that is the origin of our guilt and self-hatred. But in reality, God and our true Self remain unaffected. So even the feelings of worthlessness are nothing more than part of what we have chosen to experience to convince ourselves that we are separate. Making up a self with its own individual identity and name is just one further step in our insane attempt to prove we’ve done the impossible. But down deep we know it’s all a lie, and so feelings of fraudulent deception and unreality must lie underneath our sense of self here in the world. Everything we then attempt to do in the world to counter our feelings of unworthiness and falsity only serves to reinforce those underlying, unquestioned beliefs about ourselves. The ego is indeed very clever!

This is why we need help from outside our thought system to be released from our self-imposed delusions. You have part of the answer when you ask if we need only to look at what we have made. Anything more than looking, any attempt at intervention, makes our attack on God real and only reinforces the ego’s purpose of maintaining guilt and separation. So we look, not by ourselves, but with the part of our mind -- A Course in Miracles calls it Jesus or the Holy Spirit -- that knows our self is a lie but it is not a sin. And through that joined looking we can begin to question those underlying beliefs about ourselves and decide whether they really are serving our genuine best interests. The answer -- if we look honestly and nonjudgmentally -- is that they are not. Once we have begun to examine and then release those false judgments, we can then ask the Holy Spirit to replace them with a different perception of ourselves and everyone else, a true reflection of our reality as Christ.

Q #529: Lately, I have found myself dealing with many problematic areas in my projects at work, which also put pressure on my staff and vendors. Surprisingly, I find myself always remembering that "this, too, will pass" and I just do my level best to cope. With this in mind, I can see situations at the far end of it, being solved and forgotten. In the same way, I remind my staff to discuss and handle problems with the vendors' right mind with their own right minds. I hear how thankful they are about the new approach I suggested. My question is, how can I sustain handling problems this way, with little worry and faith that all will be well at the end? How can this faith be lived by, without waiver, canceling out all other needs, living in me for the rest of my life in this classroom? Does my thinking I’ll have difficulty sustaining it mean that I still have little faith? Or must I continue to meet more "problematic situations" like these while believing that I have real problems to solve?

A: As A Course in Miracles itself alludes to in many places, mastery of its principles and their application is a process (e.g., W.pII.284; M.14). Our understanding of its teachings will necessarily progress through a series of levels as we develop a deeper sense of what it is telling us about the nature of forgiveness and who we truly are, which are closely related. This progression to deeper levels proceeds as we undo false concepts and beliefs about ourselves through practicing forgiveness at whatever level we are ready to understand and accept it.

So be patient with yourself. How the process appears to you in this present moment may not be how it will seem to you at some point in the future. Yet there is great value in continuing to step back and release your judgments about how things in the present should be. And you may ask yourself if there are other situations, perhaps outside the work setting, in your personal life, from which you may be withholding the application of these principles. For, when Jesus reminds us that we don’t really know our own best interests (W.pI.24), he is including our entire life as we experience it. He is asking us simply to trust the process of forgiveness and generalize it to all areas of our lives. The rest will follow. As he clarifies in the introduction to the workbook, which can be applied to the process of forgiveness, which after all is what the lessons are attempting to teach us: "You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. You are not asked to judge them at all. You are asked only to use them. It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true....But do not allow yourself to make exceptions in applying the ideas...and whatever your reactions to the ideas may be, use them. Nothing more than that is required" (W.in.8:3,4,5,6; 9:4,5).

Q #530: A Course in Miracles states "seek not to change the world, seek to change your mind about the world"(T.21.in.1:7). Does this mean not to take a political or environmental stance? For instance, should we not sign a petition that opposes practices that are damaging to the environment, or work for political causes that are in opposition to the current political agenda? If the world is illusion, should we not care, or should we try to create a "happy dream"?

A: In A Course in Miracles Jesus teaches on different levels. Since the Course tells us the world does not exist," There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach"(W.pI.136.6:2,3), it would be inconsistent with this teaching to give any instruction regarding behavior. The Course neither encourages nor discourages any specific form of activity in the dream. However, while it gives us a whole new perspective on the world, not the least of which includes the fact that the world does not exist, it also tells us: "You dream of a separated ego and believe in a world that rests upon it. This is very real to you. You cannot undo it by not changing your mind about it" (T.4.I.4:4,5,6). Thus the Course acknowledges that we do believe in our experience as bodies in the physical world, and it is very clear in cautioning us not to deny this experience: "…it is almost impossible to deny its [body] existence in this world. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial" (T.2.IV.3:10,11). It is precisely this belief in our identity as bodies in the world that needs to be healed through forgiveness.

Participating in political and environmental causes is no different from any of the other things we do: caring for the body, working at a job, playing golf. All these things make up the classroom where we practice forgiveness. If you are interested in political causes and feel inclined to some specific action, there is no reason not to pursue your interest. The difference for those who practice the Course is to have any activity, and the relationships that go with it, transformed to serve the Holy Spirit’s purpose of healing, rather than the ego’s goal of specialness. This process requires the willingness to look at all the judgments we bring to everything that we do. It is important to see all the ways we take sides, judge those who do not share our concerns, and find the "sinners" in any situation so they can be blamed for the mess we seem to be in. In these observations we have the opportunity to see how we make the world real by trying to fix it, instead of taking responsibility for the thought of separation that perpetuates it in our awareness. That is how we are meant to "change our minds about the world." It is also important to remember that none of the activities or causes we may engage in is more worthy or spiritual than any other. The only "spiritual" thing we do is forgive.

The "happy dream" is experienced in the mind, not in the world. While still in the dream, it is an awareness that it is a dream and not reality. Then, whether you get involved or not, whether the whales are saved or not, you remain at peace in the knowledge that your truth has not been affected by the insanity of the ego’s lie of separation.

Q #531: Can you comment briefly on the meaning of a line in the prose poem, The Gifts of God. The line appears in the first section, "The Dream of Fear." The section's fourth paragraph talks about how the world and God differ in all respects: "Does God deceive or does the world? For it is sure that one must lie. There is no point at which their thoughts agree, their gifts unite in kind or purpose. What you take from one the other will obscure. There is no hope of compromise in this." I'm having trouble understanding the meaning in the line, "What you take from one the other will obscure."

A: This line simply means that the effects of a choice for either God or the ego can not be experienced in the presence of the other. The ego will obscure or hide from our awareness the gifts of peace and love that God offers us. But likewise, a choice for God will replace the ego’s offerings of sin, guilt and fear with His gifts of love and peace, banishing the ego along with its gifts back into nothingness. We can only hold one in our awareness in any moment and the choice is ours. God and the ego are mutually exclusive and the choice is between one or the other. Near the end of the next paragraph in the poem, this idea is expressed again: "Do not think that fear can enter where His gifts abide. But do not think gifts can be received where fear has entered...There are no scraps of dreams. Each one contains the whole of fear, the opposite of love, the hell that hides the memory of God...and hell is total." And this same idea is reflected in Jesus’ statement in A Course in Miracles that "you cannot give up Heaven partially. You cannot be a little bit in hell" (M.13.7:3,4).

Q #532: The Manual for Teachers of A Course in Miracles says that sometimes we are guided to say something from the Holy Spirit that may "confront the teacher with a situation that appears to be greatly embarrassing." I have had this experience lately and more and more as I practice forgiveness and learn to give up judgment I am able to let Jesus speak through me and sometimes I am indeed guided to say something that really is totally irrelevant and has nothing to do with what is going on in the situation. My question is: Why would the Holy Spirit want to put us in a situation that is embarrassing to us? Why would he want us not to feel comfortable? I sometimes feel like people look at me like I am crazy when I say something from my right mind, something that I don't even understand until later. I am seeing as time goes on that the Holy Spirit will say something through me and then I will not understand the depth of what I just said until later! But how does this relate to others?

A: This is one of those passages our egos would like to run with and interpret as evidence that the Holy Spirit does not really have our own best interests at heart. After all, you ask, why would the Holy Spirit want to put us in a situation that is embarrassing to us? But that is not really what this passage is saying. Embarrassment is an ego reaction that comes when our separate self feels threatened because we are not defending and protecting it.

It is not the Holy Spirit’s intention to place us in embarrassing circumstances, although we may feel embarrassed when we set our ego aside momentarily and are willing to practice forgiveness, which is a thought of nonjudgmental defenselessness. That thought is first accepted into our minds and then may be expressed in words (or actions) that reflect a recognition of our shared interest and basic equality with all our brothers and sisters. This kind of acknowledgment can be embarrassing to an ego that always wants to come out on top, even when it adopts a false humility that seems to place us below others.

If you re-read this passage, you will see that Jesus says that what we hear "may also seem to be quite irrelevant to the presented problem as he perceives it, and may, in fact, confront the teacher with a situation that appears to be very embarrassing to him. All these are judgments that have no value. They are his own, coming from a shabby self-perception which he would leave behind (M.21.5:3,4,5; italics added). In other words, the embarrassment is not in any way intrinsic to the situation but comes from our ego-based interpretations of who we think we are and what we think is acceptable for maintaining our self-esteem. And self-esteem is nothing more than an ego function that we believe is necessary to defend against our underlying sense of shame and guilt -- our "shabby self-perception."

As for whether we are hearing and speaking the words of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, it is probably best not to spend much time assessing whether the source in any specific situation is our right mind or our ego. Our ego, after all, can get pretty good at offering its own imitation of the Holy Spirit, expressing the form of "spirituality" but the content of separation. If you keep your focus on being aware of your own judgments and asking for help in releasing them whenever you are aware that they have arisen, then you will have done your part in getting yourself out of the way so that Jesus can manifest his loving presence through you. And should you find yourself embarrassed at anything you find yourself saying or doing, simply know that your ego’s interpretations and judgments have again supplanted the Holy Spirit’s gentle forgiveness in your awareness and you simply need to ask for His help again. It is not so much that the Holy Spirit will guide us to make deep and profound statements but that we will be speaking words that will remind us that we are all truly the same, that the differences between us that the ego would like to emphasize, the Holy Spirit sees as irrelevant. Remembering that is what is truly helpful to everyone, and not the specific words we may find ourselves speaking.

Q #533: I have been studying A Course in Miracles for over 10 years now, with a few extended breaks from it. I am doing the lessons again for a second time and they seem to be stirring the mud more than the first time as regards experiencing fear. You have answered many questions about fear and I am hoping you would have some tried and true responses in dealing with it.

A: Perhaps one of the most helpful things to remember in dealing with our fear is that it is always a result of our choice, no matter what our experience may tell us to the contrary. Here are a few of the many passages in the Course that make this clear (italics added): In speaking of the ego and the Holy Spirit, "there are no other guides but these to choose between, and no other outcomes possible as a result of your choice but the fear that the ego always engenders, and the love that the Holy Spirit always offers to replace it" (W.pI.66.7:5). "No one can grieve nor fear nor think him sick unless these are the outcomes that he wants" (W.pI.152.1:3). And "Is not the escape of God's beloved Son from evil dreams that he imagines, yet believes are true, a worthy purpose? Who could hope for more, while there appears to be a choice to make between success and failure; love and fear? (W.I.200.6:5,6).

Most of the time, the choice is unconscious, but one of the goals of the Course is to help us become more aware of the decision, so we can make a different one. And one of the ways to make the choice more conscious is to understand why we would choose fear. Fear serves a very important ego purpose, validating the reality of the separation in our experience. Fear affirms my existence as a separate being, threatened by forces outside myself. The feeling denies that I could possibly be one with my Source, beyond which there is nothing else. It really does not matter what I attribute my fear to, so long as I do not seriously question the reality of the danger to myself.

Although we experience fear towards all sorts of seemingly external forces in the world outside of us, the Course makes it clear that these are merely the result of the projection of the fear buried in our mind over the punishment -- certain death -- we believe we deserve for attacking God and destroying Heaven. But the deeper fear -- once we begin to accept that we’ve made up the fear of punishment and death in alliance with the ego to keep us mindless and are really attracted to it (T.19.IV.B,C) -- is the fear of love. For in the presence of total love, there are no differences, no distinctions and no individual identities.

Our fear of love is addressed in a number of passages, but no where is more clearly presented than in the beginning of The Fear of Redemption: "We have said that no one will countenance fear if he recognizes it. Yet in your disordered state of mind you are not afraid of fear. You do not like it, but it is not your desire to attack that really frightens you. You are not seriously disturbed by your hostility. You keep it hidden because you are more afraid of what it covers. You could look even upon the ego's darkest cornerstone without fear if you did not believe that, without the ego, you would find within yourself something you fear even more. You are not really afraid of crucifixion. Your real terror is of redemption.

Under the ego's dark foundation is the memory of God, and it is of this that you are really afraid. For this memory would instantly restore you to your proper place, and it is this place that you have sought to leave. Your fear of attack is nothing compared to your fear of love. You would be willing to look even upon your savage wish to kill God's Son, if you did not believe that it saves you from love. For this wish caused the separation, and you have protected it because you do not want the separation healed" (T.13.III.1:4:2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11; 2:1,2,3,4,5).

So to acknowledge the depth of our fear is helpful, but we also want to recognize that in our minds it serves as a powerful defense, protecting the identity that we cling to while we are too afraid to let go. And there is no pressure to let go. As Jesus assures us, "Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality" (T.16.VI.8:1). So as you move through the layers of your fear, remember to include Jesus in the looking process, for his presence is a reminder that fear is a choice, that it serves a very useful ego purpose, and, most importantly, all the seeming reasons for our fear are made up and have no basis in anything real. We don’t believe that yet, but he knows it’s true.

You mention that many questions have already addressed the issue of fear. Here are some of them: Questions #95, #242, #267, #355 and #384.