Weekly Questions and Answers, 07/28/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #534:  Does "the Little Garden" advocate bringing truth to illusion?
Q #535;  Why does the Course seems to contradict itself about time?.

Q #536:  Will my needs be met if I heed the Holy Spirit, and how can I be sure I am not heeding the ego?
Q #537:  If disease is not "real" how should a student of the Course act regarding STD's ?
Q #538:  Why does the Course seem to say that the Holy Spirit will help us "in the illusion"?
Q #539:  In what ways does the Course differ from the Bible?
Q #540:  What is the difference between images and visions?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #534: I have heard it said that A Course in Miracles says that we should "bring the illusion to the truth" rather than try to create a better illusion by trying to "bring the truth to the illusion." However, I was reading yesterday in the Text, Chapter 18, Section VIII, The Little Garden, which may be saying something different. In Paragraph 9 it says, "The Thought of God surrounds your little kingdom [ego illusion], waiting at the barrier you built [separation] to come inside and shine upon the barren ground. See how life springs up everywhere! The desert becomes a garden, green and deep and quiet, offering rest to those who lost their way and wander in the dust...." This seems to suggest that when we offer up our lives to the Holy Spirit for guidance, the desert of our lives becomes a garden? Could this process be thought of as "bringing truth to the illusion", resulting in an experience of what the Course calls a happy dream? Is this what the Course asks us to do?

A: Sorry, but much as our egos would like to have us believe it’s so, Jesus is never saying anything about changing the external world or our seeming lives as separate bodies in that world, since there is no external world. As he says elsewhere, this world is an hallucination (T.20.VIII.7:3), so it’s unlikely that he would want to help us make a better hallucination. Jesus is only speaking of mind and, in this passage, the little part of the mind we believe we have barricaded from God and set up as our own autonomous kingdom. When we are willing to stop "protecting" the little self that we believe we have split off from God through our thoughts of judgment and attack, then the love that is always there can flow through, shifting our perception from one of desolation and lack to one of joy and abundance.

When we offer our judgments (not our lives) to the Holy Spirit, we drop the barriers around our separate self. And to release those judgments to Him, we must first have looked at them and acknowledged our investment in them. And this is the process of bringing our illusions to the truth (T.17.I.5), so the truth can shine on the illusion and allow the love to replace the sin and guilt and fear. It is this kind of inner shift that Jesus is describing metaphorically through the imagery of the garden replacing the desert. Whether there will be some kind of corresponding shift in the images we are projecting from the mind will not matter to us, for we will share Jesus’ understanding that none of it is real.

Q #535: I have a question about something I read in "The Guiltless World" in Chapter 13 of A Course in Miracles, in section VI, "Finding the Present". In paragraph 4 it says: "Past, present and future are not continuous...." Then it says: "You would destroy time's continuity by breaking it into past, present and future...." This is confusing to me. First it says past, present and future are not continuous. Then it says that I would destroy time's continuity. How can I destroy time's continuity if it is not continuous? Or, am I misreading this paragraph?

A: The key is in understanding that the ego and the Holy Spirit perceive the purpose of illusory time exactly the opposite (T.13.IV.7:1,2) and so each focuses on different aspects of time: the ego on the past and future; the Holy Spirit on the present. The ego wants to keep us trapped in the illusion of time for that keeps the ego alive. And so it attempts to establish an artificial continuity or link between the illusory past and the illusory future through guilt and fear, which makes time real in our experience. The ego literally ignores the present except as a fleeting moment in time that links the past and the future, with the future a fearful and inevitable continuation of the sinful, guilty past, with no hope of escape (T.5.VI.2:1,2,3,4; T.13.I.8; T.13.IV.8).

The Holy Spirit, in contrast, seeks to help us move beyond the illusion of time and so uses the present, the only aspect of time that approximates eternity, to extend to the infinite (T.13.IV.7:3,4,5,6,7; T.13.VI.6). The past’s only value is that it can be undone through forgiveness, transforming it and purifying it so that it no longer conflicts with the present (T.17.III.5). For the Holy Spirit, the holy instant, the present moment, is one continuous instant without interruption or ending, which is the bridge between time and timelessness. If we do not experience its continuity, it is only because we have accepted the ego’s interpretation of time, which attempts to impose an artificial continuity between a sinful past that has never happened and a future of punishment and pain that is nothing more than a sick fantasy (W.pI.135.16).

Q #536: Many times A Course in Miracles tells us to let go of our judgments and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. It says that if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, all of our needs will be met. It also explains that "needs" means seeming needs that we perceive while we are still in illusion. It also says that we must awaken in peace. By this I understand it to mean that we cannot awaken from a dream of terror but first we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us from our fearful dream to a "happy dream." Then, we can awaken. Do I understand this correctly? How can we be sure we are not following the guidance of the ego's judgments and mistaking them for the real Holy Spirit's guidance?

A: Your understanding is basically correct, provided you do not mean that you expect all your seeming worldly needs to be met so long as you follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. For if you do, you will be setting yourself up for certain disappointment. There are a few passages in the Course where the language seems to suggest this kind of Providential provision for our needs (e.g., T.20.IV.8, but see also Question #293), but these are intended as comforting passages to reassure us that God loves us and does not want to punish or hurt us in any way, as the ego would have us believe. As we come to understand the level of mind at which the Course is written, it becomes apparent that Jesus is referring to the obstacles and perceived needs in the mind, not in the body, which after all is only a lifeless projection of the thoughts of scarcity and need in the mind.

As for your question about hearing the Holy Spirit, His guidance is always and only to forgive (T.25.VI.5:3,4,5,6; W.pI.99.9:6,7,8; W.pII.1.5:1). And that does not require us to do anything. Rather it asks us to undo our judgments of attack and condemnation. Anything specific that we might say or do following that release of judgment is simply the form that our own minds, joined with the Holy Spirit, then give to the experience of love and peace that flow through our minds when we are not restricting their extension by our desire for something else. So long as you accept that your role is simply to recognize your ego’s judgments and be willing to let them go, you need not concern yourself with anything else. You will be following the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Your concern about distinguishing between the ego’s and the Holy Spirit’s guidance has also been addressed in other Questions, including #43, #285, and #309.

Q #537: As you probably have heard, the medical profession advises patients with the sexually transmitted disease (STD) of herpes -- which is claimed to be contagious forever -- to tell their sexual partner, and to use protective devices against transmitting the STD to his or her partner. And A Course in Miracles teaches disease is the effect of our belief of our guilt. So while guilt couldn't be contagious, how could a student of the Course think rightly about, talk rightly about, and act rightly about the STD of herpes?

A: While guilt is not contagious, it inevitably leads to the expectation of punishment. Following the ego’s plan, as a defense against the agony over this guilt and fear in our minds we deny the mind and its contents and wind up believing we are bodies in a world with laws of its own. (See W.pI.76.8 where Jesus lists some of these laws.) By choice, then, we (decision-making minds outside time and space) subject ourselves to these laws and block any awareness of the dynamics going on in our minds, which are the foundation of our experiences in the world. The whole thing is a setup, but if we are convinced that we are bodies, we had better pay attention to these so- called laws. Yes, it is true that disease is ultimately caused by our belief in the reality of guilt, but while we are working on that level, which is a step in the right direction, we cannot ignore or deny our bodily experiences, nor does Jesus think it is a good idea to do so (T.2.IV.3:8,9,10,11).

You single out herpes, but would you drink from a cup just used by someone with the flu? Would you accept blood from a donor known to have the AIDS virus? Would you allow your child to play with another child who just came down with the measles? Would you eat at a restaurant where the food preparers have hepatitis? The point, again, is that if you believe you are a body, it is just common sense to do what normal people do in the world to protect themselves and others - - but without making a big deal about it. This is the compromise approach Jesus himself recommends (the reference to Chapter 2 above).

Q #538: A student has raised the question of whether we have a specific role to play in this world, and your answer was: not in the world, but in our minds. However, the Holy Spirit does help us "in the illusion," and there are several references in A Course in Miracles to specific roles and certain people we are supposed to meet, etc. The Course is also made within the framework of the illusion. I think you are doing a great job -- always giving wise answers, but in this case I do think you should discuss it further within your organization.

A: We are aware of the passages you refer to and that the Course comes within an ego framework (C.in.3:1). There is no doubt that people receive very specific guidance -- Helen Schucman, scribe of the Course, did. It is not wrong or harmful, as Jesus says in The Song of Prayer, but he clearly says that we will do much if we can get beyond that level, which he invites us to do (S.I). Helen learned that later, and then no longer related to Jesus that way. (Chapter 17 in Kenneth’s book Absence from Felicity contains a very helpful exposition of this dimension of Jesus’ teaching and Helen’s transition to this level.) Then, too, Jesus is emphatic about our always taking into consideration the purpose of what we do. He tells us early in the workbook that we do not know what anything is for (W.pI.25); the purposes we recognize are all at a superficial level, where purpose cannot really be understood, he states, using the example of contacting someone by telephone (4:2,3). The relevance of this to your question is that we would not know what specific roles or relationships are truly for, and therefore we would impose our own meaning on them, which more than likely would be of the ego -- whereas the only meaning of value in anything we do is forgiveness. Therefore, the Holy Spirit’s guidance would be exclusively for the content of forgiveness. The form in which that content is expressed then becomes essentially irrelevant. Our recorded workshop "Making the Holy Spirit Special" provides a detailed exposition of this crucial issue.

Interest in specifics is the stage of spiritual childhood, the beginning of a very long spiritual process that is aimed at helping us reach the top of the ladder where specifics become meaningless, including our specific identity as individuals. Referring again to the first section in the companion pamphlet to the Course, Jesus says that what we truly want is the song itself, nothing but God’s Love. That is the real content of the answers we experience as specific guidance. He is training us to gravitate more to that content, rather than the form of the answer. We tend to fall in love with the specialness of receiving specific guidance and thereby miss the content, which is what would make us happy and peaceful all the time, regardless of external conditions. It is in this spirit that Jesus asks the rhetorical questions: "What could His answer be but your remembrance of Him? Can this be traded for a bit of trifling advice about a problem of an instant’s duration? God answers only for eternity" (S.I.4:5,6,7). Granted, Jesus’ perspective far transcends ours when he appeals to us this way, but all he is doing is inviting us to join him there because he knows how much more at peace we would be, and because that is where we truly belong.

So these two levels of Jesus’ teaching must be kept in sight if one is to learn and use this Course as it was meant to be learned and used. When we focus on specifics it is as if we are holding up a thimble to receive the love that cannot be contained by any form. We are not aware that what we are secretly doing is trying to make love conform to our specifications, when the reality is that "its total lack of limits is its meaning" (T.18.VIII.8:2). Jesus thus appeals to us not to stay on the level of specifics, not because it is wrong or sinful to stay there, but because we are selling ourselves short. This world is not our home, he tells us in many ways throughout the Course, so why would we want to limit his help to our problems and aspirations in the world? He wants rather to help us identify the ways in which we keep ourselves alienated from our true Home and our true Identity. We did not even know that this is what our lives here were all about; now we do, and we have a teacher who will be with us each step of the way, from the beginning of the journey when we are interested mainly in his help with our lives in the world, to the completion of the journey when we experience our oneness with each other: "And thus you joined with me, so what I am are you as well" (W.pII.14.1:3). So when we see Jesus only as the one who can help us with our problems, unbeknownst to ourselves, we are limiting the relationship with him that he would so dearly like us to have.

Q #539: I have recently reviewed some of the sites on A Course in Miracles and wonder if it is they who are misunderstanding the Course or I. I understand that God created the universe and the heavens and earth and within that the Garden. Sin could be seen as a result of Adam and Eve's lack of love and their sense of shame for actions they did. This shame was the first illusion followed by many misunderstandings and illusions for many generations, the creation of the world as we know it, but not as God knows it and wants us to know it. Out of compassion God entered the "world of our illusions" through the human Jesus who was born seeing as God sees, and he taught us the Way out of our illusion "back" to the Kingdom of Heaven. If those statements are true then he was saying that we cannot see the world as God sees so we must follow the WAY he has taught us and change our hearts. Is that what the Course teaches or am I mistaken? If it is, then I really can't see the conflict with the Course and the biblical teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.

A: Although the Course uses the language of the Bible, including references to Adam and the Garden of Eden (T.2.I.3:1,2,5,6; 4:5; T.3.I.3:9), the symbolism behind its use of these words is very different from the Bible’s. The Course aims to correct the basic teachings of Christianity and Judaism found in their scriptures, predicated as they are on the reality of sin and the need to do something about it; i.e., God sends His only Son into the world to make the perfect sacrifice. The Course’s uncompromising position is that we could only seem to dream that we have acted against God and therefore there are no actions that could in any way be misconstrued as sin or attack. Direct corrections of biblical statements and principles can be found in a number of text sections, including "Atonement Without Sacrifice" (T.3.I) and "Time and Eternity" (T.5.VI).

But the fundamental difference is that the Bible -- and this characterizes your understanding as well, as you present it above -- teaches that God created the world as something apart from Himself, and breathed life into separate beings with individual forms distinct from Himself. The Course, in contrast, teaches a pure non-dualism that says that God can only create or extend like Himself (e.g., T.24.VII.7) and that anything that is not like God -- which includes the world of form and everything contained within it -- can not be His creation and therefore cannot be real. Nothing in the universe, as vast as it may seem to be, is eternal or infinite (T.29.VI.2). And therefore God could not have made it. In the Course’s own words, "The world you see is an illusion of a world. God did not create it, for what He creates must be eternal as Himself" (C.4.1:1,2).

Within non-dualism, there can be no perception, for there is neither an observer nor an observed. So there can be no "seeing as God sees," for there is nothing outside of God for God to see. Now the Course may at times use language that seems to suggest otherwise, but none of this should be taken literally, for the Course is merely attempting to reach us in a language we can understand (M.23.7:1), caught as we seem to be in a finite world of duality and limitation.

For more on God and the world, see Questions #121 and #157. And for more on the metaphoric language of the Course and God, see Question #42. And for further, in depth discussions of the differences between the Course and the Bible, the book A Course in Miracles and Christianity: A Dialogue, by Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D., and W. Norris Clark, S.J., Ph.D., and the tape set The Bible from the Perspective of A Course in Miracles, by Gloria and Kenneth Wapnick, can be helpful.

Q #540: Could you please explain the difference between images and visions? The reason I ask is that what I see physically is what I am physically, and what the mind sees is my projection on the world. In the other part of my mind as I pray I see also images of a different nature, like receiving an answer to a question to the Holy Spirit in symbolic form. My ego tempts me to disbelieve all images but that leaves me rather comfortless. Often these inner 'visions' have multiple interpretations, for which I have developed the habit of asking for the Holy Spirit's interpretation.

A: From the perspective of A Course in Miracles, all images or visions, whether they seem to be external in the world outside ourselves or to exist only within the mind, are the same. They are illusions projected by a split mind that believes it is outside of (separate from) God and Heaven. That is why the early workbook lessons alternate between having us focus on what we seem to see with our physical eyes and what we see with our mind’s eye -- our thoughts and inner images -- for the inner and the outer are the same (e.g., W.pI4; W.pI.31.2; W.pI.32.2,5; W.pI.33.1).

The important difference is not in the form of the image nor in its seeming source in the world or in the mind, but in the purpose it serves, as you have been trying to determine. The same image can serve either an ego purpose or the Holy Spirit’s purpose. If it leads you in the direction of fear, guilt, judgment, attack, specialness, self interest, etc., it is serving the ego’s purpose of separation and sin quite effectively. And if it helps you to remember that your only aim is to release judgment and recognize shared interests, the Holy Spirit’s purpose of forgiveness is the source of inspiration. These two alternatives are clearly articulated in the workbook lesson, "All things I think I see reflect ideas" (W.pII.325):

This is salvation's keynote: What I see reflects a process in my mind, which starts with my idea of what I want. From there, the mind makes up an image of the thing the mind desires, judges valuable, and therefore seeks to find. These images are then projected outward, looked upon, esteemed as real and guarded as one's own. From insane wishes comes an insane world. From judgment comes a world condemned. And from forgiving thoughts a gentle world comes forth, with mercy for the holy Son of God, to offer him a kindly home where he can rest a while before he journeys on, and help his brothers walk ahead with him, and find the way to Heaven and to God (W.pII.325.1).

And what this passage hopefully will help you see more clearly is that what we see reflects our own choice. Nothing we see comes to us uninvited. So if you find that you do not like what you are seeing, simply accept that you have made a mistake and would like the Holy Spirit’s help in seeing differently (e.g., W.pI.20,21,22).