Weekly Questions and Answers, 08/04/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #541:  Why must I do "something outrageous" if asked?
Q #542;  How or why should I not be upset by painful external circumstances?.

Q #543: 
Please explain "What you experience when you deny your Father is still for your protection"
Q #544:  Is the Course, too, just illusion ?
Q #545:  What is the meaning of the "incorruptible body"?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #541: I've been having trouble with chapter 12, section III, The Investment In Reality. Jesus says that if someone asks something "outrageous" we should do it because it does not matter. This causes me great fear because all my life I've been unable to say no and this is something I need to do for my own mental health. I thought that we were under no laws but God's and he never demands anything. This seems like a demand to me. It makes me feel like I am under anyone's control if they feel like asking me to do something and get mad if I don't. I must be interpreting this wrong because it causes fear in me unlike the rest of A Course in Miracles. How could God expect us to bow to others wishes like this. Does this not contradict all the rest?

A: Your confusion with this passage is a common one among Course students, because of our strong ego-based inclination to confuse form with content. Rest assured that Jesus is never talking about behavior but only our underlying thoughts and attitudes. Let’s look at the sentence in the larger context:

"Recognize what does not matter, and if your brothers ask you for something ‘outrageous,’ do it because it does not matter. Refuse, and your opposition establishes that it does matter to you. It is only you, therefore, who have made the request outrageous, and every request of a brother is for you. Why would you insist in denying him? For to do so is to deny yourself and impoverish both. He is asking for salvation, as you are. Poverty is of the ego, and never of God. No ‘outrageous’ requests can be made of one who recognizes what is valuable and wants to accept nothing else.

Salvation is for the mind, and it is attained through peace. This is the only thing that can be saved and the only way to save it. Any response other than love arises from a confusion about the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of salvation, and this is the only answer" (T.12.III.4:1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8; 5:1,2,3).

In this particular passage, our tendency is to focus on the part of the statement "do it" although the words Jesus is emphasizing, indicated by the italics, are concerned with our interpretation of the request and our motivation. His focus is not on "do it" but on "because it does not matter."

Jesus is asking us to look at our resistance to our brother’s request. If we are in our right mind, we will hear the real request that is beneath the specific words and we will be willing to respond, for, in the words of this passage, "he is asking for salvation." Our response may or may not be in the form of what he is asking for -- not refusing our brother’s request does not mean that we do exactly what he asks behaviorally. But our attitude will not be one of resistance or rejection but an openness to respond with what he is really asking for -- the love he does not know is his.

Jesus knew we would misinterpret this passage through our ego confusion of form and content and so he adds a clarification several chapters later:

"I have said that if a brother asks a foolish thing of you to do it. But be certain that this does not mean to do a foolish thing that would hurt either him or you, for what would hurt one will hurt the other. Foolish requests are foolish merely because they conflict, since they always contain some element of specialness. Only the Holy Spirit recognizes foolish needs as well as real ones. And He will teach you how to meet both without losing either" (T.16.I.6:4,5,6,7,8).

Once again, Jesus shifts the focus from the specific behavior to the underlying content and asks us to turn to the Holy Spirit for help, because our own interpretation will view our brother’s request as an attack rather than as a call for love. That’s why we need to ask for help for ourselves first before we can respond to our brother’s real request. So long as we see ourselves as limited and vulnerable, we will view our brother’s request as an unreasonable demand upon us and we will inevitably respond defensively, as if we can be diminished by our brother’s demands. But if we are in our right mind, we will be able to hear our brother’s request for what it really is -- a fearful call for love from one who does not believe he deserves love. And we will know that the only response that is called for is love (T.12.I.3,4,5), of which we are not the source.

Through our willingness to be a channel for the love he is calling for, we are saying we are willing to experience the love ourselves. That is why, as Jesus says in the earlier passage, to refuse a brother’s request is to impoverish yourself as well. The anger and the resistance you feel are the cues that the ego is running the show. So while you feel that you may need to keep boundaries to protect yourself, Jesus is saying that it is still possible to respond to your brother’s underlying request for love. For Jesus would never ask us to do anything that we believe would hurt ourselves -- we are always the ones who demand that of ourselves.

Q #542: The answer to Question #324 contains a line that deals with an aspect of A Course in Miracles that still eludes me: "It is never the external situation that causes our loss of peace." For whatever reason I just don't get this concept. This seems to be saying that if I break a leg, it's not the broken leg that is causing me distress, or if someone in the apartment above me is playing really vulgar music extremely loud and driving me crazy with it that it's not what the people are doing that is upsetting me. How does one look at something that is annoying or hurting the heck out of them and not be distressed by it?

A: Your perplexity, which most students of the Course share as they begin to learn of this principle, is understandable. Not getting it is what keeps the ego in business and that is why we have such difficulty understanding it. But the Course is saying exactly that: a broken leg or people playing loud vulgar music upstairs is not the cause of your upset or distress. Perhaps if you can recognize how the same event can trigger different reactions in you at different times (e.g., sometimes you may not get upset by the loud music), or how different people do not have the same reactions to the same external event, you may begin to get a glimpse at the truth behind the statement you quote. It is the meaning we give to an event, and in particular the degree to which we personalize it, and not the event itself that determines how we react.

The Course, speaking of anger -- but the principle applies equally to any type of upset or distress - - says, "Perhaps it will be helpful to remember that no one can be angry [or distressed] at a fact. It is always an interpretation that gives rise to negative emotions, regardless of their seeming justification by what appears as facts" (M.17.4:1,2). You may not have realized it, but this is the principle behind the early workbook lesson, "I am never upset for the reason I think" (W.pI.5).

Although this workbook lesson does not articulate the real reason for our upset, the cause lies in our mind’s decision to see ourselves as separate from love, with the guilt that inevitably accompanies that decision. That is the only reason we ever experience distress and upset, but the cause is buried deeply within our unconscious mind so that we are not aware of it. That amnesia is a major aspect of the ego’s strategy, so that we then can project the buried guilt onto anyone or anything that seems to be outside ourselves and hold them responsible for how we feel. If we really knew this is what we are choosing to do, we would not do it for very long. For then it would become clear that how we feel has nothing to do with anyone else and nothing to do with what seems to be happening to our bodies.

One of the clearest statements of this relationship between our guilt and how we feel is found in the following text passage: "Once you were unaware of what the cause of everything the world appeared to thrust upon you, uninvited and unasked, must really be. Of one thing you were sure: Of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them. Nor did you in any way request them for yourself. This is how all illusions came about" (T.27.VII.6:3,4,5,6).

Jesus’ challenging task is to help us undo the false associations we have built in our minds between what seems to happen outside of us and how we feel. This is the essence of forgiveness, as we release our judgments and condemnation against others and begin to accept that we are the only ones who can deprive ourselves of our peace of mind.

While this means accepting responsibility for how we feel and not placing the blame elsewhere -- a difficult acknowledgment while we remain identified with our egos -- it also provides us with the way out of our pain and distress. For now no one and nothing else needs to change. We only have to change our minds and accept a different Teacher to interpret what we are experiencing. From the manual section we quoted from earlier, "If anger [or distress] comes from an interpretation and not a fact, it is never justified. Once this is even dimly grasped, the way is open. Now it is possible to take the next step. The interpretation can be changed at last" (M.17.4:1,2;8:6,7,8,9). And that is why we need a different Teacher, Who will provide us with a different way of looking at our situation, while we remain so invested in blaming others.

So it is even possible to break a leg and not only not become upset, but feel no pain, as over time our identification shifts from our body to our mind through practicing forgiveness. For we will no longer need the defense against the guilt in our mind that the body has been made to provide. This underlies Jesus’ powerful teaching in "The Message of the Crucifixion" (T.6.I.3,4,5), where he emphasizes that "assault can ultimately be made only on the body" but that "if you respond with anger, you must be equating yourself with the destructible [the body], and are therefore regarding yourself insanely" (T.6.I.4:1,7). This is where the teaching, with Jesus’ help, is ultimately leading us. As he reminds us, "I am like you and you are like me, but our fundamental equality can be demonstrated only through joint decision" (T.6.I.5:1).

Q #543: Would you kindly elaborate on the potential meanings and implications of these sentences from the text of A Course in Miracles: "God’s laws hold only for your protection, and they never hold in vain. What you experience when you deny your Father is still for your protection, for the power of your will cannot be lessened without the intervention of God against it, and any limitation on your power is not the Will of God" (T.11.IV.2:3,4).

A: When we identify with the ego thought system we will experience ourselves as separate beings, with interests that conflict and compete with others. This is not the truth, but if we acknowledge that everything we experience here is a consequence of that choice for the ego, we can at any time change that decision and choose against the ego, thereby regaining awareness of the oneness of the Sonship. In the paragraphs preceding and following the one you cite, this is what Jesus is talking about. He thus says explicitly, "Never forget that the Sonship is your salvation, for the Sonship is your Self" (1:1). And in speaking of our choice to judge certain people as not worthy of sharing the gifts God gave His Son, Jesus teaches us that we are thereby diminishing our own participation in these gifts, and it is the law of God that they be shared without limit: "Would you cut off a brother from the light that is yours? You would not do so if you realized that you can darken only your own mind. As you bring him back, so will you return. That is the law of God, for the protection of the Wholeness of His Son" (3:4,5,6,7).

God’s Son is One -- that is His law. So even if in our delusional state we experience ourselves as separate, God’s law still holds. Nothing can prevail against it. Our obstinacy in maintaining that we are right is therefore futile, and all of our attempts to abdicate responsibility for our separated state by blaming others for our suffering and problems are futile as well. If it is God’s Will that the Sonship be whole, then it is our will too. That is the principle of the Atonement, which is represented in our right minds. Thus, in the next chapter (T.12.I), Jesus teaches that our denial of our Identity as part of God is a call for help, which means that if we are denying something, it must be there. That is our protection; the Atonement is our protection. We can never truly separate ourselves from our Source, nor from the oneness in which God created us.

Q #544: A comment about Question #328, which asked: If everything is illusion, how can A Course in Miracles exist?

The Course does not exist. It is part of our illusion. The Holy Spirit's job is to use various aspects of our illusions to guide us gently back to reality. So the Holy Spirit has used not only paper and ink (illusion) but also our concept that "something is wrong and needs to be corrected" (illusion) and has turned them to a holy purpose, that of gently guiding us back to reality. The Holy Spirit is manipulating part of our dream to guide us to a happy awakening. Is this a correct understanding?

A: At a very practical level, your understanding is quite correct. The Course teaches us that the Holy Spirit can use everything the ego has made for separation as a means for healing (e.g., T.6.V.A.2:4,5; T.7.IV.3:3), if we will offer it to Him for His purpose. And this is a very helpful way to see our Guide and Comforter -- the part of our split mind that remembers both God and Who we are -- while we remain trapped in the illusions of our own making. For it offers a correction to how the ego would have us view God and His Representative within the dream -- as the vengeful enemy.

But there is another level of understanding that, as we progress with the Course, will lead us beyond even this very helpful mythology. Not only is the Course illusion, but the Holy Spirit, as a separate Helper Who manipulates illusory ego symbols, is illusion as well.

Speaking of the Holy Spirit near the end of the book, the Course explains, "His is the Voice for God, and has therefore taken form. This form is not His reality, which God alone knows along with Christ, His real Son, Who is part of Him....He seems to be a Voice, for in that form He speaks God's Word to you. He seems to be a Guide through a far country, for you need that form of help. He seems to be whatever meets the needs you think you have (C.6.1:4,5; 4:5,6,7).

All of these and the other many functions ascribed to the Holy Spirit are useful fictions while we believe we are separate and alone. But when time is over and we have awakened from the dream, we will no longer have need for such helpful symbols: "And then the Voice is gone, no longer to take form but to return to the eternal formlessness of God" (C.6.5:8).

Q #545: A Course in Miracles speaks about the "incorruptible body" (T.19.IV.C.i), saying that it is possible to "keep the body incorruptible and perfect as long as it is useful for your holy purpose." Is the Course actually telling us that we can achieve a state (within the world of illusion) in which our body will remain in perfect physical condition as long as we remain here? Is this part of the condition we are able to achieve as we move closer to the real world, perhaps one of the characteristics of what the Course calls the "Happy Learner" in chapter 14, ii? If we had a completely disease free and healthy body, then we could be drawn toward reality motivated by a genuine desire to regain our awareness of our Father rather than being "driven" by physical pain and fear. Would you please comment on all this?

A: Sorry, but that’s not what Jesus means here. It could appear to happen that way in form in some individual cases, but you can never judge anything real by form. If you read the next few sentences after the line you cite, it is clear that Jesus is not describing what happens to the body itself: "The body no more dies than it can feel. It does nothing. Of itself it is neither corruptible nor incorruptible. It is nothing" (T.19.IV.C.5:2,3,4,5). He is simply saying that we will no longer see our bodies serving the purpose of corruption. The body will no longer be corrupted by the guilt of the ego thought system, for we will know that the ego’s guilt is not true. And even though the body may change in form, appearing to age and even become disabled or diseased, if there is no thought of sickness or death -- guilt -- in the mind, these changes in form will have no connotations of death and sickness to us -- "The body can but serve your purpose. As you look on it, so will it seem to be" (T.19.IV.C.6:3,4).

What happened to Jesus’ body at the end of his earthly "life" illustrates this principle. His body did not represent any thought of death or disease or pain in his mind, since his mind was free of guilt. He did not use his body to reinforce a belief in sin and victimization in his mind (T.6.I.5) -- and so it remained incorruptible in his perception, despite how its form may have seemed to change. He did not allow it to be corrupted in his thinking by making it a symbol of accusation against others.

We can also see the Course’s discussion here of the incorruptible body as a correction for the glorified, resurrected body that Christian doctrine teaches Jesus’ physical resurrection has assured all of his faithful followers. As he says of his own body earlier in this section: "Yet would I offer you my body, you whom I love, knowing its littleness? Or would I teach that bodies cannot keep us apart? Mine was of no greater value than yours.... To think you could be satisfied and happy with so little is to hurt yourself" (T.19.IV.A.17:5,6,7,12).

One final point of clarification: it is not physical pain or fear that drive us either toward or away from an awareness of our Father. The body, as nothing, feels nothing, as we noted above. All pain and fear are in the mind and it is here that they must be addressed and released. The body only returns to the mind the messages that the mind first wants and then sends out (T.19.IV.A.10,11,12,13,14,15).