Weekly Questions and Answers, 08/25/2004

This week's questions/topics:

Q #558:  How do I choose "that which is of value"?
Q #559; 
Inconsistencies in the meaning of the word "miracle" in the Course?

Q #560:  How can I remain true to the Course, and still pray with others for help with ego-based problems?
Q #561:  Who is the "me" that the ego wants dead ?
Q #562:  Why do defenses "do what they would defend"?

Chronological List of All Questions.
Interactive Index of all topics

Q #558 : I am looking at quieting my mind and observing all my suffering from a new point of view. A Course in Miracles says my only function is forgiving It speaks to me of choosing that which is of value. It says I must look first at what I made in order to see what is and isn't of value. My question is how do I look straight into all my ego-generated drama and hold on to that which is of value. I know that if my only function is forgiving, then that which is of value comes from that premise. But I get very caught up in the drama and find it hard to discern the valuable from the valueless. I am also looking at letting go of judgment, which I am beginning to see as valueless. I could use help in finding coping skills and daily meditations to help me through this change.

A: Yes, the Course is inviting us to take a look at our lives and all our suffering and pain from a completely different perspective. All of our categories and criteria up until now for sorting out what is valuable and helpful in our lives suddenly lose their validity, as the basic premise for deciding shifts from meeting our needs to letting go of our judgments, which is what the Course means by forgiveness. Two broad, all-encompassing generalizations follow from this new premise for deciding -- nothing of the ego is of any value in itself, but everything of the ego provides us with the opportunities we need to practice forgiveness.

This also means that our focus shifts from the seemingly endless process of evaluating the ceaseless flow of external events in terms of their potential impact on our physical, emotional, mental, and psychological well-being, to a continuous monitoring of our own inner thoughts to ascertain whether or not they are helpful for recognizing our genuine well-being (sinlessness), which has already been guaranteed by God (W.pI.93.6,7).

So in practical terms, what does this mean? First of all, it means that you need not change anything external in terms of your routines and practices and daily activities, other than perhaps beginning the Workbook lessons, if you have not already. For the Workbook exercises provide the very specific instructions and meditations you are asking for to help bring about the shift from the outer to the inner focus -- that is their purpose (W.in). But all the other things in your life -- your relationships, your job, your struggles, all the ego drama -- now become the classrooms in which you learn to practice forgiveness. This is their value, for these are the situations you have set up in your life onto which you have deliberately but erroneously projected responsibility for determining how you feel about yourself and whether or not you are happy.

Whenever you find yourself making judgments about anything in your life, it is because you have made it a screen for your own guilt over the thought of separation, so that it can now be seen outside you. The first step in the forgiveness process then is to withdraw that projection from outside and acknowledge the guilt’s source in your own mind. And then, with the help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, you can release the guilt into the light of true forgiveness, which sees none of it as true.

Having described all this, it may be helpful to acknowledge that the resistance to this simple process is tremendous. So don’t be surprised if much of the time your thinking seems oblivious to this correction, mindlessly proceeding along its well-worn path of projecting responsibility for how you feel onto everyone but yourself. Gradually over time, with gentleness and patience, the awareness of how you want to sabotage the process and yourself will become more apparent. And the choice you have in each situation between the ego and the Holy Spirit will become increasingly obvious, as your willingness grows through the practice of forgiveness and the experience of its joyful effects.

Q #559: With regards to Question #288: "What is a miracle?", would you clarify how the following verses relate to your answer?

T.1.1.24:2 You are a miracle, capable of creating in the likeness of your Creator.
T.3.V.6:7 You have lost the knowledge that you yourself are a miracle of God.
T.3.V.8:9 To know God's miracle is to know Him.
T.3.V.9:7 But God's miracles are as total as His thoughts because they are His thoughts.
T.3.V.10:5,6 God and His miracle are inseparable. How beautiful indeed are the thoughts of God who live in His Light.
T.13.VIII.5:2 This is the miracle of creation: that it is one forever.
T.13.VII.6:5 The only miracle that ever was is God's most holy Son, created in the one reality that is his Father.
T.13.VIII.9:4 The miracle that God created is perfect, as are the miracles you establish in His Name.
T.16.II.5:4,5 Miracles are natural to the One who speaks for God. For His task is to translate the miracle into Knowledge which it represents, and which is hidden to you.
T.26.VII. 11:4,5 It is impossible that anything be lost, if what you have is what you are. This is the miracle by which creation became your function, sharing it with God.

A: There are two important points to consider when tracing a term throughout the three books of A Course in Miracles and the two companion pamphlets: Jesus is not always consistent in his use of terms and he often indulges the liberties we all graciously accept in the works of great poets and teachers; but if you stay focused on the content of his teaching, the conflicts arising from the form of his teaching will be eliminated, or at least greatly minimized.

The statements you list are examples of the inconsistency on the level of form. Strictly speaking, a miracle is a correction, and therefore pertains only to the illusion. But in some of the passages you list, a miracle is linked to God and creation, which of course could never be the case, as God knows nothing of error in need of correction, and creation is a function only within the Oneness of Heaven. Moreover, the inconsistency occasionally appears to be more of a contradiction if you stay only on the form level. Jesus emphatically states early in the text, for example, that "to speak of ‘a miracle of healing’ is to combine two orders of reality inappropriately. Healing is not a miracle" (T.2.IV.1:3,4). Yet in five other places in the Course he speaks of a "miracle of healing" (T.19.I.14:5; T.27.II.5:2; T.27.V.1:3; T.28.IV.10:9; M.22.4:4).

Thus, if a reader/student is not tuned into his meaning (content), Jesus’ loose use of words (form) could be a major problem, especially if conceptual precision is expected. But if the content of his teaching is your primary focus, then the inconsistencies would not have any effect on your spiritual progress. Kenneth has discussed this issue at length in "Inconsistent Form and Consistent Content" (Chapter 2) in Few Choose to Listen, Vol. II of The Message of "A Course in Miracles," and in his tape album "Duality as Metaphor."

To return briefly to your examples . . . T.3.V.6:7 "You have lost the knowledge that you yourself are a miracle of God" illustrates the poetic license Jesus takes at times. He is completing the thought begun in the preceding statement, "In electing perception instead of knowledge, you placed yourself in a position where you could resemble your Father only by perceiving miraculously" (6:6). If you can hear Jesus appealing to you and feel his love drawing you to return to your natural state in the Heart of Love, it would not matter that he is using the term miracle inconsistently. In sentence 6 he is using it properly, so to speak, to mean a correction of our misperception; while in the following sentence, he takes the same term and gives it a different twist simply to make his point, as would a lyrical poet or dramatist. So while his terminology may be inconsistent, there is no mistaking what he is trying to get across to us. And this would also be true of the other examples you give. If you focus on what he wants you to hear and to learn, the seeming mistakes in form will lessen in significance.

Q #560: I came to learn about A Course in Miracles through my church. About the same time that I was learning the Course's principles I was also making a commitment to be a Chaplain for my church. In my capacity as a chaplain I am to pray with congregants about issues that they request prayer about. Many of the requests I receive are ego-based problems. Knowing that the ego is an illusion makes it difficult for me to pray with others from an honest place. Is this a typical experience for people that learn ACIM? It is my desire to help others. Through ACIM I know that the only true help that I can lend is to see things rightly. How can I still help, and possibly pray with others, and yet remain true to the Course's principles?

A: If the content in your mind is love, then you will not be in conflict, even though the theologies (the form) of these two systems differ. In other words, if you feel guided to be a Chaplain, and you feel that you can be truly helpful to others and yourself in this role, then you should follow that guidance. It takes a lot of practice to be able to minimize differences in form and concentrate primarily on the content in your mind, but if you can do that, you will realize that the greatest value in praying with others is the joining with them through sharing a common interest. The words do not matter, as the first section of The Song of Prayer pamphlet helps us understand.

The fact that the form of the prayer pertains to ego-based problems would not lead to conflict if you are clear within yourself about the purpose of your praying with your congregants -- that it is a means of expressing the love in your right mind. Early in the text Jesus explains that "the value of the Atonement does not lie in the manner in which it is expressed. In fact, if it is used truly, it will inevitably be expressed in whatever way is most helpful to the receiver. This means that a miracle, to attain its full efficacy, must be expressed in a language that the recipient can understand without fear. This does not necessarily mean that this is the highest level of communication of which he is capable. It does mean, however, that it is the highest level of communication of which he is capable now. The whole aim of the miracle is to raise the level of communication, not to lower it by increasing fear" (T.2.IV.5).

In his discussion of the characteristics of God’s teachers, Jesus defines honesty as "consistency" (M.4.II), another example of the primacy of content over form. Again, if you desire only to be loving, then the forms in which that love is expressed may conflict or be inconsistent with one another. But that would not matter. The ego would have us judge everything by form so that we would constantly reinforce our differences. Jesus is training us to get beyond our perception of form so that we would recognize that we all share the same interests, and ultimately that we are all same: the one Son of God. Thus, the role of Chaplain in your church would be a means of learning this, if you feel guided to take on that role.

Q #561: My question is: who is the "me" that the ego wants dead but not itself (T.15.I.4:3)? My own understanding is that it is the real me, the Christ, that the ego wants dead. And my understanding of the idea that the ego pursues us even after death (T.15.I.4:4) is that our desire to be different, to be an individual, to be special is still with us after death if we have not consciously changed our mind and let it go and that this is the meaning of our ego not wanting itself dead.

A: A little background on the nature and "reality" of the ego before answering your question: The ego is nothing more than a mistaken belief about ourselves in the separated state that we seem to have given inordinate power to dictate our options and experiences (T.7.VIII.4:6,7). It is a choice to see ourselves as limited, alone, sinful, guilty and in pain. And it is a thought that is totally focused on self preservation (T.7.VI.3:1) at any price, including death. To protect it, we must deny that it is merely our choice and that we could just as easily make a different choice. This is such a tremendous threat to its continued existence that we must deny the power of our mind to have chosen it (T.7.VI.3). So when we are identified with the ego thought, we wish to deny or kill off the decision-making part of our split mind.

A Course in Miracles speaks of the ego as a separate entity acting on its own as part of the myth to explain how we find ourselves trapped in illusion, but it also serves the purpose of helping us not minimize how pervasive the ego is in our thinking (T.4.VI.1:2,3,4). And it also enables us to begin to take steps to disidentify from it and reclaim the power of our mind to have chosen it. For we are not our egos.

So, in the context of the ego myth, the "you" that the ego wants dead is the decision-making self, still a part of the split mind, and not the Christ. The ego self can not be aware of either God or Christ, for Limitlessness is beyond its finite grasp (T.4.VI.4).

And yes, since physical "death" is merely a symbol in the dream of separation and has no effect on either the thought of separation or our choice for it as a decision-maker, both aspects of the split self seem to continue on after death (T.15.I.4:13,14). And so the same dynamic of guilt and attack must continue to play itself out in the split mind, until we make the choice to awaken from the dream of death. For at least unconsciously, we are aware that physical death is an illusion and ends nothing (T.15.I.4:5), and so denial of the decision-making part of our mind -- seeking its death -- must be pursued down every corridor and through every dimension of the split mind. That its death is never accomplished is irrelevant to the ego goal, for so long as running from death remains such an obsession and preoccupation, we will not stop to question whether it is real. And the ego thought's continued existence is assured, at least for the time being.

Q #562: In chapter 17 of A Course in Miracles, Section IV, The Two Pictures, the text explains how defenses works. It says: "It is essential to realize that all defenses do what they would defend. The underlying basis for their effectiveness is that they offer what they defend. What they defend is placed in them for safe-keeping, and as they operate they bring it to you. Every defense operates by giving gifts, and the gift is always a miniature of the thought system the defense protects, set in a golden frame. The frame is very elaborate, all set with jewels, and deeply carved and polished. Its purpose is to be of value in itself, and to divert your attention from what it encloses. But the frame without the picture you cannot have. Defenses operate to make you think you can." Would you kindly elaborate on this. If my defense is, for example, eating out of fear, how does this relate?

A: We choose defenses in an attempt to handle our fear and make ourselves feel better and safer. And yet, the defense is only there because of the underlying fear that we are attempting to manage. So the defense, no matter what form it takes, becomes a constant reminder -- conscious or unconscious -- of the underlying fear. This is inherent in the dualistic thought system of the ego, which always operates on the assumption of polar opposites, such as safe and unsafe. We never question the underlying premise that we can be threatened, but instead accept danger as true and then seek to protect ourselves from it (W.pI.135.1,2,3).

In the specific case of eating out of fear, food becomes equated in our mind with comforting ourselves, or filling the gaping hole that makes us feel empty and vulnerable. But giving food this purpose only reinforces our belief in discomfort and emptiness and vulnerability. Food offers us something flavorful and satisfying (the frame), which seems to make us feel better, perhaps distracting us from the gnawing feeling inside, at least temporarily. But the purpose we have given it to rescue us establishes it as a symbol of the very thing we are trying to avoid or escape - - the underlying guilt and fear. And so, as a symbol of what is underneath, it becomes a reminder of what we have intended it to save us from, offering us the very same "gifts," only obscured.

However, once we recognize the purpose we have given food to comfort us in our fear, as with all the special gifts of the ego, we can now invite the great Comforter to join us and give food a different purpose. The correction the Holy Spirit offers would not be to stop eating but rather to use food instead as a means to remind us of the fear underneath that we have attempted to keep hidden and at bay by eating. We can bring the fear into our awareness with the Holy Spirit and question the source of that fear. For the fear is nothing more than a projection of our own guilt, represented by a gaping hole within our very being, accompanied by a devastating feeling of emptiness, because we believe we have destroyed the only thing that can truly make us feel complete and full and safe -- love. With the Symbol of Love beside us, we can begin to question the premise of our emptiness, rather than continuing to try to fill it -- thereby making it real -- with all of our "substitutes for love" (W.pI.117.1:3), such as food.