Reflections on A Course in Miracles
by Celia Hales
This book was to have been a typical length. But after 125 handwritten pages (to the page exactly) I seemed to have no need to say more. I struggled, but nothing more came. So here it is, a smallish book, not unlike those small books to which I have turned over the years for sustenance and meditation.
My lodestone is A Course in Miracles, the marvelous book scribed by Helen Schucman with the assistance of William Thetford in forming the publishable word. The author? Helen believed that it was Jesus himself, though she resisted some of his ideas mightily and never found in the Course the peace to which she had helped lead so many others.
I am one of those led to peace by Helen and her scribed words. And just as this is a peace unlike anything my past would have predicted, so too do I hope that my rendering of the Course’s insight will help another. Take nothing unto yourself that does not “fit.” Interact with these pages and then turn to the Course itself for a broader view. And may the happy dreams the Holy Spirit brings go with you.
PART 1: THE EGO AND ITS MADNESS: “IN SHALLOWS AND IN MISERIES” (John Keats)
Chapter 1: A Projected Dream
Chapter 2: Ego Battles
Chapter 3: Attack and Innocence
Chapter 4: We Live an Illusion
Chapter 5: Not “Sin”–Just Mistakes
Chapter 6: God Takes the Final Step
PART 2: SPECIAL VS. HOLY RELATIONSHIPS:
“GROW OLD ALONG WITH ME; THE BEST IS YET TO BE” (Robert Browning)
Chapter 7: We Are Not “Special”
Chapter 8: Special vs. Holy Relationships
Chapter 9: The Holy Relationship
Chapter 10: Living in the Light
PART 3: GUIDANCE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT:
“THE HAPPY DREAMS THE HOLY SPIRIT BRINGS”
(A Course in Miracles)
Chapter 11: Walking the Way of the Course
Chapter 12: The Escape from Misery
Chapter 13: The Holy Spirit Sees Everyone Home
EPILOGUE: RETURNING TO OUR SOURCE: WORDS FAIL US
AS WE ARE AT HOME IN GOD
Faith in the unreal makes that unreal seem true. This sentence is the truth that my young adulthood taught me, a reality that I found written in A Course in Miracles when I was 34 and almost at the end of a 15-year life drama. That illusion can seem true in every particularity is (echoing words said by Joseph Campbell) “my little theme song.” It is also one of the themes of the Course. My story in young adulthood was one of unrequited love, and I believed that the love was actually present though unacknowledged. When we play out a myth over a very long period of time, the myth and the drama it provides for a life lacking in richness are answering questions, fulfilling needs in ourselves of which we may be only dimly aware. The mind will provide a reason, even if that reason is just madness. I write of illusion and the “reality” that seems to come forth, and it helps to explain the life that I see all around me, a life that I can understand in part because everybody’s story has elements in common with my own.
It is clear to me that the very belief itself creates the perceived conditions that would sustain the belief. A Course in Miracles says, “What you desire, you will see. And if its reality is false, you will uphold it by not realizing all the adjustments you have introduced to make it so.” (T-21.II.9:5-6)
The Course repeats frequently that projection makes perception. (T-13.V.3:5; T-21.in..1:1) Jesus assures that we see what we believe will bring us joy and happiness. The fact that we often do not find joy and happiness, and instead find pain and suffering, should lead us to question our premises. What are we doing wrong? Or what have we done wrong in the past? I don’t mean a strict interpretation of karma, but the Course makes clear that cause and effect are real. As Jesus says in the Course, the law of cause and effect is at work in our world as well as in Heaven. (T-2.VII.h) If we do not like what we see, it is up to us to change it by changing our thoughts and actions, those things that “cause” the “result” of unhappiness. When we do make changes, even though in this world chaos rules, we learn that there must be a better way. How to find it? The Course counsels turning to our communication link with the Father, which is the Holy Spirit. (T-1.II.5:3) Under His tutelage, we will stop looking for attack, giving evil when we perceive that we have received it. We will learn to forgive, because even though we learn that this world is illusory, we realize that forgiveness works—it brings the happiness we seek! Slowly (perhaps) but surely we will cleanse our minds and hearts, and with this cleansing will come new vision to see a new, sparkling, real world. We will project from a heart that wishes to see good in all things, and wishing will make it so in our new perception.
If the world still seems just too awful, there is a solution, though it may sound a bit theoretical. The Course recommends that we not deny our sight, but affirm the truth: that what we are seeing is unreal. As others have said, it is all maya (illusion, though the Course does not use the term maya) and therefore can have no real effects, however painful the effects might seem to be. This means that our “real” Self has not been harmed in any way. In the awful circumstances that we view, there is a spiritual lesson that we are meant to learn. As we contemplate the meaning underlying the events, and forgive the events, we will be freed to see the blessing in our circumstances. And there is always a blessing, however deplorable the situation may be. We need to take heed that we do not believe that the evil we see deserves retribution, for retaliation will bring the “evil” to us. Retaliation proves that the circumstance, in our opinion, is real and merits a “just” response to even the score. Actually by concentrating on the presumed evil, we are giving it more force, more power to hurt us. Basically, the force field itself will be stronger because we are fighting it. What ought we to do? Go within and gently release the sense of frustration and anger. We need to trust the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to forgive any and all deeds, however reprehensible they might be. Since these deeds are illusion, they are in reality nothing at all; they are a mirage that en masse we have created to speed our way Home.
We may have chosen unwisely, though, when we concentrate on the suffering and therefore make it more real to ourselves. If so, it behooves the wiser part of ourselves to choose again. Lessons from pain and suffering are, at best, temporary and meant to be a catalyst for change to a better way. It is the drawing of Love, felt through the Holy Spirit, that will finally take us Home. With projections made of this Love, our perceptions will be cleansed, and a new world of light and life will meet us where we finally come to live. This “new world” is the “real world,” (T-11.VII.2:6) and it will yet be ours as a world formed by the happy dreams the Holy Spirit gives.
A difficult concept in the Course is the idea that we made the world; God created us, but we made (not “created”) the world. The metaphysical explanation is that we are projecting an illusion, and no one doubts very strongly that she “projects” nocturnal dreams. Seen in this light, it is a small step forward to consider that we do the same in our waking hours. Only the form of the dream changes. Even granted that we accept this, though, most of us, on some level, still think that we can derive knowledge of how to act in life from this projected dream. If it is the ego’s projected dream, such a conclusion is patently false. If it is the Holy Spirit’s dream, then we have a better basis on which to learn. The Course says that following the Holy Spirit is the “way out of hell” (M-29.3:11) for us.
Most of us, however, still do spend much time under the influence of our egos. This attitude, though, ensures that we are looking at projections from within. To take the projections of the ego as truth is to make an idol, to make a god, of something we made. Is this really very different from melting down our gold and fashioning a sculpture of Baal, while our better way is being written for us on the mountaintop? If we look to our idol–this world– to tell us how to act and what to do next, we are looking to a man-made god to save us. Most of us would admit that nothing in this world has ever “saved” us for long.
When we are under the influence of the ego, we are under the influence of an insane idea. It may coalesce our personalities, but we have given away all our real power. We should not give away our power under any circumstances. It is only the power of our real minds, informed by the Holy Spirit, which can offer us any hope. This is the promise held out by A Course in Miracles. It is only one pathway, but its pathway has the power to get us out of all bad dreams. It is one way, among thousands in this world, by which we can awaken. And Jesus promises that this way will save time for us. (T-2.II.3:8) We are promised, each of us, to save a thousand years (as the world calculates time). (W-pI.97.3:2) And that represents many years for the millions of people still trapped by ego-tainted nightmares of pain.
A principal tenet in the Course is the assertion that what we would give to others is actually also given to ourselves. This dynamic can be understood on more than one level.
In the most all-encompassing way, we are the other, because we are one in God. We are all brothers and sisters under the skin. So when we feel this kinship in our especially loving moments, we are seeing the truth. In a second way of viewing, we see the playing out of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We see why this rule is important, the underlying truth that supports it. Because of projection, we will believe that what we think of others or do to others is being done to ourselves. Jesus sees this whole world as illusory and in the great projection that made it, we see our real desires played out in our everyday dramas. Thus, what we do unto others we do unto ourselves. There is no greater truth, no more persuasive argument to treat our fellow human beings with kindness and love. What we sow, we reap. As Jesus says (in the negative), “Seek to deny and you will feel denied. Seek to deprive, and you have been deprived.” (T-25.IX.8:2-3)
If we do not believe another worthy of forgiveness, we will not believe ourselves worthy either. Having refused forgiveness for ourselves, we will never offer it freely. So we have set up a vicious circle for ourselves. The only way out of this vicious circle is reject conflict and ask for help and guidance from a Power greater than ourselves. This Power—the Holy Spirit—will make it easy on ourselves. We can effortlessly to forgive when we come to believe that the deed that we feel unworthy of forgiveness, has been illusory. Our real Selves have not been touched nor harmed in any way. Out real life has continued unabated.
Only a loving God could come up with such a solution. We would have already destroyed ourselves if our deeds had real consequences. We live in an illusion that allows all choice, but at the same time that saves us from ourselves. And through these means we learn, finally, what is truly real and of value, worthy of further extension in Reality.
There is an old saying that when one points a finger at another, there are three fingers pointing back at us. Make a fist, point the index finger, and immediately this saying can be seen as obviously true. The Course’s version of this old ego dynamic is “It is as certain you will fear what you attack as it is sure that you will love what you perceive as sinless.” (T-23.intro.2:4) Somehow we believe the old karmic truth, that if we attack, we will be attacked in return. But the glorious opposite is also true: See innocence and sinlessness, and these too will become our own.
Because all seeing is projection, in the view of the Course, we can understand that all projection makes perception. What we are seeing is a dream projected outward, and the world becomes cruel or kind based on our inner life. Even the worst of “sin” can be seen as unreal (being a dream), and as the Course counsels, we can say, “My brother, choose again.” (T-31.VIII.3:2)
All of us have had moments, perhaps fleeting, when God seemed in His Heaven, and all was right with our little world. These moments of peace can be expanded more and more to all our hours, waking and sleeping. All of our dreams can become benign. This happens when the truth that we are dreaming our world sinks in, helping us to see that what we wish is based either on turmoil or calm, the peace of God within. There is, therefore, really nothing to “forgive,” but we do need the exercise of forgiveness for ourselves (not God). It is only as we forgive that we come to see that there is nothing to forgive. No one blames a loved one who acts in psychosis to perpetuate harm; we know that she is sick. Likewise are we insane, all together, even when not diagnosed as mentally ill. We all are trying to bring greater and greater areas of sanity to our deluded minds.
Never tell someone who has lived through a full-blown psychosis that projection does not make perception. He knows it does. The whispered voices (so real at the time), the images “out there” that appear but are not really there–all these become his own, and more.
I once had a friend who saw her mother enter a room wearing a black dress. My friend knew at the time that her mother was not “really” wearing a black dress, but the day was filled with the surprises of psychosis, and she went with the flow. Much later, with perceptions part of the mass hallucination once again, my friend confirmed with her mother that the image had been false.
Because my friend dislodged herself from the mass hallucination, she is better prepared to see that she is, normally, hallucinating on a grand scale, along with everyone else currently in his “sane” mind. Of course, students of A Course in Miracles know it is not really sanity that we all experience, but madness, in seeing a chaotic world. (T-25.VII.3:2) The Course says, “If you behold disaster and catastrophe, you tried to crucify him [the Son of God, your real Self]. If you see holiness and hope, you joined the Will of God to set him free.” (T-21.in.2:3-4)
Think about this a moment. When you are at peace with the world, experiencing a “holy instant” of love and hope, is there really anything that can upset you? However fierce the perception appears, you know that the world and all beings in it are in God’s hands. How wonderful it would be to extend this thought to all our waking moments!
It has been hard for me to let go of egotistical striving. I was reared, as I am sure many of us were, to equate “success” with ego games–to equate the “good life” with having achieved. Part of me has always believed that actually “dropping out” was the way to go, and at various points in my life I have done just that, but never for very long. I enjoyed these respites, but ultimately I rejoined the success trap and sought in my everyday life and profession (especially profession) to achieve success because I knew that this had gotten me kudos as a child. Getting good grades was always highly regarded, and as a first and only child, this type of commendation was taken to heart in a big way.
When I discovered A Course in Miracles, I began to realize, as I read, that the egotistical striving that I was doing to “deserve” love, and my belief that only if I were successful would I have God’s stamp of approval, were just myths. Yet a part of me still wanted to strive, because, I told myself, what if I would come to regret a slowdown in the future? In my own case, library administration was my bugaboo. This is where the money is in librarianship, my profession, but more importantly, this also signals “success” in the eyes of my colleagues in my chosen field. What if I did not pursue this, and later felt sorry? The fact that I had not sufficient intrinsic interest in the responsibility that this would entail, or in the antagonism that I would likely incur from my subordinates (whom I would be evaluating) did not dissuade me, at least for a long time.
This period of indecision lasted fully 15 years. Once in a workshop that was boring, I wrote out five or six pages of reasons (pro and con) that I was considering for my next direction. Later, I destroyed the pages in an attempt not to be sucked back into this quagmire.
As the years were passing, I dropped big hints to my supervisors that I did not want to be considered administrative material. I said “no” before I might be asked. The fact that I was not asked (until later on) seemed only a minor point; in my egotism, I felt that I would be if I expressed interest. And I did not want to be faced with something that I might have trouble declining. I see the wiliness of the ego even in my indecision.
Later on I was asked. And it was largely a disaster that lasted scarcely two months, ending with me in a frazzle, resigning because my temperament rebelled. So, all along, my real self had been trying to get through to say that this particular pathway was not for me. I am a slow learner; it took trying it out to realize that my doubts (conscious and subconscious) knew best all along.
The Course says at one pivotal point, “This is a crucial period in this course, for here the separation of you and the ego must be made complete.” (T-22.II.6:1)
It is easier to let conflict die if one realizes that it is an emotion always of the ego. At base, the ego is fighting against God, flailing about in desperation because the world it has created in illusion is not good enough for it. And never could it be. Built on chaos, only chaos can ensue. But the ego cannot find its way out, because the only way for us to make our way to peace is to disown this hated part of ourselves, this insatiable ego–never satisfied, never content.
This is when the real “I” must come into play. We cannot fight the ego and win, because it grows stronger in strife. But we can quietly withdraw strength from the ego by failing to reinforce it in every situation that cries out “me first.” We can, over time, with care, see the ego just wither away. Jesus promises that though this feels like a death (because we are so closely identified with the goals of success, wealth, and materialism), we will actually find peace for the first time. We will know calm in the midst of any earthly storm in which we find ourselves.
The ego is not ourselves–that is the simple truth that in our ignorance we find so hard to accept. The quiet Self at the center of our being waits patiently for us to tire of our childish games, and tire we will once we see that never do they bring us what in our deepest heart of hearts we really want. In that deep place God dwells, and He would not be overthrown by a will ‘o wisp of insanity. The ego is pitted in a struggle that it can never win. The Course says, “Do you not realize a war against yourself would be a war on God? Is victory conceivable? And if it were, is this a victory that you would want?” (T-23.I.2:1-3)
If you have read this far, you are not so hostile to God that you blame Him for all the evil and suffering in your world and on the earth in general. We have only ourselves to blame for creating a drama that doesn’t work because the mind that created it is in a merciless war against itself. We must lay down our arms, and realize in the depths of our Being that there must be another way to look at our world, another way to live.
As we have seen, the Course presents this world as a place of madness, full of violence and cruelty, projected from our own deluded minds. This world is therefore illusion, but we do not need to blame God for what we see, for this world is Heaven’s opposite (T-16.V.3:6) Even the food chain is based on a raw violence, and Jesus would say that we do God a disservice when we blindly dismiss the cruelty as “Nature’s ways.” The Course presents the world as an attack on God, meant to keep Him out and to keep the separation going. By projecting blame onto God, the ego does a good job at ensuring that we will continue to turn to it as our savior rather than to God. That this is patent magic, madness in the extreme, may not dawn on us until the pain of what we project becomes overwhelming. And even then we may blame God for our predicament.
The ego’s thought system is perfectly logical from within the thought system, as are most delusions. It is only the premises that are wrong, sending its world crashing down like a house of cards. From within our mind, it makes perfect sense. Madness is not illogical, though those in psychosis appear to the rational mind to be out of touch with reality. An all-embracing madness is just what has happened on a grand scale in our world, ruled by everyone’s ego. I once had a professor remark that everyone in mental hospitals thought that it was “we”—the ones outside of the hospital—who are “crazy.” He said, “What if they are right?”
Unknowingly, my professor presaged the Course a number of years before it was written. The Course does not say that our diagnosed mentally ill are actually sane, and we usually recognize that they are not. What may be happening, though, is that they are imperfectly seeing reality from another lens. This “other lens” may allow them to be particularly open to revelation. Certainly writers have drawn parallels between the schizophrenic mind and the mystic one. Both are swimming in the waters of their depths, the subconscious mind, but the schizophrenic may be drowning in it. The mystic, on the other hand, swims easily. This analogy is drawn from the writings of Joseph Campbell, an individual who has brought the myths of the ages home to all of us through writings that speak to our time. The Course would extend the definition of insanity to most of us in the world, most who are only partially sane, most who have only glimpses of true reality.
What has the ego-tainted world really exemplified? Only one truth: that the Son (and Daughter) of God is at war with God. If we understood God more, we would know that this is a condition too ridiculous to be believed. The Course says, “The Son of God at war with his Creator is a condition as ridiculous as nature roaring at the wind in anger, proclaiming it is part of itself no more.” (T-23.I.4:7) In our creation, God shared His Mind with us. That is why there can never be a conflict between His Will and our real will. It is only in an illusory world that we believe that to follow God’s will is to lose our freedom. Actually the reverse is the truth: to follow the ego’s madness is to head into chaos that always, in the end, leads to pain. A harmonious universe is impossible under these conditions. Pain begets more pain, assuring that at some point we will turn and say, “Enough!”
The awful pathway is, of course, so unnecessary. Jesus says that we do not have to learn through pain. We can recognize a better way, and in our moments of greater sanity, walk that pathway a few steps closer to Awakening.
It is quite likely that the basis for neurosis is specialness. Many of us see in others, perhaps more than ourselves, oscillations of personality that appear to twist and turn in the wind. Alternating between sweetness and hostility, these others can make our lives miserable if they have any power over us. If manifesting in a friend, these conflicting behaviors are puzzling in the least, personally damaging, even though illusory, in the most. Yet is the specialness, the neurosis of these others, all “out there”? The truth is that we all think we are special to one degree or another.
It is just to the degree that we ascribe to specialness that we are vulnerable to the ego’s assaults, whether perceived as assaults emanating from another or from our own inner demons. It is then that we appear vulnerable to the world’s onslaughts. We are engaged in a dance, one to another, interlocking our complexes to fit, however unpleasant the dance may become. Sometimes we see our pride pricked at the point of greatest vulnerability; this is the ego’s greatest trial, a time of great opportunity if we can only see it thus. We are being shown what needs to be remedied in
ourselves, how the ego needs to be undone. If we listen, we will find a great gift in the ashes of our former “triumphs.” We will let the ego wither away at this point of neurosis.
And so it goes with all points of neurosis. As they are shown to us, we must let them slip away. Jesus is able to heal a neurotic if she is cooperating with him. One way to cooperate is to take the intellectual framework of the Course and marry that to our relationship to our brother, our love, if you will. Then the mental and emotional meld as one, and we are on our way to full recovery as Sons and Daughters of God.
When this pathway back to God is begun, the way at first seems hard, because the ego is still strong within us, and it sniffs defeat in the air and would be violent to retain control of one’s mind and heart. Consistently listening to the Holy Spirit, prayerfully considering the promptings of intuition, will quickly smooth the way so that one knows, deep in the heart, that a withered ego is one’s only salvation. Then is one’s real Self actually strong, no longer a will ‘o wisp in the breeze, batted about by every foreign opinion thrust upon it. And we see that it was always the ego that suffered defeat at the hands of its “enemies.” Always being undone, for that is God’s way, the egois abandoned by our real Self as well. And then the way is paved for great and faster growth as the creatures of God we truly are. A Course in Miracles tells us that the mind is very powerful. It also says that the reason that we don’t believe this is because we are afraid of its power: “You prefer to believe that your thoughts cannot exert real influence because you are actually afraid of them.” (T-2.VI.9:10)
Surely we are afraid when we look around and see a ravaged world. Did we do this? Yes, the Course counsels, but only in illusion and only in madness.
The Course says that faith, belief, and vision, shared with us by the Holy Spirit, are our way out. As the goal of salvation replaces the goal of sin, our steps in the mist become clearer. Faith inevitably gives us the power of persistence, but we don’t recognize the tremendous power that is unleashed until we place our faith not in sin, but in love. It is then that the power becomes the reliable lifesaver that it is meant to be.
I was once described in a letter of recommendation as having an “indomitable will to succeed.” I took this as a compliment in the almost 20 years ago in which it was written. In this, I see a glimpse of the personal power that I (and everyone else) have. I now know that this “indomitable will” of that era was far too informed by the ego. It was a competitive bent that later would alienate some of my co-workers. What had worked well in our educational system worked less well in a work environment where cooperation was necessary to accomplish shared goals.
Now I know that this drive to succeed is laudatory only when it is not threatening to other people. If there is even a hint of feeling better than others, this is an example of the ego’s goal of specialness. Jesus says, “You are not special.” (T-24.II.4:1) If we think we are, we are mistaken. The will to succeed must encompass our fellowman as well. The will to succeed must also be bent in obedience to the promptings of the Inner Spirit, the Holy Spirit Who guides as far as we are willing, at any given point, to go—but only as far as we express our willingness—no further. When we listen to the Holy Spirit, then and only then is our power truly released to serve all of humanity.
When we are at peace, we are at home in God. When we let conflict (“war”) reside within our hearts and minds, it leads inexorably to fear. Where peace abides, love is.
There is a stark contrast between fear and love that we need to understand. Seen in its simplicity, the dynamic between fear and love encourages us to find God in quietness when turmoil threatens to overcome us. The most likely reason for the turmoil is something held against our brother, some patch of unforgiveness that would threaten our equanimity and then, because we fear retribution, cause us to feel fear. All this need not be. That is the joyous answer that Jesus gives us in the Course. To lead us gently down the intellectual way that tells us “why” all this senselessness need not be, Jesus bids us look at the “laws of chaos.” When we look at these five “laws” dispassionately, we see that they cannot make sense. Let us turn now to these laws of chaos and see if we can recognize ourselves and our world in their tenets. (T-23.II)
Is the truth different for everyone? The first law of chaos would say that it is. Our illusory values are then always seen in contrast to the values of others, which are deemed inferior. This attitude is, at base, a separating tactic. One ought never to find “good” reasons to separate one’s self from another. Yet in this law, what one values is seen as superior to what another values, and this illusion is “proved” by attacking the values of another. We believe under this law that there is a hierarchy of illusions, making some easier to forgive than others; but this is not so. Jesus points out that a hierarchy of illusions is similar to believing that some miracles are easier to perform than others—and the principles of miracles affirms that this is not so. This idea may yet be a sticking point as we walk on the road to salvation; as before, let us go as far along this road that we can, knowing that farther down the road, we will know and understand more than we do now.
Jesus’ second law of chaos is that each one must sin, and therefore deserves attack and death. This illusion overlooks the possibility of correction, seeing only punishment at the hands of an angry God. It pits God and His creatures at war, and this war includes not only self and God, but also self and everyone else. This law would affirm that there are some errors that are beyond simple correction without punishment, and the Course affirms that all errors (or “sin”) are correctable without any punishment at all. We are always free to choose punishment, but this is not God’s will for us.
The third law of chaos affirms that God must accept His Son’s belief about what he has become, and hate him for it. This illusion seems to be humility, saying, in effect, that we are miserable sinners in need of grace. But this is actually arrogance that would seek to circumvent the Creator. Now do we dare not turn to God for comfort, because He has become our enemy. Salvation, under this law, seems actually impossible. The ego cannot help in escape from this interpretation, but the Course was made that we might choose another way.
The fourth law of chaos is that you have what you have taken from another. By his loss, we win. This illusion says that there is a finite amount of treasure in the world, and if we gain treasure, we have it because we have taken it from our brother. In its most extreme form, this law says that we must destroy our brother to save ourselves. But Jesus affirms that we can only take away from ourselves. Instead of an “enemy” having our treasure, from whom we must wrest it, we are in firm control, and it is we who would deny ourselves. The enemy does not hold our inheritance away from us—it is we who have rejected it for the dubious “values” of the ego. There is a portion of this law that believes that we act unkindly because our brother has been unkind to us—forcing us into justified attack. But all of this illusion!
Finally, the last law of chaos is that there is a substitute for genuine love. This substitute is given us by the ego when we take back from our brother what we feel is rightfully ours. This is the ego’s secret gift. This secret gift has apparently been torn from us by our brother, and must be reclaimed if we are to have the ego’s notion of salvation. Our brother, by tearing this gift from us, has kept salvation from us. This is why enmity, one to another, can be seen as salvation.
When studied carefully and dispassionately, we can see clearly that these laws of chaos do not make sense. The illusions upon which they are based can be seen as illusions, and thus identifying the “laws” that illusions have, we are in a better position to seek further for the true laws—God’s laws—creating reality. Because these laws do not make sense, we are free to discard them for something better. Therein lies our true salvation. We have used our intellect to help us out, and while intellect is never enough (love and forgiveness, emotions of the heart, are required fundamentally), it is a start. And the lack of a satisfying worldview has kept many a skeptic in his darkness. I can imagine nagging Jesus for just such an elucidation of ultimate Truth that Course provides for us. “. . .seek, and ye shall find,” ((Luke 11:9 – KJV)and the world was finally ready in 1975 (the year A Course in Miracles was published) for this new way.
The Course declares that we think we do not believe in these laws. When articulated bluntly, their insanity becomes evident. But do we believe in these laws on an unconscious level? It is only their plain statement that allows us to reject them. Normally the actual intent is well-hidden. If, when raised to the light of day, we do reject the laws of chaos, then Jesus has done us a great service. It becomes clear that these laws govern chaos (illusion), never reality. A crucial three sentences explain: “There is no life outside of Heaven. Where God created life, there life must be. In any state apart from Heaven life is illusion.” (T-23.II.19:1-3)
We know that we have chosen Heaven when we feel peace. And we can make this choice at any instant. When we invite the Holy Spirit to join us, we are once again attuned with God.
A Course in Miracles says that we are all One. Indeed, this is the definition of Heaven: “. . .not a place nor a condition. It is merely an awareness of perfect oneness, and the knowledge that there is nothing else; nothing outside this oneness, and nothing else within.” (T-18.VI.1:5-6) If this be true, we are all part of each other and of God. We cannot attack a separate being, because no separate being exists. The most that we, or an illusion of Self, can attack is an illusion of another. And then conflict ensues, creating fear for ourselves. This is one of the dynamics of the ego, and sometimes it seems that the more we study such meaninglessness, the more powerful it becomes. That is because the very process of studying the ego affirms its importance and makes it real to ourselves. We can make much, but what results is still only illusion, and can never be truly experienced as real, though we can imagine it to be real.
To live an illusion is madness, a madness that the remembrance of God can shine away. In quiet and in peace can we be led to accept God instead, and we thereby leave conflict, and the fear that it brings, far behind. In forgiveness of ourselves and others do we find that quiet and peace. There is no other way.
We may reasonably substitute the word “pardon” for “forgiveness,” if the word “forgiveness” seems difficult to wrap one’s mind around. The Course uses both terms. In a similar fashion, Jesus asks that we substitute “mistake” or “error” for “sin,” thereby removing sin’s mad attraction for us. The word “forgiveness” may raise similar problems within our minds, conflict that the word “pardon” does not raise.
It is possible that the same sort of dynamic as is played out with the word “sin” is also present with “forgiveness.” We may scream, “He does not deserve forgiveness!” and in so believing, we deny it for ourselves. But we may feel more kindly toward “pardon,” which acknowledges that a wrong, however illusory, has happened. But we choose to wipe the slate clean, to allow our brother to start anew. St. Francis of Assisi said, “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” St. Francis’ words present the same relationship between forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. Remember that the wrongs we perceive, whatever we call the process of overlooking them, are always illusory. As we always fight illusions, so do we pardon (or forgive) illusions as well. God’s Reality is very different from the chaotic world that we behold when we are filled with fear.
Are we ever really in conflict? The Course would say not. The true Self is above such pettiness. When conflict rules, we have let one egoistic images of ourselves collide with simply a different egoistic image, also of ourselves.
This conflict happens all the time to those of us still on this side of the bridge, and this includes most of us—we who are still not consistently living in the “real world.” We do not, however, have to continue in conflict. We can refer all questions to our Counselor, the Holy Spirit.
I have found that the gesture of turning the conflict over to the Holy Spirit may be answered immediately, or we may be so involved with turmoil that a quieter mind, one that could hear guidance, has not yet come to us. If the latter is our situation, we need to suspend our thoughts, refusing to mull over the unresolved issue, and quiet our minds. Whatever method one uses can be right—meditation (the Course makes use of some of this quietness, though the word “meditation” is never used; prayer; or simple distraction from the conflict to thoughts of something else. One must be aware, however, that distraction can allow the conflict to light upon something else later on. Whatever method one uses, we must trust not in one’s self, but in the Holy Spirit, the Bearer of better thought, to give a way out of the impasse. One helpful thought when battling conflict is to remember that one always battles illusions, for Reality does not battle at all. This recognition may in itself may be enough to calm the heat of passion.
In my own case, I used to have a neurotic tendency to find something, anything, about which to worry. It is as if the “worry” part of me were comfortable only if I had something to fret over. So it is that the ego thrives on conflict, justifying its continuance by conflict. There is a well-worn groove that most of us reserve for worry. When all is said and done, we may find that we were simply in the grip of a bad habit. But by so retaining this bad habit, the Course would say that we make the conditions that we dread, because we choose our own reality. There is a solemn warning in realizing our power to choose our futures that should not be minimized. Picture instead a resolution, as yet unknown, to be worked out by the Holy Spirit. Abide with this thought awhile, and see if a calmer mind will not welcome, in a moment of revelry perhaps, the answer previously sought so frantically. Once we set aside the conflict-ridden emotional state, the Holy Spirit is free to act.
How do we let illusions recede? The world that the ego shows us is illusion indeed. The Course counsels that one need not even oppose the ego (which is to oppose illusions), suggesting that the illusions will go of their own accord when nothing opposes them. We welcome reality because it is true, because it opposes nothing and simply is. Would not we feel glad tidings if such could be our state of mind always?
We do get into trouble by fighting against reality and against God. It is He that we would fortify ourselves against. Doesn’t reason tell us that this looks like a losing battle? God is real, and He created our real selves, and would not have us hide forever in meaningless insanity.
This blessing—that God will find us—is the blessing hidden in the “unreality” we have made for ourselves. Ultimately, we cannot stay in a fog of uncertainty. Eventually we seek better answers, and God has “hidden” Reality in the depths of our hearts and minds, where we will surely find it if we but look. Eventually the sights and sounds of a chaotic world become too much for us, and we are thrown back to our inner depths, where God is. He waits only for this, and this alone is what he needs to turn us from madness. Yet we may look outward at a projected dream for many years. It is frequently only in turmoil that we are led to turn inward to our best resources, those resources found only in God.
Do not fight against the world, when events turn against us, and all seems lost. This is the turning point! This is what God has waited in great patience for us to find. He waits with great patience because He loves deeply, and He knows His creatures. Cause and effect will ultimately make untenable the world of madness. And He waits for that realization of another way, a better way, to dawn upon us. We do not have to seek blindly. Madness cannot keep this better way out of our saner mind. And we can “get the madness out” by simply choosing to look on our chaos and recognize, quietly, “This is not truth.” Sanity thus comes to the quiet mind. We need actively oppose nothing chaotic, for it will disappear when we withdraw our belief from it.
We have said that this world is one of illusion. God had to offer a correction to our madness that would protect the whole from self-destruction. So we can play our war games in illusion, and they do not affect the Spirit at all. The idea of a great fight between good and evil is a product of an ego-oriented mind that merely wants to see light. That mind is still far from
In the Course, Jesus presents a worldview that bypasses all the complicated theories about ultimate Reality that we have made up and have yet ultimately found to be unsatisfactory. The Course presents a unified worldview, to be believed in its entirety or not at all. Still it is a happy fiction, which Jesus identifies salvation to be. (C-3.2:1) We have come so far into madness that we have very nearly lost our way. The Course highlights the death of our ego as the way to get us out. That is all. But that is enough.
For many years, the most important passages for me to read in all of A Course in Miracles have been the ones that discuss attack and the reasons why this choice is never justified. It is a hard lesson for me to learn, as I have been mired deep into egotistical thinking and also have made simultaneously an attempt to be “good.” Ultimately, though, the lessons that Jesus teaches in the Course prick the conscience and allow all of us to realize when we are being too egotistical and perhaps not as spiritual as we might want to consider ourselves. Only within the last half dozen years of my almost 20 years of studying the Course, have I found the truth of the words of Jesus self-evident. My perceptions have changed, and my world as I have perceived it has altered to a happier place. How did this miracle happen? Let’s follow the development of the passages that decry attack and false innocence to see what I have been led to find out.
One of the most obvious statements about the dynamic of attack vs. innocence in all of the Course is the reassurance, “Being wholly without attack, it [love] could not be afraid.” (T-19.IV.A.10:7; the antecedent, “love,” is added) I started using this sentence as a refrain when I realized that my anxiety was not necessary and could be erased with the right frame of mind. Indeed, eventually, many of my anxieties smoothed out as increasingly I attempted to put the words of the Course into practice; I stopped attacking in my mind and in my actions. The results have been, to me, is the clearest possible personal evidence that attacking others (or the wish to do so) is the real cause of fear in any form. The Course also states this idea specifically, “When I let all my grievances go I will know I am perfectly safe.” (W-p1.68.6:9) “Safe” suggests a peaceful sense of well-being, and what are grievances but attack?
Not until I started writing about the Course did I realize how significant attack has been in my life. I was writing over time, and it was only in retrospect, once I had written a good bit and was reading back over it, that I realized that I commented often on “attack” passages in the Course. I am one of those, prior to the Course, who would feel justified in lashing back if I had been first attacked. Jesus characterized this attitude as a “face of innocence” of the self. (T-31.V.2:6) I had difficulty forgiving because I thought that my attacker didn’t “deserve” it. After all, she had attacked me, and I wasn’t guilty! I didn’t deserve this! The Course says, “. . .every day a hundred little things make small assaults upon its [the concept of the self’s] innocence, provoking it to irritation, and at last to open insult and abuse.” (T-31.V.3:4) The latter was when I lost my temper! Yes, these were words with which I could identify as being part of my past, a big part.
But what an egocentric mess! Highly neurotic, my words (“I didn’t deserve this!) actually said little or nothing about true reality. None of us deserve this! And yet we hear the attacks because we need to hear them in order to progress. What this dynamic was saying was that as surely as I did not forgive another for his attack, just that often was I saying that I too did not deserve forgiveness.
There is a reassurance in the Course, however, that saves us from the impasse of failing to forgive others and thus not meriting forgiveness one’s self: “. . .if you choose to see a world without an enemy, in which you are not helpless, the means to see it will be given you.” (T-21.VII.9:4) This new insight requires a reevaluation of all the negativity coming from others. We must instead recognize that our brothers and sisters are really calling for love. Our power (i.e., being “not helpless”) comes in large measure from this realization. Refuse to accept the dagger in the words of others. Know that, unless we help them, it is as though they held the dagger against their very throats. And for us, in initiating attack, Jesus make the analogy that a sword is being held over our own heads. (W-p1.192.9:4)
When we are still mired in attack vs. innocence, not sure of where we stand, we often look ahead to an uncertain future, and try to make plans that we think will protect us from the uncertainties to come. We are trying to avoid confronting the pitfalls of our habitual reactions to the world: attack when we are attacked. Jesus says that not often do we recognize that planning is a defense; we believe, instead, that “sin” causes effects from which we must save ourselves. And this “sin” is often seen as the negative behavior that others take out on us.
The Course has an answer; it teaches us to look to the “now” for release. Miracles work only in the “now.” The Course further teaches us that all such maneuvering is meaningless once we have made a “change of purpose for the good.” (T-26.VIII.7:9) This change can be that we refuse to return attack for attack, and instead see it as the “plaintive cry for help” that it really is. (T-27.VI.6:6) In another passage, the Course calls this almost universal reaction, “distress that rests on error.” (T-30.VI.2:7) If we can just recognize the truth of these words, many an interpersonal problem will evaporate in the light of the real truth.
There is another reason to forgive quickly and to forgive for all time. It is the experience of suffering (frequently mental suffering) that comes from inner turmoil when relationships are going poorly. Why does suffering sometimes come in the immediate future, following a distasteful altercation, even suffering that later may lead to God? This is one of those thorny issues, but Jesus has an answer for us. He sees time and space as a continuum of illusion, all of one piece. So the delay in time for the good is caused by the separation that we would yet see between our brother and ourselves. Jesus sees this separation as “little space that lies between you, unforgiven still.” (T-26.VIII.8:3) And he concludes, “Be not content with future happiness.” (T-26.VIII.9:1) In a word, if our forgiveness of our brother is complete now, our rewards of happiness now will be met. The Holy Spirit, being outside time and space, gives consequence and cause as one. But, we are told, “The working out of all correction takes no time at all. Yet the acceptance of the working out can seem to take forever.” (T-26.VIII.6:1-2) We are pulled back to realize that it is the little “space” between ourselves and our brother, disguised as time, that is the culprit here. And that little space has been primed by attack.
We must always try to remember that we awaken the Christ in each other. Just so long as we persist in holding grievances against our brother, that is how long our deliverance will be delayed. These grievances are a “shadow” that obscures the face of Christ and the memory of God. (T-26.IX.2:2) Remember that the passage of time is not a problem, for whether we have the shadow removed now, or a hundred or a thousand years from now, for Heaven itself there is no time. It is only our own suffering that we collapse into nothingness when time is foreshortened.
Love one’s brother, however deep may be the rancor. He is our way back. Jesus says, “The holiest of all the spots on earth is where an ancient hatred has become a present love” (T-26.IX.6:1)
What keeps us from seeing the face of Christ and feeling the presence of God? It is indeed that word attack, whether “merely” thought, verbalized, or acted out. As mentioned above, many of us, myself included, may have believed that our own attack is justified if we have been treated unfairly by the attacker first. But this is a fallacy. Attack is never justified, because we project the world that we see in a kind of mass hallucination shared with fellow sufferers, those who have not exchanged the everyday world for the real world of forgiveness and peace. Do hallucinations correctly prompt retaliation? No! And that is the crux of the matter.
There is an almost hidden aspect of reasoning that hints that attack is justified under certain conditions. And those conditions are present if one believes that she has been justly attacked for perceived weaknesses or “sins.” Yet if attack is never justified, we are saved from this dilemma. And what a rescue it is! We are at peace rather than made to feel guilty by our imagined failings. To see this reasoning as justified, though, one must be completely willing to relinquish blame in any form toward one’s self or towards others. And then we will know the blessing of God’s peace as we go about our daily lives.
Some of the most beautiful as well as insightful words of A Course in Miracles are the following affirmation of personal power:
“I am responsible for what I see.
I choose the feeling I experience, and I decide
upon the goal I would achieve.
And everything that seems to happen to me
I ask for, and receive as I have asked.” (T-21.II.2:3-5)
Surely, on the surface of it, we would not choose the many bad things that do happen. So, if these words are true, there must be another something going on.
I believe that there is. Until we join our will to God’s, we are destined to miscreate. Until we heed the Holy Spirit, we can only miscreate. The Course asserts that always we get advice on how to live, and that there are only two choices from which this advice comes: the insane ego or the blessing that is the Holy Spirit. Listening to insanity can only bring miscreation.
But what if we have expressed the small willingness (T-11.II.4:3) required to go God’s way, and still bad things happen? The Course asserts that trials are lessons presented once again, that where we made a faulty choice before, now we can now make a better one. (T-31.VIII.3:1) In this world, we are retracing our faulty steps one by one, choosing this time the Holy Spirit as our Guide. We know that we have chosen wrongly in the past, and much of this faulty thinking has brought pain to us and others. Rarely (if ever) do people experience a radical about-face that rights all wrongs, allowing us to live wholly in the “real world,” where the dreams we experience are always happy. Until we retrace our steps, bits and pieces of our insanity will still seem to make sense to us, and to the extent that we buy into these old ego patterns, to that extent will we know pain.
So let us abandon an old dream of attack as often and as frequently as our strength will allow. We do not have to do so alone; the Holy Spirit will prompt the right action, if we but remain calm enough to listen to the inner Voice. In times of heated words, we are never listening to the Holy Spirit, and that is why the guilt comes about later on. Then we are bade to try again, and again, and again, and, indeed, in my experience as one forgives not only the other but also one’s self, the pathways gets lighter and happier as one walks along.
The Course states, “The state of sinlessness is merely this: The whole desire to attack is gone, and so there is no reason to perceive the Son of God as other than He is. The need for guilt is gone because it has no purpose, and is meaningless without the goal of sin.” (T-25.V.1:1-2)
What does this mean? When we perceive another as deserving attack, we are making real his errors. We believe that he does not “deserve” forgiveness because of the reprehensible nature of his crimes (against us). But the truth is that we are One with him, and if he does not deserve forgiveness, neither do we. Also: We feel guilty for retaliating, because our real Self knows that we have attacked one who, in reality, is the Son (or Daughter) of God. We therefore feel that we have done him an injustice, and we feel guilty about it. The truth is that we have done our brother an injustice, because in his depths he is pure; it is only in his illusions that he makes mad actions that hurt others, including ourselves. If we can see the truth of our brother’s real Self, we will not attack because we will perceive that he is lost in insanity.
We may feel threatened by the recognized mental illnesses in our midst, and we may get angry at the illness, but we normally do not blame the individual to any great extent, because we recognize that he is not in his real mind. The Course says that we are living a dream—and that the world we see because of our perceived dream is not real. Many of us are living a dream of attack that we do not recognize as unreal because we do not realize how much happier, under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, we could really be.
We do not have to “decide” whether or not this or that “sin” is “worthy” of forgiveness; we know all reprehensible deeds are done from a mind slant of insanity, and done as well in a world of illusions, so our forgiveness rests on solid foundation. Not only has our brother acted out of insanity, but he has also done nothing real, nothing that will have any effect except in the world of illusions, and, without effects, it is easily forgotten even as it is forgiven. He has called for love, in whatever misguided way he might do so. Because we are One, and his need is our own, we rush to his side with that love. And so we are both saved from the illusions of our presence in a mad world made by us to keep God out. We open our consciousness to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and we are on the pathway Home.
One always attacks one’s self first. And when we add to this truth the fact that our brother and ourselves are really one, we are doubly attacked. As we progress on the way of A Course in Miracles, attacks of whatever nature will become increasingly untenable to us. What might earlier have merited only a passing tinge of guilt will now cause emotional turmoil that may seem all out of proportion to the error. This is because we have become increasingly dependent upon the Holy Spirit for our direction, and he withdraws from us in attack and its ensuing aftermath of guilt. And never forget that the blame, once withdrawn from our brother, is harbored within. What is our way out of the maze?
We must remember that real power cannot oppose. In our opposition to our brother, we have weakened ourselves, and we feel rudderless as a result. The only way that we can become strong again is to ask forgiveness of self and of our brother. Once this action has been taken, let the past go. The Holy Spirit always grants forgiveness, and we should not masochistically hold the misdeed to our breasts.
We ought to resist the temptation to make grandiose resolutions of how we will act in the future. This is the ego trying to get in the act. The walk with the Holy Spirit is a moment-by-moment experience, even though we usually perceive those moments as blocks of time rather than discrete moments. As we open our hearts and minds once more to the Holy Spirit, we will observe our power flowing back in. But now is the time for us to tread softly, because we are still in a weakened state because of our attention to the ego. Again, let the past go. Do not dwell on the words or actions that were a part of the attack. And do not wallow in guilt brought on by self-pity. All such actions are insanity that we would leave behind. Walk forth in the sunlight, and know that Jesus is ready to take our hand at the very moment that we reach out.
We can choose Heaven at any time, but we must choose it with our brother. This idea is central to the Course: this particular pathway requires that we not walk alone. Moreover, the Course clearly says that we are not victims of the world, nor are we strangers within it. All of our fellow travelers are brothers on a common pathway. And we will choose together or not at all. If we choose not at all, we can never “make” Heaven in illusions; we can only stay in the hell and misery of this world.
The Course asserts that the time of our choosing of Heaven is in our hands. Until we use our power of choice to choose otherwise, we are left in this world, seemingly (to us) as victims, but, thankfully, this state of affairs need not remain with us.
There is a fundamental tenet in these words that is necessary to a full understanding of the Course: we (not God) made the world that we see. It is an illusory world, but it does not appear illusory to us. We have “micreated,” but still what we have made cannot have power over us. It is as if to say that a god (Baal), fashioned of gold by the Israelites, has more power over their minds than does the Holy One at that very moment of fashioning tablets on the mountaintop with Moses. It simply isn’t so. We are one with God, and we never leave Him.
This understanding requires the knowledge that All is One. The Thought that is God extends Himself to create all living things. Only if God is mad could a part turn on the whole to destroy it. We have many times tried to turn on the whole and destroy, but to no effect. But God allowed this to happen only in illusion, assuring us that we have not in truth hurt either anybody–ourselves or others. Thus Return becomes possible at any time, although, practically, it may take millions of years for all of us to return.
What a depressing idea is the ego! This false idea believes that guilt can never be escaped, that sin will forever hold us bound. We find misery on the one side, misery of the ego; we join, on the other side, the Holy Spirit. Which will we choose? The Course’s particular understanding of the world must be addressed in this context. Traditional Christian belief holds that sin is real, but that through the grace of God we can be led to forgive any evil, however black. But this part of belief has always been a particular stumbling block, because the effects of sin (pain, suffering) are first made real (by belief) and then a superhuman effort must be made to forgive.
The Course’s cosmology is different. Believing that this world is an illusory one based on madness, it does not make something real before one is asked to forgive. One forgives because everything that happens is either an expression of love or a call for love. One does not dwell on the mistake (“sin”), but quickly overlooks it, thereby not making it “real” in one’s consciousness. A call for love begs answering, and if one in madness has done wrong, both the realization that one actually needs love, and the realization that one is mad, inspire the other to rush to her side with help and love.
Why does karma exist? It is the old law of cause and effect, an immutable law of the universe from which a loving God does not exclude us. This law is largely the reason that God is seen as cruel. We make mistakes, and suffer the (bad) consequences, and then we blame God for not saving us from ourselves! Yet how else could the universe operate? If we are ever to lift ourselves out of madness, we must learn what works and what doesn’t. Only by learning this well can we ever hope to be co-creators with God. If He were to alter magically the illusions in which we have encased ourselves, we would never find our way out of the mists.
It is true, according to the Course, that what we do is illusion. It is a game a child might play, a playing of pretend that will one day, when we have left our madness far behind, be the instigator of real effects. At this point we will have learned fully the “causes” that bring destruction upon us.
We must be firmly convinced that it is ourselves who are living in madness, not God. And even in this world God’s higher laws prevail. The principal higher law is activated by forgiveness, a forgiveness in which we acknowledge that our illusions of whatever nature, of whatever violence, have harmed no one. What has caused nothing can hardly need forgiveness, but as long as we think it does, we need the exercise of forgiveness. Attack is not a real cause, and therefore only illusory effects can result. One is always either expressing love, or calling for love, for Love is our identity, an identity in which we forgive our brother for what he has not done to us. As long as he thinks he has harmed us, though, we must show him that the perceived attack is of no consequence. The blood is but bottled catsup on a stage in which pain only seems real. Our Real Self has continued unabated and unharmed throughout the whole tumult.
A Course in Miracles affirms, “The ego’s whole continuance depends on its belief you cannot learn this course.” (T-22.III.2:1) Of course! The heart of the assertion is the distinction between “errors” and “sin.” Errors are made for correction, which we will learn to do by learning this Course. Sin can, in Christian theology, only be forgiven and, perhaps, imperfectly, as we humans are prone to do. The Course asserts that it is doubly hard to forgive sin that has been in our minds made “real.” The better way is not to focus on the “sin,” or mistake, from the beginning, but to overlook it as the illusion that it is.
Sin is likened to solid granite (T-22.III.3:4), which, when observed, is seen as an impenetrable barrier. But this is what only the body’s eyes see a form that is not reality at all. It takes the application of reason to truly see, to have vision. The body’s eyes, physically and metaphorically, can never see past illusory form.
It is necessary for us to realize that the ego is a false, illusory self, made by ourselves in insanity, and offering nothing that in our right minds we would really want. God had to protect His universe, and so He allowed our miscreations to live on in illusion only–not in reality. Only in reality can we share the Mind that is His, and thus know reality as it is really meant to be.
Knowing reality as it is really meant to be is possible only in snatches in this world. From time to time we experience a real meeting with another, a real relationship between equals, and we know that this experience of joy and love is as life is designed to be. The Course says that we would weep if we truly realized how different what we know now is from what we knew in Heaven (T-21.I.7:2) before we drifted into insanity and therefore into illusion.
I believe that God created karma in order to allow us to realize that our way could not work, that only a relationship of oneness with our true Mind, which is at home in God alone, could be reality. Jesus indicates that after much pain we must come to see that there is a better way, and make amends accordingly. If this seems like a dirty trick, that pain is what God visits on us to throw us back on Him alone, then we are misperceiving the truth of reality. Only God’s way can work; anything else proceeds from an illusory cause and brings effects that we would not want. Only in harmony can we live together in this universe. Only in Oneness could the universe survive. The “cause,” the ego, is a false notion of self, and it believes many things that are quite chaotic. This chaos brings on conflict and agony, for what else could transpire?
With karma, we see the boom-a-rang of what we have done to others coming back to ourselves; this is one way of learning. But it is not the only way. With the appearance of Jesus 2,000 years ago, he brought in the Age of Grace–the time in which we can, through meditation, prayer, and reflection, see the error of our ways, and make restitution that does not mean an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Certainly the Course carries this doctrine a step farther along to real Peace.
The idea of suffering has long been a stumbling block for individuals who wished, in fact who always intuited that God is good. But it has especially been a stumbling block for people who have blamed God for suffering. They look around at a world torn by war and famine, the slaughter of innocents, and say, “How can God be good if this is what I see?” The Course offers a way out of this dilemma, a dilemma that is indeed highlighted in particular passages of the books. Jesus acknowledges that all of us, at some point, have believed that God is cruel, because life so frequently seems to mock our good intentions. The way out is the assertion that this is illusion that we are seeing, illusion without any real effects. In our very Spirit, we are not affected by the suffering of ourselves nor others. There is still a part of us in Heaven and unchanged by these appearances. That part recognizes that the harm done by our fellow men and women is actually done out of insanity, that nothing that they do to us is done out of malice; it would not be done at all if our brothers and sisters were in his right mind. Ah! But that is the crux of the matter. None of us here on earth are in our right minds. We live the insanity in order to work our way out of the maze. We struggle through years of not understanding before we finally find the right tools to lead us back to sanity and release in God’s care. We are never left alone, however much we may think that we are.
There is an old story, retold by Hugh Prather, in which a man was allowed to see his life at his death, symbolized as steps along a sandy shore. He noticed two sets of footprints during much of the walk, but from time to time noticed only one set, and it occurred to him that these were his most trying times. Why, he asked God, did you desert me when times were tough? God responded, “Yes, it is true that I walked beside you throughout life, holding your hand. But when there was only one set of footprints, that was when I was carrying you.”
It is a fundamental tenet of the Course that we are making the world that we see: projection from within causes our perception. This is a particularly difficult concept for “rational” beings to accept, because it requires that we entertain the notion, foreign to ourselves, that we are engaged in mass hallucination with our brothers. Those who have actually seen hallucinations (or visions) will find it easier to accept. Those who have been psychotic have stepped, momentarily, out of the mass hallucination into one seen only by themselves. For these people, the world they normally see will never again seem so real.
The Course even maintains that the world exists only in our minds: “There is no world!” (W-pI.132.6:2) Jesus says that this is the central tenet that the Course attempts to teach, and that we will go as far toward accepting this as we can. For those of us who have longed to know the metaphysical basis of Reality, these words are welcome indeed. We are told that when we awake from our nocturnal dreams, we simply “awake” to a new dream, in a new form not easily recognizable. The Course also says that awareness of dreaming is the real function of God’s teachers. (M-12.6:6) When we recognize that what we see and do is illusion, we do not have so much trouble forgiving our brother, for in truth what he did to cause pain never happened. Our real self has been unaffected, and we are led gently to realize that this real Self is far greater than the tiny, mad part of ourselves that longs to be separate. If we can believe it, we are even instructed that the Whole does not know of the tiny part that wishes to be different and “special.” Only the Holy Spirit is the linkage that pulls this bit of madness back to the one Whole.
This is another of the difficult concepts of the Course: Does God Himself really remain unaware of our doings, with only the Holy Spirit to mediate between God and us? If we see God as within, layered over by much unreality, the concept makes more sense. Frequently we can reach God only in silence, so far have we gone into madness. And if we cannot know the Living God, it is obvious that the communication between Him and us has been disrupted. This then perhaps is the basis for recognizing that we in our madness have limited the very knowledge of God. Can He reach us, if He is hidden within us and we are mad? I think not. But the Course is adamant that God’s Holy Spirit does provide the communication link that we have thrown away. I do not believe that these concepts are possible of understanding in a world of madness. Do let us go as far along the pathway of understanding as we can, leaving it to God to take the final step of uniting us to Him, once again. What we need is faith to see us through.
Faith is a particularly slippery term to the partially insane, because it can be used to justify illusions as well as truth. If we believe an illusion strongly enough, it will become true to us (even if we have to dip into psychosis to prove its truth). Conversely, if one lacks faith in any truths beyond one’s self, the world becomes a very nihilistic place in which to dwell.
So when do we know that faith is warranted? There are no easy answers. But you can be sure that if one has to invert a whole frame of reference to justify a belief, that belief is probably wrong. The Course is practical, as ever. And I know from experience that, given a strong will, one is frequently tempted to invert a frame of reference in an attempt to preserve an egoistic dream.
But there is a difference between what is metaphorically true and what is actually true. When the way seems rough, it is likely that one is being propelled by a metaphor. Instruction for living is found therein, but not those things that will be actualized in the time and place of this plane. And faith that it will be is misplaced faith, particularly likely to lead one even deeper into illusion.
I was greatly relieved in my college classes in religion to learn that one of the Church Fathers had declared that one need not believe on faith anything that contradicted reason. As my beliefs about Reality have changed, so has my reasoning about it. But the Holy Spirit leads gently and leads us willingly; just so long as He is dealing with a skeptic, so ever gentle will He lead. Now I read in the Course that the Holy Spirit uses reason to undo insanity. (T-21.V.9:1) Reason actually lies in the union of my will with that of the Father.
With these words the gentle pathway back becomes illumined as by a lightning bolt. Perhaps the Holy Spirit needs reason even more than blind faith. If truly blind, one is not using her sane mind, but is particularly apt, perhaps, to follow a will o’ wisp of falsity to its mad conclusion.
The Course speaks of a “little wisp of melody” (T-21.I.6:2) that will remind us of an ancient state of Oneness with God, a state of Oneness which calls us to return to our real Home. T. S. Eliot expressed this need to return perhaps more perfectly than anyone else when he said,
“We will not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.” –“Little Gidding,” Four Quartets, V: 26-29
This is a fitting description of the expulsion from Eden as the “fortunate” fall. But we do not have to agree that our detour into madness was “fortunate” to derive meaning and benefit from Eliot’s concept. In our own world, though, it is not uncommon for those individuals who recover fully from madness to feel, in retrospect, that their experiences, however wrenching, were worthwhile. If the people labeled “mentally ill” by our culture can see value in their dreamlike experiences, do we really have to doubt that our mass hallucination–our mass dream–is a valuable teaching tool as well?
In the final analysis, the two may be remarkably alike. Just as many mentally ill people refuse to believe that they are ill, so too do most people of the world. Our egos are seen as valuable and, above all, real–hardly the illusion that Miracles would have us recognize.
It is particularly hard for newcomers to the Course to believe it when they are told that they have never sinned: They have only made wholly correctable mistakes. People with background such as mine may think that this is the deception of which we are warned from a “devil.” So what are we to make of this?
It one can just entertain the notion that our minds are, to greater or lesser degrees, at one time or another, in one person or another, insane, then we are well on our way out. Even our society treats the insane criminal differently from the one judged sane, controversial though a given case may be. We recognize diminished responsibility, an inability to see clearly right from wrong. Is this not what we are faced with on a daily basis? We see so dimly without the Holy Spirit’s guidance; sometimes we hardly know which way to turn. Would a loving God condemn us for our lack of clear understanding? No! He would merely give us a Guide who would lead us out of the maze.
Does a loving God demand payment, sacrificial payment, because we have done something bad and need to be punished for it? Certain traditional Christian theology teaches this, in that Jesus “died for our sins” and is the “sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” The Course reinterprets all of this into a much more benign concept. “I was not ‘punished’ because you were bad,” Jesus says. (T-3.I.2:10) He goes on to explain that this interpretation is an egoistic projection borne of the insanity of the ego. So we are back to the concept of insanity.
Surely no parent or loved one who sees his child or family member commit violent acts when diagnosed as mentally ill holds that person by the same standards as she holds a “sane” person. Let us entertain the notion that we only need to enlarge our definition of insanity to accommodate all people, to a greater or lesser degree. Jesus condemned no one. He recognized while on earth that most people did the best that they could with what they had. It behooves those of us who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, however blindly, to try to do the same.
The belief in sin sets up the need for sacrifice—a scapegoat or victim upon whom our wrong can be dumped so that we will not suffer for it. This is essentially why the cross has played such a huge part in the melodrama of 2,000 years ago. If Jesus, the innocent one, the best of the flock, was sacrificed to an angry God, then we were off the hook. The fact that Jesus did not see an angry God but only a loving Father was a detail overlooked in the scenario. He would do anything God might ask, even death unto the cross. The melodrama was complete.
But what if we somehow missed the point? What if it were our ego that gave this interpretation to which was essentially a cruel death to one who upset the authority of the priests? In the Course Jesus bids us look at the resurrection, which, however it is understood, does seem to point beyond death to a life that continues. The New Testament gives eye-witness accounts of a Jesus who appeared in the midst of the apostles, though the doors to the room were shut. This does not appear to be the usual physical body, but one that could be “made physical” at will. Do we really doubt that there are more things in Heaven and earth than we dream of? This seems to be one of these cases–a body that could come and go from other regions at will.
The Course says, “. . .specialness cares not who pays the cost of sin, so it be paid. . . .” (T-25.VIII.11:1) So for almost 2,000 years, many of us have believed that the cost of our specialness demanded a victim to expiate our “sin.” What if there need be no victim because there is no sin–only error borne of madness? We would rush to the side of our brother to do what we can to heal his mind.
People who are particularly fearful of sin (though they may not call it that) will be particularly prone to find a victim in an attempt to ease their consciences at their own “unforgivable” wrongdoing. Their attacks upon another will be very pronounced, reducing her to an object deemed unworthy of esteem, but very worthy of damnation for “sins.” This is projection! The one who feels guilty, who cannot accept those mistakes of hers that seem black enough to be sins, will thrust her poor self-image onto another–the scapegoat. Know that this is simple insanity, and try no longer to make sense of it. Forgive the indiscretion, and this understanding will dawn upon an overwrought mind. Know that if we are the victims today, in other times we have been the perpetrators. Leave this insanity behind for all time. It is a replay of the mistaken message that we have long viewed by looking at the old, rugged cross.
We do not need the cross as expiation of sins. The Course affirms that all sickness is an illusion caused by our belief in unforgivable sin and brought into being by our guilt (over the “sin”) that asks for punishment. The Course does not really believe that sin, if true at all, is forgivable. And it implies that we do not believe sin, if true, is forgivable either.
The Course’s way out of this impasse is to say that the wrong that we do is really illusion, and that Reality has not be affected at all. So sin is not “real,” and only in illusion have we made errors that cry out for correction. Calling an error a “sin” seems to make it “real,” and to call for punishment. And because belief makes an illusion, we will experience the punishment that we have asked for. We can seem to make error “real” by concentrating upon it, thereby elevating its status. What we need to do is overlook the error, perhaps offering simultaneously our forgiveness of it. But certain it is that we will make it “real” to ourselves if we focus on it, analyzing it as the ego is always prone to do. If we forgive first, we will then come to understand. We ought not to seek to understand before forgiving because that is a certain way to engage the ego and ensure that we will find it harder and harder to forgive, having made real to ourselves the deeds that we need to overlook.
The Course says, “Sin is not error, for it goes beyond correction to impossibility. Yet the belief that it is real has made some errors seem forever past the hope of healing, and the lasting grounds for hell.” (T-26.VII.7:1-2) This passage points to the old idea of a duel between God and the fallen angel Lucifer (Satan), in which the two battle it out for control of men’s and women’s minds. We must realize that this myth is a projection of the ego, which is the “Satan” in all of us. But as part of God, as an extension of God, our Will and His have not truly been out of sync. It is only in our mad and unnatural way to operate independently of God that the trouble began–the trouble that is an illusion of reality, but an illusion in which, nevertheless, we still believe. God does not attack our ego (our “Satan”), knowing that it is only a dream and without substance at all. He waits for us to understand that the way of the ego does not work; He waits for our reestablishment of communing with the Holy Spirit, the only natural way to live. As finite minds, we cannot succeed if we try to live separately from our Source. So we must give up our inferior judgments to the Holy Spirit, who sees the whole picture. This is natural; this is the way life should be experienced, and we learn this as our bad dreams turn to happy ones under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit.
Do we really choose, on some level, what we experience? The Course is uncompromising in its insistence that we do. “Suffer, and you decided sin was your goal. Be happy, and you gave the power of decision to Him [i.e., the Holy Spirit] Who must decide for God for you.” (T-21.II.3:5-6)
If this concept is helpful, it is because we see the light at the end of the tunnel. If it makes us feel guilty, we are misusing the words on behalf of the ego’s insanity. All of us are still at least partially insane, ruled by the ego. It is not practical to think, under these circumstances, that we always and consistently follow the Holy Spirit. The little self that occupies this world is still imperfect. Be gentle with that self, even as your Self would be, and perhaps say quietly (if it is helpful), “There is another way of looking at the world.” (W-pI.33.h)
When I fall from Grace into karma, I think, “I have done this thing to somebody else, sometime, somewhere.” I allow myself to feel the pain, but I try not to wallow in it. It is sometimes helpful, if the “sin” (in illusion) seems to be perpetrated by another, to remember, “you always attack yourself first,” (T-10.II.4:5), substituting the offender’s name for the “you.” Then I feel compassion for this fellow traveler, my brother sent to me by God, for we will find the way out together or not at all.
The Course calls the act of pardoning, or forgiving, one’s brother of what is just illusion anyway as the “power to release your savior.” (T-21.II.3:8) If we will entertain the idea that the Course is right, that the world is truly illusory and illusion made in madness, the step of pardon becomes very easy. It becomes, in madness, the only rational choice that one would make. We would not get angry if our brother were psychotic, though we might wish mightily that he were healed, especially if in his madness he is causing us pain. In effect, the Course declares that this characterization is exactly what is happening on a daily basis in our world. We are all, to one degree or another, steeped in a metaphysical madness.
On a deeper level, though, we have never left Heaven, and our real Self is very strong. We are indeed strong enough to let this world go, accepting correction because we see that we are wrong. (T-21.II.4:10) It is only the extent to which we live by guidance that we can see a more benign dream, the still illusory Real World granted our waking dream by the Holy Spirit. The dreams he gives, though still illusory, are happy, and by them we see our way clear.
In our madness, we revolted against Him, possibly believing that we could not be free unless we exercised that freedom by choosing a way of living that was opposed to His Will. Doesn’t this sound very much like an adolescent revolting against the reasoning and life patterns of parents? I suggest that this human perennial pattern is a metaphor for our rebellion against our Perfect Parent. The fallacy in this mad reason (because it is mad) is that God is ultimately not only our Parent and Creator, but also the very Energy out of which we are born. We are not separate from Him except when we identify ourselves as ego in a bad dream. Even on the human level we can see some parallel in the humor elicited by varieties of the story we have all heard: “When I was 14, I thought that my father didn’t know anything. By the time I turned 21, I was amazed by how much he had learned.”
On the human level, where this world is opposite from Heaven (T-16.V.3:6), there is good reason to build up a personality separate from our parents. Yet never have our minds been truly separate in this universal growth process. The latter point illustrates profoundly the way of the universe. We are built of the very Existence of God, thus not being separate, we can only retreat into madness and fantasize that we are, lest God be divided against Himself. This God could not allow, and we fancy ourselves apart only; in actuality, we are still at Home in Him.
The ego is dazed by this reasoning, which accounts for the Heaven vs. hell dichotomies that our religions have set up. I once heard a ministerial student proclaim that [blank] religion could not be right, because it asserted that there was only Good and “there cannot be good without evil.” Jung had a similar problem, symbolized by a seminal childhood dream, which led him to feel that God Himself might be both good and evil. This was nothing less than an imperfect way to improve on Milton’s concept of Satan and God at war. Ego, all, the Course would have us understand. We can’t make sense of it because the ideas are filled to the brim with the chaotic “reality” of insanity.
Any person who has experienced psychosis understands the troubled way in which she tries to “make sense” of the images that arise from the subconscious. Meaning can be seen only in part, because the person is having a nocturnal dream in the daylight hours. And there are virtually always huge chunks of our nocturnal dreams that remain incomprehensible to us as we seek to analyze them. It is this dynamic that is played out when we live with the ego as our guide. Our cues for inference (T-21.I.1:5) are wrong, the Course says, so we cannot see our way clearly. The daily dream that is our life is chaotic because its source (the ego) is insane.
We do not have to accept this view of Reality wholly if it would be dishonest to try to believe something that on the surface of it doesn’t make sense. The Course says only, “All that is asked of you is to make room for truth.” (T-21.II.7:6) Entertain the concept that our ego may be distracting us in our search for meaning. We need only open our minds to the possibility that in the past we may have formed a worldview wrongly. Suspend judgment for a time, drop resistance, and in the Course’s beautiful language, do as it bids: “Be willing, for an instant, to leave your altars free of what you placed upon them, and what is really there you cannot fail to see.” (T-21.II.8:1)
Why may it take us so long to extricate ourselves from this world of madness? That is a misleading question, because time is relative, and if our attitudes are right, we can experience even Heaven itself in the here and now. Jesus says that Heaven is not a condition, but the awareness of perfect oneness. (T-18.VI.1:5) Surely in our mystical moments we come close to experiencing this wonder, and there are few of us who do not have mystical moments from time to time, even if we don’t call these memorable times by that name and even if we do not recognize these memorable times for what they are.
Jesus also says that we must retrace our steps, in effect, a process that he likens to a ladder, where we retrace our steps into descent, and eventually the ladder is removed. (T-28.II.12:7) Our old ideas of Heaven being “up,” of somewhere out in the sky being Heaven, here comes into play in Jesus’s metaphor. We cannot truly enter the Heaven that is actually within until we have let go of all illusions; this may be a very long process, because we have gone deep into madness.
If any of us have ever talked with a person who has been psychotic, then we will know that the person is lost in dreams and images that seem to be chaotic, and then as the experience is ending, there comes a particular point in time when she may say, at that very moment, “Oh, I see, I was just insane.” If a person has dipped into psychosis repeatedly, the moment of awareness, once again, becomes very real. There is that moment.
I believe that this moment of coming into our own again after a period of madness can be likened to God taking the last steps into our Reunion with Him all by Himself. There is nothing that we can “do” to merit it, and if we had continued to struggle in our chaos, it might have seemed to be endless. But the medication and the counseling had done their work, and so we were ready for the freeing moment of realizing that psychosis had simply been the reason for our confusion. Without the careful preparation, made by the proper medication and counseling, we would not have been made ready for the process to end. We would not have been made ready for the epiphany of realizing that we were out of the woods of legal insanity. Comparing this process to our own appearance in what the Course calls a world of madness is helpful. We are not, most of us, certifiably insane, but the truth is that we are in yet another sense. And by retracing our karmic steps, we will regain Heaven, and the ladder leading us in the direction of the egoistic world can be withdrawn so that never again will we be tempted to dive into illusory worlds. We have had enough pain to realize that the egotistical way is not appropriate. We will love God too much, appreciate the joys of Heaven too much, ever to be tempted to feel that following His Will is somehow a contrast to our own. We will see others as the equals that they are, and we will not be tempted to ask God to give us special favor. The desire for “special favor” is, in fact, what the Course sees as the reason for our present predicament. And that defines the ego in two tiny words. We wait for God to take the final step in freeing us as individuals. Yet the Course looks to the individual first; in that sense, it does not preach a “social gospel.”
The Course would see most of our efforts in the world as doomed from the start unless we are right with God in the beginning. Jesus knows that we cannot give what we have not received. If we are not first healed, we have no healing to share with others. If we try still, we are “unhealed healers,” and Jesus is particularly negative about this. (T-9.V.3:3)
It is part of the worldview of A Course in Miracles that we are all One, and this One is God. Ideas (and we are all at base an idea) leave not their Source, and so we are created creatures, extensions of God Himself. Our mistake in wanting to be apart and separate can never satisfy, because we are meant both to have and to be everything. Our egos would want a little separate treasure, apart from what our brother has, but all this false belief can ever give us is isolation, loneliness, and fear. And God has protected Himself and us by seeing that this separation happens only in illusion, in dreams. And thus it does not happen in Reality at all.
This explanation can only be understood metaphorically in this world, because we are not yet back Home in God. But miracles can and do happen without a fuller understanding. We can be healed of our guilt over separation (and the illusory effects that it has brought) without sacrifice and without pain. All we need are open hands to accept the miracle.
Specifically, what we have to give up to be free of pain is fear. Jesus sums up how in one concise sentence, “Being wholly without attack, it [love] cannot be afraid.” (T-19.IV.A.10:7) Without attack, there is no fuel with the pain that it brings. The pain may, and frequently does, visit ourselves or others in the form of sickness. This, Jesus explains, is the faulty problem solving mechanism meant to illustrate the frailty of the ego’s home, the body.
In these few sentences is a summation of what Jesus tells us about the origin of pain. Is it understandable? Not at its introduction, because once ego defenses immediately activate to suggest a thousand reasons why this simple answer cannot be the whole of it. Give the ideas a while to prove their validity.
We must never forget that we and our brother are always “in this together.” If we imagine that we can be treated unfairly, we are trying to combine our innocence and his attack. The world doesn’t work that way. Because projection makes perception, it is our own attack thoughts that have prompted the cry of “unfair.” Attack is simply a mad reaction, and the notion even if a “fair attack” is without meaning. Moreover, we do our brother an injustice when we blame him for what we perceive as unfair attacks upon ourselves. We see him as guilty, and thus damn him, figuratively, to a hell of our own making. We have consented to this attack, for whatever reason, good or bad. The Course says, “Walk you the gentle way, and you will fear no evil and no shadows in the night.” (T-27.I.1:3)
Even Jesus’s own suffering is an example of this dynamic. He did not share his tormentors’ view of attack (that it was “fair”) nor of his friends and apostles (that it was “unfair”). Thus he did not strengthen the attack in any way whatsoever. And a short while later he demonstrated that resurrection (for all of us, not just him) always follows death, showing that death is essentially an illusion of this time and place only. Jesus made no defense at all, the posture that he recommends for us as well, for to react defensively is to acknowledge that there is some evil therein to be defensive about.
So in the days following death and entombment, Jesus appeared in a body that could manifest itself among the apostles behind shut doors, and could walk along a road and almost not be recognized, and could “break bread” and eat. Surely he had entered a realm of living about which the rest of us know little. But the most important point was that the cross had not hurt him in any lasting way at all. By this truth we see an example of defenseless living wholly without reproach. Jesus says, “Let it [the body] receive the power to represent endless life, forever unattacked.” (T-27.I.10:6) In order for this picture to be true, we must not let the past intrude, much as we must not let the picture of Jesus’s crucifixion intrude on the glorified body that he occupied in the 40 days on earth following his resurrection.
Yet healing is to many a threatening idea. We cling fast to our sickness, even unto death, for we still blame our brother for the suffering that we, in actual fact, have allowed ourselves to endure. Withdraw the blame, and part of the reason for sickness (i.e., the reproach) is gone as well. Only the healed can truly pardon, because their (formerly) sick bodies do not stand in mute testimony that a brother is guilty of attack upon one’s self. And because only now is eternal and real, the illusory past has vanished, taking its causeless suffering with it.
One more point in the deluded sufferer’s mind needs to be addressed. Not only will we have trouble believing in the essential innocence of our brother, but we will believe that the Course is deluding us as the tool of the “devil” as well. The Holy Spirit will therefore not be seen as God’s emissary, but as the voice of evil, cloaked in “good.” This is the essential aspect of the Course that Jesus says will cause us trouble; we will believe that he is misleading us.
But is he really? Isn’t it our own projections that are the culprit here? We think the “sin” within is actually perpetrated by following an external demon, when in truth the demons are all within–products of our deluded mind. This is all that we are really dealing with. The devil is a myth, a projection from within of the “evil” we have seen there. And it was all a mirage–nothing more. A mirage that we can discard as invalid as soon as we accept the truth that we are dreaming in chaos, living with a diseased mind that in truth wants fervently to be sane again.
Jesus explains this dilemma in two succinct sentences. Referring to the Holy Spirit, he says, “What could He be to them except a devil, dressed to deceive within an angel’s cloak. And what escape has He for them except a door to hell that seems to look like Heaven’s gate?” (T-25.VIII.7:3-4) Words like these are the reason that the early portion of the Course must be carefully studied, because without this preparation, the ego will react with such fear that the experience will be more traumatic than beatific.” (T-1.VII.5:8) Trauma we can leave behind if we only trust Jesus and the Course a little longer. Suspend egoistic judgment of the parts that frighten, and patiently study the whole. Jesus and the Holy Spirit will bring us out of the tunnel into the light, and into a world of Reality that sparkles and shines unlike anything seen since we fell asleep. And the Awakening will be gentle, once all the steps on the ladder have been retraced. Before the steps have been taken, there indeed may be a revelation of some startling proportions, a revelation
revealing the end. But to get there the means are needed, and Jesus in the Course carefully explains those means. (T-1.VII.5:11)
When we recognize that our minds are one, that the mind that is in one’s brother connects to our own, it is a very short step to eliminate attack, because we recognize that the attack is upon ourselves as well. And eliminating attack will eliminate guilt, the reason that we have been driven mad and into this world of illusion.
But this new way of approaching life may not come readily. We first may find our anger rising more easily from the depths because we have been sensitized to the fact that it is there. How can we eliminate it unless we are first made aware of it? As one comes closer to living in the fully spiritual life, the tiny inconveniences of living, the nagging doubts and negative thoughts, the scraps of anger, will seem more burdensome to us than before. That is why saints have historically viewed themselves as the blackest of sinners: They are more conscious of the tiniest of errors. So too will this dynamic occur as we make our way along the spiritual pathway. Do not, therefore, lament the awareness of anger within; open up to feel it and then bid it leave forever. Think you that the Holy Spirit would not grant this request, so in line with God’s will for us?
Note that while this request may be granted immediately, it is more likely to be a slow process. Giving up all our angers requires a complete relinquishment of self-will (in the egoistic sense) to the better way of the Spirit within. And it requires attunement to the Divine at the moment in the heat of anger. Do not fight the sin (error)! That will only make it stronger. Instead, withdraw into one’s heart and mind and seek the solace of God’s solution to the situation that so troubles. Avoid the quick retort; know that this impulse is fueled by fear (stress) and is unworthy of a child of God. If we fall down on the pathway, know that God is ever ready to pick us up and set us aright again. Forgive self for the lapse! It does no good and much harm to chastise one’s self harshly and in the throes of guilt. Ask for divine assistance and it will be forthcoming. Above all, be grateful for the surfacing of anger. It is the only way for the boil to be lanced, the false self to be undone, and the better way available to all of us once again.
If problems assail us one by one, two by two, or more, please know that we are living in error. This is the human condition. Jesus says, though, that we will have freedom when we give over all problems to the one solution—the Holy Spirit. He will impress upon our minds the solution in a quiet answer without fanfare, a quiet answer that leaves no one the loser. Until every problem is given over in this way to a Higher Power, the essentially same “problem” will arise repeatedly in different forms. To keep a problem, moreover, is to make it great, past the hope of accomplishing a solution. God would not have this so for His children. In the Holy Spirit’s sight, though, problems are little and “. . .worth no more than just a tiny sigh before they disappear. . . .” (T-26.II.7:4)
If God’s Son in truth is innocent, then God’s justice would hold nothing against him. When we fail to offer the same justice to our brother by seeing instead that he is not due true justice, that he has done something not worthy of forgiveness, we judge against ourselves as well. Madness, as Jesus says, only seems terrible; in truth it has no power to make anything. (M-17.9:1-2) Justice would say to our brothers, “Choose again. This thing you decry is false and not reality at all.” Then our brother is granted complete justice as an innocent, though mistaken, son or daughter of God. We forgive, though we, strictly speaking, do not need to do so at all because there is nothing to forgive. Illusions need to be simply dispelled, and all will be as if they had never been.
A Course in Miracles makes a stunning statement about how the separation from God came about. A tiny, mad idea (T-27.VII.6:2) that one wished special favor from God, more than He would give to another, brought about our encasement in separate but illusory bodies, a “solution” that made our specialness seem the truth. At the same moment, God gave His Answer and our way Home (reunion with Him), the Holy Spirit. And never would this Voice speak for specialness, however much we in our insanity might long for it.
We have long given support to achievement potential in one another, and in so doing, we have moved closer to our own undoing. Why? The ego is constantly being undone in us, and the more that we feed its insatiable hunger in ourselves and others, the more quickly the pain of ego makes itself know. Our competitive strife, the longing to be “the best,” the desire to beat the other guy out–all are derivative of the desire to be better than our brother, to merit more in the eyes of God. Seen in this light, the Protestant work ethic, the idea that God rewards those who work hard, is a perversion of the truth. Our sometime disdain for elitism is a symptom of our dim recognition that all are equal in the eyes of God.
So, if specialness is wrong, is it also wrong to succeed in the eyes of the world? In an individualistic sense, yes. When we follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we will choose for the good of all, not ourselves only. And this is the true meaning of success. When we follow this guidance, we do not know “challenge,” because we are not in doubt about the outcome. We choose for all of humanity, and therefore can only succeed. We are in harmony. And so we have happy dreams.
Specialness, on the other hand, brings pain because of the relentless order of cause-and-effect. We are not in harmony with God’s will when we seek to support the ego’s desire to be better than our brother. And so we will constantly be undone, until we learn the truth that we are One. This concept does not mean that we ought not to find hard work distasteful. Nor does this concept establish a license for laziness. The Holy Spirit will send us on many busy outings, but it will be His Will, not our own misguided and shortsighted ambition, that will motivate us. Otherwise, our goals will run counter to the will of God, defeating and undoing salvation at every turn.
It is part of the theology of the Course that our separation from God, our descent into dreams, came at the point when we asked for more than our brother had. God could not give more than everything to anyone, and He most certainly would not play favorites among His children. And so we willed ourselves asleep so that we might be “special,” have “more” in an illusory reality. But what we made in this reality has turned against us, being based not on love but on separation, even hate, one to another. What else could happen in a world based on chaos?
We usually find in our chaotic world that it is through pain and suffering that we realize there must be a better way. Our turning point does not have to be thus, because Jesus assures us that it is not necessary to learn through pain. In our confusion, though, we have usually made the conditions that will, in fact, bring enough pain to us that we will cry out for relief, and in that crisis point, we will find out that guidance through the Holy Spirit is awaiting us. The Holy Spirit is ready to show us another way, a better way. Once we turn the corner, then, we are open to guidance from the Holy Spirit. Frequently, though, we blame God for our plight. The Course proclaims that God could not give this specialness we craved, and so we retreated into feverish dreams. We did this; the only blame is on our own heads. And there is a way out.
By turning to our brother and freely choosing to join with him, becoming as one, we see that we would not choose to be more special than he. There is a lack of love when one perceives self to be either greater or lesser than another. Love does not thrive on competition, only in Oneness–the harmony of equals who are saviors one to another.
The Course gives a hard but unequivocal statement of our deep need to see our brother sinless. It says, uncompromisingly, “When peace is not with you entirely, and when you suffer pain of any kind, you have beheld some sin within your brother, and have rejoiced at what you thought was there.” (T-24.IV.5:2) Here in a nutshell is our supreme need to be equals, one to another, in love.
When we see sin, our specialness seems safe, because we attribute that sin to another, never to ourselves. But this is a mirage, for we are projecting out what we really see within. There is no other picture. Either sin is within, or it is nowhere. And the great blessing is that sin really is nowhere, not in ourselves nor in our brother. But to recognize this, specialness must be relinquished entirely.
A Course in Miracles proclaims that we look upon our specialness as a “creation” that we would prefer over our “true creations.” The Course is never explicit about what these true creations really are, but assures us that they are awaiting us in Heaven. But if we lavish love on our illusory specialness, we will not soon find our way back to what is truly ours. Here on this plane we love a parody of creation, but God would not have it so. We are bidden to abandon our investment in specialness so that something far better–true love and harmony with an equal brother–can be experienced instead.
It is really our insecurities, our inferiority complex, that bids us to place such emphasis on thinking ourselves better than our brothers. There is really no such thing as a “superiority” complex; we know in our deepest heart of hearts that we are not truly better, but we then think that others must be better, and we rebel against this. All of this nonsense must be placed aside. Temporarily, some of us seem to have more only because we are more aligned with God, and therefore not as mad. But we cannot free ourselves alone because our brother is a part of us, and he must come, too. We are all One, and we only walk Home together. The Course says that our brother is afraid to walk with us, and he thinks walking a little ahead us, or a little behind, would suit him better. But progress is not possible this way; we know peace only walking side by side, hand in hand. “Can you make progress if you think the same, advancing only when he would step back, and falling back when he would go ahead.” (T-31.II.9:3)
Certainly most of us have believed a lie sometime, somewhere in our lives. We have been susceptible to deception because we wished it so. If we doubt this, look back to see how our wish made it true for us, even though the basis may have been pure fantasy. Hidden in that wish, if we trace to its sources, is a desire for specialness, a desire to be a creature specially favored by God, singled out for merit that does not also belong to our brother.
Yet there is no peace in these dreams. When we put ourselves on a pedestal, we do not readily forgive lesser mortals. Without forgiveness, love cannot begin, grow, or thrive; and without love, peace cannot be. When we look with Christ’s eyes, we understand that no brother has sinned against us; we see only love where earlier condemnation had reigned. Condemnation need not be very blatant; just a hint of grievance against our brother, and the spell of love is broken. Guilt reigns supreme, because in our deepest heart we know intuitively that nothing in Reality has ever happened that is damaging to us. In contrast, when the earth sparkles and glows, seems alive in love, and is literally full of bright color, we know in our depths that we have truly forgiven our brother for formerly perceived “sins” against us. Our heart is so overflowing with love, seeking our brother to be One with him, that nothing is held back from us. We know no guilt in this epiphany, and the inner calm at being finally reconciled to God is overwhelming. We have forgiven ourselves for our failure to love God more, for in loving our brother with open hands and a clear conscience we have at last forgiven ourselves for what we believe that we did to God. We feel cleansed of evil intent and in that purification comes the knowledge that we truly were never sinners, only guilty of mistakes now left behind. And all because at last we have laid down our arms against our brother.
We find a peaceful joy in forgiveness. As we absolve our brother of “sin,” we are ourselves absolved. The gift we long to give to our brother has at long last been given to us. We idolized our brother, and thereby made of him a god, but in doing so we dreamed that we were special. When we see our brother aright, an idol no longer but a true equal brother worthy of love, our sense of guilt dissolves and we are placed in our proper relationship to God and to each other. Such is the miracle that the Course promises.
The Course can be said to be based in part upon the biblical injunction, “You are your brother’s keeper,” because it is through our relationship one to another that we find salvation. It is declared that failing our function of fully forgiving our brother will haunt us until this function is fulfilled, and he and we are risen from the past. Just as our brother condemned not himself alone, so do we not save ourselves alone. We are here on this plane, indeed, for one purpose only–the healing of our brother. That is why, in trying to discover meaning in the world, the interactions of person to person are everything. Until we see our purpose as healing, we will follow the various elusive goals of the world, be they artistic or merely achievement that we might be “successes,” and we will know the ways of the world only. Pain and turmoil will dog our paths, and we will learn by cause-and-effect, not Jesus’ way, which is actually by grace.
And, yet, the lamentations of the earth are all so unnecessary. Jesus in fact proclaims succinctly that we do not have to learn through pain. (T-21.I.3:1) Such welcome news, but, oh, so unbelievable in the beginning! We are enjoined to see our brother as sinless, a person who has committed no unpardonable “sins,” but only an individual making mistakes due to his madness. Once this evaluation is firmly adopted, the whole earth will appear different, bright and sparkling in the sunlight. We are warned, though, “not one sin you see in him but keeps you both in hell.” (T-24.VI.5:4) One must see holiness in a brother in spite of his mistakes. His mistakes can cause delay, but in a miraculous sense, it is given us to overcome his mistakes for him, and at the same time for ourselves as well, for he is the mirror of ourselves.
We must honor our brother, for in him God has given a part of Himself for us to love and cherish. The Christ in us sees our brother truly, in the holiness that is his own; would we allow the egoistic false self to see otherwise?
Remember that it is much easier to see one’s brother as holy than to see him (or one’s self) as special. We taught ourselves specialness with much effort, because we wished it to be true. It takes much effort to assimilate a lie, and no effort at all to let the truth be shown to us. And with this, effortless accomplishment comes to us and we are at rest.
There is an attraction to “sin” that is not found in what is recognized as merely as a mistake. The Course says that our way to sin is lit only by “fireflies” that would hurl us over precipices. (T-24.V.4:2) The attraction to sin exists because in our debased self-image, we still long for specialness. And specialness carries with it the seeds of destruction and decay. Be glad that this is true, for the decay is the decay of the ego, and with the ego’s demise goes all our pain and suffering. With Christ’s vision we know a perfect lack of specialness as we hold our brother’s hand and walk Home together.
If we can see our brother as holy, we will have come a long way toward seeing ourselves in the same light. “In him is your assurance God is here, and with you now.” (T-24.VI.1:4) If we see our brother as sinful, it is sure that we perceive ourselves the same. Do not be variable in private assessments of our brother, for such variability will permeate the whole of the world as we see it.
I have frequently recognized that I never get angry unless I am stressed, and this is possibly true for most of us. It is thus very likely that the variability we have been discussing arises out of stress, which is really fear causing us to feel threatened. If we can so clear our minds that we are calm and at peace, we will not be tempted to think ill of our brother. It behooves us so to organize our daily lives to maximize the calm and minimize the myriad frustrations. This we owe to ourselves and to our brother.
The way we view our brother is actually the way that we view ourselves. If we attribute dark motives to him, it is sure that we are projecting those motives from within ourselves. And mild annoyance can be just as debilitating as more aggressive forms of hostility. We are never angry at something that is “really there”; what we see is always a projection from our own false image of self, our ego. To believe otherwise is to construct a room without exits in this illusory and sad world of ours.
We can see the dynamic of blame played out with our brother. First, for whatever reason, we unconsciously feel fear; this fear floats about looking for a place to alight, and just a word, of whatever nature, from our brother is enough to create anger. The whole encounter revolves around fear, but we will more likely correctly identify what transpires if we allow ourselves to experience the fear as stress. We can then more easily bring ourselves around to a better slant of mind, without torturing ourselves by looking for the source of fear. Ease up, and ask for respite from the Holy Spirit. It is our little mind, the ego, that has gotten us into this fix, but it is our Higher Mind that can get us out. If we dwell a moment upon our brother’s sterling qualities, the sword of guilt above our heads will no longer descend to touch our heart.
As Jesus says, unfairness and attack are one mistake (T-26.X.3:1), just two aspects intertwined at every point. We must beware of the temptation to see ourselves unfairly treated, for the secret is this: We are doing this unto ourselves. Nothing happens without our permission being granted at some level of our being. Always we are trying to effect our salvation. We may be misguided in the choices that we make, but remember that it is our dream we are dreaming. When we perceive ourselves to be deprived, we are the culprit. We need only turn to the Christ within, the presence of God within, to set aright again our little world, to give up our sick little games. Of course, just to turn to the Christ within is the first step. We must still retrace all our steps and have the ladder toward egoism withdrawn for us, and this the Holy Spirit does well, being the function for which He was created.
The world’s purpose is not to play sick little games of blame and victimization. As the Holy Spirit sees the world, its only purpose is to make known to us the presence of our Guests within–the Christ and God Himself, the Son (or Daughter) and the Father (or Mother). Playing the “blame game” will obscure their presence, and the sparkle that the world could have will grow dim and even dark. We must not seek to add our purpose to the world, thereby confusing the issue and taking away from its singleness of purpose as viewed by our Teacher, the Holy Spirit. Instead, let us let Son and Father be shown to us, and know that in this revealing will the purpose of the world be completely fulfilled.
We are not “special,” different, or unique in that what we are can in any way be better (or less) than our brother. We will all walk Home together, or none of us, and Jesus assures that all of us will find our way back to God, though the time will be far distant unless we pull together. Because each needs his brother, the way will be shorter (the time more compacted) if we hold our brother’s hand as we walk. If we realize this shared destiny fully, we will never wish to be considered more “special” than another. We will be friends one to another because we have a shared purpose. (T-24.I.6:4) We will protect one another along the way, aware that our failure is his, and just as clearly, his failure is ours.
There is a brighter side because the victories belong to both of us as well. There can be no solitary purpose when we are all joined as One in the eyes of God. Look closely at whatever divides one from another. Is it not that each of us harbors a secret belief that we are more special, better than the other to whom we have been in relationship? This is what causes broken bonds, an egotistical desire to be separate in order to preserve one’s specialness.
When we make comparisons of ourselves to our brother, we ask for sorrow, not joy. We think we come off the winner, but we are merely fooling ourselves; the ego so longs to deceive. It is joy when the ego is laid aside! When we compare (a dynamic always ego-inspired) we diminish ourselves as well as our brother. It is only our own insecurities, our own low self-esteem, that would seek specialness anyway. A confident individual, in surety of her place in God’s kingdom, would welcome diversity, not feel threatened by it. All of us try as hard as, given human frailty, we can. Our brother who is slipping needs our helping hand, not condemnation, and surely not our “bliss” at believing that we are better than he.
The Course emphasizes that the holy relationship into which we enter with our brother is a “sharing” phenomenon, and in Heaven we do not keep separate from one another. This may be reminiscent of the biblical assertion that in Heaven there is no giving and taking in marriage. Surely this is an order of unconditional love of which we are only dimly aware on earth. Jesus never counseled promiscuity, and he is believed to have been celibate while on earth, and so we are not talking of a sexual relationship in the fashion that we consider it. Nowhere in the Course is the concept of multiple holy relationships seen as anything but positive. “. . .it is the destiny of all relationships become holy.” (M-3.4:6) Certainly this will mean that jealousy as we know it is an earthly emotion.
But on earth our “special learning partners” are few, because we have found in them a perfect balance with our own needs. These few relationships, once formed, are never relinquished, though we may not recognize how perfectly we are matched to one another. On earth, in fact, there is a whole array of degrees in relationships–from the casual to the most intimate. Sometimes we join for intense learning with another, and then go our separate ways. Sometimes we only smile at another in a crowded elevator, and that is enough. Please know that there is a higher plan at work in our encounters. There are no accidents in salvation. “Yet all who meet will someday meet again, for it is the destiny of all relationships to become holy.” (M-3.4:6) Because we cannot meet “everybody,” the plan specifies exactly who we will meet. Knowing this care in detail is awe-inspiring, being of God Himself, who makes no mistakes.
We must honor the brothers who have been given us as special learning partners. Knowing that they have indeed been chosen by God and left in our care for a little while puts a cloud of holiness around each one. Surely we owe our gratitude to God and to our brothers given unto our charge. Never forget that it is these brothers who light our pathway Home.
The Course says, “Forgiveness is the end of specialness.” (T-24.III.1:1) Can this be? I pray frequently, “Help me to forgive others and help me to forgive myself.” This seems such a “right” prayer, I think, because of the Course’s contention that projection makes perception. We see in others what we have not yet recognized in ourselves. When we feel ourselves to be special, we are holding something still against our brother; we are “better” than he, he who does not merit forgiveness for black “sins” that we would not do. But this is all illusion. We too could make these same mistakes, and we too must forgive such tendencies within ourselves, even as we forgive the perpetrator of the “evil” of which we now recognize, on some level, we are capable. We are all One, and that is the understanding that, as has been frequently said, “We are all brothers under the skin.”
In forgiving these mistakes, in ourselves as well as others, we no longer feel that we must hold ourselves “above” another (more special than she). We are all in this together. As I forgive my brother of the illusory evil that he does, miraculously I find that I am more tolerant of my own mistakes. Everything is not a matter of life and death, purest glory or blackest sin. If I can overlook my brother’s misdeeds, forgiving them before I study them sufficiently to make them seem real to me, then I am well on the way to handling my own problems with the same benign feeling. Judgment always reverts back to the one who judges. That is the truth of “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” and the Course has given us the explanation of why this is true.
The desire for specialness simply dissipates. One wishes instead to be part of the great mass of humankind with a kind of mystical love that leaves one at peace. The guilt engendered by the false pursuit of specialness and separateness from one’s brother dissipates as well. On some level, we all intuit that holding oneself apart, with a little sense of superiority, is actually self-deception and evidence of a shabby self-perception, not an exalted one. (M-21.5:5) Walk with Jesus as together we seek to join hands with all of our brothers, enemies in specialness no more.
Do you feel insecure in a world fraught with danger on every side? Do you feel attacked by those with whom you live and work? It is not the real Self that is truly being attacked; it is simply our false concept of a little self that is more special than our brother. Never will this little self not be made insecure or be attacked, for a Higher Plan is at work, one which would bring us Home by undoing the ego, which is the essence of this little self.
On the surface of it, to feel vulnerable is a sad state, but if one’s vulnerabilities lead us to seek God, then all is well again. It is the little self most puffed up with pride that will know ego-defeating humiliations all the more. This is inevitable, not to be lamented, because we must be brought to the point, frequently through fear or pain, in order to be ready, finally, to discard the ego. If we learn to associate pain with the ego, and joy with the Holy Spirit, we will be walking on the right pathway, and our insecurities will lessen, finally to be discarded forever. Is not this a welcome boon? Intuition will always work to lighten our burdens and to heal our sense of isolation in an unfriendly and frightening world. Leave the ego behind, for “It is your specialness that is attacked by everything that walks and breathes, or creeps or crawls, or even lives at all.” (T-24.IV.4:4)
Jesus asserts repeatedly that our real will and God’s will are the same. We are of the stuff of God; He shared His Self with us in our creation, and so how could Reality be otherwise? Reality must be in harmony, in Oneness, or we escape into dreams of chaos, for that is all that madness can make. God does not will specialness for us; neither do we truly will it for ourselves, for always will it separate us from our brother. The Course proclaims that actually all of us has everything, nor could we wish for less. The whole is therefore in each part, and each part (our very Self) is neither greater or lesser (more “special” or less) than any other. Meditate upon this truth, and watch vain insecurities and vulnerabilities slink away.
The particular way that the Course offers restitution and reunion with God is through our relationships to each other, especially through the relationships that have been special to us. Specialness is an illusion like all the rest, and it is only as we realize that we ourselves are not special that we can come to see that even our “special” relationships are not special.
The Holy Spirit transforms these people so special to us into something more real. The purpose of the relationship is transformed from ego orientation to the spiritual gifts of God. We see in our brother what we want to see in ourselves; that is what we begin wanting when we perceive specialness in another. But as the relationship proceeds (if we do not choose to break it off), we come to see that even this interpretation is a mirage. As we see and love these people as they really are, we come to forgive them of their ego foibles, and we love almost in spite of ourselves. That is when we begin finding our way Home.
Many of us who are attracted to the Course are also attracted to reflection and meditation, but these contemplative practices are not the most important means by which the psychology of the Course takes root. This psychology takes root in all the relationships now seen as our brothers and sisters, with whom we engage in real, God-inspired, interaction. Certainly the workbook of the Course stresses contemplation, but it does so more toward its ending than its beginning. This therefore is only at the final stages of having come to understand the psychology itself. Only then are we seen as ready for meditation and reflection, after all. Our quiet times are prepared by God to bring us close to Him as well as closer to the brothers and sisters surrounding us in real relationships.
The Course cautions us to forgive our brothers, recognizing that their misdeeds had no real effects, being done in illusion. A second reason for forgiveness is the fact that they were insane when they so acted. So our forgiveness is grounded in a premise that, while it may sound farfetched upon first hearing it, is actually internally consistent throughout the Course. These ideas allow us to forgive in truth, even as we recognize that there is truly nothing to forgive, because the real Self has not been affected by evil or “sin” at all. Recognizing that there is really nothing to forgive is the last step, and there is not one of us who has not had this experience with a loved one at some point in time. It is only for us to extend these tiny points in time to encompass the whole.
That for which we do forgive our brother is really what we are ready to forgive in ourselves. We always accuse ourselves first; what we see as unforgivable in another is what we are holding against ourselves. The “sin” may not be in the same form, but it can be metaphorically described so that it is seen to be the same. Often others can see the connections more easily than can one person alone. We should talk with our friends and family as we seek to practice the Course. We are not in this all alone; we are in this together.
The impetus for most romantic love, in the beginning at least, is that one sees in the other what she lacks within herself. The unholy alliance starts, then, from a wrong premise: that there is lack, and then goes on to a wrong conclusion, that one can “take” from the beloved what is lacking, making a whole out of two halves.
Even popular psychology recognizes that fallacy in such reasoning, but the reasoning itself does not see the light of day because its maker is “crazy in love.” Many popular treatises on romantic love enjoin that two halves do not make a whole, that one must be a whole person, seeking wholeness, to have anything akin to a lasting environment for love. Surely many successful loves look back on the beginning of their relationship as a time that grew fruitfully upon a happy present. The lovers were contented within themselves before finding love in another. Conversely, most people’s past is also strewn with the remains of wrecked relationships, of love gone wrong. For some, even for many in today’s climate, these relationships culminated in what promised to be an idyllic marriage, but turned out to be a little bit of hell on earth. All of these dynamics are addressed in the Course’s view of the holy and the unholy relationship. (T-22.intro)
In much romantic love, the picture of our brother that we see is one of contradictions. We both love and hate him, and the two concepts effectively cancel each other out. So we are left with nothing. We do not know whom we see in our brother anymore than we know whom we see in ourselves. The Course counsels that we will be given a picture to replace what we thought, an image of our brother that we will prefer over all our contradictory images. Even this is not all of him, for it is a perception, and it remains for perception to be translated into knowledge before we will ever see our brother truly. This final step remains in the future for all of us, because it is our translation into Heaven, a step taken at the end of our pathway by God himself.
If, as for most of us, the ego is debased before meeting a special “other,” another dynamic comes into play. The weakened ego is likely to see in the other her “ego ideal.” Only if this very special one can love me, will I be perceived in my own (ego) eyes as “worthy.” All of the other’s special qualities then become fodder for falling in “love.”
Such “love” always proceeds on part knowledge, and even this part, the Course would have us see, is not knowledge, but faulty perception. There seem to be many secrets in an egoistic love, though in the words of the Course, “God has no secrets. He does not lead you through a world of misery, waiting to tell you, at the journey’s end, why He did this to you.” (T-22.I.3:10-11)
In the unholy love, we are primarily aware of the differences between self and the other. But this can only be ego, because only the ego knows of differences. Under the skin, we are all the same. Only the “lonely and alone, who see their brothers different from themselves” (T- 22.intro.2:2) have need of sin. When we truly join with another, we know that we are just as capable of his mistakes as he is, as well as just as capable of the love that springs forth from him. Only when we call an error “sin” does it appear separate and apart from ourselves.
We can choose, metaphorically, whether we will experience life or death. In every miracle is life, and in every impulse to hurt a brother is death. Surely we choose the latter far more often then we think. Even the tiny, “inconsequential” hurts are painful–to us if not to our brother. And so they call for forgiveness. The answer to any attack, in fact, is forgiveness.
How may we right the wrong when we have chosen “death” over “life”? There are no easy answers. We can and should ask the Holy Spirit for His answer, and it will always mean that forgiveness is called for. It is not just forgiveness of our brother, but also of ourselves for having made this mistake, having hurt one who is a Son or Daughter of God. Sometimes forgiving ourselves is much harder than forgiving our brother, because we always attack ourselves first, and once we withdraw blame from others, we have a strong tendency to harbor it within ourselves.
Another problem we create for ourselves is that we see an interval of time between forgiveness and its rewards. This represents the degree to which we would still keep our brother separate from ourselves. Once this faulty decision is undone, the time interval collapses, and we see the results of forgiveness come quickly on the heels of the forgiveness itself.
Part of the reason for a time lag between forgiveness and its results is a “space” problem. We still would see some distance between our brother and ourselves; we are not yet ready for the collapse of boundaries between us. This is an error, part of the time-space continuum that is fundamentally illusion. Will a true joining, a true collapse of boundaries, and it is ours. What do we fear? It is love itself, for love of our brother results in true joining. Just so long as there are spaces in our togetherness, that distance between will be a problem and an exemplification of the love that we fear to make our own.
We fear for our safety as we join with our brother, for we do not trust him completely. His mistakes may be profound, but the Christ in him is innocent still. It is only his insanity which we fear, and we are never asked to join with that. Indeed, we would make our own mistake if we attempted to do so. In fact, this is the essential problem with “special” relationships. But we must look at the purity within our brother’s heart, and joining with that in spirit only, we reinforce it in our brother, to the betterment of us all.
We are not really meant to be separate one from another, encased in bodies that are separate. In the Course’s worldview, bodies are the symbol of separation. Only mind can actually become one. And this melding can and does occur, though we are fearful of losing our individualized identities. We actually do want our minds to join as one, and this is the closeness that one normally seeks in physical relationships. These alone will not satisfy us, because we want a true intimacy that is mind to mind. We seek this intimacy in our special relationships. But these are hard going without forgiveness of one another, the aspect of Reality that would allow genuine closeness. If we do not forgive, we are going to become embittered or we are going to wander from relationship to relationship, one to the other, seeking something that cannot be found. This is the crux of the matter. Forgive, and the boon we desire is ours. Refuse to forgive, and we are captives of the ego, which can never give us what we desire–true genuine Oneness.
We seek this Oneness because the call for it was placed in our souls by God. Jesus even tells us that Heaven is the awareness of perfect Oneness, “nothing outside this oneness, and nothing else within.” (T-18.VI.1:6) Because we are learning through the Course, we find this Oneness first through our relationships, in particular the chosen learning partner(s) who offer us unlimited ways to learn of love. These are the ones for whom we are ready, the ones to whom we remain connected lifelong. And these relationships generally are few. (M-3.5:3) The Course says that we may not even recognize the perfect matching that has occurred in these relationships. But the perfect lesson, the lesson of genuine love of ourselves, others, and God, is there for us if we do not break off the relationship prematurely. This then is the special relationship that can become holy, indeed that is meant to become holy.
And forgiveness points the way.
Do we all want a “special” place in the world? The Holy Spirit reinterprets specialness to mean the unique role that God would have us fill in our lifetime. What, given our talents, are we best able to do, the one thing that nobody else can do as well as we? This function, no longer ego-oriented and “special,” is what God would have us to do. The Course says, in speaking of our brother, “Let him no more be lonely, for the lonely ones are those who see no function in the world for them to fill; no place where they are needed, and no aim which only they can perfectly fill.” (T-25.VI.3:6)
Given the fact that the Course links the idea of our unique role with our brother, more often than not we will find that unique role in one or more brothers. And we must realize that we may not always recognize our function even if we are in the midst of carrying it out.
In my own case, this phenomenon kept me on a particular pathway for years, but I was a reluctant walker. Only in retrospect did the pathway seem illuminated, the walk make sense. Yet I never seriously considered abandoning my pathway; whenever the thought came up, I was given a self-authenticating word from God that I was to remain true to what I had perceived His Will to be. And I yet do not know the whole of it, though I followed that particular pathway to its conclusion and found a blessing, in unexpected form, at the journey’s end. It is very likely that I will not fully understand in this lifetime, but as I review my life eventually from the other side, I will know. For now, I know all I need to know of a journey that seemed incomprehensible much of the time.
And is my experience not true for most of us? We see only dimly, but when we take our brother’s hand, we fulfill a function that is bigger than the two of us. It is always by way of our brother that the mission comes. One does not do “great things” in the world without the cooperation of first one, and then another, and another, brother. Salvation is still borne one mind at a time, and so it behooves us to place our interpersonal relationships next to God in value. Indeed, it is frequently in our brother only that we are able to see and love God.
Our brother sees “sin” in himself. If we see sin in him also, we but reinforce an untruth, not only in him but in ourselves. Surely it is that we see in others what we have first seen in ourselves; that is the law of projection, and, if we can believe the Course, projection makes perception.
Does that mean we must deny the evidence of our eyes, and proclaim good where there seems to be only wrong? No! That would be a further deception, and it is the truth that we seek. We must acknowledge the wrong that we see, but recognize that, like all sights our physical eyes show us, we are seeing something unreal–a dream, if you will. However badly our brother seems to treat us, this still is true. It is our dream, showing us something that we don’t want to see, but only so that we can learn from it. We are bade not to dwell on this unreality, thereby making it seem real to us, and making it harder simply to overlook and thereby forgive. (T-9.IV.4:4-5)
Is it not true that a child learns best when one expects good in her? Act “as if” a child will respond positively, treat her as you would want a good child to be treated, and the tantrums will fade away. On the other hand, to focus on the tantrums is to make them stronger. It is the same with our brother. Expect the best, let him know that you are seeing the best, and his motivation will fall in line, making our brother a better person. We must never show that we fear negatives from him; that would be a reinforcement of the possibility of those negatives. Instead, accentuate the positive in all prayers and all interactions. Let him know that we love the real Self, and that real Self will blossom before our eyes. It is indeed very dangerous to act in any other way. We are all potentially capable of great wrong, and it behooves to turn aside this potentiality, in ourselves and in our brothers, at every opportunity.
Given this scenario, if we play our part right, our brother will cease so much to see “sin” in himself, and he will adopt our own attitude toward him. He will begin to act out of the real Self, which is good, because his self-image has changed for the better. And is this not what we would hope for all people?
As true Sons and Daughters of God, we are social creatures. In speaking first of God, the Course says, “It is not His Will to be alone. And neither is it yours.” (T-25.II.9:12-13) If this is true, why do so many of us spend long periods of time “outside” families? Why do we wait to marry or to form partnerships? Why do we break apart those unions so readily?
I think it stems from a need to be independent. If this independence is also separation from God, it is deplorable. If it is, on the other hand, a reducing of dependence upon other people and their ideas, to make way for God, it can be good indeed.
Aloneness does not have to be loneliness, though it often is. If one is alone, I think the best way to live is to devote what time would normally go to others, in the family circle, to God as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Then one is truly never alone. The storehouse is ever filled with the treasures of His good blessing, His reassurances that we are One in God’s Being. What could have been a lamentation thus becomes a new birth into that Christ child that we are all meant to become. If the way to that Awakening seems long, do not despair. We have taken the first faltering steps in the right direction, and we will surely be helped more–until that glorious day when God Himself enfolds us within Him.
This world is declared to be one in which God’s laws do not prevail in perfect form because “we” are making havoc. Yet even in this world can we leave this purpose aside and choose instead the “special” function that God would have us fulfill.