Weekly Questions and Answers, 01/22/2003

This week's questions:

Q #64: A question about practicing the workbook..
Q #65: A question about the nature of mind.
Q #66: A question about friends who "disappoint" us.
Q #67: A question about achieving right-mindedness.
Q #68  A question about the fate of the mind after body-death.
Q #69  A question about finding forgiveness.

Q #64: Do you think that there are some "contraindications" to practice exercises of the workbook year after year, continually? Do you know for example, if Bill or Helen had a specific practice of the 365 exercises constantly?

A: There may or may not be contraindications. It depends entirely on the purpose of repeating the lessons year after year. There is no right or wrong way to do the workbook, other than to do the lessons in order, as Jesus instructs us. Some people find it helpful to do the lessons over and over, but it is not necessary to do them more than once. It probably is a good idea to go back over them in order to study what they teach, but it is not necessary to do the exercises more than once, unless that is your guidance. Each person is guided individually, as we know.

A red flag to be alert to is developing a dependency on the lessons. For example, if you find that you cannot start the day without doing a lesson, or you find yourself empty or depressed if you don’t do a lesson every day, year after year, then you know that you have formed a special relationship with the workbook. That is something you would want to look at, because the ego has more than likely jumped in and joined the process, and you will miss the essence of what the lessons are about.

Another thing to watch for is the need to keep doing the lessons until you do them perfectly. That, too, would be coming from your ego. It is far more in keeping with the spirit of the workbook, and Jesus’ gentle guidance of us, to do the lessons "badly" and then forgive yourself for forgetting or falling asleep, or whatever. The middle of Lesson 95 explains that it is much more helpful to approach the lessons that way, because that would reflect the bottom line of what we are learning, which is to remember not to take the "tiny, mad idea" seriously. That clearly is the way Jesus would like us to proceed.

The training largely involves our getting in touch with our resistance and fear of going ahead with the process of disindentifying with our ego. A little willingness is all that is ever asked. All that is important is that we would want to think of God or Jesus during the day. Remembering to say all of the statements exactly on time each day is not the point. That we would want to, though, is the point, regardless of whether we successfully complete all of the instructions as directed. The content, not the form, is what we should aim at. And the content is the forgiving love of Jesus.

Helen and Bill did the lessons together once; then they did them again with Ken Wapnick; and finally Helen, Bill, and Ken did them with Judy Skutch, at her request.

Q #65: Please describe "mind," the nature of "mind," and the experience of "mind".

A: There is no simple or easily understood definition for mind in the Course, because its meaning depends on the context in which it is used. Also, its true nature is abstract and it exists outside of time and space in all of its meanings, so we will not be fully satisfied with any explanation of it. For we will be attempting to understand mind with a limited (and illusory) part of it -- the split mind. And time and space are, in fact, miscreations of the split mind itself, rather than dimensions in which it operates.

It may be helpful to point out first that the Course’s use of mind is different from the meaning given to mind in almost all other systems of thought, such as Eastern religions, for which mind is only the false ego self, caught in illusions; and various scientific disciplines, such as psychology and neurology, which take a reductionistic view of mind, reducing it to an epiphenomenon, or manifestation, of the physical/chemical/electrical activities of the brain. Even Freud, whose powerful insights into the mind are integrated into the Course’s exposition of the ego, accepted its organic origins without question.

The most extensive discussion in the Course of the term is found in the first section of the Clarification of Terms, "Mind-Spirit" (C.1). There mind is initially defined as "the activating agent of spirit, supplying its creative energy...Spirit is the Thought of God which He created like Himself" (C.1.1:1,3). But since we cannot conceive of the nature of spirit or God, and creation has nothing to do with form, the definition sheds little light on the meaning of the term. Usually, when the Course refers to mind at this level -- our true reality as spirit -- the term is capitalized and it refers to either God or Christ, His perfect and wholly unified Son (C.1.1:2). There is little more to be said about mind at this level. Its experience is only of perfect oneness, with no awareness of differences or distinctions of any kind, because they are not real.

More can be said, although still not easily understood, when we move to the level of the split or "individual mind" (C.1.2:3), which seemed to arise when the Son of God seemed to fall asleep and dream that he could be separate from his Father. This "part of the mind is entirely illusory and makes only illusions" (C.1.4:1). At this level, mind experiences "consciousness, the receptive mechanism" (C.1.7:3,4), which necessarily implies a separation between perceiver and perceived, part of the illusion. It is only at this level that choice seems to exist, for there can be no choice in our reality as spirit, where, again, no differences or distinctions exist. It is within this illusory split mind that everything we believe is solid and external and real is experienced. The Course distinguishes between two parts of this mind, or two ways of thinking within this mind: Wrong-mindedness represents the choice to listen to the voice of the ego, or false self. Right- mindedness represents the choice to listen to the Voice of the Holy Spirit, the reflection of our true Self or Mind (C.1.5:1,2).

Although the Course attempts to make us aware that our true reality is Mind, its teaching is addressed only to the split mind. The Course’s purpose is to train our split mind to remember that it contains a choice (C.1.7:1), for it has accepted the ego as its only reality and has forgotten that the ego is only a choice. So the Course helps us to recognize the consequences of a choice for the ego -- sin, guilt, fear, pain, loss, and death -- and reminds us that there is a different choice -- the Holy Spirit -- that opens the door to a completely different kind of experience, based on forgiveness -- peace, joy and love. Over time, the Course will lead our split minds back to the initial decision point where we made a seemingly irreversible choice for the ego. And now we can make a different choice, removing us from time and space as we become aware of the real world, the totally forgiven world. From here, it is only one final step, "taken" by God Himself, which returns us to the wholeness of spirit and the oneness of Mind that we never in reality left (C.1.5:2,3,4).

Q #66: I have been studying A Course in Miracles for one year, doing the lessons and participating in two study groups. I am also in a 12-step group. My question is on friendship and extending love to others. I have never been one that worked on relationships. In the past year I have been trying to extend love to my friends but feel in some instances their love is not being reciprocated. I know love is freedom and unconditional, and yet when I reach out to a friend via a phone call or an e-mail and don't hear from them, I'm disappointed. How can I get over this disappointment?

A: First of all, as a relatively new student to the Course, you need to know that you are doing the best that you can. The Course is a challenging process that takes time to master and it is not easy to undo the thought system of the ego to which we all have been so faithfully committed for nearly all of our time up until now. Your willingness to be taught a different way is all that Jesus is asking of you -- and it takes humility to acknowledge that you don’t know the way yourself.

As you have been finding, the ego’s maxim "Seek but do not find" (T.16.V.6:5; W.pI.71.4:2; M.13.5:8) continues to operate in our lives even after we have decided we want another way of relating to others. This is because we still do not understand the purpose for which we made the world and relationships. "There is a tendency to think the world can offer consolation and escape from problems that its purpose is to keep...The world was made that problems could not be escaped" (T.31.IV.1:1;2:6). And so, as long as we look for any satisfaction in the world and from others, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. But, contrary to our conscious awareness, this setup in fact is intentional.

Our purpose in the world and in our relationships, which we keep hidden from ourselves, is to be disappointed, treated unfairly, and victimized, so that the pain that really comes from our own secret choice for separation now seems to be coming from somebody else’s actions, or inaction. In Lesson 76, Jesus speaks of the various ego "’laws’ we have believed we [and others] must obey. These include...the ‘laws" of friendship, of ‘good’ relationships and reciprocity" (W.pI.76.8:3). These seemingly reasonable rules for relationships serve the ego purpose of establishing expectations for how we and others should act in order to be happy, thereby guaranteeing our disappointment and unhappiness when they are violated.

Now Jesus does not expect that we will suddenly stop seeking outside of ourselves for love just because he tells us it will not work (e.g., T.29.VII). His purpose in telling us is to help us gradually open our eyes to what we are doing to ourselves so that, over time, we will be more and more willing to make a different choice, to bring our pain and disappointment to him so that he can show us that the answer to what we are looking for is there inside of us, and always has been. We are the ones who have not accepted the love, and have kept pushing it away out of our fear of joining and losing our self in total, limitless love. And we will continue to resist that insight in our practice of the Course and its process of forgiveness. But Jesus does not judge us for that. He knows that we are just afraid, but that in time we will choose his alternative more and more of the time. And then we will come to recognize that our fear that prevented us from experiencing his love is no different from the fear that seems to stop others from reciprocating when we allow his love to be extended through us. And since we know that the love is always ours to experience and share, we will no longer be disappointed when others do not recognize that for themselves. The love will simply continue to extend through us to them, offering them a reminder of the same solution we have learned for ourselves -- the love is already present within each of our minds. We need only undo " the blocks to the awareness of [its] presence" (T.in.1:7).

Q #67: I have a problem in achieving "right mindedness." During quiet meditation, I can usually think fairly clearly about the metaphysical teachings of the Course and am very much motivated by them. However, once I am back in the illusory dream, I seem to revert quickly to "wrong mindedness." The problem is that the whole world we see seems to be built on "wrong-mindedness," so it is hard to do or think anything here that is right-minded. In fact, achieving "right mindedness" often seems to me harder than contemplation of the metaphysics. I know that Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, is always there to help, if we just show a little willingness. I guess I need to keep trying and keep studying. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A: It might be helpful to think of right-mindedness as looking at your wrong mind without judgment. You don’t have to fight against wrong-mindedness; you just have to look at it without judging yourself for being in that state. If you can look at your wrong mind without judgment, if only briefly, then you have set your ego aside, because the ego would never look without judgment. This is the core of the healing process. You don’t have to try to stop the wrong-minded thoughts; just don’t get down on yourself for having them. The definition of forgiveness in the workbook helps us keep this in focus: Forgiveness "is still, and quietly does nothing . . . It merely looks, and waits, and judges not" (W.pII.1.4:1,4). Our focus, therefore, as students, is not on doing right-minded things in the world, nor is it on banishing wrong-minded thoughts. Our focus, rather, is on learning how to look at our egos without judging ourselves, or others, for having an ego.

It always seems as if that is not enough, and that we should be doing more than simply looking without judgment. But that would be the ego sneaking in to try to make things more complicated, and to shift our attention from the content of our minds to our behavior in the world. Jesus tells us again and again that we are involved in undoing a thought system that is entirely illusory. In this sense, he says of the miracle that "it merely looks on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false" (W.pII.13.1:3). So thinking in a right-minded way involves looking at the devastation that is our world, but without any sense of judgment or guilt. Practicing this as best we can will result in our gradually becoming less and less identified with our false self, and therefore less and less fearful of the path that is leading us beyond this false self toward accepting Jesus’ love as our only reality. Judging ourselves, others, or the world is a defense that keeps our self and the world very real, and Jesus’ love at a "safe distance" from us.

Ultimately, we are responsible only for the teacher with whom we choose to look at the world. If we look at the world through the ego’s eyes, we will wind up feeling guilty. If we choose the love of Jesus to be our "eyes," we will not be upset by anything. When we are upset, we need only remind ourselves gently that we have chosen the wrong teacher, and that is not sinful. That is all we need to "do" to be right-minded.

Q #68: What happens to the mind after the demise of the body? Does the mind go home and re-join, although it never left? What happens to the ego? Where can I find this answer in the Text?

A: The answer to your questions lies in understanding the Course’s teaching on life and death, contrasted with the ego’s version. It is very important to remember that the Course refers to death as the choice in the mind to believe the ego’s definition of who we are: sinful, fearful, guilty, separated individuals imprisoned in bodies. This belief is the ego’s way of dealing a death blow to our awareness of who we really are as God’s innocent Son, and this is what the Course calls "death." When the Course speaks of "life" it is always referring to our life in Heaven with God. "There is no life outside of Heaven" (T.23.II.19:1).

With that in mind there are several passages in the Course that address death, the mind, the body and the ego that are helpful in understanding the points you bring up. 1)The Course tells us the mind is not in the body: "It (mind) cannot make a body, nor abide within a body" (W.pI.167.6:3); "A mind and body cannot both exist. Make no attempt to reconcile the two, for one denies the other can be real. If you are physical, your mind is gone from your self- concept, for it has no place in which it could be really part of you. If you are spirit, then the body must be meaningless to your reality" (W.p.I.96.3:4,5,6,7).

Therefore there cannot be any change to the condition of the mind due to the demise of the body, nothing happens to it and it does not go anywhere. This is difficult for us to understand because most of us identify with our bodies, but it is essential to understanding the Course’s teaching. You are correct in saying that in truth the mind never left its home in Heaven, where it abides in Oneness. Our illusory experience in this dream is the result of a thought in the sleeping mind of the Son, who believes the separation actually occurred. The mind does not return home when the body dies. The mind returns home when it makes a final choice to accept the Atonement and no longer identify with the ego thought system. It thus awakens to the truth that it never left Heaven, never separated from its Source.

The ego is also not in the body; it is the thought of separation in the mind which does not change with the death of the body: "The ego is the part of the mind that believes in division" (T.5.V.3:1). The ego is not in the body but does identify with the body. We too identify with the body when we choose the ego thought system, which is why we accept the body’s experience of death and believe in its significance. With the ego we see it as "…the central dream from which all illusions stem…It is the one fixed, unchangeable belief of the world that all things in it are born only to die. This is regarded as ‘the way of nature,’ not to be raised to question, but to be accepted as the ‘natural’ law of life" (M.27.1:1,4,5). Although the ego does not die with the demise of the body, because it is a thought in the mind, it is obsessed with death; fearing it, seeking it, using it to prove its reality and the reality of the body. It may be helpful to review "The Attraction of Death" (T.19.IV.C). Our experience in learning a new identity by questioning our beliefs of who we think we are, freeing ourselves to accept the Holy Spirit’s message of who we really are, will enable us to see the death of the body differently and open our minds to a new perception and experience of the life the Course speaks of: "When your body and your ego and your dreams are gone, you will know that you will last forever. Perhaps you think this is accomplished through death, but nothing is accomplished through death, because death is nothing. Everything is accomplished through life, and life is of the mind and in the mind. The body neither lives nor dies, because it cannot contain you who are life" (T.6.V.A.1:1, 2, 3,4).

The following two questions, although different in form, share a common underlying theme and so will be answered together:

Q #69-a: I have been working on forgiving one particular person for quite a while now and I am finally getting there, very very close to total forgiveness, which should bring me peace. But now I find that I am missing seeing him and talking to him, which is very unpeaceful. This person is not deceased so there is a chance for physical interaction, although highly unlikely because we are both remarried. I want to be able to act differently with him and show him my unconditional love instead of my fear, which ruined our relationship in the first place. What's going on here? Is my ego still in charge even though I have forgiven him and am finally joyful and not resentful about our relationship? Is missing someone another confirmation of believing in separation? I can't believe I don't have the full peace I was expecting. My missing him has thrown a monkey wrench into this otherwise loving experience, which I guess I don't want to experience alone. I have joined with this brother in my mind and would like to play it out in form. Is this wrong, and if so how can I finally get some peace about it?

Q #69-b: Forgiveness is such an important process in the Course, and it can be applied to just about everything in our daily lives. But what happens when someone is murdered and everything abruptly stops for that person. How can that mind process what has happened when it no longer exists as the person who was just murdered. I hope this isn't a stupid question and has some relevancy to the Course.

A: Forgiveness, central to the Course’s teachings, is a very difficult concept for us to grasp while we continue to identify with our ego and with the individual self that we believe we are. Jesus cautions us that "the world cannot perceive its [forgiveness] meaning, nor provide a guide to teach you its beneficence. There is no thought in all the world that leads to any understanding of the laws it follows, nor the Thought that it reflects. It is as alien to the world as is your own reality" (W.pI.134:13,1,2,3).

And so it takes great humility to approach the study of the Course, acknowledging that we really do not understand. But in that acknowledgment lies the possibility of real learning. Forgiveness as the Course defines it really has nothing to do with the other person against whom we believe we hold a grievance. But it also has nothing to do with the person we believe we are who seems to be holding the grievance.

This is not to deny that we will experience apparent effects of true forgiveness in our external relationships, but that is not really what is happening. To understand what the Course means by forgiveness, we need first to understand the ego’s purpose for the world and our relationships. And that purpose is always to see the guilt that is really in our own mind -- the original guilt over the thought of separation from God -- outside ourselves in someone else. The specifics of my grievance against you are not really important. What is important is that I can blame you for my own unhappiness. Forgiveness then is the process that allows me first to recognize that, yes, I am unhappy, I am not at peace, and you, against whom I have been holding a grievance, have helped me see that. But you are not really the source of my loss of peace and happiness. I am. And so when I withdraw my projection of guilt and blame from you, I can then take the next step with the Holy Spirit and recognize that my own guilt is not real. And peace flows from that recognition. So forgiveness allows me to release myself from the mistaken judgments I first held against myself and then accused you of, because I did not want to accept responsibility for them. And the forgiveness I experience takes place in my mind and has nothing to do either with the self I think I am or with the self I think you are.

With this brief explanation in mind, let’s turn to the questions that have been raised. What we experience as forgiveness in our relationships with others can certainly reflect the real underlying process that is happening in our mind. As long as we are still identified with our egos, we will interpret the experience of release in our mind in the context of the specific form of our relationship with another person. This is unavoidable while we cling to our false identity as a body. It is a mistake, but it is certainly not a sin.

So, if my experience is that I am releasing you from the judgments I have been holding against you, and I am experiencing peace, it can only be a reflection of the fact that I am releasing myself from the guilt and judgments against myself in my own mind. This would have to be fear-inducing to my ego, which survives and thrives on guilt. And so a defense against the love and peace is now needed.

For the ego, switching the form of the relationship from special hate to special love is an ideal solution. The form changes, but the underlying content remains hatred and guilt, although now disguised and hidden. And so, rather than seeing you as the direct cause of my unhappiness, I now see you as somehow necessary for my happiness -- that I need to be with you to share the experience of peace and joy. But that in effect is the same thing, because if you are not available to me as I would like you to be, then once again you are contributing to my unhappiness. Either way, I am not at peace and my ego has won. The answer at this point would not be to try to change any of this, but simply to recognize what is happening. And then to ask myself, with Jesus or the Holy Spirit as my teacher, is this really what I would have rather than the peace I was experiencing when I was able to release both of us from the chains of guilt and condemnation? If I have uncovered my ego’s purpose, it is only a matter of time before I will be willing to make a different choice.

But what of the situation where the life of a victim has seemingly been ended by someone else’s attack? To repeat what we said earlier, forgiveness, as well as holding grievances, really has nothing to do with the self that I think I am or the self that I think you are. Grievances are held in the mind and the body is not at all necessary for the mind to forgive. The mind has the same choice available to it, whether the body seems to remain alive or not. The projection of guilt onto someone else’s body can either continue or the guilt can be withdrawn back to the mind that is its source, where the choice to release the guilt remains the same.

Any seeming difference in the process arises only if the choice is to continue to project the guilt, but this difference is on the level of form, not content. The mind then simply finds another lifetime with a different body to identify with -- a choice not really that different from what we do within a lifetime when we decide to leave one relationship and move onto another. The cycle of victim-victimizer repeats itself, until the mind is ready to make a different choice and accept complete responsibility for its pain and loss of peace. Murder is always first a thought in the mind, a self-accusation for what we believe we have done to God. We project it outside ourselves onto someone else in order to avoid the consequences we have told ourselves must follow from that choice. But the murder and the subsequent guilt, as well as the world we make as the repository for the guilt we want to escape, are all equally illusory. From this premise, forgiveness follows.

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