Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 12/14/2005

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #850 Why didn't Helen accept the Atonement for herself?
Q #851 Why is the Couse increasing my anxiety attacks?
Q #852 If Jesus relinquished his ego, why didn't we all?

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Q #850: What does the successful completion of A Course in Miracles look like? I was disappointed to read that Helen did not make it. When I was reading Absence from Felicity , I was horrified to read about the nature of Helen's death; it seemed gruesome. How could this be? One year ago I read about the illusion of sickness and what it means. I was a chronically sick person, but once I believed that sickness was an illusion like the Matrix, I never was never sick again. This made quite an impression on me. How could Helen have died that way when I could remove sickness with a minor revelation?

A: It appears that you are confusing form and content by concluding that Helen “did not make it” because of the nature of her death. Most people would look to that as a kind of criterion of her spiritual advancement; but it would be a mistake to do so. Kenneth also stated in his account of her death that there was a totally peaceful look on her face. Jesus had told her that he would come for her when she died, and her peaceful countenance seemed to confirm that.

When we use the nature of a person's death as a criterion, we would have to ask ourselves, Well, what about Jesus? His death was rather gruesome if you judge entirely by what appeared to happen to his body. Yet he tells us in the Course that he did not experience it as a gruesome event at all (T.6.I.5) . That was the lesson he was passing on to us and asking us to demonstrate as well: “Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you” (T.11.VI.7:3,4) . The condition of one's body (the form) is not necessarily an indicator of the content of one's mind -- of whether or not Jesus lives in us. In this sense, there is no way of saying what the successful completion of the Course would look like, perhaps other than to say that an inner state of undisturbed peace would somehow radiate through a person who would appear to be “normal” in every other respect. This could be a person paralyzed from a spinal cord injury, the plumber who just fixed a broken pipe in your kitchen, or the surgeon who just transplanted a liver. The beginning of Lesson 155 says of such a person that he or she would “smile more frequently” (W.pI.155.1:2) . That is all that would stand out, so to speak.

There is no way we can know the whole of another person's Atonement path, anymore than we can know our own, and therefore we should not judge where we think a person is, spiritually. As we move along in our journey back to God and our true Self, Jesus encourages us to approach everything in our lives as classrooms in which we can gradually and gently learn that everything outside Heaven, including our individual selves, is an illusion. Thus, when we are sick or even dying, Jesus can guide us through that experience to help us learn that the peace in our minds cannot be affected by anything of the body. What a valuable lesson! He starts with wherever we are at, whatever the condition of our bodies, and he just invites us to ask him in as our teacher. That is the way most of us learn.

As your experience testifies, though, we can also learn in one instant that our bodies are completely under the control of our minds, and then there would no longer be any symptoms, unless the mind chose to use the body that way. That is not necessarily an indicator of spiritual advancement, though. We do have very powerful minds, and our bodies do only what our minds tell them to do; but the completion of our Atonement path involves much more than that.

Question #262 discusses the suffering and death of enlightened beings, along with other pertinent issues about death.

Q #851: It seems that what I experience as “anxiety attacks” have gotten much worse since I started working with A Course in Miracles again (after a 10-year hiatus). These attacks are so intensely frightening and so difficult to describe in words; they are utterly paralyzing. It's as if I am totally engulfed by the blackest of clouds; or standing in a sea of black morass pulling me down into an abyss of despair. The Course feels like insanity itself; it feels as if I am going crazy. My brain seems to quit working. Cries to the Holy Spirit for help seem to be unheard; then I get angry at Him and am convinced that this is all one big hoax -- an exercise in supreme denial of what's happening in this world, and to me. The confusion is so total and I can't seem to regain my bearings. These episodes can last anywhere from hours to days (sometimes weeks, months, even years); medical intervention (antidepressants, therapy) has never helped me for long. I have never gotten to the bottom of this no matter how often I ask to show it to me; that I am willing to look at it. Nothing. Just continuously more of it. And doing the lessons feels like a joke. Is it really possible that the ego is fighting for its survival in this manner? I keep assuring it that it's not going to be killed, just its role will be reversed (“be the ego's master, not its servant”). Makes no difference.

A: Anxiety, intensely uncomfortable as it may be, is simply one of the ego's many defenses to preserve itself. It's really no different in purpose from anger, depression, boredom, guilt, or any of the other myriad of emotions we experience in our lives as bodies ( e.g., W.pI.5.1:3,4) . A few things to consider. Although your experience is that you have the willingness to get to the bottom of the anxiety but that your pleas to be shown are to no avail, there is really no one other than yourself who can bring the buried thoughts into your awareness -- not Jesus, not the Holy Spirit, not anyone. The role of Jesus or the Holy Spirit is to look with you at what you allow into your awareness, but they play no active role in uncovering the contents of the unconscious.

Your part in this process, as well as the Holy Spirit's, is clearly described in the following passage: “The Holy Spirit asks of you but this; bring to Him every secret you have locked away from Him . Open every door to Him, and bid Him enter the darkness and lighten it away. At your request He enters gladly. He brings the light to darkness if you make the darkness open to Him. But what you hide He cannot look upon. He sees for you, and unless you look with Him He cannot see. The vision of Christ is not for Him alone, but for Him with you. Bring, therefore, all your dark and secret thoughts to Him , and look upon them with Him. He holds the light, and you the darkness. They cannot coexist when both of You together look on them. His judgment must prevail, and He will give it to you as you join your perception to His” (T.14.VII.6 ; italics added). You must uncover the dark and secret thoughts yourself and bring them to His Light, where you can then look upon them together and see them vanish.

So it may be helpful to acknowledge that you are the one who is responsible for bringing the darkness to the light, and that experiencing anxiety attacks is more preferable to you right now than getting in touch with what you believe lies beneath the anxiety. There is nothing wrong with this and it would simply be an honest acknowledgment that the power of decision, as always, is yours and no one else's (T.8.IV.5:7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 ; T.14.III.4:3) .

Another thing to consider is that the Course is leading to much more than a role reversal for the ego, and whether you are consciously aware of this or not, at some level your ego is. If you continue to follow the path that the Course is leading you along, at the very end of that journey the ego will not simply become more amenable to your control, but it will literally disappear, and with it the self that you currently believe you are. Now this does not happen until the completion of the forgiveness process, but the ego, with which you are identified, believes it is literally fighting for its life, although, as you say, it is not that the ego will be killed or annihilated. You will simply come to recognize its nothingness (C.2.2:1,2) . But while you remain identified with the ego, you too must experience great anxiety or fear at what the are the implications of the Course's message.

Finally, you want to be sure that you're not pushing yourself to study the Course if you are simply not ready for it yet. Near the end of the text, Jesus cautions, “And if you find resistance strong and dedication weak, you are not ready. Do not fight yourself “ (T.30.I.1:6,7) . The Course should be a gentle process, but our resistance can make it seem frightening, even painful. So first of all, be gentle with yourself.

A couple of previous Questions, #155 and #355, addressed the issue of panic attacks, which have some observations that could be helpful. In addition, Question #144 offers some thoughts on anxiety from the Course's perspective.

Q #852: Referring to “Redemption must be one” (W.pII.295.1:4), I ask how Jesus or any “individual” can be outside the dream while the rest of us are inside the dream. It seems that Jesus' success in relinquishing his “ego” would have been accomplished for all of us. Yet here in the dream we remain.

A: Yes, “here in the dream we remain,” as long as we choose to stay asleep. Meanwhile, the truth is we are all awake with Jesus, who represents the part of the mind that is “outside the dream.” The difference for him is that he identifies only with this part of the mind, while those who sleep choose to identify with the ego. Moreover, there is no “individual” who is awake, because awakening means acceptance of the oneness of God's Son. It is a choice for the truth of oneness rather than for the separation of the ego. Neither is anyone actually “inside the dream.” For example, although you may dream of roaming the hills of Tuscany during a nocturnal dream, you know as you awake that you were not in Tuscany at all. The problem is not that we dream, but that we identify with the figure in the dream and all the events of the dream. This is a purposeful choice, the goal of which is to be separate and special, reflecting the mind's decision to say no to the Identity God gave His Son.

In reality there is no distinction between Jesus and “the rest of us.” Oneness is oneness and there we all remain. What keeps this from awareness is the decision to believe that separation offers “…something more than everything, as if a part of it were separated off and found where all the rest of it is not” (T.29.VII.2:3). The “something” is specialness. That is what is chosen, cherished, and preferred to redemption, and what distinguishes us from Jesus. He did not actually relinquish the ego. He is the name given to the part of the mind of the Sonship that never bought into the idea of the separation in the first place : “The man [Jesus] was an illusion, for he seemed to be a separate being, walking by himself, within a body that appeared to hold his self from Self, as all illusions do... he saw the false without accepting it as true” (C.5.2:3,5). When the “tiny, mad idea” (T.27.VIII.6:2) seemed to occur, part of the mind knew all along that it was impossible. This part of the mind was not obliterated by the sleep of separation. That is why Jesus tells us: “When I said ‘I am with you always,' I meant it literally. I am not absent to anyone in any situation” (T.7.III.1:7,8). Thus, returning to the example of the nocturnal dream in Tuscany, you carry into the dream a sense (memory) of who you are. You do not dream that you are Napoleon roaming the hills, nor do you leave your bed for the trip. Nothing actually happens, although during the dream it seems very real: “ You recognize from your own experience that what you see in dreams you think is real while you are asleep. Yet the instant you waken you realize that everything that seemed to happen in the dream did not happen at all. You do not think this strange, even though all the laws of what you awaken to were violated while you slept” (T.10.I.2:3,4,5) . Our analogy ends with the significant distinction that the dream of separation is the result of a choice in the mind, and the projection of guilt for that choice. To defend its choice for separation, the mind denies its power by making a body where external agents seem to be the cause of everything that happens from birth to death. The dream's script, therefore, begins with the cry: “I don't know how I got here, and it is not my fault that I'm here!” Jesus' message from outside the dream is to tell us, first of all, that we are not really here, and secondly that it is our choice to believe that we are. It is resistance to hearing and accepting his message that leads to diversionary considerations, such as the “unfairness” of Jesus' envious position as the first to make it out of the dream, leaving us behind. Most likely he is aware of our “mild irritation” with him for this, and so he tells us: “There is nothing about me that you cannot attain. I have nothing that does not come from God. The difference between us now is that I have nothing else” (T.1.II.3:10,11,12) . Our goal, therefore, is to join with Jesus in our oneness by undoing our belief that we have what does not come from God, i.e., separation/ specialness. His loving message in A Course in Miracles that the mind that chose separation can choose differently is all the help we need to reach beyond the dream to the truth of our awakening. Jesus quiets every fear that we are have been left out of his redemption: “My mind will always be like yours, because we were created as equals. It was only my decision that gave me all power in Heaven and earth. My only gift to you is to help you make the same decision” (T.5.II.9:1,2,3).