Weekly Questions and Answers about A Course in Miracles: 04/05/2006

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This week's questions/topics:
Q #911 What is the meaning of "words are but symbols of symbols"?
Q #912 Can a "Holy Instant" be experienced when contemplating past events?
Q #913 Is it normal to discover dark and vicious thoughts in oneself when studying the course?
Q #914 What is the meaning of the terms "longitudinal and horizontal plane"?

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Q #911: In the Manual for teachers, in the section, What Is the Role of Words in Healing, the Course says "...words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from reality. (M.21.1,9,10)" Could you please explain what this means?

A: In A Course in Miracles, Jesus makes the case that everything we experience in our entire life (waking and sleeping) is a dream. Like a psychotherapist telling a patient that everything in his nighttime dream is a symbol, Jesus tells us that everything in this world of form is a symbol. If we perceive or experience something, it is because we put it there (not as the individual we think we are, but rather as the one mind of God's Son that dreamed it could separate and exist in a world outside of Heaven).

Now, obviously every word represents something within this world (be it a physical object, an emotion, or an idea). Thus, every word symbolizes a thing that is itself a symbol. To elaborate on this a bit, the wrong mind (the voice of the ego) begins with a concept of separation. From there, it projects a world of form filled with objects. So to the ego, everything in the physical world is a symbol of that initial concept of separation. Finally, listening to the wrong mind, we use words to symbolize those symbols of separation.

The same principle holds true for the right mind (the Voice of the Holy Spirit). Starting with our memory of God, it creates a concept of what God and love are. Then we use words to symbolize those concepts.    

Jesus says words are twice removed from reality because reality is beyond all symbols. Reality is the oneness of Heaven, the totality of God. It is our real home at one with God, Whom we never left. The Course tells us that "As nothingness cannot be pictured, so there is no symbol for totality. Reality is ultimately known without a form, unpictured and unseen. (T.27.III.5:1,2)" It states that forgiveness (our path to awakening to reality) causes " symbols to fade , and leaves nothing that "the eyes have ever seen or ears have heard …to be perceived. (T.27.III.7:1,2)" So, at the very end of the journey, we are left with no symbols to perceive and no need of further symbols to communicate our perceptions.

Q #912: A Course in Miracles teaches us to ask the Holy Spirit or Jesus to look with us at our misperceptions. My understanding is that by a "miracle" the Course means the shift from the ego's perception to the Holy Spirit's perception. Am I correct then that the moment of "shift" is what the Course refers to as the "holy instant" and that the "little willingness" is the willingness to ask for help to correct our perceptions? If this is correct, then does the process only "count" in the moment we have a particular perception and ask for correction, or would it also "count" if we were to review a past perception or something that occurred in the past?

A: First, yes, your understandings are essentially correct. The "miracle" is our shift from the ego's projection of sin, guilt, and fear, to the Holy Spirit's extension of forgiveness and love. The miracle is the happy result of our little willingness to be wrong about the world we see and to let go of our projections by asking the Holy Spirit or Jesus to look at them with us.

The "holy instant" is the moment outside of time and space in which the decision making part of our mind chooses the Holy Spirit's correction script of healing in the present, instead of the ego's script of a guilty past and a fearful future. The Course also uses the term "holy instant" to refer to the "real world," a state of mind in which we see exclusively through the Holy Spirit's forgiving eyes. In that state, we are always experiencing the holy instant. This is why the Course says, "You could live forever in the holy instant, beginning now and reaching to eternity… (T.15.IV.6:3)"

Within that statement is the answer to your second question. The holy instant is when your mind chooses the Voice of the Holy Spirit or Jesus rather than the ego's. It refers exclusively to the present choice of your mind and has nothing to do with the external events that may have inspired that choice -- be they five seconds ago, fifty years ago, or something you're anticipating will happen in the future.

Basically, we made one choice for the ego (which caused us to fall asleep and dream up this world) and so, in a sense, anytime we listen to the ego we are reviewing the past. From Jesus' perspective, the only purpose anything in our life (past, present, or future) can serve is to help us recognize the pain choosing the ego has caused us and thus motivate us to choose differently.

For further discussion about miracles and the holy instant, please see Questions #26, #288, #450, and #559.

Q #913: I've been a student of A Course in Miracles for about 12 years. I know Course students often find that as they ask for the Holy Spirit's help to look at the workings of the ego, things in there lives seem to get worse instead of better. What I am finding quite disturbing in my own process as a student, is the appearance, or perhaps the surfacing, of a great deal of anger. Sometimes in everyday situations, my thoughts become downright vicious and murderous. I would say that I have a pleasant personality, and am overall a likeable, friendly individual. My thought is that perhaps lots of repressed anger is surfacing as I am looking within more and more with the Holy Spirit's help. I know I should ask the Holy Spirit to look at this issue with me too. But I'm almost scared to delve into what else might be lying below the surface of my otherwise soft-spoken, quiet personality. Is this a "normal" sort of development for a long-term Course student?

A: Yes, what you are describing is a very normal experience for Course students. As you know, the Course process is one of asking the Holy Spirit to look with us at the workings of the ego. In so doing, we are bringing to light that which we've always struggled very hard (albeit unconsciously) to keep in darkness. Often, as we become increasingly willing to take the Holy Spirit's hand and bring to awareness that which we'd buried, we see more and more of how hateful and vicious the ego really is.

When the ego senses its game is up (realizing we've found a voice besides its own to listen to), it typically becomes louder and more dramatic. As the Course says, "The ego will attack your motives as soon as they become clearly out of accord with its perception of you. This is when it will shift abruptly from suspiciousness to viciousness, since its uncertainty is increased" (T.9.VII.4:6,7).

As we become more adept at shifting our inner teacher, fear often compels us to make a sharp turn back toward the ego's familiar voice. But the Course reassures us that this tendency has no effect on our ultimate ability to complete the journey we've begun: "As the light comes nearer you will rush to darkness, shrinking from the truth, sometimes retreating to the lesser forms of fear, and sometimes to stark terror. But you will advance, because your goal is the advance from fear to truth" (T.18.III.2:1,2).

Whatever games the ego plays, the important thing is to just continue looking at it while holding the Holy Spirit's hand. Of course, on the level of this world, it's generally preferable (and more helpful to you and those around you) not to act out the ego's insane attack thoughts. But you don't want to pretend they're not there. Doing so doesn't make them go away, it just sends them back into the darkness of the unconscious. And a basic psychological principle is that which is repressed gets projected. So, to truly become less hateful and vicious, we have to admit that we are those things and gradually learn not to take the ego's voice seriously. Again, that means watching the ego without judgment, no matter how intense or embarrassing its internal nastiness becomes.

Remember that the ego -- everyone's ego -- is 100 percent hate. A more socially acceptable personality does not equate to having an ego that is better or more acceptable than another. Jesus tells us "The degree of the emotion you experience does not matter. …a slight twinge of annoyance is nothing but a veil drawn over intense fury" (W.pI.21.2:4,5) . At first, that statement can sound grotesque and deeply disturbing. But ultimately, it is quite reassuring. From Jesus' perspective, we are all the same.

Each of us can choose to listen to the 100 percent hateful voice of the ego, or to the 100 percent loving Voice of the Holy Spirit. Each of us, regardless of the personality traits we display in this lifetime, is both a Hitler and a Jesus. At those times when our thoughts or behavior are more Hitler-like, we have merely become afraid, dropped the Holy Spirit's hand, and once again made the error of listening to the wrong voice. This is a mistake calling for correction not punishment. And happily, our ego's cruel and insane ranting has no effect on reality.

For related discussions about anger and attack, see Questions #63 and #587.

Q #914: A Course in Miracles mentions a longitudinal and a horizontal plane. Would you please explain these terms?

A: The passage in A Course in Miracles to which you are referring states, "The miracle minimizes the need for time. In the longitudinal or horizontal plane the recognition of the equality of the members of the Sonship appears to involve almost endless time. However, the miracle entails a sudden shift from horizontal to vertical perception" (T.1.II.6:1,2,3).

That passage comes just after Jesus has told us "'No man cometh unto the Father but by me' does not mean that I am in any way separate or different from you except in time, and time does not really exist. The statement is more meaningful in terms of a vertical rather than a horizontal axis" (T.1.II.4:1,2).

Jesus uses the terms longitudinal and horizontal to refer to our experience of linear time within a world of form. He chooses these words because they imply something that spans a distance and follows a path from one point to another.

We believe that we were born into a world of form that existed before we did and that will continue to exist after we die. It's a world in which events seem to follow one another and in which the past led to the present, which in turn will determine our future. Further, we seem to live as bodies, separate from each other with distance between us. So the "horizontal or vertical plane" is our seeming everyday reality -- a linear, sequential, physical experience, characterized by differences and separation.

But the Course tells us that "Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion …" (W.158.4:1) and that "…space is as meaningless as time" (T.1.VI.3:5). Jesus helps us remember that we can listen to an internal teacher -- the Holy Spirit -- who comes from outside of this spatial, temporal dream world we think we are in. The moment we turn away from the ego and turn toward the Holy Spirit as our guide (the miracle), our mind becomes a reflection of the oneness and timelessness of Heaven. That instant is what Jesus means by "the sudden shift from horizontal to vertical perception."

The word "vertical" means to rise upright. So the "vertical plane" symbolizes our rising above the world we think we are in (or, as Jesus says, "above the battleground"). This entails returning to the non-linear mind.

The idea that Jesus is no different from us except in time is hardly reassuring from our perspective in which the gulf between our consciousness and his seems insurmountable. To us it seems like we would need millions of years of learning to go from where we are to where he is. But in fact, all we need is an internal shift from the ego, which tells us to move backward or forward (but either way keeps us firmly planted in this world) to the Holy Spirit, Who will gently help us reach the light that lies beyond this illusory world.

A final note; any term Jesus uses in the Course to describe where we are, or the process of returning to our true home in Heaven, is only a symbol. In truth there is no horizontal or vertical plane, just as there is no world. But since virtually every symbol we have placed in this dream world serves to keep us asleep, Jesus uses symbols we can relate to that will help us to awaken.

For an in depth discussion of the concept of time from the Course's perspective, see the book A Vast Illusion: Time According to A Course in Miracles by Kenneth Wapnick .

For related discussions about the mind, time, and space, please see Questions #228 and #666.