Weekly Questions and Answers, 02/26/2003

This week's questions:

Q #89: What and where is the real Self?
Q #90: What is meant by "I need do nothing"?
Q #91a&b: What is the significance of people like Jonathan Edwards
Q #92: Is it useful to keep doing all the workbook lessons?
Q #93: About applying Jesus' concepts to our perceptions
Q #94: How can I speed up learning forgiveness?

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Q #89: The course says we are not our body. The Christ Self is in us and we are not in a body. The real Self the Christ is in Holiness. Where are we then? Everything is inside but not inside the body then where? Is it the place before I became a body? Where was I before I took a body form? Is that where the Christ and my real Self is? If individual consciousness does not exist there, how does one know the place when he is there? Or is (not knowing) real knowledge.

A: We are at a distinct disadvantage in trying to answer these questions, which are everyone’s questions. The reason is that we have no way of conceptualizing or understanding what does not have physical (quantifiable) dimensions. And that is precisely what the Christ Self is -- beyond time and space entirely. Therefore "where" does not apply -- "where" always has spatial connotations, as do the terms inside and outside. We have no concepts nor a language that can encompass non-physical reality. And to take this one step further, we are trying to understand a realm of reality which we have chosen to banish from our awareness, and/or have changed its true meaning entirely. Moreover, the body (i.e., the brain) was specifically made not to understand (T.18.IX.4,5). So we are really severely "disabled" when we start grappling with these issues, and yet they are vitally important to us.

Indeed, we can say that the Christ Self is nowhere, which is "where" we were before we took bodily form, and we will have no trouble recognizing it when we return because it is not a place, and besides, we never left. Okay, now that you are even more confused, let’s see if we can unravel this a bit:

We are told that "to be without a body is to be in our natural state" (W.pI.72.9:3), but that "what you have done to hurt your mind has made it so unnatural that it does not remember what is natural to it. And when you are told what is natural, you cannot understand it" (T.16.II.3:1,2). This is our predicament. We have hurt our minds by denying we have a mind and thinking instead that we are bodies. We continue to do this -- although we are not aware that we are making these choices -- so that we can keep the separation going. Thus we think physical existence is real, and our true Self is an unknown and distant reality. When we no longer have a need to deny our true Identity as spirit, as Christ, we will simply be what we always have been. We never truly "became" a body. We remain decision-making minds simply fantasizing or hallucinating that we are something other than our Christ Self. As a result, there would not be a problem recognizing "where" we are when we no longer are "in" a body, because we are never "in" a body at all. The mind just chooses to think it is a body. Our body is just an idea in the mind, and since "ideas leave not their source," it has no reality outside the mind that thinks it. That is why Jesus concentrates so much on the need to look within our minds with him -- so that we would become aware of this thought system, which we have chosen to govern all of our thinking and perception.

The following quote nicely expresses some of these points: "The journey to God is merely the reawakening of the knowledge of where you are always, and what you are forever. It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed. Truth can only be experienced. It cannot be described and it cannot be explained. I can make you aware of the conditions of truth, but the experience is of God. Together we can meet its conditions, but truth will dawn upon you of itself" (T.8.VI.9:6,7,8,9,10,11).

The conditions Jesus is talking about of course pertain to forgiveness, which is why it is the central theme of his teachings. A major effect of practicing forgiveness is that our identification with the body automatically begins to weaken and is replaced by more frequent perceptions of our oneness with each other beyond the body. So as we continue to forgive ourselves and others, we gradually allow back into our awareness what we had been denying by believing we are individuals living in a physical world with separate and competing interests and goals. As we make our way back up the ladder separation led us down (T.28.III.1:2), our identity shifts slowly and the kinds of questions you raise begin to fade and ultimately disappear, because they have come from the perspective of bodily, individualized existence, and that perspective has now shifted.

Q #90: My questions refers to the section in the text entitled "I Need Do Nothing." It says that a lifetime of contemplation and long periods of meditation aimed at detachment from the body isn't necessary. I've studied the course for many years and have had moments of great peace doing the lessons or reading the text with an open mind and willingness to listen. I've also studied Buddhist meditation which is aimed not at detachment from the body but at being fully present. You can focus on the breath or on a feeling, and watch your thoughts. If you’re doing this with awareness, the thoughts pass and you may get a feeling of spaciousness or at least peace -- calm from becoming still. I'm confused because many paragraphs in A Course in Miracles ask us to "be still," "sit silently," sit in silence and be still, and lay all thoughts aside. Is this not at least in part the same thing? Could you explain exactly how the Course wants you to be still? And is there any difference between the two?

A: The stillness or peace is the same -- that experience when we let go of all our thoughts of separation and judgment and the constant chatter of the ego subsides. Where the difference between paths lies is not in the experience itself but in the Course’s focus on our resistance to that experience, and therefore the process through which that peace or stillness is attained.

The question really is, why do we not experience stillness all of the time? In the workbook lesson, "I want the peace of God," Jesus observes, "To say these words is nothing. But to mean these words is everything" (W.pI.185.1:1,2). And he goes on to say, "To mean you want the peace of God is to renounce all dreams....The mind which means that all it wants is peace must join with other minds, for that is how peace is obtained" (W.pI.185.5:1;6:1).

And that is the reason for our resistance to the stillness. In that peace, the illusory dream self we believe we really are no longer exists -- we have renounced the dream of separation. Our dreams of judgment and attack are what maintain our illusory sense of a separate self, with others outside of that self with whom we seem to be in conflict -- the antithesis of peace. And when we "join with other minds" by releasing all judgments, our separate self simply vanishes, at least for an instant until our fear of the limitless becomes too great.

And so the Course, while speaking of the peace and inviting us in some of the workbook lessons to experience it through quieting our minds and becoming still, really emphasizes the problem of our resistance and asks us to look at that. And the resistance is to be found in all of our projections of guilt and blame for our lack of peace onto others, so that we never see the guilt we are harboring within our own mind that is the real obstacle to peace. As the section you refer to, "I Need Do Nothing" points out, "Your way will be different, not in purpose but in means. A holy relationship is a means of saving time" (T.18.VII.5:1,2). In other words, the Course process is one of forgiving our special relationships, all the external projections of our internal guilt that keep us in conflict and not at peace.

If we really wanted to be still and at peace, we would be. Peace, after all, is our natural inheritance (T.3.VI.10:1,2). But we allow ourselves only brief glimpses of the real peace, as you observe from your own experiences. We don’t want to maintain that stillness because of our fear of it. And so the Course leads us on an indirect path to the stillness, focusing on the removal of the barriers we have placed between ourselves and the peace, rather than on a direct approach, such as meditation, which tends to overlook our resistance and its origins.

Q #91-a: I have been watching a TV show called "Crossing Over" by John Edward. This fellow appears sincere and loving and able to communicate with the "dead." How does this reconcile with the Course, or in other words how does the Course look at this. Just another illusion?

Q #91-b: Jesus talks about all Life as being part of God, and I can get a sense of that in humans, but what about dogs and cats for instance? They seem to have a soul and if you listen to people like Jonathan Edward he says that the people he contacts have old pets with them. Dogs and cats seem to be part of the Son of God. What about "lower" animals like a rat? I know that this is probably silly, but I'm curious about your thoughts.                                                                        

A: These questions deal with both metaphysical and worldly (dream) levels. From a metaphysical standpoint, Jesus makes the Course’s view of communication with the dead perfectly clear in the Laws of Chaos section: "There is no life outside of Heaven. Where God created life, there life must be. In any state apart from Heaven life is illusion....Life not in Heaven is impossible, and what is not in Heaven is not anywhere" (T.23.II.19:1,2,3,6). So there is only the illusion of life in this world.

Yet we who experience "life" in this world grapple daily with the "hierarchy of illusions" (T.23.II.2:3); life, death, animate, inanimate, human, animal, etc. There are people who communicate with the "dead," with the "living" (from great distances), foresee the future, see the distant past, etc. These experiences, as well as innumerable others, are possible on this worldly level, or level of the dream, because they reflect the workings of the mind. And since we know the mind is one, then it should not be surprising that people can "connect" with each other. Just because we believe that we are separate and independent from everything else in this world does not mean that it is true. And having "forgotten" our origin, communicating in a way like Jonathan Edward does seems incredible to us. This type of communication however, reflects the property of the mind being one, and is our natural form of communication. So as you can see, there is no difference in communication between "live" bodies, "dead" bodies, or "live and dead" bodies. There are no bodies; only mind.

And questions about "higher" and "lower" are not silly, since we all want to know how the hierarchy of our world fits into the hierarchy of God’s world. And that word, "hierarchy," should give us a clue as to the answer. The Course teaches that all forms of life here are the same; i.e., all are our projections of the ego thought of separation from God, and it also teaches that God’s world has no hierarchy, no levels, no differences. God, and His One Son, Christ, are totally unified, which is a concept we are unable to understand with a brain that has been made to only understand duality. But we can at least intellectually understand that the thought of separation in the mind is one of content, not form. And so the form that this thought of separation takes, -- animate or inanimate, protozoan or mammal -- is irrelevant.

And finally, remembering that this world is a "dream," you undoubtedly know from your own experience that anything can happen in a dream. "Does not a world that seems quite real arise in dreams? Yet think what this world is. It is clearly not the world you saw before you slept....Dreams...are the best example you could have of how perception can be utilized to substitute illusions for truth. You do not take them seriously on awaking because the fact that reality is so outrageously violated in them becomes apparent. Yet they are a way of looking at the world, and changing it to suit the ego better" (T.18.II.1:1,2,3.2:1,2,3,4).

Q #92: I have studied the Course for over 10 years and have done the workbook 2 1/2 times. I realized I did them very much as a ritual the first time. The second time was probably the best, and though I would sometimes fall into a routine/ritual, the awareness of what Jesus was saying really hit home. The third time was many years later. I only made it 1/2 way through before I gave up. The reason I really wanted to try the lessons again is because the text is more theoretical and over the years what I’ve learned from the practical application of the lessons seems to have lost some of its impact. This is probably normal. What I want to do is apply the Course to my everyday experiences and the workbook did this so well. I have been reading the Rules for Decision and trying to start my day this way, then remember my purpose for the day when I’ve lost my peace. This has been wonderful. My question is should the lessons be attempted again or should they just be read and applied as seen fit? What have people said about doing the lessons again?

A: We addressed part of your question in #64 (1/22/03) -- whether the lessons should be done again. What you are experiencing is quite normal, as you have concluded. And since your practice of the Rules for Decision material is working for you so well, it makes sense to just stay with that. You just want to be sure that you are not caught in the ego trap of thinking you must apply the Course perfectly, 24 hours a day, or else you are not a good and faithful student. If there is any pressure or any sense of judgment at all, you can be sure that it is not coming from Jesus, and that you have attempted to direct your own process.

We all are resistant, or we would not need the Course at all. Looking more closely at your resistance might help put you in touch with the fear that must be present in your mind. Part of us recognizes the implications of our actually learning and fully implementing what the Course is teaching. Part of us knows that we have been wrong about absolutely everything and that absolutely everything about us would change, and that is very, very frightening. Part of us wants to go on, another part is terrified to continue.

Once you recognize the connection between your fear and your forgetting to apply the Course, the next step is to forgive yourself. Fear is not a sin. As you know from our answer to #64, the lessons are best practiced by doing them "poorly" and then forgiving yourself, as opposed to ritualizing them and focusing on the form rather than the content. The fact that you sincerely want to apply the Course to your everyday experiences is the content, and that is sufficient. The form this takes is not the point. You can then be grateful for having made the choice to undo your belief in the ego thought system, trusting that as your fear lessens, you will experience further shifts in your thinking and in your relationships. Just don’t try to evaluate your progress or try too hard to get results as you would define them. Trust the process.

Q #93: For several years of study I've tried to follow your thoughts about "looking within with Jesus" or "looking through his eyes." I was never really able to visualize this occurring. Recently, I've come to accept that "looking with Jesus" means the application of his teachings in A Course in Miracles to my ego perceptions. In other words, believing the teachings also means believing and accepting the teacher. This has provided me with a better understanding of what it means to have Jesus with me. Is this a good way to visualize my relationship with Jesus or should it be something more personal?

A: The process you describe of applying the teachings of the Course to your ego perceptions is indeed a very appropriate practice of looking with Jesus. Since Jesus is a symbol of the content of the Course, he is present in our minds when its teachings are brought to awareness. This is especially true when we are willing to apply these teachings to our ego perceptions, and question their validity in the light of Jesus’ message. Because we identify with our perceptions, this is also a way of relating to Jesus in a very personal way. You have invited him to be with you in the form of the teachings of the Course, which can be symbolized as a lamp shedding new light on our darkened minds: "I give you the lamp and I will go with you. You will not take this journey alone. I will lead you to your true Father, Who hath need of you, as I have" (T.11.in.4:5,6,7).

Q #94: The Course alludes to reincarnation. Can you develop this in more detail? I am 67 years old and running out of time to learn forgiveness. I would certainly like to learn it in this lifetime because I'll be darned if I want to go through this world again if I don't have to. I wish we had the option to go poof from this world into the arms of God. I say I want the peace of God but obviously I don't because I don't have the peace of God. So I sometimes wish the option existed for people like me who profess a willingness to change to push a button and just make it happen. Then I could push it and learn forgiveness in spite of my "good intentions". Sometimes I think my whole problem is that instead of being grateful to God for my creation I resented being created because God was more than I. I know that sounds ridiculous but I have to learn otherwise.

A: So many jerks to forgive, so little time! But that’s just your ego speaking -- things don’t really work as you’re supposing. And worrying that you won’t learn forgiveness in this lifetime only keeps you trapped that much longer in the illusion of it all. Since forgiveness happens in the mind outside of time and space, it does not depend on time or space for your progress (e.g., T.15.I.9; T.26.VIII.6:1,2,3,4,5). It depends only on your willingness (in the mind) to practice the lessons of forgiveness as your external world seems to present them to you now, one by one. But to do that, you must understand what forgiveness is and what the purpose of the world is.

Resistance to the world only reinforces your belief that the world is real and that it is the source of all the problems that are upsetting you. The Course’s goal is not to teach us how to escape the world but rather how to escape the thought system buried in the mind that convinces us that we want and need the world and all its victimizers to be real. The world provides us an excuse to keep our focus outside our mind, blaming others for our loss of peace rather than looking at the guilt in our own mind which is the real cause. The world is quite literally the projection of the guilt hidden in our mind (T.20.VIII.9), so seeking to escape the world only plays into the ego’s plan to have us look in the wrong place for the problem and its solution (T.27.IV).

And so, since you are not really here in the world even now, it would be more helpful to focus on the choice in your mind right now for the ego than to concern yourself about possible future (or past) lives, for that only serves the ego purpose of avoiding the present moment, the only time in which forgiveness can happen (M.24.5:6). But if you’d like a further discussion of reincarnation as presented in the Course, you may wish to look at Question #24.

Sincere as it may seem, wanting a button to push that would impose forgiveness on your mind is really just a way of trying to avoid responsibility for your present condition, of not looking at the choice you are making right now to be upset and in pain. In truth, forgiveness is the button you could push or select right now, but you don’t really want to, and that’s what you want to get more in touch with -- and why. Your thought about resenting God for being more than you -- what the Course calls the authority problem (T.11.in.2:3) -- is the kind of awareness that it would be helpful to develop further, for it is playing out in your life right now in your relationships here, a shadow of the real guilt which is hidden in the recesses of your mind.

As an antidote to your impatience with yourself, Jesus’ words on forgiveness provide a gentle reminder: "Forgiveness...is still, and quietly does nothing...It merely looks, and waits, and judges not" (W.pII.1.4:1,3).