Weekly Questions and Answers, 09/17/2003

This week's questions/topics:

Q #258: Is forgiveness a process, or a one-time action?.
Q #259: Why does the Course appear to predict the progress of my learning?
Q #260: Does the body really die and does the soul live on?
Q #261: Can I use a central loving figure other than Jesus ?
Q #262: Please explain "Swear not to die, you holy Son of God" ?

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #258: I have been trying to forgive a major person in my life for some time now, both prior to starting A Course in Miracles and, with more focus, since beginning it. As a result, there have been times when I seem to have let go of much of my grievance, but then something triggers the hurt, and it all comes raging back again. Sometimes it feels like I'm just lopping off the top of this poisonous weed of grievance, rather than pulling it out by the roots. What advice would you have in such a situation? Should I see forgiveness as a process, or is it an either/or, once and for all decision? And if the latter, how do I finally make it?

A: Your metaphor for how you are pulling weeds is an apt one. You’re not yet getting to the root of the problem so long as you keep your focus on the other person, for that is playing into what Jesus refers to in the Song of Prayer pamphlet as “forgiveness-to-destroy” (S.2.II). The ego’s version of forgiveness is to make sin real in someone else and then attempt to “forgive” it. As you’re finding, this just does not work. But that of course is always the ego’s goal -- “Seek, but do not find” (T.16.V.6:5).

The Course, in contrast, is attempting to lead you towards an experience of true forgiveness in which you recognize that “what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred” (W.pII.1:1). In the metaphysical sense, this is true at the level of the actual behavior you are hold­ing against this other person, since we are the dreamer of our dream and we assign the roles to the figures in our dream. But the more practical level to understand Jesus’ meaning is to recognize that it is your interpretation of what this other person has done that is the cause of your anger and your grievance, and not what the person actually has done (M.17.4). You are blaming this person at some level for robbing you of your peace, love, joy, security, etc. But no one can deprive us of any of these experiences unless we have first chosen to give them away (T4.IV.3:3). So the good news is that we don’t have to change what the other person has done, which, of course, we can’t do anyway. We only need help with changing our interpretation of what has happened. How do we do that?

What most of us are not in touch with is that we carry within our minds a huge burden of unacknowledged guilt that unconsciously controls our interpretations of all our interactions by dictating that we seek and find guilt in everyone but ourselves (T.19.IV.B.i.12). The source of our guilt is the mistaken belief, which we cling to, that we have established a separate individual existence apart from God, at His expense. And the cost to Him has been His total annihilation. Guilt at such a horrendous offense is unimaginable, and so our defense is to project it outside of our minds. Our anger at someone else then is always our attempt to justify seeing the guilt of separation outside of us, thus obscuring the projection we are making (T.6.in.1:2).

All of us are trying to do exactly the same thing. We are all walking around with intense guilt, covered over with a seething rage that is our attempt to deny the guilt within and see it outside. We may try to put a nice, socially appropriate face of innocence on all of this (T.31.V.2), but the anger, and the guilt fueling it, are always bubbling just below the surface. And there they will remain, affecting all our interactions, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly, until we are willing to do the challenging and difficult work of looking within, past the anger to the guilt buried beneath it. So forgiveness then really has nothing to do with the other person, which explains in part our resistance to practicing it. For, rather than justifying our anger, if we really want to heal, Jesus is asking us to recognize that our grievances are nothing more than a cover for our guilt. Anger then becomes a signal that there is a dark place within our mind. And Jesus helps us see that our guilt, like our anger, is not what it appears to be. It only seems real and heavy and serious while it remains shrouded in darkness. Its unreality becomes apparent when we allow the light of true forgiveness to shine upon it. This is the release we seek and yet, while we remain identified still with our ego, it is also a cause for fear.

We resist looking within, preferring to hold on to our anger and to continue to project our guilt, because these are the layers of defense that we unconsciously see as protecting our individual self (T.21.IV.1,2,3). And so beneath the anger and the guilt is fear -- fear that if we forgive we will disappear, that God will seize back the life we stole from Him. For all these reasons, forgiveness will be a process for us, as you suggest, and not simply a once-and-for-all decision -- until the very end of the process, when we are ready to let go completely of our ego identity.

The more we are willing to uncover our own guilt and allow it to be healed, the more we will come to recognize that those against whom we have been holding our grievances are only in need of the same release that we have been seeking. And their guilt is no more real than our own. With that recognition, we can experience real forgiveness, for the interpretation of what has happened between us is now the Holy Spirit’s and no longer our own.

For further discussions of the process of forgiveness, you may wish to look at Questions #44 and #69.

Q #259: This question has two parts. The first starts from an observation. As I have been advancing through the workbook, I have often found that the daily lesson corresponds uncannily with a need or preoccupation which has only just begun to make itself felt in my mind -- as though some subtle synchronicity were at work between the unfolding Course and my own changing inner state. (This has also happened on occasions when reading the text). Do you think this is a frequent experience among students of A Course in Miracles? Maybe my first question goes some way to answering my second, but I'll ask it anyway. In the workbook, Jesus frequently tells his student about how he or she is responding at that particular point. For example, in Lesson 123, he says, “Today let us be thankful.…There is no thought of turning back, and no implacable resistance to the truth. A bit of wavering remains, some small objections and a little hesitance…” (W.pI.123.1:1,3,4). But how can Jesus make such general pronouncements when referring to thousands of individuals, each with their own way of responding to and progressing with the Course?

A: With regard to the first question: Occasionally, we have had students relate experiences similar to the kind you described, but we have no way of knowing how common this type of experience is. Many students have said that when they were reading certain parts of the Course, they felt that Jesus was speaking very personally to them.

Second, as we know, most of what is written in the Course was given specifically to Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford for their personal spiritual process, and so the wording reflects that context. Jesus was helping Helen, in particular, with undoing what was left of her ego; so he would include comments, observations, gentle rebukes, emphatic directives, etc., that pertained to her personal process. At the same time, though, the Course can easily be understood as reflecting the more general pattern of spiritual advancement that applies to everyone. An excellent example of this are the six stages in the development of trust described in the manual for teachers (M.4.I.A). This discussion of the development of trust is meant to give us a general sense of what occurs during the process of undoing our ego.

It is not surprising that you would experience the kind of synchronicity that you describe. Recall that (a) time is not linear or real; (b) the content of the split mind never changes: the wrong mind is 100% ego -- innumerable ways of expressing the one content of separation and sin, guilt, and fear; the right mind is 100% Holy Spirit -- innumerable ways of accepting the Atonement through forgiveness; (c) having acceded to the ego’s strategy of making ourselves mindless, we are not aware of the full dimension of the content or dynamics in our minds. And we surely are not aware of the full content of each lesson Jesus gives us.

Thus, what we actually experience is almost always just a miniscule portion of what is going on in our minds, and is almost always in a defined form, rather than its original abstract nature -- the tip of the iceberg, to switch metaphors. To simplify, as Jesus does, there is “only one problem, one solution” (W.pI.80.3:5); and we are either calling out for love or extending love. Therefore, our readiness and openness to learn from Jesus reflects the call for love in our minds, and it has already been answered. We would experience this process as something new that is happening as we read words in the workbook, when all it is is our mind’s decision to stop blocking the truth that is always there. It is a perfect match, you might say, between our call for love and the answer to that call, experienced in the only way that would be intelligible to us at that moment. It is a process that happens in our minds outside time and space; but because we are still identified with a body that seems to exist in time and space, that is how we will experience it. Jesus did not know “ahead of time” how his students would respond and what they would be ready for at any given instant. To think that is to make time real. The process is experienced in time, because that is the only form in which we (the decision-making part of ours minds) can accept the truth about ourselves. We are still too invested in our identities as separate, special beings, and too frightened to get beyond them. That is quite normal, and as we continue to practice forgiveness, we will be drawn more and more to the love that inspired the words of the Course that are so meaningful to us.

Q #260: “The curious belief that there is a part of dying things that may go on apart from what will die, does not proclaim a loving God nor re-establish any grounds for trust. If death is real for anything, there is no life” (M.27.4:1,2; 1st edition, p. 63). Please explain the verse. Does the body “die” or is that only illusion?

A: Death is an illusion, but so is birth, aging, and losing vitality, as the beginning of this section states (M.27.1:2). If “there is no life outside of Heaven” (T.23.II.19:1), then the body neither lives nor dies. Jesus is really talking about the thought system of death with which we identify when we choose the ego as our teacher instead of him or the Holy Spirit. If we choose the ego, we will believe that the separation from God really happened, and that will lead us to believe that we are bodies that were born and will eventually die. The ego will try to soften the cruelty of its thought system of death by saying that even though we have to die, part of us (our souls) will survive the death of the body.

But Jesus is teaching us that there can be no compromise in this at all. “If death is real for anything, there is no life” (4:2). God did not and could not make death, any more than He could make fear. “Both are equally meaningless to Him” (4:9.10). This is a Level One statement. The ego’s god is responsible for fear and death. And so Jesus is teaching us that when we identify with the ego (Level Two), death will be a reality for us, and many people will believe that God is merciful because He takes our souls to Heaven after we die.

So the process of A Course in Miracles is to ask for help from Jesus or the Holy Spirit to begin to disidentify with that thought system, and to perceive death as just a thought in our minds that we have chosen to make real. “Ideas leave not their source,” as Jesus reminds us numerous times throughout his Course. We can gradually begin to get comfortable with the thought that nothing happens to us when the body “dies,” because we are decision-making minds outside time and space that have just chosen to believe that we are autonomous bodies, as a defense against the truth that we are the one Son of God, Who never truly left His home in Heaven.

Q #261: I am a Buddhist and feel more comfortable using Kwan Yin, rather than Jesus, as the "Christ"-like figure. Kwan Yin is a female Buddha of compassion and healing. Any sugges­tions for those of us who use a different "Christ" figure?

A: Any symbol that represents a presence of love outside of yourself is suitable. The only caution is to be mindful of specific resistance to having it be Jesus. Avoidance of him as the “Christ figure” may reflect unforgiveness, which another symbol will not evoke in you. However, don’t worry. If this is the case, you will have to forgive him before the process is completed, and so he will “show up” in one way or another. Other than this caveat, use whatever symbol makes you feel loved and protected.

Q #262: Could you please further explain “Swear not to die, you holy Son of God!” (T.29.VI.2:1). Someone told me that it means that we literally don't have to die. We do die, but we don't have to die by the conventional means; we can simply choose to de-materialize. Is this true? Also speaking about death of the body, why do many enlightened beings such as Jesus, Ghandi, Peace Pilgrim, to name a few who have only peace and love in their minds, choose to die violently? I thought what is in the mind will manifest in the world. Wouldn't their death be a peaceful passing? I guess you could argue that they physically didn't feel pain, but as far as an example to others viewing their life, why wouldn't the peace pervade unto their last breath to teach what is within is what happens without, and also to lessen the fear of death to their brothers who want to live as they did.

A: In our answer to Question #91, in which we commented on this passage, we stated that we have already pledged our loyalty to the ego thought system, in which death -- including ours -- is the central reality. We have already taken this oath to believe that God’s Son is not as He created him, invulnerable and eternally present within the Being of His Father. It is part of the bargain we made with the ego, so that our individual separate identities would be preserved. In this passage, therefore, Jesus is asking us to undo that bargain. He is not talking about the physical process of dying. He is talking about our decision to support what the ego says is reality, rather than what the Holy Spirit says is reality.

We refer you also to Question #135, in which we discuss the topic of death in the context of the all-important distinction of form and content, or purpose. We are always choosing at every instant to identify with either the ego’s or the Holy Spirit’s thought system. And so, in that sense, death is no different from any other thought in our minds. It can be directed by either of those thought systems. It is up to us as to how we shall die: as guided by the ego or by the Holy Spirit. The overriding emphasis in A Course in Miracles is on the mind’s decision-making capacity to choose a teacher. Jesus is interested always and only in whether our thinking is blocking his love or accepting it. The form of the body’s “death” is not relevant to our spiritual progress. The content in our minds is.

Focusing on purpose and form and content can also help to answer your question about the death of enlightened beings. Most of the time we do not know the reasons behind people’s choices, and we should be very cautious about judging solely on the basis of form, or what we see with our eyes. “Nothing so blinding as perception of form” (T.22.III.6:7), Jesus reminds us. What appears to us to be “violent,” therefore, may not be experienced by their minds that way. For example, when you experience yourself as having been victimized, you (as a decision-making mind) have interpreted an occurrence in the world; you (as a decision-making mind) have given a meaning to that occurrence or event. Jesus knew he was not his body, and so if nails were hammered through his feet, he would not have experienced himself as a victim of someone else’s cruelty. He no longer had an ego, and so he could not experience himself as vulnerable in any way. Moreover, he would have seen the call for love beyond the people’s anger. So to say he chose a violent death might be how we would interpret the event, because we have a need to see it that way, but it would not be how he experienced it. He teaches us about this in Chapter 3 “Atone­ment without Sacrifice” (T.3.I) and also in Chapter 6, “The Message of the Crucifixion” in which he says:

“There is a positive interpretation of the crucifixion that is wholly devoid of fear, and there­fore wholly benign in what it teaches, if it is properly understood. The crucifixion is nothing more than an extreme example. Its value, like the value of any teaching device, lies solely in the kind of learning it facilitates. It can be, and has been, misunderstood. This is only because the fearful are apt to perceive fearfully.…You are free to perceive yourself as perse­cuted if you choose. When you do choose to react that way, however, you might remember that I was persecuted as the world judges, and did not share this evaluation for myself” (T.6.I.1:5; 2:1,2,3,4; 5:2,3).

Finally, Jesus helps us rise to his level by asking of us: “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). The Course helps us to learn that our perceptions are interpretations informed either by the projection of guilt in our wrong minds, or inspired by the love in our right minds.