Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/22/2003

This week's questions/topics:

Q #285: How can I distinguish the voice of the ego from the Voice of the Holy Spirit?
Q #286: Why are there "no accidents in salvation" ?
Q #287: What is the meaning of "The Last Unanswered Question" ?
Q #288: What exactly is a miracle?
Q #289: What is meant by "I need do nothing"?.
Q #290: What is meant by "unacceptable" in relation to bodily impulses ?

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #285: Sometimes when I ask the inner voice (Holy Spirit) to guide me, I think I get an answer and later I find out it was the ego who answered disguised as inner voice. How can I know when it is the real inner voice that is answering and not the ego?

A: The answer to your question lies in another question: What is it you truly seek, and of whom? Much of our asking comes with hidden beliefs, goals, and desires, that we are not aware of. We are thereby seeking to make our bodies and the world real, and the ego responds enthusiastically. We can be sure the ego has answered because the response never truly satisfies our perceived need, much less our real need. In the situation you refer to, it is quite likely that the ego answered because the ego was asked. This is nothing to be upset about or afraid of. It is just that we are more deeply identified with the ego thought system than we think. As A Course in Miracles tells us: “You retain thousands of little scraps of fear that prevent the Holy One from entering…I wait in love and not in impatience, you will surely ask me truly. I will come in response to a single unequivocal call” (T.4.II.7:2,9,10). The very important words in this passage are “truly” and “unequivocal.” This means being clear, unhindered by diverse interests, unambiguous. As long as we believe in our identity as bodies, and believe that our problems are all the situations in the world that need to be resolved, we will ask with a hidden agenda, seeking something specific to allay our sense of lack, meet some need, or make life in the world more “heavenly.” Even our requests for the peace of God often hide our desire for happiness on our own terms. If the Holy Spirit were to respond to these requests, He would be reinforcing our belief in the separation.

The Holy Spirit’s guidance is always on the level of content and not form. His goal is to teach that our only problem is the separation, and the only solution is undoing the thought of separation. If, in our imperfect asking, we are willing to join with the Holy Spirit’s goal, we will be able to make decisions in this world, while recognizing the “the scraps of fear” and ego interests we retain. We can learn that although decisions have to be made, our salvation does not rest on these decisions. This opens us to the Holy Spirit’s perception, and thus His guidance, without reinforcing our mistaken belief that the world and the body are the problem.

Your question is discussed in Forgiveness and Jesus by Kenneth Wapnick. It is posed in yet another way: “The crucial question, however, should not be ‘How do I know when I am hearing the Holy Spirit?’ but ‘Why don’t I do what He tells me to do so that I can hear His Voice better?’” (Part III, “The Test for Truth,” p. 318). We are still unwilling to do what He tells us to do, and are still afraid of His guidance. If we were not it would be blazingly clear to us. While we are still afraid we do need to ask for help in seeing the hidden beliefs we hold on to in our perceived needs. Undoing our belief in the ego’s thought system takes patient practice. Meanwhile, our less than perfect asking is a preparation for the time when we will want only the Holy Spirit’s answer. The truth is we have called and He has answered. It is our fear of this that impedes our hearing. His answer for now is to show us the fear that keeps us clinging to our insane belief in the separation, the body, and the world. When we are ready to let them go we will know, and we will hear only His Voice: “His is the Voice that calls you back to where you were before and will be again. It is possible even in this world to hear only that Voice and no other. It takes effort and great willingness to learn. It is the final lesson that I learned, and God's Sons are as equal as learners as they are as Sons” (T.5.II.3:8,9,10,11). This will come when we are convinced that our only problem is the thought of separation, and the only answer is the Holy Spirit’s correction, which is undoing the belief in the separation.

Q #286: “There are no accidents in salvation.” I am puzzled by two apparently contradictory perspectives on this:

(1) Anything in the world of form can be used by the Holy Spirit as a means for salvation, i.e., I can use any circumstance or event to practice forgiveness. So, in the flow of events -- which could be random and meaningless in themselves -- I can use anything for the purpose of self-transformation.

(2) The Holy Spirit provides me with particular events so that I can learn specific lessons. This would suggest that the Holy Spirit makes at least certain aspects of the world: a view which appears to contradict the notion that the ego alone makes forms.

It is my impression that commentators on A Course in Miracles do not favor option number two. Yet this seems to be implied in the quote. Please comment.

A: In answering your question, it is helpful to realize that even in the illusory split mind, of which the world is only a shadowy projection, neither the ego nor the Holy Spirit does anything. And so neither is responsible for the forms that our lives may take and the events that seem to happen to us. Although the Course’s separation myth personifies them as if they were separate entities acting independently, the ego and the Holy Spirit only represent alternative interpretations or symbolic thoughts within our mind about the tiny mad idea of separation from God. It is the sleeping mind of the Son that gives form to the thoughts in his mind, using either the ego or the Holy Spirit as his guide for choosing and then interpreting those seemingly externalized forms.

A few passages from the Course itself may help make the passive nature of both the Holy Spirit and the ego clearer. Early in the text, Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit is one way of choosing....The Voice of the Holy Spirit does not command, because It is incapable of arrogance. It does not demand, because It does not seek control. It does not overcome, because It does not attack. It merely reminds. It is compelling only because of what It reminds you of. It brings to your mind the other way, remaining quiet even in the midst of the turmoil you may make” (T.5.II.6:7;7:1,2,3,4,5; italics added). In the next section, Jesus observes that “the ego is the symbol of separation, just as the Holy Spirit is the symbol of peace” (T.5.III.9:4). The symbolic nature of the ego is described again later in the text when Jesus notes thatall that the ego is, is an idea that it is possible that things could happen to the Son of God without his will” (T.21.II.6:4; italics added).

That the ego has no power in and of itself to do anything is apparent from this early passage in the text: “Only your allegiance to it gives the ego any power over you. I have spoken of the ego as if it were a separate thing, acting on its own. This was necessary to persuade you that you cannot dismiss it lightly, and must realize how much of your thinking is ego-directed.…The ego is nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself” (T.4.VI.1:2,3,4,6).

So when the Course asserts that “there are no accidents in salvation” (M.3.1:6), it means that everything reflects a choice -- our own! Our sleeping mind makes all the decisions about what to experience and how to interpret those experiences. The “flow of events” is never “random and meaningless” because all things are chosen by us to serve either the ego’s purpose of separation and guilt or the Holy Spirit’s purpose of forgiveness and peace. Among the many passages in the Course that speak of the power of our minds, consider just the following two:

“Your holy mind establishes everything that happens to you. Every response you make to everything you perceive is up to you, because your mind determines your perception of it” (T.10.in.2:6,7).

“It is impossible the Son of God be merely driven by events outside of him. It is impossible that happenings that come to him were not his choice. His power of decision is the determiner of every situation in which he seems to find himself by chance or accident. No accident nor chance is possible within the universe as God created it, outside of which is nothing. (T.21.II.3:1,2,3,4).

And so, while we may initially choose -- almost always unconsciously, out of our awareness -- an experience to reinforce our perception of ourselves as victims of a world over which we have no control, once the choice has been made we can make another choice and ask for the Help within to see our circumstances differently. And so we begin to learn that we are never the victim of the world we see (W.pI.31) and that no one or nothing else -- neither the ego nor the Holy Spirit nor Jesus nor God Himself -- intervenes within the dream we call our lives. For we alone are the rulers of our universe (W.pII.253).

For further discussion on the power of decision, you may also wish to review Question #281. As to whether God or the Holy Spirit intervene in the world and our lives, you may want to look at Question #235. And on the Course’s metaphoric or mythical use of language, see Question #72.

Q #287: One section in the text of A Course in Miracles that is of particular interest to me is “The Last Unanswered Question” (T.21.VII). Could you comment on the meaning of this section?

A: The main theme of this section is the power of our minds to choose -- ultimately, against the ego. Paragraph 7 makes it abundantly clear that this is a course about changing our minds not the world. It is a course in cause (the choices we make in our minds), not effect (behavior).

Jesus explains that when we experience ourselves as powerless or helpless, we are giving witness to our denial of our true identity as a Son of God, who could never be powerless. Once this dissociation has been effected, the authentic power of our minds then is feared as the “enemy,” and an “army of the powerless” arises to do battle with this mortal threat. Jesus, of course, is describing the battleground in our minds, of which we are not aware because of the ego dynamic of denial and projection. Hatred seethes within us, but is always attributed to some form of evil without, which we then feel justified in attacking and destroying. Jesus is also referring to the ultimate futility and silliness of the seemingly powerful armies in the world. We must perpetuate this system in order to ward off an even worse fate, which is to acknowledge that there is no enemy outside, and that we made ourselves powerless by choosing to believe in the thought system of separation and sin. Reason would tell us that, if only we were to choose to consult it (consult our right minds).

The three questions stated in paragraph 5 have to do with our choice to exist in this world in which we seem to be the innocent victims of forces beyond our control. Our feeling powerless to do anything about the conditions in our lives is purposeful. It keeps us from ever experiencing the true power of our minds to make another choice and deny our denial of the truth. Hence, the fourth question -- the last unanswered question -- is: “Do I want to see what I denied because it is the truth?” (T.21.VII.14). When we answer in the affirmative to the first three questions, we are saying that we have changed our minds and we really do not want to be victims of the world anymore. But the last question has us confront our decision for guilt and the reason we uphold it. Unless we reverse that decision for guilt, we will continue to deny the presence of love, and we will continually project that guilt. In addition to saying that our lack of peace or happiness is not the world’s fault -- it is our own fault -- we must realize that the guilt within us is a deliberate choice to deny the truth of the Atonement and then choose against it. Until we make that choice, we will vacillate all the time. To answer yes to the last question “must mean ‘not no’”; it is to decide that I no longer want to be who I think I am: separate, unique, autonomous, independent, free, and special. I no longer want to see myself as distinct from the Love of God.

Q #288: What is a miracle? Although they are carefully described, I am still wondering what they are. Do they resemble what we commonly think of as miracles? Do we know when they occur, or do they happen constantly without us being aware of them? Can you give any examples of miracles?

A: First, a miracle has nothing to do with anything external. Miracles pertain only to what is going on in our own minds. In that sense, they are not at all what traditional religious systems have thought of as miracles. Traditionally, conditions in the body and the world have been viewed as the problem; and therefore miracles, simply put, were viewed as the healing or removal of those conditions, usually through some kind of divine or supernatural intervention. A Course in Miracles, on the other hand, teaches that the body and the world are projections of thoughts in our minds: “It [the world] is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition... Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world” (T.21.in.1:5,7). Now, if you could really accept that the world is merely a projection of a thought of sin and guilt in your mind, you would realize that trying to alter things in the world or the body is ultimately futile, and that changing your mind about the reality of sin and guilt is truly healing. That is why the workbook states: “A miracle is a correction. It does not create, nor really change at all. It merely looks on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false” (W.pII.13.1,2,3). The miracle corrects our thinking, not a condition in the world or the body. Yet this passage also implies that we are not to blithely dismiss our perceptions of the world either. Rather, we are to look at the devastation in our lives, or the world-at-large, and bring that perception to the loving presence of Jesus in our minds. There, in our choosing to join with that reflection of truth, we will remember that what we are perceiving is but the content of a dream, not reality. “The miracle establishes you dream a dream, and that its content is not true” (T.28.II.7:1). Once we are joined with the reflection of truth in our minds, we would be guided solely by that in responding to the situations in our lives.

This takes a lot of practice, which is why we have a workbook with 365 lessons, at the end of which Jesus tells us that we are just at the beginning stages of this process of thought-reversal. The entire Course is about this. Our thinking right now is the reverse of what the truth is. What we are so used to calling causes are really effects. A miracle occurs when we remember and accept -- for just an instant -- that the cause of our and others’ lack of peace, sickness, deprivation, etc., is not something of the body or the world, but rather a choice we are making in our minds to identify with the thought system of separation and sin, guilt, and fear. “The miracle is the first step in giving back to cause the function of causation, not effect” (T.28.II.9:3).

A miracle occurs when we do not take another’s attack personally, recognizing instead that we all share the same needs and goals; we all share the same insanity of the ego, and we all share the same sanity of Christ’s vision. Sometimes we are not aware of having made that shift in our minds, sometimes we are. Miracles occur as frequently as our willingness allows them to.

Q #289: I hear over and over that I am to hold an attitude of “I need do nothing.” I believe it is to allow the Holy Spirit to take it over. Can I stay in bed and be a saint, or am I good only when I am sleeping.

A: The main point of “I need do nothing” is to help us change the pattern of our thinking. Practically all of the time, we think we know what our problems are, and then we just go about trying to solve them on our own. We define both the problem and the solution. We tell the Holy Spirit how to help us. Jesus is helping us to retrain our minds so that we will more consistently remember that all of our problems in the world and our bodies are made up by our decision-making minds in order to keep our attention away from the “real” problem, which is our choice to have the ego be our teacher instead of Jesus. We cannot make this shift if we do not stop and ask for help to perceive ourselves and our lives differently. Therefore, “I need do nothing” because there is no problem that needs attention.

However, the point is not to be inactive, but rather to shift the purpose of everything we do from the ego’s to the Holy Spirit’s purpose. We want to train ourselves to think about the new purpose for our lives, which is to learn how to perceive our interests as the same as everyone else’s -- to concentrate on the content, not the form of what we do. Our interactions with one another provide many opportunities to practice this, and they reflect back to us whether we have chosen to undo separation or to reinforce it. So withdrawing from interactions and activities is not usually helpful. It may be that you would have to stay away from specific people or groups for a while, just as a person involved with substance abuse might have to make behavioral changes at first. So “to do nothing” also means to do nothing on your own. Don’t automatically assume that your perception of your problems is correct.

When you identify with the reflection of truth in your right mind, you might still be very active in the world, but you would not experience yourself as the one who is acting. The love that is in your right mind would flow through you as the source of all you do, and you would experience everyone as the same, both on the level of the ego and on the level of the Atonement.

Q #290: I would like to know the meaning of the word “unacceptable” in relation to body impulses in T.4.V.2:5. I do not understand what this is trying to convey.

A: It refers to anything the ego says is unacceptable. Examples would include sex and food -- whatever we tend to think is “bad,” “harmful,” “socially repulsive,” “unethical,” “unspiritual,” etc.