Weekly Questions and Answers, 10/29/2003

This week's questions/topics:

Q #291: How can I reconcile apparent differences between ACIM(r) and "The Pathwork"?
Q #292: Comments and thoughts on loneliness.
Q #293: More about "I need do nothing" versus "practical reality".
Q #294: Will a simplified version of the Course be available for children?
Q #295: How do I cope when loved ones are heavily invested in victimhood?.

Look up a specific question by date or question no.

Q #291: My question is on differences between A Course in Miracles and The Pathwork, a series of lectures channeled by Eva Pierrakos from a spiritual entity referred to as the Guide. I’ve been trying to apply the Pathwork teachings to my life for five years. The Guide’s teachings, I believe, emphasize too much the importance of accepting ourselves exactly as we are -- not perfect. He says we are here (on Earth) to try to improve ourselves but we should never deny the fact that we are not perfect. In other words, accepting this fact is the first step on the way to become perfect. The Guide says that trying to identify ourselves with God without facing (or accepting) our shortcomings means to fool ourselves. If we want to get lost in God we must find ourselves first. These teachings have helped me know myself better but I don’t think I have become a better person so far.

The Guide also mentions reincarnation in almost all his lectures. But when I found A Course in Miracles I became very confused and disappointed that the Jesus of the Course states that there is no reincarnation. Not because I wanted reincarnation to exist but because Jesus is denying something which the Guide speaks of so naturally, so sincerely, with such a wisdom, that I find it almost impossible not to believe in him. I think the same about Jesus (of the Course) but their teachings about reincarnation are exactly the opposite. I believe that truth is truth. How can I trust in Jesus or in the Guide if one of them is not speaking the truth?

A: Before addressing either of your concerns, it may be helpful to clarify what Jesus in the Course means when he speaks of the truth. There are really two levels of meaning of the truth that are important to understand if you are going to make sense of the Course. At the highest level of the teaching, Jesus asserts in the Course quite unequivocally that the thought of separation, as well as anything that follows from that thought, including the world of time, space and form, is illusory. Only the formless, unlimited Love of God is real and true. And Jesus means this quite literally.

But while this is ultimately true, Jesus also knows that this is not our experience, and so he speaks of what is true at a different, more practical level. Basically, any interpretation of any aspect of the world of time and space that helps us to practice forgiveness is true, while any interpretation that keeps us feeling guilty and fearful is false. Once we believe we are separate, individual selves, the issues that concern us, although ultimately illusory, are very real in our experience and need to be addressed in ways that are helpful to our healing.

Almost all other spiritual teachings only address concerns at the level of our experience in the world and do not make the ultimate distinction that Jesus does between what is real and what is illusory. They represent different paths from the Course, and it can become quite confusing to attempt to integrate their teachings with Jesus’ teachings in the Course. At the level of form and concepts, spiritual paths may be different from and even contradict each other, but the only real truth is God, toward which all genuine spiritualities are leading, regardless of the specific forms and concepts they employ to lead one back.

So let’s consider your second concern first -- about the difference between the Course and The Pathwork on reincarnation -- since that seems to have the more disturbing implications for you. “In the ultimate sense,” as we have just discussed, Jesus does say in the manual for teachers that “reincarnation is impossible,” (M.24.1:1), because it is a time-based phenomenon, and the Course says time is illusory. But if you read this same section in the manual carefully, you will see that Jesus does not deny the validity and usefulness of the concept of reincarnation at the level of our experience within time and space. That he does not simply dismiss it as untrue should be apparent from his other comments here. For example, in the same paragraph, in speaking of how the concept of reincarnation may be helpful, he observes that “if it is used to strengthen the recognition of the eternal nature of life, it is helpful indeed” (M.24.1:6). But he also cautions that it can misused to foster “preoccupation and perhaps pride in the past” and “inertia in the present” (M.24.1:8,9,10). Later in the same section, Jesus also counsels against getting involved with unnecessary controversy around the concept (M.24.3,4). But perhaps most helpful to resolve your personal conflict about Jesus’ position on the concept is the explicit question he raises and addresses towards the end of the section: “Does this mean that the teacher of God should not believe in reincarnation himself, or discuss it with others who do? The answer is, certainly not! If he does believe in reincarnation, it would be a mistake for him to renounce the belief unless his internal Teacher so advised. And this is most unlikely” (M.24.5:1,2,3,4; italics added).

So on the level of our experience in the world, Jesus and the Pathwork Guide may not be in such terrible disagreement about reincarnation as you have supposed. It is just that Jesus in the Course is attempting to lead us ultimately to a level that transcends any concern with linear time and individual lives. And it is because of this goal that many students have resistance to his teachings and continue to find it so difficult to practice forgiveness. But along the way, Jesus will use whatever concepts have meaning and significance for us in order to help us find our way back home. And so his focus with reincarnation, as already alluded to, is on how we use it to go beyond the body and this lifetime and not simply as a tool for exploring aspects of ourselves in relationship to other lifetimes.

Now to your initial concern about what you felt is the Pathwork’s overemphasis on accepting ourselves as imperfect. In many ways, the Course’s focus is similar and many students express a similar dissatisfaction with its emphasis on the ego -- it repeatedly encourages us to identify the negatives of the ego in our minds so that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, they can be undone and released. The Course does say that we are already perfect -- as Christ -- but not as the ego selves we think we are. And so while we are not here to improve ourselves and become perfect, Jesus is asking us to uncover all the ways in which we continue to insist that our imperfections are real -- the sin, guilt and fear that we have made very real, first in our minds, and then in our world and our lives, to prove that the illusory thought of separation is in fact real. In Jesus’ own words from his Course, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. It is not necessary to seek for what is true, but it is necessary to seek for what is false” (T.16.IV.6:1,2).

For further discussion of the Course’s perspective on reincarnation, you may wish to review Questions #24 and #153.

Q #292: What does A Course in Miracles say about loneliness? I have been feeling lonely very often in my life. Even in love relationships. I felt lonely as a child in my family and still do feel lonely very often in other family-like systems. How could I change my mind about feeling lonely?

A: The Course describes loneliness as an inevitable outcome of the thought of separation (T.13.III.12:1; M.10:6:1,2,6). Jesus adds emphasis to this causal relationship by describing God, as well as His Son, as lonely as a result of the separation -- in four different passages (T.2.III.5:11,12; T.4.VII.6:7; T.7.VII.10:5,6,7; T.15.VIII.3:2). Obviously, Jesus is using poetic license -- his purpose being to provide an alternative view of God’s reaction to the thought of separation, in contrast to the ego’s fearful assertion that God is angry because we left Him (see Question #136 for more on this point). For God is unchanged by our insane thoughts and remains forever One and undivided.

If we are honest with ourselves, all of us who truly believe we exist in the separated state of individuality, limited by and contained within our bodies, and isolated from everyone else, must feel lonely. For who could not feel he is apart from love and not experience loneliness? In the words of the Course, “As long as you perceive the body as your reality, so long will you perceive yourself as lonely and deprived” (T.15.XI.5:1).

The ego insists that we can overcome our loneliness through the companionship of other bodies. But the joining we seek through physical proximity and intimacy in our special relationships can at best only dispel the painful feelings of isolation temporarily, for bodies can not really join, and the ego’s real but hidden agenda is always to reinforce our belief in our guilt (T.15.VII.12). For seeking to be with others to take away our loneliness only gives support to the ego’s lie that the separation is indeed real and that the body is our reality. For most of us, most of the time, the resulting loneliness is too excruciating, and so we seek to cover it over through denial, employing various distractions to keep us mindless. But we never question its premise -- the reality of the separation.

It is only through raising that question that the only solution to our loneliness can be found (W.pI.41.1,2; W.pII.223.1). And the answer is found through experiencing the joining of minds, not bodies. Then we learn that we are not really separate, for that joining is always available to us. Jesus, in the following very comforting passage, reminds us that he is always with us, and so loneliness cannot be real: “I am come as a light into a world that does deny itself everything. It does this simply by dissociating [separating] itself from everything. It is therefore an illusion of isolation, maintained by fear of the same loneliness that is its illusion. I said that I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. That is why I am the light of the world. If I am with you in the loneliness of the world, the loneliness is gone. You cannot maintain the illusion of loneliness if you are not alone” (T.8.IV.2:1,2,3,4,5,6,7).

Now we may doubt that the solution could be so simple, but Jesus assures us that it is. However. that does not mean that it is easy. Yet as we become more willing to see that our interests are not separate from our brothers and to release each of our judgments against both ourselves and others, Jesus and the love that he represents will become more real in our minds, and we will come to experience the truth of his words.

Q #293: In the text of A Course in Miracles it says: “Once you accept His purpose as the only one that you would fulfill, there is nothing else the Holy Spirit will not arrange for you without your effort...”; and in another place: “Leave all your needs to the Holy Spirit. He will supply them with no emphasis at all upon them”; and in the manual: “All the help you can accept will be provided, and not one need you have will not be met.” I have been struggling to understand this in the context of the world in which I cannot make clients call, students sign up for workshops, or books to sell, yet need greater income. The challenge is in needing to “do nothing” in Course language, leave my needs to the Holy Spirit, and trust that “just” by forgiveness and a willingness to be at peace, my bills will be paid, particularly when I am surrounded by hundreds of people who slave for 40 hours a week or more. Am I copping out to just let the Holy Spirit take care of my needs, send me clients or sell my books, while I meditate and be happy?

A: There are other spiritual paths that teach and advocate that approach, but that is not what the Course teaches, even though the words you quoted, if taken literally, seem to mean that. The key idea is to concentrate on the content, not the form. The content is that there is a loving, caring, comforting presence in our minds, not the punitive Divine Judge religions have taught us about, nor a Merlin-the-magician type presence conferring miracles on those he deems worthy. At the end of the clarification of terms in the section on the Holy Spirit, Jesus helps us take a step beyond that -- as he does in dozens of other places in the Course -- by teaching us to distinguish between form and content, experience and reality, and symbol and reality: “He seems to be a Guide through a far country, for you need that form of help. He seems to be whatever meets the need you think you have. But He is not deceived when you perceive your self entrapped in needs you do not have. It is from these He would deliver you. It is from these that He would make you safe” (C.6.4:6,7,9,10).

It is a question, then, of defining ourselves and our needs, and we will always be misled and entrapped if our starting point is that we truly exist as bodies in a physical world. However, if we remember that our seeming bodily life is a false identity having the purpose of concealing our true Identity as spirit, then our needs will be defined differently. We will recognize that our only real need is to awaken from the dream of separation and reunite with our true Self in Heaven, and that all the help we need to do that is already present within us. Forgiveness, then, becomes our only meaningful function while we still believe we are here (T.25.VI.5:3); and the only meaningful prayer we could ever utter would be for forgiveness, because, as Jesus tells us, “those who have been forgiven have everything” (T.3.V.6:3).

So to accept the Holy Spirit’s purpose means to see every aspect of your life as a classroom in which you can learn to identify what you are doing to block your awareness of love’s presence, and then ask help of your Teacher to make another choice. Sharing His purpose, you would deal with the details and obligations of your life responsibly, while at the same time learning that the peace of God within you cannot be affected by anything that is going on externally. Attending to the details of our daily lives affords us endless opportunities to get beyond the form of our lives and to learn that we all share the same interests; we all share the same ego thought system and its correction in our right minds. This is our special function, and because of the way we have set up our lives, it is the most effective way of undoing the thought system of separation in our minds that is the ultimate cause of all our misery and unhappiness. To ask the Holy Spirit to fix what is wrong in our physical/psychological lives is to abdicate our responsibility for our unhappiness and thereby deprive ourselves of the only means we have of ever undoing our mistake and reuniting with the glorious Self of Christ that we all are.

The sections in the “Song of Prayer” pamphlet might give you additional help, especially the first one, “True Prayer.” Also, we have addressed similar issues in Questions #72, #116, #259, and #266.

Q #294: At some point do you see an elementary version of A Course in Miracles coming out? I would like to see children be able to read this Course, since being so young, they have less baggage to release. And children grasp ideas easier and have a clearer, purer understanding of things. Since this is a life-long course, why not start early learning the truth?

A: It’s a common ego trap to fall into the thinking that this Course could be or should be for someone other than myself, whether it’s a spouse, friends, politicians, children, etc. The trap is that it distracts me from simply applying its principles of forgiveness to myself and to all my relationships. If I do my part in the plan, releasing all my judgments, everything else will follow in whatever way is most helpful. But the plan is not of my own making, and even my best intentions to help others in their healing is really a subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- ego ploy for seizing control of the plan and putting myself in charge, thinking I know what needs to happen.

You are making a few assumptions about children that would not be consistent with the Course’s metaphysical teachings. All of us, adult and child alike, share the same ego thought system. A child’s mind is no purer than an adult’s and no less burdened with the baggage of sin and guilt. The only difference is in the expression in form, not in the underlying content. So the Course would attribute the same full-blown ego to an infant, a child, a teenager and an adult. Each developmental stage simply expresses the ego’s underlying content in a different way -- generally more disguised and covertly as we “grow up” and are socialized to restrain our ego impulses. But the guilt that underlies the form is always the same until we are at a point where we begin to recognize that the world and all that it offers is not really anything we truly want. Usually, although not necessarily, this realization comes only with age and with disillusioning experience after disillusioning experience, as the world fails us in our expectations and we feel repeatedly victimized by forces outside of our control and want another way of being in the world.

The Course process is one of looking at all the judgments and hatred in our mind that we project out onto the world to keep ourselves mindless, accompanied by a willingness to release them to the light of forgiveness that interprets all those external situations differently. And the judgment and hate have their origins in the mind, before any individual life has begun, and not in our experiences in the world, no matter how much the world and our individual experience seem to insist to the contrary. Once we have done our part in getting ourselves out of the way, then we are available to be an instrument of forgiveness for all those other confused minds that see themselves as if they were at various stages in the process of human development.

When you speak of a more “elementary version of the Course,” I assume you mean a version that minimizes the Course’s more abstract metaphysical principles. But a teaching that does not use the Course’s metaphysical foundation as an explicit and integral part of its message would no longer be the Course. There are many spiritual paths that may lend themselves to the kind of simplification you speak of, but the Course is not one of them. It is written very deliberately in the form that it is because it is intended for adults. Adults can best teach it to children by demonstrating its principles through how they live their lives and raise their children, without ever necessarily even mentioning any of its principles.

Q #295: My question concerns being there for family members and friends when they are attached to victimhood and ailments (a judgment, I know). I think I understand what true empathy is: to comfort on the level they are, not to speak to them of Course teachings, but also not to reinforce their pain by validating it and making it real. For some family members, illness equals attention.… What is the stance of A Course in Miracles on distancing ourselves from family and friends who are clearly not a supportive, positive influence on our lives? What do we do when they are in so much pain and so miserable and so attached to victimhood that they think it's everybody else’s responsibility but theirs to change that? I'm stuck, please help.

A: One thing that might help you get unstuck is to try to get beyond the specifics and see that you share the very same ego that your friends and family do, but that you also all share the same right mind as well. Perhaps you express your wrong-minded thoughts in a different form; but the content is identical. They resort to a specific form of magic to ease their inner pain, but you would use a different form of magic. In view of that, your response to them would reflect how you must be responding to your own ego. You would be learning either that the ego is repulsive and has power to block love and peace, or that it is nothing but a “tiny, mad idea” having no power to change our reality as the invulnerable Son of God, and therefore it is deserving only of a gentle smile.

If you could get beyond the form of their complaints just for an instant -- “Nothing so blinding as perception of form” (T.22.III.6:7) -- you would hear their call for help and know that it is an echo of your own call for help. And then if you clearly knew that that call has already been answered with love, your ego would be out of the way, and you would just naturally -- and effortlessly -- do whatever is best for all concerned. There is no way of knowing ahead of time what that would be specifically, but it would just flow through you, and you would experience it as not coming from you. It might be that you would be guided to stay home and not visit, or to go and assist in some way. But you would take nothing personally. You would have no investment in their changing or being appreciative of your help; and you would feel energized, not drained and drenched with negativity afterward. Whenever you feel drained you have become personally involved -- identifying with victimization -- and more than likely have crossed over into sacrifice, which is always of the ego, because it expresses separation and a one-or-the-other attitude. If there is conflict within you, then the message you are giving is that they are right about themselves, thus confirming their worst fears.

And finally, in that holy instant in which you are joined with the love of Jesus, you would not fall into the ego trap of thinking some illusions are more serious than others; you would clearly recognize that all illusions are the same in content.

The ideal that Jesus, our model and teacher, holds out to us is to be able to regard everything as either a call for love or an expression of love. If you could do that for your family and your friends, you would be doing it for yourself. The Course teaches us in many different ways that giving and receiving are the same. This takes a great deal of practice and a great deal of patience and gentleness with yourself, because it is a complete reversal of our usual thinking and behavior. But if you believed that each interaction had the potential to bring you closer to being one with the love of Jesus, you would approach them enthusiastically, not with dread. Do the best you can knowing that, in the end, your success in this is guaranteed. If you make a mistake, it doesn’t matter; Jesus will help you correct it later.

For further study, you could look at the subsection “The Function of the Teacher of God” in the manual for teachers, under section 5, “How Is Healing Accomplished?” (M.5.III).