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Volume 23   Number 4   December 2012


LIVING A COURSE IN MIRACLES
As Wrong Minds, Right Minds, and Advanced Teachers

 

From the very beginning of my reading of A Course in Miracles, I was impressed with the way it integrated a profound metaphysical view of the world—a pure non-dualism—with very specific guidelines that are rooted in Freud's monumental work in understanding the dynamics of the ego (his psyche). It is this integration that allows for living fully in a dualistic world, yet at the same time reflecting the reality of Heaven's perfect non-dualistic oneness. Indeed, I would argue that this integration of a Vedanta-like non-dualism with a sophisticated psychology is what, more than any other characteristic, establishes the uniqueness of the Course among world spiritualities, ancient and contemporary. Further, it is the practice of its principle of forgiveness that makes the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles more than mere "philosophical speculation" (C-in.1:1). As the Course says of itself, regarding the relationship of the workbook's exercises to

A theoretical foundation such as the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in this workbook meaningful. Yet it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible (W-in.1:1-2).

After all, the Course's teachings on the illusory nature of a world that is not here mean nothing to us who live—rise, work, and go to sleep—by its temporal/spatial laws (W-pI.169.10), unless we reflect its truth by living everyday with kindness and compassion for all living and nonliving things. This article will discuss the differing modes our lives can take as seeming bodies that appear to interact with other seeming bodies: wrong-mindedly as special egos, right-mindedly identifying with Christ's vision of forgiveness, and finally as those advanced teachers who have progressed to a life dedicated to having His healing Love extend through them to other minds.

As the ego speaks first (T-5.VI.3:5), we begin with a look at how its thought system of separation and specialness guides our daily living, remembering how very tricky the ego is, so cleverly sounding like the Holy Spirit. Yet there are specific clues we can look for that would help us penetrate the ego's spiritual veneer to reveal its hidden purpose of reinforcing illusions, and thus allow us to move beyond its subtle facades to the truth (e.g., T-11.V.1).


How Wrong Minds Live in the World:
The Ego's Curse of Specialness

There are of course the obvious wrong-minded ways of living in the world: anger, judgment, separate interests. These follow the core ego principle of one or the other: one wins, another loses—I cannot have something without taking it from you. This reflects the ego's fourth law of chaos, you have what you have taken (T-23.II.9:3). We all know too well these expressions of what A Course in Miracles terms special hate relationships—in ourselves and others in our personal world, not to mention in the world at large—and so we need not dwell on them here.

However, difficult to discern are the ego's insidious reactions that seem so spiritual and Course-consonant, the special love relationships that are far more devastating than special hate. As my wife Gloria, a former history teacher, would often say: "You do much better with a Hitler than a leader who only purports to be democratic, because at least you know where you stand." After all, it was not Hitler's fault that the world did not take seriously his Mein Kampf, a hate-filled treatise of ego grandiosity he wrote as a young man while in prison.

Students of A Course in Miracles often associate "Course spirituality" with form, the behaviors they believe reflect the principles of forgiveness, not paying heed to Jesus' warning in The Song of Prayer about setting forgiveness "in an earthly frame" (S-2.III.7:3). This means not understanding that the process of forgiveness does not truly occur with anything bodily or external.

I remember many years ago during the 1991 deployment of American forces in Iraq (sometimes referred to as the first Gulf War) that a couple proudly announced at a Foundation workshop that when the news came on with audio and video accounts of the fighting, they beamed light from their minds to the television set, battling the ego thought system of war they were observing. Their mistake, of course, was that this otherwise well-meaning behavior merely strengthened the reality of the ego's hateful principle of one or the other (good vs. evil), making it real by virtue of having to defend against it ("defenses do what they would defend"—T-17.IV.7:1). It would have been much more consistent with the Course's teachings of forgiveness for them to have recognized the guilt and judgment in themselves that caused them to be upset about the egos being portrayed on the news—victims and victimizers. This would have opened the door to their minds, allowing them to deny the power of the ego to affect them. They would have forgiven their minds' resistance to letting go of the insane notion that the ego was the problem, accepting instead that the problem was their mind's decision to believe in the ego and the power of its thought system of hate and death.

Incidentally, this seemingly well-meaning practice of beaming light not only is common in students warding off perceived evil, but also in its more "positive" form of sending light to troubled areas of the geopolitical world or of individual bodies. Again, these forms merely reinforce belief in the reality of the ego's thought system and its world of separation, a persuasive cover to the true problem, our mind's belief in the ego:

Only your allegiance to it gives the ego any power over you.… The ego is nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself.…It depends on your mind, and as you made it by believing in it, so you can dispel it by withdrawing belief from it. Do not project the responsibility for your belief in it onto anyone [or anything] else, or you will preserve the belief (T-4.VI.1:2,6;T-7.VIII.5:2-3).

If the Course believed in sin, which of course it does not, the most egregious one of all, tantamount to the blasphemous sin against the Holy Spirit that can never be forgiven (cf. Mark 3:28-29), would be making the error real. As Jesus exhorts: "Do not see error. Do not make it real" (S-2.I.3:3-4). The error is never outside us because there is no outside us! Jesus again: "Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T-21.in.1:7).

Another form of how the ego guides our daily living, concealed by the veil of conscious sincerity, is when Course students seek to avoid the forms of ego involvement in the world, believing that by doing so they are weakening the ego's thought system. Students with good intentions often will not participate (and unfortunately look down on those who do) in professions that involve the body or thought systems of opposition. These include, though this is hardly an exhaustive list, anything medical or legal, or different types of insurance.

These sincere students may, similar to many proponents of Christian Science, repudiate medical care (traditional or alternative), claiming they do not wish to give power to the body. They sometimes refuse to serve on juries, using the Course as the reason, or cancel insurance policies on the grounds that this "invites" ego calamities to occur, reinforcing the ego's belief in the reality of linear time (past, present, future). What makes this even worse, again, are the judgments against others who commit such "unspiritual acts," thereby strengthening their own special place—in their self-perception, at least—of being true students of A Course in Miracles.

To support their positions, these students may well cite Lessons 136 ("Sickness is a defense against the truth."), 153 ("In my defenselessness my safety lies."), and 194 ("I place the future in the Hands of God."). Such citations are infelicitous, to say the very least, because students unconsciously seek to camouflage their often unkind and judgmental behavior behind the Course's words, the ego's content hiding behind the Course's form.

The mistake in all this "spiritual activity," putting it in different words, is that it places the emphasis on the external that is perceived to be a threat, ignoring the power of the mind's defensive system of denial and projection. To reword Jesus' comment on Christians: "Many sincere Course students have misunderstood this" (T-3.I.1:3). What has been forgotten is that since there is no world out there (see, e.g., W-pI.132.4-6), there can be no hierarchy of illusions, despite the ego's first law of chaos (T-23. II.2:3). The ego continually argues for its truth by claiming that some things in the phenomenal world are truly significant (read: spiritual), according higher or lower values to people, places, objects, and activities. Our need to make the world and bodies real, important, and efficacious, can so easily trump the decision-making mind's becoming aware that it is the only truth within the dream of separation.

Just as we should never underestimate the power of the mind's belief in the ego (T-5.V.2:11), we should never underestimate the power of repression to deny our mindful self, having us believe instead we are mindless bodies, individual persons on a spiritual journey. We need remember that projection makes perception (T-13.V.3:5; T-21. in.1:1): what we see outside is always and only what we have projected. We wish to perceive and make real in the mindless world of bodies the separation that we do not want to acknowledge as the mind's decision for the ego.

We can therefore discern a method in the ego's decided madness of having us actually believe there is a hierarchy of illusions (spiritualities, professions, behaviors). Such belief, and the experiences that inevitably follow from it, well serve the ego's purpose of keeping our attention rooted in the world of time and space, so much so that we never remember that our self is a decision- making mind. And all this madness is cleverly concealed behind the veils of specialness that differentiate us from others, therein reinforcing the perception that the fragmented Sonship is alive and well, and very real. To make this important point once more, we underestimate the seductive aura of specialness at our own peril, for the triumph of form over content so easily buries the real problem (and solution) that is found in the decision-making mind, thus making correction impossible.

Because of the dangers of spiritual specialness, Jesus urges his students to beware of the ego bearing gifts of judgment, seeing in all of them, however tempting their frames of specialness may be, the hidden picture of separation and guilt (T-17.IV). It feels so good to judge others, most especially when we can hide the attack behind veils of spirituality. The reader may recall this passage about the allure of the special relationship frame that conceals its true gift of death:

The special relationship has the most imposing and deceptive frame of all the defenses the ego uses.… Into the frame are woven all sorts of fanciful and fragmented illusions of love.… Let not your gaze dwell on the hypnotic gleaming of the frame. Look at the picture, and realize that death is offered you (T-17. IV.8:1,3; 9:10-11).

No one can truly deny this attraction to specialness, and nothing is more alluring than spiritual specialness. It has the power to convince even the most sincere and serious students to believe that their judgments of others have a spiritual foundation, and can even be Jesus' will. The clue that responses like these are of the ego and not the Holy Spirit is not only that the world is made real, but that meaningful differences are perceived in the Sonship and the various circumstances that befall us.

Christ's vision of peace for all, in some sense the goal of A Course in Miracles (T-8.I.1:1-2), is predicated on the truth—the reflection of Heaven's perfect oneness—that we are all the same; that the differences in form are insignificant for they conceal the sameness of content that is found in everyone's mind: ego, Holy Spirit, and the decision-making power to choose between the two. This is why Jesus enjoins us to share his vision of forgiveness with all we see (T-31.VIII.8), without exception. His unified perception becomes the guideline for how his teachers would live in the illusory world of separate bodies.


How Right Minds Live in the World:
The Blessing of Forgiveness

Our eyes now opening to Jesus' gently radiant vision of all-inclusiveness, we walk the world seeing expressions of love or calls for it (T-14.X.7:1). No specters from the past arise to mar our sight, their shadows of guilt and hate having evanesced before the sweet smiles of forgiveness. We see in apparent attacks only the cries of pain that every fragment of God's Son inevitably feels once the dream of sin, suffering, and death has begun. How could we then not allow the Love of the Holy Spirit to extend through us to tenderly feel the source of this pain with "hands made gentle by His touch" (T-27.I.5:1)? Speaking of those in the grips of death, the ego's greatest defense against remembering the truth of our non-corporeal Self, God's eternal Son, Jesus says to us in these lovely lines that would remind us of our function to forgive:

…what of those whose dedication is not to live; the black-draped "sinners," the ego's mournful chorus, plodding so heavily away from life, dragging their chains and marching in the slow procession that honors their grim master, lord of death? Touch any one of them with the gentle hands of forgiveness, and watch the chains fall away, along with yours.… The sentence sin would lay upon him he can escape through your forgiveness (T-19.IV-C.2:4-5,7).

To be sure, our fear of love's totality may still tempt us from time to time to flee into the ego's all-too-welcoming arms of judgment. However, becoming increasingly right- minded, we are able to choose sanity more and more quickly and frequently. Our comforting older brother Jesus does not expect us, still chained by fear to the ego's temporal world, to be totally healed at once. He tells us that we need only look at the ego with him, holding nothing back as we openly and defenselessly "confess" our fear to him. His love would do the rest, as we resolve not to hold on to special thoughts of sin and judgment, but simply to recognize the cost to us of keeping them.

This aspect of our spiritual journey with Jesus is specifically addressed in "How Should the Teacher of God Spend His Day?" in the manual for teachers (M-16). There our teacher reminds us, as he says earlier, that we have not come as far as we think, but that we also will not continue alone, without help (M-4.I.6:10-13). In other words, we live right-mindedly in the world by recognizing it as our classroom of forgiveness, and so we quickly bring back to the decision-making mind the effects of our wrong choices, that we may choose again. This requires our ongoing willingness to question every unkind thought and return it to its source in the mind where we had chosen the teacher of unkindness instead of the One of kindness. This recognition that our experiences are only classrooms in which we learn to be mindful helps us distinguish the right-minded way of living from the wrong-minded one: the former releases us from the curse of the ego's world of separation and specialness, while the latter withholds the Holy Spirit's blessing of forgiveness and solidifies our entrapment in the world of magic (defined below).

All through their training, every day and every hour, and even every minute and second, must God's teachers learn to recognize the forms of magic and perceive their meaninglessness. Fear is withdrawn from them, and so they go. And thus the gate of Heaven is reopened, and its light can shine again on an untroubled mind (M-16.11:9-11).

We are taught to see that every perceived problem is our problem, and an opportunity for learning there is no order of difficulty in the miracles of correction (T-1.I.1:1). The only problem is our mind's decision for the ego.

Clearly implied throughout A Course in Miracles is that we are students in Jesus' classroom of learning, and not imprisoned victims in a world we cannot control. Helpless before forces that render us vulnerable to Hamlet's "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," we remain at the mercy of unwholesome thoughts and desires that seem to arise against our will (T-19.IV-D.7:4). Once we, deceived denizens in the dualistic world of separation, can accept our proper role, we recognize that an intrinsic part of our learning is the crucial distinction between magic and the miracle.

Magic is anything we do externally to solve a problem perceived to be external, and we have learned how the ego thrives on the magic that roots us still further in its thought system of separation and projected separation (materiality). The miracle, on the other hand, uses the world to return us to our minds where we learn the ultimate lesson: not only is there no world, there is no thought (of separation) that made the world:

The miracle does nothing.…it cancels out the interference to what has been done.… This world was over long ago. The thoughts that made it are no longer in the mind that thought of them…(T-28.I.1:1,3,6-7).

This, then, is the foundation for the Course's thought system: the ego's specialness and the Holy Spirit's correction of forgiveness. It is the reason there is no hierarchy of illusions (T-23.II.2:3) and no order of difficulty among miracles. We are no longer fooled by the ego's use of magical, distracting pseudo-problems and made-up solutions. Under its guidance, our eyes have looked upon the vicious actions that result in pain and suffering, the brutality of the elements that wreak destructive havoc on vulnerable towns and villages, and the senseless genetic anomalies that bring deformed children into our deformed world—and reacted with anger or despair. Yet the loving mind sees only opportunities for forgiveness and mercy for all involved in these situations and events. Our perceptions rise above the world's laws of death and destruction, giving them no power over our peace because dreams do not affect the dreamer, the world cannot change the mind, and the effects of causes are not causes in their own right.

As we grow to accept the teaching/learning purpose of our lives, we develop the conscious capacity to become aware of how the ego tempts us to embrace magic as the answer to our problems, making inevitable our happy decision to choose against these temptations:

When all magic is recognized as merely nothing, the teacher of God has reached the most advanced state. All intermediate lessons will but lead to this, and bring this goal nearer to recognition (M-16.9:5-6; italics mine).

We see the imperfections in others—their uses of magic—and recognize that our reactions to these magic thoughts (M-17) are mere projections of the perceived imperfections in ourselves: projection makes perception. We have learned the lesson that shifting perception from judgment to forgiveness is the way out of hell, the "intermediate lessons" that will lead us home. Our hearts fill with gratitude for this healing, as the nightmare dreams of separation have been transformed into the happy dreams of universal innocence that will ultimately awaken us to our reality as God's one Son. The world no longer is perceived to be our enemy, a prison house of hatred and death that is replete with venomous creatures—macroscopic and microscopic alike—hellbent on our destruction. Through the loving vision of the Holy Spirit, the spot of ancient hatred has been transformed into a present love (T-26. IX.6:1), and we experience the blessings of forgiveness as the only truth within the world of illusion.

We have been made ready for the penultimate stage in our journey from mindlessness to mindfulness, imperfection to perfection, the ego to God. We are advanced teachers, whose very lives reflect the love that created us and that we are.


How Advanced Teachers Live in the World:
The Reflection of Heaven's Love

Perhaps the simplest way to characterize advanced teachers is that they have no needs that demand satisfaction, no hidden spots of darkness to mar the innocent perception of the world, nothing in their minds to interfere with the free and natural flow of love from their minds to others. Freed of guilt and fear, they are able to remain true to the Holy Spirit's content of Love, all the while their bodies appear to be active in the daily business of life. Gone are the "shoulds" that control daily living, or special rituals that are needed to ground their thinking or center it on the divine. The love within allows their Teacher's Love to be the daily program they follow. As Jesus explains, employing the Course's symbol of a separated Teacher to guide us through the various roles of our everyday lives:

There is no program.… He will be told all that his role should be, this day and every day.… For the advanced teacher of God, then, this question [of how one is to spend one's day] is superfluous. It has been asked and answered, and he keeps in constant contact with the Answer. He is set, and sees the road on which he walks stretch surely and smoothly before him (M-16.1:2,5,8-10).

As we walked with Jesus through the ego's endless maze of death, our minds and hearts increasingly began to sing the healing prayer of life. That song magnified as we journeyed on, until the qualitative shift (T-5.I.7:6) occurred in which that prayer became our life. We transcended the personal self and the artificial boundaries of individuality and differentiation. And so we not only grew to reflect Heaven's love, but came to experience ourselves as that love. No longer now do we walk with Jesus, for we have blended into the single Voice that has truly united God Son in the wholeness that is his Self—the Voice that is God's Son.

Thus, though we remain the same in the outer eyes of the world, we are not the same. To use the Course's metaphor of the dream, we are the dreamer, not the dream figure, the dream's cause rather than its effect. Supported by the love that transcends the world of separation, we stand tall in the sandbox of guilt and judgment, sin and specialness—above the battleground of illusion fighting illusion (T-23.IV). We literally fulfil the biblical teaching to be in the world though not of it (John 15:19; 17:14,16), for we have become the love of Jesus that appears to live in the bodily world of dreams of attack and judgment, but knows that beyond them all is the single truth of Atonement. Its gentle radiance shines down on all—saint and sinner—who still walk the world in despair, "uncertain, lonely and in constant fear" (T-31.VIII.7:1). We no longer fear death, for we know that the mind's love is eternal and cannot die.

A trace of individuality remains, but what is that to those who truly know they are not here; in fact, know there is no here to even be in? Time and space, bodies and behavior, have no special significance. Indeed, the inherent unreality of the phenomenal world of differentiation is seen with open eyes. The only reality for these advanced teachers, who are but one small step away from the real world, is their home away from home: the "stately calm within," the holy stillness in which dwells the Love of God (T-18.I.8:2) and with it God's one Son. Looking out from this "quiet center"(T-18.VII.8:), they perceive Heaven's love in everyone and everything. Even distinctions between victim and victimizer, animate and inanimate fade away, for the response of these advanced teachers is always the same: kind, gentle, and loving, regardless of time, place, circumstance, or event. Their holy vision of the universal sameness of God's apparently multitudinous Sons reflects this beautifully expressed truth from the workbook:

Then close your eyes upon the world you see, and in the silent darkness watch the lights that are not of this world light one by one, until where one begins another ends loses all meaning as they blend in one (W-pI. 129.7:5).

This qualitative shift from separation to sameness, differentiation to unity, is an unchangeable fact in our perceptual experience. What was spoken of early in the workbook (W-pI.23.3:2) has been transformed by Christ's vision: the world remains the projection/extension it has always been, but what we see in our healed perception is only the pictorial representation of loving thoughts, there being nothing left in our unclouded minds. Love is continually born anew in the mind's quietness, and is the sole source of our perceptions and behaviors. Innocence has replaced guilt, and people have been transformed in our perception from enemies into friends. Indeed, the following passage is the only truth as we appear to walk the world of illusion:

The outcome of the lesson that God's Son is guiltless is a world in which there is no fear, and everything is lit with hope and sparkles with a gentle friendliness. Nothing but calls to you in soft appeal to be your friend, and let it join with you. And never does a call remain unheard, misunderstood, nor left unanswered in the selfsame tongue in which the call was made.… The soft eternal calling of each part of God's creation to the whole is heard throughout the world this…lesson brings (T-31.I.8:1-3,8).

Can you imagine the joy of having this truth be our life? Nothing the world holds dear—nothing!—can even approximate the joy of knowing, not only that we are guiltless, but that every fragment of God's holy Son shares in that innocence. And always has. The separation that so infused (infected would be a better word) our lives has been gently dissolved in the soft glow of Heaven's kiss, the hush of Heaven that holds our hearts (W-pII.286) wherein all living and non-living things are responded to as one. The glory of God's loving oneness is directly reflected in the healed mind, and this glory is the gentle foundation of a gentleness that is our life as long as we seem to be here. In humble gratitude do we rejoice in the song of prayer that led us up the ladder of love that separation led us down (T-28.III.1:2):

Now prayer is lifted from the world of things, of bodies, and of gods of every kind, and you can rest in holiness at last.… Now can you look upon His [Christ's] sinlessness. High has the ladder risen. You have come almost to Heaven. There is little more to learn before the journey is complete. Now can you say to everyone who comes to join in prayer with you: I cannot go without you, for you are a part of me (S-1. V.3:1,4-9).

We have learned and integrated the sole purpose in everything that seems to move, breathe, and live: the healing of our brothers' pain through the quiet stillness of our Self. We have reached the lawns of Heaven, knowing we have not come this way alone. We remember that the Name of God's Son is one, and that we all share and are that oneness. The spirit of Helen Schucman's poem "My Father's House" is our very breath, and our being sings out its sacred song of thanksgiving to our Creator Who is the Source of all creation, and to His Son whose holy Name is His and ours:

Hallowed my name. I am a Son of God
Who walks in stillness. I hold out my hand,
And from my fingertips the quiet goes
Around the world to still all living things,
And cover them in holiness. Their rest
Is joined in mine, for I am one with them.
There is no pain my stillness cannot heal,
Because it comes from God. There is no grief
That does not turn to laughter when I come.
I do not come alone. There walks with me
The Light that Heaven looks on as itself.
I am a Son of God. My name is His.
My Father's house is where my stillness is.
(The Gifts of God, p. 59)

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