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On Becoming the Touches of Sweet Harmony – The Holy Relationship as Metaphor – Part 1 of 2

  • June 1, 2018

Volume 22 Number 2 June 2011
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.

Introduction: Metaphor in A Course in Miracles

We live in a world of wrong- and right-minded symbols, and what they represent—the mind's thoughts of hate and love respectively—can only be experienced indirectly since our identification with the body precludes knowing the contents of the split mind, let alone the Mind of God. Enter the metaphor, which helps us express more poetically, and in a more penetrating manner, experiences that would otherwise not be truly understood or even accessible to us. In this way, much as Freud used the metaphoric language of dreams (and other human experiences) to gain access to the unconscious, A Course in Miracles uses symbols as the royal road (to use Freud's famous phrase) to express the inexpressible. Music, using musical notation instead of words, has always been a wonderful means of accomplishing this, and in this article we shall employ music as a metaphor to explore the holy relationship, a core theme in the Course and one directly related to its concept of forgiveness. More specifically, we shall discuss musical performance, wherein instrumentalists place their artistry in the service of the composer, making their individual contributions secondary to the primacy of the music itself. We begin, however, with a brief discussion of the role of symbol and metaphor in the Course.1

I have often urged students to read A Course in Miracles as they would poetry, e.g., an epic poem or Shakespearean play, not as a scientific treatise or academic text. In other words, with a literary masterpiece we let the words (symbols and metaphors) and rhythms play on the imagination, which would then unveil the work's meaning and power to inspire us to be more than we believe we are. And so, we should not take literally much of what we read in the Course, needing rather to have its poetic language enter the heart (mind) instead of merely stimulating the brain. Without this approach, we would remain below, in the world of form, while Jesus' purpose in his course is to lift us above the battleground of bodies to the mind's content of a peace that is beyond the intellect and understanding. To state this another way, without understanding the role of metaphor and symbol in A Course in Miracles, we would be prone to confusing symbol (body) and source (mind), as Jesus specifically cautions us not to do (T-19. IV-C.11:2). Inevitably, then, our elder brother's otherwise clear message that we are minds and not bodies will be misinterpreted and misapplied.

In view of this, we read the following from the introduction to the clarification of terms:

This course remains within the ego framework, where it is needed. It is not concerned with what is beyond all error because it is planned only to set the direction towards it. Therefore it uses words, which are symbolic, and cannot express what lies beyond symbols (C-in.3:1-3; italics mine).

This need is explained by the Course's underlying metaphysics, which teaches that the body does not exist outside the mind (ideas leave not their source). Restating this, the mind is the cause, and the body (and world) only an effect. Moreover, as implied above, since the mind is beyond time and space, which exist only in the material universe, our words must be symbolic. As the Course itself says, paraphrasing a famous passage from Plato's Republic (596c-602b):

Let us not forget … that words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from reality (M-21.1:9-10).

This is further amplified by the following statement that explains why A Course in Miracles uses the dualistic (or symbolic) language of the world. The ego has us believe we are not decision-making minds but mindless bodies that judge, attack, and then forgive. This is the condition in which we think we exist, and therefore the one that Jesus seems to address:

All this [forgiveness and the holy relationship] takes note of time and place as if they were discrete, for while you think that part of you is separate, the concept of a Oneness joined as One is meaningless.… Yet must It [our Teacher] use the language that this mind can understand, in the condition in which it thinks it is.…[It leads us beyond illusions] to the truth that is beyond them (T-25.I.7:1,4-5; italics mine).

Consequently, the language of A Course in Miracles can be understood as the expression in form of the Son's right-minded choice for Atonement over separation. Its symbols and metaphors reflect what we could not otherwise understand about the mind and its nonspatial and atemporal thought systems of attack and forgiveness. Likewise, this article uses metaphor as a paradigm for understanding and practicing the true holy relationship, the mind's joining with the Holy Spirit. This metaphor, again, is the performance of music in the concert hall.

Music as Metaphor

In the opening scene of Act V of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the ardent youth Lorenzo is alone with Jessica, Shylock's daughter, and invoking the magic of music as they sit under the moonlight, the young lover says to his beloved:

Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

This beautiful passage, dear to music lovers for centuries, can be a wonderful metaphor in and of itself, insofar as A Course in Miracles is guiding us to have our holy relationships in the world be touches of sweet harmony. Nowhere can this sweet harmony be better seen than in the music world's finer orchestras and chamber groups, where the wills of the individuals become ancillary to the will of the conductor, or, if one may speak of it this way, the will of the music. In the Foundation's early years in Roscoe, New York, where for thirteen years we ran a Conference and Retreat Center, my wife Gloria and I held meetings that from time to time were aimed at helping the staff work better together, seeing themselves, in effect, as members of an orchestra. After one such meeting, we sent out the following:

Apropos of our last staff meeting, we thought you would all find the following description of the Budapest String Quartet relevant and of interest. Please let the idea expressed here of allowing your individual voice to serve the whole, without losing your own particular gift, be the model for your participation in the Foundation's work.

What followed was a slightly abridged description of this master of all string quartets, taken from an article by Joseph Wechsberg that accompanied a record album of the Budapest playing the Beethoven Late Quartets:

String quartet devotees who care little about bigness and business admire the Budapest String Quartet for its beautiful tone, its perfect integration, its impeccable taste, its careful phrasing, its character and style, and, above all, its depth of interpretation.… The Budapest is never satisfied merely to perform music with a well polished surface; the four men do not just play music, they make it.… Their ensemble work is miraculous…. But although the four instrumental voices are perfectly blended, the individual work of the performers is always clearly discernible.…

Last year we received a letter from Patrizia Terreno, an Italian friend of ours who gave a description of a string quartet concert she had just attended that, interestingly enough, paralleled the above account of the Budapest:

It was such a joy to see them playing! They were perfectly attuned…. It was evident that they were following a kind of inner melody. No one was leading. No one was following. The four of them were just trying to follow their score and play it at their best together. And the score was just giving them a reason for being happy together and share with the audience the wondrousness of their joint inner hearing.

The point here is that the musicians were able to place themselves in the service of the music, what should be the purpose of all music making, rather than seeking the individual glory that comes from virtuosic mastery of their instruments. They were faithful to both form and content. Having mastered the challenges of their individual instruments and compositions they were playing (the form), they were able to be attuned to the "silence between the notes" (the content), Isaac Stern's marvelous phrase that should be quite familiar to readers of this newsletter. Their bodies went on automatic pilot, as it were, allowing the music of the heart to express itself through their bodies' musical artistry. These musicians would remain faithful to the musical notation, at the same time hearing the inner music (what Wagner called the melos, described before in these pages) in a perfect integration: within the differentiated instruments and different notes played by the musicians, there was forged a unity of sound and soul, form and content.

Similarly, the holy relationship can be seen as the effect of at least one of the partners demonstrating fidelity to the right-minded purpose for the various roles we share (e.g., parent-child, spouses, friends, employer-employee), at the same time remembering the practice of forgiveness that leads to the ultimate goal of becoming ego-free. This theme of respecting individual needs and aspirations (form), yet blending in with the shared interest of another (content) is our segue to the next section.

The Holy Relationship (Body) as Metaphor

The process of form serving content is Jesus' goal for us in our relationships; indeed, it is how he would have us live our lives in general. He tells us that one of the hallmarks of the special relationship is its triumph of form over content, whereby the ego has our physical and psychological needs trump the need to remember the Love that created us. Once this need is hidden in the inner vaults of the mind, the ego preserves itself through the content of guilt and the forms and rituals of specialness that rule the mind and body. The following passage, stripped of its larger metaphysical context (our special hate relationship with God), makes explicit this need to bury the right mind's content of love behind the worshipping of form:

Whenever any form of special relationship tempts you to seek for love in ritual, remember love is content, and not form of any kind. The special relationship is a ritual of form, aimed at raising the form … at the expense of content. There is no meaning in the form, and there will never be. The special relationship must be recognized for what it is; a senseless ritual in which … form has triumphed over content, and love has lost its meaning (T-16.V.12:1-4).

When the pain of these relationships becomes too great and we are impelled to ask for help, Jesus responds by exposing the deleterious consequences of our choice for the ego's specialness, which excludes him and his love. Following his baton, we are able to listen to the music of the relationship, recognizing its true purpose of learning. This allows us to transcend the various forms of specialness and identify instead with the Course's symphonic content of shared interests. Our teacher helps us to accentuate our sameness rather than the special differences that meet our special needs, freeing us to meet the one need for the relationship. Paraphrasing the following passage, substituting need for prayer, we may say:

[Our] only meaningful need is for forgiveness, because those who have been forgiven have everything. Once forgiveness has been accepted, need in the usual sense becomes utterly meaningless. The need for forgiveness is nothing more than a request that you may be able to recognize what you already have (T-3.V.6:3-5).

Under the tutelage of our Conductor, we can liken our experience of holy relationships to a great Bach double fugue where two separate themes unite in a cohesive and sometimes majestic whole. Here, in the world of bodies, individuals can learn to remain true to their uniqueness, and yet be devoted to the greater music of the relationship, placing themselves in its service. Or, to switch musical genres, we see ourselves as in an operatic duet where two voices blend together as one, even as the particular timbre of the individual voice, essential to the whole, is discernible. We need to harmonize with our special partners, joining with them to hear the underlying melos of forgiveness that is the only purpose for being in this world of discord and dissonance. We need to trust that the relationship is already perfect since minds are one in their common need and purpose. In fact, our seemingly separate minds are already healed in a perfect reflection of a Oneness joined as One. This inherent unity merely waits for our return to sanity, reflecting the spirit of Lesson 181, "I trust my brothers, who are one with me." The point of the lesson is that we trust that beyond the ego, ours or another's, shines the right-minded Atonement that has already corrected the mind's errors.

Armed with this trust, we are able to relate to other people through the gentle eyes and ears of needlessness (to coin a phrase), looking past their "sins" to hear what they are truly saying, expressing love or calling for it (T-14. X.7). And we answer this call in God's loving Name, in a form that can be comfortably accepted:

The value of the Atonement does not lie in the manner in which it is expressed. In fact, if it is used truly, it will inevitably be expressed in whatever way is most helpful to the receiver … in a language that the recipient can understand without fear (T-2.IV.5:1-3).

Being right-minded means that we have shifted the purpose for each day from need-satisfaction to learning to apply the principle of shared interests, from the time our eyes open in the morning to when they close at night. This newly found purpose is the fulcrum around which revolve our perceptions of every event, situation, and relationship we encounter. It provides meaning and significance to our personal lives in what, devoid of the Holy Spirit's reason, is a meaningless world. The rallying cry of our daily experience is the perception of sameness instead of difference. The New Year's resolution Jesus gave us in the text can be renewed each and every morning as our eyes open to greet another day of learning:

Make this year [day] different by making it all the same. And let all your relationships be made holy for you. This is our will (T-15.XI.10:11-13).

This resolution must be our will if we are clear about our wish to awaken from the nightmarish hell of lives born of differentiating hate that have been preserved in our differentiating relationships, wherein another's need and purpose are seen as separate from our own. Jesus helps us shift attention from the dissonance of the ego's goal of reinforcing separation and differences, its salvation, to recognizing that everything and everyone is the same. His unifying theme pulls together seemingly disparate forms into the glorious sound of forgiveness. All things in the world are perceived now as nothing but the projection in form of the wrong-minded content we share as fragments of the one split mind. Yet within us is the healing music of forgiveness, the shared right-minded content that restores to our awareness the reflected content of Heaven's perfect Oneness. It is this reflection in the form of our sameness that corrects the ego's insistence that we are separate and different from each other. At last, we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us the true meaning of forgiveness, denying the ego's denial of the universal sameness of God's Son:

The light that joins you and your brother shines throughout the universe, and because it joins you and him, so it makes you and him one with your Creator. And in Him is all creation joined.… What teaches you that you cannot separate denies the ego. Let truth decide if you and your brother be different or the same, and teach you which is true (T-22.VI.15:1-2,6-7).

The shift from perceiving the differences in form to the mind's underlying sameness of content is the basis of healing. This true perception underlies everything in our multitudinous world of differences, and it is our Teacher's role to help us integrate our intellectual understanding with an everyday experience of forgiveness. Hearing the sweet sounds of the miracle allows us to make the kindness of forgiveness the daily theme of our lives, wherein we think about others and not ourselves, having relationships be about them and not us. Such healing undoes the belief in separation that is our only problem. The fear of what it means no longer to be separated requires that we go slowly. We invite our Teacher to walk beside us in the little steps of forgiveness (W-pI.193.13:7) that kindly dissolve the barriers of projected fear that kept us imprisoned in our hate. In the presence of the touches of sweet harmony, the discordant sound of the nothingness of our specialness will gently "melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew," to quote Hamlet, leaving only the everything of our Self that is entirely beyond the world of symbols:

Nothing points beyond the truth, for what can stand for more than everything? Yet true undoing must be kind. And so the first replacement for your picture is another picture of another kind.
As nothingness cannot be pictured, so there is no symbol for totality. Reality is ultimately known without a form, unpictured and unseen.… Forgiveness is the means by which the truth is represented temporarily (T-27.III.4:6–5:2,5).

And behind each brother that we forgive stand not only thousands more (T-27.V.10:4), but God Himself. The following passage from the text uses our relationships with each other as a metaphor for our relationship with God. We can also read it as our split mind's relationship with His reflection, Jesus or the Holy Spirit:

Dream softly of your sinless brother, who unites with you in holy innocence.… Dream of your brother's kindnesses instead of dwelling in your dreams on his mistakes. Select his thoughtfulness to dream about instead of counting up the hurts he gave. Forgive him his illusions, and give thanks to him for all the helpfulness he gave. And do not brush aside his many gifts because he is not perfect in your dreams. He represents his Father, Whom you see as offering both life and death to you (T-27.VII.15:1,3-7).

Summarizing the article to this point, we return to the metaphor of musical performance and look to the orchestra. Just before the conductor enters and raises his baton, the oboe typically sounds an A, called concert A, and the concertmaster (the lead violinist) stands as the rest of the orchestra tunes itself to the single note that brings them into harmony. Similarly, Jesus asks us to tune ourselves to his concert A—Atonement. Brought into alignment with the single focus of our mind's relationship with him, we tune our relationships to the single purpose of forgiveness, the means of Atonement. Our holy relationship with our beloved teacher becomes the unifying element in the symphony of forgiveness, without which undoing the mind's belief in separation is impossible.

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1. Over the years I have discussed this issue at length, particularly in Few Choose to Listen, Vol II of The Message of A Course in Miracles, and "Duality as Metaphor in A Course in Miracles," a 1993 workshop that is available on CD and downloadable MP3.