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“I never thought I’d see those trees again” – Part 1 of 2

  • September 15, 2018

Volume 20 Number 4 December 2009
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.

Recovering Our Innocence – Part 1 of 2

Introduction: Helen Schucman's Vision

One evening while Helen Schucman, scribe of A Course in Miracles, and I were meditating, she told me that she saw a picture of the two of us standing together midst ruins and rubble; she in a tattered white dress, and I a little boy. The relationship could have been mother-son, if not literally so, certainly in spirit. Helen's feelings and her description of the scene strongly suggested Qumran (the locus of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were discovered in 1947) during the time immediately following the destruction of the Essene community by the Romans around A.D. 70. We actually had visited there the previous summer.

I envisioned myself standing there with Helen at Qumran, and then began a symbolic series of inner events that seemed to reflect a healing process in Helen's mind. We set out northward toward Galilee, along the Jordan river, and our journey culminated with Helen and I reaching what evidently had been our goal from the beginning, a lovely grove of trees in lower Galilee, the biblical site of Jesus' childhood and much of his ministry. I had rarely seen Helen so moved. She began to weep at seeing this grove, saying: "I never thought I'd see those trees again." Through the woods could be seen the figure of Jesus, and joyfully we knew we had reached the end of our journey.1

Our metaphoric peregrination could be thought of as everyone's journey, beginning with the devastation wrought by our belief in sin, attack, and loss of innocence, and ending with the joyous discovery that this was indeed "a journey without distance" (T-8.VI.9:7): our perceived sinfulness was but a terrible dream with no effect upon our reality as God's innocent Son. As we happily read in Lesson 93:

      Why would you not be overjoyed to be assured that all the evil that you think you did was never done, that all your sins are nothing, that you are as pure and holy as you were created, and that light and joy and peace abide in you? Your image of yourself cannot withstand the Will of God. You think that this is death, but it is life. You think you are destroyed, but you are saved (W-pI.93.4).

What a wondrous experience to know these words are true, that the salvific trees of innocence we never thought to see again were always there, patiently awaiting our return to them. And yet how painful to realize we do not accept them, that our belief in the sin of separation and the desire to remain a sinner are more powerful than the love we need to destroy in order for our special self to survive. Indeed, the pain of this disbelief is so far beyond words and concepts that we need to call upon the artist to express for us a symbolic rendering of this most agonizing despair. We therefore turn to perhaps the greatest poet and dramatist of all, William Shakespeare, and his magnificent tragedy Othello. It can arguably be said that nowhere in all literature is the experience of the horror of sin portrayed with greater insight and feeling than here, equaled in power and depth of emotion only by Verdi's penultimate opera of the same name (Otello). We therefore begin our journey to the trees by briefly examining Shakespeare's fallen general and the horrifying instant when he recognizes the awesome and irreversible consequences of his betrayal of love.

The Othello Syndrome: Everyone's Tragic Story of Guilt and Punishment

Admirers of Shakespeare's most celebrated dramatic heroes can far more easily relate to the tragic flaws of Hamlet's indecisiveness, Macbeth's ambition, and Lear's senile folly than to Othello's failing to distinguish between truth and illusion. Yet at the same time we can all relate on some level to the terrifying result of this flaw, which speaks to the broken hearts of all of us. Othello, as no other literary work I know, depicts the secret fear that lurks in the minds of everyone who is born to dwell in this "dry and dusty world, where starved and thirsty creatures come to die" (W-pII.13.5:1). The play offers no hope, for evil has clearly triumphed over good, and the ego thought system of deception, despair, and death has been seen as the final word and ultimate authority.

To succinctly summarize the dramatic action, Othello is a celebrated Venetian general who listens to the lies of his ancient (i.e., captain), Iago, who for his own purposes falsely accuses the general's wife Desdemona of infidelity. Othello decides to believe him over his innocent wife's protestations and, raised to a frenzy of jealousy, kills his cherished spouse, only to discover after the murder that Iago had woven a tapestry of lies to entrap him. Confronted with the immutable nature of his crime, Othello fatally stabs himself, but first recalls the kiss he bestowed on his love when just a few moments earlier he entered her bed chamber for the last time:

I kiss'd thee ere I kill'd thee: no way but this;
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss (V,ii).

One cannot imagine a more telling metaphor to depict the innermost layer of our unconscious minds. We are all Othellos, having chosen to believe the ego's lies of separation over the Holy Spirit's truth of Atonement, and still choosing to place our faith in a pathological liar who can never be trusted. The unmitigated revulsion of the tragic denouement of our sin—we shall never regain the love and innocence that we dreamed we threw away; no, destroyed—leads us into the waiting arms of specialness that are designed to protect us from what we believe we have done.

Any student of A Course in Miracles recognizes the centrality of the special relationship in the ego's arsenal of weapons against God, and the most painful sections in the Course to read, let alone put into practice, are those that describe the murderous dynamics of specialness, the mother of all defenses. Indeed, when Helen completed scribing the final group of sections that specifically deal with this topic and reveal the depth of our hate and guilt (T-24.I-IV), she heard Jesus' words of understanding and gratitude, "Thank you. This time you made it." This suggested to her that in some other dimension she had attempted to write these sections down, but had not been able to complete them. And, from the ego's point of view, with good reason! The guilt that is born of the belief we destroyed the innocence of God's Son, reinforced by seeking to destroy our brothers, is preserved beneath the veil of forgetfulness. This allows us to continue unabated our ego's journey on the precipitous slope that inexorably leads to the hellish existence of sin, betrayal, and death.

Specialness ensures that the innocent Self of Christ, our true Identity, remains forever hidden and beyond retrieval. In the Psychotherapy pamphlet we read: "And who could weep but for his innocence?" (P-2.IV.1:7). In other words, all sadness can be traced to the insane thought that through our sin we irrevocably lost the innocence that vanished forever when we chose to leave our Creator and Source. The disastrous results of pain, suffering, and death are inevitable, for they but logically follow the one mistake of taking the tiny, mad idea of separation seriously—i.e., calling it sinful:

Sin is not an error, for sin entails an arrogance which the idea of error lacks. … [Sin] assumes the Son of God is guilty, and has thus succeeded in losing his innocence and making himself what God created not (T-19.II.2:1,4).

Sin "proves" God's Son is evil; timelessness must have an end; eternal life must die. And God Himself has lost the Son He loves, with but corruption to complete Himself, His Will forever overcome by death, love slain by hate, and peace to be no more (W-pII.4.3.3-4).

The unchanging relationship between sin and its wretched consequences is also captured in the story of Adam and Eve, the myth of the Western world and the foundation for both the Old and New Testaments, not to mention the religions spawned by them. Consider what happens to these first two "sinners." Like Othello, they listen to the wrong voice, the serpent and its lies, and then pay the price set by the enraged and vengeful God:

Unto the woman he [the Lord God] said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. … And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life … the Lord God sent him [Adam] forth from the garden of Eden … and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:16-17,23-24; KJV).

And so the punishment for sin is a life of suffering and death, culminating in eternal banishment from Heaven; i.e., life in hell. What crueler effect can there be of our sin? What hope can be sustained in the face of such devastating and unrelenting certainty? What but the defenses of repression and projection can enable us to maintain our existence while still believing in the ego's unchallenged reality of guilt and punishment? No one can live in the presence of the searing pain of this self-hatred, and so we bury its tormenting agony beneath layers and layers of defenses, which merely retain the guilt but do not undo it. Left to fester unnoticed and thus uncorrected, guilt continues to make its presence known, leading to a bodily existence of untold misery, Thoreau's "lives of quiet desperation." We never know the actual source of our miserable state, which is perceived to be everywhere but in the sleeping mind that has chosen to believe in the lies of sin and guilt:

The witnesses to sin all stand within one little space [i.e., the decision-making mind]. And it is here you find the cause of your perspective on the world. Once you were unaware of what the cause of everything the world appeared to thrust upon you, uninvited and unasked, must really be. Of one thing you were sure: Of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them (T-27.VII.7:1-4).

Of course, the cause is not really guilt per se, since how can what does not exist be the cause of anything? The decision-making mind that chooses guilt is the source of all the problems we experience as bodies.

Indeed, concealing our mind's choice for the ego's guilt is the purpose of the world ("Thus were specifics made" [W-pI.161.3:1]), as it distracts our minds from themselves so that we would not remember that it was only our decision to be separate from love that has caused our distress. Innocence could not have been lost if we had not wanted it not to be found. As Jesus teaches us in A Course in Miracles, the ego's maxim, its raison d'etre for the world, as it were, is "Seek but do not find" (T-16.V.6:5). Our lives are quietly desperate because we shall never find the love and innocence for which we yearn, since we are looking in the wrong place.

Recall the joke about the man coming upon his friend one evening who is searching for a lost object on a well-lit street corner. Asking him specifically where he thinks he dropped what he is looking for, the man is told that it was dropped half a block away from the corner. He follows with the obvious question of why his friend is searching in a place where it was not lost. The response, which is the punch line of the story, is "because the light is better here under the lamp post." The ego (the part of our split mind that likes being separated and special) made the body with eyes so that it could see the "light" in the external world and therefore never find what was lost, our innocence that remains buried and thus unremembered in the mind. The bodily dreamworld of guilt has come to occupy our attention so that the mind's dreamworld of guilt is obscured, an obscurity that prevents our ever awakening from the dream to the loving innocence we left only in our delusional state of thinking.

And so the mind's guilt over the nonexistent sin of destroying innocence remains concealed and protected by a world that is ignorant of what is driving its very existence. The ongoing yet unseen presence of the guilt that determines our fate is described in this trenchant passage from the text:

Its [Guilt's] shadow rises to the surface, enough to hold its most external manifestations in darkness. … Yet its [guilt's] intensity is veiled by its heavy coverings, and kept apart from what [the body] was made to keep it [guilt] hidden. The body cannot see this [guilt], for the body arose from this for its [guilt's] protection, which depends on keeping it [guilt] not seen. The body's eyes will never look on it [guilt]. Yet they will see what it dictates (T-18.IX.4:3-7).

In this way we condemn ourselves forever to a life of despairing darkness, wandering "in the world, uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear" (T-31.VIII.7:1). Othello has become our model for learning, supplanting Jesus (e.g.,, whose loving place in our hearts has been usurped by the insane decision to believe the "voices of the dead" (W-pI.106:2:3) that speak to us of the pain of separation, the jealous agony of specialness, and the absoluteness of death. Having learned the ego's lesson of guilt, there is no choice but this:

The certain outcome of the lesson that God's Son is guilty is the world you see. It is a world of terror and despair. Nor is there hope of happiness in it. There is no plan for safety you can make that ever will succeed. There is no joy that you can seek for here and hope to find (T-31.I.7:4-8).

This clearly establishes that the Iago who represents the ego thought system will continue to exert dominion over truth, while the Othello mind that has chosen to believe its lies can never be corrected. The guilt with which it has identified holds full sway, protected by the mindless world of bodies that we have made our home:

The body will remain guilt's messenger, and will act as it directs as long as you believe that guilt is real (T-18.IX.5:1).

As long as you believe that guilt is real. This is the crux of the problem, as well as its solution. As the above passage makes crystal clear, the issue is not the guilt itself, nor the world of guilt that arose from it, but only our belief in them. This understanding is imperative if we are to return attention to our minds so that we may hear a different Voice, the loving words that say to us that we are wrong, for "God thinks otherwise" (T-23.I.2:7). We then allow ourselves to hear Jesus' comforting words to us in all three books of his course, that the truth is quite different. Our grateful ears listen to his loving wisdom in the following examples among many, which our teacher continually presents to us in the face of the ego's insistence that sin and guilt are real, and fear is justified:

Son of God, you have not sinned, but you have been much mistaken (T-10.V.6:1).

You have not lost your innocence. It is for this you yearn. … This is the voice you hear, and this the call which cannot be denied (W-pI.182.12:1-2,4).

You but mistake interpretation for the truth. And you are wrong. But a mistake is not a sin, nor has reality been taken from its throne by your mistakes (M-18.3: 7-9; italics omitted).

This correction from sin to mistake, guilt to innocence, is the basis of forgiveness, the thrust of A Course in Miracles, to which we now turn.

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1. The complete account of this experience can be found in my Absence from Felicity, pp. 416-17.