Volume 11 Number 2 June 2000
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D
Readers accustomed to seeing articles in our newsletter that deal with metaphysical issues, will be surprised at this one. Our basic emphasis here is why we as students of A Course in Miracles persist in not doing the simple things salvation asks (T-31.I.1:10–2:2), thereby rejecting the wonderful benefits that the Course is offering to us, and through us to others. Moreover, the simplicity of its message goes hand in hand with the kindness that is inevitable if one truly practices forgiveness—clearly the heart of the message. In the following article, therefore, we focus on how this simple message falls prey to the lethal barrier of our choice for the ego thought system, which results in our core need to judge and attack others. In the spirit of this non-metaphysical simplicity, we take our cue from Jesus’ opening words to Workbook Lesson 133, “I will not value what is valueless.”:
Sometimes in teaching there is benefit, particularly after you have gone through what seems theoretical and far from what the student has already learned, to bring him back to practical concerns. This we will do today. We will not speak of lofty, world-encompassing ideas, but dwell instead on benefits to you (W-pI.133.1).
Therefore, in dealing with everyday life situations, a revealing way to monitor our minds in practical matters that we find difficult, is to watch how we respond when our families, friends, or even ourselves are going through periods of crisis or stress. It is at these times that unconscious feelings of selfcondemnation relentlessly surface in projected judgments about how we or those in pain are not good students, or are “not doing it right.” The tendency at that point might be to lecture someone, or to think we have failed A Course in Miracles ourselves. And, no doubt, we all have experienced, either directly in ourselves or in others, the use of metaphysical platitudes—distorted versions of the actual Course teachings—resulting in hostile projections. Unfortunately, Shakespeare’s famous line from The Merchant of Venice —“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (I,iii)—has found truth in A Course in Miracles circles as well. Incidentally, Jesus echoes this statement in the Course itself (T-5.VI.4:4). The following are some examples, unfortunately all taken from actual events, of such “loving” comments of Course students:
Why are you taking that pill or going to the doctor? Simply change your mind.
Why do you weep at your loved one’s death? Have you forgotten that death is unreal?
Why do you remain in your hospital bed? Read Lesson 136 (“Sickness is a defense against the truth.”).
How can you institute a lawsuit? You are simply reinforcing the ego’s thought system of opposition.
Why do you need to look at a dinner menu? The Course says you should ask the Holy Spirit what you should do, and that obviously includes what to eat.
Don’t tell me you still have insurance policies! Read Lessons 153 and 194 (“In my defenselessness my safety lies.”; “I place the future in the Hands of God.”).
Don’t ask me what I am going to do next week. Read Lesson 135 (which contains the statement: “A healed mind does not plan.”).
Why do you lock your car? Read Lesson 181 (“I trust my brothers, who are one with me.”).
Etc., etc., etc.!
Throughout all these pronouncements, the student has forgotten, once again, that the fourth characteristic of God’s teachers—gentleness—means to let go of all harmful thoughts, words, and actions (M-4.IV).
And then there are the attacks masquerading in the form of “whatever we do is all right because we are looking at our egos with Jesus,” invoking the opening paragraph of “The ‘Dynamics’ of the Ego” from Chapter 11 in the text: “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them…” (T-11.V.1:1). Armed with this weapon, students are able to justify or rationalize all manner of unkind and harmful words and deeds, very similar to the trap couples sometimes fall into, such as: “I am going to be totally honest with you and tell you exactly what I feel.” Woe be to the other partner if he or she does not duck in time. Those words should be ample warning that what will follow will be anything but honest, let alone loving.
It is clear that to harbor attack thoughts, not to mention act them out in a wish to harm others, must entail the belief—consciously or unconsciously—that the thought system of separation is real. How else could we justify our anger except by believing that these objects of our aggression are not only separate from us, but also different, leading to a mindset that states: “I am right and they are wrong.” And so the unkindness that is inevitable by holding on to this perception is also directed at ourselves. As A Course in Miracles states:
You can but hurt yourself. This has been oft repeated, but is difficult to grasp as yet. To minds intent on specialness it is impossible. Yet to those who wish to heal and not attack, it is quite obvious. The purpose of attack is in the mind, and its effects are felt but where it is (T-24.IV.3:1-5).
Or, as we see in two workbook lesson titles:
I am affected only by my thoughts. (W-pII.338)
I can be hurt by nothing but my thoughts. (W-pII.281)
And so the reason we persist in not doing the kind and simple things Jesus asks of us now becomes apparent. To let go of all judgment, belief in differences, and consequently all attack thoughts, means also to let go of the belief in separation. And without that belief in the reality of my separate identity from God, and from all other members of the Sonship as well, this ego identity would dissolve. Thus it is “safer” for me to hurt others, because in so doing I am protecting my single, individual self through attack, thereby preserving the ego’s thought system of separation and differences from God’s living Oneness. As we read in the text:
If you were one with God and recognized this oneness, you would know His power is yours. But you will not remember this while you believe attack of any kind means anything. It is unjustified in any form, because it has no meaning. The only way it could be justified is if you and your brother were separate from the other, and all were separate from your Creator. For only then would it be possible to attack a part of the creation without the whole, the Son without the Father; and to attack another without yourself, or hurt yourself without the other feeling pain. And this belief you want.… Only the different can attack. So you conclude because you can attack, you and your brother must be different (T-22.VI.12:1-6; 13:1-2).
Through such attacks on others, we express our preference to be right rather than happy (T-29.VII.1:9), proving that God is insane for “believing” in perfect oneness, while we are quite sane in our staunchly held position that separation is reality, and being unkind to others is salvation.
We are taught in A Course in Miracles that purpose is everything, and that the meaning of anything lies in what it is for (T-17.VI.2:2). It is understanding the oft-hidden motivation of self-preservation lying beneath our wish to be unkind that holds the key to Jesus’ question as to why we persist in learning not his simple lessons. Stated another way, if “the memory of God comes to the quiet mind” (T-23.I.1:1), then what better way to keep this memory of our oneness in God away from us—thus protecting our separated self—than to keep our minds in a constant state of busyness? Judgment, attack, and idle chatter—the ego’s “raucous screams and senseless ravings” (T-21.V.1:6)—are examples of what we have made so natural and turned into a state of perverse comfort for ourselves. Thus our judgmental thoughts and unkind words and actions are indeed quite purposive, serving to keep the peace that forgiveness brings away, the Voice of peace and forgiveness unheard, and forgiveness’ ability to lead us back Home rendered forever impotent:
Gods’s peace can never come where anger is, for anger must deny that peace exists. Who sees anger as justified in any way or any circumstance proclaims that peace is meaningless, and must believe that it cannot exist. In this condition, peace cannot be found.… Returning anger, in whatever form, will drop the heavy curtain once again, and the belief that peace cannot exist will certainly return. War is again accepted as the one reality (M-20.3:3-5; 4:2-3).
But one does not need to think of the larger metaphysical consequences, nor even of one’s individual salvation, in order to appreciate the common decency involved in being kind and helpful to others. To be normal is always a helpful rule of thumb, and a good working definition for “normal” is not going out of one’s way to insult, hurt, or in any other way bring harm to one’s brethren. It is not necessary that one believe that God did not create the physical universe, for example, to know the importance of treating people with kindness and respect. To be sure, it is not the ultimate healing—which can only occur on the level of the mind—but acting kindly most often reflects the kindness inherent in forgiving oneself, and thus it goes a long way towards leading us to the Home of Kindness itself.
And so, if our goal is truly to awaken from this dream and return Home, then we need to cultivate the very simple practice of remaining vigilant for all our thoughts of hurt and harmfulness, our need to attack and judge. Thus we keep in mind that whenever our peace has left us, and we are tempted to blame others for our disquiet and to exact just punishment for their sin, the ultimate object of our harmfulness is ourselves. And would we truly wish to use another as an instrument whereby we deny ourselves entrance into the Kingdom? Especially when the denying agent is ourself and ourself alone. This is made clear in the following penetrating passage from the text:
Christ is at God’s altar, waiting to welcome His Son. But come wholly without condemnation, for otherwise you will believe that the door is barred and you cannot enter (T-11.IV.6:1-2).
If a person’s head were bleeding, for example, and he were told that the pain came from his standing next to a wall and continually banging his head against it, there would be no question—unless the person were severely mentally disturbed—that he would stop. The connection between the cause—banging his head against the wall—and the effect—the intense pain he was experiencing—would be so clear that he would stop the cause instantly so as to remove the effect. Jesus makes the same point with us in A Course in Miracles—indeed, over and over again. He wants us to understand the direct connection between our unkind thoughts of attack and judgment, and our experienced pain and discomfort. As he says in the text, in the context of choosing to recognize the true cause of the problem of our suffering:
The choice will not be difficult, because the problem is absurd when clearly seen. No one has difficulty making up his mind to let a simple problem be resolved if it is seen as hurting him, and also very easily removed (T-27.VII.2:5-6).
The problem is that our physical and psychological experience of pain acts as a buffer between the cause (in the mind) and effect (felt in the body), so that we are not aware of the connection. The true intervening variable—to use the psychological term—between our attack thoughts (the cause) and our disquiet (the effect) is guilt, and this guilt is almost always unconscious, with but shadowy intimations that from time to time filter through the unconscious barrier into awareness.
It is a fact that guilt is inevitable once we harbor attack thoughts, which the ego always equates with sin. And one of the characteristics of guilt is that it demands punishment. This inner punishment is what ultimately produces our pain and discomfort. But again, since this guilt is out of our awareness, we have no clue as to where our suffering is originating:
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.7:4).
And without awareness of this connection, there is obviously nothing we can do that would effectively undo the pain and see to it that it never returned.
Unnoticed causes, and therefore causes that are not undone, continue to be operative, acting behind the scenes as it were, to ensure that their effects are always there. Thus, all we need do to put an end to our suffering and disquiet is to practice returning to the cause of our distress.
Now you are being shown you can escape [from suffering]. All that is needed is you look upon the problem as it is, and not the way that you have set it up (T-27.VII.2:1-2).
And in the context we are discussing here, the cause of our suffering can be identified with our decision to attack others as a means of protecting our unconscious guilt. This withholding of kindness from others, once again, withholds it from ourselves, and thus protects our identity within the dream.
Rather than closing the article, as we sometimes do, by citing the Course, perhaps a kind and simple message paraphrased from the master theorist Jiminy Cricket would be in order:
If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all!