Looking at Adversity through the Lens
of A Course in Miracles
Looking at Adversity through the
Lens of A Course in Miracles
Looking at Adversity
through the Lens of
A Course in Miracles
Click on an excerpt or question to open.
Click on an excerpt
or question to open.
Best Viewed in Landscape
“…In every difficulty, all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says, ‘My brother, choose again’ (T-31.VIII.3:2).
Jesus is not denying that we would experience difficulty, distress, or perplexity. That is why, to say it again, it is psychologically disastrous, not to mention deleterious to our spiritual growth to deny negative experiences. Rather than feel guilty, angry, or depressed about a problem—physical or psychological—we need to accept it as a classroom, telling ourselves this is the form in which we will learn what we need to learn: whatever the distress, it is our choosing. This is not because we are neurotic, psychotic, or bad, but because we want to prove we are who we are not; that the separated, sinful, and guilty self is real, and our glorious Self an illusion. Whatever its form, we are simply using the distress to prove the reality of the separation. Anything that we feel robs us of peace—our imperfections or those of others, circumstances beyond our control—can now serve a different purpose we should welcome. Rather than fight against the symptom, problem, or situation—we need embrace it, not because it has value in and of itself, but because of the purpose it will now serve. That very defect, imperfection, or adverse situation is the classroom Jesus can use to teach this is all in the mind. Not only that, it is in the mind because we want it to be there. If we agonize about something, repress it, drown it out, argue with it, or feel guilty over it, we deprive Jesus of the classroom he needs in order to teach us. After all, a teacher cannot teach without a classroom or curriculum.
The world, therefore, is of value because it can reveal to us the futility of trying to find hope here. Reaching that point, we can say, as did Helen and Bill in 1965: “There must be another way.” This, then, is the value of all pain, struggle, and torment: to help us realize that this is what life in the body is, whether or not one is born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth. To the Holy Spirit, therefore, the world is a classroom in which our thoughts, feelings, and behavior serve to teach us that the only good, noble, and helpful work is healing our minds through forgiveness. And so there is purpose even here, and with a different outcome from the ego’s:
“Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way. As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning point. This ultimately reawakens spiritual vision, simultaneously weakening the investment in physical sight. The alternating investment in the two levels of perception is usually experienced as conflict, which can become very acute. But the outcome is as certain as God (T-2.III.3:5-10).”
Excerpt from Futility to Happiness: Sisyphus as Everyman
As a psychologist, I am aware of the destructive consequences of denial, and I am certainly not advocating pushing down memories and thoughts, feelings of hurt, humiliation, and rage, or attempting to overlook them in the so-called spirit of forgiveness. Indeed, in so many instances some form of therapy is necessary as a means whereby people can first come to accept the pain of what has been denied for so long. This is an essential step in the process of forgive-ness, if one is going to eventually move beyond the painful, scar-filled memories of the past to an integrated sense of self that alone can bring fulfillment and happiness. Once again, we must not deny what has been done to us, but we all have the capability to grow beyond a victimized self-concept to realize our true potential as whole human beings. Thus, we demonstrate to our abusers that regardless of their actions, they ultimately were not damaging to us, for we were able to use the experience as a means for personal growth. Importantly, this does not mean allowing others, unchecked, to abuse us or others, the point here being our attitude towards the attacker. One can certainly act in a firm, strong manner to prevent attack and abuse without concomitant feelings of hate or revenge.
A Course in Miracles emphasizes that our perceptions are inherently interpretative. In other words, while our sensory organs report back to us scenes of hate, abuse, and suffering, these need not be instruments with the power to deprive us of our ability to grow, mature, and finally to attain inner peace, not only psychologically but spiritually as well. If these forms of darkness are accorded such power, then the responsibility lies not with the events themselves, but with our having made the event more powerful than the love of God our Source, our constant guide for growth and inspiration for change. This recognition becomes the basis of true forgiveness: Nothing in the world—however reprehensible, repulsive, and vicious—has the power to take from us our inner peace and sense of wholeness. Indeed, the only power that can accomplish this rests within our own minds, which alone can choose peace or war, forgiveness or attack, love or hate. Such a principle presents an overriding challenge to us all, but it is a challenge that we know can be met, as in the inspiring examples of the Dutch Ten Boom sisters and the Viennese Victor Frankl during the Nazi Holocaust. Thus, we need not give the events of our individual lives the power to deprive us of attaining the highest spiritual goal to which we can aspire: knowing, truly knowing, our Identity as spirit, part of the living and loving oneness of God. Extreme examples of brutality can afford us the opportunity of overcoming the easy temptation to hate, calling instead on the Love within to teach us how to forgive—others and thus ourselves.
Q: I have just realized, with somewhat of a shock, that a series of events that happened in my life—loss of friends, my job, my home—about five years ago seems to be playing itself out again in the same way, under similar circumstances. Everything seems to be falling apart.
I don’t want to repeat this because what followed five years ago was the bleakest, loneliest, poverty-stricken period of my life. I feel like I'm the victim of some big reality con and there seems to be nothing I can do to stop it and I'm terrified. It seems that my ego is trying to protect itself by massively intensifying its attack in order to stop me from letting it go by creating bad circumstances in my life. Is there anything I can do to stop what is happening? A friend has suggested that the first time this happened, maybe I should have chosen to go in a particular life direction but didn't and so now circumstances are repeating themselves so I can make the right choice this time. Maybe I'm getting carried away over nothing but if things do fall apart again and I can't change them, it would be nice to have some inner peace with what is happening.
A: You do not say whether you are a student of A Course in Miracles, but your hunch as to what your ego may be up to suggests you have more than a passing knowledge of the Course’s principles. The Course itself says that “trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one, and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought to you” (T-31.VIII.3:1). But it is always and only ever talking about the content of our own perceptions of others, and the pain those judgments bring, and not the specific form of events as they seem to play out in our lives. And there is nothing in the Course that says you must repeat the cycle of pain and suffering until you get it right, as if there were some kind of karmic debt to be paid. This may be true within the ego thought system, but the whole purpose of the Course is to expose the insanity of the ego so we can make a choice for sanity against that thought system.
So what is to be done? What we all must learn to do is to make conscious our own inner decision to see ourselves as guilty sinners who deserve to be punished for all of our transgressions, beginning with our supposed attack on our Father Who only extends His Love to us. That we believe down deep that we have attacked love is true, but we need to bring that belief into our awareness so we can question its validity, as well as the suffering and pain we believe it calls for. For there is no inevitability to the events of our lives. And even more to the point, there is no inevitability to the interpretation we give to the events of our lives. In other words, we may feel victimized by what seems to be happening to us in our lives, but that interpretation of victimization is nothing but that—an interpretation. And if we’re willing to accept our role in giving that interpretation to external events, then we can join with Jesus and allow him to offer a different interpretation in which no one is guilty, including, and especially, ourselves.
So if you can begin to recognize that it is your ego that is fanning your fears about the future, based on a faulty premise about yourself, you can begin to question whether you want to continue to listen to that voice. For that voice never wishes any of us well (T-15.VII.4:3). But there is another Voice, once you dismiss the ego’s, that only ever wills your perfect happiness (W-pI.101).
Q: According to the teachings of A Course in Miracles, how do I understand what is the lesson I have to learn from a situation that keeps coming over up and over again, which is more difficult each time? Is it that I have not been successful in getting the point, or might it be better to consider this a lifetime lesson and give up hoping not to repeat it?
A: Any situation that seems be a difficult one that recurs in our lives is simply a lesson in forgiveness that we have yet to accept. And what does that mean? That there is a guilty self- accusation that we are not yet willing to look at and so must keep projecting outside of ourselves so that it seems that the cause of the guilt and the pain is external rather than internal. The forms that these projections take are the specific relationships in our lives that seem to bring us distress and pain. But rather than seeing them as situations to get over and hopefully avoid in the future, the Course invites us to look upon them as our special function, the particular form in which we learn that our brother is guiltless and that therefore we are innocent as well (T.25.VI.4-7; T-25.VII.7-9).
Now the specific form of the lesson is “suited to your special needs, and to the special time and place in which you think you find yourself” although “the content is [always] the same” (T.25.VII.7:2-3). And this simply means that the form is the one that the ego originally made in order for us to feel at the mercy of someone or something else, so that responsibility for how we feel seems to rest on the outside situation. And if we have managed in our lives to escape from the situation at one time or another, it will simply reappear in a somewhat different form (a “new” relationship), for it is always mirroring what remains to be healed within.
The specific situation represents a particular expression of whatever specific belief about the separation from God we are unconsciously holding onto—betrayal, abandonment, rejection, loss, inadequacy, etc. And behind each of those thoughts stands the self-accusation—for this is what we believe we did to God when we chose our individual self over His Love. So if we can identify the unforgiveness or judgment associated with each recurrence of the difficult situation, the next step is having the willingness to accept responsibility for that thought without self-condemnation, that is, “with the Holy Spirit’s kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made, to heal instead of harm” (T.25.VI.4:1). And it is in that process of looking without judgment that we are released from the inner guilt that has been fueling the external projections. Does this mean that the external situation will no longer occur? Not necessarily. But it will mean that we will no longer interpret it in personal terms, that is, we will no longer feel in some way victimized by it or at its mercy, as we are learning to recognize that nothing outside ourselves can affect us.
In Jesus’ words from the end of the text:
“Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one, and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought to you. In every difficulty, all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says, ‘My brother, choose again.’ He would not leave one source of pain unhealed, nor any image left to veil the truth. He would remove all misery from you whom God created altar unto joy. He would not leave you comfortless, alone in dreams of hell, but would release your mind from everything that hides His face from you” (T.31.VIII.3:1-5).