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Q: A woman I work with is taking care of her 82-year-old father, and seems very loving to him when I hear her on the phone. I gather, though, that she sees this as an obligation she has to her parents, and I sense an expectation on her part that her children will do that for her. This seems to be a way of her reinforcing the belief that taking care of one’s parents is a duty.
A: Love does not have a sense of duty; it simply is. Taking care of someone out of a sense of duty or responsibility is not love but specialness: the triumph of form over content. Content is love. Form is duty, responsibility, ritual: one should do this, one must do that; good sons and daughters do this, good mothers and fathers do that. But love is not present in these situations. There is nothing in A Course in Miracles about what you are to do or not do behaviorally—only whether you choose the content of guilt or love.
Even if you regard taking care of your parents as a duty, which is how society usually sees it, this does not necessarily mean you should not do it—be aware that refraining from helping may be not loving as well. The Course teaches that “what is not love is murder” (T-23.IV.1:10). You are being not loving but hateful if you act because you are supposed to, or because the guilt would be astronomical if you did not, or because you do not want to be written out of the will. The loving response is to see yourself as the older brother or sister with your little sibling, or even your little child, who needs help. Why would you not help someone you love who needs you?
In 2005 I gave a workshop called “Life: A Required Course,” in which I explained that our relationships here are “required” because they are what we wrote into our scripts. They are the curriculum Jesus uses in the classroom of our lives—the specific lesson of forgiveness in any situation or relationship that we can generalize, at which point we forgive everyone. Our parents parenting us as we are growing up, and our parenting them later on are part of the required course in which we learn our lessons and awaken from the dream.
Again, if you are right-minded and see yourself as the parent taking care of the persons who call themselves your parents, but are really now your children, there is no question that you will take care of them; not because you have to, but because that is what love does. In form, love embraces all who come into its sphere, as water courses down the bed of a river and encounters stones and branches, gently caressing them as it goes by. You would automatically adapt your life accordingly, without a second thought. What prevents this natural extension of love are the grievances you hold from the past, the needs you feel have not been met. You thus may do the right thing, but for the wrong reason. That does not mean that you should feel guilty when you become aware of it, but it is important to become aware of it so you can change your mind.
The purpose of A Course in Miracles is to help us correct our mind’s mistakes. If we do not acknowledge them, how can the Course be of any help? The Holy Spirit and Jesus are spoken of as our Teachers. But if we withhold from Them what has to be taught, saying we have not made any mistakes, we invalidate Their role. They then cannot teach us—exactly what our egos want. Surely we are not going to go through life perfectly, loving everyone. But we can go through life being aware of our grievances, specifically those we hold against our parents, knowing these have been set up. We have to hold grievances against them because we hold a grievance against God—the reason we ran from Him in the first place. And so it should not come as a surprise to discover that we have unresolved issues with our mother and father. Pretending we do not is what gets us into trouble.
Thus, assuming responsibility for our parents is a wonderful classroom; a valuable opportunity to allow what has not been healed to come to the surface. The same idea applies as we grow older and become concerned about whether our children will take care of us. Now, instead of needing something from our parents, we need something from our children. Either way the relationship expresses our specialness, which is based on needs and the demand that they be met.
The reason the ego made the body with needs—physical, psychological, and emotional—is so they would not be met, yet often with the illusion that they have. This is special love, and when these needs are not filled in our experience, we have special hate. This keeps the ego thought system going, reinforcing the original thought that God did not meet our needs, which we reenact over and over again. Whether it is our parents, siblings, friends, lovers, spouses, or children —none truly meets our needs. Thus our lives are all the same for nothing ever changes—“There is no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)—even though we believe things are different.
What truly makes everything different is recognizing that while everything is the same—the problem of guilt—there is something we can do about it. Our world would change at once if that were our attitude. Everything might still be the same externally, but in a right-minded rather than wrong-minded way, for Christ’s vision sees everything as one: the ego, as well as the need for forgiveness.
Excerpted from Parents and Children
Student: The message I got from my father as I was growing up was that he would not love me unless I did well in school. I have held on to that, and have given that over to my three children. In my mind, I sense that one child’s response is: “Well, then I am not going to get good grades.” And she does not. I now realize that I keep sending her a message of conditional love. I have one child who is six weeks away from graduation and just might not graduate. Then my middle child makes up for all of that by coming home with straight A’s. So where do I go from here?
Kenneth: Don’t go anywhere with it. Stay with what you just became aware of. Recognize the pain it caused you as a child, even though you may not necessarily have experienced it like that. Realize that, to use the famous biblical quotation, the sins of the fathers are visited onto the third and fourth generation—how what your father did to you, you are now doing to your children. See how that does not make you happy and is not going to make your children happy. And finally, understand that your whole life has been built on the idea, not so much on the symbol of grades, but on conditional love. This will help you see how unkind all this is.
The more you allow yourself to feel the pain, the easier it will be to let it go. But don’t work at letting it go; simply stay with what you have made of the situation. Understand its roots, and that this is an important lesson for you and your family. You have an opportunity, as is stated in the pamphlet on psychotherapy, to realize this is a dirge you have been singing to yourself; a dirge that is the foundation of your ego’s life, and which you carried through with your children. To hear it [the dirge] is the first step in recovery. To question it must then become [your] choice” (P-2.VI.1:7-8). Your eyes are opening at last. Don’t do anything else. You have heard the painful dirge, and now are questioning it by realizing how you do not want to live like this anymore. You need do nothing else. Indeed, do not do anything else.
S: Before I left to come here, I was very invested. I sat my child down and let her know that she might not want to graduate, but I wanted her to graduate. This is where I get confused. As a parent, I still have to establish boundaries and rules. I’ve hated all that because I never feel I am doing it. On my way here I decided to take this and that away from my daughter, but as I listen to you talk about parenting, I can’t help thinking how badly I’ve messed up.
K: But you see, your messing up allows you to under-stand what it is that you truly messed up with. That’s wonderful! This is hardly messing up—you get the highest grade possible. Even though your father is dead, call him up and say: “Guess what, Dad, I just got an A!” If you had not messed up, the situation would not have been brought to your awareness. You have reached the point where you can now tell yourself that this is what you have been doing, and how terrible it is. This will motivate you to let it go.
S: I’m thinking now that it was stupid of me to put all those things into place. I have always been confused. I feel bad that I never parented this child right. She’s seventeen now.
K: Why don’t you apologize to her? Tell her that you realize you made a mistake and that it’s okay if she does not do well in school. Whatever words you use, the message you want to give her now is that you were wrong: “It is the worst thing in the world to place a condition on love, and I just want you to know that whether or not you do well, I will always love you.” And mean it. That is all you need do. Realize that healing could not occur without your having had a life of messing up. This is the positive sense of “being born again.” You are “born again” in the sense of looking at a lifetime’s worth of guilt and saying you no longer want it. And remember to tell your father you got an A!
Excerpted from Parents and Children
Q: In #821 you stated that “if the ego begins to sense that our present relationship is no longer serving its purpose, it will counsel us to pull up the stakes … ” My wife and I have been in a lot of counseling for her overspending and we are currently divorcing. I feel I have done all I can to save our marriage, but came to the point where I can no longer live with the dishonesty. I do not feel anger or condemnation or judgment towards her. I feel that the Holy Spirit, not the ego, has guided me to let this relationship go. Would you comment on divorce?
A: As with every other aspect of relationships, divorce can be wrong-minded or right-minded. It thus is neither intrinsically good or bad, wrong or right, depending entirely on the content in the mind. All of the effort you have put into resolving the issues along with the fact that you experience no anger, condemnation, or judgment toward your wife would seem to indicate that your decision to end the relationship in form is probably right-minded. Our statement in #821 addressed entirely different circumstances, where the lessening of external conflict triggered intense fear of dealing with the internal conflict that the external conflict had been covering. References from A Course in Miracles cited there all pertained to that aspect of the spiritual process. Therefore, if your experience is that you are being guided by the Holy Spirit to let the relationship go, it would seem advisable to follow that. Whatever lessons remain to be learned will surface in other relationships in your life.
Relationships, as we always say, are in the mind, and are ultimately between oneself and either the ego or the Holy Spirit—always a matter of content, not form. Accordingly, before, during, and after a divorce, we can still practice perceiving our interests as the same as the other person’s, as that is independent of the form of the relationship. The form of our relationships set up the classroom in which we choose to be led by the ego—following a curriculum of separate and competing interests—or Jesus or the Holy Spirit—following a curriculum of shared and unified interests, leading us finally to a vision of our shared Identity.Excerpted from Q & A
Q: I was abused at the age of two by my grandfather. The memories return and in my mind I tell my grandfather to stop doing it, which I did not do when I was two. I believe that the abuse gave me the self I have, but I now realize that something “higher” can give me a self now.
A: Bringing painful memories to the surface is helpful as it gives you the opportunity of learning to look at those memories without fear, realizing that although the abuse did happen when you were a little girl or boy, you are not that child anymore. What frequently happens instead, though, is that we hold on to the memories of the abuse as a way of justifying what we do in our present lives. As an adult, for example, I think that I have to be careful around men or women in view of what happened to me when I was a child! The effect of that approach is that it keeps the past alive in me. This in no way means that we should deny the past, but rather that we should learn to deny that the past has any effect on us right now. There is a big difference between the two attitudes.
On the one hand, as long as you repress a bad memory you are saying the past is still alive, and it is so horrific that you are not going to deal with it. This is not helpful. What is helpful, though, is to acknowledge what happened, but then to ask yourself what that has to do with you now. The mistake is saying it does have something to do with you now. And the reason it is so tempting to conclude that—it actually is more of a compulsive need to think like that—is that when terrible things happen to us as children, we build up a self as a defense against the abuse and victimization —a very understandable dynamic. But then we forget that the abuse is no longer there and we still have the self that we built up, which now defines us: This is who I am, and I am this way because of what happened when I was a little child. I need to hold on to the abuse—past, present, or anticipated—because that justifies the armor I built around me that now defines me. I am not a child of God; I am a child of an abusive parent, grandparent, relative, or even a gene that made me inadequate and defective.
We thus define ourselves on the basis of the past, and we continue to need the past because it justifies our being the way we are today. We think we have to be this way because we would not know who we are without our defensive system, our defective way of relating to the world. As long as we have an abusive past, we are off the hook. We can always maintain: “Someone made me.” Well, no one made you. You made you. And it is not only that your mind made you when you were two years old, you made yourself when you were 22, 42, 62, and 82. Again, we cling to the past as an excuse for not changing: Of course I am the way I am today, because …. That is just not true; you are the way you are today because your decision-making mind chose today to be that way.
Q: I work with two people whose work habits I do not respect. There is no supervisor in our area and they take full advantage of this. I no longer criticize or try to change them, as they are very defensive, and the Course says that you can’t change anyone anyway. Instead, on the level of form, I now interact with them only on work-related issues. When they attack me, I am able to choose another teacher and not attack back. By handling the situation in this way, I obtain some measure of peace. On the level of content, I can see them as the Son of God and equal with me in that sense. I know that they are acting from their ego and I do not wish them any harm, but I do not wish to interact with them on a personal level. So can I see myself as doing my best on the level of form but still seeing myself as joined with these people on the level of content, so that I will be able to join with God as one with the Sonship?
A: The level of content is the only level of relevance from the perspective of A Course in Miracles. Thus, the issue is not whether to be with people or not to be with them, but to be without judgment of them. This is the point that Jesus stressed with Helen in one of his discussions with her. He told her that her concern should not be for what words she should say to people, but rather that she ask for help to see each person “through the eyes of truth and not of judgment.” Then, Jesus concluded, “the help of God and all His angels will respond” (Absence from Felicity, p. 381). Judgment interferes with the flow of love through our minds; and therefore if we let go of judgment, we will automatically do and say whatever is most loving, which is Jesus’ meaning in saying “the help of God and all His angels will respond.”
The idea, thus, is to look within to see if you have any investment in seeing your co-workers as the “bad ones” (which makes you the “good one”). Once free of that type of investment, you would be peaceful in interacting with them or not interacting with them on a personal level. It would no longer be an issue for you. Some people make the mistake of thinking that love would automatically direct you to associate with another person regardless of the circumstances—that that would always be the loving thing to do. That is not true. Perhaps interacting on a personal level would not be the loving thing to do. The point of this principle is that the behavioral should-I-or-shouldn’t-I conflict would simply vanish in the holy instant of being without judgment.
Q: I was wondering if you could expand on the idea: that the parent-child relationship seems to come back to the initial belief in the separation of Father and Son. We now act out our roles to keep that initial belief alive, and therefore our ego needs to be the rejected child or rejecting parent.
A: Whatever we see in our children is what we see in ourselves. As your words reflect, if we see a rejected or angry child, we see something we are not looking at in ourselves that we have projected. Before proceeding any further, let me clarify a point that has confused many students of A Course in Miracles, leading them to turn the concepts and their application upside down. When the Course talks about perception, it does not refer to what our eyes see, but to the interpretation of what is seen. The issue, therefore, is not that our children feel rejected, but that we believe they are rejected—what the mind does with what our eyes see. In any relationship, each of the persons involved is both persons, because everything is an externalization of the mind’s thoughts. When we dream at night, we, the dreamer, are reflected in the various symbols of the dream—it is your dream, after all—split-off parts of our thought system. The same is true of relationships in our waking dreams.
This is why when we heal relationships and see everyone as sharing the same purpose, we are integrating our own split minds. My relationship with you is not what needs healing, because your body and mine are both projections of my mind. What is healed is my relationship with my self. When I choose the ego as my teacher, I am choosing a thought system of separation, fragmentation, attack, and pain. When I choose Jesus, I am choosing a thought system that reflects perfect Oneness. And so in healing my relationship with the people in my life—with family members high on the list—I am recalling the projections of my split-off self, recognizing they are the same. This promotes my mind’s unification, which is the ultimate healing.
We can now see why relationships are so important: they are the only means of getting in touch with the real problem. When A Course in Miracles talks about special and holy relationships, even though the context is usually relationships with people, what is really meant is that there is only one special relationship—with our ego—and one holy relationship—with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. We project either one onto the people in our lives. Thus, it is not our relationships with others that have to be healed, for they are just classrooms in which we learn where the real healing needs to be: our mistaken decision for the ego. Now we realize the true problem, and our anger is simply a reminder—if we are open to it—that we chose the wrong teacher. We do not need special relationships with people. There are no people. This is the bottom line, for puppets do not need to forgive other puppets. Our relationships, which we think are real because we think we are bodies, are only projections, the shadowy fragments of our special relationship with the part of the self we call the ego, and which identifies with separation, attack, and conflict. However, once the veil of forgetfulness falls, we no longer know we have a mind, and so we need the relationships we perceive in the mindless body to remind us of the mind—the home of the problem and its solution.
Once more, no relationship is more fraught with guilt and anguish than the parent-child relationship, because it is the closest in form to our relationship with God. Since that relationship is closed off to us, we need to experience that same conflict with the authorities in our lives, beginning with our parents. As children, we then grow up and become parents or parental figures for others. And so the special relationship with God is acted out over and over, and will continually be acted out until we bring it back to the only special relationship—our dependence on the ego. When we are finally aware of this, all relationships are healed, for the one problem has been brought to the one Answer.
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