Integrating Form and Content
Excerpts from the Workshop held at the
Foundation for A Course in Miracles
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
Q: What you have been saying sounds similar to the "figure and ground" idea you have talked about elsewhere.
K: Yes, that is another way of talking about the same thing. Figure and ground is a perceptual concept, which explains how we live our normal life. We are bombarded by sensory data all the time, and so we sift out what is important and screen out what is not important, otherwise we could not survive. The "ground" is what is going on around us, and the "figure" is what we make front and center in our awareness. An example I have used before makes the point that if I were an interior decorator standing here, all of the people in the audience would be the background. The foreground or the figure would be the colors, the design of the room, the wall hangings, and the furniture, and all that kind of thing. If I am not an interior decorator and I am just speaking to you, then my focus would not be not on the color of the walls or the shape or anything else; it would be on you. The room then becomes the background and the people become the foreground.
Translating that into what I have been talking about, the foreground is always the world, and the mind is distantly in the background, so distant in fact that we are not even aware of it. What Jesus attempts to do for us here in this course is teach us that we want the world to be the background, and our own mind to be the figure, what we focus on. That is the real shift that is asked of us. That is the shift that is the context of the miracle, the heart of the miracle. The book is called A Course in Miracles because the miracle shifts our focus from the world to the mind. The purpose of the world is to have us go from the mind to the world to such an extent that we forget we even have a mind, so we are seemingly stuck in this world with no real hope, because in the end, everyone's body dies. And so everything here is futile. What the miracle does is say, "You are not a body. You are a mind." Setting this in the language of the Course, the miracle says you are not the dream figure, you are the dreamer.
You are not the figure in dream; you are not the body; you are not part of the world, all of which is the dream. You are the dreamer. The miracle says you are the dreamer of the world of dreams. It takes us from the body to the mind. The ego took us from the mind to the body and then let this veil fall across our minds. Then we became unaware of a mind. We became mind-less, not in truth, but in terms of our experience and our awareness. The body in the Course is the equivalent of the state of mindlessness. Again, the ego takes us from the mind to the body and the world, and causes us to forget about the mind. The miracle takes us from the body and the world and says, "Ideas leave not their source" (T-26.VII.4:7); the world you see is "the outside picture of an inward condition" (T-21.in.1:5). It takes us from the world and the body back to the mind so it can choose again.
Q: You said earlier that our lives here are a direct extension of thoughts in the mind, and I know you are not talking about form, but could it also translate into form?
K: Yes, I did mean form. Our lives here as bodies are either extensions or projections of the mind. The idea, once again, is to have our experience here be an integration of the content of shared interests, wherein we see everyone as the same, as opposed to the ego's content, which is separate interests that gives rise to our pursuit of special relationships where people are seen as different from us.
Q: Is the hope that the feelings of the love that you are feeling when you choose with the Holy Spirit become the choice you always make?
K: That's the idea. It is a choice that we make with increasing frequency over time, and when it stops being a choice, in other words when we are 100 per cent in that love, that is what the Course refers to as the acceptance of the Atonement. We are then in the real world. Until that time, we go back and forth, but over time you will be able to choose that Voice of love more and more frequently. And not only that, when you do not choose it you will be aware of it. What many people begin to experience is that when they choose the ego, it hurts more because they now have a contrast.
Very often, then, people are tempted to blame the Course because they feel that things were okay until they started working with it, and now things are worse. What they are not aware of is that things were always worse but they didn't know it. An example that I always use to make that point is that if you have a tablecloth that is already very soiled, one more spot of grease, wine, or food does not matter, but when the tablecloth is clean and all of a sudden there is a spot on it, that one spot, which beforehand would not have bothered you, now really affects you. So, as you become more and more free of your ego and there is less guilt and more forgiveness motivating you, when you become afraid and go back, it hurts more because you are now more aware of it.
In that sense, which is a very important sense, it is a good thing because it indicates that you are really making progress, that the experience of choosing the ego is much more painful, which means you will be more motivated to let it go. You will realize this is an old pattern that you always fall back on, but it does not make you happy, and that you do not want to walk around angry all the time, feeling unfairly treated, or being depressed. You recognize this is a decision: it is not your genes, your metabolism, or your hormones, and it is not what other people have done. If you are depressed, angry, anxious, fearful, or on edge, it is because of a decision you are making. That does not mean you should not take pills if that will alleviate the anxiety and make you feel better. Just be aware that it is magic and the ultimate healing is for you to become more and more right-minded.
Until we do it perfectly, we will make the choice to come back, but that does not necessarily mean you are going to come back here. It means that your mind still needs healing and whatever is in the mind gets projected, and what gets projected from the mind is what we call physical life. Realize, though, that linear time is an illusion, that everything has already happened, and as the workbook says, we are "reviewing mentally what has gone by" (W-pI.158.4:5). So when you come back, you may come back half a million years ago, or in a distant galaxy or something.
Q: Another way to look at that is we have great tolerance for pain and we realize that is not a good thing and as we are released from that we begin to feel better. Then if we feel just a little bit of pain we say, "Oh, I have to do something about that."
K: Yes, the typical thing of course that people do when they have a little bit of pain is they pop a pill, have a hot fudge sundae, get drunk, or do something else. The right-minded purpose of pain—this is not its ultimate source—but once pain is here the right-minded purpose is to motivate us to choose again. That is why there is that wonderful passage at the beginning of "The Happy Learner" in Chapter 14 that says the Holy Spirit wants us to understand how miserable we are, because He teaches us through contrast (T-14.II). Earlier, the text says that the Holy Spirit teaches us the difference between joy and pain and imprisonment and freedom because we get them backwards (T-7.X; T-8.II): what we think is joyful and happy-making is really painful because it's specialness, and what we think is painful is really joyful because to the ego pain is letting go of guilt. The idea, then, is to become increasingly aware of the discomfort and know where it is coming from: the mind's decision for the ego. That will motivate you to choose again.
Q: You made a comment about being unkind to God. How do I do that?
K: That is what we accuse ourselves of. If you think you are here, then you think that you are a body, which means that you think you are separated, which means you believe that you are separated from God, which means you told Him to get lost. You told God His Love was not enough. That is not really kind, is it? You know, the Guy raised you; He gave you everything; He sacrificed everything for you. And you just kind of thumbed your nose and said "Look God, sorry. Maybe You did Your best, but it's far, far short of what I need. So I'm going to find another father."
We keep doing this. It's a form of resistance, or what Freud referred to as "repetition compulsion." The context was different for him, but we are basically impelled to repeat the neurotic patterns which make us unhappy. We are compelled to repeat the separation patterns that make us unhappy. The reason we do it is that even though we are unhappy, there is an "I" that is unhappy. We like that. We might prefer that we be an "I" that is happy, but if our choice is being happy and nonexistent or being unhappy and existent, we will take unhappiness any day, which is what we all say.
What makes it a little more bearable in our perverse insanity is that we will be unhappy, but it will be someone else's fault. There is that kind of perverse pleasure in punishing other people by having already punished ourselves. "You did this to me. You should feel guilty." As the Course says, "'Behold me, brother, at your hand I die'" (T-27.I.4:6).