Questions and Answers on Viruses, Disease, and Sickness
Excerpted from Q&A.
Q: As I read about the SARS virus the other day and how it attacks cells, my thoughts went to the attack in Iraq and then to my personal victim story of attack by neighbors (and my subsequent attack/defense). Will you please comment on forgiveness as it relates to any one of these situations and the relationship between them?
A: You are correct in associating the three different forms of attack you mention. Forgiveness applies to each situation equally, because they are all the same in content. In each case, there are seemingly innocent victims being attacked by outside forces (victimizers), which cause suffering. All the victims may make the ego’s righteous cry their own: “Behold me brother, at your hand I die” (T-27.I.4:6).
Forgiveness, as taught in A Course in Miracles, asks us to become aware of the feelings and judgments that arise when we consider each of these attack scenarios. Our reactions show us the beliefs we hold about ourselves as innocent victims, and our judgments against the victimizers. We are asked first to recognize these beliefs, and then learn to look beyond the external appearances to the real source of suffering, which is a decision in the mind to make the separation real. Forgiveness begins by taking responsibility for this choice and its effects (feeling attacked and victimized), without blaming anyone or anything external to the mind. This is what the Course means by: “…forgive the Son of God for what he did not do” (T-17.III.1:5). Any perceived attack, whatever form it may take, is always a reflection of the prior attack on our identity as God’s Son by choosing separation in the mind. This is true for ourselves, and for anyone else we perceive as suffering at the hands of others. The “others” include military forces, viruses, neighbors, natural disasters, etc. Our responsibility as students of the Course is to acknowledge in ourselves and in others the power of the mind to choose. Once we have done this, we then acknowledge that we all can use this same power of the mind to make another choice. Meanwhile, we do not deny the thoughts, feelings, and judgments about the situation as we perceive it, and bringing them to the Holy Spirit, our minds are free to be guided to act in the most loving way.
Q: As you probably have heard, the medical profession advises patients with the sexually transmitted disease (STD) of herpes—which is claimed to be contagious forever—to tell their sexual partner, and to use protective devices against transmitting the STD to his or her partner. And A Course in Miracles teaches disease is the effect of our belief of our guilt. So while guilt couldn’t be contagious, how could a student of the Course think rightly about, talk rightly about, and act rightly about the STD of herpes?
A: While guilt is not contagious, it inevitably leads to the expectation of punishment. Following the ego’s plan, as a defense against the agony over this guilt and fear in our minds we deny the mind and its contents and wind up believing we are bodies in a world with laws of its own. (See W-pI.76.8 where Jesus lists some of these laws.) By choice, then, we (decision-making minds outside time and space) subject ourselves to these laws and block any awareness of the dynamics going on in our minds, which are the foundation of our experiences in the world. The whole thing is a setup, but if we are convinced that we are bodies, we had better pay attention to these so-called laws. Yes, it is true that disease is ultimately caused by our belief in the reality of guilt, but while we are working on that level, which is a step in the right direction, we cannot ignore or deny our bodily experiences, nor does Jesus think it is a good idea to do so (T-2.IV.3:8-11).
You single out herpes, but would you drink from a cup just used by someone with the flu? Would you accept blood from a donor known to have the AIDS virus? Would you allow your child to play with another child who just came down with the measles? Would you eat at a restaurant where the food preparers have hepatitis? The point, again, is that if you believe you are a body, it is just common sense to do what normal people do in the world to protect themselves and others—but without making a big deal about it. This is the compromise approach Jesus himself recommends (the reference to Chapter 2 above).
Q: Two questions on sickness: A Course in Miracles talks about giving our body the Holy Spirit’s purpose and then it should function healthily. The past couple of years I’ve had a lot of sickness, which I attribute to stress and my two little rugrats bringing home what I like to call “the voodoo toddler virus”—only because I had put the Course on the back burner in my mind for a number of years, but now I’m back on track. To what extent does limiting guilt and practicing forgiveness affect our immune system; and are we limited more or less as long as we remain in a body?
The section in the manual called “How Are Healing and the Atonement Related?” (M-22) states that healing, the Atonement principle, and forgiveness are not just related, but are identical, and that this must be understood if the teacher of God is to make progress. I know that the body is the illusion and trying to heal the body is trying to make the dream and the body real. If the goal is to accept the Atonement, and having received it, my mind is healed, does it not follow that the body would then be subject to the decision that the mind has made and be healed too? Or can the mind be healed and the body still appear to be sick? How does this work if I am working with someone else who is sick? Does his body still appear to be sick or be healed?
A: (The following covers both questions.) The Course stresses that the body is a projection of the mind and does not exist as an independent entity that gets sick, gets better, and eventually dies (T-28.VI.2). Thus, only the mind is active—the body has no effect on the mind, and to think that it does is what Jesus calls level confusion (T-2.IV.2). The guilt in our minds is always projected onto our own bodies (sickness) or onto others (attack), unless the decision maker chooses to look at the guilt with Jesus. This is all part of the ego’s strategy to get us out of our minds so that we will never realize that we have the power to choose against it (the ego). We thus wind up believing the body actively does things or is acted upon by outside agents, over which we have little or no control. But that is all made up (self-deception), which is why Jesus describes sickness as “a defense against the truth” (W-pI.136). Ill health is the effect of a decision made by the mind for a purpose it wants to fulfill—ultimately, to remain in its separated state but not be held responsible for it. Thus does Jesus teach, “The cause of pain is separation, not the body, which is only its effect” (T-28.III.5:1). Pain, therefore, is not defined by bodily sensations; our experience of pain is due entirely to the guilt in our mind and our choosing the ego’s interpretation that we deserve to be punished.
Forgiveness is the mind’s decision to look at guilt with Jesus, learning that it is based on false beliefs and therefore need not be projected, but simply let go of. Although still a projection of the mind, the body, then, will not be used in support of separation and guilt, but rather to demonstrate the Holy Spirit’s thought system of shared interests. The mind healed of its belief in guilt will know that the body is not its reality, and so “health” will now be associated with the acceptance of the Atonement, not mistakenly with the absence of disease; and the immune system will be properly located in the mind—the mind’s resistance to any belief in the reality of separation and limitation. No longer identified with the body, the healed mind will not be limited by it (T-18.VI.13), although the body will still appear “normal” in the sense of aging and other kinds of conditions. An ego-free mind could also choose to help unhealed minds learn that the body is not their reality by appearing in a diseased body or in a body that gets crucified. Consider Ramakrishna or Jesus for example: their bodies at the end did not appear very healthy in the world’s terms; yet there was no guilt in their minds. They chose to teach us through those forms. There could also be other reasons, unknown to us, for choosing bodily limitations; but the healed mind would not add on the ego’s interpretation, that they are the punishment for our sinfulness.
Thus, the observation of the body alone cannot tell us whether a specific condition represents a right-minded or wrong-minded decision. Strictly speaking, of course, if a specific condition is the direct effect of the mind's projection of its guilt, then that condition will change when the mind lets go of the guilt. But with the disappearance of guilt goes also the mind’s identification with the body, as the mind has realized that its state of peace is completely independent of the body’s condition. That is crucial, and a very difficult lesson for us to learn.
In contrast, for the mind that still values separation and specialness, the body will symbolize whatever that mind values and wants to hold on to. Addressing the decision maker in this context, Jesus says, “you have made of it [the body] a symbol for the limitations that you want your mind to have and see and keep” (T-28.VI.3:10). Consequently, we (as decision making minds) will experience ourselves as limited by the body only if that is the identity we want to be the truth about ourselves. We will become what we are not, which includes believing the body runs on its own systems, which are affected by outside forces.
It is far more helpful to focus on the mind’s immune system: the power to accept the truth that we have been denying, and to deny that anything external can give us peace or take it away. (Kenneth presented a workshop in 2005 entitled “Strengthening the Mind’s Immune System.”) Jesus reminds us, however, that “the resistance to recognizing this is enormous, because the existence of the world as you perceive it depends on the body being the decision maker” (M-5.II.1:7). So we need to be patient with ourselves as we process these teachings and learn how to smile gently at our need to have the body be real in our awareness.
If you are working with someone who is sick, your only responsibility is to be aware of your perceptions and to look for any judgments you may be making, and then to bring them to the love of Jesus that is always present in your mind. As Jesus states in an earlier section in the manual, where he is discussing how to be with a patient, “This is the function of God’s teachers; to see no will as separate from their own, nor theirs as separate from God’s” (M-5.III.3:9). That is always the guiding principle for any relationship—to perceive your interests as shared with the other person’s, not as separate. Then you will simply know what to do or not to do. Whether the other person is coming from the wrong mind or the right mind will be irrelevant; your response will always be loving. Again, you cannot judge the content of the person’s mind just from the condition of the body (form). But in that holy instant of being beyond separate interests, love will flow through you in a form that will be appropriate in that situation. You will then avoid the all-too-common mistake (often with hurtful results) of thinking you know what is in that person’s interests; and, respectful of that mind’s choice, you will have no ego needs that will disrupt the communication of love.