Volume 18 Number 4 December 2007
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
Standing Up in the Sandbox:
On Leaving the Sirenic World of Childhood
Part 2 of 2
Our Secret Vow with Each Other: Feeding the Ego's Insatiable Hunger for Guilt
Since the ego's origins lay in the aggressive belief that it usurped God's creative function and then miscreated a world of time and space, the opposite of Heaven's eternity and infinity, the oxygen that allows it to survive is judgment and attack. Readers may recall an episode from the original Star Trek series called "The Day of the Dove." The Enterprise crew is doing battle with its arch enemies the Klingons in a seemingly endless struggle in which no one wins; indeed, no sooner is one wounded or killed than that person is somehow healed or brought back to life. Moreover, the combatants demonstrate overtly paranoid, if not psychotic behavior. It is finally recognized that an alien life form of swirling energy has made its way onto the ship, and is feeding off the aggressive (and fearful) feelings of all on board, instigating the bizarre behavior that goads everyone to hostility. Only when the two angry crews can laugh and demonstrate positive instead of negative emotions does the alien presence leave the ship, forced to look elsewhere for the nourishment of hate that sustains it.
Such is the ego's life of fear and anger, guilt and judgment, and it is forever looking for children to play with its toys of battle. Indeed, it must find companions to play in its sandbox of illusion; otherwise its existence—already hanging by the thin thread of sin—will wither and die. To paraphrase the popular expression, littleness loves company, and the ego's littleness needs to join with the littleness of others to root its existence in the illusion of magnitude that is simply the ego's grandiosity of believing it has supplanted God on the throne of creation. Such belief engenders guilt, the one thought the ego cherishes because it witnesses to the reality of separation and sin. To preserve this thought, the ego protects it with the world, which becomes the object of its projections. Thus our real guilt is denied and then seen in other people who, of course, are doing the very same thing to us. These, then are the alliances we forge with each other, the special relationships within which guilt thrives in what is the ego's home away from home. Jesus describes this dynamic of seeing our guilt (self-hate) in others who deserve attack and death for "their" sins:
Hate is specific. There must be a thing to be attacked. An enemy must be perceived in such a form he can be touched and seen and heard, and ultimately killed (W-pI. 161.7:1-3).
And so, on a "savage search for sin" (T-19.IV-A.12:7), we continually seek out guilt in anyone but ourselves, and therefore find it. Likewise, these same people are looking for us, and the only interesting aspect to this otherwise predictable if not pedestrian endeavor is to see the ingenuity with which the ego pursues its goal of kill or be killed(M-17.7:11): different forms, same content. Thus do we all invite each other to participate in this dance of death. Indeed, we are like little children playing in a sandbox, craving company. Each and every time we make our bodies real via pleasure or pain, gain or loss, sickness or health, we invite the world to join us in the sandbox of guilt to play with us by exchanging artillery made of sand. Everyone, therefore, invites us to his or her dance of death, centered on the body, in which we pledge our undying (actually: dying) support of the ego's perpetual dreams of victim-victimizer:
You hate it [the body], yet you think it is your self, and that, without it, would your self be lost. This is the secret vow that you have made with every brother who would walk apart. This is the secret oath you take again, whenever you perceive yourself attacked. No one can suffer if he does not see himself attacked, and losing by attack. Unstated and unheard in consciousness is every pledge to sickness. Yet it is a promise to another to be hurt by him, and to attack him in return (T-28.VI.4:2-6; italics mine).
Guilt, then, is the glue that binds together our relationships. Nowhere is this insanity more clearly seen in its pernicious hatefulness than in our suffering and pain. In a passage that is perhaps the most hard hitting of all in A Course in Miracles, we find a succinct summary of the role that hurt plays in our lives:
If you can be hurt by anything, you see a picture of your secret wishes. Nothing more than this. And in your suffering of any kind you see your own concealed desire to kill (T-31.V.15:8-10).
We willingly and even gladly choose to suffer at the hands of another so that the guilt over their sin of attack would rest on them, demanding their punishment instead of our own. By allowing ourselves to be victimized by others, we seek to escape the fatal effects of our own perceived sin, insanely believing we have traded sin for innocence, thus escaping God's wrathful and murderous vengeance. Only in delusions can this be true, yet since we believe in them, Jesus continually reminds us of our insanity, and thus cautions us:
Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated. In this view, you seek to find an innocence that is not Theirs [God's and Christ's] but yours alone, and at the cost of someone else's guilt (T-26.X.4:1-2).
Each of us plays this game with one another, and it is the pledge to suffering and pain that truly makes our world go round, without which it would "fade into the nothingness from which it came" (M-13.1:2) and we would "disappear into the Heart of God" (W-pII.14.5:5). Guilt protects our separated selves and world, and we need the participation of others in the sandbox of guilt to preserve the ego's delusions of sin and attack. Our mutual promises therefore reinforce the thoughts of separation and specialness that establish the body—the embodiment of the ego—as real, and therefore the tiny, mad idea that is its source. And so an alliance of guilt and hate is forged, regardless of its seemingly benign forms of expression:
A cautious friendship, and limited in scope and carefully restricted in amount, became the treaty that you had made with him. Thus you and your brother but shared a qualified entente, in which a clause of separation was a point you both agreed to keep intact. And violating this was thought to be a breach of treaty not to be allowed (T- 29. I.3:8-10).
Our fidelity to this strange agreement perpetuates the ego's insanity, and violating its principles of specialness and judgment carries severe penalties:
To the ego, the guiltless are guilty. Those who do not attack are its "enemies" because, by not valuing its interpretation of salvation, they are in an excellent position to let it go.…To the ego, the ego is God, and guiltlessness must be interpreted as the final guilt that fully justifies murder (T-13. II.4:2-3;6:3).
This is why changes in a relationship are usually experienced as threatening, an experience of fear that inevitably gives rise to anger at the one who is perceived as breaking the alliance of guilt. For example, the defenselessness of one in the face of attack, when it had formerly been met with counterattacks, is experienced by the attacker as betrayal, punishable by even stronger attacks. Those standing up in the sandbox of guilt and attack are pariahs, deserving only to be ostracized as traitors for they have gone against the ego's holy writ of specialness, weakening the thought system that is the identity of all who play in the sandbox of judgment and hate. Thus Jesus says of himself:
Many thought I was attacking them, even though it was apparent I was not.…What you must recognize is that when you do not share a thought system, you are weakening it. Those who believe in it therefore perceive this as an attack on them. This is because everyone identifies himself with his thought system, and every thought system centers on what you believe you are (T- 6.V-B.1:5,7-9).
Each of us, therefore, defends his or her sandbox, for our very survival as a special self depends on it. And woe to the one who threatens the ego's bastions of safety. Our specialness continually pulls on others to remain seated in the sandbox, there to participate in the sand-throwing game of attack and defense until the pain of such childish antics leads us to call out for help: "There must be a better way" (T-2.III.3:5-6). And then we are answered by Jesus in his call to the mind to remember the power of its decision- making self to choose between littleness and magnitude, sparrow or eagle:
Who would attempt to fly with the tiny wings of a sparrow when the mighty power of an eagle has been given him? And who would place his faith in the shabby offerings of the ego when the gifts of God are laid before him? (M-4. I.2:2-3)
When the choice is stated this clearly—guilt or innocence, littleness or magnitude, hell or Heaven—can the decision be difficult? Who, knowing the clear alternatives, would ever choose the little toys of the ego when the gifts of God's Love are held out for the taking?
Conclusion: "Your Innocence Will Light the Way"
When we stand up in the sandbox, having chosen to fly with the eagle's mighty wings instead of the sparrow's weakness, we become invulnerable. The sand the children throw at each other can never reach beyond our legs. Having left behind the toys of guilt, there is nothing to project, for all that remains in our healed minds is the innocence of Christ, shared with all people, without exception. It is that innocence we see in everyone, their ego thoughts, feelings, and behavior to the contrary. Nothing in the sin-filled world of illusion can affect the Holy Spirit's true perception, for the darkened veils of specialness have lifted and in their place is only the shining face of Christ, the Course's symbol of forgiveness and innocence. The world of childhood—a world of needs, demands, and bargains—has indeed been passed by and we at last take our place in the adult chain of Atonement. Our decision- making minds have bound themselves to the masts of forgiveness, with Jesus as our guide, ensuring that we remain free of the ego's thought system of death and destruction.
Very simply, therefore, Jesus calls to us to leave behind the painful world of childhood and grow into adulthood; in a phrase—to become the same loving presence he is. And so we pray to him, in the words of Helen's lovely poem, "A Jesus Prayer" :
A child, a man and then a spirit. So
I follow in the way You show to me
That I may come at last to be like You.
What but Your likeness would I want to be?
(The Gifts of God, p. 82)
Jesus' love beseeches us to stand up and recognize our true spiritual stature, asking: Does an adult resent the giving up of children's toys? (M-13.4:3) He thus encourages us to recognize the pull to littleness, the temptation to play in the sand with children, the lure of the sirenic calls of specialness—all based on our hidden attraction to guilt, the ego's prime preserver of our separated selves. And so when we feel tempted to engage in any thought, feeling, or behavior that detracts from the innocence of God's Son, and thus the innocence of each and every seemingly separated fragment of the Sonship, we should be still and listen to Jesus' words:
Let not the little interferers pull you to littleness. There can be no attraction of guilt in innocence. Think what a happy world you walk, with truth beside you! Do not give up this world of freedom for a little sigh of seeming sin, nor for a tiny stirring of guilt's attraction.…
Let us not let littleness lead God's Son into temptation. His glory is beyond it, measureless and timeless as eternity. Do not let time intrude upon your sight of him. Leave him not frightened and alone in his temptation, but help him rise above it and perceive the light of which he is a part. Your innocence will light the way to his, and so is yours protected and kept in your awareness. For who can know his glory, and perceive the little and the weak about him? Who can walk trembling in a fearful world, and realize that Heaven's glory shines on him? (T-23.in.4:1-4; 5)
What greater function could we have, then, than to choose the light of innocence shining in our minds, and to step aside so it may extend through us in call to those who still are tempted to remain in the darkness of guilt? And the world shines accordingly, reflecting in our healed perception the peace and joy that fills our hearts. Having clung to the mast of Jesus' love, we have resisted the Mephistophelean seductions that would have condemned us to an existence of destruction and death, even as we seemed to enjoy the spoils of the ego's war. Gone are our erstwhile friends—"the 'loveliness' of sin, the delicate appeal of guilt, the 'holy' waxen image of death, and the fear of vengeance" (T-19.IV-D.6:3)—their place taken by the joy that comes from innocence, the peace that heralds the end of conflict, and the love that has wiped away all tears. Happily, we have given answer to the question with which Jesus opens the final section of his text, asking: "Would you be this?"—a child or adult, sparrow or eagle, living in or out of the sandbox:
Temptation has one lesson it would teach, in all its forms, wherever it occurs. It would persuade the holy Son of God he is a body, born in what must die, unable to escape its frailty, and bound by what it orders him to feel. It sets the limits on what he can do; its power is the only strength he has; his grasp cannot exceed its tiny reach. Would you be this, if Christ appeared to you in all His glory, asking you but this:
Choose once again if you would take your place among the saviors of the world, or would remain in hell, and hold your brothers there.
For He has come, and He is asking this (T-31.VIII.1).
We joyfully answer yes—we will take our place among the adult saviors of children—and pledge each day to renew our answer, even in the presence of the seductive persuasions of the sandbox in which it is easy to forget our heart's yearning to become like Jesus: love joining itself. Yet in the end, love's call wins out, as we choose to hear its sweet voice instead of the sirenic sounds of specialness. Standing up, we add our voice to Jesus' as we call home all those who still are tempted to remain as children and forget they are God's Son. Can we fail when Heaven's strength has become our own? Upheld by Heaven's Light, we gather together the lights the ego had sought to separate:
And God Himself and all the lights of Heaven will gently lean to you, and hold you up. For you have chosen to remain where He would have you, and no illusion can attack the peace of God together with His Son (T-23. IV.6:6-7).
Thus are we home, in the love, peace, and oneness that is our Self.