Volume 10 Number 3 September 1999
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
In a previous article in "The Lighthouse," we discussed the resistance that students of A Course in Miracles inevitably have towards not only understanding what Jesus is teaching, but also in applying his principles of forgiveness to their everyday lives. In the current article we explore in more depth one aspect of this resistance: the fear—in one sense at least a justified fear—of looking at the ego's thought system of guilt and hate.
Friedrich Schiller, the great German poet, dramatist, and man of letters, wrote a ballad in 1797 called "Der Taucher" ("The Diver"), which outside Germany is probably more well known in the musical setting of Franz Schubert. It is the tragic tale of a young squire who accepts a royal challenge and successfully dives to the bottom of a raging sea to retrieve a golden goblet thrown there by the king. He tempts fate a second time when the cruel king says he can have the hand of his beautiful daughter if he but repeats his previous success. Sadly this time, the young man does not return from the depths. Before his fatal dive from the cliff, however, he prophetically says the following to the king, speaking of the raging torrent from which he has just escaped:
For below it is dreadful
And man should not tempt the gods;
And should never desire to behold
What they mercifully cover with night and horror.1
Schiller's work was an ongoing source of inspiration to German intellectuals, although he is most remembered today only for his poem, "Ode to Joy," immortalized by Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony. Among those inspired by Schiller were Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung, the latter specifically remarking on the above four lines as reflecting "the real meaning of that glimpse into the abysses of human nature."2 One can easily read deeper meaning into Schiller's verse, and see depicted there the frightening depths of the human psyche—it is dreadful—and then the almost equally frightening defense—night and horror—that enables one to survive, albeit barely, in the world.
Though Freud was the first psychologist to expose fully the horrors of the unconscious ego mind, he was certainly not the first to have made such observations. Among many, many others, we may cite the German 18th-century romantic poet Novalis, who said: "One is necessarily terrified when one casts a glance into the depths of the mind."3 Indeed, Freud was properly terrified at what he saw in his self-analysis, as well as in his patients, and described the unconscious with adjectives like horrible, perverse, primitive, savage, evil, disgusting, monstrous, dangerous, and frightening, and with phrases such as a cauldron full of seething excitations, filled with chaos, half-tamed demons, strange and uncanny things, and evil spirits.
In A Course in Miracles, we also find Jesus frequently offering us a glimpse into the nature of the abyss that is the terrifying thought system of the ego mind. It is not a pretty picture. Guilt is ugly and uglier still, reflecting the monstrously sinful deed it claims to truly express—nothing less than the murder of God and the crucifixion of His Son. Here are two examples that express the horror of the ego's vicious and murderous world of guilt. Let the reader beware; this is strong stuff:
Fear's messengers are trained through terror, and they tremble when their master calls on them to serve him. For fear is merciless even to its friends. Its messengers steal guiltily away in hungry search of guilt, for they are kept cold and starving and made very vicious by their master, who allows them to feast only upon what they return to him. No little shred of guilt escapes their hungry eyes. And in their savage search for sin they pounce on any living thing they see, and carry it screaming to their master, to be devoured ....they will bring you word of bones and skin and flesh. They have been taught to seek for the corruptible, and to return with gorges filled with things decayed and rotted. To them such things are beautiful, because they seem to allay their savage pangs of hunger. For they are frantic with the pain of fear, and would avert the punishment of him who sends them forth by offering him what they hold dear (T-19.IV-A.12:3-7; 13:2-5).
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. When hatred rests upon a thing, it calls for death....Fear is insatiable, consuming everything its eyes behold, seeing itself in everything, compelled to turn upon itself and to destroy.
Who sees a brother as a body sees him as fear's symbol. And he will attack, because what he beholds is his own fear external to himself, poised to attack, and howling to unite with him again. Mistake not the intensity of rage projected fear must spawn. It shrieks in wrath, and claws the air in frantic hope it can reach to its maker and devour him (W-pI.161.7:1-8:4).
This inner world of horror is so intolerable that it demands a defense to protect us. And so the ego promises us protection from this dreadful below if we but follow its deceitful counsel and escape to its made-up world, the physical universe: the horrific home of bodies, special relationships, and death. And yet this world appears to be outside our guilty minds, and thus identifying with it brings the appearance of relief and safety from our perceived sin. In a number of places the Course refers to these—the ego's problem and its answer—as two dreams, the world's dream (the body) covering the ego's secret dream (the mind) (e.g., T-27.VII.11:4-12:6). Borrowing Schiller's imagery again, we may say that the outer world of horror covers the dreaded inner sea of horror. Thus are we offered a double shield against what the ego would never have us really look at. For beyond its twin worlds of horror and horror lies the ego's secret fear: that we might come to recognize the Love of God that is our true reality and our true Home, reflected in our split minds by the Holy Spirit. Yet one cannot awaken to that Love without first going through the two worlds of dreams, as we see in this passage from the prose poem, The Gifts of God, which clearly expresses the fear of looking at the first dream:
They [the world's dreams] content the frightened dreamer for a little while and let him not remember the first dream [the mind's dream of sin, guilt, and fear—Schiller's below it is dreadful] which gifts of fear but offer him again. The seeming solace of illusions' gifts are now his armor [Schiller's cover (of) night and horror], and the sword he holds to save himself from waking. For before he could awaken, he would first be forced to call to mind the first dream once again (The Gifts of God, p. 120).
Because of this fear—totally made up, although unbeknownst to us—we retreat into the physical world of pseudo-problems and pseudo-answers, of seeming-life and seeming-death, and remain still further from the truth that is buried in our minds beneath the two dreams. Thus, this underlying torrent that constitutes the secret dream is not recognized, as we choose not to dive. It is an immutable psychological law, however, that what remains unexposed in the unconscious, festers within, only to rear its ugly head in our daily lives. Our judgments against ourselves, our "secret sins and hidden hates" (T-31.VIII.9:2), become projected out in the form of judgment, condemnation, and the need to criticize and find fault—all these are simply the inevitable result of such "protection" of our own unforgiveness:
The [unforgiving] thought protects projection, tightening its chains, so that distortions are more veiled and more obscure; less easily accessible to doubt, and further kept from reason (W-pII.1.2:3).
As Jung observed, in discussing the tragic implications of denying the unconscious (or the "shadow"):
The "man without a shadow" is statistically the commonest human type, one who imagines he actually is only what he cares to know about himself. Unfortunately, neither the so-called religious man nor the man of scientific pretensions forms an exception to this rule.4
In the words of The Song of Prayer, companion supplement to A Course in Miracles, Jung's description reflects the hateful dynamic of forgiveness-to-destroy, wherein people consciously believe they are being loving, forgiving, and peaceful, when all they are truly doing is projecting their unconscious hatred onto the world. Unfortunately, the history of world religions and nation states—past and present—flows with blood in the name of such seeming qualities as love, forgiveness, and peace. It would be difficult to underestimate the tragic consequences (T-3.I.2:3) of such denial, and the world bears painful witness to its efficacy. It is therefore essential that this dynamic be understood so that the mistake can be finally undone. Not doing the inner work of forgiveness, of asking the Holy Spirit's help to accept His correction in our minds for our mis-thoughts, of learning to accept the Atonement for ourselves, is the invitation for the ego to conceal its pseudo-reality of sin, guilt, fear, and hatred behind the mantle of respectability—equally illusory—of spirituality and religion. And all the time we are so sure our position is right and just, we are concealing the seething cauldron of hatred that lies in the sea just below the threshold of our awareness.
Thus, we may read A Course in Miracles as Jesus asking us to be divers, meaning that he asks us to take his hand as we dive—albeit gently and carefully—into the abyss of the ego thought system. With his love by our side, we expose the mind's seemingly raging torrent of sin, guilt, fear, and murder that mercifully lies just beyond the cover of the world's night and horror—the ostensible pain of living in this bodily world of specialness and hate. And so it is that the only way one could truly respond to the Holy Spirit's guidance is by retracing with Him the mad course into insanity, walking up the ladder that the separation led us down (T-18.I.8:3-5; T-28.III.1:2), after first recognizing we are down, and what being down really means. The process of forgiveness, therefore, calls on us to examine—without judgment—the shadowy world of our special relationships that is the mirror of the inner world of guilt's dark shadow. This is the guilt-driven world we would then see:
The acceptance of guilt into the mind of God's Son was the beginning of the separation, as the acceptance of the Atonement is its end. The world you see is the delusional system of those made mad by guilt. Look carefully at this world, and you will realize that this is so. For this world is the symbol of punishment, and all the laws that seem to govern it are the laws of death. Children are born into it through pain and in pain. Their growth is attended by suffering, and they learn of sorrow and separation and death. Their minds seem to be trapped in their brain, and its powers to decline if their bodies are hurt. They seem to love, yet they desert and are deserted. They appear to lose what they love, perhaps the most insane belief of all. And their bodies wither and gasp and are laid in the ground, and are no more. Not one of them but has thought that God is cruel (T-13.In.2).
And so in taking the Holy Spirit's hand, as it were, we are led into the depths of the ego's thought system—the defense against the Holy Spirit's correction—but the ego (the symbol of our fear) fights back in order to preserve its identity. A Course in Miracles teaches us that we need to look at the darkness that we believe is within our minds, but the ego says to us in response that if we do so, we shall, like Medusa's victims, turn to stone and be destroyed. This aspect of the ego's defensive arsenal must be seen for the trick it is, otherwise we shall be forever afraid of this next step, leading inevitably to our choosing the ego's forgiveness-to-destroy—wherein, again, we attack but call it love, forgiveness, and peace—instead of the true forgiveness offered us by the Holy Spirit. These are but a few expressions of the ego's tactic of inducing fear:
As you approach the Beginning, you feel the fear of the destruction of your thought system upon you as if it were the fear of death (T-3.VII.5:10).
The ego is, therefore, particularly likely to attack you when you react lovingly, because it has evaluated you as unloving and you are going against its judgment. The ego will attack your motives as soon as they become clearly out of accord with its perception of you. This is when it will shift abruptly from suspiciousness to viciousness, since its uncertainty is increased (T-9.VII.4:5-7).
As the light comes nearer you will rush to darkness, shrinking from the truth, sometimes retreating to the lesser forms of fear, and sometimes to stark terror (T-18.III.2:1).
Loudly the ego tells you not to look inward, for if you do your eyes will light on sin, and God will strike you blind. This you believe, and so you do not look....Loudly indeed the ego claims it is; too loudly and too often (T-21.IV. 2:3-4,6).
Yet a dream cannot escape its source, which is always the mind of the dreamer: where the dream begins and the only place it can truly be undone (T-27.VII.12:6). Looking within with Jesus we realize, thankfully, that this fear is all made up: the ego is not this swirling mass of chaotic and demonic energy, but like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz, simply an insignificant and harmless mass of nothing that dissolves in the gentle presence of truth. It is the simple change of mind—turning from the ego and to the Holy Spirit—that removes the "reality" from the ego's thought system. Thus, Jesus urges us to look at the seeming content of the secret dream (T-17.IV.9:1), and comforts us not to be afraid of what only appears to be within:
Be not afraid, therefore, for what you will be looking at is the source of fear, and you are beginning to learn that fear is not real (T-11.V.2:3).
Do not be afraid to look within. The ego tells you all is black with guilt within you, and bids you not to look. Instead, it bids you look upon your brothers, and see the guilt in them. Yet this you cannot do without remaining blind. For those who see their brothers in the dark, and guilty in the dark in which they shroud them, are too afraid to look upon the light within. Within you is not what you believe is there, and what you put your faith in. Within you is the holy sign of perfect faith your Father has in you....Can you see guilt where God knows there is perfect innocence? You can deny His knowledge, but you cannot change it. Look, then, upon the light He placed within you, and learn that what you feared was there has been replaced with love (T-13.IX.8:1-7,11-13).
And so when at last we dive down into our minds by shifting the perception of our relationships, Jesus' love being our guide and our safety, we realize gratefully that there was indeed nothing there—nothing to fear, nothing to defend against. Only then do we understand that the precious goblet and beautiful princess are already our treasure—sought for within the mind, not in the world; to be accepted, not won. And we give thanks "that for all this [we] gave up nothing!" (T-16.VI.11:4)
1. Schiller's original German: Aber da unten ist's fuerchterlich,/und der Mensch versuche die Goetter nicht,/und begehe nimmer und nimmer zu schauen,/was sie gnaedig bedecken mit Nacht und Grauen.
2. Psychological Types, Volume VI of The Collected Works (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1971), p. 96.
3. Quoted in L.L. Whyte, The Unconscious before Freud (Basic Books, New York, 1960), p. 121.
4. On the Nature of the Psyche, Volume VIII of The Collected Works (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1969), p. 208.