Volume 6 Number 2 June 1995
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
Although the term happy dream is used relatively infrequently in A Course in Miracles, it remains an extremely important concept and holds a crucial place in the Course's theory and process. Unfortunately, it has often been a concept badly misunderstood by Course students. These misunderstandings relate directly to the students' view of the nature of the dream and who the dreamer is, the nature of reality, and the interim and ultimate goals of A Course in Miracles. We begin with a definition of the happy dream, taken from Kenneth's Glossary-Index for A Course in Miracles:
[The happy dream is] the Holy Spirit's correction for the ego's dream of pain and suffering; though still illusory, the happy dream leads beyond all other illusions to the truth; it is the dream of forgiveness in which the real world is ultimately seen and salvation attained (p. 89, 1st ed.; p. 92, 2nd ed.).
Since it is a dream, the happy dream occurs only in the split or separated mind, which is basically made up of three parts: the wrong mind, which contains the thought system of sin, guilt, and fear—the ego's nightmare dreams of separation and specialness; the right mind, the home of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, and the happy dream; and the decision maker, our term for the part of the mind that chooses between the two mutually exclusive thought systems of the ego and the Holy Spirit. This decision maker, incidentally, is the real "you" that Jesus is addressing throughout A Course in Miracles, even though most readers inevitably think he is referring to the figure in the dream they believe themselves to be: i.e., the physical and psychological self that bears their name, personality, and birthdate.
As Jesus explains in the text, the waking dreams that constitute our experiences in the separated world are no different from our sleeping dreams at night:
…what you seem to waken to is but another form of this same world you see in dreams. All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all. Their content [the wish to change reality] is the same (T-18.II.5:11-14).
All the action we experience, however real it may seem within the dream, takes place only in the mind of the dreamer, or the decision maker. The thought of separation is then projected out from the dreamer's mind, which, to restate this important point, is synonymous with the decision maker and the "you" to whom Jesus continually speaks in A Course in Miracles. This projection of the mind's insane thought makes an external world (dream), which is then perceived and experienced as a reality independent and separate from the mind (dreamer), although in truth this dreamworld has never left its source in the mind. This central principle is articulated many times in the Course, and we cite just two references here:
There is no world apart from your ideas because ideas leave not their source, and you maintain the world within your mind in thought (W-pI.132.10:3).
The world is false perception. It is born of error, and it has not left its source. It will remain no longer than the thought [of separation] that gave it birth is cherished (W-pII.3.1:1-3).
And so it is in the mind and only in the mind that the error of separation can be corrected and undone. It is therefore extremely important to understand that the Holy Spirit's happy dreams of correction have nothing whatsoever to do with the effects of the dream as they are experienced by the dreamer, who has merely forgotten that he is asleep and dreaming. The dream's cause remains in the mind, and since, as we repeatedly read in A Course in Miracles, cause and effect are never separated, this means that the dream's actual effects are within the mind as well. Thus we can understand the happy dream to be the Holy Spirit's thought of correction—within the sleeping Son's mind—for his nightmare dreams of separation, judgment, and specialness. And it is the nature of this correction that we wish to address in this article.
People's experience in this world as figures in the dream—even if these experiences are not conscious—is an overwhelming sense of pain and not-belonging, because on some level they know this world is not their home. However, they have no recollection of where their true home is, let alone how to return to it. Jesus describes this terrible state of alienation in the poignant workbook lesson, "I will be still an instant and go home":
This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true. A memory of home keeps haunting you, as if there were a place that called you to return, although you do not recognize the voice, nor what it is the voice reminds you of. Yet still you feel an alien here, from somewhere all unknown. Nothing so definite that you could say with certainty you are an exile here. Just a persistent feeling, sometimes not more than a tiny throb, at other times hardly remembered, actively dismissed, but surely to return to mind again. No one but knows whereof we speak. Yet some try to put by their suffering in games they play to occupy their time, and keep their sadness from them. Others will deny that they are sad, and do not recognize their tears at all.…We speak today for everyone who walks this world, for he is not at home (W-pI.182.1:1-2:3; 3:1).
Almost instinctively, people yearn to have an end to the pain they experience. And so, to have a happier, pain-free experience within the dream they call their life is a much sought-after goal. They know not of awakening, for they do not know to what they would awaken. In fact, they do not even know they are dreaming! Thus are they willing to settle for a happier dream here, and as we observed in the opening paragraph, many students of A Course in Miracles do not realize that Jesus is teaching them how to awaken from the dream, not merely to live better within the dream. As Jesus tells us: "Here [in the world] does the Son of God ask not too much, but far too little" (T-26.VII.11:7). It would therefore be a big mistake to believe that the role of Jesus or the Holy Spirit is to assist us in being happier within the dreams of our individual physical and psychological existence that we call our lives. Jesus' whole point in his Course is to convince his students that they are not happy here. He says, for example, at the end of Chapter 7 in the section "The Confusion of Pain and Joy":
The Holy Spirit will direct you only so as to avoid pain. Surely no one would object to this goal if he recognized it. The problem is not whether what the Holy Spirit says is true, but whether you want to listen to what He says. You no more recognize what is painful than you know what is joyful, and are, in fact, very apt to confuse the two. The Holy Spirit's main function is to teach you to tell them apart. What is joyful to you is painful to the ego, and as long as you are in doubt about what you are, you will be confused about joy and pain (T-7.X.3:1-6; italics ours).
And so Jesus' first order of business with his students is to teach them that simply by being in this world, which they certainly believe to be an indisputable fact, is to deny Who they are as Christ. As a result, at the very least, they must find themselves in the peculiar position of expressing doubt about what they are, since who they believe they are here in the dream is not their real Self. Thus, following the logic of the above paragraph, they will not be able to tell the difference between pain and joy, and will therefore inevitably believe that their dreamworld is filled with happiness and joy, or at least that it carries the potential of alleviating their pain. Thus would they be content with using A Course in Miracles to help them become more happy, peaceful, and forgiving within their perceived individualistic dream, a state Jesus describes in stage four of the six-stage process in the Development of Trust section in the manual for teachers (M-4.I.6).
However, Jesus makes it very clear in the Course that without our experience of pain and discomfort (stages one, two, three, and five in the Development of Trust section stated above), there would be no motivation to learn what he is teaching us about attaining true and lasting peace (stage six). As he says in the early pages of the text, a statement thoroughly familiar to any teacher or therapist:
No learning is acquired by anyone unless he wants to learn it and believes in some way that he needs it (T-1.VI.1:2).
And this motivation for learning comes from our experiences of unhappiness and pain, and our fervent desire to be free of them; not just the uncomfortable symptoms, but their ultimate cause, for only then can we be truly free:
Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way. As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning-point. This ultimately reawakens spiritual vision, simultaneously weakening the investment in physical sight. The alternating investment in the two levels of perception is usually experienced as conflict, which can become very acute. But the outcome is as certain as God (T-2.III.3:5-10).
Therefore, it is the conflict-laden experiences within our dreams that provide the motivation for learning that our reality is not found in dreams at all, but rather in awakening from them. If our dreams were to be corrected by the Holy Spirit on the level of our experience in the world, there would be no incentive to return to our minds—the source of the dream—to learn to make another choice. Since it is only within our minds that the wish to be separated and keep separated from God is found, it stands to reason that only there can the wish be changed. We are told at the end of Chapter 27 that the Holy Spirit does not deal with the effects of our dreams, but rather with their cause, the mind's belief in the reality of the separation (T-27.VIII.9). And earlier in the text Jesus tells us that his Course deals with cause and not effect (T-21.VII.7:8). Thus, denial of our pain and discomfort merely serves the ego's hidden purpose of protecting the cause of this suffering by shielding us from its effects. This ensures that this underlying cause in the mind—the thought of separation from God—can never be identified, which is the necessary condition for its removal by the Holy Spirit.
That is why, in the context of the special relationship—the ego's most convincing argument for us to remain asleep in our dreams of personal lack and need for completion by others—Jesus teaches us not to be taken in by the dream's allure of pleasure. He urges us instead, with him by our side, to look within our minds wherein is found the true cause of our pain and distress: the wish to make the illusions of specialness be our substitutes for the truth of God's Love:
Let not the dream take hold to close your eyes. It is not strange that dreams can make a world that is unreal. It is the wish to make it that is incredible. Your relationship with your brother has now become one in which the wish has been removed, because its purpose has been changed from one of dreams to one of truth. You are not sure of this because you think it may be this that is the dream. You are so used to choosing among dreams you do not see that you have made, at last, the choice between the truth and all illusions (T-18.II.8).
And so we are asked to be particularly mindful of our special relationships, which are the heart of the ego's dreams of individuality and self-centeredness. Through the careful instruction Jesus provides us in A Course in Miracles, we learn how truly painful it is to be unkind to others—to use, manipulate, cannibalize, or steal from them for the satisfaction of our own needs and self-aggrandizement:
In looking at the special relationship, it is necessary first to realize that it involves a great amount of pain. Anxiety, despair, guilt and attack all enter into it (T-16.V.1:1-2).
Thus we come to see, to our horror, how we do not truly care about anyone but ourselves, but care only about how other people could serve our own special interests. As we grow in awareness of the real discomfort these specialness dynamics induce in us, we become increasingly motivated to ask Jesus for help in looking differently at our special partners and ourselves. Indeed, he asks us to be honest with him as we examine our lives and relationships, and understand their sole purpose: to keep intact the ego's thought system of separation, judgment, specialness, and individuality. Early in the text, Jesus exhorts us to be open with him regarding these thoughts:
Watch carefully and see what it is you are really asking for. Be very honest with yourself in this, for we must hide nothing from each other.… Think honestly what you have thought that God would not have thought, and what you have not thought that God would have you think. Search sincerely for what you have done and left undone accordingly, and then change your mind to think with God's.… As a loving brother I am deeply concerned with your mind, and urge you to follow my example as you look at yourself and at your brother, and see in both the glorious creations of a glorious Father (T-4.III.8:1-2; T-4.IV.2:4-5,9; italics ours).
This change from the ego's way of looking to the Holy Spirit's is the function of the miracle, the only true way of solving our problems. The miracle shifts our attention from the pain of the dreams that are our lives in the world, and reminds us that there is no need to solve the problem of our suffering by changing the world, for we need only change the problem in our minds. The reader may recall this important line from the text: "Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T-21.in.1:7). The miracle thus restores to our awareness the true power of God's Son: his ability first to choose illusions over truth, and then to change his mind by choosing the truth of forgiveness over guilt and specialness. It is the pain of our dreams of judgment and individuality that, once again, provides the motivation for asking Jesus for help. Thus is he able at last to redirect our attention from the dream of our individual existence to the dreamer: i.e., the decision maker's choice to remain asleep. He summarizes this process in the following passage that comes in the context of the pain experienced as the inevitable effect of our sickness:
This world is full of miracles. They stand in shining silence next to every dream of pain and suffering, of sin and guilt. They are the dream's alternative, the choice to be the dreamer, rather than deny the active role in making up the dream. They are the glad effects of taking back the consequence of sickness to its cause. The body is released because the mind acknowledges "this is not done to me, but I am doing this." And thus the mind is free to make another choice instead (T-28.II.12:1-6).
It is only when we abandon any hope of finding happiness here in the world that we are ready to consider other options and true change; namely, a different choice in our minds. This is the only change that is meaningful, for in the world we simply exchange one illusion for another in the magical hope of making our dreams better. The process of the miracle allows us to see that only one change is necessary, and when we choose to look at our nightmare dreams of specialness through the eyes of forgiveness, we realize that the change has already occurred. Through this new perception—the vision of Christ—we are ready at last to awaken from the dream of death, the Course's definition of resurrection.
However, we are counseled in A Course in Miracles not to skip steps, for to leap from the nightmare dreams of our individuality directly into the arms of Heaven, disappearing into the Heart of God, would be too panic-inducing for us to bear. One cannot jump from the wrong-mindedness of existence to the One-mindedness of Being without feeling overwhelmed by the terror of annihilation. And so we need the intervening steps of non-threatening and forgiving dreams to lead us softly from our sleep into our waking state. It is the function of the Holy Spirit's happy dreams of correction to provide that gentle guidance. The following passage provides perhaps the Course's best description of this step. Note particularly the gentleness of the language:
You are the dreamer of the world of dreams. No other cause it has, nor ever will. Nothing more fearful than an idle dream has terrified God's Son, and made him think that he has lost his innocence, denied his Father, and made war upon himself. So fearful is the dream, so seeming real, he could not waken to reality without the sweat of terror and a scream of mortal fear, unless a gentler dream preceded his awaking, and allowed his calmer mind to welcome, not to fear, the Voice that calls with love to waken him; a gentler dream, in which his suffering was healed and where his brother was his friend. God willed he waken gently and with joy, and gave him means to waken without fear. Accept the dream He gave instead of yours. It is not difficult to change a dream when once the dreamer has been recognized. Rest in the Holy Spirit, and allow His gentle dreams to take the place of those you dreamed in terror and in fear of death. He brings forgiving dreams, in which the choice is not who is the murderer and who shall be the victim. In the dreams He brings there is no murder and there is no death. The dream of guilt is fading from you sight, although your eyes are closed. A smile has come to lighten up your sleeping face. The sleep is peaceful now, for these are happy dreams (T-27.VII.13-14; italics ours, except in 13:1).
Though on the one hand we are urged by Jesus not to accept less than the goal of awakening we deserve, on the other hand we are similarly urged to be gentle with ourselves and to proceed slowly through the loving lessons of forgiveness in which he leads us. He extends the same gentle teaching in Lesson 140 from the workbook:
The happy dreams the Holy Spirit brings are different from the dreaming of the world, where one can merely dream he is awake. The dreams forgiveness lets the mind perceive do not induce another form of sleep, so that the dreamer dreams another dream. His happy dreams are heralds of the dawn of truth upon the mind. They lead from sleep to gentle waking, so that dreams are gone. And thus they cure for all eternity (W-pI.140.3; italics ours).
Nonetheless, students must avoid the mistake of believing that these interim steps of forgiveness of others are the Course's ultimate goal. They are not. Speaking of his artistic parents, the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote on the very first page of his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain: "The integrity of an artist lifts a man above the level of the world without delivering him from it." A Course in Miracles does indeed promise to deliver us from the world of dreams, by not making any of them real. Students, therefore, should never settle for merely being lifted above the pain and suffering of the illusory dream, but rather should always keep in mind Jesus' purpose for all his brothers: to awaken from the dream entirely and thus remember Who they are as God's one Son. As he writes:
Christ has dreamed the dream of a forgiven world. It is His gift, whereby a sweet transition can be made from death to life; from hopelessness to hope. Let us an instant dream with Him. His dream awakens us to truth. His vision gives the means for a return to our unlost and everlasting sanctity in God (W-pI.159.10:4-8; italics ours).
The happy dreams of forgiveness are therefore the Course's immediate goal, for they correct the illusions of separation and individuality that had been believed as truth before. These happy dreams are the Holy Spirit's correction that undo the interferences to our hearing His Voice sing sweetly to us of God's Love, a song of unity and peace that has never been destroyed. This wonderful passage from the text nicely summarizes the function of these dreams of forgiveness, and provides a fitting conclusion to this article:
Forgiving dreams have little need to last. They are not made to separate the mind from what it thinks. They do not seek to prove the dream is being dreamed by someone else. And in these dreams a melody is heard that everyone remembers, though he has not heard it since before all time began. Forgiveness, once complete, brings timelessness so close the song of Heaven can be heard, not with the ears, but with the holiness that never left the altar that abides forever deep within the Son of God. And when he hears this song again, he knows he never heard it not. And where is time, when dreams of judgment have been put away? (T-29.IX.8)