Correcting error perceptions

As the current world seems to spin ever further away from peace as people make different choices in regulating their own physical health in the face of the pandemic (some say plandemic) and the government regulations, perhaps the resulting polarisation is even worse than the restrictions themselves. People have serious fights about the behavioral choices others make, sometimes even within the same household. And as most students of A Course in Miracles are still intimately identified with the ego-part of their mind just like everyone else (they’re just more aware of the mind mechanisms), they are oftentimes no exception. Therefore, it may be helpful to check in with Jesus and remind ourselves what he has to say regarding our perception of errors in others and our urge to start arguing about this.

Let’s look at Chapter 9 in the Text, where Jesus invites us to look at such thinking ‘from above the battleground’ and realize just how quickly we slip into mindless ego mode: “To the ego it is kind and right to point out errors and “correct” them. This makes perfect sense to the ego, which is unaware of what errors are and what correction is. Errors are of the ego, and correction of errors lies in the relinquishment of the ego” (T9-III.2:1-3). Phew! That final sentence acutely takes all the wind out of the ego’s sails. The ego is itself the one and only true error: the stubborn belief that we could be better off on our own, apart from God, as a little god in our own little separated kingdom. How silly! As long as we cling to such feeble wishes, how could anything but error, fear and attack result in our lives?

So Jesus continues: “When you correct a brother, you are telling him that he is wrong. He may be making no sense at the time, and it is certain that, if he is speaking from the ego, he will not be making sense. But your task is still to tell him he is right. You do not tell him this verbally, if he is speaking foolishly. He needs correction at another level, because his error is at another level. He is still right, because he is a Son of God. His ego is always wrong, no matter what it says or does” (T9-III.2:4-10). From the perspective of right-minded thinking, this is perfectly true. This, however, does not mean that we never disagree with people on the level of form or behavior. It also does not mean that we should never correct someone’s error on the level of form – we still need courtrooms and prisons. But it makes all the difference in which teacher you do choose to do this with – the punitive teacher called the ego, or the forgiving teacher called the Holy Spirit?

To make this choice easier, Jesus reminds us as follows: “If you point out the errors of your brother’s ego you must be seeing through yours, because the Holy Spirit does not perceive his errors. This must be true, since there is no communication between the ego and the Holy Spirit. The ego makes no sense, and the Holy Spirit does not attempt to understand anything that arises from it. […] When you react at all to errors, you are not listening to the Holy Spirit. He has merely disregarded them [your brother’s behavioral errors], and if you attend to them you are not hearing Him. If you do not hear Him, you are listening to your ego and making as little sense as the brother whose errors you perceive. This cannot be correction. Yet it is more than merely a lack of correction for him. It is the giving up of correction in yourself” (T9.III.3:1-3;4:1-2). In other words, my need to correct someone’s errors lasts only as long as I still believe I am my ego, and that salvation lies in upholding that belief.

The one solution that works, therefore, is the choice to switch teachers, and see the inherent sameness in everyone, beyond the five senses. This is where true salvation lies. So as soon as my ego signals a red light in someone, I should – as quickly as I can – turn on the observer ‘above the battleground’ and see what I am doing, without condemning myself: “Ah, here I go again. I see it. I’m obviously still fearful of letting my ego go, because I don’t know who I would be without it. That’s quite understandable. However, I know that such thinking will not bring me lasting happiness. So I will happily switch teachers, forgive myself for my mistake, and ask for help in seeing this situation and this brother differently.” Just notice the inner feeling of peace that immediately envelops you in this practice! That’s why Kenneth Wapnick always liked to say that to look at the ego – non-judgmentally – is the choice for the Holy Spirit.

Jesus continues in the same vein: “When a brother behaves insanely, you can heal him only by perceiving the sanity in him [i.e., the spirit]. If you perceive his errors and accept them, you are accepting yours. If you want to give yours over to the Holy Spirit, you must do this with his. Unless this becomes the one way in which you handle all errors, you cannot understand how all errors are undone. … Your brother is as right as you are, and if you think he is wrong you are condemning yourself. […] It is not up to you to change your brother, but merely to accept him as he is” (T-19.III.5:1-4,6;6:4). This, of course, means accepting that the essence of myself and my brother is pure spirit. As spirit, God has but one Son, and we are all the same. We share the same Source, and we even share the same silly ego.

This illustrates the simplicity of salvation: once I make the better choice of choosing to see this in my brother, I am also absolving myself from the hidden guilt in my mind that I would normally never dare to look at. Jesus puts it this way: “[The Holy Spirit] will teach you how to see yourself without condemnation, by learning how to look on [everyone and] everything without it. Condemnation will then not be real to you, and all your errors will be forgiven. […] Accept as true only what your brother is, if you would know yourself. Perceive what he is not and you cannot know what you are, because you see him falsely. Remember always that your Identity is shared, and that Its sharing is Its reality” (T-9.III.8:10-11;IV.1:4-6).

So we could also reinterpret the current polarization between people as lessons in Love, which we could gratefully accept. Every argument about differing opinions and health choices should immediately ring a bell in every Course student about the importance to shift teachers: from the senses to spirit; from the ego to the Holy Spirit. The importance of looking at how we perceive our brothers cannot be overemphasized. Jesus mentions it a lot in the Text, in the Workbook and in the Manual (not to mention the pamphlets). Let’s close by reviewing some of his statements about this from the same chapter in the Text:

If you would know your prayers are answered, never doubt a Son of God. Do not question him and do not confound him, for your faith in him is your faith in yourself (T-9.II.4:1-2).

Salvation is of your brother. The Holy Spirit extends from your mind to his, and answers you. You cannot hear the Voice for God in yourself alone, because you are not alone (T9.II.6:2-5).

Would God have created a Voice for you alone? Could you hear His answer except as He answers all of God’s Sons? Hear of your brother what you would have me hear of you, for you would not want me to be deceived (T9-II.6:10-12).

If you would hear me, hear my brothers in whom God’s Voice speaks. The answer to all prayers lies in them. You will be answered as you hear the answer in everyone (II.7:5-7).

Believe in your brothers because I believe in you, and you will learn that my belief in you is justified (II.8:1).

Hear only God’s Answer in His Sons, and you are answered (II.8:7).

Make a commitment to remind yourself of these truths, the next time you are tempted to slip into mindlessness mode and start an argument about someone else’s choices or behavior. Again, this does not mean that you never correct anything any longer on the level of form, but it does mean that you do it, if at all, guided by the better teacher. And this will always result in the best outcome for all who are involved. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, January 2022

A Christmas liberation message

With every trouble and tribulation that seems to cross your path in the (illusory) time to come, I would like to invite you to recall the following summary from the Course. Learning this message by heart can be a great solace in times that you may sometimes experience as difficult or dark:

  • A happy outcome to all things is sure (W-pII.292).
  • Think above the battleground. From there your perspective on things will be quite different (T-23.IV).
  • Your passage through time and space is not at random. You cannot but be in the right place at the right time (W-pI.42.2:3).
  • All things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful (M-4.I.4:5).
  • You have a role in the Atonement which you will be told… (T-1.III.4)
  • …when you are willing to listen in silence: See the innocence of Christ in yourself and in all your brothers, and remember God (C.5.2.1).
  • All real pleasure comes from doing God’s Will, which is Love (T1.VII.1:4).
  • Do God’s Will, and not one seeming difficulty but will melt away before you reach it. You need take thought for nothing, careless of everything except the only purpose that you would fulfill (T-20.IV.8:7).
  • There is nothing to fear (W-pI.48).
  • I am sustained by the Love of God (W-pI.50).

Give a warm welcome to the Prince of Peace in your heart, who symbolizes your true inheritance outside the dream of time and space. And then simply be the beacon of shining peace you are asked to be in this lifetime; right here, right now. The Holy Spirit will guide you flawlessly in what to think, say, and do – if we let Him.

Jan-Willem van Aalst, Dec. 24, 2021

Looking at a dream

In A Course in Miracles we are taught that no-one’s journey through time and space is at random, and therefore you and I and everyone are always in the right moment at the right place (WpI-42.2:3-6). Also, the current looming world wide crisis of suppression of everyone’s basic freedom (see the 17-minute video This Pivotal Moment) is hardly coincidental. Challenging years may lie ahead of us. However, as each crisis usually precedes some kind of awakening, and it may be that we’re merely preparing for a truly great awakening in, say, ten or twenty years from now. But Course students will see the major mistake in the video and such reasoning, that is: making the error real. By holding on to the basic premise that our sensory experiences in time and space are the one and only reality, such a video can be frightening indeed. The true way out of fear, as always, is once again remembering to smile at the “tiny, mad idea” (T-27.VIII.6:3) that separation from our Creator is possible and has indeed been accomplished, forgive ourselves, and simply choose differently once again.

Jesus nicely summarizes this in lesson 53, which is part of the first workbook review. Let’s follow his line of reasoning there. I will incidentally add some further explanatory comments by Kenneth Wapnick about this lesson. Jesus starts by reminding us that what we usually think of as our thoughts (our verbal thought stream), are not our real thoughts. Only the loving ‘thoughts’ (non-verbal) we think with God are our real thoughts. However, since we do not yet want the separation healed (as this would end our precious individuality), we stubbornly hold on to the tiny, mad idea of time, space, and perception, and the preposterous idea of private thoughts. So let’s follow Jesus in lesson 53, where he is deliberately putting words into our mouths (as affirmations), to fuel our motivation as his students to choose him (i.e., the Voice for Love) as our new guide for the lives that we believe we are living:

Since the thoughts of which I am aware do not mean anything, the world that pictures them can have no meaning. What is producing this world is insane, and so is what it produces. Reality is not insane, and I have real thoughts as well as insane ones. I can therefore see a real world, if I look to my real thoughts as my guide for seeing. (WpI.53.1)

Interestingly, while Jesus presents this as a choice everyone is free to make, he also assures us that in the end all things will have a happy outcome (Wp2.292), because eventually everyone will pass the pain threshold and realize that the only real pleasure comes from doing God’s will (T-1.VII.1:4):

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 (T-2.III.3:5-7).

However, until we reach that turning point we have work to do, through the lessons of love that are offered us (or that we choose to experience in this lifetime) from day to day, sometimes in the most trivial of circumstances and encounters. While these lessons do not always feel like something we want, they are certainly always exactly what we need (and can handle) on our spiritual path. Each lesson contributes in some way to the following understanding:

Insane thoughts are upsetting. They produce a world in which there is no order anywhere. Only chaos rules a world that represents chaotic thinking, and chaos has no laws. I cannot live in peace in such a world. I am grateful that this world is not real, and that I need not see it at all unless I choose to value it. And I do not choose to value what is totally insane and has no meaning. (W-pI.53.2)

As Ken succinctly points out, before we can truly and definitely choose against what what is valueless, we must see and acknowledge that the world of time and space is totally insane. A very effective (though not always attractive) way of reaching that point is realizing that our specialness desires do not bring us the fulfillment we seek. On the contrary; we may feel happy for a fleeting moment, but eventually they lead to disappointment, depression, upset, apprehension, and most of all: fear. Jesus continues lesson 53, stating exactly this point but also immediately proving us with the way out of hell:

The totally insane engenders fear because it is completely undependable, and offers no grounds for trust. Nothing in madness is dependable. It holds out no safety and no hope. But such a world is not real. I have given it the illusion of reality, and have suffered from my belief in it. Now I choose to withdraw this belief, and place my trust in reality. In choosing this, I will escape all the effects of the world of fear, because I am acknowledging that it does not exist. (W-pI.53.3)

To fully accept this, it is important that we realize the link between our fear, depression, misery, etcetera, and our thoughts of judgment, attack, and specialness. The latter are the cause of our experiences. In the end, the root cause is of course the belief in our decision that we actually separated from God, and created a world for ourselves, with the possibility of finding lasting happiness there. You might say this is tragic, but Jesus merely dismisses it as silly:

How can a meaningless world exist if God did not create it? He is the Source of all meaning, and everything that is real is in His Mind. It is in my mind too, because He created it with me. Why should I continue to suffer from the effects of my own insane thoughts, when the perfection of creation is my home? Let me remember the power of my decision, and recognize where I really abide. (W-pI.53.4:2-6)

Where you and I really abide is, of course, outside time and space as the one Son of God, who is merely the extension of God’s eternal changeless love. Therefore, the way out is actually quite simple, at least in principle: let me look at the dream I choose to experience now, realize its inherent silliness, forgive myself for choosing this darkness, and choose once again to follow the advice of the Holy Spirit in what to think, say, and do. A thousand times a day. This requires my willingness to look, as my own observer, at my thoughts about the world:

Whatever I see reflects my thoughts. It is my thoughts that tell me where I am and what I am. The fact that I see a world in which there is suffering and loss and death shows me that I am seeing only the representation of my insane thoughts, and am not allowing my real thoughts to cast their beneficent light on what I see. Yet God’s way is sure. The images I have made cannot prevail against Him because it is not my will that they do so. My will is His, and I will place no other gods before Him. (W-pI.53.5)

One last crucial point, which Ken often emphasized: Jesus does not ask us to deny what we see happening around us in the physical world. It may be tempting to dismiss everything we label as negative, since “it isn’t real anyway”. The tragic effect of such rose-colored reasoning is that we drive the true source of our worldly perception – our guilt over our continued choice for separation – still further underground in the mind. This makes it even harder to recognize and undo it. As Ken emphasizes: The only way we can return to the insanity in our minds [the cause] is by recognizing the insanity we perceive [the effect].

If we self-righteously insist that everything in the world is wonderful, we will never realize that everything in the world is a defense against making the better choice – the choice for the Voice for Love. Only this choice will safely guide you and me on our hardly coincidental life’s path through space and time, without misery and pain. You and I are always in the right place at the right time because we can always make this one essential choice. And be sure that once you choose to follow the Voice for Love, you may lovingly be directed to be very active in this world – where all your thoughts, words and actions will emanate from Love, because you have accepted Love first within yourself as your own Identity. Happy practicing!

Jan-Willem van Aalst, December 2021

Love is with you always

In the coming years wherein the dream world will spin increasingly out of control, we need to remind ourselves often of the fact that our essence is pure spirit, and that literally nothing has the power to take away our peace of mind, if we are but “vigilant for the Kingdom of God” (T6-V.C); which means being vigilant for accepting the Love that is not of this world, which is our true Source. Let’s look at workbook lesson 41, titled “God goes with me wherever I go”, which, again, could also be read als “Love (capital L) goes with me wherever I go”, or “My true Self goes with me wherever I go”. This all means the same thing, as our true Self still abides in the heart of God (Love), even now.

Jesus starts the lesson by asserting the tremendous power this idea has to heal the mind: “Today’s idea will eventually overcome completely the sense of loneliness and abandonment all the separated ones experience. Depression is an inevitable consequence of separation. So are anxiety, worry, a deep sense of helplessness, misery, suffering and intense fear of loss. The separated ones have invented many “cures” for what they believe to be the “ills of the world.” But the one thing they do not do is to question the reality of the problem.” (T41.1:1-2:1). This is of a course a bombshell for the ego. It’s a reference to the metaphysical foundation of the Course which states that the dream world of time and space was made as an attack on God (W-pII.3.2:1); that we do not yet want the separation healed (T-13.III.2) because we cherish our individuality so much; and that we therefore willingly keep ourselves in pain (“The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this to yourself”, T21.VIII.10:1).

The solution, as every good Course student knows, is to gladly acknowledge we were wrong in believing in the reality of separation, and happily choose the guidance of the Holy Spirit (the Voice for Love) in what to think, say, and do. As we read in the text: “In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects. How else could He correct your error, who have overlooked the cause entirely? He bids you bring each terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while. You judge effects, but He has judged their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed. Perhaps you come in tears. But hear Him say, “My brother, holy Son of God, behold your idle dream, in which this could occur.” And you will leave the holy instant with your laughter and your brother’s joined with His (T-27.VIII.9).”

Continuing with lesson 41, Jesus then treats us on a pep talk about our true reality: “Deep within you is everything that is perfect, ready to radiate through you and out into the world. It will cure all sorrow and pain and fear and loss because it will heal the mind that thought these things were real, and suffered out of its allegiance to them. You can never be deprived of your perfect holiness because its Source goes with you wherever you go. You can never suffer because the Source of all joy goes with you wherever you go. You can never be alone because the Source of all life goes with you wherever you go. Nothing can destroy your peace of mind because God goes with you wherever you go (W-pI.41.4).”

Now hold on for a second. Do you and I really believe this, whenever we watch the evening news, whenever we are confronted with “the harsh reality” in places where we experience restrictions? Rationally we certainly do not believe it, since this not at all our sensory experience. But this does not mean that Jesus’ peptalk is not true. It is only because we still believe in the reality of the dream world (reflecting our ongoing belief in the reality of the separation from God, of which we are guilty) that we choose not to believe Jesus, who himself comments on exactly this thought: “We understand that you do not believe all this. How could you, when the truth is hidden deep within, under a heavy cloud of insane thoughts, dense and obscuring, yet representing all you see? (W-pI.41.5:1-2).”

This, then, is the one remaining stubborn conviction in the mind that we need to work on. We need to train our mind in accepting the following realization, poetically taught by Jesus in chapter 18 of the text: “This heavy-seeming barrier [i.e., this conviction] is like a bank of low dark clouds that seem to be a solid wall before the sun. Its impenetrable appearance is wholly an illusion. It gives way softly to the mountain tops that rise above it, and has no power at all to hold back anyone willing to climb above it and see the sun. It is not strong enough to stop a button’s fall, nor hold a feather. Nothing can rest upon it, for it is but an illusion of a foundation. Try but to touch it and it disappears; attempt to grasp it and your hands hold nothing. … So should it be with the dark clouds of guilt, no more impenetrable and no more substantial. You will not bruise yourself against them in traveling through. Let your Guide teach you their unsubstantial nature as He leads you past them, for beneath them is a world of light whereon they cast no shadows (T-18.IX.5:2-4; 6; 8:1-3).”

This is why it is important to keep up some sort of daily meditation practice: to train the mind to quietly connect with the Oneness Love that is our Source, entirely beyond the illusory dream world. We do this not by denying or suppressing the ego; instead, we choose to become the observer “above the battleground” and just watch what comes along in the mind, without any judgment whatsoever. Try to sink past all this, to your essence within. As Jesus instructs us in lesson 41, as the very first meditation he offers us in the workbook: “Repeat today’s idea very slowly. Then make no effort to think of anything. Try, instead, to get a sense of turning inward, past all the idle thoughts of the world. Try to enter very deeply into your own mind, keeping it clear of any thoughts that might divert your attention. […] Try to sink down and inward, away from the world and all the foolish thoughts of the world. You are trying to reach past all these things. You are trying to leave appearances and approach reality. It is quite possible to reach God. In fact it is very easy, because it is the most natural thing in the world. You might even say it is the only natural thing in the world. The way will open, if you believe that it is possible (W-pII.41.6:5-7:4).”

To conclude: choose to be a brightly shining beacon of Love amidst the turbulence of the dream world. The turbulence itself is an inevitable precursor to a great world-wide awakening, wherein a large part of the population will come to realize that “The only real pleasure comes from doing God’s will” (T-1.VII.1:4) instead of miserably soldiering on from an ego-auto-pilot mode of thought. As Course students, it is given us to be a Teacher of God and a herald of that awakening, as long as we choose to be a “happy learner” ourselves. Love is with you always, but you need to choose to be aware of it, as the observer, from moment to moment. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, November 2021

Assurances from above the battleground

In these troubled times wherein the world seems to spin out of control as we have never experienced before, it can be hard to keep up the Course’s practice of unconditional forgiveness. Politicians seem to almost deliberately stimulate the polarisation between various groups, and societal stability seems farther off than ever. And yet these are precisely the circumstances we need to practice the mind training exercises Jesus in A Course in Miracles would so much like us to internalize. It’s even been said that each great awakening must be preceded by a deep crisis of some sort. Seen this way, the current world wide turbulence (which is not about health, but about transforming countries into one global China-like control state, as explained in “Agenda 2030” of the World Economic Forum), can also be seen as merely a necessary preparation for a large world-wide awakening in time.

As Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often explained, A Course in Miracles comes to us on two levels: Level 1, nonduality, outside time and space, is ultimately the only reality there is. You and I seem to be separated only because we experience ourselves in the duality of time and space: Level 2, in the Course referred to as a dream, or the “waking dream”. One of the difficult aspects of Jesus’ spiritual curriculum is the mind-boggling notion that everything in time and space is illusory, and that the sole purpose of each incarnation that we find ourselves in, is to undo our own imagined guilt about the separation from oneness, which seen from Level 1 never really happened anyway. Once this undoing is complete, the dream world is done, and the universe will disappear back into the nothingness from whence it came.

The following Course quotes may be helpful to assist you in keeping that calm demeanor within, realizing that everything that happens is apparently meant to cross our life’s path in this particular incarnation, and that we must be ready for it. These quotes observe the turbulence in time and space from above the battleground , which is not Level 1 in and of itself, but rather reflects the state of mind of Level 1, which is a prerequisite for ultimately attaining it.

In summary: accepting God’s plan means consistently thinking miracle-minded, as often as you can during the day. Forgive yourself for the many times you still give in to fear, resentment or depression. Every time you forget, simply try again, without condemning yourself or anyone or anything. Thank the Holy Spirit in the morning and evening for His guidance. Always keep in mind that God’s Son is guiltless, and that we are all on the same journey back to the experience of the oneness Love of God, which is our deepest burning desire against which the ego will not prevail, no matter how vicious the world around you seems to become. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, november 2021

Choose to forgive yourself

In A Course in Miracles, workbook lessons 61 (“I am the light of the world”), 62 (“Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world”), and 63 (“The light of the world brings peace to every mind through my forgiveness”) form a triad in Jesus’ mind training program. They could even be seen as a decidedly positive summary of the entire curriculum. Just to remind ourselves, let’s quickly revisit the central message of this trio.

First of all, “I am the light of the world” is true for everyone, since God has only one Son (i.e., all life combined, also called the Sonship). However, saying this, we immediately find ourselves bringing together (or, perhaps: confusing) the Course’s metaphysical level (I), and the Course’s practical everyday level (II) in the ‘waking dream’ we call the material world. Since everyone who experiences himself living in this dream world has the same split mind (wherein both the ego and the Holy Spirit reside), everyone both has and is the light of the world.

The thing is that almost nobody is consciously aware of this ‘inner light beyond time and space’. On the contrary, most of us walk this illusory world in a state of ego mindlessness, that is, “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1). So when we read lesson 61 from this state of “wrong-minded thinking”, the ego will exuberantly conclude that I apparently am the light of the world, and others are not. Needless to say, this is exactly the opposite of what Jesus is trying to make us see here. Since you and I and everyone else are exactly the same, at least on the level of the mindeveryone is the light of the world.

That’s why Jesus says about this message that it is simply a fact: “This, then, is merely a statement of the truth about yourself.” But he also reminds us: “It does not describe the self-concept you have made.” (W-pI.61.1:4) In other words, the challenge is that we have not accepted this truth about ourselves as yet. This is because we still do not want the separation healed, since we are still so intimately attached to our special individual little self. I may be plagued by pain and anxiety, but at least I exist as an autonomous individual. In this lesson, Jesus is saying that even though we still experience ourselves as separated, we can at least begin to consider the truth of what he is conveying here.

Lesson 62 adds the central concept of forgiveness to this message. Here, he again emphasizes the fact that our view of our separated self is an illusion of self. Just as our nightly dreams are populated by various characters, so is our ‘waking’ dream world populated with seemingly separated people and events that are no more real than our nightly dreams. Again, God has only one Son, our daily experience to the contrary. That’s why Jesus states: “Illusions about yourself and the world are one. That is why all forgiveness is a gift to yourself.” (W-pI.62.2:1-2).

We usually see forgiveness as a process from me to you. I forgive you for what I think you did, or failed to do. However, almost every Course student has learned that such thinking makes the original ontological error of separation real, since it presumes a ‘better’ person who may rightfully judge ‘lesser’ people. To the ego, this makes perfect sense; but if God has only one Son, this cannot be the case. Who, then, is there to forgive? And for what? Here, once again, we can easily mix up the metaphysical level (I) of the Course and the daily, practical level (II), and this unfortunately happens a lot.

On the metaphysical level, we are taught that time is already over; on level II we are mentally reviewing what seemingly happened long ago. All people and events I perceive are “outside pictures of the inward condition of [the ontological] separation” (T-21.in.1:5); a condition that can only be sustained through constant judgment and attack, which is what we do all the time. But since the thought of separation has not left the mind of the seemingly sleeping Son of God, all “evil” that we perceive outside merely symbolizes (represents) darkness in my own mind. Therefore, true forgiveness means forgiving myself for having chosen to be the host of dark thoughts. I chose this to be able to uphold the idea of separation from God; a separation which in reality never happened. How silly!

Lesson 63, then, describes the mechanism of the practical process of forgiveness in this illusory dream world of time and space. As we all know, it is not enough to stubbornly repeat to ourselves: “I have no dark thoughts anymore. I have no dark thoughts anymore. I have no dark thoughts anymore.” That’s like trying not to think of the color blue. As long as we still experience ourselves in the level II dream world of time and space, interacting with other people, we are invited to shift the purpose of the world. Instead of constantly finding opportunities to blame, judge, and attack, we can train the mind to constantly find opportunities to see the sameness in everyone and everything. Others then become symbols of the light, which we can then recognize in ourselves as well.

So we heal our own mind by ‘placing’ others in the timeless light of Love, seeing the sameness in everyone and everything, including ourselves. That’s why Jesus says: “How holy are you who have the power to bring peace to every mind! How blessed are you who can learn to recognize the means for letting this be done through you!” (W-pI.63.1:1-2). And that’s also why Jesus answers the question in the Manual for Teachers (M-12) about how many teachers are needed to save the world with: “One”, since we are all a seemingly splintered fragment of the one seemingly sleeping Son of God, Who is still One, even in the waking dream.

This does not mean, by the way, that the one you lovingly place in the timeless light of Love, will immediately accept that light. In fact, usually they don’t. This, however, is irrelevant because time really does not exist and everything that seems to happen in time is really happening now. The ego sees this as a reason not to keep up this practice: “If I place someone in the light of Love and he keeps being an asshole, what good is it?” However, as Jesus reminds us in, the effect of our forgiveness practice (“the miracle”) should not be our concern (T-18.V.2:4). We should not be worried about whether our forgiveness will be accepted by the other. The Holy Spirit sees to it by definition that the miracle reaches its ultimate destination in time and space. All we are asked is the “little willingness” to choose to see our brother as sinless. As Jesus concludes: “What purpose could you have that would bring you greater happiness?” (W-pI.63.1:3).

Even though the observable effects of our forgiveness practice should not be our concern, many can attest to situations wherein there clearly were observable effects. In my own workshops, several participants shared their forgiveness decision about very strained relationships, wherein they found that that particular relationship unmistakably improved in the weeks that followed. This illustrates Jesus’ statement that “The Son of God looks to you for his redemption” (W-pI.63.2:2), albeit unconsciously. We all yearn to be seen as innocent and worthy of the Love of God. This is exactly the message that we send out when we decide to forgive that person, even when we’re not in their vicinity. Simultaneously, we have cleaned yet another dark spot in our own mind, which is of course the essence.

As our motivation to master this Course is strengthened by our experience of inner peace whenever we truly forgive, so does our peaceful countenance inspire those who still hesitate to make the same choice. This way, “a strong chain of forgiveness is welded” (T-1.III.9:2). The goal of A course in Miracles, then, is to fuel our own willingness to keep practicing our function of total forgiveness, embracing everyone, until “no single dark spot remains to hide the Face of Christ from anyone” (T-31.VIII.12:5). Once we reach that point, we find in glad astonishment that we’re done with time, and where we used to fear we had to sacrifice everything for salvation, we happily conclude that we gave up nothing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

The value of gratitude

In a world which seems to totally spin out of control, where the ego rears its ugly head on a global scale such as we have never seen before in history, it may at times be hard to feel grateful for the fact that each and every lifeform is still an integral part of the One Son of God, that the Holy Spirit is always there to help us see people and events differently (i.e., from Jesus’ perspective of Love), and that a happy outcome of all things is guaranteed. It may be hard to feel grateful for the fact that even now we need not worry about a thing, while the dire consequences of the societal polarisation become so painful. Let’s review this concept from Jesus’ viewpoint in A Course in Miracles.

In this world, we usually feel grateful if we feel we are fortunate, particularly when we experience ourselves to be more fortunate than others. As we read in workbook lesson 195: “Gratitude is a lesson hard to learn for those who look upon the world amiss. The most that they can do is see themselves as better off than others. And they try to be content because another seems to suffer more than they.” (W-pI.195.1-3). The number of people that thank God — consciously or unconsciously — for having ‘saved’ them from an accident, a serious illness, or a natural catastrophe, are countless.

As scholar Kenneth Wapnick remarked, the popular saying “There but for the grace of God go I” is hardly a kind and loving thought. I am grateful I have been spared, even though you may not have been. I am grateful I don’t have cancer, while many others are not so fortunate. I got what I wanted, but quite possibly at the expense of others. In other words, our gratitude is usually based on comparisons and differences, and upon a sense of inequality of worth between myself and others. Needless to say, this is hardly the concept of gratitude that Jesus in A Course in Miracles would want us to embrace .

Workbook lesson 195 explains: “Your gratitude is due to Him alone Who made all cause of sorrow disappear throughout the world. […] You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you; nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. Love makes no comparisons. And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love.” (W-pI.195.1:7;4:1-3). In other words, we should be grateful to God and our brothers for the fact that in truth all life is one, and that the ‘tiny, mad idea’ of the ego and its world of separation and differences is not true, and never will be.

In chapter 2 of the text, Jesus tells us: “It should especially be noted that God has only one Son. If all His creations are His Sons, every one must be an integral part of the whole Sonship. The Sonship in its Oneness transcends the sum of its parts.” (T-2.VII.6:1-3). So once again we see why it’s so important to keep the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles  always in the back of your mind when you read it. Workbook lesson 195 thus emphasizes: “We thank our Father for one thing alone: that we are separate from no living thing, and therefore one with Him. […] Therefore give thanks, but in sincerity.” (W-pI.195.6:1;5:1). Certainly in this world this does not seem to be the case, which is why the Course refers to this world as a dream world (T27.VII.13).

To be sure, in this dream world you should not feel guilty over, for example, being healthy while others are perhaps not so fortunate at the moment. Also, it is not very loving and kind to dismiss other people’s suffering, by saying: “This is all illusory anyway. In truth all life is One, so I’m only going to focus on that, and not try to mend anything that isn’t real at all.” Such thinking would be what Kenneth Wapnick calls level confusion. The staggering metaphysics of A Course in Miracles do not imply that we do not pay attention to the world in our everyday lives. On the contrary, this world can be seen as a useful classroom in which we learn how we can allow the ego to be gently undone completely, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

When you and I accept our function of true forgiveness here in this dualistic dream world, we become a Teacher of God. This means that our kind and loving demeanor serves a gentle reminder to others that they, too, can make the same choice of the relinquishment of judgment, in the grateful realization that all life is one and the ego is a silly mistake. Once more from workbook lesson 195: “Let your gratitude make room for all who will escape with you: the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss or feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and the path of death. All these go with you. […] Then let our brothers lean their tired heads against our shoulders as they rest a while. We offer thanks for them. For if we can direct them to the peace that we would find, the way is opening at last to us.” (W-pI.195.5:2-3;7:1-2).

Now to be sure, it may at first be hard to feel gratitude when asked to see the sameness in yourself and, say, the leading politicians of the nation. Or in others who seem to be unkind to you and shut you out. Realize though, in gladness, that this is the great reconditioning of the mind that A Course in Miracles offers us; namely that from shifting form form (“he’s the president”, or ”crook”) to content (“he’s merely a mirror of some unforgiveness in my own mind, as there are no others”). The only reason that we find this difficult is, as we read in chapter 15 of the text: “You have little faith in yourself because you are unwilling to accept the fact that perfect love is in you.” (T-15.VI.2:1). My gratitude should therefore come from the realization that perfect love is not only within me, but within ‘all living things’, regardless of form, since life is one. We therefore have every reason to practice kindness during the day, no matter how vicious the society seems to become.

We conclude with the lovely message from workbook lesson 195: “Walk, then, in gratitude the way of love. For hatred is forgotten when we lay comparisons aside. […] Gratitude becomes the single thought we substitute for our insane perceptions [of separation]. God has cared for us, and calls us Son. […] What more remains as obstacles to peace?” (W-pI.8:1-2; 9:4-5;8:3). The grace of God is not just for me, but for everyone, without exception. All perceived attack I perceive around me is actually a distorted call for love, and this has only one correct answer: love, as guided by the Holy Spirit (Who may very well inspire you to lovingly say ”No” in particular situations…). Practice this realization often during the day, so that eventually you can sincerely answer the question what your prevailing state of mind is with one word: gratitude.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

What a wonderful world

This evergreen by Louis Armstrong, initially released in 1967 and covered by many artists since, invites us all to look only at the good things in life, and focus on the inherent love that is our desire beneath our superficial daily doings. It is often sung at spiritual events as well, where it is used as an affirmation to remind us of the beauty of life that is there for all of us, but for the choosing. All the ‘bad’ things and people that subsequently seem to cross our path are then at least not our fault, and we can continue to feel blissful about our advanced spiritual focus.

In A Course in Miracles, this world we experience ourselves in is depicted quite differently, namely as “…a dry and dusty place, where starved and thirsty creatures come to die” (W.pII.13.5:1). That’s hardly a wonderful world! Moreover, the Course’s workbook starts out by letting us know that nothing here means anything. What!? A Course in Miracles is one of the very few spiritualities that offer such a shocking view on the world and the material universe, and it is completely consistent about this stance throughout. So how could this be, if the goal of the Course is to attain a lasting state of unshakable inner peace, in the awareness that all life is one, and all the hurts in the world are illusory? This sounds somewhat contradictory, to say the least.

The explanation, of course, lies in the metaphysics that are the rock on which its message rests securely. When we say we want lasting inner peace, we usually mean we would like to experience that as a good healthy individual ego. A Course in Miracles brings us the most uncomfortable message that the entire ego, yea individuality whatsoever, is completely illusory, and even more so, the entire phenomenal universe and all our senses that behold it as well. The Course more or less equates the material world with hell, and summarizes the combined aspects of time and space as a hallucinatory nightmare. Why? Because the material universe is nothing but the imagined effect of the thought of separation from Oneness (God). The body, then, is nothing but a pitiful attempt to hide from the supposed wrath of the Creator over this ‘savage sin’, by splitting up in billions of fragments that now seem to have a life of their own. Jesus, in summary, is telling us that our seemingly individual autonomous personalities really do not exist in truth.

Now before you head for a deep depression about Jesus’ message (which would again be an ego tactic), hold on, and bear with him. A Course in Miracles would not be of much use if it stayed at that. There is, of course, a much better experience for us, one that reflects the truth of what we collectively are, namely the One Son of God (albeit seemingly asleep). The secret of salvation is but the realization that all the pain and misery in our lives come from choosing the wrong focus, or teacher, in the mind. As long as we focus on individuality, we continue to invite separation. It is only when we choose to step back and let the Voice for Love (i.e., he Holy Spirit) be the guide of our mind, that peace not only becomes possible but inevitable. This is because the Holy Spirit, through our choice for forgiveness, leads the mind back to the real world, the gateway to our true Home in the Heart of God.

We will, however, only make this choice for a better mind teacher once we fully realize the silliness of the “joke” of thinking we can actually exist, separated from God, in a material universe that was made as a place where He could enter not and we could be on our own. Our continuous wish to see separation is mirrored in how our physical senses work: “All idols of the world were made to keep the truth from being known to you, and to maintain allegiance to the dream that you must find what is outside yourself to be complete and happy. It is vain to worship idols in the hope of peace. God dwells within, and your completion lies in Him. […] Look not to idols. Do not seek outside yourself.” (T-29.VII.6).

So this is why A Course in Miracles is not your everyday spirituality that states that this world can be a place of love. It does promise that love can be a consistent experience in the mind, but only if we fully realize that the material world itself is merely illusory, and not at all what we want. Yet the Course does not ask us to deny our experiences in this ‘nightmare’ we seem to live in. Rather, it invites us to calmly and honestly look (in the mind) at what it is we choose to focus on each and every minute of the day, and then happily “choose again” to experience this world as a classroom for real spiritual growth, which ultimately leads us entirely out of the world, to real eternal peace. This final outcome, by the way, is not optional: in due time everyone will make the right choice, thereby ending the dream of time and space. It is solely up to us how long we still want to experience fear, pain, and death, before we finally choose the path of peace.

The world cannot be a wonderful world, if all things inevitably decay and die and pass away. The world cannot be wonderful as long as we perceive politicians and crooks whom we exclude from the light in us. The world only becomes wonderful once we realize, with gladness and in gratitude, that there is no world! (W-pI.132.6:2). Having chosen the Holy Spirit as the one guide to our thoughts, all the various competing forms the senses behold shift to the background, while we bring to the foreground the content of the light of Love we all share and are. And this is no idle wish; it is the way out of hell. “The body’s eyes will continue to see differences, […] but the healed mind will put them all in one category: they are unreal.” (M-8.6:1-5). Now we can forgive every unforgiving thought we hold in our own mind. Now we can see past all seeming differences. “Now can you say to everyone who comes to you in prayer with you: “I cannot go without you, for you are a part of me.” And so he is in truth.” (S-1.V.3:8-10).

To summarize: this world only becomes a ‘wonderful world’ once we realize that there is no material world, and that all life that we perceive around is us but a mirror of the mind. Perception can be guided either by the ego or the Holy Spirit. And it is entirely up to you and me which guide we choose; this power of choice is our one remaining freedom. And what a power it is! The world becomes wonderful once we choose to regard it solely as a classroom in which there is only love or calls for love, to which only one answer suffices: the answer the Holy Spirit gives us. And so Jesus says to us in the Song of Prayer pamphlet: “Hold out your hand. This enemy has come to bless you. […] He is a Son of God, along with you. He is no jailer, but a messenger of Christ. Be this to him, that you may see him thus.” (S-1.III.5:3-9). Practice in seeing this not in some, but in all people you meet, regardless of behavior. The world is wonderful because through it we can learn to undo the silly idea of separation.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Observing the control freak

Most of us know someone who seems to be excessively into control habits – for example, lunch and dinner must be at a particular given time; a haircut must be done every so many weeks; pictures must be arranged in this or that order; or perhaps they spend a remarkable amount of time on cleaning or tidying things. When this becomes too burdensome for those around them, we call it a disorder and we organize some form of psychological treatment. This often ends in the sobering conclusion that the person at hand does not really want to change, for he or she regards it as a primary safety mechanism, and will not be convinced (as yet) that this very same safety can also be found otherwise.

On a more subtle level, however, it turns out that we are all control freaks. This is born from the belief that this body and this world are literally all we have and are. And what’s more, we have to defend what we have against an unpredictable and basically hostile world. We might rank these ‘control needs’ according to Maslov’s famous pyramid of needs. At the bottom line, we must make sure we have control in the form of food, clothes, and shelter. This means we need an income, which means we need good health and can feel safe, by a set of laws or regulations. Living by these rules, we try to control nature so as to avert disasters (or pandemics…). Additionally, we feel we need intimacy, friendship, and some sort of social belonging. This, of course, mainly serves our need for respect and self-esteem, to be regarded as a ‘worthy’ individual person. Once you analyse this carefully, you’ll note that many of us go to great lengths to get a sense of control over these issues. Again, on these levels we are all control freaks.

We generally do not think this odd. After all, we all want to gain maximum profit from life as long as we’re here to live it, do we not? It is only when Jesus in A Course in Miracles asks the perennial question “What is it for?” (T-17.VI.2:1) that the insanity of all these subtle control mechanisms becomes painstakingly clear. The bottom line answer is that we want to control our dream of individuality; in fact, we will do anything – even physically kill – to keep our sense of special separated autonomous individuality intact. All the control mechanisms above share the ultimate goal of being able to proudly assert: “I exist! The separation from my Creator is real, and I am now the god of my own little personal universe!”

Now, just to address the common spiritual pitfall of level confusion: although Jesus repeatedly assures us that anything in time and space was not created by God and therefore in reality does not exist (W-p1.132.6:2-3), he does not urge us to stop earning an income, cancel insurance policies, or give up all possessions and retreat into a mountain cave to meditate for the rest of your life. As long as we are still utterly convinced we are a physical body living in a material world in time and space (and this includes virtually all of us), we cannot simply jump from duality (level 2) to nonduality (level 1). Awaking from nonduality to our true Home in the nondualistic Heart of God outside time and space is a slow process, in which we learn, step by little step, not only that the material world offers nothing that I want (W-p1.102.2:3), but that our salvation lies in training the mind to choose only that which has lasting value (W-p1.133), i.e., forgiveness and therefore the Atonement.

Just as Jesus teaches us that the Holy Spirit can turn anything the Son of God made to separate into a potent force for peace, merely by inviting us to shift the purpose of it (“What is it for?”), so too the Holy Spirit invites us to assign a different purpose to our need to control life. That is, instead of exerting tenacious control on maintaining a false sense of autonomous existence, we could also train our minds to be tenaciously vigilant for any thought that attempts to keep this silliness going. It’s sort of a way to turn the tables on the ego: instead being vigilant for keeping us mindless (through constant distracting control actions in the world), we could also choose to be vigilant for mindfulness. In the Course, Jesus effectively asserts this in the third lesson of love taught by the Holy Spirit: “Be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom” (T6.V-C).

This effectively means that we monitor the quality of our thought stream as well as we can. As soon as we notice anything that does not reflect inner peace – anything from a mild twinge of annoyance to outright fury, which is the same dynamic anyway (W-p1.21.2:5) – this should be a reason to stop and turn on the observer (or decision maker) “above the battleground” (T-23.IV). Once you succeed in doing that, your perspective on the situation at hand becomes quite different. You will suddenly realize that this negativity, whatever it is, is nothing more (but also nothing less) than the projecting out of your own horrid suppressed guilt about separating from God. Since the message of the Atonement is that this separation – and actually everything in time and space – never really happened, you can now make a better choice, that is, choose to follow the Holy Spirit, the Voice for Love, as the new guide to your thoughts. The negativity will then quickly dissipate, dissolving into the nothingness from whence it came (C-4.4).

So, yes, let’s all be control freaks, but in the right-minded sense of the word: be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom. Recall once again lesson 156: “Who walks with me? This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace” (W-p1.156.8:1-2). And the best thing is, we don’t even need to mentally fight against all these wrong-minded forms of control urge. We merely ask the question (“Who walks with me?”), we ‘take our place on high’ above the battleground and look at the negativity; non-judgmentally, with Jesus beside us. Remember: “Forgiveness… is still, and quietly does nothing… It merely looks, and waits, and judges not” (W-p2.1.4:1,3). That’s the practice by which you become a happy learner (T-14.II) and choose to be a Teacher of God (M-1). Have a great and vigilant mind training day!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2021

You and your bother

This famous typing error by Bill Thetford, obviously caused by ego-resistance to the transcription process by Bill and Helen between 1965 and 1972, in a sense constitutes the core of Jesus’ message in A Course in Miracles, namely: the mindshift from seeing others as a bother, to seeing them as an equal brother. When meeting anyone, we unconsciously focus on finding something that we can dislike about them, or that would put the self in a subtly superior position to others. The core aim of A Course in Miracles is to train the mind to entirely shift from seeing differences to seeing sameness. How is that possible in a world that is clearly made up of differences?

We return once more to the crucial distinction the Course makes between form and content. This distinction cannot be discussed too often, for without a good grasp of the meaning of this distinction, a consistent focus on the sameness in everyone and everything would be very, very hard to attain. The core motivation for choosing to focus on sameness, by the way, would of course be that without differences, there is no need to dislike, judge, or condemn, which cancels out the root cause for fear. In other words, lasting inner peace is attained by undoing fear, which is attained by giving up judgment, which becomes possible once we perceive the sameness in everyone and everything.

This shift in perception, though, must happen in the mind. It cannot be done purely with the bodily senses such as the eyes and the ears, since these were made to see differences instead of sameness. Let’s see how this can work in practice. If you go for a walk in the park, or perhaps for a leisurely bicycle tour, you notice all sorts of people, with a wide range of characteristics. Some of these you may find instantly appealing, while others you judge as decidedly appalling. We usually see this as a normal thought mechanism in the human psyche. In A Course in Miracles though, Jesus focuses a lot on exactly this process of shifting and ranking. In one place, he summarizes it thus: “Each day and every minute in each day and every instant that each minute holds, you but relive the single instant when the time of terror took the place of love.” (T-26.V.13:1). Every dislike about another, however small it may seem, boils down to a choice to condemn instead of to love.

The core belief that’s behind such judgment is that you and I are distinctly separate beings, with nothing that inherently binds us to each other. However, when carefully reading the metaphysics of the Course in the text, we come to realize that not only the world of time and space is an illusion, but even more to the point that everything our senses perceive is the result of the projection of separation, that is, ultimately the ontological separation from God. The sleeping Son of God dreams about a material universe in which his self is split in billions and billions of tiny fragments, in a fearful attempt to hide from the supposed wrath of God about the separation. Every separated fragment projects the guilt and fear about this separation away, so that all evil now seems to be in others, while the fragment that I identify with can now be seen as an innocent victim.

It’s a mind-boggling shift in awareness of reality, but how does that apply to our everyday lives, which the Course certainly doesn’t ask us to deny? The body that you perceive yourself in perhaps encases your personality in this lifetime, but it is hardly what you and I fundamentally are. A Course in Miracles does not take a definite stand on reincarnation, but there are ample passages that hint at the  notion that you and I have already been here in many, many bodies before, and will continue to return in bodies as long as the Lessons of Love (Text, chapter 6) have not yet been mastered (the Buddhist would say: as long as there is still bad karma to clean up). Every single body you see, including your own body, is like a brief glow in time. The sleeping Son of God will continue to seemingly separate in a new body, as long as the dreadful sin-guilt-fear thought trinity is not completely given up. That’s why Kenneth Wapnick once stated that  “merely being born here is Self-sabotage!”

See how this insight might be applied during your stroll in the park, or on your bicycle tour. Each time you meet anyone (and no meeting is a coincidence, cf. Chapter 3 in the Manual), you have the ability to activate the decision maker in your mind, who, as it were, ‘stops the time’, and ponders: “Hmm. I see the form of a body, but that body is part of the dream world we choose to experience ourselves in. If I shift from form to content, I can see (not literally, but with the mind’s eye) the Light of Christ shining in that perceived person, just as I can see that same light shining in myself. In fact, it is the same light. I may not like the looks (or the behavior) of that person, but that’s form. In essence, each body is just a frightened fragment that – bottom line – yearns to return to the Oneness of God, but is simply still too uncertain, lonely and fearful to choose this. The inner light we share, however, is unchangeable, wholly lovable, and the ultimate reality of life.”

Just consider what happens to your state of mind once you would evaluate everyone you meet in this way. Would this leave any room for some sort of condemnation? Hardly. On the contrary, such an evaluation leaves only room for love, compassion and kindness. It opens up the heart to receive and give the miracles that the Holy Spirit wants to work through you. And what is the result in your own awareness? Joy, love and peace. Now, that’s exactly the experience Jesus wants us to practice in this lifelong curriculum. I do not master A Course in Miracles by diligently reading the text, workbook and manual for teachers over and over again; I need to apply this forgiveness principle (i.e., the separation never happened, and material form merely deceives) from moment to moment in my everyday doings. I will naturally stumble a zillion times each day, but each time I become aware of such a mistake, I can choose again: from ‘bother’ to ‘brother’. This is the practice that brings lasting inner peace a bit closer each day. Who could ask for anything more?

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, Oct. 2018