Who do you think you are?

The teachings of Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) on enlightenment were simple but profound. In discussing any topic, event, thought or action he would always invite his visitors to simply ask: “Who is it that is asking this question?”, or, similarly, “Who is the thinker?”. This of course leads to the ultimate question: “Who am I?”, and the idea is, you guessed it, that you and I are not the personality in the body that we all intimately identify with. Beyond all these distracting bodily senses and distracting thoughts and desires, you and I are Brahman, the eternal life that merely is. Or, as Rupert Spira wisely taught: “Your existence in time is an illusion. You do not exist; you are.” The distinction in words seems very subtle, but it makes all the difference between experiencing yourself as a body in time and space, versus experiencing your Self as the timeless “all-in-all” that joins all life as one, outside time and space.

Students of A Course in Miracles will of course be quick to spot the similarities with Terms-summary #14 in the Workbook, titled “What Am I?” (WpII.14). The answer Jesus gives to this question is the key to A Course in Miracles, in that our one problem is that in the ontological instant just before the Big Bang, we preferred the imaginary ego-seduction of being an autonomous. split-off self, instead of gently laughing about the silly notion that part of Oneness could wrench itself from perfect Oneness. Here, then, is Jesus’ answer to the most fundamental question of all: “I am God’s Son, complete and healed and whole, shining in the reflection of His Love. In me is His creation sanctified and guaranteed eternal life. In me is love perfected, fear impossible, and joy established without opposite. I am the holy home of God Himself. I am the Heaven where His Love resides. I am His holy Sinlessness Itself, for in my purity abides His Own” (WpII.14.1).

Since this answer applies to every seemingly separated living thing, you and I are really no different from other life forms that we encounter. To be sure, the forms our eyes behold are distinctly different, and the values and beliefs that our ears pick up from others often differ markedly from ours; but beyond the senses and personalities, you and I and everyone share the same one life. The goal of Jesus’ curriculum called A Course in Miracles is to guide us slowly in gradually accepting this truth about ourselves, step by step. Since this acceptance ultimately implies the end of individual perception, emotions, and the body, we should expect to feel a slight twinge of resistance to Jesus’ course, to say the least. So the truth is “…repeated many times; next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations; then to be considered seriously more and more, and finally accepted as the truth.” (WpII.284.1:5-6).

As Ramana Maharshi taught, the key in this process is to become the observer of the self that seems to think and act in this waking dream we call our world; a world that boils down to a battlefield of egos fighting for autonomy. In the Course this is perhaps best exemplified in Chapter 23 of the Text, in section IV called “Above the battleground”, where Jesus poetically invites us to: “…Be lifted up, and from a higher place look down upon it [the battleground]. From there will your perspective be quite different. In the midst of it, it does seem real. Here you have chosen to be part of it [the battleground]. Here murder is your choice” (T23.IV.5:1-5). Why is murder our choice here? Because the ego dream of separation provides us with a seeming autonomous identity, which must constantly be defended against attack, which justifies our own attack, which of course merely reflects our own imagined original attack on God. And the fact that we seem to die anyway merely proves that God (Oneness) is a lie and that the ego is right: oneness has indeed been shattered, and death is more powerful than Love. The separation has truly been accomplished.

We can escape this vicious attack – defense – attack cycle by practicing Jesus’ instructions about the observer of the battleground. “Be lifted up” is really the invitation to choose to become the observer of the stage of your life that is currently going on. Imagine yourself sitting in a theater, looking at a play – and the play is your interpretation of everything that happens in your life. Interestingly, when people are asked to summarize the play of their life in a succinct poetic title, we often see phrases such as “Groundhog day”; “Fifty shades of misery”, “A series of unfortunate events”; “Rock bottom”, “Suicidal tendencies”, “Broke”, “Home alone”, etcetera. To Course students, this should come as no surprise, since we are always looking for problems just to ensure our special unique identity in a world wherein we can blame everything and everyone as the scapegoat, while secretly we suspect that we are the guilty sinners, but want to escape God’s imagined wrath. All this again affirms the “reality” of the separation. As author Joe Dispenza put it concisely: “Who would I be without my problems?” That’s the insanity of the ego. But you and I are not our ego.

So when Ramana invites you to pose the question “Who is the one thinking about this situation?” and you are in Jesus’ “observer” mode “above the battleground”, the answer is plain as day: the observed “you” on the stage, the “hero of the dream”, is a made-up construct, with the perennial goal of keeping a separated identity intact, and blaming everyone else for the sin of that separation. The distinction Rupert Spira uses between existence and being is also often found in the Course: existence means a made-up ego-identity in time and space, which is totally illusory, while being refers to the truth our eternal oneness, safe at home within the Heart of God as the extension of the Love of God. So the answer to Ramana’s question “What am I?” could be stated as: “I do not exist; I am“.

What’s the value of this exercise? Well, you will never again take the dream world as seriously as before. Your peace won’t be shattered by the least irritated frown from those around you. Your days will become much lighter, as you realize the value of each day in learning how to ascend the ladder to the acceptance of the Atonement; from existence to being. This, by the way, does not imply you become indifferent to what happens on the stage; after all, whatever happens we unconsciously want to happen. You merely let your thoughts and actions be guided by a much better inner teacher. As Ramana counseled: “Do not give up your earthly responsibilities. But take the time, whenever you can, as often as possible, to ask the question: ‘Who am I’?” This puts you right back in the observer mode above the battlefield, where you can make a better choice.

To conclude with Jesus’ heart-warming advice from the section “Above the Battleground” in Chapter 23: “When the temptation to attack [i.e., reject, condemn] rises to make your mind darkened and murderous, remember you can see the battle from above [i.e., the observer watching the stage]. Even in forms you do not recognize, the signs you know. There is a stab of pain, a twinge of guilt, and above all, a loss of peace. This you know well. When they occur [i.e., on the stage], leave not your place on high, but quickly choose a miracle instead of murder.” (T-23.IV.6:1-5). Happy observing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, May 2021

To ease the seriousness of death

Each time we are confronted with the death of a loved one, be it through illness, an accident, suicide, or simply old age, we are sharply reminded of the impermanence of life. What’s more, we are simultaneously reminded that our own life is finite, which sometimes leads to a rethinking about what’s the use of all that we do (and also what’s the use of all our worrying). On a spiritual level, each death we perceive is an unconscious affirmation (by the ego) that God has indeed not forgotten about our cardinal sin of separation from Him. Each death ‘proves’ this was actually accomplished, and in due time He will snatch back the life we stole from Him, though only after much suffering on our part.

No matter how much we distract the mind by busying ourselves with family, career, hobbies, and other personal ‘goals’, this is a basic fear that lurks in all of us, no matter how deep is it is repressed. How refreshing, then, to read a completely different view on the concept of death in A Course in Miracles! This is due to the unique metaphysical foundation of strict nonduality that its entire thought system rests on. It’s a unique view on what is reality and what is illusory. To attain the inner peace that is A Course in Miracles‘ goal, a basic understanding of the distinction between nonduality and duality is required, so let’s recap. I know I do this a lot in my blog posts, but since repetition is the mother of skill, another summary, in this case from the perspective of life and death, may be helpful.

Whenever we’re confronted with the passing of a loved one, we might realize that we see that person as a body; and consequently, we see ourselves as a body as well. A Course in Miracles, however, teaches us that you and I are not a body; we are pure spirit — but not in the sense of a ‘light’ or a ‘soul’ that’s ‘trapped’ in a specific body. Spirit is completely outside time, space, and perception. Though in the world we think we live in everything is characterized by differences and change, in the world of spirit everything is one. So when we read in A Course in Miracles that you and I are pure spirit (cf. W-pI.97), one spirit is not different from another spirit — you and I are the very same spirit. Only in the world of time and space does this spirit seem to manifest itself as a myriad of separated bodies. In other words: forms differ, but the content is the same.

Scholar Kenneth Wapnick often used the very helpful distinction of a Level I and Level II view of reality. Level I equals nonduality, in which God is the only reality, and you and I and all life combined are but the unified extension of God’s changeless Love. Our linearly programmed brains cannot really grasp this, but according to A Course in Miracles you and I are not made of flesh and blood and bone (W-pI.107.8:2). You and I are one changeless spirit, eternally united with God (Who equals Love) in a ‘oneness joined as one’ (T-25.I.7:1).  This is Level I, the only true reality. This is certainly not our daily experience. Level II comprises the totality of time and space: the universe, the world, our lives, in short, what we generally think of as reality. A Course in Miracles calls this ‘the waking dream’ and states that this is completely illusory. The Son of God has seemingly fallen asleep in a dream of time and space, hoping to retain his imagined autonomy and hide from God, Who must be angry about what His Son did to Him.

This is why Jesus says in chapter 24 of the text: “You may be surprised to hear how very different is reality from what you see. You do not realize the magnitude of that one error [of seriously considering separation from God]. It was so vast and so completely incredible that from it a world of total unreality had to emerge.” (T-24.I.5:1-3). In this ‘waking dream’ of time and space, we have forgotten what our true reality is. But that does not mean it is gone or lost. And so Jesus invites us: “Can you imagine what a state of mind without illusion is? How would it feel? Try to remember when there was a time — perhaps a minute, may be even less — when nothing came to interrupt your peace; when you were certain you were loved and safe. Then try to picture what it would be like to have that moment be extended to the end of time and to eternity. Then let the sense of quiet that you felt be multiplied a hundred times, and then be multiplied another hundred more. And now you have a hint, not more than just the faintest intimation of the state your mind will rest in when the truth has come.” (W-pI.107.2:1-3:1).

So when someone passes away, it’s the seeming end of what never had any reality anyway. It’s one fragment within the dream of the sleeping Son of God, on its journey to fragmenting yet once again. Although A Course in Miracles does not take a definite stand on the issue of reincarnation (cf. M-24), since that would give the concept of time a reality it simply does not have, both the text and workbook contain several allusions to us repeatedly coming back in different bodies, each with the same wrong-minded goal of separation from oneness, and with the same right-minded goal of learning the forgiveness lessons of the Holy Spirit (cf. T-6, the lessons of love). Also, in one of Gary Renard’s books, he was treated by Arten and Pursah on a rollercoaster experience of all the bodies he had inhabited on his journey home so far. So you and I can be reasonably sure that — at least from the perspective of Level II — we’re been here before many times. As long as we have not yet fully accepted the Atonement (“see the face of Christ in all your brothers and remember God”, M-5.2:1), you and I will be here for several lifetimes to come, until we have learned the final lesson, and only peace remains.

That places the concepts of birth and death in an entirely different perspective. You need never be afraid of death again! This is not to say, though, that you ought not to have any feelings when confronted with death. A Course in Miracles calls upon its students to remain normal persons; so as a loved one passes, you mourn just like anyone would do, and you certainly don’t tell everyone at the funeral that they should cheer up because it’s all illusory anyway. The only difference is that your mind is now capable of viewing it all from ‘above the battleground’ (cf. T-23.IV.5:1-7), and you realize you are in a classroom in which the Holy Spirit offers you yet another opportunity for forgiving a remaining dark spot in the mind. The dark spot is a decision to want to die, since this would ‘prove’ once again that the separation actually happened, and we can definitely mock God. After the mourning, we can now gently smile at such silliness. The world is a classroom in which we can learn to end the hopeless cycle of reincarnations. As Jesus says in chapter 19, in a quote that also appeared in the Bhagavad Gita three thousand years earlier: “How can the immortal die?” (T-19.II.3:6).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Forgiving politicians

Most of us have a decided opinion about the president of the United States, the president of the Russian Federation, or any other prolific politician that comes to mind. Politicians are generally seen as being unreliable, opportunistic, and underhanded, if not outright evil. And yet we read in A Course in Miracles that our anger, in this case toward them, is never justified and that attack has no foundation (T-30.VI.1:1-2). The reason, so Jesus tells us, is that ultimately there is no world outside of us (W-pI.132.6:2), and so there are no politicians out there to get mad at. To many first-time readers of the Course, this seems a foolhardy denial of what we clearly perceive. So what gives?

A Course in Miracles cannot be understood without being aware of a clear distinction between two levels of reality, which are mutually exclusive. The first level, called Level I by Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick, is strict nonduality, or “not-two”. In nonduality, there is no time, no space, no observer, no consciousness, no existence. There is only God, Who in A Course in miracles is synonymous with unconditional Love. And this Love merely is, unchallenged and unchangeable. Although Jesus explains to us that this Love constantly extends itself in eternity, we should not try to picture this in terms of a three-dimensional space, as nonduality has no dimensions.

From a Level I perspective, you and I and all the life we perceive around us is no more (but also no less) than the extension of that Love, which in the Course is named the Son of God (capital S). This completely redefines two thousand years of Biblical conditioning that the Son of God is only one very special body, called Jesus. From the perspective of Level I, you and I are not bodies, but the same abstract extension of the Love of God. As we read in chapter 18 of the text: “Can you who see yourself within a body know yourself as an idea? Everything you recognize you identify with externals, something outside itself. You cannot even think of God without a body or in some form you think you recognize” (T-18.VIII.1:5-7).

What we ‘think we recognize’ is the second level of reality, called Level II by Kenneth Wapnick. This is the ‘reality’ of form. It includes everything we perceive in the time and space around us; in short, everything we call our daily reality. Except that Jesus firmly stresses that what we see as reality, is not reality at all — it’s more like a dream. When we wake up in the morning, we think we wake up to reality, but Jesus assures us we merely wake up to another form of dreaming: “All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all. Their content is the same. They are your protest against reality, and your fixed and insane idea that you can change it” (T-18.II.5:12-14).

The difficult thing about these two levels is that our brains, with which we think we can reason and understand reality, were made to be limited to the dream world in time and space (that is, Level II). So anything outside time and space, anything that’s not observable and not related to any concept we know, is by definition outside the realm of comprehension of the brain. Therefore, any time we talk about Level I we may get all excited, but in the meantime we are still convinced that Level II is the reality that we work and live in. We do not really feel that this abstract Level I is something we might actually experience.

Yet in A Course in Miracles, we are taught that we, as the collective Son of God (the extension of Love) ‘made up’ this Level II in order to experience a world wherein we could be God: “Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be, and that because you want it you see it. And while you see it you do not doubt that it is real.” (T-18.II.5:1). So the world you and I experience ourselves in was not thrust upon us. We “made it as we would have it be”, as the collective sleeping Son of God, who, from the perspective of Level I, is still an idea, the extension of the Love of God, a state which we have all but forgotten, but which is still our ultimate reality.

However, unlike most other (nondualistic) spiritualities, A Course in Miracles does not ask us to deny or dismiss the perceptual dream world of Level II. This would be “a particularly unworthy form of denial” (T.2.IV.3:11). Instead, we are invited to regard our dream in time and space, however illusory though it be, as a useful classroom, which is filled to the rim with opportunities to train the decision making part of the mind. In each person or situation that seems to confront me, I am offered the opportunity of choosing (a) condemnation, rooting my experience still further in the dream, or (b) forgiveness, which readies my mind to eventually awaken from this illusory dream (nightmare, really).

Even though on Level II, God seems to be completely absent (“This world was made as a place where God could enter not”, W-pII.3.2:1,4), His gifts of Love, peace and joy are yet within our mind’s reach, as we read in workbook lesson 105: “God’s peace and joy are yours. Today we will accept them, knowing they belong to us.” (W-pI.105). On almost every page of A Course in Miracles, we are taught that the experience of heaven or hell is a matter of (a choice in) the mind. It does not depend on anything outside of us. You and I can condemn or we can choose to forgive; the choice is completely up to us.

All these vile politicians are merely another aspect in the dream the Son of God has chosen to try to usurp the role of God as Creator, which was the ontological condemnation. In order to escape the imagined wrath of God for this ‘cardinal sin’, we point at all the seemingly separated fragments outside of us, saying in effect to God: “Don’t be angry with me — I’m innocent. All evil is done by them (which includes more or less everything we perceive outside of us). Obviously, politicians are a particularly convenient aspect in the illusory dream to blame and condemn. However, since all life still shares the same guilty ego, each time we point a finger at someone or something, we might realize that’s a projection to avoid having to face our own suppressed guilt about the separation. And that’s why in the Level II dream world of time and space, we all walk ‘uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1). We just constantly distract our minds to avoid these feelings, by continually pointing at “evil” outside of us.

Lesson 105 and 106 offer us a particularly beautiful combination of mind training exercises to undo all this silliness that we take so seriously. In order to experience the peace and joy of God we want so much, we must share it with everyone we meet or even think of. Let’s use politicians for this. Lesson 105 invites us to: “Think of your ‘enemies’ a little while, and tell each one, as he occurs to you: My brother, peace and joy I offer you, that I may have God’s peace and joy as mine.” […] Now you are ready to accept the gift of peace and joy that God has given you. […] Now you can say, ‘God’s peace and joy are mine’, for you have given what you would receive.” (W-pI.105.7:1-6).

If you find such a forgiveness exercise extremely difficult, try lesson 106, “I will be still and listen to the truth”, which is an invitation to lay aside the ego’s shrieking voice. Close your eyes and picture all the politicians that you despise, one by one. Try to visualize white light within each of them; the same white light that we all share as the one Son of God. If you then try to focus on stillness, the truth of that image (which is content, not form) will make itself known to you, usually in the form of a warm peaceful feeling within your body. You can try it with anyone you seem to have an upset with. So choose once again today the gentle road of miracles (forgiveness) instead of murder (condemnation), and experience how much more peaceful your days become.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Being honest about choosing darkness

One of the more striking aspects of the spiritual thought system called A Course in Miracles is that it would have us explicitly look at all the dark thoughts in the mind, in order to be able to let them go. This is in stark contrast to many contemporary spiritual and new age systems, which would have us focus solely on the love in the mind. In this sense, A Course in Miracles offers a much more tightly integrated combination of psychology and spirituality. In many places, Jesus stresses the importance of this looking, for example in Chapter 13: “You may wonder why it is so crucial that you look upon your hatred and realize its full extent. You may also think that it would be easy enough for the Holy Spirit to show it to you, and to dispel it without the need for you to raise it to awareness yourself.” (T-13.III.1-2).

This would be the easy fix we all want. The general idea is something like: “Please Jesus, take all this rotten darkness from my mind so that I can just be at peace in the Love of God.” The trick, however, is that unconsciously we do not want to be ‘at peace in the Love of God’ as the One Son of God: we want it as an individual. However, since oneness knows not of individuality, this is impossible. That’s why Jesus ends that same paragraph in chapter 13 with the dazzling statement: “You are not really afraid of crucifixion [i.e., pain, darkness]. Your real terror is of redemption [i.e., Oneness Love, light]”. So, to dispel the dark conflicts in the mind forever we must first realize just how miserable our ‘autonomous individuality’ (which is the embodiment of separation) really makes us. If you and I solely focus on the love and light that we cherish so much as a separated individual, the separated ego remains in the driving seat, blissfully steering our life further into nowhere-land. Your autonomy remains, but it will not lead to lasting inner peace.

In Chapter 11 of the text of A Course in Miracles, after having explained the contrast between God and the ego, that is, between oneness and separation, light and shadow, truth and illusion, Jesus guides us: “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected.” (T-11.V.1:1). That’s the bottom line. Think about that for a while. All the distractions in our lives, be it about careers, hobbies, money, partner relationships, you name it, are ego ploys to avoid having to look at the dark illusion of separation. Jesus proceeds: “We are ready to look more closely at the ego’s thought system because together we have the lamp that will dispel it, and since you realize you do not want it [after ten chapters of text], you must be ready. Let us be very calm in doing this, for we are merely looking honestly for truth. The dynamics of the ego will be our lesson for a while, for we must look first at this to see beyond it, since you have made it real.” (T-11.V.1:2-5).

This practice of looking is of course one of the main thrusts of the 365 lessons of the workbook of A Course in Miracles. For example, lesson 93, an oft-quoted lesson, titled “Light and joy and peace abide in me”, starts off with the shocking message that “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. […] You think if what is true about you were revealed to you, you would be struck with horror so intense that you would rush to death by your own hand, living on after seeing this being impossible” (W-pI.93.1:1). That’s pretty graphic language! The reason we believe this is our unconscious guilt about the ontological separation from God, which is the ‘tiny, mad idea’ that we still take seriously, no matter how deeply we have buried that. That’s why Jesus, in the same lesson, continues to say that “These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing. […] These thoughts are not according to God’s Will. […] This is enough to prove that they are wrong, but you do not perceive that this is so.” ( W-pI.93.2:1;3:2-4).

So that is why “To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning.” (T-24.In.2:1). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised to feel not just a twinge of resistance, but a whirlwind of resistance. After all, this Course undermines the very image of our individual self we cherish so much! That’s why Jesus continually pleads with us to honestly look at how miserable our separated autonomy makes us, and to try to follow up on his workbook instructions, to actually feel the peace we could experience instead. So in lesson 98, we read: “Here [i.e., by accepting your part in God’s plan for salvation] is an offer guaranteeing you your full release from pain of every kind, and joy the world does not contain” (W-pI.98.6:1).

As Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often pointed out in his workshops and his books, our ego immediately conjures up all sorts of objections: “That would mean I would have to give up everything that’s unique and special about me. But who would I be without all this? Wouldn’t that lead to total nothingness? It just doesn’t feel enticing.” And before you know it, you unconsciously conclude: “Nah, I don’t believe it. I am not willing to let go of my unique personality. Sure, along with that come my judgments, my grievances, my addictions, but hey, I think I’d still be better off with these than joining Jesus on this so-called road to oneness, which I cannot really picture anyway.” Or perhaps you say to yourself that you will want oneness in due time, but not just as yet.

Ken’s point (and Jesus’ as well) is that it is important to explicitly articulate this resistance; this obvious preference for darkness. Why? In his “Journey through the workbook”, he explains: “If you hear yourself say these words [i.e., your resistance to Jesus’ message], and understand the fear [of redemption, of oneness] that caused them, there will be no guilt, which thrives on being hidden. [Remember, illusions are protected by not looking at them]. Guilt prevents awareness through repression, and then protects itself through projection, which is when you inflict suffering on another or yourself. […] Again, you need, in all honestly, let yourself be free enough to say to him [Jesus]: ‘I do not believe you.’ If you can speak thus, there will be no guilt.” (Journey through the workbook, vol. 3. p.48; brackets mine).

As good students of A Course in Miracles, what we usually tend to do if we catch ourselves having forgotten the lesson for the day for a long while, is feeling a twinge of guilt, then very quickly repress that, and blame something or someone else for our lack of diligence. And though we subsequently vow to ourselves to try harder, the cause of the resistance, guilt and fear, have not been brought to the surface. We will then remain in this vicious circle of allowing the ego in the driver’s seat, still guiding us to nowhere. So why not be honest to yourself, and say, explicitly, without guilt or fear: “All nice and well, these workbook lessons from Jesus, but my ego really doesn’t want this and therefore doesn’t believe it. Of course not, for this Course ultimately heralds the end of the ego, and since I’m so thoroughly identified with my individual personality, this must engender fear. I will allow myself some slack, and try to really experience the inner peace that the diligent practice of the workbook leads to.”

Now we can better understand why Jesus introduces his workbook by stating: “Remember only this: you need not believe the ideas [lessons, exercises], you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. […] You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. You are not asked to judge them at all. You are asked only to use them. It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true.” (W-pI.In.8-9). This is also why Jesus closes the workbook with the famous lines: “This course is a beginning, not an end. Your Friend [the Holy Spirit, the Voice for Oneness Love] goes with you. You are not alone.” (W-Ep.1:1-3). So please practice hearing yourself articulate your resistance. It’s an effective way to undo the guilt about the tiny, mad idea that never happened anyway.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

You are a miracle! (2)

In A Course in Miracles, workbook lesson 77 would have me learn that “I am entitled to miracles.” Jesus explains this by stating: “You are entitled to miracles because of what you are. You will receive miracles because of what God is. And you will offer miracles because you are one with God.” (W-pI.77.1:1-3). As we read in chapter 1 of the text, a miracle is an expression of unconditional love. Our natural heritage is to extend or share such expressions, and therefore receive them. And, since according to the Course, having and being are the same, Jesus adds in miracle principle 24: “You are a miracle, capable of creating in the likeness of your Creator.” Or, stated differently in chapter 6 of the text: “Teach only love, for that is what you are” (T-6.I.13:2). So what is the practical value of realizing that you and I are a miracle?

At a first glance, these lines seem to flatter the ego. Doesn’t it sound good to be told you are a miracle, capable of creating in the likeness of God? After all, that was the reason, in the ontological moment just before time began, that we tried to split off from our Creator, to be able to be a god in our own little isolated world! Alas, this is of course not at all what Jesus means when he compliments me that I am a miracle, as he explains in workbook lesson 76: “You really think that you would starve unless you have stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs. You really think a small round pellet or some fluid pushed into your veins through a sharpened needle will ward off disease and death. You really think you are alone unless another body is with you. It is insanity that thinks these things. You call them laws […] You think you must obey the ‘laws’ of medicine, of economics and of health. […] The body suffers just in order that the mind will fail to see it is the victim of itself. […] It is from this [recognition that you but attack yourself that] your ‘laws’ would save the body. It is for this you think you are a body.” (W-pI.76.3:2-5:7).

To summarize once more what I regularly try to bring across in these posts: you and I are not a body, but pure spirit. The one Son of God is still one, though seemingly asleep in a dream of separation and individuality, unconsciously feeling exiled but in reality still at home in God, Who knows nothing of this dream: “Nothing at all has happened but that you have put yourself to sleep…” (T-28.II.4:1). In the very same paragraph, Jesus links this unfortunate illusory hallucination to the purpose of the miracle: “The miracle does not awaken you, but merely shows you who the dreamer is. It teaches you there is a choice of dreams while you are still sleep, depending on the purpose of your dreaming [i.e., separation or Oneness; fear or love]” (T-28.II.4:2-4). So being a miracle, an expression of unconditional love, we both share and receive these expressions, since, again, in reality, being and having are the same: “Your claim to miracles does not lie in your illusions about yourself. It does not depend on any magical powers you have ascribed to yourself, nor on any of the rituals [e.g., the ‘laws’ above] you have devised. It is inherent in the truth of what you are. It is implicit in what God your Father is. It was ensured in your creation, and guaranteed by the laws of God.” (W-pI.77.2)

Given these insights, let’s look at some of those rather abstract fifty miracle principes in chapter 1, to see if we can now clarify these. For example, nr. 15: “Each day should be devoted to miracles. The purpose of time is to enable you to learn how to use time constructively. It is thus a teaching device and a means to an end. Time will cease when it is no longer useful in facilitating learning” (T-1.I.15). If we spend our days expressing the love that we are, regardless of the person or situation at hand, we are actually saving large intervals of time that would otherwise be needed to reach the end of the dualistic dream of time and space. You might object and say that time itself is illusory and that everything in time is happening now, and this is correct, but while we still hold one dark spot in the mind (many dark spots, for almost all of us), there’s forgiveness work to do. This reconditioning, or undoing, is a process that takes time, illusory though it may be.

The combination of 18, 21, 29 and 44 can also be helpful in this regard: “A miracle is a service. It is the maximal service you can render to another. It is a way of loving your neighbor as yourself. You recognize your own and your neighbor’s worth simultaneously. […] Miracles are natural signs of forgiveness. Through miracles you accept God’s forgiveness [i.e., Love] by extending it to others. […] Miracles praise God through you. They praise Him by honoring His creations, affirming their perfection. They heal because they deny body-identification and affirm spirit-identification. […] The miracle is an expression of an inner awareness of Christ and the acceptance of His Atonement.” (T-1.I.18,21,29,44). Again, any expression of unconditional love recognizes the inherent unity of Christ, the One Son of God, the spirit that is our shared essence. This undoes the hateful and fearful separation thought of the ego. The decision maker in the mind now consciously chooses forgiveness instead of condemnation.

So the next time someone seems to treat you unfairly, or you run into a situation that seems to cause you distress, you can now realize this person or situation expresses a call for love, which needs only one answer: love. We do this by quickly activating the decision maker in the mind, and then choosing not to condemn, but to follow the intuitive advice of the Holy Spirit. As we read in the section “Above the battleground”: “When the temptation to attack rises to make your mind darkened and murderous, remember you can see the battle from above. Even in forms you do not recognize, the signs you know. There is a stab of pain, a twinge of guilt, and above all, a loss of peace. This you know well. When they occur leave not your place on high, but quickly choose a miracle instead of murder. And God Himself and all the lights of Heaven will gently lean to you, and hold you up. For you have chosen to remain where He would have you, and no illusion can attack the peace of God together with His Son.” (T-23.IV.6).

Hence Jesus’ plea with us to “Teach only love, for that is what you are” (T-6.I.13:2). It should be obvious that you and I do not really believe this yet, for if we truly did, we would not need 1500 pages of A Course in Miracles with a workbook to practice a lifetime; heck, we would not even hang around here any longer. Still, the required change of every value that we hold dear (“Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning”, T-24.in.2:1) can only succeed once we embrace the correct notion of what we are. We are not a body; our essence is an expression of Love (“Can you who see yourself within a body know yourself as an idea?”, T-18.VIII.1:5), and we are still safe at Home in the Heart of God as the One Son of God. We experience the reflection of that essence here in this world through diligent practice of unconditional forgiveness. Tell yourself confidently today that you are entitled to miracles because you are a miracle. It’s a simple statement of a simple fact. Keeping this in mind, and expressing it in your daily activities, will bring you the peace that you seek.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

The greatest gift to yourself (2)

When asked to describe A Course in Miracles in one word, most students would probably choose ‘forgiveness’. Indeed, the Course is replete with poetic descriptions of how the practice of forgiveness is the way out of all misery. Take for example lesson 122, called “Forgiveness offers everything I want”: “Do you want peace? Forgiveness offers it. Do you want happiness, a quiet mind, a certainty of purpose, and a sense of worth and beauty that transcends the world? Do you want care and safety, and the warmth of sure protection always? Do you want a quietness that cannot be disturbed, a gentleness that never can be hurt, a deep, abiding comfort, and a rest so perfect it can never be upset? All this forgiveness offers you, and more” (W-pI.122.1:2-2:1).

All these treasures, however, are unfortunately unattainable as long as one does not realize just what Jesus truly means when he talks about forgiveness. To really grasp Jesus’ notion of forgiveness, some basic understanding of the Course’s metaphysics is necessary. A Course in Miracles is a strictly nondualistic spirituality, which means it holds that God is the only reality; totally perfect, totally abstract, and completely outside time and space. God has but one Son (T-2.VII.6), Who is the extension of God’s Love. In the quantum possibility that God’s Son considered what it would be like to be separate from God was the ego-thought born. Desiring to be autonomous, the now split mind of the Son of God believed the ego’s conclusion that he had sinned against his Father, that this stain could never be removed, and that he was forced to flee and hide from the Creator by fragmenting into the billions of pieces we now call the physical universe.

In time, this seemed to happen long ago; in reality, it never really happened at all (M-2.2:7). “Not one note in Heaven’s song was missed” (T-26.V.5:4); God (Love) is completely unaware of this quantum tale, and we, as the now-sleeping Son of God, are in reality still safe at Home in His Love. However, seemingly fast asleep in the “waking dream” in time and space we call our lives, we all still stubbornly cling to the belief that this separation did indeed happen, for we still cherish our individual personalities so much. In reality though, there is still only one Son of God. And although there certainly seem to be billions of egos, in content all these egos are in fact of the one same ego. It’s only because we continually project out our own ego onto others that the illusion of many still stands.

So from the perspective of A Course in Miracles, forgiveness is not really about forgiving the bad behavior of others, as (1) behavior is only an effect, not a cause, and (2) in reality there is no-one else out there. Rather, forgiveness is only about forgiving myself, as the sleeping Son, for the projections of my own ego I had thrust upon everyone and everything around me, with the secret purpose to see evil everywhere save within myself. Since the seeming multiplicity in the dream we call our lives is an illusion, I am always upset at something that only seems to be outside of me, but which is really merely a projection of some dark spot that I refuse to see in my own conflicted mind. Still, though I may refuse to see it, unconsciously I realize this is my judgment upon myself, which no doubt is the way God judges me now, which is why everyone walks this planet “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1), however much we try to hide that.

I know this metaphysical talk might be a bit hard to follow. Therefore, let’s look at two common examples you and I encounter in our everyday lives. Firstly, let’s say that the neighbors are loudly partying in their back yard — again! — until about five o’clock at night, and this is keeping me from getting a good night’s sleep. Politely discussing this issue with them afterwards doesn’t seem to improve things. My frustration mounts as I accuse them of (a) wasting their lives, and (b) hindering me in my night rest and also probably my alertness in practicing my workbook lesson the next day. Should I then remember Jesus’ call to forgive, and all I subsequently do is secretly say to them (in my mind): “Okay, I hate you for your despicable juvenile behavior, but I’m going to forgive you anyway, for Jesus tells me this is the way out of pain”, I’m really getting nowhere. This is not at all what Jesus means by forgiveness.

Instead, Jesus would have me realize that their ‘despicable’ behavior is but form, which masks the underlying content of their fear. These neighbors are choosing to party all night long only as an unconscious distraction against a deep-rooted fear! What is the fear? Unconsciously, they fear that they are indeed miserable sinners, that their guilt is real and punishment by God totally justified. Also, following the blocks to Love that peace must flow across (T-19.IV.A-D), unconsciously they are deathly afraid of the Love of God which would mean the end of their individuality, personality and autonomy! Hey, but wait a minute, we just said there is no-one else out there! Ouch – I am really talking about my own fears here! Since I do not want to face these fears, I seek to see it in “others”. I choose to feel upset by these “others” so I don’t have to look within and conclude that there is no sin (T-21.IV.3:1). If I would look, I’d immediately sense the end of my own little separated self, and God knows I’m not yet willing to give that up (Well, God thinks otherwise actually (T-23.I.2). Once I can realize that my frustration (Jesus uses the imagery of a sword) is aimed solely at myself, I can forgive myself for my silly projections, and ask the Holy Spirit how I could see “peace instead of this” (W-pI.34). Seeing myself in another light, I can now see my neighbors in another light, and silently express to them the love that we all seek, knowing we are one.

A second common example is with the people whom we consider ‘authority figures’, which would include for example your parents and your boss. Whenever you notice you’re getting upset with them because of how awfully they treat you or accuse you of everything you do poorly, it’s no use saying to yourself: “I really hate you for your unjustified accusations, but I’m going to practice forgiveness anyway, because the Course tells me that my forgiveness of my brother is the way out of hell. I’m going to be spiritually superior here and discard all the ego-based feelings that are keeping me in chains.” Except that in this practice, the feelings (thoughts really) are not discarded at all; they are merely driven underground, only to resurface again the next time something ‘unreasonable’ comes up – and sooner or later it always does. That’s why Jesus calls this “forgiveness-to-destroy” (S-2.II).

Again, in cases like these Jesus wants us to realize that we’re never upset for the reason we think (W-pI.5). The behavior we dislike is merely form; it’s the effect of a deeply rooted underlying fear of being unworthy of the Love of God, and of having to give up our most cherished possession in the face of our reunification with Oneness: the relinquishment of the individual self. This is our (that is, the ego’s) fear of the Love of God, and we’ll do anything to distract our minds from discovering the road to the “real world”, in which our perception is cleansed of such silly perceptions. Taking it one step further, since there is no-one else out there, this underlying fear I sense in others, is really merely a shadowy projection of that very same fear I hold deep within myself. Having made it to that point, I can now ask Jesus or the Holy Spirit to help me see myself differently. To the extent I can muster the courage to allow the Holy Spirit to undo this darkness in my mind, will my perception of my parents and my boss change for the better as well. I now realize we’re all on the same journey Home. That is true healing.

Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often remarked that, regardless of our interpretation of the behavior of others, people are either expressing love or expressing a call for love (T.14.X.7). Although the latter sometimes takes on rather vicious forms, both psychologically and physically, it’s still a (desperate) call for love. And since in reality there is no-one else out there, am either expressing love or expressing a call for love, regardless of the form this takes. Which will serve me best? Will I keep myself in misery through continued condemnation of everything I perceive outside of me, this being just a projection of what I refuse to see in my own mind? Or will I stop, raise my mind above the battleground (T-23.IV) and ask the Holy Spirit to help me “see peace instead of this” (W-pI.34)? The choice is mine to make. Jesus cannot make this choice for me. Keeping the Course’s metaphysics close to my heart, in the knowledge that you and I and everyone around us are still safe at Home in the Heart of God, I can take Jesus’ hand and affirm that “Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world” (W-pI.62). Only then can I understand the beautiful lesson 122 in the first paragraph of this blog post. And although forgiveness only exists within the dream and is itself illusory, it is the only illusion that breeds no others (W-pI.198.3); this can therefore truly be called the greatest gift I can give to myself. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

How do I get past condemning?

As good Course students, we know that our most important function here in this life is to learn how to truly forgive. Yet we all notice that we keep rejecting people and circumstances; we want things to be different. No matter how hard we try to think and live lovingly, the ego seems to be undefeatable. Very frustrating. How do I get past condemning, so that I can truly experience the lasting inner peace I desire so deeply?

On February 7th, 2021, I did an online workshop on this topic for “Miracles in Contact“, the Dutch Course community. The workshop lasted 90 minutes (50 for the lecture, and 40 for group interaction about the practical application of the ideas). The video contains visual references to Course passages I quoted. Although the talk was in Dutch, manually edited English subtitles are available. On YouTube, you can view the workshop here:

“How do I get past condemning?” – MIC workshop, Feb. 7th, 2021.

Enjoy! Please do not hesitate to leave a comment on the YouTube page, or ask your question at the end of this blog page.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Three Course pearls for everyone (2)

A Course in Miracles as a curriculum to learn how to attain inner peace, is not exactly an easy-to-read spiritual book, to say the very least. Its poetic language, metaphysics and advanced psychological treatment calls for a reader with at least moderately developed intellectual abilities, and had its scribe Helen Schucman exclaim in joy: “Thank God there is at last something [spiritual] for the intellectual!” However, as scholar Kenneth Wapnick noted in his two-volume book “The message of A Course in Miracles“, even those not intellectually inclined can learn a lot from its message, without having to fathom all the details of metaphysics or clinical psychology. Let’s look at three such pearls, just to get an idea of some examples.

First of all, everyone can learn from the Course that God is Love and not vengeance. God is not angry with us; God does not prefer or value some people (or races) above others; and God does not judge people after they die to assess whether they will be accepted into Heaven or condemned to eternal hell. God merely loves: “You who believed that God’s Last Judgment would condemn the world to hell along with you, accept this holy truth: God’s Judgment is the gift of the Correction He bestowed on all your errors, freeing you from them, and all effects they ever seemed to have. […] God’s Final Judgment is as merciful as every step in His appointed plan to bless His Son, and call him to return to the eternal peace He shares with him. Be not afraid of love. […] This is God’s Final Judgment: “You are still My holy Son, forever innocent, forever loving and forever loved, as limitless as your Creator, and completely changeless and forever pure. Therefore awaken and return to Me. I am your Father and you are My Son.”” (W-pII.S10.3-5).

Years ago in the Netherlands we had a huge billboard sign along the A20 highway, some 60 feet tall, showing a simple white surface with only three capitalized words on it: “God is Love” (Dutch: God is Liefde). That was it; nothing else. No advertiser identity, no hyperlink, nothing. I’ve never seen anything along a highway that was so very true! And as we read that God is but love (“God is but love, and therefore so am I” (W-pI.171-179)), we also come to realize that although we usually do not think too highly of ourselves, this Love of God is in us as well; or better yet, it is the inner essence of what we are: “No course whose purpose is to teach you to remember what you really are could fail to emphasize that there can never be a difference in what you really are and what love is. Love’s meaning is your own, and shared by God Himself. For what you are is what He is” (W-pI.127.4:1-3).

Following this joyful insight, a second “pearl” everyone can gain from A Course in Miracles is a growing ability to become aware of judgmental and condemnatory thoughts, and look at these without immediately living them out, which is what usually happens in the world. In A Course in Miracles, this is called “above the battleground”, in which ‘battleground’ refers to the mind, which is verily a battlefield of conflicting thoughts, which we perceive (through projection) by carefully looking around us at the world we believe we live in. “Be lifted up, and from a higher place look down upon [the world]. From there will your perspective be quite different. Here in the midst of it, it does seem real. Here you have chosen to be part of it. Here murder is your choice. Yet from above, the choice is miracles instead of murder” (T-23.IV.5:1-5, which incidentally is where my book and this blog got its name from).

Once we succeed in noticing our judgmental thoughts and stop ourselves from reacting immediately, we have activated the decision maker in our mind, who can then choose forgiveness instead of attack, as we read in lesson 55: “‘I can escape from this world by giving up attack thoughts.’ Herein lies salvation, and nowhere else. Without attack thoughts I could not see a world of attack. As forgiveness allows love to return to my awareness, I will see a world of peace and safety and joy” (W-pI.55.3). Everyone can learn to observe his/her own thoughts, feelings and emotions, without repressing them or ignoring them, but rather simply looking at them and deciding how to proceed, or what reaction to choose.

This brings us to a third pearl everyone can get out of A Course in Miracles, even without digging into metaphysics or psychology (desirable though that would be), which is to learn to trust intuition. We are all familiar with situations in which our brain seems to advise one thing, while the area of the lower belly, our gut feeling, says something quite different. In retrospect, intuition was usually right, especially if the intuitive feeling was peaceful and non-judgmental. “In every difficulty, all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says, ‘My brother,choose again’” (T-31.VIII.3:2). In A Course in Miracles, this peaceful intuition is referred to as the Holy Spirit, the Voice for God, or the Voice for Love. And to follow the advice of peaceful intuition, devoid of judgment, means following the advice of the Holy Spirit.

If all you get out of reading A Course in Miracles is that God is Love and not hate, that you need not be aimlessly tossed about by your feelings and your emotions about what seems to happen to you, and that you can find peace by following the quiet, intuitive advice of the Holy Spirit instead of the cackling rational brain, you are in fact making huge progress on your spiritual journey Home. In fact, the Course itself says: “Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God” (W-pI.189.7). For: Who with the Love of God upholding him could find the choice of miracles or murder hard to make?” (T.23.IV.9:8).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

A successful workbook practice (2)

Many students of A Course in Miracles have a somewhat two-edged relationship with the workbook lessons, and that probably includes you and me. Once convinced that a diligent daily practice of these lessons is the way to reach the ‘real world‘, that is, the peaceful inner world of cleansed perception, we become really motivated to follow up on Jesus’ daily instructions. However, once we find that we cannot keep up even five minutes of mind training three times a day, feelings of disappointment, guilt, and a sense of inadequacy soon surface. What happens next is that we either set the workbook (and the Course) aside for a while (sometimes for a long while), or hit ourselves over the head and try even harder, turning it into a heavy, demanding ritual that becomes a dark looming cloud in our minds.

Jesus of course wants neither. The very first workbook lesson stresses the latter point: “[…] These exercises should not become ritualistic.” (W-pI.1.3:5). In the manual for teachers, Jesus cautions his students once more: “Routines as such are dangerous, because they easily become gods in their own right, threatening the very goals for which they were set up.” (M-16.2:5). Also in the workbook, Jesus tells his students to focus on the general message of a lesson, and not be compulsive about exact wording: “It is not necessary to cover the comments that follow each idea either literally or thoroughly in the practice periods. Try, rather, to emphasize the central point…” (W-pI.R-I.3:1-2).

Whether we’re compulsive or forgetful, in either case Jesus knows there’s ego-resistance at work, for the road to the real world means the demise of the ego. Each successfully practiced workbook lesson brings the ego a little further to the background. As long as we still identify with our individual ego-personality, of course there’s going to be resistance. Jesus is very gentle and open with us on this phenomenon: “It is difficult at this point not to allow your mind to wander, if it undertakes extended practice. You  have surely realized this by now. You have seen the extent of your lack of mental discipline, and of your need for mind training. […] Structure, then, is necessary for you at this time, planned to include frequent reminders of your goal and regular attempts to reach it. Regularity in terms of time is not the ideal requirement for the most beneficial form of practice in salvation. It is advantageous, however, for those whose motivation is inconsistent, and who remain heavily defended against learning.” (W-pI.95.4:2-4;6:1) So while rituals are not our aim, regular structured practice periods are ‘beneficial’.

For those of us who tend to frequently forget about the practice periods (which would include virtually all Course students), Jesus calmly, gently yet sternly guides his students back to the ‘groove’ they need to find to once again make progress: “Do not, however, use your lapses from [the] schedule as an excuse not to return to it again as soon as you can. There may well be a temptation to regard the day as lost because you have already failed to do what is required. This should, however, merely be recognized as what it is: a refusal to let your mistake be corrected, and an unwillingness to try again.” (W-pI.95.7:3-5). And, in lesson 40: “You are urged to attempt this schedule and to adhere to it whenever possible. If you forget, try again. If there are long interruptions, try again. Whenever you remember, try again.” (W-pI.40.1:4-7). In other words, forgetfulness is not a sin or an inherent inadequacy; it’s a mistake, born out of the aforementioned resistance, that calls for correction, not for self-punishment or depression.

However, once we get that point, the next step is to realize that we should try to generalize our practice of the lessons to all situations we seem to find ourselves in from day to day. In a sense, you might say that the workbook offers two modes of practice. The first mode of practice happens in the place, usually at home, where you concentrate on reading the instructions and spend the required time to practice what Jesus asks. The second mode, however, comprises all the situations that upset us, in the turmoil of our lives: when we feel fearful, angry, depressed, desperate; whenever we are caught in special relationships. These are the hardest situations to practice the workbook lessons, but it is exactly the successful practice during just such events that will put us well ahead in our mind training.

Jesus elaborates on the importance of our ‘practice during distress‘ in the first review (of the first 50 lessons) in the workbook: “It will be necessary […] that you learn to require no special settings in which to apply what you have learned. You will need your learning most in situations that appear to be upsetting, rather than in those that already seem to be calm and quiet [for example, when reading the workbook lesson]. The purpose of your learning is to enable you to bring the quiet with you, and to heal distress and turmoil. This is not done by avoiding them and seeking a haven of isolation for yourself.” (W-pI.R-I.4:2-5).

At first, this may seem to contradict Jesus’ repeated instructions in several workbook lessons to practice our focus on a ‘haven of meditation’, for example in workbook lesson 44: “Try to sink into your mind, letting go every kind of interference and intrusion by gently sinking past them. Your mind cannot be stopped in this unless you choose to stop it. It is merely taking its natural course. […] While you practice in this way, you leave behind everything you now believe, and all the thoughts that you have made up. Properly speaking, this is the release from hell.” (W-pI.44.7:2-4;5:4-5). This might seem to suggest that we should especially practice in a meditative setting. However, the purpose of this meditative practice is to be able to always find the peace you need, however bad the situation seems to be: “You will yet learn that peace is part of you, and requires only that you be there to embrace any situation in which you are.” (W-pI.R-1.5:1). This certainly includes situations in which we find ourselves in arguments, accusations, sickness, terror, anxiety, you name it.

So Jesus’ meditative instructions are meant to enable us, as decision maker, to choose peace no matter what situation we find ourselves in. Meditation is therefore a means to an end, not a goal in itself. Some students make their meditative ritual into a false god, with a special altar, special candles, or special music. Before they know it, that’s the only place where they believe they can find the peace of God. The purpose of the workbook, however, is to develop the skill to reach and choose this inner peace anytime of the day, in any situation. “And finally you will learn that there is no limit to where you are, so that your peace is everywhere, as you are.” (W-pI.R-1.5:2). As long as we are not yet on such an advanced level, we need structured periods of quiet practice. However, we speed up our learning significantly if we can learn to connect with that inner tranquility in times of turbulence, in spite of the aforementioned resistance that will also be there. Why not try it today?

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

We think we think (2)

What would you say if someone would ask you to describe the nature of your thoughts? Most of us would say it’s the verbal word stream in the brain that we usually are more or less aware of. We take that for granted: “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes). How startling, then, to read in workbook lesson 45 of A Course in Miracles that “Nothing that you think are your real thoughts resemble your real thoughts in any respect.” And a bit before that: “There is no relationship between what is real and what you think is real.” Jesus is bluntly saying that what we think we think are not our real thoughts, and, moreover, that what we think is real is nothing but illusion. That’s pretty radical. What does he mean?

As most Course students are well aware of, the seemingly sleeping one Son of God made up the dream of the physical universe in time, in an attempt to escape from an imagined wrathful God Who is out to punish His Son for the savage sin of trying to separate from Oneness. Ever since the Big Bang, the ego (i.e., the desire to be autonomous) has been in the driver’s seat in the mind of the seemingly fragmented Son of God. Its activity can be described as constant distraction. You and I tend to constantly focus on a zillion things outside of us, instead of turning inward to really see what’s there. That’s purposive. The ego’s greatest fear is that the sleeping Son might become aware of the Voice for Love (In A Course in Miracles He’s called the Holy Spirit) and renounce the ego, time, and space forever. To avoid that, we clutter the mind with senseless things that we feel are very important for our survival and happiness. But are they?

In the same lesson 45, we read: “Under all the senseless thoughts and mad ideas with which you have cluttered up your mind are the thoughts that you thought with God in the beginning [i.e., before the Big Bang]” (W-pI.45.7:1). And, earlier: “You think with the Mind of God. Therefore you share your thoughts with Him, as He shares His with you. […] Therefore, your thoughts are in the Mind of God, as you are. They are in your mind as well, where He is.” (W-pI.45.2:1-2,6-7). That’s not a statement the ego likes to hear, to put it mildly. At a first surface reading, this can cause considerable confusion. If my verbal thoughts are not my real thoughts… if I share my real thoughts with the thoughts of God, Who is literally within me, how should I then picture my real thoughts?

Let’s answer this question in two steps. First of all, if we expand the notion of ‘thinking’ to everything we do in response to a mind impulse, we can see that animals think as well. Of course they do not understand words and do not think verbally; however, as Pursah pointed out in Gary Renard’s latest book “The lifetimes when Jesus and Buddha knew each other”, animals think in pictures. When Gary focused his mind to ‘send’ loving pictures to his cat, she immediately calmed down. I’ve tried this myself while strolling around the neighborhood. I remember one dog (on a leash) who watched to see if I too, perhaps, was taking a dog with me (I wasn’t, I do not own a dog); but I took the opportunity to ‘send’ a blast of inner loving light to the pet. The result was startling. Tail straight up and barking gaily, he attempted vigorously to reach me in an attempt of unconditional embrace. It works from human to human too, by the way. Just try it in any meeting: the energy you emanate from your mind fills the room and noticeably influences the entire atmosphere.

Although this first step brings us a bit closer to the notion of the Thoughts of God, we are not quite there yet. God does not use words; God does not produce pictures. God is synonymous with Love (capital L, to emphasize that Love transcends time and space). Therefore, as our second step, the Mind (or Thoughts) of God can aptly be described as Love. This, and only this, makes up our real thoughts. This may sound terribly simplistic and even boring, but that is the bottom line. “Nothing that you think you see bears any resemblance to what vision will show you. […] Everything you have thought since then [the Big Bang] will change, but the Foundation on which it rests is wholly changeless. […] Here is your mind joined with the Mind of God [i.e., Love].” (W-pI.45.1:5,7:4,8:2).

Most meditation practices are aimed towards slipping past the cluttered verbal thought stream to the silence that lies beyond it. In fact, the practice in workbook lesson 45 is to “try to go past all the unreal thoughts that cover the truth in your mind, and reach to the eternal [i.e., Love].” (W-pI.45.6:3) Merely because the Son of God chose to fall asleep and listen to the constant distractions of the ego to prevent the mind from waking up again, does not mean our real thoughts are gone; that is, the Love of God still remains within the Son’s mind. As Jesus says in chapter 5 of the text: “Both Heaven and earth are in you, because the call of both is in your mind. The Voice for God [Love] comes from your own altars to Him. These altars are not things; they are devotions. Yet you have other devotions now. Your divided devotion has given you the two voices, and you must choose at which altar you want to serve. […] The decision is very simple. It is made on the basis of which call is worth more to you.” (T-5.II.8:5-12)

So this is why we exclaim, just like St. Paul in Jesus’ historic age: “Why is it that I keep doing the things I know I should not do, and I fail to do what I know is right?” This is because of our divided devotion. Somewhere deep inside we realize we yearn for the Love of God more than anything else, but on the other hand… the ‘price’ for that means giving up the cherished individual little self, and we’re not yet willing to do that. So the mind is in constant conflict. A Course in Miracles offers us the way out of this hellish dilemma. It’s called, you guessed it: forgiveness. Not to appease a wrathful God (God cannot be angry because Love cannot be angry), but to forgive ourselves for the silly mistake of falling asleep in an ego dream that doesn’t work. And although forgiveness, needed in time and space, is an illusion itself and therefore not of God, in the world we think we are it is the one thought that points the way out of the dream, because it recognizes the inherent sameness and oneness in everyone and everything, and therefore provides the miracles the Holy Spirit uses to heal the collective mind of the sleeping Son of God.

“God does not forgive because He has never condemned [a quote immortalized, by the way, in the movie “As it is in Heaven”]. And there must be condemnation before forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness is the great need of this world, but that is because it is a world of illusions. Those who forgive are thus releasing themselves from illusions, while those who withhold forgiveness are binding themselves to them. As you condemn only yourself, so do yo forgive only yourself. Yet although God does not forgive, His Love is nevertheless the basis of forgiveness. Fear condemns and love forgives. Forgiveness thus undoes what fear has [seemingly] produced, returning the mind to the awareness of God [Love]” (W-pI.46-1:1-2:3). So our verbal thoughts turn out to be merely ego distractions, while forgiveness is the way to become aware of the Love that we both have and are, our real thoughts that we share with God. That is why our task is not to seek for love, but only to seek and find all of the barriers that we have built against it. (T-16.IV.6:1) “For this reason, forgiveness can truly be called salvation. It is the means by which illusions disappear.” (W-pI.46.2:4-5). Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst