What are you here for?

In his workshops and books about A Course in Miracles, scholar Ken Wapnick often half-jokingly remarked that no-one in his or her right mind would choose to be born into this world. It is, after all, a place where everything is ephemeral. Nothing lasts. As humans in a body, we seem to blossom for a few decades, and then we slowly prepare to die again. Moreover, the body is constantly at risk: germs, floods, or even simple accidents may easily snuff out its life. Many of us feel that we have been unwillingly thrust into this world, and that life comes down to a series of trials and tribulations. The Course itself urges us to honestly admit that deep down inside we know we are an exile here: “Nothing so definite that you could say with certainty you are an exile here. Just a persistent feeling, sometimes not more than a tiny throb, at other times hardly remembered, actively dismissed, but surely to return to mind again. No one but knows whereof we speak.” (WpI.182.1:4-2:1).

And yet many of the world spiritualities assure us that our being born into this particular body, in this particular place on this planet, in this particular era, with these particular parents, is hardly accidental. Details differ among spiritualities, but the overall idea is that you and I chose our parents just before our conception (some say you choose your mother, while the mother chooses the father). And not only that, such ‘incarnation choices’ are purposefully made — by us. What can make this confusing is that our purpose is always twofold, as is all purpose and choice in the framework of A Course in Miracles. From the ego-point of view — that is, the wish to be autonomous and separated from our Creator — the purpose of each incarnation is to seek the best conditions for experiencing individuality and specialness, apart from God. Granted, we may have failed to attain lasting blissful autonomy in our previous incarnation, but perhaps this time we may yet succeed… A Course in Miracles, too, emphasizes that the only reason we choose to remain here in a body in time and space (referred to as ‘a rotting prison’), is that we still hope to be able to find something better than Heaven (cf. T-7.VI.7).

On the other hand, in the Course’s text we read about the memory of the Heaven we believe we left, which, notwithstanding our ego-attachment, is always present in the mind: we can stubbornly suppress the loving call of our Creator, but we cannot vanquish it. This memory of Heaven, this Voice for God, this yearning call for the Love that created us, is called The Holy Spirit in A Course in Miracles. This is not a being in and of itself; He merely symbolizes the Voice of our own true Self. Beyond the frantic shrieks of the petty, frightened little ego, this Voice for Love remains a quiet presence within the core of what you and I are — which is Mind — that can never be lost. We are still free to choose to stubbornly ignore that Voice, insisting that we know what’s best for us; and wile we continue to see any hope of lasting happiness in this world, this is what we usually do, until the pain gets too much and we exclaim in agony that there must be a better way (T-2.III.3:6).

In the Course’s text we read: “Such is the Holy Spirit’s kind perception of specialness; His use of what you made [i.e., the hell of the world and the body], to heal instead of harm” (T-25.VI.4:1). This means that the Holy Spirit can use any situation, encounter, circumstance to shift our lessons in separation to a lesson in forgiveness, and therefore oneness. In other words, the goal of autonomy and separation that we chose in igniting yet another bodily incarnation in time, the Holy Spirit can transform into a helpful lesson that teaches us where lasting happiness can really be found — in choosing love. Many spiritual aspirants have experienced the amazing realization that literally any ego choice can be reinterpreted as a lesson in love. And the more we choose to see and accept such lessons, the more we start to see not only the inherent silliness and futility of the ego – that is, of our cherished individuality, but also that our true Home is attained by our heretofore suppressed desire to choose to accept the Atonement.

As we are all created with free will, the Holy Spirit cannot force this choice on us. It’s up to the part of our mind that chooses, what Ken Wapnick called our decision maker, to either choose the ego’s purpose for our lives (separation), or that of the Holy Spirit (Atonement). This can concisely be summed up as the choice between hell and heaven. This is not a choice we make once a year as a New Year’s resolution; every single moment of our days and nights we choose either fear or love; separation or joining; attack or peace. Unfortunately, most of us still consistently choose the ego, still enamored of the idea of special autonomous individuality. The Course summarizes this situation of consistently choosing the ego as follows: “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). So the ‘you’ Jesus addresses in his Course is not the ego part of our mind; he always refers to the decision making part of the mind.

The most important choice you and I make, each moment in every hour, in all of the days in our dreamed-up lives in time and space, is a simple one: do I choose the ego or the Holy Spirit? Do I choose fear or love? The situational choices in our lives may seem myriad, but each of these choices spiritually boils down to this simple essence. This is why A Course in Miracles is a mind training curriculum. Of course we all want to experience happiness, but we have confused ourselves about where happiness can be found, and “An untrained mind can accomplish nothing” (WpI.In.1:3). So why not make it a habit of persistently asking yourself from time to time: “What am I here for?” To be sure, the honest answer to this question — that is, to learn the Holy Spirit’s lessons of Love in this dream world, and slowly choose to accept the Atonement — is deeply threatening to the ego, whose counsel we followed by choosing to be born in this dream world in the first place. That is why spiritual enlightenment rarely happens overnight: we are still much too frightened to eventually lose our autonomous individual self.

Choose to learn, therefore, on a daily basis to observe your thoughts from above the battleground of the mind (T-23.IV). Without any judgment, without any condemnation. Be a witness. Be a passerby. And then choose to think, say and do nothing on your own (which is the real meaning of the Course’s statement that “I need do nothing”, T18.VII), but choose to follow the loving impulses of the Holy Spirit, which will result in many more peaceful experiences during the days (and nights!). Remind yourself that while perhaps you chose to be born again into this world to try special individuality one more time, you now want to choose to lovingly employ this very same incarnation to shorten the timespan required to reach the point of fully accepting the Atonement. Realize, too, that this shift in the purpose of life’s journey cannot fail, as the dream of time and space is illusory anyway and its happy ending guaranteed (WpII.292). So why wait for Heaven? “Slavation” (ego) or salvation (Love) is your choice now.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, June 2023






Smile at the control freak in you

Workbook lesson 23 in A Course in Miracles teaches us that we can find lasting inner peace by giving up attack thoughts (W-pI.23). The idea is that since all perceived attack (including rejection, condemnation and hate) merely mirrors our own guilt for supposedly having rejected God our Creator because we wanted so much to be our own special individual selves, it is with our own thoughts that we must work, if we truly want our perception to be more peaceful. As always, the fundamental universal law applies: as you sow, so will you reap. If you attack (hate), you will be attacked (hated). If you love (forgive), you will be loved (forgiven). Perhaps not immediately, perhaps not in the way you expect it, but somewhere, sometime, somehow, you will find that this law always holds true. It seems simple enough: we all determine our own state of mind, and so spiritual mind training is one of the most meaningful daily activities you can imagine. However, almost all spiritual aspirants – and I’m no exception! – find that even after decades of diligent practice, they still get upset over trivialities. They still reject, condemn and hate, even though they know this is getting them nowhere. This seeming lack of progress is highly frustrating. Why is it apparently so difficult to follow through on Lesson 23 and simply give up all these attack thoughts?

The answer is well known to most students of A Course in Miracles: we want it all, and we want it now. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want both the eternal peace of God and we want to keep experiencing ourselves as an existing autonomous entity, not just as a vague, abstract extension of the Love of God. One of the more frightening lines in the Course, in the context of the role of the body as a limit on love, is: “Can you who see yourself within a body know yourself as an idea?” (T18.VIII.1:5). The answer obviously is: no, we cannot — at least not yet. I may be able to accept it intellectually, but I cannot yet experience myself as wholly without the body (except in out-of-body-experiences, which never last, or near-death-experiences, which obviously are not a conscious practice for spiritual growth). But since the body merely mirrors the state of mind, the real problem is far more insidious: I still want to control the course of life. I still want to be the determiner of what I am. Rather than giving up attack thoughts and merely following the loving impulses of the Holy Spirit in what to think, say, and do, I arrogantly demand that everything around me follows my dictates. My subconscious thoughts and drives are still about I, me, mine. Each and every time I become upset, be it a slight twinge of annoyance or intense fury (W-pI.21.2:5), it is because things apparently do not go my way, or adhere to how I think things should be.

In a very practical sense, all of us are still control freaks. And that includes even the most sincere spiritual aspirants. We are still convinced that our own ideas about how to attain lasting happiness are a reliable compass to navigate our lives by. We may think we are pretty enlightened in our practice of only choosing loving thoughts. But what we often fail to remember is that as long as we still experience ourselves getting up in the morning, planning our future, and going to sleep again at night, we are still stubbornly refusing to let the illusory dream of time and space go. Now, instead of slipping into a gargantuan guilt trip (the ego’s favorite defensive strategy), Jesus in his Course teaches us to gently smile at that control freak within us. Above the battleground, without any condemnation. In several places in the Course you and I are depicted as little children who “are very new in the ways of salvation” (T-17.V.9:1). Rather than hitting ourselves over the head for our perceived inadequacy (again, a favorite ego ploy), we are asked to embrace the ten characteristics of the teachers of God: trust; honesty; tolerance; gentleness; joy; defenselessness; generosity; patience; faithfulness, and open-mindedness. Such practice will liberate our thoughts from the chains of slavery of the terror of the five senses in time and space, which we still choose because we are still too fearful of what we would be without the body.

Jesus teaches us that we should allow ourselves some slack. As long as we still believe we do not want the separation healed (T-13.III.2:6), we are not yet ready to accept the Atonement. To Jesus it doesn’t matter, since all of time is an illusion anyway. But he offers us his Course as a great means to save ourselves time of needless suffering. And so, surprisingly, every second we succeed in our forgiveness may save us hundreds or thousands of years to get to the point where we will be successful. We need this practice time because we are still too fearful to give up our own cherished special autonomous individual self. Jesus therefore comforts us: “Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality. Time is kind, and if you use it on behalf of reality, it will keep gentle pace with you in your transition” (T-16.VI.8:1-2). Just as a magician does not learn his tricks overnight, but needs to practice thousands of times to attain convincing success, so too do we need to practice thousands of times (“a thousand times a day”, W-pI.156.8.2) before we notice we are really progressing on our way up the spiritual ladder of truly dismissing the control freak within us.

“It is extremely difficult to reach Atonement by fighting against sin”, Jesus lets us know us in his text (T-18.VII.4:7). If you try to fight the control freak within you, you merely end up strengthening that very control freak. That’s why Jesus teaches us: “Atonement cannot come to those who think that they must first atone, but only to those who offer it nothing more than simple willingness to make way for it. … And that is all. Add more, and you will merely take away the little that is asked. Remember you made guilt, and that your plan for the escape from guilt has been to bring Atonement to it, and make salvation fearful. And it is only fear that you will add, if you prepare yourself for love. You find it difficult to accept the idea that you need give so little, to receive so much. And it is very hard for you to realize it is not personally insulting that your contribution and the Holy Spirit’s are so extremely disproportionate.” (T-18.IV.5:6-7:4).

In other words, we need not fight the control urges within us, since that would only keep the error of separation real. We just need to be aware of our stubborn controlling urges, and calmy observe these thoughts from above the battleground, without any judgment. This in and of itself is the invitation for the Holy Spirit to enter. This is why the phrase “a little willingness” is used so often in this curriculum. Combined with a diligent practice to cultivate the ten characteristics of the teachers of God, especially trust and patience, this will bring you much further ahead on the ladder (or awakening journey) than we will ever reach by stubbornly insisting that we know what’s best for us. As Course scholar Ken Wapnick often remarked, combining two partial Course statements: “… Resign now as your own teacher.… for you were badly taught” (T-12.V.8:3; T-28.I.7:1). So gently smile at the control freak within you today! The better Teacher will make Himself known automatically, since He is the Voice of your own true Self as Christ, the Son of God.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, May 2023





Near death: Karen Thomas

In this blog post I would like to cordially invite you to watch the 42-minute interview with Karen Thomas, from Anthony Chene’s excellent YouTube channel on near-death experiences and spiritual growth. Karen is now 73 and talks in a truly authentic way about what happened to her in a near-death experience well over forty years ago. She is not herself a student of A Course in Miracles, but for me it was breathtaking to notice one Course parallel after another as her story unfolded. Concepts such as forgiveness, the dream world versus the real world, the meaning of kindness, the nature of the peace that surpasses all understanding, the guidance by the Holy Spirit, the oneness of life, and the importance of practicing daily with monitoring the quality of your own thoughts, are all featured in this interview — and they are not only confirmed first-hand, but often also deepened in a very practical way.

So here is the interview. Please forward the link to whomever you think may benefit from it. By the way, all interviews on Anthony Chene’s YouTube channel are heartily recommended as far as I’m concerned. The field of near-death experiences should be of interest to all spiritual aspirants. The similarities in all these stories, irrespective of origin, gender, culture or living condition, are truly fascinating. There is no death; there is only a dream from which we are slowly beginning to awaken — only to find that for all the inner peace that we find, we have to give up nothing.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, May 2023





Suffering sinful soul

Most of us are quite familiar with various sorts of self-sabotage. We either subtly avoid responsibilities at work, or we persistently work too hard, resulting in burn-out. We keep drinking or smoking, even though we know we are poisoning our bodies. We keep trying to make other people love us, even though somewhere we know our happiness does not depend on approval by others… The forms are countless. While some forms are more subtle than others, we all engage in some dynamic of serious suffering. Even though we try to be kind, oftentimes we’re not too kind for ourselves at all, and we regularly feel miserable because we obviously can’t control our impulses.

On the other hand, equally familiar in each of us is the desire to get rid of misery and find lasting happiness. We usually try to attain this by seeking solutions in the world around us. For example, we think we could be happy if only we would have more money, or find that special love partner that complements the traits that I lack to find that perfect balance in life. Even when we see that happiness will not be found outside us, but only within, we indulge in personal development programs that aim at improving the effectiveness of our behavior, but without having to alter the concept of the self to any serious extent. Ten years later we once again try the newest self-help program. And we wonder why we keep sabotaging ourselves, as we are so sure we don’t want to…

A Course in Miracles offers us a decidedly different view on self-sabotage. To paraphrase lesson 5 in the workbook: “I never self-sabotage for the reason I think.” The Course’s metaphysics tell us that the material world which we believe is our reality, is merely a dream (nightmare, really), constructed to be a place wherein the sleeping Son of God believes he can hide from his Creator, Whom he thinks he has rejected and separated from. All this follows from the Son’s desire to experience himself on his own and therefore shatter the Oneness that is God. Terrified of being punished by the almighty Creator for this ‘cardinal sin’, each fragment of this sleeping Son indulges in suffering and projection, in a meager attempt to hold up the innocence that he seemingly threw away in the act of the separation.

In his Course, Jesus patiently explains that we deliberately suffer in order to appease the anticipated wrath of God about our decision to separate from Oneness: if I show God how much I suffer, He might have pity on me. He may perhaps consider accepting me back into Heaven, and punish someone else. That’s where projection enters the stage: since I refuse to see this perceived sinfulness in myself, I’ll see it in others, leading to an endless chain of blaming and finger-pointing: “Look over there God, there’s the culprit; he should be punished instead of me.” And so I fearfully engage in an endless cycle of attack and suffering, hoping against hope that God will be fooled by my sinful ploy.

However, all the while, I still want to keep experiencing myself as an autonomous individual, but have someone else be responsible for the sin of separation from oneness. The best proof dat perfect oneness has been shattered is the experience of sickness and death. And so my body decays and eventually dies. I ‘gladly’ pay this price as proof that I have the power to exist as an autonomous self, unique and on my own. And I ‘prove’ this to myself again and again, in a string of reincarnations that keep the illusion of individuality alive. As scholar Ken Wapnick semi-jokingly remarked: “Just being born here is the ultimate self-sabotage.” Ken actually refers to “Self-sabotage”with a capital S, because of the decision, as the one Son of God, to still remain asleep in the ego-dream of time and space, even though in the reality outside time and space, nothing happened.

So now I can see why I ‘never self-sabotage for the reason I think’. I self-sabotage because I think my suffering grants me the endorsement of God Himself. I project because this way I think I can persuade God to regard me as innocent; I should be spared; others are sinful and should be punished. In a sense, the goal of A Course in Miracles is to have us joyfully realize the silliness of this ego-dynamic, and change our minds about it. And so Jesus comforts us in the text: “Call it not sin but madness, for such it was and so it still remains. Invest it not with guilt, for guilt implies it was accomplished in reality. And above all, be not afraid of it.” (T-18.I.6).  He invites us to shift our self-concept from “seriously suffering sinful soul” to the happy learner who learns to hear “the call to awaken and be glad” (T-5.II.10:5).

So, on a practical level, how do I learn to ‘hear the call to awaken and be glad’? The answer, as all Course students know, is called forgiveness, through my “choice to see my brother’s sinlessness” (W-pII.335) instead of his guilty sins. At a first glance, this may seem odd. Do I awaken by focusing on what’s outside of me? Doesn’t Jesus tell me time and again “not to seek outside myself, for it will fail”? (T-29.VII.1:1). The trick here is to realize, again based on the Course’s metaphysics, that there is no-one else ‘out there’ — everything I perceive is a projection of some split-off part of the mind. The way I see you comes from the way I see myself. “What I see in him [my brother] is merely what I wish to see because it stands for what I want to be the truth. It is to this alone that I respond, however much I seem to be impelled by outside happenings. […] My brother’s sinlessness shows me that I would look upon my own. And I will see it, having chosen to behold my brother in its holy light.” (W-pII.335.1:3-7).

So if I accept the metaphysical premise that sin never happened and is therefore not so, and that you and I and all lifeforms in the dream world are the same, at least in content, the entire cause for self-sabotage, suffering and projection simply vanishes into the nothingness from whence it came. Only one life compass remains: to be kind to everyone, including myself. And I don’t need a lifetime study in metaphysics to do that. As Ken Wapnick remarked in his final workshop in 2013: “I’d much rather have someone who got the metaphysics all mixed up and upside down and who is kind to everyone, much rather that, than someone who’s into metafetish but is unkind to even one person.”

So why not choose the only road that will really free you from all self-sabotage: choose to see the sameness in everyone, including yourself. Choose to see the innocence in your brother, and you will behold innocence in yourself. People commit horrendous acts on the level of the forms of the dream world, which should certainly not be denied, but also not seen as seriously sinful, as they are mistakes that call for correction in our own mind, and for nothing else. All events in the world are offered you and me as lessons of Love by the Holy Spirit to undo a little bit of our own projection of our own self-image as seriously suffering sinful soul. Undoing projection is the way to true lasting happiness; not in time as an individual body, but as spirit in the eternal Heart of the Oneness of God, which is what you and I are. Make today different by making it all the same, and suffer you no more!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

The end of guilt

A Course in Miracles is a spiritual curriculum scribed from Jesus by Helen Schucman, with the help of Bill Thetford. Although the form of the message is definitely Christian, much of the content boils down to a correction of various biblical concepts, and often veers more towards the Buddhistic Advaita Vedanta. For example, whereas Christianity clearly teaches that God created the material universe and all bodies within it, the Course states that this entire universe is merely a dream with no basis in reality, and that we are all asleep in an illusory nightmare of separation from our Creator, Who did not create the material universe. In the Advaita Vedanta this is mirrored in the contrast of Brahman (nondualistic reality) versus Maya (illusion of dualistic material perception). As another example, whereas Christianity clearly identifies Jesus as the Christ, the one Son of God, and all other humans as ‘adopted children’, the Course teaches that ‘Christ’ means all life combined; Jesus himself states that he is our equal brother, and that you and I can attain all that he has attained, i.e. the acceptance of the Atonement and a total awakening from the dream of time and space. So to label A course in Miracles as the Third Testament would be a gross misreading of the content of its message, which is more reminiscent of the nondualistic spiritual schools of the East.

Perhaps Eastertime illustrates the clearest contrast between the biblical message and A Course in Miracles. In Christianity, the key event of Easter is the crucifixion, in that ‘Jesus died for our sins’. Although this act was meant to absolve us from guilt, the biblical message nevertheless remains something like: “Yes, my dear people, you have sinned against your Creator. Never forget this. Even though God loves you all so much that he allowed his very own Son to be sacrificed, the bloodstain of this original cardinal sin can never be removed, and all of you must still lead a life of suffering and sacrifice in order to be accepted back into Heaven when you die, as will inevitably happen.” The core of the message therefore is that guilt is the truth, and always will be. And so our fear of God remains firmly intact, as we are constantly reminded that our feelings of guilt are justified because the original sin did in fact happen.

In A Course in Miracles, on the other hand, Jesus teaches that Eastertime should be the celebration of the end of guilt, as exemplified not in his crucifixion, but in his resurrection, which illustrated that the Son of God (all life combined!) cannot be killed. In the Course, Jesus puts it this way: “I elected, for your sake and mine, to demonstrate that the most outrageous assault, as judged by the ego, does not matter [i.e., the resurrection]. As the world judges these things, but not as God knows them, I was betrayed, abandoned, beaten, torn, and finally killed. It was clear that this was only because of the projection of others onto me, since I had not harmed anyone and had healed many. […] My one lesson, which I must teach as I learned it, is that no perception that is out of accord with the judgment of the Holy Spirit can be justified. I undertook to show this was true in an extreme case, merely because it would serve as a good teaching aid to those whose temptation to give in to anger and assault would not be so extreme. I will with God that none of His Sons should suffer. […] The message of the crucifixion is perfectly clear: Teach only love, for that is what you are. If you interpret the crucifixion in any other way, you are using it as a weapon for assault rather than as the call for peace for which it was intended. The Apostles often misunderstood it, and for the same reason that anyone misunderstands it.” (T-6.I.9:1-10; 11:4-7; 13:1-3).

And so this is Jesus’ Easter message in A Course in Miracles: “You are not asked to be crucified, which was part of my own teaching contribution. You are merely asked to follow my example in the face of much less extreme temptations to misperceive, and not to accept them as false justifications for anger. There can be no justification for the unjustifiable. Do not believe there is, and do not teach that there is. Remember always that what you believe you will teach. Believe with me, and we will become equal as teachers. […] I have made it perfectly clear that I am like you and you are like me, but our fundamental equality can be demonstrated only through joint decision. You are free to perceive yourself as persecuted if you choose. When you do choose to react that way, however, you might remember that I was persecuted as the world judges, and did not share this evaluation for myself. And because I did not share it, I did not strengthen it. I therefore offered a different interpretation of attack, and one which I want to share with you. If you will believe it, you will help me teach it. […] I do not want you to allow any fear to enter into the thought system toward which I am guiding you. I do not call for martyrs but for teachers. No one is punished for sins, and the Sons of God are not sinners.” (T-6.I.6:6-11; 5:1-6; 16:2).

I would like to point out that this blog post is not about Bible-bashing. In A Course in Miracles, Jesus himself asserts that his Course is only one among many thousands of paths, and all paths will ultimately lead back to God (M-1.4:1) . So following Christianity is perfectly okay, if you feel that is your path. The only difference is that the Course claims to save time to reach the point of all life returning back to God, because it radically eradicates the basic notion of guilt. Remember always that “I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me” (W-pI.201-220). Eastertime can serve as a particularly helpful reminder that the perfect love of God for all His creations could never be impeded by his being attacked, or at least rejected, by His creations. The very notion is plain silly, as God was, is, and remains perfect Love. Imagine God as an infinitely shining sun, and you and I and all other life as the sunbeams. Our entire material universe is nothing more than the imaginary pondering of the sunbeams — created with free will — about what it would be like to be apart from the sun, which could of course never be. Again, we are merely dreaming that this is indeed the case, as we stubbornly restrict our awareness to the prison of sensory perception.

We would do well to often remind ourselves of this comforting notion from the final chapter of the text: “Temptation has one lesson it would teach, in all its forms, wherever it occurs. It would persuade the holy Son of God he is a body, born in what must die, unable to escape its frailty, and bound by what it orders him to feel […] Learn, then, the happy habit of response to all temptation to perceive yourself as weak and miserable with these words: I am as God created me. His Son can suffer nothing. And I am His Son. Thus is Christ’s strength invited to prevail, replacing all your weakness with the strength that comes from God and that can never fail […] You are as God created you, and so is every living thing you look upon, regardless of the images you see. What you behold as sickness and as pain, as weakness and as suffering and loss, is but temptation to perceive yourself defenseless and in hell. Yield not to this, and you will see all pain, in every form, wherever it occurs, but disappear as mists before the sun” (T-31.VIII.1:1-2; 5:1-5; 6:1-3).

Let us close with Jesus’ poignant message about the real meaning of Easter: “Easter is not the celebration of the cost of sin [and its resulting guilt], but of its end. If you see glimpses of the face of Christ behind the veil, looking between the snow-white petals of the lilies you have received and given as your gift, you will behold your brother’s face and recognize it. I was a stranger and you took me in, not knowing who I was. Yet for your gift of lilies you will know. In your forgiveness of this stranger, alien to you and yet your ancient Friend, lies his release and your redemption with him. The time of Easter is a time of joy, and not of mourning. Look on your risen Friend, and celebrate his holiness along with me. For Easter is the time of your salvation, along with mine. […] This is the way to Heaven and to the peace of Easter, in which we join in glad awareness that the Son of God is risen from the past, and has awakened to the present. Now is he free, unlimited in his communion with all that is within him. Now are the lilies of his innocence untouched by guilt, and perfectly protected from the cold chill of fear and withering blight of sin alike” (T-20.I.4; T-20.II.10:1-3). Happy Eastertime!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, April 2023





Salvation comes from yourself

Everyone is always looking for salvation, whether conscious of it or not. We all  desire a deep sense of lasting happiness, peacefulness and joy, without having any reason whatsoever to feel fearful, angry, or depressed. As long as we are still living purely on ego-autopilot, we hope and believe salvation is to be found in idols of the world: in having excess money, in having the perfect partner, in a million dollar hyper car, in making a ‘meaningful’ impact on the state of this planet; you name it. Countless generations have persistently attempted such strategies. Alas; they found to their dismay that although their intentions and plans seemed fine, everything failed because they were at the mercy of a cruel and wicked world.

Spiritual aspirants, including students of A Course in Miracles, have learned the lesson that salvation can never be found in externals, because all externals are defective. Nothing lasts. Therefore, salvation must come from within. To cite a popular line from the Course: “Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world” (T-21.In.1:7). Since the world is “an outside picture of an inward condition” (T-21.in.1:5), it follows that if I am to experience happiness, peacefulness and joy in my daily life, it must emanate from within. So salvation is not something that I can find outside of me. As many spiritualities teach, salvation is an inner choice. Once I make that choice, my perception of the world outside will invariably mirror that peaceful inner state of mind.

Still, at a first glance, A Course in Miracles seems to be rather inconsistent in where salvation comes from. A statement such as “My salvation comes from me” (W-pI.70) seems clear enough; but at other times we read that we need Jesus for our salvation: “You stand below me and I stand below God. In the process of “rising up,” I am higher because without me the distance between God and man would be too great for you to encompass.” (T-2.II.4:3-4). At still other places, we read about our brother being the source of salvation: “My brother is my savior. Let me not attack the savior You have given me.” (W-pII.288.1:7-8). So where does salvation actually come from?

This question, of course, can only be asked by a mind that still turns others into external figures, including Jesus. The metaphysics of A Course in Miracles tell us that since there is no world (W-pI.132.6:2), there are no “others”. You and I are not bodies; we are spirit, which is joined as one. In the end, not only is there no difference between me and you, but there is also no difference between me and you and Jesus, as he himself explained to Helen early on in the text: “There is nothing about me that you cannot attain. I have nothing that does not come from God. The difference between us now is that I have nothing else. This leaves me in a state which is only potential in you.” (T-2.II.3:10-13). The answer to this confusion, then, is that my salvation solely lies in my choice in my mind to see all life as one, forever lovable and forever unchangeable, the eternal Son of God.

Although this change of mind seems to be an enormous task, it is actually our most natural state of mind. We do not need to seek for this love; we only need “to seek and find all of the barriers that we have built” against this natural state (T-16.IV.6:1), because we insisted on taking the ego-thought seriously that we could do better than God, and be a god in our own puny universe. However, although we still seem to be separate creatures, you and I and everyone around us still remain as one free spirit. And so salvation lies in our choice to accept that as the truth about ourselves, and nothing else, as we read in lesson 318, “In me salvation’s means and end are one”: “I am the means by which God’s Son is saved, because salvation’s purpose is to find the sinlessness that God has placed in me. I was created as the thing I seek. I am the goal the world is searching for. I am God’s Son, His one eternal Love. I am salvation’s means and end as well.” (W-pII.318.1:4-8)

It is also imperative to realize is that salvation is not something to be anticipated for in the distant future — salvation can only be found now. Recall the Course’s metaphysical notion that there is no time, and that to the Holy Spirit, time is solely a vehicle to provide us with the time we need to change our minds and make the right choice. See for example lesson 317: “I have a special place to fill; a role for me alone. Salvation waits until I take this part as what I choose to do. Until I make this choice, I am the slave of time and human destiny. But when I willingly and gladly go the way my Father’s plan appointed me to go, then will I recognize salvation is already here, already given all my brothers and already mine as well.” (W-pII.317.1)

Let’s read about salvation in section 14 of part II of the workbook, entitled: “What am I?”. This lovely poetic piece beautifully answers any remaining confusion about where salvation comes from: “The truth of what we are is not for words to speak of nor describe. Yet we can realize our function here, and words can speak of this and teach it, too, if we exemplify the words in us. We are the bringers of salvation. We accept our part as saviors of the world, which through our joint forgiveness is redeemed. And this, our gift, is therefore given us. We look on everyone as brother, and perceive all things as kindly and as good. We do not seek a function that is past the gate of Heaven. Knowledge will return when we have done our part. We are concerned only with giving welcome to the truth.” (W-pII.14.III; italics mine).

In our daily lives, this certainly does not mean we should walk around in a blissninny mood state, in foolhardy denial of all the painful events that do happen here, or better, seem to happen here. Above all, we are asked to think and behave as normal people. For example, even from above the battleground it’s perfectly normal to mourn at the death of a loved one. At a funeral, you don’t go hitting people over the head with the metaphysics of the Course, saying they shouldn’t mourn because it’s all illusory anyway. That’s not kindness; that’s an attack. And as you see your brother, so do you see yourself. You and I bring salvation by acknowledging all life as ‘joined as one’ on the level of content (spirit), and practicing kindness on the level of form (the body). Learn to consistently choose the Voice for Love as the guide for your thoughts, no matter how often you may stumble. Salvation is given you, me, and every soul that still wanders here uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear. How many people are needed to save the world? One — yourself.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

A Course summary in twelve lines

No Course in Miracles student is beyond fear, anger or depression all the time. Being a Course student means practicing vigilance for ‘the Kingdom’, which means checking as often as we can which guide we have chosen to direct our thoughts: either the ego or the Holy Spirit. In this practice, it is helpful to memorize some particularly striking statements that capture a key aspect of Jesus’ message. Let’s review some of these, summarized in a dozen lines. These may help you to quickly get on track again if you notice you just stumbled in your mind training practice, by rejecting something or someone. Jesus’ statements are printed in boldface.

I am never upset for the reason I think. I could see peace instead of this. (W-pI.5; W-pI.34). The first thing to realize whenever we feel not at peace and start blaming someone or something for it, is that “being-not-at-peace” always involves purposive projection. Therefore, my upset is really about some guilty belief within me that I projected out, because I still refuse to look at it. Before inspecting that belief, however, I need remember that I am a Son of God and therefore could choose to experience inner peace, instead of my disquiet. The very moment you actually follow up on this, you’ll feel better.

The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. (T-27.VIII.10:1). The next step is to realize that nothing comes to me unbidden. My lack of inner peace has a purpose. Once I can ‘righteously’ point my finger at all the wrongs outside of me, I have a convincing case for God that I am an innocent victim and should therefore be accepted back into Heaven, while others should be sent to hell. Unconsciously, that’s the goal in mind whenever I choose not to be at peace. So indeed, whenever I feel fearful, angry or depressed, I am actually doing this to myself. Nothing outside of me can disturb the peace in my mind unless I grant it power to do so.

There is no world! This is the central thought the Course attempts to teach. (W-pI.132.6:2-3). The first two lines above are preposterous from the ego’s point of view. After all, I can make a long list of things that happened to me which were clearly entirely out of my sphere of influence. Only when I seriously consider the metaphysical foundation of A Course in Miracles, which states that everything in time and space is an illusory dream, our reality as spirit being completely outside time and space, does this become comprehensible. Five-senses perception keeps us imprisoned in a nightmare of separation! The Son of God is one in content, even in its seemingly fragmented state with many forms. Although each of us seems to have private thoughts, in content we are always choosing between ego or Holy Spirit, each and every instant.

I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me. (W-pI.201-220). If there is no world, then there are no bodies, which means that my body does not really exist. However, if the Course stayed at that, it would merely be depressive. The fact is that you and I are pure spirit, created by a wholly benign Creator in His likeness. We are not at peace solely because we took the ‘tiny, mad idea’ seriously that separation from God is in any way possible. We project our horrendous guilt about this mistake (the ego says: sin) because we are mortally afraid that God will hunt us down and punish us severely, and justifiably so.

God is but Love, and therefore so am I. There is no cruelty in God and none in me. (W-pI.R.V-in.10:8; W-pI.170). Most of us in the Western world were brainwashed early on with the fixed and fearful notion that God is both loving and punitive. However, in A Course in Miracles, Jesus clearly states that Love (=God) does not condemn, and therefore the wrathful attributes of God are solely projections of the guilt of the scholars who wrote the scrolls. That is why Jesus in his Course quotes the parable of the prodigal son: this son, who had squandered everything for nothing of any value, being afraid his father would punish him at his return, noticed to his astonishment that his father welcomed him back with joy, since the son was his treasure. Thus it is with our Father, too.

Teach only love, for that is what you are. The Holy Spirit is in you in a very literal sense. (T-6.I.13:2; T-5.II.3:7). Since God is only Love, we are only love. We do not regard ourselves that way because unconsciously we feel so wretched, which is ultimately about our decision to separate from God, which in reality never happened, but which will remain in the mind as long as we choose to remain asleep in time and space. Happily, the Holy Spirit is always present in this dream, and He can use everything in the dream to turn the tables on the ego, that is, turn an attack into a forgiveness lesson. This Holy Spirit is not some external agent; He is the Voice for Love, or our choice for right-minded thought. Since our essence is love, the Holy Spirit is indeed literally inside our mind.

Seek not outside yourself. For it will fail, and you will weep each time an idol falls. (T-29.VII.1.1-2). In the Course, an ‘idol’ is anything outside of us we associate salvation with: money; possessions; special relationships; you name it. However, since everything outside of us merely serves the purpose of distracting our minds so that we shall not look inside and see there is no sin and guilt, any focus on externals is bound to reinforce guilt and fear in some subtle way, since that is the essence of the separation thought we call the ego. We try a thousand idols to find lasting happiness, and of course none of these work for more than a little while. Jesus’ point by the way is not to turn our backs on the world, but merely to make no big deal of it, since the material world is nothing.

I need do nothing. I need only be vigilant for God and His Kingdom. (T-18.VII; T-6.V-C). Frantically pursuing idols makes sure we stay on the ego’s road to nowhere, which may affirm our seemingly separated individual autonomy; but it also keeps us in misery and pain, providing yet more opportunities to see evil and guilt outside of us, justifying the tragic cycle of attack — defense. Jesus is telling us that salvation is not found by frantically pursuing it, but merely by taking a step back and allowing the Holy Spirit (the Voice for Love) to guide our thoughts. Since this is a choice against the ego with which we still identify so deeply, this choice engenders enormous resistance. That is why Jesus implores us to be vigilant for this choice, the only one that will make us happy.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. (T-16.IV.6:1) This is probably the most often quoted statement of the Course. And yet it is also probably the most ignored statement of the Course. Most students blissfully employ the Course to make themselves feel better in this dream world of time and space. We all yearn to find some lasting love amidst the devastation of our material lives. Instead, Jesus invites his students to start looking inside, in the mind where we have built our useless barriers against true love: the Love of God, which means that there is no individuality. And so again, we love the quote, but the unconscious resistance against it is enormous.

The way you see your brother is the way you see yourself. We will enter Heaven together, or not at all. (W-pI.181). Although these are not literal quotes, they nonetheless convey a central theme within A Course in Miracles: I cannot hope to find salvation without seeing all lifeforms as equally worthy of God’s Love. Remind yourself that each time you point your finger accusingly at someone or something, three of your fingers are pointing at yourself. Again, I’m only accusing a projection of some part in myself that I have not yet been willing to forgive. So every time I meet someone, I am given another chance at salvation, by making it a holy encounter, that is: forgive myself for the darkness that’s apparently still in my own mind.

Anger is never justified. I will forgive, and this will disappear. My salvation comes from me. (T-6.in.1:7; T-30.VI.1:1-2; W-pI.193.13:3; W-pI.70.10:5). This triad should be self-explanatory by now. The “this” in the second sentence refers to my upsets, which I have chosen with the purpose of holding on to my precious individuality and therefore keeping the oneness love of God at bay. When I forgive, I take back my own projections of fear, and acknowledge that all life is one, kept perfectly safe by a wholly benign Creator outside time and space. However, Jesus cannot change our mind for us. Therefore, my salvation must come from me, through my choosing a better Teacher to guide my thoughts.

To say these words is nothing. But to mean these words is everything. (W-pI.185.1:1-2) You and I could walk around for decades uttering the quotes above, but we won’t progress an inch unless we start to really mean them, that is: live them. We can do this at our own pace. As Jesus says in the introduction: “This is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary”. We won’t accept the truth overnight. The process is more or less as follows: “…at first to be but said and then repeated many times; and 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.” (W-pII.284.1:5-6). It doesn’t matter, since time is already over anyway. We are merely seemingly reliving what is already over. Just nurture your willingness to focus on choosing the right Teacher, here and now, and you are well on your way to the real world, free of any condemnation.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst




Sex, guilt, and the neutral body

Spirituality and sex are often regarded as an awkward couple. And that’s generally because sex and religion are such fiendish enemies to each other. Many traditional religious books particularly rage about women who focus on sex. Of course, more often than not, that’s merely a projection by the religious scholars who wrote these books to cover their guilt about their own uncontrollable need for sexual intercourse, as the ongoing stream of scandals within the churches clearly illustrates.

Why is sex such a ‘hot topic’ for so many of us? This is for two reasons, which are really the opposite sides of the same coin. Firstly, on our list of sought-after peak pleasures, sex usually ranks on top. In fact, if you ask anyone which feeling comes closest to the experience of the divine, the answer is usually: the height of the orgasm. In addition, we associate sex with our innate ability to create new life, which of course is the core of all expression of divinity: creation! We ignore the fact that the peak pleasure of sex is only of an instant’s duration. We become addicted to having more. And still more. Just to experience that ‘divine peak moment’.

The other side of the coin might be concisely summarized as guilt. This manifests on several levels. Firstly, there’s often the association with what we were told during our upbringing by the reverend, minister, priest or pastor, namely that sex is sinful and should not be sought after, since the body is filth. But we still crave for it. That’s guilt. The second level of this guilt is about what our focus on sex does to our relationship with God. We secretly acknowledge that the entire mechanism of sexual intercourse is a feeble parody on the divine power of the eternal Creator. We engage in sex only to tell ourselves that we are capable of divine creation as well, while deep down inside we know we are fooling ourselves, and will probably be severely punished in the afterlife.

And last but not least, guilt about sex is especially fueled because we realize that in the end it does not really fulfill at all. Sure, there’s great ecstasy at the peak of the orgasm, but there’s always the fear that some form of pain or misery will come of it. Especially the insatiable need of testosterone-driven men to repeatedly reproduce is the chief cause of countless marital fights, abuses, divorces and even murder (e.g., in the case of adultery). While on the one hand lovers think they find completion of themselves through sexual intercourse, there’s always the fear and suspicion that the other might find someone who is regarded as ‘even better’, as countless pop hits attest to. Moreover, if we have sexual intercourse with too many partners, we will inevitably call some horrible disease upon us. And so everyone associates to sex both pleasure and pain, however unconsciously this may be.

Oddly, in A course in Miracles we find absolutely nothing about sex. Just search your digital copy for the word ‘sex’; you won’t find it. The overly quick explanation is usually that this is because Jesus’ message is not about the body; it’s purely about the mind. We reason that since sex is obviously of the body and not of the mind, Jesus has no reason to mention it. Still, Jesus does talk a lot about the body in his Course. At a first glance it seems that Jesus, too, disregards the body as worthless. However, when one reads Jesus’ words more carefully, it becomes clear that in A Course in Miracles, the body is regarded as neutral, which is distinctively different from rejecting it, as so many religions and spiritualities do.

In the Course, Jesus explains to us that we may regard the body as a useful mirror of the mind. Contrary to widespread popular belief, the body is never the cause of what seems to happen to us; it’s merely the effect of a choice of thought. This is perhaps best exemplified in Ken Wapnick’s “Love does not condemn”, which is by far the best resource available today to learn to forgive religion as a whole (!). In chapter 17, Ken mentions the Gnostic treatise “The Acts of John”, written somewhere between 100 – 300 A.D. In this somewhat bizarre story, John comes upon a young man who has killed his father for objecting to the son’s sexual affair with a married woman. John resurrects the father, causing such contrition in the young man that the son quickly cuts off his own genitals and presents them to his lover, exclaiming: “There you have the source of all this!” The young man proudly reports to John what he did, but he is quickly reproved by the apostle: “You should not have destroyed the place of your temptation, but the thought which showed its temper through those members; for it is not those organs which are harmful to man, but the unseen springs through which every harmful emotion is stirred up and comes to light” (Love does not condemn, p.558).

This Gnostic parable could have been taken right out of the Course. Now we can see why Jesus’ focus is always on the mind, since it is the thoughts we choose that automatically direct the actions of the body. More specifically, the core of every thought is its purpose, of which there are only two: (a) the ego’s purpose of attack and separation, and (b) the Holy Spirit’s purpose of forgiveness and inner peace. This also pertains to everything regarding the body: what do we use it for? Although we usually employ the body to reaffirm our belief in the separation, being the ego’s chief survival mechanism, the mind is perfectly free to choose to employ the body, including sex, for the right-minded purpose of forgiveness and inner peace.

This brings to mind Pursah’s Gospel of Thomas that was handed down to Gary Renard, in which we read the following puzzling anecdote: “A woman in the crowd said to him [Jesus], ‘lucky are the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you.’ He said to her: ‘lucky are those who have heard the word of the Father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, “Lucky are the womb that has not conceived and the breasts that have not given milk”.’ (Pursah’s gospel of Thomas, statement 79). Importantly, Jesus is not saying that sex is sinful. He is merely explaining that a change of mind from ‘more and more separation’ (being the chief goal of sex) to the forgiving lessons of the Holy Spirit will automatically lead to the much deeper desire of lasting inner peace, instead of the short, fleeting pleasure of sex.

The ego eagerly uses such reasoning to nurture the guilt in our minds: “See – since you are obviously still focused on sex (and the body in general), you will never make it back to heaven. Forget about it and keep listening to me.” Jesus and the Holy Spirit, however, remind us of the fact that we may very well use the body for their loving purpose of forgiveness and inner peace, as we read in the Workbook section called “What is the body?”: “The body is a dream. Like other dreams it sometimes seems to picture happiness, but can quite suddenly revert to fear, where every dream is born. […] Made to be fearful, must the body serve the purpose given it. But we can change the purpose that the body will obey by changing what we think that it is for. The body is the means by which God’s Son returns to sanity. […] The Son of God extends his hand to reach his brother, and to help him walk along the road with him. Now is the body holy. Now it serves to heal the mind that it was made to kill. […] You will identify with that you think will make you safe. […] Identify with love, and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self.” (W-pII.5.3:1-5:3; italics mine).

To summarize, sex in and of itself is never sinful, and should therefore never give rise to guilt. Be sure, however, that you are aware of the purpose of your sexual life: is it (a) to indulge in the ego-need for still further separation and an imitation of divine creation; or is it (b) to forgive your own condemnation of everyone and everything, and to walk the Holy Spirit’s way back to the oneness of the Son of God? Sex only becomes problematic once you regard it as salvation in and of itself. Such a purpose will always fail. Jesus asks his students to employ their bodies as the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet through which his healing message saves the world. The form of the bodily actions, including sex, then becomes completely irrelevant – it’s solely the content, or purpose of what we use the body for which guides our journey back Home. So happily dismiss the ego’s purpose for sex, and choose once again the oneness love of Christ as your prime focus, since that is what you and I are.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst




What happens is what I desire

A Course in Miracles is a spiritual message rooted in nonduality. It teaches not only that God did not create the universe; it even goes as far as to say that the universe, time and space, yes life as we think we know it, is ultimately just a dream; an hallucination. Or better yet: a nightmare, as it is the effect of the root thought of attack, separation, and autonomy. Filled with guilt over this imagined savage sin and fear of retaliation by the Almighty Creator, the seemingly sleeping Son (all of us combined) seemed to fragment in time and space into a zillion splintered fragments (what we know as ‘the Big Bang’), hoping against hope to hide from God. At the same time we keep up the illusion that the separation was in fact accomplished. All challenges, decay and death “prove” that we in fact did shatter the perfection of the Oneness of God, and are now on our own.

Clearly, the implication of this message is that the sole responsibility for whatever seems to happen in the universe, let alone our interpretation of it, is purely our own. To the ego, that’s a most inconvenient conclusion. After all, the mechanism of projection allowed the Son to repress his guilt about the separation. Projection lets the guilt rest on everyone and everything, except on me. Obviously, the evil is “out there“; not in me. And I will gladly suffer at the hand of all this evil, just to “prove” that I am an innocent victim of a cruel world. Surely God will accept me back into Heaven when my brief candle as shameful sinner flickers and goes out…

Jesus in A Course in Miracles (who, incidentally, is the manifestation of the Voice for Love and should not be confused with the biblical Jesus) has some rather painful messages for his students in this regard. That is, “painful” for the frightened separated ego, as Jesus puts the responsibility for everything that happens in our lives right in our own lap. Remember what Jesus teaches about the secret of salvation: “You are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1). The word “this” refers to everything we experience in the world we think we live in, which, if we are truly honest, boils down to a life in which all of us walk “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1).

Many students unconsciously skip such passages. For example, have a look at chapter 21 in the text, where Jesus implores us to honestly admit: “I am responsible for what I see. I choose the feelings I experience, and decide upon the goal I would achieve. And everything that seems to happen to me I ask for, and receive as I have asked.” (T-21.II.2:3-5). Wow. And as if that isn’t insulting enough, take a look at workbook lesson 253, where Jesus would have me say to myself: “It is impossible that anything should come to me unbidden by myself. Even in this world, it is I who rule my destiny. What happens is what I desire. What does not occur is what I do not want to happen. This I must accept” (W-pII.253.1:1-5; italics mine).

What? Watch your mind as you take this in. At this point, the ego raises a pile of seemingly valid objections: “That’s plain bullshit! So you’re telling me that I deliberately caused my own cancer, because I wanted to? Preposterous! So my cousin got hit by a car last week because he invited this? And you would maintain that deformity in newborn babies is the result of their own choice? Come on, Jesus, it’s quite obvious you are making a fool of yourself!” And so we slam the blue book shut. We throw it at the wall, or try to flush it down the toilet. There are even several reports of people having set the book aflame.

However, as Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick never tired of explaining, this is merely a typical case of the pitfall of level confusion. Since A course in Miracles is rooted in nonduality, we should always consider Jesus’ messages on two levels: (I) the metaphysical level, and (II) the experiential level in time and space, where you and I believe we are. From the point of view of our level II daily experiences, Jesus’ quotes above indeed seem ridiculous. Of course I do not want cancer; of course my cousin doesn’t want to get hit by a car. Still, what we fail to realize is that although there seem to be many egos, in content the ego is one, with only one purpose: keeping up the illusion that the separation has indeed been accomplished; that we are assailed by evil in everyone and everything outside of us; that we are innocent victims of a world that caused us, instead of the world being an effect of that ego thought system.

What does that insight mean on a practical level, where I indeed get ill, am involved in accidents and eventually decay and die? It means that in all such cases, the one ego has yet again found a way of affirming its reality: “See?! We obviously are apart from God. Perfection and oneness are filthy lies. Look at what happens in the world! See what happens to you! Isn’t it obvious that God is cruel, and hellbent on your punishment? And look over there, and there; attack, struggle and strife. Yet more evidence of the reality of this world. Jesus offers but fairy tales! Be afraid, be very afraid. Cherish your own innocence [projections, really] and hold on to the infinitely small chance that you might be accepted back into Heaven if you but suffer sufficiently in this dangerous life!”

And so we keep alive the silly madness of being a powerless victim in a world we did not cause, just to “prove” our innocence. In Chapter 18 of the text, Jesus says: “Call it not sin but madness, for such it was, and so it still remains. Invest it not with guilt, for guilt implies it was accomplished in reality. And above all, be not afraid of it. ” (T-18.I.6:7) The only way out of this hell is to shift the way we interpret what happens in the world, with the help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. This shift is called the miracle, which does not look on love, but “…on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false” (W-pII.13.2). Changing the way we interpret this devastation, namely from “a just punishment” to “a useful classroom in which we learn to forgive”, allows us to ascend the ladder of the acceptance of the Atonement.

This may seem vague and impractical, but we could choose to apply this at any moment, in any circumstance. One workshop participant recently shared with the group how he was able to make this “mind-shift” while being hospitalized for surgery. Instead of feeling fearful, victimized and anxious, he chose to place his trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and just allowed all things to be as they were. The nurses were surprised to experience such a peaceful man in such an acutely dangerous situation. In fact, they admired the self-discipline this man had obviously mastered. In truth, it was just a gentle surrendering, a “quiet melting-in”, a choice for right-mindedness instead of the raucous shrieks of the ego. The surgery was successful, and he later reported that he had experienced hardly any pain during the whole event whatsoever.

The trick here is that once you are willing to lift the decision-making part of your mind to the place “above the battleground”, postponing all judgment, we realize that our imagined identity in this dream world of time and space, isn’t our real identity at all. The body may indeed seem to experience cancerous cells; however, we could choose to reinterpret this as a useful sign that we still need to forgive something, instead of a cruel punishment meted out by God. Your body mirrors your mind! Moreover, since this body is hardly the first that I have experienced in time, it’s quite possible that in previous lives I have had deformities. All this doesn’t matter from the metaphysical point of view. Instead of bemoaning the cruelty in the world, I could choose to see everything as a forgiveness opportunity offered me by the Holy Spirit. And the result of that choice is inner peace, my greatest gift to the world which is still ruled by “uncertainty, loneliness, and constant fear.”

So Jesus would say, “Why not admit that deep inside you know very well that this world is a place where starved and thirsty creatures come to die. Why not admit that deep inside you know you are an exile here, and that this desert you call the world is not your real home. You are dreaming about autonomy and separation, stubbornly maintaining that you know better than God. But do you want to be right or happy? For you cannot be both. Child of God, you have not sinned, but you have been much mistaken. Nothing has happened but that you have put yourself to sleep, imagining what it would be like to be apart from your Creator, which is obviously impossible. Your Father loves you and will call to you until you choose to come Home to Him in peace at last. Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. But how long do you want to postpone peace? Allow me to help you change your mind about all this silliness. Why wait for Heaven?”

A Course in Miracles offers us a unique way to discover and accept – without guilt, fear, anger or depression – the simple fact that you and I still choose to have a split mind: on the one hand, we do want to experience our inheritance as the Love of God; on the other hand, we still crave to be a special individual, autonomous and on our own, stubbornly insisting we know better than the Voice for Love. Burying the guilt about that wish merely keeps the misery of the illusion of time and space intact. And time and space are always accompanied by attack, guilt and fear, since this was the root cause of the universe in the first place.

As always, it’s helpful to remember that the outcome of this struggle is certain, for you and for me, and for every seemingly separated living thing. Time and space will have an end. The universe will disappear, and we will return Home into the Heart of God. It doesn’t matter how many lives this might yet take. As the Epilogue of the Clarification of Terms reminds us: “Forget not once this journey is begun the end is certain. Doubt along the way will come and go and go to come again. Yet is the ending sure. No one can fail to do what God appointed him to do. When you forget, remember that you walk with Him and with His Word upon your heart. Who could despair when hope like this is his?” (C-ep.1:1-6).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst




Clinging to the nightmare

We all try to make the best of our time on earth while we are here. We try to be kind and loving; we work on personal development; we visit places that seem to exhibit the most beautiful aspects of nature. And yet, in spite of our efforts, life inevitably ends in sickness, entropy (decay, really) and death. “All things must pass”, as the saying goes, including ourselves. And so we try to protect the little lot we think we have, and we hope we never have to experience devastating disaster or war. Yet it seems we are only born here to die again. What’s the meaning of it all? Many great minds have pondered this question.

A Course in Miracles, as a spiritual curriculum for attaining lasting inner peace, offers a rather uncompromising answer. Having come to us from outside time and space, we are taught that this entire world in time and space is nothing but a dream, and a bad dream at that. Section 4 in the Clarification of terms is especially clear about this: “The world you see is an illusion of a world. God did not create it, for what He creates must be eternal as Himself. Yet there is nothing in the world you see that will endure forever.” (C-4.1). And all Course students are familiar with Jesus’ bombshell in lesson 132: “There is no world! This is the central thought the Course attempts to teach.” (W-pI.132.6:1-2).

In other words, Jesus in A Course in Miracles bluntly tells us that the world we think is our daily reality, is nothing but a horrific illusion, which we made up, with the explicit purpose to experience autonomy and individuality, apart from God: “The world was made as an attack on God. It symbolizes fear [of retaliation]. And what is fear except love’s absence? Thus the world was meant to be a place where God could enter not, and where His Son could be apart from Him. Here was perception born, for knowledge could not cause such insane thoughts.” (W-pII.3.2:1-5).

At first it is very difficult to be told, let alone accept, that the physical world you and I seem to live in, including time and space and the universe itself, is nothing but a dream in which the One Son of God is dreaming of continual separated fragmentation in billions and billions of seemingly separated pieces, all the while living “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1) because the guilt that the sin of separation caused, will sooner or later have to be paid for in inevitable death. And yet we do not doubt the reality of the world as we rise, eat, go to work, relax, and prepare for another night. Why is that?

Jesus’ simple answer is that we do this because we want to be asleep, however painful it might feel at times, and however dreary the eventual individual ending is. “[The world] will remain no longer than the thought that gave it birth is cherished.” (W-pII.3.1:3). As long as we do cherish the idea of living as a special individual, with special talents that can ‘make a difference’,  we will continue to believe in the dream of separation. As long as we do not doubt its reality we will continue to believe that all kinds of people and circumstances can influence us (read: hurt us). We firmly believe in the “stimulus-response” (or: attack-defend) paradigm of the world.

We know this all too well from our nightly dreams. Even though the weirdest things can happen while we are asleep, as long as we are dreaming we do not doubt the reality of the dream. The difference between our nightly dreams and the ‘waking dream’ we call ‘the world’, is our reaction when waking up. Regardless of whether I had pleasant dreams or a nightmare, when I wake up I realize that ‘it was just a dream’. I realize I was dreaming a dream, which isn’t real. I forget about the dream and move on. However, I fail to realize that I am also the dreamer of the world which isn’t real either, and that I could also choose to forget about this ‘dream world’, and go back Home into the Heart of God.

Enter A Course in Miracles. As we read in section II of chapter 28: “Nothing at all has happened but that you have put yourself to sleep, and dreamed a dream in which you were an alien to yourself, and but a part of someone else’s dream. The miracle does not awaken you, but merely shows you who the dreamer is.” (T-28.II.4, italics mine). The dreamer is the one Son of God, seemingly asleep in the nightmare of separation which is pictured as a universe with millions of bodies, from planetary size to humanoid size, each one being “a tiny fence around a little part of a glorious and complete idea.”(T18.VIII.2:5). However, just like our nightly dreams, the world and the universe are misty illusions.

This message would leave us deeply depressed, if Jesus wouldn’t offer us a much better alternative. However much the ego would like us to think that choosing to wake up from the dream world means annihilation, or ‘being erased’, as one workshop participant put it, Jesus tells us that we will find the real world, the gateway back to Heaven. And it’s solely our own choice: “[The miracle] teaches you there is a choice of dreams while you are still asleep, depending on the purpose of your dreaming. Do you wish for dreams of healing, or for dreams of death?” (T-28.II.4:3-4)

The importance of this message warrants a further citation of this section: “The miracle is the first step in giving back to cause the function of causation, not effect. For this confusion has produced the dream, and while it lasts will wakening be feared. […] Like every lesson that the Holy Spirit requests you learn, the miracle is clear. It demonstrates what He would have you learn, and shows you its effects are what you want. In His forgiving dreams are the effects of yours undone, and hated enemies perceived as friends with merciful intent. Their enmity is seen as causeless now, because they did not make it. And you can accept the role of maker of their hate, because you see that it has no effects. Now are you freed.” (T-28.II.10).

In terms of personal development programs, Jesus’ call to us is something like: “What do you want? Do you want to go on living your life on auto-pilot, moving from one misery to the next, ending in death? Or do you want to become a happy learner and choose happy dreams in the real world, in the firm conviction that ‘disappearing into the heart of God’ is much more preferable than remaining an autonomous separated individual who thinks he knows better than God?” Almost every Course student experiences this awkward balance between our desire for the Love of God on the one hand, and the desire for specialness on the other. And we would so much like to have both…

Again, A Course in Miracles is a veritable bombshell under the foundation of the ego. Jesus patiently explains to us, without judging us at all, just how much we still cling to this self-inflicted nightmare we think is our very essence. Its metaphysical non-dualistic foundation makes A Course in Miracles one of the most radical spiritualities available to us today. And yet, sooner or later each seemingly separated little self will get to the point where the pain of the nightmare becomes too much, and exclaim that there must be a better way, echoing Bill Thetford’s outcry and Helen’s agreement that set in motion the scribing of A Course in Miracles in 1965.

Before you hit yourself over the head about still failing to consistently make the only right choice in this regard, please turn to the Manual for Teachers and read section 4 again about the characteristics of God’s teachers. These are not just about being honest with yourself, but especially about being tolerant, gentle, joyful, defenseless, generous, patient, faithful, and open-minded. And the most important characteristic is trust. Trust in the fact that you, too, will successfully make the journey Home, sooner or later. Just ask yourself every once in a while: “Why wait for Heaven?” (W-pI.188.1:1) And then happily choose the intuitive advice of the Holy Spirit again, being the Voice for Love, which is what you and I are. Congratulations on your choice to be a happy learner!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, January 2023