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

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The mirror of the mind

In Workbook lesson 304 of A Course in Miracles there is a passage that is easily overlooked, but is nevertheless a bombshell for the mind if we realize its full implication. It is this: “Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward” (W-pII.304.1:3-4). Just think about that first sentence. From the moment we wake up until bedtime, we spend our time perceiving the world around us with our five senses. And every Course student knows that perception always comes with interpretation, or ‘giving a meaning to what you see, hear, taste, touch or feel’. In this passage, Jesus states that perception is a mirror; it mirrors what I have already made real in my mind. So everything I interpret about my perception of any situation, event, or encounter, tells me something about my (usually unconscious) state of mind. Many Course students are familiar with Jesus’ statement in Chapter 21 of the text: “It [the world] is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition” (T-21.in.1:5).

In the next Chapter in the Text, Jesus further clarifies this by stating that “...everyone sees only what he thinks he is.” (T22.I.5:2). And although we may consciously tell ourselves we are a good, honest, loveable person, deep down the iceberg of our mind, we are not at all happy with our self image, as Jesus assures us: “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think that if anyone could see the truth about you he would be repelled, recoiling from you as if from a poisonous snake. 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” (WpI.93.1). Luckily, Jesus immediately comforts us by stating that “These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing” (W-pI.93.2:1). This brings to mind the equally comforting passage in Chapter 19: “The Son of God can be mistaken; he can deceive himself; he can even turn the power of his mind against himself. But he cannot sin. There is nothing he can do that would really change his reality in any way, nor make him really guilty” (T-19.II.3:1-3).

And so, to sum it up to this point: what our senses tell us mirrors the illusory self-image we have made real in the mind. That’s why almost everyone focuses so much on all the evil in the world: we think we see misery outside us, but this actually tells us how miserable we unconsciously feel about ourselves. At many places in his Course, Jesus underscores the key lesson that our physical eyes do not really see anything real; all our senses perceive only illusion, since everything in time and space is an illusion. The Son of God constructed this illusion in a feeble attempt to hide from God’s imagined wrath for the thought of desiring to separate from Him (which of course could never happen in reality). Since we made the world out of guilt and fear, all our perception is drenched in this line of thought. In Workbook lesson 23, Jesus explains: “The world you see is a vengeful world, and everything in it is a symbol of vengeance. Each of your perceptions of “external reality” is a pictorial representation of your own attack thoughts. One can well ask if this can be called seeing. Is not fantasy a better word for such a process, and hallucination a more appropriate term for the result? You see the world that you have made, but you do not see yourself as the image maker” (W-pI.23.3:1-4:1).

That final sentence, of course, is the key. We are convinced, at least unconsciously, that we are being tossed about as powerless victims in a threatening world. What a complete reversal of thought, then, to read that you and I have made up this world, and purposefully too; that is: to hide from the imagined wrath of of our Creator over our ‘tiny, mad idea’ of separation! How silly! It’s all make-belief. We’ve fallen asleep and we are still “…dreaming of exile, but perfectly capable of awakening to reality” (T-10.I.2:1), So while this ‘bombshell’ may appear at first as a daunting prospect, it is actually the best news that you and I could get, since it affirms that we are the all-powerful dreamer of the dream (T-27.VII), and that we have the power to change the dream and eventually wake up to reality. As good Course students, we know why we do not joyfully welcome this realization and wake up immediately: the fear of permanently losing our precious little individual ‘autonomous’ ego-self is still too great.

Choose, then, not to shrink from what you may see in this mirror. Illusions have no power to hurt you, unless you grant them that power, to uphold the silly illusion of individuality. It’s much better to choose to faithfully practice looking at the mirror in the mind, without judgment. Sure there’ll be a lot of seeming darkness, but together with Jesus or the Holy Spirit you and I can laugh it all away. Not to cover it up, but from the realization that all this heaviness has no foundation whatsoever, and really comes down to nothing. And we can do it at our own pace. Jesus does not require us to be enlightened today, or tomorrow, or even in this particular lifetime. He just invites us to look at the illusions we chose to construct, with his love besides us, above the battleground — and then forgive yourself for having taken so seriously this ‘tiny, mad idea’.

All the darkness in our mind comes from an ego we made up ourselves. We’ve come to think of it as monstrous, and ruling our mind. It is not so. When we patiently practice the looking at the mirror of the mind, as an observer, without judgment, we make room for Jesus’ love. It’s as simple as that. In Chapter 20 of the Text, Jesus states: “This course requires almost nothing of you. It is impossible to imagine one that asks so little, or could offer more” (T-20.VII.1:7-8). Except, of course, that our resistance is still enormous. So we need to practice our motivation daily, even hourly, to keep trying to ‘cross the bridge to the real world’, in which, as Ken Wapnick puts it in his Journey through the Workbook, “…the memory of God’s Love is restored to our awareness, and we remember we are one with Him who is our source”, referring to Chapter 16 in the Text: “The new perspective you will gain from crossing over will be the understanding of where Heaven is. From this side, it seems to be outside and across the bridge. Yet as you cross to join it, it will join with you and become one with you. And you will think, in glad astonishment, that for all this you gave up nothing! The joy of Heaven, which has no limit, is increased with each light that returns to take its rightful place within it. Wait no longer, for the Love of God and you. And may the holy instant speed you on the way, as it will surely do if you but let it come to you” (T-16.VI.11). Happy practicing!

Jan-Willem van Aalst, January 2023

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The birth of Christ

What, isn’t that a bit late for a blog topic, a full week after Christmas? Well, apart from the observation that for many people Christmas isn’t primarily about the birth of Jesus of Nazareth anymore but rather simply yet another excuse to forget about life’s ‘problems’ for a while, “Christ” in A Course in Miracles denotes not just Jesus but the entire Sonship, made up of all seemingly separated life forms combined. So I chose the blog title ‘The birth of Christ’ as a reminder that from a Course perspective, this Season ought to be about inviting the Christ Mind in us to be ‘reborn’ again, that is, remembered again in the mind, which is what you and I are in reality, right now. You and I are not separated bodies but connected minds, and the quality of our lives directly mirrors the quality of the thoughts we choose, which in turn mirrors the amount of inner peace we will experience.

So ‘the birth of Christ’ should be read as ‘remembering who you are in essence, and practicing that realisation in thought, word, and action on a daily basis’. You and I are an integral (holographic) part of the Son of God, Who was created by Love as Love. “Teach only love, for that is what you are”, we read in (T-6.13:1). Each time I remember my function of seeing the sameness in myself and my brother, whoever it may be in whatever circumstance, Christ is metaphorically ‘reborn’ in my mind. Each rebirth is therefore nothing more (but also nothing less) than a ‘re-minder’ to myself that although I still choose to experience myself as a seemingly separated individual on a planet in time and space, the Christ Mind is nevertheless within me (poetically speaking: within my heart), and I want to reconnect to that by switching the inner teacher in my mind from ego to Holy Spirit.

In the introduction to the Fifth Review in the Workbook in particular (just before lesson 171), Jesus addresses this notion of the rebirth of Christ in our minds. Let’s review some key snippets from this inspiring introduction. “This is the thought which should precede the thoughts that we review. Each [lesson to follow] but clarifies some aspect of this thought, or helps it be more meaningful, more personal and true, and more descriptive of the holy Self we share and now prepare to know again: God is but Love, and therefore so am I. This Self alone knows Love. This Self alone is perfectly consistent in Its Thoughts; knows Its Creator, understands Itself, is perfect in Its knowledge and Its Love, and never changes from Its constant state of union with Its Father and Itself” (W-pI.RV-In.4.1:-5). This ‘Self’ is the Christ, our collective true Identity as part of God, Who is Love.

So we can see that the ‘rebirth of Christ’ can happen to us many times even during one single day. We might even say that each time we manage to truly forgive a person, a situation or an event, we’ve allowed the Christ in ourselves to be reborn again. Jesus then comments: “Let us raise our hearts from dust to life, as we remember this is promised us, and that this course was sent to open up the path of light to us, and teach us, step by step, how to return to the eternal Self we thought we lost. (W-pI.RV-In.5:4). And then Jesus applies the concepts of rebirth and renewal once again to himself, though to be manifested in anyone who chooses his line of thought: “I am renewed each time a brother learns there is a way from misery and pain. I am reborn each time a brother’s mind turns to the light in him and looks for me” (W-pI.RV-In.7:2-3). Since in the Course, Jesus is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, he can rightly state that he himself is reborn in each mind who chooses the Holy Spirit as the mind’s guide instead of the ego.

So the concept of ‘the rebirth of Christ in me’ might be succinctly summarized as follows, in Jesus’ own words from the text: “Let me be to you the symbol of the end of guilt, and look upon your brother as you would look on me. Forgive me all the sins you think the Son of God committed. And in the light of your forgiveness he will remember who he is, and forget what never was” (T-19.IV-B.6:1-3). Thus we follow in the example Jesus has given us as an elder brother, and in this sense his message (or line of thought) is ‘born again’. Seven chapters later, Jesus adds to that: “judge him [your brother] not, for you will hear no song of liberation for yourself, nor see what it is given him to witness to, that you may see it and rejoice with him. Make not his holiness a sacrifice to your belief in sin. You sacrifice your innocence with his, and die each time you see in him a sin deserving death. Yet every instant can you be reborn, and given life again. His holiness gives life to you, who cannot die because his sinlessness is known to God; and can no more be sacrificed by you than can the light in you be blotted out because he sees it not” (T-26.I.6:4-7:2; my italics).

So why not turn the Christmas ‘ritual’ into a ‘lesson of Love’ that Jesus would gladly have us all learn, namely to be merely a reminder and an assurance that we really would be happier choosing the advice of the Holy Spirit than choosing the advice of the ego, which is what most of us usually do, even at Christmas time. Let’s close with this happy summary of the true nature of the essence of you and me and all our brothers around us: “You who would make a sacrifice of life, and make your eyes and ears bear witness to the death of God and of His holy Son, think not that you have power to make of Them what God willed not They be. In Heaven, God’s Son is not imprisoned in a body, nor is sacrificed in solitude to sin. And as he is in Heaven, so must he be eternally and everywhere. He is the same forever. Born again each instant, untouched by time, and far beyond the reach of any sacrifice of life or death. For neither did he make, and only one was given him by One Who knows His gifts can never suffer sacrifice and loss (T-26.I.7:3-8). Happy rebirthing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, December 2022

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The useful message of symptoms

It’s a well-known public secret that most medicine does not really cure in and of itself; it merely supports the self-healing process (salutogenesis) of the body. This self-healing process can also be stimulated through mind training. In the past decade, many stories have reached me of remarkable physical healings. Almost all of them involved the invitation of love. These are not stories they just heard from others; they are stories of their own experiences. More than a few of these, for example, relate to the remission of serious cancer after sending sharply focused love or light to the location of the symptoms, leaving physicians baffled. One of the most well-known examples of this “self-healing” is of course published by Brandon Bays in her book “The Healing journey”. And there are many other examples of how much more powerful our healing abilities are than we usually realize.

But what do we actually heal in such cases? When Jesus in the Psychotherapy pamphlet of A Course in Miracles calls on us to “Heal thyself”, he is certainly not primarily talking about the physical body. In fact, the Course repeatedly states that the body is merely an effect of the mind. Especially the Psychotherapy pamphlet is very clear on this: “All illness is mental illness. It is a judgment on the Son of God, and judgment is a mental activity. […] Once God’s Son is seen as guilty, illness becomes inevitable. It has been asked for and will be received.” (P-2.IV.1:1-2;2:1-2). So my physical symptoms reflect some form of unforgiveness in my mind, and it is there that the healing work needs to be done.

“Certain it is that all distress does not appear to be but unforgiveness. Yet that is the content underneath the form”, we read in (W-pI.193.4:1-2). It’s important here to be acutely aware of feelings of guilt or victimhood. With the former, I’m inclined to bash myself for obviously having made myself ill, while as a good Course student I should know better by now. In the latter case, I may protest that I do forgive, but my DNA is obviously stronger than my power to forgive. Both conclusions are ego-strategies that will not work, for both render my image of myself inadequate. They key here is to realize that, as again the Psychotherapy pamphlet says, my perceived self is a concept that I made up. (P-1.I.3:3). That is, I still attribute some reality to my body. That is the illness. “Sickness is insanity because all sickness is mental illness […] Illness is therefore a mistake and needs correction.” (P-2.IV.8:1;7:1).

In both physical healing as well as in psychotherapy, most people want to be healed without having to give up their cherished self-concept of an individual body that can be happy on its own. And yet the most oft-repeated lesson in A Course in Miracles teaches us that “I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me.” (W-pI.201-220). And so Workbook lesson 136 summarizes how we use sickness as a defense to having to recognize this truth: “Sickness is not an accident. Like all defenses, it is an insane device for self-deception. And like all the rest, its purpose is to hide reality, attack it, change it, render it inept, distort it, twist it, or reduce it to a little pile of unassembled parts. The aim of all defenses is to keep the truth from being whole. […] Sickness is a decision. It is not a thing that happens to you, quite unsought, which makes you weak and brings you suffering. It is a choice you make, a plan you lay, when for an instant truth arises in your own deluded mind, and all your world appears to totter and prepare to fall. Now are you sick, that truth may go away and threaten your establishments no more.” (w-pI.136.2:1-3;7).

So “heal thyself” means healing the mind — by accepting the truth of what I am, which is the same as what you and everybody else are: the one Son of God, created by Love as Love, albeit asleep in a dream of seeming separation. Accepting this truth means gently forgiving myself for still wanting to believe I am in a separated body in a threatening world. For true healing, I am to look at that “tiny, mad idea” of separation from oneness, and stop evaluating myself as the home of evil because of my cardinal sin of separation, however unconsciously I buried that thought. Healing means I once again choose to love my self as the Son of God. I once again choose to see all life as one. I once again choose to see this world as a classroom in which I happily learn the lessons of Love, offered me daily by the Holy Spirit.

In her book ‘Dying to be me’, Anita Moorjani shares with us her story of her near death experience, after a rapid terminal cancer process. Her spirit was told she had to go back since she still had a part to play in the dream world. Two of the most important lessons that she took back with her are: “Love yourself unconditionally” (since most of us, bottom line, despise ourselves) and “Live your life without fear”. So Jesus’ call to “Teach only Love, for that is what you are” (T-6.I.13:2) most certainly also means “Teach yourself only Love, since that is what you are.” Obviously, “self” refers to the self as spirit; however, since the body is merely a mirror of the mind, you should also love your body, in the sense that the body offers you countless opportunities for forgiveness, and so accept the Atonement.

To get back to the the power of mind training for supporting the salutogenesis process that I started this blog with, and all the remarkable stories of physical healing through the engulfment of the self in loving inner light: the effectiveness of such practice depends on what it is used for. If it is used solely to ‘cure’ the bodily symptoms, while the underlying unforgiveness is not dealt with, the effects (if any) will bring temporary alleviation at best. The ‘light of Love’ ought to reflect your choice to identify with your Identity as Love, and that nothing else exists. As always, ask the help of the Holy Spirit, the Voice for Love, Who will not hesitate to help wherever He is truly welcomed. Though as always, the Course dictum “To say these words is nothing. But to mean these words is everything” (W-pI.185.1:1-2) also holds here.

How do you know you succeeded? Jesus explains: “You will recognize you practiced well by this: The body should not feel at all. If you have been successful, there will be no sense of feeling ill or feeling well, of pain or pleasure. No response at all is in the mind to what the body does. Its usefulness remains, and nothing more.” (W-pI.136.17:2-3). So ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’, might be restated as: ‘A loving thought a day keeps the doctor away.’ Dear seemingly separated fragment of the Son of God, heal thy mind; return to Love and accept God’s healing assurance: “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.12.5).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, December 2022

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The watcher of the thoughts

A Course in Miracles teaches its students to practice unconditional forgiveness. This does not mean that in the years to come, as good Course students we will never find ourselves condemning anyone or anything any longer. On the contrary, for a very long time we will still cherish our ever-condemning ego, as countless students can attest to. Feeling guilty about that is the best way to keep the silly, seemingly separated ego alive and kicking. Therefore, forgiveness should first and foremost be about self-forgiveness: realizing that with each and every negative interpretation, however minor it may seem, we still reject both God and our own true Identity as the one Son of God. This is not sin; it’s a silly mistake. This is what we should forgive ourselves for, each and every day.

What can help us speed along this forgiveness journey is merely honestly admitting that in our minds, we still choose to hold on to conflicting goals: on the one hand, our deepest desire is to make our way back into the Heart of God (=Love) where we belong, thus ending this stilly dualistic time-space dream that has never worked, does not work and will never work. But on the other hand we will do just about anything, even up to murder, to keep our imagined special autonomous individual self alive, separated from all other things that live. That’s the basic conflict in everyone’s mind; hence the title of this blog site “Miracles or murder”. While many choose to become frustrated over realizing that they obviously keep this conflict ongoing in the mind, the key is to become the watcher, or the observer of that conflict; calmly, without hitting yourself over the head for being such a poor Course student, or complaining that this Course is too difficult to learn.

The reason that this choice to become the watcher-of-thoughts will work is that by choosing to be the observer instead of the self-inflicted victim, there is no repression. If you can accept (embrace) everything as it is now, there is nothing to hide. And when there’s nothing to hide, there’s nothing to project. And without projection, there is no guilt. And it is this ‘melting away of the iceberg of guilt’ that will truly bring us back Home into the Heart of God that in reality we never left (we only convinced ourselves we did, in a hallucinatory nightmare called the time-space universe). Once we become the observer, we begin to see the silliness of all self-centered ambitions, anxieties and happenings. Once you make that practice into a habit, you’ll never watch your television screen the same way again. In fact, there’s a fair chance the time will come when you’ll discard that silly thing.

This is not to say that you will turn your back on everything that happens in the world, ‘since it’s all an illusory dream anyway’. On the contrary: you may still be very involved in happenings in the world, helping out wherever you can, but you will do it following a different teacher. The goal will shift from ‘feeling good because I’m more advanced than others’ to truly seeing the sameness in everyone and everything; I will realize that whichever way I look upon anything outside of me is really how I see myself and my relationship to my Creator. Practice, therefore, on a daily basis to watch your own thoughts, and tell yourself a thousand times a day that it’s okay to love yourself and to forgive yourself for anything that is not pure love. Forget about your silly demand to become enlightened this very day, but gratefully enjoy your own journey back Home, a journey in which all things, events, encounters and circumstances can be reinterpreted as helpful to that End. (M-4.I-A.4:5).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, November 2022

The tragic joke called time

By far most of us feel that if there’s one thing we can reliably depend upon, it’s the continuity of time. After all, there’s nothing so certain as the sun rising and setting each day, is there? How confusing, then, to read in A Course in Miracles that “Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic. Yet there is a plan behind appearances that does not change. The script is written. […] For we but see the journey from the point at which it ended, looking back on it, imagining we make it once again; reviewing mentally what has gone by.” (W-pI.158.4:1-3;5). Since our brain literally functions in the linearity of time (past – present – future), we really have no way of grasping the reality, let alone the consequences of this for our fixed notion of our very existence as a body in time that is born, ages, and finally dies.

For me, the bombshell sentence in that important workbook lesson 158 is: “When experience will come to end your doubting has been set.” (W-pI.158.4:4; my italics). This seems to imply predetermination. This statement seems to literally say that the moment when I will fully have accepted the Atonement is already determined, since in reality all of time has already happened. Jesus, standing outside time, seems to be serenely aware of everything that has ever happened, happens, or will happen in time, completely at ease because he knows that “A happy outcome to all things is sure” (W-pII.292): since time is an illusion, nothing can happen that could impact reality at all. Early in the text, he even says: “… let me remind you that time and space are under my control” (T-2.VII.7:9) Add to that the ego-insulting message that “I need do nothing” (T-18.VII), and it might seem as if I can just give up all my plans, ambitions and worries in my life, as the movie of time will invariably unfold of itself anyway, regardless of what I think, say, or do.

However, this would be a shining example of falling into the trap of what Kenneth Wapnick calls Level confusion. It’s hardly helpful to pretend we can live our daily lives just focusing on nonduality (Level 1), while ignoring the daily forgiveness lessons in our everyday lives (Level 2); lessons we obviously need to learn to accept the Atonement. Moreover, the Course makes it clear in many places that the mind is blessed with free will, which God nor Jesus would even consider toying with. However, in the introduction to the text, Jesus clearly adds the following nuance: “Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time.” ((T-in.1:4-5) And in the aforementioned workbook lesson 158, Jesus assures us: “The revelation that the Father and the Son are one will come in time to every mind. Yet is that time determined by the mind itself, not taught.” (W-pI.158.2:8-9).

The solution to this rather confusing concept of the nature of time (again, due to the inevitable level confusion that arises once our linearly programmed brain starts to think about reality outside time), is to visualize the almost infinite stretch of time as a holographic spiral, in which the mind repeatedly goes back and forth between the guide called the ego and the guide called The Holy Spirit. Whenever we choose the ego (that is, about 99,9% of the day, and every minute in each day), we “[…] but relive the single instant when the time of terror took the place of love.” (T-26.V.13:1). In other words, whenever we choose not to be loving, we simply relive the original instant of choosing separation, which in reality never happened. The goal of this continuous wrong-minded choosing is to produce more illusory time to be able to uphold the illusion of a separated, autonomous, individual little self. Yet the joke of time could never intrude upon reality. Billions of imaginary dream years of tragic ego-choosing has not changed the reality of nonduality in the slightest: “Not one note in Heaven’s song was missed” (T-26.V.5:4).

Workbook lesson 169 gently puts the frantic mind at rest, assuring us that we need have no care or worry whatsoever about the nature of time, or the myriad mistakes we will inevitably make before finally learning to fully accept the Atonement and end time forever: “There is no need to further clarify what no one in the world can understand. When revelation of your oneness comes, it will be known and fully understood. Now we have work to do, for those in time can speak of things beyond, and listen to words which explain what is to come is past already. Yet what meaning can the words convey to those who count the hours still, and rise and work and go to sleep by them? Suffice it, then, that you have work to do to play your part. The ending must remain obscure to you until your part is done. It does not matter. For your part is still what all the rest depends on. As you take the role assigned to you, salvation comes a little nearer each uncertain heart that does not beat as yet in tune with God.” (W-pI.169.10:1-11:5).

So our task today, and all of our days, is still solely to practice our mind’s decision maker ‘above the battlefield’, and utilize the countless forgiveness opportunities that are offered us on a daily basis. That is what time is for: to master unconditional forgiveness all the time, without exception. Always keep in mind these comforting lines from the Epilogue of the Clarification of Terms: “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? Illusions of despair may seem to come, but learn how not to be deceived by them. Behind each one there is reality and there is God. Why would you wait for this and trade it for illusions, when His Love is but an instant farther on the road where all illusions end? The end is sure and guaranteed by God.” (C-ep.1).

For those interested in a more in-depth discussion of the tragic joke called time, I would encourage you to read and study Kenneth Wapnick’s brilliant book “A vast illusion: time according to A Course in Miracles“. Not only does Ken clearly explain the Course’s metaphysics about time and space, but also how we can use time — while we still experience it as such in our current incarnation — to gently aid us on our daily practice of learning to accept the Atonement, according to the daily Lessons of Love that are offered us by the Holy Spirit. Let’s close with this beautiful quote from Chapter 13 in the text: “The Holy Spirit interprets time’s purpose as rendering the need for time unnecessary. He regards the function of time as temporary, serving only His teaching function, which is temporary by definition. His emphasis is therefore on the only aspect of time that can extend to the infinite, for now is the closest approximation of eternity that this world offers.” (T-13.IV.7:3-5). Have an inspired day living in the now!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, November 2022

The Holy Spirit as a symbol

A Course in Miracles comes to us in Christian terminology and symbology because that is what most of us in the Western world have been growing up with. Heck, we even number our years according to what we estimate was the birth year of Jesus Christ. Its content, however, is universal, containing elements from both Christianity as well as, for example, Buddhism. In the Course, terms such as “Christ” and “The Holy Spirit” are obviously rooted in Christianity, but they are defined in a markedly different way from how they are presented in the Bible. For one, “Christ” does not exclusively refer to Jesus, but to all seemingly separated life combined; and “the Holy Spirit” is not seen as some divine ghost that comes to bless people, but rather as the Voice for Love that is always available within each and everyone, patiently waiting to be heard and accepted again.

Nevertheless, in A Course in Miracles, the Holy Spirit is often referred to as some entity outside of us, since that is what our deluded, sleepy minds are capable of to understand. In section 7 of part II of the Workbook, just after lesson 280, Jesus specifically addresses the question “What is the Holy Spirit?” (W-pII.7). Some excerpts: “The Holy Spirit mediates between illusions and the truth. Since He must bridge the gap between reality and dreams, perception leads to knowledge through the grace that God has given Him, to be His gift to everyone who turns to Him for truth” (W-pII.7:1); “From knowledge, where He has been placed by God, the Holy Spirit calls to you, to let forgiveness rest upon your dreams, and be restored to sanity and peace of mind. Without forgiveness will your dreams remain to terrify you” (W-pII.7:4).

However, students should never forget that words are “symbols of symbols, and therefore twice removed from reality” (M-21.1:10). In reality, the Holy Spirit is merely the part of our mind that reflects God’s Will, which Jesus assures us is our own will, since it is our deepest desire. After all, “God” in the Course is equated with unconditional Love, and the Sonship (all seemingly separated life combined) as the extension of that unconditional Love. You and I were created — as spirit — by God as the extension of His Love! This is what you and I truly are. Therefore, the Holy Spirit represents all my truly loving thoughts, which I still choose to bury a while because I am still enamoured of the concept of individuality, and therefore afraid to give it up and ‘disappear’ forever into the Oneness of the Love of God.

As a symbool, therefore, we should never forget that the Holy Spirit is not a separate being, but rather a simple (yet all-powerful) reminder of our heritage. Jesus emphasized this quite early in his Textbook (Chapter 5); let’s revisit: “The Voice of the Holy Spirit does not command, because It is incapable of arrogance. It does not demand, because It does not seek control. It does not overcome, because It does not attack. It merely reminds. It is compelling only because of what It reminds you of. It brings to your mind the other way, remaining quiet even in the midst of the turmoil you may make” (T-5.II.7:1-6).

Therefore, do not feel inadequate if you feel you cannot hear, or connect with, this Voice for Love all the time. It’s much better to simply acknowledge the two voices in your mind: the ego on the one hand, and the Voice for Love on the other hand. In each incarnation in the dream world, you and I are simply on a journey to learn to distinguish the two, and to learn to ever more often choose the Voice that we really want, because this guide will lead us back Home to the Love of God, instead of the pain and loss that the ego always leads to, brief pleasures notwithstanding. What else is new? Remind yourself often today to love yourself unconditionally; accept that you are where you are on the spiritual ladder, and be glad that the Holy Spirit is always available to ‘choose once again’: “Do not refuse to hear the Call for Love. Do not deny to Christ what is His Own. Heaven is here and Heaven is your home.… [….] Remember this: whatever you may think about yourself, whatever you may think about the world, your Father needs you and will call to you until you come to Him in peace at last” (S-3.IV.8:5-9; 10:7).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, October 2022

The wish to be special

As an ego-incarnation in time and space, life is about being special, being different, having value of yourself. The ego itself is literally the thought of wanting to be different from Oneness, in which no meaningful distinction between anything whatsoever exists. In our individual lives, we yearn to become as special as possible. In the current media this manifests, for example, in the gender discussions. If you examine these temper tantrums a bit closer, these always focus on some aspect of form (i.e., the body) and are swiftly translated to state that the specialness of the body must mean that the content of that person (i.e., the personality, the ego) must be special as well. It is as if the quality of the form would determine the quality of the content.

In his spiritual curriculum A Course in Miracles, Jesus thinks otherwise, as we read in for example chapter 24: “You are not special. If you think you are, and would defend your specialness against the truth of what you really are, how can you know the truth? What answer that the Holy Spirit [i.e., the Voice for Love] gives can reach you, when it is your specialness to which you listen, and which asks and answers? Its tiny answer, soundless in the melody that pours from God to you eternally in loving praise of what you are, is all you listen to. And that vast song of honor and of love for what you are seems silent and unheard before its “mightiness.” You strain your ears to hear its soundless voice, and yet the Call of God Himself is soundless to you” (T-24.II.4). In referring to “…what you are…”, Jesus of course points to our unchangeable essence as sprit, which has nothing whatsoever to do with how we try to mould the body, which, although in the Course marked as strictly neutral, is referred to as a “little mound of clay” (T-19.IV-B.4:8) and a “little pile of dust” (W-pI.186.7:4).

Jesus continues: “You can defend your specialness, but never will you hear the Voice for God beside it. They speak a different language and they fall on different ears. To every special one a different message, and one with different meaning, is the truth. Yet how can truth be different to each one? The special messages the special hear convince them they are different and apart; each in his special sins and “safe” from love, which does not see his specialness at all. Christ’s vision is their “enemy,” for it sees not what they would look upon, and it would show them that the specialness they think they see is an illusion” (T-24.II.5). And indeed, you need only watch the media for a little while to see that all the vicious attacks are always aimed at not seeing ‘the face of Christ’ in the targeted people at hand.

The special ones believe that attack brings safety, because they themselves secretly feel extremely vulnerable because they deny the Christ in themselves, which is the only true rock of safety that is beyond all fear. Jesus puts it this way: “It is not you who are so vulnerable and open to attack that just a word, a little whisper that you do not like, a circumstance that suits you not, or an event that you did not anticipate upsets your world, and hurls it into chaos. Truth is not frail. Illusions leave it perfectly unmoved and undisturbed. But specialness is not the truth in you. It [i.e., specialness] can be thrown off balance by anything. […] It is your specialness that is attacked by everything that walks and breathes, or creeps or crawls, or even lives at all. Nothing is safe from its attack, and it is safe from nothing. It will forevermore be unforgiving, for that is what it is; a secret vow that what God wants for you will never be, and that you will oppose His Will forever.” (T-24.III.3-4:6).

It struck me that this is exactly what we see so often in the mainstream media nowadays: be forevermore unforgiving, and oppose God’s Will forever. In a rather graphic passage, Jesus further reveals the bitter truth about the tenacious focus on specialness: “What would you save it [your special body] for? For in that choice lie both its health and harm. Save it for show, as bait to catch another fish, to house your specialness in better style, or weave a frame of loveliness around your hate, and you condemn it to decay and death. And if you see this purpose in your brother’s, such is your condemnation of your own. […] Specialness is a lack of trust in anyone except yourself. Faith is invested in yourself alone. Everything else becomes your enemy; feared and attacked, deadly and dangerous, hated and worthy only of destruction. What could the purpose of the body be but specialness? And it is this that makes it frail and helpless in its own defense. It was conceived to make you frail and helpless” (T-24.VII.4.4-7;IV.1:1-2:3).

The solution, as always, lies in our freedom to decide what purpose we want our lives to be about, how we will use time: as a journey towards further separation, or as a journey towards accepting the Atonement? Therefore, Jesus’ simple conclusion is: “Purpose is of the mind. And minds can change as they desire. What they are, and all their attributes, they cannot change. But what they hold as purpose can be changed, and body states must shift accordingly. Of itself the body can do nothing. See it as means to hurt, and it is hurt. See it as means to heal, and it is healed. You can but hurt yourself. This has been oft repeated, but is difficult to grasp as yet. To minds intent on specialness it is impossible. Yet to those who wish to heal and not attack, it is quite obvious.” (T-24.IV.2:6-3:5). So ask yourself a thousand times today which guide you would choose to direct your thinking: the ego or the Voice for Love?

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, October 2022

Observe the battleground

The mainstream media is ever more ablaze with condemnation and criticism, sometimes about the most trifling things. To our egos, it is very tempting to ‘get sucked in’, to form our own (condemning) opinion, and tenaciously go along in the maelstrom of attack, defense, hate and yet more attack. This is not the way to the lasting inner peace we all desire so much. In A Course in Miracles, Jesus urges his students to make a habit of swiftly correcting wrong-minded impulses that drag us still further into this vicious cycle. Once we have developed this corrective thinking into a habit, we can look past the “seeming sin” to the call for help that always lies underneath all attack. In the final chapter of the text, Jesus puts it this way:

As you prepare to make a choice that will result in different [i.e., more peaceful] outcomes, there is first one thing that must be overlearned. It must become a habit of response so typical of everything you do that it becomes your first response to all temptation, and to every situation that occurs. Learn this, and learn it well, for it is here delay of happiness is shortened by a span of time you cannot realize. You never hate your brother for his sins, but only for your own. Whatever form his sins appear to take, it but obscures the fact that you believe them to be yours, and therefore meriting a “just” attack” (T-31.III.1:2-6; my italics).

In other words, whenever we see someone on TV blaming, condemning or physically attacking someone, it’s always because this person is projecting a “sin” he doesn’t want to see in himself. And with my own attack thoughts, it’s exactly the same. Underneath all the hate there is always loneliness, sadness and despair, which ultimately is rooted in the ontological fear that God is angry and will never let me go back to Heaven. Even advanced Course students do not always escape this temptation. And that’s understandable. As Ken Wapnick often emphasized, Jesus is not saying we won’t be tempted no more, but that when temptation rises to condemn, whatever or whomever it is, we should call on his loving guidance for help. It should come as no surprise that we still find darkness in our own thinking; we should just learn not to justify it. Willingness to look at it with Jesus or the Holy Spirit is what gets us out of the dream.

This habit of learning to observe the battleground of your own mind and that of the stage of the dream world on which time and space are played out (that is, our interpretation of these) requires mind discipline and therefore daily diligent mind training, which sure is not always easy. But the rewards are great. Jesus again: “What worry can beset the one who gives his future to the loving Hands of God? What can he suffer? What can cause him pain, or bring experience of loss to him? What can he fear? And what can he regard except with love? For he who has escaped all fear of future pain has found his way to present peace, and certainty of care the world can never threaten. He is sure that his perception may be faulty, but will never lack correction. He is free to choose again when he has been deceived; to change his mind when he has made mistakes.“(W-194.7:1-8).

So the next time you notice yourself getting upset — again — over something you see (interpret) on the mainstream media, try to swiftly take your seat “way on high” above the battleground, and remember Jesus’ instructions. Remember, you and I are “never upset for the reason we think we are” (W-pI.5), and we always have the power to “see peace instead of this” (W-pI.34). Also remember that you don’t have to watch mainstream media, and you don’t have to indulge in the ego-maelstrom that it propagates. Choose to be a beacon of light, guided by the loving light of the Holy Spirit’s advice. Your loving light will be received and accepted by your brothers, even though it may not be immediately apparent. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2022

The layers of forgiveness

Every student of A Course in Miracles is clearly taught by Jesus that unconditional forgiveness is the royal road to salvation and everlasting happiness, that is, the acceptance of the Atonement and our return to the experience of Oneness in the Heart of God. Practicing forgiveness, then, means looking differently at everyone and everything, day in, day out. Lesson 249 speaks of forgiveness as follows: “Forgiveness paints a picture of a world where suffering is over; loss becomes impossible, and anger makes no sense. Attack is gone, and madness has an end. What suffering is now conceivable?” (W-pII.249.1:1-3). In the text, Jesus says: “Do you realize that the ego must set you on a journey which cannot but lead to a sense of futility and depression? […] The Holy Spirit offers you another promise, and one that will lead to joy.” (T-12.IV.4:1;4). This joy we attain through practicing unconditional forgiveness.

However, many students tend to get discouraged when after five, ten, twenty or thirty years of practicing forgiveness, their life and the world don’t seem to get any better. Worse: they still experience anger, fear, resentment and loneliness. It becomes very tempting then to close the dark blue book and not open it for a very long time. This is almost always due to what Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick terms “Level confusion”. Remember, the Course presents itself on two levels of thought; clearly discerning the distinction between these levels is crucial to understanding its message. In short: Level I is the metaphysical nonduality of Oneness Love which is the only reality, where you and I already are forever, but which we temporarily seem to have forgotten; Level II is the illusory dualistic dream world of time, space and perception, or the classroom in which the seemingly sleeping decision maker always chooses between wrong-minded and right-minded thinking, to perpetuate or to end the illusory dream world, respectively.

Forgiveness is not about ‘fixing’ the illusory dream world. Why would you want to fix a hallucination? Everything you and I perceive in the world is not true. Everything that does not last, is not the truth. Forgiveness is about acknowledging that Level II is but a ‘tiny, mad idea’ that could never ever mar our essence as Oneness Love (Level I) in the slightest. Forgiveness is acknowledging that anger, hate and attack are simply shabby toys to keep this illusory world ongoing, that they are never necessary, and that everyone can and will learn the lessons of Love that the Holy Spirit [the Voice for Love] presents each and every one of us every single day.

Kenneth Wapnick often added to this that this does not mean that thanks to my forgiveness practice, everyone I meet or think of will cease to suffer pain and loss, or be angry. Forgiveness does not fix a dream. It simply means that I, standing outside the dream, no longer see it as the reality. The world remains the world, being a perceptual device to keep the illusion ongoing. But my interpretation of the world can change, and this is what forgiveness does. If people still choose to see themselves as dream figures, their bodies will seem to suffer pain — in their experience. However, as Course students we see that perception of pain simply points to a lingering unforgiveness in the mind, and that needs attention, which is a call to dare to look within at the darkness, and see it for the nothingness that it is in reality.

The hard part about this is that such looking makes me feel like I am nothingness, and so we resist such looking. However, as Ken often mentioned, if you still feel pain, fear or anger, do not beat yourself up or think you have failed as a Course student… Simply say in all humility and complete honesty: “These signals clearly tell me that I am not yet ready to completely let go of my identification as a body.” That’s perfectly alright. What’s the surprise? It makes no sense to pretend you are further along the journey back Home than you are. Never forget that forgiveness, or the giving up of condemnation, is a process. Learn to enjoy the journey.

Your repeated choice ‘above the battleground’ (T-23.IV) to withhold condemnation tells ‘the other’ that you’ve chosen not to believe in the separation any longer, and inviting the other to make the same choice. Although such a change of mind in the other usually does not seem to happen immediately, somewhere in the unconscious iceberg of the mind the message was accepted. It will help ‘the other’ to more easily look for ‘a better way’ (T-2.III.3:5-6) once the pain of perpetuating separation becomes too much. And the pain is guaranteed to become too much for all seemingly living things in time and space. You may crucify yourself as often as you like. But why wait for Heaven? (T-4.In.3:10; W-pI.131.6:1; W-pI.188.1:1)

Let’s close with the inspiring call to embrace the practice of complete unconditional forgiveness of everyone and everything, including ourselves, as often as possible today, as Workbook lesson 250 would have us affirm to ourselves: “Let me behold the Son of God [i.e., everyone we meet] today, and witness to his glory. Let me not try to obscure the holy light in him, and see his strength diminished and reduced to frailty; nor perceive the lacks in him with which I would attack his sovereignty. He is your Son, my Father. And today I would behold his gentleness instead of my illusions. He is what I am, and as I see him so I see myself. Today I would see truly, that this day I may at last identify with him.” (W-pII.250).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2022