Pleasure or happiness?

First, a word of caution with this one. While reading this, try to watch your mind for any scraps of guilt that might surface. These are merely another opportunity to forgive your own mind for yet another illusion. Used this way, it can beautifully serve your own process of awakening. If you push the guilt away, you are merely saying you need more time to accept the Atonement. This isn’t wrong in and of itself, but remember that the purpose of a Teacher of God is to save time (M-1.2:11).

In A Course in Miracles, Jesus often contrasts the ego world of time and space with the nondualistic state of Heaven in terms of negative and positive aspects.  In the Course, hell is more or less defined as the world, that is, the state of mind in which God is rejected and thus seems to be absent. For example, in Lesson 138 we read that we invented the world to be “…a means for demonstrating hell is real, hope changes to despair, and life itself must in the end be overcome by death.” (W-pI.138.7:3) This is our ‘proof’ that the separation from God’s eternal oneness actually did succeed. In section 14 of the manual, “How will the world end?”, Jesus tells us that “The world will end in joy, because it is a place of sorrow. […] The world will end in peace, because it is a place of war. […] The world will end in laughter, because it is a place of tears. Where there is laughter, who can longer weep?” (M-14.5:1)

Jesus teaches us that states of mind such as fear, anger, depression, hate and jealousy are all of the ego, for they are born of judgment (actually, condemnation would be a more fitting word). “The ego analyzes; the Holy Spirit accepts” (T-11.V.13:1). “Only complete forgiveness [of all condemnation] brings all this [peace] to the world. […] To turn hell into Heaven is the function of God’s teachers, for what they teach are lessons in which Heaven is reflected.” (M-14.5:7). This had led many students to train the mind to be vigilant for any negative thoughts and emotions, and then quickly practice forgiveness. They assume that anything negative is of the ego, while positive feelings point to the sure direction of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Simple enough, isn’t it?

Alas, it is a bit more subtle than that. I remember once seeing a video of an excerpt of one of Kenneth Wapnick’s workshops, in which he recalls that sometimes students ask him if ecstasy is of the ego. Ken explains that he has no choice but to ‘unfortunately confirm to these well-meaning students that indeed, feelings of exhilaration and ecstasy are most often of the ego.’ (the exception being a revelation, which is extremely rare.) The positive thoughts and emotions that identify the presence of the Holy Spirit are of an entirely different order. While living our lives, we think we strive to find happiness. What we most often do, however, is chasing after pleasure. When this momentarily seems to work, we confuse this with happiness. That’s why you’ll hear someone speak about ‘the happiest moments of my life’. These were actually mere fleeting moments of pleasure.

Happiness, in the context of A Course in Miracles, is not of this world. It is a state that, once attained, does not change. Pleasure can be defined as the bodily sensations that we experience when we are glad something ‘great’ happens in relation to events, persons, or situations. The commercial spin doctors try to uphold this confusion all the time. “You want happiness? Buy my product!” What they don’t tell you is that the feeling of pleasure that this product might give you is so fleeting that it can hardly be called happiness (“Well, buy more of my product”, is the predictable response). The only type of pleasure that leads to happiness is following the Holy Spirit’s guidance: “All real pleasure comes from doing God’s Will” (T-1.VII.1:4). In this context, “real pleasure” would be synonymous with happiness. All other pleasure is of the ego, which will hardly lead to happiness at all.

Jesus aptly explains the nature of fleeting pleasures in section 4 of the Manual for teachers, see character trait V: Joy, expanding on his statement in chapter 19 that “pleasure and pain are the same illusion” (T-19.IV-B.12). Kenneth Wapnick notes in his workshop “What it means to be a Teacher of God” that this pertains to the pleasure and pain that are associated with the body. I experience pain (physically or psychologically) when I (as a body) do not get what I want. I experience pleasure when I (as a body) do get what I want. I then tend to call this joy. I label it as happiness. This is not the joy that Jesus refers to in the Manual. Real joy comes only from doing God’s will, which will eventually lead to the non-changing happiness of awakening into the heart of God.

The catch in this distinction is that pleasure is experienced by me as an individual in time, while obviously the happiness of being with God requires me to relinquish my individuality. That is why our deepest fear is not of crucifixion (pain, judgment) but of redemption (ending duality and awakening as the Love of God) (T-13.III.1:10). That is also why many Course students attempt to bring God and Jesus into this illusory world, asking Them to fix things here so they might experience happiness. But these students are not really asking for happiness: they are asking for respite from pain in the form of pleasure. Such requests are alien to God (since He does not know of duality) and it merely blocks the awareness of the voice of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, who would gladly help us undo such unfortunate mistakes.

One more word of caution: please do not condemn pleasure, joy, exhilaration or ecstasy if you notice someone else (or yourself) experiencing this. It is tempting, for example, to condemn a group of party animals who are ‘having a good time into the wee small hours’ as “wallowing in their ego without them being aware they’re only sedating the pain of the separation”. I should always remember that judging others means judging myself, as there is only one Son of God. It’s quite alright to enjoy things in the world. However, if I am truly seeking happiness that lasts, I ought to realize that I shouldn’t expect to find salvation in these ‘little joys’. They won’t last! At best, they could help me to ready my mind for the more serious mind searching for the barriers that I have built against Love (T-16.IV.6:1). Spending my time chasing enjoyable things defeats that very goal.

So to conclude with Monty Python: it’s generally a good idea to “Always look at the bright side of life”. But be sure you do not use this as a cover to refrain from the more serious mind training that is the very essence of Jesus’ curriculum. The really essential statement in Monty Python’s song would be (near the end): “You’ve come from nothing; you’re going back to nothing. What have ye lost? Nothing!” And then laugh about the silliness of this dualistic dream we call the universe and the world. And simultaneously keep practicing your vigilance for God’s Kingdom, the third Lesson of Love (T-6.5.C:1), through unconditional forgiveness of your own unforgiving mind.


See also “Miracles or Murder: a guide to concepts of A Course in Miracles“. This guidebook, endorsed by Gary and Cindy Renard, was published in March 2016 by Outskirts Press and is available at Amazon.com:

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