Getting grip on negative thoughts

However much we try to be a kind, loving, and helpful person throughout our lives, all of us are bothered to a certain degree by negative thoughts. We say we really do not want negativity, and so we ‘soldier on’  in our efforts to be friendly and compassionate. Negative thoughts, however, seem to be stubbornly persistent. Most personal development training programs do have an impressive short-term effect, but sooner or later something happens which once again pushes our red buttons, and we experience an outburst of negativity. And we learn by experience that gurus who promise us an effective and lasting solution to any negativity in no time, are not to be trusted. So what to do?

In A Course in miracles, Jesus devotes an entire section in the Manual for teachers on dealing with negative thoughts. In his curriculum he speaks of magic thoughts: basically, anything that isn’t love, peace or joy is a good candidate for the label “magic thought”. And if you look at it that way, you and I have a lot of magic thoughts during each day and each hour in that day. Clearly, Jesus feels it’s important to address the question of how to deal with magic thoughts: “This is a crucial question both for teacher and pupil. If this issue is mishandled, the teacher of God has hurt himself and has also attacked the pupil.” (M-17.1:1-2). In this teaching, you and I are the teacher (to anyone around us, who are our pupils), though it might be mentioned that any teacher of God is also a pupil (of the Holy Spirit, the true Psychotherapist).

So we shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Ah well, sure I’m bothered by negativity, but such is life.” Jesus clearly urges us to get a firm grip on this issue, if we are to attain any measure of peace during our lifetime, inner peace being the prime learning goal for any student of A Course in Miracles. The first thing to realize, then, is that we are never upset for the reason we think (cf. W-pI.5). We are convinced our mind turns sour because of people or situations external to us. “Yeah sure, I was at peace until he or she started complaining about something insignificant.” Or until the stock market plummeted. Or because the traffic jam was twice as bad as yesterday. Or because my favorite dish was sold out in the supermarket. Or because my boss gave me a disapproving look. Blah blah.

All these ‘reasons’ are not why we feel upset. Jesus explains that we feel upset because we see something that is not there. (W-pI.6). This is where it’s once again important to remember the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles. “There is no world! This is the central thought the Course attempts to teach.” (W-pI.132.6:2). Anyone and anything that we perceive around us is, in essence, merely a projection of the split mind of the one Son of God who had chosen to fall asleep in a dream of separation and fragmentation. We are so convinced our senses report truth to us, but one of the main thrusts of A Course in Miracles is to help us see that our essence does not lie in a body in time and space; we are pure spirit, experiencing a nightmare in which we dream of time and space.

So if there really is no-one else out there, since everything I see is a mirror of some part of the split mind of the sleeping Son, why should I choose a negative response to anything that seems to happen? As Jesus emphasizes, this would constitute an attack on my own mind, and on the person to whom my upset is directed. “[Attack] strengthens fear, and makes the magic seem quite real to both of them [teacher and pupil]. […] If a magic thought arouses anger in any form, God’s teacher can be sure that he is strengthening his belief in sin and has condemned himself.” (M-17.1.6:-7). This explains why we choose negativity in the first place: any negativity is a reflection of the ontological negativity, when we rejected God (sin) and then noticed that we had done something terrible (fueling guilt), which we quickly projected out to have someone else be responsible for the sin; but this merely resulted in fear of retaliation by what was projected away. Any time we are upset it is really because we are reliving that ontological negativity in a dream world that is not really there, our perception to the contrary.

So this is the classroom offered to us by the Holy Spirit: each time a person or a situation seems to upset me, the decision maker in my mind has the power to quickly look at the situation from ‘above the battleground’, (T-23.V), and then realize that this upset is not what it seems: there is no-one and nothing out there that can hurt the Son of God. This affirmation then becomes the basis for how to respond, and the choice is ours: do we respond with wrathful anger, or with loving kindness? “Attack can only enter if perception of separate goals has entered. […] This then is easily responded to with just one answer, and this answer will enter the teacher’s mind unfailingly. From there it shines into his pupil’s mind, making it one with his.” (M-17.3:3;6-7)

There is, however, one particular pitfall that we should be aware of when adopting Jesus’ strategy: that of the exalted good-doer. This is known in A Course in Miracles as ‘forgiveness-to-destroy’ (S-II.2). This would be the case if your response is something like: “It’s appalling what you did, but as I am such a loving person, I will treat you kindly anyway.” Clearly, this is not what Jesus advocates here. As Kenneth Wapnick kept pointing out, such an attitude is an unconscious attempt to bargain with God: “Look, God, what a wonderful person I am. Here is this hateful person who attacked me, but I am forgiving and helpful. Please accept me back in Heaven, and send the other to hell.” This is a concealed ego maneuver, again, in an attempt to project out the guilt that we still secretly believe is in us, but which we refuse to face and therefore project away.

In the same Manual section that we quoted from before, Jesus teaches that “it is helpful to remember that no-one can be angry at a fact. It is always an interpretation that gives rise to negative emotions, regardless of their seeming justification by what appears as facts. […] A magic thought, by its mere presence, acknowledges a separation from God. […] That this can hardly be a fact is obvious. Yet that it can be believed as fact is equally obvious. And herein lies the birthplace of guilt.” (M-17.5:3;5-6). The solution, then, is to, first, realize we become upset over our interpretation of a person or situation, and, second, that we always interpret from an illusion of a world that is not truly there. We literally choose negativity about nothing!

“Can nothing give rise to anger? Hardly so. Remember, then, teacher of God, that anger recognizes a reality that is not there; yet is the anger certain witness that you do believe in it as fact. […] Let this grim sword be taken from you now. There is no death. This sword does not exist. The fear of God is causeless.” (M-17.9:5-6;9-12). By implication, this means that our fear about anything in the illusory dream world of time and space is causeless. So we shouldn’t become compulsive blissninnies, or deny that we choose negativity. Whenever I catch myself in upset, I should calmly realize that, first, I still have a split mind; second, that my upset is about my interpretation, not about a fact, and third — the best part — that my mind has the power to make a better choice, with the help of the Holy Spirit. That’s the right way to get a grip on negative thoughts.


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:

buy-now-amazon-button

Lonely nevermore

It’s not often in the news, but one of the most common ailments that bother people is loneliness. Statistics vary somewhat between studies, but roughly one third of all people indicate that loneliness depresses them at times. They feel their very life is meaningless and futile, and there’s no hope of real happiness whatever they do. The reported rates are higher with elderly people. And that includes only the people who consciously notice it and can identify it as such — more often than not, people quickly distract themselves by whatever means available, to avoid the loneliness reaching full awareness. In the meantime we face an alarming amount of antidepressants being prescribed and swallowed, polluting the environment after they fail to bring any lasting change.

In A Course in Miracles, Jesus emphatically discusses this theme of loneliness. In Chapter 31 of the text, he has us realize that we all wander “…in the world uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1). In workbook lesson 182, Jesus goes on to explain an important reason for this loneliness: this world is not our home. Jesus assures us that deep down in our hidden unconscious mind, we all feel like an exile here: “This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true. A memory of home keeps haunting you, as if there were a place that called you to return, although you do not recognize the voice, nor what it is the voice reminds you of. Yet still you feel an alien here, from somewhere all unknown. ” (W-pI.182.1:1) So all feelings of loneliness reflect the ontological feeling of the loneliness that the Son of God caused himself by choosing to be separate from God, and — by the Big Bang — to make up a physical universe in which he could hide from God.

In the same lesson, Jesus describes that the sleeping Son of God “goes uncertainly about in endless search, seeking in darkness… A thousand homes he makes, yet none contents his restless mind. He does not understand he builds in vain. The home he seeks cannot be made by him. There is no substitute for Heaven.” (W-pI.182.3) In other words, Jesus says that all of us must inevitably feel lonely, because we chose to deprive ourselves of our real Home in the Heart of God. So fundamentally, our question should not be: “How can I lighten my loneliness?”, but “Do I really wish to see myself as separated from my Source?” I can lose myself in hobbies, in promiscuous relationships, in a career, in booze or food, but these forms do nothing to alleviate the bitterness of the content: seeing myself as deprived and on my own. Merely changing behavior never works. Only when the mind reaches the point where it dares to ask: “What am I?” is any serious change possible.

“What am I?” is the most fundamental question everyone must ask sooner or later. As long as we choose to answer this question with “I am a unique body with a special personality”, we belittle ourselves and invite the pain of uncertainly, loneliness and constant fear (of the retaliation by God the vengeful Creator, who won’t forgive us for having separated from Him). Anyone who still chooses this answer, and everyone chooses it as long as he thinks he lives, works, walks and sleeps here in time, is described by Jesus as follows: “He is afraid indeed, and homeless, too; an outcast wandering so far from home, so long away, he does not realize he has forgotten where he came from […] He seems a sorry figure; weary, worn, in threadbare clothing, and with feet that bleed a little from the rocky road he walks. No-one but has identified with him, for everyone who comes here has pursued the path he follows, and has felt defeat and hopelessness…” (W-pI.166.5:4-5;6:1-2)

How refreshing it is to read in section 14 of Workbook part II, called “What am I?” (right after lesson 350), to read that you and I are pure spirit. The body is an illusion in a dream! “You have chosen a sleep in which you have had bad dreams, but the sleep is not real and God calls you to awake [as spirit].” (T-6.IV.6:3) One of the main thrusts of A Course in Miracles is to invite us to wake up from this nightmare: “Come home. You have not found your happiness in foreign places and in alien forms that have no meaning to you, though you sought to make them meaningful. This world is not where you belong. You are a stranger here. But it is given you to find the means whereby the world no longer seems to be a prison house or jail for anyone.” (W-pI.200.4)

That’s an important key. Jesus does not push us to commit suicide, which would only be a typical example of first making the error real, and then acting on it. “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…” (T-28.II.4:1). The way out of loneliness is merely the realization that we, as spirit, are not alone. “God is not a stranger to His Sons, and His Sons are not strangers to each other…” (T-3.III.6:3). What’s more, from Jesus’ perspective, this world of time and space is already over; we merely seem to be reliving again what has already gone by (W-pI.158.4). That’s why he can confidently state that “You will undertake a journey, because you are not at home in this world” (T-12.IV.5:1). This is also why Jesus says that his course is a required course, and that only the time we choose to take it is voluntary (T-in.1:3).

Sooner or later everyone will choose to follow this curriculum, as we go through the threshold of the pain of uncertainty, loneliness, and constant fear. It does not need to be A Course in Miracles, by the way; Jesus is very explicit in that his course is only one form of the universal curriculum, and we should not judge another’s path back to God. But as students of A Course in Miracles, we have every reason not to indulge in lonely depression, but to choose to take on the role as a Teacher of God and demonstrate the inner peace of God that is everyone’s inheritance: “Although you can keep it [your will to be at one with God] asleep you cannot obliterate it […] Rest does not come from sleeping but from waking [from the dream of duality]. The Holy Spirit is the Call to awaken and be glad. The world is very tired, because it is the idea of weariness. Our task is the joyous one of waking it to the Call for God.” (T-5.II.1:5;10:4-7).

So whenever I catch myself feeling lonely again, I can realize that this need not be (T.4.IV.1-8), because I am not a body; I am free, for I am still as God created me [that is, as pure spirit, at one with all life forms] (Wb lessons 201-220). In fact, a good practice is to every now and then “realize how many opportunities you have had to gladden yourself, and how many of them you have refused” (T-4.IV.8:1). I can gladden myself because I can see the one all-encompassing light of God in all my brothers and therefore in myself: “Light is not of the world, yet you who bear the light in you are alien here as well. The light came with you from your native home, and stayed with you because it is your own. It is the only thing you bring with you from Him Who is your Source. It shines in you because it lights your home, and leads you back to where it came from and you are at home.” (W-pI.188.1:5-8). So to conclude: live a normal life in this world, but centered in this realization of our real home, and you’ll be lonely nevermore.


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:

buy-now-amazon-button

Guilty for not practicing

Each human makes minor and major blunders in life. It’s inevitable. Can you recall some particularly embarrassing situation in which you were just not paying attention, and something went terribly wrong? I know I can. It feels terribly uncomfortable. Every now and then such situations seem to knock on the door of awareness, seemingly unbidden. These feelings of embarrassment and unworthiness occupy the mind for a little while, until our daily business calls for our attention and we shake off the feeling. Sooner or later, however, we remember some similar occurrence. We repeatedly reactivate the past. This is obviously one of the many strategies of the ego to keep guilt alive in the mind. For who would our personality be without such guilt?

A Course in Miracles helps us see that all feelings of guilt, shame, and unworthiness that we seem to experience here, are but shadowy reflections of the ontological guilt that we feel for our sin of having separated from God, just before time began. We all know about this ontological mistake from the biblical story about Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. These archetypal prototypes of the ego sinned against God by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge. They realized that they had done something wrong, and felt dreadfully guilty and ashamed. And sure enough, God punished them harshly for their ‘blunder’. And so it is with all of us. By having demonstrated that we have a will of our own, separate from God, we are condemned to a life of suffering, pain, and death (as Cain and Abel demonstrated right after the sin of Adam and Eve), and we are bound to make the wrong choices at any time.

A Course in Miracles strips off the mythological imagery and shows us the psychological dynamics that rule the mind about this concept of sin and guilt. The good news is that it’s all illusory (since separation from God is impossible); we simply fell into an amnesiac sleep, and are still dreaming about time and space, in which we are autonomous and on our own. The bad news is that we’ve forgotten we fell asleep. Since the fear over being punished for this ‘cardinal crime of separation’ led the Son of God to hide in a multitude of bodies, we do not recall that this mistaken decision was a choice to fall asleep in an illusory nightmare of fragmentation, perception, and time. As Jesus says: “And it is here you find the cause of your perspective on the world. Once you were unaware of what the cause of everything the world appeared to thrust upon you, uninvited and unasked, must really be. Of one thing you were sure: of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them. Nor did you in any way request them for yourself.” (T-27.VII.7:2-5) That’s the delusion we hold on to.

We are bothered by feelings of guilt, but in our dream world we hallucinate that the cause of all distress and embarrassment is always external: unreliable people, Murphy’s law, the weather, parents, politicians, you name it. We are innocent; evil is outside of us. And yet, underneath this finger-pointing, there’s always this unshakable nagging feeling of our own unworthiness, and the fear that if we really looked at that, we’d find out that we are the evil, guilty sinner, not anyone else. As Jesus reminds us: “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think 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. These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing.” (W-pI.93.1). It is nothing because the very dream world in which we think we live is nothing.

No-one here escapes that nagging feeling of guilt that we repress all the time and yet resurfaces every now and then, again, seemingly unbidden. That includes students of A Course in Miracles. The workbook provides ample test cases for this. For example, it is a well-known fact that virtually no student  ‘does’ the workbook perfectly in one year. In fact, Jesus set up the workbook so as to make us realize, in all honesty, that we’re not as enlightened as we thought we were: it requires a long, slow process of honest, diligent practice to allow ourselves to step back (‘letting go’) and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance (‘letting come’) in allowing the ego to be undone step by step. And yet, which student has not felt terribly guilty at one point or another for not having done the particular lesson for the day the way Jesus asked? It’s this same feeling of unworthiness that Jesus implores us not to deny and repress, but to calmly examine – with him.

Any time we notice we didn’t do a workbook lesson perfectly and start to feel ashamed, unworthy or guilty about that, we should realize – with gladness – that we’ve just given ourselves a wonderful forgiveness opportunity. Our guilt is a shadowy reflection of the guilt of Adam and Eve’s (i.e., the ego’s) separation from God, which is a “tiny, mad idea” that never truly happened. The ego makes us aware of this guilt only to ensure its existence as an individual personality. But it’s all an illusion. Our response ought to be something like “Ah, thank you, ego, for reminding me to call upon Jesus once again, so I can look at this differently.” And indeed, Jesus gladly complies: “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected.…We are ready to look more closely at the ego’s thought system because together we have the lamp that will dispel it…” (T-11.V.1:1,3, my italics).

In the Manual for teachers, Jesus provides some additional specific advice in this regard for his students, in section 16 called “How should the teacher of God spend his day?”. Although Jesus tells us that for the advanced teacher of God, this question is superfluous, since “he [knows he] will be told all that his role should be, this and every day,” (M-16.1:5), it is clear that most students have not yet reached that level of certainty. There’s still too much unconscious guilt! To them Jesus counsels to train the mind to start and end the day right, that is, spend time thinking of God, which really means spend time thinking about the purpose of God: a focus on forgiveness and non-judgment. Jesus gets even so specific as to advise us not to lie down, but to sit straight up while concentrating on this “quiet time with God” (agreeing with ancient meditation guidelines on this point, by the way). Quietly withholding judgment this way is the choice for the Voice for God, allowing our guilt to be undone bit by bit.

Jesus also cautions against zealous discipline in these exercises, since this would be an attempt to fight guilt, which will not work: “Routines as such are dangerous, because they easily become gods in their own right…” (M-16.2:5) And also: “Duration is not the major concern. One can easily sit still an hour with closed eyes and accomplish nothing. One can as easily give God only an instant, and in that instant join with Him completely”. (M-16.4:4-6) It is therefore the “quality” of our willingness to be guided that determines how successful we are in allowing our guilt to be undone, not the rational time planning that we invest in the practice. Guilt is undone first by letting go (of judgment), and then letting come (the voice for God, often experienced as intuition), and then following through. Do what your intuition advises you to do, and don’t do what it it tells you not to do. Happy practicing!


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:

buy-now-amazon-button

Using the body constructively

Almost without exception, we do not really like our physical body. We usually do in our twenties, but as we get older and notice the slow but inevitable decay in little pains and dysfunctions (if not worse), most of us eventually adopt a strategy of ‘coping with it’ rather than loving it. In fact, to many spiritualities the body is seen as something negative. For example, the old Gnostic schools (about two thousand years ago) regarded the body as filth, something to be loathed and to overcome by training the mind to acquire again the forgotten knowledge of what we originally were as beings of light.

One would expect that A Course in Miracles, being a strictly nondualistic spiritual and psychological thought system in which everything made up of matter is regarded as illusory, would reject any focus on the body as well. But this is not the case at all. Although Jesus does assert that “in and of itself the body has no value” (T-8.VII.2:7), he also emphasizes that “the body is a wholly neutral thing” (W-pII.294.1). Whether the body is helpful or not totally depends on the purpose we give it. Remember, in A Course in Miracles everything centers on purpose. It is the same with the physical body.

In a sense, the whole idea of Jesus’ curriculum of A Course in Miracles is to teach us that, contrary to what we all experience daily, we are not a body: “I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me [i.e., as the pure spirit that is the extension of God’s Love]” (W-pI.201-220). We may like the idea intellectually, but the moment we inadvertently experience pain, we ought to realize that we do not really believe it. Not yet anyway. Still, at several places in the text Jesus tells us that the body merely follows the dictates of the mind, as does a puppet on strings. This is because the state of the body mirrors the state of the mind; the latter is the cause, the former the effect.

Any illness, therefore, is a sure sign that the mind has used the body to attack. This need not be physical attack. Any negative thought also manifests itself in the body eventually (first in the quality of the bloodstream, as any good endocrinologist will tell you). But Jesus takes it one step further. Even simply regarding yourself and others as primarily a physical entity is a form of attack. This is because it is a focus on separation, and separation is attack. As Jesus explains in chapter 8 on using the body as a means of communication: “Perceiving the body as a separate entity cannot but foster illness, because it is not true.” (T-8.VII.11.4)

On the other hand: “Healing is the result of using the body solely for communication.”  (T-8.VII.10:1) This is a change of purpose. “Health is nothing more than united purpose.” (T-8.VII.13:4) If I choose to have my mind be guided by the Holy Spirit, I am changing the purpose I give to the body: “If you use it only to reach the minds of those who believe they are bodies, and teach them through the body that this is not so, you will understand the power of the mind that is in you. […] In the service of uniting, it [the body] becomes a beautiful lesson in communion, which as value until communion is.” (T-8.VII-3:3) And, a little further on: “The body is beautiful or ugly, peaceful or savage, helpful or harmful, according to the use to which it is put. […] If the body becomes a means you give to the Holy Spirit to use on behalf of the union of the Sonship, you will not see anything physical except as what it is.” (T-8.VII-4:3-5).

Jesus is telling us that even merely regarding a brother as a body, a physical entity, means we have attacked him because we choose to see him not as he is. However, since the phenomenal world is merely a projection of the mind, it must follow that we have attacked ourselves first: we regard ourselves as merely a body, a physical entity. The solution, as always, is to muster the willingness to step back and hand the guidance of our thoughts over to Jesus or the Holy Spirit: “Rejoice, then, that of yourself you can do nothing. You are not of yourself. He of Whom you are has willed your power and glory for you, with which you can perfectly accomplish His holy Will for you when you accept it for yourself.” (T-8.VII.6:1-3).

To accept this truth for myself, I need the daily diligent practice of not seeing any of my brothers as a body; without exception. “Whenever you see another as limited to or by the body, you are imposing this limit on yourself. Are you willing to accept this, when your whole purpose for learning should be to escape from limitations? […] You have condemned yourself, but condemnation is not of God. Therefore it is not true.” (T-8.VII.14:3;15:4) Therefore, each time my eyes see a body, I should try to see beyond that physical entity and see pure spirit (or light) instead, which then merely mirrors my own essence. This sure isn’t easy all the time, as bodies are prone to attack each other, which again mirrors the wrong-minded dark unforgiveness spots in my own mind.

Still, the Holy Spirit gladly uses the world in which we seem to live in to present us with just the lessons we need. It’s encouraging to read in chapter 9: “When you correct a brother, you are telling him he is wrong. He may be making no sense at the time, and it is certain that, if he is speaking from the ego, he will not be making sense. But your task is still to tell him he is right. You do not tell him this verbally, if he is speaking foolishly. He needs correction at another level, because his error is at another level. He is still right, because he is a Son of God. His ego is always wrong, no matter what it says or does. If you point out the errors of your brother’s ego you must be seeing through yours, because the Holy Spirit does not perceive his errors. […] When you react at all to errors, you are not listening to the Holy Spirit. He has merely disregarded them [his errors], and if you attend to them you are not hearing Him.” (T-9.III.2:4)

To conclude: I can use my body constructively by giving up my judgment (condemnation, really) of what my brother’s body seems to be doing  (physically or psychologically). In fact, giving up judgment is the choice to step back and let Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) lead the way. Slowly I come to realize that each body I perceive mirrors how I see my own body, which in turn reflects the state of my mind. I know I am on the right road to inner peace once I start seeing in people around me chiefly loving light where I used to see a physical entity. Whenever any body seems to cause me trouble (be it my own, in illness, or someone else’s, for example boisterous youth or terrorists) I know that the Holy Spirit is at work, through bodies, in the classroom I call my life. It may not always feel comfortable at first, but if I then practice in asking Jesus or the Holy Spirit in seeing this differently, without judgment, I can be sure I am using my body (which, again, reflects my mind) for the purpose of communication and communion, which is the Will of God: “To communicate with part of God Himself is to reach beyond the Kingdom to its Creator, through His Voice which He has established as part of you.” (T-8.VII.5:9). So put your neutral body to constructive use today!


 

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:

buy-now-amazon-button