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:

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