Severe physical illness is often seen as a subject too awkward to discuss, especially when it comes to the cause of the illness. This is not only so in general, but perhaps even more in spiritual circles, which tend to reject the body, and are therefore doubly shocked to see it ‘strike back’. The underlying issue is always about guilt. Being confronted with a serious physical illness sooner or later brings up the unconscious question about the root cause of it: did I cause my own sickness? A fair number of people engage in spirituality partly because in it they see a possible way to protect the body from being struck by a terrible disease. This of course does not work, since denial of anything does not mean it is not there anymore, nor that one does not still secretly believe in it anymore.
In regular healthcare research, the role of the individual in the cause of illness, especially his or her lifestyle, is now increasingly seriously investigated. For example, recently we’ve come to accept that a lifetime of heavy smoking results in a fair chance of developing lethal lung cancer. Also, excessive overweight combined with little exercise is now generally accepted as significantly increasing the chance of manifesting diabetes. “Lifestyle medicine” is the new hype. It posits that sickness we are susceptible to, DNA-wise or otherwise, might be prevented or postponed by living healthy. However, while a healthy lifestyle no doubt contributes to a healthy body, it does not address the role of the unconscious part of the mind in orchestrating the functioning of the body. Some of the more bold researchers such as Bruce Lipton (“The biology of belief”) and Joe Dispenza (“You are the placebo”; both highly recommended) are now fortunately headed in this direction; but the main focus is still more on changing “bad” beliefs about the individual personality, than on the undoing of ontological guilt over the separation.
In A Course in Miracles, Jesus is totally uncompromising on the issue of health and sickness, as he is on so many topics. A few illustrative examples: “All illness is mental illness” (P-2.IV.1:2); “Sickness is of the mind, and has nothing to do with the body” (M-5.II.3:2); “Illness of any kind may be defined as the result of a view of the self as weak, vulnerable, evil and endangered, and thus in need of constant defense” (P-2.IV.6:1). That’s pretty radical. Jesus is actually saying that if the body experiences symptoms of illness, these are solely an effect of the mind that has chosen illness. The mind does this by choosing to reject and condemn. Such judgment could be about anything, but it is ultimately all about the ontological moment in which we attempted to attack God and separate from Him, which in reality is not possible and therefore in reality never happened. Unconsciously though, we still believe we did it.
The reason for physical symptoms then, according to Jesus, is that “All attack is Self attack.” (T-10.II.5:1). The mind attacks, and the body merely mirrors this. However, unlike most spiritualities, A Course in Miracles does not denigrate the body, not even in this dualistic dream world. It merely sees the body as a neutral effect of the state of the mind. Contrary to our daily experience, it does not operate on its own: “It [the body] does not seek to make of pain a joy and look for lasting pleasure in the dust. It does not tell you what its purpose is and cannot understand what it is for. […]. It behaves in ways you want, but never makes the choice. It is not born and does not die. It can but follow aimlessly the path on which it has been set (T-28.VI.1:4-5; 2:2-5). The phrase about not being born and not dying relates, of course, to the metaphysical foundation of non-dualism of the Course: since everything in time and space is illusory, nothing here can be born or die: it merely seems to be so to our senses. It is the mind that dreams this dream. An illusion remains an illusion.
Physical illness is one of the ego’s favorite instruments to ‘prove’ to the Son of God that the separation has indeed occurred. Oneness has been shattered, and lack is now the prevailing state the Son finds himself in, including lack of total health. One expression of this ego strategy is to see physical symptoms as God’s punishment for our savage sin of separation; or better yet, as a foretaste of the punishment that will inevitably follow once the body really succumbs to death. Indeed, many who experience a serious illness secretly wonder if they are being punished by God for their “badness”. Others, including those more spiritually inclined, may use the symptoms as ‘proof’ of their ‘face of innocence’: in a cruel world, the good will inevitably suffer. “Look at me, God. I’ve been faithful all my life, and yet the world treats me cruelly. I suffer in spite of my goodness. Please accept me back into Heaven and punish all the evil others!”
Both strategies, however, merely veer the awareness of the patient away from where the true solution lies: in our power to change the mind. “The acceptance of sickness as a decision of the mind, for a purpose for which it would use the body, is the basis of healing. And this is so for healing in all forms.” (M-5.II.2:1-2). “Illness is therefore a mistake and needs correction.” (P-2.IV.7:1)). The correction, from a metaphysical point of view, lies of course in the realization that “Son of God, you have not sinned, but you have been much mistaken” (T-10.V.6:1). Therefore, if I heal my mind by seeing I was mistaken and forgiving myself for that, the body will follow (though perhaps not instantly, since matter is sluggish). The problem is that everyone who still experiences himself in a physical body has an unhealed mind, which includes virtually everyone on this planet. This is why a large portion of A Course in Miracles is devoted to undoing our core belief that we are a body. Lessons 201 to 220 would have us repeat daily that “I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me.” (W-pI.201-220). The underlying hope is that the more I identify with Self (capital S) instead of the little ego-self, the less likely I am to become ill.
This insight, though, does not convince students of A Course in Miracles, and also most other spiritual students, at all. After all, it is rather painful to believe you’ve made good spiritual progress, and then to suddenly find yourself becoming ill after all. Again, this is a powerful ego strategy to convince you of its reality: “See? Spirituality is a farce. It doesn’t work, as you can plainly see. Not for you, and not for others. I can cite dozens of so-called enlightened spiritual gurus who died prematurely of various horrible diseases. You had better go back to feeling a guilty sinner, for at least then you’re being honest about what you are — yes, miserable and lonely on the one hand, but at least an autonomous individual, separate and independent from God. That was the purpose from the very beginning, was it not? Well, this illness at least proves it is true!”
The result for many spiritual study groups is that sickness is not considered an easy topic to discuss, to say the least. And this is no different for students of A Course in Miracles. For example, the fact that both Helen Schucman and Kenneth Wapnick died of a serious illness at the age of merely 71, not to mention Bill Thetford — seen by many as ACIM’s “first graduate” — who died from a heart attack at the age of 65, is for some a serious cause of doubt about whether or not this spiritual curriculum works. This focus on others, however, is an ego attempt to distract the mind from its true homework: accepting the Atonement for oneself — in the mind. As long as the mind is obsessed with finding ways to lengthen the lifespan of the physical body, it is trapped in duality, and is therefore unhealed. In reality, there is no such thing as time! Why, then, seek to make more time for the body? Although reincarnation is part of this dream and therefore as illusory as time itself, you can be pretty certain that you’ve had hundreds of bodies before this one, some of which have experienced a terrible ending. So why not take a broader perspective on your life than just this one body, which, according to Buddhism, is a “coat you exchange from lifetime to lifetime”, until you’ve cleansed your karma (i.e., dark spots in the mind)?
So if you find yourself — or a loved one — confronted with serious physical symptoms, instead of quickly jumping into the guilt or victim mode, you could choose to see this is as a useful sign of dark spots in the mind. These call for forgiveness, and nothing else. Seen this way, illness becomes one of the means the Holy Spirit uses in his classroom of spiritual awakening from self to Self. Not that He causes the illness; but He does make you aware of its message. It may not feel comfortable, to say the least, certainly when a painful disease process causes a loved one’s death, but in essence it’s still a call to the mind to become aware of the illusory nature of the world, and to practice the forgiveness of any remaining dark spots. The key is to remain normal. If a loved one dies, take the time to grieve and mourn. Take the time to weep. Eventually, though, you might realize that these emotions reflect the mind’s continued attachment to physical bodies, and therefore to individuality, and therefore to separation. In other words, the Holy Spirit is offering yet another forgiveness lesson.
All this does not mean, by the way, that you do never do anything in medical terms. It would be a tragic mistake to refuse to visit a doctor or a hospital because “the cure must come from the mind”. Medical effort may be a form of magic, but Jesus nowhere says magic is evil — he merely wants us to realize that we should not expect salvation to come from magic. A well-balanced Course student practices forgiveness and takes good care of the body, while fully realizing that the mind is the cause and the body the effect, and that everyone is guaranteed to awaken from the dream of dualism; if not in this lifetime, then certainly in lifetimes that follow. Feeling guilty over being ill, then, is about the worst thing that you can do to yourself. Just realize that this is a feeble ego attempt at keeping the separation ongoing, and then move on in your spiritual awakening.
A final note about the ‘premature’ deaths of Helen, Bill, and Ken: while Helen herself obviously realized very well that she clung to her ego to the very end, refusing the full acceptance of Jesus’ offering, which her cancer was merely an expression of, for Bill and Ken the situation, I believe, was different. Personally, I think they had merely completed their task in this lifetime, and had no real reason to ‘hang around’ any longer. To many students, it is well known that Bill recognized his own graduation from ACIM late in his life, when he joyfully exclaimed “I am free!”. Kenneth Wapnick in his final year assured those around him that he was not dying. This had nothing to do with his body; this was a statement that he fully realized that he was not a body. I very much doubt if Bill or Ken will reincarnate once more. However, once again, a preoccupation about others is not helpful for your own path of learning to accept the Atonement. The Holy Spirit is the only Teacher you need. He will take you Home. Do not feel guilty about illness; do not be afraid of death. Simply allow the Holy Spirit to use these as a classroom. To conclude with the lovely ending of “The gifts of God”, scribed by Helen in 1978: “Forget all things except My changeless Love. Forget all things except that I am here.” (the Gifts of God, p.128).
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: