The choice to be upset

This blog obviously focuses on workbook lesson 5 in A Course in Miracles, with the infuriating title: “I am never upset for the reason I think.” Note that it does not say “almost never”; it makes no exceptions whatsoever. For almost all Course students, this is a most un-favorite lesson. We all like to think we are upset because of factors outside of us: you treated me unfairly; the weather turned bad; the stock market plummeted; my car broke down; and on and on. Since we obviously cannot control everything in the world around us (or so we reason), we won’t be able to avoid becoming upset from time to time.

In A Course in Miracles, Jesus taps us on the shoulder and explains to us that this only seems to be the case as long as we are firmly convinced that this dream world with its myriad bodies is our reality. In truth, we are quite capable to awaken from this dream and choose to remain at Home, as spirit, in the Heart of God where you and I belong. But we believe we don’t want that. We want to keep the silly notion of separation ongoing. We want to remain asleep so we can continue to experience ourselves as unique, special, autonomous individuals. To this end, we must engage in constant mind activity that ‘proves’ that the separation did indeed happen and is in fact reality.

Finding things to be upset about fits in nicely with this goal. If I can prove that there is a world that can hurt me, this clearly illustrates that (a) I exist as an individual body, and that (b) someone else is responsible for all the misery we experience in the dream. That’s the perennial goal of the ego. So Jesus is saying to us something like “Why not honestly admit that you want to be upset, so that you can keep up this silly ego-dream of time and space and individuality? It’s not a sin, but it is a tragic mistake. How long will you continue to crucify yourself this way?” Now we can see why, for most Course students, lesson 5 is a most un-favorite lesson: I’m never upset for the reason I think; I make the (unconscious) choice to be upset, so that I can keep up the illusion of my innocent separated self, and at the same time condemn my brother for his obvious sinfulness, so that God will send him to hell and allow me back into Heaven. “Behold me brother, at your hand I die,” we read in (T-27.I.4:6). My upset is fully justified!

This lesson is not meant to make us feel guilty. It does aim, however, at making us aware of the underlying guilt that we, as the Son of God, made in the ontological instant by seemingly choosing against our Creator (even though, in reality, this is impossible and never really happened). Once we realize that this original choice for guilt is the ultimate source of all our upsets, can we slowly begin to realize that all our upsets, big and small, really originate from the same cause. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter what seems to upset me, big or small: there is no hierarchy in illusions; they are all the same in content. This insight is the prerequisite for being able to let all upsets go. Once I realize that I am not upset because of what seems to happen outside, but only because of my unconscious though deliberate purpose to keep experiencing separation, I can choose to let it go and relax.

Before you and I reach that point, however, we must practice with great specificity in our daily lives, to fully realize that ‘a slight twinge of annoyance’ really is no different from ‘intense rage’ (WpI-21.2:5). At first it’s very, very hard to believe that, for example, being upset over a low cookie supply in the cupboard is really no different from being upset over a diagnosis of terminal cancer. The ego tells us that all attempts to see the sameness of these two cases are absurd and preposterous. To the happy learner part in my mind, however, this is merely a reminder that I’m obviously still firmly convinced I am a body living in a world that does have power to upset me. Again, this is hardly something to feel guilty about. In his Course, Jesus invites you and me to be mildly humble, and honestly acknowledge that (a) apparently I am still a spiritual infant, not a giant, and (b) I am in dire need of help on my spiritual path. Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) gladly serve as the perfect guide to this end; but must choose them; have to do the mind work.

A very useful insight this lesson offers is that a mere intellectual grasp of the truth of this lesson doesn’t mean we have mastered the complete change of mind that is the primary aim of this Course. Merely telling myself that “There are no small upsets. They are all equally disturbing to my peace of mind.” (WpI-5.4: 3), doesn’t mean I won’t feel upset by this or that tomorrow. But it does help me to switch teachers in my mind a little sooner than yesterday. This is why this is a Course in practicing self-forgiveness; day after day, year after year. Each time I become aware of an upset (i.e., a non-loving thought, a judgment), the first thing I do is becoming aware of that without guilt or judging myself. I’ll feel better instantly. This provides the space to choose to switch teachers and ask Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) for help in what to think, say or do instead.

A Course in Miracles teaches us to honestly see the ego and its purpose for what it is. Although we are ultimately asked to take the ego lightly because of the inherent silliness of the foundation on which it rests, we are also taught that we cannot dismiss the ego lightly, as long as we still identify with its premise of autonomous individuality. Being an effective Course student does not mean wanting to be enlightened overnight. Being an effective Course student means choosing to be a happy learner, placing full trust in the guidance of Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) to get us Home at the pace that we are ready to accept. And always remember that it is “a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed” (T-8.VI.9:7), since in reality you and I already are safely at Home in the Heart of God. So learn to gently smile about all your upsets a little sooner today!


See also my “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


See also my Feb. 2019 Course workshop at called “Farewell to your self, to find your true Self”. (English captions/subtitles available)

Dutch visitors may also be interested in this Dutch page:

Climbing the ladder

First-time readers of A Course in Miracles often express their confusion about their initial acquaintance with Jesus’ curriculum in terms such as: “All nice and well, but what must one actually do to master this Course?” The answer Ken Wapnick usually provided in his workshops, which boiled down to “You non-judgmentally watch just how judgmental your thoughts still are, and then you choose once again”, wasn’t exactly what they expected. “Yeah, but what do you then do in practical terms? Please tell me what to do.” They do not yet understand just what Jesus means when he assures us in chapter 18 of the text that we “need do nothing” (T-18.VII). We don’t have to change the world, we merely need to change our mind about the world (T-21.In:7).

One thing that Jesus in his Course makes abundantly clear is that you and I struggle with a split mind. First, there is the part of the mind that likes to be my special me. This part does not want the seeming separation from God healed at all. This part of my mind is needy, uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear. This is because this special self feels guilty about the seeming separation from God. To drive this guilt out of sight and out of mind, I project it onto everything I perceive outside of me. This part of the mind, therefore, is constantly blaming and judging, even though it usually wears a mask of seeming innocence to ‘prove’ that it is kind and loving. It’s the part of the mind that indulges in chasing after idols and special relationships to find fulfillment. Again, everyone shares this part of the mind. It’s known as the large ‘iceberg’ under the watershed of conscious awareness.

The other part of the mind does want the seeming separation healed, and in fact understands that the seeming separation never happened in reality. This part of the mind sees everyone as the same, sharing the attributes of Christ, the Son of God Who is one with God in a ‘oneness joined as one’ (T-25.I.7:1). This part of the mind realizes that time and space are unreal and that perception lies. Therefore, anger is never justified,  fear is utterly unnecessary, and forgiveness is the ‘royal road’ to the experience of our natural state of lasting inner peace. This part of the mind regards the world as a useful classroom for learning the Holy Spirit’s Lessons of love (T-6). This we refer to as right-minded thinking, as opposed to the wrong-minded thinking of the other split part of the mind, which focuses solely on its own little egotistic self.

Finally, each seemingly separated split mind comes with a decision maker, which constantly chooses between these two split aspects of the mind. In A Course in Miracles, we read that this ongoing choice between two voices is the only choice we ever really make. When looking at our daily activities, this does not seem to be the case at first. It is only when we look at the purpose behind our daily decisions that the content of the split mind becomes apparent. Everything I do during the day is driven by either one of two purposes: to induce further separation, or to further undo separation between me and my brother. This is why Jesus says in the clarification of terms that our one remaining freedom is the freedom of this choice (C-1.7), and it is the choice between hell and heaven respectively.

To depict the spiritual maturity of the decision maker in choosing right-minded thinking ever more often, Jesus in A Course in Miracles uses the imagery of a ladder. At the bottom rung of the ladder, the decision maker constantly chooses selfish, wrong-minded thinking. This results in a daily dirge of constant problems and misery, the purpose of which is to show that (a) the separation from perfect oneness was indeed accomplished in reality, and (b) I cannot be held accountable for that, since evil is obviously in everyone and everything that I can point at. On the other hand, at the top of the ladder the decision maker constantly chooses right-minded thinking. Here there is no condemnation at all. Everyone and everything is perceived as the same, and I experience the real world, which is the gateway to Heaven, where the door to our Home is wide open.

In a sense, the purpose of the curriculum that is A Course in Miracles might be summarized as guiding the decision-making part of the mind from the bottom of the ladder to the top of the ladder, step by step (i.e., rung by rung). In other words, it’s a structured training program to help us totally undo wrong-minded thinking, and bring the mind to a state in which there is only right-minded thinking. The ladder as such is of course only a symbol. It is, however, a very helpful symbol in the sense that it illustrates that reaching the top of the ladder means there are quite a few rungs to take on the way up, and we can skip none. Differently stated: going from the ego’s darkness to the light of the real world is a slow process with many steps (rungs).

So what is a Course student to “do” to reach the next rung on this ladder? The work might be summarized in two words: looking and forgiving. “Looking” means constantly monitoring my thoughts for non-loving content, and then not judging what I observe. At the same time, it is crucial to understand why I engage in wrong-minded thinking that obviously results in misery. Again, I secretly revel in misery because it “proves” that the separation was accomplished in reality and therefore I exist, apart from God. Forgiving, then, is only about forgiving myself for every non-loving thought that I chose to this end.

The difficulty in this process is our fear of losing our deeply cherished unique, special, autonomous individual self. Each higher rung on the ladder heralds the loss of my self, or so the ego (the voice for separation) counsels. Since in our dualistic state of experience we cannot really imagine what the real world is like, let alone the state of the oneness of God, it’s no wonder we so often choose the seemingly safer option of wrong minded thinking. Who would I be without my problems? Since giving up my precious individual self is too fearful, I’ll cope with the misery that comes with it; day after day, year after year, life after life.

The conflict, or dilemma, lies in the wish to experience the peace of God, but on my own terms. I want the best of both! However, since the two parts of the mind are diametrically opposed, and the conflict becomes increasingly intolerable, sooner or later I will have to make a choice. Jesus presents us this choice as follows: “Do you want to be right or happy?” (T-29.VII.1). As we progress with the Course, we come to realize that it isn’t a choice at all, for: “…still deeper than the ego’s foundation, and much stronger than it will ever be, is your intense and burning love of God, and His for you.” This is what every seemingly separated life form will choose sooner or later. And since time is itself illusory, the right choice has already been made. The attainment of the real world is guaranteed for everyone. Only to the extent that we still wish to experience time, does this seem a long way off and does the ladder seem very, very high.

It’s quite understandable that from this point of view, we’d like to reach the top rung of the ladder as soon as possible. But as Ken Wapnick often remarked, we cannot skip steps. The fear and resistance are simply too great to easily lay aside. A Course in Miracles guides its students at their own pace. As Jesus explains as early as chapter 1 of the text: “It would be unwise to start on these steps without careful preparation, or awe will be confused with fear, and the experience will be more traumatic than beatific. Healing is of God in the end. The means are being carefully explained to you.” (T-1.VII.5:8-10). You and I don’t get enlightened overnight. We may tell ourselves we want to, but in the iceberg under the watershed we do not.

So that’s why it is so helpful to monitor my own thoughts, to see which guide I choose. “‘Who walks with me?’ This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace.” (W-pI.156-8:1). To consistently choose against darkness in my mind requires, above all, that I fully realize the extent of that darkness. This requires that I look: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” (T-16.IV.6:1). Therefore, even noticing that I do not really like this or that person is a clarion call for mind training, by forgiving myself for my non-loving thought, and then choose once again the teacher of Love. This I repeat again and again, slowly making my way up the rungs of the ladder, until I reach the top where “…not one spot of darkness still remains to hide the face of Christ from anyone” (T-31.VIII.12:5). So give yourself some slack, and practice peaceful patience. You and I will reach the top of the ladder together!

See also my “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


See also my Feb. 2019 Course workshop at called “Farewell to your self, to find your true Self”. (English captions/subtitles available)

Dutch visitors may also be interested in this Dutch page: