So much, for so little (2)

In order to motivate his students to seriously study and apply the mind training for inner peace he offers in A Course in Miracles, Jesus promotes his curriculum by stating that “This course requires almost nothing of you. It is impossible to imagine one that asks so little, or could offer more.” (T-20.VII.1:7-8). What the Course offers us is lasting inner peace. This leads the mind to what Jesus calls the real world; free of sin, guilt, and fear. This is the preparation for the experience of Heaven, or nonduality. However, a few chapters later Jesus tells us bluntly that “To learn this course requires a willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning.” (T-24.in.2:1-2). So is Jesus tricking us? What does he mean?

All good teachers know that they’ll motivate their students best by emphasizing much-desired rewards. And Jesus does this brilliantly. Here’s an example, wherein he refers to the “plan” of the Holy Spirit for our salvation: “Once you accept His plan as the one function that you would fulfill [i.e., forgiveness], there will be nothing else the Holy Spirit will not arrange for you, without your effort. He will go before you making straight your path, and leaving in your way no stones to trip on, and no obstacles to bar your way. Nothing you need will be denied you. Not one seeming difficulty but will melt away before you reach it. You need take thought for nothing, careless of everything except the only purpose that you would fulfill.” (T-20-IV.8:4-9). And, from the workbook: “What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good? Perhaps you have misunderstood His plan, for He would never offer pain to you.” (W-pI.135.18:1-2)

The trick, then, is to realize that Jesus’ Course delivers the promised rewards (in the way he describes them) only once we truly want to learn it. A part of our mind does want to learn his Course, otherwise we would not be studying this blue book and attempting to apply its lessons in our everyday lives. But once we slowly start to realize the ultimate consequence of accepting the guidance of the Holy Spirit, namely: the disappearance of our personality, the body, the world and the universe, we experience a slight twinge of resistance, to put it mildly. We start to self-sabotage our study and practice: “In addition to recognizing your difficulties with sustained attention, you must have noticed that, unless you are reminded of your purpose frequently, you tend to forget about it for long periods of time. […] There may well be a temptation to regard the day as lost because you have already failed to do what is required. This should, however, merely be recognized as what it is: a refusal to let your mistake be corrected, and an unwillingness to try again.” (W-pI.95.5:2-7:5)

So what a lot of students of A Course in Miracles do, is start to blame themselves for being such a poorly motivated student; they determine to try harder this day, and still harder the next day. In short, they start to fight their ego, and their much-desired inner peace is farther away than ever. Such students would do well to re-read section VII in chapter 18, called “I need do nothing”: “You need but to remember you need do nothing. It would be far more profitable now merely to concentrate on this than to consider what you should do. […] It is extremely difficult to reach Atonement by fighting against sin. Enormous effort is expended in the attempt to make holy what is hated and despised [the body].” (T-18.VII.5:5-6;4:7-8). A bit further on, Jesus explains the relationship between the body and our resistance to learn his course: “To do anything involves the body. And if you recognize you need do nothing, you have withdrawn the body’s value from your mind. Here is the quick and open door through which you slip past centuries of effort [of doing things with the body], and escape from time. This is the way in which sin loses all attraction right now.” (T18.VII.7:1-4).

Jesus italicizes “right now” to remind us that our notion of time is a hindrance to our acceptance of his teaching: “It is impossible to accept the holy instant without reservation unless, just for an instant, you are willing to see no past or future. Release is given you the instant you desire it.” (T-18.VII.4:1-2). At this point it may be helpful to remember the metaphysical basis of A Course in Miracles that time and space, the world and our body were not thrust upon us unwillingly: the seemingly sleeping Son of God made these, listening to the seductive lies of the ego, to keep us rooted in the illusion that we could be separate from our Creator, seemingly existing on our own as an autonomous individual. The ego convinces us that the future will be based on what we experienced in the past. It seeks to avoid the now, for only in the now are we able to reconsider the choice for the ego in the ontological instant, and choose once again the Holy Spirit, the Voice for God. To repeat: since this would ultimately mean the end of our personality, of the body, the world and the universe — in short: the end of the ego — we continually focus on externals, since our individual identity is the very last thing we would want to let go of.

Jesus invites us to reconsider this: “There is one thing that you have never done; you have not utterly forgotten the body. […] You still have too much faith in the body as a source of strength. What plans do you make that do not involve its comfort or protection or enjoyment in some way? […] You are not asked to let this happen [forgetting about the body] for more than an instant, yet it is in this instant that the miracle of Atonement happens.” (T-18.VII.1-2). So the statement “I need do nothing” refers to our bodily actions in the world of time and space. By shifting our focus from externals (the world, the body, time) to the inner world of the mind, we could realize — and experience! — that if we but allow our thoughts to be guided by the Holy Spirit, life indeed flows much more easily. And the Holy Spirit is not likely to lead you to a solitary life in a mountain cave, renouncing the world — He is far more likely to guide you through a very busy life, with ample opportunities to forgive.

We overcome our tremendous resistance to making this choice to “resign as our own teacher” (T-12.V.8:3) not by fighting the ego, but by being kind to ourselves: “When you fail to comply with the requirements of this course, you have merely made a mistake. This calls for correction, and nothing else. […] Let all these errors go by, recognizing them for what they are. They are attempts to keep you unaware you are one Self, united with your Creator, at one with every aspect of creation, and limitless in power and in peace. This is the truth, and nothing else is true.” (W-pI.95.9:1-10:3). So what should be our focus? “Let us therefore be determined […] to be willing to forgive ourselves for our lapses in diligence, and our failures to follow the instructions for practicing the day’s idea. This tolerance for weakness will enable us to overlook it, rather than give it power to delay our learning.” (W-pI.95.8:3-4; my italics). Could you imagine a gentler spiritual teacher than this?

So this is why Jesus comforts us that “I need do nothing” amounts to “Concentrate only on this [the willingness to be guided], and be not disturbed that shadows surround you. That is why you came. If you could come without them you would not need the holy instant. Come to it not in arrogance, assuming that you must achieve the state its coming brings with it.” (T-18.IV.2:4-7). And also, in the manual: “Do not despair, then, because of limitations [our perception that we are not good enough]. It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them.” (M-26.4:1-2). This course indeed requires almost nothing of us. Again, “It is impossible to imagine one that asks so little, or could offer more.” Yes, we must be willing to learn it, but we must especially be willing to forgive ourselves for not being wholly perfect and fully dedicated right away. Learning this course is a process, which takes time, as long as we believe we exist in time. Rather than hitting yourself over the head with a guilt trip each time you notice you sabotage yourself, remember the characteristics of God’s teachers: trust; honesty; tolerance; gentleness; joy; defenselessness; generosity; patience; faithfulness, and open-mindedness. Forgive yourself for still thinking you are a human body. Decide to accept the gentle correction of the Holy Spirit, and rest in his loving guiding arms, and happily realize: “I need do nothing.” The more you forgive yourself, the easier your life’s events will flow. Are you willing to forgive yourself yet?

— Note: While I am in the process of writing my next book, I may be revisiting some previous blogs. This one was written in January, 2018.

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