Being honest about choosing darkness

One of the more striking aspects of the spiritual thought system called A Course in Miracles is that it would have us explicitly look at all the dark thoughts in the mind, in order to be able to let them go. This is in stark contrast to many contemporary spiritual and new age systems, which would have us focus solely on the love in the mind. In this sense, A Course in Miracles offers a much more tightly integrated combination of psychology and spirituality. In many places, Jesus stresses the importance of this looking, for example in Chapter 13: “You may wonder why it is so crucial that you look upon your hatred and realize its full extent. You may also think that it would be easy enough for the Holy Spirit to show it to you, and to dispel it without the need for you to raise it to awareness yourself.” (T-13.III.1-2).

This would be the easy fix we all want. The general idea is something like: “Please Jesus, take all this rotten darkness from my mind so that I can just be at peace in the Love of God.” The trick, however, is that unconsciously we do not want to be ‘at peace in the Love of God’ as the One Son of God: we want it as an individual. However, since oneness knows not of individuality, this is impossible. That’s why Jesus ends that same paragraph in chapter 13 with the dazzling statement: “You are not really afraid of crucifixion [i.e., pain, darkness]. Your real terror is of redemption [i.e., Oneness Love, light]”. So, to dispel the dark conflicts in the mind forever we must first realize just how miserable our ‘autonomous individuality’ (which is the embodiment of separation) really makes us. If you and I solely focus on the love and light that we cherish so much as a separated individual, the separated ego remains in the driving seat, blissfully steering our life further into nowhere-land. Your autonomy remains, but it will not lead to lasting inner peace.

In Chapter 11 of the text of A Course in Miracles, after having explained the contrast between God and the ego, that is, between oneness and separation, light and shadow, truth and illusion, Jesus guides us: “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected.” (T-11.V.1:1). That’s the bottom line. Think about that for a while. All the distractions in our lives, be it about careers, hobbies, money, partner relationships, you name it, are ego ploys to avoid having to look at the dark illusion of separation. Jesus proceeds: “We are ready to look more closely at the ego’s thought system because together we have the lamp that will dispel it, and since you realize you do not want it [after ten chapters of text], you must be ready. Let us be very calm in doing this, for we are merely looking honestly for truth. The dynamics of the ego will be our lesson for a while, for we must look first at this to see beyond it, since you have made it real.” (T-11.V.1:2-5).

This practice of looking is of course one of the main thrusts of the 365 lessons of the workbook of A Course in Miracles. For example, lesson 93, an oft-quoted lesson, titled “Light and joy and peace abide in me”, starts off with the shocking message that “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. […] 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” (W-pI.93.1:1). That’s pretty graphic language! The reason we believe this is our unconscious guilt about the ontological separation from God, which is the ‘tiny, mad idea’ that we still take seriously, no matter how deeply we have buried that. That’s why Jesus, in the same lesson, continues to say that “These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing. […] These thoughts are not according to God’s Will. […] This is enough to prove that they are wrong, but you do not perceive that this is so.” ( W-pI.93.2:1;3:2-4).

So that is why “To learn this course requires 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). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised to feel not just a twinge of resistance, but a whirlwind of resistance. After all, this Course undermines the very image of our individual self we cherish so much! That’s why Jesus continually pleads with us to honestly look at how miserable our separated autonomy makes us, and to try to follow up on his workbook instructions, to actually feel the peace we could experience instead. So in lesson 98, we read: “Here [i.e., by accepting your part in God’s plan for salvation] is an offer guaranteeing you your full release from pain of every kind, and joy the world does not contain” (W-pI.98.6:1).

As Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often pointed out in his workshops and his books, our ego immediately conjures up all sorts of objections: “That would mean I would have to give up everything that’s unique and special about me. But who would I be without all this? Wouldn’t that lead to total nothingness? It just doesn’t feel enticing.” And before you know it, you unconsciously conclude: “Nah, I don’t believe it. I am not willing to let go of my unique personality. Sure, along with that come my judgments, my grievances, my addictions, but hey, I think I’d still be better off with these than joining Jesus on this so-called road to oneness, which I cannot really picture anyway.” Or perhaps you say to yourself that you will want oneness in due time, but not just as yet.

Ken’s point (and Jesus’ as well) is that it is important to explicitly articulate this resistance; this obvious preference for darkness. Why? In his “Journey through the workbook”, he explains: “If you hear yourself say these words [i.e., your resistance to Jesus’ message], and understand the fear [of redemption, of oneness] that caused them, there will be no guilt, which thrives on being hidden. [Remember, illusions are protected by not looking at them]. Guilt prevents awareness through repression, and then protects itself through projection, which is when you inflict suffering on another or yourself. […] Again, you need, in all honestly, let yourself be free enough to say to him [Jesus]: ‘I do not believe you.’ If you can speak thus, there will be no guilt.” (Journey through the workbook, vol. 3. p.48; brackets mine).

As good students of A Course in Miracles, what we usually tend to do if we catch ourselves having forgotten the lesson for the day for a long while, is feeling a twinge of guilt, then very quickly repress that, and blame something or someone else for our lack of diligence. And though we subsequently vow to ourselves to try harder, the cause of the resistance, guilt and fear, have not been brought to the surface. We will then remain in this vicious circle of allowing the ego in the driver’s seat, still guiding us to nowhere. So why not be honest to yourself, and say, explicitly, without guilt or fear: “All nice and well, these workbook lessons from Jesus, but my ego really doesn’t want this and therefore doesn’t believe it. Of course not, for this Course ultimately heralds the end of the ego, and since I’m so thoroughly identified with my individual personality, this must engender fear. I will allow myself some slack, and try to really experience the inner peace that the diligent practice of the workbook leads to.”

Now we can better understand why Jesus introduces his workbook by stating: “Remember only this: you need not believe the ideas [lessons, exercises], you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. […] You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. You are not asked to judge them at all. You are asked only to use them. It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true.” (W-pI.In.8-9). This is also why Jesus closes the workbook with the famous lines: “This course is a beginning, not an end. Your Friend [the Holy Spirit, the Voice for Oneness Love] goes with you. You are not alone.” (W-Ep.1:1-3). So please practice hearing yourself articulate your resistance. It’s an effective way to undo the guilt about the tiny, mad idea that never happened anyway.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst