The wholly neutral body

Although in the mainstream media the body is glorified and venerated to an amusing degree, we all secretly despise our body for its vulnerability and its mortality. No matter how attractively we try to mould and beautify our ‘little mound of clay’, one thing we all know for sure: it will inevitably deteriorate and die. Unconsciously I am worried, if not terrified, that some horrible disease might prematurely end my life in a very painful process. To avoid that fear, we blissfully watch movies and series about immortal and ever youthful vampires and werewolves and other creatures that we made up in the likeness of what we all would like to be: divine, and yet still apart from God as a unique autonomous individual.

A Course in Miracles, with its deep psychological roots, presents us with a major eyeopener when we, while studying and practicing its curriculum, begin to see that unconsciously but purposefully we made the body to be weak, vulnerable and fragile. After all, what better proof would be conceivable for our belief that the separation from eternal oneness has actually been accomplished in reality? If God is perfect and we are not, we are clearly separate from Him. Moreover, if you believe that our mortality is God’s punishment for the original cardinal sin in the garden of Eden, this conveniently confirms that God agrees with us that the separation is indeed reality; the Creator of All has no choice but to accept our decision for separation and its consequences. He can punish us, but he cannot undo the separation Himself.

In the text, Jesus comments that “if this were the real world, God would be cruel” (T-13.In.3:1). So to see the insanity of such thinking without the cloudy mist that the ego generates, we need be aware of the two levels of discourse that run throughout the text, workbook and manual of the Course. Let’s quickly recap. From a metaphysical point of view (Level I), everything in time and space is a made-up illusion. You and I seem to exist as separated bodies only in what Jesus refers to as “the waking dream”. This is somewhat similar to our nightly dreams while we are asleep: the worst things can happen, yet as we wake up we are relieved it was only a dream, with no basis in reality. It is the same with our waking time. That’s why Jesus explains in chapter 18 that “…what you seem to waken to is but another form of […] what you see in dreams. All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all” (T18.II.5:11-14).

Level II is what we usually refer to as the daily life we live, in which we still intimately identify with our perceived body and its corresponding personality. On this level, we are firmly convinced that our body and personality are all we are and all we have, and so we strive mightily to keep ourselves healthy as long as possible, in the futile hope that we can prolong our own little kingdom yet a little while longer. All the time, however, subconsciously we realize this is hopeless – in the end we will perish. We flee from that painful realization by distracting the mind with special relationships, be it people, possessions, hobbies, work, travel, food, drugs, media, you name it. Until we reach a point where the pain won’t be suppressed any longer and we start to seek for a glimpse of our real Self, acknowledging at last that “there must be a better way”. A Course in Miracles is one such better way, although there a many other similar paths that all lead to God in the end (M-1.4:1-2).

So does the Holy Spirit, Who in Level II is experienced as the Voice for the Love of Level I, reject the measly body? Not at all! To Jesus (/HS), the material body, however illusory it may be, is a completely neutral thing. It’s neither good nor bad. Its usefulness lies solely in the purpose we assign to it. Do I use the body to root my thinking even further in the dream world of time and space and death, or do I use the body to demonstrate to those around me that we are not bodies? The body, when rightly seen, can act as a clear guide to which aspects of my thinking still require forgiveness: “… A careful study of the form a sickness [i.e., symptom] takes will point quite clearly to the form of unforgiveness that it represents” (P-2.VI.5). Jesus adds that only an unforgiveness can possibly give rise to sickness of any kind, since the body is merely an outward mirror of an inward condition (T-21.In.1:5).

So looking at our Level II identification from a Level I viewpoint (“Above the battleground”, T-23.IV), Jesus would have us say to ourselves in workbook lesson 294, in terms of our own right-minded reasoning: “I am a Son of God. Can I be another thing as well? Did God create the mortal and corruptible? What use has God’s beloved Son for what must die?” (W-pII.294.1:1-4). This clearly points to the purpose we assign to the body from our ego point of view: to prove that the separation is real. Yet above the battleground we can choose to see the body as a wholly neutral thing: “And yet a neutral thing does not see death […] its neutrality protects it while it has a use [i.e., to identify our own specific forgiveness work and demonstrate to others that we are spirit, not a body]. And afterwards, without a purpose, it is laid aside. It is not sick nor old nor hurt. It is but functionless, unneeded and cast off. Let me not see it more than this today; of service for a while and fit to serve, to keep its usefulness while it can serve, and then to be replaced for greater good. My body, Father, cannot be Your Son. […] Let me, then, use this dream to help Your plan that we awaken from all dreams we made” (W-pII.294.1:5-2:3).

So please stop despising your body. Any discomfort, dis-ease, symptoms, dysfunctions are simply signs that there still is some forgiveness work to do. It may or may not be feasible to learn that forgiveness lesson in this lifetime. And that’s okay, since in reality time does not exist anyway. You and I have been here already many hundreds of times before, and we’re all guaranteed to end the cycle of birth and rebirth at some point. In any lifetime we progress as far as we muster the courage to go, and then we’ll return as long as there still is work to do. But no-one will stay in reincarnation-hell forever (Lesson 292: “A happy outcome to all things is sure”). So much for the fear of physical death! Recall these very comforting words in the Song of Prayer pamphlet: “This is what death should be; a quiet choice, made joyfully and with a sense of peace, because the body has been kindly used to help the Son of God along the way he goes to God. We thank the body, then, for all the service it has given us. […] Now we can behold Him without blinders, in the light that we have learned to look upon again” (S-3.II.2). So pay loving attention to your body today; not to glorify it, but to identify your next forgiveness lesson that will bring you a bit closer to the acceptance of the Atonement. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, June 2021

The slow turning point

A Course in Miracles is a nondualistic spirituality that aims to make us fully aware of the origin, the nature and the purpose of our ego-based thinking. Its author Jesus (who is not as he is portrayed in the Bible) offers us to this end a text and workbook for students, and a manual for teachers, in which he not only discusses the metaphysics, but above all the practical application of forgiveness in our every day lives here in the dualistic dream world. The basic idea is that we (as the collective Son of God) chose to descend into a nightmarish materialist dream world of time and space, solely to ‘prove’ that individual existence can be a better experience than non-individual oneness. Since this is a hopeless desire that can never become actual reality, the Course leads us gently on the path upwards back to the reality of our oneness as Christ in the Heart of God. And yes, you are right in noting that this thought system is actually closer related to Buddhism than to Christianity. In a simple scheme that I drew in 2018, based on books and workshops by Course Scholar Kenneth Wapnick, this journey downward and again upward might be visualized as follows:

The ego descent and spiritual ascent according to A Course in Miracles. You are free to use this image if you like, as CC-SA.

At the bottom, the miracle denotes the turning point at which the decision maker in the mind realizes that he is not a dream figure; he is, rather, the dreamer of the dream of dualism, who now has the option to shift from mindlessness to mindfulness and choose the ‘green’ journey upwards back to oneness, guided by the Holy Spirit. This turning point from mindlessness to mindfulness is what many spiritualities are all about; however, the beauty of A Course in Miracles is that it clearly explains why we chose the ‘red’ downward journey in the first place. After all, you cannot choose a better path if you do not first fully acknowledge that your current path brings nothing but misery, and also understand why you had chosen the wrong path at the outset. Essentially, the daily practice of A Course in Miracles comes down to training the decision making part of the mind to, as often as possible, non-judgmentally look at your thoughts and the purpose you assigned to them. And the purpose is always either prolonged separation or the return to oneness.

Once you and I reach that turning point of the miracle, and experience the inner peace that our forgiveness brings, there is a tendency to want to speed up the ‘green’ journey back Home to oneness. This is fueled by passages in both the Text and the Workbook that state that salvation could – in theory – be reached in an instant, that is, the holy instant (cf. T-26.VIII.3:1: “Salvation is immediate…”). And who wouldn’t want to be free of all pain in an instant? What’s more, in part II of the Workbook, several lessons announce that this specific day is the day! (cf. WpII.241.1:5: “The day has come when sorrows pass away and pain is gone.”). And yet, in practice the next day turns out to be just as miserable as the day before. Many students who work diligently with the text, the workbook and the manual still find themselves bothered by their ego ten or twenty years later, and so they sigh and give up on its practice for a long time. So what makes this Course work?

The key is to see that the turning point at the bottom of the graph is a slow turning point. In the Text we find many passages that emphasize our enormous resistance to letting go of our precious autonomous individuality, which is what undoing the ego ultimately means. You and I still have a split mind: on the one hand we would indeed like to experience the Love of God as Christ; on the other hand, we would like that as a separated individual. That particular combination is impossible, as oneness cannot be aware of anything other than itself. So of course there’s resistance. Jesus has to guide us at a leisurely pace, step by step, since we are still too anxious to be “abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality” (T16.VI.8:1); this would be far too overwhelming and terrifying.

So the process of the turning point at the bottom of the graph can be aptly described as in lesson 284 of the Workbook: “This is the truth, at first to be but said and then repeated many times; and next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations. Then to be considered seriously more and more, and finally accepted as the truth” (WpII.284.1:5-6). Clearly, this is a process that spans many years, not simply a few days or even one year. The reason this takes so long is that it asks of us to admit – not begrudgingly, but gratefully – that we were wrong about everything we valued in our lives up to now. It requires diligent mind training for such a radical shift – in fact, the most radical mind shift imaginable.

Another reason this process takes many, many years is that an intellectual understanding and acceptance of this message is not enough. The understanding must be translated and integrated into our daily thoughts and actions; it must become experiential. You don’t have to pretend that you are spiritually more advanced than you are. It’s much more helpful to honestly look at all the little condemnations you still choose each day, and then forgive yourself for such silly mistakes, followed by a desire to try again at the following ‘forgiveness opportunity’ that crosses our path. Rest assured that the Holy Spirit will offer exactly those forgiveness lessons that we are now ready to handle. Please don’t take the goal of enlightenment too seriously. Be content to be in the midst of the process of the slow turning point, fully confident in the eventual happy outcome, be it in this life or some future life. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that your decision maker can choose peace now, even though it will not yet last forever. In that sense salvation is immediate, as “now is the closest approximation of eternity that this world offers” (T-13.IV.7:1-5). Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, June 2021