What a wonderful world

This evergreen by Louis Armstrong, initially released in 1967 and covered by many artists since, invites us all to look only at the good things in life, and focus on the inherent love that is our desire beneath our superficial daily doings. It is often sung at spiritual events as well, where it is used as an affirmation to remind us of the beauty of life that is there for all of us, but for the choosing. All the ‘bad’ things and people that subsequently seem to cross our path are then at least not our fault, and we can continue to feel blissful about our advanced spiritual focus.

In A Course in Miracles, this world we experience ourselves in is depicted quite differently, namely as “…a dry and dusty place, where starved and thirsty creatures come to die” (W.pII.13.5:1). That’s hardly a wonderful world! Moreover, the Course’s workbook starts out by letting us know that nothing here means anything. What!? A Course in Miracles is one of the very few spiritualities that offer such a shocking view on the world and the material universe, and it is completely consistent about this stance throughout. So how could this be, if the goal of the Course is to attain a lasting state of unshakable inner peace, in the awareness that all life is one, and all the hurts in the world are illusory? This sounds somewhat contradictory, to say the least.

The explanation, of course, lies in the metaphysics that are the rock on which its message rests securely. When we say we want lasting inner peace, we usually mean we would like to experience that as a good healthy individual ego. A Course in Miracles brings us the most uncomfortable message that the entire ego, yea individuality whatsoever, is completely illusory, and even more so, the entire phenomenal universe and all our senses that behold it as well. The Course more or less equates the material world with hell, and summarizes the combined aspects of time and space as a hallucinatory nightmare. Why? Because the material universe is nothing but the imagined effect of the thought of separation from Oneness (God). The body, then, is nothing but a pitiful attempt to hide from the supposed wrath of the Creator over this ‘savage sin’, by splitting up in billions of fragments that now seem to have a life of their own. Jesus, in summary, is telling us that our seemingly individual autonomous personalities really do not exist in truth.

Now before you head for a deep depression about Jesus’ message (which would again be an ego tactic), hold on, and bear with him. A Course in Miracles would not be of much use if it stayed at that. There is, of course, a much better experience for us, one that reflects the truth of what we collectively are, namely the One Son of God (albeit seemingly asleep). The secret of salvation is but the realization that all the pain and misery in our lives come from choosing the wrong focus, or teacher, in the mind. As long as we focus on individuality, we continue to invite separation. It is only when we choose to step back and let the Voice for Love (i.e., he Holy Spirit) be the guide of our mind, that peace not only becomes possible but inevitable. This is because the Holy Spirit, through our choice for forgiveness, leads the mind back to the real world, the gateway to our true Home in the Heart of God.

We will, however, only make this choice for a better mind teacher once we fully realize the silliness of the “joke” of thinking we can actually exist, separated from God, in a material universe that was made as a place where He could enter not and we could be on our own. Our continuous wish to see separation is mirrored in how our physical senses work: “All idols of the world were made to keep the truth from being known to you, and to maintain allegiance to the dream that you must find what is outside yourself to be complete and happy. It is vain to worship idols in the hope of peace. God dwells within, and your completion lies in Him. […] Look not to idols. Do not seek outside yourself.” (T-29.VII.6).

So this is why A Course in Miracles is not your everyday spirituality that states that this world can be a place of love. It does promise that love can be a consistent experience in the mind, but only if we fully realize that the material world itself is merely illusory, and not at all what we want. Yet the Course does not ask us to deny our experiences in this ‘nightmare’ we seem to live in. Rather, it invites us to calmly and honestly look (in the mind) at what it is we choose to focus on each and every minute of the day, and then happily “choose again” to experience this world as a classroom for real spiritual growth, which ultimately leads us entirely out of the world, to real eternal peace. This final outcome, by the way, is not optional: in due time everyone will make the right choice, thereby ending the dream of time and space. It is solely up to us how long we still want to experience fear, pain, and death, before we finally choose the path of peace.

The world cannot be a wonderful world, if all things inevitably decay and die and pass away. The world cannot be wonderful as long as we perceive politicians and crooks whom we exclude from the light in us. The world only becomes wonderful once we realize, with gladness and in gratitude, that there is no world! (W-pI.132.6:2). Having chosen the Holy Spirit as the one guide to our thoughts, all the various competing forms the senses behold shift to the background, while we bring to the foreground the content of the light of Love we all share and are. And this is no idle wish; it is the way out of hell. “The body’s eyes will continue to see differences, […] but the healed mind will put them all in one category: they are unreal.” (M-8.6:1-5). Now we can forgive every unforgiving thought we hold in our own mind. Now we can see past all seeming differences. “Now can you say to everyone who comes to you in prayer with you: “I cannot go without you, for you are a part of me.” And so he is in truth.” (S-1.V.3:8-10).

To summarize: this world only becomes a ‘wonderful world’ once we realize that there is no material world, and that all life that we perceive around is us but a mirror of the mind. Perception can be guided either by the ego or the Holy Spirit. And it is entirely up to you and me which guide we choose; this power of choice is our one remaining freedom. And what a power it is! The world becomes wonderful once we choose to regard it solely as a classroom in which there is only love or calls for love, to which only one answer suffices: the answer the Holy Spirit gives us. And so Jesus says to us in the Song of Prayer pamphlet: “Hold out your hand. This enemy has come to bless you. […] He is a Son of God, along with you. He is no jailer, but a messenger of Christ. Be this to him, that you may see him thus.” (S-1.III.5:3-9). Practice in seeing this not in some, but in all people you meet, regardless of behavior. The world is wonderful because through it we can learn to undo the silly idea of separation.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Observing the control freak

Most of us know someone who seems to be excessively into control habits – for example, lunch and dinner must be at a particular given time; a haircut must be done every so many weeks; pictures must be arranged in this or that order; or perhaps they spend a remarkable amount of time on cleaning or tidying things. When this becomes too burdensome for those around them, we call it a disorder and we organize some form of psychological treatment. This often ends in the sobering conclusion that the person at hand does not really want to change, for he or she regards it as a primary safety mechanism, and will not be convinced (as yet) that this very same safety can also be found otherwise.

On a more subtle level, however, it turns out that we are all control freaks. This is born from the belief that this body and this world are literally all we have and are. And what’s more, we have to defend what we have against an unpredictable and basically hostile world. We might rank these ‘control needs’ according to Maslov’s famous pyramid of needs. At the bottom line, we must make sure we have control in the form of food, clothes, and shelter. This means we need an income, which means we need good health and can feel safe, by a set of laws or regulations. Living by these rules, we try to control nature so as to avert disasters (or pandemics…). Additionally, we feel we need intimacy, friendship, and some sort of social belonging. This, of course, mainly serves our need for respect and self-esteem, to be regarded as a ‘worthy’ individual person. Once you analyse this carefully, you’ll note that many of us go to great lengths to get a sense of control over these issues. Again, on these levels we are all control freaks.

We generally do not think this odd. After all, we all want to gain maximum profit from life as long as we’re here to live it, do we not? It is only when Jesus in A Course in Miracles asks the perennial question “What is it for?” (T-17.VI.2:1) that the insanity of all these subtle control mechanisms becomes painstakingly clear. The bottom line answer is that we want to control our dream of individuality; in fact, we will do anything – even physically kill – to keep our sense of special separated autonomous individuality intact. All the control mechanisms above share the ultimate goal of being able to proudly assert: “I exist! The separation from my Creator is real, and I am now the god of my own little personal universe!”

Now, just to address the common spiritual pitfall of level confusion: although Jesus repeatedly assures us that anything in time and space was not created by God and therefore in reality does not exist (W-p1.132.6:2-3), he does not urge us to stop earning an income, cancel insurance policies, or give up all possessions and retreat into a mountain cave to meditate for the rest of your life. As long as we are still utterly convinced we are a physical body living in a material world in time and space (and this includes virtually all of us), we cannot simply jump from duality (level 2) to nonduality (level 1). Awaking from nonduality to our true Home in the nondualistic Heart of God outside time and space is a slow process, in which we learn, step by little step, not only that the material world offers nothing that I want (W-p1.102.2:3), but that our salvation lies in training the mind to choose only that which has lasting value (W-p1.133), i.e., forgiveness and therefore the Atonement.

Just as Jesus teaches us that the Holy Spirit can turn anything the Son of God made to separate into a potent force for peace, merely by inviting us to shift the purpose of it (“What is it for?”), so too the Holy Spirit invites us to assign a different purpose to our need to control life. That is, instead of exerting tenacious control on maintaining a false sense of autonomous existence, we could also train our minds to be tenaciously vigilant for any thought that attempts to keep this silliness going. It’s sort of a way to turn the tables on the ego: instead being vigilant for keeping us mindless (through constant distracting control actions in the world), we could also choose to be vigilant for mindfulness. In the Course, Jesus effectively asserts this in the third lesson of love taught by the Holy Spirit: “Be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom” (T6.V-C).

This effectively means that we monitor the quality of our thought stream as well as we can. As soon as we notice anything that does not reflect inner peace – anything from a mild twinge of annoyance to outright fury, which is the same dynamic anyway (W-p1.21.2:5) – this should be a reason to stop and turn on the observer (or decision maker) “above the battleground” (T-23.IV). Once you succeed in doing that, your perspective on the situation at hand becomes quite different. You will suddenly realize that this negativity, whatever it is, is nothing more (but also nothing less) than the projecting out of your own horrid suppressed guilt about separating from God. Since the message of the Atonement is that this separation – and actually everything in time and space – never really happened, you can now make a better choice, that is, choose to follow the Holy Spirit, the Voice for Love, as the new guide to your thoughts. The negativity will then quickly dissipate, dissolving into the nothingness from whence it came (C-4.4).

So, yes, let’s all be control freaks, but in the right-minded sense of the word: be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom. Recall once again lesson 156: “Who walks with me? This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace” (W-p1.156.8:1-2). And the best thing is, we don’t even need to mentally fight against all these wrong-minded forms of control urge. We merely ask the question (“Who walks with me?”), we ‘take our place on high’ above the battleground and look at the negativity; non-judgmentally, with Jesus beside us. Remember: “Forgiveness… is still, and quietly does nothing… It merely looks, and waits, and judges not” (W-p2.1.4:1,3). That’s the practice by which you become a happy learner (T-14.II) and choose to be a Teacher of God (M-1). Have a great and vigilant mind training day!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2021