Observe the battleground

The mainstream media is ever more ablaze with condemnation and criticism, sometimes about the most trifling things. To our egos, it is very tempting to ‘get sucked in’, to form our own (condemning) opinion, and tenaciously go along in the maelstrom of attack, defense, hate and yet more attack. This is not the way to the lasting inner peace we all desire so much. In A Course in Miracles, Jesus urges his students to make a habit of swiftly correcting wrong-minded impulses that drag us still further into this vicious cycle. Once we have developed this corrective thinking into a habit, we can look past the “seeming sin” to the call for help that always lies underneath all attack. In the final chapter of the text, Jesus puts it this way:

As you prepare to make a choice that will result in different [i.e., more peaceful] outcomes, there is first one thing that must be overlearned. It must become a habit of response so typical of everything you do that it becomes your first response to all temptation, and to every situation that occurs. Learn this, and learn it well, for it is here delay of happiness is shortened by a span of time you cannot realize. You never hate your brother for his sins, but only for your own. Whatever form his sins appear to take, it but obscures the fact that you believe them to be yours, and therefore meriting a “just” attack” (T-31.III.1:2-6; my italics).

In other words, whenever we see someone on TV blaming, condemning or physically attacking someone, it’s always because this person is projecting a “sin” he doesn’t want to see in himself. And with my own attack thoughts, it’s exactly the same. Underneath all the hate there is always loneliness, sadness and despair, which ultimately is rooted in the ontological fear that God is angry and will never let me go back to Heaven. Even advanced Course students do not always escape this temptation. And that’s understandable. As Ken Wapnick often emphasized, Jesus is not saying we won’t be tempted no more, but that when temptation rises to condemn, whatever or whomever it is, we should call on his loving guidance for help. It should come as no surprise that we still find darkness in our own thinking; we should just learn not to justify it. Willingness to look at it with Jesus or the Holy Spirit is what gets us out of the dream.

This habit of learning to observe the battleground of your own mind and that of the stage of the dream world on which time and space are played out (that is, our interpretation of these) requires mind discipline and therefore daily diligent mind training, which sure is not always easy. But the rewards are great. Jesus again: “What worry can beset the one who gives his future to the loving Hands of God? What can he suffer? What can cause him pain, or bring experience of loss to him? What can he fear? And what can he regard except with love? For he who has escaped all fear of future pain has found his way to present peace, and certainty of care the world can never threaten. He is sure that his perception may be faulty, but will never lack correction. He is free to choose again when he has been deceived; to change his mind when he has made mistakes.“(W-194.7:1-8).

So the next time you notice yourself getting upset — again — over something you see (interpret) on the mainstream media, try to swiftly take your seat “way on high” above the battleground, and remember Jesus’ instructions. Remember, you and I are “never upset for the reason we think we are” (W-pI.5), and we always have the power to “see peace instead of this” (W-pI.34). Also remember that you don’t have to watch mainstream media, and you don’t have to indulge in the ego-maelstrom that it propagates. Choose to be a beacon of light, guided by the loving light of the Holy Spirit’s advice. Your loving light will be received and accepted by your brothers, even though it may not be immediately apparent. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2022

The layers of forgiveness

Every student of A Course in Miracles is clearly taught by Jesus that unconditional forgiveness is the royal road to salvation and everlasting happiness, that is, the acceptance of the Atonement and our return to the experience of Oneness in the Heart of God. Practicing forgiveness, then, means looking differently at everyone and everything, day in, day out. Lesson 249 speaks of forgiveness as follows: “Forgiveness paints a picture of a world where suffering is over; loss becomes impossible, and anger makes no sense. Attack is gone, and madness has an end. What suffering is now conceivable?” (W-pII.249.1:1-3). In the text, Jesus says: “Do you realize that the ego must set you on a journey which cannot but lead to a sense of futility and depression? […] The Holy Spirit offers you another promise, and one that will lead to joy.” (T-12.IV.4:1;4). This joy we attain through practicing unconditional forgiveness.

However, many students tend to get discouraged when after five, ten, twenty or thirty years of practicing forgiveness, their life and the world don’t seem to get any better. Worse: they still experience anger, fear, resentment and loneliness. It becomes very tempting then to close the dark blue book and not open it for a very long time. This is almost always due to what Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick terms “Level confusion”. Remember, the Course presents itself on two levels of thought; clearly discerning the distinction between these levels is crucial to understanding its message. In short: Level I is the metaphysical nonduality of Oneness Love which is the only reality, where you and I already are forever, but which we temporarily seem to have forgotten; Level II is the illusory dualistic dream world of time, space and perception, or the classroom in which the seemingly sleeping decision maker always chooses between wrong-minded and right-minded thinking, to perpetuate or to end the illusory dream world, respectively.

Forgiveness is not about ‘fixing’ the illusory dream world. Why would you want to fix a hallucination? Everything you and I perceive in the world is not true. Everything that does not last, is not the truth. Forgiveness is about acknowledging that Level II is but a ‘tiny, mad idea’ that could never ever mar our essence as Oneness Love (Level I) in the slightest. Forgiveness is acknowledging that anger, hate and attack are simply shabby toys to keep this illusory world ongoing, that they are never necessary, and that everyone can and will learn the lessons of Love that the Holy Spirit [the Voice for Love] presents each and every one of us every single day.

Kenneth Wapnick often added to this that this does not mean that thanks to my forgiveness practice, everyone I meet or think of will cease to suffer pain and loss, or be angry. Forgiveness does not fix a dream. It simply means that I, standing outside the dream, no longer see it as the reality. The world remains the world, being a perceptual device to keep the illusion ongoing. But my interpretation of the world can change, and this is what forgiveness does. If people still choose to see themselves as dream figures, their bodies will seem to suffer pain — in their experience. However, as Course students we see that perception of pain simply points to a lingering unforgiveness in the mind, and that needs attention, which is a call to dare to look within at the darkness, and see it for the nothingness that it is in reality.

The hard part about this is that such looking makes me feel like I am nothingness, and so we resist such looking. However, as Ken often mentioned, if you still feel pain, fear or anger, do not beat yourself up or think you have failed as a Course student… Simply say in all humility and complete honesty: “These signals clearly tell me that I am not yet ready to completely let go of my identification as a body.” That’s perfectly alright. What’s the surprise? It makes no sense to pretend you are further along the journey back Home than you are. Never forget that forgiveness, or the giving up of condemnation, is a process. Learn to enjoy the journey.

Your repeated choice ‘above the battleground’ (T-23.IV) to withhold condemnation tells ‘the other’ that you’ve chosen not to believe in the separation any longer, and inviting the other to make the same choice. Although such a change of mind in the other usually does not seem to happen immediately, somewhere in the unconscious iceberg of the mind the message was accepted. It will help ‘the other’ to more easily look for ‘a better way’ (T-2.III.3:5-6) once the pain of perpetuating separation becomes too much. And the pain is guaranteed to become too much for all seemingly living things in time and space. You may crucify yourself as often as you like. But why wait for Heaven? (T-4.In.3:10; W-pI.131.6:1; W-pI.188.1:1)

Let’s close with the inspiring call to embrace the practice of complete unconditional forgiveness of everyone and everything, including ourselves, as often as possible today, as Workbook lesson 250 would have us affirm to ourselves: “Let me behold the Son of God [i.e., everyone we meet] today, and witness to his glory. Let me not try to obscure the holy light in him, and see his strength diminished and reduced to frailty; nor perceive the lacks in him with which I would attack his sovereignty. He is your Son, my Father. And today I would behold his gentleness instead of my illusions. He is what I am, and as I see him so I see myself. Today I would see truly, that this day I may at last identify with him.” (W-pII.250).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2022