Clinging to the nightmare

We all try to make the best of our time on earth while we are here. We try to be kind and loving; we work on personal development; we visit places that seem to exhibit the most beautiful aspects of nature. And yet, in spite of our efforts, life inevitably ends in sickness, entropy (decay, really) and death. “All things must pass”, as the saying goes, including ourselves. And so we try to protect the little lot we think we have, and we hope we never have to experience devastating disaster or war. Yet it seems we are only born here to die again. What’s the meaning of it all? Many great minds have pondered this question.

A Course in Miracles, as a spiritual curriculum for attaining lasting inner peace, offers a rather uncompromising answer. Having come to us from outside time and space, we are taught that this entire world in time and space is nothing but a dream, and a bad dream at that. Section 4 in the Clarification of terms is especially clear about this: “The world you see is an illusion of a world. God did not create it, for what He creates must be eternal as Himself. Yet there is nothing in the world you see that will endure forever.” (C-4.1). And all Course students are familiar with Jesus’ bombshell in lesson 132: “There is no world! This is the central thought the Course attempts to teach.” (W-pI.132.6:1-2).

In other words, Jesus in A Course in Miracles bluntly tells us that the world we think is our daily reality, is nothing but a horrific illusion, which we made up, with the explicit purpose to experience autonomy and individuality, apart from God: “The world was made as an attack on God. It symbolizes fear [of retaliation]. And what is fear except love’s absence? Thus the world was meant to be a place where God could enter not, and where His Son could be apart from Him. Here was perception born, for knowledge could not cause such insane thoughts.” (W-pII.3.2:1-5).

At first it is very difficult to be told, let alone accept, that the physical world you and I seem to live in, including time and space and the universe itself, is nothing but a dream in which the One Son of God is dreaming of continual separated fragmentation in billions and billions of seemingly separated pieces, all the while living “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1) because the guilt that the sin of separation caused, will sooner or later have to be paid for in inevitable death. And yet we do not doubt the reality of the world as we rise, eat, go to work, relax, and prepare for another night. Why is that?

Jesus’ simple answer is that we do this because we want to be asleep, however painful it might feel at times, and however dreary the eventual individual ending is. “[The world] will remain no longer than the thought that gave it birth is cherished.” (W-pII.3.1:3). As long as we do cherish the idea of living as a special individual, with special talents that can ‘make a difference’,  we will continue to believe in the dream of separation. As long as we do not doubt its reality we will continue to believe that all kinds of people and circumstances can influence us (read: hurt us). We firmly believe in the “stimulus-response” (or: attack-defend) paradigm of the world.

We know this all too well from our nightly dreams. Even though the weirdest things can happen while we are asleep, as long as we are dreaming we do not doubt the reality of the dream. The difference between our nightly dreams and the ‘waking dream’ we call ‘the world’, is our reaction when waking up. Regardless of whether I had pleasant dreams or a nightmare, when I wake up I realize that ‘it was just a dream’. I realize I was dreaming a dream, which isn’t real. I forget about the dream and move on. However, I fail to realize that I am also the dreamer of the world which isn’t real either, and that I could also choose to forget about this ‘dream world’, and go back Home into the Heart of God.

Enter A Course in Miracles. As we read in section II of chapter 28: “Nothing at all has happened but that you have put yourself to sleep, and dreamed a dream in which you were an alien to yourself, and but a part of someone else’s dream. The miracle does not awaken you, but merely shows you who the dreamer is.” (T-28.II.4, italics mine). The dreamer is the one Son of God, seemingly asleep in the nightmare of separation which is pictured as a universe with millions of bodies, from planetary size to humanoid size, each one being “a tiny fence around a little part of a glorious and complete idea.”(T18.VIII.2:5). However, just like our nightly dreams, the world and the universe are misty illusions.

This message would leave us deeply depressed, if Jesus wouldn’t offer us a much better alternative. However much the ego would like us to think that choosing to wake up from the dream world means annihilation, or ‘being erased’, as one workshop participant put it, Jesus tells us that we will find the real world, the gateway back to Heaven. And it’s solely our own choice: “[The miracle] teaches you there is a choice of dreams while you are still asleep, depending on the purpose of your dreaming. Do you wish for dreams of healing, or for dreams of death?” (T-28.II.4:3-4)

The importance of this message warrants a further citation of this section: “The miracle is the first step in giving back to cause the function of causation, not effect. For this confusion has produced the dream, and while it lasts will wakening be feared. […] Like every lesson that the Holy Spirit requests you learn, the miracle is clear. It demonstrates what He would have you learn, and shows you its effects are what you want. In His forgiving dreams are the effects of yours undone, and hated enemies perceived as friends with merciful intent. Their enmity is seen as causeless now, because they did not make it. And you can accept the role of maker of their hate, because you see that it has no effects. Now are you freed.” (T-28.II.10).

In terms of personal development programs, Jesus’ call to us is something like: “What do you want? Do you want to go on living your life on auto-pilot, moving from one misery to the next, ending in death? Or do you want to become a happy learner and choose happy dreams in the real world, in the firm conviction that ‘disappearing into the heart of God’ is much more preferable than remaining an autonomous separated individual who thinks he knows better than God?” Almost every Course student experiences this awkward balance between our desire for the Love of God on the one hand, and the desire for specialness on the other. And we would so much like to have both…

Again, A Course in Miracles is a veritable bombshell under the foundation of the ego. Jesus patiently explains to us, without judging us at all, just how much we still cling to this self-inflicted nightmare we think is our very essence. Its metaphysical non-dualistic foundation makes A Course in Miracles one of the most radical spiritualities available to us today. And yet, sooner or later each seemingly separated little self will get to the point where the pain of the nightmare becomes too much, and exclaim that there must be a better way, echoing Bill Thetford’s outcry and Helen’s agreement that set in motion the scribing of A Course in Miracles in 1965.

Before you hit yourself over the head about still failing to consistently make the only right choice in this regard, please turn to the Manual for Teachers and read section 4 again about the characteristics of God’s teachers. These are not just about being honest with yourself, but especially about being tolerant, gentle, joyful, defenseless, generous, patient, faithful, and open-minded. And the most important characteristic is trust. Trust in the fact that you, too, will successfully make the journey Home, sooner or later. Just ask yourself every once in a while: “Why wait for Heaven?” (W-pI.188.1:1) And then happily choose the intuitive advice of the Holy Spirit again, being the Voice for Love, which is what you and I are. Congratulations on your choice to be a happy learner!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, January 2023




The mirror of the mind

In Workbook lesson 304 of A Course in Miracles there is a passage that is easily overlooked, but is nevertheless a bombshell for the mind if we realize its full implication. It is this: “Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward” (W-pII.304.1:3-4). Just think about that first sentence. From the moment we wake up until bedtime, we spend our time perceiving the world around us with our five senses. And every Course student knows that perception always comes with interpretation, or ‘giving a meaning to what you see, hear, taste, touch or feel’. In this passage, Jesus states that perception is a mirror; it mirrors what I have already made real in my mind. So everything I interpret about my perception of any situation, event, or encounter, tells me something about my (usually unconscious) state of mind. Many Course students are familiar with Jesus’ statement in Chapter 21 of the text: “It [the world] is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition” (

In the next Chapter in the Text, Jesus further clarifies this by stating that “...everyone sees only what he thinks he is.” (T22.I.5:2). And although we may consciously tell ourselves we are a good, honest, loveable person, deep down the iceberg of our mind, we are not at all happy with our self image, as Jesus assures us: “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think that if anyone could see the truth about you he would be repelled, recoiling from you as if from a poisonous snake. 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” (WpI.93.1). Luckily, Jesus immediately comforts us by stating that “These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing” (W-pI.93.2:1). This brings to mind the equally comforting passage in Chapter 19: “The Son of God can be mistaken; he can deceive himself; he can even turn the power of his mind against himself. But he cannot sin. There is nothing he can do that would really change his reality in any way, nor make him really guilty” (T-19.II.3:1-3).

And so, to sum it up to this point: what our senses tell us mirrors the illusory self-image we have made real in the mind. That’s why almost everyone focuses so much on all the evil in the world: we think we see misery outside us, but this actually tells us how miserable we unconsciously feel about ourselves. At many places in his Course, Jesus underscores the key lesson that our physical eyes do not really see anything real; all our senses perceive only illusion, since everything in time and space is an illusion. The Son of God constructed this illusion in a feeble attempt to hide from God’s imagined wrath for the thought of desiring to separate from Him (which of course could never happen in reality). Since we made the world out of guilt and fear, all our perception is drenched in this line of thought. In Workbook lesson 23, Jesus explains: “The world you see is a vengeful world, and everything in it is a symbol of vengeance. Each of your perceptions of “external reality” is a pictorial representation of your own attack thoughts. One can well ask if this can be called seeing. Is not fantasy a better word for such a process, and hallucination a more appropriate term for the result? You see the world that you have made, but you do not see yourself as the image maker” (W-pI.23.3:1-4:1).

That final sentence, of course, is the key. We are convinced, at least unconsciously, that we are being tossed about as powerless victims in a threatening world. What a complete reversal of thought, then, to read that you and I have made up this world, and purposefully too; that is: to hide from the imagined wrath of of our Creator over our ‘tiny, mad idea’ of separation! How silly! It’s all make-belief. We’ve fallen asleep and we are still “…dreaming of exile, but perfectly capable of awakening to reality” (T-10.I.2:1), So while this ‘bombshell’ may appear at first as a daunting prospect, it is actually the best news that you and I could get, since it affirms that we are the all-powerful dreamer of the dream (T-27.VII), and that we have the power to change the dream and eventually wake up to reality. As good Course students, we know why we do not joyfully welcome this realization and wake up immediately: the fear of permanently losing our precious little individual ‘autonomous’ ego-self is still too great.

Choose, then, not to shrink from what you may see in this mirror. Illusions have no power to hurt you, unless you grant them that power, to uphold the silly illusion of individuality. It’s much better to choose to faithfully practice looking at the mirror in the mind, without judgment. Sure there’ll be a lot of seeming darkness, but together with Jesus or the Holy Spirit you and I can laugh it all away. Not to cover it up, but from the realization that all this heaviness has no foundation whatsoever, and really comes down to nothing. And we can do it at our own pace. Jesus does not require us to be enlightened today, or tomorrow, or even in this particular lifetime. He just invites us to look at the illusions we chose to construct, with his love besides us, above the battleground — and then forgive yourself for having taken so seriously this ‘tiny, mad idea’.

All the darkness in our mind comes from an ego we made up ourselves. We’ve come to think of it as monstrous, and ruling our mind. It is not so. When we patiently practice the looking at the mirror of the mind, as an observer, without judgment, we make room for Jesus’ love. It’s as simple as that. In Chapter 20 of the Text, Jesus states: “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). Except, of course, that our resistance is still enormous. So we need to practice our motivation daily, even hourly, to keep trying to ‘cross the bridge to the real world’, in which, as Ken Wapnick puts it in his Journey through the Workbook, “…the memory of God’s Love is restored to our awareness, and we remember we are one with Him who is our source”, referring to Chapter 16 in the Text: “The new perspective you will gain from crossing over will be the understanding of where Heaven is. From this side, it seems to be outside and across the bridge. Yet as you cross to join it, it will join with you and become one with you. And you will think, in glad astonishment, that for all this you gave up nothing! The joy of Heaven, which has no limit, is increased with each light that returns to take its rightful place within it. Wait no longer, for the Love of God and you. And may the holy instant speed you on the way, as it will surely do if you but let it come to you” (T-16.VI.11). Happy practicing!

Jan-Willem van Aalst, January 2023