Sex, guilt, and the neutral body

Spirituality and sex are often regarded as an awkward couple. And that’s generally because sex and religion are such fiendish enemies to each other. Many traditional religious books particularly rage about women who focus on sex. Of course, more often than not, that’s merely a projection by the religious scholars who wrote these books to cover their guilt about their own uncontrollable need for sexual intercourse, as the ongoing stream of scandals within the churches clearly illustrates.

Why is sex such a ‘hot topic’ for so many of us? This is for two reasons, which are really the opposite sides of the same coin. Firstly, on our list of sought-after peak pleasures, sex usually ranks on top. In fact, if you ask anyone which feeling comes closest to the experience of the divine, the answer is usually: the height of the orgasm. In addition, we associate sex with our innate ability to create new life, which of course is the core of all expression of divinity: creation! We ignore the fact that the peak pleasure of sex is only of an instant’s duration. We become addicted to having more. And still more. Just to experience that ‘divine peak moment’.

The other side of the coin might be concisely summarized as guilt. This manifests on several levels. Firstly, there’s often the association with what we were told during our upbringing by the reverend, minister, priest or pastor, namely that sex is sinful and should not be sought after, since the body is filth. But we still crave for it. That’s guilt. The second level of this guilt is about what our focus on sex does to our relationship with God. We secretly acknowledge that the entire mechanism of sexual intercourse is a feeble parody on the divine power of the eternal Creator. We engage in sex only to tell ourselves that we are capable of divine creation as well, while deep down inside we know we are fooling ourselves, and will probably be severely punished in the afterlife.

And last but not least, guilt about sex is especially fueled because we realize that in the end it does not really fulfill at all. Sure, there’s great ecstasy at the peak of the orgasm, but there’s always the fear that some form of pain or misery will come of it. Especially the insatiable need of testosterone-driven men to repeatedly reproduce is the chief cause of countless marital fights, abuses, divorces and even murder (e.g., in the case of adultery). While on the one hand lovers think they find completion of themselves through sexual intercourse, there’s always the fear and suspicion that the other might find someone who is regarded as ‘even better’, as countless pop hits attest to. Moreover, if we have sexual intercourse with too many partners, we will inevitably call some horrible disease upon us. And so everyone associates to sex both pleasure and pain, however unconsciously this may be.

Oddly, in A course in Miracles we find absolutely nothing about sex. Just search your digital copy for the word ‘sex’; you won’t find it. The overly quick explanation is usually that this is because Jesus’ message is not about the body; it’s purely about the mind. We reason that since sex is obviously of the body and not of the mind, Jesus has no reason to mention it. Still, Jesus does talk a lot about the body in his Course. At a first glance it seems that Jesus, too, disregards the body as worthless. However, when one reads Jesus’ words more carefully, it becomes clear that in A Course in Miracles, the body is regarded as neutral, which is distinctively different from rejecting it, as so many religions and spiritualities do.

In the Course, Jesus explains to us that we may regard the body as a useful mirror of the mind. Contrary to widespread popular belief, the body is never the cause of what seems to happen to us; it’s merely the effect of a choice of thought. This is perhaps best exemplified in Ken Wapnick’s “Love does not condemn”, which is by far the best resource available today to learn to forgive religion as a whole (!). In chapter 17, Ken mentions the Gnostic treatise “The Acts of John”, written somewhere between 100 – 300 A.D. In this somewhat bizarre story, John comes upon a young man who has killed his father for objecting to the son’s sexual affair with a married woman. John resurrects the father, causing such contrition in the young man that the son quickly cuts off his own genitals and presents them to his lover, exclaiming: “There you have the source of all this!” The young man proudly reports to John what he did, but he is quickly reproved by the apostle: “You should not have destroyed the place of your temptation, but the thought which showed its temper through those members; for it is not those organs which are harmful to man, but the unseen springs through which every harmful emotion is stirred up and comes to light” (Love does not condemn, p.558).

This Gnostic parable could have been taken right out of the Course. Now we can see why Jesus’ focus is always on the mind, since it is the thoughts we choose that automatically direct the actions of the body. More specifically, the core of every thought is its purpose, of which there are only two: (a) the ego’s purpose of attack and separation, and (b) the Holy Spirit’s purpose of forgiveness and inner peace. This also pertains to everything regarding the body: what do we use it for? Although we usually employ the body to reaffirm our belief in the separation, being the ego’s chief survival mechanism, the mind is perfectly free to choose to employ the body, including sex, for the right-minded purpose of forgiveness and inner peace.

This brings to mind Pursah’s Gospel of Thomas that was handed down to Gary Renard, in which we read the following puzzling anecdote: “A woman in the crowd said to him [Jesus], ‘lucky are the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you.’ He said to her: ‘lucky are those who have heard the word of the Father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, “Lucky are the womb that has not conceived and the breasts that have not given milk”.’ (Pursah’s gospel of Thomas, statement 79). Importantly, Jesus is not saying that sex is sinful. He is merely explaining that a change of mind from ‘more and more separation’ (being the chief goal of sex) to the forgiving lessons of the Holy Spirit will automatically lead to the much deeper desire of lasting inner peace, instead of the short, fleeting pleasure of sex.

The ego eagerly uses such reasoning to nurture the guilt in our minds: “See – since you are obviously still focused on sex (and the body in general), you will never make it back to heaven. Forget about it and keep listening to me.” Jesus and the Holy Spirit, however, remind us of the fact that we may very well use the body for their loving purpose of forgiveness and inner peace, as we read in the Workbook section called “What is the body?”: “The body is a dream. Like other dreams it sometimes seems to picture happiness, but can quite suddenly revert to fear, where every dream is born. […] Made to be fearful, must the body serve the purpose given it. But we can change the purpose that the body will obey by changing what we think that it is for. The body is the means by which God’s Son returns to sanity. […] The Son of God extends his hand to reach his brother, and to help him walk along the road with him. Now is the body holy. Now it serves to heal the mind that it was made to kill. […] You will identify with that you think will make you safe. […] Identify with love, and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self.” (W-pII.5.3:1-5:3; italics mine).

To summarize, sex in and of itself is never sinful, and should therefore never give rise to guilt. Be sure, however, that you are aware of the purpose of your sexual life: is it (a) to indulge in the ego-need for still further separation and an imitation of divine creation; or is it (b) to forgive your own condemnation of everyone and everything, and to walk the Holy Spirit’s way back to the oneness of the Son of God? Sex only becomes problematic once you regard it as salvation in and of itself. Such a purpose will always fail. Jesus asks his students to employ their bodies as the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet through which his healing message saves the world. The form of the bodily actions, including sex, then becomes completely irrelevant – it’s solely the content, or purpose of what we use the body for which guides our journey back Home. So happily dismiss the ego’s purpose for sex, and choose once again the oneness love of Christ as your prime focus, since that is what you and I are.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst




What happens is what I desire

A Course in Miracles is a spiritual message rooted in nonduality. It teaches not only that God did not create the universe; it even goes as far as to say that the universe, time and space, yes life as we think we know it, is ultimately just a dream; an hallucination. Or better yet: a nightmare, as it is the effect of the root thought of attack, separation, and autonomy. Filled with guilt over this imagined savage sin and fear of retaliation by the Almighty Creator, the seemingly sleeping Son (all of us combined) seemed to fragment in time and space into a zillion splintered fragments (what we know as ‘the Big Bang’), hoping against hope to hide from God. At the same time we keep up the illusion that the separation was in fact accomplished. All challenges, decay and death “prove” that we in fact did shatter the perfection of the Oneness of God, and are now on our own.

Clearly, the implication of this message is that the sole responsibility for whatever seems to happen in the universe, let alone our interpretation of it, is purely our own. To the ego, that’s a most inconvenient conclusion. After all, the mechanism of projection allowed the Son to repress his guilt about the separation. Projection lets the guilt rest on everyone and everything, except on me. Obviously, the evil is “out there“; not in me. And I will gladly suffer at the hand of all this evil, just to “prove” that I am an innocent victim of a cruel world. Surely God will accept me back into Heaven when my brief candle as shameful sinner flickers and goes out…

Jesus in A Course in Miracles (who, incidentally, is the manifestation of the Voice for Love and should not be confused with the biblical Jesus) has some rather painful messages for his students in this regard. That is, “painful” for the frightened separated ego, as Jesus puts the responsibility for everything that happens in our lives right in our own lap. Remember what Jesus teaches about the secret of salvation: “You are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1). The word “this” refers to everything we experience in the world we think we live in, which, if we are truly honest, boils down to a life in which all of us walk “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1).

Many students unconsciously skip such passages. For example, have a look at chapter 21 in the text, where Jesus implores us to honestly admit: “I am responsible for what I see. I choose the feelings I experience, and decide upon the goal I would achieve. And everything that seems to happen to me I ask for, and receive as I have asked.” (T-21.II.2:3-5). Wow. And as if that isn’t insulting enough, take a look at workbook lesson 253, where Jesus would have me say to myself: “It is impossible that anything should come to me unbidden by myself. Even in this world, it is I who rule my destiny. What happens is what I desire. What does not occur is what I do not want to happen. This I must accept” (W-pII.253.1:1-5; italics mine).

What? Watch your mind as you take this in. At this point, the ego raises a pile of seemingly valid objections: “That’s plain bullshit! So you’re telling me that I deliberately caused my own cancer, because I wanted to? Preposterous! So my cousin got hit by a car last week because he invited this? And you would maintain that deformity in newborn babies is the result of their own choice? Come on, Jesus, it’s quite obvious you are making a fool of yourself!” And so we slam the blue book shut. We throw it at the wall, or try to flush it down the toilet. There are even several reports of people having set the book aflame.

However, as Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick never tired of explaining, this is merely a typical case of the pitfall of level confusion. Since A course in Miracles is rooted in nonduality, we should always consider Jesus’ messages on two levels: (I) the metaphysical level, and (II) the experiential level in time and space, where you and I believe we are. From the point of view of our level II daily experiences, Jesus’ quotes above indeed seem ridiculous. Of course I do not want cancer; of course my cousin doesn’t want to get hit by a car. Still, what we fail to realize is that although there seem to be many egos, in content the ego is one, with only one purpose: keeping up the illusion that the separation has indeed been accomplished; that we are assailed by evil in everyone and everything outside of us; that we are innocent victims of a world that caused us, instead of the world being an effect of that ego thought system.

What does that insight mean on a practical level, where I indeed get ill, am involved in accidents and eventually decay and die? It means that in all such cases, the one ego has yet again found a way of affirming its reality: “See?! We obviously are apart from God. Perfection and oneness are filthy lies. Look at what happens in the world! See what happens to you! Isn’t it obvious that God is cruel, and hellbent on your punishment? And look over there, and there; attack, struggle and strife. Yet more evidence of the reality of this world. Jesus offers but fairy tales! Be afraid, be very afraid. Cherish your own innocence [projections, really] and hold on to the infinitely small chance that you might be accepted back into Heaven if you but suffer sufficiently in this dangerous life!”

And so we keep alive the silly madness of being a powerless victim in a world we did not cause, just to “prove” our innocence. In Chapter 18 of the text, Jesus says: “Call it not sin but madness, for such it was, and so it still remains. Invest it not with guilt, for guilt implies it was accomplished in reality. And above all, be not afraid of it. ” (T-18.I.6:7) The only way out of this hell is to shift the way we interpret what happens in the world, with the help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. This shift is called the miracle, which does not look on love, but “…on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false” (W-pII.13.2). Changing the way we interpret this devastation, namely from “a just punishment” to “a useful classroom in which we learn to forgive”, allows us to ascend the ladder of the acceptance of the Atonement.

This may seem vague and impractical, but we could choose to apply this at any moment, in any circumstance. One workshop participant recently shared with the group how he was able to make this “mind-shift” while being hospitalized for surgery. Instead of feeling fearful, victimized and anxious, he chose to place his trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and just allowed all things to be as they were. The nurses were surprised to experience such a peaceful man in such an acutely dangerous situation. In fact, they admired the self-discipline this man had obviously mastered. In truth, it was just a gentle surrendering, a “quiet melting-in”, a choice for right-mindedness instead of the raucous shrieks of the ego. The surgery was successful, and he later reported that he had experienced hardly any pain during the whole event whatsoever.

The trick here is that once you are willing to lift the decision-making part of your mind to the place “above the battleground”, postponing all judgment, we realize that our imagined identity in this dream world of time and space, isn’t our real identity at all. The body may indeed seem to experience cancerous cells; however, we could choose to reinterpret this as a useful sign that we still need to forgive something, instead of a cruel punishment meted out by God. Your body mirrors your mind! Moreover, since this body is hardly the first that I have experienced in time, it’s quite possible that in previous lives I have had deformities. All this doesn’t matter from the metaphysical point of view. Instead of bemoaning the cruelty in the world, I could choose to see everything as a forgiveness opportunity offered me by the Holy Spirit. And the result of that choice is inner peace, my greatest gift to the world which is still ruled by “uncertainty, loneliness, and constant fear.”

So Jesus would say, “Why not admit that deep inside you know very well that this world is a place where starved and thirsty creatures come to die. Why not admit that deep inside you know you are an exile here, and that this desert you call the world is not your real home. You are dreaming about autonomy and separation, stubbornly maintaining that you know better than God. But do you want to be right or happy? For you cannot be both. Child of God, you have not sinned, but you have been much mistaken. Nothing has happened but that you have put yourself to sleep, imagining what it would be like to be apart from your Creator, which is obviously impossible. Your Father loves you and will call to you until you choose to come Home to Him in peace at last. Until then you are free to crucify yourself as often as you choose. But how long do you want to postpone peace? Allow me to help you change your mind about all this silliness. Why wait for Heaven?”

A Course in Miracles offers us a unique way to discover and accept – without guilt, fear, anger or depression – the simple fact that you and I still choose to have a split mind: on the one hand, we do want to experience our inheritance as the Love of God; on the other hand, we still crave to be a special individual, autonomous and on our own, stubbornly insisting we know better than the Voice for Love. Burying the guilt about that wish merely keeps the misery of the illusion of time and space intact. And time and space are always accompanied by attack, guilt and fear, since this was the root cause of the universe in the first place.

As always, it’s helpful to remember that the outcome of this struggle is certain, for you and for me, and for every seemingly separated living thing. Time and space will have an end. The universe will disappear, and we will return Home into the Heart of God. It doesn’t matter how many lives this might yet take. As the Epilogue of the Clarification of Terms reminds us: “Forget not once this journey is begun the end is certain. Doubt along the way will come and go and go to come again. Yet is the ending sure. No one can fail to do what God appointed him to do. When you forget, remember that you walk with Him and with His Word upon your heart. Who could despair when hope like this is his?” (C-ep.1:1-6).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst