Most of us are quite familiar with various sorts of self-sabotage. We either subtly avoid responsibilities at work, or we persistently work too hard, resulting in burn-out. We keep drinking or smoking, even though we know we are poisoning our bodies. We keep trying to make other people love us, even though somewhere we know our happiness does not depend on approval by others… The forms are countless. While some forms are more subtle than others, we all engage in some dynamic of serious suffering. Even though we try to be kind, oftentimes we’re not too kind for ourselves at all, and we regularly feel miserable because we obviously can’t control our impulses.
On the other hand, equally familiar in each of us is the desire to get rid of misery and find lasting happiness. We usually try to attain this by seeking solutions in the world around us. For example, we think we could be happy if only we would have more money, or find that special love partner that complements the traits that I lack to find that perfect balance in life. Even when we see that happiness will not be found outside us, but only within, we indulge in personal development programs that aim at improving the effectiveness of our behavior, but without having to alter the concept of the self to any serious extent. Ten years later we once again try the newest self-help program. And we wonder why we keep sabotaging ourselves, as we are so sure we don’t want to…
A Course in Miracles offers us a decidedly different view on self-sabotage. To paraphrase lesson 5 in the workbook: “I never self-sabotage for the reason I think.” The Course’s metaphysics tell us that the material world which we believe is our reality, is merely a dream (nightmare, really), constructed to be a place wherein the sleeping Son of God believes he can hide from his Creator, Whom he thinks he has rejected and separated from. All this follows from the Son’s desire to experience himself on his own and therefore shatter the Oneness that is God. Terrified of being punished by the almighty Creator for this ‘cardinal sin’, each fragment of this sleeping Son indulges in suffering and projection, in a meager attempt to hold up the innocence that he seemingly threw away in the act of the separation.
In his Course, Jesus patiently explains that we deliberately suffer in order to appease the anticipated wrath of God about our decision to separate from Oneness: if I show God how much I suffer, He might have pity on me. He may perhaps consider accepting me back into Heaven, and punish someone else. That’s where projection enters the stage: since I refuse to see this perceived sinfulness in myself, I’ll see it in others, leading to an endless chain of blaming and finger-pointing: “Look over there God, there’s the culprit; he should be punished instead of me.” And so I fearfully engage in an endless cycle of attack and suffering, hoping against hope that God will be fooled by my sinful ploy.
However, all the while, I still want to keep experiencing myself as an autonomous individual, but have someone else be responsible for the sin of separation from oneness. The best proof dat perfect oneness has been shattered is the experience of sickness and death. And so my body decays and eventually dies. I ‘gladly’ pay this price as proof that I have the power to exist as an autonomous self, unique and on my own. And I ‘prove’ this to myself again and again, in a string of reincarnations that keep the illusion of individuality alive. As scholar Ken Wapnick semi-jokingly remarked: “Just being born here is the ultimate self-sabotage.” Ken actually refers to “Self-sabotage”with a capital S, because of the decision, as the one Son of God, to still remain asleep in the ego-dream of time and space, even though in the reality outside time and space, nothing happened.
So now I can see why I ‘never self-sabotage for the reason I think’. I self-sabotage because I think my suffering grants me the endorsement of God Himself. I project because this way I think I can persuade God to regard me as innocent; I should be spared; others are sinful and should be punished. In a sense, the goal of A Course in Miracles is to have us joyfully realize the silliness of this ego-dynamic, and change our minds about it. And so Jesus comforts us in the text: “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). He invites us to shift our self-concept from “seriously suffering sinful soul” to the happy learner who learns to hear “the call to awaken and be glad” (T-5.II.10:5).
So, on a practical level, how do I learn to ‘hear the call to awaken and be glad’? The answer, as all Course students know, is called forgiveness, through my “choice to see my brother’s sinlessness” (W-pII.335) instead of his guilty sins. At a first glance, this may seem odd. Do I awaken by focusing on what’s outside of me? Doesn’t Jesus tell me time and again “not to seek outside myself, for it will fail”? (T-29.VII.1:1). The trick here is to realize, again based on the Course’s metaphysics, that there is no-one else ‘out there’ — everything I perceive is a projection of some split-off part of the mind. The way I see you comes from the way I see myself. “What I see in him [my brother] is merely what I wish to see because it stands for what I want to be the truth. It is to this alone that I respond, however much I seem to be impelled by outside happenings. […] My brother’s sinlessness shows me that I would look upon my own. And I will see it, having chosen to behold my brother in its holy light.” (W-pII.335.1:3-7).
So if I accept the metaphysical premise that sin never happened and is therefore not so, and that you and I and all lifeforms in the dream world are the same, at least in content, the entire cause for self-sabotage, suffering and projection simply vanishes into the nothingness from whence it came. Only one life compass remains: to be kind to everyone, including myself. And I don’t need a lifetime study in metaphysics to do that. As Ken Wapnick remarked in his final workshop in 2013: “I’d much rather have someone who got the metaphysics all mixed up and upside down and who is kind to everyone, much rather that, than someone who’s into metafetish but is unkind to even one person.”
So why not choose the only road that will really free you from all self-sabotage: choose to see the sameness in everyone, including yourself. Choose to see the innocence in your brother, and you will behold innocence in yourself. People commit horrendous acts on the level of the forms of the dream world, which should certainly not be denied, but also not seen as seriously sinful, as they are mistakes that call for correction in our own mind, and for nothing else. All events in the world are offered you and me as lessons of Love by the Holy Spirit to undo a little bit of our own projection of our own self-image as seriously suffering sinful soul. Undoing projection is the way to true lasting happiness; not in time as an individual body, but as spirit in the eternal Heart of the Oneness of God, which is what you and I are. Make today different by making it all the same, and suffer you no more!
— Jan-Willem van Aalst