Smile at the control freak in you

Workbook lesson 23 in A Course in Miracles teaches us that we can find lasting inner peace by giving up attack thoughts (W-pI.23). The idea is that since all perceived attack (including rejection, condemnation and hate) merely mirrors our own guilt for supposedly having rejected God our Creator because we wanted so much to be our own special individual selves, it is with our own thoughts that we must work, if we truly want our perception to be more peaceful. As always, the fundamental universal law applies: as you sow, so will you reap. If you attack (hate), you will be attacked (hated). If you love (forgive), you will be loved (forgiven). Perhaps not immediately, perhaps not in the way you expect it, but somewhere, sometime, somehow, you will find that this law always holds true. It seems simple enough: we all determine our own state of mind, and so spiritual mind training is one of the most meaningful daily activities you can imagine. However, almost all spiritual aspirants – and I’m no exception! – find that even after decades of diligent practice, they still get upset over trivialities. They still reject, condemn and hate, even though they know this is getting them nowhere. This seeming lack of progress is highly frustrating. Why is it apparently so difficult to follow through on Lesson 23 and simply give up all these attack thoughts?

The answer is well known to most students of A Course in Miracles: we want it all, and we want it now. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want both the eternal peace of God and we want to keep experiencing ourselves as an existing autonomous entity, not just as a vague, abstract extension of the Love of God. One of the more frightening lines in the Course, in the context of the role of the body as a limit on love, is: “Can you who see yourself within a body know yourself as an idea?” (T18.VIII.1:5). The answer obviously is: no, we cannot — at least not yet. I may be able to accept it intellectually, but I cannot yet experience myself as wholly without the body (except in out-of-body-experiences, which never last, or near-death-experiences, which obviously are not a conscious practice for spiritual growth). But since the body merely mirrors the state of mind, the real problem is far more insidious: I still want to control the course of life. I still want to be the determiner of what I am. Rather than giving up attack thoughts and merely following the loving impulses of the Holy Spirit in what to think, say, and do, I arrogantly demand that everything around me follows my dictates. My subconscious thoughts and drives are still about I, me, mine. Each and every time I become upset, be it a slight twinge of annoyance or intense fury (W-pI.21.2:5), it is because things apparently do not go my way, or adhere to how I think things should be.

In a very practical sense, all of us are still control freaks. And that includes even the most sincere spiritual aspirants. We are still convinced that our own ideas about how to attain lasting happiness are a reliable compass to navigate our lives by. We may think we are pretty enlightened in our practice of only choosing loving thoughts. But what we often fail to remember is that as long as we still experience ourselves getting up in the morning, planning our future, and going to sleep again at night, we are still stubbornly refusing to let the illusory dream of time and space go. Now, instead of slipping into a gargantuan guilt trip (the ego’s favorite defensive strategy), Jesus in his Course teaches us to gently smile at that control freak within us. Above the battleground, without any condemnation. In several places in the Course you and I are depicted as little children who “are very new in the ways of salvation” (T-17.V.9:1). Rather than hitting ourselves over the head for our perceived inadequacy (again, a favorite ego ploy), we are asked to embrace the ten characteristics of the teachers of God: trust; honesty; tolerance; gentleness; joy; defenselessness; generosity; patience; faithfulness, and open-mindedness. Such practice will liberate our thoughts from the chains of slavery of the terror of the five senses in time and space, which we still choose because we are still too fearful of what we would be without the body.

Jesus teaches us that we should allow ourselves some slack. As long as we still believe we do not want the separation healed (T-13.III.2:6), we are not yet ready to accept the Atonement. To Jesus it doesn’t matter, since all of time is an illusion anyway. But he offers us his Course as a great means to save ourselves time of needless suffering. And so, surprisingly, every second we succeed in our forgiveness may save us hundreds or thousands of years to get to the point where we will be successful. We need this practice time because we are still too fearful to give up our own cherished special autonomous individual self. Jesus therefore comforts us: “Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality. Time is kind, and if you use it on behalf of reality, it will keep gentle pace with you in your transition” (T-16.VI.8:1-2). Just as a magician does not learn his tricks overnight, but needs to practice thousands of times to attain convincing success, so too do we need to practice thousands of times (“a thousand times a day”, W-pI.156.8.2) before we notice we are really progressing on our way up the spiritual ladder of truly dismissing the control freak within us.

“It is extremely difficult to reach Atonement by fighting against sin”, Jesus lets us know us in his text (T-18.VII.4:7). If you try to fight the control freak within you, you merely end up strengthening that very control freak. That’s why Jesus teaches us: “Atonement cannot come to those who think that they must first atone, but only to those who offer it nothing more than simple willingness to make way for it. … And that is all. Add more, and you will merely take away the little that is asked. Remember you made guilt, and that your plan for the escape from guilt has been to bring Atonement to it, and make salvation fearful. And it is only fear that you will add, if you prepare yourself for love. You find it difficult to accept the idea that you need give so little, to receive so much. And it is very hard for you to realize it is not personally insulting that your contribution and the Holy Spirit’s are so extremely disproportionate.” (T-18.IV.5:6-7:4).

In other words, we need not fight the control urges within us, since that would only keep the error of separation real. We just need to be aware of our stubborn controlling urges, and calmy observe these thoughts from above the battleground, without any judgment. This in and of itself is the invitation for the Holy Spirit to enter. This is why the phrase “a little willingness” is used so often in this curriculum. Combined with a diligent practice to cultivate the ten characteristics of the teachers of God, especially trust and patience, this will bring you much further ahead on the ladder (or awakening journey) than we will ever reach by stubbornly insisting that we know what’s best for us. As Course scholar Ken Wapnick often remarked, combining two partial Course statements: “… Resign now as your own teacher.… for you were badly taught” (T-12.V.8:3; T-28.I.7:1). So gently smile at the control freak within you today! The better Teacher will make Himself known automatically, since He is the Voice of your own true Self as Christ, the Son of God.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, May 2023

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