Judging your partner

In the Western world, at least two out of five marriages end up in divorce. Additionally, of the remaining three out of five, at least two end up being not-overly-happy relationships. These couples stick together because they think they find some safety in co-dependency; or perhaps they fear the unknown that would envelop them should they decide to leave. So only a meager one out of five – at the most! – relationships might be described as reasonably happy. This, by the way, does not only apply to our relationships with spouses (or “significant others”); it equally applies to our relationships with all people, possessions and circumstances. We feel we could actually be happy, if only the world would conform to our wishes and desires. Instead, many of us feel their life is tossed about like a leaf on the wind, with no firm grip on how to ensure happiness, including the partner we’re currently living with.

How happy do you currently feel in your present partner relationship, if you have one? Do times of strife and arguments seem to outweigh the peaceful periods? Do you contemplate at times to find a partner that better suits your outlook on life, your values, your preferences and what you value? Do you sometimes wonder why you are still hanging out with this person who seems to give you such a hard time so often? Perhaps you feel you need another environment for further personal or spiritual growth? Are you perhaps seriously considering to leave your partner, as the “unknown” may be better than the current rut? Before you do, please read on.

First of all, realize that there is no such thing as coincidence. People don’t show up in our lives at random for no reason. In fact, each and every encounter is purposive, as we read in the Manual for Teachers in A Course in Miracles: “…what seem to be very casual encounters […] are not chance encounters. Each of them has the potential for becoming a teaching-learning situation” (M3.2:2-4). Just as it is no coincidence that you find yourself in this particular spot on this particular planet, in this era, in this particular reincarnation, the fact that you are now in this relationship with this particular partner is hardly coincidental. Apparently, the two of you are ideally suited to learn from each other what each needs in the process of spiritual awakening and the acceptance of the Atonement.

If you are spiritually inclined and your partner is not, as is often the case with Course students, it is not by definition helpful to find a more spiritually active partner. More likely than not, such an “all-spiritual” relationship would boost the “spiritual specialness”-ego in both of you, resulting in a sense of superiority and therefore separation from all those who are not as “spiritually advanced”. On the other hand, a partner that constantly seems to push your red buttons is an ideal ‘vehicle’ for you to truly practice the forgiveness process that Jesus would have us learn in studying and living his Course from day to day.

Perhaps most importantly, recall the fundamental tenet of A Course in Miracles that you always see in the other what you have not forgiven in yourself. All blame is ultimately always self-blame, to protect a projection of something we refuse to see in the unconscious (suppressed) part of our own mind. As the Psychotherapy pamphlet poignantly remarks, in the context of a therapist – patient relationship (which is really every relationship): “It is in the instant that the therapist forgets to judge the patient that healing occurs” (P3.II.6:1). So if I stop blaming, accusing and condemning my partner, I am really healing my own mind. If it is therefore indeed hardly coincidental that my current partner has been offered me for just this purpose, why then should I not gratefully use the opportunity to learn the lesson, day by day?

All this is not to say that one should never ever end a relationship or decide to leave a partner, just because that would be “the mistake of knowing better than Jesus / The Holy Spirit”. Even though all learning situations can be useful, they need not be lifelong: “Each teaching-learning situation is maximal in the sense that each person involved will learn the most that he can from the other person at that time.” (M3.4:1) The key to what to do lies in not making the decision whether or not to leave on your own, but by turning inward and consulting the Holy Spirit about what would be the most loving thing to do. When you ask in sincerity and in silence, the answer (impulse) may surprise you. Yet assure yourself that if (and only if) the overriding feeling is a deep inner peace, that advice will always turn out best for everyone involved.

So if you are still unsure about whether or not to stay in your current relationship, recall the most important question you can ask yourself at any time: “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?” (T29.VII.1:9). For we cannot have both, which is of course the fundamental ego frustration. Then seek the inner quiet place in your mind “where sin has left” (T.26.IV), and ask the Holy Spirit what to think, say, and do. Wait for the feeling of deep inner peace to make itself known, usually in the lower belly area. If it does not come, you are not yet asking with full sincerity. In that case, postpone any decision and try again a little later. “Remembering the gifts forgiveness gives, we undertake our practicing with hope and faith this will be the day salvation will be ours. Earnestly and gladly we seek for it today, aware we hold the key within our hands, accepting Heaven’s answer to the hell we made, but where we would remain no more.” (WpI.122.9).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

The only meaningful choice

In A Course in Miracles, Jesus teaches us that although we seem to make a thousand choices each day between the myriad of forms in the dualistic dream world, in content each choice boils down to a choice between the ego or God. In content, it is always the choice between fear or Love; between illusion or truth: “It is still up to you to choose to join with truth or with illusion. But remember that to choose one is to let the other go. Which one you choose you will endow with beauty and reality, because the choice depends on which you value more. […] For you can never choose except between God and the ego.” (T-17.III.9:1-2,7).

A major frustration with all students of A Course in Miracles is that although they consciously tell themselves they want to relinquish the ego and verily choose God, day in day out they notice that they almost invariably keep choosing the ego, even though they realize the pain this brings. In short, many feel they are a slave to the ego. But in the Course, Jesus offers us a major psychological eye-opener in this regard: “Under the ego’s dark foundation is the memory of God, and it is of this that you are really afraid. For this memory would instantly restore you to your proper place [as Christ], and it is this place that you have sought to leave. […] You believe that, by removing the dark cloud that obscures it, your love for your Father would impel you to answer His Call and leap into Heaven. […] For still deeper than the ego’s foundation, and much stronger than it will ever be, is your intense and burning love of God, and His for you. This is what you really want to hide.” (T-13.III.2.1-9).

So yes, we do want the Love of God, but at the same time we are also unconsciously afraid of this, since that would mean giving up our precious special individuality, fueled by the not-so-gentle ego whispering that God will severely punish us for our cardinal sin of separation. So, A Course in Miracles teaches us we have a conflicted mind. This conflict is always rooted in doubt about what we are: “There is no conflict that does not entail the simple, single question, ‘What am I?’” (W-pI.139.1:6). However, to Jesus, the answer is plain and clear: “Only refusal to accept yourself could make the question seem to be sincere. […] Uncertainty about what you must be is self-deception on a scale so vast, its magnitude can hardly be conceived. […] It is for this denial that you need Atonement.” (W-pI.139.2:2;3:1;5:2).

So the choice between God or the ego — between Love or fear, between Heaven and hell — only seems difficult because we stubbornly keep wanting to be an illusory separated special individual, instead of accepting our true reality as Christ, the One Son of God. And yet, since time and space are inherently illusory as well, Jesus tells us that this seemingly difficult choice is not a choice at all, once we clearly see what we are choosing between: “Heaven is chosen consciously. The choice cannot be made until alternatives are accurately seen and understood. All that is veiled in shadows must be raised to understanding, to be judged again, this time with Heaven’s help. And all mistakes in judgment that the mind had made before are open to correction, as the truth dismisses them as causeless. Now […] their nothingness is recognized.” (W-pI.138.9:1-4;6).

Jesus is in effect telling us: ‘The only reason you do not choose Heaven as yet, is because you are not really honestly comparing the alternatives and seeing the ego for what it is.’ That’s why we read passages such as: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. It is not necessary to seek for what is true, but it is necessary to seek for what is false.” (T-16.IV.6:1-2). And in chapter 11: “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected. […]  The “dynamics” of the ego will be our lesson for a while, for we must look first at this to look beyond it since you have made it real. […] How else can one dispel illusions except by looking at them directly without protecting them?”  (T-11.V.1:1;1:5;2:2).

But how vigilant are you and I in looking at the ‘dynamics’ of our ego? Are we really looking with Jesus beside us from minute to minute? Hardly. Let’s say I go out for a bicycle ride, with the intention of making each encounter with everyone else a holy instant, and never to leave a brother without a silent blessing. In the first few minutes, I radiate the light of love all around me and I love and bless everyone I meet, if not in form, then at least in content. But after half an hour, I suddenly notice how quickly I forgot to keep that up. Quite rapidly I fell back to merely judging form, and finding something to dislike in almost everyone I meet, however insignificant it seems.

This is why teachers such as Kenneth Wapnick constantly urge students to train their vigilance in looking, looking, looking non-judgmentally at what’s going on in the mind. Jesus gently reminds us that “Each day, each hour and minute, even each second, you are deciding between the crucifixion and the resurrection; between the ego and the Holy Spirit.” (T-14.III.4:1). It is also why I never tire of quoting Jesus’ ultimate vigilance training tip in lesson 156: “”Who walks with me?’ This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace. Today let doubting cease.” (W-pI.156.8:1-3). This is the only way to become fully aware of the importance of the only choice that we can and need make in life: for the ego or for God.

The ego is and remains one hundred percent condemnation, hate, attack and separation. The only reason you and I still keep Heaven at bay is because, in spite of all the pain the ego brings, there is still some lingering hope that as an individual, can be God in my own world and find some sort of happiness there. Coupled with the fear that the ego had us associate with Truth, the ego seems to have made us perennially mindless. That is, until we choose to look within, and realize there is no sin. The ego’s tale of sin, guilt and fear is all made up. In fact, time, space and individuality are all made up. That’s why Jesus says that the only meaningful choice we must make (between God and the ego) is actually no choice at all: “You make but one [choice]. And when that one is made, you will perceive it was no choice at all. For truth is true, and nothing else is true. There is no opposite to choose instead. There is no contradiction to the truth.” (W-pI.138.4:4-8).

So by honestly and vigilantly looking at what’s going on in the mind, we facilitate our own process of making the only meaningful choice we can make in our lives, as we read in workbook lesson 138: “Who can fail to make a choice between alternatives when only one is seen as valuable; the other seen as a wholly worthless thing, a but imagined source of guilt and pain? Who hesitates to make a choice like this? And shall we hesitate to choose today?” (W-pI.138.10:3-4). Or, as Jesus asks us in the closing paragraph of chapter 23, to which this blog owes its name: “Who with the Love of God upholding him could find the choice of miracles or murder hard to make?” (T-23.IV.9:8). Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Composers as heralds of peace

Some students of A Course in Miracles may recall that Helen Schucman scribed a message from Jesus in the early seventies called “Notes on sound”. We won’t go into detail here on that message, but one of the key points made in those notes was about the importance of the vibrations / frequencies we experience as sound. Apparently, sound can be a useful aid in inviting the mind to enter a state of alert but peaceful rest. This in turn stimulates the mind to choose right-minded thinking, a prerequisite for our learning process in accepting the Atonement.

The sound may be simple, as in straightforward tones containing alpha, theta or delta brain wave frequencies; but it obviously also includes music. from the simplest meditative mantra music to the most complex classical composition; music can be truly nourishing for the mind. For example, many are familiar with the ‘Mozart effect’, wherein scientists have verified that primary school pupils listening to his Sonata for two pianos (K.448) actually improve on their own cognitive results.

This increased clarity of mind is obviously beneficial to all of us. However, an even more rewarding function of music, especially classical music, is that it invites a deep inner peace in. This is particularly the case with compositions that the composer feels were ‘given to him (or her)’. Perhaps you’ve experienced some heavenly music that is obviously ‘not of this world’. It’s been said (with tongue-in-cheek) that “While Beethoven’s music reaches to Heaven, Mozart’s music comes straight from Heaven”. Brahms himself said more than once that his best compositions felt as having been given to him while in a meditative state. Many composers felt they acted as a channel through which spiritual messages manifested through them into their best works.

As for myself, I can list dozens of works, many (though not all) of them of classical genres, that quite clearly had a healing effect on the state of my mind, that is, the experience of a sense of deep inner peace that cannot be disturbed by anything. This in turn stabilizes the brain wave frequencies, which then allow the brain to do better what it should do: take care of the normal functioning of the body. That’s when we call it a cure. In this sense, (classical) music can certainly be curative, that is, if you are willing to open your mind to a heavenly inspired composition.

For those who are interested in further exploring the truly mesmerizing landscape of healing classical music, I’ve published a website called Heralds of Peace. In addition to two basic lists ranking the top 250 classical composers and their works, there’s a list of 250 pieces that I personally feel are healing to the mind. Of course, such a list can never be truly objective. The list will be a bit different for everyone, but it might serve as an inspirational starting point to ignite the desire to find and experience your own list of healing classical music. Here’s the website:

https://heraldsofpeace.wordpress.com

Many if not most entries contain hyperlinks to the Prestomusic web store, where you can listen to the first minute of each work at no charge. You can even buy individual tracks according to your liking. And no, I’m not a shareholder of Prestomusic. Why not give it a try and see which ‘heralds of peace’ resonate with your mind’s desire to find that truly lasting inner sense of peace. Happy listening!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, July 2021

The wholly neutral body

Although in the mainstream media the body is glorified and venerated to an amusing degree, we all secretly despise our body for its vulnerability and its mortality. No matter how attractively we try to mould and beautify our ‘little mound of clay’, one thing we all know for sure: it will inevitably deteriorate and die. Unconsciously I am worried, if not terrified, that some horrible disease might prematurely end my life in a very painful process. To avoid that fear, we blissfully watch movies and series about immortal and ever youthful vampires and werewolves and other creatures that we made up in the likeness of what we all would like to be: divine, and yet still apart from God as a unique autonomous individual.

A Course in Miracles, with its deep psychological roots, presents us with a major eyeopener when we, while studying and practicing its curriculum, begin to see that unconsciously but purposefully we made the body to be weak, vulnerable and fragile. After all, what better proof would be conceivable for our belief that the separation from eternal oneness has actually been accomplished in reality? If God is perfect and we are not, we are clearly separate from Him. Moreover, if you believe that our mortality is God’s punishment for the original cardinal sin in the garden of Eden, this conveniently confirms that God agrees with us that the separation is indeed reality; the Creator of All has no choice but to accept our decision for separation and its consequences. He can punish us, but he cannot undo the separation Himself.

In the text, Jesus comments that “if this were the real world, God would be cruel” (T-13.In.3:1). So to see the insanity of such thinking without the cloudy mist that the ego generates, we need be aware of the two levels of discourse that run throughout the text, workbook and manual of the Course. Let’s quickly recap. From a metaphysical point of view (Level I), everything in time and space is a made-up illusion. You and I seem to exist as separated bodies only in what Jesus refers to as “the waking dream”. This is somewhat similar to our nightly dreams while we are asleep: the worst things can happen, yet as we wake up we are relieved it was only a dream, with no basis in reality. It is the same with our waking time. That’s why Jesus explains in chapter 18 that “…what you seem to waken to is but another form of […] what you see in dreams. All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all” (T18.II.5:11-14).

Level II is what we usually refer to as the daily life we live, in which we still intimately identify with our perceived body and its corresponding personality. On this level, we are firmly convinced that our body and personality are all we are and all we have, and so we strive mightily to keep ourselves healthy as long as possible, in the futile hope that we can prolong our own little kingdom yet a little while longer. All the time, however, subconsciously we realize this is hopeless – in the end we will perish. We flee from that painful realization by distracting the mind with special relationships, be it people, possessions, hobbies, work, travel, food, drugs, media, you name it. Until we reach a point where the pain won’t be suppressed any longer and we start to seek for a glimpse of our real Self, acknowledging at last that “there must be a better way”. A Course in Miracles is one such better way, although there a many other similar paths that all lead to God in the end (M-1.4:1-2).

So does the Holy Spirit, Who in Level II is experienced as the Voice for the Love of Level I, reject the measly body? Not at all! To Jesus (/HS), the material body, however illusory it may be, is a completely neutral thing. It’s neither good nor bad. Its usefulness lies solely in the purpose we assign to it. Do I use the body to root my thinking even further in the dream world of time and space and death, or do I use the body to demonstrate to those around me that we are not bodies? The body, when rightly seen, can act as a clear guide to which aspects of my thinking still require forgiveness: “… A careful study of the form a sickness [i.e., symptom] takes will point quite clearly to the form of unforgiveness that it represents” (P-2.VI.5). Jesus adds that only an unforgiveness can possibly give rise to sickness of any kind, since the body is merely an outward mirror of an inward condition (T-21.In.1:5).

So looking at our Level II identification from a Level I viewpoint (“Above the battleground”, T-23.IV), Jesus would have us say to ourselves in workbook lesson 294, in terms of our own right-minded reasoning: “I am a Son of God. Can I be another thing as well? Did God create the mortal and corruptible? What use has God’s beloved Son for what must die?” (W-pII.294.1:1-4). This clearly points to the purpose we assign to the body from our ego point of view: to prove that the separation is real. Yet above the battleground we can choose to see the body as a wholly neutral thing: “And yet a neutral thing does not see death […] its neutrality protects it while it has a use [i.e., to identify our own specific forgiveness work and demonstrate to others that we are spirit, not a body]. And afterwards, without a purpose, it is laid aside. It is not sick nor old nor hurt. It is but functionless, unneeded and cast off. Let me not see it more than this today; of service for a while and fit to serve, to keep its usefulness while it can serve, and then to be replaced for greater good. My body, Father, cannot be Your Son. […] Let me, then, use this dream to help Your plan that we awaken from all dreams we made” (W-pII.294.1:5-2:3).

So please stop despising your body. Any discomfort, dis-ease, symptoms, dysfunctions are simply signs that there still is some forgiveness work to do. It may or may not be feasible to learn that forgiveness lesson in this lifetime. And that’s okay, since in reality time does not exist anyway. You and I have been here already many hundreds of times before, and we’re all guaranteed to end the cycle of birth and rebirth at some point. In any lifetime we progress as far as we muster the courage to go, and then we’ll return as long as there still is work to do. But no-one will stay in reincarnation-hell forever (Lesson 292: “A happy outcome to all things is sure”). So much for the fear of physical death! Recall these very comforting words in the Song of Prayer pamphlet: “This is what death should be; a quiet choice, made joyfully and with a sense of peace, because the body has been kindly used to help the Son of God along the way he goes to God. We thank the body, then, for all the service it has given us. […] Now we can behold Him without blinders, in the light that we have learned to look upon again” (S-3.II.2). So pay loving attention to your body today; not to glorify it, but to identify your next forgiveness lesson that will bring you a bit closer to the acceptance of the Atonement. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, June 2021

The slow turning point

A Course in Miracles is a nondualistic spirituality that aims to make us fully aware of the origin, the nature and the purpose of our ego-based thinking. Its author Jesus (who is not as he is portrayed in the Bible) offers us to this end a text and workbook for students, and a manual for teachers, in which he not only discusses the metaphysics, but above all the practical application of forgiveness in our every day lives here in the dualistic dream world. The basic idea is that we (as the collective Son of God) chose to descend into a nightmarish materialist dream world of time and space, solely to ‘prove’ that individual existence can be a better experience than non-individual oneness. Since this is a hopeless desire that can never become actual reality, the Course leads us gently on the path upwards back to the reality of our oneness as Christ in the Heart of God. And yes, you are right in noting that this thought system is actually closer related to Buddhism than to Christianity. In a simple scheme that I drew in 2018, based on books and workshops by Course Scholar Kenneth Wapnick, this journey downward and again upward might be visualized as follows:

The ego descent and spiritual ascent according to A Course in Miracles. You are free to use this image if you like, as CC-SA.

At the bottom, the miracle denotes the turning point at which the decision maker in the mind realizes that he is not a dream figure; he is, rather, the dreamer of the dream of dualism, who now has the option to shift from mindlessness to mindfulness and choose the ‘green’ journey upwards back to oneness, guided by the Holy Spirit. This turning point from mindlessness to mindfulness is what many spiritualities are all about; however, the beauty of A Course in Miracles is that it clearly explains why we chose the ‘red’ downward journey in the first place. After all, you cannot choose a better path if you do not first fully acknowledge that your current path brings nothing but misery, and also understand why you had chosen the wrong path at the outset. Essentially, the daily practice of A Course in Miracles comes down to training the decision making part of the mind to, as often as possible, non-judgmentally look at your thoughts and the purpose you assigned to them. And the purpose is always either prolonged separation or the return to oneness.

Once you and I reach that turning point of the miracle, and experience the inner peace that our forgiveness brings, there is a tendency to want to speed up the ‘green’ journey back Home to oneness. This is fueled by passages in both the Text and the Workbook that state that salvation could – in theory – be reached in an instant, that is, the holy instant (cf. T-26.VIII.3:1: “Salvation is immediate…”). And who wouldn’t want to be free of all pain in an instant? What’s more, in part II of the Workbook, several lessons announce that this specific day is the day! (cf. WpII.241.1:5: “The day has come when sorrows pass away and pain is gone.”). And yet, in practice the next day turns out to be just as miserable as the day before. Many students who work diligently with the text, the workbook and the manual still find themselves bothered by their ego ten or twenty years later, and so they sigh and give up on its practice for a long time. So what makes this Course work?

The key is to see that the turning point at the bottom of the graph is a slow turning point. In the Text we find many passages that emphasize our enormous resistance to letting go of our precious autonomous individuality, which is what undoing the ego ultimately means. You and I still have a split mind: on the one hand we would indeed like to experience the Love of God as Christ; on the other hand, we would like that as a separated individual. That particular combination is impossible, as oneness cannot be aware of anything other than itself. So of course there’s resistance. Jesus has to guide us at a leisurely pace, step by step, since we are still too anxious to be “abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality” (T16.VI.8:1); this would be far too overwhelming and terrifying.

So the process of the turning point at the bottom of the graph can be aptly described as in lesson 284 of the Workbook: “This is the truth, at first to be but said and then repeated many times; and next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations. Then to be considered seriously more and more, and finally accepted as the truth” (WpII.284.1:5-6). Clearly, this is a process that spans many years, not simply a few days or even one year. The reason this takes so long is that it asks of us to admit – not begrudgingly, but gratefully – that we were wrong about everything we valued in our lives up to now. It requires diligent mind training for such a radical shift – in fact, the most radical mind shift imaginable.

Another reason this process takes many, many years is that an intellectual understanding and acceptance of this message is not enough. The understanding must be translated and integrated into our daily thoughts and actions; it must become experiential. You don’t have to pretend that you are spiritually more advanced than you are. It’s much more helpful to honestly look at all the little condemnations you still choose each day, and then forgive yourself for such silly mistakes, followed by a desire to try again at the following ‘forgiveness opportunity’ that crosses our path. Rest assured that the Holy Spirit will offer exactly those forgiveness lessons that we are now ready to handle. Please don’t take the goal of enlightenment too seriously. Be content to be in the midst of the process of the slow turning point, fully confident in the eventual happy outcome, be it in this life or some future life. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that your decision maker can choose peace now, even though it will not yet last forever. In that sense salvation is immediate, as “now is the closest approximation of eternity that this world offers” (T-13.IV.7:1-5). Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, June 2021

To plan or not to plan

A Course in Miracles is a mind-training curriculum for learning how to attain lasting inner peace. Students notice that during their Course study, they are asked to completely transform one firmly held belief after another: “To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning” (T-24.in.2:1-2). This seems to apply in particular to the aspect of planning. In chapter 18 of the text, Jesus assures me that “I need do nothing” (T-18.VII), since the purpose of all this doing, doing, doing is merely to keep myself convinced of the reality of the body and the world. Workbook lesson 135 in particular stresses that “The mind engaged in planning for itself is occupied in setting up control of future happenings. It does not think that it will be provided for, unless it makes its own provisions. […] The mind that plans is thus refusing to allow for change. […] A healed mind does not plan.” (W-pI.135.15:1,16:1,11:1).

This principle, however, seems most impractical in this world, if not outright impossible. How am I to make it through the day if I don’t organize my life to some extent? Am I really to give up planning for my groceries, my laundry, my general well-being? Does Jesus say that I should cancel my insurance policies and medical coverage, since a healed mind does not need to plan? Moreover, on a larger temporal scale, should I stop planning for my work career, for my retirement, and for how I will spend my leisure time? This seems to be a recipe for total disaster; more likely to lead to immense anxiety than to the promised lasting inner peace. So what does Jesus actually mean?

As course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often pointed out, Jesus by no means tells us not to make any plans. If we read workbook lesson 135 carefully, we can see that Jesus tells us not to make any plans on our own, but rather to consult with him (or the Holy Spirit) first. To continue with the quote from paragraph 11 in lesson 135: “A healed mind does not plan. It carries out the plans that it receives through listening to wisdom that is not its own. It waits until it has been taught what should be done, and then proceeds to do it. It does not depend on itself for anything except its adequacy to fulfill the plans assigned to it. […] A healed mind is relieved of the belief that it must plan [on its own].” (W-pI.135.11:1-12:1).

The bottom line, therefore, is not that we should stop planning, but that we should make plans with the right teacher. As all Course students know, there are only two: we always choose either the ego or the Holy Spirit as our guide. As we read in workbook lesson 156: “Who walks with me?’ This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace.” (W-pI.156.8:1-2). Each time I decide with the ego as my guide, I am unconsciously asking for failure and misery (which does ‘prove’ the reality of the separation and individuality, but doesn’t bring happiness). It is only when I consult with the Holy Spirit (I like to call it true intuition) first, that things will work out best for everyone.

Since asking the Holy Spirit means stepping back, in the humble recognition that I do not know my best interests, this is usually not our favorite option, and so we rarely do it. Yet if we think about it, how could we ever plan and decide anything on our own, with absolute certainty of the outcome? “In order to judge anything rightly, one would have to be fully aware of an inconceivably wide range of things, past, present, and to come. One would have to recognize in advance all the effects of his judgments on everyone and everything involved in them in any way. And one would have to be certain there is no distortion in his perception, so that his judgment would be wholly fair to everyone on whom it rests, now and in the future. Who is in a position to do this? Who except in grandiose fantasies would claim this for himself?” (M-10.3:3-7).

We are all familiar with the experience of finding it difficult to choose between a rational option and a more intuitive (or “gut-feeling”) option. In retrospect, the intuitive option usually made the situation turn out best for everyone. And if it didn’t, one might well ask if the advice really came through intuition. After all, the ego loves to disguise itself as the voice of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, one of the most useful daily exercises is learning to discern between ego-advice and the counsel of the Holy Spirit. If there is the slightest strain, pressure, discomfort or anxiety involved in the decision, you can be pretty sure that the ego is in the driving seat. Luckily, you can always choose again.

A frequently occurring pitfall while planning with the Holy Spirit is that we think we ask from the place of true intuition, but we do this to solve something specific in the world. So, for example, we might ask Jesus which parking garage we ought to choose for our visit to a nearby city. The lesson in asking for specifics, though, is to learn to generalize such questions, because we slowly learn that forms (and therefore specifics) do not matter. In chapter 10 we read that “The Holy Spirit will answer every specific problem as long as you believe that problems are specific. His answer is both many and one, as long as you believe that the one is many.” In the Song of Prayer, Jesus adds: “[…] Forget the things you think you need. […] In prayer, you overlook your specific needs as you see them, and let them go into God’s Hands. There they become your gifts to Him, for they tell Him that you would have no gods before Him.” (S-1.I.4).

Despite this nondualistic truth, as with everything in the illusory dualistic world of time and space, the key thing in making plans is to remain a normal person. So you do not cancel your medical insurance, and you do take care of regular income and retirement deposits. Remember, “Even the most advanced therapist has some earthly needs while he is here.” (P.3.III.3). The key, again, is to learn to ask yourself with which guide you make decisions: the ego, or the Holy Spirit? For those who still find this difficult (which includes almost all of us), it can be useful to revisit section 1 of chapter 30 (“Rules for Decision”) once and a while: “If I make no decisions by myself, this is the day that will be given me.” (T-30.I.4:2). And should you feel upset, a great instant response is: “Perhaps there is another way to look at this. What can I lose by asking?” (T-30.I.12:3). Happy asking!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Who do you think you are?

The teachings of Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) on enlightenment were simple but profound. In discussing any topic, event, thought or action he would always invite his visitors to simply ask: “Who is it that is asking this question?”, or, similarly, “Who is the thinker?”. This of course leads to the ultimate question: “Who am I?”, and the idea is, you guessed it, that you and I are not the personality in the body that we all intimately identify with. Beyond all these distracting bodily senses and distracting thoughts and desires, you and I are Brahman, the eternal life that merely is. Or, as Rupert Spira wisely taught: “Your existence in time is an illusion. You do not exist; you are.” The distinction in words seems very subtle, but it makes all the difference between experiencing yourself as a body in time and space, versus experiencing your Self as the timeless “all-in-all” that joins all life as one, outside time and space.

Students of A Course in Miracles will of course be quick to spot the similarities with Terms-summary #14 in the Workbook, titled “What Am I?” (WpII.14). The answer Jesus gives to this question is the key to A Course in Miracles, in that our one problem is that in the ontological instant just before the Big Bang, we preferred the imaginary ego-seduction of being an autonomous. split-off self, instead of gently laughing about the silly notion that part of Oneness could wrench itself from perfect Oneness. Here, then, is Jesus’ answer to the most fundamental question of all: “I am God’s Son, complete and healed and whole, shining in the reflection of His Love. In me is His creation sanctified and guaranteed eternal life. In me is love perfected, fear impossible, and joy established without opposite. I am the holy home of God Himself. I am the Heaven where His Love resides. I am His holy Sinlessness Itself, for in my purity abides His Own” (WpII.14.1).

Since this answer applies to every seemingly separated living thing, you and I are really no different from other life forms that we encounter. To be sure, the forms our eyes behold are distinctly different, and the values and beliefs that our ears pick up from others often differ markedly from ours; but beyond the senses and personalities, you and I and everyone share the same one life. The goal of Jesus’ curriculum called A Course in Miracles is to guide us slowly in gradually accepting this truth about ourselves, step by step. Since this acceptance ultimately implies the end of individual perception, emotions, and the body, we should expect to feel a slight twinge of resistance to Jesus’ course, to say the least. So the truth is “…repeated many times; next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations; then to be considered seriously more and more, and finally accepted as the truth.” (WpII.284.1:5-6).

As Ramana Maharshi taught, the key in this process is to become the observer of the self that seems to think and act in this waking dream we call our world; a world that boils down to a battlefield of egos fighting for autonomy. In the Course this is perhaps best exemplified in Chapter 23 of the Text, in section IV called “Above the battleground”, where Jesus poetically invites us to: “…Be lifted up, and from a higher place look down upon it [the battleground]. From there will your perspective be quite different. In the midst of it, it does seem real. Here you have chosen to be part of it [the battleground]. Here murder is your choice” (T23.IV.5:1-5). Why is murder our choice here? Because the ego dream of separation provides us with a seeming autonomous identity, which must constantly be defended against attack, which justifies our own attack, which of course merely reflects our own imagined original attack on God. And the fact that we seem to die anyway merely proves that God (Oneness) is a lie and that the ego is right: oneness has indeed been shattered, and death is more powerful than Love. The separation has truly been accomplished.

We can escape this vicious attack – defense – attack cycle by practicing Jesus’ instructions about the observer of the battleground. “Be lifted up” is really the invitation to choose to become the observer of the stage of your life that is currently going on. Imagine yourself sitting in a theater, looking at a play – and the play is your interpretation of everything that happens in your life. Interestingly, when people are asked to summarize the play of their life in a succinct poetic title, we often see phrases such as “Groundhog day”; “Fifty shades of misery”, “A series of unfortunate events”; “Rock bottom”, “Suicidal tendencies”, “Broke”, “Home alone”, etcetera. To Course students, this should come as no surprise, since we are always looking for problems just to ensure our special unique identity in a world wherein we can blame everything and everyone as the scapegoat, while secretly we suspect that we are the guilty sinners, but want to escape God’s imagined wrath. All this again affirms the “reality” of the separation. As author Joe Dispenza put it concisely: “Who would I be without my problems?” That’s the insanity of the ego. But you and I are not our ego.

So when Ramana invites you to pose the question “Who is the one thinking about this situation?” and you are in Jesus’ “observer” mode “above the battleground”, the answer is plain as day: the observed “you” on the stage, the “hero of the dream”, is a made-up construct, with the perennial goal of keeping a separated identity intact, and blaming everyone else for the sin of that separation. The distinction Rupert Spira uses between existence and being is also often found in the Course: existence means a made-up ego-identity in time and space, which is totally illusory, while being refers to the truth our eternal oneness, safe at home within the Heart of God as the extension of the Love of God. So the answer to Ramana’s question “What am I?” could be stated as: “I do not exist; I am“.

What’s the value of this exercise? Well, you will never again take the dream world as seriously as before. Your peace won’t be shattered by the least irritated frown from those around you. Your days will become much lighter, as you realize the value of each day in learning how to ascend the ladder to the acceptance of the Atonement; from existence to being. This, by the way, does not imply you become indifferent to what happens on the stage; after all, whatever happens we unconsciously want to happen. You merely let your thoughts and actions be guided by a much better inner teacher. As Ramana counseled: “Do not give up your earthly responsibilities. But take the time, whenever you can, as often as possible, to ask the question: ‘Who am I’?” This puts you right back in the observer mode above the battlefield, where you can make a better choice.

To conclude with Jesus’ heart-warming advice from the section “Above the Battleground” in Chapter 23: “When the temptation to attack [i.e., reject, condemn] rises to make your mind darkened and murderous, remember you can see the battle from above [i.e., the observer watching the stage]. Even in forms you do not recognize, the signs you know. There is a stab of pain, a twinge of guilt, and above all, a loss of peace. This you know well. When they occur [i.e., on the stage], leave not your place on high, but quickly choose a miracle instead of murder.” (T-23.IV.6:1-5). Happy observing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, May 2021

To ease the seriousness of death

Each time we are confronted with the death of a loved one, be it through illness, an accident, suicide, or simply old age, we are sharply reminded of the impermanence of life. What’s more, we are simultaneously reminded that our own life is finite, which sometimes leads to a rethinking about what’s the use of all that we do (and also what’s the use of all our worrying). On a spiritual level, each death we perceive is an unconscious affirmation (by the ego) that God has indeed not forgotten about our cardinal sin of separation from Him. Each death ‘proves’ this was actually accomplished, and in due time He will snatch back the life we stole from Him, though only after much suffering on our part.

No matter how much we distract the mind by busying ourselves with family, career, hobbies, and other personal ‘goals’, this is a basic fear that lurks in all of us, no matter how deep is it is repressed. How refreshing, then, to read a completely different view on the concept of death in A Course in Miracles! This is due to the unique metaphysical foundation of strict nonduality that its entire thought system rests on. It’s a unique view on what is reality and what is illusory. To attain the inner peace that is A Course in Miracles‘ goal, a basic understanding of the distinction between nonduality and duality is required, so let’s recap. I know I do this a lot in my blog posts, but since repetition is the mother of skill, another summary, in this case from the perspective of life and death, may be helpful.

Whenever we’re confronted with the passing of a loved one, we might realize that we see that person as a body; and consequently, we see ourselves as a body as well. A Course in Miracles, however, teaches us that you and I are not a body; we are pure spirit — but not in the sense of a ‘light’ or a ‘soul’ that’s ‘trapped’ in a specific body. Spirit is completely outside time, space, and perception. Though in the world we think we live in everything is characterized by differences and change, in the world of spirit everything is one. So when we read in A Course in Miracles that you and I are pure spirit (cf. W-pI.97), one spirit is not different from another spirit — you and I are the very same spirit. Only in the world of time and space does this spirit seem to manifest itself as a myriad of separated bodies. In other words: forms differ, but the content is the same.

Scholar Kenneth Wapnick often used the very helpful distinction of a Level I and Level II view of reality. Level I equals nonduality, in which God is the only reality, and you and I and all life combined are but the unified extension of God’s changeless Love. Our linearly programmed brains cannot really grasp this, but according to A Course in Miracles you and I are not made of flesh and blood and bone (W-pI.107.8:2). You and I are one changeless spirit, eternally united with God (Who equals Love) in a ‘oneness joined as one’ (T-25.I.7:1).  This is Level I, the only true reality. This is certainly not our daily experience. Level II comprises the totality of time and space: the universe, the world, our lives, in short, what we generally think of as reality. A Course in Miracles calls this ‘the waking dream’ and states that this is completely illusory. The Son of God has seemingly fallen asleep in a dream of time and space, hoping to retain his imagined autonomy and hide from God, Who must be angry about what His Son did to Him.

This is why Jesus says in chapter 24 of the text: “You may be surprised to hear how very different is reality from what you see. You do not realize the magnitude of that one error [of seriously considering separation from God]. It was so vast and so completely incredible that from it a world of total unreality had to emerge.” (T-24.I.5:1-3). In this ‘waking dream’ of time and space, we have forgotten what our true reality is. But that does not mean it is gone or lost. And so Jesus invites us: “Can you imagine what a state of mind without illusion is? How would it feel? Try to remember when there was a time — perhaps a minute, may be even less — when nothing came to interrupt your peace; when you were certain you were loved and safe. Then try to picture what it would be like to have that moment be extended to the end of time and to eternity. Then let the sense of quiet that you felt be multiplied a hundred times, and then be multiplied another hundred more. And now you have a hint, not more than just the faintest intimation of the state your mind will rest in when the truth has come.” (W-pI.107.2:1-3:1).

So when someone passes away, it’s the seeming end of what never had any reality anyway. It’s one fragment within the dream of the sleeping Son of God, on its journey to fragmenting yet once again. Although A Course in Miracles does not take a definite stand on the issue of reincarnation (cf. M-24), since that would give the concept of time a reality it simply does not have, both the text and workbook contain several allusions to us repeatedly coming back in different bodies, each with the same wrong-minded goal of separation from oneness, and with the same right-minded goal of learning the forgiveness lessons of the Holy Spirit (cf. T-6, the lessons of love). Also, in one of Gary Renard’s books, he was treated by Arten and Pursah on a rollercoaster experience of all the bodies he had inhabited on his journey home so far. So you and I can be reasonably sure that — at least from the perspective of Level II — we’re been here before many times. As long as we have not yet fully accepted the Atonement (“see the face of Christ in all your brothers and remember God”, M-5.2:1), you and I will be here for several lifetimes to come, until we have learned the final lesson, and only peace remains.

That places the concepts of birth and death in an entirely different perspective. You need never be afraid of death again! This is not to say, though, that you ought not to have any feelings when confronted with death. A Course in Miracles calls upon its students to remain normal persons; so as a loved one passes, you mourn just like anyone would do, and you certainly don’t tell everyone at the funeral that they should cheer up because it’s all illusory anyway. The only difference is that your mind is now capable of viewing it all from ‘above the battleground’ (cf. T-23.IV.5:1-7), and you realize you are in a classroom in which the Holy Spirit offers you yet another opportunity for forgiving a remaining dark spot in the mind. The dark spot is a decision to want to die, since this would ‘prove’ once again that the separation actually happened, and we can definitely mock God. After the mourning, we can now gently smile at such silliness. The world is a classroom in which we can learn to end the hopeless cycle of reincarnations. As Jesus says in chapter 19, in a quote that also appeared in the Bhagavad Gita three thousand years earlier: “How can the immortal die?” (T-19.II.3:6).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Forgiving politicians

Most of us have a decided opinion about the president of the United States, the president of the Russian Federation, or any other prolific politician that comes to mind. Politicians are generally seen as being unreliable, opportunistic, and underhanded, if not outright evil. And yet we read in A Course in Miracles that our anger, in this case toward them, is never justified and that attack has no foundation (T-30.VI.1:1-2). The reason, so Jesus tells us, is that ultimately there is no world outside of us (W-pI.132.6:2), and so there are no politicians out there to get mad at. To many first-time readers of the Course, this seems a foolhardy denial of what we clearly perceive. So what gives?

A Course in Miracles cannot be understood without being aware of a clear distinction between two levels of reality, which are mutually exclusive. The first level, called Level I by Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick, is strict nonduality, or “not-two”. In nonduality, there is no time, no space, no observer, no consciousness, no existence. There is only God, Who in A Course in miracles is synonymous with unconditional Love. And this Love merely is, unchallenged and unchangeable. Although Jesus explains to us that this Love constantly extends itself in eternity, we should not try to picture this in terms of a three-dimensional space, as nonduality has no dimensions.

From a Level I perspective, you and I and all the life we perceive around us is no more (but also no less) than the extension of that Love, which in the Course is named the Son of God (capital S). This completely redefines two thousand years of Biblical conditioning that the Son of God is only one very special body, called Jesus. From the perspective of Level I, you and I are not bodies, but the same abstract extension of the Love of God. As we read in chapter 18 of the text: “Can you who see yourself within a body know yourself as an idea? Everything you recognize you identify with externals, something outside itself. You cannot even think of God without a body or in some form you think you recognize” (T-18.VIII.1:5-7).

What we ‘think we recognize’ is the second level of reality, called Level II by Kenneth Wapnick. This is the ‘reality’ of form. It includes everything we perceive in the time and space around us; in short, everything we call our daily reality. Except that Jesus firmly stresses that what we see as reality, is not reality at all — it’s more like a dream. When we wake up in the morning, we think we wake up to reality, but Jesus assures us we merely wake up to another form of dreaming: “All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all. Their content is the same. They are your protest against reality, and your fixed and insane idea that you can change it” (T-18.II.5:12-14).

The difficult thing about these two levels is that our brains, with which we think we can reason and understand reality, were made to be limited to the dream world in time and space (that is, Level II). So anything outside time and space, anything that’s not observable and not related to any concept we know, is by definition outside the realm of comprehension of the brain. Therefore, any time we talk about Level I we may get all excited, but in the meantime we are still convinced that Level II is the reality that we work and live in. We do not really feel that this abstract Level I is something we might actually experience.

Yet in A Course in Miracles, we are taught that we, as the collective Son of God (the extension of Love) ‘made up’ this Level II in order to experience a world wherein we could be God: “Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be, and that because you want it you see it. And while you see it you do not doubt that it is real.” (T-18.II.5:1). So the world you and I experience ourselves in was not thrust upon us. We “made it as we would have it be”, as the collective sleeping Son of God, who, from the perspective of Level I, is still an idea, the extension of the Love of God, a state which we have all but forgotten, but which is still our ultimate reality.

However, unlike most other (nondualistic) spiritualities, A Course in Miracles does not ask us to deny or dismiss the perceptual dream world of Level II. This would be “a particularly unworthy form of denial” (T.2.IV.3:11). Instead, we are invited to regard our dream in time and space, however illusory though it be, as a useful classroom, which is filled to the rim with opportunities to train the decision making part of the mind. In each person or situation that seems to confront me, I am offered the opportunity of choosing (a) condemnation, rooting my experience still further in the dream, or (b) forgiveness, which readies my mind to eventually awaken from this illusory dream (nightmare, really).

Even though on Level II, God seems to be completely absent (“This world was made as a place where God could enter not”, W-pII.3.2:1,4), His gifts of Love, peace and joy are yet within our mind’s reach, as we read in workbook lesson 105: “God’s peace and joy are yours. Today we will accept them, knowing they belong to us.” (W-pI.105). On almost every page of A Course in Miracles, we are taught that the experience of heaven or hell is a matter of (a choice in) the mind. It does not depend on anything outside of us. You and I can condemn or we can choose to forgive; the choice is completely up to us.

All these vile politicians are merely another aspect in the dream the Son of God has chosen to try to usurp the role of God as Creator, which was the ontological condemnation. In order to escape the imagined wrath of God for this ‘cardinal sin’, we point at all the seemingly separated fragments outside of us, saying in effect to God: “Don’t be angry with me — I’m innocent. All evil is done by them (which includes more or less everything we perceive outside of us). Obviously, politicians are a particularly convenient aspect in the illusory dream to blame and condemn. However, since all life still shares the same guilty ego, each time we point a finger at someone or something, we might realize that’s a projection to avoid having to face our own suppressed guilt about the separation. And that’s why in the Level II dream world of time and space, we all walk ‘uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1). We just constantly distract our minds to avoid these feelings, by continually pointing at “evil” outside of us.

Lesson 105 and 106 offer us a particularly beautiful combination of mind training exercises to undo all this silliness that we take so seriously. In order to experience the peace and joy of God we want so much, we must share it with everyone we meet or even think of. Let’s use politicians for this. Lesson 105 invites us to: “Think of your ‘enemies’ a little while, and tell each one, as he occurs to you: My brother, peace and joy I offer you, that I may have God’s peace and joy as mine.” […] Now you are ready to accept the gift of peace and joy that God has given you. […] Now you can say, ‘God’s peace and joy are mine’, for you have given what you would receive.” (W-pI.105.7:1-6).

If you find such a forgiveness exercise extremely difficult, try lesson 106, “I will be still and listen to the truth”, which is an invitation to lay aside the ego’s shrieking voice. Close your eyes and picture all the politicians that you despise, one by one. Try to visualize white light within each of them; the same white light that we all share as the one Son of God. If you then try to focus on stillness, the truth of that image (which is content, not form) will make itself known to you, usually in the form of a warm peaceful feeling within your body. You can try it with anyone you seem to have an upset with. So choose once again today the gentle road of miracles (forgiveness) instead of murder (condemnation), and experience how much more peaceful your days become.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Being honest about choosing darkness

One of the more striking aspects of the spiritual thought system called A Course in Miracles is that it would have us explicitly look at all the dark thoughts in the mind, in order to be able to let them go. This is in stark contrast to many contemporary spiritual and new age systems, which would have us focus solely on the love in the mind. In this sense, A Course in Miracles offers a much more tightly integrated combination of psychology and spirituality. In many places, Jesus stresses the importance of this looking, for example in Chapter 13: “You may wonder why it is so crucial that you look upon your hatred and realize its full extent. You may also think that it would be easy enough for the Holy Spirit to show it to you, and to dispel it without the need for you to raise it to awareness yourself.” (T-13.III.1-2).

This would be the easy fix we all want. The general idea is something like: “Please Jesus, take all this rotten darkness from my mind so that I can just be at peace in the Love of God.” The trick, however, is that unconsciously we do not want to be ‘at peace in the Love of God’ as the One Son of God: we want it as an individual. However, since oneness knows not of individuality, this is impossible. That’s why Jesus ends that same paragraph in chapter 13 with the dazzling statement: “You are not really afraid of crucifixion [i.e., pain, darkness]. Your real terror is of redemption [i.e., Oneness Love, light]”. So, to dispel the dark conflicts in the mind forever we must first realize just how miserable our ‘autonomous individuality’ (which is the embodiment of separation) really makes us. If you and I solely focus on the love and light that we cherish so much as a separated individual, the separated ego remains in the driving seat, blissfully steering our life further into nowhere-land. Your autonomy remains, but it will not lead to lasting inner peace.

In Chapter 11 of the text of A Course in Miracles, after having explained the contrast between God and the ego, that is, between oneness and separation, light and shadow, truth and illusion, Jesus guides us: “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected.” (T-11.V.1:1). That’s the bottom line. Think about that for a while. All the distractions in our lives, be it about careers, hobbies, money, partner relationships, you name it, are ego ploys to avoid having to look at the dark illusion of separation. Jesus proceeds: “We are ready to look more closely at the ego’s thought system because together we have the lamp that will dispel it, and since you realize you do not want it [after ten chapters of text], you must be ready. Let us be very calm in doing this, for we are merely looking honestly for truth. The dynamics of the ego will be our lesson for a while, for we must look first at this to see beyond it, since you have made it real.” (T-11.V.1:2-5).

This practice of looking is of course one of the main thrusts of the 365 lessons of the workbook of A Course in Miracles. For example, lesson 93, an oft-quoted lesson, titled “Light and joy and peace abide in me”, starts off with the shocking message that “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. […] 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” (W-pI.93.1:1). That’s pretty graphic language! The reason we believe this is our unconscious guilt about the ontological separation from God, which is the ‘tiny, mad idea’ that we still take seriously, no matter how deeply we have buried that. That’s why Jesus, in the same lesson, continues to say that “These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing. […] These thoughts are not according to God’s Will. […] This is enough to prove that they are wrong, but you do not perceive that this is so.” ( W-pI.93.2:1;3:2-4).

So that is why “To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning.” (T-24.In.2:1). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised to feel not just a twinge of resistance, but a whirlwind of resistance. After all, this Course undermines the very image of our individual self we cherish so much! That’s why Jesus continually pleads with us to honestly look at how miserable our separated autonomy makes us, and to try to follow up on his workbook instructions, to actually feel the peace we could experience instead. So in lesson 98, we read: “Here [i.e., by accepting your part in God’s plan for salvation] is an offer guaranteeing you your full release from pain of every kind, and joy the world does not contain” (W-pI.98.6:1).

As Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often pointed out in his workshops and his books, our ego immediately conjures up all sorts of objections: “That would mean I would have to give up everything that’s unique and special about me. But who would I be without all this? Wouldn’t that lead to total nothingness? It just doesn’t feel enticing.” And before you know it, you unconsciously conclude: “Nah, I don’t believe it. I am not willing to let go of my unique personality. Sure, along with that come my judgments, my grievances, my addictions, but hey, I think I’d still be better off with these than joining Jesus on this so-called road to oneness, which I cannot really picture anyway.” Or perhaps you say to yourself that you will want oneness in due time, but not just as yet.

Ken’s point (and Jesus’ as well) is that it is important to explicitly articulate this resistance; this obvious preference for darkness. Why? In his “Journey through the workbook”, he explains: “If you hear yourself say these words [i.e., your resistance to Jesus’ message], and understand the fear [of redemption, of oneness] that caused them, there will be no guilt, which thrives on being hidden. [Remember, illusions are protected by not looking at them]. Guilt prevents awareness through repression, and then protects itself through projection, which is when you inflict suffering on another or yourself. […] Again, you need, in all honestly, let yourself be free enough to say to him [Jesus]: ‘I do not believe you.’ If you can speak thus, there will be no guilt.” (Journey through the workbook, vol. 3. p.48; brackets mine).

As good students of A Course in Miracles, what we usually tend to do if we catch ourselves having forgotten the lesson for the day for a long while, is feeling a twinge of guilt, then very quickly repress that, and blame something or someone else for our lack of diligence. And though we subsequently vow to ourselves to try harder, the cause of the resistance, guilt and fear, have not been brought to the surface. We will then remain in this vicious circle of allowing the ego in the driver’s seat, still guiding us to nowhere. So why not be honest to yourself, and say, explicitly, without guilt or fear: “All nice and well, these workbook lessons from Jesus, but my ego really doesn’t want this and therefore doesn’t believe it. Of course not, for this Course ultimately heralds the end of the ego, and since I’m so thoroughly identified with my individual personality, this must engender fear. I will allow myself some slack, and try to really experience the inner peace that the diligent practice of the workbook leads to.”

Now we can better understand why Jesus introduces his workbook by stating: “Remember only this: you need not believe the ideas [lessons, exercises], you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. […] You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. You are not asked to judge them at all. You are asked only to use them. It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true.” (W-pI.In.8-9). This is also why Jesus closes the workbook with the famous lines: “This course is a beginning, not an end. Your Friend [the Holy Spirit, the Voice for Oneness Love] goes with you. You are not alone.” (W-Ep.1:1-3). So please practice hearing yourself articulate your resistance. It’s an effective way to undo the guilt about the tiny, mad idea that never happened anyway.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst