The wish to be special

As an ego-incarnation in time and space, life is about being special, being different, having value of yourself. The ego itself is literally the thought of wanting to be different from Oneness, in which no meaningful distinction between anything whatsoever exists. In our individual lives, we yearn to become as special as possible. In the current media this manifests, for example, in the gender discussions. If you examine these temper tantrums a bit closer, these always focus on some aspect of form (i.e., the body) and are swiftly translated to state that the specialness of the body must mean that the content of that person (i.e., the personality, the ego) must be special as well. It is as if the quality of the form would determine the quality of the content.

In his spiritual curriculum A Course in Miracles, Jesus thinks otherwise, as we read in for example chapter 24: “You are not special. If you think you are, and would defend your specialness against the truth of what you really are, how can you know the truth? What answer that the Holy Spirit [i.e., the Voice for Love] gives can reach you, when it is your specialness to which you listen, and which asks and answers? Its tiny answer, soundless in the melody that pours from God to you eternally in loving praise of what you are, is all you listen to. And that vast song of honor and of love for what you are seems silent and unheard before its “mightiness.” You strain your ears to hear its soundless voice, and yet the Call of God Himself is soundless to you” (T-24.II.4). In referring to “…what you are…”, Jesus of course points to our unchangeable essence as sprit, which has nothing whatsoever to do with how we try to mould the body, which, although in the Course marked as strictly neutral, is referred to as a “little mound of clay” (T-19.IV-B.4:8) and a “little pile of dust” (W-pI.186.7:4).

Jesus continues: “You can defend your specialness, but never will you hear the Voice for God beside it. They speak a different language and they fall on different ears. To every special one a different message, and one with different meaning, is the truth. Yet how can truth be different to each one? The special messages the special hear convince them they are different and apart; each in his special sins and “safe” from love, which does not see his specialness at all. Christ’s vision is their “enemy,” for it sees not what they would look upon, and it would show them that the specialness they think they see is an illusion” (T-24.II.5). And indeed, you need only watch the media for a little while to see that all the vicious attacks are always aimed at not seeing ‘the face of Christ’ in the targeted people at hand.

The special ones believe that attack brings safety, because they themselves secretly feel extremely vulnerable because they deny the Christ in themselves, which is the only true rock of safety that is beyond all fear. Jesus puts it this way: “It is not you who are so vulnerable and open to attack that just a word, a little whisper that you do not like, a circumstance that suits you not, or an event that you did not anticipate upsets your world, and hurls it into chaos. Truth is not frail. Illusions leave it perfectly unmoved and undisturbed. But specialness is not the truth in you. It [i.e., specialness] can be thrown off balance by anything. […] It is your specialness that is attacked by everything that walks and breathes, or creeps or crawls, or even lives at all. Nothing is safe from its attack, and it is safe from nothing. It will forevermore be unforgiving, for that is what it is; a secret vow that what God wants for you will never be, and that you will oppose His Will forever.” (T-24.III.3-4:6).

It struck me that this is exactly what we see so often in the mainstream media nowadays: be forevermore unforgiving, and oppose God’s Will forever. In a rather graphic passage, Jesus further reveals the bitter truth about the tenacious focus on specialness: “What would you save it [your special body] for? For in that choice lie both its health and harm. Save it for show, as bait to catch another fish, to house your specialness in better style, or weave a frame of loveliness around your hate, and you condemn it to decay and death. And if you see this purpose in your brother’s, such is your condemnation of your own. […] Specialness is a lack of trust in anyone except yourself. Faith is invested in yourself alone. Everything else becomes your enemy; feared and attacked, deadly and dangerous, hated and worthy only of destruction. What could the purpose of the body be but specialness? And it is this that makes it frail and helpless in its own defense. It was conceived to make you frail and helpless” (T-24.VII.4.4-7;IV.1:1-2:3).

The solution, as always, lies in our freedom to decide what purpose we want our lives to be about, how we will use time: as a journey towards further separation, or as a journey towards accepting the Atonement? Therefore, Jesus’ simple conclusion is: “Purpose is of the mind. And minds can change as they desire. What they are, and all their attributes, they cannot change. But what they hold as purpose can be changed, and body states must shift accordingly. Of itself the body can do nothing. See it as means to hurt, and it is hurt. See it as means to heal, and it is healed. You can but hurt yourself. This has been oft repeated, but is difficult to grasp as yet. To minds intent on specialness it is impossible. Yet to those who wish to heal and not attack, it is quite obvious.” (T-24.IV.2:6-3:5). So ask yourself a thousand times today which guide you would choose to direct your thinking: the ego or the Voice for Love?

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, October 2022

Observe the battleground

The mainstream media is ever more ablaze with condemnation and criticism, sometimes about the most trifling things. To our egos, it is very tempting to ‘get sucked in’, to form our own (condemning) opinion, and tenaciously go along in the maelstrom of attack, defense, hate and yet more attack. This is not the way to the lasting inner peace we all desire so much. In A Course in Miracles, Jesus urges his students to make a habit of swiftly correcting wrong-minded impulses that drag us still further into this vicious cycle. Once we have developed this corrective thinking into a habit, we can look past the “seeming sin” to the call for help that always lies underneath all attack. In the final chapter of the text, Jesus puts it this way:

As you prepare to make a choice that will result in different [i.e., more peaceful] outcomes, there is first one thing that must be overlearned. It must become a habit of response so typical of everything you do that it becomes your first response to all temptation, and to every situation that occurs. Learn this, and learn it well, for it is here delay of happiness is shortened by a span of time you cannot realize. You never hate your brother for his sins, but only for your own. Whatever form his sins appear to take, it but obscures the fact that you believe them to be yours, and therefore meriting a “just” attack” (T-31.III.1:2-6; my italics).

In other words, whenever we see someone on TV blaming, condemning or physically attacking someone, it’s always because this person is projecting a “sin” he doesn’t want to see in himself. And with my own attack thoughts, it’s exactly the same. Underneath all the hate there is always loneliness, sadness and despair, which ultimately is rooted in the ontological fear that God is angry and will never let me go back to Heaven. Even advanced Course students do not always escape this temptation. And that’s understandable. As Ken Wapnick often emphasized, Jesus is not saying we won’t be tempted no more, but that when temptation rises to condemn, whatever or whomever it is, we should call on his loving guidance for help. It should come as no surprise that we still find darkness in our own thinking; we should just learn not to justify it. Willingness to look at it with Jesus or the Holy Spirit is what gets us out of the dream.

This habit of learning to observe the battleground of your own mind and that of the stage of the dream world on which time and space are played out (that is, our interpretation of these) requires mind discipline and therefore daily diligent mind training, which sure is not always easy. But the rewards are great. Jesus again: “What worry can beset the one who gives his future to the loving Hands of God? What can he suffer? What can cause him pain, or bring experience of loss to him? What can he fear? And what can he regard except with love? For he who has escaped all fear of future pain has found his way to present peace, and certainty of care the world can never threaten. He is sure that his perception may be faulty, but will never lack correction. He is free to choose again when he has been deceived; to change his mind when he has made mistakes.“(W-194.7:1-8).

So the next time you notice yourself getting upset — again — over something you see (interpret) on the mainstream media, try to swiftly take your seat “way on high” above the battleground, and remember Jesus’ instructions. Remember, you and I are “never upset for the reason we think we are” (W-pI.5), and we always have the power to “see peace instead of this” (W-pI.34). Also remember that you don’t have to watch mainstream media, and you don’t have to indulge in the ego-maelstrom that it propagates. Choose to be a beacon of light, guided by the loving light of the Holy Spirit’s advice. Your loving light will be received and accepted by your brothers, even though it may not be immediately apparent. Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2022

The layers of forgiveness

Every student of A Course in Miracles is clearly taught by Jesus that unconditional forgiveness is the royal road to salvation and everlasting happiness, that is, the acceptance of the Atonement and our return to the experience of Oneness in the Heart of God. Practicing forgiveness, then, means looking differently at everyone and everything, day in, day out. Lesson 249 speaks of forgiveness as follows: “Forgiveness paints a picture of a world where suffering is over; loss becomes impossible, and anger makes no sense. Attack is gone, and madness has an end. What suffering is now conceivable?” (W-pII.249.1:1-3). In the text, Jesus says: “Do you realize that the ego must set you on a journey which cannot but lead to a sense of futility and depression? […] The Holy Spirit offers you another promise, and one that will lead to joy.” (T-12.IV.4:1;4). This joy we attain through practicing unconditional forgiveness.

However, many students tend to get discouraged when after five, ten, twenty or thirty years of practicing forgiveness, their life and the world don’t seem to get any better. Worse: they still experience anger, fear, resentment and loneliness. It becomes very tempting then to close the dark blue book and not open it for a very long time. This is almost always due to what Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick terms “Level confusion”. Remember, the Course presents itself on two levels of thought; clearly discerning the distinction between these levels is crucial to understanding its message. In short: Level I is the metaphysical nonduality of Oneness Love which is the only reality, where you and I already are forever, but which we temporarily seem to have forgotten; Level II is the illusory dualistic dream world of time, space and perception, or the classroom in which the seemingly sleeping decision maker always chooses between wrong-minded and right-minded thinking, to perpetuate or to end the illusory dream world, respectively.

Forgiveness is not about ‘fixing’ the illusory dream world. Why would you want to fix a hallucination? Everything you and I perceive in the world is not true. Everything that does not last, is not the truth. Forgiveness is about acknowledging that Level II is but a ‘tiny, mad idea’ that could never ever mar our essence as Oneness Love (Level I) in the slightest. Forgiveness is acknowledging that anger, hate and attack are simply shabby toys to keep this illusory world ongoing, that they are never necessary, and that everyone can and will learn the lessons of Love that the Holy Spirit [the Voice for Love] presents each and every one of us every single day.

Kenneth Wapnick often added to this that this does not mean that thanks to my forgiveness practice, everyone I meet or think of will cease to suffer pain and loss, or be angry. Forgiveness does not fix a dream. It simply means that I, standing outside the dream, no longer see it as the reality. The world remains the world, being a perceptual device to keep the illusion ongoing. But my interpretation of the world can change, and this is what forgiveness does. If people still choose to see themselves as dream figures, their bodies will seem to suffer pain — in their experience. However, as Course students we see that perception of pain simply points to a lingering unforgiveness in the mind, and that needs attention, which is a call to dare to look within at the darkness, and see it for the nothingness that it is in reality.

The hard part about this is that such looking makes me feel like I am nothingness, and so we resist such looking. However, as Ken often mentioned, if you still feel pain, fear or anger, do not beat yourself up or think you have failed as a Course student… Simply say in all humility and complete honesty: “These signals clearly tell me that I am not yet ready to completely let go of my identification as a body.” That’s perfectly alright. What’s the surprise? It makes no sense to pretend you are further along the journey back Home than you are. Never forget that forgiveness, or the giving up of condemnation, is a process. Learn to enjoy the journey.

Your repeated choice ‘above the battleground’ (T-23.IV) to withhold condemnation tells ‘the other’ that you’ve chosen not to believe in the separation any longer, and inviting the other to make the same choice. Although such a change of mind in the other usually does not seem to happen immediately, somewhere in the unconscious iceberg of the mind the message was accepted. It will help ‘the other’ to more easily look for ‘a better way’ (T-2.III.3:5-6) once the pain of perpetuating separation becomes too much. And the pain is guaranteed to become too much for all seemingly living things in time and space. You may crucify yourself as often as you like. But why wait for Heaven? (T-4.In.3:10; W-pI.131.6:1; W-pI.188.1:1)

Let’s close with the inspiring call to embrace the practice of complete unconditional forgiveness of everyone and everything, including ourselves, as often as possible today, as Workbook lesson 250 would have us affirm to ourselves: “Let me behold the Son of God [i.e., everyone we meet] today, and witness to his glory. Let me not try to obscure the holy light in him, and see his strength diminished and reduced to frailty; nor perceive the lacks in him with which I would attack his sovereignty. He is your Son, my Father. And today I would behold his gentleness instead of my illusions. He is what I am, and as I see him so I see myself. Today I would see truly, that this day I may at last identify with him.” (W-pII.250).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, September 2022

We are Loved

Today, let us rest content, grateful in the knowledge that our Creator loves us unconditionally. Everything that is not borne of love is unreal, superficial and transitory. This is not to say we should repress our unloving thoughts, nor deny what our senses interpret in the world outside… but we can learn to observe duality from above the battleground (T-23.IV), and choose to reinterpret all our experiences and thoughts as lessons that will lead us to this one realization: that you and I and everyone around us remain as God created us, no matter what seems to happen in the waking dream.

Today, let us recall the prayer Workbook lesson 238: “Father, Your trust in me has been so great, I must be worthy. You created me, and know me as I am. And yet You placed Your Son’s salvation in my hands, and let it rest on my decision. I must be beloved of You indeed. And I must be steadfast in holiness as well, that You would give Your Son to me in certainty that he is safe Who still is part of You, and yet is mine, because He is my Self.” (W-pII.238.1). This prayer, by the way, also reminds us that our interpretation of everyone we seemingly see ‘outside ourselves’, is actually a mirror of how I interpret my own worth. There are no others; God has but one Son.

As Course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often underscored, the difficult thing about these prayers is that it is so tempting to bring them into the waking dream we call our daily lives. Consciously or unconsciously, we magically expect God or Jesus to fix things for us here, which… would be a logical consequence of that unconditional Love, wouldn’t it? Nope. Ken puts it this way: “This is the challenge posed by the special relationship: to recognize in this seeming other the split-off part of the mind’s self. Re-uniting the fragments of the Sonship saves us all, and removes the interference to remembering our true Self.” (in: Journey through the Workbook, lesson 238).

The prayer in this workbook lesson might be taken as our glad and grateful answer to the inspiring call by God Himself at the very end of The Song of Prayer: “Return to Me Who never left My Son. Listen, My child, your Father calls to you. Do not refuse to hear the Call for Love. Do not deny to Christ what is His Own. Heaven is here and Heaven is your home.… How lovely are you, child of Holiness! How like to Me! How lovingly I hold you in My Heart and in My Arms.… Remember this: whatever you may think about yourself, whatever you may think about the world, your Father needs you and will call to you until you come to Him in peace at last” (S-3.IV.8:5-9; 9:4-6; 10:7).

Even if, for example, your body is terminally ill, your essence as spirit remains unchanged and unchangeable. When the time comes to discard our current physical costume, we as spirit merely continue on our “journey without distance to a goal that never changed” (T-8.VI.9:7). We are Loved by an unconditional Love that cannot fail to bring each and everyone of us Home, where in reality we already are, here and now. No matter what may seem to befall us, this remains forever true. Today we have reason to rest content, glad and grateful indeed.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, August 2022

Free wishing

The ultimate ego song is probably “My way”, a 1969 single by Frank Sinatra, which back then spent no less than 75 consecutive weeks on the charts, making it one of the most successful singles ever. How come? Because this is the original thought everyone brings along at birth in the physical body, as in: “I don’t need God to experience happiness; I’ll decide for myself how to be happy.” The ego regards God (really a synonym for Love!) as a tyrant, hoping against hope that salvation may be found by leaving God [Love] and ruling a tiny kingdom of its own. Just look at the past few thousand years of the history of our planet to evaluate what has come of that. Even though it should be abundantly clear that this separation thought is a painful mistake, we still stubbornly hold on the wish to do it “my way”, fearful of what might happen if we would truly give up this insanity.

Enter A Course in Miracles, an important spiritual curriculum for cultivating lasting inner peace and the practice of forgiveness, the royal road to fully awaken from the illusory dream world of time and space. In the text, its author Jesus explains to his students the importance of choosing the inner Voice for Love: “Every decision you undertake alone but signifies that you would define what salvation is, and what you would be saved from. The Holy Spirit [i.e., the Voice for Love] knows that all salvation is escape from guilt. […] Let Him, therefore, be the only Guide that you would follow to salvation. He knows the way, and leads you gladly on it. With Him you will not fail to learn that what God wills for you is your will. Without His guidance you will think you know alone, and will decide against your peace as surely as you decided that salvation lay in you alone. Salvation is of Him to Whom God gave it for you. He has not forgotten it. Forget Him not and He will make every decision for you, for your salvation and the peace of God in you.” (T-14.III.13-14; my italics).

This notion of the fundamental shift from fear (the consequence of the ego’s will) to peace (the result of choosing to follow the Voice for Love) is even more apparent in Chapter 11: “Fear becomes more obviously inappropriate if you recognize the ego’s goal […].The ego’s goal is quite explicitly ego autonomy. To establish your personal autonomy you tried to create unlike your Father, believing that what you made is capable of being unlike Him. Yet everything true is like Him. […] Everything that stems from the ego is the natural outcome of its central belief, and the way to undo its results is merely to recognize that their source is not natural, being out of accord with your true nature. […] To will contrary to God is wishful thinking and not real willing. His Will is One because the extension of His Will cannot be unlike itself. The real conflict you experience, then, is between the ego’s idle wishes and the Will of God, which you share. Can this be a real conflict?” (T-11.V.4:3-5:6; my italics).

So, yes, within the dream world of time and space I do seem to have free will. I can decide to do things ‘my way’. However, as Jesus notes in the introduction of his Course: “This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time.” (T-In.1:1-5). The issue is not whether or not free will is the case or not (this would be the same as asking why the ego could ever have come about at all, which is a sensible question only as long as you believe in the illusion of time-space); the issue lies in deciding where salvation, lasting inner peace and eternal happiness are to be found. The entire thrust of A Course in Miracles is to remind its students of the importance of that particular choice. Until we reach that point, we are free to ‘crucify ourselves as often as we choose’ (T-4.In.3). But why wait for Heaven? Answer: because unconsciously, I still want to do it my way.

Jesus knows his students well, and so he has to nurture their motivation to gradually shift their mode of thinking 180 degrees. This means he both exposes the silly nature of wrong-minded thinking as well as providing regular ‘pep talks’ to remind us of our true inner desire, as for example in Chapter 11: “O my child, if you knew what God wills for you, your joy would be complete! And what He wills has happened, for it was always true. When the light comes and you have said, “God’s Will is mine,” you will see such beauty that you will know it is not of you. Out of your joy you will create beauty in His Name, for your joy could no more be contained than His. The bleak little world will vanish into nothingness, and your heart will be so filled with joy that it will leap into Heaven, and into the Presence of God. I cannot tell you what this will be like, for your heart is not ready. Yet I can tell you, and remind you often, that what God wills for Himself He wills for you, and what He wills for you is yours.” (T-11.III.3:1-7).

And so we happily conclude with the inspiring prayer about our own will and choosing our ‘holy instant of release’, found in lesson 227 of the Workbook: “Father, it is today that I am free, because my will is Yours. I thought to make another will. Yet nothing that I thought apart from You exists. And I am free because I was mistaken, and did not affect my own reality at all by my illusions. Now I give them up, and lay them down before the feet of truth, to be removed forever from my mind. This is my holy instant of release. Father, I know my will is one with Yours.” (W-pII.227.1). Happy practicing!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, August 2022

A loving “No”

One of the challenges of students of A Course in Miracles is that of facing a (potential) conflict while still remaining spiritually-minded. In an ego-driven world, people take advantage of others. Chances are that sooner or later you are confronted with such behavior. It may be someone who tries to prevent you from getting a promotion. It may be a government that tries to impose restrictions that will harm you, your loved ones and/or society as a whole. The forms are endless. From a spiritual frame of mind, I could see such events as “lessons of love” offered by the Holy Spirit. I can tell myself they provide me with a chance to “meet attack without attack” (P-2.IV.10); an opportunity to make a better choice – a choice for the Vision of Oneness, where before I chose condemnation.

These are typically situations where my own ego exercises its strength. You might not suspect it, but the ego loves to quote from A Course in Miracles in such circumstances. For example: “The ego analyzes; the Holy Spirit accepts” (T-11.V.13) is a favorite one. “Ha! Let’s see what happens if you don’t act, but just accept being walked over. What a wonderful Course,” the ego barks with scorn. And what about this one: “If your brothers ask you for something ‘outrageous’, do it because it does not matter.” (T.12.III.4) Again the ego laughs cynically, asking me how much the curriculum of this ‘Jesus-guy’ will bring me if I think and live this way. Even Jesus’ quote four chapters later: “I have said that if a brother asks a foolish thing of you to do it. But be certain that this does not mean to do a foolish thing that would hurt either him or you, for what would hurt one will hurt the other” (T.16.I.6) has an ego interpretation. “See?” so the ego counsels, “Even Jesus wants you to act if you’re about to be victimized. You’ve got to stand up for yourself if people are taking advantage of you. It’s in the best interest of all. Don’t be a doormat; take action and fight for your right!”

Many students struggle to remain spiritually-minded at all cost when they are confronted with unfair behavior. Affirming to themselves they should always forego judgment, they end up being walked over. A deep sense of unfair sacrifice and being victimized is what remains. These are unfortunate cases of what Kenneth Wapnick calls “level confusion”. Remember, A Course in Miracles offers its curriculum on two levels. Level I is the nondualistic, metaphysical level of God and the extension of Love. On this level, there is no such thing as a material world. Level II, on the other hand, is the level of the dream world in which we are convinced we are making a living. It’s trying to apply the metaphysical principles in a threatening dream world that we feel we have to live and act in that’s causing the real difficulty. It’s making the error of separation real, hoping against hope that by practicing spiritual principles, I as an individual will be better off in this world. That, of course, is a paradox that cannot work.

The key to handling such situations is not to “spiritually forego any judgment”, but to get your little self out of the way and ask the Holy Spirit what to do. Yes, the Holy Spirit most definitely accepts, but that’s on level I of everyone being a Son of God. On the worldly level II of time, space, and perception, the Holy Spirit offers practical advice on how to handle any situation in the best possible way for all involved. This may involve sternness, saying: “No, I will not accept this.” Such refusal of acceptance pertains to the form, the situation at hand; still, the content behind the form remains loving. So it’s quite possible, even advisable, to on the one hand fully accept a person (on level I) as a guiltless Son of God, while at the same time not accepting the person’s behavior (on level II) as this would lead to further attack, separation, defenses, you name it. A “No” can indeed be a loving “No”! As with so many places in A Course in Miracles, the distinction between form and content, between level I and II, is crucial. In some situations, this isn’t difficult. For example, if you have or have had little children, you probably remember being very stern in taking sharp objects such as scissors and knives from their hands. To the child, the behavior may seem unkind at first, but you are acting in everybody’s best interest.

Conflict situations are usually harder to handle this way. The key is to realize your investment in assuming you can and should handle such situations on your own. But that’s another way of trying to handle it “with the ego as teacher”. This is where we mess up. Any situation in which conflict or potential attack is involved can be handled lovingly by the Holy Spirit if only you invite Him in. Kenneth Wapnick often liked to quote the combination of two separate lines from the text: “Resign now as your own teacher… for you were badly taught” (T-12.V.8:3; T-28.I.7:1). You’ll be amazed to notice how practical (and loving!) the advice of the Holy Spirit can be if you are confronted with an ego-driven conflict situation and you simply ask Him for help. If you learn to practice that for a while, you’ll be surprised to see how often the situation turns out more peaceful than you would have thought possible. Kenneth Wapnick has experienced this himself when we was confronted with a burglar in his house. Having found the courage to follow the Holy Spirit’s advice, the end of the story was that the burglar peacefully left his apartment, with the heart-piercing request “Pray for me…”

So why not try it in the days to come? If you feel you are in a situation in which you are led to do something ‘outrageous’, and you feel the ego urge to act (to defend yourself, to become angry), try to step back and inspect your mind for what’s happening. Most people have no problem realizing the ego has entered the stage. The difficult challenge is to see the rapidity with which we then proceed to act and live it out. If you can train your mind to just stop, look at what’s going on in your mind, and then simply say to yourself: “I do not want to be ‘badly taught’ again. Dear Holy Spirit, I would choose your guidance. Please, tell me what to do,” you are taking a giant step in practical spiritual growth. It is actually self-forgiveness you are practicing. You will still accept both of you as a Son of God, but will not accept the potential hurtful outcome of the conflict. This is, by the way, also the reason that we have courts and judges. Jesus nowhere implies we should close all courthouses and prisons. We should simply practice in choosing a better teacher in this dream world, and realize it can indeed to be re-interpreted as a classroom to truly learn how to attain lasting inner peace.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst

Truth and experience

The spiritual curriculum A Course in Miracles makes it abundantly clear that the world you and I seem to live in is not the truth: “There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach” (W-pI.132.6:2-3). Although this seems to fly in the face of everything we experience, Jesus summarizes everyone’s deepest pain: “This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true. A memory of home keeps haunting you, as if there were a place that called you to return, although you do not recognize the voice, nor what it is the voice reminds you of. Yet still you feel an alien here, from somewhere all unknown. Nothing so definite that you could say with certainty you are an exile here. Just a persistent feeling, sometimes not more than a tiny throb, at other times hardly remembered, actively dismissed, but surely to return to mind again. No one but knows whereof we speak.” (W-pI.182.1:1-2:1). Consciously, many students might object that they certainly do not know whereof he speaks; but unconsciously, deep down in the iceberg called the mind, all life shares this particular sadness.

It does not follow, however, that Jesus asks us to deny our experiences in time and space. After all, life is fundamentally grounded in free will. As long as I still experience my own identity as a body in time and space, or at least a mind trapped in a body in time and space, I can be pretty sure that deep down I want to experience myself in the illusory dream world of perceptual experience. I have not yet reached the point at which I see no attractive value at all any longer in anything material. I am not yet ready to completely accept the Atonement, return Home into the Heart of God and completely forget about the illusion. That is: from my mind’s point of view in the dream. In reality, of course, I have never left my Creator’s Love and I’m reviewing a dream that is already over and has, indeed, never happened: “we but see the journey from the point at which it ended, looking back on it, imagining we make it once again; reviewing mentally what has gone by” (W-pI.158.4:5).

However, losing myself in lofty metaphysical principles, regardless of how true they are, is not always helpful for my own Atonement journey, to put it mildly. As scholar Kenneth Wapnick often remarked: metaphysics can be a great ego tool for subtly sabotaging one’s own progress in the Course curriculum. Decades later you’ll admit that your ego is still alive and kicking. It’s the same with asceticism: For example, giving up Western life and settling in an Indian meditation resort can feel absolutely wonderful and liberating, and it may indeed help you gain some valuable insights on your spiritual awakening path; but the real work is to be done in all the myriad everyday situations that you find yourself in, both great and small, no matter where on the planet you may find yourself. Remember: “It takes great learning to understand that all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful. It is only to the extent to which they are helpful that any degree of reality should be accorded them in this world of illusion.” (M-4.I-A.4:6-7).

So if you notice someone upsets you, learn to be grateful for the opportunity of yet another Course practice moment. It sure doesn’t always feel that way, but in a sense you’re just being offered another opportunity at forgiveness, which is always self-forgiveness. And this is the ‘hard part’ of anyone’s Course practice. Why? Because with every upset, we o so easily slip into either (a) living it out in condemnation, rejection and attack, (b) feeling guilty and down, because we once more realize we are not as spiritually advanced as we thought we were, or (c) quickly repressing the upset and putting on our rose-colored glasses, affirming to ourselves that the real world is wonderful and that any upset is to be completely ignored. Needless to say, none of these reactions will do us any good in terms of waking up from the illusory dream world. Yet they are extremely tempting. Again, this is the hard part of practicing and living A Course in Miracles.

The only way that will ever work is the practice of non-judgmentally looking at the battlefield of your own mind. Just look; period. Be your own observer. As soon as you notice a person or a situation upsets you, never deny your feelings, but do learn to lift your conscious mind above the battleground as quickly as possible. Say to yourself something like “This person (or situation) obviously still upsets me. Clearly, there’s still something to forgive in my own mind. What could this speck of darkness be about?” Only from such a vantage point can you mildly look down on the world and the situation or person, and smile with gentleness at what just had seemed so serious.

The next step is to ask for help in realizing what would be the most loving thing to say, think or do. If you ask this sincerely from the heart (the meaning of prayer), the right answer will make itself known, if you truly wish to receive it. For example, the answer “Why are you attacking me, don’t you know this world is an illusion?” is usually not very helpful, and it’s certainly not loving. Practicing A Course in Miracles means letting the right answer come through you. Recall: “…If you have made it a habit to ask for help when and where you can, you can be confident that wisdom will be given you when you need it. Prepare for this each morning, remember God when you can throughout the day, ask the Holy Spirit’s help when it is feasible to do so, and thank Him for His guidance at night. And your confidence will be well founded indeed” (M-29.5:8-10).

So yes: do study the nature of Truth; read the text, practice the workbook, but never deny your experiences here. Instead, learn to be grateful for all that seems to come unbidden to you. Every circumstance, every meeting and all that happens is simply yet another opportunity to release yet another bit of unforgiveness ballast in your holy mind. Learn to become your own observer. Learn to listen to the intuitive Voice for Love, Who is always available, once we are willing to listen. And this is what will get you Home, out of the dream, back to where we already are in truth. There are no shortcuts. Enjoy your awakening path!

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, July 2022

There is no death

Our view of what reality is all about is largely based on what we have been taught as little kids, and on our own interpretation of what our five senses report to us. For example, you and I have been taught that we are a body that blossoms for about the first twenty years in life, and then slowly decays, withers and dies. And when the body is no more, the consciousness, mind and personality of that person are no more. As a kid, you and I never seriously doubted these premises; after all, around us we see lots of people age and die. And since our senses are inevitably limited to what we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch, why would there be any reason to think that reality is otherwise? Religious belief in an afterlife sounds nice, but it can never be more than belief.

It’s only since the past twenty to forty years that scientific investigation in near-death experiences fuels a growing awareness of the concept of life beyond the body; of the continuation of consciousness after the five senses are discarded. When someone who has been clinically dead for a few hours, days, or even weeks, reports meeting a deceased sibling he or she never knew anything about… or when people who ‘come back’ can literally recall conversations of physicians that took place elsewhere in the hospital… plus the fact that most of these people experience full physical recovery after their ‘return from the other side’, even though all physicians had already given up on them… then there’s no doubt that there’s more to it than just dying brain cells who flash up for one final hallucination before they go out.

From the perspective of A Course in Miracles, this is of course no big news. Students are repeatedly taught that this material world is a dream world that has nothing to do with reality, which is ultimately known without any form. When we experience ourselves waking up in the morning, only the form of the dream changes. All our time is spent in dreaming (T-18.II.5). Since it is our rejection of oneness and our guilt over this decision that caused the dream of time and space, the dream world is ‘merely’ a classroom to learn to practice unconditional (self-)forgiveness. The thrust of the spiritual curriculum called A Course in Miracles is to learn to welcome the Voice for Love that will automatically awaken us to our true Home in the Heart of God our Source, outside time and space.

The prayer that closes workbook lesson 163 nicely summarizes this fundamental change of thought: “We live and move in You alone. We are not separate from Your eternal life. There is no death, for death is not Your Will. And we abide where You have placed us, in the life we share with You and with all living things, to be like You and part of You forever. We accept Your Thoughts as ours, and our will is one with Yours eternally. Amen.” (W-pI.163.9:3-8).

However, there’s a slight problem. Once I seriously start to question my comfortable answer to the most fundamental question of all (namely, “What am I?”), anxiety starts to build up. If I do not know the thing I am (T-31.V.17:4-9), perhaps I will end up concluding that I am nothing. My cherished individuality might disappear into thin air. Such unknown territory is too frightening. And so I leap back into the arms of all my special relationships that I still hold dear, since these seem to define my identity in time and space. It is Jesus’ formidable task to have us realize that “God thinks otherwise” (T-23.I.2:7) and that you and I would be much happier if we accepted and practiced his lessons of love, admitting that Jesus is right and we are wrong in answering that fundamental question ‘What am I?”.

We practice this simply by non-judgmentally looking at all the situations in which we still reject or condemn. Since all life is an integral part of Christ, all that we look upon mirrors the decision of how we look on ourselves. That’s why Jesus invites us to consider, accept and practice lessons such as these:

“Let our brothers lean their tired heads against our shoulders as they rest a while. We offer thanks for them. For if we can direct them to the peace that we would find, the way is opening at last to us. An ancient door is swinging free again; a long forgotten Word re-echoes in our memory, and gathers clarity as we are willing once again to hear.” (W-pI.195.7);

“He [Christ] stands beside the door to which forgiveness is the only key. Give it to Him to use instead of you, and you will see the door swing silently open upon the shining face of Christ. Behold your brother there beyond the door; the Son of God as He created Him” (S-2.III.7:6-8);

“The Son of God is always blessed as one. And as his gratitude goes out to you who blessed him, reason will tell you that it cannot be you stand apart from blessing. The gratitude he offers you reminds you of the thanks your Father gives you for completing Him.… Your Father is as close to you as is your brother. Yet what is there that could be nearer you than is your Self?” (T-21.VI.10:1-3,5-6);

“… One Teacher is in all minds and He teaches the same lesson to all. He always teaches you the inestimable worth of every Son of God, teaching it with infinite patience born of the infinite Love for which He speaks. Every attack is a call for His patience, since His patience can translate attack into blessing. Those who attack do not know they are blessed. They attack because they believe they are deprived. Give, therefore, of your abundance, and teach your brothers theirs. Do not share their illusions of scarcity, or you will perceive yourself as lacking” (T-7.VII.7:2-8).

As Jesus reminds us in Chapter 15 of the text: the reason we have so little faith in ourselves is because we are as yet unwilling to accept the fact that perfect love is already within us (T-15.VI.2:1). As spirit, which is our essence, we are already whole and complete, here and now. We’ve just chosen to fall asleep a while; yet this doesn’t affect our reality outside time and space in the least. That should be a reason for being cheerful and grateful, day-in day-out! At the close of Lesson 195, we read: “Our gratitude will pave the way to Him, and shorten our learning time by more than you could ever dream of. Gratitude goes hand in hand with love, and where one is the other must be found. […] Your gratitude to Him is one with His to you. For love can walk no road except the way of gratitude, and thus we go who walk the way to God.” (W-pI.195.10).

— Jan-Willem van Aalst, July 2022

End the tyranny of time

It is estimated that the average person has about 60.000 to 80.000 conscious thoughts a day. Over 99% of these thoughts are about either the past or the future. We try to predict the future (especially our physical and psychological safety in the future) based on what we learned in the past. As a Kundalini yogi teacher once put it: “Aside from the challenge of what we think all the time, the fact that we think all the time is just as serious a matter.” In a sense, we are all control freaks, trying to secure a safe future for our self (our ego, really) by making up stories about what might happen, based on what we remember from our interpretation of our previous experiences. If you think about it, that’s a pretty wobbly and silly basis on which to live life.

Enter A Course in Miracles and its view on time. In Workbook lesson 158, Jesus drops a bombshell for all his students who think they are on a long journey in time back to their acceptance of the Atonement. From his own viewpoint outside of time and space, Jesus has the formidable task of explaining the illusory nature of time to students whose very thinking is based on the notion of the reality of time: “Time is a trick, a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic. Yet there is a plan behind appearances that does not change. The script is written. When experience will come to end your doubting has been set. For we but see the journey from the point at which it ended, looking back on it, imagining we make it once again; reviewing mentally what has gone by” (W-pI.158.4).

This stunning paragraph alone could warrant a complete book of its own, and this has indeed been written: if you really want to take a deep dive into this matter, please do read Kenneth Wapnick’s “A vast illusion: time according to A Course in Miracles“. It’s fascinating reading. We won’t go that deep into this in this blog post. But instead of unconsciously skipping over these lines because to the ego they are utterly incomprehensible and therefore vague rubbish, we could find a truly liberating message in this concept, one that will make you leap up with joy once you accept its consequences.

Take, for example, the fourth sentence: “When experience will come to end your doubting [about the question “What am I?”] has been set.” This strongly suggests predetermination, as does the entire paragraph. In fact, in Workbook lesson 292 Jesus assures us that “A happy outcome to all things is certain” (W-pII.292). He knows this for sure, since he speaks to us from outside time and space, and is therefore aware of all that ever happened or yet will happen within the dream, as the fifth sentence emphasizes: “We but see the journey from the point at which it ended, looking back on it, imagining we make it once again, reviewing mentally what has gone by.”

Does this mean that it really does not matter what I think, say and do each day, as everything is predestined anyway, even the fact that I am now reading this blog post? How would that relate to the notion of free will? Regarding the concept of free will, Jesus states that “Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time” (T-in.1:4-5); and “The power of decision is your one remaining freedom as a prisoner of this world” (T-12.VII.9:1). However, since our true will is the Will of God by definition (the ego’s will only consisting of feeble wishes to deny reality), Jesus concludes that “Awaking unto Christ is following the laws of love of your free will, and out of quiet recognition of the truth in them” (T-13.VI.12:1).

The seeming contradiction between the predetermination of linear time versus our free will is resolved once we realize that we solely choose to believe in time’s reality as a means to convince ourselves that we can deny the Will of God, which in reality is our own true Will (like it or not!), in which there is no room for individuality and separation from oneness. Once we get into the practice of focusing on the holy instant, that is, accepting the now as it is and calmly asking the Holy Spirit for help in what to think, say and do now, do we begin to notice that we are the architects of our own fate in this dream: we are not victims of an unpredictable and threatening force called time: we make time, either for the purpose of perpetuating the illusion of separation, or for the purpose of lessening our craving need for more, much more of such time.

Always remember that now is the closest approximation to eternity that this world offers (T-13.IV.7:5). Through our (self-)forgiveness practice, we learn that we are not a body chained in time and space (although this is still our common experience), but that we are formless spirit, at one with all life, at home with God outside time, merely dreaming of exile. Countless reports of people with near-death experiences conform this notion. As Jesus puts it in Workbook lesson 97, “I am spirit”: “You are the spirit lovingly endowed with all your Father’s Love and peace and joy. You are the spirit which completes Himself, and shares His function as Creator. He is with you always, as you are with Him. […] Each time you practice, awareness is brought a little nearer at least; sometimes a thousand years or more are saved. The minutes which you give are multiplied over and over, for the miracle makes use of time, but is not ruled by it” (W-pI.97.2:2-3:2).

Let’s review a pep talk from Jesus about time, as he urges us to choose the mind guide of the Holy Spirit every more often during the day: “The one remaining problem that you have is that you see an interval between the time when you forgive, and will receive the benefits of trusting in your brother.… The interval you think lies in between the giving and receiving of the gift seems to be one in which you sacrifice and suffer loss. You see eventual salvation, not immediate results. Salvation is immediate.… For a miracle is now. It stands already here, in present grace, within the only interval of time that sin and fear have overlooked, but which is all there is to time. […] The working out of all correction takes no time at all.… Be not content with future happiness. It has no meaning, and is not your just reward. For you have cause for freedom now.… The Holy Spirit’s purpose now is yours. Should not His happiness be yours as well? (T-26.VIII.1:1; 2:6–3:1; 5:8–6:1; 9:1-3,9-10).

You and I have every reason to end the tyranny of time right now. Let us be glad our safety as spirit is by definition guaranteed. All our uncertainty and misery stem solely from the mistaken choice of desiring to be unlike our Creator, and hitherto hiding into a dream about time and space, until we see there must be a better way, and we slowly start to remember our Identity as the Son of God. And this is really free will par excellence. “The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1). So say goodbye to the tyranny of time by choosing the Holy instant a little more often each day. Happy practicing!

Jan-Willem van Aalst, June 2022

Lonely nevermore

One of the most common ailments that bother people is loneliness. Statistics vary somewhat between studies, but roughly one third of all people indicate that loneliness depresses them at times. They feel their very life is meaningless and futile, with no real hope of true happiness whatever they do. Where we used to associate loneliness mainly with elderly people, it now seems to be an ‘epidemic’ that reaches all adults, even adolescents. This includes not only the people who consciously notice it and can identify it as such — more often than not, people quickly distract themselves by whatever means available, to avoid the loneliness reaching full awareness. In the meantime we face an alarming amount of antidepressants being prescribed and swallowed, polluting the environment after they fail to bring any lasting change.

In A Course in Miracles, Jesus emphatically discusses this theme of loneliness. In Chapter 31 of the text, he has us realize that we all wander “…in the world uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T-31.VIII.7:1). In workbook lesson 182, Jesus goes on to explain a major reason for this loneliness: this world is not our home. Jesus assures us that deep down in our hidden unconscious mind, we all feel like an exile here: “This world you seem to live in is not home to you. And somewhere in your mind you know that this is true. A memory of home keeps haunting you, as if there were a place that called you to return, although you do not recognize the voice, nor what it is the voice reminds you of. Yet still you feel an alien here, from somewhere all unknown. ” (W-pI.182.1:1) So all feelings of loneliness reflect the ontological feeling of the loneliness that the Son of God caused himself by choosing to separate from God, and — by the Big Bang — to make up a physical universe in which he could hide from God.

In the same lesson, Jesus describes that the sleeping Son of God “goes uncertainly about in endless search, seeking in darkness… A thousand homes he makes, yet none contents his restless mind. He does not understand he builds in vain. The home he seeks cannot be made by him. There is no substitute for Heaven.” (W-pI.182.3) In other words, Jesus says that all of us must inevitably feel lonely, because we chose to deprive ourselves of our real Home in the Heart of God. So fundamentally, our question should not be: “How can I ease my loneliness?”, but rather: “Do I really wish to see myself as separated from my Source?” I can lose myself in hobbies, in promiscuous relationships, in a career, in booze or food, but these forms do nothing to alleviate the bitterness of the content: seeing myself as deprived from Love and on my own. Merely changing behavior never works. Only when the mind reaches the point where it dares to ask: “What am I?” is any serious change possible.

“What am I?” is the most fundamental question everyone must ask sooner or later. As long as we choose to answer this question with “I am a unique body with a special personality”, we belittle ourselves and invite the pain of uncertainly, loneliness and constant fear (of the retaliation by God the vengeful Creator, who won’t forgive us for having separated from Him). Anyone who still chooses this answer — and everyone chooses it as long as he thinks he lives, works, walks and sleeps here in time — is described by Jesus as follows: “He is afraid indeed, and homeless, too; an outcast wandering so far from home, so long away, he does not realize he has forgotten where he came from […] He seems a sorry figure; weary, worn, in threadbare clothing, and with feet that bleed a little from the rocky road he walks. No-one but has identified with him, for everyone who comes here has pursued the path he follows, and has felt defeat and hopelessness…” (W-pI.166.5:4-5;6:1-2)

How refreshing it is to read in section 14 of Workbook part II, called “What am I?” (right after lesson 350), to read that you and I are pure spirit. The body is an illusion in a dream! “You have chosen a sleep in which you have had bad dreams, but the sleep is not real and God calls you to awake [as spirit].” (T-6.IV.6:3) One of the main thrusts of A Course in Miracles is to invite us to wake up from this nightmare: “Come home. You have not found your happiness in foreign places and in alien forms that have no meaning to you, though you sought to make them meaningful. This world is not where you belong. You are a stranger here. But it is given you to find the means whereby the world no longer seems to be a prison house or jail for anyone.” (W-pI.200.4)

That’s an important key. Jesus does not push us to commit suicide, which would only be a typical example of first making the error real, and then acting on it, which doesn’t solve anything. “Nothing at all has happened but that you have put yourself to sleep, and dreamed a dream in which you were an alien to yourself…” (T-28.II.4:1). The way out of loneliness is merely the realization that we, as spirit, are not alone. “God is not a stranger to His Sons, and His Sons are not strangers to each other…” (T-3.III.6:3). What’s more, from Jesus’ perspective, this world of time and space is already over; we merely seem to be reliving again what has already gone by (W-pI.158.4). That’s why he can confidently state that “You will undertake a journey, because you are not at home in this world” (T-12.IV.5:1). This is also why Jesus says that his course is a required course, and that only the time we choose to take it is voluntary (T-in.1:3).

Sooner or later everyone will choose to follow this curriculum, as we go through the threshold of the pain of uncertainty, loneliness, and constant fear. It does not need to be A Course in Miracles, by the way; Jesus is very explicit in that his course is only one form of the universal curriculum, and we should not judge another’s path back to God. But as students of A Course in Miracles, we have every reason not to indulge in lonely depression, but to choose to take on the role as a Teacher of God and demonstrate the inner peace of God that is everyone’s inheritance: “Although you can keep it [your will to be at one with God] asleep you cannot obliterate it […] Rest does not come from sleeping but from waking [from the dream of duality]. The Holy Spirit is the Call to awaken and be glad. The world is very tired, because it is the idea of weariness. Our task is the joyous one of waking it to the Call for God.” (T-5.II.1:5;10:4-7).

So whenever I catch myself feeling lonely again, I can realize that this need not be (T.4.IV.1-8), because I am not a body; I am free, for I am still as God created me [that is, as pure spirit, at one with all life forms] (see workbook lessons 201-220). In fact, a good practice is to every now and then “realize how many opportunities you have had to gladden yourself, and how many of them you have refused” (T-4.IV.8:1). I can gladden myself because I can see the one all-encompassing light of God in all my brothers, and therefore in myself: “Light is not of the world, yet you who bear the light in you are alien here as well. The light came with you from your native home, and stayed with you because it is your own. It is the only thing you bring with you from Him Who is your Source. It shines in you because it lights your home, and leads you back to where it came from and you are at home.” (W-pI.188.1:5-8). So to conclude: live a normal life in this world, but centered in this realization of our real home, and you’ll be lonely nevermore.

— Jan-Willem van Aalst