ACIM Text Reading for January 18
Chapter 2 ~ The Separation and the Atonement
VII. Fear and Conflict
Being afraid seems to be involuntary; something beyond your own control. Yet I have said already that only constructive acts should be involuntary. My control can take over everything that does not matter, while my guidance can direct everything that does, if you so choose. Fear cannot be controlled by me, but it can be self-controlled. Fear prevents me from giving you my control. The presence of fear shows that you have raised body thoughts to the level of the mind. This removes them from my control, and makes you feel personally responsible for them. This is an obvious confusion of levels.
I do not foster level confusion, but you must choose to correct it. You would not excuse insane behavior on your part by saying you could not help it. Why should you condone insane thinking? There is a confusion here that you would do well to look at clearly. You may believe that you are responsible for what you do, but not for what you think. The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think. You cannot separate yourself from the truth by “giving” autonomy to behavior. This is controlled by me automatically as soon as you place what you think under my guidance. Whenever you are afraid, it is a sure sign that you have allowed your mind to miscreate and have not allowed me to guide it.
It is pointless to believe that controlling the outcome of misthought can result in healing. When you are fearful, you have chosen wrongly. That is why you feel responsible for it. You must change your mind, not your behavior, and this is a matter of willingness. You do not need guidance except at the mind level. Correction belongs only at the level where change is possible. Change does not mean anything at the symptom level, where it cannot work.
The correction of fear is your responsibility. When you ask for release from fear, you are implying that it is not. You should ask, instead, for help in the conditions that have brought the fear about. These conditions always entail a willingness to be separate. At that level you can help it. You are much too tolerant of mind wandering, and are passively condoning your mind’s miscreations. The particular result does not matter, but the fundamental error does. The correction is always the same. Before you choose to do anything, ask me if your choice is in accord with mine. If you are sure that it is, there will be no fear.
Fear is always a sign of strain, arising whenever what you want conflicts with what you do. This situation arises in two ways: First, you can choose to do conflicting things, either simultaneously or successively. This produces conflicted behavior, which is intolerable to you because the part of the mind that wants to do something else is outraged. Second, you can behave as you think you should, but without entirely wanting to do so. This produces consistent behavior, but entails great strain. In both cases, the mind and the behavior are out of accord, resulting in a situation in which you are doing what you do not wholly want to do. This arouses a sense of coercion that usually produces rage, and projection is likely to follow. Whenever there is fear, it is because you have not made up your mind. Your mind is therefore split, and your behavior inevitably becomes erratic. Correcting at the behavioral level can shift the error from the first to the second type, but will not obliterate the fear.
It is possible to reach a state in which you bring your mind under my guidance without conscious effort, but this implies a willingness that you have not developed as yet. The Holy Spirit cannot ask more than you are willing to do. The strength to do comes from your undivided decision. There is no strain in doing God’s Will as soon as you recognize that it is also your own. The lesson here is quite simple, but particularly apt to be overlooked. I will therefore repeat it, urging you to listen. Only your mind can produce fear. It does so whenever it is conflicted in what it wants, producing inevitable strain because wanting and doing are discordant. This can be corrected only by accepting a unified goal.
The first corrective step in undoing the error is to know first that the conflict is an expression of fear. Say to yourself that you must somehow have chosen not to love, or the fear could not have arisen. Then the whole process of correction becomes nothing more than a series of pragmatic steps in the larger process of accepting the Atonement as the remedy. These steps may be summarized in this way:
1. Know first that this is fear.
2. Fear arises from lack of love.
3. The only remedy for lack of love is perfect love.
4. Perfect love is the Atonement.
I have emphasized that the miracle, or the expression of Atonement, is always a sign of respect from the worthy to the worthy. The recognition of this worth is re-established by the Atonement. It is obvious, then, that when you are afraid, you have placed yourself in a position where you need Atonement. You have done something loveless, having chosen without love. This is precisely the situation for which the Atonement was offered. The need for the remedy inspired its establishment. As long as you recognize only the need for the remedy, you will remain fearful. However, as soon as you accept the remedy, you have abolished the fear. This is how true healing occurs.
Everyone experiences fear. Yet it would take very little right thinking to realize why fear occurs. Few appreciate the real power of the mind, and no one remains fully aware of it all the time. However, if you hope to spare yourself from fear there are some things you must realize, and realize fully. The mind is very powerful, and never loses its creative force. It never sleeps. Every instant it is creating. It is hard to recognize that thought and belief combine into a power surge that can literally move mountains. It appears at first glance that to believe such power about yourself is arrogant, but that is not the real reason you do not believe it. You prefer to believe that your thoughts cannot exert real influence because you are actually afraid of them. This may allay awareness of the guilt, but at the cost of perceiving the mind as impotent. If you believe that what you think is ineffectual you may cease to be afraid of it, but you are hardly likely to respect it. There are no idle thoughts. All thinking produces form at some level.
ACIM Workbook Lesson for January 18
I am not alone in experiencing the effects of my seeing.
The idea for today is another step in learning that the thoughts which give rise to what you see are never neutral or unimportant. It also emphasizes the idea that minds are joined, which will be given increasing stress later on.
Today’s idea does not refer to what you see as much as to how you see it. Therefore, the exercises for today emphasize this aspect of your perception. The three or four practice periods which are recommended should be done as follows:
Look about you, selecting subjects for the application of the idea for today as randomly as possible, and keeping your eyes on each one long enough to say:
I am not alone in experiencing the effects of how I see _________.
Conclude each practice period by repeating the more general statement:
I am not alone in experiencing the effects of my seeing.
A minute or so, or even less, will be sufficient for each practice period.
ACIM Q & A for Today
Q #820: The first miracle principle in A Course in Miracles is that “there is no order of difficulty in Miracles.” Does that not mean, if I did the workbook “properly”, I would be able to be “enlightened” with each and every exercise I am doing in the Course (so 365 chances to reach God)? Do they not mean all the same (i.e. point at the same unspeakable “thing” that the Course can but lead us to but never explicitly say)? The lessons 70-75 seem quite crucial to me, what else is there to learn after “the light has come” and I can “celebrate the ending of the long dream of disaster”? Once I have forgiven the world completely (albeit theoretically), does it not disappear and with God’s vision in me…why is this passage not at the end of the workbook?
A: If you did just one lesson perfectly, you would have completed the goal of the Course.
However, the reason there are 31 chapters and 365 lessons is summed up simply in one of the lessons: “To say these words [of any lesson] is nothing. But to mean these words is everything. If you could but mean them for just an instant, there would be no further sorrow possible for you in any form; in any place or time. Heaven would be completely given back to full awareness, memory of God entirely restored, the resurrection of all creation fully recognized” (W.pI.185.1:1,2,3,4). If we have not had the experienced described in this passage, we may conclude that we have not meant these words completely , not even for an instant. Commitment is still weak, resistance is strong, and willingness wavers. In other words, we are afraid of awakening to the truth. And so we have at least 365 thousand opportunities to learn to accept that we are home in God. On the journey, there are glimpses of the light that has come, and if the light were the only thing we wanted, yes, it would be enough. However, attraction to guilt and attachment to specialness drop a veil to obscure the light, lest it remain to replace the individual autonomy that is still cherished. That is why there are lessons after 70-75, and why the workbook ends by telling us we’ve only just begun: “This course is a beginning, not an end” (W.ep.I:1).
Forgiving the world theoretically does not accomplish the Course’s goal of removing the blocks to love’s awareness (T.in.1:7) . The world must actually be forgiven, which means not seeing in it the cause of anything that is experienced in the dream of separation. And you are correct; in this there is no hierarchy. Thus, we are taught in the Course 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; italics added ). The values and beliefs that sustain the ego thought system are, for the most part, hidden under layers of denial. It therefore takes time, lessons, starts and stops, to bring them to the light. The process is gradual and gentle because fear and resistance are great: “It is difficult for the untrained mind to believe that what it seems to picture is not there. This idea can be quite disturbing, and may meet with active resistance in any number of forms” (W.pI.9.2:1,2). A brief review of how real the world, the body, and the drama of life seem to be reveals the intensity of this resistance. That is why there is still work to be done, forgiveness lessons to be learned. The workbook is done “properly” by following the instructions, which simply tell us to just do the lessons (W.in.9) . We are told only willingness is necessary. Most likely that is because Jesus knows we will do them “badly,” and he assures us that our imperfection is not a problem: “It is [the Holy Spirit’s] task to atone for your unwillingness by His perfect faith, and it is His faith you share with Him there. Out of your recognition of your unwillingness for your release, His perfect willingness is given you (T.16.VI.12:4,5). Thus, each sincere application of the principles of forgiveness in our relationships, however imperfect it may be, brings us closer to the ending of the dream. Our concern in practicing the Course, therefore, is to be vigilant for every spot of darkness (judgments) and every illusion we choose to make real, that they may be questioned and found wanting. Until we are convinced none of them will meet our real need to accept the truth about ourselves instead of the ego’s lies, we need the lessons of the workbook and the many pages of the text to turn to for guidance, instruction, and comfort.
Q #821: I am at a place in life in which I am experiencing overwhelming fear. My husband and I have been married for a few years and together for nine. Over time, the outward dramas have lessened and now that there is a certain sense of outward stability in my marriage, I seem to be assailed on all sides by fears: is this situation one in which I can grow? Am I denying part of myself by staying in this relationship? Do I feel like I would be better off alone, with someone else, or with a woman? All these questions come to mind. More than anything, it seems that I have reached a place where I am now forced to take responsibility for my own thoughts — that I am encountering my shadow side. I want to run. Is there anything in A Course in Miracles that might speak to this level of fear and specific steps to take to deal with it?
A: While we remain closely identified with the ego, it can feel as if we are being forced to take responsibility for our thoughts, as you describe. True, the Course is encouraging us to accept this responsibility as central to progressing on our path of forgiveness. But if there is any sense of coercion, the ego has joined the process in an attempt to subvert and derail it. And that feeling of coercion itself only adds to the anxiety and the fear. So the first step in addressing the fear is to recognize and accept that any sense of pressure is coming only from yourself. And if the overwhelming fear persists, Jesus gently advises, “Do not fight yourself” (T.30.I.1:7) . It is okay to wait until you are ready.
The ego revels in the thought that there is something terrible within that we must force ourselves to examine. For that reinforces the belief that the ego — and the separation — are real. And so, for this reason, when we are ready to look within, Jesus invites us to look with him, for he does not share our horrible evaluation of ourselves and he certainly does not take the ego seriously. One of his clearest invitations to us, which also acknowledges our fear, is found at the beginning of “The ‘Dynamics’ of the Ego,” in which he reminds us that this is something we do together : “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected. There is no need to shrink from illusions, for they cannot be dangerous. 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, 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. We will undo this error quietly together, and then look beyond it to truth” (T.11.V.1).
You are wise to recognize that the real issue of your fear involves examining your own thoughts, but you also acknowledge having thoughts of running away from your relationship with your husband. Now these thoughts are not surprising if, as you say, you are experiencing less drama and conflict in your external life, which may very well reflect an inner shift away from the ego and towards the peace within that Jesus is offering. And you can be sure the ego is not going to take this change of allegiance lying down. External drama and conflict conveniently serve the ego’s purpose of keeping our focus outward and away from the mind, where the only real hope of finding lasting peace lies. If the ego begins to sense that our present relationship is no longer serving its purpose, it will counsel us to pull up stakes and go in search of someone or something else — anything other than remaining in peace and beginning to look within.
Two passages from the text describe the ambivalence we can experience around this dual process of moving towards the light while at the same time beginning to use that light to look more deeply and eventually beyond the darkness of the ego. The fear that is aroused by approaching the light, as well as the process of looking together with Jesus at the darkness, are aptly described in the following:
“As the light comes nearer you will rush to darkness, shrinking from the truth, sometimes retreating to the lesser forms of fear, and sometimes to stark terror. But you will advance, because your goal is the advance from fear to truth. The goal you accepted is the goal of knowledge, for which you signified your willingness. Fear seems to live in darkness, and when you are afraid you have stepped back. Let us then join quickly in an instant of light, and it will be enough to remind you that your goal is light. (T.18.III.2).
And the fear that is associated with uncovering the ego’s layers of sin and guilt in the mind, as well as the process of recognizing its unreality, is powerfully described in the following:
“The closer you come to the foundation of the ego’s thought system, the darker and more obscure becomes the way. Yet even the little spark in your mind is enough to lighten it. Bring this light fearlessly with you, and bravely hold it up to the foundation of the ego’s thought system. Be willing to judge it with perfect honesty. Open the dark cornerstone of terror on which it rests, and bring it out into the light. There you will see that it rested on meaninglessness, and that everything of which you have been afraid was based on nothing” (T.11.in.3:5,6,7,8,9,10).
Additional readings from the text that may help you get a clearer picture of what the fear is all about and what the process of releasing that fear involves, in the context of our relationship with our brother, joined with Jesus, include “Light in the Dream” (T.18.III) and “The Fear to Look Within” (T.21.IV) .