Problems with No Solution

It is important to see that the ego sets up problems so that they will have no solution (T-4.V.6:6). There may be a temporary solution that pleases the ego – the head cold goes away, we get the job or a raise, the car ahead of us pays our toll. But those inevitably disappoint us because they are subject to change, which is a salient characteristic of illusions (e.g., W-pI.107.3:1-4).

Thus, when we are looking for fixes to specific problems of a worldly nature, we are apt to be disappointed in the ultimate sense. That is because our ultimate goal is not fixes that come and go but rather to make contact with the peace that surpasses understanding and cannot be shaken by what happens in an exterior way.

The only problem we really have is our belief that we are separate from God.

Some course writers (me included) characterize the ego as malicious or having its own malignant will – certainly the course at times moves in this direction (e.g. T-2.V.2:4 and T-19.IV.A.15:6, T-31.III.5:1). But increasingly it seems to me more in the nature of a mechanical problem. The separation is simply a habit of thinking that is at odds with reality, just as the ego is the part of our minds that take that idea seriously (T-4.VII.1:5). We might think of it as a computer that stutters, running in an endless loop. Over time, the dysfunction compounds and piles up and becomes its own problem. We forget all about the underlying system that is not working properly.

This is why the course teaches that the only problem we really have is our belief that we are separate from God (W-pI.79.1:4). Everything else flows from that. There really is nothing else to work on.

However, it is true that clearing the clutter can make the underlying problem more visible and – as a result – more fixable. “Fixable” in this case refers to the Holy Spirit’s (our right mind’s) capacity for gently undoing our belief in separation. The closer we get to separation thinking, the more readily we avail ourselves of the alternative because we better see the need for it. Indeed, it is only when we see the problem clearly that the real solution becomes both obvious and accessible, which is the backbone of the all-important workbook lessons 79 and 80.

A Course in Miracles aims at removing our blocks to our awareness of Love’s presence (In.1:7). What happens after that is actually outside the scope of the course because it cannot be taught (In.1:6). There are certainly people who say they are enlightened or that God has taken the final step, and I have no reason to doubt them, but that is not precisely the objective of A Course in Miracles. The objective is to heal our minds so that we can be open to Love, whatever that means, and however it comes about.

In other words, the goal is to show us the blocks – the clutter – so that we can begin to remove it, and as we do, begin to see that the clutter is not really the problem. The system from which the clutter flows is the problem. And – importantly – the ego is part of that system. The belief in separation and the ego are one movement, one thing.

And like that, what was perceived hatefully and spitefully is transformed into something closer to love.

So when the ego “looks” at a problem it is not really seeing the problem. It is seeing a form of itself that requires correction or improvement at the level of form. It is looking itself that stutters, a mechanistic loop constantly reinforcing itself. My problems are “out there” and so my solutions must be as well.

Getting clear about how this happens is useful because then we can start to become aware of it as it happens. You know, somebody is talking too much and the “solution” is that they shut up. But if we can see this habit of “problem out there/solution out there,” then we can challenge it by sharing it with the Holy Spirit. We can say, “this is separation-based thinking, or this is ego, and I want another way, a better way” and then other possibilities will emerge. We might experience the other person’s obvious need to express themselves as a reflection our own similar need, or we might see it as a call to deepen through listening. And like that, what was perceived hatefully and spitefully is transformed into something closer to love.

A Course in Miracles is not pedestrian but it is practical. Really, it just gives us a helpful framework for revising – revisioning, if you will – thinking. “Thinking” in this case means perception, judgment and behavior and encompasses projection and denial. In our separated state we take that kind of thinking very seriously and the ego is the direct result or consequence. It becomes our reality. And the course comes along and says, there is another way to think. There is a better way to be in your mind. Then gently – though not without bumps, not without tribulation – it shows us how that other way works.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Chad January 28, 2014, 1:13 am

    Your approach to the course has become such an inspiration to me, Sean. I’ve always favoured a machine metaphor for the workings of the ego. That its an automaton with a limited range of basic responses. This has allowed me to relate to my own with less judgement (“oh it’s running that routine again”).

    More recently I came up with a related metaphor: that the ego is like a first person shooter video game. Its meant to simulate choice and creates the illusion of ‘leveling-up’, which is to say, the facsimile of ‘progress’ – but those choices can only ever consist of attacking enemies with your machine-gun.. or axe.. or bomb …or crowbar. Those are the ego’s only choices. And you keep switching through its set of ‘tools’ hoping one of them will solve your problem. Maybe the axe will bring me peace this time? No? Well, maybe the bomb? Machine gun? Surely one of these will work, eventually? Oh look – a new hand-grenade!

    But in fact the only choice you *really* have is between playing that obnoxious game and stepping away from it to relate to the real world.

    • Sean Reagan January 28, 2014, 5:39 pm

      Hey Chad –

      Thanks for the kind words – I’m glad it’s helpful.

      That gaming analogy is brilliant and very consistent with my own evolving understanding of how ego & separation work. Thank you! Elder Scrolls isn’t going to be the same . . .

      • Lisa January 30, 2014, 3:09 pm

        lol… Fallout New Vegas and GTA 5 either….

  • Cheryl January 29, 2014, 3:36 pm

    ” The system from which the clutter flows is the problem.” This sentence resonates as does the phrase “it is looking itself that stutters.” And I wonder if by recognizing that we can’t escape our ego thinking from within the framework of that ego thinking we can crack open the door a little wider.

    Maybe I’m stretching here, but I saw the movie “Her” on Monday and am still blown away by how effectively it ties in with Course teachings. I don’t want to give anything away, but the idea of relating to an OS (content without form) in such a way that traditional boundaries are erased, new depths of self are discovered and questions of “other” are explored and exploded seems to have shifted something deep in my mind. It as though I have been offered a new perspective from “outside the clutter.”

    I highly recommend the movie (and I’m not a big moviegoer) and would love to hear what other ACIM students think about it.

    Forgive me, Sean, if I’ve wandered off topic….but somehow it feels as though it relates.

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