Reading A Course in Miracles: Fear and Conflict

This is a rich section of A Course in Miracles. In my reading copy, virtually every sentence is underlined. I take from this part of the text a couple of key ideas, both of which have already landed on our radar, albeit in different forms. First, fear is our responsibility because nothing happens without our consent. Second, fear arises when what we want – peace, say – conflict with what we do. This is a classic example of level confusion – that is, experiencing and trying to solve problems at the body level which can only be healed at the creative level of thought.

Jesus makes an interesting observation about fear early in this section:

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 (T-2.VI.1:6-8).

This amplifies an earlier statement about “Christ guidance” and “Christ control.”

My control can take over everything that does not matter, while my guidance can direct everything that does, if you so choose (T-2.VI.1:3).

Body concerns – the form our existence seems to take in this world – can be controlled by Christ because it does not matter. This applies without exception or qualification: we don’t have to worry if somebody is late for an appointment because that’s under Christ control. We don’t have to worry about when our bodies are going to die because that’s also under Christ control. All we need to do is agree that this is a more desirable management situation than our present one. If we’re honest, what’s the big deal? We haven’t done such a great job running our lives. Why not let somebody else give it a whirl?

However, when we feel fear – that is outside of Jesus’ reach. It is a thought and, as we have learned already, our thoughts are powerful – so powerful, they cannot be taken over by Jesus. They can, however, be guided by him. This, too, is a choice. Our willingness to be led by him facilitates a beneficial relationship with both the guidance and the control of Christ.

Fear is always a sign of our “willingness to be separate” from God (T-2.VI.4:4). It arises when we confuse ourselves with bodies and when we try to solve our apparent problems by acting in the world of bodies. Much like the crucifixion, the errors themselves are not really important, but the underlying confusion of levels is critical and needs to be addressed. A call for love at the mind level cannot be answered by a hug on the physical level. That’s not to say that hugs are bad. You can and should hug people. But you should not confuse gestures of love at the body level for anything other than what they are: proof that we believe we are bodies. And that belief can only lead to fear. That belief is the separation.

So how do we fix this? We start by clarifying our level confusion. If I am scared, say, of a new class that I have to teach, the first thing I need to do is realize that the fear has nothing to do with the class itself. The class is merely the form that the ontological fear happens to be taking at this point in time. The fear is only a lack of love (T-2.VI.7:6) and the only remedy for it is the perfect love of the atonement (T-2.VI.7:7-8).

When I’m clear on that, the next step is a bit easier. I remind myself that there’s nothing I can do at the bodily level that’s really going to address this fear. I can’t practice my opening day lesson for hours on end, I can’t cut down on the caffeine to minimize jitters, I can’t rehearse some ice-breaker jokes. Correcting the form of the error can at best provide temporary relief – but it doesn’t really get down to correction, it doesn’t really undo the actual fear.

This leaves me, then, in what I think of as a prayerful or a meditative space. I need to make contact with Jesus, talk to God and hash out the details of Christ control and guidance. The bodily stuff – the class in this case – doesn’t matter and thus I can let it go entirely so that Jesus can handle it. The mind level, where the real healing of fear takes place – I can open myself to guidance. I can listen for the voice that moves me away from the fear and guilt and towards the love.

I am letting go of the physical level and taking responsible for the thought level.

Please understand that this does not mean the physical world or our activity in it ceases to exist. We are merely be asked to shift our focus – our investment, if you will. I might still try to gin up some good jokes for class, but I’m not going to confuse them with real solutions. The only real solution is love – and it’s not going to happen because of what I do externally. It’s going to happen because of what I do internally, with Jesus.

We are wrong when we believe that fear is involuntary. It is a choice we make – an insane choice, to be sure, but a choice nonetheless. Jesus points out that we don’t excuse insane behavior on our part by saying we couldn’t help it, yet we don’t do the same with our thoughts. It’s a good point. Why is this the case?

Because we are afraid of how powerful we are. Beyond the fear and guilt is the awareness of our full identity in God. In that unity, there is nothing that our minds cannot do. Thought and belief in tandem can move mountains, says Jesus, echoing a point made in the New Testament two thousand years ago.

Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

It is interesting to note that he goes on in Mark’s gospel to observe that this power is related to forgiveness. If we don’t forgive our neighbors, then God cannot forgive us. A traditional Christian reading would suggest this reflects the conditional nature of God’s love. If you don’t do A, then you’re not getting B. But I think it’s actually simpler than that. Our forgiveness is God’s forgiveness. Our forgiveness of others is also forgiveness of us. How can it be otherwise if we are all brothers and sisters united as one in God?

So this section is a chance to reflect on the fear we seem to feel in the physical world – and lays out how to handle that – but it also touches on the deeper fear: our fear of the power of our own minds. We are going to be coming into contact with this more and more as the text (and workbook) progress. For now, it is helpful to remember that we advance our recollection of God by shifting our personal focus from the bodily level to the thought level, making salvation – or atonement – our unified goal.

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