The experience of being embodied is always painful. This is not a criticism of the body; it is a statement about what we are in truth and how our confusion about our identity causes us to suffer by conflating “true self” with a body.
Critically, this suffering cannot be mitigated in a body or by a body. It has to be corrected further upstream, in the abstract and sometimes mysterious domain of thought, or consciousness, where the basic error of “what we are” occurs (it is an ongoing error, not a one-and-done error).
When I say that embodied experience is painful I obviously mean headaches, menstrual cramps, stubbed toes and cancer. But I also mean orgasms, endorphin rushes after long runs, the taste of triple chocolate fudge cake and throwing sticks for puppies by the sea.
We are not bodies. Nothing the body does is natural to us; it might be natural for a body, but it isn’t natural for us because we are not bodies.
The world you see is the delusional system of those made mad by guilt. Look carefully at this world, and you will realize that this is so. For this world is the symbol of punishment, and all the laws that seem to govern it are the laws of death. Children are born into it through pain and in pain. Their growth is attended by suffering, and they learn of sorrow and separation and death. Their minds seem to be trapped in their brain, and its powers to decline if their bodies are hurt. They seem to love, yet they desert and are deserted. They appears to lose what they love, perhaps the most insane belief of all. And their bodies wither and gasp and are laid in the ground, and are no more. Not one of them but has thought that God is cruel.T-13.In.2:2-11
The association of self with body (which is not separate from the association of self with world, i.e., the one brings forth the other) is a painful error which cannot be corrected at the level of the symptom. You don’t move your hand to a different part of the fire in order to end the burning; you take your hand out (and then find a professional who knows what to do with burns).
So, in this sense, the healing contemplated by A Course in Miracles is all or nothing. We are either bodies or we aren’t; it’s not a question of degree.
It takes time and commitment to reach the juncture where the truth of “all or nothing” clarifies. And even then it can be hard to accept. The temptation is to redeem the body. We mostly do this intellectually. We say “I know I’m not a body” and then do yoga, go for a run, and drink kale smoothies.
And here’s the thing. We could pound whiskey for breakfast, shoot heroin for lunch and visit Fight Club at night and the error would still be the same. And so would the error’s effects.
Of course, at the level of the body kale and heroin are not not be the same. But we are not bodies. The body cannot be redeemed.
But listen: the body cannot be redeemed because it doesn’t need to be. The problem is not the body; the problem is that we think we are bodies. We think we’re in bodies. We think what happens in and to bodies happens to us.
It’s like reading Lord of the Rings and wondering whether we should hop into the story and help Frodo ascend Mount Doom. Or try and talk Sauron out of his evil ways. That’s just not how reality works.
If we are not bodies, and the body is merely a communication device (e.g., T-6.V.A.5:5), neutral in its own right (T-20.VII.4:4), then what are we?
This is a really important question! Literally every lesson of A Course in Miracles is aimed at helping us answer it. And when we do find the answer, the embodied experience stops being painful because we now hold it in right perspective.
(Hint: it stops being an “experience”).
It’s like if we’re trying to build a house and somebody gives us a hammer. Holding the head, we try to drive nails with the handle. It doesn’t work – it can’t work. But once we hold it rightly, it works fine.
Right this very moment you are like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde confusing itself for a wax disc. The wax disc is just a medium; it could as easily be a frisbee or a serving plate. The music goes on both perfect and perfectly unaffected.
Or, right this very moment you are like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony confusing itself for the paper on which the score is written.
Both of the preceding paragraphs are not wrong but they are similes. They point towards a truth that cannot actually be contained in language (any more than you can be contained in a body). Practicing A Course in Miracles is one way to effectively get at this truth.
And what is this truth? We move towards it when we remember that we are abstract, not material. We are closer to the light in which the material appears, not materiality itself.
Every mind contains all minds, for every mind is one. Such is the truth. Yet do these thoughts make clear the meaning of creation? Do these words bring perfect clarity with them to you? What can they seem to be but empty sounds; pretty, perhaps, correct in sentiment, yet fundamentally not understood nor understandable. The mind that taught itself to think specifically can no longer grasp abstraction in the sense that it is all-encompassing.W-pI.161.4:2-7
The body is nothing in and of itself; it merely has the function we give it. But in order to really experience the peace and joy inherent in holding this perspective of the body, we have to know what we actually are.
To say we are not bodies is a negative statement. It’s valuable because it closes down an avenue of thought that is erroneous. But what is the positive statement? “In truth, I am _____.”
Our answer is literally the end of suffering – ours and everyone else’s. No other question merits our attention. And there is only one answer that will save us. “Only one answer” is not a form of pressure but of grace.
You know I’m right. How do you know?