A meaningless world engenders fear.
ACIM Lesson 13 is the first time in the workbook that we encounter the phrase “the ego” (W-p1.13.2:2). This is a significant textual development, because it subtly introduces the concept that we are not the “we” we think we are. As well, this lesson includes powerful language about our active opposition to God which, as the Author clearly indicates, is likely to cause considerable resistance.
We are again working with the idea that the world we see is meaningless. In lesson 12 of A Course in Miracles, we explored the possibility that this meaninglessness is what upsets us and causes us to frantically impose our own “meaning” on what we see. It also made clear that there was an alternative – that is, God’s meaning.
Lesson 13 is a strong witness for a) why we are not already perceiving God’s meaning and b) why we aren’t likely to experience it any time soon. Understanding this means understanding why we’re now being introduced to the ego as well as the likely cause of our inner resistance to God.
In ACIM terms, the ego – while psychologically resonant – is not precisely the ego to which Freud (and others) introduced us. Rather, it is the entire psychological self – id, ego and superego if you like. We construct a false self based on family, culture, history, memory, body, etc. And then we decide that this fictional construction – for it is, in the end, simply a story we tell – is who we really are. We equate ourselves entirely with that ego – that story, that idea, that construct.
Lesson 13 suggests – as countless religious traditions and spiritual gurus from Advaita Vedanta to J. Krishnamurti to Eckhart Tolle have taught – that the ego is neither who nor what we are in truth.
Thus the question: who are we? Who is it that is asking these questions? Who is it that creates the false self and why?
While I am not suggesting that anyone wear sackcloth, smear their skin with ash, fast until they’re faint, or render their lives a long miserable and bitter exercise in negation, I do suggest that answering these questions should not be taken lightly. They are at the very heart of our experience as human beings in search of meaning. We cannot know peace or joy – we cannot know God – until we have answered them (or, in truth, learned that we already know and are the answer).
Still, asking these questions needs to be a priority. After all, Atonement is a total commitment (T-2.II.7:1).
The ego then is a defensive gesture, a defensive construct. It is the voice that speaks against God, justifying the separation and maintaining it through guilt and fear and hate. Faced with a meaningless world, the ego “rushes in” to supply meaning (W-pI.13.2:3), and all of its images and narratives and excuses and rationales have but one objective: to ensure that we – the we we truly are – never questions its existence and thus never reaches God.
The ego teaches that we are pitted against God in a death match. And – crazier yet – that we actually have a chance of defeating God.
In truth, we neither want – nor could persevere in – such a conflict.
Ego is our default – our learned, our habitual – response to the meaningless world. Seeing this meaninglessness – and reckoning with the fear it engenders – is how we make contact with another, better way.
Our resistance to the ideas in Lesson 13 is likely to be profound. Our ability to think our way out of it is probably going to be very convincing. What? Me hate God? Impossible! I pray every morning and every night. I’ve got a shelf full of books all of which celebrate my love of the Divine. I adore the Lord. Adore Him.
We’re happy to acknowledge a certain difficulty in reaching God, perhaps. We’re cool with recognizing a degree of spiritual inconsistency. But outright conflict?
That’s got to be somebody else.
And yet, do we really know peace? Do we really experience ourselves solely as the Love and Light of God? Or do we catch only glimpses of that Love and Light as we frantically navigate a world of entropy and decay and violence and pain?
We can’t lie to ourselves about this forever. It hurts and it hurts bad but we have to see it clearly before it can be healed. And if we can’t accept that our active resistance to God is a fact, then can we at least consider the possibility that it might be true? That there is perhaps a better way? And that our way isn’t working?
So on the one hand, I think this lesson is enormous – the project of a lifetime. It marks the introduction of a critical concept – the ego – which in turn opens the door to radical inner work, the likes of which most of us have not yet undertaken, or have undertaken only half-heartedly. It makes clear that we have set a false self up in direct opposition to God, and believe we are that self. Our good intentions and sincere beliefs that this isn’t true are just the ego persuading us not to look closely at it.
This is heavy stuff.
Yet on the other hand, Lesson 13 is also simply another little step in the direction of Heaven. The last sentences of this lesson are meant literally: don’t even think about these ideas right now outside of practicing the lesson (W-p1.13.6:2-3). It’s too much and we’re not ready for it all at once.
Reversing cause and effect – which is the big correction which underlies this and so many other course lessons – is a major principle of A Course in Miracles. Here, we’re simply being asked to consider the possibility that meaninglessness makes us fearful and that we’re apt to respond to that fear in a way that walls God out.
We don’t have to get this all at once. It’s okay if we don’t understand it. It’s okay if we feel resistant to it – or angry about it – or scared of it. All we are ever really asked to offer in these lessons is our little willingness. It is always sufficient.
This is what I find so comforting about A Course in Miracles: it undoes our false beliefs with saint-like intensity yet simultaneously makes clear that we are loved, we are perfect, and that the end is sure so long as we’re willing to toddle along in the right direction. The more we can accept the loving embrace implied in the gentle voice that guides us, the faster and farther we’re going go. We really aren’t doing this alone.