A Course in Miracles: Level Confusion

Have your being outside this body of birth and death and all your problems will be solved. They exist because you believe yourself born to die. Undeceive yourself and be free. You are not a person.
~ Nisargadatta

Although the phrase would have been alien to him, Nisargadatta is talking about level confusion here. Level confusion is basically a way of saying that we are confused about what we are and our confusion has consequences.

Level confusion is like looking in the mirror, believing the image is the actual self, smearing toothpaste all over the glass with a toothbrush, and then wondering why your teeth still have caramel corn in them.

It is a central metaphysical tenet of A Course in Miracles that we are not bodies, but free (W-pI.199.8:7-8). This is true because a body is a container, a limit, and what you are cannot be contained or limited.

Nisargadatta again:

The person merely appears to be, like the space within the pot appears to have the shape and volume and smell of the pot. See that you are not what you believe yourself to be. Fight with all the strength at your disposal against the idea that you are nameable and describable. You are not. Refuse to think of yourself in terms of this or that.

Again, Nisardatta is not a student of A Course in Miracles and so the language and underlying metaphysics he uses are different. But the fundamental concept is not. Nisargadatta’s “person” is the level of the body and all its thoughts, ideals, goals, dreams, desires, et cetera. It is at this level that ACIM’s ego operates. Indeed, the world and the body are literally the ego’s formal argument for its existence.

The level of spirit is nondualistic, abstract and invulnerable. It was not born and it will not die. It is perfectly still and endlessly creative. It is the freedom to which both ACIM and Nisargadatta point.

Level confusion is when we conflate the attributes of one level with the other. For example, we walk up to somebody sobbing at a funeral and tell them that “death isn’t real.” Or we pretend our writing is being channeled through Jesus or another ascended master.((I know, I know. This is a controversial example! Still, I stand by it. Attributing ACIM to Jesus is classic level confusion. But this is not a criticism of Helen Schucman; level confusion happens to all of us to one degree or another. It is a form of projection from which nobody is immune.))

This reflects a confusion in our identity because of the implication that what what we are in truth is the same at both levels, so that “what is amiss at one level can adversely affect another” (T-2.IV.2:2). Your cancer – or your headache – are not spiritual problems. Jesus is a symbol in the dream. He is not a figure outside it waiting for you to wake up and join him in a crusade of lovingkindness.

Thus, we are not called to deny or ignore either our bodies or the world (which in fact are the same phenomenon, the one bringing the other forth). Rather, we are learning to see them in a new way. Our goal is to take them seriously as learning devices, rather than literally as the be-all, end-all of existence and experience.

The body is merely part of your experience in the physical world. Its abilities can be and frequently are overevaluated. However, it is almost impossible to deny its existence in this world. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial.

T-2.IV.3:8-11

The metaphysics of A Course in Miracles posit two levels of experience: the bodily level and the spiritual level. Mind – which is thought – is the author of both.

When thought represents the bodily level is “makes” the physical world, which is lower than the spiritual level, which thought “creates” (T-1.I.12:2-3).((This is an old idea in the western philosophical canon; it derives from Plato’s ideas about Form. The world we sense is riddled with error; the real world is perfect and filled with Forms (or ideas) that are infinite and eternal. These Forms have correlates in the world of the senses, but those correlates are ultimately unsatisfying because they are fundamentally illusory. Through reason and logic we ascend from mere perception to actual knowledge of the pure Forms. This is the source of true happiness.))

In this way, A Course in Miracles perpetuates a dualism long inherent in Christianity (especially its Platonic applications): namely, that body and spirit are separate, the latter is lovely and beloved of God, and the former unworthy and despicable. As Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians:

. . . the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

Gal 5:17

Here is how A Course in Miracles puts it:

You see the flesh or recognize the spirit. There is no compromise between the two. If one is real the other must be false, for what is real denies its opposite.

T-31.VI.1:1-3

This implies a clear, non-negotiable and fundamental division that would have been very familiar to Paul (and, in its way, to Plato)! The options are body or spirit and the game is all or nothing. Choose one and the other is utterly and instantly foreclosed to you.

Nor is the course – like the overarching Christian tradition from which it arises – vague about which one it thinks you should choose.

No one who carries Christ in him can fail to recognize Him everywhere. Except in bodies. And as long as he believes he is in a body, where he thinks he is He cannot be.

T-25.in.2:1-3

It is important to understand that this binary – this high-stakes choice between spirit and body – is a metaphor that appears within the world. It, too, is part of the dream.

Being clear about this is essential to translating experience from guilt and fear to a happy dream in which it is at last possible for God to take the last step.((Of this “last step” we generally do not speak because it is literally unspeakable (e.g., T-1.II.2:7). It’s a good example of level confusion – trying to translate what is perfectly abstract into clunky and imperfect material terms and experiences.))

Thus, a primary learning goal of the course, is to clear up what it calls “level confusion” – which is another way of saying, being clear about what is a dream and what is truth so that we remember what we are in truth.

How simple is salvation! All it says is what was never true is not true now, and never will be . . . How hard is it to see that what is false can not be true, and what is true cannot be false?

T-31.I.1:1-2, 7

But remember (sorry to keep hammering away at this point): all of this confusion occurs within the dream. It’s good to be clear and to understand but . . . all of that clarification and understanding is still just the dream. Rather than confuse it with awakening from the dream, we should simply allow it to make us happier in the context of the dream. A Course in Miracles has no other objective or function.

This discernment between what is false and what is true involves the rearrangement of perception so that body and spirit are equally held in “true perspective.” This heals us because sickness comes from “confusing the levels,” which is another way of saying “seeing them wrongly” (T-1.I.23:1-2).

This Mind/Matter split is a rigid binary from which A Course in Miracles does not deviate, though it does allow that when we accept it – when the levels are not confused but held in right perspective – healing can occur and manifest at both levels. That is, once you’ve turned your mind over to the Holy spirit, then your body . . .

. . . becomes perfect in the ability to serve an undivided goal. In conflict-free and unequivocal response to mind with but the thought of freedom as its goal, the body serves, and serves its purpose well.

W-pI.199.6:3-5

Thus, the body becomes a means to remember love and become happy in its remembering. It is neither an impediment to love nor a necessary element of love. It has no more importance to love than a fork has to the taste of the apple pie you’re eating. It’s just a means to an end that itself becomes a means to the greater end of happiness and, finally, oneness.

The body is the level of differences and distinctions. The problem is not that we see the distinctions – that’s inevitable because of bodies. It’s what bodies do. Rather, the problem is the underlying belief (in mind) that the distinctions are valuable in and of themselves. That is how they become real.

This is why we say that the real work of healing is at the level of mind, not the appearances (or symptoms) reflective of what mind is doing.

Thus, falling in love with a special someone is neither good news nor bad. Being healed from cancer means absolutely nothing with respect to God’s relationship with you. Channeled texts are not a sign of something you did or did not do in a past life. Waking up is neither better nor worse than not waking up.

God does not perceive differences at all (e.g., M-28.5:1-2). This is a radically different kind of love than what we experience and imagine in bodies in the world.

Bodies cannot get sick and so cannot be healed and so diagnoses of any kind – cancer-free or eight weeks left to live – are devoid of meaning.

Bodies are images that neither live nor die. They do not even have this life, let alone past lives.

Bodies – and the selves that appear confined to them – neither sleep or awaken, and so enlightenment (or any spiritual goal at all) is meaningless.

It’s at this juncture that folks tend to throw up their hands. If it’s all meaningless, then what is the point? Why do anything?

That’s the ego crying out for salvation. That’s its last dying wail, its plea for relevance. That’s ego begging you not to turn away from it forever.

“What’s the point” and “why do anything” are questions that only make sense from the perspective of ego. If you can see that – or be open to seeing that – then you can also see that Spirit has no interest in taking your so-called life away from you.

Rather, it will transform how you see that life, and in doing so teach you that seeing is what matters, not what is seen. And then it will teach you what vision is, and gently help you shift “seeing” to vision. Vision is what makes us happy.

The world will be transformed before your sight, cleansed of all guilt and softly brushed with beauty. The world contains no fear that you laid not upon it.

T-19.IV.A.15:2-3

Moreover, this transformed vision of the world is not ours alone. It is shared.

Love, too, would set a feast before you, on a table covered with a spotless cloth, set in a quiet garden where no sound but singing and a softly joyous whispering is ever heard. This is feast that honors your holy relationship, and at which everyone is welcome as an honored guest.

T-19.IV.A.16:1-2

In this meeting place we are joined with Christ, in fulfillment of an ancient promise (T-19.IV.A.16:4). Critically, this union is not predicated on either bodies or the world.

. . . would I offer you my body, *knowing its littleness? Or would I teach that bodies cannot keep us apart? No one can die for anyone and death does not atone for sin.

T-19.IV.A.17:5-6, 8

When we align with spirit, the way we perceive shifts, and in our shifted perception we see that loss is not possible. The happiness engendered in this insight – which is quiet, serious, and still – becomes the space in the false bondage of confusion slips off us.

“God takes the last step” is a promise made in terms that are understandable to bodies in the world. It is only at that level that we actually need help, for it is that level at which we think we live. It is at that level that we need the illusion of body and spirit as separate levels at all.

In fact, there is neither God nor steps nor firsts nor lasts. To ego this statement makes no sense. To what you are in truth, this statement does not exist. Therein lies the peace offered by A Course in Miracles.

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3 Comments

  1. Ah . . . so several years ago, I toted home a copy of Nisargadatta’s “I Am That” from the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) library — which happily is in nearby Virginia Beach. I read bits and pieces daily, staking claim to it for two months before reluctantly returning it.

    In recent days, I thought about that book and yesterday my own copy of “I Am That” arrived in the mail. And well . . . . here you are quoting him.

    I felt nudged to open the book at random (obviously I do this a lot 😏) and this is what I read:

    “The real world is beyond the mind’s understanding; we see it through the net of our desires, divided into pleasure and pain, right and wrong, inner and outer. To see the universe as it is, you must step beyond the net. It is not hard to do so, for the net is full of holes.”

    Perhaps the Course reveals the holes, as in today’s lesson — I have no neutral thoughts — because my immediate thought after reading that sentence was “Truth doesn’t hide within the illusion even though that is where we look for it.”

    I guess until we don’t . . .

    Love,
    Cheryl

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