Earlier this week I wrote about pain and the body. What is an ACIM student to do when they are suffering chronic pain?
Here I want to go a little deeper into this question, focusing on the attraction of pain as an obstacle to inner peace.
A Course in Miracles identifies “the belief that the body is valuable for what it offers” as the second obstacle to peace (T-19.IV.B.1:3). The body offers us pleasure – hot sex, beautiful sunsets, apple pie, snuggling puppies, chips and salsa – and we want that. We are all in on pleasure.
But the Course says that all sensation the body experiences is painful – even when we label it “pleasure.” On this view, as soon as we accept the body as valuable for what it offers (e.g., pleasure), then we are actually all the way in on death.
What has the body really given you that justifies your strange belief that in it lies salvation? Do you not see that this is the belief in death? Here is the focus of the perception of Atonement on murder. Here is the source of the idea that love is fear (T-19.IV.B.2:6-9).
All of us want to give up chronic pain – migraines, sciatica, nausea, restless leg syndrome, you name it. But also, we all want to keep orgasms, chocolate, backyard fires, the scent of lilac and strolls on the beach at dawn. The Course is saying, we can’t have one without the other; the body is the experience, no matter what the label happens to be.
Thus, the Holy Spirit would release us from all of it – the so-called pleasure and the so-called pain – by teaching us that we are not a body. And we are scared of this lesson and refuse to learn it and thus remain alien to the peace that is our inheritance and home.
Is it a sacrifice to be removed from what can suffer? The Holy Spirit does not demand you sacrifice the hope of the body’s pleasure; it has no pleasure. But neither can it bring you fear of pain. Pain is the only “sacrifice” the Holy Spirit asks and this He would remove (T-19.IV.B.3:4-7).
In other words, by accepting the truth that we are not bodies, we are liberated from suffering, which is entirely an effect of our identification with bodies – regardless of whether we’re experiencing pleasure or pain in a given moment.
If we want peace – the peace that surpasses understanding, the peace of Christ – then we cannot have it in terms the body recognizes. Most of us want peace to be the functional equivalent of “orgasms, chocolate, backyard fires and strolls on the beach at dawn.”
But peace transcends all that, exactly the way it transcends “migraines, sciatica, nausea, and restless leg syndrome.”
Peace is extended from you only to the eternal, and it reaches out from the eternal in you. It flows across all else . . . You want communion, not the feast of fear. You want salvation, not the pain of guilt. And you want your Father, not a little mound of dust, to be your home (T-19.IV.B.4:1-2, 6-8).
For many of us, at this stage in our learning, we say something here like – “okay, fine. This sounds great. How exactly am I supposed to do this? How do I let go of the idea that I’m a body?”
It’s hard because the body keeps on going, right? We need to pee or sneeze. We want to sleep with somebody or we want them to not want to sleep with us. We want to eat truffles in bed. We need a cup of tea to get us going in the morning. We need to be more disciplined about our yoga. Whatever.
Here is the answer: do nothing with the body. Don’t worry about it. It takes care of itself. Our whole job as students of A Course in Miracles is simply to give up the idea of sacrifice and accept whatever peace is given accordingly (T-19.IV.B.9:1-2).
The body can bring you neither peace nor turmoil; neither joy nor pain. It is a means and not an end. It has no purpose of itself, but only what is given to it. The body will seem to be whatever is the means for reaching the goal that you assign to it. Only the mind can set a purpose, and only the mind can see the means for its accomplishment, and justify its use (T-19.IV.B.10:4-8).
A clumsy metaphor: if we want to go to Boston, then we will need a vehicle – a car, say. The car needs four tires, a working battery et cetera. It needs gas and oil at regular intervals. It can only travel on roads – it can’t fly or float. We don’t ask the car to be what it’s not – we accept it for what it is, use it for the goal we set, and that’s that.
The body is the means to achieve the goal we set. If the goal is the body’s pleasure, then we’re confused, for the same reason we’d be confused if we thought the car wanted to go to Boston. Or liked having a full tank of gas. Or going faster or slower.
Then we would never get to Boston. We’d grow bitter and resentful. Why won’t this car do what I want it to do? Why is it always making me wash it, check the spark plugs, et cetera? We would blame the car.
We might even think the car is guilty or sinful. We might condemn it. “There’s a special place in hell for vehicles like you.”
It is impossible to seek for pleasure through the body and not find pain. It is essential that this relationship be understood, for it is one the ego sees as proof of sin (T-19.IV.B.12:1-2).
Is it clear? There is no sin in the body’s appetites, there is only the confusion that the body is valuable because of those appetities. The question is simply what is the body for? And the answer is, to communicate with our brothers and sisters, and remember together that Love, not fear, is our inheritance, because we are children of a living God Who is Love.
Why should the body be anything to you? Certainly what is is made of is not precious. And just as certainly it has no feeling. It transmits to you the feelings you want. Like any communication medium the body receives and sends the messages that it is given. It has no feeling for them (T-19.IV.B.14:1-6).
When we see the body as valuable for what it can get us, then we are accepting that pain and pleasure, rather than peace, is our goal. Investigate this! Is this really what you want? To ping pong between fleeting moments of pain and pleasure?
Stop worrying about the body. Don’t judge the body for avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure. Let it do what it does. Sleep when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry. Simply become open-minded to the possibility that peace is not a condition of the body but of the mind – and that its realization is in the mind.
Peace may or may not have predictable effects at the level of the body. Jesus died on a crucifix, after all. Therese of Lisieux literally rotted away. My Dad was profoundly disabled by a stroke. Mac, our first beautiful horse, died tragically of colic. You know what I’m talking about – you have your stories too.
Ego wants us to hear those stories and become fearful. What if I have a stroke? What if Chrisoula gets cancer? I better eat healthier – I don’t exercise enough – maybe a therapist can help with my stress . . . All of that is a fearful pursuit of an illusion – that the body is valuable for what it offers.
There is a better way.
The Holy Spirit teaches me that everything which happens at the level of the body are simply helpful manifestations of the only lesson I need to learn: that I am not a body. And it does this by reminding me that the body is a means of communication, and not in any way and end unto itself.
If my car breaks down and I need to get to Boston, then I’d rent or buy a new car. Or take a bus. It’s a hassle maybe, but it’s not an existential crisis. Just so with the body. Right now I’m sitting on the couch at 5 a.m. – I’m a little tired and a little hungry. I’ve got to get ready for work soon.
But I’m writing and rewriting, and I am thinking of you. I am grateful that you read what is written here because it helps me write better, and writing is how I learn. And I am hopeful that what is written will in some way be helpful for you, in your ACIM study and practice. We are joining – not at the level of the body, though our bodies have a place – but at the level of the mind.
Beyond pain and pleasure, we are getting clear on what we are in truth. We are remembering our shared identity as Christ, as extensions of God in Creation. And this – and only this – is the source of peace and joy.