It is a mistake, I think, to approach A Course in Miracles as if it were merely a light-hearted picnic en route to the Gates to Heaven. It is not that an emphasis on inner peace and joy is wrong per se, but that it can distract one from the actual forgiveness inherent in the course’s healing process.
To adopt A Course in Miracles as one’s spiritual path is to undertake a serious and challenging interior journey from grim forgetfulness to remembrance of God. It is to look closely at an interior landscape and thought system that resists being looked at and literally stops at nothing to avoid being seen for what it is.
Why does it so viciously and tenaciously defend itself from being known? Because it correctly perceives that to see it is to to simultaneously see what it is not and – because our longing for God, though hidden, is greater than our longing to be separate from God – exchange it for Truth. The ego knows it is doomed when we see it offers us nothing but pain.
Grandeur is of God, and only of Him. Therefore it is in you. Whenever you become aware of it, however dimly, you abandon the ego automatically, because in the presence of the grandeur of God the meaninglessness of the ego becomes perfectly apparent (T-9.VIII.1:1-3).
A Course in Miracles, through the text, workbook and Manual for Teachers, restores to our memory God’s grandeur, and the ego is dissolved accordingly.
But it does not go quietly nor willingly! And, for most of us, it does not go without the help of a devoted guide. Thus, the course, in addition to providing a means by which to remember God, provides a friend with whom to bring that means into application.
My brother you are part of God and part of me. When you have at last looked at the ego’s foundation without shrinking you will also have looked upon ours . . . I give you the lamp and I will go with you. You do not take this journey alone (T-11.In.4:1-2, 5-6).
In a sense, those words are metaphorical – Jesus is not actually going to show up with an oil lantern and escort us through our personal Boschian drama, the way a friend might walk with us through the streets of Boston or Baton Rouge with a flashlight and map.
On the other hand, if we cannot take those words literally – if we reduce them merely to a good idea – then we are quite likely bereft. So a question emerges and presses on us: How do we make contact with Jesus in a real and practical way with respect to “looking at the ego’s foundation without shrinking”?
To be with Jesus is not acquisitive but rather receptive. Why? Because he is already here: our inquiry of him makes it so.
The answer has to do with the reverence that naturally flows from giving careful and sustained attention to that question, which in part has to do with not rushing to answer it. It is easy to substitute intellectual verbosity for spiritual experience. One way to avoid that trap is to willingly stay in the insecurity of not-knowing, which in a sense is to trust not knowing – or to trust that we are not alone in the state of not-knowing.
In his Commentary on Jesus and the Blind Man, Tara Singh observed that “a sincere question has the ability to relate you to life instantly and brings you to the direct perception of Reality” (79).
Thus, it is not necessary to know but rather to inquire of Jesus in a serious and attentive way, and to bring all of one’s desire to awaken to bear on the inquiry. In a way, it is reminiscent of Lesson 27 in the ACIM workbook: “Above all else I want to see.” Think of nothing but your yearning to see, says Jesus, and vision will be given you because it is already given to you. But be honest: what else will you think of? What else do you want?
The real question is, how often will you remember? How much do you want today’s idea to be true? (W-pI.27.4:1-2).
So it is a question of our commitment, of the energy that we are ready and willing to bring to our practice. Part of studying A Course in Miracles means facing our unwillingness to practice A Course in Miracles. We are asked to give vision priority amongst our many competing desires (W-pI.27.1:2). Tara Singh said that when we do that – when we sincerely give attention to Jesus – then we are met by Jesus in the present moment, and there is nothing metaphorical about it.
If you are present, then the Master is here, because what He said is eternal and always accessible. In the present, the past and future meet. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (79).
To give our attention to Jesus without expectation – I will perceive him this way, he will answer this way, et cetera – is to become radically open and Jesus responds to that openness in a real and tangible way. Our reverence – which is a form of gratitude that simplifies and purifies attention – makes it possible.
Nobody can give attention for us, and the internal egoic drama that must be undone will feel utterly personal for a long time. Yet a state comes when we begin to perceive – beyond the specificity of images an idols – the fear and guilt that is common to all of us and shared by all of us. But before that, we have to share the seeming specificity of our spiritual journey with Jesus. We look at what we are frightened to look at, and we ask him to look with us and – when we are ready to no longer be alone – he will be with us, and his presence will be transformative at every level. His presence is a transformed way of seeing; He is vision.
From insane wishes comes an insane world. From judgment comes a world condemned. And from forgiving thoughts a gentle world comes forth, with mercy for the holy Son of God, to offer him a kindly home where he can rest a while before he journeys on, and help his brothers walk ahead with him, and find the way to Heaven and to God (W-pII.325.1:4-6).
Thus, I don’t want to avoid the work of looking at the ego’s foundation, however intimidating and even terrifying it might seem. It is essential to our shared freedom, because only by looking at the foundation can the rest of the egoic edifice be toppled.
I also want to be clear that this work, this looking, is not a solo gig: A Course in Miracles repeats over and over that Jesus shares the way, that the Holy Spirit is within us, and that you and I are walking the path to Heaven together. Those are words that point to an important truth: we are not alone in any way and our companions are our salvation.
It is not necessary to know in advance what it means to avail oneself of Jesus’ help and to be so helped. In fact, it is more helpful to simply rest in the not-knowing. To be with Jesus is not acquisitive but rather receptive. Why? Because he is already here: our inquiry of him makes it so.
Sean, I am a newcomer to ACIM but have explored other spiritual paths. I have noticed that the ego borders on villain status, much of the time. So I guess my question is – Is the ego the same as our personality and, if so, how does one exist on this human plane without it? Thanks.
Thank you for reading!
With respect to your question, I think it depends in part on how we define “ego.” In A Course in Miracles, it refers to the false self that we created as a substitute for God; it reflects both fear and guilt and, through projection and denial, attacks others in order to survive.
That’s just words until we begin to actually experience it, which is accomplished (in my experience) through the lessons. Slowly, we begin to perceive egoic thought – thought which is premised on guilt and fear, which judges others, etc. – and, somewhat more dimly, its alternative, which are the thoughts we think with God which are – paradoxically – more like “space” between thoughts.
The ACIM villification of ego is metaphorical, a tool to facilitate understanding that may or may not be helpful. The ego isn’t a separate entity out to get us; it’s just a habit of thought that is not helpful, that is actually deeply unhelpful. Really, A Course in Miracles – like plenty of other spiritual paths and traditions – is inviting us to have a different relationship with the way that we think.
So to that extent – thinking of ego that way – no, a certain amount of ego is not a good thing! It teaches us that we are separate from God and separate from one another. It teaches that we are doomed with respect to unification with God, who always judges against us, and that we are in deadly competition with our brothers and sisters. Who wants that? It’s the opposite of inner peace and joy.
ACIM suggests there is a better way to think – to experience ourselves as mind – and provides a step-by-step process so that can happen. It is a thoughtful and precise response to Bill Thetford’s question/insistence: there must be another way.
Of course, ACIM is just one approach – with its own language and mythology and so forth. There are other traditions – traditional psychotherapy, for example – where one could argue that a healthy ego, or sense of self, is essential to healing. If that is more helpful for somebody, then there is no reason not to follow that tradition.
We do have to live in the world and in relationship, but the suggestion inherent in A Course in Miracles is that there is a saner way to do it, and we have to reach beyond what we think of as normal or natural thought patterns to find it – we really have to let go of all that in order to remember the thoughts we share with God.
Thanks again for reading and sharing, Pam.
Great question Pam.
And Sean, I found your response; “the thoughts we think with God which are – paradoxically – more like “space” between thoughts.” to paint a perfect picture for me.
I will meet you there!
In the space between thoughts 🙂
Thanks Annie – “space between thoughts” is a phrase/idea borrowed from Tara Singh, who used it a lot and – as like you – it really resonates for me. So yes indeed – that is where we will meet – and do meet – gratefully!
Thanks, Sean. Your explanation greatly clarified the definition of ego. To think of it as”a habit of thought” is wonderful. That phrase allows me to be kind to myself whenever I notice that my ego is in charge instead of beating myself up for falling short (old habit from Catholic upbringing).
You’re welcome, Pam. I’m glad it was helpful. And I hear you on those habits left over from Catholic upbringings . . .
Thanks for your guidance with the “Course”.Dr W.Thetford mentioned the “Course” cutting time,I feel that is helpful to get to those spaces between the thoughts.Thanks Sean as well for quoting Tara Singh.
Thank you for reading & sharing Graham. I hope all is well. The space between thoughts is deeply helpful; it is our natural home, I think, the space that we naturally live in and from, though we forget this and allow the open space to become cloudy and constricted. The course has been a useful tool in clarification for me; and sharing with others. Thank you again for reading and sharing!