It doesn’t make much sense to pretend that we don’t have enemies. There are people we love enough to run into fiery buildings for (our children, our spouses and so forth) and then there are people we think deserve a fiery building. Pretending otherwise is no benefit. As Jesus said two thousand years ago, if you only love those who love you back, what good is that?
How can we have gratitude for our enemies? Real gratitude, not just half-hearted spiritual platitudes?
A Course in Miracles is a deeply practical learning tool. For all its abstraction and apparent complexity, its theological language, its Freudian underpinnings, it really is quite straightforward and workable. That is what it is for! As Helen Schucman points out in the introducation, the Course “emphasizes application rather than theory, and experience rather than theology.” A few paragraphs later she later expands on that, pointing out that the Workbook lessons “emphasize[s] experience through application rather than a prior commitment to a spiritual goal.”
The Course really is about living in the world. Nothing is off the table. Indeed, our capacity to get well really hinges on keeping as much on the table as possible. Including our so-called enemies.
I think this question of how to deal with people we don’t like, actively resist, enjoy dark fantasies about and so forth has two pieces, each of which needs to be looked at.
In the first place, having enemies is usually accompanied by denial. As I was saying the other day, we tend to think of ourselves – even when we know better, or ought to – as fine, upstanding and morally admirable creatures. The real screw-ups are out there somewhere. We’re six inches from Heaven’s gate and gaining ground.
In that space, it can be hard to see that we harbor unkind – even murderous – thoughts.
For example, the other night I had a rich and vivid dream. I am not allowed to go into all of it, but it started with me walking through a mall, surrounded by shoppers. And I felt vastly superior to all of them – in my education, my spirituality, my intelligence. Everything. I felt like Henry VIII strolling through the market. And upon waking, I knew quite surely that I actually do feel that way – special, elevated, favored of God. I don’t always feel that way, maybe, and I don’t often act on those feelings but it’s no use pretending they aren’t there. They are.
I don’t like seeing that kind of arrogance. It is hateful and hurtful. But in truth, it is part of what I am in the world and if I hide it – or only take half sneaking glances at it once in a while – then we’re never going to undo it, the Holy Spirit and I.
So I start praying and asking to see this particular form of fear and guilt clearly. I don’t want it to stay sublimated. I can’t do that if I’m still invested on appearing – to you and to myself – as some kind of super healthy, super happy Jesus freak.
So first, we really have to get over the idea that we’re healthy and spiritually-sound and morally upright people. That’s a significant block.
It’s when we accept our brokenness that healing becomes possible.
The second aspect of this enemies thing is that if we really get into healing, then the world and our lives in it becomes one huge classroom, a sort of ongoing curriculum filled with symbols of our personal interior horror that keeps us from accepting God’s love. No friends, no enemies – just opportunities to learn and choose again in favor of God. Remember that succinct and beautiful line from the text: “Projection makes perception (T-21.In.1:1). So much of the Course is right there!
The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more and nothing less . . . It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition (T-21.In.1:2,5).
Our enemies – be they political candidates we can’t stand seeing on the television, neighbors who always gripe about how loud the kids are, spouses who don’t appreciate our spiritual journey or just, you know, people who aren’t up to our unique spiritual standards – are actually blessings in disguise. We aren’t seeing other people deserving of judgment; we are witnessing our own internal state, seeing it as broken, and thus being given an opportunity to move – through forgiveness – in the direction of wholeness.
It’s not easy, of course, but as we begin to make this shift – as we begin to track the external world as a mirror of the inward condition – then we start to see where we need help. We start to see with great clarity and even urgency the specific details of the separation. Our hatred, our anger, our violence, our guilt, our greed . . . we project it all out there onto our “enemies,” the beings who are both separate from and less than us. Our brothers and sisters deserve better! We do too.
So when we see at last that we are the ones doing this, then we can also invite the internal teacher – Jesus and the Holy Spirit – to help us undo it. Indeed, that’s the whole point of having such guides. They’re going to hang out with us, keeping our focus on healing, and reminding us that for all its resemblance to hell, the world is our means to Heaven.
Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause . . . Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy (T-21.In.1:7-8, 10).
We can be thankful for our enemies – be they people, places, ideas, circumstances, belief systems, et cetera – because they remind us of what needs healing in ourselves. And seeing the need, sooner or later we reach out to the one who can help us.