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On Undoing Illusions

We want to be clear about our illusions: we want to know them as illusions for that is the way they are undone. We are not seeking Truth – what is – but that which obscures Truth.

In a sense, we are trying to be clear about that which presents itself as truth but it not truth.

The search for truth is but the honest searching out of everything that interferes with truth. Truth is. It can neither be lost nor sought nor found. It is there, wherever you are, being within you (T-14.VII.2:1-4).

A Course in Miracles truly asks nothing more from us than that we be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to remove “the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence” which we are assured is our “natural inheritance.”

It is helpful in this regard to remember that a primary model for the Course is psychotherapy. We don’t enter the psychotherapist’s office so that we can laugh and socialize and brag on our wellness. We go because we recognize that we are not functioning well and we need help in sorting it all out so that we can function better.

We are not students of the Course so that life will be light and angels and merriment. We are students because we are committed to raising our multitudinous illusions to the light of healing – and this is hard work and it is painful work.

I am not saying there are not happy moments. There are. Nor am I saying that from time to time we won’t notice that life seems to be improving – getting clearer, simpler, lighter and so forth. It will and we’ll notice. There is a lot for which to be grateful.

But this aspect of undoing illusion remains the cornerstone of what we are doing. Seeing illusions can be quite a challenge: it is a question of seeing the specific ways in which we are greedy and dishonest and lazy. It is a question of making contact over and over with the guilt and fear that drives our egoic behavior.

Yet the assurance inherent in the Course is that once seen, the illusion is undone, and that the undoing is in fact a very gentle process (T-14.IX.3:2).

There is no substitute for truth. And truth will make this plain as you are brought into the place where you must meet with you truth . . . What disappears in light is not attacked. It merely vanishes because it is not true (T-14.VIII.4:1-2, T-14.IX.2:4-5).

The temptation is to see oneself as a noble sojourner on the path to truth. That is a nice image and a good story. Both the egoic self and the world the egoic self made approve of that image and story. Lifetimes pass in its telling.

But sooner or later that sojourner realizes he is not getting anywhere, and that he’s not as happy as he pretends to be. That is when the real work becomes possible. That is when we retire from the circuitous path that goes nowhere and give up the images of ourselves that stand like heavy veils before God.

We turn, then, to the Holy Spirit – the healed mind that remembers God – and daily ask for help in being honest as we seek that which impedes Truth. And as each block is slowly dredged to the surface, it is gently undone. The light of Truth clarifies; the song of Oneness grows stronger and healing is the sure result.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Eric May 29, 2013, 8:43 pm

    Hi Sean,

    You know, since I have began studying ACIM some 5 years ago, I’ve read quite a few people talk about how wonderful their lives have become since reading ACIM. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think about this. Was the person’s life really becoming wonderful? Or were they being as honest as their words appeared to be? Were they somehow deluding themselves by grasping onto yet another belief that made them feel happy for a while? After all, I have read more than once what a relief it was to discover that there is no world.

    I don’t know. I can only speculate, but I found for myself that this has not been the case. As I’ve always said since I began this path, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some extraordinary experiences of love and peace. Experiences that would do no justice in trying convey. I find when I get angry, that there is at least a space for me to be aware of the anger instead of just being an automatic reaction to it. Even during trying times, I can feel a deep sense of peace encompassing my perception of what is happening. This is hard to explain, but I have found it annoying at times. 🙂 My mind says, “Peace now? There isn’t supposed to be peace in this/these situation(s)!”

    But I don’t think I can say my life has become wonderful since I began this path. It certainly hasn’t been a life of light merriment and angels, as you said. In fact, in many ways, my life before I began this path is crumbling. It is falling apart. What seemed solid, is certainly not. What seemed like security is being ripped away. What seemed like control is being seen for the absurdity it is. And while I have had wonderful, extraordinary spiritual experiences; a very deep sense of peace at times, I also experience psychological pain much easier than I used to. The contrast is becoming more stark between thoughts of joy and thoughts of pain, that it is rather startling.

    When the course says, “ The pain threshold drops accordingly, and the mind becomes increasingly sensitive to what it would once have regarded as very minor intrusions of discomfort.”~ ACIM I can completely relate to this. I guess the course really means it when it says that the Holy Spirit teaches using contrast.

    As you said, undoing illusions is the cornerstone of what we are doing, and it can be a hard work and painful work in the process of “brutal” self honesty. We can see it in the Dark Night of the Soul, or in the collection of lectures/articles written on the subject in the book, “Spiritual Emergency”. I’ve listened to a podcast of a neuro psychologist talking about starting her own study of this phenomena after her own experiences after beginning her practice is Buddhism. I’m thankful to have read and listened to others experiences about this. Even the course says something about this when it says:

    “All shallow roots must be uprooted, because they are not deep enough to sustain you. The illusion that shallow roots can be deepened, and thus made to hold, is one of the distortions on which the reverse of the Golden Rule rests. As these false underpinnings are given up, the equilibrium is temporarily experienced as unstable. However, nothing is less stable than an upside-down orientation. Nor can anything that holds it upside down be conducive to increased stability.”~ACIM


    “What is little and insignificant is magnified, and what is strong and powerful cut down to littleness. In the transition there is a period of confusion, in which a sense of actual disorientation may occur. But fear it not, for it means only that you have been willing to let go your hold on the distorted frame of reference that seemed to hold your world together.”~ACIM


    “Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality. Time is kind, and if you use it on behalf of reality, it will keep gentle pace with you in your transition. The urgency is only in dislodging your mind from its fixed position here. This will not leave you homeless and without a frame of reference. The period of disorientation, which precedes the actual transition, is far shorter than the time it took to fix your mind so firmly on illusions. Delay will hurt you now more than before, only because you realize it is delay, and that escape from pain is really possible.” ~ACIM

    I also think that when we’re talking about undoing illusion, where we are from when we say this. I have read more than once someone say they feel things aren’t getting better or feel there is no “spiritual progression.” It’s not this that really grabs my attention as much as the same person’s statement of, “I know the world is an illusion, but……”

    This, in my opinion, is a spiritual pitfall, because the fact is, the person doesn’t know. Reading what a book or author about a book says and then accepting and adopting this conceptual information/explanation is not the same as knowing. This is what the course calls the attempt to counteract error with “knowledge” rather than correcting it from the bottom up.

    As the course tells us in so many ways at this type of attempt when it says:

    Correction is not your function. It belongs to One Who knows of fairness, not of guilt. If you assume correction’s role, you lose the function of forgiveness.~ACIM

    If you already understood the difference between truth and illusion, the Atonement would have no meaning.~ACIM

    You cannot wake yourself. Yet you can let yourself be wakened.~ACIM

    To forgive is merely to remember only the loving thoughts you gave in the past and those that were given you. All the rest must be forgotten. Forgiveness is a selective remembering, based not on your selection.~ACIM

    The holy instant is the result of your determination to be holy. It is the answer. The desire and the willingness to let it come precedes its coming. You prepare your minds for it only to the extent of recognizing that you want it above all else. It is not necessary that you do more; indeed, it is necessary that you realize that you cannot do more. Do not attempt to give the Holy Spirit what He does not ask, or you will add the ego unto Him and confuse the two.~ACIM

    Trust not your good intentions. They are not enough. But trust implicitly your willingness, whatever else may enter. Concentrate only on this and be not disturbed that shadows surround it. That is why you came. If you could come without them, you would not need the holy instant. Come to it not in arrogance, assuming that you must achieve the state its coming brings with it. The miracle of the holy instant lies in your willingness to let it be what it is. And in your willingness for this lies also your acceptance of yourself as you were meant to be.~ACIM

    The necessary condition for the holy instant does not require that you have no thoughts which are not pure. But it does require that you have none that you would keep. Innocence is not of your making. It is given you the instant you would have it. Yet it would not be Atonement if there were no need for Atonement.~ACIM

    Never approach the holy instant after you have tried to remove all fear and hatred from your mind. That is its function. Never attempt to overlook your guilt before you ask the Holy Spirit’s help. That is His function.~ACIM

    The holy instant does not come from your little willingness alone. It is always the result of your small willingness combined with the unlimited power of God’s Will. You have been wrong in thinking that it is needful to prepare yourself for Him. It is impossible to make arrogant preparations for holiness and not believe that it is up to you to establish the conditions for peace. God has established them. They do not wait upon your willingness for what they are. Your willingness is needed only to make it possible to teach you what they are. If you maintain you are unworthy of learning this, you are interfering with the lesson by believing that you make the learner different. You did not make the learner, nor can you make him different. Would you first make a miracle yourself and then expect one to be made for you?~ACIM

    Eric: To undo illusions, we must come from a place of not knowing. I don’t know opens up the willingness to truly learn. This opens the way to salvation.

    The course offers us this prayer as an invitation to the Holy Spirit.

    I am not alone, and I would not intrude the past upon my Guest. I have invited Him, and He is here. I need do nothing except not to interfere.~ACIM


    • Sean Reagan May 31, 2013, 8:30 am

      Hi Eric,

      Yes that is my sense, as well. It is a lot of work and the work is not easy. On the other hand, there is a sort of gathering sense of peace: as if on some level there is an awareness that a meanginful undoing is at last underway. One of the premises of the Course that is dear to me is the assurance that the end is sure because it is already realized. We are really only learning that there is nothing to learn and nothing to do.

      Comparing myself to other students and teachers is a pervasive challenge, but I suspect a common one. A lot of the “sunshine and rainbows” school is premised on the desire to sell books or gain students. Ken Wapnick often jokes about this: he is selling a difficult path that requires rigorous looking at how flawed and broken we are. Who needs it? We would much rather pay to have someone tell us over and over again how perfect we are.

      In the end, it is a question of how much challenge can we bear? How much work are we willing to do? Oddly, the answer to these questions is not really personal but impersonal. Our opinions about healing are not really relevant to the healing itself.

      Tara Singh often talked about the importance of coming to one’s own experience, one’s own knowledge of what awakening is and means. Of course, this is very much what Krishnamurti was saying as well: you have to discover it for yourself. If it is just parroting somebody else’s words, then you haven’t learned anything.

      I have done that: and am slowly getting better at noticing when I am simply repeating the ideas of another. Perhaps “not knowing” might also be a state of ‘awareness.” I know that I do not know: and in that space one discovers or realizes truth. It can be very hard to write about honestly and with integrity.

      ~ Sean

  • claudia May 31, 2013, 4:24 am

    Sean and Eric, these were all helpful words to me today. Thank you.

    • Sean Reagan May 31, 2013, 8:31 am

      Hi Claudia – thanks for reading – glad it was helpful!

  • Jeanne Scofield May 31, 2013, 12:48 pm

    Sean and Eric, I appreciate you writing on this. I’m having difficulty holding on to peace. Just as I think I find it and go to sleep with it, I wake up to mental confusion and a lack of peace. I wonder if I am indeed trying to define what forgiveness looks like. Perhaps I’m getting in the way because I have my own expectations.

    I’ve spoken of this before so sorry for repeating myself. I was one of those people who did have sunshine and rainbows for about 3 years after beginning ACIM. “I’ve been studying it since the late 90’s. I really wasn’t good about the lessons and concentrated on the text.

    I think that the reason I got this type of experience is that I was excited by the fact that we are sons of God. All of us. : ) For many years I had suspected as much. It became cemented in my body and mind as I began reading the Course at the same time as reading a book by Joseph Murphy. He broke down the Book of John in terms about the true nature of ourselves too. I was getting the same messages at the same time about our true parentage. I was enthused and excited. I went out into the world that way, actively trying to see the light in everyone. I even remember standing at a trade show looking at everyone that way. It took much effort. There were a lot of people. LOL And the world reflected back to me exactly that condition.

    It was only once I invited God to help me overcome fear that my world slowly began to crumble. At first I was able to turn my fears calmly over to the Holy Spirit. They were taken care of immediately. Keep in mind that I was coming to this from a very good place. I was not already suffering from much turmoil in my life. But then 9/11 happened. I was okay there too. It was once my business became too busy (for about 5 years) that I lost touch with God and The Course. Then all hell broke loose.

    So I wonder if it comes to each of us differently depending on our experiences or mindset. I’ve been in the very dark trenches for several years. Ones in which I question the values that our society hold’s dear. It’s crazy when I am torn between “looking past error” and what my ego and our society dictates that which we “must” do. Hang them high! Send them to hell!

    I’ve been married for 27 years and have recently discovered some things about my husband that I have suspected. He is the person whom I am struggling to “look past error.” I am making active efforts to do this. Perhaps I’m trying too hard.

    This passage in ACIM comes to mind:

    T-19.IV.A.12. Relationships in this world are the result of how the world is seen. And this depends on which emotion was called on to send its messengers to look upon it, and return with word of what they saw. Fear’s messengers are trained through terror, and they tremble when their master calls on them to serve him. For fear is merciless even to its friend. Its messengers steal
    guiltily away in hungry search of guilt, for they are kept cold and starving and made very vicious by their master, who allows them to feast only upon what they return to him. No little shred of guilt escapes their hungry eyes. And in their savage search for sin they pounce on any living thing they see, and carry it screaming to their master, to be devoured.

    I have to ask, did I bring on the conditions because I suspected them? Did I send out the messengers of suspicions and now the messengers of this world is sending back terror images. Now that I have these images and have established them as “real,” how do I forgive when everything in my upbringing (prior to the Course) says to see his sin and send him to hell.

    As I am writing this commentary, I remember this too:

    T-19.IV.A.14. The Holy Spirit has given you love’s messengers to send instead of those you trained through fear. They are as eager to return to you what they hold dear as are the others. If you send them forth, they will see only the blameless and the beautiful, the gentle and the kind. They will be as careful to let no little act of charity, no tiny expression of forgiveness, no little breath of love escape their notice. And they will return with all the happy things they found, to share them lovingly with you. Be not afraid of them. They offer you salvation. Theirs are the messages of safety, for they see the world as kind.

    T-19.IV.A.15. If you send forth only the messengers the Holy Spirit gives you, wanting no messages but theirs, you will see fear no more.

    One of the key words on those phrases is “emotions.”

    Early on I was enthused and excited. I had certain expectations of this world and saw wonder in it. I sent out messengers in my enthusiasm and expected the same back. I got exactly that. Now as I feel betrayed and scared, it seems that terror is all around, including choice of movies and video games of death and gore. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel because there is a part of me who knows that what the Course says is the Truth. I think that the ego is grasping at its last efforts to make me see the world its way. I feel like I am in this big tug-of-war within my psyche.

    Thanks for the initial blog and the commentary. I began reading this today because I had awaken with fear again. Back to square one, it seemed. My body was showing signs of being really uptight and I needed some comfort. Now after reading and writing this, I am much, much calmer. : )

    • Sean Reagan May 31, 2013, 7:30 pm

      Hi Jeanne,

      In a general way, I believe the Course meets us where we are and takes where we need to go. And that is a very different experience for all of us.

      Some people are really invested in experiencing the “light episodes” from Lesson 15. Some people need rainbows and merriment. Some people need Jesus to be a symbol and others need him to be the historical sage from lower Palestine dictating a new gospel through Helen Schucman.

      What is helpful? What works? I think we get what we need to keep us going, to keep us interested.

      In a way that sometimes frustrates a lot of people, I firmly believe that when the going gets tough it is a sign that we are really deepening and getting close to the light. There is story – possibly apocryphal – that when patients came to see Carl Jung he would ask them how they were feeling. When they said “good” he got very discouraged. But when they said “terrible – just awful” he would get all excited and rub his hands together. Now we get some real work done!

      So like that, I think that these hard times – while they suck indeed and you have my empathy! – are potentially very useful. If we are attentive to what is happening in an interior way, then we really can get very close to the egoic framework and seeing it for what it is make a better decision about whether we really want to be invested in it or not.

      In this world of dreams we have idols: they are a response to fear and despair. For some of us the Course is an idol, or Ken Wapnick is an idol, or perfect marriages are an idol, or vegetarianism, or Chopin or parenting or whatever.

      It is judgment that makes idols: we decide that this is good and that is bad. And once we give space to this “dream of judgment” then we have turned Heaven into hell (T-29.IX.2:1-2). We literally make ourselves miserable.

      Whenever you feel fear in any form – and you are fearful if you do not feel a deep content, a certainty of help, a calm assurance Heaven goes with you – be sure you made an idol, and believe it will betray you (T-29.IX.9:1).

      So when we are unhappy – deeply unhappy – it is because we have chosen an idol in place of the love of God. If we can accept that – not resist it but just gently see what is happening – then we set up the grounds to heal from it. And it’s very personal! So maybe somebody realizes that a certain behavior or relationship is designed to obscure God, and seeing that, they can begin to undo it.

      In the end, there is no such thing as big stuff or little stuff – stubbed toes, ruined marriages, the death of children, nuclear war. It’s all the same dream that blocks our awareness of Love’s presence, which is our natural and true inheritance. This is why the Course can teach – indeed, it is a cornerstone – that there is no order of difficulty in miracles (T-1.I.1:1). No matter what is going on, the problem is always the same: we believe we are separated from God. The miracle enables us to experience the separation as false.

      I have always appreciated this reassurance:

      Little child, the light is there. You do but dream, and idols are the toys you dream you play with (T-29.IX.4:3-4).

      So . . . you know, we just have to deal with what is in front of us. In a sense, it’s only there because we’re ready to deal with it. We’re ready to see another level of egoic thinking and horror. And we’ll undo it and then – count on it – we’ll hit another bump in the road.

      Two things are nice – or at least okay – in that. First, you have that wonderful early experience to call to mind, which can remind you that you’re going home. It is possible to feel love and light! You did once and you will again.

      And second, it’s just nice to have people to share with, a sense that we’re not alone but have friends – even online – with whom to share the path a little while. So I am grateful to you – and Eric – and everyone who reads and sometimes offers their thoughts here.

      Thanks, Jeanne!

      p.s. I love that writing helped! That is really why I started this blog – writing is just how I work stuff out. So, yes. Very cool to hear that it works that way for you too!

    • Eric June 2, 2013, 10:24 am

      Hi Jeanne,
      Thanks for sharing. As far as our experiences and mindset, I can really only speak for myself on my own experience.

      When I first started reading the course, like you, I was very excited. I was reading a completely different thought system. I devoured it. I must have read the text at least 6 times within the first 6 months. I read the Manual for Teachers section quite a few times, alone with the supplements.

      I was reading, organizing, conceptualizing and believing (to an extent) all of the ideas being presented to me. It was exciting. I was excited, and of course I thought I had found the Truth that so many people are looking for. In other words, I was confusing the course that was pointing to the Truth with Truth.

      It wasn’t until I finally started to do the lessons after at least 6 months of studying that things began to change. I remember doing the first 50 lessons and my body began to hurt. I felt physically achy as I did the lessons, and it wasn’t just little aches, but pretty noticeable pains. By around Lesson 23-25, I was in a foul mood and was even a bit disgusted with ACIM. I certainly had my doubts about its validity. This was actually around the time I had an extraordinary experience, but that is for a different conversation.

      As time went on, things calmed down. Things started to feel better and I felt more in the flow of life. Then I had a “spiritual relapse” and have been in a funk since. I am being forced to look at what I don’t want to look at. My resistance to this, is only making it more painful. I know what I need to do, but I continue to keep this at arm’s length.

      I’m at a place where my old life is no longer solid. There is no foundation there. I cannot go back to the way things were. It is impossible. I can only move forward.

      There is a line in the course that is speaking very much to me right now.

      Reason will tell you that there is no middle ground where you can pause uncertainly, waiting to choose between the joy of Heaven and the misery of hell. Until you choose Heaven, you are in hell and misery. ~ACIM

      Eric: It is this type of procrastination of uncertainty that is not helping me. I think in some ways, I’m still trying to do things my way. In the UrText, I remember a conversation Helen had with the Voice and she was told that Bill was not progressing as far, because he was trying to bring the new ideas in line with his old habit patterns. I can relate to this.

      I am reminded of something that was said in the book, “Spiritual Emergency” by
      Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche giving a Buddhist lecture. At the beginning of the lecture he asks how many of the audience members are just beginning their spiritual practice? A lot of hands go up. He says, “Fine. My suggestion for you is to get up, go to the door and get your money back and go home. Don’t start this difficult and terrible process. For once you do, it is very difficult to stop. So my suggestion, is to not start at all, but if you do start, it is best to finish.”

      Eric: It is best to finish. I think that first beginning a spiritual practice we are excited and eager. We have ideas of what we think spirituality is and what enlightenment is, and we say, “Yeah! That’s what I want!” We may read authors and accept and adopt their explanations and think, “Yeah! I totally get it!! I understand the course! I know what Truth is!” Causing us to feel confident and good that we are in the know. We may hold these new adopted beliefs for some time, where we are at a place that the course calls an illusion of peace. But there comes a time, when we realize that these new adopted beliefs are just that, beliefs. They are not the Truth. And we come to a reality that we do not really know. We thought we did, but we don’t, and that is scary. And so we look for that anchor of our old life to cling to as if it were a life raft in the middle of an unknown ocean to save us from being swallowed into this abyss.

      And yet, it is that very clinging that causes further suffering, because we know somewhere in our mind that our old life wasn’t working. Yet we are so afraid of the unfamiliar that even something that caused suffering is more inviting simply on the grounds that it is familiar.

      Again, I am reminded of the movie, “Jacob’s Ladder.” A movie I only saw as a horror movie as a teenager, but one I see now with a spiritual message. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll re-paste it here.

      When I was a teenager, I saw this horror movie called, “Jacob’s Ladder.” I didn’t realize it then, but upon watching it again, I realized that in some ways, this movie had a spiritual metaphoric message.

      The plot goes something like this. The beginning, there is a fire fight in Vietnam. The main guy is stabbed (or something like that). It appears he is dying. The next scene, we see the main guy working in a mail room. It appears that he lived after all. Yet as the movie goes on, he begins to experience severe hallucinations and starts to see demons everywhere. His chiropractor (guardian angel) listens to the main character’s plight patiently and finally quotes/paraphrases Meister Eckhart and says,

      ” The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you,” he said. “They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and… you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.”

      Eric: As I woke up this morning. A thought came to mind that I should read the Manual for Teachers. I began to read the sorting out of what we truly value with the valueless. This is what I really needed to read this morning. It’s funny how the course can pretty much always meet you where you’re at. Especially since in my experience, spiritual growth is not as linear as I thought it might be. And when I said “we” in my post, I am really saying “me”. 🙂


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