The Rewards of God are peace and joy, which correlate with the function of Love, which in turn correlates – in fact, is – being of one mind (T-2.V.A.17.1). In terms of A Course in Miracles, we attain these rewards when we are grateful to and for our brothers and sisters who restore to awareness the fundamental fact that “salavation is a collaborative venture” (T-4.VI.8:2).
That is, together we are the Kingdom of God, and no harm or foul can prevail against us in our unity. Who seeks the rewards of God need only give attention to the brothers and sisters with whom they live and share a world. Gratitude is the essence of our practice; to be grateful is to be open to remembering our shared ground in love.
Yet the reason the course exists – which is the reason we are in need of atonement – is that we do not avail ourselves of God’s rewards. We are not reliably or consistently grateful. We do not sample the divine loaf, let alone satiate our hunger forever with it. Why? Given the oasis, why do we insist on the desert?
This section of A Course in Miracles explores the critical idea of the ego as a practical manifestation of dissociation. That is, we dissociate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, which is to effectively dissociate ourselves from God, and then invent a rationale for our behavior, one that justifies actions that are so obviously painful and dysfunctional.
We name that rationale “ego,” and by naming it convince ourselves that it is a real entity capable of bringing about real effects in our living. This is the separation: the belief in a self, or an ego, that is functions apart from and even in opposition to the world of Love.
The separated mind cannot maintain the separation except by dissociating. Having done this, it denies all truly natural impulses, not because the ego is a separate thing, but because you want to believe that you are. The ego is a device for maintaining this belief, but it is still only your decision to use this device that enables it to endure (T-4.VI.4:2-4).
Dissociation (in psychological terms, which is certainly how both Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford understood it) is a split in the mind by which a thought (or thoughts) breaks away from the whole mind and functions as a separate unit, exactly as if it were the mind of another person.
That is, the separation is experienced only because one part of our mind – in ACIM terms the ego (which is not precisely the Freudian ego – more like the whole Freudian soup of id, ego and super ego) – believes and acts as if it is separate. The ego functions as a separate unit, has its own person. But it is a belief existing in mind, not an external object comprehended by mind.
Our problem is that we take this belief literally. The ego speaks and we listen; indeed, we often don’t even realize that it is merely an idea that is speaking. We simply assume it is us, our own self. That is because the ego’s fundamental argument is that we are alone – separate – distinct from our brothers and sisters (T-4.VI.4:3).
Yet what is dissociated is not destroyed. It continues to exist, albeit outside the domain of awareness. This is why A Course in Miracles teaches us that nothing happened and that all we are doing is remembering what in fact we are.
The ego is nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself. Your other life has continued without interruption, and has been and always will be totally unaffected by your attempts to dissociate it (T-4.VI.1:6-7).
Here, the text neatly integrates Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford’s faith in conditioning as a learning method. The aim of the course is to teach us that following the directives of ego lead to misery but following the directives of spirit lead to happiness.
I am teaching you to associate misery with the ego and joy with the spirit. You have taught yourself the opposite. You are still free to choose, but can you really want the rewards of the ego in the presence of the rewards of God? (T-4.VI.5:6-8)
It is interesting to approach this reconditioning process is a pragmatic way – not in terms of an idea contained in a book or website, but in the actual living that we do. Can we experience the ego as a belief about our self which is at odds with reality? Can we make contact – that is, reconnect, reclaim, remember – the whole self which we cast off and dissociated?
In a way, this section of ACIM poses the perennial question: who am I?
We are taught here that the ego is quick to rush in with its answers. And it can be quite persuasive. We are not studying A Course in Miracles because we are never deceived by a split mind.
Thus, it can be helpful to ask the question of identity and not accept the first – or second or even third – answer that comes to us. The chatter of the ego will come and go. It will rise and fall. It will appear argumentative, coy, rational, insistent. Yet for all of that, if simply let it be – for we are not called to humble or control or punish the ego (T-4.VI.3:8) – we may yet discern, like the faint call of a chickadee in the distant forest, or the first red-winged blackbird of Spring – the voice of the spirit reminding us that a belief in separation cannot separate what is forever whole and one.
There is nothing to be gained by resisting or denying or fighting the ego. Ego happens. But ego is not the whole, nor even a reflection of the whole. Ego is simply a mad belief in a past that never happened, with effects that can be imagined but never in fact experienced.
There is, as Bill Thetford so helpfully observed, thus instantiating the creation of A Course in Miracles, a better way. And that way provides us a means by which to experience joy and peace, the rewards of God, which are our natural inheritance.
The other way is effectively to choose to listen to the voice for God. Even if we don’t believe it’s a valuable exercise, even if we believe we’re beyond saving. To choose again is to open an interior space in which we can reclaim the peace of Christ, which is the sum total of our being, however intense our commitment to denying it.
The experience of ego, and the appearance of its effects, are a direct consequence of the power of our mind. We believe in ego, and thus ego – as our belief – is able to go on dissociating, in effect enforcing the appearance of a non-negotiable separation that cannot be healed or bridged.
The separated mind cannot maintain the separation except by dissociating. Having done this, it denies all truly natural impulses, not because the ego is a separate thing, but because you want to believe that you are. The ego is a device for maintaining this belief, but it is still only your decision to use the device that enables it to endure (T-4.VI.4:1-4).
Thus, the secret to salvation is the insight that we are doing this to ourselves (T-27.VIII.10:1). It is a decision we forgot we made, based on a decision-making ability we forgot we had, and then forgot we forgot we had.
How do we fix this? We simply remember our gratitude to our brothers and sisters. We make our living about service to them. How can we help? How can we be kind? How can we be gentle? The metaphysics of whether the self is real or the world is real will take care of themselves. They aren’t our real concern.
Yet the direct action of love very much is our concern. Thus, in order to experience – which is to both accept and offer – the rewards of God, we are asked to live in a way that effectively demonstrates that we are not egos (T-4.VI.6:2-3). We are being instructed to withdraw our support for the “device” we made to ensure we will remain separated from our brothers and sister and thus from the unified love that is God.
Our experience of this love begets gratitude, and our gratitude begets love. It is a divine and creative circle of unity from which we cannot be separate. To know each other is to know God (T-4.VI.7:3).
We are in this learning experience together. We are literally one another’s fellow student and teacher. We are in this shared experienced in order to learn that what we call “we” is in fact a single unified “I” that dissolves in the Love that is God. First we learn how to love each other, and then we hear God, because “the function of love is one” (T-4.VI.8:6). What other reward could we want?