Earlier less-edited versions of A Course in Miracles entitled this section “The Total Commitment.” This feels consistent and point with the material – emphasizing the practical nature of what we can do as miracle workers, rather than the abstract nature of why we do it.
When the course talks about Heaven, it is utilizing a symbol and a metaphysics that can be daunting and overly-complex. But all of us can appreciate the idea of commitment, because it informs our lives. We are committed to our children, to our colleagues at work, to the students in our classroom, to the fellow meditators at our zendo and so forth.
Thus, when the course talks about the Atonement as a form of total commitment on our part – which is to say that salvation is not accomplished by degrees, and cannot be experienced partially – we can understand this as a directive to give attention to how we think and how our thinking informs our behavior. Ultimately we accept as fact that the decision to be saved is itself salvation (e.g., T-8.IX.5:2).
There are really two ideas at work in the section, both related (and, in truth, identical though it takes learning in time to see this clearly). The first is that we don’t attain the experience of Heaven alone but rather with and through one another. To conceive of a “Kingdom of Heaven experience” as a solo adventure is to misunderstand both what Heaven is and how its laws operate.
The second idea is that we are called to work on ourselves, to effectively change our minds about who we are, where we are, and to what laws we are subject in order to facilitate the “Kingdom of Heaven experience.”
The second idea is the one that we tend to accept more readily. We like self-improvement; we like self-analysis. This is another way of saying that the ego is not threatened by self-improvement and analysis because it can so easily turn that process to its own ends. On the other hand, the first idea – that we mutually implicate one another in salvation – places the focus on you and so we resist it. The ego never wants us to focus on others.
When resistance appears in our lives – when we see it clearly enough to name it “resistance” – then we need to look at it. What appears to be causing it? How does it feel? What does it makes us want to do? What possible solutions do we refuse to consider? We can ask for help in this process – indeed, we should ask for help – from the Holy Spirit and Jesus. It is their guidance, symbolic or otherwise, that shifts our focus from the self and its grievances, thus ensuring that our perception of the experience of resistance will maximize healing.
Resistance to our brothers and sisters always takes the form of focusing on their opposition to us – the specific ways that they are letting us down. If they weren’t so nagging or critical or indifferent or selfish or passive aggressive or whatever, then we’d be happy. We’d be able to do whatever it is that makes us happy.
Thus, resistance to our brothers and sisters almost always (even if quite subtly) establishes setting them up as enemies of our inner peace and happiness. We are always the subject of their unjustified attack. They have the power to hurt us, and we are clearly allowed – indeed, obligated – to defend ourselves by whatever means necessary.
Sometimes those brothers are sisters are physically present – they are our spouse, our parents, our work colleagues, our neighbors. Sometimes – perhaps more often – they are simply figures in the mental dramas unfolding in our mind – arguing with us, criticizing us, mocking us, blocking us. We can’t open a home office because our spouse is always complaining about money. We can’t write a book about our spiritual practice because serious people already writing in that tradition won’t accept us and might actively push back on our work. Et cetera.
This is fear-based thinking, and it is the means by which the ego both establishes and sustains itself. We can become very efficient at finding reasons to blame others for our unhappiness and conflict. Indeed, for most of us, our living – and the world and the others who fill that world – are simply drawn-out exercises in declining to accept responsibility for our own happiness and inner peace.
Yet a time comes when we see that this is not a working. We see that we are unhappy and wracked with conflict. We see that the way we are living both brings about this unhappiness and conflict and seems to even exacerbate it. And so we do what Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman did: we decide there is another way and seek to bring it forth in relationship.
We have to question our decision to fragment the world and assign various values to the fragments and then fight like hell to maximize our personal share of the pie. We have to ask what is really going on, and whether it is working, and then we have to decide – we have to make a judgment – if there is a better way.
A Course in Miracles arises as a means by which to see that fragmentation and partiality, however inevitable and natural they appear, are in fact unnatural and symptoms of an underlying decision. We can choose to see partially or totally.
Whenever you deny a blessing to a brother you will feel deprived, because denial is as total as love. It is as impossible to deny part of the Sonship as it is to love it in part. Nor is it possible to love it totally at times. You cannot be totally committed sometimes (T-7.VII.1:1-4).
It is impossible for me to see anything in you – good or bad – that I do not first perceive in my own self. This is the essence of projection. I want to disown something in myself and the way to do this is to project it on to someone else and see it there. In this way we ask our brothers and sisters to carry our fear and guilt and hate. And thus they appear as fearful, guilty and hateful – and unworthy of love.
Yet for all its dysfunction, projection does create a dynamic which can be utilized for healing.
When a brother acts insanely, he is offering you an opportunity to bless him. His need is yours. You need the blessing you can offer him. There is no other way for you to have it except by giving it . . . What you deny you lack, not because it is lacking, but because you have denied it in another are are therefore not aware of it in yourself (T-7.VII.2:1-4, 6).
We have to begin to see the way projection operates in our lives. We have to be able to look at someone we really dislike and appreciate that what we hate in them is in fact in us. This is awkward at best and quite painful at worst. But seeing it is what heals it and thus becomes the basis of our liberation to love.
While this is very much an interior process – inside work – it is quite obviously dependent on others. We need one another in order to remember our own wholeness. And this remembering takes the form of extending to one another forgiveness.
Teach no one that he is what you would not want to be. Your brother is the mirror in which you see the image of yourself as long as perception lasts (T-7.VII.3:8-9).
“Teach” in this case refers to the way in which we relate to one another. It begins with clarity about what we want to be and extends to what we see in each other. If we perceive a brother or sister as hateful or selfish or cruel, then we should realize that we have first established those qualities in our self.
In this way we become responsible both to our own healing – by owning those qualities we would prefer to disown – and our brother and sister, by seeing them not as bad people but as Children of God, who share our desire for love and inner peace.
Give them the appreciation God accords them always, because they are His beloved Sons in whom He is well-pleased. You cannot be apart from them because you are not apart from Him . . . You cannot know your own perfection until you have honored all those who were created like you (T-7.VII.6:2-3, 6).
Thus, our lives in the world as students of A Course in Miracles become veritable workshops in forgiveness. The external details shift and change; they are consistent mostly in their inconsistency. But they always provide ample opportunities for us to relate to our brothers and sisters in forgiveness, which is to say, to see in their so-called negative qualities our own projection, and so to become responsible for not projecting.
In this way, we remember love, and in remembering love, we move away from fear. That is the course’s sole learning objective (T-9.II. 1:4).
I’d like to share a personal example of how this process can play out in our day-to-day living.
The other day I was teaching and a student – let’s call him Billy – approached me. Billy was critical of an exchange I’d had with another student. Billy explained that his son had some of the same behavioral issues as that other student – was actually about to enter a treatment facility to work on them – and he wanted to propose that I think differently about the interaction. Although I was courteous, I was also dismissive because – in all honesty – I was offended. It was an egocentric moment for me, albeit modulated in terms of behavior. I told Billy that it was inappropriate for me to discuss other students and that he should focus on his own learning.
Later, driving home, I kept replaying the exchange in my head. I’d get angry at Billy all over again. I’d lecture him, literally speaking aloud as I drove. I got more and more dismissive.
Eventually, a little light went on and I asked Jesus and the Holy Spirit to help me see the incident in the light of forgiveness, which I understood meant looking at my own thinking and behavior.
I knew that Billy was mistaken about some aspects of my exchange with the first student because he didn’t know – and couldn’t legally know – a lot of relevant details. The exchange was the result of a lot of out-of-class meetings with the student in question, her advisers and counselors and even family members. None of that was in Billy’s purview.
But what struck me as I prayed wasn’t really so much that – it was something Billy had said that I’d completely ignored. He was relating the event in the classroom to his own child. And I saw in that simple moment that he wasn’t really getting in my face so much as acting – rightly or wrongly – out of love for his own son. He was a good father struggling with a big issue in his family and he was trying to work it out. And I could appreciate that. I could relate to that. And I could admire that. Rather than criticize Billy, it made me want to hug him. It made me want to thank him.
It wasn’t that Billy was right – in fact, in the laws of the world, he was actually wrong. But in the eyes of love, he was being strong and true. And when I saw that, I felt lifted by his love for his son. It wasn’t about right and wrong anymore. It was just about love. I felt very grateful that I could see that. And I’m grateful now because I remember it. It reminds me to slowly with my brothers and sisters. It reminds me to notice when I am being defensive and judgmental and to ask for help in translating those feelings to love, the sooner the better.
And it reminds me that it is never a mistake to ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit for help. Indeed, that is what the totality of the Kingdom means – it means that I exclude nothing and nobody from it, but bring all of it without exception or condition into the healing contemplated by miracles.
That is how forgiveness works, and how we work with one another. Everything is either love or a call for love, and the response to both is the same: love. We don’t know that but Jesus and the Holy Spirit do. Our job is to bring our confusion and uncertainty to them, and to see it healed there.
Obviously, there are plenty of moments in our lives when we do not practice forgiveness or practice it partially. That’s okay. What matters is our continuing effort to totally and completely accept the Atonement for our own self. This is a question of willingness and application. It gets easier with time and its effects – which we measure in feelings of peace, happiness and gratitude – expand accordingly. We heal ourselves by remembering – and then by embracing – the fact that we are not alone.
Saint Paul, writing long before A Course in Miracles, understood this in his letter to the Ephesians: “I will never stop thanking God for you.” It is a fitting summation of what binds our shared learning: gratitude for each other.