|Preview Breaking Free
Have you suffered a severe loss for which you still don't have answers? Have you lost your faith, are you disillusioned with religion, or wonder if there's any such thing as a loving God?
If so, you may be interested in my book, Breaking Free, How Forgiveness and A Course in Miracles Can Set You Free.
Hi, I'm Lorri Coburn. Like you, I suffered several heartbreaking losses and searched to make sense of them. I raged at God's cruelty and poured over numerous spiritual paths. None of them made sense to me until I found A Course in Miracles.
I wrote Breaking Free so you too can find answers to your pain. I was a psychotherapist for 25 years and in the book tell many stories of clients who used forgiveness and found their true selves. Clients who suffered from alcoholism, sexual abuse, deaths of loved ones—people just like you.
Are you ready to break free from fear and pain? Breaking Free breaks the strongholds of death, loss and suffering, demonstrating that forgiveness and finding one's true Self are the keys to lasting peace. Click here to order your copy of Breaking Free.
You can be happy and free. I know it, because I've lived it. You deserve peace and happiness now.
- Blessings, Lorri Coburn
Below are the index and sample chapters from the book. Leading teachers of A Course in Miracles, Gary Renard and Jon Mundy, have recommended Breaking Free, and readers comment on how much it simplifies the difficult concepts of A Course in Miracles. You can read their endorsements here or from the endorsements button on the main menu.
Here are some samples from Breaking Free:
CHAPTER 1. A RADICAL NEW WAY OF BEING
CHAPTER 2. WHAT IS GOD?
- How Our Society Avoids God
- False Assumptions about God
- Tragic Consequences of False Beliefs
CHAPTER 3. THE DREAM
- The Perceived Separation
- There Is No Death
- It's Only A Movie!
- Physics and the Illusion
- Waking Up
- The Miracle
CHAPTER 4. THE SELF AND THE EGO
- Basic Ego Masks
- The Insanity of the Ego
- Impacting Our Own Dream
- Ego Disguises
- Choosing with the Holy Spirit
- Being Our True Self
- The Hero's Journey
CHAPTER 5. TRUE FORGIVENESS
- The Definition of Forgiveness
- Special Relationships
- The Process of Forgiveness
- Three Simple Steps
CHAPTER 6. JESUS REINTERPRETED
- Myths Surrounding Jesus
- The Only Path to Heaven?
- The Crucifixion
- The Resurrection
- The Second Coming of Christ
- The Anti-Christ
- New Testament Teachings
- What Type of God?
- The Final Judgment
CHAPTER 7. DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH SPIRIT
- Learning to Hear the Inner Voice
- Prayer and Meditation
- Going Home
Much sheer effort goes into avoiding the truth; Left to itself, it sweeps in like the tide.
I discovered A Course in Miracles (ACIM) in the late eighties, and it went right over my head. Though I did get something out of it: the habit of using affirmations every hour, and the notion that if I attack my brother I'm really attacking myself. Other than that, I decided the Course was too wordy, convoluted, and difficult to understand, so I put it down for seventeen years.
In 2003, I came upon a book called The Disappearance of the Universe, by Gary Renard, which is based on the teachings of Jesus as expressed in A Course in Miracles. Gary wrote that we are dreaming our lives and that God did not make this world. What a bizarre concept! I initially dismissed this as another ridiculous religious teaching that made no sense. As I studied further, however, the idea that God did not create this world answered the questions that had haunted me my entire life. It made perfect sense! I had always felt a loving presence greater than me, had felt assistance in my life, and had longed to experience heaven, which I believed was my true home. I just could not reconcile that love with the awful, dreadful conditions on earth.
Our Judeo-Christian culture teaches that, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). This is an indoctrinated belief that many of us never even think to question. A Newsweek survey on religious beliefs showed that 80% of respondents believe God created this world.1 Who else but an all-powerful, awesome God could create the majesty of mountains, sky, and sea, along with the intricate order of the stars, sun, and moon? While most of us assume God created the earth, we also assume that He is somehow in charge of what goes on. Hence, natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, and earthquakes are called "acts of God." The image of a negative, wrathful God is woven tightly into the fabric of our Western culture, right along with the completely contradictory idea that He loves us. Do you know anyone who doesn't know the story of Adam and Eve? Even those who have never attended church know what happened to them when they disobeyed God! According to the Bible, women for all eternity suffer in childbirth because of just one woman, Eve. The idea that God will punish us for wrongdoing is so deeply ingrained that we only half-jokingly say, "God will get you for that!"
I grew up in a fundamentalist Protestant church, and it was beneficial in many ways. I learned that Jesus loved us so much that he died for us, and I felt Jesus' friendship. I learned to be kind and loving to others, to do unto others as I would have done unto me, to forgive, and to see everyone as a child of God. Church taught that there was something bigger than us, and that life goes on after death. This was very reassuring. As a teenager I had a positive experience with the church youth group and have several friends from that group to this day.
However, my church also turned me away from God with negativity that went hand in hand with love. I was horrified by the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Old Testament, but I don't think I ever spoke up, because that would be questioning God. To test Abraham's faith, God commands him to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar, as one would kill an animal. Since Abraham is willing to do it, God rescinds the command, and tells Abraham that He was just testing his faith. I always thought this was inordinately cruel of God. The story of Job is even worse. God rains horrible illnesses upon Job and inflicts death upon his family, simply to prove to Satan that Job will stay true to God. In the back of my mind I was suspicious of God, yet I tried to ignore these feelings, because I also loved Him. Today, as I read the Bible from a metaphysical view, the horror and fear dissipate, and God is once again the loving, benevolent Father.
My experience with the Protestant religion was not necessarily the same as that of many others. There are many Christian churches that are more loving than they are negative and frightening. However, my church was on the far end of the strictness scale, and we weren't supposed to dance, play cards, roller-skate, or wear makeup and jewelry. I did all these things anyway. My church also believed that Catholics and the more liberal Protestants were doomed to hell, because they were not firm enough in teaching the saving blood of Jesus. My religion taught that unless we believed that Jesus died for our sins, and we accepted him as our personal savior, and we continued to live a sanctified life, we would go to hell. Thus, I was terrified that almost everyone I knew would burn in eternal fire.
I was told that God loved me, but what I experienced was that God only loved me if I obeyed the rules. If I made one wrong move and happened to die that night in a car accident without first confessing my sin, then I would go to hell. If, however, I had confessed my sin and asked forgiveness, then I would get into heaven. That was scary! I constantly prayed quickly when I did something wrong, for fear of eternal damnation. My church held "altar calls" during which you came forward, embarrassed and in front of everyone, to kneel at the altar. The invitation, which felt more like a demand, was to confess sins and recommit your life to Christ if you had backslidden. It was also an opportunity for non-Christians to get saved. I always sat shaking in my seat until I either went up or the tense waiting period had passed. Often I went forward just to be on the safe side. Then I felt tremendous relief because I knew I was saved and would get into heaven. I once heard a radio preacher refer to this as "fire insurance."
Being a born-again Christian comforted me from the fear of death. Eternal life was possible if I just confessed my sins and accepted Jesus as my savior. I loved Jesus, and I still love Jesus to this day. I experience him as gentle and loving, yet strong. When I was young, Jesus felt different than God did. God was big and mean and stern. Jesus was the fall guy for God's wrath, and I was grateful that He died for me. To this day, the word "God" occasionally evokes dread, doom, and disapproval, but only warmth and wisdom come from "Jesus."
In spite of being born again, I found it hard to believe that God was so wrathful that He would remand us to hell. But, I was afraid not to believe for fear that I would be sent to hell. At the age of seventeen, I developed enough courage to question my minister and not automatically swallow what I had been taught. I debated with him that a loving God would not let people gravitate toward Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and other religions, only to send them to hell because they didn't believe in Jesus. I was told not to question, and that if I did question, then I, too, would be sent to hell. I asked why God would create me with a thinking brain and then tell me not to use it. I was told to have faith. Faith in what? A vengeful, irrational God?
With this, I left the church for ten years, disillusioned and directionless. During those years I often felt panic. What if I was wrong? What if there really was a hell? My heart seized on hot summer days when I stepped into my scorching car, as I thought that hell must burn a million times worse than that.
During my ten-year absence from the church, I continued to wonder about God. What kind of God would create us and send us to Hell if we didn't correctly follow the rules? What kind of God would create us with constant temptations to behave in certain ways, and then label those behaviors "sinful" and punish us for them? Would God give us brains and then ask us to suspend logic and simply obey? Isn't this how Hitler succeeded in turning normal people into mass murderers? It reminded me of my college professor who gave an essay test on World War II; I knew that if I disagreed with his political opinion, my grade would be lowered. Why attend class? Why think at all? Isn't college supposed to be a place where educated debate is encouraged? Shouldn't it be the same with God? Why be alive and think logically about God, if the wrong opinion leads you to burn forever? We were taught that we had free will, yet if we used it we would be damned.
For years I swore that when I got to heaven I was going to give God a piece of my mind. I planned on telling Him I could have done a better job than He did with this world, as I'd make a happy place, free of death, destruction, and darkness. I often raged at God, to the amazement of one of my friends, who expressed fear that if he got mad at God he'd be sent straight to hell. But I figured that if God loved and created me, He'd understand my anger and doubt. Other questions I had for God included why Jesus suffered on the cross, given his powers as God. Since Jesus was God, why didn't he just jump off the cross? Why didn't he dissociate from his body so he didn't feel pain? Why did God require that His only Son be murdered? Apparently suffering was part of the deal, in order to sufficiently atone for man's sin.
Once again, it wasn't until I read The Disappearance of the Universe that my lifelong questions were answered. God does not require sacrifice, has never condemned us, and never will. Jesus was not sent to die to atone for our sins and He was not the only Son of God. The message of Jesus' crucifixion was to show that the body is not real and there is no death. Jesus willingly chose to be crucified to teach us that we are all the Sons of God, we are all innocent, and we can all attain the same level of oneness with God that He did. Jesus did not suffer on the cross because He was one with the Mind of God and did not identify Himself as His body.
A Course in Miracles says that we humans have projected onto God and Jesus all of our guilt, fear, and anger, and that's why God and this earthly life appear so cruel. This explanation made sense to me, given my background in psychology. I'd seen the destructive effects of projection in the lives of my psychotherapy clients for years. I'd witnessed many clients destroy their lives with their false beliefs and become completely irrational in the face of overwhelming emotion. I'd seen countless examples of how we create our lives with our beliefs, and how others' behaviors and attitudes toward us had more to do with our attitudes toward ourselves than it did with them. In other words, everyone and everything that shows up in our lives reflects our own level of self-love.
I have not been the same since reading The Disappearance of the Universe. It completely changed my life and set me on a path of discovery that has been nothing short of miraculous. It set me on fire to learn about A Course in Miracles and now to teach it.
It is my hope that the teachings of ACIM will free you as they have freed me. The idea that God did not create this world has been the single most liberating concept in my life. The miracle is waking up to the love, joy and peace that have always been within you, but that you sought through things outside of yourself. This freedom is real, tangible, and joyous, something that you already have. Your acceptance of the truth and light within you automatically releases you from the dark dream. As Jesus says in the Bible, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)
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Chapter One - A Radical New Way of Being
A New Theology
Every new truth begins in a shocking heresy.
A Course in Miracles is a spiritual self-study course that we can do completely on our own. There is no organized religion that tells us what to do; we don't have to believe in any particular doctrine, go to church, or follow rules someone else made up. We all have our own inner teacher, which ACIM calls the Holy Spirit. This is our higher Self; this is the Love that is the center of our Being. We need listen to no other voice, for this Love will guide us to our highest good. We can converse with It anywhere, anytime. If we want to be happy, all we have to do is listen to Its guidance, and our peace is ensured. When we are in touch with the love, serenity, and radiance that come from within, we automatically make loving choices.
Currently we see this world completely upside down. We see a world of fear, wrought with death and destruction, because we view it from the vantage point of the ego. The ego is our fear-based, false self, the part that forgets our connection to God. When we begin to look at the world through the eyes of God, the eyes of our inner loving Self, we see a totally different world. Through better choices, we begin to experience love instead of suffering. We recognize the ego masks of guilt, doubt, fear, and hatred, and instead see ourselves and others as we really are. We become conscious of the majesty within, and we glow, feeling gentler and lighter. We love ourselves and others—gone are the fears that life can destroy us or take our loved ones from us, for we know there is no death. We know we are safe and warm in truth. No one and no thing can take what is our essence.
A Course in Miracles may initially shock with its tenets, but as we ponder them, they make perfect sense and answer questions about the nature of life, the meaning of life, and the inherent suffering of life. The nature of life is that God did not create this world, but we did. The meaning of life is that we are dreaming this world. The dream is not real, and we find meaning only when we reconnect to our true home, which is the presence of God within us. The suffering of life is part of the illusory world and is overcome when we recognize truth. Because God is pure Love, He did not create a world of death, suffering, and separation. God would never cause us to suffer or learn through pain, and it is only our belief that we are separated from God that causes suffering.
The central teaching of A Course in Miracles is that we are home with God right now, asleep to our true nature and dreaming about life on earth. We are like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, dreaming a horrific nightmare that we are lost and can't find our way home. Like Dorothy, we long for home, also called heaven (or Kansas). Even though Dorothy thinks Oz is a beautiful place, she keeps trying to find her way home. When Dorothy awakens, she finds she is indeed at home with her loved ones. Moment to moment we have the opportunity to click our heels and go home, to choose between love and fear, between the truth that we are still with God or the illusion that we have separated from Him. The Course refers to this as the choice between the ego's way of thinking and the Holy Spirit's view of the world.
This world, since it is filled with fear, is an illusion, as God creates only love. All problems arise from one error, the mistaken belief that we are separated and alone and that God has abandoned us. This false belief appears to cut us off from our Source, much like a kink in a water hose prevents the source of water from flowing to its destination. We are unable to receive God's love when there are kinks in our thinking. Forgiveness is the primary tool that opens us to the flow of love and peace. Forgiveness is stressed over and over in ACIM as the main way we find our way back home.
A Course in Miracles states that God is pure Love, and as Love would never create hell or punish his beloved children. Because this earth is a dream, and dream occurrences aren't real, no one has ever sinned. However, in the illusion we see ourselves as flawed individuals, guilty of numerous sins. We think ugly thoughts and do ugly things. But that comes from our false self, the ego, and therefore it is not real. The ultimate truth is that only God and Love, which are the same thing, exist. Love is actually another name for God.
We are taught in the Bible that man's sin keeps him from God, so God had to send Jesus to die in atonement. However, ACIM says that Jesus did not die as a sacrificial atonement for man's sins, because God was never angry with us to begin with. Since we have never separated from God, there is no sin to be atoned for. It's all our bad dream. Jesus willingly chose to be crucified to teach us that the body and death are not real. He did not suffer on the cross because he knew he wasn't his body, and his mind was solely identified with God.
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Chapter Two - What Is God?
False Assumptions about God
There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.
Every society has its mores and standards that dictate what we're supposed to think, how we're supposed to feel, and how we're supposed to act. These messages are both overt and covert, yet we all know what they are. Most people in our society have adopted the Judeo-Christian concept of God without questioning it in depth. Even people who have never stepped foot in a church know the story of Adam and Eve and Jesus' crucifixion. These stories have overtones of an angry God who exacts certain demands or there will be hell to pay, literally.
Children are sometimes unwittingly and sometimes deliberately taught that God is a big, bad bogeyman. There fore, many people develop superstitious beliefs that they can't fully shake in adulthood, because they're so ingrained in their emotional makeup. Children have what's called "magical thinking," in which they believe they are the cause of external events. For example, if Mommy comes home from work in a bad mood, little Susie believes she has done something wrong to make her angry. If a child is told that God is going to send him to hell for lying or stealing, the child is not mature enough to logically conclude that there really is no hell. Internally he stores this fear, which becomes a pervasive, underlying fear of God. Many people don't realize they have a fear of God until tragedy happens and they blame God for it.
Many who have come to believe in a loving God as adults still have trouble shaking the little voice that taunts, "You're going to hell!" One of my friends remembers giggling in church while his mother hushed him angrily, snapping, "God is going to strike you dead!" He says that terrified him! Another friend put medals of the saints under her grandparents' mattress because they did not attend church and she did not want them to go to hell. Yet another relates one of the most shaming moments of her life, when it occurred to her that Jesus must have had a penis. She laughs at it today, but says at the time it was terrifying, and in her mind of a child she was doomed. A client of mine blamed God throughout her childhood because her father abandoned her.
My partner Rod was raised in the Catholic Church. As he was a constant troublemaker, the nuns threatened that he would go to hell, where there was ripping of flesh and gnashing of teeth. He got temporary relief by going to confession, but he sinned so often by fighting and lusting after girls that he gave up and assumed he was damned. After he broke away from the church, it took almost twenty-five years before he felt comfortable at Easter. He was taught that if he did not go to confession during the year before each Easter that he would be excommunicated from the church, which meant eternal hellfire. He says that even though he didn't logically believe in hell anymore, the fear was still in his gut. This is how strongly these messages affect us!
When I was a small child, I worried that my parents were going to hell because they did not go to church. My mom was definitely going to hell because she smoked. I know now that God does not want anyone to feel fear or be afraid of Him, yet I learned that to be God-fearing was good.
Would we send our parent or child to burn and be tortured eternally? Of course not. The mother of a serial killer, while knowing he's done wrong, would not condemn her son to the electric chair. We have projected our fears onto God, which is why so many beliefs about God are completely illogical. This is not the sole domain of the Christian religion, for just about every theology contains strange elements. This is because, from our earthly perspective, we cannot conceive of pure Love and true reality. Thus, we make up stories to explain the concept of God, because our minds seek explanations. Unfortunately, the answers lose rationality when fear, rather than love, becomes the predominant focus.
Tragic Consequences of False Beliefs
There ain't no fans nor no rest and, brother, there ain't no Cokes in hell.
~Anonymous North Carolina preacher
My client Terry was in therapy for about a year and a half for alcoholism. He was sober and trying hard to improve himself. One day he came in and began speaking in a shaky voice. "Lorri, I've got lung cancer. I'm going to die." A single constrained tear rolled down his face, followed by a stifled sob. "I know I'm going to hell because of all the people I killed and tortured in Vietnam." He then broke into unbridled tears. My heart ached to see him so terrified, and I tried to reassure him. "Terry, there is no such thing as the hell you were taught. That was just said to control and frighten us, just as you are frightened now." Unfortunately, Terry was not reassured. He left, stating that even though he and I were close, he would not be back because he would feel embarrassed and weak if I watched him die.
I never saw Terry again, but years later came across a thank-you card he had written to me, and it put a smile on my face. I loved Terry, and I only wish I could have helped him through his terrifying experience. I knew that he would eventually be okay, but probably not until his body died and he found out that there had been nothing to worry about after all.
The type of fear that Terry had is one I hope to dispel in this book. You are safe, there is no death in reality, and you are loved by a God who would never even think of sending you to a hell. God does not, and never has, seen us as sinful and separated from Him. Sadly, this is not what a lot of us are taught growing up. Many of us are instilled with the same type of fear, if not terror, that Terry experienced. While religions may mean well, the results of their teachings can be extremely harmful, as in Terry's case. Terry suffered needless terror and trauma when he could have had a loving and positive transition into the next realm.
My client Sharon was in psychotherapy to address her profound grief over her only child's death in a car accident. When she saw the wreckage wrapped around a tree, her first thought was, "Someone really wanted my daughter." Sharon anguished because she had only recently given her daughter permission to drive and was racked by guilt at her decision. During Sharon's therapy she spent session after session expressing her rage, grief, and hopelessness. How different it would have been if she knew that her daughter lived on and she could have continued contact with her. I sent Sharon to a psychic medium, and she received information that only she and her daughter had known. This helped her, but she still felt her daughter was far away and she wouldn't see her again until she died herself. Today I would teach Sharon how to have ongoing contact with her child herself, but at the time I did not know how to do this.
One day Sharon stated she had driven by a church and screamed in hatred at God, giving Him the finger. Notice the assumption she made, that God was the one who took her daughter away. Sharon was not particularly religious, yet she still ascribed control of the world's affairs to a God who would deprive her of the most precious thing in her life. She said that she used to wish that she was more loving like her daughter had been, and after her daughter's death she did become more compassionate. She wondered if God used this situation to help her learn this. Although this is a common explanation during grief, it is not the way God instructs us. God reaches out to us only in love, not through pain (chapters 4 and 5 explain this more fully).
A less intense though still damaging type of reaction to the threat of hellfire is the guilt and fear that many people feel when they think they've done something wrong. I had a young mother as a client, Jan, who was a sweet, intelligent woman with an angelic face. To look at her you would never suspect the shame she carried. Jan had a young child and was pregnant with her second. The year before she had had a brief affair and got pregnant by the other man. She had not been having sex with her husband, so she decided she must have an abortion to hide her affair. Jan was so racked with self-loathing and guilt that she was depressed, anxious, obsessive-compulsive, and hateful toward her husband. She was convinced that God would never forgive her and that she would go to hell for murdering her baby.
What if Jan was raised with the knowledge of a God that loved her no matter what she did? What if she knew that she was innocent by virtue of being a beloved child of God, one He would always embrace and never condemn? She would still have sorrow and guilt over the affair and the abortion, but they would be much less intense. When people believe that God himself hates them, they feel hopeless and despairing. There is no way out.
When I was about ten, my best friend's cousin Alice had twins, and one of them died at three months of sudden infant death syndrome. I felt so bad when I heard that Alice was wailing, screaming, and moaning. Insensitive people told her that she at least had the other baby and she shrieked, "I don't care! I want Emma back!" My friend's father was extremely angry and I cowered as he shouted, "If one more person tells me this is God's will, I'll punch his lights out!" I thought silently to myself that it was God's will, as that's what I'd been taught in church. I sure wasn't going to say it out loud, though.
A Course in Miracles offers a different way of thinking about traumas such as these. It definitively repudiates that God created the cruelty in this world. The Course says, the world you see is the delusional system. . . . If this were the real world, God would be cruel (T-13.in.2:2; 3:1). If Alice believed in the traditional idea of heaven, it likely gave her some small comfort of reuniting with her child. However, she has probably grieved for this child all these years. If Alice were to practice the ACIM Workbook lessons, she could learn to experience that she and her baby are one and that there is no separation in reality. We are capable of feeling our loved one's presence regardless of physical death. Heaven is a state of mind found right here and now. It is not some far-off place after we die. This is what Jesus meant in the Bible, when he said, "the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). As we do the Workbook lessons, we become more peaceful by the day, despite whatever is happening in our lives. Click Here to order Breaking Free
Chapter Three - The Dream
There Is No Death
There is no death! What seems so is transition. This life of mortal breath Is but a suburb of the life elysian, Whose portal we call "Death."
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Death is the central dream from which all illusions stem. Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end? Without the idea of death there is no world. All dreams will end with this one
It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Certainly war provokes terror, as fear of death and bodily destruction are at their peak. Soldiers pray for safety and loved ones at home pray for their safe return. Impending death brings to many a sense of aloneness and panic. However, we can connect with a power of love greater than us, which allows us to find our way to peace. Feeling this connection has brought peace to many in the midst of war. There is a sense of gentle calm that things are okay no matter what happens.
One of my clients, John, found peace during the Vietnam War by carrying the Prayer of St. Joseph with him. He carries it with him to this day, grateful for how it helped him. John describes an intriguing incident when his buddy Dan was severely wounded by shrapnel in his leg. Dan went into shock and asked John if the bees were still around. Puzzled, John said, "Bees, what bees?" "The bees that stung my leg," Dan replied. John saw shrapnel holes, while Dan saw bee stings. John was awed by the power of the mind to trick it self. As he read The Disappearance of the Universe, he kept recalling Dan's illusory bee stings. This helped John understand how we fool ourselves by believing our dreams.
Whether the problem is war or something seemingly less serious, the answer is the same. When we remember our oneness with God, the problem will no longer be a problem. When we remember it is a dream, we can no longer be upset with it. The more we remember that we are at home in heaven now, the more we will experience serenity.
It must be so that either God is mad or is this world a place of madness. Not one Thought of His makes any sense at all within this world. And nothing that the world believes as true has any meaning in His Mind at all
When I read the above statement, I feel relieved. Thank God that God did not make this place of madness! And I thank God that His thoughts are completely contrary to this world. This world of madness has so many traumas: war, illness, death, divorce, job loss, relationship conflict, political conflict, famine, natural disasters, and so on. All of these carry a sense of angst, a fear of loss. All of these losses are types of deaths. We fear losing whatever it is we are attached to, be it a person, a lifestyle, or an opinion. These things give us security, comfort, safety, and familiarity. One of my friends jokes that her two husbands feared losing their possessions more than her. Her first husband was a scholar and worried that someone would break into their home and steal his books. Her second husband was devoted to his dogs, and worried they'd be kidnapped for animal research. We usually worry about what we're most attached to, and these things are substitutes for the safety of God.
My sister's mother-in-law, Omi, looked the epitome of a grandma. Her cherubic round face had a halo of fluffy silver hair, and her German accent topped it off. Omi was a gentle soul, one of the sweetest people I ever met, and one of my biggest spiritual teachers. About twenty-five years ago Omi and her husband, Opa, were robbed in their home on an isolated country road. They were elderly, wealthy, and easy prey for the hired hand that framed the robbery. One night a stranger knocked on their door, claiming she was stranded, and asked to use their phone. Gentle, unsuspecting souls that they were, they let her in, and were terrorized by the man who pushed in behind her. The intruders ransacked the house, knowing where to find the valuables, and hit Opa on the head. Opa died of a stroke three days later.
Omi's response to her husband's murder made a profound impact on me. I asked her how she could go on, and she gave me a clipping of a favorite quote from Catherine Marshall: "When someone you love is with God, he is not far away." This brought her peace. She lived it and knew it. The love was still there and could not be destroyed by death. Years later, Omi was in her nineties, physically deteriorating and wishing she would die. I had Omi's picture on my refrigerator, looked at it, and asked her, "I wonder when you are going to be set free from that body of yours?" I got a call from my sister the next day. Omi had passed into the arms of God right about the time I spoke to her picture.
Omi's experience with her husband's death is in stark contrast to the experience of my client Toni. Toni's husband was killed in a car accident in which she was a passenger. She gave him CPR, but he was pronounced dead upon the arrival of the ambulance. This trauma paralyzed Toni, leaving her emotionally numb and stricken for several years. Because her husband did not believe in life after death, she assumed that his spirit either no longer existed or went to hell. She was unsure about the ability to contact loved ones after death and was disappointed that she didn't feel his presence. They had had marital problems and she took the absence of his spirit to mean that he hadn't really loved her. Toni also carried a lot of guilt over not having done enough to save his life. This guilt and fear blocked the love and delayed her recovery process by years. As she began releasing her guilt and fear, she started coming out of her numb state.
How different it would have been for Toni if she could have embraced the truth that she was not separated from her husband in reality. Yes, his body was gone, but his spirit wasn't. I kept telling her that when she got over her fears and doubts, she would realize this, and that her guilt and fear were blocking the truth, much like a cloud blocks the sun. The sun is still behind the cloud, but if we think the sun is gone forever, we will panic. However, each time we allow for the smallest possibility of immortality, some sunshine warms us through the cloud.
Another client of mine, Dory, nursed her mother through cancer, and upon her death frequently sensed her mother's presence by smelling her perfume. Dory entered therapy for her alcoholism, feeling tremendous guilt over her alcohol-related behavior. She said she had not felt her mother's presence lately, and thought her mom must have disapproved of her. I told her that her mother did not disapprove of her; rather, it was her own guilt that was blocking her mom's love. We discussed the movie Flatliners, in which some medical students deliberately induce heart attacks and brain death to see what near-death experiences are like. Each student experiences a situation that reflects how guilty he feels about himself. When the self-image and guilt heals, so does the experience. Dory took that to heart, and reported in the next session that she once again smelled her mom's perfume. She felt relieved and reconnected, and all she did was release her guilt so she could receive her mom's love.
You think that death is of the body. Yet it is but an idea. . . . A thought is in the mind. Death is the thought that you are separate from your Creator
Albert Einstein, one of the most creative geniuses of our time, had this to say about death: "Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion."
There is no death! Since this is a dream and dream figures are not real, then how can there be death? Yet we are attached to our dream figures and want them to be real. We love our children, our mates, our family and friends. The confusion lies in thinking that we are our bodies. We are not our bodies; we are not our personalities; we are not these lives. As Dorothy departed the Land of Oz, she was saddened to lose Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. Yet she awoke to find them beside her in the form of her neighbors. We do not lose our loved ones; they simply change form.
How much more comforting it is when we can say, "He is not apart from me, he is a part of me!" This is the truth. Yet when our loved ones die we will feel sadness and grief, because our human form carries emotions. There is a difference between allowing the feeling of grief and judging the feeling of grief. Allowance is forgiveness, and forgiveness frees us.
One of my favorite stories is about a Buddhist teacher who was crying because a child had died. His students were dismayed and exclaimed, "But, teacher, we thought you said death was an illusion! Why are you crying?" "Ah," the teacher replied, "The death of a child is the biggest illusion of all!" This story speaks to the importance of not denying our feelings even when we know it's all an illusion. If we get mad at ourselves for feeling grief, anger, or other such emotions, that itself makes the illusion real and keeps us stuck in it. It's best just to feel what we're feeling and let it pass through without resisting it. At the same time, we can pray for help in recognizing and releasing the false thoughts that we are separated from our loved one. Embracing the truth itself transforms the grief.
This life is just too painful and our emotions are too strong to simply dismiss them with a cavalier, "Oh, that's just an illusion!" That's too harsh. A more positive response to life's pain is, "The only reality is God. God's love is the only thing that endures." My friend Laura used to avoid her feelings and act like her problems didn't exist. She is afraid that if she sees life as an illusion now she will resort to denying her pain and remain stuck. Laura is on the right track, as denying or pushing away our feelings just keeps them stuck to us longer. A common psychotherapy phrase is, "What we resist persists." However, we can keep the awareness that this is all a dream in the back of our minds, while still allowing grief, anger, and sadness. Experiencing the feelings allows us to move through them, and we need to be kind to ourselves and allow the process to take as long as it does without judging ourselves. Some issues can take years to get through, and that's okay. Realizing that life here is an illusion does not initially take away our pain, and processing the feelings is part of awakening. To fake being happy when we're not will actually thwart our progress. Eventually we see that feelings themselves are illusions, and then we are free.
My friend Lisa was in a rage toward her father for his denial that he sexually abused her. She is a Course student and stopped attending meetings for awhile because she felt the group members did not validate her anger. The Course states that on the level of truth no anger is justified, because this is a dream. However, we need to use our small "t" truth of emotions to get to our capital "T" truth of ultimate reality. Our emotions feel like our truth in the moment. Lisa allowed herself to be angry with her father and eventually forgave him. She couldn't have done it if she felt guilty for, or denied, being angry.
When I visited my niece Catherine in the hospital, her blood pressure dropped dramatically. I panicked, afraid she was going to die. In the back of my mind was the notion that this was just a dream, yet that did not stem my anxiety. While we are in the midst of overpowering emotions, sometimes the best we can do is pray for help, and we will eventually feel peace.
There is no death and the body is not real. If you think you are your body, then are you the body that you have when you are twenty-five, or are you the body that you have when you are sixty? If you say, "I am a nurse," and you change careers, then who are you? If you get cancer and your body wastes away, who are you then? Who are you after the body dies? If you are married and identify yourself as Mrs. Joe Smith, who are you when Joe Smith dies?
My ninety-four-year-old father went into assisted living six years ago. My dad was always extremely healthy and vibrant—this was a man who climbed a four-hundred-foot sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan when he was seventy-three years old. He was so organized (or obsessive-compulsive) that he recorded his gas mileage on every single tank for fifty years. Now he cannot figure out the difference between Poligrip and toothpaste, thinks it's ok to wash his hands in the toilet, and has completely reconstructed his past due to dementia. He proudly tells people who comment on his University of Michigan cane, hat and sweater that he played football for the legendary coach Bo Schembechler. He can make up a story on the spot, even though he never even met Bo.
It has been extremely painful to watch my dad decline, and I get frustrated more often than I wish. But when I accept that my dad is not his body and the essence of his love will always remain, I'm at peace. My dad has always demonstrated unconditional love toward me, and I have realized that his love is a symbol of God's love. Therefore, I cannot possibly lose it, even when his body breaks down and dies.
Only the eternal can be loved, for love does not die
Not only can I not lose my dad's love, but he cannot lose the love inside of himself. My dad is one of those people who radiates inner joy and love. He is everyone's favorite uncle and favorite neighbor. Thus, when he went into assisted living, even though it was a huge loss of independence, he carried with him his true Self, and he is as happy as ever. The people at the retirement home love him as much as all his friends and neighbors always have. They say, "Here comes Wally," because they hear him singing as he walks down the hall. This internal joy is everyone's true nature, yet few of us express it.
As with my dad, our outer lives, personalities, and bodies are constantly changing. However, what God created is changeless. It does not decay and die. What we really are is the Self, which is the extension of God's mind, created as pure joy, love, and peace. No external circumstance can change our one Self, the mind, in which there is only light. Everything that we are dreaming comes from this one mind, which is from the creative Source. Any possibility that can be imagined in the mind can become manifest in the material world. However, none of the events in this material world has ever happened in reality, because it's only been a dream in the mind.
When you begin waking up from the dream, you actually start experiencing this truth. In my years of spiritual study I had read this concept many times, and from many spiritual traditions. It only started becoming real in the past few years, however, with my practice of forgiveness through the Course Workbook lessons. The love, joy, and peace inside of us used to be just words to me. I understood them intellectually, but they felt empty. Now I experience them. They do come from inside of me, for I can feel them in circumstances that only made me feel anxious before. Seeing your life as a dream instead of something to get upset about changes your perspective.
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Chapter Four - The Self And The Ego
We all carry within us our ravages, our crimes, our places of exile.
The ego's purpose is fear . . .
During my last marriage, I spent a good deal of my emotional life hating my husband's ex-wife, Sandra. We had a lot of contact with her because my husband had shared custody of their daughter. I obsessed about Sandra and recounted her faults over and over. I thought she was arrogant, materialistic, controlling, and bitchy. I believed I was so much more loving and better for my husband than she had been, and I therefore felt superior to her. I couldn't stand when she would call our house, and I would close the blinds when she came to pick up her daughter. I knew I was acting immature and jealous, but it felt like I couldn't stop. It controlled me and I hated being that way. I tried to think of Sandra's good points and felt kindly for moments, but never for very long. One day I was coming home from church and I was singing a chant to try to think positively about her. The verse went, "It's a joy to get to know you, it's a joy to get to know you, and I really am liking to be in your world." I was feeling all warm and fuzzy and proud of myself for being a kind person, when I turned the corner and there was her car in my driveway. I immediately went "Aaargh!!! That bitch is here!" So much for being a loving, spiritual soul!
This is one example of what A Course in Miracles calls the "ego." In this dream world, we seem to have two parts to us, our higher Self, which is designated with a capital "S," and our ego, which is the false self. The ego's role is "Edging God Out." The ego is a myth, a story, to explain why we're afraid and think we're separated from God. It is not real. It is similar to the nastiness of the biblical figure of Satan, but with some crucial differences. In the Bible Satan is a real entity with power who is at war with God. In ACIM, the ego is not real, and therefore has no true power. Since God is all there is in ultimate reality, there is no one else to wage war with. When we recognize this, all the power we gave to the ego will vanish.
The part of us that is real and never dies is one with God. This is the higher Self, also called the "One Self," the "Christ Self," or the "Holy Spirit." There is only one Self, and we are all part of it, as if we are all rays emanating from the sun or waves arising from the ocean. The ultimate truth of our Being is that we are love, for that is how God created us. The Christ Self does not judge and sees everyone as innocent. We dreamed up the ego, which comprises every emotion, thought, and behavior that is not love. It is angry, depressed, guilty, afraid, lusty, and proud. It lives on fear, misery, and conflict. The ego always seeks to divide and separate. The Holy Spirit always seeks to unify and heal (T-7.IV.5:2-3). The ego thinks it is separate and different from everyone else, just as I thought of myself as distinct and unlike Sandra in order to hate her.
There is only one mind, and that is the mind of God.1 We were created with the same mind as God, but when we mistakenly thought we separated, this mind appeared to split into what we call the right mind and the wrong mind. The right mind retains its memory of its true Self and its voice is the Holy Spirit. The wrong mind is the voice of the ego, which always leads us astray. What is commonly called "sin" is really only error, the error of forgetting who we really are. We forget that we are the one Self, and in our forgetting, we make negative decisions from our ego self. The ego is invested in sin, because it wants to judge others and remain separate from them. Seeing someone as sinful rather than innocent is the ego's way of ensuring separation. When we view others from our right mind, we see them as innocent, even when their choices are erroneous. The goal of A Course in Miracles is twofold: first, to teach us to think with the right mind, which enables us to awaken from the dream and return to God; second, to minimize the effects of the ego while we are still in the dream, because the ego makes us unhappy.
God created only one Son; therefore, God did not make the ego, we did. We made the ego to handle the guilt we feel for "leaving" God. Of course, we did not leave God, but we all have deep subconscious guilt from thinking that we did. This guilt goes far deeper than conscious guilt for things we think we've done wrong. Hence, it explains why we constantly try to hurt ourselves. We all have the ego side that hates ourselves. That sounds like a strong statement, yet when we truly examine our thoughts and behaviors, we begin to see just how often we sabotage our happiness. Because the guilt is sub-conscious, below the level of our awareness, we usually don't see it. The self-destructive side is right on the surface in drug addicts and criminals, but "normal" people are self destructive, too.
The Course states that in addition to our guilt, we fear that God is mad at us for separating from Him. When I first read the Course, I couldn't relate to this. It wasn't until I sabotaged myself in a ridiculously harmful way that I saw what it was saying. When I looked back, I couldn't believe how hurtful I had been to myself, and I thought God must have thought I was an idiot. I thought all the pain I brought on myself was deserved, and that God was disappointed in me. Most of us don't like to look at this side of ourselves, as we prefer to focus on the healthy, loving side. Yet if we don't examine the deep guilt and shame, we can't heal it. We usually know what our negative traits are, but often we don't see this very dark side of ourselves until we do something extreme. Most of us eventually sabotage ourselves viciously, and in hindsight are amazed at how blind and self-destructive we were.
My client Lyn is a good example of how we avoid deep subconscious ego guilt. Lyn did excellent work in therapy and succeeded in leaving her verbally abusive husband. Once she settled in her new home, I suggested she work on her weight, as she carries an extra one hundred pounds. Lyn had avoided this issue in therapy every time I'd brought it up. When she began talking about it, I was surprised to hear her say, "I'm despicable!" In all the time we'd worked together, I knew she didn't like being overweight, but I had not realized that she felt that bad about it. With this deep shame, I saw why she'd pushed it away. Our egos hate ourselves, and hate is not too strong a word. The ego shouts and screams for our death, much as the gladiator fights in ancient Rome. For Lyn, obesity is the ego's gladiator arena, the one in which she destroys herself violently, though at a slower pace than the gladiators' fight to the death. It is death all the same; and again, though this is a powerful statement, we need to look at how most of us are killing ourselves in one way or another. If it's not acknowledged, it can't be healed. At Alcoholics Anonymous meetings people introduce themselves, "Hi, I'm Bill and I'm an alcoholic." It puts it right out on the table to bypass the denial of the ego. As long as Lyn denies and avoids her self-destructive eating, she cannot heal. The promise, however, is that when we expose the ego for the illusion it is, we become whole.
This chapter explores the ego in many of its ugly forms. As long as we are thinking with the ego mind instead of our right mind, we remain trapped in the illusory dream. We will then discuss how to substitute the Holy Spirit's voice for the ego's, which leads us to remember our true Self and wake up from this dream world.
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Chapter Five - True Forgiveness
The Process of Forgiveness
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
We learned in chapter 3 that we have a choice about which voice we listen to, the ego's or the Holy Spirit's. Likewise, forgiveness is a choice. I never see my brother as he is . . . what I see in him is merely what I wish to see (W pII.335.1:2-3). Do we choose to see our brother as a total innocent or a total idiot? The choice to forgive is crucial, for we cannot judge our brother and feel God's presence within us at the same time. It's one or the other.
When I was in counseling after I lost custody of my daughter, the therapist asked me, "Are you ready to forgive your ex-husband?" I got offended and said, "No way!" The therapist repeated, "Are you ready to forgive your ex-husband?" Angrier, I said, "Absolutely not! He deserves to die in a fiery car crash and burn in hell!" Gently, the therapist repeated again, "Are you ready to forgive your ex-husband?" "NO! He doesn't deserve forgiveness! He's a hateful bastard!" Our session time was up and I left the office completely disgusted with my therapist. He obviously didn't understand what I'd been through or he wouldn't have been so obtuse. How could he expect me to forgive someone who had done something so awful to me?
I was shaken, and the therapist's words bothered me. It had never crossed my mind to forgive Donald. (This was be fore I got back into the Course.) I prayed and said, "Okay, if I'm supposed to forgive him, You've got to do it for me. I don't want to and I can't, but I'm willing if You'll help." That started the process. The Holy Spirit took over and I started getting better. My depression began to lift and I stopped feeling suicidal. My unloving thoughts about Donald were truly keeping me in hell. It took several years, and unforgiveness still crops up once in a while today, but the peace is far greater than before. I still haven't totally forgiven, though, as the Course emphasizes that forgiveness is total or not at all. If even a smidgen of judgment remains, we are still stuck in the dream. It also says, however, that the miracle is that we recognize the dream, and this provides relief even while we're still in it. Thus, on this level forgiveness is a process that takes time, but in ultimate truth, we are either awake and recognize there was never anything to forgive, or we're asleep, trapped in the dream.
Some people seem able to forgive a lot easier than I did, such as the Dalai Lama. He provides us with a precious example of forgiveness, and he exhibits the traits of love, peace, and joy that are hallmarks of enlightened beings. He has frequent bouts of giggling and a twinkle in his eyes. When we awaken from the dream we just naturally laugh at the silliness of it all. The Dalai Lama was exiled from his home when China waged war on Tibet, massacring monks and other citizens. He expresses compassion for the self-hatred the Chinese must have in order to commit such horrific acts. He sees them as wounded and fearful, which is a helpful reminder to aid in forgiveness. Martin Luther King Jr. also chose to see those who oppressed him as weak and hurt. When we feel people are attacking us, it's hard not to hate them back. In psychotherapy we speak of the wounded inner child who learned to attack in self-protection. If we focus on someone's wounds, sadness, and fear, our hearts are softened. The Course states that anytime someone attacks us he is in fear, and fear is a call for love (T-12.I.8:13).
If we want to awaken, we must remember that holding anyone out of our hearts will keep us from our Christ Self. This goes for political figures we love to hate, as well as anyone we think is a jerk. As the Course says, exempt no one from your love, or you will be hiding a dark place in your mind where the Holy Spirit is not welcome (T-13.III.9:2). Sometimes Spirit will arrange opportunities for us to forgive. One of my friends had an affair and years later his wife called a store to order something. The clerk just happened to be the woman her husband had the affair with! This gave the women a chance to talk things out, apologize, and let it go. Another friend of mine, Gil, has had a feud with his cousin since their grandma died. Gil resents that his cousin is withholding some sentimental trinkets that he'd given his grandma as gifts. The cousin lives out of state and when he came to town he visited his grandma's grave. It just so happened that Gil, who visits his grandma's grave twice a year, was at the grave when his cousin drove up. On a separate visit when his cousin was in town, Gil was visiting his father, and who happened to stop by? His cousin, who had not visited Gil's father in years! Unfortunately, as of this writing, Gil and his cousin have not availed themselves of their serendipitous opportunities to heal, and the feud continues.
When I was a teenager, my next-door neighbor was a man whom all the kids jeered. Joe peered out the tiny window in his door, always afraid that we would step on his perfect lawn. We saw him spying and deliberately touched our toe on the corner of his grass, so he would come out and yell, providing us with cheap entertainment. As I learned Christian values at church, I realized that Joe was probably hurting and thought people disliked him. I made a decision to befriend him and began to say "Hi, Mr. A!" every time I saw him. At first he did not even respond, then he hesitantly said "hello" back. Soon Joe said "hi" to me first, and he was actually smiling! We stayed friends until he moved, but the lesson in love he taught me has stayed with me forever. When our hearts are softened, we become open to the love and forgiveness that is our true nature.
Think of someone in your life that you need to forgive. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid this person will leave you? Are you afraid he won't leave you? Are you afraid he won't like you? Are you afraid he will take something from you, such as money, time, possessions, or even your life? Sometimes the person we hold a grievance against has no idea we're upset, while we've stewed long and hard, perhaps for years. The way to get over our fear is by forgiving him. Forgiveness is for us, not him. Those you do not forgive you fear. And no one reaches love with fear beside him (T-19.IV.D.11: 6-7).
A beautiful example of forgiveness comes from my friend Joy, who hosts one of the ACIM study groups I attend. Joy's spirit is true to her name—she bubbles over with love, joy, and enthusiasm. A few years ago Joy's daughter Ann had a baby girl and Joy was thrilled. Shortly after the birth, however, Ann started being hateful to her husband and to Joy. She got a divorce and cut off contact with Joy. She would not tell Joy what was wrong, just that she couldn't stand her and wanted nothing to do with her. This dumbfounded Joy, but with information from Ann's husband, Joy began to piece together that Ann's father had sexually abused her. Joy surmised that Ann might be blaming her for not stopping it, so told Ann that she'd never been aware of it. Ann rejected the information that Joy had no knowledge of the abuse and chose to harden her heart and keep the separation. Joy was traumatized, both with the cutoff from Ann and her granddaughter, as well as the discovery of what her daughter had gone through and what her husband had done. I watched Joy cry and express her pain and disbelief over the tragic circumstances. Joy tried to reach out to Ann by sending gifts to the baby, and Ann responded through her brother with the message, "Tell Joy (not 'Mom') that I never want anything to do with her ever again!" That was nine years ago, and Joy has had no contact with Ann or her granddaughter since.
Joy felt numb and dazed upon receiving this message. She was walking to catch the bus to work and kept hearing the words from the Course, Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God (T in.2: 2-4). She says she didn't even know what these words really meant, but she had heard that you didn't have to know what they mean to have the Holy Spirit give you their truth. Suddenly she felt an incredible peace come over her, as if she were held in the arms of God. She felt so grateful, being lifted up from her loss and despair, given a gift of love and peace she never knew possible. Even though Joy has not seen her daughter or granddaughter for years, she has blossomed. She does not even feel it necessary to ever see her daughter again, if that's the way Ann wants it, because she knows in her heart that the love between them cannot be lost or threatened. She also knows that Ann's hateful behavior is not real, and she sees only the love that her daughter is. Joy has lived the Course principles and while external events have not seemingly improved, Joy has experienced the miracle of a change in her thinking. As a result, she is as happy and peaceful as if her daughter had never cut her off. She does not even feel sad about it, which most people would. Instead of clinging to a special relationship with her granddaughter, Joy treats the children in our church as her own grandchildren, knowing that in truth we are all one in love.
Joy and I discussed this at church, and she once again inspired me with her loving attitude. She told me her sister had called her excitedly the day before as she had seen Ann on the local cable TV channel. Ann looked really good and was involved in a community recycling project. Joy said she realized that Ann could do well without her, and perhaps did not choose to have a mother in her life. It was a lesson in letting go of Joy's ego identity as "mother," and accepting that roles imply separation and only oneness exists in truth. Later that morning I moseyed over to the church bookstore, where new and donated books are sold. I happened upon the book One, by Richard Bach, which Rod and I had just discussed a few days prior. I wanted to reread it so I was pleased to find it. The story is in line with ACIM principles that we are all one and the sense of separation is an illusion. Bach is the author of the classic Jonathon Livingston Seagull, and he also wrote Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. As I glanced through One I was dumbstruck. There in the front cover was a dedication from Ann to Joy, dated Christmas, 1988. Ann wrote that she was proud of her mother, saw her as a wonderful role model, and admired how Joy was coming into her own as a full, loving person. I ran over to show Joy, who read it, and we both started crying. What an affirming gift from Spirit, to discover this true message from Ann, right when we had been talking about oneness!
Major forgiveness lessons often come from family members. My friend Diane had a difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother, whom Diane felt was narcissistic, critical, and emotionally unavailable. As her mother aged, Diane took her mother into her home and was worried about properly caring for her, as she saw her mother's health declining. Diane and her mother often exchanged sharp remarks and were generally tense and uncomfortable with each other. One day Diane found her mother slumped on the floor from a stroke. Diane blurted out, "You Bitch! I just knew you were going to do one more thing to screw things up!" Diane immediately felt horribly guilty, having just screamed at a stroke victim lying helpless on the floor. In the ensuing months, Diane got her mother nursing home care, and her mother died shortly thereafter. After her mother's death, Diane felt anxious and unsettled, and she beat herself up mentally. One day it occurred to her that she needed to forgive herself. She needed to let herself off the hook. She had been loving and compassionate most of the time, and it was human to not act perfectly loving all the time. Once Diane began forgiving herself, she felt the peacefulness that forgiveness provides. Forgiveness often starts with ourselves, but we find ourselves the hardest to forgive.
Forgiveness often occurs after a loved one has died, as in my client Joan's case. Joan's father sexually abused her from the age of five until he died when she was eleven. Bedtime was terrifying, as she wondered if he would slip into her room at night and force her to play the "game" of "ride the horsy." Her father was a mean drunk and she and her siblings ran for their rooms when he got home from work, trying to not make a peep for fear of his rage. Before his arrival they raced to clean up the house, in hopes he wouldn't find a misplaced shoe or toy to scream about. Joan remembers consciously deciding not to eat as a child, for she felt that was the only thing she could control. She developed anorexia, and later bulimia, regurgitating her meals regularly. She became depressed and had to take medication, was obsessive-compulsive, and chose a job as a strip dancer. As a dancer, Joan felt she regained power over men, tantalizing them with her body while they were forbidden to touch her. Joan married a man whom she met at the strip bar and quit dancing, hoping to get a job in which she could use her master's degree. However, she was still in a retail sales position, overqualified and underpaid. In their couples' counseling sessions her husband said, "Joan will never go anywhere in her career," and wanted her to resume stripping. By this time Joan was horrified at the thought of dancing again, as she'd gained self-respect and saw why she chose to repeat the pattern of being a sexual object.
Joan divorced her husband because he was a compulsive gambler and had an affair. She got an excellent job within her field and has been moving up the ladder. She is now in a loving, healthy relationship, after many attempts to sabotage it. Joan frequently broke up with her new boyfriend at the slightest fight, convinced that it was going to end eventually anyway, so she might as well do it now. That way it wouldn't be him leaving her. I kept reigning Joan in and pointed out that she was throwing away a good man because love felt unfamiliar. She was trying to make it fit the only thing she ever knew, which was abuse. About a year ago Joan had a dream in which her father apologized for what he did to her. Joan reacted with anger. "I'm not ready to forgive him!" I suggested she allow herself to be angry as long as she needed to, but with the intent to forgive, asking the Holy Spirit to help her. Recently Joan felt strong enough to end therapy, no longer depressed or bulimic, and no longer on medication. Joan was able to forgive her father through her willingness to forgive, and had another breakthrough dream. In it, her father was driving down the street in a sporty convertible, and invited her for a ride. He was young, healthy, and friendly. He showed genuine interest in her life and was the loving father she had always wanted. The dream ended when her father said, "Well, I have to go now. I've got a lot of work to do in heaven!" Joan was elated and in tearful gratitude as she described the dream. "My dad's in heaven?! I thought for sure he'd be burning in hell!" What a beautiful lesson in truth, that even the seemingly worst of us return to heaven, where we've never left.
True forgiveness applies not only to people, but also to circumstances within the dream. We have to forgive ourselves for dreaming the dream. Many spiritual ideologies suggest that we judge nothing as good or bad, merely as neutral events. If we can do this, it helps us step back from the dream more easily. Since it's a dream that's not really happening, it's only our ego judgments of "good" or "bad" that make it "real." However, that's easier said than done, especially with "tragic" events.
My nephew Danny was born with severe disabilities. He suffered an epileptic seizure right after birth, yet was sent home, as the extent of his disabilities was not recognized. Suspicions about his health began to surface when he didn't develop normally, so my sister Patty and brother-in-law Bruce took Danny to a university medical center for an evaluation. I was with my sister when the neurologist gave her the bad news. The nurses had warned us that the doctor didn't have a very good bedside manner, and that was an understatement. The doctor started off with, "Well, Mom, your kid's about as bad as they get." He then proceeded to tell Patty that Danny had severe brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy, blindness, epilepsy, and profound mental retardation. In short, Danny would be a vegetable for his entire life. My sister bravely held her composure until the doctor left, then burst out crying. On her drive home she felt like crashing into a telephone pole and killing Danny and herself, and I went home and cried myself to sleep.
I was extremely angry at that doctor for his insensitivity. Through the years, every time I thought of him I got mad all over again. As I began writing this chapter I realized I was still angry, as my first thought was, "That asshole! I don't care if he's a good doctor or not, he stinks in what he did to my sister. The hospital is idiotic for putting a jerk like that in charge of delivering painful news." However, as forgiveness is a habit for me now, I recognized that I was attacking him. "Oh, my, I haven't forgiven that doctor yet!" Forgiving him before hadn't even seemed necessary—he was just another asshole, deserving of the opinion I had of him. I didn't know before that I needed to forgive every single attack I made on anyone or anything. So, I asked the Holy Spirit for help in seeing the doctor differently. This prayer helped me to see the doctor with compassion instead of judgment. I saw what a painful part of his job it must be to deliver tragic news, and I was able to see that he was not meeting my expectations of a doctor, yet was doing the best he could. This realization calmed my heart so that I could begin the forgiveness process. That process led to even greater peace when the awareness came that this whole episode was not real. The doctor is as innocent as I am for projecting his unskillful words into my dream.
Receiving the news from the doctor was just the beginning of a long ordeal for Patty and Bruce. Danny's impairment was so severe that it was a huge burden for them to keep him home. However, they did so, and lovingly cared for him for the next eighteen years until he died. They couldn't bear to put him in an institution, as they knew he would die from lack of love and touch. It is extremely difficult to understand why some children are born as Danny was, and I wondered why God would allow this to happen.
When Danny was alive I once heard a sermon in which it was suggested that if you have a question for God, write it down, tuck it away, and wait for God to answer. So, I wrote, "Why is Danny the way he is?" I put the note in my wallet, and figured I'd get an answer sometime in the next few months. About twenty minutes later I was doing the dishes and the word "iconoclast" kept popping into my mind. I was puzzled, but thought perhaps it was related to my question. I knew an icon was a symbol, and I thought of the cross, so figured God might be answering me. I looked up the meaning of "iconoclast" and learned that it is one who destroys religious symbols or attacks socially accepted beliefs. I immediately thought of Jesus, who certainly challenged the beliefs of his day. Did this shake-up of ideas mean I needed a new perspective of Danny's condition? Rather than view his life as a tragedy, was there a positive meaning?
Unable to see the good, I carried this puzzling answer in my head for years, always wondering about it. I somewhat understood it intellectually, but I didn't really get it on an emotional level. Sure, there might be some reason for Danny's impairments that we couldn't understand, but it still did not make sense to me. I struggled with the horrible and unnecessary pain for him and our family.
About eight years later, Danny had to undergo surgery to correct a curvature in his body that was eventually going to press on his organs and kill him. Patty and Bruce were torn about what to do, as surgery would also result in severe pain. They decided on the surgery, and indeed, Danny experienced terrible pain. It was gut-wrenching to watch him moan helplessly. During this period I prayed for Danny, and one day I felt a very strong spiritual connection with him. Suddenly I got it! I couldn't put it into words then and it's hard to put it into words now, but somehow I knew that Danny was not his body and that appearances were deceiving. What appeared to be a deformity really wasn't! There was immeasurable love that flowed from the depths of his twisted body, reaching out and touching the lives of many. A few months later, Danny left his body behind and passed on, and I have been ever grateful for the gift he gave me of seeing beyond appearances, knowing there is a truth behind what meets the eye. Danny apparently strongly affected not only me but many others as well. His memorial service was packed to overflowing and the funeral home had to open up a second room.
A few weeks after Danny made his transition, I came across an article in my Angels on Earth magazine that gave me more insight into the fact that our eyes do not catch the entire scene. The story was about a developmentally disabled boy who had limited communication skills. The boy told his mother that there were angels in the ceiling corner of his bedroom, and they played with him. At Christmas, the family had a nativity scene under the tree. The little boy got excited and pointed to the nativity, then to his bedroom ceiling, then back to the nativity. The mother interpreted, "Oh, your angels were there?" The boy nodded his head joyously. As I read this I exclaimed to myself, "Oh, my God! That's what Danny had!" Danny always appeared to be in his own little world, and he frequently laughed out loud for no apparent reason, though he could not talk or see. It felt so good to know that on his seemingly tragic and lonely journey, that all along he'd had the best help and joyful moments one could ask for.
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Chapter Six - Jesus Reinterpreted
Myths Surrounding Jesus
The nature of Christ's existence is mysterious, I admit; but this mystery meets the wants of man. Reject it and the world is an inexplicable riddle; believe it, and the history of our race is satisfactorily explained.
Jesus was undoubtedly one of the most powerful people to ever walk this earth. His world-reaching influence remains with us today, two thousand years later, and this is testament to his power. The mere mention of Jesus' name continues to evoke healing for those who believe his claims. For these people, Jesus' name stirs something deep within. Likewise, myths inspire and speak to the truth in our being. Somewhere inside of us we resonate with the power and possibility, even though the story sounds impossible for mere mortals.
There are many mythological overtones surrounding the stories about Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. Cross-culturally, there are multiple myths containing virgin births, sacrificed saviors, and resurrections. Jesus was a man who attained the Christ Consciousness, coming into full awareness of his oneness with God. Because Jesus knew his oneness with the power of God, he could easily perform miracles. Because Jesus knew His mission was to help humanity and teach the truth about God, he chose to sacrifice his body. Because he knew he was Spirit and not a body, He resurrected from the dead to show us that death is not real. Jesus completed the mythological hero's journey, the journey back to our inner power. He did what few others had done but what all of us are destined to do. Jesus lived the myth and proved the myth.
Myths spring up around powerful figures after their deaths because they are archetypal stories that describe the hero's journey and help explain the meaning of life. Joseph Campbell was an eminent mythologist and historian. While some historians feel Jesus was strictly a mythological figure who never actually lived, Campbell believed that Jesus was an actual historical figure, as do I. However, Campbell explains, "The recurrent mythological event of the death and resurrection of a god, which had been for millenniums the central mystery of all of the great religions of the nuclear Near East, became in Christian thought an event in time, which had occurred but once, and marked the moment of the transfiguration of history." Without an understanding of cross-cultural myths, it is understandable that early church leaders thought Jesus was the one and only resurrected God. Today we have worldwide communication and knowledge of other cultures' myths, which they did not have. They were not yet equipped to hear Jesus' message that, yes, he was one with God, but so are the rest of us.
Whether Jesus actually lived in a body is not the main point, as the body is unreal anyway. It is his message that is the truth, regardless of the form. The story of the crucified savior harkens to the wisdom within us that knows we must sacrifice the ego to resurrect our Christ Self. There are several myths of crucified saviors, which include Krishna from India, Mithra from Persia, and Tammuz from Babylon. The Persian and Babylonian religions were pagan and are considered heretical to Christians. However, when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome in the fourth century CE, pagan rites were incorporated into Christian celebrations. Christmas trees have lights on them to stave off the winter darkness, and this stems from the pagan winter solstice festival of lights. It could be that early Christians used these existing symbols to share and explain their understanding of Jesus, who is called the "Light of God." Likewise, the pagan fertility festivals of the vernal equinox may have explained the resurrection of Jesus. The pagans celebrated the rebirth of spring and used eggs to symbolize fertility. This corresponds with renewed life from the resurrection.
There are virgin birth myths in addition to the crucified savior myths. One Christmas I listened to a call-in radio show and the host said, "If you could ask God one question, what would it be?" A frequent question arose: "Was Mary really a virgin?" The word "virgin" as used in the Bible meant "a young girl" or "a young maiden," according to Biblical scholars. Matthew 1:23 reads, "Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." Another way of interpreting this passage is that the pure, "virgin" spirit within us will bring forth the Son of God, our true Self, which is God within us. Interpreted esoterically, symbolic of internal truths, the Bible reads very differently than when it is interpreted exoterically, literally.
Ancient Aztecs had a savior whose mother was called a virgin. He also died and resurrected. Cortes and the Catholic Spaniards who traveled to Mexico were astounded to find their religious themes repeated. They thought Saint Thomas must have reached America with Jesus' message, or that the devil was using the Mexican myth to play havoc with their Christian faith. Again, without the knowledge of the world's cultures that we have today, their bewilderment is understandable.
The Christmas story is my all-time favorite, and I am not concerned with whether the events happened exactly as the story goes. I am filled with awe and reverie as I read about the bright star shining a message of love and hope. I imagine myself with the shepherds as the angels sing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men." I adore A Charlie Brown Christmas, which depicts commercialism with gaudy decorations on Snoopy's doghouse. Charlie Brown bemoans that nobody seems to remember the true spirit of Christmas, and Linus answers him by reading from the Bible. "For unto you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Linus softly says, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." I get chills every time.
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Chapter Seven - Developing a Relationship With Spirit
Follow your bliss.
If there is no God, then why has virtually every person on this planet, who's old enough to reason, wondered about it? When you think of God, what do you get? Do you think of Nature? Do you sense a formless void or an energy field? Do you see an image of an old, white-bearded judge sitting on a throne? Do you picture many different gods and goddesses? A Course in Miracles defines God this way: We say "God is," and then we cease to speak, for in that knowledge words are meaningless (W-p.I.169.5:4). Words and symbols on this level cannot even come close to describing All That Is. God, or Love, is all there is; there is nothing else. Everything else we think we experience is just illusion. This is why the Course states, Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God (T-in.2:2-4).
In our present human state, God is unknowable. However, perceiving ourselves to exist on this level, images and metaphors help us connect. In my church we say "Mother/Father God" to encompass both the masculine and feminine natures. Yet God is neither male nor female. Use whatever images are most helpful for you, such as angels, gods or goddesses, animals, Jesus, or other masters. Meditate and get an image of your own higher Self, the part of you that is wise, calm, and has all the answers. You can ask this part of you for help at any time.
Think of the most unconditionally loving person you know. Now multiply that person's love by infinity. That is like God. Who is the most joyful, exuberant person you know? That person's joy is but a fraction of God's laughter. Jesus tells us that our illusory separation occurred when into eternity, where all is one, there crept a tiny, mad idea, at which the Son of God remembered not to laugh (T-27.VIII.6:2). This is why I erupt into laughter so often these days, as I am remembering my true identity. I can now see how silly I was to conjure all sorts of separation scenarios.
What brings you joy? What was the happiest moment of your life? Who are the people you love spending time with? What are the hobbies, sports, or interests you love to do? What excites you? This is where God is! Reading makes me feel God's presence, but for you it may come from baseball, gardening, music, art, yoga, golf, car racing, and so on. One of my clients feels God's presence when he's playing soccer. In that arena he gets in touch with his higher Self, his love, his passion, his ability to soar beyond limitations. He feels in command, as he allows his intuitive Self to play the game. He's not thinking, he's being. Another client of mine is enchanted with scuba diving. She doesn't really believe in God, yet she feels a powerful presence with the ocean. It awakens and enlivens her, and it makes her feel connected to life. This is what God is. We don't have to call it God or encapsulate it in a religious context to feel it. God is whatever inspires you, harkens you to greater heights, and speaks to you of something bigger, grander, and more awesome.
Spend as much time as you can doing what you love. Notice how you feel about yourself and others when you're immersed in that special activity. You will probably feel expanded, connected, and blissful. The ego will try to keep you busy with work or other distractions to keep you from your happiness. In our hectic, fast-paced culture, it's hard to slow down, but slowing down and being in the flow or in the zone is what gets us in touch with God. It's when our chattering minds stop for a moment that our inner voice can be heard. Tapping into Spirit is how we charge our batteries, and unless we recharge regularly, we'll go dead to life. If we don't follow our inner voice, we lose energy, feel less powerful, and lack enthusiasm.
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