“Pain is a wrong perspective. When it is experienced in any form, it is a proof of self-deception. It is not a fact at all. There is no form it takes that will not disappear if seen aright…” ACIM, Workbook page 361, Lesson 190.
An important concept that occurs quite frequently in A Course in Miracles is the idea that there is no good or bad in the world because everything is neutral; it is only our minds that interpret things as either good or bad. This is an extremely empowering idea because it means we shouldn’t let the world get us down, no matter what is happening in our lives. In practice this is not easy. Yet, if we are to learn the lessons of ACIM, sooner or later we will have to give up the idea that we are victims of the world we see, and acknowledge that all the things that occur in our lives are caused by our own thoughts.
“It is your thoughts alone that cause you pain. Nothing external to your minds can hurt or injure you in any way. There is no cause beyond yourself that can reach down and bring oppression. No one but yourself affects you. There is nothing in the world that has the power to make you ill or sad, or weak or frail. But it is you who have the power to dominate all things you see by merely recognizing what you are….” The last sentence quoted here shows just how empowering today’s Lesson is. If we are feeling frail or ill or weak then we know that we have identified with the ego instead of the Holy Spirit. But how can we overcome feelings of frailty or weakness? “As you perceive the harmlessness in them, (i.e. all things we see) they will accept your holy will as theirs. And what was seen as fearful now becomes a source of innocence and holiness.”
This is clarified further in the following passage: “The world you see does nothing. It has no effects at all. It merely represents your thoughts. And it will change entirely as you elect to change your mind, and choose the joy of God as what you really want. Your Self is radiant in this holy joy, unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable, forever and forever….” If we persist in looking for meaning in this world, we will continue to experience the duality of pleasure and pain. But if awakening from the dream is our overriding goal, then we won’t be as miserable when things go wrong in our lives. Also, we must remember that all the people and events of the world have been projected from our own minds; they have no reality in themselves.
If we can remember that while we may be experiencing pain or hardship or a lack of love in the world, our Self remains blissfully ignorant of this, for it is at one with God and all of creation in Heaven. It is good to repeat to oneself: “In the ultimate I dwell,” as a reminder of our true nature and of our invulnerability. The Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh recommends that we use this affirmation when we go for a walk, as a form of walking meditation.
If the world does nothing, then we should face all events with equanimity. But, imagine coming home one day and finding one’s house is on fire. It would be extremely difficult to view this with equanimity. We associate our homes with shelter and protection, and it would be horrible to have to give them up. Yet the Course is asking us to remember that regardless of what is going on in our lives, we remain above and beyond it all because the events of the world are only taking place in our minds.
Jesus gives us this advice: “Lay down your arms, and come without defense into the quiet place where Heaven’s peace holds all things still at last. Lay down all thoughts of danger and of fear. Let no attack enter with you…Here (i.e. in Heaven) will you understand there is no pain. Here does the joy of God belong to you…Pain is illusion; joy, reality. Pain is but sleep; joy is awakening. Pain is deception; joy alone is truth.” In other words, when we awaken, we will only experience joy. That must be our goal; it is the only way to rise above the problems of the ego’s world.
In Lesson 21 of The Way of Mastery, once again Jesus asks us to rise above the duality of good and bad. He asks us to regard both good and bad events as neutral. He asks us to allow things to happen, such as burning the toast, the rain pouring down, the end of summer, etc. Just allow all things – both good and bad because if we resist, we will suffer. We need to allow change to occur because change is inevitable in this world. Allowance brings with it a sense of freedom and it is a form of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is another word for allowance…It is a willingness to see the complete neutrality of all events…” The Way of Mastery, page 254.
It is interesting to note that in The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaking to Arjuna about the characteristics of a sage, says that he “…neither rejoices nor sorrows if fortune is good or is ill, his is a serene wisdom.” He also says, “The man…whose soul is one, beyond pleasure and pain, is worthy of life in Eternity.”
So where do we start if we want to react in the same peaceful manner to both pleasure and pain? We could start, firstly, with small things. We could, for example, make a conscious decision to accept the cold weather if winter seems to be dragging on and on, instead of complaining about it. We could try to stay calm when the car breaks down, even if it means getting to work late. We could try to carry out our daily chores with a smile instead of a grimace. We could frequently remind ourselves that change is inevitable here. And, above all, we could focus on our goal—awakening. We could remind ourselves, as Lesson 190 suggests, “I choose the joy of God instead of pain.”
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