This idea is worth remembering on a daily basis- as many times a day as possible- as part of our practice in applying the Course’s teachings. The reason it’s so important is because we’ve unconsciously selected the ego as our default mode of thinking, and this choice is exactly what we need to reverse. So its important to start with this basic realisation, that nothing outside us can make us feel anything, because this goes directly against what the ego would have us believe.
The ego thought system is based on the idea that we are an effect of the world around us: that we are bodies that can be hurt, frightened, made good, bad, or happy by people, circumstances, society, politics, the climate etc, around us. The bottom line is that the ego wants us to believe that we are bodies, because within this dream, bodies do appear to be shaped and affected both positively and adversely by external forces. That our lives seem to be fool-proof evidence of this idea that the world can impact us, is what makes this lesson such a hard one to really grasp. While Jesus does want to stress that the phenomenological world is nothing more than an illusion, it is not the Course’s intention to have us deny our body-based experience. Its aim is rather to have us use our incredibly realistic, albeit made-up experience as a body, to help return our minds to the sanity and peace of God.
To get to that point, we must first come to terms with where we are at right now- the fact that all of our senses contradict the assertion that nothing beyond us can affect us because we think we are a body. As with most people, if you stab me, I guarantee I will feel pain. Similarly, if a natural disaster wipes out my loved ones, it would feel impossible not to feel the grief and immensity of that loss. If you tickle me, I laugh whether I want to or not. And yet, what we’re referring to in all these instances all depend on the presence of a body, and complete identification with one. What would be our experience if we didn’t identify with our body self? How would we experience this world if we identified more and more as mind and Spirit?
This is exactly what Jesus is trying to teach us to do. He repeatedly tells us that the key to undoing the error of our belief in the separation from God- in sin, guilt, and fear- is to consciously choose to change our identification from our small body-based self, to the true Self of Spirit. He counsels that to identify with our mind and Spirit involves a completely different understanding of who we fundamentally are, one which happens to be diametrically opposed to the ego’s teachings.
The means to facilitate this change in identification and perception is always forgiveness, which will help you start seeing yourself truly, as JHS do: as mind and Spirit. A nice entry point to this new way of thinking about yourself is to remember that how we feel is ALWAYS a choice we make, no matter how ludicrous that might seem in any given moment. Grounding ourselves in this awareness is the equivalent of further realising that feeling powerless and like a never-ending victim of all things external to us is the only logical and inescapable outcome of our choice for the ego/ body self. Feeling powerless, feeling like a victim, being affected emotionally, psychologically and physically by the world and people around us, will continue to be our default state while we continue to mindlessly choose the ego as our guide. Remember that when you need to find your motivation to forgive. Remember how awful it is to feel like any little change outside of us has the power to trash our mood and zap our confidence, happiness, basic sense of wellbeing or calm, in an instant.
To undo this mistaken ego-association on a very practical level must also then involve remembering that we aren’t victims, and we aren’t powerless like the ego would have us believe, BECAUSE we’re not bodies. We are in fact immortal spirit, innocent and holy, created by God, and still one with Him in Truth. We are therefore beyond the world of form, just as God is, which is why it cannot truly affect us. To really live this awareness of who we truly are requires a constant and conscious shift in our identification from ego to Spirit, by switching teachers from the ego to JHS (Jesus/the Holy Spirit). In other words, we want to actively shift our identity to mind and Spirit by again and again choosing the right-minded teacher who will help us remember who we really are, by perceiving everything through His correct lens of Self.
How do we actually do this though? Get into the habit of checking in with yourself throughout the day to get a sense of how you’re feeling and what you’ve been thinking. This simple practice of regularly checking-in with yourself mentally and emotionally will help you stay connected to your goal of practicing forgiveness, and figure out which guide you must have subconsciously chosen to listen to- the ego or JHS. If your thoughts, attitude, or mood reflect negativity, fear, frustration, or unease in any way, you can be sure you’ve chosen the ego as your guide. If you’re feeling at peace, loving, and joyful, you’ve chosen JHS. Its a simple practice but not exactly an easy one. It will however, help you stay right-mindful as opposed to mindlessly addicted to the ego.
If you find you’ve chosen the ego, don’t despair! To judge or berate yourself will only mire you even further in the ego’s morass of insanity. The truth is that if we look within honestly, having chosen the ego, and therefore feeling bad in some way, is pretty much what we’ll all find within us most of the time, otherwise we wouldn’t think we were here, and be in need of a teaching like ACIM to begin with. Forgiveness is a process– not some band-aid quick fix. It requires patience, dedication, and determination to stick with. The beauty of it is that its designed to give you the opportunity to correct that deeply buried, and thus invisible and mindless, mistaken choice for the ego in a way we can work with, by meeting us where we think we’re at. That is, we forgive the core problem of our belief in sin, guilt and fear indirectly, by forgiving all the different ways it symbolically shows up in form, as the seemingly endless problems and frustrations in our daily lives.
It is these very irritations and difficulties we face that ultimately reflect the one and only problem we have, which means we can use them as an opportunity to undo this single, and now unconscious problem of separation, and opt for the HS as our teacher now instead. It’s a brilliant corrective process, designed to use what we made to harm and keep us mindless (our illusory life) to help us heal and return our minds to God. Note that forgiveness is not intended to be a pointless navel-gazing exercise in over-analyzing our ego or that of others. To do so would only serve to reinforce and entrench our original bad decision. What you want to do is use what you’ve discovered about your inner state to practice forgiveness on the ego-based feelings and thoughts you’ve been indulging in.
We also want to be aware of how often we do choose the ego, and ignore Jesus or the Holy Spirit. That is, we want to notice how attracted we are to the ego’s thought system of pain, fear, and guilt, in order to help us be aware of how miserable we really are under the ego’s tutelage, as this will motivate us to keep practicing forgiveness and making the better choice for the Holy Spirit instead.
Happy practicing friends!