This isn’t exactly the kind of upbeat or flowery quote you’d expect to find on spirituality, but its for that very reason that it’s important. The idea of being above the battleground also happens to be one of my favourite, most personally resonant metaphors from ACIM. What I love about this particular line is the starkly brutal way in which it describes our minds.
When we feel the urge to attack, when we’re tempted to judge and criticise, our mind gets ‘dark and murderous’. It’s the worst kind of description that pretty much no-one wants to be associated with. It’s hard to get away from how terrifyingly blunt and unvarnished a portrayal of this innate tendency within us this is.
And it’s this that makes the Course so radical and brilliant; it’s not a sugar-coated spirituality. It’s not a ‘see-everything-optimistically-through-rose-coloured-glasses-and-avoid-looking-at-all-the-bad-ugly-and-terrifying-things-we’d-rather-not-see’ approach, which only leads to us walking our way through life in a perilously fragile mental and emotional state, unable to deal with the harsh realities of this existence. No.
The Course is not about narrowing our field of vision; putting blinders on, on top of those we’ve already chosen to wear by adopting the ego though-system. The point is to take the blinders off– to strip us of our ego-delusions by looking clearly and directly- not simply at how crazy this world is- but most importantly, at how crazy our thinking (that made up the world) is, in order to expand our awareness, and in so doing, strengthen us by reminding us of who we really are- Spirit.
To do that, we must be willing to look at the ego thought system head on, with Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit (JHS) as our guiding light, which simply means to look without judgement or fear. That’s what will help us dissolve the ego. That’s the way we’ll be able to free ourselves from our self-imposed limitations and suffering. We need to look without judgement, which is simply to say that we must forgive.
The beauty of this concept of living above the battleground is that it reflects the Course’s uncompromising focus on content over form; that is, on thought, not behaviour. To be above the battleground simply means to look at things from the level of the mind- from our place of true power. Ken Wapnick referred to this point of power as the ‘decision-making mind;’ the part of the mind that chooses between the ego and the Holy Spirit.
Like most students of the Course, when I first read about ‘being above the battleground’, it was easy to make the mistake of thinking that to live above the battleground implied that I also had to ‘be above’ worldly problems. But this was and remains, a mistaken interpretation that we need to steer clear of. As the Course says, everything is either love or a call for love- even if it does appear to be disguised in the form of someone trying to hurt you, whether overtly or not. While even bad behaviour in others can be interpreted as a call for love- and should be, with the Holy Spirit’s (HS) help- the mistake that can be made, isn’t about how I should or shouldn’t feel, or about how I should or shouldn’t behave, what I should or shouldn’t do or say: it was one of form vs content. My mistake was in thinking that this transcendent concept of being above the battleground needed to be acted out in this world- that it could be witnessed to in some way, shape, or form via behaviour. That my actions could be the gold standard against which I could judge whether I was faithfully applying these principles, provided I ‘acted spiritually’- aka in accordance with how my spiritual principles should look, whatever that means. And we all want to be a good Course students, no doubt.
The funny thing here is that there is no right or wrong behaviour. And we can in no way ever fruitfully judge whether an action on its own is loving or kind or not. Jesus (J) isn’t kidding when he says that this world is an illusion; and that bodies aren’t real. And that being so, behaviour doesn’t have any more reality than the images we think we see. What does have currency, what has power, is what we’re thinking- or rather, whom we are thinking with. You could be in your wrong mind and respond in two diametrically opposite ways, and neither option could be considered loving or kind. Why? Because the source of the behaviour was wrong-minded and thus inherently unkind and unloving. However, provided you’re in the right-mind, it doesn’t matter what your behavioural response is in any given situation. You’ve already made the most loving and kind decision possible simply by joining with JHS as your Guide. Whatever follows is irrelevant.
The point J makes is that all we need be concerned with is who we’ve plead allegiance to- the ego or the HS- and that only this decision is grounds for saying whether you’ve made a mistake or not (with the choice for the ego being the only mistake we can truly make). In other words, JHS wants us to be focused only on what we’re doing on the level of the mind- not the actions our avatar bodies appear to be making on the level of the world. Clearly this sounds incredibly difficult to practice because to operate this way depends on giving up judgement, and surrendering as our own badly taught teachers. It means admitting that we have no idea what we’re doing or where we are. It means admitting that we’ve been horribly mistaken and need help getting out of our self-made and messy madness.
So instead of spending our time over-analyzing our behaviour or that of others, we can instead simply choose to trust JHS and accept the futility of judging the rightness or wrongness of anything on the level of form, i.e. on the ‘battlefield’. This is a big part of our practice after all, and absolutely crucial to undoing the ego.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the Course has nothing to do with behaviour (form). Instead, it is concerned solely with content, i.e. thought; with what is happening within you, at the level of the mind. What we’re thinking and how we’re feeling is our snapshot of what that, so it’s by paying attention to how we’re feeling, and what we’re thinking, that we’re able to come back to the mind, recognise that we’ve been mistaken in choosing the ego as our guide, and then choose once again- this time, the right-minded teacher, the HS.
It’s only when you truly grasp this point that you really can live the Course’s teachings faithfully. It is about looking at the crazy- your inner crazy- and it is about looking with JHS as your Guide. That’s the only way to get to the bliss, to the light, to those warm happy feelings that reflect the choice for the right mind; the choice for God. You will not get there by ignoring the dark, or pretending you’re not upset, angry, or frustrated about whatever comes up for you. You must look friends.
On a different note altogether, the idea also emphasises just how much of the world we see and experience actually feels like a battleground. There’s interpersonal conflict, there’s war, there’s hate, there’s murder, there are plenty of -isms. As much as the ego would love for us to turn away from the dark underbelly of the world, it still remains clear as day. Misery lives in plain sight. And it’s no accident that this is the case. In the Course, Jesus teaches us that the world was made as an attack on God. It’s the very symbol of attack; a place where ‘starved and thirsty creatures come to die’ and all that jazz.
I’d never read anything more bleak than the chapters of the Course on the ego, with their unrelenting, unembellished clarity. They terrified me. The world was not meant to be a happy place. It’s supposed to be the one place where God, where Love itself, cannot enter. That’s what we wanted it to be- ‘we’ being our collective split-mind self. It was designed to be a place that represents our conflicted state of mind; of hellish nightmares. I’m reminded of the idea that oneness with God can be described as Heaven, while any sense of separation from Him, can all be catalogued under the single state of hell. Its an idea that perfectly sums up the non-dualism of A Course in Miracles. There’s God and the state of perfect blissful oneness in Him, and there’s nothing else. Except that the nothing else that we seem to find ourselves in is hell- the opposite of Love, and a nightmare no less, because there can be no opposite to God.
And this points to the crux of the idea behind the ‘living above the battleground’ metaphor. That while it’s important not to sugar-coat the world, or in other words, ‘spiritualise’ it by pretending that it’s a wonderful place and a picture of loveliness, it’s just as important not to stop there; to stop at the deeply depressing idea that things are not, never have been, and never will be, beautiful, abundant and fair on earth. If we stop at that recognition alone, we’re already on the slippery slope into depression and morbid apathy that will make life feel and seem completely pointless. Left to our own devices, it would be completely pointless. But the happy news in all of this is that we aren’t actually alone. The happiest news we could ever get is what the Course tells us- we can never be alone because we could never truly be separate from God. We haven’t been abandoned in our insanity. Even in the midst of our deep descent into egoic madness, we were never alone and left bereft of help. The HS is still with us, and representing our right mind, speaks for God as our true inner Helper and Guide.
So although it isn’t helpful to pretend the world is perfectly wonderful, and deny the immense suffering that is inevitable as part of existence here, the second step in this brutal yet freeing awakening is that the world is simply a picture of an inner condition. In other words, the world simply reflects our state of mind, or rather our split mind; our belief in the ego’s lie of separation, conflict, guilt, sin, fear and death. So while it doesn’t serve us to pretend that the world isn’t messed up and that we can find true beauty, true freedom, or true anything here, we can be freed of the erroneous belief that the world is the problem. The world isn’t the problem. It never was. Our mind that thought up this world is the source of the problem. But it is also the solution as well. The world simply reflects our mind- it is simply a projection of our belief in separation. This makes the world- along with all its apparent problems- a symptom. It is not the root cause of our problem.
This is incredibly liberating. Take a moment and think about it if you will. Our problem isn’t world hunger, starvation, murder, the prison system, politics, religion, war, nation states, heart disease etc. These are indeed all problems of the world, but just like the world, their origins can all be traced back to one thing- our having made a mistaken choice on the level of the mind, and invested our belief in the ego’s wrong-minded thought system of separation. So whatever the wealth and myriad of problems the world plates up to us to justify our littleness, our badness, our wrongness, our weakness, whether on the macro global, national, communal level, or the micro individual and personal level, every single problem we can perceive, simply symbolises and serves to obfuscate the original problem- the true cause of all suffering- our choice to dream a dream of separation, pain, fear and death.
That’s it. The problem is a choice made on the level of the mind, which means we can use every other conceivable problem we encounter to remind us that we must return to the cause and solve that problem where it began. Thankfully, the solution is a simple one. We come back to the mind, over and over and over again, and we choose to forgive, over and over and over again. And repeat. Again and again. We choose to release the core problem- our minds decision for guilt and fear- and we use everything to remind us that this is our one true task. Every problem then becomes a healing opportunity, a call back to our mind, to choose once again, the HS over the ego, Love over sin, guilt, and fear.
Now it’s important to be clear that all of this relates to the spiritual practice of ACIM, based on its metaphysical teaching. This is our work as students of ACIM. Its work that’s done on the level of the mind that comes down to a willingness to perceive everything with JHS and complete the function they’ve spelled out to us- forgiveness. It is not about walking through your everyday life pretending there is no suffering, or deciding to do nothing because ‘the world isn’t real’ or the problem is ‘just in my mind’. The task of us students is to bring our awareness back to JHS, choose to forgive, and then continue on with whatever we would normally do in the world- whether that’s going into work, school, getting treatment for any illness you have, comforting people who are in distress, and taking care of your body.
The Course says nothing about behaviour because it’s not the real problem, just a shadow of it. So it’s assumed that you do what you would normally do with your life (not to argue with it or change it), and on top of that, have you do your forgiveness work. The Course is not intended to be used as an excuse to avoid living your life. It’s intended to be integrated into your life as a spiritual add-on, a practice to overlay over your daily doings, as a way of healing your mind. The point is to use what is going on in your life as fodder and fuel for your forgiveness practice. Incidentally, this will make your life truly meaningful, and reduce the amount of inner suffering you experience. You’re likely to become a source of strength for others in the process, and do what appear to be good things too. But the real goal and the real reward is the sense of peace, the lightness, joy and love that will become much nearer, much more stable and much more real to you.