There are plenty of ways to misinterpret the teaching of A Course in Miracles (ACIM). But when it comes to the theme of healing, our misunderstandings can take a turn for the unhelpfully bizarre. How so? If you’ve read anything on the Course’s take on healing, you might at some point be left wondering something along the following lines:
“Does being a student of ACIM mean I can’t take a *paracetamol?”
*Alternatively insert any other healing or help-based agent found in the world.
This is a pretty benign example but it’s not uncommon for the underlying confusion within it to be taken to unhelpful extremes.
To be clear, thinking that being a Course student means you can’t take a paracetamol is absurd. But there’s a bigger underlying misconception behind this idea that’s worth addressing. What is it exactly? That being a good ACIM student means you shouldn’t use any kind of world-based help to resolve your problems- health or otherwise.
But where exactly does this mistake stem from?
ACIM PRINCIPLES OF HEALING
Before we can clarify how this error can occur, we first need to rewind a bit to underscore a few basic concepts that underpin everything the Course has to say about healing.
According to ACIM, healing rests on the following key premises:
- The only problem we have is our mind’s belief in the separation from God (metaphysical level 1 problem).
- Therefore only the mind is in need of healing.
- All healing then, is of the mind.
- The mind is not in the body or world, but outside the universe of space and time.
- The mind is real (level 1) and the body and world of form are not (level 2).
- Healing the mind is only accomplished by using the Holy Spirit’s remedy: true forgiveness which results in miracles (metaphysical level 1 solution).
Considering all these points, it may be a bit easier to see how misinterpretations of the Course’s ideas on healing may arise. The error being made is basically another way of saying:
“If my problem is just an illusion, then I don’t need to do anything to fix it in a practical sense because everything in the world is an illusion too. All I ever need to do is forgive on the level of the mind.”
MAGIC VS MIRACLES
Adding fuel to this erroneous line of thinking is also the Course’s definition of the term ‘magic’. In ACIM, magic refers to any external means used for healing within the world. As the word itself not-so-subtly implies, any world-based method we use to resolve our specific problems, regardless of the kind of help it is, is essentially as made-up as your problem. It doesn’t actually do anything.
All problems and solutions we find in the world (level 2) are unequivocally deemed as being illusory. On a more comforting note however, Jesus reassures us that every problem we appear to have in the world is merely a symbolic reflection of the only real problem we have in the unconscious mind- our mistaken belief in the separation, the egoic interpretation of it as sin, and the subsequent guilt and fear that introduced.
For this reason, the Course teaches that it is always, and only ever, the mind’s decision to heal first that results in the apparent resolution of your symptoms or issues in form. There is no exception to this. Healing is always a reflection of the mind’s choice for it, regardless of whatever you might have done on the physical level to get some relief.
This brings up a bit of a conundrum. If healing rests within the mind that is unhelpfully unconscious to us, how exactly can we get it to choose healing? The answer lies in the Course’s remedy: true forgiveness that leads to miracles.
ACIM defines miracles as the healing that comes from a change of mind from false to true perception, from wrong- to right-mindedness, from the ego’s to Holy Spirit’s guidance. They are the result of applying true forgiveness, which effectively heals the mind of its ego-induced madness. Magic is thus the opposite of miracles. While magic (external forms of illusory help) can appear to induce false healing on the level of the body and world (level 2), miracles reflect true healing that occurs on the level of the unconscious mind (level 1).
Getting back to our original question, the idea that being a student of ACIM might mean I can’t or shouldn’t use external help/solutions in the world may now seem a little bit less crazy and perhaps even understandably valid. Why should we do anything in the world to heal or fix our problems when anything we might appear to do behaviourally is just made-up, and we’re told that forgiveness-facilitated miracles is the only effective way to true healing? More specifically, why should I continue to use magic?
It’s a fair question. Why indeed?
Despite its radical stance on healing, it’s important to recognise that the idea that we can’t or shouldn’t use external help because we’re students of A Course in Miracles, is not what the Course is advocating. At no point does the Course condemn, demonise, or say that we shouldn’t use magic. In fact, thinking that we can’t or shouldn’t use magic in order to be good students constitutes a misunderstanding of the teaching, which specifically stems from level confusion.
To confuse the levels is to mistakenly apply the thinking of one level to another. For a refresh on what the levels are, check out the previous post: a tale of two levels. Basically put, level confusion with respect to seeking help in the world, arises because we have applied what the Course teaches us about level one, the level of the unconscious mind, to level two, the level of the physical world we’re conscious of.
To illustrate how this kind of level confusion can take shape, consider the following example. If my level two problem is that I have a headache, I might be tempted to think about it using level one ideas in this way:
- “I have a bad headache (level 2),
- But the body is an illusion so the headache must be an illusion too.
- If this body and headache aren’t real (level 1 idea),
- I therefore don’t need to do anything about it (level 2 conclusion).”
Sounds fair enough at first glance. The Course does say and mean that the body and all physical problems are unreal after all. But to recognise why the conclusion is an error- i.e. that I don’t need to do anything about the problem because it’s illusory- switch up the level two problem from a headache to that of finding yourself inside a house that’s on fire:
- “I find myself in a burning house (level 2),
- But the Course teaches that the body and world are illusions, so the fire must be an illusion too.
- If this body, world and fire aren’t real (level 1 idea),
- I therefore don’t need to do anything about it (level 2 conclusion).”
Sounds pretty ridiculous now doesn’t it? And yet, this can appear to be the logical outcome of this line of thinking.
So what are we missing?
RESPECTING VS DENYING THE POWER OF BELIEF
The point in contrasting the nature of the problem isn’t to make either illusory problem real. It’s to clarify the error involved. Namely, that to say that a problem is an illusion and thereby conclude that we don’t need to do anything about it, overlooks two key things: First, the fact that we do believe the problem is real. Secondly, that we nevertheless appear to be experiencing the effects of our problems- whether we consider them illusory or not- which in itself demonstrates that we do believe in them. That is, we will still feel the pain and inconvenience of a headache that impairs our ability to function, and we will still be suffocated or burnt to death if we don’t escape from a burning house, even if we tell ourselves it’s all an illusion.
In other words, understanding something intellectually is not the same as knowing it viscerally. That our world-bound problem is an illusion is indeed true, but this is only apparent on one level– the level of true, non-dualistic reality (i.e. level one). A level that we are, most crucially, not aware of. According to this level one perspective, every specific problem is illusory- the body and entire dualistic world is indeed completely made up. However this isn’t the level within which we experience ourselves existing. As such, we don’t genuinely know it to be fact from where we’re standing, embodied as we appear to be in a material world.
Level two on the other hand- the level of the dualistic world- is what we are conscious of and thus seems indisputably real. Therefore, despite being true on the metaphysical level of the mind, the level one perspective that asserts that level two is completely made-up, isn’t necessarily the most helpful or practical insight when dealing with our specific problems in a behavioural sense. On its own, this insight isn’t enough to fix our illusory problems, because they wouldn’t appear real if we didn’t already believe in them. So simply reminding ourselves that our world-based problems are made-up won’t alleviate them, or reveal how we should best proceed to resolve them on the dualistic level we think we experience them.
More to the point, the assertion that the dualistic world is made-up is not designed to be a practical solution to our specific problems, intended to inform what we should do in the world. It’s simply the underlying basis for the Holy Spirit’s solution to our only real problem that exists on the level of the mind. In this sense, it’s important to understand that the level one idea that everything but God is an illusion, can be unhelpfully misapplied if we overlook the most basic and significant fact about level two: that we do believe it’s true, or we wouldn’t think or experience ourselves as being here to begin with.
This basic recognition that we have already unconsciously invested belief in illusions needs to be respected, rather than denied or resisted. This is crucial if we’re ever going to learn how to undo the original ontological error that appeared to birth every manifest problem, including the very existence of our physical identity and world.
A LEVEL 1 SOLUTION TO A LEVEL 1 PROBLEM: FORGIVE AND…
Recalling this will also help you comprehend that the Course is never trying to get you to deny your experience of being a physical individual in a world of separation. Instead, Jesus wants you to actively look at and use, all of your experiences of yourself as a body (both physically, psychologically and emotionally) to practice forgiveness. This is because forgiveness is the only real solution that will ultimately heal your mind and demonstrate that your true reality is still one with God.
This doesn’t mean that forgiveness is the only thing we ever do in relation to our problems. All it means is that forgiveness is always what we do on the level of the mind– aka level one- the only level on which the Course is ever practiced. On level two however, we may very well need to take appropriate action or steps to resolve our issues in whatever form seems best.
It is also by forgiving on the level of the mind, that we are able to switch from the ego’s wrong-minded, to HS’s right-minded perception of the world, which will allow the unconscious love within our right mind to guide us in terms of what we ought to do on the level of the world. In saying that however, it’s important to note that behaviour, and achieving particular outcomes in the world, is never the focus of the Course. ACIM is purely about content (real level 1 ideas), never form (illusory level 2 images).
But again, none of this precludes you from doing what you need to do to deal with the specifics of a problem. You simply ensure you forgive on the level of the mind and also do whatever you feel may be helpful on the level of the world to resolve the situation.
Put differently, it’s okay to deal with problems in normal worldly ways; to use magic in whatever form seems appropriate. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication if you have a headache, getting therapy if you have an eating disorder, checking into rehab if you’re suffering from an addiction, or doing a past life regression if that helps alleviate your symptoms, and so on.
Rather than taking an oppositional stance against magic, the Course is unwaveringly kind and understanding of our ongoing reliance on it. It recognises that although magic is nothing, our use of it ultimately reflects an intense and overwhelming fear of our mind and the love of God within it. And as we increasingly learn to undo our unconscious fear and guilt through forgiveness, miracles will eventually replace our use of it. Not because magic was ever ‘wrong’ or ‘evil’, but simply because we would have healed our mind sufficiently to be able to accept God’s healing love directly rather than indirectly via illusions of help.