Mar 15, 2009

Teaching and learning. What will you teach: Peace or Conflict?

A Course in Miracles makes it clear that we can't help but teach. Most of us don't teach in front of a group or classroom, or write books or make movies that teach, but whether we are aware of it or not, we always teach.

….teaching is a constant process; it goes on every moment of the day..... To teach is to demonstrate. There are only two thought systems, and you demonstrate that you believe one or the other is true all the time. From your demonstration others learn, and so do you…..Any situation must be to you a chance to teach others what you are, and what they are to you." (T-Intro.1.6;2.1)

What we teach -- the content of our lessons -- is who we think we are at any given moment, not what we say or what we do.

We may be teaching a child how to tie his shoe, or we may be giving directions to a stranger on the street, or we may be listening to a friend who is in need. In all three cases it appears as if the goal of the interaction is to help, or to convey some kind of information. At the level of the body, this is true. But at the level of mind, there is an underlying purpose to every interaction and that is to either teach peace or conflict; we either support the dream of separation or undo it.

When we identify with the right mind, which is the memory of our perfect oneness with God, we identify with Spirit and Love. As One, we can't help but teach the Peace of God. When we choose to identify ourselves with the ego, we believe we are separate bodies with individual personalities subject to pain and suffering. When we choose the ego, we can't help but judge. Judgment separates us from others. It creates hierarchies that stand in the way of our perception of Oneness. By judging others, even in our most casual conversations the ego actively seeks to reinforce the dream of separation.

Even at the level of the most casual encounter, it is possible for two people to lose sight of separate interests, if only for a moment. That moment is enough. Salvation has come. (M-3.2.6)

Whatever you teach; peace or conflict, you teach also to yourself because you are strengthening it by sharing it with others.

"Everything you teach you are learning. Teach only love, and learn that love is yours and you are love." (T-6.III.4.8)

We can't hope to be helpful to someone who is in pain while we are identifying ourselves with the ego. As egos we harm instead of heal. Instead of looking at the problem from 'above the battleground,' we identify with people's problems and make them real for them and for ourselves. Our most loving attempts at being helpful will fail because the underlying message we give them is that the world of separation is real and therefore their pain is justified.

The simplicity of this very basic message from the Course became clear to me about a year ago when an old friend called me late one night. We only speak a couple of times a year and it's usually when he is hurt and depressed. Stephen suffers from depression. He takes antidepressants which, as he describes, only take the edge off the pain, but help him stay alive.

As we began to chat, even though he did not say it right away, I could tell that he wasn't well. I've told him to call me when he feels he's at risk of killing himself. The feeling I had was that this was one of those nights where he was considering whether he should stay or go. When he gets into these episodes, the pain feels so intense and real, he sees suicide as the only way to end it.

Stephen's problem is that he feels alone. His relationships seem to fail over and over again and he is tired of feeling lonely. He looks at the world through a thick layer of pain and suffering and the world proves to him on a daily basis that love is not real, and that people are not dependable. He is convinced he will never be happy. Every time we chat he offers proof that suffering is real. He will tell you with a straight face, that if he found the right companion who loved him, life would be different for him and he would have a chance to be happy. His misery has become a part of his identity and he is not willing to let it go.

As I listen, a part of me would love to 'fix' him. I would like to share what I've learned over the last seventeen years of practicing A Course in Miracles. I would love to shake him up a bit and impress on him that his life is just a story that he is making up. I'd like to explain how his feelings come from his interpretations and not from what is actually happening in his life. I'd like to share with him that happiness comes from within and that no circumstances can bring him lasting joy and peace. And while I'm at it, I would love to teach him the forgiveness of A Course in Miracles because it would really turn his life around. More than anything, I would like him to know that he has a choice.

The problem is that the "I" that wants and needs so desperately to help Stephen stay alive, is my ego. Over our twenty year friendship, I have to admit that I have tried to throw hints at him. Of course nothing I say ever seems to help. Only now do I understand why. The ego is not capable of helping because masked behind sweet well-meaning words; the only gift it can offer is separation. Stephen is not happy because he feels separated. So how could I possibly be helpful if I mentally reinforce his dream of separation?

There is NOTHING wrong with helping people in need, or joining a cause, or whatever it is we feel inclined to do in the world to help others. The problem comes when, for example, we join a cause because we feel an investment to help. Through the ego's eyes, we must have decided first that the world is real, and that suffering is real. Real help is not possible from the standpoint of separation. While we may be helpful at the level of form, we won't be offering the only lasting kind of help, which is the help that withdraws identification from the dream of separation. As long as we help with the ego we will be doing what the Course calls 'forgiveness to destroy.' The only way we can help is by teaching peace to ourselves first and then extending it.

As I listened to Stephen a year ago, having noticed the subtle ego involvement in my listening, I somehow let it go. As I let go of my ego I become fully present with him. Because there is no movement in my mind, no need to be helpful, no chatter, I can actually hear what he's saying. He tells me about another failed relationship and of the pain he feels. But beyond the story, I hear a call for love. As judgment ceases the perfect love that is always there, becomes manifest. There are no reactions, no judgments, no comparisons, and no investments. His words pass through my mind unobstructed, as flour through a sifter. There is nothing real to hold on to. I see him as he is, without his story.

He tells me he's thinking about killing himself. I hear him say it, but there is no pain; no desire to keep him here because it's so clear that he is not that body. He is Love.

When I speak, the words are not measured or calculated to produce an effect. Love inspires the words and what comes out of my mouth feels natural. I ask him if he thinks killing himself will really end the pain. He doesn't know that, he says. What if it doesn't?

We talk for over an hour. I allow him to take the conversation where he wants to. My ego's agenda is not manipulating the conversation. Finally, he says that he feels good now. He's tired and should go to bed. "I really feel good," he repeats.

As we hang up I feel Joy. This is what the practice of this Course is about. I'm beginning to see what it means when it says that "my only function is to accept the Atonement for myself." It's not with words that we teach, it's not with hands that we heal. All we do is ask for help to see things as they are in reality and having made the choice for what is peaceful and permanent, we demonstrate that the Christ is real and that there is a real alternative to the dream of suffering.

When you accept a miracle, you do not add your dream of fear to one that is already being dreamed. Without support, the dream will fade away without effects. For it is your support that strengthens it. T-28.III.1.6


 

10 comments:

  1. That last quote says it all. I've been going through something similar with an old friend of my own--different flavor of problem but the same general setup. And it was just last week that the light started to dawn for me. It's not about solving her problems or getting her to see anything whatsoever. What a relief.

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  2. Yes! It's such a relief to know that all we need to do is 'be' in our right mind and that alone sends the message that they can also choose again. I just love the simplicity of it!

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  3. Thank you Aileen,
    for sharing, for being courageous and loving enough to post these thoughts...followed the link to the Foundation for ACIM, and am humbled by the beauty and clarity-ahhh-deep breath, now another phase of the journey unfolds....

    Your friend,
    Peter

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  4. Than you for your sweet comments, Peter. Listening to Ken Wapnick has been a most enlightening phase in my journey. I just spent the last week with him at a class at the FACIM (along with over 200 other people). I'm lucky that I live only 40 minutes away. I'm always so moved by his clarity, his kindness and loving presence. I own 30 of his workshops on tape and love to share them. Let me know if you're interested :o)

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  5. Aileen,

    This has been in my in-box for weeks - and I am just getting to it - and now I know why, because it is what I needed right now. I am also "helping" a friend through a very similar situation like Stephen, and your example of listening is exactly what I needed tonight.

    Thank you so much!

    TT

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  6. You're welcome, Travis. I'm glad my experience was helpful. I trust that as you listen to your friend, having chosen Love, you'll be inspired to say and do what will be most helpful to him. Thank you for stopping by!

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing your insight. As with others who have left comments, this happened just at the right time.

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  8. Nice to hear from you, Roia!

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  9. Great article, Aileen. Thanks for sharing.

    "The problem is that the "I" that wants and needs so desperately to help Stephen stay alive, is my ego." -- This is so true. When teaching is codependence it doesn't' feel right. When I need to fix someone, I am not teaching true love.

    "There is NOTHING wrong with helping people in need, or joining a cause, or whatever it is we feel inclined to do in the world to help others. The problem comes when, for example, we join a cause because we feel an investment to help." -- brilliant! I remember testing that a few weeks ago in the grocery store. The dairy guy was having a bad day. I wanted to cheer him up somehow, but decided to just let him have his anger. It felt like love. I felt like respect.

    "I see him as he is, without his story." -- and without my story of him.

    Thank you!

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  10. Thanks for your comment, Todd. "--and without my story of him..." that is so true. I can't truly love until I've identified my own stories about people. It's great to notice!

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