On true compassion and worldly happiness

Statue: Angel with Upraised ArmsLast week a student who is fairly new to A Course in Miracles and was reading my book, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, contacted me with a series of wonderful questions that arise for us all as we apply the Course’s unique forgiveness of our illusions in our everyday lives. She is generously allowing me to share them with you in hopes they may help others sincerely committed to healing their minds of the unconscious belief in separation that causes all suffering here in our dream of exile from all-inclusive, eternal Love.

Would you help me out with the subject of your recent post–compassion? According to the Course, one would not feel the kind of empathy we know, which means to feel what the other feels and to go along with their suffering. Jesus says to step back and do nothing, but how does that work? When I am confronted with, let’s say, the suffering of animals who are abused cruelly by people or the brutal abuse done to children; what form does compassion take if I am compassionate in a Course-kind of way?

If I am convinced that all of this is not real, will I lean back and do nothing to improve the situation, to change the world? Many animal rights movements have helped to improve the situations for animals in many countries, and people got involved because to them the suffering was very real, and their compassion was probably very emotional and full of attachment.

I know this is really a beginner’s question, but I am having such a hard time wrapping my head around it. You mentioned in your book that you are also one of those people who have always been full of compassion and empathy for the meek and defenseless, for all “innocent” creatures on this planet (and I am aware of the implicit distinction I am making here between innocent and guilty, but I think you know what I mean?).

So how did you deal with this part of yourself when you began to get involved with the Course? What advice would you give me on how to handle my mind and how exactly to practice forgiveness in regard to the phenomenon of cruelty and violence toward defenseless beings? I know that there is a shift in the form of compassion once we have begun to let go of the ego perceptions but I have no clue what this new compassion would be like. Could you help me out here, please?

This is such a heartfelt and important question. And not at all a beginner’s question but something we all struggle with I think, again and again, until all the guilt in our mind is undone for us through practicing this new kind of forgiveness. We are all beginners, really, challenged from moment to moment to observe which inner teacher we’re listening to: an ego that is always advocating for a tale of separation realized or a right mind always quietly certain that we all remain eternally whole and at home in boundless Love, regardless of how horrible the dream details may appear.

I can so relate to your confusion about how true empathy works on a worldly level here in the condition we think we’re in. When I find myself in judgment over perceived attacks on the “innocent” such as animals and children, I try to recognize that it is my mind in need of healing and ask for help at looking/experiencing/interpreting what’s really happening with Jesus/Holy Spirit; whatever symbol of that quiet knowing that no one is guilty works for you. And then I try to wait patiently for my resistance to that awareness to wear itself out, at last opening to the understanding that there is really only one split mind—one decision maker, one ego, and one right mind–in need of healing. Eventually my desire to distance myself from the abusers I see “out there” begins to dissolve and I can do whatever would be kindest and most loving in form without judging the abusers or feeding my false sense of a superior little s self.

It helps me to remind myself again and again that the Course is always beckoning us back to the one mind. We can’t understand this kind of compassion with a brain made to defend against real Love. But we can ask for help in changing our perception, asking to see differently through the lens of the inner teacher of Love instead of fear. When we align with that vision we see that everyone here is hurting, abuser and abused, and that we’re all walking around secretly begging to be let off the hook from this heavy burden of unconscious guilt we all carry over a crime that never really happened.

The Course is not asking us to give up the world or our involvement in it but only to change its purpose from prison to classroom. When my right-mindedness returns, I can provide help in form if I feel called to without the self-righteousness that would strengthen the ego’s case for differences. I still donate to charities and volunteer to help others. I try to look at it as just another curriculum so that when my judgments arise as they inevitably do I can simply return to that beginner’s state of mind, recognizing that I have become afraid again and need to realign with our inner Teacher/Comforter.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Thank you so very much for answering my question in such length and with so much love. Yes, it is definitely helpful, as it reminds me that it is not the abused I should neglect or the abuse I should deny but the abusers I should perceive with my right mind. Is that correct?
When Ken Wapnick tells us that we should be normal; is this what he means? Go out there, help those who are in need, but do not get attached to the victim story and do let the seeming abusers off the hook by practicing forgiveness?

Gosh; it is so very difficult to do that. At this point I do not believe that I will be able to stick with it, because I myself feel so victimized (being chronically ill and chronically financially needy) and perceive so much victimhood all around me.

Your narrations of your conflicts with for instance your (beautiful!) teenage daughter do help me a lot by showing me that others have been there before me and actually had the strength to drop their stories. But nevertheless it feels like such a difficult task to perceive “abusers” as being innocent (or to forgive my own stories that obviously mean so much to me). What does help me is the thought of my having made the abusers all up. But then I am not sure whether I have the right understanding of the metaphysics.

Sorry about the whining, Susan. I am REALLY confused at the moment and since I have never had any direct spiritual experiences in my life, it really takes faith to go through with this. Sometimes I don’t even believe the “tiny mad idea” and all the rest of the metaphysics of the Course but I guess that is just my ego trying to keep me in its grip.

Do you have phases or moments in which you doubt the whole thing? And do you actually feel more peaceful after more years of working with the Course?

Thank you so very much.

Yes, the answer lies in what Ken Wapnick calls being normal in the illusory world (which you’ve described beautifully) even as we forgive at the level of the one mind. And, yes, it is difficult to do because it goes against all we have been taught and believe. We can’t understand or practice this by ourselves in the bodily condition we think we’re in. We think we’re a body forgiving another body that is doing something real but in truth we’re making the whole thing up and have never left the one mind. It’s impossible to wrap our heads around it and useless to try. All we can do is admit we don’t know from moment to moment, ask for help to see truly, and then wait for the quiet memory of innocent wholeness to come. It always does eventually but our resistance is so strong and unconscious, it can take a long time.

I have had many times in my practice with the Course, especially in my relationships with my husband and daughter, where I wasn’t sure I could get through it. The Course does bring our feelings of judgment and fear to the surface to be looked at, and that can be a very uncomfortable process to say the least. But it does get easier over time because you begin to experience a greater contrast between the awful way you feel when you’re listening to and looking with the ego versus the peaceful release and comfort you feel when you’re listening and looking with the right mind. And you learn you always have a choice that will make you feel better no matter what seems to be happening in your dream.

It really has helped me to consciously cultivate an ongoing dialogue/relationship with what I call my “inner imaginary Jesus”–the non-dualistic Jesus of the Course. I try to bring all my illusions in great detail to that loving presence. I usually start out trying to bring him around to my way of seeing but eventually always end up seeing with him and usually getting a good laugh out of it. Really, that’s what’s helped me the most; along with trying to remember to treat myself with the same gentle compassion Jesus treats us with in the Course. We’re merely frightened and frightened people deserve kindness, not judgment and condemnation. It doesn’t matter if it’s the person or situation we see “out there” that seems to be causing us pain or if it’s the person we see in the mirror. The answer is still forgiveness and we can’t do it by ourselves.

The ego tries to scare us and convince us we’ll never heal because it fears its own eventual demise. But the ego is crazy and not our friend. If you have asked for help from Jesus/right mind, try to trust that healing is happening regardless of what seems to be going on in form. This is a time for faith. I have faith in you!

I do not want to be a nuisance, but I have one last question. We are always telling ourselves that we are not experiencing reality when there is conflict and distress. We are trying to become aware of the fact that we are dreaming and thereby we want to detach from our stories. But what about the good part of duality? I know that in the end there will be no good or bad, that we will be independent of both sides of the coin. But for now, may I still enjoy the earthly, human love I feel for my children, the warm, small body of my beloved dog, tear-jerking movies about love and devotion, the beauty of nature, etc.?

This kind of joy is clearly attachment. And while I am sucking it in, I am making the dream real, just as I do when I am indulging in my pain and distress. So, what do I do with the good stuff? Do I forgive it too? Because how can I become aware of the dream while I hold on to the good part of being a body? I often feel like I am not doing the Course right when I feel myself embracing those intense, mushy feelings that make life (the dream) so worthwhile.

First of all, you’re not being a nuisance at all! This is another important, sincere question that we all have and it helps us all learn!

From my understanding the Course isn’t asking us to give up the world or our relationships but to change their purpose from reinforcing the ego’s belief in specialness/separate interests to revealing the underlying abstract, all-inclusive Love still thriving in our one mind. So when we’re feeling love well up for our children or pets (I have similar emotional moments with my daughter and little dog) we can experience it fully while also watching how we believe it exists between bodies–special bodies. And observe with compassion (which means looking with Jesus/Holy Spirit/right mind) the ways in which we want to keep it for ourselves rather than sharing it with everyone and everything.

Realistically we can’t share our bodies with everyone and thing but at the level of the mind the Course is asking us to learn that excluding others from our love through our judgments, anger, preferences, and belief that it exists between certain people and not others prevents us from healing and experiencing the eternally whole, boundless Love we’re really seeking. Our belief that we destroyed that Love through the “tiny, mad, idea” of separation is the root of all suffering. Healing that belief calls for willingness to bring it to the kind light of the right mind that sees it not as sinful, only as silly. After all, finite bodies that in the end always fail us cannot limit real Love. Love belongs to everyone. It is our identity in truth as the one Child of God we remain. It has never, could never, and will never fail us.

Although the ego frantically tries to convince us that returning to our mind and choosing to look with an inner Teacher that knows we are equally loved and loving will destroy all we hold most dear, in truth we have nothing at all to lose and only more Love—infinite Love, in fact—to gain. The Course says the Holy Spirit doesn’t take away our special relationships, but transforms them, using them as teaching devices to help us learn that the real Love in our mind we see reflected in our relationships embraces us all.

We can feel and rejoice in our special relationships while also paying attention to and forgiving our impulse to credit them for our happiness, blame them for our lack of it, or demand they meet our individual needs. As we do, the fearful blocks we created to keep real Love at bay gradually dissolve, allowing us to experience and extend more and more of that abstract, unconditional, infinite, all-inclusive Love of our true nature. As the barriers (resistance) dissolve, we eventually feel more love, cling to it less, and allow it to generalize to all, becoming kinder and more compassionate with everyone and thing including ourselves as we recognize that we’re all terrified  we have destroyed Love and will never be welcomed back into the loving fold. Baby step by step, more and more willing to follow the inner Teacher of Love instead of trying to lead, we begin to demonstrate another, better way of living in this world. In so doing we help–through our moment-to-moment choice for the inner Teacher of forgiveness–heal all guilty, frightened minds.


  1. Very helpful answers to very important questions we all ask; our Inner Kindness Teacher gently redirects our attention and identification from the dream screen characters which we believe form our relationships … to the One in the audience that has unwavering true compassion for our worldly projections; leading us inexorably to unshakeable happiness. 🙂

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