On Sunday, August 6, 2006, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. He was responding to a question asked by one of the CMC’s Supporting Members about how to reconcile common New Age ideas and the teachings of A Course In Miracles. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that talk..
I've been very busy this week and I’ve been very productive which always makes me feel good. I got another lecture up on the internet. I encourage all you who are Supporting Members to download those lectures and listen to them. The last lecture I gave, “It Was All About You” is now on the internet. I get a lot out of listening to these lectures again, too. Since we’ve been putting them on the internet for our members I listen to them more than I used to. I’m pretty good – I’ve decided. (From the congregation “We now that.”) Yeah – I like me.
I want to spend a little time with some of the basics today – A Course In Miracles basics. A long time ago when we were applying for church status, one of the things we had to supply to the IRS was an essay stating clearly just what was this religious philosophy that we would be teaching. That was a challenge. It had to be concise but of course we didn’t want it so broad and general that it was meaningless. So, I wrote up a single sheet. I figured if I could fit it on one sheet of paper, that it would be concise, yet thorough enough for the IRS. It was a very wonderful exercise to do that. I have revised it from time to time and I have read it at different presentations. I’m not going to read the whole sheet today but just a few phrases of it.
It starts like this, “Humankind, all of us, were created whole and perfect by an infinite intelligence, an eternal being of Love and Light – God. This perfect creation is the Christ.” We were created whole and perfect by God, by the Divine. We A Course In Miracles students accept this, it’s basic. However, when I think about it, this wasn’t what I was taught when I was a young Catholic boy. I was taught that we were created as a potential and that we had to prove ourselves. We had to learn certain things. The world was a test of some kind. Also, within that teaching was the thought that most of us here would fail the test. That was a disturbing and depressing idea. Not only were many going to fail the test, the test had, woven into the fabric of it, all these trick questions. I remember at an early age, probably about nine or ten, after being taught this by the nuns, being very depressed. I didn’t have enough self esteem, I suppose, to think that I would pass the salvation test. (laughter) I was pretty sure I would fail it which meant I would burn for eternity in hell. We had visuals, pictures the nuns showed us, of people writhing in pain, burning, engulfed by huge flames. That was what was in store for me – in chains unable to get out. That was an awful thing to instill in the mind of a ten year old, young boy.
I’m very grateful that A Course In Miracles tells us we are whole and perfect just the way we are. We were created that way and it is not something we have to achieve. Also, as the Community Miracles Center’s statement to the IRS said, what we are actually is the Christ. This is another idea that I have come into greater and greater awareness of as time goes on. Whenever I go back east to visit my family, which I did recently, it brings to my mind the fact that for most of main stream America, when you say “Christ” they think of “Jesus.” They use the two words synonymously, “Jesus” and “Christ” are the same to them. That’s the way they think. I realize through my study of A Course In Miracles I no longer think that way. When I hear the word “Christ” my mind doesn’t think “Jesus” although it used to. Now, I go into the idea of the perfected, holy, creation that I am. I am the Christ. The perfect center of myself is the Christ. This is something which we should all be declaring for ourselves. Actually, it was something that Jesus declared for himself over 2,000 years ago and it got him stoned and crucified because it was considered blasphemy to elevate yourself to the level of the divine.
Even though we students of A Course In Miracles get very used to its thought system, the Course is asking us to consider some things which would have been considered blasphemy and worthy of a death sentence many years ago, I think it’s important, every once in awhile, to remember that – to realize how radical this thought system is right from the “get go.” We were created perfect; we’re not here to prove anything. We don’t have to prove our perfection. The world is not a test most are doomed to fail, and the Christ is us. We are the Christ. I need to keep aware of this all the time. When I do, it totally changes and brightens everything I do. This is an ACIM basic teaching.
Those who know me have frequently heard me say that I don’t read because I have no discretional time for reading. However, I do have some time to listen to things. For many years I’ve listened to music, rock and roll mostly. What I have become aware of recently is that there are a lot of great books on audio CD which you can also listen to. I have been listening to some books. I listened to The Disappearance Of The Universe by Gary Renard which I appreciated and got a lot out of. This week I’ve been listening to Power Versus Force by Stephen Hawkins, which one of our Supporting Members was nice enough to loan to me. It’s great to suddenly have the opportunity to hear these books which I have heard so many people talking about. However, now come the questions. Do I accept them? Are the teachings in line with basic A Course In Miracles teachings? Invariable, these questions come up, “How does this other teachings mesh with ACIM? Do you think it’s ‘right on’?” I’ve talked to many people about things like this. Sometimes we initially think other books are true to ACIM but then an author will state something which does not mesh with ACIM and our tendency is to get disillusioned by this.
I can listen to most things without getting into these questions and the quandary of disillusionment. Maybe it’s my Gemini nature which is supposed to allow me to hold opposing thoughts systems at the same time without thinking of the conflict. I listen to these books, and if I disagree with something or it doesn’t seem to be Course consistent, I just put it aside and see what else is there for me to get. Authors are using different symbols and it’s not my job to compare everything I run across to A Course In Miracles. ACIM is the thought system I have embraced and that I practice but I do not have to line everything up to it as a standard of rejection or acceptance. I just hold to my understanding of the Course and when I do – I can get a lot out of these other teachings and books. I can enjoy them. And I still enjoy listening to rock and roll.
There are things that you frequently run across when you read or listen to New Age literature. There are certain pat expressions, common phrases and ideas which seem to weave all through this stuff and you wonder about them. One of the questions which occurs, and one of our Supporting Members who mirs in another part of the country has asked me to comment on this, is the New Age idea that we have to “... heal mind, body and spirit.” We hear this all the time. Somehow mind, body and spirit have to come into integration. Is this consistent with A Course In Miracles? I have been thinking about this question and it’s relation to some of the other books I have been reading or listening to. Are mind, body, and spirit the different levels of our existence or are the different levels only levels of mind?.
I believe A Course In Miracles tells us many things about mind. One of the things I need to remember is that when ACIM is talking about “mind” it is not talking about the brain. Even though I have a picture of the brain on the program (and the cover of this Miracles Monthly), our brain is not where our mind is located. This makes a lot of sense for me. When I think about how vast my mind is and all the thoughts I have, my memories, all the images I have of things – if I try to put that in my brain it doesn’t fit. My brain is small. Our brains are relatively small. They weigh just a couple of pounds. Maybe it’s three pounds for the average human brain. They’re tiny. I can’t possibly conceptualize any way for all my thoughts and images to reside in this very small mass of flesh. I don’t know what my brain is. I certainly don’t know what my mind is. When I think of my mind as being in my brain, as I did for many, many years, it definitely limits what I think I can know and what I think I can experience. What I learn from ACIM is that there only is mind. That’s all there really is and healing is not actually about integrating the levels of body, mind and spirit. Healing takes place only in the mind because that’s the only level where there can actually be a problem.
This was clear in the reading that we had this morning. “Only the mind is capable of error. The body can act wrongly only when it is responding to misthought.” (T-2.IV.2.4-5) The body can reflect something that seems to be a problem. The body can reflect “dis-ease” or other problems but the problem, of course, is not in the body. The body does not need to be healed or integrated. It’s only the mind that is the problem. It’s only the mind that needs to be healed. In another place in today’s reading was this passage, “It is essential to remember that only the mind can create, and that correction belongs at the thought level. To amplify an earlier statement, spirit is already perfect and therefore does not require correction. The body does not exist except as a learning device for the mind.” (T-2.V.1.7-9).
So there it is, mind, body and spirit. Spirit is already perfect. There is nothing that we can do about the spiritual essence of who and what we are. The body doesn’t even exist. It’s merely an image, a learning device of the mind. It’s only the mind that has levels. Healing, then, cannot really be about integrating mind, body and spirit because the only thing that ever is the problem is the mind.
In another place A Course In Miracles tells us, “This means you recognize that mind is the only creative level, and that its errors are healed by the Atonement.” (T-2.V.5.2) Being a Course student means truly realizing that, centering in on that. It’s basic to the teaching. It’s only the mind that we are ever working with.
However, when we read something else it’s just that, something else. It doesn’t have to integrate with our A Course In Miracles philosophy. Our ACIM philosophy says this thing over here. Something else says something else. Just maybe if we played the game of it, just give it it’s due, we’ll learn something. Maybe we’ll have a pleasant experience. We’ll have a shift in perception. Maybe we’ll find ourselves more able to forgive and more loving.
If you’re constantly relating it all back to A Course In Miracles and comparing the other teaching to the Course you’re just resisting the other. You’re blocking it – judging against it. You won’t get whatever gift might be there if you would be willing to let all your judgment go.
Maybe we all need to be a little more like we Gemini’s naturally are (laughter) which is to be able to hold all these things in the same space. Be firm in what you know A Course In Miracles says but don’t let this become a way for you to attack other things, block other things, or separate other things out. There might be a gift in those other teachings that you could have. Getting the gift from those other things does not mean that you have to let go of ACIM or that you are not being true to ACIM because certain aspects of the other teaching don’t say the same thing. .
In another place A Course In Miracles tells us, “The truth is that you are responsible for what you think, because it is only at this level that you can exercise choice. What you do comes from what you think.” (T-2.VI.2.6-7) Very clear – the Course is always very clear about this. Here’s another one, “You do not need guidance except at the mind level. Correction belongs only at the level where change is possible.” (T-2.VI.3.5-6) The only place we need guidance is at the mind level. When I read or listen to something that doesn’t seem to go along with what I know from ACIM, I ask for guidance. Frequently the guidance I get is, put the differences aside and keep listening to this other teaching and see what the gift is for me. Hang out with it. If I am truly practicing the Course it let’s me open up to these teachings even when they don’t seem to agree with ACIM.
A Course In Miracles says, “When the ego was made, God placed in the mind the Call to joy. This Call is so strong that the ego always dissolves at Its sound. That is why you must choose to hear one of two voices within you. One you made yourself, and that one is not of God. But the other is given you by God, Who asks you only to listen to it. The Holy Spirit is in you in a very literal sense. His is the Voice that calls you back to where you were before and will be again. It is possible even in this world to hear only that Voice and no other.” (T-5.II.3.2-9).
Again, these are some very basic A Course In Miracles ideas – thoughts. We have two voices in our minds. One is the ego; one is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the call to joy. The ego is the call of fear. When I read other teachings, sometimes I hear very different ideas. It’s a very prevalent New Age, spiritual idea that all the thoughts in the mind are suspect and that we really need to get past them all to an area beyond thought. This is a very common idea. True enlightenment would be a still mind with no surface thoughts. Many try to teach that no thought is where we should hang out. We should want to be at a place of no thought because all thoughts in the mind are a problem. However, this is not what I learn from A Course In Miracles. What I get from the Course is that we are always going to have thoughts. The point is to choose which thoughts we want. We want the thoughts of the Holy Spirit. Those are thoughts that are in our mind.
Yet, I continue to hear and read teachings from elsewhere that we need to get past all surface thoughts. Frequently it’s called, “... coming from your heart.” I love this idea. What exactly does that mean? Coming from your heart – are there thoughts in my heart? I can barely conceptualize thoughts in my brain now I’ve got thoughts in my heart – in this little red muscle that goes like this all the time. (Rev. Tony simulates the beating of his heart with his fist.) A Course In Miracles does use the word “heart.” “Heart” appears in the Course 86 times. I did a search. I was surprised. And, the Course uses the word “heart” in very traditional ways similar to the way any New Age person would use it. Here’s a quotation where the word heart is used three times. “I place the peace of God in your heart and in your hands, to hold and share. The heart is pure to hold it, and the hands are strong to give it. We cannot lose. My judgment is as strong as the wisdom of God, in Whose Heart and Hands we have our being.” (T-5.IV.8.10-13).
Not only do we have a heart, but apparently God has a heart too – some little beating pulsing muscle pumping what ... I don’t know. (laughter) “Heart” – what does that mean? Maybe it’s the core of our being. There is something at the core of our being – maybe a little below the conscious thoughts that we can think of. Maybe it’s out loving mind or that part of our mind so imbued with love that the thoughts that bubble up from this part will always reflect love. If you take the words “loving mind” you can probably replace them in A Course In Miracles for any time it uses the word “heart.” Let’s do that with the previous quotation. “I place the peace of God in your [loving mind] and in your hands, to hold and share. The [loving mind] is pure to hold it, and the hands are strong to give it. We cannot lose. My judgment is as strong as the wisdom of God, in Whose [Loving Mind] and Hands we have our being.” (T-5.IV.8.10-13) “Loving mind” works pretty good as a substitute for “heart.”.
I have trouble with the way “heart” is used in a lot of things that I read or hear. No question about that. Actually, I believe the way “heart” is frequently used is a negative thing. We hear that we feel it in our heart when we love someone. This is referred to when we are talking about special love relationships. Let’s say you’re having a good time with someone. Then suddenly you have the thought that this someone is not sharing the experience quite the same way that you are feeling it. Maybe you think that they might leave and not be there in the future for you to have this “loving” experience with. Then you feel something in the core of your being, which actually is fear and loss, but we say “Oh, I’m in love!” I don’t think it’s love. It’s fear, lack and loss. It’s not love at all. Yes, you are feeling it in the core of your being. You’re feeling a lack in the core of your being because your thoughts now have cut you off from your source. It’s not love. Sometimes I think we name any strange feeling which seems to come from the core of our being “love.” It’s probably just indigestion a lot of times. (laughter) I don’t think Italians are more loving people, they just eat spicier and greasier foods so they have indigestion more than other people. They just think it’s love. (laughter).
A Course In Miracles wants us to get clear that this thing in the world that we call love, especially love for a special partner, is probably not love at all. I like this next passage which talks about our special relationships and how we seek this other self which makes us feel better because they seem to be a better self., “The ‘better’ self the ego seeks is always one that is more special. And whoever seems to possess a special self is ‘loved’ for what can be taken from him. Where both partners see this special self in each other, the ego sees ‘a union made in Heaven.’ For neither one will recognize that he has asked for hell ...” (T-16.V.8.1-4).
We think it’s love because the idea of loosing it causes a strange feeling at the core of our being but this is just fear. It’s just lack. It has nothing to do with love at all. It’s all about guilt and then we try to hold the other person close to us by using all kinds of machinations which are merely the projection of this guilt. A Course In Miracles is always trying to expose this. This is another very basic tenet of the Course.
I do see a lot of very large differences between what many people would call “heart” and what A Course In Miracles seems to be referring to as a loving mind. A loving mind, from the Course point of view, would naturally generate all kinds of loving thoughts. Loving minds have loving thoughts so, being in that loving mind, being in that heart, doesn’t mean you would not have thoughts. It might mean that you are flooded with joyful, loving, extending thoughts. When engaging with other teachings I have to juggle these language difference all the time. ACIM wants us to understand that how we view love in this world is not love at all. It’s really guilt.
I always like this next paragraph. I think it’s a special relationship “killer.” “The special love relationship is an attempt to limit the destructive effects of hate by finding a haven in the storm of guilt. It makes no attempt to rise above the storm, into the sunlight. On the contrary, it emphasizes the guilt outside the haven by attempting to build barricades against it, and keep within them. The special love relationship is not perceived as a value in itself, but as a place of safety from which hatred is split off and kept apart. The special love partner is acceptable only as long as he serves this purpose. Hatred can enter, and indeed is welcome in some aspects of the relationship, but it is still held together by the illusion of love.” (T-16.IV.3.1-6).
We form these special partnerships and what these do is emphasize how awful it is out there, outside the relationship. “I’m so glad I’m not dating anymore. God that was awful!” I hear that. “I don’t have to date anymore. That was terrible when I was out there trying to meet somebody. Now I have you.” That’s not love. That’s saying it’s awful out there and now “you” are my little haven from all the “awful.” With A Course In Miracles, love would be a perception where it’s all wonderful, beautiful and able to instill in my heart – my loving mind – loving, joyful extending thoughts. Love would not be telling me that I need a little haven.
Students sometimes ask what does it mean that “hatred” can enter in sometimes and that it is even welcome. Well, if you don’t get jealous when your special love partner is spending time with someone else then it’s assumed that you don’t really love them. The hatred of jealousy is then welcome. Jealousy appears to be a given. “If you really loved me you would be jealous. You wouldn’t want me to be sharing these experiences with someone else.” Here is another thing which always gets me. One of my significant others goes away for awhile then when they come back the question is, “Did you miss me?” Did I miss you? Did I feel loss and lack because your body wasn’t in my space? That question is so loaded. What can you do with that question? I’ve learned you just answer, “Yes!” (lots of laughter) “Yes, I did.” (more laughter).
Again, my Gemini nature allows me to hold both of those view points at the same time and see no conflict. The truth is, it’s my job not to miss anybody. It’s my job to feel whole and complete all the time. My love for anybody should be such a reminder of my completion and wholeness that I should be able to take everywhere. So the very fact that I didn’t miss you should be a good indication that I love you! Not vice versa. This is not how the world generally thinks of things. A Course In Miracles is an incredibly different thought system.
People ask, “What about feelings and emotions?” A Course In Miracles does talk about feelings. It says something interesting about them. They are actually very important because we are suppose to use feeling as a barometer for how well are we doing in staying in our loving mind and out of our fearful mind. “Judge how well you have done this by your own feelings, for this is the one right use of judgment.” (T-4.IV.8.6).
Feelings are important but not in the general way that they are talked about. They are important because they are feedback mechanisms which tell us if we are in our heart, our loving mind, or whether we are in our ego. All of these thoughts are there in A Course In Miracles. We do judge our feelings and monitor them. We are supposed to know when we are feeling connected, joyful and loving. It means we are in our hearts. We’re in our loving minds.
Still, I believe we can find a way to bridge the differences between the A Course In Miracles and other teachings without thinking we are selling out the Course and then these other teachings can have very valuable gifts to give us. For me, it’s about embracing it all and not rejecting any of it. Isn’t this another basic teaching of A Course In Miracles? The world isn’t full of good and bad things. It’s full of tremendous gifts everywhere I look. It’s up to me to see the Holy Spirit speaking through all of it. The Course tells us if something isn’t speaking the Holy Spirit to you that’s only because you are not choosing that the Holy Spirit is what you want to hear. This is another, important, basic Course idea, “Every brother you meet becomes a witness for Christ or for the ego, depending on what you perceive in him. ... If he speaks not of Christ to you, you spoke not of Christ to him. You hear but your own voice, and if Christ speaks through you, you will hear Him.” (T-11.V.18.1.6-7) I choose to embrace all these other teachings as teaching the Christ – remember that Christ is not Jesus – and the Holy Spirit to me and I choose to see Christ and the Holy Spirit in them. If sometimes it’s a little more challenging to do that, then I guess I need to be challenged. I must be up for the challenge so I embrace that and see that as a positive thing as well.
So – is it mind, body and spirit or is it just levels of the mind? Do we have a heart? Is the mind every truly still? I don’t know. Look at these questions. Think about them, but don’t get so rigid about your ideologies that you reject things that were meant to be a blessing and a gift.
Thank You. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the August 2006 (Vol. 20 No. 6) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.