In ACIM the "ego" is equated to that thing that we think we "are." My name is Allan. I have such and such a history. I believe certain things. That's who I am.
When we look at things from the standpoint of having a body here in this world of form, we see that the ego is the "program" that runs the wetworks that is our physical brain. The ego interprets everything we perceive and gives us signals that induce our behaviors. The Course talks a lot about perception and its role in our world-of-form lives. More on that in a later post and its contrast to knowledge and seeing without the body's eyes.
Dr. Henry Grayson wrote a superb book, Mindful Loving, which is based largely on the principles of ACIM (although I'm not sure he's aware of that). In it he outlines a cycle that seems to apply to all of us living in the ego's world of form.
We all have "core beliefs" that are created during childhood -- perhaps a belief that we are loved unconditionally. Although more often, the core belief tends to carry some negativity, such as "I am not loved," "I am not heard," "X, Y or Z is dangerous to me," and so forth. Those negative beliefs, certainly include our almost universally denied fear and guilt for having abandoned God in favor of creating our own world of form. Whatever the core beliefs may be, they generate "thought constellations."
For example, if we are truly and unconditionally loved by our parents as children, our thought constellations will generally be loving toward others. Those kind, accepting and loving thoughts will, in turn, help us interpret perceptions we have toward other people, events and situations. Those perceptions then generate emotions such as openness, acceptance and non-judgement as we interact with the world. Those emotions lead to behaviors that are "favorable" and positive. In turn, we receive response and confirmation from the world that our core beliefs are correct.
However, if our childhood experience was less than wonderful, we usually carry thoughts into our adult lives that are perhaps not so complimentary toward others. We may have lived through strife, anger, intolerance or even suffered traumatic events as children -- or even later in life as soldiers serving during wartime, or women attacked by predators or as a parent who lost a child or another loved one. All of these can implant core beliefs that hinder our interaction with the world. Our thought constellations become ones of danger, of fear, of worry and sadness. We then interpret those thoughts in such a fashion that induces negative, non-adaptive emotions leading to behaviors that give us unwanted negative response from others, thus confirming our disabling negative core beliefs.
Dr. Grayson offers a powerful way to begin undoing our negative core beliefs, or at least, our negative thought constellations. It's a five-step process. Borrowing graciously from his book, here are the steps:
- When you are disturbed in any way, ask yourself: "What was I just thinking about?" If you are willing to dig deeply, you'll usually find a thought that comes from a core belief. It might be something as simple as "He or she didn't listen to me. I am angry that my point of view isn't being recognized." Or, "He or she deprived me of something and I feel sad, hurt, unloved."
- When you have identified what you were just thinking about that gave you unease, say to yourself (or out loud, if you can): "That is one of those disturbing, distracting ego thoughts that only brings discomfort." Place yourself above the thought by emphasizing "That" and "those" so you can separate yourself from the thought itself. Realize it is just a thought coming from ego and core beliefs. As Dr. Grayson points out, do not judge the disturbing thought. To do so only gives it more power and influence. Realize that you are a decision maker and you can choose to observe the disturbing thought rather than giving it power.
- Confirm to yourself that "What I am thinking about will surely increase. Do I want this thing I am thinking about to increase, to gain more control over my thinking? If I continue thinking about it, it surely will."
- Make a statement to cancel the thought. It needs to be done with some emotional energy,although without judging the thought. You might say, "I have no use for this thought and banish it from my mind. I release it and let it go. I delete it, cancel it, abolish it from my mind and all parts of my mind that might want to make use of it." Or, choose something similar that resonates with you. Again, don't judge the ego thought as being wrong or negative. Just acknowledge it as a "disturbing" or "interruptive" thought that has no place in your mind.
- Finally, to avoid leaving an empty place in your mind where that thought was born, replace the thought with a positive affirmation or statement. You might say, "My Father made me of Love. I am Love and forgive myself and all others for everything I perceive." Dr. Grayson suggests that one can use a mantra. For me, I like to remind myself that my Father did indeed make me of Love and that Love is the only thing that is important in my thinking and my mind. Love is what I want to extend, just as God extends His Love, to all.
Then, there is one more step I take that you might find helpful. I remind myself that the separation from God never did occur. That's the Atonement. Therefore, whatever appeared to happen to me, whatever thought constellation was "activated" by my negative core beliefs -- never happened. This world of form is all illusory. It's a fantasy and a dream that the Sonship's mind is dreaming. I like to believe that no matter what Sally said to me, no matter what Bradley might have done to me, "I have created this situation as I see it." (See Workbook Lesson 32 for help, as well as other Lessons in the30's).
I think it's important -- maybe critical -- to counteract those negative thought constellations with the powerful affirmation that "it never happened." I suppose if I was attacked with a gun or a knife and wounded seriously, it might be harder to say "it never happened." However, at this stage in my journey, I haven't had to deal with serious wounds to the physical body. So I find it reasonable to deal with those "psychological" issues surrounding core beliefs that only impinge on my sense of self-importance and "specialness" by acknowledging that the seeming insult "never happened." I think (hope) that's at least a step toward more fully accepting the Atonement.
Which brings up one final thought for this posting. We are told by Arten, Pursah, Gary Renard and ACIM itself that forgiveness will take us to new levels of development. As I began to learn about the Course's description of forgiveness, it seemed that forgiveness was all about being non-judgmental. After all, if I don't judge something, there is no way I can find it "wrong." If I place no expectations on people, events and situations I cannot possibly be disappointed and therefore can find no wrong.
Now I've come to another level (?) of understanding. It now seems that forgiveness is not so much about being non-judgmental or avoiding the temptation to place expectations. It seems it is all about accepting the Atonement. If we never did separate from God, then this world of form is completely illusory. Nothing can possibly happen here. It's as if I dreamed last night that you did something horrendous to me. Today when we meet at Starbucks for coffee I verbally beat you up for what you did in my dream. You'd probably wonder if I'd lost my mind or should be taking medications for my condition. Likewise, if one can finally accept the Atonement -- knowing that we never did separate from God and we are still with Him for all Eternity, always have been and that what is real never "came" to this world of form -- then nothing that seems to happen here actually does or did even happen. That seems to be a more operative description of what forgiveness is all about.