Miracles transcend the body. They are sudden shifts into invisibility, away from the bodily level. That is why they heal.
In my traditional as well as a holistic practice, whenever I worked with clients facing a chronic challenge, such as physical pain, I focused on elucidating factors surrounding their experience of pain. When did the pain tend to occur? How would they describe the pain? Which factors seemed to make it better? What made it worse? In this way, the client and I became “experts” about the pain and together devised strategies to manage the pain. In my own experience with pain, I also became an “expert.” With help from my homeopathic doctor as well as my surgeon, I learned to manage the pain, so I could function.
This was certainly a helpful stage along the road toward greater self-awareness as it related to the pain experience. However, for permanent healing, a radical step remained: that of letting go of the focus on the pain (and ultimately the body) altogether. ACIM refers to this obstacle as level confusion and I needed to move through this before I could experience permanent healing of the pain.
What is level confusion?
When we face a chronic medical challenge, we often feel that by knowing as much as possible about our problem and researching all the possible treatment options, we are most likely to succeed in reaching a successful resolution. So, we become very busy “doing” and often don’t spend time “being.” We are habituated to believe that to heal we need to fix something at the level of the body. If we have pain in the knee, then we need to fix the knee. If we have depression or anxiety, we need medication to fix the chemicals in our brain. However, ACIM states that this is level confusion: “the belief that what is amiss on one level can adversely affect another.” According to ACIM, the body (which includes the brain) is merely an effect of the mind. Only the mind is causative, and as we explored in Chapter 4, the body does not have the solidity that we perceive because it is mostly empty space.
To confuse levels means we ascribe causation to the physical when it lies at the level of the mind only. We then feel personally responsible for fixing whatever is wrong at the level of the body. However, ACIM teaches that the body is a mere instrument that follows what the mind decides or interprets. We can think of the body as a thermometer that reflects the ambient room temperature. The thermometer does not cause heat. So, the problem is not with the body but at the level of the mind, specifically, the way that the mind perceives the body, and how the body is being used. So, all physical illness is really mental illness.
Cause and effect: going from inside to outside
Now for those of you reading this who are new to ACIM or perhaps have a medical or nursing background, this may feel just too “out there.” How can a sports injury (which seems to be caused by a hit to the head by a soccer ball) or skin cancer (which seems to be related to excess exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays) be a mental illness? As someone with more than 30 years of background in traditional as well as complementary/alternative medicine, I can tell you that once I really understood what ACIM was teaching, I felt such a profound sense of relief. Finally, I could devote my attention 100% to working on exposing and uprooting the cause of illness which lay in the mind and not get caught up with always tinkering with the effects– which were reflected in the body. Let me illustrate with another example.
Imagine we go to a theater that we rented out for a private screening. Let’s say the person in the projector room starts the movie. After watching the beginning of the movie, we realize that we don’t want to watch this movie but would prefer a different one. The most practical and effective way to change the screen would be to ask the person in the projector room to change the film on the projector. It would be silly to stand in front of the screen and try to change the movie from outside. Rather, we need to go to the projector and change the film from the inside.
Similarly, when facing a chronic illness, we need to change the inner script that is running the show from the inside and not just attempts to fix the body from the outside. ACIM invites us to exert control over our minds – where we do have the power and responsibility to do so, while we often don’t have control over our behavior or our bodies.
Let’s consider another example that illustrates this idea in a concrete way. Think about friends and family members in your social circle that struggles with addiction- perhaps to cigarettes or alcohol or other substances. Even if they know that these substances are harmful to their bodies, they are often not able to change their behavior. Often many struggling with addictions find it is helpful to work with programs such as Alcoholic Anonymous or other 12 step programs- that focus on releasing the inner beliefs that give rise to addictive behavior.
With a deepening practice of ACIM, we work with our Inner Wisdom to train our minds to deeper and more consistent states of peace. Health is essentially the byproduct of a peaceful mind. Mental health (as well as physical) is inner peace.
A combination of “magic” and miracle
This doesn’t mean that we say the body is not real – which would be an example of metaphysical ghosting discussed in the previous chapter. Or that it is wrong to seek help from a doctor or work with a therapist or take medications. In fact, ACIM talks about how we may have so much fear when facing a challenging situation that we need to use these outside agents to bring our fear level down so our minds can slowly open to the miracle. ACIM refers to this as using a combination of “magic” and the miracle to heal. The miracle reflects the mind-opening to its own inherent power and ability to create. Magic- in the context of ACIM– is ascribing power to outside agents such as medications to produce a change in our bodies instead of acknowledging that it is really the mind that is causative – so sickness and healing are both decisions made first in the mind.
Once again, if you are new to ACIM or if you have a nursing or medical background, here is where you might feel a lot of resistance. I too struggled with these ideas that threatened to crumble the medical model of health and illness that I spent so many years learning to master.
Here’s another way to approach this. Imagine, you dream that you become ill. In the dream, you seek help from a doctor who administers medications to help you recover. Of course, while you are dreaming, you believe that your illness is real, the doctor is real, and the medications have real therapeutic effects. But when you awaken, even though the dream felt so real, you know that it was just a dream. There was no illness, no doctor, and the medications were not real either. We can say that the medication in the dream had a sort of magical property- an effect that in the context of the dream seemed to heal. Yet this is not reality. The true healing came from awakening from the dream. In the context of healing, the miracle- a shift in perception in the mind from fear to love- is an awakening from a dream of seeing oneself at the mercy of an illness or some external situation (a state essentially of fear) to realizing one’s innate power to choose and align with Love.
Level confusion and the placebo effect: the future of medicine
At first glance, these ideas from ACIM seem far-fetched and impossible to believe. However, let’s consider the placebo studies we reviewed in chapter two. They all pointed to this idea that healing and recovery from illness are not so much about which therapy is used but rather, the meaning and interpretation that the patient feels assigns to this therapy. In my 30-plus year in the medical field, I have found this to be true again and again. The common denominator of healing lies not in diet, or medications, or surgery, or even exercise. I believe all therapies can be helpful to someone- meaning that some will benefit from some therapies while others will benefit from different ones. The common universal factor seems to be the attitude of the person using the therapy. In a sense, the placebo research supports in transcending the obstacle of level confusion- by taking power away from any particular therapy and placing it where it belongs- in the mind of the patient that is about to receive the therapy- whatever it may be- alternative or traditional, medication or surgery, placebo or actual medication. Already, there is burgeoning research in the power of the mind, as well as in the fields of neuroscience and neuroplasticity, and this will continue to grow. Healing and medicine will become a way to help patients heal and purify their outlook, perception, and interpretation before they even receive medications or treatments. I feel fortunate to be a part of that evolutionary process in medicine.
Practical application of using a combination of “magic” and the miracle while avoiding level confusion
In my case, I was aware of these teachings of ACIM, yet I knew that I needed time to go within and allow inner healing. However, I also knew that I couldn’t really focus and go within when I felt pain. So, I allowed myself to sit and rest- both of which helped to alleviate the pain. I seemed to not do well with pain medications containing codeine, so I avoided these, but I used medications such as Tylenol or Advil or at times a homeopathic medication. After taking these measures, I then would read a passage from ACIM or listen to a video from an ACIM teacher a course in miracles and reflect. Or I would just journal or go within to see what was going on inside my mind, spending time in prayer and meditation as it felt guided. At times, I would join with another mighty companion who held a safe space for me to expose thoughts of guilt, fear, sadness, unworthiness, or whatever seemed to be coming up. I even watched movies as it felt inspired that helped me to see myself and my experience in a different way.
I felt a deep willingness within my mind and heart to do this process of inner healing again and again as many times as it was needed. Having lived with the pain for so many years, having tried so many therapies including surgery- I was convinced of this: the cause of this pain was not in the body because no matter what I tried on the physical level the pain persisted. With my background in mind-body medicine and with a deeper study of ACIM, I was clear there was a deeper root in the mind that needed healing. This clarity and conviction was essentially the undoing of level confusion for me: I was able to place the cause of my illness where it belonged- in the mind. At the same time, I used “magic” or external agents- such as medication, surgery, rest, and homeopathy- as it felt guided and supported.
Using Levels of Mind
I realized the more I tried to put my attention on the pain in the body versus pulling back and really looking at what was going on within the mind- the more I struggled. It was like trying to focus on the leaf of a tree and the whole tree at the same time: it’s impossible to do. Also, the more I focused on “getting rid” of the pain- the more the pain persisted. I found myself using David Hoffmeister’s Level of Mind process often to take my focus off the pain and step back to see what was going on within my mind. I learned to look beneath the paint and expose all the false beliefs and empty my mind again and again. Each time I felt a bit more open, a bit less fearful.
Being with the pain, watching the mind
I would also let myself simply sit with the pain. I would watch the stream of thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky. Thoughts and beliefs in self-judgment, sacrifice, guilt, punishment, unworthiness, helplessness, and even self-hatred. I allowed the emotions of sadness, anger, fear and frustration to flush up. These painful beliefs and emotions were difficult to face. Yet this time I did not fall into the ego trap of thinking I was to figure anything out. Or that I was wrong or guilty or not practicing the Course correctly. Or that I had done something wrong and that is why I was being punished with pain. I just simply sat with whatever came up.
The decision for peace
I knew from all my mind training that the answer—the healing—was right here, or nowhere else. There was no purpose in going into the past or the future to figure out the answer to my pain. I needed to feel the relief and answer right now, right here. So, I found myself simply becoming an observer of what was happening in my mind. I watched as my mind went to the body and the pain and told me a story about the pain. Each time I would “pull back.” Once again, I became the observer, the watcher. I was determined not to be distracted by the body anymore. I couldn’t control what my body was feeling at the moment. But I was willing to claim the power of my mind to choose and experience peace.
This was my turning point. I desired peace of mind above all else. The prayer of my heart was simple. I wanted peace—no matter what my body was experiencing. I was tired of fighting myself, the pain, and the world of doctors, surgeons, and treatments. I was tired of trying to “figure this out.” I took off my doctor’s hat and even stopped “trying to be a good Course student.” I simply had no energy to “fix” or “change” anything. I just wanted to be at peace—even if there was a pain.
Arriving at the miracle
I recall waking up one morning with a sense of anticipation that I had somehow broken through some deeply held beliefs surrounding illness, pain, the body, sickness, medicine, and healing. I felt inspired to get up earlier than usual, so I could sit in quiet before getting busy with my son and the chores of the day. I still felt some pain, so I did whatever I felt I needed in terms of positioning myself, so I could sit comfortably. I also took pain medications that seemed to help.
As I deeply surrendered to the moment, slowly I saw that the pain was apart from me. I was experiencing pain, yet I was not in this pain. I could feel a distinct Presence within me that was completely pain-free and was simply watching this experience of pain. And between this Presence and this experience of pain was simply Love. I was not to push the pain away or try to fix it. I was to just allow myself and this pain to receive Love. The pain had been a call for Love all along. And caring for myself through whatever means—rest, food, medicine, and so forth—were simply different forms to answer that call.
I heard my Inner Wisdom saying to me gently:
There is nothing else to do. Nowhere else to go. Nothing to make happen. Just be here. Just be here right now, right here. Just receive this Love. Just allow yourself to be bathed in this ocean of Love.
Somehow, I arrived at a moment when all sense of blame, shame, guilt, and judgment simply fell away. I felt an incredible sense of peace and love flood through me. In retrospect, I came to what the Course calls a holy instant.
“In the holy instant, it is understood that the past is gone… The stillness and the peace of now enfold you in perfect gentleness. Everything is gone except the truth.”
If I could describe it now, it felt like I had been led by my Inner Wisdom on an inward journey to the center of my mind:
~below the level of perception (an experience of physical pain in the body)
~below the realm of emotions (fear about the pain and why it was not getting better)
~below the realm of thoughts and beliefs about the pain (what I needed to do, what would happen, what had caused this pain)
Out of the past and future. To the place of Now. Right to the center—to desire. To the place where I was free to choose again. And I chose peace, regardless of the body’s condition.
Over the next few weeks, my experience of pain slowly disappeared. It was gone! Never to return.
So, what happened?
In the holy instant, which is the abode of miracles, all my past stories and grievances about the pain were simply erased. These stories included my experience with the pain, all I had done to heal the pain, all those who had tried but were unable to help me, and so on and so forth. It felt like deleting an old outdated cumbersome program from a computer that is taking a ton of space yet is no longer helpful. And with this past suddenly deleted, there was a rush of fresh energy and space for a whole new way to perceive.
Principle 13 of the principles of miracles section describes my experience perfectly:
Miracles are both beginnings and endings, and so they alter the temporal order. They are always affirmations of rebirth, which seem to go back but really go forward. They undo the past in the present and thus release the future.
It was completely counterintuitive. When I took my mind off the pain, it slowly disappeared. All my training thus far had been completely the opposite: to analyze, dissect, and examine all symptoms of the body, including pain, from every possible angle. Usually, this meant studying the past to heal in the now. Yet the miracle doesn’t exist in the past or the future. The miracle exists in the now. It allows a radical shift in awareness where we join with “what is” from a state of pure acceptance. No clinging, no pushing away. In this miracle of surrender, I discovered the healing that had eluded me for years.