Q #95: I have become more and more confused about life and how to function. Although I have gone through periods like this before, this one has lasted a long time and is quite unsettling. It goes along with knowing that no fantasy or things I hoped for in the world will work to bring happiness. I don't know what I want anymore and have found it hard to know how to be in relationships, my job, making decisions, practicing A Course in Miracles, etc. There is fear involved in this state. I know this is part of the process and perhaps part of letting go of images of myself and what I think is true and an ego ploy to keep me in conflict. Could you please comment on working through this unsettled state and still trying to be normal in the world? Thank you.
A. Yes, more often than not, the state you describe is a normal part of the process of undoing our mistaken beliefs about ourselves and the world, and in that sense it is positive. In a way, it is not unlike the pain and disorientation of going through withdrawal from an addiction. We have indeed been addicted to our special identities as individuals, and so we can expect considerable discomfort when we make progress in "dislodging [y]our mind from its fixed position here, as Jesus says. But he assures us that "this will not leave you homeless and without a frame of reference. The period of disorientation, which precedes the actual transition, is far shorter than the time it took to fix your mind so firmly on illusions" (T.16.VI.8:3,4,5). This takes a lot of faith and trust. In the manual for teachers, as you probably know, Jesus talks about the stages in the development of trust, describing the fifth stage in particular as a "period of unsettling" (M.4.I.A), which may go on for a while.
What can be helpful when going through this is to shift the frame of reference for your day-to-day living. Instead of the usual way of thinking about what you want in life and what the world has to offer you, you can approach the circumstances of your daily life as a classroom in which you are going to learn more about undoing what separates you from love. You then can become motivated by a desire to see shared interests instead of separate, competing interests, for example. In other words, what you want is what would shift, （what you want is what you are going to shift）as Lesson 129 tells us, "Beyond this world there is a world I want" (W.pI.129). You can become a happy learner (T.14.II) eager to learn more about forgiveness and what you are doing and thinking that keeps you feeling separate from the people in your life, because you know that all of that is just a cover for the love that unites you with Jesus and with everyone in your life. Each day then can be seen as an opportunity to recognize more of the ways in which you keep love hidden: you must become aware of what you are choosing before you can choose against it. The focus of your day, in other words, would be the learning that takes place in your mind, and your joy would come more from your experiencing yourself and everyone else as sharing a common journey, rather than from an ego focus and the ego’s version of joy, which is always getting our needs met at someone else’s expense.
This can be done while at the same time focusing on your job and whatever other responsibilities you have in your life. It is like a split consciousness: part of you carries out your responsibilities with care and conscientiousness, and part of you views all of these interactions as a classroom, in which Jesus or the Holy Spirit teaches you how to undo the separation that you have made real and continue to make real. Rather than being discouraged and listless, therefore, you can use this time as an opportunity to shift the whole focus of your life in a way that you have not yet done. All of your practice with the Course has led you to this point, where a new level of functioning and relating is opening up.
Many times, this shift of focus can actually make functioning on an everyday level easier, because you no longer are thinking along the line of "what’s in it for me?" which inevitably results in a great deal of tension and conflict. There is tremendous fear of making this shift, as you say, because the only self you recognize and identify with is fading in importance, and the self that is replacing it is not yet fully apparent to you. Trust in the process is extremely important at this stage, as is gentleness, and giving yourself permission to set the whole thing aside for a while if that would give you a sense of relief. At the very least, you can be assured that you are not going through this alone. At least intellectually you know that within your mind is the reflection of Heaven’s Love, supporting you each step along the way.
Finally, it should not be overlooked that sometimes psychotherapy or some other form of professional intervention can be helpful in getting through a difficult period. It is never wrong, as we go along in our process, to avail ourselves of the help of a kind and compassionate therapist, and in many cases it can speed things along. It might also serve the purpose of helping us avoid the mistake of skipping steps in our process.