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Derek Best has contributed to several publications, including Macleans Magazine Canada, and Omni Magazine, USA. He is has also produced many documentary films for Television. For many years, he has been interested in A Course in Miracles, a metaphysical thought system, and maintains the official website for that organization. "ACIM", he says "is central to my personal way of seeing the world." This site is strictly personal however. Derek has an eclectic range of interests, and writes about them here as the mood strikes him.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How do we know when to say no?

This opinion was kindly written and contributed by "Marian," and is very timely and appropriate to the present discussion. Marian and I have known each other via mutual internet blogs for a couple of years (and yet she still talks to me!!) We are both students of ACIM, so I asked her to guest-write for me. You can visit her blog here. Feel free to leave comments here for her if you like.

There's a Simpsons episode in which Old Gil, the sublime, hapless, unemployed victim, insinuates himself into living with the Simpsons, mainly because empathic, soft-hearted Marge can't say no. Days, weeks, months fly by and he's still there. Marge swears every day that she's going to throw the bum out (he's not a good house guest, obviously) but chickens out. Finally at the end of nearly a year, she reaches her last straw, storms into the house ready to throw him out, and discovers that he's already gone.

"But I have a big 'NO' inside of me waiting to get out!" she says. At this moment, Homer walks into the room dangling a thousand-dollar bill from his fingers and says, "Hey Marge, want a thousand dollars?" And of course, she yells, "NOOOOOOO!" And he takes his lighter out and incinerates it before she can say, "Wait! I mean YES!"

Why are we so confused as to how to respond to people whom we believe are less fortunate than we are? Is it possible to see someone as a victim if we ourselves don't feel like victims? And if we can clearly see the ways in which the pained person has chosen his or her fateÑthen what constitutes help? What is kindness?

Let's start here, from A Course in Miracles:
"The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. No matter what the form of the attack, this is still true. Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream." T.27.VII.10.1-6

And here, from Jane Roberts/Seth, The Nature of Personal Reality:
"Again, if you are ill you may say, "I did not want to be sick," or if you are poor, "I did not want to be poor," or if you are unloved, "I did not want to be lonely." Yet for your own reasons you began to believe in illness more than health, in poverty more than abundance, in loneliness rather than affection."

Even if we accept these messages as true, which I do, we must still admit that telling someone who is in pain, or who has just lost everything, or who is grieving, that he is doing this to himself, is not kind. Nor would it be kind to say that this is all just a bad dream. Using the movie analogy, if there is a fire in the projector, we will see the fire on the screen. In this life, when we are burning with guilt and confusion in our minds (the projector) we experience the fire on the screen of life -- the projection.

Is it ever correct to throw water on the projected fire? Can using magic to alter the illusion ever quench the fire in the projector? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends upon how willing the person is to change their mind. But the real question is, how do we access that knowing? How do we know if we are actually helping, or just being a nuisance and making the overall situation worse in the long run? When are we acting just to appease our own delusional guilt, and when are we actually helping?

We can only help someone at the level at which they are willing and able to accept help in this very moment. In future moments, they may receive something deeper from the gesture we make today, but right now, we can only pour our help into the shape of their receptacle. Knowing whether it is our business to do the pouring is a matter of the heart, not the mind. Within the framework of this dream we call life, we run into trouble when we begin to make intellectual decisions about whom we should or should not help. Thought, which is both the existence and the vehicle of the ego, is not the place to look for advice on this matter.

If the suffering person's help-receptacle has a leak, then we will be pouring that same form of help into it until we are exhausted, or until they are willing and able to patch the leak. Sometimes, as in the case of Mark, the leak is an addiction to a certain type of ego sensation. Sometimes, as in the case of aid money to Africa, the leak is corruption on the part of the distribution officials -- an addiction on the part of many people to a certain type of ego sensation.

As is the case with all decisions, because we are so messed up in the judgment department, it is imperative to get quiet, go silent in the mind if only for a moment (in the case of a panhandler) or for a longer period (in the case of a longer involvement) and ask for help in seeing clearly. Are we helping because we ourselves are suffering, and so we have an increased projection of suffering upon the people in our lives? Are we hoping that by helping someone else we will alleviate our own inner guilt and purchase our own salvation? Are we simply afraid to say no? Do we have a belief that it is wrong to say no, and a fear of repercussions if we do?

As any parent will tell you, there is tremendous relief to be had in throwing money and material goods at a nagging problem to make it go away. But in many cases, the resistance to saying no to someone else's demands is exactly the same as our inner resistance to saying no to our own ego. We are terrified of that feeling of emptiness when a demand is made. We aren't hungry, yet the ego demands food. We have things to do, yet the ego demands the oblivion of television or the internet. We know we should remain silent, yet the ego demands that we speak. We know we shouldn't give our child what she is asking for in the store, but the ego is terrified of the disapproval of our fellow shoppers when the child throws a tantrum. If we are afraid to stop our habitual responses and say no to the ego, we will be afraid to say no to another person. We will not truly understand the constructive and loving importance of sometimes saying no.

The ego IS fear. And if we are tempted to say no to someone when they are asking for something, we will always experience a flash of fear. So how do we tell the difference between this type of situation and plain old selfishness? Doesn't the Course tell us that if our brothers ask us for something "outrageous" we should do it because it does not matter? That we should do it because otherwise our opposition establishes the dream as real?

The answer is probably this: if we would feel fine about saying 'no,' then we'll be able to say 'yes' appropriately. In order to make a correct decision about anything in life, we have to have access to a complete palette of responses. If some of the responses are cordoned off by fear, or its handmaidens of political or religious dogma or intellectual philosophy, then we cannot act correctly. So in this case, if we are afraid to say no, (or yes), we are prejudging the situation and throwing the election -- no matter what it seems the Holy Spirit may be saying. We are deciding on the answer before we even ask the question.

So where is forgiveness in all of this? Forgiveness means we overlook our opinions about the nature of reality. We release ourselves from any concepts and beliefs we have about what is happening in front of our eyes. We accept it and respect it, without demanding that if be other than what it is -- without demanding that it be different. So when someone is impoverished, our first thought is not a knee-jerk reaction that says "this should not be happening." Our first thought is not "how can I change this?". We should not automatically assume that anything needs to change.

I'm not saying, of course, that if you see a child running into the street in front of a car you should not do the automatic and loving thing. But what I am saying is that even if a person seems to be experiencing a life of great hardship, we need to have ultimate respect for their choice of lessons, before we decide that we should intervene. It's not a decision, again, that should be made from a religion, a philosophy, or a dogma. It's a decision that is made in the present moment, from a position of silent receptivity to the part of ourselves that can see what we cannot.

There are people in this world who have a hotline to their Source, and who can help without becoming a nuisance. For the rest of us, I think it's important to learn to get our preconceptions out of the way first, before we try to help someone -- preconceptions not only about what help would look like, but about whether or not help is appropriate in the first place.

Here's one last quote. This is from Eva Pierrakos, channeling "The Guide," Lesson 175, Consciousness
"Since the possibilities are endless, infinite, and limitless, the consciousness can explore itself also by confining itself, by fragmenting itself off -- to "see what happens," as it were. It experiences itself: instead of expanding more, it contracts, instead of unfolding, it tries out how it feels to draw in; instead of exploring further lights, it wants to see how it is to feel and experience darkness. Creating is fascination per se. This fascination is not eliminated simply because what is created is -- first perhaps only by slight degrees -- less pleasurable or blissful or brilliant. Even in that may lie a special fascination and adventure -- just to tentatively try, if I may use these very limited words.
Then it begins to take on a power of its own. For everything that is created has energy invested in it and this energy is self-perpetuating. It takes on its own momentum. The consciousness who has created these channels and pathways may experiment longer and more than it is "safe" because it no longer leaves itself enough power at the moment to reverse the course. It may get lost in its own momentum, unwilling to stop, and later it no longer sees how to stop on this course. Creation then takes place entirely, or primarily, on a negative scale, until the results are so unpleasant that it seeks to get a hold of itself and counteract the momentum by "recalling" its real knowledge of what could be.
At any rate, it knows there is no real danger, for whatever suffering you human beings feel, it truly is illusory in the ultimate sense. Once you find your true identity within, you will know it. It is all a play, a fascination, an experiment, from which your real state of being can be recaptured, if only you will truly try."


Blogger Simon said...

Hi Derek!

Marian, like your voice on your own site, it is your stellar use of analogy that really helps drive your points home and communicate what you are trying to express through the poor medium of words. I really do think you do a fabulous job of that.

I know that one of my own short-comings is making intellectual decisions where the mind has no place to interfere. Whether you choose to call it gut instinct, or an inner voice, or a matter of the heart, I often ignore or suppress that impetus in favour of the more familiar mind that makes all the rest of my decisions for me. Always relying on the old fall-back, you know? No matter how right it may feel to do something different, or how wrong to continue in one's old ways, the thought of change induces fear, which is then ego, which tries its damnedest to steer where it wants.

As in your own post of today, a wee bit of inner silence (or a great glop of it, depending) is really called for to suss out the correct action. Or inaction.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Jack B. said...

I have been reading this column a while & something seems a bit self-justifying. Maybe thats the wrong word but there's a lot of complicated talk here about a response that any New-Yorker would think is second-nature ; "Don't get involved." I feel like there's only 2 clear possibiities ; 1. Every man for himself, or 2. All for one and one for all. When we start dissecting the great gray middle ground we are really in the field of ethics, which is an area of endless and futile debate. These types of opinion seem to just find "spiritual" ways to gussy up the old trolley question that drove us all nuts in first year ethics. I'll put a link here but I don't know if this blogsite can show links Trolley Question
Jack B. Boston U.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

In response to Jack I don't think the Course tries to "gussy up" ethics. Ethics is about behavior and the Course avoids all issues of behavior and operates at a much more profound level. Ethics is not the solution to the problem, it IS the problem. According to the Course there is no satisfactory solution to our "problems" because we don't really have any problems. We just think we do: and THATs the problem. Sandra.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous marian said...

hi jack, I can see where you are coming from, but I think if you reread what I wrote you may see that it's not so much that I'm saying "don't get involved." I'm saying that there are times when what we do in the name of helping someone is questionable, not only in terms of our hidden motives, but in terms of whether we are actually doing anything that is truly of help.

So I'm just saying that it's important to be more mindful, and not react with a knee-jerk philosophical or emotional formula, and instead to take the time to get quiet and see, because it IS one for all, whether what we are doing is correct.

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

I think I do see where you are coming from but I just accuse you and others who rationalize standing back and not helping others of being inconsistent. For all the high spiritual psychobabble I hear about "teaching people to fish" instead of giving them fish I've yet to see it applied consistently. That means if it was your son or daughter who was in that desperate position you would have the same attitude and say - wait a minute my love - let me pause here and get in touch with my inner self and see if it is really the best thing I can do for you in the long run. Heck no, you'd drop everything, call 911, whatever it took to get the kid home and warm and dry safe... even if the "kid" was 20 years old. I don't say there's anything wrong with that but I do say there are obviously other stronger more "human" mechanisms that affect our actions. There's no ethical or spiritual standard that seems to matter when the stuff hits the fan. This is what causes all the neuroses and the angst in people who believe in holding back from helping those in need. We know we can only do it selectively so at heart we know it's bullshit. Jack B.

10:48 PM  
Blogger will said...

This discussion has really made me think. Great stuff. What makes the Course so difficult to get your mind around is there is only Forgiveness. The rest is ego. There is no gradient of who to help or who not to. When I read about Jesus I think if he saw his mother or a leper on the street it was all the same to him. No more weight with one than the other. He was doing Forgiveness. This is the first time I've ever thought about it in those terms. I wonder if he even thought about 'helping others' in the way we are talking about it.

12:47 AM  
Anonymous marian said...

Hey, jack. I still think we're agreeing more than disagreeing. As the mother of a 20-year-old son, of course I would drop everything, etc. And I do, often, in other circumstances as well. I'm talking more about "helping" that is the result of some kind of guilt, or fear, or desire for something in return, be it salvation, or relief of one's own guilt, or recognition of some sort. I would never hold back if I have a heartfelt desire to help. I'm talking about the times when the desire to help has nothing to do with the heart, and more to do with the ego. Anyway, thanks for commenting...

7:34 AM  
Anonymous marian said...

will -- thanks, good point. Of course, we would not be here, were we only able to "do forgiveness." We're here because we are still choosing to do otherwise.

Sandra -- right. But I think the concept of "having no problems" is one that we come to only after some pretty deep study, and it's a difficult one to grasp for someone who isn't familiar with the Course or its language. Rather than a deep and abiding truth, it just sounds like a rationalization.

7:49 AM  
Blogger will said...

Marian, When I had this 'Aha' experience last night I was thinking of Jesus on his human level, doing (being)Forgiveness; like you and I, here and now. Trying to get inside his head so to speak. If you do that using ACIM as his reference, how he lived his principles, it's pretty intense. He probably never thought about helping others in the sense we are so concerned with. Probably not much of a humanitarian either. When he saw the sick and dying it may have held little or no interest to him whatsoever. You can see why the bar is set so high. It has nothing to do with what we see as appropriate behavior or thinking. If you see him as asking us to do that you can see why it is so frightening.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Sandra said...

Thats right Marian, its a deep and abiding truth. Just how much "study" is needed to reach it is debatable. Do you see it as your calling to always talk to a beginners level? Theres nothing wrong with that but one reason I like Dereks blog is; he doesn't pander. Sandra.

12:04 PM  
Blogger will said...

I have to laugh. I feel like Marge Simpson with a big YES inside.

Jesus isn't asking us to love one another in the way we are talking about here, He is asking us not to.

Just have to write this stuff down while it's rolling around inside my head.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Derek said...

Sounds like you are definitely on the right track.

12:29 PM  
Blogger TOR Hershman said...

You should watch moi's YouTube film/research
"The Origin of Jesus Chirst."
[Spoiler - Ovid did it]

12:40 PM  
Blogger will said...

I'm still ruminating...

Think of a Jesus finding it almost intolerable to be around the sick, the dying, the lame and blind, the poor and homeless, seeing it all as a manifestation of the hated ego.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous marian said...

will, I think it's likely that Jesus probably didn't indulge in hatred or intolerance of the ego or its manifestations. He wouldn't really see it as threatening to his own peace in any way, would he?

2:54 PM  
Blogger will said...


Help me out here, help me walk through this. What adjectives would you use instead of intolerable and hated?

4:43 PM  
Blogger will said...


I have to say as I sit here thinking about it, that the way Jesus describes the ego in ACIM, hated and intolerable seem right on the mark. I am reluctant to back down.

Good coffee at my house today. Strong!

4:52 PM  
Anonymous marian said...

Will, I can tell you're drinking good coffee!

Here's the thing. When we attack the ego, we become the ego, because only the ego attacks.

So although he wants us to understand that listening to the ego is not in our best interests, if we wish to awaken, and although he uses strong language to get us to realize this, he also wants us to simply SEE this fact, without having an emotional reaction that ropes us back into attack mode. He simply wants us to be mindful enough make a different choice.

Does that help? It's like you can take your hand off a hot stove without cursing the stove, because really, you are the one who chose to put your hand on there in the first place.

So when we attack or indulge in hatred or blame, we make the dream real. We project our own delusional guilt outside ourselves, so we don't have to experience it internally. This applies to the body, to the ego, to anything that is perceived as "not self."

6:17 PM  
Blogger will said...

I think your missing a great opportunity to stretch and grow here but it has been fun and I've enjoyed reading your piece and visiting. Thank you. Maybe Derek will call in some others to write and we can roast them too!


8:10 PM  
Blogger Aileen said...

WOW! I feel as if I'm late for a party......Like you say on the post, Marian, I think the key in deciding whether to help or not, is to get the ego out of the way. Once we’ve identified what’s in it for the ego, and we let it go, (this could only take a second) it’s automatic that the most appropriate and loving response will surface out of our right mind. This response will take into consideration all the history and particular details of the situation, without our even being aware of them. As the Song of Prayer Pamphlet says on p2: “God answers only for eternity. But still all little answers are contained in this.”

8:00 PM  


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