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Week Intensive Part 17 – Getting Clear on Life and Death

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited to bring clarification to certain points of the dialogue and for easier readability. For this reason, it does not match the corresponding audio mp3 word-for-word. However, the overall content and the expressed ideas remain unchanged.

David: Well, today we’re going to talk about death.

Friend: That’s interesting because in that little quiet space I was thinking about why I saw Vietnam as being so tragic, but I wouldn’t have the hurt feelings and the sorrow had I not made myself and others victims of this establishment. That’s where the hurt comes from. If you can change that point of view, there’s nothing to hurt and if there’s no one who identifies with being a wounded soldier then there’s no one to feel sorry about or to feel injured as a result of someone’s actions. I have to give up that identity and attachment to that wounded soldier and just let it go on his way so to speak. That’s what it’s all about. That’s that loosening, I guess.

David: That’s a big insight to start to see…

Friend: Who is this soldier who is wounded; is that who I am?

Friend: Right, and that’s not who I am. That’s a concept or one idea of how I even like to see myself at times. But it’s of no value now because it causes me suffering and pain. It doesn’t do me any good. It just hurts me.

David: There is a song called If that a group called Bread sang in the 60’s and 70’s. The very last line of the song is, “And one by one the stars would all go out and you and I would simply fly away.” That’s the way that the song ends, and I always thought that was real beautiful.

Well, one thing that we could talk about is that Jesus describes the dream in two parts. He says there’s the dream that you dream in secret and then there’s the dreaming of the world. The dream that you dream in secret produces the dreaming of the world. Another way to describe the dreaming of the world Jesus says is it’s the dream in which you have given away the role of dreamer. In other words it’s not seen at all as a dream. The one that’s been given away, that’s part of what it means to be given away, it’s like I had no part! The mind is completely absolving itself from having any responsibility and any part in it. And when the mind believes in the secret dream and doesn’t question that and believes in the dreaming of the world it gives away the second part. Then it seems as if I was born in such and such a year with certain parents and it’s in a state where it’s constantly trying to figure the screen out. Not looking at all, not knowing that the screen is produced by the secret dream. Not even suspecting that there’s this secret dream that’s buried in the mind that remains uncovered. It reminds me a little bit of that song One Tin Soldier. The people come and they want to take over the mountain people who seem to have a secret, a buried treasure, and the mountain people send back a message, “With our brothers, we will share.” But the people want the treasure for themselves so they go and they kill the mountain people only to find the treasure and uncover it and it’s the line in the song says, “Peace on Earth” was all it said. It’s described in the Course as if when you’re asleep in this dream and you don’t know you’re dreaming, there’s this secret that your brother is hiding in his body and you believe you have to kill your brother’s body to get it. Of course it can take seemingly milder forms like irritation or yelling or screaming, but it is believed to be this secret treasure that your brother’s hiding in his body and it’s just not there. The treasure is within. The treasure is the Holy Spirit that’s reminding us of our treasure in Heaven.

But it’s really interesting if you think about that—the dream in which the role of the dreamer has been given away—because that’s where you would perceive yourself as a wounded soldier or the burdened husband or the burdened wife or the mistreated child that never had a life as good as other people and on and on and on. It seems as if the world just happens to you when there’s no sense of being the dreamer. It doesn’t seem like there’s any kind of causation or that the mind has any hand in it. Just like events just happen. Or like in the movie Forest Gump, it can really seem like you’re just a feather and if the wind decides to blow east, off you go, for miles and miles. And then if the wind blows north then you go north and if the wind swirls then you swirl. It just seems like you’re at the mercy of so many forces. I used to get the image in High School where I felt like a pinball in a pinball machine. It just seemed there were so many forces and it was like ding, ding, ding, ding! The parents: Make a good life for yourself, do well, get good grades, ding, ding, ding, ding! And then you go over here with friends and there’s peer pressure and it’s ding, ding, ding, ding! And then you have What about the draft? What about the government? Ding, ding, ding, ding! I felt like I was just bouncing around and there’s a feeling of helplessness and powerlessness—if you perceive yourself as in this world and not having caused it in any way.

So we want to see that it’s just a screen and that there’s no hope of escaping from within the screen, but the only way of escaping so to speak, is by unveiling the secret dream and Jesus at one point calls this death. He says in the Teacher’s Manual, “Death is the central dream from which all illusions stem.” M-27.1 So, what we’re going to do as we come at death today is again pull it off the screen. It seems, and in my whole life I’ve always associated death with death of bodies or things breaking down and decaying and then being inanimate. Like from being full of life and animate to being inanimate. And those are all those associations and meanings that seem to be death, but it’s defined as all within the screen. But Jesus is saying that’s not death. Death is the ego. Death is the central dream from which all these illusions stem.

Friend: So death lies not in form, but in content.

David: And, of course, it’s unreal content. It’s a fragmenting thought so really the only content and the only purpose that the mind can ever truly embrace would be the Holy Spirit’s, but it is pulling it back and recognizing all the forms in which this dream of death seems to take but withdrawing the mind from investing in it.

So I thought what we would do in exploring death is to use the Teacher’s Manual. There is a question posed to Jesus, “What is Death?” It was interesting as I was reading through this today; I started coming across this word compromise.

Friend: That also shows up in Lesson 163 where it says, “No compromise is possible.”

David: You can kind of relate this to specifics too because our friend knows someone who seems to be dying and we have to come to a clear understanding of death ourselves and unveil it in ourselves before we can be helpful in any of those situations where our brothers believe that death is of the world and of the body. Because if we’re invested in it ourselves then it’s like there will just be grief. We’ve probably all had the experience at one time or another of being with someone who’s just going through immense grief and kind of breaking down with them. It almost seems like it’s uncontrollable. It just seems so heavy and so deep and what we want to do is come to such clarity on death that we can let the Holy Spirit come through us and provide us strength and another way of looking at it without it being a phony, kind of superficial or arrogant thing. We want to be real sincere and clear. So this is really helpful for that I find.

“What is Death? Death is the central dream from which all illusions stem. Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end? We have asked this question before, but now we need to consider it more carefully. It is the one fixed, unchangeable belief of the world that all things in it are born only to die. This is regarded as ‘the way of nature,’ not to be raised to question, but to be accepted as the ‘natural’ law of life. The cyclical, the changing and unsure; the undependable and the unsteady, waxing and waning in a certain way upon a certain path,--all this is taken as the Will of God. And no one asks if a benign Creator could will this.” M-27.1

So as far as an opening paragraph you can see the whole system is going to be questioned here. He’s not going to question aspects of it; he’s saying the whole world you perceive.

Friend: We were talking about Truth and things you could be sure of, and growing up in my community we knew two things: you would stay black and you would die, and those were the two things you were sure of and nothing else, whether the sun was going to rise or whatever, but those two things you always knew. So that makes sense when it’s seen as death is the central dream from which all illusions stem. And it is the one fixed unchanged belief… And again we know that life’s a bitch and then you die. And that’s been my experience, at least that’s what’s been drilled into my head.

David: Clichés; another one is that you’ll pay taxes and that you’ll die. My math teacher in Junior High was always saying that over and over.

Friend: And it almost sounds like there was a connotation that being black was one cross to bear right off the bat, that that already put you behind.

David: There are two sides too. The other side could be the pride.

Friend: Well, it wasn’t taken in that context. It was like a curse. Death was a curse and being black was a curse and you knew those two things were inevitable in your life. So you’ve got to come up from that, attaching those identities and making them true.

Friend: My husband would say being Jewish was a curse, especially in Nazi Germany. If you didn’t die, it was a slow death in your mind.

David: Being a woman, being a second class citizen, denied the right to vote and all the different things. And it’s interesting, the ego’s cure for it is to compensate and to go the other way and develop pride in your particular separate identity as if you can compensate for it and overcome the victimhood.

Friend: But something that came good out of the holocaust I think, was Viktor Frankl. He saw that regardless of what people did to his body, they couldn’t touch his mind. He could maintain whatever he chose and he could choose his response regardless of what came at him from the screen and that’s quite inspiring. Some of this stuff that leads you to see that there are other people that understand what this stuff is about and apply it.


“In this perception of the universe as God created it, it would be impossible to think of Him as loving. For who has decreed that all things pass away, ending in dust and disappointment and despair, can but be feared. He holds your little life in his hand but by a thread, ready to break it off without regret or care, perhaps today. Or if he waits, yet is the ending certain. Who loves such a god knows not of love, because he has denied that life is real. Death has become life's symbol. His world is now a battleground, where contradiction reigns and opposites make endless war. Where there is death is peace impossible.” M-27.2

Friend: It almost sounds funny when you read it that way. People say God’s not ready for me yet, or God will take me when it’s my time. Those are just said so casually like that’s the way it is.

David: Or that life is part of death. Like it’s just the way of nature.

Friend: You can’t get out of life alive! [laughter]

David: Talk about opposites; trying to pull opposites together.

Friend: So here’s this thing that’s guaranteed in the world’s eyes and so our whole world is based on preventing it, avoiding it, delaying it, living one day at a time because Boy if this is all I have, I am going to live it to the hilt!

David: Eat, drink and be merry for one day you shall die. [laughter]

Friend: I’ll never forget when my son was in nursery school and the teacher called to ask if someone had died in my family. All the kids were eating their cookies and smiling and happy and my son was sitting there saying, “I’m going to die. You’re going to die. YOU’RE going to die.” And all these kids are eating their cookies. I told the teacher that we had talked about death very openly and my son just took it upon himself to go and share over cookie time at nursery school. [laughter]

David: Like little Buddha when he comes back and shares with his dad, “You’re going to die.”

Friend: Both my kids went through stages where they talked about it a lot. And they would bring it up casually like that. People look at little kids talking about death as if it’s weird.

David: And, of course, the kids don’t know what they’re talking about. Nor do the adults. That’s what’s so deep about this is we’re going to try to lift it and pull it back now to see it in the mind because it just doesn’t make any sense when you look at it out there on the screen.

Friend: It is important for children to realize… I work at a grief center for children and they have lost someone significant in their family and here they are and not knowing how to deal with that.

Friend: Our culture has put a heavy burden on us with this concept of death. But does the concept of death come from the culture and society or does it come from within the mind?

David: We have to go very deep otherwise we could get upset and say Why can’t I live in a more open culture?! I’m back to being a victim again!

Friend: Even a common thing that I’ve heard and I’ve said it myself is that somebody is lost. If it’s even talked about in that way I think that’s backwards too.

Friend: But that is the experience for a child.

Friend: Well, it seems to be that way, but only if they see it that way and if they’re encouraged to continue to see it that way.

Friend: That’s the whole purpose of talking about it, so that they can see it differently. They feel that there is a loss.

David: Adults too. If you go around to most adults; is there loss? Yes. Is their grief? Yes.

Friend: What I’m hearing in you is that you’ve got to help them understand. I as a person can’t make another person understand anything. But I can have the Holy Spirit come through me and give him the picture and do whatever’s necessary to do that and that’s the point.

Friend: If I don’t see it as a loss and I’m clear then I don’t have to say that to somebody else. I don’t have to say Well, you didn’t lose your husband really.

Friend: And because of that clear space and where you’re at I think there’s an understanding in that. Not maybe an understanding like fragmented, but it comes in that wholeness that right minded perception is just… you know it’s kind of an aha and not trying to understand it in a linear way.

David: And it fits in with what we were saying before about not seeing children as any different. Even thinking that the way you relate to them is any different. It gets back to right mindedness and coming to that. You can’t teach something until you get clear on it yourself no matter how you work with it. And you really don’t even want to join with someone in a false concept, like I’ll do that first and then later on I’ll turn it right side up. That’s the error of a lot of psychology where they teach Let the children develop a healthy ego, learn how to function in this world, and then at some point turn it around.

Friend: But it sounds like you’re saying that this is not good for them and that would be like saying 12 step programs are not, nothing where you come and share information or feelings is not good and I don’t see that as any different than this; that we’re doing here.

David: That would be an interpretation of what I’m saying. I would have to really take this in and be clear about it. It always comes back that “it’s always my lesson.” So, in other words, to even break it out into parts and say 12 step groups or grief work or this or that and to start judging which events and systems are more helpful or less helpful or if they’re not; that’s not what I’m saying. But I am saying that it’s always my own lesson and that I’m always teaching myself. So it’s pulling it away from a distracting kind of argument that tries to break it apart in terms of persons and groups and situations because that’s a distraction of saying Oh, gee, until I get clear about life, how can I teach life? We’ve had the discussion even with education. It seems as in this world education is a very helpful thing. There’s a lot of money that’s been put into it. There are a lot of reforms that take place. Has education ever helped change anything? Is there less war because of education? No. Is there less disease because of education? No. Is there less conflict because of education? No. Is there more peace because of education? And I was trained in education! [laughter] I was trained as a teacher/educator. I had student teachers and I was a teaching assistant and I was in graduate school before I got into psychology in teacher’s education. What I had to do is really come to see that education, as we call it in this world, is not the solution. But there is an education that I call the Holy Spirit’s curriculum that is the answer to the end of conflict, the end of war, the end of peace. And, it’s very different than the curriculum of education in this world. Robert Fulghum wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. If you follow the basic thinking of that book: treat each other with respect and clean up. He was simplifying things but there was something that really struck a chord when people read that because it was like all this learning that they learned, all this specialization and everything in later years what was the use? And for me it’s interesting to speak about this because somebody could say Well, it sounds like you’re down on education. I was in formal education for 22 years so it’s not like I haven’t really tried it. I gave it a big shot, you know!

Friend: You know, for me, I’m really questioning education. I happen to have two children who are in 2nd and 5th grade in public schools and I’m seeing what it is that they’re learning and as I look more and more closely at that I’m seeing that it doesn’t have anything to do with anything. And yet, for me, it’s not to get all worried about trying to fix the school system or yanking them out of school and putting them into an alternative school or any of that, but for me it’s coming back and saying healing has to take place in my mind. That’s the only place for me to focus my attention. That’s where the healing has to be. And then, from that place, whatever happens out here on the screen with those two people will come from that. It’ll just be a natural outpicturing of where I am with healing of my own mind. So, it’s like whenever I get worried about my children learning or being taught to conform or buying into the game of the world or building up their egos or any of that, I just have to say pull it back. This is where the healing has to take place. And I am not of any help to them at all with an unhealed mind. It wouldn’t matter if they were in the best school setting at all if I’m not at peace, if there’s conflict or confusion in my mind then I’m not going to be of any help. So that’s how I look at anything that I’m doing, anything that I’m involved in or anywhere I’m seeing that I can be of any help to others, it’s like bring it back to my mind. This is where the healing has to take place. Then if I feel guided to go and be with this group or that group or another group, then great, but it will be from a whole different place. Does that make sense?

Friend: Yes; that’s helpful.

Friend: Because then there’s nothing right or wrong or good or bad about any of these groups if they’re helpful, great, if somebody finds them of value, great. Go to it. 12 steps or food counseling or whatever it is, but for me, I have to really focus on my own healing.

David: There’s also the purpose too. I’ve always had a real kind of positive connotation with talking about feelings. Because from experience of keeping things in and repressing, there are a lot of destructive things that seem to come from those defense mechanisms. However, the positive connotation I had with talking about feelings has to be questioned too because a lot of times in teacher observations I would see the little magic circles where the children would come and start talking about their feelings and I would think Oh, that’s a wonderful thing. Or when you go to different groups whether it is AA where you go and listen to people talk about their feelings, that’s wonderful, but again, it’s what the purpose behind it is. Even in the little magic circles or in AA groups or churches and Course in Miracles groups, if it stays at just talking about the feelings, of joining in the misery, then that’s not helpful. So this goes even deeper than just the simplicity of talking about the feelings to… If they’re just commiserating, whether it’s little pre-schoolers commiserating Oh, I had that teacher do you have her too?! I hate this play doh stuff, it’s too dry! Or if it’s 12 step groups; You think you had it bad, let me tell you about my story! That again would be an ego motive. Certainly that’s sharing feelings, there’s no doubt about that, but again, what’s the intention? To really let go and let the Holy Spirit take it. Well, this is how I felt, but I’ve had this change of mind. Now, I feel like this. That’s helpful; that’s inspiring.

Friend: With AA the whole point of it is to say how it was, what happened, and how it is now and those are the basic guidelines for giving a lead. You’re always supposed to include what happened to change and where you want to go.

Friend: But the emphasis is on the fact that there has been a change.

David: And the old timers tend to not focus very much at all on how it was, they really get into the spiritual principles and how it is now.

Friend: Children are much more open to these ideas about death than an older person.

David: We were just talking about how it really seems as if children are different, but if we make those categories again, then you can come up with your different modes of dealing with things, but it really has to do with the readiness of the mind and nothing to do with the age of the body or the sex of the body or whatever.

Friend: A correction can be made at any level. But it has to be in our own mind.

Friend: I’d like to read some lines from the Course in chapter 16 on True Empathy and I think it addresses some of the things that perhaps are in your mind about dealing with children who in your perception are in fact feeling a loss.

Friend: What I experience is that when they initially come they are unable to talk about it and in the group setting hearing that other children their age have had that same experience does in fact change their perception of it.

Friend: They don’t feel like they’re the only ones in the world…

Friend: That is the purpose, is to help them realize that life will go on, they’re not alone and it appears to work.

Friend: “Do not use empathy to make the past real, and so perpetuate it.” “All you have learned of empathy is from the past.” T-16.I.3 “To empathize does not mean to join in suffering for that is what you must refuse to understand. That is the ego's interpretation of empathy, and is always used to form a special relationship in which the suffering is shared.” “The Holy Spirit does not understand suffering and would have you teach it is not understandable.” “…healing pain is not accomplished by delusional attempts to enter into it…” T-16.I.1 And I think that’s the whole point that we want to get to, to be truly helpful in that kind of situation and to bring about the healing that we want we have to not enter into the delusion of pain.

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