[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
You have probably heard the term “level confusion,” but I’m guessing that you would have difficulty in telling me what it is. The vast majority of Course students, in fact, seem to be confused about level confusion. This article will hopefully serve to clear that up, at least for those who read it.
Level confusion is a term that occurs only in the first two chapters of the Text (see especially T-2.IV.2-3, 2.V.1, and 2.VI.1-4), which means that everyone encounters it almost as soon as they open the book. It also means that, as a term, it does not have relevance beyond those beginning chapters. The ideas behind the term, however, definitely do.
Most students I’ve asked seem to think that level confusion refers to confusing Level One and Level Two as taught by Ken Wapnick. In this teaching, Level One is the level of Heaven or knowledge, and Level Two is the level of perception (both false perception and true perception). This, however, is Ken’s own terminology and has nothing to do with the Course’s use of the term “level confusion.”
Instead, level confusion concerns the Course’s own version of the familiar triad of body, mind, and spirit; those are the three levels referred to by the term. As conventionally understood, body, mind, and spirit are three aspects of a unified whole. And that whole can only be truly healthy if all three levels are healthy. Problems on one level will invariably affect the whole system. Therefore, we need to keep the body healthy, the mind healthy, and the spirit healthy. What could seem more sensible or wise?
From the Course’s standpoint, however, that viewpoint is an example of level confusion. Let’s look at how the Course sees the levels:
Spirit is already perfect. This perfection cannot be changed in any way. Nothing can go wrong on this level.
Mind: The mind does make mistakes, which are errors in thinking and perception. These errors seem to adversely affect all three levels. They seem to make the spirit impure, make the mind sinful, and make the body sick. But those errors have no real effect and therefore have not actually occurred.
Body: The body seems to go wrong on its own initiative, in two ways. First, it seems to get sick on its own–meaning, it gets sick for purely physical reasons. Second, it seems to motivate behavior on its own, through its drives, instincts, and reflexes. However, the whole body is nothing more than a symptom, a symptom of the mind. The body, along with its various problems, is a projection of the mind, and projections cannot introduce their own errors.
This has very practical implications. Quite simply, it tells us what to fix. It says that the only thing we need to fix is the mind’s mistaken thinking. If we do that, then the body’s errors—its sicknesses and misbehaviors—will automatically be corrected, and the spirit never needed fixing in the first place.
Let’s look at this more closely. If we have a health problem, the Course does say that it’s perfectly all right to take medicine. It adds, however, that medicine deals only with the symptom level. Therefore, “the cause remains, and will not lack effects” S-3.II.1:5). Healing the sickness by healing the cause—our mistaken thinking—is simply more practical. Likewise, when we have a behavior problem, the solution is not to merely force our behavior to change. The Course calls that “controlling the outcome of misthought” (T-2.VI.3:1). Instead, it says, “You must change your mind, not your behavior” (T-2.VI.3:4). Once you do that, the behavior will automatically change. Of course, just as with the bodily illness, you might want to work on the behavior directly as well, but in doing so you need to realize that you are dealing with the symptom, not the cause.
How do we change the cause, the thinking? The whole Course is about that. However, an important part of changing our mind is the realization that the mind’s errors haven’t done any real damage. They didn’t harm the spirit because it can’t be changed. They did hurt the body, but the body is not real; it’s just a shadow of the mind. So again, the mind’s errors didn’t do any real damage. Think how much easier it is to free yourself from thoughts that you recognize had no real effect, as opposed to thoughts that you believe caused permanent damage and therefore should go on your permanent record.
So, then, what is level confusion? The Course defines it as “the belief that what is amiss on one level can adversely affect another” (T-2.IV.2:2). Combine this with the idea that the mind is the only level on which things go amiss, and you get the notion that the mind’s mistakes cannot spill over onto other levels and become problems that need fixing there. The mind, therefore, is the only level that needs correcting. When you think the spirit or the body need their own correcting, you are confusing the levels.