In Absence from Felicity, pp. 253-258 (or 260-265 in the first edition) there is a record of a fascinating communication from Jesus to Helen and Bill. It covers five pages and is Jesus’ attempt to help Helen and Bill see the lingering effects of wrong thinking. He introduces what could be seen as a rather harsh communication with several very carefully stated qualifiers:
The following is the only detailed description which need be written down as to how error interferes with preparation. The events specifically referred to here could be any events, nor does their particular influence matter. It is the process which is to be noted here, and not its results. The kind of beliefs, and the fallacious premises involved in misthought are as well exemplified here as elsewhere. There is nothing of special interest about the events described below, except their typical nature. If this is a true course in mind-training, then the whole value of this section rests only in showing you what not to do. The more constructive emphasis is, of course, on the positive approach. Mind-watching would have prevented any of this from occurring, and will do so any time you permit it to.
What is between the lines throughout this passage is Jesus not wanting Helen and Bill to interpret this as him taking them to task, shaming them. When someone normally goes through a list of your errors, it is because they are upset at those particular errors and the consequences they had. And so, when you make similar errors again, you’ll catch it from this person again. To offset this possible impression, Jesus makes several points:
- This is the only time he is going to do this
- He is not concerned with cleaning up the consequences of these errors
- It is not about these particular errors; it is only about them as typical representatives of the errors Helen and Bill make all the time.
Later on in the discourse, Jesus will repeatedly make sure that they know he is not angry with them. All of this is just a lesson in their overall patterns of thinking, not a tirade about the particular errors they made that day.
I have attempted to map the various chains of miscreation that Jesus follows in this discourse:
Bill’s chain of miscreation while waiting for the cab
|Bill had an unprovoked reaction of irritation.||He didn’t need to allow himself this fear-producing attitude.|
|He did not pardon himself. As a result, he felt guilty and afraid.||He could have pardoned himself.|
|Having already weakened himself (with guilt and fear), he reacted with irritation to something D did.|
|As a result, he did not offer her to share his cab. He was countering her form of error with his own error.|
|This decision to not share the cab was also influenced by him wanting to get home more quickly.||“He would have gotten home much quicker if he had taken time to use time properly.”|
|He felt guilty about this and expected some form of instant karma to get him.|
|He therefore decided to atone for his errors by giving a cab away to another lady. He believed this “good deed” would take care of everything.||He should have let his belief be Christ-guided. He should have asked for guidance about what to do with the cab situation.|
|Yet this was unkind to Helen, who was cold and very late. It therefore was unconsciously calculated just to continue the chain of errors.|
|As a result, he and Helen had to wait an uncharacteristically long time for a cab.||“It was not necessary that anyone wait at all.”|
Helen’s chain of miscreation while waiting for the cab
|Helen tried to forgive Bill’s original irritation, but felt strained in doing so. Instead of entirely forgiving him, she labeled him “stupid,” and thus joined in the stupidity herself.||This was the right effort; it just didn’t quite succeed.|
|This weakened her ability to behave healingly toward Bill.|
|Under the influence of this strain, she got irritated at a girl while waiting for her cab. This girl, because of where she stood, required the door to be held open longer than usual, making Helen cold. Helen decided she was stupid and got irritated with her. By “associating with” the girl’s “stupidity,” she again joined in the stupidity herself.||Helen could have noticed that the girl was actually retarded. She could have also noticed her extreme uncertainty when she asked Helen about the bus. And she could have responded to both by building up the girl’s confidence.|
|This irritation reduced Helen’s “efficiency.”|
|Once in the cab, Helen lifted herself back up by asking Jesus if she and Bill should meet the next day to go over the recent notes.||This was the right choice.|
Bill’s misguided decision to keep and Xerox the notes
|Bill had another “good deed” in mind. He had decided on his own that he needed to keep the original copy of the notes, in order to Xerox them off for others.||He should have asked for guidance about this. Not asking resulted in “considerable and totally unnecessary planning on Bill’s part.”|
|He justified this in part by saying that he wanted to make sure that the original did not get lost or dirtied. This was discourteous to Helen, for it implied she might lose or dirty them.||It didn’t occur to him that he might lose or dirty them, which was especially possible given that he didn’t entrust them to Jesus’ care.|
|Bill also justified this decision by slightly misusing what Jesus had recently said about the notes being “useful for others.” This actually referred to “useful for Bill.” He thus failed to “utilize what was intended for him as a help for himself.”|
Helen’s lingering anger at Bill’s decision about keeping and Xeroxing the notes
|Helen got mad at Bill in the cab for him deciding that he needed to keep and Xerox the notes.|
|She tried to forgive him, but didn’t quite succeed.||Right attempt, just not enough for success.|
|Her anger at Bill resurfaced as she took notes from Jesus about the incident. This anger caused her to take poor notes, and to inject words into Jesus’ statements that made it look like Jesus was angry with Bill (when Jesus had made it so very clear in his opening paragraph that this wasn’t about shaming them).||Jesus suggested that Helen join him in praying for Bill. He said it would heal Helen’s anger at Bill and help Bill with another one of his misguided “good deeds”—some sort of bookcase, perhaps to house the notes of the Course.|
|Helen’s attempt to pray for Bill started well but ended badly, because of the lingering influence of her earlier errors, errors that occurred in the morning (it was now the evening).|
Helen’s earlier errors/Helen and Bill’s lunch plans
|Helen had enjoyed someone making fun of someone else and joined with him in laughing at her. By doing this, she was being discourteous to the woman she was laughing at (even though the woman wasn’t there). The effects of this stayed with her.||Real courtesy never laughs at someone. We should know that all God’s children are worthy of complete courtesy. We should never join with one at the expense of another. Helen could have laughed with the person she was with—at the craziness of his situation—without laughing atthe person he saw as the one to blame for that craziness.|
|Helen made lunch plans with two friends and told one of them she would call Bill to see if he wanted to go. She was probably influenced in this her belief that Bill should go. This belief was correct, but that was not the point.||Helen should have said nothing to her friend about calling Bill. She should have called him first, giving him the choice, and not putting him in the position of saying no essentially in front of everyone. Then she could have called her friend back. This would have been truly courteous to Bill.|
|When Helen asked Bill if he wanted to go to lunch, he said he didn’t want to, but felt he should. He met the invitation ungraciously, and his own ungraciousness seems to have made him feel guilty, and made him think that he needed to pay off his “sin” by going.||He should have met the invitation with graciousness and respect. Rather than meeting it ungraciously and then going, he could have met it graciously and then declined to go.|
|He tried to pay off his guilt by acting outwardly gracious, but this didn’t solve anything.|
|Because he didn’t want to be at this lunch, he felt strain—the result of the conflict between his wanting and his doing—and a desire to escape.||He could have realized there is nothing he needs or wants to escape from.|
Helen taking notes in front of her husband
|Helen was acting unkindly by taking these very notes in front of her husband, and she knew it. She knew it was an attack on him.|
|In an attempt to protect him from her attacking thoughts, she wrote his name as “Jonathan” and not “Louis”—his actual name. This was a magical attempt to keep her attacking thoughts from finding him and hurting him by giving him the wrong name—like putting the wrong address on a letter-bomb.|
The point: don’t let the chain begin
The real conclusion to this discourse comes about a page before its end:
It is very hard to get out of the chain of miscreation which can arise out of even the simplest mis-thought. To borrow one of your own phrases, “This kind of human tragedy is far easier to avert than to undo.” You must both learn not to let this kind of chain reaction start . You will not be able to control it once it has started, because everything and everyone will be pulled into the mis-projection, and misinterpreted accordingly. Nothing is lovely to the unloving. This is because they are creating ugliness.
What we see again and again in these chains is that something starts the chain off, the negative effects then linger and produce more links in the chain. Somewhere along the way, Helen and Bill try to correct the chain with some effort on their part. Either this effort is a good one which doesn’t entirely succeed, or it is an ego-based one that fails completely. The reason is explained here: once the chain starts, the unlovingness that starts it gets projected onto everyone and everything, making everyone appear unloving and everything appear ugly. If you are looking out at a situation in which everyone and everything looks threatening, then this will evoke from you the very unloving responses that started the chain rolling in the first place. And so the chain simply continues
Three different days
In reflecting on this material, I realized that it very much reflected the Course’s emphasis on having a certain kind of day. In fact, it contained three different days that we could have:
Day One: managing our world to get our will done
This is how we often think of our day. We have a pile of things to get through. We have our affairs to conduct. This is where our mind is—on getting our world managed so that our will gets done. You can certainly see this in Helen and Bill’s day. We need to catch a cab and get home, we need to get out of the cold, we need to get important papers copied, we need to arrange for storage of materials (the bookcase), we need to make lunch dates, we need to write things down (Helen taking down the notes in front of her husband). The purpose of the people in our lives is to either help all this happen or at the very least to stay out of its way. Of course, they often do get in the way, and so we get angry.
Day Two: the interpersonal dance of guilt and redemption
While we are trying to get our will done, however, there is a whole other day going on, a day which is our actual day. This is the interpersonal dance of guilt and redemption. We are having unloving thoughts about people. We are behaving inconsiderately toward them. And so we are feeling guilty and fearing the punishment that we see as our just deserts. The ill effects of these unloving thoughts and deeds linger on, hanging over us like a cloud, affecting us throughout the day. We project our guilt outward, painting the world in the dark colors of our own unlovingness. We then respond to the ugly, threatening world we see with yet more lack of love. Hence, our initial flashes of irritation or of inconsiderateness set off long “chains of miscreation” that keep going all day long. Even the tiniest misthought can set off such a chain. We try to get out of these chains. We try to do good deeds to redeem ourselves and head off the punishment we are sure is coming. But these good deeds are generally misguided, and unconsciously calculated to continue the chains. We also try to forgive and rise above our anger and resentment, but too often we are unable. The strength of the chain does not allow us to escape; it pulls us back in. Day Two, then, is the day-within-the-day, the subterranean day that we are all living in, beneath the surface day of simply trying to get through life and get things done.
Day Three: the ideal day
Running implicitly through Jesus’ entire discourse is his vision of how the day should go, a vision that is only made explicit later in the Course. First, you start your day off right. You start it off with God, tuning your mind into His peace, asking for His guidance for the day. You establish the right “set” for the day. This set starts off a whole different kind of chain. As you then go through your day, you frequently renew this set. This allows you to keep those negative chains from every getting started. That, however, is a very advanced state (see T-30.I.15). And so, where you are now, you will need to be on your toes, on the lookout for these chains of miscreation trying to start. And when one does, you sit down and apply the Course’s means for healing your mind. You do your lesson. When you go to act, you are also on your toes. You realize that this action may be one of those phony “good deeds,” designed to pay off your guilt, and so instead of just acting, you ask for guidance. The net result is that you are able to stay on top of the interpersonal dance. You keep your thoughts in a loving place, and when they become unloving, you heal them. And you keep your actions in a guided place, so that they flow from a Wisdom that has everyone’s best interests in mind. You think lovingly and you act courteously, graciously. And so you go through your day carried along on a river of peace, free of guilt, rather than being dragged along by the chains of miscreation.