This article was written by Allen Watson
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
This article is a commentary on the first two paragraphs of T-29.IV, “Dream Roles.” All references are from that section unless otherwise indicated.
When Jesus asks us, “Do you believe that truth can be but some illusions?” (1:1), he is really asking us to consider how we desire to hold on to certain of our dreams and make them come true. We do this constantly, and quite unconsciously, with all kinds of things in this world, but most especially with our special relationships.
Perhaps we have arrived at the point where we can see that most of this world is illusory. Perhaps we have understood that the “sins” we imagined we saw in our brothers and sisters are actually the projection of our own minds. And yet we still hold on to certain of our illusions, illusions we think of as “positive” ones. Whether we realize it or not, all of us have searched—and most of us are still searching—for something in this world, something we believe we need, something that will complete us and make us happy. As it says quite clearly in section VII of this chapter, “Seek Not Outside Yourself,” the very fact that we are here in this world proves that we do seek for something outside ourselves. Seeking is why we came here:
No one who comes here but must still have hope, some lingering illusion, or some dream that there is something outside of himself that will bring happiness and peace to him. If everything is in him this cannot be so. And therefore by his coming, he denies the truth about himself, and seeks for something more than everything, as if a part of it were separated off and found where all the rest of it is not. This is the purpose he bestows upon the body; that it seek for what he lacks, and give him what would make himself complete. (T-29.VII.2:1–4)
When we are engaged in the search to make our dreams come true, looking for something outside ourselves that will really complete us, we inevitably end up projecting our expectations onto the people we relate to. This is the topic of discussion in this section, “Dream Roles.” We are not talking about projecting guilt here, at least not initially. We are talking about projecting onto other people a certain role we expect them to play in our lives, a role we think we need to make us happy. “If you will do X or become Y, then I can be happy.” The roles we assign to people in our dreams prevent us from seeing them as they really are.
Illusions are dreams for the very reason that “they are not true” (1:2). You cannot make dreams come true. Being false is what makes them dreams.
Their equal lack of truth becomes the basis for the miracle, which means that you have understood that dreams are dreams, and that escape depends, not on the dream, but only on awaking. Could it be that some dreams are kept, and others wakened from? The choice is not between which dreams to keep, but only if you want to live in dreams or to awaken from them. (1:3-5)
“Dreams are dreams”: That’s the lesson. We can’t hold on to some dreams and let the others go; the choice isn’t between good and bad dreams, the choice is between dreaming and waking up. If we want to wake up, we have to be prepared to let go of what we think of as “positive” dreams as well as the frightening ones. We can’t be delivered from our pain while still holding on to our earthly pleasures. Speaking of bodily pain and pleasure, the Course teaches that “It is impossible to seek for pleasure through the body and not find pain” (T-19.IV(B).12:1). “While you believe that it can give you pleasure, you will also believe that it can bring you pain” (T-19.IV(A).17:11). Pain and pleasure are equally unreal. Both serve a single purpose: to make the illusion of the body seem real (T-27.VI.1:4, 7).
What is true of the body can be applied to everything in this world. We made the entire world to lend reality to the illusion of separation. It is a mistake to think that the world’s pleasures are any more real or more desirable than the world’s pains:
There is a tendency to think the world can offer consolation and escape from problems that its purpose is to keep. Why should this be? Because it is a place where choice among illusions seems to be the only choice. (T-31.IV.1:1–3)
When we believe that something in this world offers us consolation and hope, we are mistaken. We have been deceived into thinking there is a choice between illusions, and that one illusion is better than another. The Course advises us:
Learn now, without despair, there is no hope of answer in the world. But do not judge the lesson that is but begun with this. Seek not another signpost in the world that seems to point to still another road. No longer look for hope where there is none. (T-31.IV.4:3–6)
“Dreams are dreams.” What we are being asked to learn is a very, very hard lesson. We are being asked to give up our dreams, to give up all hope of finding consolation and hope in this world. We are being asked to give up, not just our illusions of despair, but our illusions of hope as well. The choice isn’t between which illusions we want to keep. The choice is, “Do I want to go on dreaming, or wake up?”
Thus it is the miracle does not select some dreams to leave untouched by its beneficence. You cannot dream some dreams and wake from some, for you are either sleeping or awake. And dreaming goes with only one of these. (1:6–8)
This course attempts to teach no more than that the power of decision cannot lie in choosing different forms of what is still the same illusion and the same mistake. (T-31.IV.8:3)
You can’t select which of your dreams you want the miracle to heal, and which you want to keep. You have to give up your dreams of pleasure if you want to be rid of your dreams of pain. You can’t wake from some dreams and go on dreaming others; you are either asleep or awake.
What are we talking about here? What are the dreams we would like the miracle to leave untouched? I can tell you what one was for me, and perhaps that will help you see the dreams you are still holding on to. There was a point in my life when I was in a wonderful relationship with a woman I loved. We were not married, and she kept saying she didn’t think we were supposed to marry. I know now that she was right, but then I wanted to get married, very much. I felt that being married to her would make me supremely happy. One day, the Holy Spirit confronted me with that awful question: “Do you prefer that you be right or happy?” Did you ever realize that question comes in the context of a discussion, not about getting the better of an argument, but about seeking for happiness outside yourself?
Seek not outside yourself. For all your pain comes simply from a futile search for what you want, insisting where it must be found. What if it is not there? Do you prefer that you be right or happy? (T-29.VII.1:6–9)
I was vainly searching for my happiness in that relationship, insisting that my happiness must lie in having the relationship in the form I wanted: marriage. And Jesus said to me, “What if it is not there? Do you prefer that you be right or happy?”
And I found myself saying, very clearly, “I want to be right.” I did not want him to let the miracle apply to that particular dream. I did not want to give up my hope of marrying her. It took me years to give it up. I went through untold pain, and why? Because I insisted that I knew what would make me happy, because I cast that woman in a certain role in my life, and she didn’t want to play the role. I didn’t want to let go of my decision about the role she was supposed to play in my happiness. I learned the hard way that if you hold on to your dreams of pleasure, you buy pain as part of the package.
The dreams you think you like would hold you back as much as those in which the fear is seen. For every dream is but a dream of fear, no matter what the form it seems to take. (2:1-2)
We’re talking about the dreams we think we like. My example was of a dream that was never fulfilled, but since the Course views all our experience in this world as a dream, this obviously must include dreams that are fulfilled as well. Suppose my friend had honored my desire to marry, and that we had married. And that it seemed to work. That fulfilled dream, Jesus is saying, would have held me back just as much as another version of the dream, one in which, perhaps, I was filled with fear over losing her because she had an affair.
Take another example. Suppose you are seriously sick, so that you experience fear about what will happen to you. That is only a dream. But so is perfect bodily health—only a dream. “[God’s teachers] recognize that to behold a dream figure as sick and separate is no more real than to regard it as healthy and beautiful” (M-12.6:9). Both are dreams. Both can hold you back in spiritual growth. Neither one is what you are looking for. It does not matter whether you dream of a need that is not fulfilled, or of a need that is fulfilled. Both are dreams that you have a need—that you lack something—and that is what will hurt you. It fosters the belief that you need something in this world.
Each thing you value here is but a chain that binds you to the world, and it will serve no other end but this. (W-pI.128.2:1)
When you strive for anything in this world in the belief that it will bring you peace, you are belittling yourself and blinding yourself to glory. (T-15.III.1:6)
We may wish that the Course did not discomfort us by pointing out the rottenness at the core of our dreams. Jesus seems to be raining on our parade, doesn’t he? He is telling us that it makes no difference whether the dream is something you don’t like or something you like. All dreams are made of fear, and nothing but fear (2:5-6; 3:3). Hold on to a dream and you hold on to your fear. Fear is the ego’s purpose, whatever the form the dream takes.
It seems like a cruel message. Yet in reality the message is a kind one. What sort of friend would Jesus be if he let us continue to believe in our dreams when he knows they are all rotten at the core?
The miracle were treacherous indeed if it allowed you still to be afraid because you did not recognize the fear. You would not then be willing to awake, for which the miracle prepares the way. (2:7-8)
A miracle prepares the way for waking. A miracle disillusions us. It shows us that what we believed in was just an illusion. When what you believe in isn’t real, being disillusioned is a good thing. If the miracle addressed only our painful dreams it would be treacherous. It would be allowing us to remain in fear simply because we did not recognize the fear in its disguised form, as a dream we think we like. We would not be willing to abandon our dream and wake up. Letting go of our dreams is how we escape from fear, pain, and death. As it says in 1:3, “you have understood that dreams are dreams, and that escape depends, not on the dream, but only on awaking.” To recognize that all dreams are just dreams is the doorway to awakening to reality.