Defensiveness and attack start with the premise that we stole something from God, and we need to defend our “stolen property” and attack in order to keep it. What we’ve “stolen” from God is our existence as separate beings. As a result of our theft, we feel guilty. This guilt is so painful that we repress it, push it down, and keep it out of mind. But what happens when we repress? We project it outwards as anger and attack onto people, places, things, and yes, even football teams, in order to get rid of the pain. But this doesn’t work, and it doesn’t give us peace.
An excerpt from our book, Change Your Mind! Talks on Living A Course in Miracles
Do you feel defensive or defenseless? These kinds of situations come up all the time. Too often, we lose our peace when they arise. We believe we need to defend and attack. The ego wants us to blame other people for stealing our peace. We feel that they, these people or situations, took something from us. But what’s really going on is that we gave away our peace. We’re projecting the unhealed guilt in our minds onto people and situations that seem to be outside of us. We blame and complain. The ego tells us that projection will make us happy and safe. But that’s a lie.
But what happens when we ask Holy Spirit to help us see things differently? Then, no matter if I’m run off the road, if the store is out of potato chips, or if I’m late to the party, I know I’m OK. I’m safe. I know that everything is perfect because in reality, I am safe at Home with God and only dreaming of exile. I know that I’m innocent and that the people around me are innocent, too. That’s the Truth that Holy Spirit will always remind us of. That’s what the Course calls Vision. If we are looking through the eyes of the ego, we’re not really seeing. All we perceive are the projections of our own inner guilt. We “see” that this or that person is guilty of harming us and stole our peace and well-being and perhaps even our potato chips. But through the Holy Spirit’s eyes, we see the truth and loveliness of each person. We are innocent, and so are they. So – and this is key – there is nothing to defend because nothing can take away our peace. Nothing.
Does that surprise you? We can lay down our weapons of attack – our projectiles of guilt and anger – because in reality we’re the ones who give the other person, the organization, or the job, or whatever seems to be troubling us, the power to hurt us. But the truth is that nothing outside of us can hurt us because there is nothing outside of us. As Workbook Lesson 284 tells us: “I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt.” We put those thoughts there; we can change them. But instead, we choose to blame someone or something outside us for causing the hurt. Listen to what Lesson 71 says: “The ego’s plan for salvation centers around holding grievances. It maintains that, if someone else spoke or acted differently, if some external circumstance or event were changed, you would be saved [happy, at peace]. Thus the source of salvation is constantly perceived as outside yourself” (W-pI.71.2:1-3). If my ex hadn’t said those things, if he hadn’t been drinking, if he hadn’t done this or that, then I’d be happy. If he hadn’t cheated on me, we’d still be married and I’d be happy. If my boss hadn’t fired me, I’d be happy and saved. I’d be happy if I didn’t have the problems I have right now.
Do you see how it works? We’re projecting responsibility for our own peace and happiness onto people, places, and things outside ourselves. It’s not our fault. It’s his fault, or her fault. Or it’s the weather, the germs, the economy. It’s racism or sexism or ageism. It’s genetics or astrology or karma. It doesn’t matter what we blame, attack, and defend against as long as it’s something outside us. But we can see things differently. We can choose again. Holy Spirit can help us to do so. We can stop defending and attacking.
I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt.
We need to go back to content. That means looking within, going back into our minds with Holy Spirit, joining with Him and asking His guidance. We can say, “Holy Spirit, give me your perspective on this and show me what to do.” He leads us to forgiveness. But it’s really easy to confuse form with content. We can join with an employee in our mind and still fire him if he stole from our company. We can honor our child as a Son of God and still ground him for breaking curfew. Although we see no separation from our brother (content), there still may be actions we need to take (form). But when we join with Holy Spirit, we can do what needs to be done with peace and love, not with anger.
But sometimes as Course students we confuse form and content. We think, “I’m not supposed to defend or attack. I’m supposed to be defenseless. I’m supposed to forgive.” So when someone does something harmful to us in form, we slough it off. We let it keep on happening, but inside we feel resentful. We repress that resentment because we think it is “unspiritual” to confront someone or get into an argument, especially if the other person is also a Course student. So we pretend not to notice. We pretend to be all-forgiving when our spouse brings the car home with an empty gas tank again. We smile when we should really speak up or do something, and we deny ourselves and our brother a learning opportunity.
But it is OK to do things in form. It’s OK to speak up or take action, even if doing so triggers a disagreement (which the Holy Spirit can use as a learning opportunity). Maybe we’re secretly afraid of that learning opportunity. So we listen to the ego tell us to pretend and be “spiritual.” That’s one way the ego can twist our learning the Course. Remember, the ego reads the Course with us. It knows this book better than we do. The ego can use the Course for its own purposes. It can jump right in and say, “You didn’t do your Workbook lesson today. Shame on you! You didn’t do the practice every hour; shame on you. You didn’t forgive your mother; shame on you. You didn’t make nice and continue to let your sister walk all over you. You’re still sick with chronic arthritis. Shame, shame, shame! You’re a bad, bad Course student. You might as well quit.”
Yes, the ego can use the Course. It can use difficult situations in our lives to keep us stuck in the wrong mind. The ego will use anything and everything. So it can certainly use this challenging idea in Lesson 135: “If I defend myself I am attacked.” The ego can tell you that you shouldn’t defend yourself. Then it shifts and tells you that you should attack someone. You defend and you’re the victim. You attack and you’re the hero. The hero of the dream, right? The ego loves this because confusing form and content keeps us separate from our brother, whether we’re defending or attacking. In other words, the ego gets us coming and going. But Jesus is telling us to join with him and our brother on the level of mind. Then we can seek guidance from the Holy Spirit about what to do in form.