In our ACIM with MiraclesOne podcast, we have a series on the “Responsibility for Sight” section in the Text. I mention this as the topic turned to setting boundaries and the importance of such. It is a loving act we perform for ourselves as well as others. We recorded our next episode yesterday, and it will be released on Friday, February 16th to all the usual places, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and Spreaker. It will also be posted on our website.
The following is an excerpt from my 2013 book, I am Entitled to Miracles! Simple Ways to Practice the Principles in A Course in Miracles.
I have also included a link to an insightful article on the same subject although not ACIM-based from a blog called “Affirming Spirit.” Give it a read. The image is from that post.
Also, an anecdote with conversations I had with both Judy Skutch Whitson and Ken Wapnick several years ago regarding boundaries.
As an A Course in Miracles teacher for many years, I have been frequently asked about a few subjects in particular. Every day we encounter all sorts of situations where we may not be sure how to apply the Course principles. We may know the concepts, but applying them seems to be so hard at times. We become stuck or confused as to what to do. This can be especially true when we’re dealing with relationships and personal boundaries.
To help us navigate through everyday life, we need to be clear about what the Course calls “form and content.” So we’ll take a look at that important Course concept right now. By clearing away the fog about this teaching, we will be better able to deal with “real” life situations.
We have to remember that the Course is not a course in behavior. It is a course in healing our mind. That is what it’s all about. So here in the world, it is not so much about the things of the world. It is about how we think about the things of the world. That’s what this is all about.
Jesus teaches us that we are minds and not the bodies that we think we are. Once again, it goes back to: this is a course about the mind. All the healing is going to take place in the mind.
Yes, indeed, we can read this wonderful spiritual text and we can try to understand its concepts and the beautiful words, but to heal and experience the miracle, we need to take the concepts into the difficult areas of our lives where we tend to have issues and problems.
When we look at the world and healing our mind, we do not mean that we cannot set personal boundaries. Remember the ego reads the Course right along with us and knows where to strike. The ego has said to you, using your own voice in your head, “No, I’m not supposed to set personal boundaries as that would not be loving and forgiving to everyone here. They are my brothers and I should be with them all as such.”
Several years ago I had a student – I’ll call her Isabella — who contacted me about an upsetting situation in her study group. She was the facilitator and she was quite shaken by the events that led to her phone call with me.
There was a gentleman – I’ll call him Mortimer – who was preying on women in the group. His hugs would be quite sexual, and he would try to make dates with various women either during the group or afterwards. To compound things, Mortimer just so happened to be married and everyone knew that fact as his wife had attended the group meeting on occasion.
There were other bothersome behaviors besides his sexual acting out. Mortimer was quite obnoxious, loud, and dominating with his sharing. He often interrupted others, and he seemed to thrive at being the center of attention. Usually what he shared was not relevant to the discussion, as he would often talk about nudist camps or other unsavory subject matters.
To add to the mix, he was a salesperson for an herbal remedy company, and he was continually pressuring members for sales before and after the meetings. He even would mention his wares during the course of a study meeting.
Finally Isabella and the study group had enough. They agreed to ask Mortimer to please no longer attend their meetings. Isabella was the one who had the pleasure of breaking this news to him. When she told him, he was furious. He retaliated. He harassed her continually by email and by phone. Even his wife contacted Isabella to insult her.
Then Mortimer sent gifts to Isabella and all the members of the group to plead his case to be allowed to return. Everyone was disgusted, but they felt off balance. For a long time, they’d been repulsed by his behavior within the group, yet they wanted to be “good” Course students. Mortimer continued to plead his case to them and indicated that Isabella was not a prime example of a teacher as she was not practicing the Course because she would not forgive him and let him return to the group.
She called me in an utter frenzy. “What am I going to do? No one wants him to attend the meetings anymore. He is too disruptive, too crude, and too lewd. All this in addition to his trying to sell his herbal remedies at every turn! Besides that, I heard from some ladies who had attended the group in the past. They were delighted that we had asked him to leave. They wanted to come back to the group! They’d left because of him!”
She’d also heard from another ACIM leader in her city (my, how fast word got around!) and was told that they had the same problem with Mortimer a few years previously. Their solution was kind of desperate. They told him that that their study group was disbanding, but then they still met in secret without him! Everyone in the immediate geographical area knew of his reputation, and he went from spiritual group to spiritual group but no one ever told him a firm, “NO!”
“What am I supposed to do, Rev. Deb?” Isabella asked me on the phone. “He is continually calling me and begging me to let him come back. But I just don’t feel right about it in my gut. And, what about the other women, and even the men, who all feel extremely uncomfortable with him in the room? Don’t I owe them a safe and emotionally comfortable place to meet?” She sighed heavily, “But Jesus says that I am to forgive my brother. It is really hard with Mortimer.”
I understood her dilemma. I’ve led study groups for many years, and I’ve seen all sorts of characters parade through my door.
I’ll get back to the story of Mortimer and Isabella in a moment. First, let’s talk a little about what the Course says about form and content.
In the Text, in the Introduction to Chapter 21, we are told that we are not to seek to change the world but to change our minds about the world. Why is this? It is always in the mind where we need to go. It is not about changing something “out there” in form. We also do not do the correction ourselves. Let’s be clear here. It is Holy Spirit’s job to do the correction.
Here in the world, it does not matter how magnificent or repulsive something may seem to be. It does not matter if it’s something that seems helpful or unhelpful. It’s always the same. That “something” in form has the purpose of keeping us separate from God. That’s why the world was made.
And that is where the ego gets giddy because it wants us to keep seeking, right? The ego wants us to keep seeking but never finding because that is its goal. We will never find salvation or happiness in any form in the world, no matter how much we seek. We need to venture within, back to content of our mind. Only there will we find what we are searching for.
With all that being said, what does it mean for what we do in our lives, particularly with these topics?
Anything we value here in the world or think is valuable will, in the long run, hurt us. Why? Because by placing value on these things in our minds, we have denied that what we see is an illusion. Thus we have made them seem real. By doing this, we have put our salvation in form, whether that be the form of a person, a relationship, money, medication, whatever. We’re making the world real. By doing that, we’re denying the truth that the world is an illusion. Eventually, we will feel pain in some way.
So, where do we go? Back to the mind.
Are we joining with our ego or are we joining with our Source in how we think about these things?
Remember that we have to have the willingness to join with the Holy Spirit whenever anything confounds or confuses us.
So we come back to the mind — into that joining with Holy Spirit — because we cannot fix things ourselves and we cannot change our minds ourselves. We need His assistance. But with Him, we will find the solace that we seek. He will give us the peace that we long for. We do not have to keep looking outside of ourselves for solutions through fixing the world. So now what?
The experience that we have here in these bodies is what the Course calls “form.” Anything that we see or perceive is form. Form is a projection. Think about the projector in a movie theater. The projector is the mind. The film is the content in our minds. The movie on the screen is the projection of that content.
The content then, which is the film or movie (and movies always tell a story, don’t they?) in this analogy, can be either streaming from love or it can be streaming from fear. Or, in other words, we can say it is our identification with the Holy Spirit or it is our identification with the ego, either one of those.
The big question is always how to be able to tell which voice we’re choosing. How do we know what voice we’re hearing? That comes up for a lot of Course students. They ask, “How do I know the difference?”
We can ask ourselves: Is there judgment involved? Is judgment present or is it not present? Does it feel peaceful, or doesn’t it feel peaceful? Is it constantly changing? Is there conflict or is there consistency? Does it feel—wow! whew!—like a relief in some way?
This “form,” this body that we have, can be used by the Holy Spirit to undo our belief in form. This is where forgiveness comes in. We join with Holy Spirit and we ask Him to help us to change our minds. We ask for His assistance with the shift in perception, which is the miracle. We can use form to assist us in fulfilling our function, which is forgiveness of illusions.
It doesn’t matter what is occurring in form. What matters is where I am in my mind. Is it a reflection of Love? Am I joined in the thought system of the Holy Spirit?
If the thought process is separation, it is of the ego. Period. That is what it is — no matter how beautiful or loving the form may seem to be. It is still an attack because form represents the ego’s denial of God. We may see something like garbage and see beyond its form. Then we can love that stinky garbage because we can then see the truth behind the garbage. But if we make the judgment that the garbage is garbage – that the garbage is real – then we have made the error of making the error real.
Conversely, we could have a relationship with a wonderful, sweet person who underneath is devious and manipulative. But we don’t see that. We believe what we see on the surface. This person may attack others but do so with a smile on their face. They may look all sunshine and light on the outside, but what is the thought going on behind that appearance?
Let’s get back to looking at the topic of personal boundaries. How do boundaries pertain to this idea of form and content? Once we are studying the Course, sometimes we become fearful of the word “boundaries.” Why is that?
Remember again that the ego reads the Course with us. It tells us, “Wow! I’m not supposed to be separate from my brothers. I’m supposed to be joined and one with my brothers! I can’t have boundaries! That’s limitation! That is keeping me separate!”
Then we start downplaying the uncomfortable experiences that we are having in our relationship with another person. We talk to ourselves saying, “But I’m not supposed to be feeling this way. I can’t have boundaries. I can’t be separate from my brother. But I’m feeling so uncomfortable in this person’s presence. There must be something wrong with me. I’m not doing the Course right or I’d be happy and full of love and forgiveness all the time! If I were spiritual enough, I’d be able to stand being around this person!”
We might start sacrificing our values, doing things that we typically would not do because we are not supposed to be at war with our brother. We believe that we have to “prove” our forgiveness, thus proving our worth to God. We become doormats and allow others to behave badly all for the sake of proving that we can forgive and be angels and the perfect Course students.
When we look at this, it does sound kind of strange, doesn’t it? Wait a minute! What’s going on here?
I have to reiterate that this is not a course in behavior. This is a course in healing the mind. If I say I can’t have and hold to boundaries, isn’t this causing chaos? Isn’t it causing upset and disturbance in one way or another?
Am I using fear or punishment as a manipulation in any way? Is it reinforcing guilt? The purpose of the Course is to undo the guilt. But we may use guilt, either overtly or covertly, to try to get our way. We may put on a sweet smiling face, but meanwhile we’re trying to guilt the person into doing something for us: “After everything I’ve done for you! You don’t do anything for me! Poor me!” I’m saying it in such a sweet way, but the thought behind it is still guilt, and of course, fear.
This was Mortimer’s tactic with Isabella and the study group members. He sent them expensive gifts as a bribe. He proclaimed that forgiveness was up to them and accused them of not being “spiritual enough” to let him come back. What he was really doing was projecting his own guilt onto the study group members, especially Isabella, instead of looking at himself and his behaviors that were contributing to the chaotic group dynamics.
The bottom line is that we can have boundaries and ask someone to leave a group. We can have preferences as to which people we choose to spend our time with. It is permissible! Or there may be other consequences that we need to take when we deal with the relationships in our lives.
Always, always it is: How am I thinking about it in my mind? Am I doing what I am doing out of spite and out of viciousness? Or am I doing it because I want to see the truth of that person, but I know that for me, for my level of sanity, I need to separate from this person in form?
What is the intention, or what is the purpose? That is the question to ask ourselves.
Am I reinforcing separation in my mind by blaming someone? Where are my thoughts in relation to this person? Am I working with Holy Spirit on forgiveness? Am I trying to see the truth of who they are, or do I want to just blame them and say: “It’s your fault for everything that’s occurred. It’s your fault that I’m unhappy. It’s your fault that I’m sad or hurt.”
That is why we need to be very clear about form and content.
As I told Isabella, it is certainly permissible here in the world to have personal boundaries and boundaries for a safe group atmosphere as long as we’re willing to continue to use that troublesome relationship for our healing process. Changes do not need to occur in our external relationships for our salvation. We work with the relationship with the Holy Spirit in our minds.
The important thing to note here is that we do not have to force ourselves to stay in a relationship. There is nothing to prove. Remember in the Bible the devil asked of Jesus to prove that he was the Son of God. Jesus told him to get lost! Nor do we need to “prove” to the ego that we are the Son of God. We do not have to force ourselves to abandon common-sense boundaries. The ego will beckon, “Oh, if you are doing this Course, you should be able to be with this person, or you should be able to do what this person asks of you.”
That is what is confusing for students. Boundaries assist us in our relationships as we continue to learn how to trust the Holy Spirit. We do not want to do anything that is going to hurt us, and Jesus does not want us to do anything that would hurt us, either.
We can get confused, though, in what Jesus is telling us in the Course. He speaks of the idea that if a brother asks you to do something, you should do it.
Recognize what does not matter,
and if your brother is asking for something “outrageous”,
do it because it does not matter.
This is where we always get confused: what does Jesus mean? He’s telling me that I’ve got to do something outrageous. But what if it’s something I don’t agree with? What if it’s something that makes me feel uncomfortable? What if this person is telling me to jump off a cliff? Am I supposed to do this just because he is telling me? I don’t understand! Here Jesus seems to be saying “just do it.”
What does Jesus really mean here? The focus is not on the “do it.” The focus is on “it doesn’t matter.” If our brother is asking us to jump off a cliff, understand that his request is not about jumping off the cliff. My brother is asking me for salvation. He is asking me for love. It is a call for love. How do I respond? With love.
I may or may not jump off the cliff. It’s not about the form. It is about the mind, and so that is where I offer the love—or don’t offer the love, if I follow the ego’s voice. So we may respond or may not respond in accordance with our brother’s desires. His request may not be what he really wants, which is always Love.
Once again, we are being taught to always answer a call for love with the response of love. Our brother wants to know Who he truly is. If we told him in form, he may not get it: “Oh, I love you so much, brother. Thank you for asking me to join you in jumping off the cliff, but I don’t think so. You really want love, don’t you? You really want me to love you, not to join you in jumping overboard.”
We have to remember that refusing the request to jump off the cliff is done on the form or behavioral level. In our minds, we have love for our brother. We also have love for ourselves. Jesus will never ask us to do anything that we believe would hurt us. So, if we feel the need to have boundaries to protect ourselves, we have boundaries. And the same time, we can still respond to the call for love with love in our heart and mind, no matter what may be going on in form.
And this is what Isabella did with Mortimer. The group decided to keep him excluded because of his inappropriate behaviors. Then together as a group and individually, they prayed for Mortimer, offering him love and forgiveness in their hearts. They offered their willingness to look within and see the places in which he mirrored for them areas in their own life that they needed to heal. They then saw Mortimer at his highest good and they saw themselves united with him in Truth.
Sometimes we want our relationships to be perfect. Or we want to search for the perfect “holy partner” to join with. It truly does not matter if your partner is a Course student or not. Can it be beneficial? Sometimes yes and sometimes no.
The same applies to any relationship: Where am I in my mind? Am I making this relationship special or something that it is not? Any relationship is there for my healing if I so choose. Will I choose healing?
–Excerpt from Rev. Deb’s book “I Am Entitled to Miracles! Simple Ways to Practice the Principles in A Course in Miracles”
— Also read this great blog post from Affirming Spirit called “I’m Spiritual, Not a Doormat.”
ADDENDUM – With the passing of Whit Whitson of the Foundation for Inner Peace, I had recalled several years ago my conversations with Judy Skutch Whitson and Ken Wapnick. It was on the topic of boundaries. I had been contacted by an individual who had insisted he had the blessing of both Ken and Judy in regards to an ACIM software program. and an affiliate program was available. At first, I was intrigued and signed to be an affiliate. Then the relationship with this individual took a weird turn and harassment ensued. I had contacted Ken and Judy to ask about this individual and his claims. They both returned my calls rather quickly. They both stated they had to set a boundary with this individual and were no longer in contact. It arose some ego in both of them, each said this individually in their personal calls to me, and wanted to use it as an opportunity to heal their minds. This, by just hearing my story. They were gracious, loving and down-to-earth and I enjoyed my conversations with both. They both demonstrated true practical application of the Course in our lives. Boundaries are needed in this world of form, but we do it with the content of love in our minds.