Do we actually choose all the specific events of our lives?

Question: A Course in Miracles suggests that the events in our lives are our choice. But does this actually mean that all the specific events themselves are our choice? Or does it simply mean that all events are the indirect consequences of our choice to listen to the ego or the Holy Spirit, just as weight gain is the indirect consequence of our choice to eat a lot of food?

Answer: In short, I think the Course's stance is mainly the first option: We choose the specific events themselves. This is especially true, I think, of our ego-based choices. On the Holy Spirit side, however, I would add a qualifier: To the degree that we choose the Holy Spirit and let Him guide our lives, the specific events will be chosen at least in part by Him, with our permission.

The Course doesn't actually talk a lot about us choosing the events of our lives. The most important choice from its standpoint is that choice between the ego and the Holy Spirit. The choice that matters most is the choice to perceive our world from the Holy Spirit's perspective — to behold everything with the eyes of Christ.

Yet when the Course does talk about the origin of the specific events that happen to us, it certainly does suggest in many places that the events themselves are our choice. Here are a few examples:

And everything that seems to happen to me I ask for, and receive as I have asked. (T-21.II.3:5)

It is impossible the Son of God be merely driven by events outside of him. It is impossible that happenings that come to him were not his choice. His power of decision is the determiner of every situation in which he seems to find himself by chance or accident. (T-21.II.3:1-3)

It is impossible that anything should come to me unbidden by myself. Even in this world, it is I who rule my destiny. What happens is what I desire. What does not occur is what I do not want to happen. (W-pII.253.1:1-4)

Nothing occurs but represents your wish, and nothing is omitted that you choose. Here is your world, complete in all details. (W-pI.152.1:5-6)

These references are not simply to us choosing how we perceive the world, as vitally important as that choice is. They say we choose what happens or occurs — in other words, events. The events we choose happen; the events we don't choose don't happen. "Here is your world, complete in all details."

This is a challenging teaching, to be sure. It sure doesn't seem that we choose everything that happens to us. On the contrary, it seems that so much of what happens to us comes quite against our will, especially the painful stuff. How can it be that we choose all those things that seem to come to us unbidden?

One explanation we often come up with is that we make these decisions unconsciously, in some deeply buried part of our psyche. Yet the Course ends up taking this teaching in a direction that is even more challenging. It says that all the choices we make — which would have to include chosen events — are chosen consciously:

God's teachers choose to look on dreams a while. It is a conscious choice. For they have learned that all choices are made consciously, with full awareness of their consequences. (M-12.6:2-4, emphasis mine)

Wow! How can this be? I sure don't remember consciously deciding to be born in Texas or give myself bad eyesight or get rear-ended on a city street in New Mexico while on vacation. The Course, however, gives us an explanation in Lesson 136 of how this can be so. The lesson, "Sickness is a defense against the truth," talks about how we choose to get sick in order to fight off the truth of who we really are, but broadens the discussion to include all defenses against that truth:

Defenses are not unintentional, nor are they made without awareness. They are secret, magic wands you wave when truth appears to threaten what you would believe. They seem to be unconscious but because of the rapidity with which you choose to use them. In that second, even less, in which the choice is made, you recognize exactly what you would attempt to do, and then proceed to think that it is done.

Who but yourself evaluates a threat, decides escape is necessary, and sets up a series of defenses to reduce the threat that has been judged as real? All this cannot be done unconsciously. But afterwards, your plan requires that you must forget you made it, so it seems to be external to your own intent; a happening beyond your state of mind, an outcome with a real effect on you, instead of one effected by yourself.

It is this quick forgetting of the part you play in making your "reality" that makes defenses seem to be beyond your own control. (W-pI.136.3:1-5:1)

Here we see clearly how the whole thing works. First, truth threatens us and we make a quick conscious decision to use a defense against it — again, the specific example in this lesson is sickness. (I think it is clearly talking about choosing specific illnesses at specific times, especially since it talks about us choosing this defense multiple times.) We know exactly what we are doing: "you recognize exactly what you would attempt to do." This defense cannot simply be something that bubbles up from the mists of the unconscious; it is the result of active planning, and "this cannot be done unconsciously."

Yet this defense wouldn't work if we knew we were consciously choosing it; its efficacy depends on it appearing to be something that is not our choice. In order for sickness to obliterate the truth that we are wholly invulnerable Sons of God, it needs to look like something that attacks us against our will, thus "proving" how vulnerable we really are. How could we see ourselves as weak, frail, and vulnerable if we knew that we were actually in complete control of the whole thing? It would be like holding a gun against your own head to try to convince yourself that an enemy sniper has you in his sights.

So, the second part of our plan kicks in: We choose to forget our quick conscious decision to use the defense. Robert Perry came up with a term for this: "IMIF decisions," decisions which are "Instantly Made, Instantly Forgotten." Through the magic of forgetting, it now appears that our defense is not our defense at all, but something that has attacked us from the outside. That gun really is in the sniper's hand, not your own. And this is the explanation for how all decisions are made consciously, even though it doesn't appear to be so. "It is this quick forgetting of the part you play in making your 'reality' that makes defenses seem to be beyond your own control."

I find this a sobering teaching. It means that I am constantly choosing things that are not in my true best interests, including painful events like sickness, and yet my quick forgetting of these decisions seems to render me incapable of doing anything about them. All of us are doing this. The entire insane world we see is the result of this. But if the decisions that make this world are made so lightning fast and are so quickly forgotten and driven into the unconscious, what can we do to take our conscious power of decision back and make decisions that are in our true best interests?

The Course offers an answer in the "Rules for Decision" section of the Text (T-30.I). This section begins by acknowledging our decision-making dilemma and proposing a solution:

Decisions are continuous. You do not always know when you are making them. But with a little practice with the ones you recognize, a set begins to form which sees you through the rest. It is not wise to let yourself become preoccupied with every step you take. The proper set, adopted consciously each time you wake, will put you well ahead. (T-30.I.1:1-5)

The first two sentences here highlight the fact that we're making a lot of IMIF decisions. This is our problem: We make them continuously and then forget them so quickly that we don't even know we're making them. We might think the solution is to frantically try to catch each and every decision before it goes down the memory hole. Sounds like a daunting task to me.

However, this passage suggests a different approach rooted in an encouraging truth: Some decisions we do recognize. We are quite consciously aware of at least some of the decisions we make. And if we apply our Course practice to those decisions on a consistent basis, we will slowly but surely change our general mindset. The dark caverns of our ego-encased minds will be slowly but surely illumined by the sunlight of the Holy Spirit. And to the degree this is accomplished, even the decisions we rapidly make and forget will come from a better and brighter place in our minds.

The specific decision this section calls us to make — the proper mindset it wants us to adopt when we wake — is this: "I will make no decisions by myself" (T-30.I.2:2). It is the decision to make all of our decisions in consultation with the Holy Spirit, and ultimately to let Him decide for us. The section goes on to give us a series of specific and practical steps to keep this decision in force throughout the day.

Since this section gives us a series of practices, it is a kind of proto-Workbook lesson, and this gives us another important clue about how to take our conscious power of decision back and make decisions in our true best interests: Do our Course practice. Through constantly practicing our Workbook or post-Workbook lessons morning, evening, and throughout the day — and turning the decisions we recognize over to the Holy Spirit, refusing to decide for ourselves — we establish the Holy Spirit-inspired mindset that makes for healthier, happier decisions in general.

As we make this a habit, as we turn our lives over to Him moment by moment, the Course assures us that we will experience a whole new way of life, a way rooted in confidence in the Holy Spirit to give us the wisdom we need to navigate our lives successfully:

If you have made it a habit to ask for help when and where you can, you can be confident that wisdom will be given you when you need it. Prepare for this each morning, remember God when you can throughout the day, ask the Holy Spirit's help when it is feasible to do so, and thank Him for His guidance at night. And your confidence will be well founded indeed. (M-29.5:8-10)

The most important decision, as I mentioned above, is the choice to perceive the world as the Holy Spirit does, with the eyes of Christ. The Course also places great importance on making the proper decisions about what to do in our daily lives, since what we do is meant to serve His plan for salvation. But what about this whole issue of choosing specific life events? How does putting our lives into the hands of the Holy Spirit affect that?

The Course isn't really about manifesting particular life events, à la The Secret. But I think that to the degree we let the Holy Spirit take over our lives, those events will slowly but surely be transformed. He will choose events for us that serve His plan for salvation, and even the ego defenses we dream into our lives will be subsumed by Him into that plan. He has been incorporating all of the events of our lives into His plan from the beginning, but as we more and more consciously allow Him to do that, I think we will experience more deeply the assurance and grateful acceptance the following passage invites us to let into our hearts:

What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good? Perhaps you have misunderstood His plan, for He would never offer pain to you. But your defenses did not let you see His loving blessing shine in every step you ever took. While you made plans for death, He led you gently to eternal life. (W-pI.135.18:1-4)

Even as we have been choosing the specific events of our lives — so many of them painful ego defenses against the glorious truth of who we really are — the Holy Spirit has been taking them and weaving them into His plan to reveal the glorious truth of who we really are. And He will take over all event planning as we root our lives in our "present trust in Him." This present trust is "the defense that promises a future undisturbed, without a trace of sorrow, and with joy that constantly increases, as this life becomes a holy instant, set in time, but heeding only immortality" (W-pI.135.19:1). This is the life A Course in Miracles holds out to us. Will we accept it?

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