What is the difference between false joining and true joining?

Question: The Course tells us frequently that much of the "joining" we do is not really joining. But it also tells us that truly joining with our brothers is essential to salvation. What, then, is the difference between false joining and true joining?

Short answer: False joining is the "joining" of egos (and bodies) in the pursuit of separate ego goals; this kind of joining actually reinforces and maintains the separation. True joining is the joining of minds in the pursuit of a truly common goal; this kind of joining is what heals the separation.


False joining is the "joining" of egos (and bodies) in the pursuit of separate ego goals; this kind of joining actually reinforces and maintains the separation.

Joining with other people for the sake of mutual gain is something that we are seemingly engaged in all the time. We make friendships with others who share our personality traits. We come together to promote the causes we believe in, and to oppose our common enemies. We unite in relationships of mutual give and take, in which we share resources both tangible (material things) and intangible (emotional support, encouragement, validation, etc.). We unite with one another in the thrill and intimacy of romantic love relationships. Joining seems to be simply part of the fabric of everyday human life.

But is all of this really joining? According to the Course, most of the time, the answer is no. Why? Because most of the time our "joining" is simply a joining of egos, and egos are only in it for themselves, not for truly mutual gain. As the Course puts it, "Egos do join together in temporary allegiance, but always for what each one can get separately" (T-6.V(A).5:9). Thus, what looks like joining is often the very antithesis of joining. True joining affirms a common interest and a common goal, but the ego's "joining" is all about separate interests and separate goals. It is thus pseudo-joining, a false joining.

One example of this kind of false joining is the typical scenario of two people joining in a business venture. I think if we're honest with ourselves, we have to admit that as a general rule, we enter into such ventures in order to serve our own ego goals: to make money for ourselves, acquire material possessions, give ourselves the means to live a life of luxury, gain prestige, etc. Our business partners, in our eyes, are simply useful means to accomplish these personal goals. We may deny this and claim that the our partner's success is equally important to us. We may have the best of conscious intentions, and really be striving to see our business ventures as truly collaborative enterprises. But given our heavy investment in the ego, I think that in most cases the bottom line is still "What's in it for me?" This is made evident by the fact that we are very quick to jettison our business partners when they don't hold up their end of the bargain. Our primary motivation is to accomplish our separate, personal ego goals, not to truly join with the other person.

Another example of false joining is one I mentioned above, a kind of "joining" that is near and dear to all of our hearts: the romantic love relationship. At least if our popular music, literature, TV shows, and movies are any indicators, the romantic love relationship is easily the most sought after prize on earth. In our eyes, finding that special someone to join "body and soul" in wedded (or at least cohabitating) bliss is the deepest, truest kind of joining imaginable.

But again, I think we have to admit that as a general rule, we enter into such relationships to serve our own ego goals. We see our romantic partners as the perfect fulfillment of our personal ego fantasies, and "love" them as long as their bodies satisfy us sexually, say the right things to us, and do the things we want them to do. Our romantic relationships are thus pretty much the same as our business relationships: However much we may say that we care about our partner's welfare, the bottom line is what's in it for us. And just as with our business partners, the tenuous, illusory nature of romantic "love" is revealed by just how quick we are to dump our romantic partners when they no longer satisfy. Once they stop fulfilling our ego fantasies, we no longer want anything to do with them, and may even come to hate them. (Our penchant for bitter divorces is certainly a testament to this.) As with our business ventures, our primary motivation here is to accomplish our separate, personal ego goals, not to truly join with the other person.

In the Course's view, this is a basic law of the world the ego made: Things "join" only to serve their separate interests. And the Course has a name for this false joining, which it identifies as the crown jewel of the ego's thought system: the special relationship. The special relationship, according to Robert Perry's succinct definition, is a relationship in which we "try to a) have a special or exclusive interaction with b) a special person so that c) we can feel more special" (see Robert's Course Glossary).

On the surface, special relationships are our "good" relationships, such as friendships and the business and romantic relationships discussed above—in other words, relationships in which we seem to join with one another. But as we can see from Robert's definition, the ego's underlying goal for the special relationship is not really joining, but to acquire the ego's ultimate prize: specialness, the heady feeling of being separate from and superior to others. The "joining" that seems to take place in the special relationship is merely a facade that hides each participant's real goal: to serve his own ego by wresting specialness from the other:

[The participants in the special relationship] come together, each to complete himself and rob the other. They stay until they think that there is nothing left to steal, and then move on. (T-22.In.2:6-7)

In short, the special relationship is a "joining" of egos, each in pursuit of specialness at the expense of the other. Moreover, since the body is the ego's dwelling place, the special relationship is a "joining" of bodies. (This is especially evident in the romantic love relationship.) This is not a joining that includes everyone, but one that excludes everyone except the chosen partner; the essence of the special relationship is "separate bodies, seeking to join each other in separate unions" (T-16.VI.5:2). Thus, as I said above, this relationship is about separate interests and separate goals, not true joining.

Indeed, the ego's ultimate goal for the false joining of the special relationship is the prevention of true joining. True joining ends separation, and so the ego—which depends on separation—must avoid true joining at all costs. It therefore offers us an illusion of joining as a substitute for true joining. It offers the "joining" of illusory egos as a replacement for the joining of our real minds. It offers "the union of bodies" as a means to "keep minds apart" (T-15.VII.11:5). The special relationship is thus "a kind of union from which union is excluded" (T-16.V.6:4), a way of separating that only seems to be joining. And it is precisely because it seems to be joining that the special relationship is "the ego's most boasted gift" (T-16.V.3:1). Through the special relationship, the ego entices us to take the bait of false joining by making it into a shiny lure that looks like true joining. In this way, the ego ensures that the separation is reinforced and maintained.

Before I move on, I want to add an important qualifier to all that has been said here: Although I do think that the vast majority of our relationships are rooted in false joining, the forms these relationships take are quite neutral in themselves. There is nothing inherently wrong with joining with another person in a business venture, a romantic love relationship, or any of the many other forms relationships take in this world. The problem is not the forms in themselves, but the separate, ego-based goals that usually motivate us to pursue these forms. Many of these same forms can also be used by the Holy Spirit as vehicles for true joining, which I will discuss below.

True joining is the joining of minds in the pursuit of a truly common goal; this kind of joining is what heals the separation.

As we've seen, what usually passes for joining in this world is the "joining" of egos and bodies. Now, egos can "join" in the very limited sense of "temporary allegiance" noted above. The Course speaks of egos joining together to reinforce ego ideas like sickness, suffering, fear, and body identification; in fact, the Course says that the entire illusory world we live in arose as the result of our sharing ego thoughts with one another (see W-pI.54.3:3). And just as egos can join in this limited sense, bodies can "join" in the limited sense of coming together to serve ego goals, as we saw in the discussion of special relationships.

However, none of this is a real joining. According to the Course, the truth of the matter is that neither the ego nor the body can truly join with anything, because both are illusions, and "illusions cannot join" (T-23.I.3:6). Indeed, the sentence immediately following the statement that the world we live in arose as the result of sharing ego thoughts reveals the illusory nature of that sharing: "Yet that sharing was a sharing of nothing" (W-pI.54.3:4). All of the seeming joining our egos and bodies do is the joining of illusions, and thus false joining.

If our egos and our bodies cannot join, then what can? The Course's answer is clear: Only minds can truly join—not our false ego minds, but our real minds, the Mind of God and the minds of His Sons as He created them. Only minds can join because, as the Course repeats again and again, "minds are joined" (T-15.XI.7:1 and nine other references; emphasis mine). Because egos are inherently separate, they are capable only of false joining; but because minds are inherently joined, they are capable of true joining.

True joining is a joining that affirms the inherent unity of minds by recognizing our common interests. "Common interests," as I'm using the term here, does not refer to the idea of being interested in the same things (like sharing a hobby or similar political views), but to the idea of mutual benefit: Because our minds are one, we gain or lose together. In the Course's view, this recognition of common interests is the most crucial turning point in our entire spiritual journey, the key insight that tilts our minds away from the ego and toward God. If one person recognizes common interests with another (which can be done even if the other person doesn't consciously see common interests himself), then that one person becomes a teacher of God (see M-1.1:2). And if two people see common interests with each other and join in a unified goal, then they enter into what the Course calls a holy relationship, a relationship which "represents the reversal of the unholy [special] relationship" (T-17.V.2:4). For while the special relationship is a false joining of egos in the service of separate ego goals, the holy relationship is a true joining of minds in the service of a truly common goal (or "common purpose," which in the Course means the same thing), a goal established by the Holy Spirit.

This leads to a big question: What constitutes a truly common goal? What makes the common goal of the holy relationship different from the ego goals that masquerade as "common goals" in the special relationship? In a nutshell, the Course says that a common goal is anything that can be truly shared. The Psychotherapy supplement, in a discussion of how the joining of two people in a common purpose invites God into their relationship, says that "it does not matter what their purpose is, but they must share it wholly to succeed" (P-2.II.6:6). So now the question becomes: What kind of purpose or goal is wholly shareable?

Based on my understanding of the Course, I would say that in order for a goal to be wholly shareable, there are two properties it must have. First, it must be an idea. The goal of acquiring material things cannot be truly shared, because material things themselves cannot be truly shared; even if we jointly own something, in truth we "divide its ownership" (T-5.I.1:10). A goal rooted in an idea, however, is a completely different story, because as the Course tells us many times, ideas can be truly shared:

If you share an idea…you do not lessen it. All of it is still yours although all of it has been given away. (T-5.I.1:11-12)

Second, and more specifically, it must be an idea that reflects the goal of universal salvation. That is, the goal must involve the realization of a saving idea, the facilitation of someone's internal healing or awakening. It must be focused on the healing of one or both participants in the relationship, or the healing of someone outside of the relationship—healing that, wherever it is specifically focused, will ultimately include everyone and benefit the entire world.

Thus, we cannot truly join in the "common goal" of hateful ideas like white supremacy, getting revenge, or forcibly establishing our religion as the one true faith, because these ideas are obviously ideas of separation, not ideas that reflect the goal of universal salvation. We cannot truly join in any ego idea, because the ego is the very antithesis of salvation—in fact, the ego is the very thing we are saved from. This means that we certainly cannot join in the goal of acquiring specialness—the goal of the special relationship—because specialness by definition is an attempt to "save" the special one at everyone else's expense. Only an idea that leads to the salvation of all can serve as the common goal of a holy relationship.

To get an sense of what such a holy relationship might look like, it may be helpful to look at some of the examples that the Course material offers us. A prime example is the act of joining that led to the genesis of the Course itself: Helen and Bill joining in the goal of finding "another way" to deal with their interpersonal conflicts. In the Course material, we have the example of a teacher and pupil joining in the goal of walking a particular path of awakening together (see M-2.5:7), and the example of a psychotherapist and his or her patient joining in the goal of bringing healing to the patient's mind (see the Psychotherapy supplement). The Course also speaks of joining in goals like truth, peace, holiness, and love. Notice how all of the goals in these examples fit the two criteria given above for a wholly shareable goal: the goals are ideas, and they are ideas that reflect the goal of universal salvation.

I think there are certainly other things that could qualify as truly common goals under these criteria. And the Course is clear that even if a particular relationship began as a false joining based on ego goals, a shared goal can emerge within that relationship at any time and transform it into a true joining. Jesus makes it a point to say that our special relationships need not remain special relationships: "I have said repeatedly that the Holy Spirit would not deprive you of your special relationships, but would transform them" (T-17.IV.2:3). Within every special relationship is a holy relationship waiting to be born. And while that newly born holy relationship will most likely still have elements of specialness in it that must be weeded out over time, it is truly a new creature, because it has a new goal blessed by the Holy Spirit. So the good news, as I said above, is that the forms we have used for false joining (including the body) can also be used by the Holy Spirit as vehicles for true joining. The key is allowing the Holy Spirit to replace our goals for our relationships with His.

Where does true joining ultimately lead us? To the very goal that I've already mentioned: universal salvation. Just as the ego uses false joining to reinforce and maintain the separation, the Holy Spirit uses true joining to heal the separation. "Healing is the effect of minds that join" (T-28.III.2:6). How does the joining of minds in a common goal bring about the healing of the separation? By affirming the inherent unity of minds, as I alluded to earlier. The Course tells us that "what shares a common purpose is the same" (T-27.VI.1:5); therefore, when we join our minds in a common purpose, we come to recognize that our minds are the same. We learn that "those who share a purpose have a mind as one" (T-23.IV.7:4). What the following Course passage says about the joining of teachers and pupils applies equally to us all. Whenever true joining occurs, those who join are blessed with a living experience of their oneness:

The demarcations they have drawn between their roles, their minds, their bodies, their needs, their interests, and all the differences they thought separated them from one another, fade and grow dim and disappear. (M-2.5:6)

The ultimate result of true joining, then, is the recognition that we have always been joined with each other and with God. We are restored to awareness of "the joint will of the Sonship" (T-5.IV.7:4), the will we share with God. Through this restoration, we come to realize that we have never been separate; we are forever one with each other and with our Creator. We are forever joined in the embrace of God's Love.

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