Commentary on Lesson 135: If I defend myself I am attacked.

by Robert Perry

This is the longest lesson in the Workbook—26 paragraphs. It is also the sixth out of the seven “giant strides” in the Workbook: “And all the world will take this giant stride, and celebrate your Eastertime with you” (26:4).

Rather than commenting paragraph by paragraph, I am going to group the paragraphs together and comment on them by group.

Paragraphs 1-3: Defense affirms our vulnerability

Defending oneself assumes that one is under threat. So there is threat and defense. Clearly, threat is the obvious part of that equation. No one questions that part. All the questions revolve around the defense part: How will we defend ourselves? When? How much? That’s where all our attention goes.

But Jesus, instead, wants to bring us back to our beginning premise and put our focus on it. Are we sure we are really under threat? Perhaps that threat is not a fact, but just a belief. And perhaps we could simply withdraw that belief, rather than strengthening it, in which case we would realize our total immunity and feel completely safe all the time.

In this view, what defense accomplishes is to assume and therefore strengthen our sense of threat. Defense implies that we are weak and vulnerable. It implies that real danger is confronting us, that real attack resulting in real harm is about to come down on us. It implies that we should be genuinely afraid.

Defenses, in other words, rather than staving off real danger, themselves conjure up the illusion of danger. As a result, the only actual threat is our own defensiveness.

Paragraphs 4-10: Defending the body reinforces our identification with it, the real source of its problems

Now we turn to the question of what we are defending. “It must be something is very weak and easily assaulted…something made easy prey, unable to protect itself and needing your defense” (4:2-3). Obviously, it is the body. I once heard cuttlefish (relatives of squid and octopi) described as little bags of protein floating around—meaning, they’re a nice, defenseless meal. And our bodies aren’t too different. They are not only easy prey, they are incredibly fragile. Many years ago, I heard that the father of a friend of mine died from the complications of stubbing his toe.

It seems obvious that we have to defend the body: from injury, illness, weather, hunger, thirst, fatigue, and aging. Yet again, Jesus brings all of this up for question. He says the body is not really vulnerable. After all, it’s ultimately just an image held in the mind, so only the mind gives that image permission to change. Imagine if you were in a dream and that you had a body in that dream. If you realized it was a dream, you could conceivably hold that body in place and intact with your mind, such that nothing could damage it. After all, it’s your dream; you set the rules. And if one of your rules was “My body can’t be harmed,” then that’s what would happen in the dream.

So why do our bodies seem so vulnerable? Jesus doesn’t completely spell it out, but what he says seems to amount to something like this: We place on the body the burden of being our host, our home. And as our home, the body needs to meet the needs of a vast and even divine mind. In other words, it has to bear the burden of “your hopes, your needs, your values and your dreams” (7:5).

Let’s face it—we do put all this on the body. How many of our hopes and dreams don’t either directly depend on the body or even center on the body? As a result, it has to be the perfect home, with the perfectly beautiful exterior for attracting guests, the perfectly functioning plumbing, and the perfectly comfortable interior so living in it can be pleasurable and pain-free.

It also has to be the perfect vehicle, which will take us anywhere we want to go—but not just physically. The most important places it has to take us to is our goals. It has to speed us toward and let us out in front of the lobby of our hopes and dreams. It has to take us to happiness.

No body is going to do all this. For a divine mind to identify with the body, and think that body is its home and even its very self, is painful. The body is too small to contain a divine mind. The body is too meaningless to satisfy a divine mind. In short, the body is simply unable to bear the burden of our hopes and dreams. It’s like trying to get an ant to carry a two-ton boulder. It’s never going to happen.

But we already know that. We may not have consciously realized it, but according to the Course, all of us have decided the body has failed us. It hasn’t made us safe or happy. And for this, we hate it. This hatred, in turn, is what makes the body so frail and vulnerable. Remember my dream analogy, where you mentally held the body in place in your dream, no matter what the dream figures did to it? Now imagine that the same power of mind that could hold it intact, even while a dream bus ran over it, decided instead to hate it. What would that force of hate do to the body? Wouldn’t it cause it to wither, just like a flower exposed to scorching heat? That, says the Course, is what is happening to all our bodies. We see them age, year by year, and we feel them get sick and injured and fatigued, not due to the ravages of physical forces, but due to the heat of our own hatred of them, because they failed us.

So, in summary:

  1. We identify with the body.
  2. We then feel the pain that comes from a limitless, divine mind identifying with a tiny hunk of meaningless meat.
  3. Then we blame the body for that pain.
  4. This blame, by the mind that is dreaming the body, is a potent psychic attack on the body.
  5. This attack is the cause of all the body’s problems and vulnerabilities.

As a result of these five points, we spend half of our time trying to protect and repair this frail, vulnerable body. We defend it, in other words. And that defense, at the end of the list, assumes and thus reinforces all five points on the list. It just adds more energy to the whole thing.

Instead, we need to see the body “as quite apart from you…a healthy serviceable instrument through which the mind can operate until its usefulness is done” (8:2). That undoes the list at the root, by going to the very beginning and undoing the first point on the list—the identification with the body.

Paragraphs 11-13: Our plans vs. His plans for us

No we come to the subject of planning. We’ll see in a bit how this fits into the subject of defense.

For now, we see a sharp contrast between our self-initiated plans and the Holy Spirit’s plans for us. In our plans, we decide what the problem is, what the desired outcome is, and how to get from the first to the second. And then we put the body to work to carry out the plans. These plans largely center on the body’s own protection. This all seems to make sense, yet all it does is make the body sick. Why? Because it fits what we just discussed. This is the defense of the body that assumes and reinforces the entire five-point list we saw above.

Instead, we need to follow a whole different approach to planning. Rather than making up the plans, we receive the plans from the Holy Spirit. Rather than these plans being about our own protection, they are instead about serving “the greater plan established for the good of everyone” (11:5). In other words, rather than pursing our own physical safety, we devote our efforts to serving the common good. That’s what the Holy Spirit’s plans are about, about us being a force of good in the world.

When we did the planning, we were hopelessly out of our depth. We could never be sure what the real problem was, what the ideal outcome was, and what the proper means was to get from A to B. Thus, no matter how much we tried to puff ourselves up and tell ourselves how great we were at planning, we always were floating atop feelings of deep inadequacy.

But when we leave the planning to the Holy Spirit, we ironically become far more adequate for doing the part that is ours. Our part is carrying out His plans, and in this, we find that we really do have complete “adequacy” (11:4). We really can be depended on. Further, since we are no longer forcing sickness onto our body with our secret hatred of it, we find that the body, too, is adequate to this role. “For everything the mind employs for this will function flawlessly, and with the strength that has been given it and cannot fail” (13:4). Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find that, when we admit that we are not up to doing the planning, we are actually really great at carrying out His plans, and that our body functions flawlessly in performing its part?

Paragraphs 14-17: What are we really defending against with our plans?

Now we see more clearly how our plans fit into the larger picture of this lesson. Our plans are defenses. When you think about this, it’s obvious. When we make plans we are trying to head off future threat, right? Rather than wait till the threat is right in our face, we want to head it off before it ever gets close. Just because they built the Great Wall of China a long time before it was needed didn’t mean it was not a defense but just a mere plan.

But do we really understand what we are defending against? We think we know. We think we are planning against future hunger or poverty or whatever physical threat we see looming up ahead. But it goes much deeper than that.

First, we are defending against change. Plans, as paragraphs 15 and 16 point out, are based on past experience. That past experience tells us what is coming down the pike, tells us what we would prefer to have come down that pike, and tells us how to stave off the one and bring on the other. So the past is projecting a probable future, an idealized future, and an appropriate response to both in the present.

What’s missing from this picture? Nothing’s missing, if our past learning was perfect. If it was flawlessly accurate and utterly whole and complete, then nothing is missing. But if we have anything to add to our learning or any learning to revise, then a lot is missing. For this picture of the past projecting the future precludes the possibility of change in the present. Could it be that change is what we are really defending ourselves against?

Paragraph 17 takes one more step. The change we are defending ourselves against is a change in which we realize the truth; in particular, the truth of who we are. Our real fear is that, if we stop letting the past project the future, then in an unguarded moment in the present we might stumble into a new view of things, a view in which we aren’t this body and aren’t the little mind we see encased in this body, but are instead much, much more. “For it is your reality that is the ‘threat’ which your defenses would attack, obscure, and take apart and crucify” (17:4). Could it be that it’s not hunger we are defending against, but grandeur?

Paragraphs 18-20: Present trust

Little did we know it, but that scary future we have been trying to stave off was actually not so much conventional disaster, but the “disaster” of what the Holy Spirit has planned for us, the “disaster” of “your good” (18:1), “your happiness” (20:2), and “eternal life” (18:4). That is the future that has been trying to get past our Great Wall and bless us.

Even while we resist that future and try to replace it with our own plans, even then, all that happens to us has been planned by the Holy Spirit. The first line of paragraph 18 makes this perfectly, almost alarmingly, clear: “everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good” (18:1). How can that be? Does that mean He’s sending us “pain” (18:2), which certainly does seem to be the case?

I don’t think so. I’ve been thinking about this lately and my wife and I have been talking about it and I have a slightly new way of looking at it. I think that in the events of our lives, what He is doing is sending us very carefully constructed little packages. These packages consist of two things:

  1. Our past mistakes, and the pain inherent in them
  2. The truth, and the joy inherent in it

#1 is the outer covering. It is usually the most obvious thing. But #2 is always there, generally hidden somewhere inside. So #1 is the wrapping and #2 is the gift.

The purpose of this two-fold package is that it gives us an opportunity to choose our way from #1 to #2. And that’s learning. That’s change. That’s the reason we are here. If we just had #2, if we had the joyous truth laid out in front of us, yes, we would definitely choose it. But would we really learn? Would we really have made a choice to relinquish #1? Similarly, if we just had #1, if we were stuck with the pain of our past mistakes, we would have no doorway out. We would be imprisoned in the cell we made, without hope of escape.

So we need both. We need to be faced with the pain of our past mistakes, and then somewhere inside that we need to have offered to us the joy of the truth. Then, when we choose the truth, we are simultaneously relinquishing our mistakes. We are making a transition from one to the other. We are saying “I no longer want that” and “now I do want this.” Hence, we have truly learned. That is why the events He sends us seem painful but are really the perfect way out of the pain we have chosen for ourselves.

As we learn to welcome His lessons, though, we can move into a new way of living, in which we actually follow His plans for our lives. In these plans, “you become a light which Heaven gratefully acknowledges to be its own” (20:1). In other words, you become a light to others. You hold aloft a shining light, to lead others out of the darkness. And then they discover that they have the same light you do, and once you combine your lights, the world will never be the same again. “Your followers will join their light with yours, and it will be increased until the world is lighted up with joy” (20:3).

At this point, we are no longer just engaged in learning arduous personal lessons. Now we turn our attention to the good of the whole. And as we do, the little packages the Holy Spirit sends us, the events of our lives, have thinner and thinner wrapping, as the radiant gifts that they contain shine through for everyone to see.

The key to both sides—to learning the lesson from the events of our lives and to following His plans for us—is “present trust.” This is a golden phrase. Rather than planning against a scary future, we stay in the present and trust Him. We trust Him to send us the events we need for our learning. We trust Him to plan our lives for us. We trust Him to handle the future. We place the future in His hands. If we are on our own, we can’t have that attitude of present trust. We have to place an anxious gaze on staving off a threatening future. But if He’s really there, if He’s really got it handled, then we can drop that project. We can just stay in the present and trust.

Paragraphs 21-26: The practice instructions

The practice for today applies all that we have just discussed. In it, we let go of our planning and tune into His plans. We have crucified ourselves with our planning. It has entombed us. Now, by giving over planning to the Holy Spirit, we rise from the tomb. Today is our own personal Eastertime.

Purpose: to lay aside your plans and learn your part in God’s plan; to bring closer the time when your light, joined with the light of your followers, will light up the world with joy. This is a crucial day in your awakening; it is Eastertime in your salvation. This is another of the Workbook’s giant strides (26:4).

Longer: 2 times, for 15 minutes

  • Repeat, “If I defend myself I am attacked. But in defenselessness I will be strong, and I will learn what my defenses hide.”
  • Then rest from all planning and all thought. Your plans have been walls that you erected to shut out the Holy Spirit’s plan for your life. His plan is that you “become a light” (20:1) whose “followers” (20:3) light up the world. So let go of your ideas about your life and open your mind to His. Come without defenses and listen as He reveals to you “the part for you within the plan of God” (25:5). He may just tell you plans for today, but those plans will be part of His larger plan for you. Do not fear that these plans will ask sacrifice from you. They are the way to your release. And everything you need to accomplish them will be given you. Since this is an exercise in listening to God’s Voice, remember the training you’ve received in listening for guidance: wait in mental silence, wait in confidence, and periodically repeat your request.

Response to temptation: whenever you feel tempted to make your own plans

Repeat, “This is my Eastertime. And I would keep it holy. I will not defend myself, because the Son of God needs no defense against the truth of his reality.” This is long enough that you’ll probably need to write it on a card if you’re going to use it.

Remarks: As you go through the day, try not to shape and organize it according to what you see as your needs. Instead, if you listen to His plans and follow them, you will find inconceivable happiness, and the whole world will “celebrate your Eastertime with you” (26:4).

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