Above the battleground: Our thoughts on the September 11 terrorist attack

by Circle Staff

From Robert Perry:

We at the Circle have, like everyone else, been deeply shocked and disturbed by the events of September 11. Just as others are, we are striving to see these events from the perspective of our particular spiritual tradition. As we reflect on how our path would ask us to respond, one thing keeps recurring to us: peace. We can have peace in our minds, even while our eyes look on tragedy in the world. It is possible to lift our minds above the battleground, into the peace of God, and look on the situation from that serene vantage point. The Course may provide its own philosophical justification for being at peace in the face of adversity, but it is part of our common religious heritage to believe in the peace of God which passeth understanding. Surely that peace is available to us now, even if our understanding may not see how that can be.

A story from the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. makes this point beautifully. When King launched his first protest he began receiving daily death threats. His fears began to grow until late one night he received another threat that sent him over the edge. Unable to sleep, exhausted and thinking of giving up, he decided to take his fears to God.

My head in my hand, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud….At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice….Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm.

We may fear that such peace will lull us into being of no earthly good. Yet some of the most effective people in the world have operated out of this inner peace. We all know that one peaceful person can defuse a tense situation. The Course teaches that one peaceful mind can heal situations on the other side of the globe. We at the Circle are trying to practice that peace, even while we stay in touch with the news, knowing that this peace is the source of any good we can do.

From Greg Mackie:

In the past few days, a number of people have asked me what they can do as students of A Course in Miracles to deal with these tragic events and help those in distress. I think the specifics of "what to do" will be somewhat different for everyone, but I thought it might be helpful to share what I have been doing personally:

First, I have been doing everything I can to remember that no matter what the appearance, everyone involved remains as God created them. None of this is real. Of course, it is tragically real in the world of form, and I don't want to minimize anyone's pain. It feels awfully real to me. But I have been using Course practices to remind myself that the truth about everyone in this situation remains unchanged. "God is still Love, and this is not His Will" (W-pI.99.5:5). I make no claim to have fully realized this, but I am doing the best I can, which is all anyone can do.

Second, I have been extending prayers of love and peace to everyone involved in the situation, praying that all may see the truth and be guided by the highest light that is in them. Among other things, I've used the following practice from the Workbook a great deal: "Let peace extend from my mind to yours, [name]" (W-pI.82.2:2). I have also been extending prayers of forgiveness to those responsible for the attack, and those who have been calling for retaliation.

Third, I have been praying for guidance about how I can help in this situation. I'm still not sure what all I will do on a form level. I have been giving support to those who have asked for it through e-mail, and my wife and I just gave a monetary donation to the rescue effort. I think all of us have a specific function that God has given us to help in this situation, and I am trying to find and fulfill mine.

I think anything ACIM students can do to extend love and kindness to others in need will be helpful. That is what working miracles is all about. As I've watched the events unfold, I have tried to keep in mind the famous "being truly helpful" prayer:

I am here only to be truly helpful.
I am here to represent Him Who sent me.
I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do, because He Who sent me will direct me.
I am content to be wherever He wishes, knowing He goes there with me.
I will be healed as I let Him teach me to heal.

Let us pray that this tragic event becomes a catalyst not for the further tragedy of retaliation and revenge, but for the healing balm of miraculous, forgiving love.

From Allen Watson:

Several of you have written to me asking if I had any thoughts to offer on recent events.

There are two parts to what follows: first, my initial reactions last Wednesday; second, my response to a question about how to reconcile forgiveness with taking preventative action against terrorism.

Written Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001 to the staff of the Circle of Atonement:

I felt, this morning, a desire to share these few thoughts with you:

I used to commute through the WTC; arrive in the subway below the buildings and walk from there to work, over a period of two years or more. Just last year, Peggy and I, with her mother and daughter, visited the towers. As I lay in bed last night, sleep eluded me for about 2 hours as various scenes in and around the buildings kept flashing into my mind, with me trying NOT to envision what must have happened there when the buildings collapsed.

Not to be facetious, I thought of the line from "Star Wars," where the bad guys blow up an entire planet, and light years away, Obiwan Kenobi suddenly stops and says, "There is a terrible disturbance in the Force." I felt that way, as though the psychic waves of death and terror were washing out over the country and the world.

What is most profoundly disturbing, I think, is the undeniable proof that our security is full of holes. No one will be entirely at ease traveling by air for years, if ever. No one will feel safe visiting or working in very tall buildings, particularly ones that are landmarks. The fear level of everyone in America has just been boosted by several degrees.

Perhaps the worst possible outcome is some kind of war. I pray it will not come to that.

My heart cringes at the sheer volume of pain, anguish and deprivation this will bring to thousands upon thousands of people who have lost loved ones in this random atrocity. We need an enormous outpouring of compassion to help cushion the shock. We need, somehow, to transcend the level of hatred with a new level of love.

Written in response to a question about how to reconcile forgiveness with taking preventative action against terrorism:

(In the following exchange, the italicized paragraphs are the thoughts of the questioner. The non-italicized paragraphs are Allen's response.)

I'm finding it difficult to find a way to respond to the perpetrators of this tragedy with forgiveness.

I don't see any other way to proceed without first quarantining those elements which kill and destroy. We can see that ultimately no real harm has been done, but here in the illusion it seems to me that first we feel our feelings, and act to protect ourselves from the perceived danger. Then we can talk about forgiveness.

While I agree that it makes sense to act to prevent killing and destruction within the illusion of bodily existence, I don't see that doing so prohibits or even delays forgiveness.

Let me first state why, and how, I agree with your first point, which you call quarantining. There are a number of reasons that this makes sense to me even within the Course's thought system, in which we know that nothing has really happened and no one has really died. First, to the perpetrators, what they have done is very, very real. In terms of Eastern religion, they have accumulated a lot of bad karma; in the Course's understanding I think we could say they have dug themselves into the illusion more deeply than ever, and have accumulated a huge load of guilt. Acting to prevent them from taking any more such actions is an act of love and mercy toward them as well as toward the rest of humanity.

Second, the atrocity is, for many of us, even most of us, still very real. We are very much still identified with our bodies, as much as we'd like to think we have advanced spiritually, and therefore these things adversely affect us as well, reinforcing our belief that we are the victims of the world we see. It makes sense, therefore, to act to prevent them, just as it makes sense to lock our cars in the city, or to take aspirin for a headache if we don't possess a strong enough faith to cure the headache or to psychically preserve our car from theft. In other words, we have to live at the level of our actual beliefs, not at the level of our ideal beliefs.

For most of us, clearly, taking no preventative actions would increase our level of fear. Few, if any, could experience no increase of fear if these terrorists are known to be still at large and still trying to bring destruction on the United States. The Course is about freeing us from fear. A course of action (or lack of it) that increases our fears, therefore, is not the course of action ACIM would favor.

That being said, I do not believe taking action to stop terrorism needs to be accompanied by a lack of forgiveness. Your heart can be free of blame and hatred even while you act to stop the terrorism. These people are sick of mind, and need to be restrained just as we would restrain any other dangerously insane person, even as we care about them and love them.

Many folks see some of these perpetrators as driven by emotion and "evil", and unable or unwilling to participate in any kind of negotiation or rational compromise. I will not go there, I will not see any human being as ultimately unredeemable, but it does seem that we must first isolate the illusory danger. Many otherwise loving people are outraged and can't even begin to entertain the possibility that these perpetrators are capable of human kindness and compassion and understanding, and are therefore unforgivable.

As you say, no one is unforgivable; if that were the case, we would all be unforgivable. No one is beyond redemption, and as the Course teaches, everyone will eventually remember who they are and return their minds to God.

What has helped me feel a small measure of compassion towards those who did these terrible things is the thought of how incredibly separated and isolated from the rest of humanity they must have felt, to be able to so callously erase thousands of beings from the face of the earth. No one who felt any empathy with other human beings could have done this. How sad to be so cut off!

As we extend love and compassion from our minds to those who have been killed or injured, or who have suffered the loss of loved ones and property, let us also extend it to those who planned and carried out these events. I cherish the words of the Buddhist scripture called the "Metta Sutra" ("metta" means "lovingkindness"), which says, in part:

Wishing: in gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upward to the skies,
And downward to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.

How can we look at even this through the eyes of the Holy Spirit?

The question is no so much "how can we" as "are we willing to?" If we ask Him, He will show us how to perceive these events. Ask often. Ask every time you see the TV news or hear it on the radio or read it in a newspaper or overhear people around you talking about it. "Holy Spirit, show me how to perceive this." A good prayer in these days is:

I do not know what anything, including this, means. And so I do not know how to respond to it. And I will not use my own past learning as the light to guide me now. (T-14.XI.6:7-9)

The Course goes on to tell us:

By this refusal to attempt to teach yourself what you do not know, the Guide Whom God has given you will speak to you. He will take His rightful place in your awareness the instant you abandon it, and offer it to Him. (T-14.XI.6:10-11)

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