Question: Would the Course have us refrain from all forms of competition?

Short answer: According to the Course, the idea (content) of competition is wholly of the ego. However, the form of competition, like all forms, is neutral in itself, and it is impossible to refrain from all forms of competition in this world. Therefore, what the Course would have us do is make sure that the content of our minds is non-competitive, even when we are engaging in forms that are competitive.

According to the Course, the idea (content) of competition is wholly of the ego.

Competition is an idea entirely foreign to God. As He created us, we are limitless beings, who "both have everything and are everything" (T-4.III.9:5). Our only function in our Heavenly home is to share everything with one another, extending our abundance in creation. There is no lack, and therefore the whole idea of competition is inconceivable: "Because God's equal Sons have everything, they cannot compete" (T-7.III.3:3). We all share in the inheritance of God, and in His Kingdom, "there is no loss" (W-pI.76.9:3); this exact phrase appears seven times in the Course).

Once we listened to the ego and made the physical world, however, we "lost" the inheritance of God, at least in our minds. The ego "is competitive rather than loving" (T-7.I.4:1), and the ego's world is a reflection of this. This world is a world of separation, and in such a world, everyone is limited, unequal, and lacking. Living as limited bodies in a separate world requires us to compete for physical resources such as food, shelter, mates, and territory. As human beings, we also compete for what might be called mental resources—special love, self-esteem, status, etc.—all of which fall under the Course's category of "specialness."

In short, competition is woven into the very fabric of this world. It is not an idea limited to more obvious human forms like war, athletics, or the quest for wealth, but rather a basic component of everyday life. It is, in fact, the idea at the heart of the ego's "'laws' of chaos" (T-23.II.1:1), the laws that govern this world. In a world of differences, everything is enemy to everything else, and existence is a chaotic battle for survival. To be sure, some things join together in cooperative alliances, but only in order to defeat a common enemy. The law of Heaven is that everyone has everything; but the law of earth is the law of the jungle: "You have what you have taken" (T-23.II.9:3).

In this world, then, there are winners and losers. One's gain is another's loss. And through this ongoing battle for survival between separate entities, the ego ensures its own survival. Each separate entity loses in the end through death; only the ego itself—the thought of separation—wins in the long run.

However, the form of competition, like all forms, is neutral in itself, and it is impossible to refrain from all forms of competition in this world.

Upon hearing how grim and ego-ridden the idea of competition is, our first impulse may be to try to give up all forms of competition entirely. However, I think this is the wrong approach to the problem for at least two reasons—the reasons presented in my heading above. First, even though the idea of competition is of the ego, the forms in which competition takes place are neutral in themselves. They are simply empty vessels, which can be interpreted through the eyes of the ego or the eyes of the Holy Spirit. Thus, giving up the form of competition is not the crucial thing; giving up the mental content of competition behind the form is. I will discuss this further in my next point.

Second, it is simply impossible to give up all forms of competition in this world. Now, certainly there are many forms we can give up, and I think it's highly likely that we will be guided to give up certain forms as we progress on the spiritual journey. But as I said in my previous point, competition is woven into the very fabric of this world. Whenever we eat something, we are gaining at the expense of the thing being eaten. Whenever we recover from an illness, we win and the microbes that caused the illness on the physical level lose. Whenever we get a job or find a mate, we have defeated the others who competed for that job or that mate. Conversely, when we get eaten, don't recover from the illness, or fail to obtain the job or mate, we are the losers.

We can certainly live in ways that reduce the amount of competition we engage in, but no matter how we choose to live, we cannot help but engage in at least some of these forms. Competition is simply part of living in this world, and so it is impossible to give up all competition on a form level. Fortunately, it is possible to look at all of these competitive forms in a different way, which leads me to my next point.

Therefore, what the Course would have us do is make sure that the content of our minds is non-competitive, even when we are engaging in forms that are competitive.

We may not be able to give up all forms of competition, but I said above, giving up forms not the crucial thing anyway. The crucial thing is giving up competitive content in the mind, the idea of competition sponsored by the ego.

I think it's critical to realize that just giving up forms does not lead to a true change of mind. The Course tells us unequivocally, "You cannot change your mind by changing your behavior" (T-4.IV.2:1). It is so easy for us to give up certain more overt forms of competition like basketball games or the corporate rat race, and then think we've really given up competition. But if all we've done is give up a few forms, we haven't really given up competition, for two reasons. First, we're still engaging in all sorts of other forms of competition that are not so obvious to us, like the ones mentioned above. Second, and more important, we really haven't given up the content of competition in our minds.

Our main task, then, is not so much to give up competitive forms, though we certainly should give up specific forms if we feel so guided. Instead, our main task is to give up our competitive mindset through ongoing Course practice. Indeed, the Course considers giving up the idea of competition to be absolutely essential to its program. In the Text, we are told, "Do not underestimate your need to be vigilant against this idea, because all your conflicts come from it" (T-7.III.3:5). In a later discussion of the idea of justice (the idea that everyone must get what he deserves), the Course says, "The principle that justice means no one can lose is crucial to this course" (T-25.IX.5:4). In the Workbook, Lesson 133 tells us that if our motivation for acquiring something is to take something away from someone else, then what we are seeking is utterly valueless, and we should let it go. Finally, the Course material tells us again and again that salvation lies in joining with others, "and in so doing, [losing] all sense of separate interests" (P-2.II.8:4). Giving up the idea of separate interests and giving up the idea of competition are one and the same. This is the only way the ego thought of separation, and the competitive battle for survival based on that thought, can be undone.

How do we keep the content of our minds non-competitive even while engaging in the inevitable competitive forms? Besides maintaining a regular regimen of Course practice, I can think of two Course-based attitudes we can cultivate. First, we can remind ourselves that all of these competitive forms we are engaging in are unreal. There may well be "winners" and "losers" on the level of form, but none of this has any effect at all on anyone's reality. No matter what the appearance, the fact remains that, in truth, there is no loss. Second, we can allow the Holy Spirit to change our motivation for engaging in these forms. As long as we listen to the ego, we will engage in them for the purpose of fulfilling our lacks through taking from others. But if we listen to the Holy Spirit, we will engage in them for the purpose of serving the Holy Spirit's plan of salvation through giving to others.

Let's apply these attitudes to the examples of competitive forms I presented above. Listening to the ego, we will view eating, maintaining bodily health, and acquiring a job or mate as means to fulfill our perceived lacks at the expense of others. Our mindset will be competitive, and winning these things for ourselves will be extremely important to us. But listening to the Holy Spirit, we will see all of these things as unreal, and of no ultimate consequence. Eating well, maintaining bodily health, and acquiring the right job or mate will be important only to the extent that they allow us to do our part in the Holy Spirit's plan of salvation and be of service to others. Whether we win something or lose something on a form level, we will trust that all is well, because the Holy Spirit gives everyone everything they need. Our mindset will be non-competitive, and so winning and losing will not be important to us at all.

A personal story: My relationship with competitive athletics

The whole question of competition and how to relate to it is a deeply personal one for me, as I have had a lifelong love for competitive athletics. I'd like to share a bit of my own personal journey in coming to terms with competition in this area, in the hope that it might be instructive. I make absolutely no claim to have transcended the ego-based desire for competition, but I have learned a few things over the years, and so I hope that what I'm about to share will be helpful.

As I said, I have loved competitive athletics all my life. I enjoyed (and still enjoy) both watching various sports and participating in them. In particular, I was a very good competitive distance runner in my younger years. And to be totally honest, my motivation for competing, especially in my high school and college years, was almost pure ego. My distance running success, in my eyes, was my ticket to special love, self-esteem, and status—those precious mental resources I referred to earlier.

But as I grew older and became drawn to the spiritual path, I slowly began to re-evaluate my relationship with competitive athletics. I began to realize that athletic success wasn't the key to happiness that I thought it was. Losing was painful, and even winning was not really all that satisfying. As I began to study the Course, what it said about the idea of competition hit very close to home. I had to really think about what I wanted to do concerning my competitive running career.

As a result of reflecting on this, I asked the Holy Spirit a number of times for guidance about whether to quit competitive distance running. While I don't know how pure my reception of guidance was, the answer I always seemed to get was "You don't need to quit, but you do need to learn to look at it in a new way." So, for a period of several years, I kept running races, but really tried to bring a non-competitive mindset to them. And while my success at this was far from perfect, I feel like I really did make some progress. I continued with the form of competitive distance running, but over time, I learned to not take it so seriously. I began to remind myself of the unreality of it all, and place less importance on winning and losing. I learned how to love my "opponents," seeing them as compatriots rather than enemies. I began to see my road races as opportunities to connect with people, instead of opportunities to gain status at their expense. In short, I tried to use my races as means for joining and giving, rather than as means for separating and taking away.

Eventually, I gave up competitive distance running. There were a number of reasons for this, but the bottom line was that other things, like my work with the Course, had simply become more important to me. And even though I gave up this particular form of competition, I don't regret the time I spent doing it. In hindsight, I see that I learned things from it that continue to benefit me in my current work. One major benefit is that I learned self-discipline and training principles that are perfectly applicable to Course study and practice. The Holy Spirit has put the skills I developed through competitive running to good use, even though my original purpose for doing it was pure ego. As I look back on my running career, I can't help but think of this line from the Manual: "The past as well held no mistakes; nothing that did not serve to benefit the world, as well as him to whom it seemed to happen" (M-4.VIII.1:6).

To this day, I still run non-competitively, and I still enjoy competitive athletics, though not with the zeal I had earlier in my life. I still watch my favorite sports, and I admire the dedication, skill, grace, and discipline of great athletes. Perhaps as I evolve, the day will come eventually when I give up competitive athletics entirely. I don't know. But for now, I continue to learn how to look at this form of competition in a different way, often doing Course practice as I watch, learning how to maintain the content of non-competitiveness in my mind even as I partake of competition on the level of form. I certainly haven't transcended the ego in this area, but I am making progress. And that is the important thing.


Can you imagine what the world would be like without the idea of competition? It would be a vastly different place. While I've stressed that giving up particular forms of competition is not the answer in and of itself, I have no doubt that many of the most painful and unnecessary forms will be given up as our minds are healed. And even the forms that remain temporarily necessary while we live on this earth will be seen in a whole new light. Our world will be transformed from a place of war to a place of peace; from a place of lack to a place of plenty; from a place of fear to a place of love. From such a world, it is a small step back to Heaven, in which peace, plenty, and love are our eternal inheritance, and we are forever freed of the need to compete for what is rightfully ours.

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