Why are some judgments more difficult to give up than others?

Question: For example, why is it easy for me not to judge people for the color of their skin, but difficult not to judge their behavior or character?

Short answer: The whole idea that some things are more difficult to overcome than others is based on the illusion of differences, an illusion which seems real only because our minds prefer illusions to the truth. Some illusions (such as particular judgments) seem more difficult to give up than others only because we prefer those particular illusions — they rank higher in our personal hierarchy of illusions. The solution to this problem is first to open our minds to the idea that all illusions are equally unreal and equally undesirable, and then to ask for a miracle to heal them. The miracle undoes all illusions regardless of seeming difficulty because "there is no order of difficulty in miracles" (T-1.I.1:1).

In the following answer, I will be drawing heavily from Section 8 of the Manual, "How Can Perception of Order of Difficulties Be Avoided?" I recommend reading this section in its entirety, because it deals quite specifically with the very issue raised by this question. The section explains how the whole idea of order of difficulty (the belief that some things are more difficult to accomplish than others) arises, and how to overcome that belief. While the section deals specifically with the issue of how healers can overcome their belief that some sicknesses are harder to heal than others, it can certainly be applied to all order-of-difficulty issues.

The whole idea that some things are more difficult to overcome than others is based on the illusion of differences.

"Illusions are always illusions of differences" (M-8.2:1). Indeed, the entire world we see — the world which the Course tells us is an illusion — is literally defined by differences, by "thousands of contrasts in which each thing seen competes with every other in order to be recognized" (M-8.1:2). It is only through contrast, through noticing differences of height, weight, volume, texture, brightness, color, etc., that we are able to distinguish one object from another. Our inner world too, the world of ideas in our minds, is defined by differences. We distinguish one idea from another by noting the differences between them, such as differences of content, of validity, and of desirability.

Precisely because we see a world of differences, the world seems to present us with different problems, some of which seem more difficult to solve than others. Indeed, the Course tells us that "the belief in order of difficulties is the basis for the world's perception" (M-8.1:1). I don't think we need to look too hard to see that this is the case. The way we perceive things, Mount Everest is more difficult to climb than the jungle gym in our backyard. Beating Tiger Woods on the golf course is more difficult than beating our Uncle Louie. Cancer is more difficult to cure than a cold. Solving an advanced calculus problem is more difficult than solving an elementary arithmetic problem Rage at Hitler is more difficult to heal than annoyance at drivers who use cell phones. And (at least for some of us) judgments based on behavior are more difficult to overcome than judgments based on skin color. Or so it seems.

The illusion of differences seems real only because our minds prefer illusions to the truth.

This is the Course's startling answer to the question of why we see the illusion of differences. As real as order of difficulty based on differences seems to be, the only reason it seems real is that we want it to be real. We see illusions because we want illusions to replace the truth, and thus become true themselves; "finding truth unacceptable" (M-8.2:6), we weave illusions in an attempt "to bring truth to lies" (M-8.2:5). Why do we do this? Because we identify with the ego, and truth is the ego's ultimate enemy, the thing that would dispel it. Illusions are what keep the ego going; therefore, as long as we identify with the ego we will crave illusions, even though illusions are ultimately painful to us. Thus when the Course speaks of preferring and desiring illusions, it is referring not so much to things we consciously desire but to things the ego desires to keep itself going. Some of these things — like physical pleasure and special relationships — we may well desire consciously, but others — like sickness and guilt — we most likely don't desire consciously at all.

The idea that we see illusions because we want them to be true is a real reversal of how we normally regard the phenomenon of illusion. Normally, we think of illusions as things that deceive us against our will, like a mirage in the desert. The mirage fools us, but not because we wanted it to fool us. The Course, however, turns this reasoning on its ear:

By definition, an illusion is an attempt to make something real that is regarded as of major importance, but is recognized as being untrue. The mind therefore seeks to make it true out of its intensity of desire to have it for itself. (M-8.2:3-4)

In other words, we know that what we desire is unreal, but we desire it so much that we make an illusory image of it to convince ourselves that it is real.

It seems hard to believe that we actually do this, yet we can see examples of it in our daily lives. We are all familiar with the phenomenon of denial, where people can live a lie for years, convinced on the surface that their lives are totally authentic, yet never quite escaping that nagging feeling deep down that they are just fooling themselves. And this dynamic also expresses itself in our love of fictional books and movies. Think about what happens when you go to a movie. You know going in that it is pure illusion, projected images of actors who are pretending to be other people, filmed on artificial sets, perhaps even with computer-generated special effects. Yet you want to believe it — you want to forget it is an illusion, because you desire the experience the movie promises. In essence, you want to be convinced that the characters and events in the movie are real. That's the whole point of going to movies, is it not? A good movie is one that delivers a convincing experience, one that feels real; a bad movie is one that is unconvincing, one that feels contrived and fake. Purveyors of fiction even have a term for the audience's process of forgetting that a fictional work is an illusion, a process they want to facilitate: "willing suspension of disbelief." The Course is saying that our entire world is rooted in willing suspension of disbelief: our desire to make illusory images of things we want, and then forget we made them in order to convince ourselves that they are real.

But of course, different people like different movies. As we've seen, our illusory world is a world of differences, in which each "mind is separate, different from other minds, with different interests of its own" (M-8.2:8). All of us prefer illusions to the truth, but each of us prefers different illusions. And thus, the Course says, each of us has developed our own individual "hierarchy of illusions" (T-23.II.2:3), a kind of ranking system in which the more preferable an illusion is to us, the more "true" it is. (Remember, our whole purpose for making illusions is to convince ourselves that the things we desire are real, or true.) This hierarchy of illusions is maintained and reinforced by an ingenious process of selective perception described in M-8.4, a process on which "the judgment of all differences rests, because it is on [this process] that judgments of the world depend" (M-8.4:7). This process of selective perception can by summed up broadly in four steps:

  1. Each mind creates a variety of mental categories, based on its own personal hierarchy of illusions.
  2. The mind then directs the physical senses to go out into the world and find things that fit these mental categories. (The mind "forgets" that it has done this, so now we are not consciously aware of this selection process.)
  3. The senses do as the mind directs, overlooking things that don't fit the categories and finding things that do.
  4. The selective evidence brought back by the senses "proves" to the mind that its categories must be true.

We can certainly see this process at work in the example of racial prejudice. Let's say that a person starts with a mental category called "Jews," a category which contains the subcategory "Jews are stingy." This person then directs her senses to look for stingy Jews and — surprise, surprise — that's exactly what her senses find. She doesn't spot the Jews who are giving millions to charity or generously helping their neighbors in need. But any Jew who also happens to be a stingy person is spotted immediately, and into the database he goes. Our person then examines the results of this selective survey, and guess what? She concludes, "Yes indeed, those Jews sure are stingy. Look at all the stingy Jews I found!"

This same process is at work when we judge people on the basis of their behavior. Most of us have mental categories called "People who do x are evil sinners." We may not express it that way, but that's basically how we feel inside. So let's say that a person is a vegetarian, and has a category called "People who eat meat are evil sinners." He sends his senses out to look for evil meat eaters. The first thing those senses will probably do is find particular meat eaters who are disagreeable people in other respects. He will tend to overlook kind, good-hearted people who also happen to eat meat. (He probably won't notice a picture of Jesus eating a fish.) But once he selects out his group of particularly nasty meat eaters, his senses will then make even further selections. He will overlook the acts of kindness and love done by these people, and focus on their faults. And of course, he will completely overlook the evidence that the vision of Christ beyond his senses would reveal to him, evidence which shows that these evil meat eaters are really holy Sons of God. As a result of all this selective perception, our vegetarian concludes, "Those meat eaters really are evil sinners, and I've got the evidence to prove it!"

Thus is our particular hierarchy of illusions "proven" true. And thus do we convince ourselves that the entire illusion of differences is true. The shocking punchline: It is only our preference for illusions that makes them "real" to us. We want illusions instead of truth, and so illusions are what we see. "What is seen as 'reality' is simply what the mind prefers" (M-8.3:6).

Some illusions (such as particular judgments) seem more difficult to give up only because we prefer those particular illusions — they rank higher in our personal hierarchy of illusions.

This follows logically from the idea that only our preference for illusions makes them "real" to us. The higher a particular illusion (such as a particular judgment) ranks on our hierarchy of illusions, the more "true" it is to us, and thus the less willing we are to give it up. It is only our lack of willingness to accept truth that makes a particular illusion seem more difficult to let go. The Course says as much in this passage:

It is impossible that one illusion be less amenable to truth than are the rest. But it is possible that some are given greater value, and less willingly offered to truth for healing and for help. (T-26.VII.6:1-2)

Or, as another line from the Course puts it, when we believe that some illusions are more difficult to give up than others, "all [we] mean is that there are some things [we] would withhold from truth" (T-17.I.3:1).

Certainly it doesn't appear to us that our preference for certain illusions is the only reason they seem more difficult to let go. Indeed, as Course students, on a conscious level we may desperately want to let them go. It appears to us that the reason for our difficulty is that "harder" illusions are truly different than "easier" illusions — bigger, more deeply rooted, more heavily reinforced — and further, that those differences are quite external to our minds. But that perception is simply the result of the whole game of making illusions "true" that we just saw above. It is our minds, not the external world, that produce the illusion of differences, including the illusion that some illusions are harder to give up than others. And it is in our minds that this illusion must be overcome.

The solution to this problem is first to open our minds to the idea that all illusions are equally unreal and equally undesirable, and then to ask for a miracle to heal them. "There is no order of difficulty in miracles."

It sounds insane to say that the illusions we prefer are truer than the illusions we don't prefer. And it is indeed insane:

It appears some [illusions] are more true than others, although this clearly makes no sense at all. All that a hierarchy of illusions can show is preference, not reality. What relevance has preference to the truth? Illusions are illusions and are false. (T-26.VII.6:4-7)

Being willing to see this simple and obvious fact — that truth is truth, illusion is illusion, and never the twain shall meet — is the first step in overcoming the belief that some illusions are more difficult to give up than others. It doesn't matter whether the illusion is of Mount Everest or a jungle gym, of Tiger Woods or our Uncle Louie, of cancer or a cold, of advanced calculus or elementary arithmetic, of Hitler or a cell phone user, of judgments based on behavior or judgments based on skin color. Whatever the form of the illusion, it is nothing. It is totally unreal, and precisely because it is unreal, it is totally undesirable: "How can illusions satisfy God's Son?" (W-pII.272.Heading). How can illusions possibly be preferable to the truth that we are radiant Sons of a loving Father, basking in a Heavenly realm of pure, limitless joy?

Once we open our minds to the idea that illusions are equally unreal and equally undesirable, we will be more willing to ask for the Holy Spirit's means of dispelling them: the miracle. Whatever the seeming magnitude of the particular illusion we are dealing with, the miracle can undo it. Why? Because, as every Course student knows, the very first principle of A Course in Miracles is that "there is no order of difficulty in miracles" (T-1.I.1:1). Miracles can heal everything regardless of seeming difficulty, and so they are the answer to any seeming problem that could possibly confront us. This principle is vital to the Course, "a real foundation stone" (T-6.V.A.4:5) of its spiritual program. As such, it is an idea that the author of the Course really wants us to take to heart.

Why is there no order of difficulty in miracles? We've already seen the answer: because there is no order of magnitude in illusions. The entire belief in order of difficulty is an illusion, an illusion which is powerless before the truth. The miracle, being the expression of the all-encompassing truth and boundless love of God, has all the power of God behind it. In short, the miracle demonstrates that illusion is nothing, and truth is everything. If this is so, then how could one illusion possibly be more difficult to overcome than another? "Not one [illusion] is true in any way, and all must yield with equal ease to what God gave as answer to them all" (T-26.VII.6:9).

Overcoming the belief in order of difficulty: A practice

As discussed above, the belief in order of difficulty is central to the way we see the world. If we were able to totally overcome this belief, the miracle would heal all of our problems instantly and our journey through time and space would be over. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to overcome this belief overnight, but we can chip away at it with practice. The following practice is one I've devised to help us do just that:

Bring to mind a specific problem in your life that seems particularly resistant to solution. It could be anything from a distressing external situation to a judgment that you are finding difficult to let go. Anything that is disturbing your peace of mind is a suitable subject. Once you have your specific problem in mind, take it through the following process (feel free to use whatever words appeal to you and elaborate as much as you like — you might even use some of the Course lines I quoted above, or other personal favorites that are relevant):

  1. Gently tell yourself that whatever the seeming magnitude of the problem, it is totally an illusion, no more substantial than any other illusion, and therefore no problem at all. Illusions are nothing, and so they cannot be difficult to overcome.
  2. Gently tell yourself that because it is an illusion, you don't really want it, however much you may seem to. No illusion can ever make you happy; only the truth that you are God's holy Son, living in His eternal Love, can make you happy.
  3. Now, ask the Holy Spirit for a miracle that will dispel this illusion, reminding yourself that "there is no order of difficulty in miracles." There is literally nothing a miracle cannot overcome, because illusions are nothing, and miracles have all the power of God behind them.

How did that work for you? It's a very simple practice, but I found it very effective when I applied it to a problem I'm currently facing. One caution about evaluating the results of this practice: Don't consider yourself a failure if the problem you're facing doesn't immediately vanish. Especially if it is a particularly "big" problem as the world judges these things, it will probably take a lot more than one brief practice to overcome it. Even if all you feel is just a little more peace around the problem, consider your practice a success. You've chipped away at the belief in order of difficulty, even if only a little.


I find the Course's teaching that all problems are totally illusory and thus easily undone by the miracle very reassuring. It comforts me to know that I don't really have a vast collection of problems of all shapes, sizes, and levels of difficulty, however much I may seem to. And it is a great relief to realize that in spite of all the apparent differences that seem to make life so difficult, the fact remains that all illusions are the same, and all of them will vanish in the light of the simple truth:

Just as reality is wholly real, apart from size and shape and time and place — for differences cannot exist within it — so too are illusions without distinctions….The one answer to all illusions is truth. (M-8.6:7,9)

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