Will taking medicine reinforce the ego?

Question: I have an illness, and am concerned about taking physical medicine. I know the Course does not forbid this, but since physical medicine is magic, won't taking it reinforce my ego?

Short answer: Not necessarily. While attempting to heal the body in any way other than healing the mind is magic—the belief that a power other than God can save us—it does not follow that using magic will necessarily reinforce the ego. It will only do so if we believe that magic is truly healing, and thus use it as a substitute for healing the mind. We can use magic in a way that does not reinforce the ego by practicing "conscious magic": Taking physical remedies with the conscious understanding that we are doing so to temporarily alleviate physical symptoms while we work on healing the mind. And as we practice conscious magic, we should remind ourselves that our real goal is not physical healing but rather the peace of God, which will allow us to ultimately transcend bodily concerns entirely.


Attempting to heal the body in any way other than healing the mind is magic—the belief that a power other than God can save us.

What is magic? Magic is the ego's substitute for the healing device that God Himself gave us, the only healing device that really works: the miracle. Magic is the mind's insane attempt to "give" healing power to everything but God—to our separate selves, to other people with "special" healing powers, or to various things in the physical world. The miracle works because it heals the mind; specifically, it heals the mind's belief that we are separate from God and from each other, the real source of all sickness and suffering of any kind. But magic is rooted in "the belief that there is a creative ability in matter which the mind cannot control" (T-2.IV.2:8). It focuses on healing the physical through physical means, and therefore it doesn't really heal at all, because it leaves the true source of all sickness (the mind's belief in separation) unhealed. All magic can give us, then, is an illusion of healing. Like a stage magician who uses illusions to make things seem to disappear, our magic is an attempt to conjure an illusion of healing, in which our sickness and suffering seem to disappear. This illusion deceives us into believing that our problems are gone, so we will no longer seek true healing. This is the ego's whole purpose for magic: By turning us away from true healing, magic cements the ego further into place.

As most Course students know, one major form of magic discussed in the Course is physical medicine: "Physical medications are forms of 'spells'" (T-2.V.2:2). Physical medications are attempts to heal the body without healing the mind, and thus they are attempts to avoid the true healing that God's miracles would bring. Yet it is worth noting that the term "magic," as the Course defines it, applies to much more than just physical medications. More broadly, it applies to anything other than God that we believe will keep us from harm or bring us happiness. (See W-pI.50.1:2-3 for one list of things that qualify as magic.) Even if we narrow the focus to physical health (which I will do from now on, since that is the focus of this question), the term "magic" refers to much more than just the pills and shots of conventional medicine. We are told that "all material means that you accept as remedies for bodily ills are restatements of magic principles" (T-2.IV.4:1). The implication of this sentence is that all physical means of treating bodily illness—including herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, macrobiotic diets, exercise, colonics, aromatherapy, and any of hundreds of other forms—are also a forms of magic.

But our investment in magic goes even deeper than that. The Course implies that anything we do physically to maintain the health of the body is a form of magic. It tells us that physical appetites were invented by the mind to maintain the ego (see T-4.II.7:5-9). Lesson 76 in the Workbook, "I am under no laws but God's," tells us that in truth we are not bound by the laws of medicine, nutrition, immunization, and bodily protection, among others. The Course also tells us, in this startling sentence, that when the mind is fully healed, the body will not be bound by any of the laws we normally think it must obey:

The body's health is fully guaranteed, because it is not limited by time, by weather or fatigue, by food and drink, or any laws you made it serve before. (W-pI.136.18:3)

This sentence is truly astounding. It tells us that if the mind were truly healed, then the body wouldn't age, wouldn't need protection against the elements, wouldn't need sleep, wouldn't need to eat or drink—in short, it really wouldn't need much of anything. The belief that it does need all these things is, by implication, a form of magic: a belief that we are under laws other than the laws of God, a belief that a power other than God can save (or harm) us.

Why am I bringing all this up? Because it is my impression that a number of Course students, once they read that physical medications are magic, try to give up taking physical medications as much as possible, in the mistaken belief that this is what the Course asks of them. They acknowledge that the Course permits physical medicine as a "compromise approach" (T-2.IV.4:6), but still believe that the way to give up our investment in magic—and thus the way to avoid ego reinforcement—is to make as little compromise in this area as possible. In other words, the way to avoid ego reinforcement is to physically give up all the different forms of magic that we use.

However, I really do not believe that this is what the Course is asking of us. Not only does this approach completely miss the point—the mind is healed through miracles, not through physically giving up particular forms-but, given what we've seen, it is truly impossible for us to completely give up magic in our current, unhealed state. To really do this, we would have to give up much more than pills and shots; we would have to give up eating, drinking, and sleeping! None of us will be ready to give up these activities anytime soon. We do believe in the magic of physical laws, and as long as we do, we have to live by those laws. Therefore, the issue is not really whether we will use magic, but how we will use it. Which brings me to my next point.

Using magic does not necessarily reinforce the ego. It will only do so if we believe that magic is truly healing, and thus use it as a substitute for healing the mind.

We have seen that the ego made magic to reinforce itself. It is an ego trick designed to keep us away from true healing. It is the ego's substitute for healing the mind. Yet even though all this is true, magic is not inherently ego reinforcing; if it were, we'd be sunk, because as we saw above, using magic to a certain extent is unavoidable as long as our minds remain unhealed. How, then, can we use magic in a way that does not reinforce the ego? By actively refusing (as best we can) to accept the lesson that the ego is trying to teach through magic: that we are separate from God, and that the physical realm is the source of sickness and healing. As long as we acknowledge to ourselves that magic does not truly heal and thus cannot be used as a replacement for healing the mind, we can use magic much more safely, because we have robbed it (at least to a certain extent) of its ego-reinforcing power.

In fact, the whole reason that the Course recommends a compromise approach concerning physical medicine is that this approach can help prevent ego reinforcement. In the passages which discuss this approach, we are given two main reasons for it:

  1. Many sick people are afraid of mental healing (the miracle). Giving them a miracle would increase their fear, and thus prevent healing. Therefore, it is better to give them physical remedies to temporarily alleviate their symptoms, so that their fear will be reduced. (see T-2.IV.4)
  2. Miracle workers—people who give healing to others—can also sometimes be afraid of mental healing. When they are afraid, they will have a tendency to ascribe any healing they bring about to their own special powers rather than the power of God working through them. To avoid this, they should recommend physical remedies for their patients, because it is obvious that such physical remedies do not come from their own special powers. Miracle workers should take this approach as long as their fear of mental healing persists. (See T-2.V.2)

Notice that in both cases, using physical remedies is an antidote to fear. And since fear is the emotion of the ego, this is just another way of saying that using physical remedies is an antidote to ego reinforcement. In the first case, physical remedies prevent the ego reinforcement that would happen as a result of the sick person's increased fear; in the second case, physical remedies prevent the ego reinforcement that would happen as a result of the miracle worker's fear (specifically, the ego reinforcement stemming from his belief that healing comes from his own special powers rather than from God). Thus in both cases, the magic of physical medicine serves as a means to avoid strengthening the ego. Used as a temporary alleviator of fear, it can help both the sick person and the miracle worker address their problems, at least on a surface level, until they are ready to fearlessly accept the miracle, the only source of true healing.

We can use magic in a way that does not reinforce the ego by practicing "conscious magic": Taking physical remedies to temporarily alleviate physical symptoms while we work on healing the mind.

The key to the effectiveness of the compromise approach above is the recognition that the magic being used is magic. Using magic blindly in the belief that it truly heals does reinforce the ego; only by using magic with full awareness of what we are doing can we use it in a way that does not reinforce the ego. Which brings us to the idea of conscious magic.

"Conscious magic" is Robert Perry's term for this whole approach to magic. Practicing conscious magic means that as we take our physical remedies, we actively tell ourselves, "I am taking this medicine only for temporary relief of symptoms while I work on healing my mind. I understand that physical medicine is magic. I understand that the only true healing is the healing of the mind through miracles, and I am not using this medicine as a substitute for that." Most importantly, while we take our medications, we also do Course practices that will help us heal our minds. By focusing on healing our minds through Course practices, we consciously refuse to accept the lessons that the ego is trying to teach through magic, and we consciously refuse to allow magic to become a substitute for true healing. Therefore, the magic we use will be much less likely to deceive us.

Based on this approach, here is my advice for how to deal with any physical ailment in a way that is in harmony with the Course:

  1. Go ahead and follow any treatment regimen you feel guided to pursue. There is no doubt that physical treatments can often relieve physical symptoms, and that is a good thing in the short term, even if it falls short of true healing. Of course, consult your health care professional(s) for advice on the best treatment options for your condition, and also ask the Holy Spirit for guidance about how best to proceed. Whatever physical remedies you use will be magic, but this is totally in line with the Course, as long as you also do the things described in the next point.
  2. Practice conscious magic, as described above. As you follow your treatment regimen, do your Course practice, and remind yourself constantly that true healing is of the mind. Choose to see your physical treatment as a temporary expedient to help you alleviate symptoms as you work on healing your mind. If you do that, then taking physical medicine is much less likely to reinforce your ego. On the contrary, your conscious awareness of the fact that what you're doing is magic, combined with your commitment to mental healing, will tend to weaken the ego.

I personally believe that learning how to use magic consciously is a very important skill for Course students to develop. As I said above, the fact of the matter is that all of us use magic to some degree. We can't really escape magic until we are very advanced spiritually, so it is important for us to learn how to use it properly in the meantime. We do live by physical laws as long as we believe in them, but trying to give them up cold turkey is not the way for us rank beginners to undo that belief. Rather, the way to undo that belief is to begin realizing, through Course study and practice, that those laws are illusions, and to constantly remind ourselves of their illusory nature even as we temporarily live by them. This is what the practice of conscious magic allows us to do.

As we practice conscious magic, we should remind ourselves that our real goal is not physical healing but rather the peace of God, which will allow us to ultimately transcend bodily concerns entirely.

One more thing we can do to prevent magic from reinforcing the ego is to make sure that physical healing does not become our focus. Yes, magic can temporarily alleviate physical symptoms, and this is a desirable thing in the short term. Yes, "the miracle can heal all forms of sickness" (T-30.VI.7:1), and as we progress on the path, we will increasingly use the miracle instead of magic to truly heal physical illness, both in ourselves and in others. Yet we should always keep in mind that, from the Course's standpoint, the body is not "the proper aim of healing" (T-8.IX.1:5). The healing of the mind is what really matters. This healing brings with it the greatest gift of all—the peace of God—and finding this peace should always be our aim:

The peace of God is my one goal; the aim of all my living here, the end I seek, my purpose and my function and my life, while I abide where I am not at home. (W-pI.205.1:3)

With this as our goal, bodily health will cease to be such a pressing issue. Oddly enough, however, giving up our concern about the body ultimately ensures its health. Sickness comes from our identification with the ego and the body; by not focusing on the body, we slowly but surely come to realize that we are more than the ego and the body. This growing recognition of our true Identity sets us on the path to the realization that will one day free us forever from the ego, the body, sickness, and every form of magic:

I am not a body. I am free.
For I am still as God created me. (W-pI.rVI.in.3:3-5)

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