"Whatever suffers is not part of me."
The title of this lesson is interesting to me because I have just finished writing an article about our mistaken identity, and the need the Course speaks of for us to separate from our egos. (No, the Course does not always put a negative spin on the word "separation." See, for instance, T-22.II.6:1). The lesson affirms that whatever suffers is not really a part of me at all. This must be true if I am the Son of God, and the Son of God "cannot suffer" (W-pI.244.1:3). What I really am cannot suffer; therefore, "whatever suffers is not part of me."
Now, be honest. If we think for only a moment about the suffering, of various kinds, that we have experienced in our lives, one thing is pretty certain: We were quite sure we were suffering. Not some thing that isn't even part of ourselves, but us. To take a mild example, when I get the flu, I feel miserable. It isn't somebody else being miserable; it isn't anything I can even conceive of separating from (although I certainly have wished that I could!). That is how it seems. Is this proof that the Course is wrong? Or is it evidence of how completely we are still identified with our egos and our bodies?
The lesson is asking us to begin to learn to disengage ourselves from our egos and our bodies. "I have disowned the truth. Now let me be as faithful in disowning falsity" (1:1-2). Then follows a series of statements in which we deliberately distinguish our Self from that which experiences various things the Course sees as illusion: suffering, grief, pain, and death. The statement about death is particularly strong: "What dies was never living in reality, and did but mock the truth about myself" (1:6).
It is especially difficult to practice this kind of lesson when we are "in the frying pan." Yet if we are willing, it can be curiously comforting. For instance, if I am going through grief, and I am able to say, "What grieves is not myself," it can be helpful. Notice; this is not denial in the negative sense. I am not saying, "I do not really feel grief." I am saying, "What grieves" (and there is the acknowledgement of the grief) "is not myself." I am not denying the grief; I am denying that grief is me. I am recognizing that the thing that is feeling grief is not really who I am; it is a false image of myself, an illusion of myself I have identified with, but it is not truly myself. When grief feels as if it would swallow me whole, and engulf me so that I disappear into it, the realization that "What grieves is not myself" can be reassuring. And certainly in facing physical death, to know that what dies is not myself can be comforting.
This disowning of falsity, disowning "self-concepts and deceits and lies about the holy Son of God" (1:7), prepares us to welcome back our true Self. As I realize that none of these dark things affect Who I really am, "my ancient love for [God] returns" (2:1). That love is blocked and suppressed when I believe that what suffers is me; I blame God for my suffering, consciously or unconsciously, and cannot find it in myself to truly love Him. Down below the level of consciousness, every little bit of suffering, grief, and pain we experience in this world is laid at God's feet, and we point an accusing finger in His direction. We think He wanted this for us. When we begin to disengage ourselves from our bodies and egos, when we begin to realize that our Self is not suffering, we can remember God's Love, and love Him in return. "I am as You created me" (2:2); nothing has been damaged. Nothing has been lost. God has never been angry. And we can reunite our love with God's, and understand that they are one (2:4).
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