On Sunday March 20, 2011, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
The name of my talk today is “Confusion and Guidance,” because I have been confused, and I need a lot of guidance. (laughter) I thought I should study up on it. Confusion is certainly something that happens to me a lot. I know that it happens to everybody. I don’t think we like to talk about it very much.
A Course in Miracles talks about confusion a lot. It says, “You will make many concepts of the self as learning goes along. Each one will show the changes in your own relationships as your perception of yourself is changed. There will be some confusion every time there is a shift, but be you thankful that the learning of the world is loosening its grasp upon your mind. And be sure and happy in the confidence that it will go at last and leave your mind at peace.” (OrEd.Tx.31.58) I’ve had significant relationship challenges and changes recently, and I have a lot of confusion about what exactly is going on. What I should do? Should I do anything? Maybe I should just do nothing. I don’t know. I am confused, and for me, right now, I need to embrace that confusion. I need to just let this be and not feel like I need to know the answers to my questions right at this moment.
Confusion is something that is mentioned a lot in A Course In Miracles, but I don’t hear a lot of miracles students or teachers talk about confusion. However the word “confusion” itself is in the Course 100 times. The word “confused” is in the Course 53 times. So, we have 153 mentions of “confused” and “confusion.” (laughter) It must be an important idea. The Course says, “You share confusion and you are confused, for in the gap no stable self exists.” (OrEd.Tx.28.42) We share our confusion not only by saying that we are confused, but we share it just by how we are. We share it by the instability that we sometimes project. We share it in the anxiety we demonstrate. We share it by doing things that don’t match each other. Our actions don’t match our words. We show ourselves and the world that we are confused when we are ambivalent about things. We like it a little this way and a little that way. Sometimes we want it over here, and sometimes over there. The when we are over here, we wish we hadn’t said what we said when we were over there. When we’re over there, we wish we hadn’t said what we said when we were over here. Where the hell are we anyway? (laughter) I don’t know. Sometimes we’re just confused.
Here’s another similar “confusion” quotation, “What you have given ‘life’ is not alive and symbolizes but your wish to be alive apart from life, alive in death, with death perceived as life, and living, death. Confusion follows on confusion here, for on confusion has this world been based, and there is nothing else it rests upon.” (OrEd.Tx.29.15) Whenever we are confused we have gotten hooked into the thinking of the world. The world is a confused time and space. When confused we are thinking in the ways of the world. When thinking the thoughts of the world we can not help but be confused.
That passage from A Course In Miracles is itself confusing. You have got to really look at it. It says we have given life to these illusions that we see out there, that aren’t alive. That’s our wish, to be alive apart from what is really alive – which is the Spirit that we can not truly see here. This means that we really want to be alive in death, which is only what we see out there. We want to perceive this thing that’s death. We want to perceive it as life, and we want to perceive true life – that thing that we can’t actually see, the Spirits all around – as what we may go to after we die. So the true Spirits are death.
We’re just confused about life, death, this world, what’s life, what’s death .... Of course, any time we buy into that we project that confusion and speak of that confusion. We act confused, share confusion, teach confusion, ... both to the world and to ourselves. I think this is an important concept to get. I think A Course In Miracles talks about this a lot and I don’t hear Course students talking about it a lot, so I am going to talk about it.
Guidance – the only way out of confusion is to ask for guidance. We’re never going to figure out the world. We’re never going to figure out our issues. I remember when I was in college, at Cornell University, I took a course named, “Problems and Decision Making.” It was an elective. Thank God! (laughter) Thank God I didn’t have a major in “Problems and Decision Making.” I took this elective. It was very easy. It taught you how to make a chart with two sides, pros and cons. (laughter) List the pros; list the cons. Rate the pros; rate the cons. Set up some values for your life. How much does this pro match a certain value? You give different pros and cons more weight. Can you imagine taking that for a whole semester? I don’t know how we did that for a whole semester. That could have been taught in a half an hour? (laughter) A whole semester we spent on that, and it was supposed to teach us how to make good decisions which was basically how to get out of confusion. But I realize now it taught us absolutely nothing, because all it did was grind us into the world and into the way that we perceive the world. There was no spiritual dimension to it at all. There was no mention of following a spiritual energy or even an intuitive idea about what was right for us to do .
A Course In Miracles says a lot about following guidance. It usually talks about following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or following the guidance of God. Sometimes the Course talks about following the guidance of Jesus, because he is supposed to be the personification of the Holy Spirit. A lot of Course people talk about this because this idea is so pervasive in the material. There are some teachers who base their whole ministry on this, like the Doyles, DavidPaul and Candace Doyle. That is their whole focus, how to hear the Voice for God. Other teachers focus on this a lot too. What does following guidance mean? I think it means very different things for different people. An important question is, “How do we do that? What is the process for us?” As I said, I think the process is very different for different people. I have also found that it has been very different for me at different times in my life. For me it is a process that is continually evolving and continually changing. What has helped me – and I have spoken of this before – is that when I ask a question of the Holy Spirit I don’t try and hear an answer right away. I just focus on, as best as possible, asking the question – forming the question, thinking of the question, offering it up, releasing it, asking if there is some aspect of the question that I might have missed. I want to truly offer that question up, and then I just sit with it. I wait for some sort of clarity, some sort of idea to come to me that just feels right. That’s the best thing I can say about guidance. Eventually an idea comes to me which just feels like it is the right idea.
Here’s an analogy that works for me. When I was young and living in my family home, we put together a lot of jigsaw, picture puzzles. When you had a piece of the picture puzzle in your hand it looked rather abstract. You didn’t know where it went. You didn’t know if you were holding it right side up, or upside down, but when you fit the piece in the right place it perfectly blended into the whole. Then you didn’t perceive it as a separate piece anymore. It was a part of the whole picture. That’s what guidance feels like to me. When I get that right idea it just fits. It fits into a whole picture and helps make the whole picture complete. When I feel that about a thought or a direction, when I feel that whole picture sense, that’s what guidance is for me.
Just as confusion is talked about a lot, guidance is talked about a lot and, I think guidance is right at the heart of the most fundamental teaching in A Course In Miracles. In today’s reading there is this passage, “There is another advantage ‘and a very important one’ in referring decisions to the Holy Spirit with increasing frequency. Perhaps you have not thought of this aspect, but its centrality is obvious. To follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance is to let yourself be absolved of guilt. it is the essence of the Atonement. It is the core of the curriculum.” (OrEd.Mn.29.3) There couldn’t be a clearer statement that this. Guidance is the core of the curriculum, but there is another idea here that people just gloss over. The reason why guidance is the core of the curriculum is because guidance absolves us from guilt and knowing our guiltlessness is salvation. Why does guidance absolve us from guilt? Because it isn’t us that made the decision. We can ask ourselves, “Why did we do that?” We were guided to do it. (laughter) It’s rather flakey (laughter), but it works (more laughter). I don’t have to feel guilty. I didn’t make the decision, the Holy Spirit did. Don’t blame me. It was my guidance. That is the core of the curriculum, absolving ourselves from guilt. That is exactly what this passages says, “To follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance is to let yourself be absolved of guilt.” (OrEd.Mn.29.3)
I have had disturbing, significant relationship issues going on recently. We all have had relationship issues at various times in our life – sometimes continuously in our lives. When important relationships shift and change there is an ego tendency, at least for me, to say, “Okay great. There are other people to have relationships with. I don’t have to focus in on her (or him).” However, then I remember that A Course In Miracles says, “Now the ego counsels thus substitute for this another relationship to which your former goal was quite appropriate. You can escape from your distress only by getting rid of each other. You need not part entirely if you choose not to do so. But you must exclude major areas of fantasy from each other to save your sanity.” (Tx.Or.Ed17.49) Then the Course gives us a very explicit statement that ends with an exclamation point, “Hear not this now!” (Tx.Or.Ed17.49) Don’t listen to this voice! I always have that voice. (laughter) It’s always there. It’s always telling me, “To the hell with you.” We don’t have to get rid of each other entirely. We can be friends. We can be really good friends, what ever the hell that means. (laughter) But, we’re not going to be partners anymore. We exclude major areas of fantasy. We’re not going to grow old together. We’re not going to always be there for each other. We will just be friends and that’s what I need to do for myself. I have to take care of myself. That’s the popular psychology idea right now. I need to take care of myself. This actually is the ego saying, “I need to defend myself against you, because you are hurting me.” I need a some separation for a while. Leave me alone for a little while. We’ll get together again, and we’ll go to the movies or something.
However, A Course In Miracles is saying, “Don’t hear this!” “Don’t hear this!” Don’t let this be your guidance. This is probably not what the Holy Spirit really wants you to do. Even though I’m currently hearing this from my ego a lot, I am doing what I told you I do. I am asking for guidance. I do a really good job of giving my relationship problems over to the Holy Spirit. I ask as well as I can ask. In truth, those ego thoughts of separation are never the guidance that I get. Sometimes I wish I did get that guidance. Sometimes I have been in some very long lasting, incredibly problematic relationships. These are relationships that present me with a lot of problems and a lot of confusion. I get confused. Why am I in this relationship? It’s so heavy. It’s so fraught with issues. Rev. Larry and I had an very problematic relationship. It was not smooth for twenty six years. I have never yelled and shouted at someone as much as I yelled and shouted at Rev. Larry. He was usually not a yeller. He had other effective ways of projecting anger. I did most of the yelling and the shouting, and he always took it really hard. I always felt really bad afterwards. He wouldn’t let it go. I would do everything that I could do to make amends.
In my mind, one of my justifications for my yelling and shouting was that I was born into an Italian household. This was typical in an Italian household. (laughter) We yelled and shouted on a daily basis. (laughter) It was just the way that we communicated. I was raised in that milieu. We yelled and shouted and got really upset, and a few hours later it was all over. We’d all sit down and eat bread and roasted peppers together. It was not as much a big deal as it seems to be now when I yell and shout. I have had this problem my whole life.
I remember that in my college fraternity house, when I was the President of my fraternity house, this problem cropped up. Once, one brother really pissed me off and I yelled and shouted at him. At the next house meeting – we had a house meeting once a month and of course I was presiding over the house meeting because I was the President – at that house meeting this brother I had yelled at stood up and talked about how inappropriate it was for the President of the fraternity house to be yelling at his brothers. He told us how much it hurt him when I yelled at him. That was the first time the realization dawned on me, “Oh, this is probably not a good way to communicate.” (laughter) I had to let it go. I did not even remember that I yelled at this guy. I had hurt his feelings and he was harboring it. Ever since I really try to put a lid on that behavior. I have been somewhat successful, but not totally successful. It keeps cropping up in my life, this inappropriate way to communicate. Possibly it will be an issue my whole life, and it usually comes from me being confused. I am confused about something. I seem to be getting mixed messages. I seem to be sending mixed messages. I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what they want. I get anxious. This confusion continues to escalate and before I know it, my voice raises and if they raise their voice back at me it gets out of control – shouting and more confusion.
A Course In Miracles also uses the term “unstable” which is a kin to confusion. The Course also uses “instability.” The Course says something interesting about this. The Course talks about our anchors in the world, the things that we feel are our foundations in the world. Of course those are not true foundations. They’re false. ACIM says, “As these false underpinnings are given up, the equilibrium is temporarily experienced as unstable. However, the fact is that nothing is less stable than an orientation that is upside down. Nor can anything which holds it that way be really conducive to greater stability.” (OrEd.Tx.1.70) The fact that we sometimes feel unstable, that we sometimes feel confused, isn’t necessarily a bad or a wrong thing. As a matter of fact, the Course is telling us that if we’re really doing the work we’re loosening our grip on these false foundations in the world that we used think were our stability. As we do that we’re going to be confused. We’re going to feel unstable. Our confusion and our instability might be the indication that we are actually making great spiritual progress, because confusion and instability are the things that come up when we are making spiritual progress. Maybe we should welcome the instability instead of being so afraid of it.
As I said, the only way out of this confusion is to follow guidance and sometimes following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in relationships is a very, very difficult thing. We’re used to doing the ego tactic of relationship partner substitution. I broke up a number of relationships when I was younger, because finding somebody different seemed like the thing to do. Even to this day, although I have the tendency not to do this now, I have people around me try to convince me that is what I should be doing. “You should not be putting up with that! It’s not healthy for you. You should get out of that relationship. What are you doing there?” I’m hearing that a lot. I have people reinforcing the idea that partner substitution is the right thing to do, so it’s difficult. A Course In Miracles says, “Yet God can bring you there if you are willing to follow the Holy Spirit through seeming terror, trusting Him not to abandon you and leave you there. For it is not His purpose to frighten you, but only yours. You are severely tempted to abandon Him at the outside ring of fear, but He would lead you safely through and far beyond.” (OrEd.Tx.18.87) The outside ring of fear is that place where we are confused. It’s that place where we’re unstable. It’s that place where I start to raise my voice. Maybe I start to yell. The outside ring of fear is where we are very, very tempted to not follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance. In those particular moments we are very, very tempted to abandon Him, as it says, because we think that the Holy Spirit is going to abandon us there. We have to have the faith that the Holy Spirit is indeed going to carry us through that phase, those moments – and those moments can be quite painful.
Confusing times can be very severe for me. I have a serious anxiety problem. I have talked about this many times. It sometimes can get very acute. A lot of people in my family have had severe anxiety problems. My father had anxiety problems. I remember my father was anxious any time he was in a public situation. He hated public situations. He avoided them if at all possible. Every once in awhile, one of his children graduated from high school, or college, or they got married. He would have to go to that graduation or other event, and he would reluctantly go. I did not have any real understanding of what he was going through at the time. I just thought he was being difficult, contrary, and maybe even not loving at those particular moments. I thought he didn’t really want to be at his daughter’s graduation. You could really feel his resistance. The thing that I understand now is that he was having anxiety attacks. He would sweat a lot in those moments. He would sweat profusely. He would say, “I’m sweating so much.” Of course, you sweat when your nervous. Sweating is one of the common symptoms people have when they’re nervous. They’re nervous when there scared. I had no perception of my father being scared or being anxious. He had a social anxiety disorder. The family had no perception of that. We just thought that he was being difficult. I ask him to please forgive us for that misperception now. A Course in Miracles talks about this cold sweat of fear that can come over us. The Course tells us, “When anything seems to you to be a source of fear, when any situation strikes you with terror and makes your body tremble and the cold sweat of fear comes over it ....” (OrEd.Tx.20.88) ACIM is telling us that we may go through these experiences. The terror, the confusion, can get so intense that it becomes a very severe form of anxiety that might cause us to break out into a cold sweat.
A Course In Miracles also says, “No mad desire, no trivial impulse to forget again, no stab of fear, nor the cold sweat of seeming death can stand against your will.” (OrEd.Tx.19.96) Once again the Course is talking about having these severe nervous symptoms. They can seem like death to us. Talk to people who have serious anxiety problems. I am involved with support groups for people who have serious anxiety problems, like mine. These people will tell you that it’s like death. You feel like you’re going to die. It just feels like a death. The fear overcomes you. In another place ACIM says, “So fearful is the dream, so seeming real, he could not waken to reality without the sweat of terror and a scream of mortal fear ....” (OrEd.Tx.28.70)
Again we see A Course In Miracles talking to us about how severe the fear and the terror actually get in this world. When we are going through those times perhaps we have not failed, and perhaps nothing is wrong with us. It could actually just mean that we’re doing our healing process and we’re making spiritual progress. Some of us have a stronger reaction than others. Some of us have more of an anxiety issue. I know I certainly do. I have a lot of anxiety problems that I work with all the time.
Confusion and guidance, the only way out of these world problems is to get guidance. A Course In Miracles has so much to say about guidance. This is one of my favorite quotes, “I will step back and let Him lead the way. -- There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be. You do not change appearance, though you smile more frequently. Your forehead is serene; your eyes are quiet.” (OrEd.WkBk.155.1) If we really step back and let the Holy Spirit lead the way, step back and follow guidance, then we do have this peaceful way of being here in this world. We don’t change appearance. We don’t seem any different from anyone else, but we tend to smile more frequently and our forehead is serene. In other words, we’re not trembling with that cold sweat of fear if we’re really doing our best to walk through those times with the Holy Spirit and not abandon Him
My guidance for the past thirty years, in every significant relationship that I have been in since I have been studying A Course In Miracles, is stay in the relationship. I would leave if my guidance was to leave. I would say, “Okay we need to separate.” But my guidance is always to stay involved, whatever happens. Just let it play itself out. Other people have done maneuvers to change things. I have had to go along with those, because my guidance says, “Just go along with it. Flow with it. Let it be.” I do my best to keep my peace through my confusion, even though I can be very, very confused during these times. Ever since I have studied the Course that’s always what my guidance has been. I am going through this right now. I keep asking for guidance. That’s the guidance that I get, and it pisses me off (laughter) because it just seems illogical. It feels like such a bad situation. It feels so awful. My ego screams with the need to change something, but I don’t get the guidance to change anything.
Another Workbook lesson comes into my mind. This is actually the last Workbook lesson in A Course In Miracles. It’s repeated five times. It’s lesson 361 through 365 “This holy instant would I give to You. – Be You in charge. For I would follow You, – Certain that Your direction gives me peace.” (OrEd.WkBk.361–365) We must turn every moment over to the Holy Spirit. We want the Holy Spirit to be in charge. We want to follow what the Holy Spirit tells us to do, because that’s the only way that we’re going to be at peace. We will never figure these things out from an ego logic point of view. It is not going to work. We are too grounded in the world that way. It’s not going to give us the answers that we want.
I was having a discussion with a person the other day and he was talking about what he thought the central message of A Course In Miracles was. He was arguing with me about what the central message was because I was not agreeing with him. He thought the central message of the Course was we are not bodies. He said most people had too much body identification. We are not bodies. He was also trying to convince me that I, Rev. Tony, had too much body identification and so I was missing the central message of ACIM. This also pissed me off. (laughter) I was thinking, “I have been teaching this course for twenty six years.” He had only been studying it for a few years and he was telling me that I didn’t know what the central message was. I didn’t express any of this annoyance however. The idea that we’re not bodies – of course it’s in ACIM, but I also think the Course tells us that this is a rather lofty thought and not the central focus of the curriculum. The fact that we’re truly spiritual beings, that’s the truth and the Course talks often about that, but it also talks about that knowledge being beyond the scope of the curriculum. The Course tells us, “Yet is this magnitude beyond the scope of this curriculum. Nor is it necessary we dwell on anything that cannot be immediately grasped.” (OrEd.Tx.26.19) We cannot immediately grasp, no let me own it, I cannot immediately grasp that I am not a body, that I am truly a spiritual being. I meditate on that. If you’ve heard my guided mediations I always go there. That’s what I am always affirming. That’s the direction I am heading for, but right here and right now I still have a lot of thoughts that I am a body. In another place the Course tells us, “This course will lead to knowledge, but knowledge itself is still beyond the scope of our curriculum.” (OrEd.Tx.18.95) Knowledge tells us that we are spiritual beings. Yet, that is still beyond the scope of the curriculum. That’s why I think that the fact that we’re not bodies is not the central message of ACIM.
I think the central message of A Course In Miracles is we need to follow guidance through our worldly confusions. That’s what I think the central message is. I think the central message of ACIM is when we are upset, or confused, or when we think that someone has hurt us, or when we have a grievance, we offer it up to the Holy Spirit. We wait. We listen for an answer, and we do our best to embrace that answer and follow through on it. That is what the Course says the process of forgiveness is. You could also say that the central message of ACIM is forgiveness. Following guidance and forgiveness are totally intertwined. They are pretty much the same thing. Forgiveness might be called the larger context, but the central idea of forgiveness is following guidance. You recognize that you have ego thoughts that you don’t want, that are hurting you. You offer the ego thoughts up. You ask for a new perception; you ask for guidance. Then you wait for that new perception to be given to you. You identify it and then you accept it. You do your best to live from that guidance. That’s what true forgiveness is.
I don’t think that embracing A Course In Miracles is about denying the bodies existence. The Course says, “However, it is almost impossible to deny [the body’s] existence. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial.” (OrEd.Tx.2.56) It’s an unworthy form of denial to deny our body experiences. That leads me to a massive amount of confusion. If I try to deny that I am a body – rise to the idea that I am a spiritual being and that I have transcended all my bodily desires – I just get confused. I get confused on what to do, how to be, how to conceptualize myself, what to say to people .... I receive and I send mixed messages. It’s not practical. It is an unworthy form of denial. It leads me straight into confusion. The way out of that is guidance, offering up my confusion, my problems, my anxieties ... offering them up for guidance. I think that is the central message of ACIM. Going for guidance, practicing forgiveness, this is the only thing that is going to get us out of confusion. This the only thing that is going to lead us to peace.
That’s my talk for today. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the April 2011 (Vol. 25 No. 2) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.