The Mystery of Relationships
My first read through the text of A Course in Miracles went pretty smoothly until about half way through when it started talking about the special relationship in quite a negative light.
In a nutshell, a special relationship, according to ACIM, is any relationship held by an individual where another person is seen as more special or the object of more love than anyone else. For most people, the spouse, one’s children or good friends are seen as more special in their lives than strangers or various irritating people encountered in life. In fact, most counselors and books on marriage advise one to make the partner feel special by going out of one’s way to do things for them that are not done for others.
It is kind of an accepted thing among humanity to go out of our way to make loved ones feel special. I’ve read a lot of spiritual-related materials and hadn’t read of any teacher criticizing the special relationship. Many recommend seeing God, Christ or merely the good in all people and treating all with kindness and a giving heart even if they are obnoxious, but I hadn’t come across any tradition demeaning the special relationship that would include marriage and children. Thus, when I encountered the Course’s teachings on the special relationship, I found that my open mindedness was put to the test. If it were not for seeing the high intelligence behind the author and the innovating teachings presented, I might have discounted the whole thing. As it was, I read on and considered all with an open mind and discovered that when all the various teachings on this are put together in the bigger picture, a path to happier relationships is revealed.
That said, let us look at what the Course actually says about the special relationship. Here is a quote that gives the flavor of its outlook:
“The special relationship is a strange and unnatural ego device for joining hell and Heaven, and making them indistinguishable. And the attempt to find the imagined ‘best’ of both worlds has merely led to fantasies of both, and to the inability to perceive either as it is. The special relationship is the triumph of this confusion. It is a kind of union from which union is excluded, and the basis for the attempt at union rests on exclusion.” T-16.V.6.
Basically, this and other statements give a good description of a bad marriage. “A strange and unnatural ego device for joining hell and Heaven” is particularly graphic and even a somewhat humorous description for one who has gone through a difficult relationship.
As I read on, I found that the special relationship was not all bad and could be redeemed, but before we go there, let us present some of the reasons given by the Course why the special relationship can be a hindrance, and then what can be done about it. According to the Course, the big problem with the special relationship is that it is a substitute for God and His love.
“See in the special relationship nothing more than a meaningless attempt to raise other gods before Him” T-16.V.13
“In a sense, the special relationship was the ego’s answer to the creation of the Holy Spirit, Who was God’s Answer to the separation.” T-17.IV.4
So, we are to look to God and His Holy Spirit for completion, but this can be frustrated if we put more special attention on another person than we do on our true Source. As the Israelites molded the golden calf and made it more special than God, we can also fall into the trap of placing special people in our lives above our link with God. In simple language the Course is telling us to put God first above any person or thing in this world.
The Course tells us we have separated ourselves from God, and instead of seeking to return, we seek through special relationship that which we left behind:
“Hear Him gladly, and learn of Him that you have need of no special relationships at all. You but seek in them what you have thrown away. And through them you will never learn the value of what you have cast aside, but still desire with all your heart.” T-15.VIII.2
“The real purpose of the special relationship, in strict accordance with the ego’s goals, is to destroy reality and substitute illusion.” T-16.V.9
The basic flaw in the special relationship is that it introduces inequality in love. Instead, we are supposed to be like God and love all other beings equally:
“You cannot enter into real relationships with any of God’s Sons unless you love them all and equally. Love is not special. If you single out part of the Sonship for your love, you are imposing guilt on all your relationships and making them unreal.” T-13.X.11
And thus we have guilt associated with the special relationship, which seems to be a major reason for the negative descriptions of it.
“the closer you look at the special relationship, the more apparent it becomes that it must foster guilt and therefore must imprison.” T-16.VI.4.
“It is sure that those who select certain ones as partners in any aspect of living, and use them for any purpose which they would not share with others, are trying to live with guilt rather than die of it. This is the choice they see. And love, to them, is only an escape from death.” T-16.IV.4
Guilt seems to be just one of the negative effects of the special relationship:
“In looking at the special relationship, it is necessary first to realize that it involves a great amount of pain. Anxiety, despair, guilt and attack all enter into it, broken into by periods in which they seem to be gone. All these must be understood for what they are. Whatever form they take, they are always an attack on the self to make the other guilty.” T-16.V.1
When someone reads this, he may wonder why the Course speaks so negatively about guilt and other negative aspects belonging to the special relationship. After all, are there not a lot of people with positive and beneficial special relationships?
There are two key phrases in that last quote. The first is there are “periods in which they (the negativity) seem to be gone.”
Yes, many couples will have an enjoyable relationship for a few years and then all hell will break loose. They will either separate or continue together, merely enduring each other.
The second key statement is: “Whatever form they take, they are always an attack on the self to make the other guilty.”
This is interesting. The major problems in the special relationship are not caused by attacking the mate, but attacking oneself to evoke guilt in the other. How does this happen?
Lots of ways. Here are a few.
One partner says, “I do all the housework and what do you do? You just sit around, watch TV and drink beer.”
This person attacked herself by making her a victim and then attempted to make her mate feels guilty.
In another instance a partner may say, “I slave all day at a job I hate and you just sit around most of the day and can’t even get dinner ready on time.”
Again, he makes himself a victim and attempts to induce guilt.
These are stark examples, but many play little games that portray themselves as subtle victims to make the partner feel some unease with guilt. They say in different ways, “I do this for you and what do I get in return?” These games play out even in relatively stable relationships.
Guilt is a major barrier between humanity and the realm of Spirit. Guilt must be understood and released before the Son of God can manifest and return home. This is why the special relationship is discouraged and viewed with such negativity.
The trouble is that all of us have special relationships of some kind. They may be with a spouse, one’s children, friends, a car, a home, a job – virtually anything that the person is strongly attached to and shows special attention.
So, are we all doomed to stay in the illusion? It seems quite difficult to go through life without some sort of special relationship unless you are a yogi living in a cave.
And aren’t there a few people with peaceful relationships free of guilt?
Fortunately, the Course does offer deliverance from the special relationship composed of guilt and turbulence to one of peace. It calls us to make a transition from the special relationship, which it sometimes calls the unholy relationship, to the holy relationship.
To understand what is needed to heal our relationships we must understand the problem of limitation in the special relationship. The limitation is symbolized by the body: “The special relationship is a device for limiting your self to a body, and for limiting your perception of others to theirs.” T-16.VI.3
In the spiritual realm there is no separation. As Spirit you are merged as one with every other part of the life of God. This ultimate sharing is what the Course calls heaven. Unfortunately, “the body cannot be used for purposes of union. If, then, you see your brother as a body, you have established a condition in which uniting with him becomes impossible.” T-19.I.4
Our life focus seems to be limited to a body, but in this limited condition we have an internal desire to reestablish that heavenly union that we once had. Communication and sex are the best we can do in this direction with bodies, but all efforts fall short aptly described here:
“On this side of the bridge you see the world of separate bodies, seeking to join each other in separate unions and to become one by losing. When two individuals seek to become one, they are trying to decrease their magnitude. Each would deny his power, for the separate union excludes the universe. Far more is left outside than would be taken in, for God is left without and nothing taken in. If one such union were made in perfect faith, the universe would enter into it. Yet the special relationship the ego seeks does not include even one whole individual. The ego wants but part of him, and sees only this part and nothing else.” T-16.VI.5
This problem of separation caused by seeing ourselves in bodies is something which many are completely unaware. They assume that the highest union to be achieved is through physical proximity and vocal communication. A few sense there is more but know not how to achieve it.
We are very limited in our unions in our special relationships, so God has given us the Holy Spirit to assist us in removing them.
“Everyone on earth has formed special relationships, and although this is not so in Heaven, the Holy Spirit knows how to bring a touch of Heaven to them here. In the holy instant no one is special, for your personal needs intrude on no one to make your brothers seem different. Without the values from the past, you would see them all the same and like yourself. Nor would you see any separation between yourself and them. In the holy instant, you see in each relationship what it will be when you perceive only the present. God knows you now.” T-15.V.8
It is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring a “touch of heaven” into our special relationships. Since oneness and unity is the outstanding feature of heaven then that would be what He would seek to bring here:
“It is the Holy Spirit’s function to teach you how this oneness is experienced, what you must do that it can be experienced, and where you should go to do it.” T-25.I.6
When we follow our own wills while seeing ourselves separated through bodies, we create special relationships. They seem to add to us, but in reality, they diminish us. But when we call in the Holy Spirit, which links heaven and earth, we transcend the limitations off the body and share in the one mind that is from God. When this happens, our vision is extended to the whole and the special relationship is turned into a “holy relationship.”
“Reason sees a holy relationship as what it is; a common state of mind, where both give errors gladly to correction, that both may happily be healed as one.” T-22.III.9
This “common state of mind” can never be achieved by those yielding to the ego. But the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son, and truth is seen correctly through its eyes. Two or more having the Holy Spirit in their relationship will “give errors gladly to correction” and all disagreements that occur in ego-centered relationships just vanish. Disagreements will no longer exist. Furthermore, we are told this:
“This is the function of your holy relationship. For what one thinks, the other will experience with him. What can this mean except your mind and your brother’s are one?” T-22.VI.14
This describes a oneness few experience, but it is the goal set by the Course and eventually will be achieved by all of us. Imagine being so closely linked to another that “what one thinks, the other will experience with him.”
Some have had this happen at high points in the relationship, but later drift back into the ego and live in their separate condition.
Jesus gave the key to making this sharing a permanent condition:
“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 18:2-4
So, how is it that a little child is a key to entering the kingdom of heaven?
The child is humble and does not cling to the error of many preconceived notions. He is open to the idea that anything could be true. This is the outlook we must have to establish the holy relationship. All involved must be willing to turn all beliefs over to the Holy Spirit and then only go with those that He verifies to be true. When two people will do this and “give errors gladly to correction” they will share their minds as one and virtually enter the kingdom of heaven while still residing on earth, similar to Jesus in the Course who said, “my feet are on the ground and my hands are in Heaven,” UR T 1 B 40ab
“In this world, God’s Son comes closest to himself in a holy relationship. … So do the parts of God’s Son gradually join in time, and with each joining is the end of time brought nearer. Each miracle of joining is a mighty herald of eternity.” T-20.V.1
It would seem that all seekers would jump at the opportunity for oneness and sharing, but the Course points out that there is a major obstacle in the way:
“Around each entity is built a wall so seeming solid that it looks as if what is inside can never reach without, and what is out can never reach and join with what is locked away within the wall.” T-26.I.2
Then it gives the solution:
“You whose hand is joined with your brother’s have begun to reach beyond the body, but not outside yourself, to reach your shared Identity together.” T-18.VI.10.
“Alone we can do nothing, but together our minds fuse into something whose power is far beyond the power of its separate parts. By not being separate, the Mind of God is established in ours and as ours. This Mind is invincible because it is undivided.” T-8.V.1
“As we share this goal, we increase its power to attract the whole Sonship, and to bring it back into the oneness in which it was created.” T-5.II.11
If we have to “bring it back into oneness,” this would imply that we are currently not there yet, but this is indeed a goal to which we aspire. To achieve that goal involves sharing the mind of God with our brothers and sisters. This is also emphasized in the Course when it stresses that we cannot go home alone but must do all we can to take others with us.
“Together is your joint inheritance remembered and accepted by you both. Alone it is denied to both of you.” T-31.II.11
“How easy is it to offer this miracle to everyone! No one who has received it for himself could find it difficult. For by receiving it, he learned it was not given him alone. Such is the function of a holy relationship; to receive together and give as you received.” T-22.IV.7
It seems that everything connected with salvation and the holy relationship involves a spiritual sharing of the mind of God with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. For most, this higher sharing begins by working at their special relationships in hope of turning them into holy relationships. Based on what we have learned from the Course, let us see how we can make that happen.
Special relationships are created by seeing one’s loved ones as special, more deserving of our love and attention than others. On the other hand, the Course teaches that God loves all his children equally and does not favor one over another. We are supposed to incorporate this same attitude.
Does this mean we are supposed to dissolve our special relationships? It almost sounds that way in places, but it clarifies here:
“I said before that the first change, before dreams disappear, is that your dreams of fear are changed to happy dreams. That is what the Holy Spirit does in the special relationship. He does not destroy it, nor snatch it away from you. But He does use it differently, as a help to make His purpose real to you. The special relationship will remain, not as a source of pain and guilt, but as a source of joy and freedom.” T-18.II.6
“Your special relationship will be a means for undoing guilt in everyone blessed through your holy relationship. It will be a happy dream, and one which you will share with all who come within your sight. Through it, the blessing the Holy Spirit has laid upon it will be extended.” T-18.II.7
We do not have to end any of our special relationships. Instead, we turn them into holy relationships with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Course gives an overall picture of how this is to happen, but seems to leave the details up to us. This leaves some wondering how much specialness is allowed in dealing with your spouse, children and other loved ones. Is it wrong to give them birthday and Christmas presents beyond what you would give your neighbor or some guy you do not even know who is homeless? Are you supposed to go to your neighbor’s home and give his kids hugs and love so they feel as special as your own children?
I think we can see that students can take this too far by looking at literal actions that can be taken.
Jesus had a major problem with wrong-headed literal interpretations in his day, especially concurring the Sabbath. The commandment said there was to be no work done on the Sabbath, and to the religious leaders, no work meant no work, so they devised hundreds of things that would be considered work that should not be done on the day of rest.
In the eyes of the authorities Jesus was breaking the commandment because he and his disciples did several things they considered work. To this Jesus tried to set them straight by enunciating the general principle which he followed. He told them, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27
In other words, man was not made to be a slave to a bunch of silly rules around the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made to benefit humanity and improve their lives.
We can apply this same principle with relationships. Relationships are not made to be a chain around our necks, but to bring us joy and happiness. If we try to make numerous rules about what we cannot do if a relationship is holy, then we make the same mistake as those who criticized Jesus. Instead, like Jesus, we must look at the principles to be followed. If we do this, the details will take care of themselves.
So, what is the principle behind the Holy Relationship that should guide our thinking?
Basically, it is this. We are all children of God and of equal importance in His sight. Each of us must come to the realization that all people everywhere are just as important and deserving of love as those loved ones in the inner circle.
Does this mean that you do not fulfill your responsibilities to those close to you and spend all your resources helping strangers?
No. Each of us has assumed certain responsibilities toward assisting loved ones in the world. If everyone were to not fulfill them, the world would be in chaos. The truth is we can fulfill our responsibilities toward loved ones while realizing the equality of all the sons of God and helping others when opportunity presents itself.
If we interpret this equality idea too literally, then we would have to criticize Jesus for turning water into wine for a select few hosted by his mother at a wedding. Jesus did not go around to other weddings to make sure they also had wine, yet we know he understood the principle.
The state of mind necessary for the holy relationship is determined more by one’s thinking than an itemization of actions that need to be taken. When consciousness is in the right place, correct actions will naturally follow.
If one’s attitude is in the right place, how does one consummate the holy relationship by sharing the mind of God with another individual?
It is important to understand that this can only be accomplished by two or more people who are willing to be guided by the Holy Spirit rather than the ego. If a loved one is unwilling to accept the spirit of oneness, then the student must look elsewhere until one who is willing to share the mind of God is found.
When one finds the right individuals for the holy relationship, then the real work begins. In special relationships no two people can agree on all things. There are always disagreements that separate them. In the holy relationship there are no major disagreements, for all potential conflict is solved by the one mind through the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of the holy relationship this will take much effort, for no one likes to admit they were wrong in a disagreement. But if the two share with the Spirit together, they will resolve the differences and become one. Then as they practice the holy relationship, oneness will become natural and they will see through each other’s eyes without effort.
In the beginning of our marriage my wife and I did our best to create a holy relationship, but sometimes a pointed disagreement got in the way. To solve this problem, we felt that we needed to reconnect with the Holy Spirit through the remembrance of the love of God, so when we reached an impasse one of us would suggest that both of us meet at the kitchen table and look in each other’s eyes. Once the focus was established, we were to say “I love you” three times each, but it had to be said like you really meant it, not just the words. The strange thing was that by the time we had finished saying it three times the atmosphere completely changed. No longer did we feel any division or anger at each other, but instead we felt a great peace. And strangest of all we often could not even remember what we were arguing about.
Over the years we have had to use this less and less and now it has been a few years since this process was even needed. Now we rarely disagree on anything, except minor things like what to watch on TV, and here the problem is immediately solved by me letting her have her way.
Other times, especially in non-romantic relationships, there will be disagreements even with people who are spiritually sensitive. How do we achieve oneness so the holy relationship may be maintained?
Let us suppose that you have a friend or loved one with whom you are seeking a holy relationship. You have both invited the Holy Spirit into your lives to guide them, but you have reached an impasse and just do not agree on a certain point. What do you do?
The answer is quite simple. In prayer or meditation ask God for the Holy Spirit’s help to bring you to oneness.
“The very fact that the Holy Spirit has been asked for anything will ensure a response. “ T-9.II.3
“It is the Holy Spirit’s function to teach you how this oneness (with God) is experienced, what you must do that it can be experienced” T-25.I.6
“To ask the Holy Spirit to decide for you is simply to accept your true inheritance. Does this mean that you cannot say anything without consulting Him? No, indeed! That would hardly be practical, and it is the practical with which this course is most concerned. If you have made it a habit to ask for help when and where you can, you can be confident that wisdom will be given you when you need it.” M-29.5
To move the special relationship to a holy one merely involves bringing to the Holy Spirit as a guide and revealer. If you and your partner disagree, then place the two alternatives before the Spirit and ask about them. If you are both sincere as a little child, then you will both get the same answer.
For simplicity’s sake it is best to reduce the disagreement to the point where it can be solved with a simple yes or no. Which is the best answer, A or B? If A is closest to the truth, then both of you will get a yes on that, as the Holy Spirit is not divided against itself.
Those in the ego, centered on the special relationship, can never achieve oneness and unity, but if two or more dedicate themselves to following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, higher unity and sharing becomes a reality, and instead of feeling like you have given something up or lost something with a change of mind, the feeling will be one of gain, completeness, peace and wholeness, or holiness.
Copyright by J J Dewey
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