Friday, March 21, 2008

A Healing of a Belief in Deprivation and Loss

One of my earliest memories was accompanying my father to his job after supper. I joined him in sweeping out the offices of a local oil company. I saw the look on his face of humiliation touched with bitterness as he emptied wastebaskets and dusted desks. I did not know until much later why those grievous looks appeared on his face. I just knew I didn’t like them.

It was 1933, and America was deep into its economic depression. Some say poverty is a disease; my father certainly thought he was an afflicted victim of it. He saw himself as a skilled artisan, and indeed he was. Before he lost his job with the Pullman Company, he was foreman of a nine-man crew that installed fancy wood inlays in the Pullman car interiors. He had built himself a house in a small Illinois town, prospered, and seemed on the way to a successful life as a skilled craftsman who took great pride in his work. But now he was reduced to being a janitor.

For the Depression had struck and he lost all: his job, his new home, the mortgage which he could no longer pay, and all his carefully garnered assets. Worst of all, he lost his sense of self-respect. A defeated man, he chose to return to the town of his birth to face his parents and siblings. He chose to see himself as a failure, as a victim betrayed by the Puritan God in whom he believed; i.e., a God who blessed with prosperity the faithful, those who worked hard, were pious, and who diligently obeyed the laws laid down by that God. I do not believe he ever recovered from the disillusionment of those beliefs. He thought he had kept his part of the bargain (and bargain was what it was), but his God had not kept his.

Another memory is one of my standing beside my father as he stood in line, waiting to be given a free bag of cornmeal that the government in Washington had sent by boxcar to feed the unemployed. Once again I could feel the shame and humiliation my father felt at being on the dole. I must have been eight years old, and I think it must have been at that moment as I stood with him on that railroad siding that I made the firm decision to do all I could to avoid repeating this same experience in my life. Hence quite early I chose to deeply believe (of course wrongly) that money brought security, self-respect and peace of mind. I listened to the ego’s idea:

You really think you would starve unless you had stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs. (ACIM, Workbook, 70, 3:2)

A third memory I have involves stealing those “stacks of green strips.” When in my teens, I got a job to work beside my father on Saturday mornings. So we got up very early to journey to his workplace where he stripped wood furniture with paint remover and refinished the pieces with spray lacquer (again, not the work of a skilled craftsman). The stealing came in this way: we would arrive an hour and a half before other employees, punch the time clock, and then sleep until the other employees arrived. We were thus paid for sleeping. This was my first experience of conscious guilt (and fear as well), for I dared not question my father’s decisions. His anger could be terrifying. (Also I did so much like those extra “piles of metal discs.”)

My final memory concerning the ‘value’ of money came upon my father’s death. For the first thing my mother asked me to do with her after we returned from placing my father’s body in the ground was to go down with her into the basement where my father spent most of his free time. Her intention was to seek hidden monies that she was certain he had withheld from her and stashed somewhere among his tools. Together we tore the place apart, but alas, to her disappointment, we found nothing.

All the above is a preface to the following ego attack that I recently experienced.

* * * * * *

Most of our guilt is unconscious, and in this case it most certainly was. In the last few months I had been feeling especially generous. So much so that I had recently set up educational trusts for my four grandchildren. And I had set up another trust that enabled one of my daughters to maintain and pay the taxes on half of some island property that I was about to give to her and her brother. (Having fibromyalgia, she has been unable to summon much energy to maintain that property herself, nor work with much constancy.) I had also helped another daughter set up a solar/wind electrical system for her home.

I had been feeling good about these matters (a sign I was listening to my right mind). But I had also been concerned about the health of a third daughter who had been ill with walking pneumonia for the past ten or twelve weeks. Since she, lacking the energy, had been unable to work much, I expected a request for money from her. Although I had not been resentful of past requests of help from her, curiously, this time I began to dread her call.

This was a warning sign to me that I was listening to the wrong side of my mind. I made the mistake of not taking this evidence seriously. And not making a correction.

When she called requesting money to pay for her mortgage I replied: “Sure, I’ll drop a check in today’s mail.” However, what next came roaring up from my unconscious (and which I spoke aloud) was the hateful attack: “I guess I’m supporting you too.” Instantly I was stricken with guilt. Where was all that good feeling of generosity now? In place of perceiving her truly, as a daughter I loved, I saw her in that moment as my victimizer, exploiting me.

I knew I had to get to work fast on my insane and hateful mind. So I did what I teach. I chose to look carefully at what I had condemned her for. I saw her as seeking to take from me what I considered mine. I saw her not as loving but exploiting me. This was clearly a twisted and distorted view of her. My mind was in chaos, and my mind was drowning in guilt. In my misery I chose to remember the fourth Law of Chaos:

This seeming law is the belief you have what you have taken. (ACIM T., 23; 9:3)


But in a savage world the kind cannot survive, so they must take or be taken from. (Ibid., 10:4)

I also chose to remember:

Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. (ACIM, T, Intro, 21, 1:1,2)

Now I had a way out of my misery. If I saw my daughter as exploiting me (instead of loving), I must be guilty for all my brothers I have exploited. (Projection makes perception.) All that happened in that regrettable moment when I attacked her was the result of failing to heal my mind in the hours of dread prior to her call. It was clear to me now that I must have repressed guilt for using and exploited others. It was so painful to me that I had projected that guilt onto my daughter, hoping to thereby be free of it. (Of course, as events proved, I only increased my guilt—now adding the guilt of hating my daughter. Meanwhile the original guilt remained unforgiven.)

So, again I did what I teach. I remembered: “My sinlessness is guaranteed by God” (ACIM, W-93, 8:3). And remembering all the many ways I had used and exploited my wife for fifty-five years; and remembering all the patients I exploited in the early days of my practice when I was attempting to support a wife and four children in Manhattan (patients whose needs were beyond my competence to deal with, but whom I took because they were a source of income). I lay these events on the altar of my heart and asked to be reminded that “all my sins were forgiven me.”

Immediate relief resulted and in place of the misery of guilt came “light and joy and peace” (Lesson 93). All of the above healing of my mind took under fifteen minutes. So now perceiving my daughter as innocent I called her and said: “I hope you will forgive me for my vicious attack upon you a few minutes ago. I now realize that I was dumping on you my own guilt for exploiting others over my lifetime.”

It turns out I left that on her answering device, for she had not picked up. Later in the day she called me, thanking me for my call. She said it had helped her heal her own mind. She ended the call with the words, “I love you, Dad.” So this story also illustrates the following quote:

And so you let yourself be healed; you see all those around you, or who cross your mind, or whom you touch or those who seem to have no contact with you, healed along with you…you are never healed alone. (Workbook, Lesson 134, 10:1,3).

In retrospect, it occurs to me that it is no coincidence that all this repressed, unhealed guilt arose from my unconscious at the specific time it did, for as it is written:

The ego is therefore particularly likely to attack you when you act lovingly, because it has evaluated you as unloving and you are going against its judgment. The ego will attack your motives as soon as they become clearly out of accord with its perception of you. This is when it will shift abruptly from suspiciousness to viciousness, since its uncertainty is increased. (ACIM, Text, Ch 9, VII, 4:5-7)

That is the ‘bad news’ of course. The ‘good news’ is that every time we make the mistake of listening to that part of our mind, we have another golden opportunity to once again open ourselves to the readily available healing power of forgiveness — a power that is far greater than our guilt can ever be. All that is required of us is to watch our minds carefully and then ask for help from the Source of our innocence. The result is inevitable.

Copyright 2007 Frank West

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