There is a three-step process of inner healing that I have found to be very helpful in my life. Although it is a simple process, it can be powerful.
Here are the three steps:
Step 1. We honestly acknowledge some of our dark thoughts and feelings.
Step 2. We offer that darkness to God and become willing to release it.
Step 3. Having cleared a space, we now open to an inner experience of comfort and love.
That inner experience of God's love is what A Course in Miracles calls a "miracle." It is the goal of the three-step process.
Simple Doesn't Necessarily Mean Easy
Although those three steps are simple in theory, they are not always easy to practice. However, I find that they can produce very tangible results.
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Let me offer an illustration of the three steps in order to clarify them.
I recently found myself in a conflict with a business associate of mine. He was several weeks late in signing an agreement, and I felt upset. Instead of squashing down my sense of upset, or "venting" it toward my associate, I decided to run through this three-step process.
To begin, I sat down and took note of my feelings.
"I'm feeling annoyed right now," I said to myself. "I'm also feeling impatient."
I then identified some of the thoughts behind those feelings.
"I think that this guy is being unresponsive and rude," I said. "I bet that he's delaying this agreement on purpose. Those are a few of my unpeaceful thoughts."
That honest acknowledgement of my thoughts and feelings completed step one. Then I moved on to step two. I brought those thoughts and feelings to God to be healed.
"God," I said, "I offer these thoughts to you. I'd like a new way of looking at this situation. I'm willing to release these old thoughts."
I spent some time handing over my dark thoughts to God, as if they were objects in my hands. As I did that, I felt a lightening in my heart.
Then I moved on to step three.
"God," I said, "I'm open to a new experience of this situation. Please inspire a clearer, more loving perspective."
As I said that, I tried to hold my mind open to something new. A feeling of reassurance arose in me, and I began to see my associate in a warmer way. My sense of annoyance about the situation was gradually replaced with a greater sense of patience. As my attitude shifted, I felt comfortable giving my associate more time to respond.
That was a simple example of the three-step process. By acknowledging some of my dark thoughts and feelings (step one), becoming willing to release them to God (step two), and opening to the inflow of God's warmer thoughts (step three), my mind was comforted.
The whole process took only a minute or two. But it inspired a clearer approach to the situation. If I had ignored my sense of distress, or "taken it out" on my associate, I would have stayed in darkness. But by exchanging my unpeaceful thoughts for God's loving replacements, my state of mind was improved.
The Love of God
The real goal of the three-step process is to open our minds (or hearts) to an experience of God's love. As I see it, it is God's love that heals us. Our job is simply to clear the way for it. In the three-step process, we identify our dark thoughts, become willing to release them, and open ourselves to an inflow of comfort.
When I began working with A Course in Miracles, I didn't really understand the importance of this practice. At the time, I was enchanted by spiritual ideas. I loved to gather philosophical insights. But I didn't understand that there was some active inner work to be done.
After years spent reading A Course in Miracles and other spiritual writings, I realized that I must be doing something wrong. I understood the ideas fairly well, but I was as unhappy as ever. It was at that point that I began to do the work that the Course describes -- this active work of exchanging my dark thoughts for God's loving replacements. Suddenly, like a car stuck in the mud for years, I began to inch forward.
I'd like to be clear that I am still a beginner at this practice. I imagine that many of us are. However, I find that beginners can support each other quite well. My purpose in writing this book is to explore the three-step process, share my experiences, and offer some simple exercises for practicing.
More Detail on the Process
Let me explore each of the three steps in slightly more detail. As with everything I write, I encourage you to read through these ideas and then adapt them in whatever way feels meaningful to you. I find that flexibility is essential in this type of work.
Let me recap the three steps:
At step one, we acknowledge some of our dark thoughts and feelings. These may include resentments, worries, self-judgments, or other forms of upset.
At step two, we offer those dark thoughts and feelings to God to be healed.
At step three, we open ourselves to an inflow of God's love, or miracles.
Let me now take a deeper look at each of the three steps.
We acknowledge some of our dark thoughts.
At step one, we become honest about our dark thoughts and feelings. We say, "I have a grievance against that person," or, "I'm worried about so-and-so," or whatever else is interfering with a sense of peace.
This can be a challenging step. "Bringing up" unpeaceful thoughts and feelings can be uncomfortable. It can be difficult, for example, to admit that we're feeling jealous toward someone, resentful, or afraid. But if we courageously, and with great self-acceptance, raise those thoughts and feelings to our awareness, we can exchange them for the love of God.
At step one of the three-step process, we make note about where we feel blocked -- anxious, sad, angry, or whatever. We don't need to verbalize this to anyone (although we may want to involve a trusted partner in this process). Either way, our job is to become honest about our dark thoughts and feelings. This prepares us for the next two steps, in which we release those blocks to God and open to a miracle of inner healing.
I've found that people who try to "stay positive" in their lives may have difficulty with step one. Acknowledging an angry or self-attacking thought may feel like a step backward. Admitting to feeling sad or lonely may conflict with an effort to "stay upbeat." It may seem better to keep the dark thoughts hidden.
A Course in Miracles, however, asks us to honestly acknowledge any blocks so that we can quickly hand them over to God to be healed. At step one, we simply admit to ourselves where we feel stuck.
Step One Avoidance Tricks
The mind can play some funny tricks to avoid acknowledging its dark thoughts. I find that sometimes when I'm upset, I search for someone to "pin" my thoughts on instead of admitting what's going on inside.
For example, I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine that went like this:
Friend: "How are you doing?"
Me: "I'm fine. But I'll tell you -- this guy I know is being really annoying."
Friend: "So you're feeling upset?"
Me: "Oh, no -- I feel great. It's just that this person is acting annoying."
Friend: "I see. So you're feeling annoyed."
Me: "No, I told you -- I'm wonderful. I feel great. It's just that this guy is acting dumb."
In that situation, I didn't want to acknowledge my dark thoughts and feelings. I didn't want to admit that I was angry or annoyed. Instead, I wanted to see another person as the entire problem. I chose to focus on his "annoying behavior" instead of admitting that I was in a state of annoyance.
This kind of circle can go on for a long time. The Course (and many psychologists) call this "projection." Instead of acknowledging our own dark thoughts -- for example, the fact that I felt annoyed -- we focus on someone else's behavior. We try to "project" our dark thoughts by seeing them outside of us.
Step one of the three-step process reverses this cycle. It turns our focus to our own state of mind. To be sure, there are many people in the world who are acting in unkind ways. But that isn't, in my opinion, what we need to focus on. I believe that we need to focus on healing our own dark thoughts and feelings. At step one, we identify where we are in need of a change.
As we identify some of our dark thoughts -- our grievances, worries, and so forth -- we don't need to analyze them. We simply need to become aware of them. That completes step one. Once we have done that, it is essential that we quickly move on to step two.
We offer our dark thoughts to God, and express our willingness to release them.
Having become aware of our dark thoughts and feelings in step one, the Course asks us to immediately bring them to God to be healed.
As I see it, our dark thoughts are like splinters that stick into us and cause us pain. At step one, we admit that we're being troubled by the thought splinters -- not just the outside situation. At step two, we turn to the doctor and ask him to take the splinters out. If we were to stop at simply identifying our dark thoughts (step one), we wouldn't experience much relief.
Some people pause at this point and say, "But I've tried to change my mind. I just can't stop my dark (angry, fearful) thoughts." I understand this response. When we're in a state of distress, it can be difficult to single-handedly lift ourselves out of it. However, A Course in Miracles doesn't ask us to do the work by ourselves. We're not asked to change our dark thoughts into inspired ones using only our own personal efforts. Rather, we're asked to turn to God with our darkness and allow Him to heal us.
There are countless ways to practice the handing-over the-dark-thoughts process of step two. A simple approach that I often use is a short prayer:
God, here are my dark thoughts.
They are causing me pain.
I am angry at this person,
Frightened about that situation,
And I feel guilty because I see myself as a failure.
These thoughts and feelings are hurting me.
I give them to you.
Thank you for your comfort and healing.
The key at step two is the desire to have God remove our unloving thoughts, and the willingness to let the exchange happen. It is my experience that God always responds to this invitation when we say it and truly mean it.
I sometimes use symbolic imagery in this "releasing" process -- particularly if I feel unfocused. When I do this process with one friend of mine, we bundle together our unforgiving thoughts and offer them to God like a bunch of packages.
Other times I feel the weight of my dark thoughts as if they were rocks in a backpack that I've been carrying around. I try to experience how burdensome my dark thoughts are. Then I hand that burden over to God, feeling the weight leave me.
Water can also be a helpful image. We can feel God washing away our painful thoughts like a cleansing rain. Or we can see ourselves dropping our old thoughts into a river that carries them away. We can watch them float downstream, cleansed from our minds.
There are other support methods besides imagery. I know one man who actually stands up and raises his hands during this process as he says out loud, "God, I release this to you." Including a concrete, physical movement helps him to release his painful thoughts.
I don't think that there is any one "releasing" format that's best for everyone. The key is simply to offer the thoughts to God, the Inner Healer, and let Him do His work. If imagery, prayers, or any other technique helps us, we can certainly use it. If we wish to just quietly increase our willingness to open our darkness to God, that too is wonderful.
Once we have identified a dark thought, and offered it to God to be removed, we can then move on to the final step of the three-step process.
We open our minds to the inflow of God's new, inspired, loving thoughts.
As I see it, God's love is like an eternally flowing river. There is no end to it, and it wishes only to flow into and through us. The experience of God's love can be temporarily blocked by our dark thoughts -- our grievances toward others, our self-attacking thoughts, and so on--? but the instant the blocks are removed, the river flows through our hearts once again.
Because of this, step three in the process requires the least amount of work. At step one, we become aware of an inner block. At step two, we offer that block to God to be removed. Step three is the reward step for our work. At step three, we simply open our minds to the inflow of God's love, wisdom, and comfort.
I believe that every one of us needs the experience of this comfort. The Course points out how many ways we seek for comfort outside ourselves -- through worldly acquisitions, bargaining relationships, and so forth. I have spent years seeking comfort and security through those forms, and have never found it there. The Course asks us to learn that the comfort we seek is available right now; it simply needs an opening.
Step three does require some effort on our part, but the effort is directed at keeping the channel open. In step one, we found the sluice gate in the dam. We threw it open (with God's help) in step two. In step three, God's loving thoughts begin to flow back in. Our job now is to make sure that the gate stays open.
When A Course in Miracles refers to a "miracle," it is talking about the experience of step three. As God's inspired thoughts reach us, our minds are healed. But that isn't all. As God's love returns to us, our whole experience of the world is altered. We are filled with a sense of compassion and peace, which spills out from us into the world. The inner healing that takes place at step three truly is a miracle.
As the Course points out, the external issue that sparked our need for an inner healing may or may not seem to change. But externals will fade into the background as we're filled with an inner experience of God's love. We have found and handed over the core problem in steps one and two -- the core problem being our resentments, our sense of aloneness, and so forth. We are receiving a core correction in step three -- an inner, personal sense of God's care for us. That healing-at-the-core is what the Course is focused on.
At times we may identify a dark thought at step one, and ask God to remove it at step two. But then we don't immediately feel a great inflow of love, or miracles. I don't consider this to be a sign of failure. God's love may enter our awareness as a little stream at first, so that we're not overwhelmed.
Many of us have spent years generating dark thoughts and attitudes. It may take some practice before the habits we've developed are reoriented. If there's one thing that the Course has taught me, it's that persistence, gentleness, and a calm, patient approach is essential in this type of work.
There is an additional part of step three that could possibly be split off as a "step four." However, in the interest of keeping things simple, I'd like to include it in this step. The addition is the practice of allowing God's love to extend through us to other people.
As I wrote earlier, I look at God's love as a river. Just as a river doesn't flow into our land and stop there, so God's love doesn't terminate with us. It needs to flow through us, to others.
Because of this, I find it helpful to allow the inner miracles of step three -- the new, inspired thoughts and feelings -- to extend outward to other people I think about, and other things I see. As those miracles flow out, they continue to flow in.
As an example, let's say that I pause during a conflict with a friend to practice this three-step process. I identify some of my unloving thoughts (step one). I then turn to God and offer those thoughts to Him (step two). A sense of peace begins to arise in me (step three).
If I stop at that point, I will have moved in the right direction. However, if I want to truly keep the river flowing, I can actively extend my newfound peace to my friend -- through thoughts, words, or actions. Even if I've only been able to let in a trickle of peace, it will grow as I let it move through me.
The flow of God's love, like the flow of a river, can be blocked in two ways. It can be blocked upstream -- between us and its source -- or it can be blocked downstream, between us and others. Blockages on either side will impede the flow.
At the beginning of step three, we clear the inflow. We exchange our dark thoughts for God's loving replacements. But it's also important to keep the outflow clear -- to let that love flow through us. As we let God's love extend from us to others, it continues to flow in.
During our practice of step three, we may find ourselves once again blocked by a dark thought or feeling -- a grievance or a flash of fear or something. If so, we can simply return to steps one and two. We can identify the block, offer it to God, and welcome the return of His love.
In my experience, this is an ongoing practice. It isn't something that we do once, and then are done with. We will undoubtedly hit a new block as we go along, or find ourselves back in some darkness. The skill is simply to recognize this, and once again turn to God for help.