Originally published in the Lighthouse Newsletter, June 1998

by Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.


For many years, students at the Foundation for A Course in Miracles have been accustomed to hearing about level confusion in studying A Course in Miracles. This common error confuses the metaphysical teachings of the Course (Level I) with the part of the Course that deals only with the illusory dream (Level II). Level I reflects the absolute non-duality of Jesus' theology and philosophy: truth/illusion or reality/dream, without any compromise accepted between these two polarities. Level II contrasts the wrong-minded nightmare dreams of the ego's thought system of separation, sin, guilt and fear, with the right-minded happy dreams of the Holy Spirit's correction, which consists of the miracle, forgiveness, and healing. The confusion specifically enters in when students mistakenly attribute the characteristics of one level to the other. Thus, for example, one might attempt to justify various forms of anti-social behavior with the metaphysical statement that the body is simply an illusion and therefore it does not matter what you do with it or to it; or, to imagine the acorporeal and acosmic God as a benevolent and caring Father Who magically intervenes in the world on His children's behalf.

In this article I shall discuss a different kind of level confusion, which is actually a corollary to the previous one. It is the error often made by students—within the illusory thought system of the split mind—of confusing mind1and body. Such confusion, which the ego fosters, is what is ultimately responsible for all sickness. Indeed, it is the sum and substance of the ego's brilliantly conceived strategy of protecting its existence in the mind by causing confusion in the Son of God about his identity. The consummation of the ego's defense is the Son's forgetting he even has a mind, which he can then never change through choosing the Holy Spirit. His full attention has thus become rooted in his physical existence as a creature in the material world. Moreover, inherent in this experience of living in a world as a body are problems—the various special relationships with the body such as sickness, sexuality, money, and indeed all the decisions and concerns that are an integral part of life in the world. Indeed the sole purpose of all these problems is diversion, which perpetuates the confusion about where the problem truly is, and therefore keeps hidden the real problem of the Son's wrong decision in the mind. This purpose of the ego is expressed simply and directly in workbook lesson 79:

     A problem cannot be solved if you do not know what it is. Even if it is really solved already you will still have the problem, because you will not recognize that it has been solved. This is the situation of the world. The problem of separation, which is really the only problem, has already been solved. Yet the solution is not recognized because the problem is not recognized.
     Everyone in this world seems to have his own special problems. Yet they are all the same, and must be recognized as one if the one solution that solves them all is to be accepted. Who can see that a problem has been solved if he thinks the problem is something else?...The world seems to present you with a vast number of problems, each requiring a different answer....No one could solve all the problems the world appears to hold. They seem to be on so many levels, in such varying forms and with such varied content, that they confront you with an impossible situation....All this complexity is but a desperate attempt not to recognize the problem, and therefore not to let it be resolved (W-pI.79.1:1–2:3; 4:2; 5:1-2; 6:1; italics mine).

The dynamic of projection is what allows the ego to "get away" with such subterfuge. This is the device through which the ego removes from the mind the problem of having chosen guilt as reality, and causes the Son to believe that this guilt is really in the body—his own (in the form of sickness) or someone else's (in the form of attack):

Thoughts begin in the mind of the thinker, from which they reach outward....perception cannot escape the basic laws of mind. You perceive from your mind and project your perceptions outward (T-6.II.9:1,4-5).

The ego's use of projection must be fully understood before the inevitable association between projection and anger [also sickness] can be finally undone. The ego always tries to preserve conflict. It is very ingenious in devising ways that seem to diminish conflict, because it does not want you to find conflict so intolerable that you will insist on giving it up. The ego therefore tries to persuade you that it can free you of conflict, lest you give the ego up and free yourself. Using its own warped version of the laws of God, the ego utilizes the power of the mind only to defeat the mind's real purpose. It projects conflict from your mind to other minds, in an attempt to persuade you that you have gotten rid of the problem (T-7.VIII.2; italics mine, except for 2:4).

Healing occurs through the miracle, which undoes the ego's projection by simply reversing the process, thus re-directing the Son's attention to the proper level—the mind instead of the body—wherein is found both the problem and the answer. Moreover, once the Son of God is confused, having forgotten about his mind and focusing only on the body, it is impossible for him to change his mind which, of course, as we have already seen, is the ego's purpose in making up the world, the body, and all the problems inherent in living here. And thus the ego's individual existence, however illusory it might be, is protected and preserved as a belief within the Son's mind.

This important theme of level confusion of mind and body is introduced by Jesus in the early pages of the text. It is clear that this theme goes to the very heart of his teachings, reflecting his message to all of us who have wandered so blindly in this confusion. In the fifty miracle principles that open the text of A Course in Miracles, and then again in Chapter 2, Jesus clearly delineates the mutually exclusive nature of the levels of the mind and the body, and cautions his students against confusing them. At the same time he highlights the dimensions of the miracle or healing (the mind) and sickness (the body):

Miracles transcend the body. They are sudden shifts into invisibility, away from the bodily level. That is why they heal....
Miracles rearrange perception and place all levels in true perspective. This is healing because sickness comes from confusing the levels....
By recognizing spirit, miracles adjust the levels of perception and show them in proper alignment.This places spirit at the center, where it can communicate directly (T-1.I.17,23,30; italics mine).

The level-adjustment power of the miracle induces the right perception for healing. Until this has occurred healing cannot be understood (T-2.V.15:1-2; italics mine).

And so the focus of the miracle is to shift our attention from outside our minds (to the body where the ego directed it) back tothe mind where the Son's decision to be separate produced the problem of sickness (or any other form of guilt's projection). It is the reflected love of spirit in the right mind that is the source of the miracle's ability to heal.

Our next passage focuses even more specifically on the Son's mistake of confusing the levels of the mind and body, and his believing that the body can cause pain, indeed, that the body can do anything at all. It is the belief that the body can that Jesus equates with magic, the ego's tactic to confuse the Son as to where the problem and solution truly are:

A major step in the Atonement plan is to undo error at all levels. Sickness or "not-right-mindedness" is the result of level confusion, because it always entails the belief that what is amiss on one level can adversely affect another. We have referred to miracles as the means of correcting level confusion [see above, T-1.I.23,30], for all mistakes must be corrected at the level on which they occur. Only the mind is capable of error. The body can act wrongly only when it is responding to misthought. The body cannot create, and the belief that it can, a fundamental error, produces all physical symptoms. Physical illness represents a belief in magic (T-2.IV.2:1-7; italics mine).

Misthought, by Course definition, must be illusory and therefore these ego thoughts cannot truly exist in reality. This theme of the inherent non-existence of the split mind and body is elaborated on in the following passage:

This misperception ["release is imprisonment"] arises in turn from the belief that harm can be limited to the body. That is because of the underlying fear that the mind can hurt itself. None of these errors is meaningful, because the miscreations of the mind do not really exist. This recognition is a far better protective device than any form of level confusion, because it introduces correction at the level of the error. It is essential to remember that only the mind can create, and that correction belongs at the thought level....The body does not exist except as a learning device for the mind. This learning device is not subject to errors of its own, because it cannot create. It is obvious, then, that inducing the mind to give up its miscreations is the only application of creative ability2that is truly meaningful (T-2.V.1:3-7,9-11; italics mine).

It must follow therefore that these miscreative thoughts, as thoughts that do not exist, cannot be healed. What does need healing, however, is the decision-making part of the Son's mind that had mischosen in the first place. The acceptance of this truth is the acceptance of the Atonement, and is thus the basis of all healing.

Again, this is the healing role of the miracle, which restores to the Son's awareness the power of his mind to have first chosen wrongly, so that he can now at last make the correct choice of the Holy Spirit as his Teacher. Therefore, the miracle would undo the heart of the ego's strategy by undoing the Son's level confusion of believing his problem was in the body, rather than in his mind's decision to turn away from the truth of his Identity as spirit. And so in order to keep the Son of God mindless in his awareness, the ego continually strives to convince him that the sin of upholding his individuality by destroying the Oneness of Heaven is not located in his mind, but rather is found in the body—the body of someone else!3 In other words, the problem of sin is found on the level of the body, and therefore the solution for it must be found there as well. The passages quoted above focus almost exclusively on sickness or physical symptoms, but the issue remains the same whether we are talking about anger, sex, financial problems, food, or any other form of specialness. In our every concern—we who have identified with the body—the ego blesses our level confusion, for that, once again, ensures that we remain mindless. All the while, the real problem—our minds' decision to be separate—is kept safe from undoing and from healing. It is the purpose of the miracle, to repeat this important theme one more time, to return the problem to its rightful place in the mind, thus correcting the level confusion that has indeed become the problem. Using the analogy of the dream, Jesus explains the miracle's function:

The miracle establishes you dream a dream, and that its content is not true. This is a crucial step in dealing with illusions. No one is afraid of them when he perceives he made them up. The fear was held in place because he did not see that he was author [mind] of the dream, and not a figure [body] in the dream (T-28.II.7:1-4).

Thus, once the veils of denial have been lifted by the miracle, the problem of guilt—our only problem—has been undone. We have joined with Jesus in first looking at the true nature of the body's dream, and thenat the actual cause—the decision maker's mistaken choice—and so our minds are healed.

The same point is emphasized by Jesus in a message that was originally meant for his scribe, Helen Schucman. Helen had been complaining to Jesus, early in the process of dictation, about something specific of which she was afraid, asking him to intercede for her and remove the object of her fear. His response, stated in two separate passages, makes it clear why he cannot remove her fear, and directly reflects his earlier teaching to her (and to all of us) about not confusing the levels of mind and body. This correction would then enable her to see the real problem—the belief in separation—where it truly is:

     The correction of fear is your responsibility. When you ask for release from fear, you are implying that it is not. You should ask, instead, for help in the conditions that have brought the fear about. These conditions always entail a willingness to be separate....
     You may still complain about fear, but you nevertheless persist in making yourself fearful. I have already indicated that you cannot ask me to release you from fear. I know it does not exist, but you do not. If I intervened between your thoughts and their results, I would be tampering with a basic law of cause and effect; the most fundamental law there is. I would hardly help you if I depreciated the power of your own thinking. This would be in direct opposition to the purpose of this course. It is much more helpful to remind you that you do not guard your thoughts carefully enough (T-2.VI.4:1-4; VII.1:1-7; italics mine, except for 4:1).

Keeping in mind Jesus' exhortations to his first student, and to all of us who follow in her footsteps, will prevent serious misunderstandings of the basic message of his Course, not to mention the applications of this message to our everyday lives. Most important, it will help us to maximize the help that Jesus can give us, by not insisting that his truth join our illusion, but rather that we join with him (the truth) in undoing "the [illusory] conditions that have brought the fear [or any problem] about." The key implication of this caution lies in the simplicity of life fostered by a true understanding of A Course in Miracles: "One problem, one solution" (W-pI.80.1:5); or as we read in the text's final chapter, also originally meant for Helen as a response to her insistence that this Course was too difficult to learn:

How simple is salvation! All it says is what was never true is not true now, and never will be. The impossible has not occurred, and can have no effects. And that is all. Can this be hard to learn by anyone who wants it to be true? Only unwillingness to learn it could make such an easy lesson difficult. How hard is it to see that what is false can not be true, and what is true can not be false? You can no longer say that you perceive no differences in false and true. You have been told exactly how to tell one from the other, and just what to do if you become confused. Why, then, do you persist in learning not such simple things? (T-31.I.1)

A Course in Miracles is simple both in theory and practice because—based upon its underlying metaphysics of non-duality—there is nothing inherently salvific about any worldly activity, regardless of the seeming spiritual nature of its form. And placing emphasis on anything here is simply to express the ego's strategy of confusing levels. Students should make no mistake about the subtlety of the ego's ingenuity and cleverness in making its own directives sound like the Holy Spirit's; both traits, incidentally, being anthropomorphic ways of expressing our own personal fears of losing our individual identities as physical and psychological selves. We can unfortunately observe many such instances of level confusion in the Course's brief history. I have discussed these errors in my recently published The Message of A Course in Miracles, so I shall but briefly point out three of them here: 1) Identifying with their bodies, students inevitably will project the mind's belief about their separated selves, turning the Holy Spirit or Jesus into separated human selves as well. Jesus anticipated this mistake when he explained to his students: "You cannot even think of God without a body, or in some form you think you recognize" (T-18.VIII.1:7). And therefore much of the Course is written as if our Inner Teacher were a member of homo sapiens, albeit wiser and more benign than the rest of us. Jesus alerts us to this form of writing in many places, as we shall see in error #3 below, thereby cautioning his students not to confuse the levels of form (body) and content(mind). Near the end of the clarification of terms, for example, he makes this startling statement about the Holy Spirit:

His is the Voice for God, and has therefore taken form. This form is not His reality, which God alone knows along with Christ....For in its [the ego's dreams of spite] place the hymn to God is heard a little while. And then the Voice is gone, no longer to take form but to return to the eternal formlessness of God (C-6.1:4-5; 5:7-8; italics mine).

2) Identifying with their bodies, students have been tempted to practice the ego's level confusion by interpreting Jesus' teachings on relationships to mean that the problem of special relationships exists between two separate people (or bodies), and therefore the solution of the holy relationship also occurs between these two separate people (or bodies). Yet, how can this be when Jesus has gone to such great lengths to instruct us notto confuse the mind and the body, as we have already seen:

...all mistakes must be corrected at the level on which they occur. Only the mind is capable of error. The body can act wrongly only when it is responding to misthought (T-2.IV.2:3-5).

Such confusion must inevitably lead to the misperception that because the problem is in the relationship between the special partners, rather than between the mind's decision maker and the ego, the solution of forgiveness must then come between the bodies of these same two partners, instead of the decision maker's changing his mind and choosing Jesus as his teacher. The end result of this is the reinforcementof our belief that the body is real and is our identity, instead of it serving as a means to help us reach the Course's ideal of truly learning that we are not our bodies.

3) Identifying with their bodies, students misconstrue the very clear focus of A Course in Miracles as a self-study course, the essence of which is the relationship in the mind between themselves and Jesus. Thus they make the world of bodies their central focus in the form of special relationships with other Course students, and involvement in various kinds of Course organizations and "Course-related" activities such as teaching and helping others. They have forgotten Jesus' unequivocal statement:

Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world (T-21.in.1:7).

Given these kinds of errors, it is not difficult to see how the Course's language is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, its body-level language—the language of symbols—is necessary in order to speak to the body-level experience of its students:

This course remains within the ego framework, where it is needed. It is not concerned with what is beyond all error because it is planned only to set the direction towards it. Therefore it uses words, which are symbolic, and cannot express what lies beyond symbols (C-in.3:1-3).

On the other hand, such language lends itself to the very level confusion of body and mind that is this article's theme. Another clear caution that Jesus has provided for his students comes in his discussion of the third obstacle to peace:

Remember, then, that neither sign nor symbol should be confused with source, for they must stand for something other than themselves. Their meaning cannot lie in them, but must be sought in what they represent (T-19.IV-C.11:2-3).

The source always lies within our minds—which teacher we have chosen—while the various signs and symbolsof our world are merely the shadowy reflections of the choice we have made. And why bother with an illusory shadow when the problem and its answer lie elsewhere?

In conclusion, it is clear that our only hope for true salvation and awakening from the dream is to bring the illusions of our ego thought system to the truth of Jesus' correction in our minds, as we see in this telling passage from the text:

God's answer lies where the belief in sin must be [in the mind], for only there can its effects be utterly undone and without cause. Perception's laws must be reversed, because they are reversals of the laws of truth. The laws of truth forever will be true, and cannot be reversed; yet can be seen as upside down. And this must be corrected where the illusion of reversal lies [again, in the mind] (T-26.VII.5).

If students of A Course in Miracles are truly desirous of helping others, then they need but remember that the best way to teach this Course is by example (T-5.IV.5:1; T-11.VI.7:3-4); otherwise they end up teaching and demonstrating the very level confusion they wish to undo in themselves and in the ones they wish to help. They would therefore do well to pay careful attention to the following teaching, which can serve as a red flag cautioning would-be teachers of God in their new profession:

The sole responsibility of the miracle worker is to accept the Atonement for himself. This means you recognize that mind is the only creative level, and that its errors are healed by the Atonement. Once you accept this, your mind can only heal. By denying your mind any destructive potential and reinstating its purely constructive powers, you place yourself in a position to undo the level confusion of others. The message you then give to them is the truth that their minds are similarly constructive, and their miscreations cannot hurt them. By affirming this you release the mind from overevaluating its own learning device, and restore the mind to its true position as the learner (T-2.V.5; italics mine, except for 5:1).

Such level confusion is not accidental. It occurs as a direct response to students' fear of what they are learning from Jesus in his Course. More specifically, again, it is the fear of losing the personal and special identity they have built up and cherished over many years, and it is this identity that must be undone at its source.

And so, the only one who needs to be taught A Course in Miracles is one's self; the only one who needs peace is one's self; the only one who needs healing is one's self. The rest is up to Jesus, whose loving message, gentle healing, and all-embracing peace naturally extend through us once we have made room for him by accepting his gifts for our selves. How very simple indeed is salvation! And how relieving it is to be free at last of the burden of bringing peace to an illusory world that was made as an attack on God (W-pII.3.2:1), allowing the one whose love and mind alone are pure and clear to restore us all to sanity and truth!

1. In A Course in Miracles, mind should never be confused with brain, which is a physical organ and an intrinsic part of the body—our physical and psychological experience in the world. Mind, on the other hand, transcends the body entirely, is not present within the body, and is in fact the non-corporeal part of our separated self that has projected the body into existence.
2. This is a rare use in A Course in Miracles of the words create or creative that does not refer solely to spirit; here it denotes the right-minded application of the mind's power to correct its mistaken choice for the ego.
3. Even when people feel that they are sinful and unworthy, there is the underlying thought that it is someone else's prior sin—usually their parents'—that is responsible for their turning out to be such miserable sinners.


* The above article is reproduced with the kind permission of Dr. Kenneth Wapnick and the Foundation for A Course in Miracles.