ACIM Notes — From a Nightmare to a Happy Dream

There is no life outside of Heaven. (T-23.II.19:1)

The Course teaches that what we see as our reality is nothing but a dream. There is no life outside of Heaven means exactly that. Remember that Heaven is not a time or place but a state in which you were created as an extension of God’s mind — a state you are in right now, even while you are dreaming a dream of separation from God. What we think is life is just a thought that life is possible in a separated state. But because life is not possible in a separated state (what God did not create does not exist), life the way we see it (separate body-minds living in this physical world) never happened, and life as it is (Heaven) remains unaffected by our dream of separation.

Awakening from this dream of separation is a process that takes us from having a nightmare to dreaming a happy dream. To be in a nightmare is to identify with the ego and with the body, which is the ego’s “proof” that separation actually happened. How could you not be in a nightmare if you think that all there is to you is this body that was born and will die? If the foundation of your belief system rests on the thought that you are a body, everything you do and every thought you have will be laced with fear of the eventual death of the body.

The basis of every nightmare is fear. This physical world of separated beings was born out of our fearful thought that we separated from God and that we better hide here, away from God, who would surely punish us for having separated. But the separation never occurred, so what we take for reality is just a nightmare we’re having.  Our nightmare starts to turn into a happy dream once we see the unreality of the world we made.

If the nightmare is based on fear, then the happy dream must be based on love. The Course does not teach us love, but it does teach us how to remove the obstacles we have made to cover up love, which is our true nature. Forgiveness is the vehicle that takes us from fear, from the nightmare, to love, which allows us to dream a happy dream before we wake up.

The happy dreams the Holy Spirit brings are different from the dreaming of the world, where one can merely dream he is awake. The dreams forgiveness lets the mind perceive do not induce another form of sleep, so that the dreamer dreams another dream. His happy dreams are heralds of the dawn of truth upon the mind. They lead from sleep to gentle waking, so that dreams are gone. And thus they cure for all eternity. (W-140.3)

The happy dream is not a dream in which everything happens just the way you want it — it’s not a dream in which you magically manifest things you think you need. Such a dream would serve the ego, but not you. In a happy dream, we have forgiven the world because we have realized that the world is not real. We have remembered that we are the author and the subject of the dream of separation, and we forgive ourselves for ever having the thought that we could separate from God because we see that the thought had no consequence at all. The thought of separation was just a dream.

Because separation is the basis for the dream, waking up from the dream must involve the opposite of separation. The opposite of separation is not only the realization that we never separated from God, but also the remembering that there is only one of us: you are just another aspect of me. Just like in a dream we have at night, where we know upon awakening that the subjects in the dream acted for us and in ways we wanted them to, so do we realize that what we call reality is just a seemingly bigger-scale dream in which every friend and every foe is doing exactly what we asked them to do. Realizing that I am the author and the subject of the dream is the basis of true forgiveness.

Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be, and that because you want it you see it. And while you see it you do not doubt that it is real. Yet here is a world, clearly within your mind, that seems to be outside. You do not respond to it as though you made it, nor do you realize that the emotions the dream produces must come from you. It is the figures in the dream and what they do that seem to make the dream. You do not realize that you are making them act out for you, for if you did the guilt would not be theirs, and the illusions of satisfaction would be gone. (T-18.II.5)

True forgiveness is nothing other than the realization that everything that seems to happen to me is part of the dream I created and am dreaming. What seems to happen to me, actually happens for me because I’m the author of the dream.

In a nightmare, scary things happen to us. We run away from monsters who want to kill and eat us. We are helpless victims. It is the same with the ego’s dream of separation: I see myself as a victim of this world. Things happen to me, and I have no control over my life. I seem to be constantly running away from figurative (and maybe even literal) monsters.

In a happy dream, we feel good, even if the circumstances of the dream seem strange, when evaluated from the waking state of mind. For example, I may be dreaming that I am an Eskimo, living happily in my little igloo, even though it’s cold and all I have to eat is fish. When I wake up, I remember my happy Eskimo dream but I also know that I don’t actually want to go live in an igloo and eat fish every day.

This is kind of how our perception shifts as we start to go from a nightmare (ego identification) to a happy dream (Holy Spirit identification): the details of our dream (current life situation) may be strange, ridiculous and even unpleasant — this means that your life will not necessarily get “better” as the world defines it once you start waking up. The happy dream will not bring you more money, less conflict, or better physical health. In the happy dream, you realize the unreality of all that seems to be happening in your life, in the dream. And because you don’t take the circumstances of your life so seriously anymore, you have more peace.

What difference does the content of a dream make in reality? One either sleeps or wakens. There is nothing in between. (W-140.2)

But how do I realize all of a sudden that this is my dream? As long as you are deeply entrenched in your dream, you will not wake up. Translated to your daily life, this means that as long as you think you are a body, you will not wake up. As long as you are so involved with identifying with the body, you will not understand the metaphysics the Course is teaching us. Metaphysics means beyond the physical. What is beyond the physical? Maybe what’s beyond the physical is more real than the physical. The Course says that the physical isn’t even real, so what’s beyond is the only reality.

Only in the past — an ancient past, too short to make a world in answer to creation — did this world appear to rise. So very long ago, for such a tiny interval of time, that not one note in Heaven’s song was missed. Yet in each unforgiving act or thought, in every judgment and in all belief in sin, is that one instant still called back, as if it could be made again in time. You keep an ancient memory before your eyes. And he who lives in memories alone is unaware of where he is. (T-26.V.5)

You believe this world to be real because you “keep an ancient memory before your eyes.” The ancient memory is the thought of separation, which was the basis for this world, which “appeared to rise.” (Note that the Course says the world “appeared to rise” because the world never actually happened in reality, but only in our collective dream of separation.) We are stuck in this ancient memory, in this thought of separation, not because it’s real but because we keep making it real for ourselves with “each unforgiving act or thought, in every judgment and in all belief in sin.” We keep replaying this ancient memory over and over again, and this is how we are stuck in our own dream of separation. But despite all this, “not one note in Heaven’s song was missed,” and we remain as God created us, unaffected by our “tiny, mad idea” that lulled us into this dream of separation.

  1. John says:

    Nicely said. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. LIA STEINSON says:

    That’s a beautiful explanation of the happy dream, thank you!

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