I sent another newsletter out – a rather lengthy one. I imagine I’ll get to another at some point in early October. If you are interested in signing up, please feel free.
I am teaching Emerson on the subject of War and Peace these days. It’s a tough sell to students not accustomed to reading nineteenth century American English, averse generally to logic, and basically already deeply cynical about the possibilities of peace. Yet I like Emerson – as I like all the Transcendentalists – and this essay in particular.
Emerson was the vanguard of those (mostly) New England writers and thinkers whose work, while not precisely harmonious with A Course in Miracles, readily integrates with it. Thoreau and Emily Dickinson – the patron saints at whose wordy altars I an always kneeling in homage – were deeply attuned to the Vedantic spirituality that informs ACIM. Thoreau would have been put off by its overarching Christian metaphor I think. And Dickinson . . . well, who knows what Dickinson would have thought. We are still learning how to read her.
Anyway, in his essay, Emerson notes that war – and peace – are projects of thought.
[A]lways we are daunted by the appearances; not seeing that their whole value lies at bottom in the state of mind. It is really a thought that built this portentous war establishment, and a thought shall also melt it away.
The material world, he added, but reflects one’s “state of thought.”
This is reminiscent, of course, of Jesus in A Course in Miracles. In many ways, the belief system of the course rests up on the idea that “projection makes perception” (T-21.In.1:1).
The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less . . . It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition (T-21.In.1:2-3, 5).
This is a powerful statement that is apt to be overlooked or watered-down. Daan Dehn points out that it places a singular responsibility on students of the course.
The entire process of perception requires first that you look within and decide what you want to see and then it is seen as desired. And, once again, there are but two ways of seeing — separation or wholeness — regardless of the specific form. Those who subscribe to the humanistic, halfway approach attempt to rationalize, justify or somehow magically or metaphysically explain away the appearance of war and hunger, sickness and death while steadfastly refusing to accept responsibility for the appearance thereof. This is not what the passage says! It says YOU are the dreamer of the world. You, singularly and individually (but not personally as a separate entity, as that “you” is illusory), are dreaming the entire universe of pain and suffering, sickness and death. It is not a “collective” dream; there is no such thing as collective — the whole is not merely the collection of its seeming parts.
We are comfortable talking about how we feel when our cat dies or when we’ve got a cold or when we’re processing what it means to have nasty parents or something. But nuclear war? Starving children? Rape?
Most of us are not looking at that stuff. We don’t want to. It’s too hard.
One of the reasons that I teach the way I teach – and teach the particular material that I teach – is because it forces me to consider some fairly complex and demanding applications of A Course in Miracles. If I look out at the world and see chemical weapons raining down on children far away – and people being gunned down at work – and babies starving to death – then obviously, there is some serious guilt and fear and anguish inside of me. I don’t want to hide from that.
Yet how, exactly, should I respond to it? How do I deal with conflict on such a vast and horrifying scale? Emerson’s simple observation remains instructive. I cannot fix anything by trying to fix what is external. I must address the thoughts that give rise to it. The course tracks a similar solution.
You have enslaved the world with all your fears, your doubts and miseries, your pain and tears; and all your sorrows press on it, and keep the world a prisoner to your beliefs (W-pI.132.3:4).
Lesson 132 goes on to point out, however, that “[t]here is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release.”
There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach . . . healing is the gift of those who are prepared to learn there is no world (W-pI.132.6:2-3, 7:1).
Thus, the course can insist that “salvation is easily achieved, for anyone is free to change his mind, and all his thoughts change with it (W-pI.132.2:1).
So we accept responsibility for the external as a projection of our guilt and fear. We do not ascribe to it real effects. This is a critical distinction and the root of the truly radical nature of A Course in Miracles. It is fine to feed a hungry child, fine to carry a sign that says “peace now,” and fine to email your political leaders. We have to do something with these bodies we seem to have – might as well be gentle and kind and productive. We as well be Bodhisattvas.
But the true change – the real peace – is going to come from an internal decision to accept that the external world is not real. In a sense, the real work of A Course in Miracles – of the peacemaker, if you will – comes when she or he stops believing in the world and devotes themselves solely to healing their mind.
All that is required is that we recognize we want to be healed and that we cannot heal ourselves. That allows the willingness to be guided by a new Teacher: the Holy Spirit.
Don’t be afraid of looking at the seeming big stuff – war and famine, murder and torture. The miracle heals it all with ease because it all springs from the same error: that we are separated from God. Whether it’s a toothache or a nuclear winter, it’s the same problem. So the solution is the same.
That’s not how we perceive it of course! But we don’t have to fix our perception. We simply have to notice it. We have to see its brokenness and accept that we’re not going to be able to fix it and thus avail ourselves of the One who can. It sounds simple but it’s not. Emerson knew that as well as anyone. He wrote War in 1838. One hundred seventy-five years later, we’re still trying to figure it out.