To call the external world and the many selves within it illusory is true enough but still leaves aside the important question: what are we supposed to do about it?
There would seem to be a lot of possibilities. At one extreme we might say something like, if cheesecake is an illusion, why not gorge on it? At the other, we might see in illusions a terrifying absence of meaning that extends to our own lives.
Is that it? A spectrum that ranges from orgiastic indulgence to bottomless abyss?
A Course in Miracles offers us another way to work with illusions. We understand them to be collectively a projection – an internal condition that we cannot bear and so “project” it (often violently) outside of us.
This was one of Freud’s major insights, borrowed by Helen in the scribing process. The individual cannot accept certain aspects of their self – lust, greed, anger, hate and so forth – and so they “solve” the problem by placing those attributes on other people, places and things.
In a sense, we make the world a screen on which our own personal horror show plays in a grim loop, with the caveat that we forget it’s only a show and – most importantly – that we are its author.
Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is nothing 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.1:1-3, 5).
When we accept responsibility for the external, it ceases to be a screen for our projections and becomes more in the nature of a mirror. If we want to know our interior state of mind, simply give attention to the world which arises from it.
When we do this in a sustained and nonjudgmental way – which I believe was the essence of Ken Wapnick’s oft-repeated suggestion that we not take our lives too seriously – a sort of shift occurs. Cause and effect are perceived rightly – that is, the world becomes an effect caused by our thinking. We are not effects caused by the world.
See [the world] as damned, and all you see is what you did to hurt the Son of God. If you behold disaster and catastrophe, you tried to crucify him. If you see holiness and hope, you joined the Will of God to set him free (T-21.in.2:2-4).
It is important to remember that there is “no choice that lies between these two decisions” (T-21.in.2:5). We are either crucifying the world or setting it free. If we are bent on the horror of crucifixion, then we are taking our marching orders from the ego (T-20.VIII.10:6). If we are engaged in releasing the world from damnation, then we are working with the Holy Spirit, whose only objective is peace (T-6.II.5:1-2).
Thus, we can easily discern which teacher we are listening to – the ego or the Holy Spirit – by taking note of our perceptions. Anything less than perfect peace means we are still (secretly or otherwise) heeding the ego. And thus we can make another choice because we know that the power to do so belongs to us because it was given to us in creation.
The world you see but shows you how much joy you have allowed yourself to see in you, and to accept as yours. And, if this is its meaning, then the power to give it joy must lie within you (T-21.in.2:7-8).
This is a new way of engaging the external world: seeing it as a mirror in which the clues to healing are revealed. It is unfamiliar because it is the opposite of why we made the world. So we have to practice and be vigilant, and we also have to be forgiving. Jesus will not kick us out of the classroom, so neither should we.
Nor should we make it overly complicated (a trap into which I fall over and over). The clues aren’t hidden – it’s not a spiritual version of Where’s Waldo? We are either experiencing peace or not – there is no middle ground. And the solution to the absence of peace is not a spiritual puzzle that can only be solved by theologians in tall towers. All we do when we feel lost or confused or hurt or scared is ask Jesus to be with us. I can be a wordy s.o.b., but my best prayer is often nothing more than a heartfelt “help, please.”
The form of choosing again does not matter. What matter is our recognition that we are capable of choosing, don’t like the effects of our current choice, and so want to make another. Jesus will never leave us bereft in that space, nor will the Holy Spirit fail to deliver.
We have repeated how little is asked of you to learn this course. It is the same willingness you need to have your whole relationship transformed to joy; the little gift you offer to the Holy Spirit for which He gives you everything; the very little on which salvation rests; the tiny change of mind by which the crucifixion is changed to resurrection. And being true, it is so simple that it cannot fail to be completely understood. Rejected yes, but not ambiguous (T-21.II.1:1-4).
Give attention, then, to the drama playing out before your very eyes – the story in which you seem to have been involuntarily tossed – and be willing to have your right mind, the Holy Spirit, teach you its real meaning. We are meant to be happy. We are meant to be whole. The means to learn this and make it so are right here now.