Nothing I see in this room (on this street, from this window, in this place) means anything.
Although it is not possible to make a mistake, it is also possible to make a more or less helpful beginning, and so the first lesson of A Course in Miracles deserves our attention. We can choose to see ACIM Lesson one in this way, and we can see what happens when we do.
You and I have the structure of meaning-making beings. We communicate through language and order our experience in ways that we find helpful. This is a house, this is a dog, this is a walking trail . . .
As we name our world, we take possession of it. It is not just a house but my house. It is not a dog, but my dog, or my neighbor’s dog. It is a good walking trail that I walked as a child with my father as we hunted . . . And so forth.
It is helpful to see the way in which this meaning-making happens. It arises on its own, as a function of our structure, and most of the time we are not even aware of it. As you give attention to the sentences I write, you are probably not reflecting on the history of furniture-making even though that is informing your present experience just as this sentence is.
This is the space in which ACIM daily lesson 1 meets us: as meaning-making beings who are largely unaware of meaning-making. We take it for granted; we don’t question either the process or the result. Of course that’s a house and of course it is my house. Intention, choice, decision, alternative . . . none of that enters.
And A Course in Miracles comes along and says that none of what we see means anything.
I want to point out two aspects of that teaching that strike me as radical and necessary, and thus helpful (and thus loving).
First is the lesson’s broad applicability (a function of its specificity).
Second is its unqualified insistence not that we are getting meaning wrong but rather that there is no meaning to be gotten. Right and wrong don’t enter into it.
The first aspect is a bit easier to take, at least initially. The lesson invites us to exclude nothing from its application – thus, a bedpost is as useful for teaching purposes as our spouse is. Or our child.
But if we are being honest, that is a dramatic and possibly even offensive statement. Is the course really and truly implying that our beloved is tantamount to a piece of furniture?
Actually, the course isn’t saying that. In this lesson, it’s simply saying that we can’t exclude anything from our experience of meaning-making. Whatever we notice is utterly equal in terms of its meaninglessness. It’s not that our spouse is as insignificant as a scratched up bed post; it’s that neither spouse nor bed post has any meaning in the first place.
Value judgments rest on meaning. “Spouse” means something that “bed post” does not; thus we value it differently. Given meaning, that value judgment makes sense. But the course is asking us here to look into meaning itself, not the judgments that arise from them.
Thus, we include everything that appears, without exception.
As I pointed out, our difficulty with applying the lesson to everything we see rests on our belief that somethings are more valuable than others, which in turn rests on the meaning we give them. Most of us can conceive of a shift in meaning: with respect to spouses, divorce rates attest to this! But meaninglessness is another leap, one that we actively resist.
Thus, A Course in Miracles is not inviting or preparing us to simply shift the meanings we’ve assigned to our various perceptions. We’re not swapping out “good” for “bad.” Rather, the course is brushing them all aside; they have no meaning. Not a single of them has any meaning.
And for beings whose living is predicated on meaning that is . . . disconcerting at best. For most of us it’s a full-on existential crisis.
That is why I think a lot of us go too quickly with this lesson. A lot of us overlook its subtle but utterly unconditional dressing down of how we live. If everything is meaningless . . . what then? How do we live? What are we to do? We don’t want to consider that possibility, much less find out what it actually feels like in our day-to-day living. It’s easier to intellectualize it. Or only apply it to things we don’t care about, like spiders and bed posts and fallen leaves.
Lifetimes pass in such fear-based study, in such half-hearted measures.
Each lesson of A Course in Miracles has the potential to undo the entirety of our belief system and reveal the love that is our actual inheritance and essence. Depending on our willingness and vigilance, any one lesson can show us the face of God which – with all due respect to the authors of Exodus – is life, is how we live.
But of course, I am getting ahead of myself here, and we are getting ahead of our learning if we try to do more with a single lesson than what appears to us in a given moment.
My suggestion is to consider and practice the first lesson of A Course in Miracles as a radical beginning. It addresses the very heart of our living, the very core of our belief system, and it does so in an unconditional and non-dramatic way, as befits the course.
The opportunity in this lesson is to begin to apply forgiveness in specific ways. The text is given to big ideas – forgiveness, oneness with God, the undoing of separation. But the lessons are given to specificity. They meet us where we are.
Our calling as students of A Course in Miracles is to forgive. We practice forgiveness in specific and meaningful ways. We have to do this – it is literally how the world appears to us. It is not especially difficult to say the whole world is an illusion; that’s just an opinion. But to say that our beloved cat or spouse is an illusion? That’s exponentially harder because it brings us closer to the problem: our propensity to to make meaning and then invest in it.
So lesson one – again, without making a big deal about it – is actually training us for that deep-rooted experience of forgiveness. We’re going to take a big abstract idea – illusion, say – and we’re going to apply to the specific details of our lives, even those that we’d very much prefer to exclude.
Don’t freak out about that! Noticing what we want to exclude from our practice is a gift. It’s a clue pointing out our special relationships, whether they’re with pets, people, objects or ideologies. And those relationships are special forgiveness opportunities. In them lies our apparent separation from God and so in them is our unity with God. The problem and the solution go hand in hand.
The course is always pointing in the direction of healing, even when the experience is unsettling or unclear.
ACIM Lesson one is not taxing in terms of application. A minute at the beginning of the day; a minute at the end. As our experience of being students deepens, it can be brought into application throughout the day. It is a bedrock of A Course in Miracles – this world brought forth by our perception does not mean anything. It is a dream, an illusion drafted by a fragmented mind that cannot bear its proximity and likeness to God.
We don’t have to get this lesson all at once. Indeed, for most of us, we can’t. Rather, we take it as far as we can. We give attention to as much of the darkness as we can bear. Our little willingness is what matters. We just have to heft the lamp a little – the light will do the rest. Lesson one is the beginning of the end of fear.