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.
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Thank you Sean for this very insightful understanding of Lesson 1. If we grasp this, understand in our cellular structure its full meaning, the rest of the curriculum is moot. Once I am finished with my Lesson review (third time around) I will take some time to live it fully and then, when ACIM calls again for more, I will go back to Lesson 1 as you have done, relish it, take my time with it. Prior to your blog on Lesson 1, I would agree with the concept and move on, never exploring the depths as you have just revealed. I ‘will’ to own this one as much as I am ready to then move on to the next. As I hopefully peel away more layers of my attachments and illusions the Lessons will now be perceived in a new light, a new understanding. If not I will just keep on ‘practising’, slowly applying what I know as to the best of my awareness. I have eternity on my side. Namaste
Thank you for reading and sharing, Sandra, and for the kind words re: this post. Going back and beginning again has been very helpful to me, in part because it helps reveal that “back” and “beginning” are relative terms that don’t actually apply to the state of oneness to which the course points. As you say, we have eternity on our side. And one another as well 🙂
Lesson One, finally. 🤗
It has taken me just over a year to get through the text — a thoroughly happifying experience!
And now, to be able to proceed with the lessons WITH YOUR HELP, Sean, is truly a blessing.
Thank you thank you
You’re welcome, Donna. The workbook is a real joy. I was just sharing with someone last night that notwithstanding the way the text holds one’s intellectual interest, it’s really the application of the material that seems to be truly transformative.
Glad you’re here!
I wrote a reply about lesson 23. I really appreciate all of the commentaries Ive been reading that you wrote with so much passion and insight. I look forward to reading more commentaries of yours. Thank you for being a wonderful guide along with The Holy Spirit. Do far I have done 25 Lessons in the workbook. In 1995 I used to listen to.tapes from ACIM and then I read some passages. I didn’t know about the lessons then. I met Marianne Williamson at The Agape Church in Los Angeles May 24th 2000. I told her she was beautiful. She’s amazing. I had a Spiritual Awakening that night with Jesus, when she sent The Holy Spirit through the entire room and did many meditations. . My path led me to God’s Word.directly after that. I’ve had many lessons to learn and been through several dark valleys and lit up mountains. The Holy Spirit spoke to my Spirit reminding me that “There’s Nothing Outside You.” I had been hurting for 6 months because I needed to leave a special relationship that I perceived as being filled with too many triggers. I felt led to go back to ACIM. I saw that there was a Workbook. I may have pretty much glossed over the first several foundational Lessons. I’m going to begin at Lesson 1 again. I praise God because I’ve stood in TIMELESSNESS and knowing. In his Presence and it revealed to me that time here doesn’t matter.
Thank you for sharing that story – it is a heartfelt and powerful witness to the way the Holy Spirit works in us, ever leading us deeper and deeper into clarity and love.
Yes, the lessons are profoundly helpful; they call to us at different times in different ways. But always when the call comes from the Holy Spirit, we are given the means and the desire to answer whole-heartedly.
Thank you again for sharing your faith and trust. It’s a beautiful example of living A Course in Miracles.
Love the ACIM premise….but with everything our country has experienced last couple of years, it feels so ‘Pollyannish’. I believe most, but not all, people are good. I have read The Four Agreements, so get the reference to allusions. But evil is real. I believe in God, but how many of us have prayed for miracles only to suffer? Was an abused wife for years, although sincerely prayed for a miracle. I asked for God, the HS, my Angels for help many times. I forgave over and over and over while suffering broken lips and blackened eyes. Asked, prayed, cried for a miracle. So why do bad things happen to good people, as the Rabbi asked? Will you say it was karma that caused my ‘socially charming’ husband to attack? I’d love to hear your response. But something concrete, please not pie in the sky. Because that’s not reality. The world is a tough, albeit beautiful place. We can live in our own protected cocoons, but ACIM or not, it’s not always a safe place. Or will you say Grace is a state of mind? I believe in Grace, the HS, but from experience, doesn’t keep you out of harm’s way. What’s your response to all the evil that prevails? Where is God when an innocent child is being harmed? Unfortunately, prayers are not always answered or answered too late. Think God let’s things happen. Free will and all that. Watches from the sidelines. Feels very unfair and so sad for decent, moral folks. Thank you as hope you do answer. Am very interested in what you have to say. My ears and heart will be open. Blessings in 2022.
A Course in Miracles is an invitation to reframe our understand of what the self is and what the world is, by entering into a relationship with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the mind we share with Jesus, and teaches us to see all things as either a call FOR love or a loving response TO a call for love. As we learn to perceive in this way, our living changes, aligning with the Law of Love, which does not admit differences or distinctions. This is the end of suffering.
The appearance of evil and malice are not external problems that must be fixed by us – they are symptoms of an unhealed mind that still believes in separation. The mind that is split this way, and that insists the split is right/just/normal, needs to be healed. This healing is the result of following the Holy Spirit’s teaching. It occurs at the level of the mind because that is where the illness – which is confusion about what we are in truth – lies. The external world is a symptom, not a cause, of our unwellness. It is a reflection; it has no independent existence. This is what we mean when we call it an illusion. Evil is a real illusion, but evil itself is not real.
Does healing at the level of the mind affect the level of the world? Are abusers brought to justice? Hungry children fed? Absolutely. When we heal the underlying illness, the symptoms abate. We stop seeing evil; we stop seeing “bad” things happening to “good” people; we stop insisting that miracles are personally beneficial. We see cries for love, and we respond with love, and we see love, and we respond with yet more love. At the level of the world, this can’t happen fast enough. At the level of the mind, it is already over.
ACIM is not Pollyanna-ish! For me it isn’t! It is a rigorous and demanding spiritual practice by which we learn that there is no world and that we are not bodies. It restores to memory our unity with God in full communication with all of Creation. It teaches that WE – in the fullness of Creation – are the way, the truth and the life. We are – with our brother Jesus – Christ.
Your questions are age-old and you live with them with an integrity and clarity that is beautiful. Your truth radiates in the sentences you write. Respect! But your questioning arises from the very certainty – the very knowledge, the very ANSWER – that it pretends to seek. You KNOW the truth – you KNOW its beauty and its majesty. You aren’t here to question me, much less to get an answer from me. You are here to remind everyone reading of the Love that is our shared foundation, which we still too easily forget.
From the bottom of my heart: thank you.
This was such a beautiful thoughtful and amazing response 💜💜💜
I just found your website. My mind is blown!
I have been a student of the course for many years and was looking for a deeper understanding and explanation of the lessons. Your insights are amazing and I am so grateful that you are willing to share them with the world.
I’m glad you’re here, Susan, and thank you for the kind words. I’m glad the writing is helpful!