My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world.
The first ten lessons are essentially an introduction to how our bodies function with respect to meaning and purpose. We are being invited to rethink – literally – the way in which mind is experienced in and as a body.
The upshot of those lessons is to undermine our settled understanding of the body and subtly shift our thinking away from sensation and towards the activity of mind.
Lesson 11 is the first lesson of A Course in Miracles which yokes this shift to the world.
The world and our bodies are a single movement – the one brings the other forth. Our physical senses manifest a world and our brain provides a narrative about that world. It is persuasive and convincing. It seems to just be the way it is.
Our understanding of that movement is not that the one brings the other forth, but rather that our bodies are simply noticing what already exists. There really is a pine tree, with a chickadee singing in it, with the sun setting over the horizon outside my window. And it really is beautiful. And beauty really does make me feel happy, joyous and free.
Lesson eleven is the beginning of reversing this structure of cause-and-effect.
Today’s idea introduces the concepts that your thoughts determine the world you see. Be glad indeed to practice the idea in its initial form, for in this idea is your release made sure. The key to forgiveness lies in it (W-pI.11.1:3-5).
If you believe that cause is external – if that belief is reflected in your thought, if it effectively is your thought – then that is how the world will appear. It will rain on your picnic and you will feel sorrow because your picnic was ruined.
But the cause of joy is interior and rain – and picnics – can neither bring it forth nor shut it down nor modify it in any way.
The course does not ask us to believe this – that would be too big a leap at this juncture. Rather, it asks us – in a mild and gentle way – to simply give attention to the possibility of it. We’re talking about three to five minutes of practice over the course of a single day.
It is like learning how to swim by taking one small step after another ever deeper into the pool. And at any juncture, we can slow down. There is no being thrown in the deep end here.
This lesson – the world is meaningless when and as it proceeds from meaningless thoughts – is the foundation of forgiveness, which A Course in Miracles defines as “the healing of the perception of separation” (T-3.V.9:1).
Forgiveness through the Holy Spirit lies simply in looking beyond error from the beginning, and thus keeping it unreal for you. Do not let any belief in its realness enter your mind, or you will also perceive that you must undo what you have made in order to be forgiven (T-9.IV.5:3-4).
What never happened cannot have effects. What is not real cannot have effects. This is the shift in thinking offered by A Course in Miracles.
In a sense, lesson 11 is a big step. It is the first time that we are explicitly told that what we see or perceive is our responsibility. What we perceive – war, famine, loneliness, poverty and the corresponding grief and suffering – extends from our mind because of our confusion about how cause and effect actually function. When at last we begin to understand accept this, then we draw near “peace, relaxation and freedom from worry” (W-p-I.11.3:4).
Early versions of A Course in Miracles include the admonition that part of asking Jesus what miracles to do automatically meant that we also ask him what miracles not to do. Miracle workers, in their enthusiasm and lovingkindness – but also in their tendency to overestimate their spiritual progress – are inclined to do everything. Heal this and heal that and then go knock on doors to find more opportunities to heal.
But the course advises us to relax. To breathe. To accept the viability of baby steps and trust that salvation is in better hands than ours.
I raise this because Lesson 11 is fun. I like it and, because the workbook indicates that it’s critical to the foundation of peace and joy, I want to get it right. I want to get it perfect. But implicit in the ACIM curriculum is the fact that we are always right where we are meant to be. We are learning what we are meant to learn and this juncture, with these companions, through these circumstances.
Ego resists that truth and masks my resistance to with good intentions. But Spirit – when I give it space and listen to it quietly speak – says thank you for your trust. In the end, its gratitude is all we need.