I have no neutral thoughts.
Lesson 16 of A Course in Miracles is a wonderful opportunity to make contact with what a Zen Buddhist might call call “monkey mind.” Where recent lessons have asked us to bring up particularly frightening thoughts, this one asks that we make no discrimination whatsoever. It asks us to recognize that all thoughts are equal because none of them are neutral. All thinking is creative, causative, gives rise to world and self.
For me, giving attention to thought in this way, means entering a literal alphabet soup of ideas, images, stories, song fragments etc. Monkey mind! It is always astounding to me how crazy that interior space is – busy and buzzing, like a hive of bees.
Actually, a hive of bees isn’t a bad metaphor. I tried my hand at beekeeping a few years ago. It didn’t go well but I did learn a lot about how bees work. I remember when we opened them, the hives were intensely – almost frantically – alive. Bees were coming and going, hovering and landing, crawling in and out of the brood comb. It looks utterly chaotic – yet each bee knows precisely what it’s doing. It has a job and it attends to that job. Each one matters.
That’s the point of this lesson: every single one of our thoughts is powerful and effective. We can’t disregard one of them, no matter how minor or insignificant it appears. There’s no such thing as “idle thoughts” (W-pI.16.2:1). All thoughts cause some effect, yield some result. There’s no such thing as one that doesn’t.
Critically, there is no shade of gray there, either – every thought either promotes truth or foments illusion.
Thoughts are not big or little; powerful or weak. They are merely true or false. Those that are true create their own likeness. Those that are false make theirs (W-pI.16.1:4-7).
This is itself a frightening thought! If we can’t control our thoughts – and, right now, we cannot, apparently – then we are doomed, no? Indeed, this lesson doubles down on the importance of recognizing thought’s power.
. . . salvation requires that you also recognize that every thought you have brings either peace or war; either love or fear. A neutral result is impossible because a neutral thought is impossible (W-pI.16.3:1-2).
Lesson 16 is not aimed at bringing thought under conscious control yet. Its objective goal is simply to encourage us to begin to give regular attention to thought and to accept and appreciate the fact that they’re not neutral. All thinking begets form at some level (T-2.VI.9:14).
This is one of the early lessons in which the scale of the healing contemplated by the course begins to come into view. If each thought – no matter how wispy, no matter how faint – creates either Truth or illusion, then we are going to have to radically alter the way that we think. Radically alter it.
We might start to wonder what’s going to happen when we cease to tolerate mind-wandering – that is, when we stop just letting our thoughts run rampant. Offering them to the Teacher of Love in order to align them with Love . . . what happens when we do this? Can we do it?
Hopefully, as we practice these early lessons, we begin to recognize the importance of giving attention to how we think and how that thinking is not separate from the world in which we live. A Course in Miracles is an invitation to be salvation-minded on a second-by-second basis. Separation is a problem in thought; and so its undoing occurs there as well.
The only problem we have is our perception that what we are can be – and in fact is – separate from God. Lesson 16 is observing that this perception is made by a powerful mind. The separation feels and appears real because the mind making it go can move mountains and construct universes. It’s when we appreciate this – when we gain respect for our creative powers – that we begin to move more forcefully and helpfully in the direction of remembering God.
Thus, everything that shows up when we practice this lesson – the despair, the hopefulness, the quitting and starting again, the optimism, the curiosity, the annoyances – are all grist for the mill of Forgiveness. Of the many thoughts that fill my mind during this exercise, quite a few are related to A Course in Miracles itself. When am I going to wake up? When is Jesus going to come and take me by the hand? Why is this so hard?
Lesson 16 asks us to honor those thoughts with condition or qualification. They matter. They don’t matter in and of themselves; rather, they matter because the mind giving rise to them is powerful beyond measure.
It is in this lesson that I sometimes catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the chatter of monkey mind, the crazy chaos of the hive. It’s like staring into an ocean which is murky and crowded with fish and all of a sudden – for just a moment – the fish clear and a beam of light sinks into the depths and you’re peering into a beautiful bottomless crystal, the light swimming in the current, and it takes your breath away.
And then it passes and you’re back to the lesson, back to singling out this or that thought and reminding yourself that it’s not neutral. It’s okay. Nothing can withstand our efforts, our determination to reach God, to remember God. Because our mind wants that deep down is all the promise we need that it will occur. Hold onto the lesson that show you the light, let them give you that extra push. Then keep on, bent on salvation, the only job we’ve got.