I have no neutral thoughts.
Lesson 16 of A Course in Miracles is a wonderful opportunity to make contact with what my Zen Buddhist friends sometimes call “monkey mind.” Where recent lessons have asked us to bring up particularly frightening thoughts, this one asks that we make no discrimination whatsoever. All thoughts are equal. For me, this means entering a literal alphabet soup of ideas, images, stories, song fragments etc. It is always astounding to me how crazy that space is – busy and buzzing, like a hive of bees.
Actually, a hive of bees isn’t a bad metaphor – even better than monkey mind. This was my first year of beekeeping – it didn’t go well – but I did learn a lot about how bees work. The hives are intensely – almost frantically – alive, with bees coming and going and hovering and landing and crawling in and out of the 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 last one of our thoughts is powerful and effective. There’s no such thing as an idle thought. All thoughts have some result, not one of which is neutral. There’s no shades of gray there, either – every thought is either promoting truth or fomenting illusion. That in itself is a scary thought, apt to make us stop paying attention as soon as the lesson’s one-minute exercise ends. Who can bother with all that noise in there? How doe we deal with it?
The lesson, of course, isn’t aimed at bringing any of it under control – not yet. The goal is simply to become aware of the thoughts and begin to accept and appreciate the fact that they’re not neutral. In fact, if we can entertain for a moment that each thought – no matter how wispy, no matter how faint – is creating either Truth or illusion, then we might start to appreciate just how seriously Jesus takes this course. 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. Aligning them with Love . . . what would happen if we did that? What would the world look like?
Hopefully, as we practice these early lessons, we are beginning to recognize how important it is to pay attention – to stay focused throughout the day on salvation, on ending the separation. It’s the only problem we have, this perceived separation from God. The challenges raised by this attentiveness – maintaining focus, maintaining some shred of optimism that this is all working and will continue to work, not quitting, picking ourselves up and continuing when we do, inevitably and temporarily, quit – are all grist for the forgiveness mill. 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?
It is in this lesson that I sometimes catch a glimpse of what lies beyond the chatter. 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. 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.