I see no neutral things.
Lesson 17 is a natural extension of Lesson 16 which teaches that there is no such thing as a neutral thought. Given this, it is not possible for us to perceive neutral objects – everything is subject to judgment and found pleasing or wanting. The non-neutrality of thought makes this so because we do not see apart from thought.
Thus, this lesson continues the course’s shift of our understanding of cause-and-effect. It appears that the world is separate from us – out there. It acts on us and we react to its acting. That’s how life works.
For most of us, that’s an eminently logical presumption. Stimulus precedes response – I drop a brick on my foot and my foot smarts. I don’t have to think about it.
Yet A Course in Miracles asks us to reconsider this and does so on the premise that this traditional embodied perception of cause and effect is backwards. Salvation depends on reversing it, on realizing that through the power of thought, we create a world of images each designed to invoke the emotional response that we’ve decided we want.
You see no neutral things because you have no neutral thoughts. It is always the thought that comes first, despite the temptation to believe that it is the other way around (W-pI.17.1:2-3).
And it is tempting.
So lesson 17 is another step on the road to both appreciating this new belief system and enabling us to actually make positive use of it. In Lesson 16, we explore the absence of neutrality in our thoughts; now we explore how that absence makes, or colors, every image that we perceive in the world.
This tends to become confusing around suffering. We see a hungry child, say, and feel sorrow. We watch a loved one die and feel grief and loss. We watch somebody get through deception a job we wanted and feel anger. Are we really prepared to accept full responsibility for those feelings? Salvation means becoming responsible in just this way. We have to see whatever occurs, we are doing it to our own self.
The secret to salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. No matter what the form of the attack, this is still true. Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true (T-27.VIII.10:1-4).
Yet at this juncture, we are not being asked to take that large step. We are being asked to learn the basics of a new thought system; our learning will be reinforced and refined as we go, and our application will grown increasingly effective.
It is not wrong to allow oneself to be a beginner. Indeed, it is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves as ACIM students.
Thus, Lesson 17 invites us to look at the bed, the window, the tree, the passing car. These seem insignificant at this stage of our learning, and so we can apply the lesson with minimal resistance. In time we will begin to apply to war, poverty, torture and all the others horrors that appear to fill the world and threaten our existence.
Still, this lesson gives us a little taste of that apparently larger and more powerful reality:
Regardless of what you may believe, you do not see anything that is really alive or really joyous. This is because you are unaware as yet of any thought that is really true, and therefore really happy (W-pI.17.3:2-3).
There are moments when A Course in Miracles adopts an encouraging tone: reminding us that it’s okay if we experience resistance or need to scale back in order to keep ourselves from falling headlong into fear. But here – in the above quote – it’s actually rattling our cage. It’s warning us against becoming too comfortable or too confident.
This is not easy! I don’t like being told that I’ve never seen anything “truly alive or really joyous.” What about my dog when he was a puppy discovering snow? What about when my children were born? What about the Leonids in summer?
These are merely shadows of shadows of joy, says A Course in Miracles.
Shadows of the shadows of joy, says Jesus. He is patient in this lesson, but stern. There is work to do. We have a long way to go. Don’t waste time. Pay attention.