I have given everything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] all the meaning that it has for me.
A Course in Miracles Daily Lesson Two is an extension of Lesson One. The first teaches us that nothing we perceive means anything; this, the second, allows that while what we perceive might appear to have meaning, that apparent meaning is simply what we gave it.
You might think of this lesson as a response to an objection posed to the first lesson: that dog (or friend or book or painting) sure does seem to mean something. That is, it’s one thing to say a window or a pencil is meaningless. It’s another altogether to say that of a beloved pet or person.
Okay, okay, allows the course. There’s meaning but it’s not inherent. It’s what you project. You put it there; not God.
Thus, this lesson introduces us to the critical ACIM idea that projection makes perception (T-21.In.1:1). We look inside, determine what kind of world we want, and then project that world outside. In that sense, we truly are authors – albeit confused and ineffective ones.
As the lessons progress, we begin to redefine this authorship. We expand our capacity to accept God’s vision in place of our skewed and crazy own. But at this early juncture in the process, the course is simply asking us to consider that the “meaning” we see anywhere is our own doing. We don’t have to fix it or judge it. We don’t have to stop doing it. We just have to recognize it.
I think this lesson allows us to think creatively about two principles that will become increasingly important over the course of our study of A Course in Miracles.
First, it allows us to give attention to the fact that the world that we bring forth is simply “a” world – one that is particular to us and to our structure, but not true in any absolute sense.
Reflect on this for a moment. Imagine sitting in a field. Your dog is beside you. Butterflies float over the goldenrod. In the back of your mind you’re worried about ticks. They love fields like this.
The field that you perceive – and the world that contains it – is emphatically not the field or world that your dog perceives. Your dog sees, hears and smells and thus brings forth an altogether different space. It’s mostly gray; it’s way more aromatic than yours. It’s unaware of ticks. Or butterflies. It doesn’t even have a word for tick. Or butterfly.
And the butterflies bring forth yet another world – one that is differently colored than yours; with more and varied surfaces. And the ticks bring forth a different world too – one that is dark and soundless and comprised of basically a single odor – butyric acid. Blood doesn’t even have a taste to them.
It’s tempting to say that the various animals are just perceiving variations on your world – which is the real world. Of course it’s a field; of course those are butterflies. But it is far more accurate to say that you and those animals bring forth different worlds altogether, and that other animals and beings – sunflowers, earthworms, crickets and streams – bring forth radically different worlds, some of which don’t even contain humans. Do you really think a neutrino is aware of people?
Given this, the ground for arguing that our world is the world – or even an approximation of the world – is thin indeed.
Indeed, even to use language like “in this room, [on this street, from this window, in this place]” (W-pI.2), admits to the underlying chauvinism. No tick would say that. Nor would any dog. Nor would a spider from Mars.
The body’s senses and intelligence bring something forth – “a” world – but it’s relatively to see that this is a far cry from reality or truth. It’s more like a dream that fits the character (who is also a dream, by the way).
How sure are you there is a world – let alone one that means anything?
If you let it, if you give it the space and attention, Lesson Two – in conjunction with Lesson One – will provoke a full-on existential crisis for you.
The second aspect of this lesson that bears reflection is asking where the meaning we give comes from? Who or what gave it to us? We say our dog is special, and that we’d die to protect our daughter, and that car’s political bumper sticker is offensive, and the weather sucks, and . . .
On and on we go, right? How does that happen? How do simple perceptions end up being so significant? If that butterfly is just a pattern of colors in awareness, why does it have a name? Why do I love its yellow so? Why did Emily Dickinson put it in a poem?
That is to say, how do we end up being capable of projecting in the first place? What are we exactly that we should be capable of doing this? What purpose does it serve?
This lesson does not sketch an answer (though taken together the Text and Workbook do more than just sketch an answer), but I’d like to offer some thoughts. Projection is basically misapplied creation. That is, we have the ability to bring forth (extend) creative and life-giving love and – because we are confused about what we are – instead bring forth a sterile and twisted form of love, which might better be called guilt and fear. Or hate even.
Thus, the meaning we give reflects a poor and dysfunctional imitation of the meaning God gives, which extends through us by including us as God’s meaning. If you love your spouse dearly, you are not called on to reject that love or judge yourself a spiritual failure for experiencing it.
Rather, you are invited to see it as a dim and poor beginning on an infinitely vaster love that will exclude no body and no thing, a love that will encompass you by teaching you that it is you.
Thus, don’t get hung up on the meaning you’re putting on the world. Don’t even get hung up on the world. Let it be. Notice it being what and how and the way it is, and notice your noticing. As always, it is our showing up in a willing posture – ready to learn, ready to be taught – that matters.
Finally, Lesson Two of A Course in Miracles is an invitation to take responsibility for our perception. This is hard! We might not mind being responsible for moonlight glistening on new-fallen snow. Or chickadees preening in lilac bushes. But suffering children in war-torn Syria? Homeless folks freezing to death?
That’s a lot harder. I’d rather not face that.
A Course in Miracles recognizes our reluctance in this regard. The lesson acknowledges that we will be tempted to discriminate (to welcome the snowy field but look away from the homeless man) but specifically asks us to “not concentrate on anything in particular and do not attempt to include everything you see in a given area” (W-pI.2.1:6).
Don’t be stressed. Do what you can. You aren’t doing it alone.
Whatever we encounter today – apparently good and apparently bad – is meaningless but for the meaning that we give it. With the first lesson, our inclination is to keep our special loves at bay – we exclude our kids or spouses, say, from meaninglessness. With this lesson, our inclination is to do the opposite. We don’t want to be responsible for what’s ugly, broken, cruel, dysfunctional, et cetera. We want to exclude that material.
And over and over – here and in the text – the course reminds us that the external only looks different. In fact, it’s all the same. The apparent competing values and the range of preferences are not the point. The abiding equality – the sameness – is.
All Lesson Two asks is that we take notice of what’s going on. We aren’t supposed to explain anything, fix anything, or render judgment for or against anything. We don’t even have to understand anything. We simply have to allow for the possibility that all meaning – all meaning – is of our own making. Undoing is the work of future lessons.
For now we notice. And we take heart. We always take heart. We are not going anywhere but home, and we are not going alone but together, which is our home.