I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].
The third lesson of A Course in Miracles directly addresses our misplaced confidence in our perception and cognition. We intuitively accept as real the world our senses reveal. Here, the course states clearly that our intuition in this regard is misguided.
Thus, it is an invitation to look not at our so-called understanding but at our confusion (which so often masquerades as understanding or comprehension).
Lesson three threads neatly back through the previous two lessons, yoking them in a pedagogical triumvirate that aims to undo our reliance on the senses (which, as we will see, includes those ideas that arise so emphatically and persuasively in our thinking).
We can look at this process as undoing the ego. First, we are taught that the world we perceive is meaningless. Then we learn that to the extent we perceive meaning in the external world, it’s only the meaning that we have given it.
And now we’re being told that we don’t have the first clue about what we are perceiving. If lesson two nods at the creative potential of mind (which it does), then this lesson states without qualification that we are all but certain to misuse that power based on our inability to truly comprehend it.
Together, the first three lessons are a call for humility. We don’t know what’s going on, much less how to make sense of it. Any “healing” or “clarity” we might perceive is more likely than not an error. It behooves us to avoid rushing to conclusions and judgments.
This humility becomes the foundation of forgiveness, which is so central to the function of A Course in Miracles. More to the point, this humility is what enables us to accept a teacher or helper who is not our own self, as we understand that self.
That is, when we don’t know, and we know that we don’t know, and we accept our not knowing, then we are less likely to resist the one who comes along and says “I can help. Here’s what we’ll do.”
This helper, in ACIM terms, is the Holy Spirit – that part of our mind that recalls its unfractured, uncontaminated oneness with God, while simultaneously holding in awareness the confused and painful division that made an apparent separate self at war with God and Love.
But note that at this early juncture of the ACIM workbook, we aren’t actually being called to study or partake of the metaphysics or mythos of the course. We aren’t being asked to indulge in complex theological ruminations.
Rather, we are simply being asked to give attention to our living – right here, right now – and to hopefully notice the way it is not as coherent as we tend to believe. It is an invitation to go slowly and to keep our practice simple.
The temptation is to go quickly through these early lessons. I think doing so can actually slow our learning. These early lessons are an essential foundation in terms of creating the willingness and openness to the radical healing offered by A Course in Miracles.
It is relatively easy to say that we don’t understand anything that we see. It is relatively easy to concede briefly that our perception of the world may be askew.
But to truly integrate that confusion – to really accept it – is difficult, if not terrifying. And yet, unless we are truly persuaded that we are both deeply lost and confused and helpless in undoing that condition, then we aren’t going to fully avail ourselves of the help the course offers us.
In a sense, then, lesson 3 of A Course in Miracles is an admission of powerlessness. Concurrent with that admission is a declaration of need – if we are going to renounce the ego and remember that we are one with God, then we are going to have to have some nontrivial degree of help.
And help comes when we acknowledge our need for it.
Thus, lesson three is really our first adventure in forgiveness. From this base we will start to venture out into relationships with people and places, idols both spiritual and otherwise, and a host of related dualistic thought patterns.
Each of these reflects the ego’s death-grip on our thinking, which nearly always arises as certainty that we are right. Our study and practice of A Course in Miracles enables us to release these unhelpful certainties and the internal (and external too) chaos that arises from the confusion they beget.
It is not unlike clouds parting or a mist being gently burned away by the sun appearing over distant hills. The premise of healing is the insight that that we are not healers but that a healer attends us, when we are ready to be healed. Our readiness brings forth both healer and healing.
It begins with the humility that naturally arises when we see clearly and accept fully that we do not know. We can be grateful for this lesson and the relief it offers. We can – literally now – resign as our teacher and give ourselves wholly to the One who restores us to our Home in Love.