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A Course in Miracles Lesson 5

I am never upset for the reason I think.

The fifth lesson of A Course in Miracles introduces two concepts that will remain paramount for the remainder of our course study. First, question everything, especially your role as your own teacher. Second, give attention to form and content, especially the possibility that you are confusing one for the other.

Implicitly, this lesson encourages us to reflect on the fact that we are not the best judge of our learning and living. This reflection opens a space in which a more creative teaching and application can take place. Holiness is a form of letting go and not rushing to fill what appears to be empty.

In this way, lesson 5 is deeply practical without in any way compromising the rich metaphysical insights characteristic of A Course in Miracles.

We tend to take the narrative in our head seriously. If the idea is that the day sucks because it’s raining and we really wanted to go for a long run without getting soaked, then that’s our truth. If the idea is that we are impatient because the impatience of our mother or father conditioned us to be impatient, then that’s our truth. If we believe it’s all but impossible to be happy without excess amounts of capital . . .

We take our thinking – our judgments – literally. They become the very foundation of our living. Effectively, they become our guides to what is real and what is not.

That would be fine if we were clear thinkers whose every thought was God-lit, love-infused, and given to service. But we aren’t. And so to varying degrees, pain and suffering ensue.

Lesson five suggests that these interior narratives – and the conditioning upon which they appear to rest – are not worth our time and attention.

Please note what the course does not say in this lesson: it does not say that we shouldn’t be upset or that our upset is an illusion. On the contrary. It accepts our pain and suffering; it simply points out that we are confused about the actual cause of that pain and suffering.

That’s good to know. If we think X is causing our pain but in fact Y is the cause, then we want to focus on Y and not X. Healing is not a mystery; it’s logical and sensible.

So it’s okay to feel what you feel. Good, bad, happy, despressed. We aren’t being asked to fake an upbeat emotional state because we’re spiritual people or born again in Christ. Rather, we are being asked to consider that when it comes to understanding our emotional state, we aren’t reliable sources.

Thus, it’s a mistake to interpret this – or the preceding lessons (or those to come, to be honest) as encouraging us to view the external world solely in terms of illusion. While these early lessons inevitably nod in the direction of metaphysics, they actually have more modest goals.

They want us to begin to question our perception of reality, and our grounds for taking our own selves as reliable witnesses to reality. That’s all.

In that sense, we aren’t being called to question the existence of rain or parents or capitalist society. We are being asked to examine our assumption about the causative effects of those – and other – apparent objects.

Lesson Five’s contribution to this process of questioning (which is essential to the more fundamental process of undoing contemplated by A Course in Miracles) introduces the critical idea of form and content. That’s why it emphasizes repeatedly that we don’t have to focus on “big” upsets to the exclusion of “small” ones (W-pI.5.4:3-4).

On this view, a dropped cup of tea is not different than a loved one’s death. That can feel deeply – almost painfully – illogical, but what if is accurate? What if it’s helpful?

In this way, A Course in Miracles encourages us to focus less on form – what we perceive with the body’s senses and understand with its cognitive capacities – and more on the content, which is to say, what the form holds or represents or symbolizes.

That is, we will begin to experience our living in the world more in the relative terms of love and fear (which is the absence of love). It won’t matter if we are experiencing love through food or sex or meditation or long walks in the woods with our dog. It’s just love. And it won’t matter if we experience fear as hunger or an empty house or a nagging boss or an empty bank account. It’s simply fear, which is simply a cry for love. And the response to both is always love.

Thus, our behavior – which is our response to the world of perception – will become increasingly detached from form (what things appear to be) in order to respond to love or the call for love, which together comprise our lived reality.

A Course in Miracles asserts that our only problem – whether we name it guilt, fear, anger, jealousy, loneliness, greed, whatever – is our perceived separation from God (W-pI.79.1:4). But the separation is not an actual fact; rather, it is a misunderstanding of what constitutes fact. We are confused about what we are, and our confusion appears to us as separation – separation from other bodies, from the external world, and from love itself. It is this fact that causes our upset, and our upset in turn clouds our experience of the world, giving it the appearance of cause.

The work is to heal this confusion. The work is to set aright our upside-down thoughts. The work is to correct our incorrect thinking. At the stage of the fifth lesson, we do this simply by considering the possibility that we are wrong about cause and effect (and, by extension, about form and content). We are confusing form for content and effect for cause. Seeing this clearly is ultimately how it is fixed.

Yet lesson five doesn’t necessarily straighten out that misguided thinking. It simply begins the process of drawing our attention to it.

Still, this lesson is not without the power to heal us. When we honestly consider that we are not reliable witnesses to or interpreters of experience, then a space opens up in which it is easier to let life be what it is. When we step back – when we loosen our stranglehold on our way of thinking and living – then the possibility for a more creative, forgiving and loving engagement with life arises.

That can happen in a single moment. As Tara Singh frequently observed, any one lesson can awaken us to the joy and peace of our being.

But if it doesn’t happen that way – or there’s only a faint glimpse or taste – that’s okay. The only “right” way to grasp the curriculum is the way that we grasp it right now. While it may reflect a helpful truth that there are “no small upsets” (W-pI.5.4:3), we are likely still discriminating between the events that seem to make up our lives. We are likely still opting to see death and a stubbed toe as radically different.

Thus, it’s okay – more than okay – to ask for help with specific problems. Baby steps are not prohibited and may well be advised. It’s okay to be precisely where we are at in the learning process. As the workbook points out, we are not required to accept this lesson on its own terms without reservation. We just have to make a good faith effort; we have to care enough about inner peace to try (W-pI.5.6:3-4).

Hold that in mind as you study. Your study is a form of self-love which by definition gives itself away. And you can’t do it wrong, which removes the possibility of stress. Practice! And your practicing becomes the very light of the world.

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