I see only the past.
Lesson Seven is a wonderful example of both the specificity of the ACIM workbook and its usefulness in helping unravel the abstraction and metaphysics of the Text.
It is tempting to get hung up on the word “past.” We might assume that it means the object we observe is literally in the past. This is a supernatural reading that on some level is sexier than what the lesson is actually teaching, which is simply that our minds draw exclusively on the past when interpreting the present.
A Course in Miracles teaches us that the past is a filter through which we experience the present. And this filter is sufficiently strong that it distorts the present to such a degree that the present appears frightening and meaningless.
Lesson Seven gathers the previous six under this brief but succinct statement: the past is all that we see (W-pI.7). By extension, this lesson insists that our guilt, confusion, frustration, and fear are premised on this inaccurate and unhelpful way of looking at our lives.
The lesson focuses very much on our physical vision. The examples it offers for application – pencil, shoe, hand, body and face – are all objects that we perceive with our eyes. The course does not deny that these objects exist as such; rather, it indicates that the way we perceive them is broken and thus, we are not actually seeing them as they are. We have thus removed ourselves from reality as God created and sustains it.
That is, our “past learning” is what tells us what we are seeing (W-pI.7.3:6). Absent that learning, can we really say what we see? (W-pI.7.3:7)
Tara Singh once said – here paraphrased – that if anybody truly saw an orange they would be so awe-struck by its beauty, intensity and energy that the only fitting response would be to fall to one’s knees in praise and gratitude.
How shall we approach understanding this lesson?
The logic of the third paragraph is persuasive. It invites us to give careful sustained attention to a cup. It is not a bad idea to actually get a cup and look at it. How do you know what it is? How do you know its function? How do you know its name? How do you know how to care for it?
Your present experience of the cup is entirely dictated by your past learning about cups. Absent your past learning, what is the cup?
Although the lesson suggests this is a difficult idea to handle (e.g., W-pI.7.1:1) given its approach to undoing time, I wonder if it is not so hard with respect to cups and shoes and pencils. Indeed, I think where this lesson becomes challenging is when we realize its general applicability – that is, it pertains not only to objects but to specific people we love and hate. It applies to love and hate. It applies to the belief system which is the ground from which love and hate arise.
That is, we are not only discussing external material objects. We are – and subsequent lessons will initiate this exploration – also discussing interior thoughts and feelings and beliefs.
The past is our teacher. The past is the filter through which we perceive the world – including our self, other selves, and even A Course in Miracles. Has it been helpful? Unhelpful?
Or do we need a new teacher?
This lesson, like all the early ones, is a powerful and pragmatic means by which to begin undoing the fundamentals of our existing thought system in order that we might adopt a new one.
Through our study and practice of A Course in Miracles we learn to see the foundation of fear in order to learn that it might be exchanged for love.
Thus, our practice is to simply do what the lesson asks. It literally asks us to examine our surroundings for approximately four one-minute intervals and gently remind ourselves that each object we see is effectively the past. It asks us to simply see – or begin to see – that we are conditioned to seeing the world through a lens of past experience.
Since the past is gone (it is by definition always gone), what we are seeing is an illusion. What then can actually be seen? And who will teach us this new way of seeing?