My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.
Lesson 7 is an invitation to consider the way in which we perceive the objects that comprise our physical world is conditioned by the past. We are not really looking at a pencil or a cup – we are looking at our idea of a pencil or a cup, and that idea is entirely conditioned by our past learning with respect to pencils and cups.
It is possible to reframe our understanding – we are not looking at the past so much as looking through the past. Indeed, the eighth lesson of A Course in Miracles encourages this shift in focus. Our mind is not free but is rather yoked to past thoughts which inevitably fragment and shade its understanding and perception.
Critically, this lesson reminds us that the problem is not cups and pencils – much less wars and poverty – but rather the mind which perceives these things. Heal the mind and the world will follow.
How, then, shall we train our mind to occupy itself with love – with the Holy Instant – rather than the past?
The mind’s preoccupation with the past is the cause of the misconception about time from which your seeing suffers. Your mind cannot grasp the present, which is the only time there is. It therefore cannot understand time, and cannot, in fact, understand anything (W-pI.8.I:4-6).
Students of A Course in Miracles will recognize that what is being alluded to here is in fact the end of time, the Holy Instant – a moment given freely to us by the Holy Spirit. In that moment – which is unclouded by ideas of past or future – the present is empty of fear. It is the Holy Instant that teaches us the meaning of love inherent in the ACIM curriculum.
Each instant is a clean, untarnished birth, in which the Son of God emerges from the past into the present. And the present extends forever. It is so beautiful and so clean and free of guilt that nothing but happiness is there. No darkness is remembered, and immortality and joy are now (T-15.I.8:4-7).
ACIM Lesson 8 begins to train our minds to recognize that what impedes our experience of the Holy Instant is literally our preoccupation with past thoughts. Most of what churns through our minds are ideas and images and concepts that derive their meaning and utility from the past. Whatever utility they may have for the body, they utterly obscure the mind’s natural repose in the “clean, untarnished birth” of the present.
As we see this – and as we identify those thoughts for what they are – we begin to develop the basic skill of letting them go and giving attention instead to the peace and tranquility that is our actual mind. In that way, this lesson anticipates the clear teaching of Lesson 45, which tells us that our “real” thoughts are those we think with God
You think with the Mind of God. Therefore you share your thoughts with Him, as He shares His with you. They are the same thoughts, because they are thought by the same Mind. To share is to make alike, or to make one. Nor do the thoughts you think with the Mind of God leave your mind, because thoughts do not leave their source. Therefore, your thoughts are in the Mind of God, as you are. They are in your mind as well, where He is. As you are part of His Mind, so are your thoughts part of His Mind (W-pI.45.2:1-8).
This lesson proposes the radical idea that when our minds are busy – what our Buddhist friends might call “monkey mind” – they are actually blank. They are not functioning. The implication is that the real activity of our mind will not manifest as thoughts about cups or pencils or sex or politics at all. A lot of our resistance to the course can be found here, I think. We are so ingrained – so conditioned, so invested – in our thoughts and the self they appear to arise from and relate to that letting them go feels too terrifying. Even thinking about letting them go is scary.
But all thoughts can be brought to the Holy Spirit: that which we find intimidating or confusing or frightening can be lifted into the light. We don’t have to flee troubling thoughts – it’s okay to sit with them. When we do this – not judging the thought, not running from the thought, not even analyzing the thought – we are gently taught that we are not those thoughts.
There is – there is always – another way.
Thus, when we practice Lesson Eight, we are entering the possibility of perceiving our thinking mind in a new way. We are embracing the possibility that beneath the egoic chatter lies a still calm peace, a foundation is created and sustained by God, and in which our identity is no longer special or unique (because it is not isolated) but rather shared. What shall we fear if there is nothing that is not God?