Cause and effect refer to the influence X has in contributing to the production of Y. In other words, Y is partially dependent on X for its existence.
In the context of separation, we believe that external forces like weather or other people cause us to behave certain ways and feel certain things. This backwards understanding of cause-and-effect is essential for projection’s effectiveness. However, because fear cannot actually be projected – thoughts do not actually travel – the real cause is our mind’s decision to insist on separation rather than atonement, which is its refusal to recognize its own wholeness which in turn reflects its true creativity and decision-making power.
Thus, in A Course in Miracles, “cause and effect” is understood primarily in the context of the mind and its relationship to the external world. “Cause” are thoughts and beliefs held in mind, and “effect” are the experiences and perceptions that arise as a result of those thoughts and beliefs.
This is fundamental to the ACIM teaching that the outer world is a reflection of the inner world of the mind, which itself underscores that the secret to salvation is that we are doing this to ourselves. When we change our thoughts and beliefs, we naturally change their experiences and perceptions as well.
This understanding of “cause and effect” differs from the concept in physics, which is based on the principle that every action or event in the physical world has a cause, and that cause produces a specific effect. In physics, cause and effect relationships are usually described in terms of interactions between particles, forces, and energy, while in ACIM, the relationships are more about the mind and its influence on perception and experience.
The Course is not the only religious tradition which focuses on the mind’s role in shaping reality. For example, in Buddhism, the concept of karma refers to the principle that our intentional actions produce consequences or effects, either in this life or future lives.
More contemporary new age practices – kin to ACIM but not precisely identical – such as Law of Attraction also make a point of emphasizing the role the mind plays in shaping reality. No suggestion is made that those paths and traditions are more helpful or accurate with respect to reality than A Course in Miracles; rather, it is to notice the way in which the fundamental concept is not alien to human experience.
Our goal with respect to this understanding is to shift our focus on the external world as causing our experiences, and recognizing it instead as a kind of mirror which indicates our internal state.