Seeing Lights in A Course in Miracles

Yesterday, I talked about the so-called light episodes of Lesson Fifteen in A Course in Miracles. My basic position is: don’t worry about them. They aren’t important.

I want to say more about why they are not important. Or maybe how.

The world we see is a coarse-grained symbol of what A Course in Miracles calls the real world (CITE). However, from the perspective of bodies, we cannot know that real world because our bodies – and their function – are located in the image. They are the image.

An image is itself a real enough thing, but it is not the thing to which it points. It is really important to be clear on this distinction. A picture of my daughter is not my daughter. If my daughter is hungry, I don’t feed the picture.

Arguing otherwise is like saying that a character in a video game can suddenly become aware of the world outside the game. The character can be aware of the game world, sure, and she can act in the game world because she is brought forth with, in and as the game world. But she cannot reach beyond that world. You can’t actually talk to the character you play in Skyrim.

“Light episodes,” and experiences like them, are simply items on the long list of things that can happen in the context of bodies in the world with other bodies. In and of themselves, they mean nothing.

However, since we have no neutral thoughts about “light episodes,” we do not see any neutral “light episodes” (W-pI.17.2:4). We see no neutral apple pies, no neutral puppies and no neutral “light episodes.”

Therefore, we have to relate in a responsible way to the meaning that appears with the light episode.

If we take our personal experience of light episodes and translate them as testimony unto our spiritual growth and potential, then we have simply allowed ego to claim yet more of the world for its grim litany of death.

Regardless of what you may believe, you do not see anything that is really alive or really joyous. That is because you are unaware as yet of any thought that is really true, and therefore really happy (W-pI.3:2-3).

What is just another illusion should be – like all illusions – gently set aside as we give attention to what is beyond – in a generative creative sense – appearances. Everything is always changing – is there something that does not? How do you know? Can you stabilize in it? Give it away? Point to it with words? The goal of A Course in Miracles is to go beyond ego-based narratives as we answer these questions. Why create an elaborate and ultimately unsustainable image of love named “light episode” when the real thing is just . . . given to you?

Love is literally here, now. Ask to see the real world and then gaze about you in complete faith you are not alone and behold – the real world is given. It is here. It is this: this this. And if we add even a microdot of our own to it . . . then it disappears, blurred beyond recognition.

Joy and peace are so simple and we just . . . go on depriving ourselves. Why?

Well, in part because we don’t remember that joy and peace are given and, when we begin to intuit that they are, we can’t figure out how to accept them. We still think we have to do something, or that something has to happen. It can’t be this simple! And so again, we bring ego and falseness to what is clear, simple and present.

Thus the egoic bonfire goes on raging as “this body” in “this world.”

When it comes to the supernatural, the “grander” the story – in a past life I was a disciple of Jesus Christ! I no longer have an ego! I see lights everywhere all the time! – the further we are from the felt and quiet revelation that nothing need be done; we are already home in God.

The body’s adventures and misadventures – regardless of how exciting or sexy or special we make them out to be – are always just the body’s adventures and misadventures. No matter how how amazing or depressing or otherworldly or mundane, they always arise in and point back towards bodies.

Seeing lights – or hearing voices or communing with ascended masters or whatever – are merely things that appear to happen to bodies. They are less common, perhaps, than eating ice cream or sneezing, but they are still just embodied events in the world.

And as such, they mean nothing. Nothing. If they matter to us – as experiences we desire or experiences we claim have occurred to us and are thus indicative of our relationship with God, Christ or Spirit – then we are lost. We are just playing the ego’s game by the ego’s rules.

There is – there is always – a better way.

Yes, Lesson Fifteen suggests that these light episodes are signs that we are opening our eyes at last (W-pI.15.3:4) and that they prepare the way from illusion to knowledge (W-pI.15.3:7).

That is a healthier way to see them. They are not signs that we’re special, but signs that we’re finally getting our shit together. We’re finally taking the course seriously. We’re stubborn beginners whose stubbornness is finally beginning to dissolve.

But remember! Even when given to narratives that bring us closer to God, the light episodes are still illusions. They are still just symbols. And as such, they are no more or less valuable to our learning of the curriculum than, say, eating ice cream or misplacing our glasses. This is the secret that liberates us from self-identity strictly locked in the confines of bodies: all things that happen in the world and to and through bodies are the same.

Even things which makes us feel holy and loved and blessed, like light episodes.

A Course in Miracles gently invites us not to fixate on ideas like reincarnation and other psychic or supernatural powers.

The emphasis of this course always remains the same; -it is at this moment that complete salvation is offered you, and it is at this moment that you can accept it. This is still your one responsibility . . . Heaven is here. There is nowhere else. Heaven is now. There is no other time (M-24.6:1-2, 4-7).

Ask yourself: if I am not right now in reality, then where would I be? What place exists that God did not create?

Thus, I cheerfully accept the coming and going of light episodes and all the other experiences that make it seem as if a veil is about to be drawn revealing my authentic angelic self. Who cares? Light episodes, dark episodes. Blue episode, red episodes. This story and that.

If you really want a light episode and you haven’t had one, then drop some acid or invest in prisms or go visit a disco after fasting for a couple of days. If you’ve got a “preconditions to awakening” checklist, then go ahead and check stuff off it.

If you’ve already had light episodes and secretly believe their special signs to you from Jesus, then fine. Go behave the way you thinking Lightbringers-from-Jesus are supposed to behave.

Sooner or later, we get tired of the coming and going, and tired of the struggle to be special or become special, and we just surrender. Then we realize that light episodes (like eating and sex and playing with puppies) are akin to billboards advertising Boston right outside the city line. Yes we can stop driving and celebrate the image of Boston. But why do that when the real thing is literally right there?

Light Episodes in Lesson Fifteen of A Course in Miracles

I want to talk briefly about the so-called “light episodes” in Lesson Fifteen of A Course in Miracles. We get worked up about them – people see the lights and worry why are they seeing lights, or are secretly proud they’re seeing lights, or they do not see lights, and worry why are they not seeing lights, and are envious of those who do.

The “light episodes” are confusing because they reinforce the idea that unusual physical occurrences are extra-persuasive evidence of God’s special favor. They are not. God does not play favorite; you do.

In truth, “light episodes” – like all episodes of the body’s journey through the world – are neither more nor less important, neither more or less meaningful, than any other experience.

It is important to keep in mind that, as a general rule, A Course in Miracles is neutral with respect to bodies. It doesn’t advocate specific physical rituals or diets; it doesn’t curtail sex or exercise or recreation. The body is simply the means by which the world appears to us.

The world and everything in it – including our bodies – are images. Images are like symbols – they represent something, but they are not the thing they represent. If I take a picture of you, I have an image of you – but I don’t have you.

What a given image means depends on who or what is doing the looking and interpreting. An apple pie has meaning for me, but it would not have much meaning for a tick. Cell phones have meaning for me but to flowers they don’t even exist. A picture of a stranger is meh, but pictures of my kids and Chrisoula are in every room of the house.

Our default mode of gazing at the image of the world – and the millions of image comprising it – is to interpret them through the lens of ego. How does this help me? What do I have to do to get it? How can I keep others from getting it, except the one or two people I truly love?

A Course in Miracles – like many spiritual, religious, psychological and philosophical traditions – comes along and says “that’s a backwards, upside-down, way of living. There’s a better way.”

And then it proceeds to teach us how to re-interpret all those images. In terms of A Course in Miracles, this “reinterpretation” is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the idea of healing in our mind, and who understands the ego’s language (its symbols and rules for working with symbols) and Heaven, where interpretation is replaced by knowledge, in which the many pieces and perspectives neatly harmonize in unity.

We don’t know what’s what, but the Holy Spirit will carefully interpret what we see and think, and bring it into alignment with inner peace. Or so the ACIM story goes.

All of this – studying the course, heeding the Holy Spirit, aligning with inner peace – are just dream events in a dream dreamed by a self that is itself a dream. Awakening is a dream event; understanding is a dream event.

“Light episodes” are dream events.

Now, since in the context of the dream, where everything has to mean something – stand for something, represent something, as is the ego’s wont – “light episodes” are going to appear to mean something. They are going to be signs of something.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this.

Unless.

Unless you think that what those episodes mean is right, or better than somebody else’s understanding, or perfectly aligned with God, or whatever. Which is going to happen because that’s what ego does. Basically, seeing lights – or not seeing lights – becomes a way of separating from your sister or brother.

And there is a happier way.

A Course in Miracles: The Guide to Salvation

The Holy Spirit, which is our Guide to Salvation, is the idea of healing (T-5.III.2:1), which is to say, both the “Call for God” and “the idea of God” (T-5.III.2:3). And, because we are not apart from God, but live as God’s creations, the Holy Spirit is also the idea of our own self (T-5.III.2:4).

Implicit in this definition is the clarity that the Holy Spirit is not a disembodied (or vaguely embodied) agent acting in the world, but rather a complex of ideas that acts in mind.

[I use “complex” here as a noun, not an adjective, in order to indicate a unified functional whole comprised of related parts]

This is a convoluted way of observing that our longing to be healed (to know peace and love, be happy, end war and starvation et cetera) is simultaneously the recognition of our own need for healing and the means by which that healing is given to us, if we are ready to accept it.

How do we accept the means of healing? How are we healed?

By seeing the Holy Spirit – as outlined above – in our brothers and sisters. For me to see healing in you is to see you through the healing already in me and, because ideas are strengthened through sharing, to thereby strengthen healing in both of us.

Two things worth noticing here.

First, the Holy Spirit – and, thus, healing – is already given. We are not going on a journey to claim healing, or studying a book in order to learn healing, or waiting on God to administer unto us a special blessing. Healing – in its totality – is already given. It is “in” our brothers and sisters because it is “in” us and so our relationships – when they are dedicated to right seeing in this way – are the Holy Spirit.

You cannot understand yourself alone. This is because you have no meaning apart from your rightful place in the Sonship, and the rightful place of the Sonship is God. This is your life, your eternity, and your Self. It is of this that the Holy Spirit reminds you. It is this that the Holy Spirit sees (T-5.III.8:1-5).

The other thing to notice is that our role in healing is simply to be willing to see with – or through, if that is a clearer image – the Holy Spirit. The actual healing is not our job. Our task is to give attention to the Holy Spirit in us – the idea of healing in us – and to look at the world through that idea. It is the Holy Spirit that “has the task of undoing what the ego has made” (T-5.III.5:5).

Thus the subtle but nontrivial injunction: don’t trespass on the Holy Spirit’s job description. Our part is orders of magnitude less dramatic and special than our egos care to admit.

The ACIM urtext can help us flesh out this section. Often, in my experience, the urtext engenders more conflict than peace, but in this context it provides a clear example of how Helen and Bill understood the meaning and purpose of this section of the text.

In the urtext, Jesus reminds Helen of a recent incident with Bill in which Bill declares to Helen that he is determined to not see her in a certain light. This, Jesus observes, is negative – that is, it reflects what Bill will not do. Jesus goes on to say:

If he will state the same idea POSITIVELY, he will see the POWER of what he said. He had realized that there are two ways of seeing you, and also that they are diametrically opposed to one another. These two ways must be in HIS mind, because he was referring to HIMSELF as the perceiver. They must also be in YOURS, because he was perceiving YOU (T 5 E 4).

We could pause here and imagine a similar relationship in our own life, a brother or sister we are determined to not behold in a negative light (a parent, a friend, a child, a co-worker). A Course in Miracles invites us to reframe this “negative” commitment (what we will NOT do, how we will NOT see them) positively.

In the urtext, Jesus explains to Helen how this reframing works.

What [Bill] was really saying was that he would NOT look at you through HIS ego, or perceive YOUR ego in you. Stated positively, he would see you through the Holy Spirit in HIS mind, and perceive it in YOURS. What you acknowledge in your brother, you ARE acknowledging in yourself. What you share, you STRENGTHEN (T 5 E 5).

Jesus later goes on to observe that when it comes to helpfully perceiving our brothers and sisters in the world, Bill has the right idea (T 5 E 6).

Thus, this section clarifies for us how to consider our brothers and sisters and also notes that the benefits of considering them in the clear light of the idea of healing directly benefits us. We are not saved individually or apart but rather together. We are save for and through each other.

This section references another idea that I think is important in understanding and applying A Course in Miracles. I will quote it in full, then say a couple things about it.

The Holy Spirit is the Mediator between the interpretations of the ego and the knowledge of the spirit. His ability to deal with symbols enables Him to work with the ego’s beliefs in its own language. His ability to look beyond symbols into eternity enables him to understand the laws of God, for which He speaks. He can therefore perform the function of reinterpreting what the ego makes, not by destruction but by understanding. Understanding is light, and light leads to knowledge. The Holy Spirit is in light because He is in you who are light, but you yourself do not know this. It is therefore the task of the Holy Spirit to reinterpret you on behalf of God (T-5.III.7:1-7).

There are some nontrivial differences between this passage in the FIP edition and the urtext, which are discussed in the footnote below 1.

Symbols are things (words, images or ideas usually) that stand for something else. They are pointers. The word “bread” is a symbol for that stuff we dip in olive oil and eat. On U.S. roads, a green light at an intersection means proceed. “Democracy” is a word that stands for a form of government consisting of people electing their representatives. And so forth.

Symbols belong to the ego’s framework, where nothing is allowed to be as God created it but must always serve the ego’s ends.  Everything is segregated, divided and defined against everything else. Everything is a symbol, and the symbols are always shifting, and the result is confusion and strife. The result is chaos. This works for ego because ego literally is our efforts to untangle hopelessly entangled skeins and solve the many problems that entanglement seems to produce.

In Heaven – in God’s Creation – there are no symbols. Everything is known precisely as it is and there are no distinctions that require symbols in order to effectively distinguish them. What is known is known directly and does not require translation or interpretation.

In our current state of egoic thinking and framing, we cannot really even imagine what living like this would mean. Even “Heaven” and “God’s Creation” are merely symbols.

However, the Holy Spirit – who is like us in that it understands and can utilize symbols – is unlike us in that it also knows the perfect knowledge that constitutes Heaven. Therefore, it can adopt the ego’s symbolism and gently use it to undo what the ego makes with those symbols. The translation of relationships from special to holy – in a sense, relationship as miracle – is our most intimate experience of Holy Spirit.

Always the Holy Spirit undoes what ego makes in favor of what God knows, which requires no symbol to be known.

The major symbol that the Holy Spirit undoes is us! Our very selves are symbols. In the egoic mode, we are symbols of separate lives forging separate paths through a world in which there are winners and losers constantly pitted against one another. To ego, we are literal symbols of separation from God – we have separate bodies, personal narratives, shifting welters of desire and memory and preference . . .

But to Holy Spirit – which is, again, the idea of healing in our minds and in that way our guide to salvation – we can be gently steered through the appearance of the ego’s world and its symbols towards knowledge of God and Heaven.

The urtext reminds us of the simple and ordinary foundation of A Course in Miracles. Bill and Helen were learning how to be better friends to each other and, by extension, to those around them. Healing always has radial ancillary effects. Look, then, to the relationships in your life – the ones that work, the ones that don’t. The ones that challenge you, the ones that bore you. The ones where you are always giving and the ones where you are always receiving. All of them.

Can you insist on perceiving each of your partners in these relationships as holy? Can you gaze on them from the holiness in you to the holiness in them? The relationships may or may not be transformed in a formal way (e.g., T-5.III.2:8-10) but that doesn’t matter. Our dissociation from God is healed at the level of mind, where the dissociation occurred and where it is sustained.

In the end, Holy Spirit is basically a way of seeing relationship, of framing all relationships to serve the shared goal of happiness and inner peace. It is you healing me so that I can heal you so that together we might remember our shared home in God.

  1. Here is the relevant language from the urtext:

    “The Holy Spirit is the mediator between the interpretations of the ego and the knowledge of the Soul. Its ability to deal with symbols enables it to to work AGAINST the ego’s beliefs in its own language. Its equal ability to look BEYOND symbols into eternity also enables it to understand the laws of God, for which it speaks” (T 5 E 9).

    The difference between “spirit” and “soul” does not really bother me, as it does other students. I do appreciate the genderless language that is used to refer to the Holy Spirit (it’s an “it,” not a “He”). Not anthropomorphizing this concept allows us to remember that “Holy Spirit” is really an idea rather than on object or entity with whom we are in relationship (the way we are in relationship with the neighbor or a friend).

    Relating to ideas is of a different order than relating to brothers and sisters.

    Note, too, that the urtext suggests the Holy Spirit works “against” the ego rather than “with” the ego. Here, the FIP phrasing is more consistent with how the Holy Spirit actually functions – it’s not in a war with ego, it’s just translating ego’s symbols and stories in a way that brings forth love. The Holy Spirit is a lover, not a fighter.[]

The End of Lonely Journeys

God is Justice because Love is Just. And Love is Just because it knows all Creation as one. It knows all life as equal, which undoes the grounds for different responses. What is one cannot be judged, for it cannot be divided into that which judges and that which is judged.

Thus, true Justice is not concerned with form – with the many appearances that appear as reality – but rather with the underlying content (e.g., T-14.X.7:1-6). It does not distinguish between a King and a beggar, a shepherd and a prophet, a river and the sea.

In our lives in the world – where appearances are a constant phenomenon, and judgment inevitable – to be just is to perceive in all things either love or the call for love and to know that the answer to both is the same: love.

Perceive in sickness but another call for love, and offer your brother what he believes he cannot offer himself. Whatever the sickness, there is but one remedy. You will be made whole as you make whole, for to perceive in sickness the appeal for health is to recognize in hatred the call for love. And to give a brother what he really wants is to offer it unto yourself, for your Father wills you to know your brother as yourself. Answer his call for love, and yours is answered (T-12.II.3:1-5).

When we seek justice – for ourselves or others, be they elephants, violets, migrants or the neighbor’s outdoor cat – we recognize implicitly the radical equality of all Creation. We embrace it; we welcome it. And as it is made welcome in us, it shows itself yet more to us. It makes us welcome in it. We are transformed by its presence, the way a landscape is transformed by moonlight.

Without exception, all that exists exists through and in – and is subject to – the Laws of Creation. Because all that exists shares the same Source, all that exists is Holy, and there are no degrees of holiness. What is Holy is equal unto all else that is Holy – that is how it is holy.

It is impossible to remember God in secret and alone. For remembering Him means you are not alone, and are willing to remember it (T-14.X.10:1-2).

To perceive the Holiness of Creation is to honor the condition of Justice, and to honor the condition of Justice is to know God as Love, which is to say, as Life itself.

Yet one can ask: but how? How do we perceive Holiness? How do we honor the condition of Justice? How do we know God as Love and Life itself?

In my living, which is all the living to which I can speak, the path to Holiness, Justice and Love is conjoined with the path of Understanding. Understanding is healed perception, where “healed” means “nothing is excluded via judgment.” An apple tree is a horse is a sunset is a kiss.

Everyone seeks for love as you do, but knows it not unless he joins with you in seeking it. If you undertake the search together, you bring with you a light so powerful that what you see is given meaning. The lonely journey fails because it has excluded what it find (T-14.X.10:5-7).

How does our living change when we refuse to take “the lonely journey” but instead accept one another as companions on a journey in which everything is perceived as the same?

This concept of perception is not the function of the body’s eyes or the body’s brain, both of which are rigid producers of distinction and difference and therefore judgment. To make contact with God through through Jesus, as I suggest is eminently and practically helpful, is to let go of the body’s function, which is done by relaxing our expectations and assumptions about the body’s function.

In other words, let the body do what bodies do, and let the spiritual chips fall where they may, which they always do anyway, perfectly. Eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and smile when the spirit says smile.

When we begin to transition from the belief that an apple tree and a horse and a sunset and a kiss are altogether undeniably different things to “an apple tree is a horse is a sunset is a kiss,” we begin to give attention not to the appearance of distinctions but rather to the light in which all distinctions appear. What brings forth the many appearances? What brings forth our feelings about them? Our ideas? What brings forth the stories in which we weave the many disparate elements of our living together? Why are we – or who are we that we should be – so desperate for a meaningful narrative with a happy ending?

There is no single answer to these questions so much as there is a practice of living justly and happily with them. The questions are not answered so much as undone. It is like bringing all your problems to Jesus, prepared for a long healing dialogue, and he just makes you tea and goes on about how beautiful and wonderful apple trees, horses, sunsets and kisses are . . .

God has no secret communications, for everything of Him is perfectly open and freely accessible to all, being for all. Nothing lives in secret . . . (T-14.X.11:2-3).

As we give attention to our experience of being embodied with other bodies in a material world – as we partake of the apparent vast, vivid and intimate complexity that is those bodies in that world – can we notice too the Light in which all of it appears?

Some people call this Light “awareness” or “consciousness.” Some of us call it “Christ.” It doesn’t actually matter what you call it – it answers to many names, including some that you and I will never know. What matters is that we experience it. By experiencing (i.e., by knowing, sensing, intuiting, understanding) the Light in which all Creation appears, then all things that appear become Holy because of the light in which they appear.

This feels like a decision we make a thousand times a day, but in fact it can be a decision we can make but once for all time. We decide to see only holiness and then all we see is holiness. Our decision is the decision to heal by asking our Teacher to teach us we are the light (T-8.III.1:1-4).

I wandered so lonely
My Life filled with sin
I wouldn’t let
my dear savior in
Then Jesus came
like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord
I saw the light

I do not say Hank Williams saw the light – we can only testify to our own experience, after all – but he clearly understood a particularly Christian way of talking about seeing the light.

Helen Schucman did, too.

God and His miracle are inseparable. How beautiful indeed are the Thoughts of God who live in His light! Your worth is beyond perception because it is beyond doubt. Do not perceive yourself in different lights. Know yourself in the One Light where the miracle that is you is perfectly clear (T-3.V.10:5-9).

For me, the way to practice Understanding (in order to correspondingly perceive Holiness, Justice and God as Love) is to study A Course in Miracles under the tutelage of Jesus in a very pragmatic and felt – in a very realized – way. By listening to His voice and accepting His guidance – which is to substitute my will as I understand it for Jesus’s will – I “learn to undo error and act to correct it” (T-1.III.1:6).

The power to work miracles belongs to you. I will provide the opportunities to do them, but you must be ready and willing. Doing them will bring conviction in the ability, because conviction comes through accomplishment. The ability is the potential, the achievement is its expression, and the Atonement, which is the natural profession of the children of God, is the purpose (T-1.III.1:7-10).

The “opportunities” are our everyday lives and the challenges and upsets and struggles that appear to comprise them. The work, so to speak, is simply to practice living in the light of Christ – the One Light in which the miracle we are is perfectly clear.

How can we be helpful? Patient? Gentle? Kind? Non-dramatic?

The apparent enormity of this inner and outer work – and the promise of peace that is its promised outcome – can make it seem like we are scaling a thousand Mount Everests blindfolded, hands tied and without oxygen. Thus, it seems to require magic solutions – the suspension of natural laws, the operation of divine power, the presence of ascended masters, et cetera.

Yet healing – and living in a healed way with our brothers and sisters – is not so dramatic. It looks dramatic and difficult when one is looking out from need, but when we look together from Love . . .

That is a different vista altogether.

The Kingdom of Heaven is the dwelling place of the Son of God, who left not his Father and dwells not apart from Him. Heaven is not a place or a condition. It is merely an awareness of perfect Oneness, and the knowledge that there is nothing else; nothing outside this Oneness and nothing else within (T-18.VI.1:4-6).

The secret (there is no secret save for those of us who believe there is a secret) is that we need do nothing (T-18.VII.5:7). The less we do, the more Christ does, and the more Christ does, the more we see that the Atonement is finished and we are simply catching up with God.

This is another way of saying that we are finished with attack – we are no longer asserting our own limited understanding of life against life. We are letting life be. To attack a sister or brother is to interpret them according to our needs and desires. But to perceive them with the eyes of Christ – to see them in Love – in the One Light that establishes our identity in and as Christ – is salvation itself. For we do not see a separate world, but our own self projected outward. All our kindness and gentleness, however meager, is always healing, and the healing never omits us.

Justice is of Christ because it heals the confused ideas and hateful images that are born of attack. When we are unsure of what we are, we project that uncertainty, and hate what it produces. Yet when we consent to know ourselves as God knows us – which is to be just unto ourselves, as God is just in Creation – then what is projected is peace, and peace becomes us.

Perception can make whatever picture the mind desires to see. Remember this. In this lies either Heaven or hell, as you elect. God’s justice points to Heaven just because it is entirely impartial. It accepts all evidence that is brought before it, omitting nothing and assessing nothing as separate and apart from all the rest . . . Here all attack and condemnation becomes meaningless and indefensible. Perception rests, the mind is still, and light returns again. Vision is now restored (M-19.5:2-6, 8-10).

Our happiness is not of the world, because there is no world, and we are not bodies. Yet our happiness is shared and constructs a world in which – for a while yet – such sharing is possible. I give thanks for a merciful God whose Light restores to Understanding our radical equality and underlying oneness, and I give thanks for you, in whom God’s Justice becomes our reality.

A Practice of Forgiveness: A Course in Miracles

Introduction

A nontrivial aspect of A Course in Miracles is that as its students we are given a specific (and specialized) language. For example, “forgiveness” in A Course in Miracles means something different than when used in other settings. Use of this shared specific language allows us to be present to one another in ways that expand our shared experience of love. When we forgive, the healing is not linear but radial. It affects us all – self, other, community, world in healthy, wholesome ways.

To say this about forgiveness in the ACIM tradition is not to assert a special spiritual or mystical experience. The specialized language is intended to facilitate a natural experience of living lovingly from which we are presently estranged. The language undoes the estrangement so that we can function as the truly loving beings that we are. It’s aim is to be helpful, to deepen our collective nature rather than separate us into those who “get it” and those who don’t.

Sometimes there is a temptation – I speak from experience – to double down on the apparent complication and specialization. We want to be experts; we want to be the student who knows that the teacher means as opposed to students who are confused. This invariably begets behavior which – while arguably well-intentioned – basically adds to the chaos in our lives. A Course in Miracles has already complicating things by changing the definition of forgiveness; something in us wants to carry that complication forward in a new way – lay claim to the supernatural or indulge poorly formed expositions of metaphysics.

But this is not necessary and – again, I speak from experience – it can hinder the effectiveness of the course’s teaching. It turns out that understanding – comforting as it can be – is not necessary for healing to take place. Forgiveness neither begins nor ends in intellectual comprehension. It’s something else altogether – it’s a way of being in our bodies and the world that transcends the familiar ways that bodies and the world appear to us.

Forgiveness is natural. If we will defer to the Holy Spirit (another phrase the course wrestles from its traditional context), then we will experience forgiveness not as a personal accomplishment but as a gift which we receive and which automatically extends itself to the world.

What is forgiveness in A Course in Miracles

In A Course in Miracles, to “forgive” is to overlook a) the other’s identity as being irretrievably yoked to a body and b) the many errors that arise from that mis-identification.

How can the Holy Spirit bring His interpretation of the body as a means of communication into relationships whose only purpose is separation from reality? What forgiveness is enables Him to do so (T- 17.III.5:1-2).

It is important to understand that to see another as a body is to see oneself as a body, too. The mis-identification of self with body is always mutual. It is never that “I” am not a body but “you” are a body. It is that bodies appear as the special home of selves. Once that appearance happens, it happens for all bodies – our own and others, here and in the past and in the future. It’s all-or-nothing.

It is also important to understand that bodies, as such, are not the problem. The problem is the identification of self with body, as irretrievably contained in a body, and thus bound to endure the body’s fate of suffering, sacrifice and death. Forgiveness is not about the body at all but about healing the entrenched thought that self and body are entangled in an unsolvable, unredeemable knot.

Finally, as dedicated course students, it is is also important to set aside our expectations with respect to what it feels like to forgive and be forgiven, and how the world will appear when it is forgiven. Our expectations are premised on the very illusion (self = body) that forgiveness undoes, and so they subtly reinforce that illusion. We want ascended masters to bless us or light shows to dazzle us or endless ecstasy to eternally sate us.

Enchanting as all that may be, they are merely extreme descriptions of possible bodily experiences. We have to let them go, along with whatever other expectations we carry. We don’t have to reject or deny or amend our expectations – they are simply part of the body’s experience of the world. We just have to let them go, which is effectively to let them appear and disappear, reappear and disappear again. Treat expectation the way you treat needing to sneeze – they are both just aspects of bodily experience, neither good nor bad.

In essence, the suggestion is that forgiveness is not specific but general. It is not an action that “I” take towards “you” because of an action “you” took against “me.” It is not me saying I won’t be angry or vindictive because you stepped on my toe. Rather, it is a way of looking at the self that realizes it is not in a body. When that realization occurs, it naturally generalizes. If “I” am not a body, then “you” are not a body. And if “we” are not bodies then what our bodies do is neither good nor bad, worthy neither of praise nor condemnation.

On that view, stepping on my toe and, say, baking me a pie are equal. Certainly the body judges them – one causes pain and the other causes pleasure. And so just as certainly the body prefers one to the other in the form of judging what it perceives as the cause of its pain/pleasure. But the self does not judge those actions. It sees them as appearances in the domain of bodies, which is not the domain of the self.

Common objections

If this appears difficult to do or nonsensical, then we are looking at it from the perspective of a body. This is not a crime! It is not an offense against God or nature. We aren’t bad ACIM students. We are simply experiencing the very problem that the course is given to correct. It’s good to notice this so that it can be corrected.

Let’s say that this description of forgiveness seems difficult or impossible. If you step on my toe or bake me a pie, those are obviously different actions. Obviously I am going to treat them differently!

The course is not challenging the underlying logic of this argument. It’s simply observing that where we place “I” in the equation, we should simply say “body.” That is, given a toe-stomp and a pie, “obviously the body is going to treat them differently.”

This is a subtle but nontrivial distinction upon which so much peace rests.

If you can notice that distinction, then you can notice that which notices the distinction. And if you notice “that which notices the distinction,” then you can also notice that it does not resist the distinction. You will notice that it welcomes attention and will cheerfully come forward at your call, taking over as much of your living as you are able to give it.

This “it” is the Holy Spirit, working in concert with Jesus, to reestablish your self in God.

The second objection you might pose is that forgiveness as the course describes it is nonsensical. It’s easy to talk about when it comes to a toe-stomp. How abut war? How about holocausts?

Again, those arguments are very persuasive to bodies. A toe-stomp does not threaten its existence, only its comfort. War and holocausts actually threaten a body’s very existence – either because the war-makers want to kill the body dead or because the body has to be put on the line to stop the war-makers. From a body’s perspective, it is perfectly logical to take war and holocausts with utmost seriousness.

But here’s the thing. Either the self is the body or it’s not. If it’s not, then the apparent gravity of what appears to the body doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. This is where the radical nature of ACIM forgiveness shows itself. A holocaust and a toe-stomp are the same problem – mis-identification of self with body. And just like the with toe-stomp, if we can notice the distinction between body and self, then we can notice the one in us who distinguishes.

And from there it’s a short hop to realizing the Holy Spirit and Jesus are guiding us home to God.

Ethical concerns

People often raise ethical concerns at this juncture. They say, “hey Sean – if you really believe all of this, are you going to let somebody shoot your child? Are you going to stand by while government officials put kids in cages? Are you okay with Nazis?”

I understand the attractiveness of these questions. Indeed, because of their abstract nature, they are quite effective at obscuring the distinction between self and body. Ethical dilemmas have two answers; the one we select depends on where we are in the process of reestablishing our identity in God.

First, to the extent that we believe the self and the body are yoked (and we all do believe it to one degree or another), then we follow the Golden Rule (T-1.III.6:4). Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a sensible and effective rule to guide our behavioral choices.

The Golden Rule doesn’t solve all our problems, or all the world’s problems, but it does allow us to not get bogged down in unsolvable ethical and metaphysical conundrums.

However, as we relinquish more and more of our living to the Holy Spirit and Jesus, we will find that what appears does not appear so much as a problem to be solved but more like a lost child in need of comfort. And the Holy Spirit and Jesus always know how to comfort that lost child. You don’t need the Golden Rule when the Holy Spirit and Jesus are deciding for you.

 . . . the Holy Spirit teaches you that truth was created by God, and your decision cannot change it. As you begin to realize the quiet power of the Holy Spirit’s Voice, and Its perfect consistency, it must dawn on your mind that you are trying to undo a decision that was irrevocably made for you. That is why I suggested before that you remind yourself to allow the Holy Spirit to decide for God for you (T-6.V.B.6:3-5).

There is no situation you can encounter – from the most mild of toe-stomps to the most horrific of war crimes – that will baffle or intimidate or otherwise stymie the Holy Spirit and Jesus. As their creation, you will always know what to do.

Practicing Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a practice, the same way that meditation or contemplative prayer is a practice. We have to do it. In the very bodies in the very worlds that constitute our living, we have to practice forgiveness. If we are serious about being students of A Course in Miracles, then that is our homework. Read the text, do the lesson, then get up and go about our day practicing forgiveness.

Forgiveness in the course teaches it is unfamiliar, which is why we have to come back to it over and over. We have to turn to those teachers who help us understand in practical ways what the course is saying about forgiveness. We have to persevere through doubt and frustration and other setbacks. We have to throw up our hands and quit and then begin again.

What perhaps saves us a little is that forgiveness in the ACIM mode feels good. It actually does. It is a basically loving act; when we don’t insist that others are bodies – which is to look past what bodies are doing – then a feeling of peace rests on us, however briefly. And it is impossible not to notice that it does not rest on us alone.

This sense of peace and contentment is like sugar from the Holy Spirit and Jesus, a little reward to keep us going. Our goal is not a personal experience of inner peace and divine love, but a shared one that transcends the boundaries imposed by self, other and world. But to get there, we start small.

We begin by seeking the still small voice within that knows. It is the opposite of the tumultuous braggart – alternately charming and vicious, childish and persuasive – that tends to dominate our living. That voice – in ACIM parlance, the ego – does not know anything and compensates with volume, drama and excess. At our behest – which is simply the seeking itself – the voice of the Holy Spirit will gently open and expand our mind so that it is unified and clear and untroubled by that which appears before it.

Forgiveness asks no more than this, and from this humble beginning, bestows on us the certainty of the Holy Spirit, the peace of Christ and the unconditional love of God.