Distinguishing Between Illusion and Hallucination

A hallucination is, I can put my hand through a chair because it’s not really there. There is no chair.

But an illusion is, something is there but I am not seeing it. I’m seeing something else. I see a chair but it’s actually atoms. Or information. Or Jesus teaching me how to forgive the world. Or an angel accommodating my mistaken belief I’m a body. Whatever.

Illusion is upended perception and we are doing it to ourselves.

Here’s a way to go into this.

A chair is real in that bodies can sit in it. To the body – which is physical – the physical world will always be real. This is not a problem at the level of the body! Your body is not stressed about being a body – how it functions, what’s next, how to solve being hungry, how to die.

But I suggest that that view of the chair is illusory. Because when we look at a “chair,” we are really looking at love.

How, when we look at a chair, are we really looking at love?

Because love is relational: it brings two together into one. Me and you, me and a dog, me and a blueberry pie, me and you and twilight on Mount Ascutney in Vermont.

So when we look at a chair, we think we are seeing wood set up in a way that somebody can plant their butt on it and rest. But really we are looking at a vast network of relationships – each one of which includes us – and all of which are love!

What are some of those relationships?

Consider the chair-designer who communicated with the chair-builder who communicated with the lumber store who communicated with a lumber distributor who communicated with a lumberjack who communicated with chainsaw manufacturers . . .

Each node in that sentence has its own nodes. How about the lumberjack cooperating with the folks who taught him how to cut down trees safely and efficiently? Or the tree in relationship with soil and sunlight? Or how the mass of the earth allows trees to fall when cut down – not float away into space?

Each relationship is premised on other kinds of relationships. The chair-builder’s body is made of cells which are made of molecules which are made of atoms which are made of quarks and they all have to work together cooperatively for the body to work, let alone society, let alone the cosmos.

Can you see this? Really see it? All these nodes and the relationships between them? Try! If you look closely enough at the chair it will take you all the way out to the beginning of the universe and all the way down to the most infinitisimal levels of matter.

And then you are just looking at a chair again. So simple!

And yet.

When you come back from your journey through the cosmos – all those levels, cellular and social, atomic and personal – you retain your awareness of relationship. In that way – through relationship – everything comes back to this chair. In relationship, we abstract a world. But all there really is, is relationship.

And all relationship is really love because love is cooperation and coordination in lawful service of creation. That is how everything comes into being. It is literally what the cosmos is. And you and I are not separate from the cosmos, much less each other.

When you look at a chair, you look at love. Don’t get hung up on what’s real and what’s an illusion. Just look; just give attention. See the one relationship that lives both in and beyond all appearances, and feel how it includes you, and know that this – this this – is love.

This is a way of thinking about the world and the body, and relating to the world through a body, that eventually allows us to remember the Stillness – the Unspeakable Perfection – that we sometimes call “God.”

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  1. Thanks. I am remembering the first time I read “I give meaning to everything I see.” Now, what I see, as I practice remembering, will be Love. And when I see the TV instead – I’ll forgive myself, laugh and enjoy the game – of watching Love in all that is on my screen.

    1. Yes! Everywhere is this story and all this story shows us and tells us is love love love . . . thanks for reading Anne 🙏

  2. I don’t believe in illusion but I do believe in manifestation. And I look and see the manifestation of love in everything even in the often ugly looking ego.

    1. Thanks for reading, Sydney. In a sense, yes, believing in illusions is silly – there is only reality. Yet being mistaken about reality seems like a human condition – our senses are not perfectly reliable (it really does appear that the sun moves through the sky) and our thinking can be biased and egocentric (ticks are bad because lyme disease). And that flawed – or fallen, or separative, or whatever language one wants to adopt – has a tendency to double down on itself. Wars, rising seas and hungry kids aren’t accidents but choices made on bad information. ACIM frames the bad information as errors arising from illusory perceptions and urges students to give attention to the illusion rather than the behavior arising from the illusion.

      Ultimately this is just a language frame! It has been a helpful frame for me – but it’s really just a frame, a way of thinking. There are others and I’m glad that folks can utilize them. Much healing is necessary and as many hands on deck as we can manage is a good thing!

      I’m not lecturing you here – I know sometimes my voice comes off that way. I’ve read some of your site and I know you’ve done and continue to do deep and serious work on these issues. We’re allies. I appreciate your presence and voice very much.


      1. It seems to me I need to really delve into ACIM to get a fuller understanding before I either agree or disagree with any portion of it. Ya know, this “debating” of viewpoints might be a waste of time because the view will always be different from each of “us”. And then again, the underlying reality of Love is always the same…I feel in my Heart that a “returning” to Reality is where humanity is going. But this is a choice for every individual projection of Love. I find you refreshing. I find Mt. Ascutney refreshing…lol. And I am here to learn that’s why I’m still here. Can you point me to a section of the ACIM writings which guides us on how to address the toxic aspects of Ego? I am surrendering to loving it back into alignment with my Higher Self Heart. How does ACIM address this?

        1. Hi Sydney,

          Thanks for your patience on this – it’s been a busy few days over here.

          I am all on board with the futility of debating. There are actually no problems to solve, nor opposites to contradict, nor anything that can truly and meaningfully oppose love.

          So in some sense when we have these debates – or dialogues – even when they are respectful and care-filled and informative – we are still just emptying the sea with a tea spoon.

          For me – as an ACIM student – the conversations are still helpful! They are like kindling little lights, making the darkness easier to navigate and less frightening.

          Learning is also why I am here 🙂 So we are doing something right 🙂

          In terms of course material addressing the toxicity of ego . . . I am not being coy or difficult when I say, all of it. It is literally one big response to ego, one big site of learning in which we can hear another voice beside ego (i.e., the Holy Spirit), and evaluate the effects of listening to it and – because it makes us happier – choose to listen ONLY to the Holy Spirit.

          It is a learning process that unfolds in time to a body – all to learn that we aren’t bodies and time is an illusion.

          How did you find the course? Do you feel called to devote a year or so of your life to studying it and doing the lessons? I think that’s really what it asks of us, and I think any evaluation of its helpfulness should probably be grounded on meeting it where it is (as it, in turn, meets us).

          But all the time I meet folks who are just having a totally different experience with the material, so what do I know?

          Glad you’re here and glad we’re sharing! Thank you Sydney!


          1. Ok. I will study the course for a year or whatever it takes. How then can I truly know or say anything about it. I am tired of duality. I am so weary of it. But I wonder if we can have seasons and snow and rain and sunshine in a non-dual world. Where snow wouldn’t freeze you to death and sunshine wouldn’t bake you to death. But this world is getting tiresome. So, ok I’m going to take the Course on. Thank you, Sean.

          2. Lucky for us the snow and the sun aren’t going anywhere anytime soon 🙂 But we WILL see it all transformed to a loveliness that makes our hearts grow larger than the cosmos . . . there is a lot of beauty in the letting go of what obstructs love, and all of it is the love slowly brightening from the inside of us out . . .


  3. Hi Sean, Thank you. Such a clear explanation of the difference between illusion and hallucination. Which perfectly matches the Buddhist approach to illusion and the understanding of interdependence. Your example of a chair is just perfect. I will gladly borrow your example, when needed. Very much appreciate your posts, very practical and helpful! So, thx again Sean.

    1. Thanks, Janine! It’s always great to hear from you . . . the interconnectedness is also an illusion but an illusion with a purpose, as the course would say – to point us towards the oneness that underlies the cosmos . . . so it’s good to see it, and remember it over and over, and share it with good friends 🙂


  4. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, but this is my first post.

    I think Wapnick and Renard have completely misunderstood the Course. I think most in the Course community mistake “hallucination” for “illusion.” Renard thinks the disappearance of Universe happens because the universe is a hallucination. I think the universe is an illusion–what I see is there, but I’m not seeing it as it actually is. The universe doesn’t disappear–the universe is seen as it actually is. That’s the Real World. I think this is what Jesus meant when He said, “This world will pass away, but my Word will never pass away.”

    I am a member of Circle of Atonement run by Robert Perry which approaches the Course in what I think is the way Course is meant to be read–but I still even disagree with Perry! 🙂

    I think there are tulips in Heaven–he thinks Heaven is filled will luminous blobs, all exactly alike, no tulips. I think that Heaven is filled with formless, eternal ideas of what we see here–he thinks that none of what we see here has an analogue in Heaven, that every thought God ever had is exactly the same all His thoughts in every way. I think that there are distinctions and identity within the thoughts of God, though everything remains fundamentally God.

    On this issue of illusion and on every other issue, I don’t think the Course is discontinuous with Christianity. I go to an Episcopal church, and I find most of the Course in the teachings of the non-dual Christian mystics like Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, and Duns Scotus, etc. Basically, take a big helping of Richard Rohr and add a few cups of Mary Baker Eddy, and you’ve got A Course In Miracles! 🙂

    I’m not sure why the Course community is filled with so many angry ex-Christians. I would think it would be a place where Christians seeking a mystical path would congregate.

    Thanks for your blog!

    1. Nice to meet you Stuart! Thank you for sharing . . .

      In a way, the course is just weird! And it does seem to invite an inordinate amount of conflict around what does it actually mean. I was fortunate in a way to have stumbled into Tara Singh’s body of work very early, because he emphasized application in ways that nobody else really did.

      It was – it still is – very easy for me to be intellectual around the course and the community of teachers and thinkers who comprise it but as my study deepens my practice moves away from what I can say ABOUT the course and becomes the beautiful messy scary process of living under the Holy Spirit’s teaching about love.

      Something loving and peaceable happens when we work the course in our day-to-day lives to which I can still be profoundly resistant. I am a slow learner 🙂

      I like your recipe for the course (“a few cups of Mary Baker Eddy” – that’s an image!). And, I, too hear its echoes in plenty of divergent places. Emily Dickinson, David Bohm, Eugene Gendlin . . . Teachers and friends abound, which is lucky because I need the help.

      There is a lot of real pain in the Christian community. It is – we are – still learning what it means to hear only the Voice for Love and follow only its teaching. Jesus’ was not the last crucifixion, sadly.

      And yet! Here we are cobbling together some resurrection light and prayer, so thank you, Stuart. I’m glad we get to join and carrying this healing project a few more steps down the road. 🙏🙏🙏

      ~ Sean

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