The ideas inherent in Lesson 7 – I see only the past – are so critical to our practice of A Course in Miracles. It can seem mystical and confusing – how can one see only the past? It makes no sense. And yet in truth it is a deeply practical lesson, and its application is the essence of healing.
For most of us, past experience is a sort of dictator. We judge the present according to the information provided by the past and respond accordingly. This makes a lot of sense when it comes to not touching hot stoves or making blueberry pancakes. It’s a bit less helpful when it comes to interacting with one another in kind and loving ways. In order to percieve our brothers and sisters truly, we can not allow the past to intrude in any way.
This means that you perceive a brother only as you see him now. His past has no reality in the present, so you cannot see it. Your past reactions to him are also not there, and if it is to them that you react, you see but an image of him that you made and cherish instead of him (T-13.VI.1:3-5).
When the course talks about illusions, this is what it means: we do not see what is before us, but rather a composite created by our past ideas, our past reactions, and our past perceptions. Our friend or neighbor is standing before us, but we react to all our old ideas about him or her. We respond to the image we’ve made out of past experience rather than the Child of God before us right now.
This becomes especially problematic when we deny it’s happening. Rather than see the way in which past experience is making us cynical or hard-hearted or angry or scared or greedy, we believe that we are justified in feeling that way. It’s what the past tells us to feel. And we wouldn’t lie to ourselves about reality, would we?
A Course in Miracles says yes. You would lie to yourself about reality. And you do lie to yourself about reality. Every time you bring the past to the present, you engage a lie.
So the first step in healing and finding our way back to sanity is to accept the truth of Lesson 7. We see only the past. And then we can begin to pay attention to this: we can begin to see it in operation.
When I visit my parents, can I see the way in which my past perceptions – of good times, of bad times, of wrongs committed against me, of mistakes I made, the whole package of family – drive my experience of the present?
When I step into a classroom full of new students, can I see the way in which my past perceptions – most eighteen and nineteen year olds are lazy, most of them don’t want to be here, most of them got subpar high school educations – drive my experience of the present?
Am I really seeing my parents or my students if all I allow into perception is “my” past?
I don’t have to do anything about that, by the way. I just have to see how it operates. I just have to see it in action. Oh! Jesus was right – I really am just seeing the past.
That observation is itself deeply healing.
We are naturally oriented to the present moment. At the deepest levels, we want to be there because we recognize that eternity is all there is. It’s hard to pretend otherwise! It actually hurts. Our emphasis on the past injures us – and our brothers and sisters – and animals and plants. It’s unwholesome in every way.
Thus, as our awareness of how we use the past to deprive ourselves of the present grows, we begin to naturally correct it. There is a sort of softening. We begin to see there is another way and we make space for it. We melt somehow, or we open.
The miracle enables you to see your brother without his past, and so perceive him as born again. His errors are all past, and by perceiving him without them you are releasing him. And since his past is yours, you share in this release. Let no dark cloud out of your past obscure him from you, for truth lies only in the present, and you will find it if you seek it there (T-13.VI.5:1-4).
One of the lovely aspects of awakening – and for me it is most clear in A Course in Miracles – is that we don’t have to do much of anything. Our attention – or awareness – is sufficient unto healing. Correction is natural.
If we are holding a veil before the face of Christ, our job is simply to release our grasp on the veil. It will fall of its own accord. And we don’t have to anything to or with what lies beyond it. Our graceful faithful letting go is enough. That is our true power: and nothing can prevail against it. When we are ready, God is there.