Meaning and Inherency: The First Lesson of A Course in Miracles

The first lesson of A Course in Miracles teaches us that meaning is not inherent: it does not reside “in” the dog, or the table, or the stack of books, or the picture of our children laughing at the beach. Nothing that we see – ever – means anything (W-pI.1).

And of course we could easily extend the lesson: nothing that we hear means anything. Our partner humming Con te Partiro while making breakfast, chickadees singing in the dogwood tree, the rooster howling from atop the compost.

What we smell means nothing: the butterfly balm so tall and bountiful this year it brushes the bedroom window, the first garden potatoes fried in olive oil from Chrisoula’s family’s grove in Greece . . .

What we touch, what we taste . . . All of it.

Meaning is what we give to these things: it is not naturally present in these things. So meaning is not external: reality is not external.

Tara Singh said that if we see “something” – a dog, a cup, a cloud – then we have made an allowance for fragmentation, because rather than seeing Creation in its perfection we are seeing bits and pieces of it, and judging them this way and that, and then believing that our judgment accurately reflects reality – we are just telling ourselves “how it is.” That is the role of the self – the world approves. But if we are going to remember our oneness with God, it won’t do.

You have to see that you must die to the “self.” If you have that burning need to awaken, your relationship with the Course changes. But if you are casual, you read it over and over, and it won’t transform your life. You can’t be casual and say the Course doesn’t work (A Gift for all Mankind 61).

In a real – not a symbolic but a real – way, I am not separate from the hummingbird at the window which is not separate from the butterfly balm before which it hovers. But to know this – rather than say it as an idea that we can either accept or reject – requires some energy that is not just intellectual, not just physical.

When we see that meaning is what we give, and we see that we are confused and unhappy, then we become willing to accept a teacher who can show us what meaning truly is and where it can truly be found. We surrender our own ideas in favor of the One who knows, and instantly we come to peace.

The first lesson  could free you from all you know. You make a mistake in believing that other people’s abstract theories are your own thoughts. If you gave it space and attention, you would realize that what you know is not real, that you are subject to your conditioning (A Gift for all Mankind 122).

That is what the first lesson is offering us: the undoing of our egoic belief system so that we might discover the awareness – the gift implicit in our capacity for attention – that we are in truth.

It begins by recognizing – in a tangible way, an active way – that what we have to deal with is interpretation, which is internal, and projected.

We are so accustomed to accepting that what we perceive with our bodily senses is “real” and that this reality is inherently – on its own – meaningful. We say “wife” or “son” or “New England” and think that we are talking about love, paternity, and geo-cultural landscape. We assume it is all “out there” and thought is just reporting it all as it is.

But “wife,” “son” and “New England” are ideas loosely enveloped in words. They are interpretations – internal movements – and thus reflect beliefs about reality rather than reality itself. So we have to question them – look at them closely with the Holy Spirit – and out of that inquiry discover what true meaning is and where it truly resides.

Nothing I see . . . means anything . . . The statement should merely be applied to anything you see . . . use it totally indiscriminately (W-pI.1, 1.3:3-4).

The absence of conditions – the absence of any “allowance for differences” (W-pI.1.3:1) – is what makes this lesson so radical. I think that if we were to apply it without judgment or expectation, then it would be sufficient to awaken us, to remind us that we do not sleep but are awake in Christ.

Why? Because it would bring to an end our reliance on what is external – we would no longer confuse all that with cause, and would instead make contact with awareness, and in that new condition – spacious, pliant, open, creative – begin to experience (to know) reality itself.

Awareness is not interested in information about things. Awareness is not only of this physical world; it is of the Source behind the world. Awareness brings something of another dimension to the three-dimensional human being. Only when we come to stillness can we know awareness (A Gift for all Mankind 88).

That is what giving attention is: it is coming to stillness, because there is nothing else to do, nowhere else to be. No matter what arises – desire, anger, ambition – we stay with attention until we grasp that nothing exists outside – or independent of – this gift of attention.

So we do the lessons whole-heartedly, and humbly: not as experts, not even as doers, but as students willing to let everything go in order to learn. And each lesson contains within it the potential to awaken us: which is merely to be reminded of our fundamental, uncompromised and eternal wholeness. And our gratitude – for the gift of remembering wholeness, for the simplicity inherent in wholeness – naturally extends itself. It becomes everyone’s gift, endlessly given.

The body (which includes the brain, and all the brain’s activity – thought, memory, logic, language, etc.) doesn’t know this, though when given gently over to the Holy Spirit for learning purposes, it can hold it. It can reflect wholeness, in the way a hummingbird can reflect it, or roadside chicory, or fresh-baked bread, or the slow curl of breakers off the sun-swept sea at dawn.

Emily Dickinson knew. She is still teaching us, who are willing to listen.

. . . Earths, grow thick as
Berries, in my native Town –


My basket holds – just – Firmaments –
Those – dangle easy – on my arm

When we see that meaning is what we give, and we see that we are confused and unhappy, then we become willing to accept a teacher to show us what meaning truly is and where it can truly be found. We surrender our own ideas in favor of the One who knows, and instantly we come to peace.

It is so beautiful, so complete. Peace makes everything else secondary and trivial; you see it is an illusion and you can’t be part of it. You can’t be involved anymore. You trust the divine order of existence. And therefore, man-made fears and conditioning, likes and dislikes end – all duality ends (A Gift for all Mankind 69).

All the Holy Spirit really does is show us that God – that Love – is here, right now, and that we are composed of it – composed by it. What else but stillness could abide in us so?

The witnesses for God stand in His light and behold what He created. Their silence is the sign that they have beheld God’s Son, and in the Presence of Christ they need demonstrate nothing, for Christ speaks to them of Himself and His Father. They are silent because Christ speaks to them, and it is His words they speak (T-11.V.17:6-8).

It is okay if we are not there yet – more than okay, really. Honesty about our experience, which is also honesty about our goals and intentions, is the beginning of Truth. I am simply saying that if we give attention to the lessons – to our practice of A Course in Miracles, as and where it is- then the rest will follow naturally, will appear almost magically, because is it merely what already is. Our willingness makes it so.


  1. “What else but stillness could abide in us so?”

    and from the previous post…

    “However slow I go, God goes yet slower, ”

    Thank You for helping me s l o w d o w n.


    1. Hey there Annie . . . You’re welcome . . . I’ve been waking long walks lately – ten, twenty miles – and it is helping me slow down and see what happens when I do . . . Hope you’re well!

      ~ Sean

  2. Another Annie …

    It’s Friday morning and I’m sitting in a village churchyard in Dorset contemplating my lesson of today, L34 I could see peace instead of this. It’s the third time through of the lessons for me. I didn’t think I needed do them more than once but I realised there had been some passivity in my previous journeys through. Guided to start again, not necessarily do all, just continue as guided, these first ones are leading me into something else altogether. The ideas I was quick to accept. The experience of them I’ve resisted.
    Why am I saying all this? There’s no need for explanations. I wanted to thank you for writing something that brought great sobs, seemingly from nowhere, as I read. Not sadness or grief. Just some kind of recognition and relief. And mightiness that is not this little self. Not the idea, a glimpse of realising.
    And a sense of ranks of mighty companions around me, tall and silent in this quiet country churchyard, and I choosing, with relief and gratitude, to join those ranks in silence.
    And I notice you posted this only a couple of days ago. How did I come across it right now, so easily, and it was so perfect, in ways beyond my rambling words.
    Thank you. You expressed something so beautifully and I was ready to hear beyond the words

    1. All Annies welcome!

      Your experience of the lessons resonates with mine, Annie. They have slowly become staples of daily practice for me, as I see with greater clarity the passivity – that is the very word – that accompanies them earlier. I trust that when I don’t need them, it will be clear, and I’ll shuffle on accordingly.

      And I’m glad the post was helpful, in its way, and I love the companions you describe, and the setting – so quiet and peaceful, interior and exterior both . . .

      Thank you for sharing & being here, Annie!


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