On Seeing Only the Past

I see only the past (W-pI.7).

The seventh lesson of A Course in Miracles is a beautiful way to reconnect to how practical and powerful the course is, and how readily it can be applied in our day-to-day lives.

What is the past but interpretation clung to in place of reality? When we see only the past, we are relying on our ideas about people, places and things – about life itself. This person is good, that flower is best, life is unfair. And all of that interpretation simply obscures reality which is always quiet, peaceful and flowing.

Our intentions can be very sincere and our desire all but perfect but it won’t matter if we are still only seeing the past. The past is always personal – it always reflects our goals, our investment in outcomes, our attachment to our feelings. We enshrine memory – we put it on a pedestal – and from that special place it blocks the Light that is God so that we seem to live only in shadows.

This habit of seeing only what is of the past can be very subtle. Many students of A Course in Miracles – certainly I am one of them – come to an intellectual appreciation of this lesson. Yes, yes, we say. The past impedes our experience of the present. We get it. On the surface, we are very devoted and committed. But deep down it is a different story.

So much of what feeds the ego is outside the immediate reach of our awareness. It emerges from the welter of Freud’s unacknowledged and unexplored cavernous interiors. We don’t have to go excavating for it – this is not a course in spiritual archaeology. But we do have to be vigilant to what is happening in the present. When we are not joyful and when we do not know peace, it is because we are separated from reality – which is to be separated from God – and we are separated this way because we have again allowed the past to intrude on our experience of God and love.

It is not my job to heal the past or even to uncover it. I merely need to be a faithful witness to the present effects of seeing only the past, and then to give those effects to the Holy Spirit, willing that they be undone for me.

Fortunately, to witness the present effect of seeing only the past is sufficient for healing.

This happens to all of us – separation, anxiety, fear, anger. There is no point in pretending otherwise and no point in feeling depressed or discouraged about it. When we practice A Course in Miracles – studying the text, doing the lessons, giving attention to forgiveness and love, and working with brothers and sisters to bring all this into fruitful application – we become increasingly aware of the gap between peace and conflict. We realize that we are invested in conflict – that we want it – and we perceive too the apparently vast space between our conflicted self and the peace that surpasses understanding.

This is a critical insight! Only when we realize how far we have to go, and how futile are the resources we call our own, that a real journey of healing and love can begin. And it will feel like a journey – it will resemble a journey – but the farther we go along it, the clearer it will be that we are merely traveling in place. We are merely remembering that we already have all that can be given, and that we are already home in Creation, where differentiation of any kind is impossible.

In other words, when I am tense and angry in a meeting, say, it is not necessary to dig into the past to find some similar incident or supposed cause. Analysis is not required! Rather, it is imperative I hold my tension and anger without judgment – to see them as mistakes in need of gentle correction rather than sins condemning me to an eternity in hell. When I do this, the Holy Spirit softly intercedes and dissolves the present conflict by bringing my attention back to the present, which A Course in Miracles calls a Holy Instant.

It is not my job to heal the past or even to uncover it. I merely need to be a faithful witness to the present effects of seeing only the past, and then to give those effects to the Holy Spirit, willing that they be undone for me. And they will be. And to that extend, my reliance on the past as a means of interpreting or understanding – manipulating, really – reality is diminished.

As this happens with greater frequency – as we gain confidence in our holiness and in the positive influence of our holy teacher – our stranglehold on the past will begin to diminish on its own. We will notice this in the sense that things which used to bother us – which used to cause us all manner of grief and anguish – are no longer such a big deal. We might not even notice them.

What happened? We learned to identify with the Holy Spirit – that’s what happened. We learned to want only what God wills for us.

That is our liberation. That is the field in which we awaken.

This is such a simple idea – we see only the past – and yet there is such a profound opportunity for healing in it. In all things, at all times, give attention to the way in which the past is seeping into your perception and shaping your conclusions and driving your behavior. Simply see it: take notice of what is happening, and what its effects are. The essential conflict will be clarified: we are given the Kingdom now, we are blessed in reality now. We are being tapped by God on the left shoulder and stubbornly looking to our right. It’s funny when we see how obstinate we are, and how forgiving God is, and how easily the apparent mess is corrected.

It truly takes very little to shift our attention from wrong- to right-minded thinking. What is hard is seeing the need for it – that is where the egoic mind/self is most aggressive and wily. The impulse to think we’re doing fine, making progress on our own and so forth can be both pervasive and persuasive. But once we have established the need for releasing the past as the only way to fully dwell in the Holy Instant, it is largely done for us. Really, we are simply seeing reality, which is not dependent on either our perception or interpretation to be real.

In any case, there is no power that can withstand our mind’s decision to return to love, to return to the holy present that in reality it never left.

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  1. I am on my second start of the workbook lessons. Today was Lesson Seven and today a started searching your site for other readings…and found this. Thank you. I appreciate your sharings.

    1. Hi Robin – it’s nice to meet you, even in this setting! Finding friends and fellow travelers – whatever language one wants to use, whatever language most resonates – is truly one of the joys of reading and writing online. We are in this together!


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