A Course in Miracles: Lesson 36

My holiness envelopes everything I see.

Having reestablished the identity of the perceiver in the previous lesson, Lesson 36 shifts our focus back to what is perceived, with the caveat that how we see has shifted because of how we understand our identity.

You are holy because your mind is part of God’s. And because you are holy, your sight must be holy as well . . . Your sight is related to [God’s] Holiness, not to your ego, and therefore not to your body (W-pI.36.1:2-3, 8).

It is critical to discern here between what the body’s eyes do and what mind does. The body’s eyes can gaze at an altar and see icons and candles but it is mind that sees holiness. The body’s eyes see a field of wildflowers but it is mind that sees beauty.

And, since our mind is part of God’s, we cannot be sinful – which is to say, we cannot actually make errors that require correction. Thus, when we “see” with God we are seeing in Truth and can only perceive reality as God created it: beauty, holiness, grace, love.

Echoes of this concept abound in the text, perhaps nowhere more acutely than in the early section The Illusion of Needs.

Perfect love casts out fear.
If fear exists,
Then there is not perfect love.
Only perfect love exists.
If there is fear,
It produces a state that does not exist (T-1.VI.5:4-8).

Indeed, the text suggests that to the extent we are willing to submit everything to this test, we will instantly and perfectly remember our identity in God.

This lesson is also a reframing of our use of projection. We are not denying the existence of external objects – be they rugs, fingers, walls or hemlock trees – but rather investigating what happens when we observe them enveloped in our holiness.

That is, rather than projecting fear and hate and guilt, we are extending our holiness, which is an aspect of the Love we both have and are as God’s creations.

What happens to the world when we do this? What happens to us?

It can be helpful to keep the admonitions of Lesson 23 in mind here.

There is no point in trying to change the world. It is incapable of change because it is merely an effect. But there is indeed a point in changing your thoughts about the world. Here you are changing the cause. The effects will change automatically (W-pI.23.2:3-7).

We are advancing our understanding of what the world is and what we are by recognizing that God is our Source, our Creator, and that our holiness is unconditional and therefore what is seen from within it can only serve the cause and function of Love.

We are saying that to see is to create, and it is given us to create like our Creator. We are saying that the cause of the world can be fear or holiness.

And we are experimenting now with what happens when our gaze is given to holiness and thus sees only what is holy.

There is great healing potential in this lesson. It is an opportunity to lastingly ground ourselves in a way of thinking and being that is given to undoing confusion and misdirection.

What are you in truth? You may not yet be able to answer that question but are you ready perhaps to at least acknowledge that what ever you are, it is holy indeed?

←Lesson 35
Lesson 37→

A Course in Miracles Lesson 35

My mind is part of God’s. I am very holy.

Lesson 35 is a powerful lesson because it deepens the conceptual framework of healing through vision (rather than dying through seeing), and because it invites us to adopt this renewed framework for our daily ACIM practice going forward.

Through projection and denial, ego makes a world that reinforces its existence. It insists that what we are is a body which is vulnerable because it exists in a world that is hostile and dangerous. Loss and sacrifice are the hallmarks of ego’s made-up environment.

In ego’s world, we do not believe we are holy. We do not believe we are creations of God Who is Love. Yet it is because of this disbelief that ego’s world exists.

This a restatement of the insight in The Healing of the Dream: “The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1).

In the ego’s world, you and I believe we are bodies and these bodies inhabit a certain kind of world. This seems beyond question. Thus, it makes sense to protect ourselves – to go to any lengths to ensure that we have food, clothing and shelter. To deny our brothers and sisters whenever they encroach on our space, interior and exterior. To desecrate the earth’s oceans and forests and plains. To go to war if necessary.

Of course we attack in this world; we attack because we are attacked.

And yet.

. . . you surround yourself with the environment you want. And you want it to protect the image of yourself that you have made. The image is part of this environment. What you see while you believe you are in it is seen through the eyes of the image. This is not vision. Images cannot see (W-pI.35.2:2-7).

Images cannot see.

What we believe we are is in fact dead and incapable of understanding or causation or anything. What we believe we are has no more “life” than a character in a book or on a screen.

Thus, we are confused about what we are in truth. It is this confusion – this error – that A Course in Miracles is given to correct.

So Lesson 35 shifts our focus from what is perceived to that which perceives (W-pI.35.3:3). This is a new and nontrivial emphasis, designed to establish our “Source” and thus reestablish our identity as it “must really be in truth” (W-pI.35.3:2).

The lesson invites us to evaluate our self in whatever terms occur to us – depressed, endangered, helpless, charitable (W-pI.35.6:3,5, 6, 9) – and to ground these assessments in the concrete facts that apparently make up our lives.

For example, if I describe myself as “helpless,” I might bring to mind all the circumstances that characterize this condition – the boss that never listens, the lack of funds to make big life changes, the parents who refuse to be accountable for what they did to me as a child, and so forth.

To each of these detailed judgments we simply acknowledge that our minds are part of God’s Mind and we are thus holy (W-pI.35.7:5).

It doesn’t matter if the ego-based perception of self is good or bad, by the way. They’re all equally untrue. It can seem that seeing ourselves in a loving light is superior to the alternative. But illusions aren’t made true because we like they way they look or how they make us feel. They are true or they are false.

And if they are of the ego, they are false. Full stop.

This is the beginning of a profound shift in our thinking, one that goes not into the world but rather into the self which brings that world forth. At first, this will be addressed to the “image” – to the “self” that ego makes up to advance its agenda.

But gradually, as our practice deepens and intensifies, we will begin to sense that our actual identity goes far beyond the narrow, mean-spirited and uncreative domain of ego. We are holy. We are creations of the God of Love, capable only of creating Love. Nothing else is holy because nothing else can be holy.

Everything else is a bad dream.

We may not wake up from that dream today, but we can be confident that this lesson is a firm and extensive step in awakening’s direction.

←Lesson 34
Lesson 36→

A Course in Miracles Lesson 34

I could see peace instead of this.

This is one of my favorite lessons in the ACIM workbook. I truly believe that it encapsulates several core ideas that are essential to practicing A Course in Miracles. We are the one with Love. We remember and extend Love by choosing to think differently. Changing our thoughts changes what we see and the result is peace.

That’s A Course in Miracles in a nutshell. 

I spent the night in a hospital. I arrived late, after a long day, and I stayed up for about nine hours sitting by my father’s bed. I hate hospitals. They make me feel powerless. They’re like bland bureaucracies with the power of life and death. I feel depersonalized and threatened when I am in them. And that’s on top of worrying about Dad. 

I generally respond to fear with rage-like fantasies that are alternately scary, embarrassing and silly. It’s like part of my mind has to compensate for the fear and to do so by doubling down on the fundamental conflict. It’s crazy. It helps nothing and nobody.

So I want to do better than that. My father needs me and I do not help anybody – not my father, not myself, not my siblings or mother, not the dedicated staff – if I am crazy and sullen and paranoid.

Lesson 34 was a beautiful and helpful – in part because it was also frustrating – antidote.

I began practicing at about 3 a.m. while my father slept. The room was tiny and the chair was hard but it was a fine and mellow meditation. I read the lesson by the light of my cell phone, then closed my eyes. I found that my mind followed the previous lessons – I am not the victim of the world I see because I have invented the world I see and there is another way of looking at the world – which naturally evoked “I could see peace instead of this.”

Peace of mind is clearly an internal matter. It must begin with your own thoughts, and then extend outward. It is from your peace of mind that a peaceful interpretation of the world arises (W-pI.34.1:2-4).

And, indeed, this was how it functioned.

Perhaps because it was quiet and dark, perhaps because it was an unusual and intense situation, but I “broke” the lesson’s suggestion that I focus on my thoughts. I fully recognize and accept that peace is an inside job, an internal matter, the external world merely reflecting an interior decision. But when those five minutes were over I opened my eyes and kept going. I’d look at the hospital bed. I could see peace instead of this. The cord you yank to call the nurses? I could see peace instead of this. The concrete garage blocking my view out the window? I could see peace instead of this.

This is an example of allowing ourselves to meet A Course in Miracles where we are

I applied it to sounds. That beeping from the saline drip? I could see peace instead of this. The snoring two doors down? I could see peace instead of this. The doctor telling a joke?

I could see peace instead of this.

And slowly I began to see peace. And – more than that – realize that peace was what I’d been seeing all along. I’d walked into that hospital fully expecting the worst but ready to be okay with it. This is going to suck, Jesus, and we both know it, but let’s get it done. And at first – for a quick couple of minutes – it did suck. All the doors were locked. But then this guy – who knows what he was doing sitting in a dark car with his window open – directed me to the one door that was open. The don’t-mess-with-me security officer at the front desk? Asked about the weather before directing me upstairs. The nurse who I thought was going to demand I leave because “visiting hours” were over? She brought me a pillow and a blanket.

Every turn – whatever happened – the worst turned out to be okay. No, it was better than okay. And then, at some point during my Lesson 34 mumbles, maybe around the time the sun was starting to rise, it hit me. Things were okay because I was okay. That willingness at the beginning meant I was bringing my will into alignment with God’s will. And even though that didn’t pacify the ego – hence the ongoing fear – it did open something deeper, something beyond the ego’s reach. I experienced love and safety at each turn because I am love and safety. No me as in Sean, you understand. Me as in you and me. And you and me as in God, as Love itself.

This was a sort of peaceful recognition. I was exhausted – sleep-deprived – strung out on bad coffee – worried about how the rest of the day was going to pan out. No light shows. No dulcet voices. Just a sweet warm sense of peace. I’m okay. It’s okay. When we are willing to act as if we are not ego – when we are willing to be miracle workers even though we doubt the assignment – we are unified and in union we are pacified. Maybe it’s Jesus. Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit.

And maybe God is Love and as God’s creations, we too are Love. 

This post is deeply autobiographical. We experience the course in the context of our lives in the world; we aren’t monks and nuns doing the lessons in isolation. We are embodied in the world and the lessons are the means – in that body in that world – by which we learn the truth of what we are.

←Lesson 33
Lesson 35→

A Course in Miracles Lesson 33

There is another way of looking at the world.

Because we invent the world, we can choose to see it differently. We can opt to frame it in new lights that bring forth aspects or tones that make us and others happier. Because we have the same power of creation as our Creator, we can choose love instead of fear.

And so we turn our attention to the world that we see – the outer world and the inner world – and we gently remind ourselves that there is another way of looking at it all.

It is important to give attention to this lesson without trying to jump ahead – to wanting to see it differently now. This lesson builds on previous ones, and its emphasis is on becoming aware of our power of choice which is what brings forth the possibility of healing.

Later lessons will teach us how to wield this choice; today’s asks us merely to become comfortable with its existence.

The lesson also emphasizes casualness. This is an important insight into our learning process. A Course in Miracles is not asking us to be spiritual superheroes or giants. It is not about who practices the hardest or the longest or the most intensely.

It is a gentle, self-directed curriculum that asks nothing of us that we cannot give, and allows us considerable flexibility in the pace and intensity of the learning experience.

Thus, it is important to be patient and forgiving with ourselves, and to meet ACIM where we are and allow the relationship to evolve according to the calm confidence of Spirit rather than ego. Merely show up and let what happens happen.

←Lesson 32
Lesson 34→

A Course in Miracles Lesson 32

I have invented the world I see.

Today’s lesson of A Course in Miracles picks up on yesterday’s in what should seem like a predictable way.  We are not victims of the world we see because we invented the world we see.

You could give it up as easily as you made it up. You will see it or not see it, as you wish. While you want it you will see it; when you no longer want it, it will not be there for you to see (W-pI.32.1:3-5).

In this way, the lesson keeps our focus on revising our understanding of cause and effect, essentially, reversing it. In the world’s understanding, external causes create internal emotional effects. We are well or not well based on what’s happening outside of us – and we have no control over those external events. Our inner state is unreliable because the outer state is as well, and the outer causes the inner.

A Course in Miracles suggests instead that we look inside, see the kind of world we want to see – one that supports our commitment to separation, guilt and fear – and then project it outward (e.g., T-13.V.3:5). The inner is the cause of the outer. We’ve got perception – and cause-and-effect – backwards.

In truth, the inner world and the outer are the same (W-pI.32.2:1) because both are in our imagination (W-pI.32.2:3).

In a sense, this sequence of lessons revolves around the idea of will. Whose will is being exercised? Whose is being suppressed? To what ends are the exercise or suppression being put?

For most of us, especially as ACIM beginners, we are exercising self-will, which is of the ego, which is also a de facto suppression of God’s Will. Ego  is very selective in terms of what it allows into awareness and what it excludes. Its selectivity is predicated on judgment – this is good, this is bad. And the standard of judgment is always its survival. Does [insert perceived object/idea] perpetuate ego’s existence? If yes, then it’s good. If not, then forget about it. And forget you forgot about it. For the ego, there is no other standard. Why should there be?

This is part of why A Course in Miracles so often suggests that we ask what everything is for things are for (T-17.VI.2:1-2). Ego’s judgment decides the function of everything based on whether it will keep the ego alive and active. But that’s its goal, not ours. Our goal is to undo the ego and be free of the limitations its thought system forces on us. So we have to shift our focus. Even when we think we know what something is for, it’s helpful to ask again. Is there another way to see our job? Our children? Our routines?

Remembering that we are creators of the world and not merely passive observers can help us to ask these questions more pointedly as well as be more open-minded with respect to the answers.

The “answers,” by the way, are always some variation of “yes. There is a way to see this that brings forth love, not fear.”

Of course, this series of lessons is not really proactive in the sense of telling us how to undo the ego. The course is inviting us to notice – by giving attention to – how ego functions. What are its effects? How shall we evaluate those effects?

Thus, ACIM is really about changing our minds about mind. That’s it. If we can see the ego, and if we can accept that we do not share its agenda, then we will naturally withdraw our support from its frantic spinning of story and world. What happens after that is in God’s hands.

This is what A Course in Miracles means when it tells us that we are already saved, that the journey is already over. We aren’t creating new selves or improving on old ones. Rather, we are allowing our true selves – which are hidden but by no means ruined or gone because they are Creation – to shine through the sludge of ego and thus remind of us what we are in truth. As we remember this, the “sludge of ego” disappears as soon as we decide we neither need nor want it anymore. We can do this because “we invented the world we see.”

←Lesson 31
Lesson 33→

Reading A Course in Miracles: The Rewards of God

The Rewards of God are peace and joy, which correlate with the function of Love, which in turn correlates – in fact, is – being of one mind (T-2.V.A.17.1). In terms of A Course in Miracles, we attain these rewards when we are grateful to and for our brothers and sisters who restore to awareness the fundamental fact that “salavation is a collaborative venture” (T-4.VI.8:2).

That is, together we are the Kingdom of God, and no harm or foul can prevail against us in our unity. Who seeks the rewards of God need only give attention to the brothers and sisters with whom they live and share a world. Gratitude is the essence of our practice; to be grateful is to be open to remembering our shared ground in love.

Yet the reason the course exists – which is the reason we are in need of atonement – is that we do not avail ourselves of God’s rewards. We are not reliably or consistently grateful. We do not sample the divine loaf, let alone satiate our hunger forever with it. Why? Given the oasis, why do we insist on the desert?

This section of A Course in Miracles explores the critical idea of the ego as a practical manifestation of dissociation. That is, we dissociate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, which is to effectively dissociate ourselves from God, and then invent a rationale for our behavior, one that justifies actions that are so obviously painful and dysfunctional.

We name that rationale “ego,” and by naming it convince ourselves that it is a real entity capable of bringing about real effects in our living. This is the separation: the belief in a self, or an ego, that is functions apart from and even in opposition to the world of Love.

The separated mind cannot maintain the separation except by dissociating. Having done this, it denies all truly natural impulses, not because the ego is a separate thing, but because you want to believe that you are. The ego is a device for maintaining this belief, but it is still only your decision to use this device that enables it to endure (T-4.VI.4:2-4).

Dissociation (in psychological terms, which is certainly how both Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford understood it) is a split in the mind by which a thought (or thoughts) breaks away from the whole mind and functions as a separate unit, exactly as if it were the mind of another person.

That is, the separation is experienced only because one part of our mind – in ACIM terms the ego (which is not precisely the Freudian ego – more like the whole Freudian soup of id, ego and super ego) – believes and acts as if it is separate. The ego functions as a separate unit, has its own person. But it is a belief existing in mind, not an external object comprehended by mind.

Our problem is that we take this belief literally. The ego speaks and we listen; indeed, we often don’t even realize that it is merely an idea that is speaking. We simply assume it is us, our own self. That is because the ego’s fundamental argument is that we are alone – separate – distinct from our brothers and sisters (T-4.VI.4:3).

Yet what is dissociated is not destroyed. It continues to exist, albeit outside the domain of awareness. This is why A Course in Miracles teaches us that nothing happened and that all we are doing is remembering what in fact we are.

The ego is nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself. Your other life has continued without interruption, and has been and always will be totally unaffected by your attempts to dissociate it (T-4.VI.1:6-7).

Here, the text neatly integrates Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford’s faith in conditioning as a learning method. The aim of the course is to teach us that following the directives of ego lead to misery but following the directives of spirit lead to happiness.

I am teaching you to associate misery with the ego and joy with the spirit. You have taught yourself the opposite. You are still free to choose, but can you really want the rewards of the ego in the presence of the rewards of God? (T-4.VI.5:6-8)

It is interesting to approach this reconditioning process is a pragmatic way – not in terms of an idea contained in a book or website, but in the actual living that we do. Can we experience the ego as a belief about our self which is at odds with reality? Can we make contact – that is, reconnect, reclaim, remember – the whole self which we cast off and dissociated?

In a way, this section of ACIM poses the perennial question: who am I?

We are taught here that the ego is quick to rush in with its answers. And it can be quite persuasive. We are not studying A Course in Miracles because we are never deceived by a split mind.

Thus, it can be helpful to ask the question of identity and not accept the first – or second or even third – answer that comes to us. The chatter of the ego will come and go. It will rise and fall. It will appear argumentative, coy, rational, insistent. Yet for all of that, if simply let it be – for we are not called to humble or control or punish the ego (T-4.VI.3:8) – we may yet discern, like the faint call of a chickadee in the distant forest, or the first red-winged blackbird of Spring – the voice of the spirit reminding us that a belief in separation cannot separate what is forever whole and one.

There is nothing to be gained by resisting or denying or fighting the ego. Ego happens. But ego is not the whole, nor even a reflection of the whole. Ego is simply a mad belief in a past that never happened, with effects that can be imagined but never in fact experienced.

There is, as Bill Thetford so helpfully observed, thus instantiating the creation of A Course in Miracles, a better way. And that way provides us a means by which to experience joy and peace, the rewards of God, which are our natural inheritance.

The other way is effectively to choose to listen to the voice for God. Even if we don’t believe it’s a valuable exercise, even if we believe we’re beyond saving. To choose again is to open an interior space in which we can reclaim the peace of Christ, which is the sum total of our being, however intense our commitment to denying it.

The experience of ego, and the appearance of its effects, are a direct consequence of the power of our mind. We believe in ego, and thus ego – as our belief – is able to go on dissociating, in effect enforcing the appearance of a non-negotiable separation that cannot be healed or bridged.

The separated mind cannot maintain the separation except by dissociating. Having done this, it denies all truly natural impulses, not because the ego is a separate thing, but because you want to believe that you are. The ego is a device for maintaining this belief, but it is still only your decision to use the device that enables it to endure (T-4.VI.4:1-4).

Thus, the secret to salvation is the insight that we are doing this to ourselves (T-27.VIII.10:1). It is a decision we forgot we made, based on a decision-making ability we forgot we had, and then forgot we forgot we had.

How do we fix this? We simply remember our gratitude to our brothers and sisters. We make our living about service to them. How can we help? How can we be kind? How can we be gentle? The metaphysics of whether the self is real or the world is real will take care of themselves. They aren’t our real concern.

Yet the direct action of love very much is our concern. Thus, in order to experience – which is to both accept and offer – the rewards of God, we are asked to live in a way that effectively demonstrates that we are not egos (T-4.VI.6:2-3). We are being instructed to withdraw our support for the “device” we made to ensure we will remain separated from our brothers and sister and thus from the unified love that is God.

Our experience of this love begets gratitude, and our gratitude begets love. It is a divine and creative circle of unity from which we cannot be separate. To know each other is to know God (T-4.VI.7:3).

We are in this learning experience together. We are literally one another’s fellow student and teacher. We are in this shared experienced in order to learn that what we call “we” is in fact a single unified “I” that dissolves in the Love that is God. First we learn how to love each other, and then we hear God, because “the function of love is one” (T-4.VI.8:6). What other reward could we want?