A Course in Miracles Lesson 8

My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.

Lesson 7  is an invitation to consider the way in which we perceive the objects that comprise our physical world is conditioned by the past. We are not really looking at a pencil or a cup – we are looking at our idea of a pencil or a cup, and that idea is entirely conditioned by our past learning with respect to pencils and cups.

It is possible to reframe our understanding – we are not looking at the past so much as looking through the past. Indeed, the eighth lesson of A Course in Miracles encourages this shift in focus. Our mind is not free but is rather yoked to past thoughts which inevitably fragment and shade its understanding and perception.

Critically, this lesson reminds us that the problem is not cups and pencils – much less wars and poverty – but rather the mind which perceives these things. Heal the mind and the world will follow.

How, then, shall we train our mind to occupy itself with love – with the Holy Instant – rather than the past?

The mind’s preoccupation with the past is the cause of the misconception about time from which your seeing suffers. Your mind cannot grasp the present, which is the only time there is. It therefore cannot understand time, and cannot, in fact, understand anything (W-pI.8.I:4-6).

Students of A Course in Miracles will recognize that what is being alluded to here is in fact the end of time, the Holy Instant – a moment given freely to us by the Holy Spirit. In that moment – which is unclouded by ideas of past or future – the present is empty of fear. It is the Holy Instant that teaches us the meaning of love inherent in the ACIM curriculum.

Each instant is a clean, untarnished birth, in which the Son of God emerges from the past into the present. And the present extends forever. It is so beautiful and so clean and free of guilt that nothing but happiness is there. No darkness is remembered, and immortality and joy are now (T-15.I.8:4-7).

ACIM Lesson 8 begins to train our minds to recognize that what impedes our experience of the Holy Instant is literally our preoccupation with past thoughts. Most of what churns through our minds are ideas and images and concepts that derive their meaning and utility from the past. Whatever utility they may have for the body, they utterly obscure the mind’s natural repose in the “clean, untarnished birth” of the present.

As we see this – and as we identify those thoughts for what they are – we begin to develop the basic skill of letting them go and giving  attention instead to the peace and tranquility that is our actual mind. In that way, this lesson anticipates the clear teaching of Lesson 45, which tells us that our “real” thoughts are those we think with God

You think with the Mind of God. Therefore you share your thoughts with Him, as He shares His with you. They are the same thoughts, because they are thought by the same Mind. To share is to make alike, or to make one. Nor do the thoughts you think with the Mind of God leave your mind, because thoughts do not leave their source. Therefore, your thoughts are in the Mind of God, as you are. They are in your mind as well, where He is. As you are part of His Mind, so are your thoughts part of His Mind (W-pI.45.2:1-8).

This lesson proposes the radical idea that when our minds are busy – what our Buddhist friends might call “monkey mind” – they are actually blank. They are not functioning. The implication is that the real activity of our mind will not manifest as thoughts about cups or pencils or sex or politics at all. A lot of our resistance to the course can be found here, I think. We are so ingrained – so conditioned, so invested – in our thoughts and the self they appear to arise from and relate to that letting them go feels too terrifying. Even thinking about letting them go is scary.

But all thoughts can be brought to the Holy Spirit: that which we find intimidating or confusing or frightening can be lifted into the light. We don’t have to flee troubling thoughts – it’s okay to sit with them. When we do this – not judging the thought, not running from the thought, not even analyzing the thought – we are gently taught that we are not those thoughts.

There is – there is always – another way.

Thus, when we practice Lesson Eight, we are entering the possibility of perceiving our thinking mind in a new way. We are embracing the possibility that beneath the egoic chatter lies a still calm peace, a foundation is created and sustained by God, and in which our identity is no longer special or unique (because it is not isolated) but rather shared. What shall we fear if there is nothing that is not God?

←Lesson 7
Lesson 9→

A Course in Miracles Lesson 7

I see only the past.

Lesson Seven is a wonderful example of both the specificity of the ACIM workbook and its usefulness in helping unravel the abstraction and metaphysics of the Text.

It is tempting to get hung up on the word “past.” We might assume that it means the object we observe is literally in the past. This is a supernatural reading that on some level is sexier than what the lesson is actually teaching, which is simply that our minds draw exclusively on the past when interpreting the present.

A Course in Miracles teaches us that the past is a filter through which we experience the present. And this filter is sufficiently strong that it distorts the present to such a degree that the present appears frightening and meaningless.

Lesson Seven gathers the previous six under this brief but succinct statement: the past is all that we see (W-pI.7). By extension, this lesson insists that our guilt, confusion, frustration, and fear are premised on this inaccurate and unhelpful way of looking at our lives.

The lesson focuses very much on our physical vision. The examples it offers for application – pencil, shoe, hand, body and face – are all objects that we perceive with our eyes. The course does not deny that these objects exist as such; rather, it indicates that the way we perceive them is broken and thus, we are not actually seeing them as they are. We have thus removed ourselves from reality as God created and sustains it.

That is, our “past learning” is what tells us what we are seeing (W-pI.7.3:6). Absent that learning, can we really say what we see? (W-pI.7.3:7)

Tara Singh once said – here paraphrased – that if anybody truly saw an orange they would be so awe-struck by its beauty, intensity and energy that the only fitting response would be to fall to one’s knees in praise and gratitude.

How shall we approach understanding this lesson?

The logic of the third paragraph is persuasive. It invites us to give careful sustained attention to a cup. It is not a bad idea to actually get a cup and look at it. How do you know what it is? How do you know its function? How do you know its name? How do you know how to care for it?

Your present experience of the cup is entirely dictated by your past learning about cups. Absent your past learning, what is the cup?

Although the lesson suggests this is a difficult idea to handle (e.g., W-pI.7.1:1) given its approach to undoing time, I wonder if it is not so hard with respect to cups and shoes and pencils. Indeed, I think where this lesson becomes challenging is when we realize its general applicability – that is, it pertains not only to objects but to specific people we love and hate. It applies to love and hate. It applies to the belief system which is the ground from which love and hate arise.

That is, we are not only discussing external material objects. We are – and subsequent lessons will initiate this exploration – also discussing interior thoughts and feelings and beliefs.

The past is our teacher. The past is the filter through which we perceive the world – including our self, other selves, and even A Course in Miracles. Has it been helpful? Unhelpful?

Or do we need a new teacher?

This lesson, like all the early ones, is a powerful and pragmatic means by which to begin undoing the fundamentals of our existing thought system in order that we might adopt a new one.

Through our study and practice of A Course in Miracles we learn to see the foundation of fear in order to learn that it might be exchanged for love.

Thus, our practice is to simply do what the lesson asks. It literally asks us to examine our surroundings for approximately four one-minute intervals and gently remind ourselves that each object we see is effectively the past. It asks us to simply see – or begin to see – that we are conditioned to seeing the world through a lens of past experience.

Since the past is gone (it is by definition always gone), what we are seeing is an illusion. What then can actually be seen? And who will teach us this new way of seeing?

←Lesson 6
Lesson 8→

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A Course in Miracles Lesson 6

I am upset because I see something that is not there.

Lesson Six is an extension of the basic exercise in Lesson Five. In the fifth lesson we name specific upsets and then state that the cause of that upset was unknown to us. We are never upset for the reason we think.

In the sixth lesson we assert that we are upset but because we “see something that is not there” (W-pI.6.1:4).

Lesson Six invites us to consider that the objects of our perception – the apparent external causes that reside in the world – are not the cause of our inner state. Whatever we are feeling, we feel it because we are confused about we are actually seeing. We don’t know what is actually going on.

For example, I might say that I am angry at my wife because she forgot to tell me the dentist called to cancel my cleaning appointment. At first glance, that might seem like a reasonable cause for a moderate level of upset.

But A Course in Miracles suggests it is not. And the reason it is not is because I am confused about what is actually happening. That is, the form of what is happening is my wife forgetting to pass along some important information.

But there are other ways to see that action that do not insist on perceiving it in terms of form. As our study of the course deepens, we learn that the form is far less significant than the content, and content is always either love or a call for love (e.g., T-12.I.8:13, T-12.II.3:1).

However, at this stage of the workbook, the focus is not on a total theoretical understanding and application. Rather, the focus is on establishing the broad strokes of what constitutes a miracle.

A miracle is a shift in thought away from guilt and fear and towards love. Thus, one way to facilitate miracles is to be open-minded and not cling to “our way” of seeing things. The early lessons of A Course in Miracles are Thetfordian, in that they all gently encourage us to begin to think in terms of “another way.”

Slowly but surely our learning indicates that we do not know how to love, we do not know what we are or what anybody else is and we do not know God. Under those circumstances, it makes sense to look for a new teacher and a method.

Put yourself not in charge . . . for you cannot distinguish between advance and retreat. Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success (T-18.V.1:5-6).

So our understanding – as we presently understand it – is not especially helpful. Fortunately, it’s not that germane. Our willingness to practice the lessons, regardless of what we appear to be learning or what our attitude is, is what matters.

You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. You are not asked to judge them at all. You are only asked to use them (W-pI.in.8:3-4).

In this way, our expectations begin to dissolve and our focus shifts from what we are getting from our ACIM practice to what we can give to others. Our thinking changes, just as the miracle promised. We begin to live a shift away from fear and towards love.

Moreover, this shift is cumulative in effect. It has nothing to do with effort or with the apparent “success” or “failure” of a particular lesson. It has do with willingness to partake of the order and beneficence of God and love, which are our home.

←Lesson 5
Lesson 7→

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A Course in Miracles Lesson 5

I am never upset for the reason I think.

The fifth lesson of A Course in Miracles introduces two concepts that will remain paramount for the remainder of our course study. First, question everything, especially your role as your own teacher. Second, give attention to form and content, especially the possibility that you are confusing one for the other.

Implicitly, this lesson encourages us to reflect on the fact that we are not the best judge of our learning and living. This reflection opens a space in which a more creative teaching and application can take place. Holiness is a form of letting go and not rushing to fill what appears to be empty.

In this way, lesson 5 is deeply practical without in any way compromising the rich metaphysical insights characteristic of A Course in Miracles.

We tend to take the narrative in our head seriously. If the idea is that the day sucks because it’s raining and we really wanted to go for a long run without getting soaked, then that’s our truth. If the idea is that we are impatient because the impatience of our mother or father conditioned us to be impatient, then that’s our truth. If we believe it’s all but impossible to be happy without excess amounts of capital . . .

We take our thinking – our judgments – literally. They become the very foundation of our living. Effectively, they become our guides to what is real and what is not.

That would be fine if we were clear thinkers whose every thought was God-lit, love-infused, and given to service. But we aren’t. And so to varying degrees, pain and suffering ensue.

Lesson five suggests that these interior narratives – and the conditioning upon which they appear to rest – are not worth our time and attention.

Please note what the course does not say in this lesson: it does not say that we shouldn’t be upset or that our upset is an illusion. On the contrary. It accepts our pain and suffering; it simply points out that we are confused about the actual cause of that pain and suffering.

That’s good to know. If we think X is causing our pain but in fact Y is the cause, then we want to focus on Y and not X. Healing is not a mystery; it’s logical and sensible.

So it’s okay to feel what you feel. Good, bad, happy, despressed. We aren’t being asked to fake an upbeat emotional state because we’re spiritual people or born again in Christ. Rather, we are being asked to consider that when it comes to understanding our emotional state, we aren’t reliable sources.

Thus, it’s a mistake to interpret this – or the preceding lessons (or those to come, to be honest) as encouraging us to view the external world solely in terms of illusion. While these early lessons inevitably nod in the direction of metaphysics, they actually have more modest goals.

They want us to begin to question our perception of reality, and our grounds for taking our own selves as reliable witnesses to reality. That’s all.

In that sense, we aren’t being called to question the existence of rain or parents or capitalist society. We are being asked to examine our assumption about the causative effects of those – and other – apparent objects.

Lesson Five’s contribution to this process of questioning (which is essential to the more fundamental process of undoing contemplated by A Course in Miracles) introduces the critical idea of form and content. That’s why it emphasizes repeatedly that we don’t have to focus on “big” upsets to the exclusion of “small” ones (W-pI.5.4:3-4).

On this view, a dropped cup of tea is not different than a loved one’s death. That can feel deeply – almost painfully – illogical, but what if is accurate? What if it’s helpful?

In this way, A Course in Miracles encourages us to focus less on form – what we perceive with the body’s senses and understand with its cognitive capacities – and more on the content, which is to say, what the form holds or represents or symbolizes.

That is, we will begin to experience our living in the world more in the relative terms of love and fear (which is the absence of love). It won’t matter if we are experiencing love through food or sex or meditation or long walks in the woods with our dog. It’s just love. And it won’t matter if we experience fear as hunger or an empty house or a nagging boss or an empty bank account. It’s simply fear, which is simply a cry for love. And the response to both is always love.

Thus, our behavior – which is our response to the world of perception – will become increasingly detached from form (what things appear to be) in order to respond to love or the call for love, which together comprise our lived reality.

A Course in Miracles asserts that our only problem – whether we name it guilt, fear, anger, jealousy, loneliness, greed, whatever – is our perceived separation from God (W-pI.79.1:4). But the separation is not an actual fact; rather, it is a misunderstanding of what constitutes fact. We are confused about what we are, and our confusion appears to us as separation – separation from other bodies, from the external world, and from love itself. It is this fact that causes our upset, and our upset in turn clouds our experience of the world, giving it the appearance of cause.

The work is to heal this confusion. The work is to set aright our upside-down thoughts. The work is to correct our incorrect thinking. At the stage of the fifth lesson, we do this simply by considering the possibility that we are wrong about cause and effect (and, by extension, about form and content). We are confusing form for content and effect for cause. Seeing this clearly is ultimately how it is fixed.

Yet lesson five doesn’t necessarily straighten out that misguided thinking. It simply begins the process of drawing our attention to it.

Still, this lesson is not without the power to heal us. When we honestly consider that we are not reliable witnesses to or interpreters of experience, then a space opens up in which it is easier to let life be what it is. When we step back – when we loosen our stranglehold on our way of thinking and living – then the possibility for a more creative, forgiving and loving engagement with life arises.

That can happen in a single moment. As Tara Singh frequently observed, any one lesson can awaken us to the joy and peace of our being.

But if it doesn’t happen that way – or there’s only a faint glimpse or taste – that’s okay. The only “right” way to grasp the curriculum is the way that we grasp it right now. While it may reflect a helpful truth that there are “no small upsets” (W-pI.5.4:3), we are likely still discriminating between the events that seem to make up our lives. We are likely still opting to see death and a stubbed toe as radically different.

Thus, it’s okay – more than okay – to ask for help with specific problems. Baby steps are not prohibited and may well be advised. It’s okay to be precisely where we are at in the learning process. As the workbook points out, we are not required to accept this lesson on its own terms without reservation. We just have to make a good faith effort; we have to care enough about inner peace to try (W-pI.5.6:3-4).

Hold that in mind as you study. Your study is a form of self-love which by definition gives itself away. And you can’t do it wrong, which removes the possibility of stress. Practice! And your practicing becomes the very light of the world.

←  Lesson 4
Lesson 6  →

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A Course in Miracles Lesson 4

These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].

One can understand Lesson Four of A Course in Miracles as an introductory step to several sustained practices that will – in addition to being the subject of future daily lessons – become essential to our daily practice as course students.

Those principles are:

a) Learning how to separate the meaningless from the meaningful (W-pI.4.3:2);

b) Learning to see the meaningless as external and the meaningful as internal (W-pI.4.3:3); and

c) Learning to recognize what is the same and what is different (W-pI.4.3:4).

The first three lessons direct our attention to a world that is apparently outside of us. Collectively, they challenge our certainty about what we perceive externally, what its meaning is, and the nature and depth of our understanding.

In a sense, they precipitate an existential crisis with respect to our experience of being living human beings in a world.

Lesson four directs our attention to what is apparently inside of us: our thoughts.

The usual admonitions about judgment obtain: we aren’t supposed to judge a given thought as being better than or worse than another. For the purposes of learning, they are all equal. But – in keeping with the overarching principles listed above – the workbook extends this meaning of “equality.”

You will find, if you train yourself to look at your thoughts, that they represent such a mixture that, in a sense, none of them can be called “good” or “bad.” This is why they do not mean anything (W-pI.4.1:6-7).

Thus, our judgment with respect to our thinking is as useless as it is with respect to understanding and perceiving an external world.

In this sense, apparent external objects and our thoughts are the same.

A note later in the lesson lesson suggests that what we consider our thoughts – the very subject of the lesson – are actually not our real thoughts at all (W-4.2:3). If the first three lessons set the stage for the undoing of reliance on our physical senses as producing anything real or true, then ACIM Lesson Four opens the door to the dismantling our current thought system, that seeming stream of words and images passing by the other side of our eyes.

Small wonder the workbook characterizes this as a “major exercise,” one we will repeat over and over, albeit in different form (W-pI.4.3:1).

For some of us, this is a disorienting exercise – even after we’ve done it a few times. I think this happens because it is actually easier to contemplate the tenuous nature of the external world than that of the internal.

That is, it’s easier to question objects than the observer observing them. As Descartes argued long ago – cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. His logic (and the duality it implies) has haunted our western tradition for centuries; this lesson testifies to that.

Still, at least implicitly, the distinction of Descartes makes sense to us. The observer – the narrative I – the interior self watching and judging and directing our living feels so intimate and real that we often don’t even notice it, let alone raise it to inquiry.

Lesson four invites us to do exactly that: notice its function and question its veracity.

This is consistent with characterizing A Course in Miracles as a course in mind training (T-1.VII.4:1). Its objective is to enable us to better relate to our thoughts – to slow and redirect their aimless wandering, to quiet their incessant chatter, to minimize their constant caroms and collisions. In doing so, our experience of a discrete self dissolves, taking with it the illusion of an external objective world.

Taken together, our present thoughts obscure our real thoughts which, the course points out, are those that we think with God (e.g., W-pI.45.2:5). Thus, our remembrance of Heaven is contingent on our willingness and ability to bring the interior chaos of our thinking to light which – by revealing its disorder – allows for stillness and order.

We do not undo our thoughts, but we do consent to their undoing. Lesson 4 is the first step in that offer of consent, a process that feels, appears and unfolds differently for all students.

As I sometimes point out, this lesson exposes a cherished idol for me – my thinking. Language and ideas are dear to me; I did not (and sometimes still do not) easily subject them to the light of love. The first time I heard a Zen teacher say one’s thoughts were unimportant and should be allowed to drift through mind like passing clouds I felt pity. If only Roshi were familiar with the profound and awesome thoughts jangling in *my brain . . .

I had a lot to learn. And I have given good teachers with whom to learn it, thank Christ.

Although the form of application has shifted through the years, I tend to apply this lesson frequently through the day. Indeed, it almost happens on its own, an aspect of the epistemic humility that has become so necessary to my practice.

If you’re new to the lessons, that level of repetition is probably inadvisable. Indeed, we are cautioned against over-indulging it, lest we end up “pointlessly preoccupied” (W-pI.4.5:4). In time you’ll find your own sweet spots, the lessons that are integral to your learning, and the natural way that occur for you.

Yet I do think it’s okay to take any lesson straight to the edge of our comfort zone. Doing so can keep us in a state of readiness, a state of slight disorientation which can be helpful because it allows a fundamental reorganization and clarification to more efficiently take place.

The real work is interior and we do not do it. Yet we can manifest a willingness that it be done, and this willingness is often an effective and pragmatic trigger.

Note, too, that this lesson helpfully calls to mind an early definition of miracles.

A miracle is a correction introduced into false thinking by [Jesus]. It acts as a catalyst, breaking up erroneous perception and reorganizing it properly. This places you under the Atonement principle, where perception is healed (T-1.I.37:1-3).

Indeed, until this reorganization has taken place, “knowledge of the divine order” remains impossible (T-1.I.37:4).

Lesson 4 is an opportunity to part the heavy curtains that we drew shut to impose against the light of God and love. That light – even the faintest ray of it – acts as an antidote to our habitual confused and irrational thinking.

The resultant changes – unfamiliar, awkward, even frightening shifts in thinking – are what we really want. They presage remembrance of our union with God.

←Lesson 3
Lesson 5 →

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A Course in Miracles Lesson 3

I do not understand anything I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place].

The third lesson of A Course in Miracles directly addresses our misplaced confidence in our perception and cognition. We intuitively accept as real the world our senses reveal. Here, the course states clearly that our intuition in this regard is misguided.

Thus, it is an invitation to look not at our so-called understanding but at our confusion (which so often masquerades as understanding or comprehension).

Lesson three threads neatly back through the previous two lessons, yoking them in a pedagogical triumvirate that aims to undo our reliance on the senses (which, as we will see, includes those ideas that arise so emphatically and persuasively in our thinking).

We can look at this process as undoing the ego. First, we are taught that the world we perceive is meaningless. Then we learn that to the extent we perceive meaning in the external world, it’s only the meaning that we have given it.

And now we’re being told that we don’t have the first clue about what we are perceiving. If lesson two nods at the creative potential of mind (which it does), then this lesson states without qualification that we are all but certain to misuse that power based on our inability to truly comprehend it.

Together, the first three lessons are a call for humility. We don’t know what’s going on, much less how to make sense of it. Any “healing” or “clarity” we might perceive is more likely than not an error. It behooves us to avoid rushing to conclusions and judgments.

This humility becomes the foundation of forgiveness, which is so central to the function of A Course in Miracles. More to the point, this humility is what enables us to accept a teacher or helper who is not our own self, as we understand that self.

That is, when we don’t know, and we know that we don’t know, and we accept our not knowing, then we are less likely to resist the one who comes along and says “I can help. Here’s what we’ll do.”

This helper, in ACIM terms, is the Holy Spirit – that part of our mind that recalls its unfractured, uncontaminated oneness with God, while simultaneously holding in awareness the confused and painful division that made an apparent separate self at war with God and Love.

But note that at this early juncture of the ACIM workbook, we aren’t actually being called to study or partake of the metaphysics or mythos of the course. We aren’t being asked to indulge in complex theological ruminations.

Rather, we are simply being asked to give attention to our living – right here, right now – and to hopefully notice the way it is not as coherent as we tend to believe. It is an invitation to go slowly and to keep our practice simple.

The temptation is to go quickly through these early lessons. I think doing so can actually slow our learning. These early lessons are an essential foundation in terms of creating the willingness and openness to the radical healing offered by A Course in Miracles.

It is relatively easy to say that we don’t understand anything that we see. It is relatively easy to concede briefly that our perception of the world may be askew.

But to truly integrate that confusion – to really accept it – is difficult, if not terrifying. And yet, unless we are truly persuaded that we are both deeply lost and confused and helpless in undoing that condition, then we aren’t going to fully avail ourselves of the help the course offers us.

In a sense, then, lesson 3 of A Course in Miracles is an admission of powerlessness. Concurrent with that admission is a declaration of need – if we are going to renounce the ego and remember that we are one with God, then we are going to have to have some nontrivial degree of help.

And help comes when we acknowledge our need for it.

Thus, lesson three is really our first adventure in forgiveness. From this base we will start to venture out into relationships with people and places, idols both spiritual and otherwise, and a host of related dualistic thought patterns.

Each of these reflects the ego’s death-grip on our thinking, which nearly always arises as certainty that we are right. Our study and practice of A Course in Miracles enables us to release these unhelpful certainties and the internal (and external too) chaos that arises from the confusion they beget.

It is not unlike clouds parting or a mist being gently burned away by the sun appearing over distant hills. The premise of healing is the insight that that we are not healers but that a healer attends us, when we are ready to be healed. Our readiness brings forth both healer and healing.

It begins with the humility that naturally arises when we see clearly and accept fully that we do not know. We can be grateful for this lesson and the relief it offers. We can – literally now – resign as our teacher and give ourselves wholly to the One who restores us to our Home in Love.

← Lesson 2
Lesson 4 →

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