≡ Menu

The Past Is A Bad Teacher

A Course in Miracles asks us to rethink the way we use time. Rather than hold the past as a “light” in which to see and understand the present, we are asked instead to let it go entirely.

In the course, the present moment is itself sufficient unto all needs, both real and imagined.

In a way, it feels natural and right to use the past as a yardstick against which the present should be judged, in order that the future might be an improvement. That is how bodies operate and always have.

1. I touched a hot stove yesterday and it hurt.

2. Today I will not touch a hot stove.

3. Therefore I will not spend the next six hours in pain.

That’s a silly example, perhaps. Here’s a better, more practical one. Probably some of our distant ancestors did something like this:

1. Yesterday, Ogg ate some red berries from that bush.

2. Today Ogg is dead.

3. Therefore I will not eat red berries from that bush.

That is how civilization emerges! We judge the present according to the past, make any and all requisite adjustments, and sail into the future in better health and with bigger smiles. Eventually we get canoes and toilet paper and twelve string guitars. I’m pretty grateful for those things.

But obviously it doesn’t always work. It seems pretty clear that our habits of consumption are ruining the planet, rendering it inhabitable for our selves and our descendants. That’s not very smart.

And when it comes the deep interior – the heart of us, the gut of us, the mind of us – it doesn’t work well at all. We are not good at forgiveness, justice, peace or love. We pay lip service to those ideals, but they are rarely actualized. Indeed, when Jesus came along and said “love one another” he was executed for his troubles.

When we judge each other by the past, we hurt ourselves and we hurt each other. There is no other way to say it. Our past is unhealed and so it teaches us wrongly. We see bodies that we want to sleep with, bodies we want to praise us, bodies that we want to use as muses, bodies that can earn us money, bodies that can protect us.

We all agree that’s a terrible way to live – we are all talking about spiritual alternatives – and yet we keep on doing it. We know first hand the anguish of living without peace, and we are witnesses its awful manifestations day after day, year after year, perhaps lifetime after lifetime.

And yet we keep on doing it.

Nothing you have ever learned can help you understand the present, or teach you how to undo the past. Your past is what you have taught yourself. Let it all go. Do not attempt to understand any event or anything or anyone in its “light,” for the darkness in which you try to see can only obscure (T-14.XI.3:5-8).

If we are going to be serious students of the course – which is to say, students who are intent on awakening *now* – then we have to see two things in that passage.

The first is the absolute absence of equivocation. We didn’t learn some good information and some bad. We aren’t letting some things go while keeping others.

We didn’t learn squat. And so we have to let it all go. Period.

The other thing to see is that we are being called – again, unequivocally  – to approach our lives in a state of what I sometimes think of as spiritual passivity. We aren’t being asked to figure things out, come up with plans for inner peace (ours or anyone else’s), or ways to solve this or that problem.

In every way possible, we lack both the means and information to end the conflict and chaos of our lives and the world. We are broken, we are breaking, and it’s only going to get worse. All we can do is surrender.

The apparent hopelessness – lovelessness even – of that assessment is, of course, mediated by the Holy Spirit.

God did not abandon you. And so you have another lesson sent from Him, already learned for every child of light by Him to Whom God gave it . . . Learn of His happiness, which is yours. But to accomplish this, all your dark lessons must be brought willingly to truth, and joyously laid down by hands open to receive, not closed to take (T-14.XI.4:2-3, 5-6).

When we are faced with conflict, it is helpful to be attentive to what is going on inside us: how do we want to react? What do we want to say? What are we telling ourselves is a fair and reasonable response? Checking in internally is helpful: if we encounter even the faintest hint of fear, then we can be assured we are still using the past against the present, still heeding the ego rather than the gentler, kinder alternative (T-14.XI.5:1-2).

This is not always comforting! When someone is yelling at us, say, and we’re sitting there trying to keep the Holy Spirit in mind, we’re apt to feel pretty scared or discombobulated. Sitting through hard times – sadness, fear, jealousy, anger – is hard. But it’s okay. It’s more than okay.

As we turn increasingly within, and are rewarded accordingly, we begin to realize that our reliance on the Holy Spirit is never misplaced. We become more confident that we aren’t being abandoned in the middle of a horrible storm. Help is always here.

If our action or reaction in any situation is familiar – if it makes sense – if we are busy telling ourselves that what we’re doing is reasonable and justified, perhaps we can take another moment to be sure that we aren’t simply repeating past lessons? Perhaps we can ask if there is another way?

Yet the essential thing is learning that you do not know (T-14.XI.1:1).

If we already knew how to love, and how to be at peace, and how to radiate joy, we would do so. We have forgotten. We have to be clear about that or we are not going to get anywhere with A Course in Miracles. On the bright side, when we *are* clear about it, the movement towards light becomes very quick indeed.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Pamela October 14, 2013, 8:34 pm

    Hi Sean,

    The past is indeed a bad teacher and a bad guide. However, it is interesting that we are told in the Urtext that it is ‘ok’ to remember the past under one condition but it is not an easy condition to achieve. Specifically, we are told, “It is alright to remember the past, provided you also remember that ANYTHING you suffer is because of YOUR OWN ERRORS.” Yikes! Kind of takes away a huge chunk of the ego appeal to our remembering of the past, namely the guilt we would like to lay at others’ feet.

    • Eric October 17, 2013, 6:16 am

      That’s interesting Pamela,

      As in the other editions it also speaks of this in a way.

      To forgive is merely to remember only the loving thoughts you gave in the past and those that were given you. All the rest must be forgotten. Forgiveness is a selective remembering, based not on your selection. ~ACIM

      BTW, I have the UrText. Could you tell me what section this is in? I would like to read it.


      • Pamela October 17, 2013, 9:20 am

        Hey Eric! It is in the section entitled “The Reinterpretation of Defenses.” And yes, selective remembering and selective perception both appear to be a huge part of forgiveness. In the years I have been studying the Course, I am on the verge of believing that this sorting or parceling out of what to see and remember and what to not see and remember is totally based on seeing EVERYTHING as meaningful or meaningless because there can be absolutely no judgment attached to anything that one sees as meaningless.


        • Eric October 17, 2013, 7:21 pm

          Is this the Pamela I know from iworkmiracles and acimradio by any chance?

          • Pamela October 17, 2013, 8:50 pm

            Hey, Eric, yes it’s me! I was wondering if it was you but wasn’t sure.

  • Janet Acquilano October 14, 2013, 9:47 pm

    Hi Sean. This lesson is so fitting right now. I am also working lesson 155 Let Him Lead the Way, and this piece and that lesson, go hand in hand. This lesson I have been working on for a couple of weeks, and will always keep it out to read the detailed explanation of it from the series on explaining the Course. Thanks again for another timely post : )

  • Cheryl October 15, 2013, 7:52 am

    “We didn’t learn squat. And so we have to let it all go. Period.”

    Amen and Amen and Amen.

    And while I know, in a spiritual context, this is as simple as removing ill-fitting clothes, as a body in this world, it feels like I’m trying to nothing less than shed my skin.

    So I equivocate – holding on to some of the “painful pleasures” (to use Course language) of my past so I can enjoy the sweet suffering of my “specialness.”

    Still, as this journey continues, I can sense the shifts, similar to the arc of a pendulum. Something sends me hurtling deeply into ego and after scratching in the darkness for awhile, I take what I have learned thus far, go within and find a little light. If I do this, with that little willingness you so often mention, I eventually arrive at slightly higher ground.

    And so it goes.

    This post is one that resonates deeply, Sean. It illuminates where I am really stuck. But I guess that shouldn’t come as any surprise. We are all One (still a tough concept for me) and if we’re wearing these body clothes, we’re all stuck — at least to some degree — in the past.

    Thanks so much for writing these posts, Sean, and for the humor you bring to them. Those smiles are priceless!

  • sally October 15, 2013, 10:46 pm

    W-288 “Let me forget my brother’s past today.” I thank Jesus/Holy Spirt for the amazing timing of this Lesson, and your Lesson, Sean for my life TODAY. Every time a memory of past conflicts in my life were brought to my mind today, I repeated these Workbook words, and did the Forgiveness and then Let Go. I have been asking to have more unrecognized un forgiveness in my unconscious mind, to be shown to me, and believe me, when we Ask from the Holy Spirit, we had better expect action. So we had better mean what we say when we Ask. 🙂
    I am do grateful Sean, for how your message and my Lesson blended into my mind, for very good results…….REAL experience, not only thoughts!
    Gratefully, sally

  • Eric October 16, 2013, 10:28 pm

    You consider it “natural” to use your past experience as the reference point from which to judge the present. Yet this is unnatural because it is delusional. When you have learned to look upon everyone with no reference at all to the past, either his or yours as you perceived it, you will be able to learn from what you see now. For the past can cast no shadow to darken the present unless you are afraid of light. And only if you are would you choose to bring this darkness with you, and by holding it in your minds, see it as a dark cloud that shrouds your brothers and conceals their reality from your sight. ~ACIM

    To perceive truly is to be aware of all reality through the awareness of your own. But for this no illusions can rise to meet your sight, for all reality leaves no room for any error. This means that you perceive a brother only as you see him now. His past has no reality in the present, and you cannot see it. Your past reactions to him are also not there, and if it is to them that you react now, you see but an image of him which you made and cherish instead of him. In your questioning of illusions, ask yourself if it is really sane to perceive what was now. If you remember the past as you look upon your brother, you will be unable to perceive the reality that is now. ~ACIM

    “The peace of God passeth your understanding only in the past. Yet here it is, and you can understand it now”.~ACIM

    “‘Now’ has no meaning to the ego.”~ACIM

    “For the present is forgiveness.”~ACIM

    “Belief in sin arouses fear, and like its cause, is looking forward, looking back, but overlooking what is here and now. Yet only here and now its cause must be, if its effects already have been judged as fearful. And in overlooking this, is it protected and kept separate from healing. For a miracle is now. It stands already here, in present grace, within the only interval of time that sin and fear have overlooked, but which is all there is to time.”~ACIM

    “His (The Holy Spirit’s) emphasis is therefore on the only aspect of time that can extend to the infinite, for now is the closest approximation of eternity that this world offers. It is in the reality of ‘now’, without past or future, that the beginning of the appreciation of eternity lies. For only ‘now’ is here, and only ‘now’ presents the opportunities for the holy encounters in which salvation can be found.” ~ACIM

    “If you accept your function in the world of time as healing, you will emphasize only the aspect of time in which healing can occur. For healing cannot be accomplished in the past and must be accomplished in the present to release the future. This interpretation ties the future to the present and extends the present rather than the past. But if you interpret your function as destruction, you will lose sight of the present and hold on to the past to ensure a destructive future. And time will be as you interpret it, for of itself it is nothing.”~ACIM

    “Would you impose your idle wishes on the present, and hope to find salvation now?”~ACIM

    “No change can be made in the present if its cause is past. Only the past is held in memory as you make use of it, and so it is a way to hold the past against the now.”~ACIM

    “This is a sacrifice of now, which could not be the cost the Holy Spirit asks for what He gave without a cost at all.”~ACIM

    ” Now is the time of salvation, for now is the release from time.”~ACIM

    “The Holy Spirit teaches thus: There is no hell. Hell is only what the ego has made of the present” and that “The Holy Spirit would undo all of this now. Fear is not of the present, but only of the past and future, which do not exist. There is no fear in the present when each instant stands clear and separated from the past, without its shadow reaching out into the future. 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.”~ACIM

    The Holy Spirit leads as steadily to Heaven as the ego drives to hell. For the Holy Spirit, Who knows only the present, uses it to undo the fear by which the ego would make the present useless.”~ACIM

    ” Take this very instant, now, and think of it as all there is of time.”~ACIM

    “Start now to practice your little part in separating out the holy instant. You will receive very specific instructions as you go along. To learn to separate out this single second and begin to experience it as timeless, is to begin to experience yourself as not separate”~ACIM

    “The Atonement teaches you how to escape forever from everything that you have taught yourself in the past, by showing you only what you are now”.~ACIM

    “The Holy Spirit can indeed make use of memory, for God Himself is there. Yet this is not a memory of past events, but only of a present state. You are so long accustomed to believe that memory holds only what is past, that it is hard for you to realise it is a skill that can remember now”.~ACIM

  • Anil October 18, 2013, 11:59 am

    Sean – rushing to do some other more important things today (: (said in jest ;)) but even in a rushed reading, I think this is a very good one in your growing collection of posts to make sense of that darned ACIM. ! (:
    Cheers from San Fran,

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.