Undoing Symbols in A Course in Miracles

We experience the world through symbols of both love and hate. For example, I think of the chickadee as a particular symbol of love, but really it is just a bird. The world offers itself to us fresh and new, over and over, but we interpret it, and then live by our interpretations. This is a stressful and destabilizing way to live! Much of our anxiety and negativity would dissolve if we simply met life as it is, without the intervention of symbols.

Symbols, in this instance, are another word for thought. The chickadee is in no way dependent on my thoughts about it. In fact, its entire existence is independent of what I think about it. But over the years I have read and studied and written in such a way that I really don’t see chickadees anymore. I see my thoughts about chickadees. I see my ideas. I see symbols.

I am not putting thought down. It is a natural effect of having brains, and it can be quite useful. I am grateful that thought allows me to read and contemplate Emily Dickinson, and bake bread, and learn new songs on my guitar. I am also grateful for things like toilet paper, sitcoms, prosthetic legs and axes.

The problem isn’t thought but rather that we take thought so seriously: that we think it is reality itself, rather than a set of filters and prisms through which reality reaches us. Once we are clear that we are dealing with filters and prisms – once we see both the symbol and the innate desire to keep using and making symbols – then generally we’re okay, because the power of choice is restored to us. That is, we can remind ourselves that the chickadee is just a chickadee, but also enjoy them as symbols of divine life and love.

With characteristic directness, A Course in Miracles suggests that clarity in this regard is essential to knowing ourselves in truth.

The symbols of hate against the symbols of love play out a conflict that does not exist. For symbols stand for something else, and the symbol of love is without meaning if love is everything. You will go through this last undoing quite unharmed, and will at last emerge as yourself. This is the last step in the readiness for God (T-16.IV.2:1-4).

How do we undo our reliance on these symbols?

It is enough to see them: to see that we are making use of them. Thus, what is called for is not a war against thought, or against particular aspects of thought, but rather a gentle and sustained awareness of how thought parses awareness into bits and pieces, arranging and rearranging them in a futile attempt to remake perfection.

It is important to simply see what happens when we stop trying to control life. It is tempting to decide in advance that we’ll be at peace or ecstatically happy or get this or that job. But fantasies of an idealized future are simply another set of symbols.

In essence, I am saying that we need to make contact with our preferred symbols and give attention to them. That’s all. We need to sit with them, and allow them to sift through us, and simply see what happens. This is hard to do! It can actually be quite terrifying, especially when we begin to look at our special love relationships and let them go. But we have to do it. Perhaps it is helpful to remember the confidence ACIM has that we will make it through.

Be not unwilling now; you are too near, and you will cross the bridge in perfect safety, translated quietly from war to peace (T-16.IV.2:5).

Nisargadatta, when pressed to explain his method, he said simply that he trusted his guru. If we have taken A Course in Miracles as our path, then we are not confused by placing our faith in it in a way similar to Nisargadatta. Give attention to that which you love and that which you hate: make contact with thought and with symbols: to look in this way is to give attention to our symbols in a gentle and sustained way: looking becomes a bridge: and we discover that that “which awaits you on the other side, will give you everything” (T-16.IV.2:6).


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