Today marks week two of my journey through the concept and teachings of A Course in Miracles. The exercises are more difficult each day, for they build on one another and lead us to a substantive shift in perception and thinking.
Lesson 4 teaches us that “These thoughts do not mean anything.” Not that they’re wrong or bad—they simply don’t mean anything. In fact, as Marianne Williamson noted in her commentary to the lesson, our thoughts are of the ego, and they prevent us from seeing or otherwise perceiving Truth.
The Workbook actually states that this exercise is a difficult one, and it is. It directly challenges the ego, whereas previous exercises have been more indirect. “I think, therefore I am”—I cling to that belief. My thoughts and I are one. Or so I think. And so I resist the idea that my thoughts have no meaning.
Theoretically, I almost get it—like I almost “get” infinity or the vast scale of the universe. Surely some of my “good” thoughts have meaning. But they don’t. There’s truth in the silence behind the thoughts, hidden by the thoughts. There’s God in the silence. I can’t hear God while my ego is chattering away.
For the next exercise, we learn that “I am never upset for the reason I think.” Another difficult lesson, although I can see how it might arise from the previous lesson. Thoughts and feelings are linked. In particular, I tend to think about what I have feelings about. I think we all do. When we’re upset, we think about what we perceive to be the cause of our upset; when we’re in love, we tend to think about the object of our infatuation; and so on. These thoughts have no meaning. They are “busy work” to keep us from the real work of performing miracles.
I found myself thinking as I listened to the lesson that I wish I’d taken up this work years ago. I remember seeing A Course in Miracles at Barnes & Noble years ago—must have been in the mid-1980s. Apparently I wasn’t ready then. I hope I’m ready now.
In the next lesson, I learn that “I am upset because I see something that is not there.” This is a powerful lesson, for it begins to get at what is and is not real. I have gotten upset over situations where I know there is no ill-will intended. As Marianne Williamson points out, all that is real is love. Love is all that exists. Everything else is unreal, and what is unreal does not exist.
I’m looking forward to practicing this lesson. It is a lesson in radical responsibility. I am actually responsible for what I see, for the reality I project onto the world.
“I see only the past.” This lesson is what all the previous exercises have been leading up to. In particular, it is why “I’m not upset for the reason I think.” We are not the observers of reality but rather the co-creators. Or perhaps the would-be or pseudo co-creators.
By seeing only the past in people, we don’t allow for change, growth. Nor do we allow for the fact that we’ve already made assumptions about them based on our past experiences. So we see others not as they are but as we have projected ourselves onto them—and then we don’t allow them to change!
This thought leads naturally to the next lesson: “My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.” So when I’m thinking—or at least I think I am thinking—about my puppies or this computer or my hands, my mind is actually preoccupied with past thoughts.
So I am never thinking about what I think I am thinking about—including now as I write these words. And the past is not here. It is by definition in the past (which doesn’t exist), not here in the present. So it doesn’t actually exist.
This is all quite mind-boggling. Yet it makes sense. According to the Theory of Mind, we are a database of associations. Of our past. We “see” our present only through the lens of the past experiences that formed these associations. Those associations are not real. I have a positive association with dogs; someone else has a negative association with dogs. That doesn’t mean anything about dogs.
So all these associations, our past, are incomplete and therefore false. Our past is false—so it doesn’t exist since only truth can exist.
I’m writing myself silly here. But I’m trying to understand. It all leads to the conclusion that all that we “know” is false because it’s all based on the past, which is itself false. Indeed, it’s something we make up. We give meaning to it by projecting it onto our world. And it separates us.
That I have different associations than you makes us different from one another. But those differences don’t really exist because that past doesn’t really exist. Its heavy stuff. So heavy that I’m going to stop here even though I’ve gone through a few more lessons. It’s enough for one day!
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