Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Course in Miracles, Lesson 1

[For copyright reasons, I'll begin these posts with the general gist of the lesson, and post a link to the full version]

Lesson One: "Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything."


Leave it to ACIM to start with a doozy. I attempted this lesson a few months ago, and it went something like this:

I perched on my bed, legs crossed, shoulders relaxed. Catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I decided that I looked very zen and nodded approvingly. I looked down at my feet.

"These feet do not mean anything," I said. (And a good thing, too, as they're possibly my least attractive feature.)

I continued.

"This comforter does not mean anything." (Mm, hm.)

"That window does not mean anything." (Yep, okay.)

"That cat does not mean anything." (But he does, I countered. I love that Squishy cat; he means everything to me. This doesn't make any sense.)

At this point, I was totally distracted and fidgety. Lesson failure.

But, you know, A Course in Miracles has a peculiar way of availing itself to me when I least expect it. During my trip down the Cape, as I meandered down the dune path at Hardings Beach, it occurred to me to try the lesson again.

Maybe it was the sunlight streaming down, warming my sunscreen-slathered limbs. Or maybe it was the salty wind, racing over the waves, dipping, diving, sweeping past me as I walked along the sand. Or the persistent lap, lap, lap of the water breaking on the shore. Whatever the reason, I felt at that moment very connected to my surroundings. The boundaries of my body seemed fluid, and if I didn't think too hard about it, I wasn't entirely sure where my feet ended and where the crumbly sand began.

"That seaweed does not mean anything."

There was a pause and then, a thought: "I don't believe it."

"That wave does not mean anything."


And then the thought: "That's insane, it's sparkling and beautiful. How can that not be real?"

It was the beauty part that really threw me for a loop. I was taught that God made this place, and that when we see the beauty, the grandeur, the supreme loveliness of Nature, we can thank God for it. And quite honestly, I never feel closer to God than when a hike on a wooded trail or a sandy beach forces me to look outwardly, to put aside for a moment the inner work that at times is so all-consuming. So I am hesitant to jump on this wagon, even though I want to. I want to free myself from attachment to whatever is unreal, that is, whatever is not love. I want to peel away the layers of emotional baggage and ego and what-have-you, and reveal the pulsating, glowing being of love that's inside me. But I don't understand this lesson, and I guess that I'm not quite ready to give up certain attachments. For now, the ocean is still very real to me.

The Course teaches that this world is a dream. It's often a painful dream, and it is our goal to transform it into a happy dream. When we do, it will fall away and then, well, something awesome happens. I think maybe Enlightenment? An awakening? Heaven? I'm not that far in my reading yet. Stay tuned.

As for this first lesson, I count it a success, and it's only because of the pause. It was a brief pause, for sure. But there was a tiny moment before the thought of disbelief came rushing in, a moment between thoughts that intrigues me. Since my mind wasn't involved at all, I struggle to define what occurred during that pause. I don't understand it, but I think it's the key to a door somewhere.


  1. Perhaps to say that the waves, the cat, the sky, doesn't mean anything is not to say that these things aren't beautiful, or wonderful opportunities to share love (as is the case with Squish in particular), but that they don't mean things as separate things?

    Of course, I am trying to put everything into words, which means that I am separating things. I think maybe the whole point of meditation is to let go of the urge to separate things and feel how they are connected (so I should probably let go of the urge to analyze them with words...but I'm a grad student).

    Thanks for the vicarious lesson!

  2. K, I feel your pain (the compelling need to analyze words). I like the idea that we should work toward seeing fluidity, not separation. That makes a lot of sense to me. I think the Course would say that we've created this world (an illusion) as a learning space. It only has meaning because we attribute meaning to it, and we attribute meaning to it because we need someplace to work on healing our ultimate problem: being separated, at least on some level, from God.

    Whenever I think about this, I start to wonder if there is even a point in feeling an attachment to anything if it's just an illusion. For example, I've been struggling recently with allowing myself to convey whatever emotion I'm feeling. When my mother said something that bothered me, I told her so. And it was really awkward because as I was saying "hey, I'm hurt by what you just said," I was completely expecting the dialogue to escalate to a screaming match. I basically have no idea how a healthy discussion of angry feelings is supposed to go down because I always internalize that stuff. I realize that the ultimate goal is to understand everything that anyone ever says as either an expression of love or a call for love. (Finally, a binary that I can get behind!) So then I think, well shouldn't I just skip the part about expressing my anger since ultimately, I won't need to feel/express anything but love? Shouldn't I focus on the end goal? But then I think I'm just missing the point, that maybe the journey is a crucial part.

    And K, I really like this phrase: "wonderful opportunities to share love." Perhaps that's the meaning that everything holds. And seeing beauty in things and people and ideas -- that's embracing the opportunity to feel and convey love.

  3. I'm finding all of this fascinating. But what really struck me was in your comment to K, the part about the convo with your Mom. I've been trying to do the exact same thing with mine. And I have come to the same conclusion, which you express so very well: "I realize that the ultimate goal is to understand everything that anyone ever says as either an expression of love or a call for love. (Finally, a binary that I can get behind!) So then I think, well shouldn't I just skip the part about expressing my anger since ultimately, I won't need to feel/express anything but love? Shouldn't I focus on the end goal? But then I think I'm just missing the point, that maybe the journey is a crucial part."

    I'm still processing. So glad I found you!

  4. Ditto on the still processing part, Karen! It's funny, I read a bit of ACIM, and it makes complete sense to me, and then I try to explain it to someone else and...I don't know, I can't find the right words. I've been thinking about writing a post on expressing feelings, etc. (especially the negative ones), and now I'm planning on it. It will be good to hear from others too who make a habit of speaking how they're truly feeling but in a loving way (something I so admire).

  5. I wish I could make a habit of speaking how I truly feel in a loving way rather than wrestling with those feelings, usually in the middle of the night--tossing and turning and not sleeping. Last night was not good. Now I am drained and know I'll be cranky as soon as I find a "target". I have a great fear of hurting and/or alienating people. With some people, I just let the feelings simmer. With others, those feelings explode. With some, they never know. So, I would welcome a post on expressing feelings.

  6. I feel like I could have written those exact words. I don't have the answers to any of this, but I find some small comfort in writing it out; and even more comfort when I can engage with others working toward the same goal.

  7. "I want to free myself from attachment to whatever is unreal, that is, whatever is not love." Love this, Fancy.
    And on to the comments about expressing feelings to those we love and who love us.
    In my twenties, I fully grasped that my mom wanted to love me in the best possible way and that, unbeknowst to her, she wasn't because what she thought was helpful, loving, and useful wasn't and, yet, I was denying her the opportunity to love me in the way that she wanted-- purely and helpfully- and I needed because I wasn't giving her feedback on how I needed to be loved. I wanted her to just know without me saying anything, I was her child after all. But that's not always realistic and so I decided I would give her feedback. Soon enough, unhelpful feedback escaped her lips and I shared with her what wasn't helpful about it, what I needed, and what I wanted her to know. It took 3-4 more reminders but more than 10 years later, my mother is able to love me in a way that sustains and nurtures us both.

  8. Why do you necessarily equate absence of meaning with unreality? Or meaning with reality?

  9. The Course teaches, in sum, that "Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists." And I believe that that which exists necessarily has meaning, some kind of purpose, even if it isn't easily divined.

  10. You believe that every thing that exists has an inherent meaning rather than a meaning or collection of meanings that we each assign to it?

  11. Well, I believe both parts of that, actually. I draw a distinction between ourselves as thinking beings and our true selves, i.e. our essence/soul. I think we are all connected at this level, and I think that there is an inherent essence and meaning to other things in this world, as well, which we are also connected to. And I think that that which connects us is love.

    However, most of us still identify completely with our thoughts -- e.g. I believe that the person who is coming up with these things to say to you is who I actually am. The thoughts I'm having are are tied to who I am only insomuch as I need them for whatever learning experience I'm here to undertake. But that's it -- they are not real because they don't necessarily come from a place of love; in fact most of the time they have nothing to do with love, but are just incessant rambling. And I believe that we -- when we identify ourselves with our thoughts -- absolutely do assign meanings to things which aren't necessarily their inherent or true meaning.

    Thanks for pushing for this clarification, Ian.

  12. At what point does one's true identity or essence reveal itself, and how can we discover that essence if even one's experience with one's own identity is mediated through the false action of thought?

  13. This is such a fantastic question. My response is getting to be book-length, so I'm going to put it into a post.

  14. Thank you hijasamericanas!

    I have a friend who had a very contentious relationship with her mother for a very long time. They were able to make peace in the last years of her mother's life and my friend said that it took doing two things: accepting herself right where she is, and accepting her mother right where she was. I am still getting there on both fronts.

    I started to realize that I was becoming all fakey-fake because I was trying so hard to be "loving" at all costs. It backfired.

  15. Karen- That is exactly it. I will add that sometime as family members, we assume that we KNOW one another because we have known one another for so long and have lived so closely. But we often don't REALLY know one another (because we find ways to cope around each other that perhaps project false selves-- perhaps the fakey-fake you describe above). When I told my mother the truth of how it was best to communicate with me, what was off limits and what wasn't, she was able to know me in a way that she never had and respond to it. I, too, try to know her in that way and give her grace when it's against my instincts (the long story she wants to tell me for the third time, etc. when I want to say 'You've told me this.' I fight the urge to say it and instead remind myself that she must be telling me again because she hasn't found resolution or hasn't felt heard about it).

  16. Cool reading an experience of the first Workbook lesson--I'm a student of the Course as well. In the early stages of learning to undo the ego I was totally confused at times as to how the eff I'm supposed to approach this illusory world. It's tough learning that we are equally invested in both the good AND bad here. Although it may seem as if we are being asked to "give up" the good attachments, we are merely encouraged to give them a different meaning with the help of our guide (who the Course refers to as Jesus...I call him J-Dog).

    I highly recommend reading Gary Renard's book "The Disappearance of the Universe"--turned my world inside out and back again, but does a fantastic job of driving home what the Course is saying in simpler language (thank GAWD). I look forward to reading more of your process (on that note, feel free to check out mine at my site...I've been doing the Course for about 3 years now)!!

  17. Thanks so much for the comment and the recommendation. Heading over to your blog now!