Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Seeing what is not there, and learning to see what is there.

It is hard to get around the fact that we are inveterate storytellers, narrating our lives. We constantly look out at the world and make up stories about what we perceive. Here's an example. Look at this picture and pay close attention to the thoughts going through your mind.

I am so grateful for a friend of mine, Lucy, who told me the elaborate story that went through her mind when she first saw the janitor, actually "Janitor," (1973) a hyper-realistic figure made of polyester and cast fiberglass by Duane Hanson.

Here is her story.

Last week I visited the Milwaukee Art Museum at the recommendation of a friend. There was one particular painting he suggested I see and on the way to the exhibit I passed a man who was evidently a janitor as he had keys hanging from his belt and wearing a workman's hat. What struck me about him was that he looked so very forlorn and depressed. He was leaning against the wall and in that one cursory glance, I just knew he needed help badly. Maybe he was even suicidal.

Ah well, I think and proceed to see the picture my friend had recommended, but my mind was crowded with thoughts about the janitor. I thought if I bumped into him again I would try to cheer him up. He was probably an alcoholic - it takes one to know one, and I can spot an alchy a mile away - no doubt he was at his bottom and I remember when someone reached out a helping hand to me - I'll be forever grateful for him taking me to an AA Meeting. On the other hand, maybe he lost a loved one, I know how I felt when my Dad died, or could be he just have gotten fired, I sure know how that feels - Naw, you wouldn't be that depressed over a maintenance job. Prostate problems? That could do it... Ah well, forget it, I said to myself...or maybe he had a mental breakdown and was bottoming out. Forget it!

After touring the next floor up, the man was gone from my mind. That is, until I looked over the balcony and saw him standing right where I left him 15 minutes ago. Oh God, if ever there was a call for savior genes kicked in, and I knew I had a mission - I was about to turn around to take the elevator and go down and speak with him. If ever there was a call for help...

As I was turning around I saw the floor guard and said to him, "That guy down there really looks like he could use some help, he's been leaning against that wall for a long time." The guard said with an obvious grin, "Read the sign". At the end of the wall was a sign, "Do not touch the artwork".

My red face would have made a good exhibit. It didn't ease the embarrassment when he told me, "You're not the first person who got fooled, we had to put up that sign."

Wow. Some story. You can probably relate to Lucy's story by recalling the thoughts that went through your mind when you looked at the picture. I know that you, too, began to tell a story because that is how the perceptual mind works. You can become aware of how it works only by slowing it way down. If you were to look at your perceptions in slow motion, you would see that it is always a case of put and take. You first put it out there by projection, from the Latin, projectum, meaning "to throw," and, secondly, you perceive it, from the Latin, percipere, meaning "to take." You are always perceiving outside what is first inside.

This is in accord with perception's fundamental law: You see (take) what you believe is there, and you believe it there because you want (put) it there.

This gives whole new meaning to the word "mistake." A mistake is simply a wrong take; you have mistaken illusion for truth.

Lucy's story and this explanation of how our minds work provide a context for this paragraph from Jesus' Course in Miracles, an unworldly masterpiece solely devoted to teaching you how to undo your perceptual thought system.

Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less. Therefore, to you it is important. It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition. As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause. And that is why order of difficulty in miracles is meaningless. Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy. Nothing perceived without it means anything. And where there is no meaning, there is chaos.T-21.Intro.

It's obvious that Lucy's perceptions were colored primarily by her experiences as a recovering alcoholic, the outside picture of an inward condition. Remembering the help she gratefully received, she was more than willing to extend help to this forlorn and depressed man, maybe he was bottoming out; maybe a loved one died; perhaps he was fired, could be prostate.
As a man thinketh...

We have to slow down the making up of stories because we are up against a process so challenging. Here is a list of 25 words that characterize the perceptual process of putting and taking:

automatic, habitual, regular, natural, casual, normal, familiar, comfortable, customary, ordinary, universal, persistent, consistent, unconscious, rapid, repetitious, addictive, chronic, patterned, programmed, inveterate, arbitrary, hypnotic, subjective

And one of my favorites is a play on "taken for granted," "taken for granite," thinking that what we take for real is solid as a rock.

You can see what we are up against. This is the human condition. You can't very well nudge another human and expect him to get you out of here because he is doing the same thing you are. It's normal, regular, universal. . . He'd probably nudge you back, saying, "Don't rock the boat."

But if you really want a way out, Jesus will more than nudge you, actually, if you pick up His Course in Miracles, He will forcefully tell you right at the beginning of His Workbook to say to yourself:

Lesson 1, Nothing I see means anything.

This is so because I am projecting first and seeing second.

Lesson 2, I have given everything I see all the meaning it has for me.

Lucy's personal history is projected onto the "Janitor."

Lesson 3, I do not understand anything I see.

I am seeing only through the lens of my narrow frame of reference, the body's eyes.

And there are 362 lessons to go as the days follow the nights for one year. That's why it is a required Course. We are required to undo the natural, regular way of seeing through the body's yes, so that we can learn to see through the eyes of Christ, learning to see with vision.

I will not use the body's eyes today.

Father, Christ's vision is Your gift to me,
and it has power to translate all that
the body's eyes behold into the sight
of a forgiven world. How glorious
and gracious is this world! Yet how much more
will I perceive in it than sight can give.
The world forgiven signifies Your Son
acknowledges his Father, lets his dreams
be brought to truth, and waits expectantly
the one remaining instant more of time
which ends forever, as Your memory
returns to him. And now his will is one
with Yours. His function now is but Your Own,
and every thought except Your Own is gone.

The quiet of today will bless our hearts,
and through them peace will come to everyone.
Christ is our eyes today. And through His sight
we offer healing to the world through Him,
the holy Son whom God created whole;
the holy Son whom God created One.

My projections are truly dreams, and these dreams can be replaced by truth through my forgiveness of that which is so automatic, habitual, and so forth. It just takes practice.

Nothing I see means anything.

It is just a matter of letting go, and this is the heart of Jesus' Course, forgiveness.

An unforgiving thought does many things.
In frantic action it pursues its goal,
twisting and overturning what it sees
as interfering with its chosen path.
Distortion is its purpose, and the means
by which it would accomplish it as well.
It sets about its furious attempts
to smash reality, without concern
for anything that would appear to pose
a contradiction to its point of view.

"Janitor" becomes a forlorn and depressed janitor.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, is still,
and quietly does nothing. It offends
no aspect of reality, nor seeks
to twist it to appearances it likes.
It merely looks, and waits, and judges not.
He who would not forgive must judge, for he
must justify his failure to forgive.
But he who would forgive himself must learn
to welcome truth exactly as it is.

Do nothing, then, and let forgiveness show
you what to do, through Him Who is your Guide,
your Savior and Protector, strong in hope,
and certain of your ultimate success.
He has forgiven you already, for
such is His function, given Him by God.
Now must you share His function, and forgive
whom He has saved, whose sinlessness He sees,
and whom He honors as the Son of God.
W-p11. What is forgiveness? 3-5

Jesus guides us from projecting through the body's eyes to seeing with the eyes of Christ, from being chained to being free. All we need to do is practice.

Today we practice letting go all thought
of values we have given to the world.
We leave it free of purposes we gave
its aspects and its phases and its dreams.
We hold it purposeless within our minds,
and loosen it from all we wish it were.
Thus do we lift the chains that bar the
door to freedom from the world, and go beyond
all little values and diminished goals.

Pause and be still a little while, and see
how far you rise above the world, when you
release your mind from chains and let it seek
the level where it finds itself at home.
It will be grateful to be free a while.
It knows where it belongs. But free its wings,
and it will fly in sureness and in joy
to join its holy purpose. Let it rest
in its Creator, there to be restored
to sanity, to freedom and to love.

When Lucy asked for help to forgive her perceptual thoughts, she immediately saw the janitor as "Janitor," and in that moment the janitor was her Savior. For that moment, she was saved from her story. In that recognition, she could let it all go and realize again, because she is well-trained, having immersed herself in the Course for many years, that she is as God created her, she is the holy child of God, and in this state of mind she can look out at the world with the eyes of Christ, looking through the mirror of her mind, seeing with vision, brightly.

For a similar take on listening to your narrative voice, please read an article I wrote some time ago, entitled "In the beginning was the word: Dispelleing Once upon a time," by clicking on the link below:

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Being Deep Stillness," a poem in blank verse.

While an evening in early fall slowly
descends, I sit here, quietly, falling
into a deep abyss of peace, stillness.
No words. No thoughts. Only the slow motion
descent into the peacefulness of God.

From time to time, I am roused from falling
through timelessness by sounds: the soft roaring
of freeway traffic; three notes from wind chimes;
a Cardinal’s steely tsit, announcing
his nightly visit to the birdfeeder.
Each time a naming thought bringing a sound
into existence. From the unity
of timelessness, a distinct world emerged.

You live by symbols. You have made up names
for everything you see. Each one becomes
a separate entity, identified
by its own name. By this you carve it out
of unity.
Lesson 184.1:1-4

I open my eyes and watch a crisp, brown
leaf break away from a branch, twirling to
the ground, now bejeweled with white splotches
of light from the fading sun at twilight.
It’s like watching a play, staged by my script.
Here’s Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

A madman's dreams are frightening, and sin
appears indeed to terrify. And yet
what sin perceives is but a childish game.
The Son of God may play he has become
a body, prey to evil and to guilt,
with but a little life that ends in death.
But all the while his Father shines on him,
and loves him with an everlasting Love
which his pretenses cannot change at all.
What is sin? 4

Closing my eyes, I continue my descent
into the peace of God; for a long time,
nothing registers, no thoughts and no sounds,
and then a Word, as In the beginning
was the Word
, creative action, “Read this:
Into His Presence would I enter now.” Title, Lesson 157

This is a day of silence and of trust.
It is a special time of promise in
your calendar of days. It is a time
Heaven has set apart to shine upon,
and cast a timeless light upon this day,
when echoes of eternity are heard.
This day is holy, for it ushers in
a new experience; a different kind
of feeling and awareness. You have spent
long days and nights in celebrating death.
Today you learn to feel the joy of life.
Lesson 157.1

As I read this passage, I experience
the meaning of metaphor—to carry
beyond. The direct experience of peace
is carried in the words, the joy of life,
a touch of heaven, eternity, truth.

Today it will be given you to feel
the touch of Heaven.

. . . and walk into eternity a while. 3:2

. . .and having joined your will with His this day,
what you are asking must be given you.
Nothing is needed but today's idea
to light your mind, and let it rest in still
anticipation and in quiet joy,
wherein you quickly leave the world behind.

For your experience today
will so transform your mind that it becomes

the touchstone for the holy Thoughts of God. 5:3

. . .the world is quietly forgot,
and Heaven is remembered for a while.

Into Christ's Presence will we enter now,
serenely unaware of everything
except His shining face and perfect Love.
The vision of His face will stay with you,
but there will be an instant which transcends
all vision, even this, the holiest.
This you will never teach, for you attained
it not through learning. Yet the vision speaks
of your rememberance of what you knew
that instant, and will surely know again.

And now will I stride into the world, my
world, a play scripted by my vision, in
deep stillness, gratitude and certainty.