Saturday, July 19, 2008

We Are Always Dealing Only With Thought

The other day, early in the morning, I was sitting on the couch, tying my shoe laces, about to walk out the door, and I looked up and saw movement though the window. I thought, “That’s my damn neighbor walking his dog whose barking often wakes me up during the night.” I finished tying my laces and looked up again, and there was no one there, only my reflection in the window. No neighbor, no dog. Only me catching my movements in the window. It happened real fast. So did the thought.

So, there we are. It’s all in that story. The thought, for example, "My damn neighbor," always comes first. There is only thought. I am always only looking into a mirror, reflecting back to me my thoughts.

This is actually a good thing because it demonstrates that I am totally responsible for what I see in the mirror. My thoughts are the cause; the images are the effect. I am not a victim of these images. I can change them by changing my mind.

It gets even simpler. There are only two kinds of thoughts. Thoughts are either true or false, real or unreal, loving or fearful. Jesus expresses it this way in His Course in Miracles.

Thoughts can represent the lower or bodily level of experience, or the higher or spiritual level of experience. One makes the physical, and the other creates the spiritual.

And He expresses it this way in Lesson 199, I am not a body. I am free.

Freedom must be impossible as long
as you perceive a body as yourself.
The body is a limit. Who would seek
for freedom in a body looks for it
where it can not be found.


The mind that serves the Holy Spirit is
unlimited forever, in all ways,
beyond the laws of time and space, unbound
by any preconceptions, and with strength
and power to do whatever it is asked

Seeing my "damn neighbor" is clearly a thought from a level of experience that has no source in reality, bound by my preconceptions. For a split-second, I actually had a choice between the lower or higher levels, but the thought came so rapidly, unconsciously, naturally, automatically, habitually that I did not catch it, and it carried its own emotional baggage. It is always moment to moment. In the state of mind of the peace of God, I would have looked through the image and caught the reflection of my true Self, experiencing the spiritual level of my mind. This is because I am as God created me.

I am the holy Son of God Himself. (Title, Lesson 189)

And the key thing here is to observe that this is a thought; we are always dealing only with thought, and this realization that I am God's Son is a thought from the higher level of experience.

One holy thought like this and you are free;
You are the holy son of God Himself.


Your Self and God’s Self are the same—Himself, your true Identity.

However, if you were to think this thought, “I will deny this Identity,” a bodily level of experience, then you will look into a mirror and see images and form associations and make judgments based on preconceptions.

Deny your own Identity, and you will not escape the madness which induced this weird, unnatural and ghostly thought that mocks creation and laughs at God. (W-p1.3:1)

Yet, you are simply playing a game with thought.

Yet what is it except a game you play
in which identity can be denied?
You are as God crated you. All else
but this one thing is folly to believe.
In this one thought is everyone set free.
In this one truth are all illusions gone.


It is folly to damn my neighbor. This is all going on only in one place, my mind. There is only my mind. There is only your mind. There is not a world “out there,” and my mind “in here.” There is only my mind, either projecting thoughts from a lower level, or reflecting thoughts from a higher level.

And I always have choice, because my mind is the mechanism of decision.

Your mind is the means by which you determine your own condition, because mind is the mechanism of decision. It is the power by which you separate or join, and experience pain or joy accordingly. (T-8.IV.5:7,8)

As God’s most holy Son, all power is given you in Heaven and on earth. (W-p1.20.3:7) The obvious question is with this power why does the mind habitually choose for hell over Heaven?

What just came to mind is Hamlet because he, too, poses a question to begin his famous soliloquy.

To be, or not to be—that is the question.

He assumes that the human condition is hell, and his only choice is to endure it, or commit suicide. He is caught in the bodily level of experience, not realizing that he does, indeed, have choice. He sees himself as a victim of the world, not realizing he is the cause. The reason is that his thoughts come to him so rapidly, unconsciously, naturally, automatically, habitually that they obscure his real thoughts from a higher level of experience, those from his True Self.

Seeing the world in this manner, he finds himself a victim.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?

In these lines he catalogues the human condition of looking into a mirror, darkly.

To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to.
'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.

Since these are thoughts that have no source in reality, it is wrong to conclude that death is the way out; the fact is that we are the holy Sons of God who cannot die, and the real way out while we are on earth is to become aware of our real thoughts by asking the Holy Spirit for help to relinquish thoughts of the bodily level that seem so real.

What is helpful in reading Hamlet’s soliloquy is that it eloquently describes the world from the human, egoic perspective. These are his thoughts. After all, that is the meaning of a soliloquy, to be an actor alone on stage speaking his thoughts directly to the audience. (If you wish to read the soliloquy in its entirety, please scroll to the end of this post.)

It is also helpful because we can adapt Hamlet’s phrase to be or not to be to make clear the truth of our being. Now I can say to be means to experience becoming aware of, my real thoughts, experiencing that I am God’s holy Son, I am a Thought of God, I am being his presence on earth.

Into His Presence would I enter now. (Title, Lesson, 157)

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.


This is the experience of to be, being in the world, but not of the world.

Not to be, however, means to deny my Identity as the holy Son of God and see in the world the projections of my unreal thoughts. We can begin to see through our images when we become aware of what we automatically do in our lower level minds, as we decide for insanity instead of truth.

Jesus, of course, having been a man himself, knows of our habitual addiction to bodily thoughts and designed His early lessons to help us see, first of all, exactly what we do with our thoughts from moment to moment, and secondly, how to forgive them.

Here is as Review of Lesson 11 in Lesson 53, My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world.

Since the thoughts of which I am aware do not mean anything, the world that pictures them can have no meaning. What is producing this world is insane, and so is what it produces.

Alone on stage, Hamlet reveals his thoughts, the ones of which he is aware, but this awareness does not make them real. In fact, they are obscuring his real thoughts. By remaining unaware, he is choosing not to be.

Reality is not insane, and I have real thoughts as well as insane ones. I can therefore see a real world, if I look to my real thoughts as my guide for seeing.

Lesson 12. I am upset because I see a meaningless world. Insane thoughts are upsetting. They produce a world in which there is no order anywhere. Only chaos rules a world that represents chaotic thinking, and chaos has no laws. I cannot live in peace in such a world.

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

…a sea of troubles.

We can go beyond Hamlet and see that we have a real choice, not one between living and dying, but between what Thoughts are valuable and what thoughts are valueless.

I am grateful that this world is not real, and that I need not see it at all unless I choose to value it. And I do not choose to value what is totally insane and has no meaning.

Lesson 13. A meaningless world engenders fear. The totally insane engenders fear because it is completely undependable, and offers no grounds for trust. Nothing in madness is dependable. It holds out no safety and no hope.

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.

But such a world is not real. I have given it the illusion of reality, and have suffered from my belief in it. Now I choose to withdraw this belief, and place my trust in reality. In choosing this, I will escape all the effects of the world of fear, because I am acknowledging that it does not exist.

Lesson 14. God did not create a meaningless world. How can a meaningless world exist if God did not create it? He is the Source of all meaning, and everything that is real is in His Mind. It is in my mind too, because He created it with me.

Why should I continue to suffer (the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune) from the effects of my own insane thoughts, when the perfection of creation is my home? Let me remember the power of my decision, and recognize where I really abide.

Lesson 15. My thoughts are images that I have made.

Whatever I see reflects my thoughts. It is my thoughts that tell me where I am and what I am. The fact that I see a world in which there is suffering and loss and death shows me that I am seeing only the representation of my insane thoughts, and am not allowing my real thoughts to cast their beneficent light on what I see.

Although Hamlet dies fearing the sleep of death and what dreams may come, Horatio, his friend glimpses the truth. Holding Hamlet in his arms as he utters his last words, The rest is silence, Horatio says,

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Yet God's way is sure. The images I have made cannot prevail against Him because it is not my will that they do so. My will is His, and I will place no other gods before Him.
It is really quite simple, to be or not to be. A friend said to me a long time ago, “All I know is that when I am feeling peaceful (to be), I say ‘Thank you,’ and when I am in conflict (not to be), I ask for ‘Help.’ ”

Moment to moment, it is always “Thank you” or “Help,” and it is always your decision to lose yourself in thought or find your Self in Thought.

And by the way, when you do find yourself lost, you can always say “Stop it,” reminding me of this 6-minute routine by Bob Newhart that is very practical and very funny.

Please click here to see this routine.

HAMLET: To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Screen of smoke" or "smoke screen?" The Absolute Precision of Jesus' Language in His Course in Miracles.

It is simply miraculous that Jesus brought from out of time His Course in Miracles through the scribe, Helen Schucman. Though reluctant, she persevered over a seven-year period to write down in shorthand the words of A Course in Miracles. On a daily basis her colleague, Bill Thetford, took her transcription and typed it up into words and sentences and paragraphs. The prose and poetry of this masterpiece is impeccable, demonstrating that it could have come only from out of time.

Nevertheless, students occasionally joke about certain words and phrases because of their connotations in English. For example, Lesson 140, Only salvation can be said to cure, is usually called the “ham lesson” because cured ham is considered a delicacy. In the Reviews of Lessons 171-180, this phrase begins and ends the repetition of the daily Lessons, God is but Love, and therefore so am I, sometimes brings laughter because of the wordplay of “but” and “butt.”

Over the years, students have rolled their eyes when they came across the phrase, a screen of smoke, in Lesson 133, I will not value what is valueless.

All things are valuable or valueless,
worthy or not of being sought at all,
entirely desirable or
not worth the slightest effort to obtain.
Choosing is easy just because of this.
Complexity is nothing but a screen
of smoke, which hides the very simple fact
that no decision can be difficult.
What is the gain to you in learning this?
It is far more than merely letting you
make choices easily and without pain.

Students, of course, think it should be “smoke screen” and smirk and say things like, “Well, after all, Jesus’ first language wasn’t English, but Aramaic.”

Finally, after all these years, I came across the phrase “screen of smoke” in another context, and I flashed on this phrase from the Course and saw the absolute precision of Jesus’ language. This epiphany occurred while reading an article in The New Yorker about ancient cave paintings in France and in Spain. Here are three paragraphs that provide a context for the insight.

During the Old Stone Age, between thirty-seven thousand and eleven thousand years ago, some of the most remarkable art ever conceived was etched or painted on the walls of caves in southern France and northern Spain. What those first artists invented was a language of signs for which there will never be a Rosetta stone; perspective, a technique that was not rediscovered until the Athenian Golden Age; and a bestiary of such vitality and finesse that, by the flicker of torchlight, the animals seem to surge from the walls. In the course of some twenty-five thousand years, the same animals—primarily bison, stags, aurochs, ibex, horses, and mammoths—recur in similar poses, illustrating an immortal story.

In the century since the modern study of caves began, specialists have tried to understand the culture that produced them. Of course, over the years, a number of theories have been developed. One group of specialists developed the theory that cave painting largely represents the experiences of shamans or initiates on a vision quest to the underworld. The caves themselves served as a gateway. Where the artists or their entourage left handprints, they were palping a living rock or summoning a life force beyond it.

Jean-Michel Geneste, a leonine man of fifty-nine with a silver mane, told me about an experiment that he had conducted at Lascaux in 1994. He decided to invite four elders of an Aboriginal tribe, the Nganinyins—hunter-gatherers from northwestern Australia—to visit the cave, and put them up in his house in the Dordogne.
(Judith Thurman, First Impressions: What does the world’s oldest art say about us?, The New Yorker, June 23, 2008, p. 59)

And now here is the paragraph that brought into perspective the unerring accuracy of Jesus’ language.

Before visiting the caves, they first had to purify themselves, so they built a fire, and pulled some of their underarm hair out and burned it. Their own rituals involve traversing a screen of smoke—passing into another zone. When they entered the cave, they took a while to get their bearings. Yes, they said, it was an initiation site. The geometric signs, in red and black, reminded them of their own clan insignia, the animals and engravings of figures from their creative myths. (Thurman, p. 60)

There it is. Their rituals required traversing a screen of smoke—passing into another zone. In His Lesson, Jesus is teaching us how to pass from one world into another, passing from the false world to the true world.

There are no satisfactions in the world.

He is expressing how easy it is to make the transition from valuing the valueless to valuing what is of value, passing in effect, from one zone to another, shifting from the false, egoic state to our true state of mind where only the truth is valued. To do that, we simply part the veil, move to another state; it is as simple as passing through a screen of smoke.

“Smoke screen” has a different connotation. It suggests “an action taken to mislead somebody or obscure something.”

Jesus shows us, however, that the ego’s complexity can be walked through as simply as we can walk through a thin screen of smoke, leaving behind the ego’s valueless state and entering into our true state of mind, the only state of any value, the only state there is.