Soon after the disciples had participated in the feeding of the multitude by setting the seven loaves before them and feeding the four thousand, they were in a boat with Jesus, and yet they were concerned, realizing that they had forgotten the bread, and reasoning among themselves. Jesus, fully aware of their doubts, said to them:
Why do you reason because you have no bread?
Do you not perceive nor understand?
Is your heart still hardened?
Having eyes, do you not see?
And having ears, do you not hear?
And do you not remember?
Jesus had taught them to see with vision, rather than with human eyes, yet He knew full well that now they were not being mindful of the things of God because they were still caught up in seeing with the eyes of man and hearing with human ears, experiencing what they wished to see and hear.
The purpose of all seeing is to show
you what you wish to see. All hearing but
brings to your mind the sounds it wants to hear.
For a moment they had forgotten that they were the holy Sons of God.
In the 2000 years since, unfortunately, not much has changed in the way we see and the way we believe. We are still reasoning and murmuring among ourselves, seeing with the eyes of man, rather than seeing with the eyes of Christ. That is why Jesus begins the Lessons of His Course in Miracles as He does.
Lesson 1: Nothing I see means anything.
Jesus knows that our mind-training must begin by learning to question what we consider an absolutely true proposition:
Seeing is believing.
What we see, and by extension, hear, touch, smell and taste, we believe to be real, and yet this seeing is illusory, false.
Yet eyes accustomed to illusions must
be shown that what they look upon is false.
These eyes are insane.
As you look with open eyes upon your world, it must occur to you that you have withdrawn into insanity. You see what is not there, and you hear what makes no sound. And the vision of Christ is not in your sight, for you look upon yourself alone. T-13.V.6:1-1,2
The purpose of the mind-training is to shift from believing in appearances to seeing with Christ vision, looking through appearances, experiencing knowledge. Jesus assures us that He went through the same experience, saying early in His Course:
I was a man who remembered spirit and its knowledge. I demonstrated both the powerlessness of the body and the power of the mind. By uniting my will with that of my Creator, I naturally remembered spirit and its real purpose. I cannot unite your will with God’s for you, but I can erase all misperceptions from your mind if you will bring it under my guidance. Only your misperceptions stand in your way. T-3.lV.7:3-8
As I undergo this mind-training moment-to-moment, I am being asked to be vigilant, keenly watchful of how I see things, exactly how I make up my illusory world, exactly how I misperceive.
I came across a poem the other day that helps me in my vigilance. Here is A Study of Two Pears by Wallace Stevens (1879-1955 ).
The pears are not viols,
Nudes or bottles.
They resemble nothing else.
They are yellow forms
Composed of curves
Bulging toward the base.
They are touched red.
They are not flat surfaces
Having curved outlines.
They are round
Tapering toward the top.
In the way they are modelled
There are bits of blue.
A hard dry leaf hangs From the stem.
The yellow glistens.
It glistens with various yellows,
Citrons, oranges and greens
Flowering over the skin.
The shadows of the pears
Are blobs on the green cloth.
The pears are not seen
As the observer wills.
In his poem, Stevens is taking a stand, declaring that we must be absolutely objective in how we look at things, appearances. He ironically labels his call for objectivity opusculum paedogogum, a Latin phrase meaning “ minor lesson.” He is deliberately being ironic because in his mind, being objective is a major lesson in seeing.
In stanza l, he makes his point by catching us in our automatic associating, immediately bringing to mind images of comparison, viols, nudes, or bottles.
In the next four stanzas, the pears are carefully discerned, objectively, simply in terms of form and color.
And in stanza Vl, he summarizes his “objective” seeing in this manner:
The pears are not seen
As the observer wills.
Now, what Stevens does not see, but what we do, is that this last line is truly ironic. In spite of his determination to be objective, it is impossible. All seeing is subjective.
That is why deciding to be totally objective is a subjective decision.
Here is the first meaning of subjective in the dictionary: "belonging to the thinking subject, rather than to the object of thought."
The root meaning of subjective, objective, object is the Latin ject, meaning “to throw.” In each case, we are throwing out into the world what is first in our minds. This happens so rapidly that we think that what is “out there” is separate from what is “in here,” when, in fact, it is a duplication, and we are instantly, constantly being duped by this action of mind.
Projection is 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. T-21.Intro.1:1-7
The root meaning of perceive comes from percipere, meaning "to take, to lay hold of, to receive." We rapidly catch what we forgot that we threw out in the first place. This rapidity makes our part in seeing unconscious, invisible. Making our illusory world is like playing catch with ourselves: we throw the ball in the air and then we catch it; we project an image and then we receive it.
I am grateful to Stevens because he is so determined to show us that we can have nothing to do with what we see, when, in fact, we can see that we have absolutely everything to do with what we see, always seeing our own projections.
The pears are not seen
As the observer wills.
In the end, with our eyes, and our human mind, we can see ONLY As the observer wills.
Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world. Perception is a result and not a cause. Everything looked upon with vision is healed and holy. Nothing perceived without it means anything. And where there is no meaning, there is chaos.
In sharp contrast to Stevens’ quest for objectivity is Walt Whitman’s deliberate attempt to express himself subjectively. The great American poet (1819-1892) begins his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, with this line:
I CELEBRATE myself,
And what I assume you shall assume.
This makes it clear that Whitman intentionally filters his poetry through his own experience and expresses these associations. A good example is his poem, When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed, his moving attempt to come to terms with his grief for the assassination in April of 1865 of his beloved Abraham Lincoln Here is the first stanza.
WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
It is clear that for the rest of his life, particularly in the spring, Whitman will associate the lilacs and the western star with mournful thoughts of Lincoln. His subjective expression drives a powerful poem.
This dichotomy between objective and subjective poetry is obviously false. You have no choice but to express yourself, in effect, to CELEBRATE yourself, and there is nothing objective about this.
Lesson 2: I have given everything I see all the meaning it has for me.
Now we come to the reason for taking you through this false, objective/subjective dichotomy. It provides a sharp contrast for understanding what it means to go beyond having eyes but not seeing, and having ears but not hearing.
Here is a poem by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963 ) that helps make this transition; it helps take us beyond.
A Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain water
beside the white
At first glance, this may appear to be an attempt at objectivity in the spirit of Stevens, just images, no commentary, no interpretation. The word depends, however, carries another connotation, as in, “My life depends on it.” Williams is saying that my life depends on seeing things exactly as they are. This echoes Lesson 268, Let all things be exactly as they are.
Let not our sight be blasphemous today,
Nor let our ears attend to lying tongues.
Only reality is free of pain.
Only reality is free of loss.
And it is only this we seek today.
I came across The Red Wheelbarrow in an anthology, and the anthologist, Douglas Hunt, intuited this larger meaning, the search for reality.
At the bottom of Stevens’ poetry there is wonder and delight, the child’s or animal’s or savage’s joy in his own existence, and thankfulness for it. He is the poet of well-being. His sigh of awe, of wondering pleasure, is underneath all these poems that show us the “celestial possible,” everything that has not yet been transformed into the infernal impossibilities of our everyday earthly seeing. He sits surrounded by all the good things of this earth, with rosy cheeks and fresh clear blue eyes, eyes not going out to you but shining in their places, like fixed stars. (Douglas Hunt, The Riverside Anthology of Literature, (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1988), p. 938)
In this passage, Hunt reminds us that far beyond our dualistic ideas about seeing either objectively, or subjectively, i.e., the infernal impossibilities of our everyday earthly seeing, is the glorious celestial possibility of seeing with vision.
Today I see the world in the celestial gentleness with which creation shines. W-p11.265.1:4
The smallest leaf becomes as thing of wonder, and a blade of grass a sign of God's perfection. T-17.ll.6;3
Right now, today, we can see the shining of creation by shifting our awareness from our fearful, sightless eyes to the eyes of Christ, and then:
What is reflected there is in God’s Mind.
The images I see reflect my thoughts.
Yet is my mind at one with God’s. And so
I can perceive creation’s gentleness.
In quiet would I look upon the world,
which but reflects Your Thoughts and mine as well.
Let me remember that they are the same,
and I will see creations’ gentleness.
So much, indeed, depends on this shift from my seeing to Thy Seeing, from mine to Thine.
So much depends—peace and happiness and love—on seeing a red wheelbarrow with vision.
Jesus said to His disciples, And do you not remember?
Do not seek vision through your eyes, for you made your way of seeing that you might see in darkness, and in this you are deceived. Beyond this darkness, and yet still within you, is the vision of Christ, Who looks on all in light.
Christ's is the vision I will use today.
Each day, each hour, every instant, I
am choosing what I want to look upon,
the sounds I want to hear, the witnesses
to what I want to be the truth for me.
Today I choose to look upon what Christ
would have me see, to listen to God's Voice,
and seek the witnesses to what is true
in God's creation. In Christ's sight, the world
and God's creation meet, and as they come
together all perception disappears.
His kindly sight redeems the world from death,
for nothing that He looks on but must live,
remembering the Father and the Son;
Creator and creation unified.
Father, Christ's vision is the way to You.
What He beholds invites Your
memory to be restored to me. And this I choose,
to be what I would look upon today.
Learning to see with Christ vision is a restoration process, and now I want to be about it, looking up from this page, now, and seeing through appearances to the bright reflection of God’s creation.