Many first-time readers of A Course in Miracles notice how each chapter in the text seems to say more or less the same thing. As you progress in your study, it becomes clear that Jesus indeed presents the same message in each chapter. He just says it a little different each time, and structures these variations as a symphony. Remember, repetition is the mother of skill. One particularly lovely summary of the Course’s message, I think, is given in workbook lessons 281 through 284. The titles of the lessons proceed as follows: (281) “I can be hurt by nothing but my thoughts.” Therefore, (282) “I will not be afraid of love today.” This I can do safely, for (283) “My true Identity abides in You [i.e., God]”. Therefore, (284) “I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt.” It’s a recipe for inner peace, one that can be applied daily, in any circumstance or event. How do these four steps work? How does this bring the inner peace I want so much?
Although the first title, “I can be hurt by nothing but my thoughts”, is a key principle in many spiritualities, this does not seem to be case at all as long as I experience myself as a body in a dangerous world. After all, I could wind up in a wheelchair for life if someone hits me in a car accident. Therefore, Jesus begins this lesson with a prayer, reminding us that we are not bodies: “When I think that I am hurt in any way, it is because I have forgotten who I am, and that I am as You created me.” (W-pII.281.1:2). This ‘hurt’ also applies to verbal attacks and thoughts. If someone deliberately insults me, it is up to me, and only me, to decide whether or not that attack will have any effect on my state of mind. Remember workbook lesson 34: “I could see peace instead of this”. This is true because you and I are pure spirit, already safe at Home with God. Any hurt that I perceive, internal or external, is a projection of my foolish wish to be separate from God and prove that it succeeded. A large part of A Course in Miracles is devoted to have us realize this, and then invite us to choose “a better way”, to recall Bill Thetford’s famous words which ignited the process of Helen’s scribing in 1965.
Choosing this ‘better way’ means we realize at last that God’s nondualistic love does not mean annihilation into oblivion: it means everlasting peace. Thus Jesus urges us in lesson 282: “I will not be afraid of love today.” In Chapter 13 Jesus explains that we may not like pain and death (summarized by the symbol of crucifixion), but this is nothing compared to our fear of God’s Love: “You are not really afraid of crucifixion. Your real terror is of redemption” (T-13.III.1:10-11). A little further on Jesus explains why this is so: “You think you would be helpless in God’s Presence, and you would save yourself from His Love because you think it would crush you into nothingness. You are afraid it would sweep you away from yourself and make you little. […] You think you have made a world God would destroy; and by loving Him, which you do, you would throw this world away, which you would. […] And it is this that frightens you.” (T-13.III.4:1-3,5). In A Course in Miracles, Jesus unmasks this ego defense against God’s Love by showing that “God is but love, and therefore so am I.” (W-pI.173).
By practicing the workbook lessons I can experience the reflection of God’s Law of Love at work in my earthly life. This strengthens my conviction that I am indeed not a body, but pure spirit: “He will speak to you, reminding you that you are spirit, one with Him and God, your brothers and your Self. Listen for His assurance every time you speak the words He offers you today, and let Him tell your mind that they are true.” (W-pI.97.8:2). Therefore, through our experience of the reflection of God’s Love, we can indeed subscribe to Lesson 283 which teaches that “My true Identity abides in You.” Jesus begins this lesson with a prayer: “Father, I made an image of myself [i.e., a separated body], and it is this I call the Son of God. Yet is creation as it always was, for Your creation is unchangeable. Let me not worship idols. I am he my Father loves.” In this prayer, ‘idols’ is just about anything in time and space that we feel is valuable, especially the body, and the “he my Father loves” is the Son of God — as spirit, which in our dream of time and space we experience as separated beings, who are nonetheless united in spirit as one.
Workbook lesson 96 concludes: “If you are spirit, then the body must be meaningless to your reality”. The willingness to gradually accept this is a prerequisite for truly applying lesson 284: “I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt.” Or, again quoting workbook lesson 34: “I could see peace instead of this.” This certainly does not seem to be the case in the world where we perceive sickness, starvation, poverty, war, and death. Jesus remarks that we can laugh at these things (W-pI.187.6:4) , not out of malicious pleasure, but because this is merely the silliness that we invented to ‘prove’ that the separation from God was actually accomplished. I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt because “All things are lessons God would have me learn.” (W-pI.193) If I see myself as a ‘happy learner’ in the classroom of love that the Holy Spirit offers me, I can indeed see peace instead of malice.
Of course, Jesus knows very well that no-one switches the button in his mind in an instant (although theoretically we could). Instant enlightenment is rare indeed! Therefore, in lesson 284 Jesus comforts us: “This is the truth, at first to be but said and then repeated many times [many, many, many times, as Ken Wapnick remarked]; and next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations. Then to be considered seriously more and more, and finally accepted as the truth.” (W-pII.284.1:5). The pearl here is that once I can accept the message of these four lessons, I can see everything I think and experience in my life as helpful in learning Jesus’ curriculum of love. Jesus mentions in the Manual for Teachers that… “The plan will sometimes call for changes in what seem to be external circumstances. These changes are always helpful.” (M-4.I.A.1). To most of us these are often not experienced as helpful, but as a happy learner I can reinterpret all circumstances as helpful.
What reason is there left, then, to feel anxious, angry or depressed, when I realize that (a) I can be hurt by nothing but my thoughts”, (b) “I need not be afraid of love today”, for (c) “my true Identity abides in You”, and therefore (d) “I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt”? Any time you are tempted to judge (i.e., condemn), quickly step back and ask yourself: “Who walks with me?” Jesus stresses that “…This question should be asked a thousand times a day” (W-pI.156.8). If you feel you lack inner peace, you can be sure the ego walks with you, and you have pushed Jesus in the gutter. Recalling the four lesson titles today can help you to more quickly change your mind and take Jesus’ hand again. Be not afraid of love today! As you and I are the same pure spirit in essence, You and I can be hurt by nothing but our own thoughts.
Also see my seven “guidelines for living in an illusory world” in “Miracles or Murder: a guide to concepts of A Course in Miracles“. This guidebook, endorsed by Gary and Cindy Renard, was published in March 2016 by Outskirts Press and is available at Amazon.com: