Episode 14, Lesson 6: I Am Upset, Because I See Something That Is Not There

Welcome to Episode 14 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 6 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. It’s found on page 10 of the text. Its central idea reads: “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

To put this lesson in context, let me go back to the very beginning of ACIM, where the entire course is summarized in just three short sentences:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.

Yes, according to the text, these words summarize The Course in Miracles in its entirety. Everything else is commentary.

But what do those brief sentences mean? What is meant by the word “real?” Similarly, what does “unreal” mean? And what about the word “exists?”

Answering these questions will help A Course in Miracles students understand today’s lesson, “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

My reading and study of A Course in Miracles tells me that the word “real” refers to what truly exists. And the only thing that truly exists is found in the present moment. However, “real” does not refer to what is perceived by my senses at this moment. Those sense perceptions are temporary and passing. For A Course in Miracles, the term “real” refers to what some people call “God.” It refers to what does not change or die. Other than “God” we might call it:

  • Source
  • The Spirit or Power that informs everything
  • What holds all things together constantly creating, dissolving, and recreating life forms
  • The unalterable Background of all sense perceptions
  • The Ground of those sensitivities
  • Life Itself
  • Truth
  • Love
  • Supreme Goodness
  • Light

On the other hand, the word “unreal” has four meanings. It refers:

  1. To anything that doesn’t last forever – to everything that changes, that dies, that cannot or will not persist.
  2. To the past which is irretrievably lost.
  3. To the future which does not yet exist, and which in any case will be experienced as the “present.”. (Both past and future, then, are “unreal.”)
  4. To the contents of what our reflections so far have referred to as our cultural cave. We’ve already seen again and again that we’re all prisoners of our worldly “keepers” (the ones carrying those statues in front of the cave’s fire). They are our parents, priests, pedagogues, politicians, propagandists, and publicists. They are no better than us prisoners in their condition of living in the cave’s “unreal” space. They don’t grasp reality either. In fact, intentionally or not, their job is to deceive us. They are selling a world that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist and patriarchal. What we learn at their feet is illusion. It is unreal.

In summary then, the “real” is the background of what the present moment presents to us. The unreal belongs to present, past, and future phenomena, and to the “wisdom” of the world.

In this podcast, we’re highlighting what A Course in Miracles has to say about that worldly wisdom (those projected shadows) contrasted with the teachings of the historical Jesus who became one of history’s foremost manifestations of the eternal unchanging Christ or God-consciousness.

Now keeping that in mind will help you understand both yesterday’s Workbook lesson and today’s as well. Yesterday’s lesson said, “I am never upset for the reasons I think.” And, as you may recall, I listed a host of my upsets regarding the Democratic Party e.g., its failure to keep its campaign promises, and its climate policies that threaten the destinies of my children and grandchildren on an overheated planet. Besides anger, I said, those reasons sparked emotions in me including betrayal, despair, confusion, frustration, cognitive dissonance, fear, a sense of having been robbed, rage, and sadness. Now, if you think about it, all those sentiments and the reasons attached to them are inescapably connected to the past and future. They are based on what the Democrats did and failed to do last year. They are evoked by anticipation of my children’s grandchildren’s futures.  

Today’s lesson reminds us “reasons” like those are “unreal.” They are, in the words of today’s lesson, “not there.” This is because they belong to the past and future which unlike the present, exist no longer or not yet. So, the experiences I listed are not the “real” reasons for my upset. They relate to the past and future and therefore are “not there.”

But what then is in fact “there?” Not the past, not the future, but the present shadows I and my fellow prisoners are taking in. However, as we’ve seen, those shadows also depict an unreal world. So, even my present moment is “unreal” if I forget its unchanging Background or informing Spirit. Within Plato’s cave, you and I are “seeing” something that is not there. We’re seeing a world that is white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist and patriarchal. The “real” embraces none of those things.

In other words, we’re trapped. We’re living in an unreal world X 4. It is a changing world inescapably tied to the past, the future, and to a deceptive shadow theater.

And that returns us to Lesson 6, “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

In keeping with the intention of this first part of A Course in Miracles, today’s lesson simply asks us to face up to the actual reason for any upset we might experience in our lives. We’re upset because we’re seeing something that is not there. If we saw the Ground of Being that is there, we would not be upset. We would know, in the words of The Course, “the peace of God.”

Towards achieving that peace, the lesson tells us to spend “three or four brief practice periods today . . . preceded by a minute or so of mind searching.” We’re looking for upsetting thoughts like those I listed yesterday – for whatever upsets you personally that may not be political at all. It might have to do with your relationships, with your job, with childhood trauma, with unrealized ambitions.

But this time when we confront our upsets, we’re instructed to say for example,

I am angry at _____ because I see something that is not there.

I am worried about _____ because I see something that is not there.

Again, the purpose here (and of the entire first part of our Workbook lessons) is to clear our minds of false perceptions.

So, use the words of today’s lesson to empty your mind of that’s irrelevant. Say repeatedly:

I am upset because I see something that is not there. . ..

I am upset because I see something that is not there. . ..

This is Mike Rivage-Seul signing off. Please join me again tomorrow when we’ll examine Lesson 7. Till then (and always) God’s blessings on you all.

For previous episodes in this series, please go to my podcast site.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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