At the beginning of April, I was interviewed on a podcast called “Sunday with Mundy” hosted by Jon Mundy, a leading light in Course in Miracles (ACIM) circles.
Jon was interested in my own podcast site, “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” He wondered about my thesis there that ACIM represents the channelled voice of Christ addressed to North Americans living in the belly of the United States Imperial Beast. In veiled terms, the Christ of ACIM, I contend, speaks against what my late colleague at Berea College, bell hooks, called the “white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist, patriarchy.”
In this episode of Jon’s show, Ted Kneupper, an emeritus ACIM scholar from Slippery Rock University is my dialog partner (along, of course with Dr. Mundy).
Welcome, my friends to Episode 24 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” My name Is Mike Rivage-Seul and I’m your host for this series.
Today’s central teaching in Lesson 16 of A Course in Miracles Workbook for Students is “I have no neutral thoughts.”
Before we get to that, let me remind you that my podcast’s approach to ACIM is different from most interpretations. As seen in Episode 3, it’s taking the position that A Course in Miracles ‘authorship, literary form, historical context, language, and content all indicate that Jesus’ revelation there was intended not primarily for humankind as a whole, but for North Americans living specifically in the belly of the beast of the U.S. system of white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy that is waging a war (i.e., attacking) the world’s non-white poor majority. ACIM’s overall appeal is to stop the attacks.
Put otherwise, ACIM implicitly recognizes that our world is engaged in a bloody class conflict in which we must take sides. We’re either on the side of the poor or the world’s aristocratic oppressors. Neutrality is impossible. And since our world is shaped by white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy, those who claim to be neutral end up on the side of the dominant aristocrats. Not to decide – not to take sides – is to decide in favor or the given order.
With all of that in mind, here are the most salient assertions of Lesson 16 which is the focus of today’s episode:
Everything you see is the result of your thoughts.
Every thought you have brings either peace or war
Therefore, none of your thoughts are neutral or idle.
Instead, they are either true or false.
Peaceful thoughts are true and come from love.
Warlike thoughts are false and come from fear.
Please pause over those assertions and see if they resonate. Even if they don’t, nonetheless, give them serious and prayerful thought.
Personally, I can think of no better commentary on this lesson than the famous “Twin Verses” from the Buddhist Dhammapada. I learned them years ago from my meditation teacher, Eknath Easwaran who recommended spending even up to half an hour going slowly over the verses’ words:
Of course, you don’t need to go that far today. But please give them serious thought anyhow.
Here they are:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfish thoughts cause misery when they speak or act. Sorrows roll over them as the wheels of a cart roll over the tracks of the bullock that draws it.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
Please try to recall today’s ACIM teaching throughout the day: Remember, neutrality is impossible in this life characterized by class conflict. In questions of war and peace, you must take sides. If you refuse to do so, you’ve already taken the side of the imperial warmongers who are driven by fear rather than love.
It’s the goal of A Course in Miracles to have our every thought, word, and deed driven by love.
Here’s a simple reflection to put in perspective Lesson 15 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students. Please read the lesson first (here) then my reflection.
My thoughts in Plato's Dark Cave
My keepers and I
Made them all up.
They are no more than
ILLUSIONS, I'm told
On a dank moss-covered wall
Where nonsense penumbra flicker
From opaque flat screens,
Computers, and vagrant iphones.
It's all mirrors and smoke
Projected by cruel and powerful
Who lie through their teeth.
That our country is somehow
Free and virtuous,
That our borders are sacred
While those of others
Must be kept open
To the plunder
Of those same manipulators
Who (we're told)
Are just doing business
Waging "just wars"
To keep us all
Prosperous and safe.
But that's just a lie
Don't you see?
We've bought their images
Slurped their Kool-Aid
Worshipped their projections
To the truth
That "America" is
"The world's greatest purveyor"
Not of prosperity,
But "of violence."
The lies masquerade
As common sense
Only to free our captors
Transfers (i.e. steals) resources
From the world's
Whose brave resistance
As socialism, communism
And illegal immigration.
All those shadow projections
But stand 180 degrees opposed
To God's honest truth
That sees no separation
No impoverished enemies
From people oppressed
By "American" crimes --
Not even from Muslims
Russia, Cuba, Venezuela,
North Korea, Nicaragua,
Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq,
Think on that
Then see how many
Welcome to Episode 21 in this series called “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” My name is Mike Rivage-Seul, and I’m your host on this podcast.
Today we’ll focus on Lesson 13 of ACIM’s Workbook for Students. Its main idea is summarized in these words, “A meaningless world engenders fear.” That is, today’s lesson expands Lesson 12’s insight that “I am upset because I see a meaningless world.” Today’s instruction identifies the specific emotion aroused by meaninglessness. The emotion in question is fear.
Before we turn to that notion, let me remind you of our podcast’s general approach to A Course in Miracles. As I pointed out in episodes 3 and 4, we’re interpreting ACIM as though it was written primarily for U.S. citizens living in the belly of the U.S. empire that is the latest iteration of global domination embodied, for instance in Rome and the British Empire.
A Course in Miracle’s Historical context, authorship, language, and literary genre makes that clear. The voice of Jesus in ACIM is not the voice of the historical Jesus, but of a Christ addressing well-educated, well-to-do Americans far removed from the poor, uneducated, and mostly illiterate victims of empire the Jewish master addressed in the first century of our era. As well see later in much greater detail, ACIM calls Americans away from imperial values of individualism, competition, separation, domination, and patriarchy.
With that said, let’s turn our attention specifically to Lesson 13. It reminds us that the cause of our fear is our country’s loss of meaning. To repeat: Lesson 13’s main idea is “A meaningless world engenders fear.”
Such expression insists that although our national anthem identifies “America” as “the home of the brave,” we are in reality an extremely fearful people. In fact, ours is better described as “the home of the frightened.”
Today’s lesson 13 calls ACIM students to come to grips with the most profound reason for our fear. It’s because the meaning stories we were raised on have disintegrated before our eyes leaving us with a meaningless world. Understandably, we find that extremely unnerving.
As we’ve seen before, we once thought that:
Our country is the greatest in the world
We’re a Christian nation
God is on our side
We live in a democracy
Our politicians represent “the people”
Our wars are just
Our armed forces are invincible
Our soldiers are heroic
Law enforcement protects and serves us
None of these formerly self-evident statements any longer proves convincing:
As Dr. King pointed out, far from being the “greatest” in terms of virtue and goodness, our country is instead the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.” As such, it is the root cause of most of the world’s problems.
This means that the God of Jesus is not our God; we are therefore not his followers; we are not “Christian.”
God is not on our side; we are not divinely favored. Instead, America is more like the Roman Empire responsible for the execution of Yeshua of Nazareth.
Neither is the United States a democracy. In fact, it never was. As Federalist Paper # 10 makes clear, the Founding Fathers specifically rejected democracy in favor of a republic where (as John Jay put it) “Those who own the country ought to govern it.”
And Jay’s imperative has been obeyed throughout U.S. history. This truism has been unmistakably underlined in the Citizens United SCOTUS decision. Its aftermath shows that politicians represent their donors rather than “the people.” (This is why a coal baron like Joe Manchin can defy the will of West Virginians on issues they overwhelmingly favor like Medicare for all, a $15.00 minimum wage, pharmaceutical pricing, family leave, and college debt forgiveness.
As for our wars being just, think about the lies that got us into Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Those same conflicts give the lie to convictions about the heroism of service in the U.S. military, whose personnel General Smedley Butler (already in the 1930s) implied are no better than brainwashed Mafia foot soldiers.
And just try to convince any black people you know that the police protect and serve them. Most would laugh in your face, if they didn’t burst into tears.
As pointed out in Lesson 12, A Course in Miracles itself can also engender fear. That’s because its relentless insistence that our favorite convictions (like those just mentioned) are 180 degrees opposite those of the divine order, can be extremely disorienting.
In the words of today’s lesson, “Recognition of meaninglessness arouses intense anxiety in all the separated ones” – that is, in everyone who sees herself or himself in competition and strife with fellow human beings. And that includes most of us.
And just whom is it that we Americans see ourselves in competition with? Largely, it’s with the poor, but ultimately, it’s with God.
Competition with the poor is evinced by that fact that (at least since the end of the Second Inter-capitalist War) ALL our wars have been fought against the impoverished identified as terrorists, communists, Muslims, and (as a Great Man once put it) “bad hombres.” (On this, please view the speech of the highly decorated ex-CIA operative John Stockwell.)
The real crime of the poor, however, is simply their poverty. It makes us afraid that they’ll rise and take our stuff [which our ancestors – and current wars – have taken from them (e.g., from Native Americans, from 250 years of enslaved Africans, in wars over oil, markets, water, raw materials etc.)].
Lesson 13 goes even further, however. It’s not only the poor we fear. It’s God we’re afraid of because (as the lesson puts it) “we think we’re in competition with God.” That is, we’re afraid of God whose primary function (we’re taught) is to legislate, judge, condemn, and punish. We’re afraid of this oppositional God. We might even say that he turns out to be not only our competitor, but an abusive enemy who threatens us all with eternal torture.
No wonder we’re upset. No wonder we’re all afraid. No wonder that we find all that questionable if not downright meaningless.
Lesson 13 asks us to face that discordant music. Again, it says, “A meaningless world engenders fear.”
Accordingly, the lesson asks us to spend 3 or 4 periods of no more than a minute each doing the following: “With eyes closed, repeat today’s idea to yourself. Then open your eyes and look about you slowly saying: ‘I am looking at a meaningless world.’ Repeat this statement to yourself as you look about. Then close your eyes and conclude with: ‘A meaningless world engenders fear because I think I am in competition with God.’”
As usual, I’ll fulfill this assignment today as well. Remember that specifically as North American inhabitants of empire, we are at this point in The Course attempting to clear our minds of common misconceptions that have encumbered and polluted our consciousness. With that uncomfortable task foremost in my mind, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you well and God’s abundant blessings.
Has our study of ACIM’s Workbook for Students upset you yet? According to today’s lesson 12, it should have. You should be upset to learn that you’ve been tricked and fooled all your life. So have I.
We’ve been falsely taught, for instance, that the world is inherently frightening, sad, violent, and insane. However, it is none of these things. Instead, our so-called “leaders” carrying those statues before the fire in Plato’s Cave have created a fake world for us. And that world has filled us with an unnecessary, paralyzing fear since birth.
That’s upsetting to admit, don’t you agree? (It is for me especially at this age of 81. Why has it taken me so long to wake up?)
To be more specific, all our culture’s favorite convictions turn out to be untrue. For instance, we’ve been lied to:
About the importance of our personal histories where “my story” and “my” experience are supremely significant. (They are not!)
About individualism as somehow central to life in this world. (On the contrary, we’re all connected. There is no real distinction between any of us.)
About innate human competitiveness. (That’s a lie arbitrarily imposed by the reigning, time-bound capitalist economic system.)
About a God whose essence is to legislate, judge, condemn and punish
About an afterlife consisting in consignment an eternal lake of fire or of playing a harp on a cloud somewhere up in the sky
About the legitimacy of power claimed by politicians, generals, priests, and other manipulators who in the end are like the emperor without his clothes. (Their power is completely illusory.)
About laws of all kinds (They’re all creations of the wealthy and powerful statue-bearers – to keep wealth where it is. Apart from traffic regulations and the like, laws are generally instruments of oppression.)
About the goodness of the United States. (As Dr. King said, it’s the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.” That’s not good!! The U.S. is as vile as any other empire.)
About the sacredness and inviolability of borders. [Capitalists ignore and cross them all the time (with devastating effect), while forbidding workers to do the same.]
About the importance of power, profit, pleasure, and prestige (None of them is lasting or real.)
Etc., etc., etc.
It can’t be repeated enough: Today’s lesson’s insistence that ALL these convictions are illusory or meaningless is very upsetting. But, let me say it again this way: None of the convictions I’ve listed and many, many more are anything more than human creations. Not one of them is part of Life’s inherent order.
Doesn’t that irritate you?
Nonetheless (as Lesson 12 points out) the realization of the world’s meaninglessness could also make us “indescribably happy.” The happiness would come from the realization that the world does not have to be crazy, insane, violent, sad, or under anything like its present “leadership.”
As we’ll discover in future lessons, the revelation of God’s order (once we’ve detached from the world’s meaningless disorder) will disclose glorious, undreamt of horizons of meaning.
In the meantime though, keep working on the task of dispelling the cultural illusions this first part of A Course in Miracles sets before us. Follow Lesson 12’s instructions:
Quite deliberately, three or four times during the day, for just a minute or so, “(W)ith eyes open. . . look around you, this time quite slowly. . . from one thing to another. . . ” saying to yourself, “I think I see a fearful world, a dangerous world, a hostile world, a sad world, a wicked world, a crazy world. . . But I am upset because I see a meaningless world.”
As usual, I’ll join you in performing this exercise.
So, till next time, this is Mike Rivage-Seul wishing you well and God’s blessings.
Welcome to Episode 19 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul.” And today we turn our attention to Lesson 11 in ACIM’s Workbook for Students.
It invites us to think clearly about the purpose of life – about its meaning. It tells us “My meaningless thoughts are showing us a meaningless world.”
Of course, today’s lesson follows up on yesterday’s where we ended up praying: “Lord release me from all that I now believe.” Yes, The Course still has us in the process of trying to clear our minds of false ideas about God and life itself, but also (as social justice activists) about our country, its history, and what it’s doing in the world. (This process of thought-purgation, cleansing, and removal of intellectual debris will continue in The Course for some time. So be patient.)
Today’s lesson asserts that our thinking processes misguided by the world and our culture have us on a tragically wrong track about life’s purpose. Let’s think about that.
Apropos of doing so, Neale Donald Walsch suggests that every morning as we look in the mirror, we should ask ourselves four questions – all of them connected with today’s lesson. Walsch’s questions are:
Who am I?
Where am I?
Why am I here?
What am I going to do about that?
Our culture gives superficial answers to all those questions. It tells us that:
We are an Americans.
We live in the greatest country in the world.
We are here to enjoy ourselves and accumulate as much money and as many goods as possible.
So, all of us should go out and shop till we drop.
Clearly, none of those answers is true. To begin at a superficial level, we’re not the only “Americans.” That name belongs to people living in this entire hemisphere. Canadians are also North Americans, and so are Mexicans. Brazilians and Venezuelans are South Americans. Nicaraguans and Hondurans are Central Americans. As citizens of the United States, we might more accurately call ourselves “Usians.”
At a deeper level, of course, all of us are human beings. But what does that mean? Are we simply individual animal bodies colliding against one another as we scramble around in fierce competition for scarce goods? A lot of people believe that. Our culture seems to say so.
Yet all of us know deep down that our scrambles, collisions, and competitions soon end exactly like a dream. At the end of their lives (and often before) “Americans” holding this view end up inhabiting what Lesson 11 calls “a meaningless world.” (That’s the significance of the term “meaningless” in A Course in Miracles. It refers to what doesn’t last. What is unreal or meaningless simply doesn’t last.)
For A Course in Miracles, the only reality that lasts is the single Divine Energy that manifests itself in bodies like our own and in the entire universe. That Energy includes consciousness. In traditional language, the only thing that lasts, the only thing that’s Real and Meaningful is (please excuse the misused and debased expression) “God.”
And here’s the Good News of The Course: we are all part of God. At our essence, we are expressions of divine energy. We are spirits having the very temporary bodily experience we call “my life.”
Relative to Source, the Ground of Being, Ultimate Reality, and “God,” we are all really one Energy. Everything is. We’re like waves on the ocean. We arise like waves, exist as such for a short time, and then return to being part of the ocean.
According to this view, there is really only one of us here. The distinctions between any of us are all quite superficial – like the distinction between those waves. I’m talking here about nationality, skin color, cultural differences, personalities. . . We’re all in this together. We’re in competition with no one. We are one with each other and with animals, plants, minerals, earth, fire, wind, and water.
The purpose of life then is to live from that place. It is the only reality. All the rest is unreal; it is meaningless; it will soon pass; and we’ll be left only with vague memories of events that we won’t be even sure really happened as we recall them. It’s like they never occurred.
Doesn’t that ring true for you? (Well, maybe not yet. But stick with The Course, and it soon might.)
In the meantime, living from the place I’ve just been describing (i.e., from a conscious awareness of the unity of all creation) has political consequences. Those are what concern me especially in this podcast specifically about the connections between A Course in Miracles and social activism.
If we adopt ACIM’s approach (which, by the way, reflects basic Christian mysticism) we might draw the following highly political conclusions:
We are not principally “Americans” at all. We are human beings. Even more deeply, we are expressions of Divine Energy manifesting itself in very temporary and rapidly changing bodies. While each of us is “special,” we are no more special than the poor women and children seeking asylum at our borders. They are us.
And as for where we are, we are not really in a place called “America” or even in the United States. Those designations are human inventions intended to obscure humankind’s basic unity. I know this is difficult to accept. However, the Great Conscious Divine Energy recognizes no borders, no national identities. No one owns the earth or any of its parts. It belongs to everyone. Immigrants and asylum seekers belong here as much as any of us.
Thirdly, our purpose in life is to live from a consciousness of the unity of all creation and of all human beings. This means that competition is out; cooperation is in. It means that capitalism’s destruction of the congealed energy we call “Planet Earth” is out; treating the earth as a living being deserving our love and respect is in.
Fourthly (answering the question of what to do about this consciousness) it seems to me that for starters, we’ve got to:
Stop all our wars – every one of them – drastically cutting military budgets meant to defend us from the world’s poor. In the words of Pope Francis, “War never again.”
Work on creating a world with room for everyone
Where labor can claim as much mobility as capital in ignoring and crossing borders
Open our borders to those seeking asylum from our wars against them, our destruction of their homes, schools and hospitals, and the devastation of their ecosystems at the hands of our colonialism and neo-liberal capitalism.
Yes, all our thoughts about American exceptionalism, about consumption and competition, about war and borders are all meaningless. They have created a meaningless world that has no future.
It’s up to us Course in Miracles students to reverse all of that. It’s the only way to the “inner peace” that A Course in Miracles aims at. In the words of Lesson 11, today’s idea (“My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world”) “contains the foundation for the peace, relaxation, and freedom from worry that we are trying to achieve.” Accepting the truth of the thought that “My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world” is also the only way towards achieving world peace.
So today, for our practice periods, simply follow the directions the lesson gives. It says, “Begin with your eyes closed, and repeat the idea slowly to yourself,” ‘My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world.’ “Then open your eyes and look about near and far, up and down, — anywhere. During the minute or so to be spent in using the idea, merely repeat it to yourself, being sure to do so without haste, and with no sense of urgency or effort. . .. Three practice periods today will probably be sufficient.” I intend to join you in doing that throughout my day.
Then, in a day or so, let’s get back together to focus on Lesson Twelve.
Today, we have reached Lesson Nine in A Course in Miracles’ Workbook for Students. It reads, “I see nothing as it is now.”
The lesson addresses the fact that most of us are living in the past. So, we end up with a world view dictated by ideas and understandings that my wife, Peggy, keeps dismissing as “so 20th century.”
For those committed to social justice, such dated concepts and explanations have to do with patriotism, but also with Jesus whose voice is centralized in A Course in Miracles.
As for outdated patriotism, we continue to live as though the U.S. were not the failed state that it is – as though, for instance, China’s system were not proving much more efficient in providing for its people and responding to emergencies such as COVID-19. China has been spectacular in eliminating grinding poverty.
Meanwhile, the failed nature of the U.S. system is shown by its systemic gridlock. It simply cannot make the decisions that must be taken even to deal with basic health care. For instance, with a population of just over 300 million, America has lost over 800,000 to COVID-19. At the same time, with a population four times larger, China has lost fewer than 5,000 to the pandemic.
Even more basically, the U.S. economy and political system are far less efficient than China’s.
Here in the United States, we’ve become dependent not on producing goods and services, but on the financial sector – on investments, banking, debt, stocks, and bonds. As economist Michael Hudson keeps pointing out, these sectors are unproductive and parasitic. They represent overhead rather than productive income.
By contrast, China has a far healthier economic system that actually provides manufacturing jobs and a rising standard of living for its people. In our globalized economy, that’s possible, because industries are drawn to China by wages that are much lower than in the U.S.
Yet, even with low wages, the Chinese working class is prospering, because of the country’s centralized economy that provides health care gratis and free education for its people along with subsidized housing, food and transportation. Those “social wages” constitute the equivalent of thousands of extra dollars added to each month’s paycheck for Chinese workers.
Besides that, the nationalized Chinese banking system (absent the profit motive) can easily remedy any debt problems by simply erasing debts should any sector develop problems.
As a result of all this, catching up with China will be virtually impossible for the United States as long it continues embracing the neo-liberal capitalist model. For one thing, that arrangement finds it unthinkable to engage in long-term planning; it can’t see beyond projected returns on a quarterly basis. Among other liabilities, that makes it impossible, for example to cope with climate change, that demands anticipating weather events decades from now.
In fact, to actually compete with the centrally planned elements of China’s economy, the U.S. would have to follow systemic suit. However, America’s programs of privatization, deregulation and tax reduction has the country moving in the exact opposite direction.
Course correction would have to include the ideologically “impossible” steps of taming of wage spirals by:
Taking de facto central planning away from Wall Street and returning it into the hands of elected government officials
Raising taxes on the 1%
Nationalizing the banking system
Enacting a Green New Deal to provide productive, environment-saving jobs for the unemployed and under-employed
Providing free tuition for all post-secondary students
Forgiving the $1.5 trillion that students still owe for their educations, thus freeing them to actually buy homes, automobiles and other necessities
Nationalizing health care thus relieving both employers and employees from the burden of meeting the costs of medical treatment and pharmaceuticals
The sad truth however is that without some apocalyptic catastrophe and without transcending our hamstrung two-party system, the chances of taking such measures (even if Democrats were to retain control of both houses of Congress) are nil. Consequently, China will continue to outstrip the United States economically and socially. Simply put, its system is more flexible than the neo-liberal model.
In today’s 9th lesson in A Course in Miracles, Jesus’ voice is once again addressed specifically to North Americans. He calls us to depart from the vision promulgated by the propaganda of our cave-prison. His message suggests for instance that China (and other socialist countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) are not our inveterate enemies. According to A Course in Miracles, no one is our enemy. No one is attacking us. There is really only one of us here. The Chinese are our sisters and brothers. There is no distinction between them and us.
Today’s lesson tells us that understanding this simple idea (as difficult as it might be to accept) “is a prerequisite for undoing your false ideas.” It is necessary to clear the mind of its “debris that darkens it.”
So, today during your practice periods as you watch the news that touches our country’s “official enemies,” say to yourself:
I do not see China as it is now.
I do not see Russia as it is now.
I do not see Venezuela as it is now.
I do not see Nicaragua as it is now.
I do not see North Korea as it is now.
I do not see Cuba as it is now.
See if you can remember to repeat this exercise three or four times during the day.
Welcome to Episode 16, Lesson 8 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Like you, I’m a seeker and student of A Course in Miracles (ACIM), which can be so inspiring, but quite confusing too. ACIM is also commonly depoliticized in the same way that the Powers That Be have always depoliticized the revolutionary message of Jesus the Christ. We’re trying to avoid that misreading here.
So, thank you for joining me as I work through the text’s gems and perplexities.
Remember, the overriding thesis of this podcast is that A Course in Miracles is not for everyone. More than anything else, the text’s origins, language, style, and content reveal that it is primarily addressed to North Americans living in a cultural cave where we are propagandized and deluded (often unwittingly) by parents, pedagogues, priests, politicians, publicists, and philosophers. According to A Course in Miracles, Jesus is directly addressing us Americans there.
So, what is he saying to us?
Lesson 8’s main thought is expressed as follows: “My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.” Today and tomorrow, I want to focus on two sets of past thoughts that dominate our minds and separate us from reality as far as our spiritual and activist lives are concerned. I’m talking about conceptions we learned as children concerning our own country and about the Jesus who is presented as addressing us in A Course in Miracles.
Today, let’s talk about our shared preoccupations with our country’s past – about patriotic notions that keep us mired in childish illusions we should long ago have outgrown.
Recall that the topic of “the past” was already broached in yesterday’s lesson. It reminded us that when we examine the circumstances of our own lives, when we consider our relationships, work, and beliefs, when we look at the world, we see only the past, almost never the present, the exclusive residence of what we call “real.”
With that in mind, we expressed yesterday’s thought in this way: “I see only the past as portrayed by my keepers as shadows on the wall of our cultural cave.”
Historically and politically, those shadows, I reminded us, generate what The Course calls “meaningless” thoughts about patriotism, nationality, Founding Fathers, our sacred borders, the supposed superiority of our economic system, and the need to protect ourselves from the world’s poor by spending $2 billion per day on the money laundering scheme we call “national defense.”
Today, I want to underline that last point. We spend our military budget fighting wars against the world’s poor. Yes, it’s the poor that our cave’s shadows portray as our enemies. Again, that’s what I want to focus on here.
Please think about it. The world’s poor turn out to be the only ones we’ve fought wars against since the Second Inter-Capitalist War (1939-1945). Our keepers have convinced us that the poor are our enemies. That’s why our country never takes on any enemy that has anything that resembles the wealth or military might that America possesses. We only attack the relatively defenseless and poor. That’s why countries such as North Korea believe that they need nuclear weapons. (Without them, the U.S. long ago would have overthrown Kim Jong-un.)
But here’s the rub. Despite all “our” spending on weapons of war and despite our “enemies” inferior weapons systems, poor farmers, mothers, grandparents and children defending their homelands from U.S. imperialists have defeated our “glorious” army in case after case. Most obviously, I’m talking about Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq where the thrashings our military has endured have been so glaring that they are impossible to deny. Our country hasn’t won a war since 1945!
Yet the generals, our politicians, and the arms corporations they serve continue to tell us that “our” military is invincible. (Talk about shadow reality!!) Such claims would be laughable if their horrendous results were not so tragic in terms of slaughtering and further impoverishing the world’s already poor. They’d be laughable if military spending didn’t empty our national treasury of the money that could give us Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, forgiveness of student loans, free college educations, a guaranteed basic income, and a bright and secure future for our children and grandchildren.
In other words, and for purposes of this podcast, our convictions about militarism represent past beliefs that we’ve been taught to accept without question. They are among the most destructive of what Lesson 8 refers to as the “past thoughts” that preoccupy and blind our minds. They are there so prominently that seeing their shadow nature is nearly impossible to acknowledge and even more difficult to articulate without being accused of somehow “hating America.”
All of this is especially noteworthy in the context of our study here. As we move through A Course in Miracles, we’ll find that the term “attack” will be centralized. The Course will remind us repeatedly that attack is an illusion. We are not under attack by anyone, The Course insists. When we attack others, we are attacking ourselves. For as The Course says, there is really only one of us here.
What we perceive as attacks represent self-defense by poor people that the U.S. insists on attacking. So, “counterattack” is not only self-defeating. It is completely illusory.
More particularly, all of this should remind us that:
It’s the United States that is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. (Martin Luther King said that)
“Our” government, military, and police are attacking the poor everywhere, at home and abroad.
Immigrants and asylum seekers are in no way attacking us or causing our problems. (They are the poorest most powerless people in the world!)
Venezuela is not attacking us
Nor is Nicaragua
Nor is China
Nor is Iran
Nor is Cuba
Terrorists like Al Qaeda are themselves the creation of the United States
Every attack on “terrorists” creates more of them – i.e., more resistance to U.S. aggression.
Please think about all of that today as you listen to the news, as you read the mainstream media, or listen to better news sources such as “Democracy Now.” When designated “enemies” and their “attacks” are referenced, say to yourself “My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts. No one is attacking us. There is no need for counter-attack.”
Tomorrow we’ll take up the past thoughts that preoccupy our propagandized minds about Jesus of Nazareth.
Till then, this is Mike Rivage-Seul signing off and wishing you God’s blessings.
Please see other episodes in this series on my podcast site here.
Welcome to Episode 15 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Activists.” I’m your host, Mike Rivage-Seul. Today we’ll examine together Part 1, Lesson 7 of The Course’s Workbook for Students. It’s found on pages 11 and 12 of the text. Its central idea reads: “I see only the past.”
For our purposes here, I’d express today’s main idea like this: “I see only the past as portrayed by my keepers as shadows on the wall of our cultural cave.”
However we express it though, today’s lesson is setting us up to leave the past aside and consider everything anew, as if for the first time.
In fact, the text goes on to explain that this idea (I see only the past) is the basis of all the Workbook lessons we’ve practiced so far. In the text’s words, seeing only the past:
“Is the reason why nothing that you see means anything.
It is the reason why you give everything you see all the meaning that it has for you.
It is the reason why you do not understand anything you see
It is the reason why your thoughts do not mean anything.
It is the reason why you are never upset for the reasons you think.
It is the reason why you are upset because you see something that is not there.”
As we have seen, The Course considers the past as “unreal.” Its events unfolded in yesterday’s present. But that present is gone forever. It is now “unreal.” However, the fact remains that what we’ve learned through past experience determines what we see in the present. In mundane terms, it’s only because of the past that we know what cups, pencils, shoes, hands, and faces are for. It’s almost impossible to view such items as if we didn’t know their purposes.
In political terms, what we see in our world is also largely governed by what we learned as children — in this instance, about our country’s history. As we saw earlier, the shadows on our cave’s wall have established controlling ideas in our minds that determine what we see. Controlling ideas have taught us for instance, that America is the greatest in the world, that it’s a democracy, that its Founders were nearly saintly men, that the policeman is our friend, and that all of us are equal under the law. All those ideas prevent us from looking at our country with new eyes – from seeing it as it “really” is today.
(And, as we’ll see, if we understand what we’ve learned in the past against the eternal and lasting Ground of Being that alone is real (in the sense of eternal and lasting) we’ll reconceive our learnings from the past in a brightly critical light.)
Politically speaking and because this podcast is about the way A Course in Miracles can move us from unreal perceptions, it’s not too early to point out that the only way we can escape our cave’s interiorized misperceptions is to leave empire’s cave altogether. It is to follow the example of the prophet Jesus by somehow “incarnating” in the imperialized world he inhabited. There, we’ll inevitably encounter stark criticisms of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.
Of course, you can make that happen by travel that intentionally goes beyond tourism and whose specific purpose is political education. For example, ventures like that brought me to Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Cuba, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Israel, Jordan, India, and (during my five years of graduate study in Rome) to Poland and most of the countries in western Europe. Moreover, stepping outside our cultural cave as a kind of political archeologist is best accomplished by learning the relevant languages.
But no one can learn all the world’s languages. And few can travel extensively in the less developed world as I’m suggesting.
However, we can through reading and documentary films encounter new unaccustomed visions that move us beyond seeing “only the past” as portrayed within our cultural cave. To that end, I’d suggest the following list:
Vijay Prashad’s The Poorer Nations: a possible history of the global south
Haitian director, Raul Peck’s documentary “Exterminate All the Brutes”
Suggestions like those terrify the controllers within our cave who carry statues before the fire that burns behind our backs. They’re afraid students like us will actually understand our manipulation at our keepers’ hands. For that reason, they hate what they vilify as “critical race theory,” but what is only seeing the past “again for the first time” from the viewpoint of those victimized by white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy.
Understanding the past that way can change understandings of the world. And changed understanding (from one based on fear to understanding based on love) represents what A Course in Miracles’ means by the term “miracle.”
Please give Lesson 7 and the thoughts I’ve just shared prayerful consideration throughout this day. Several times for a minute or so, say to yourself whenever your eyes fall upon familiar objects, “I see only the past in this _____ (pencil, shoe, hand, body, face). While watching the news describing and analyzing the day’s events, say “I see only the past in this issue.”
Again, the point of all this is to deconstruct our familiar ways of seeing the world.
Until next time, then, this is Mike Rivage-Seul thanking you for listening. Please join me tomorrow for Lesson 8 of “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.” In the meantime, God’s blessings on you all.
Please see other episodes in this series on my podcast site here.
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:
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
On the other hand, the word “unreal” has four meanings. It refers:
To anything that doesn’t last forever – to everything that changes, that dies, that cannot or will not persist.
To the past which is irretrievably lost.
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.”)
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.