A Course in Miracles and the Shift in Perception
For many casual readers and serious students as well, A Course in Miracles is an overlong, wordy, complexly written and even confusing work. In many ways, this is deliberate.
The Course clearly states that it is only our own mind’s defensive strategies, built around our egos and created out of our misguided guilt, judgment and attack that prevent us from experiencing our real nature and relationship to God and the seeming world. In other words, our own minds are working against our very efforts to awaken from the dream of separateness.
Because of this twisted relationship to our mind, with our every effort to hear the Course’s simple, unified message, our ego-based defenses easily twist and distort such simple, direct statements in ways that undermine their very meaning. “Oneness” and “non-separation” are often heard in terms only a separated mind-set can understand.
The Course, written from a clear and incisive perspective, understands this shadowy strategy, forgoes a direct approach to our ironclad ego-mind and instead and deftly dances around it, subtly undermining our certainty in the ego-outlook and then while we’re less certain, slips in continued assurances of God’s continual loving presence, our oneness with Reality and the inevitability of the outcome of any serious intent to awaken or to “come home”. It is inevitable because it is God’s will that it happen and there is no other will in all of existence.
To the increasingly serious and advanced student, this inevitability is a great comfort. To the still ego-saturated part of our mind, it is a direct threat, producing increased fear and defensiveness. Hence the “dance” of the course around its simple, direct statements. Indeed, though they are salted through the early sections of the text and workbook, such statements only become more direct and frequent in the latter parts of the Course.
The early parts of both sections are focused far more on the “unraveling,” of our current perceptions of the world. While the Course is famously supposed to say that the world we see is an illusion, this turns out to be a more subtle and complex issue than it seems, a subtlety that often escapes capsule summaries of the Course and misleads even serious students.
It’s often something of a surprise to find that this very issue of whether our perception is actually showing us an external physical world or whether it is in fact all happening in the mind is one of the oldest and hardest argued questions in Western thought. It has been examined by some of the greatest leaders in philosophy, art and even the physical sciences, many of whom have had no experience with such material as the Course. Even more startling is that the consensus of opinion is that, common assumptions aside, no one has been able to prove that there is an external physical world. No philosopher. No Scientist. No one. And they have reached this conclusion simply by examining their own perceptions with the same rigor and reason they brought to their examinations of the seemingly physical world itself.
In the past few decades, an increasing number of spiritual teachers have been using the radically different and counter-intuitive understanding of quantum physics in just such an attempt to undermine our culturally supported belief in the solidity of the physical world.
In the past few years, an equally radical and counter-intuitive change has taken place in science concerning the very nature our perception of the physical world (whatever it is). This field, known collectively as the cognitive (brain/mind) sciences, has been changing at lightning speed.
Today, the consensus of this field is that our perceptions of the world (our images, sounds and all the rest) are not coming directly from the seemingly outside world at all. Rather, the sensations that come to us (light, sound, tactile sensation, etc.) are essentially ambiguous. The brain then constructs our perceptions of the world by comparing these ambiguous signals with what they have most often turned out to represent in the past (our personal and evolutionary experiences) and by then applying brain “pre-sets” or “rules” that the brain/mind has developed for modeling these signals on our past experience.
Our perceptions then, far from showing us the “external world” we seem to be experiencing now, are actually showing us what it has most often seemed to be in the past. Some leading cognitive scientists go even farther and say that we are essentially seeing only the past. For any experienced Course student, this is a clear echo of its teaching.
In the brief articles and essays on this site, I will review the Course’s teaching on perception and its relationship to the Course’s underlying truth that “There is only God”. Reality is, always has been and always will be absolutely One. The very idea of an external world of multiplicity and separation is a direct contradiction of this underlying truth regardless of what our perceptions seem to be telling us. I have also briefly reviewed the historic cultural debate over the senses and the recent consensus among scientists as to the internally (brain) constructed nature of our perceptions modeled on the past.
One major difference between the use of quantum physics and cognitive science in this process of undermining our conventional view of the world is that the results of quantum research can only be relayed to us in secondary words and ideas. But many of the examples of cognitive science can be seen directly and I will include several examples on the site.
In my classes and seminars I’m able to use a variety of perceptual experiences that can’t communicate well in video. They can be described, but without direct perception and sometimes even hands on, tactile experience, they fall flat. So I’ll rely on what can be shown online.
It’s important to remember that no scientific finding or experiment is the same as the Course’s teaching, nor does it “prove” the Course. The Course is its own authority and only your own experience can validate it for you.
We live though, in a science-saturated culture and science holds a huge position of authority. By seeing just how much science has changed its own models of the world and perception is to get some insight into just how shifting is the scientific world view. And by seeing that we have limited our willingness of the Course’s teaching by ideas that science itself has long abandoned, we can also glimpse how dominated our thinking is by culturally supported assumptions, assumptions which are no longer even held by science.
In so doing, perhaps we can get a little bit of looseness from the hold of these assumptions on our mind, can step back and hear the Course with new ears, and give a little more willingness to following the Course’s “dance” around the iron-hold of our ego-separated minds.
These facts, demonstrations and insights alone will not do it. The very brevity and attempt at a summation actually makes it easier for us to “wrap our heads around it”, but the Course is trying to “unwrap” our heads.
I can only suggest to you that this material has been useful to me personally and to many of the hundreds of students I have worked with over the past thirty-five years. I offer it to you in the hopes that it may prove useful to you in your own “journey” to awakening.
David Beaver, Raleigh, North Carolina, 2015