Illusion, Perception and Projection

According to the course, something is acting as a barrier to the direct and natural awareness of our actual and current state of simple oneness. Since it also clearly says that “nothing unreal exists”; the only appropriate term for these barriers is “illusion”. 

As we walk through our lives in this world, many things seem so obviously real; our bodies and those of other people, the many parts and pieces of our civilization, the natural world, the Earth itself and the vast universe in which it resides. Yet this is seemingly in direct conflict with the central truth of a unified non-complex Reality and the simple summation that “God is”.

It is tremendously tempting then, to equate the world we see with this illusion-barrier. Historically, this has led to many forms of “world-rejection”, from relatively simple shunning of worldly pleasures and pursuits to extreme asceticism and finally the thought that “heaven” cannot be found in this life but is only a place that can be reached after death.

However, the Course’s description of the illusion-barrier is not quite so simple. Early on it wants us to understand and internalize the fact that despite all the seeming reality of the physical world, the only experience we have of it is through our senses. While that may seem reasonably obvious, the next step is not.

As difficult as it may be to completely wrap our minds around it, The Course insists that our mind creates our sensory experience of the world in all its aspects. This is a revolutionary statement and one the course clearly doesn’t expect us to grasp by simply accepting or even getting the concept. This is merely the beginning of the conversation and process that is the course.

The Course insists that the eyes and ears do not work like cameras and microphones, sending images and sounds directly to our consciousness. We are not directly experiencing an external world through our senses at all. Rather our mind creates the images of our perception based on our thoughts, previous experiences and belief/paradigms.

And, because of the way our senses interact with our mind, The Course says, the images of perception, totally constructed in and by the by the mind, are “projected out there” into what appears as a separate, physical, seemingly “free-standing” world.

The very idea that such an external world could even exist directly contradicts the central, non-dual, unitive nature of reality; there is Only God. Not God and world. Not God and matter. Only God. But our mind, which of necessity is part of God’s mind, is capable of creating the image and sensations of an external world and making it so real that it seems to exist outside the mind. “Perception”, it says, is Projection”. The problem, The Course tells us, is simply a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the relationship of perception and reality.

Now here’s the real twist. According to the course, it’s not the fact that we see these images that is the problem. The mind naturally creates images as in dreams, imagination, memory and so on. After all, as near as we can tell, Jesus saw the world, as did other seemingly “realized” beings (Buddha, Krishna, Ramana Maharshi, or whoever you might think of as realized or “enlightened”.)

The problem is that, not understanding that we are projecting and not receiving our perceptions, we have the absolute sense that these people and things and events that make up the world are outside of us, outside of our mind, despite the underlying reality of absolute oneness that the course describes.

This unconscious projection underlies and sustains the very sense of separation that naturally arises when one appears to be a separate being within a world of separate beings and physical things. Or as the Upanishads say, “Wherever there is an other, fear arises”.

The Goal of the Course’s Teaching

Now we can begin to see the actual teaching goal of the Course. Starting from the first principle of the absolute oneness of God/Reality/Love, and the absolute unreality of a separate world, the Course sets the undoing of the very sense of separation in our minds as its central goal. Indeed it says that this sense is “the only lack we need correct.” While the images themselves don’t contradict this oneness, any more than our dreams and imagination contradict our normal perception, our internal feeling that these normal perceptions are coming from a source outside our mind, does undermine our sense of oneness. Thus, the often repeated statement in the Course that “Thoughts never leave the mind”.

While even in our conventional view of separated minds and bodies, this may seem obvious (“our thoughts are all in our head”), once the Course identifies everything we experience in perception as nothing more than thoughts in our minds, the revolutionary nature of this statement becomes obvious. The “world” itself, even with its illusion of separation is now seen as a thought in the mind and no longer understood as something “outside” despite all our convincing perceptions, feelings and deep-seated beliefs. Indeed, even our bodies and brains are images, perceptions, in our mind, not external or separate at all.

Once the mind-created and mind-containing nature of perception is grasped, and even more importantly, directly intuited; the source of separation is no longer seen as outside ourselves and is in fact our own creation. One that can then be changed or even let go of as it no longer is seen as different from our thoughts. It was merely a mistaken “interpretation” of the images of perception, images that exist only in our mind.

 The great difficulty; as anyone who has tried to internalize this idea, let alone tried to live from this point of view, (even if one has come to strongly believe that it is true); is that our minds don’t want to cooperate and “shift” perception to this sense of an internally created world; to seeing the world as a sort of waking dream or vision.

The sense of the images we perceive as obviously coming from and demonstrating an external world is so deeply embedded in our minds and in our shared culture that we never even raise it to the level of a question. These deeply and unquestionably held thoughts and beliefs are what are formally called “Paradigms”. We’ll go more deeply into the nature of paradigms shortly.

Understand that to see the world as completely created in the mind and projected outwards as in a dream, vision (or a virtual reality), requires nothing you see to change. It is not necessary to see lights or auras or angels or glimpses of a “higher reality”. The images of people and objects do not need to “disappear in light”. And yet, everything does change profoundly because the internal sense of separation from all we perceive – goes away! Imagine seeing everything in the world and yet having no sense of separation. No sense of fear or judgment or anger. Nothing but an intuitively obvious sense that it is all a part of you.

Understand that even this is a limited way of stating that which cannot be fully put into words.  As with many aspects of non-duality, it is perhaps more accurate to simply say what it not the case.  That is, the sense of separation, the very idea of which is a contradiction of the nature of Reality, no longer holds sway over the mind.  Thus the “feeling-perception” of the world changes.

While the illusionary sense of separation and the attendant “feeling-perception” are the only things that actually change, the movement toward this shift may be experienced as two distinct changes, the idea that the physical world is an illusion, while still not relinquishing judgment and separation in relationships; or the idea of the “oneness” of all humanity, while maintaining the reality of the physical (and therefore external, and separate) world.

While some “feeling-perception” can change in either of these aspects, since the fundamental sense of separation in the mind remains, full release in either  aspect remains impossible.

Next essay, we’ll look at how these two seemingly separate aspects of the sense of separation arise and are mutually reinforcing, and how working directly on recognizing the inherent unreality of separation itself is the key to full release.

Next Essay: The Two Essential Forms of Projected Separation




MiracleMind Blog

As I said on the homepage, in all the time I have taught A Course in Miracles, I have never promoted my classes; only word of mouth and any posting of the classes made by whichever organization at which I have held classes or seminars. This site then is something new for me.

As such it is also something of an experiment. Through all the years I have taught the Course, I’ve still been learning it as well. “What, you haven’t gotten it…graduated or whatever?” No, I am not “fully cooked,” and I am certainly not “enlightened.”

While I have never lacked for students here in the Triangle, whether the focus I bring to the Course has benefit for a wider circle, I have no idea; hence this “experiment.” In fact, it has been my students who have pushed me to “reach out.” If what is on this site is for you just more of the same, or (worse yet) some crazy ramblings, blame it on them! (Just kidding guys!)

I am just teaching what I want to learn myself.   I want to live with a greater sense of peace and a greater sense of “Presence.” “Presence of what,” you might ask. And while I could put several names to it that you might recognize, I’m not talking about anything that words would do Justice. And that Presence IS Peace! Several times in my life I have had, or better, fallen into, this sense of Presence, often at turning points in my life.

Did the “Presence” create the turning point, or did the turning point coincide with a turning of the mind that opened to the Presence? I don’t know how to answer the question. While I could use all sorts of language and terminology from the Course to give an answer, it also would not be the reality. And the reality is beyond our ability to conceptualize, but is the real goal of the Course.

The Course tells us (and my “awakened” friends put it in various other words) that the “Presence” that sometimes seems to arise within you (but much of the time seems like a will-o-wisp), is actually YOU. It is none other than your Self. Not your “Higher Self,” or your “Real Self,” (though we may sometimes use such terms to talk about it), but your ONLY self.

The Course calls it the Holy Spirit or the Voice for God, or the Mind of Christ. But it also says that it is in fact your mind. In our intensely separate state however, it seems to be anything but our mind.

Often, we may seem to have, or be, two selves. This is the heart of all the conflicts in our mind or in our lives; this root sense of separation. This is also the root of our difficulty in fully connecting with anyone, with God, or even with our own “Higher” or “Real” Self; our inability to truly and fully love, and our inability to be at peace. Indeed, the Course says, early on, that the only thing we need to change is “our seeming sense of separation.” 

But it also says that, not only does separation in any form not exist, it is impossible for separation itself to exist at all. That certainly doesn’t square with our experience however. Coming to grips with this dichotomy is often one of the most difficult parts of learning the Course or other such non-dual practice. This is why it is focused on so intently in the early parts of both the Text and the Workbook, and continues to be cited all through the book.

Curiously, our “experience” is not what it seems. And one of the best ways to really understand this is to come to a visceral understanding of just how you perceive anything, which is also not the way it seems. So, on this site, and in my classes, seminars and workshops, I not only teach the concepts of the Course, and coach the application of the lessons and other exercises, but I use verbal and visual techniques and demonstrations to bring a more visceral experience of the internally created nature of what we seem to be just “perceiving” through our senses.

For even longer than I have worked with the Course, I have been a student of the nature of human perception. In my professional work, I am a cognitive researcher and have given well received lectures on my research at a half-dozen major university graduate schools in Design, Psychology, Virtual Reality, Theatre, Film and Cognitive Neuroscience. In addition to bringing my own research to them, I have learned of their cutting edge research in each of these fields, which has given me new tools and techniques for communication.

Today, a number of Course teachers, as well as teachers in other non-dual traditions, have learned something of the counter-intuitive nature of quantum mechanics and use examples from it (in varying degrees of accuracy), to help folks see that even the nature of the physical world is not what they think.

This material can be useful in undermining our conventional view of the physical world, and since my own early undergraduate study was in physics (and I have tried to keep up with new developments in the field), I will sometimes use quantum theory in the same manner in classes.

However, the quantum nature of matter cannot be demonstrated but only described, whereas the “projective” nature of human perception can actually be experienced in a class setting using demonstrations that are used in cognitive labs, in addition to the Course exercises.

I don’t teach science. I teach the Course. But as the Introduction says, “This Course does not aim at teaching the meaning of Love [or God, or Truth, or the Absolute] for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim at removing the barriers to Love’s presence, which is your own natural inheritance.”

It’s been my experience, and apparently the experience of many of my students, that actually seeing your mind making up, failing to see, or altering in some significant way, the things you used to think were just what you directly “perceived,” is a powerful aid to grasping many of the other central teachings of the Course.

True Forgiveness, Atonement, the Real World and the “always and already” nature of innocence are all revealed by this Shift, and hence the unreality of guilt, defense, attack and much more, are all dispelled by it.

This is some of the kind of work I have done with students for nearly 40 years. For the first time I’m going to see if there is anyone else out there who might benefit from this approach. If this resonates with you, let’s talk.