Undoing the Way We See Things Now
Lesson 4 These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the things I see in this room (on this street, from this window, in this place).
Unlike the preceding ones, these exercises do not begin with the idea for the day. In these practice periods, begin with noting the thoughts are crossing your mind for about a minute. Then apply the idea to them. If you are already aware of unhappy thoughts, use them as subjects for the idea. Do not, however, select only the thoughts you think are “bad.” You will find, if you train yourself to look at your thoughts, that they represent such a mixture, that, in a sense, none of them can be called “good” or “bad.” This is why they do not mean anything.
In selecting the subjects for the application of today’s idea, the usual specificity is required. Do not be afraid to use “good” thoughts as well as “bad.” None of them represents your real thoughts, which are being covered up by them. The “good” ones are but shadows of what lies beyond, and shadows make sight difficult. The “bad” ones are blocks to sight and make seeing impossible. You do not want either.
This is a major exercise and will be repeated from time to time in somewhat different form. The aim here is to train you in the first steps toward the goal of separating the meaningless from the meaningful. It is a first attempt in the long-range purpose of learning to see the meaningless as outside you, and the meaningful within. It is also the beginning of training your mind to recognize what is the same and what is different.
In using your thoughts for application of the idea for today, identify each thought by the central figure or event it contains; for example:
This thought about __________ does not mean anything.
It is like the things I see in this room, (on this street, and so on).
You can also use the idea for a particular thought that you recognize as harmful. This practice is useful but is not a substitute for the more random procedures to be followed for the exercises. Do not, however, examine your mind for more than a minute or so. You are too inexperienced as yet to avoid a tendency to become pointlessly preoccupied.
Further, since these exercises are the first of their kind, you may find the suspension of judgment in connection with thoughts particularly difficult. Do not repeat these exercises more than three or four times during the day. We will return to them later.
Notes and Personal Application (2019): I loved this exercise because my thoughts are sometimes like people chattering away in my head and inconsistent and random and even crazy-making. So to do an exercise that took all the meaning away from them was a big relief to me! On this day I was thinking about a former coworker whose posing and posturing had troubled me. Instead of building a case up and around her or even thinking “good” thoughts about her, I used the time to pray for her. I don’t believe that she is the atheist or agnostic she claims to be. Her mocking and poking fun is not something that I should allow to trouble me. The lesson today helped me to realize that even my “good” thoughts and my prayers for her were like the things I see – they had no meaning, the meaning they did have was what I made up about them, and that I don’t understand them. I was happy to admit that I didn’t understand my thoughts – where they come from, who is responsible for them, and what to do with them! They are a distraction and they do not mean anything.
Notes and Personal Application (2020): James said that last night when he was ready for sleep his thoughts were in a jumble, disconnected and crazy. And he realized that they didn’t mean anything and just let them go before drifting off to sleep. We had a good discussion about how thoughts can confuse people into thinking that they do not have a choice. When we think that our thoughts have meaning, we give them power in our life. When people mistake thoughts for reality it gives us reason to attack, defend, and go down paths that lead into more separation from God.
In 2019, I explored the concept that “good” thoughts are shadows of what lies beyond, which make seeing difficult. I had already learned that “bad” thoughts are blocks to true sight. I knew that bad thoughts led to spiritual blindness and unloving, unpeaceful, judgmental outcomes for me. Instead of drawing people in, bad thoughts push them away. Instead of learning to love one another, we learn instead to fear and hold grudges toward one another, missing opportunities for fun, adventure, growth, and love, not to mention the valuable lessons that can be learned only through the very ones we drive away!
Years ago when I realized that my mind had a tendency toward rumination and negativity, I attempted, with great effort, to correct this by replacing “bad” thoughts with “good” ones. For instance, when I would remember a grievance against a friend, I would replace the thought of the grievance with a reminder of how generous he was or a fun time we had shared.
This only worked up to a point because I was still making my thoughts about the person real and substituting shadows for true vision. Having completed the Course, I know now that replacing my negative thoughts toward someone with more positive thoughts was still an exercise in separation. For me, it seemed more loving to put more emphasis on someone’s positive qualities rather than their negative qualities, but what happened was this: The more I focused on thoughts of someone’s positive qualities, the more apparent their negative qualities became in my life. And no matter how hard I tried to avoid negative thoughts about them, the more I focused on (and blabbed about) their negative qualities. It was as if I were powerless to keep those negative thoughts and feelings to myself. Things would come out of my mouth that, had I not been trying to bottle them up for so long, could have been said in love and in a more appropriate time, tone, and setting.
I did not realize my thoughts, either good or bad, were not real and had no meaning. The meaning was in learning to use the experiences, behaviors, and actions that seemed to be happening on the outside of me and played out by another, as the lessons the Holy Spirit was revealing to me about the difference between reality and the illusion, wakefulness and the dream. The judgmental thoughts, good or bad, was the deterrent, the distraction the ego uses to keep us from reality, to make the illusion “real” to us, to project what we are lacking in ourselves, to our brothers. Our outward world in time, which is fragmented and separate, is only a reflection of our inward world where each brother stands for an aspect of our splintered, separate Self. When we learn that the outside world is the reflection of our inside world, we realize that our thoughts about the outside world are meaningless. There is nothing to judge as good or bad, nice or mean, positive or negative. Symbols of our separation, the Holy Spirit uses all circumstances in time to awaken our estranged Selves and return to God, to unity, to Brotherhood, to Sonship.
Since James and I tend to both be unforgiving, building cases against people who have disappointed and hurt us, as well as venerating those who have been kind and good, we choose to stop giving these thoughts any meaning. By this choice, we are teaching one another to choose a better way that leads to God – to peace, love, joy, and forgiveness.
Thoughts come and go, but it is the lessons learned that have meaning.
 A Course in Miracles. Workbook for Students Lesson 4 These thoughts do not mean…Foundation for Inner Peace, Second Edition, p. 6-7.