1. The learning of the world is built upon a concept of the self adjusted to the world’s reality. It fits it well. For this an image is that suits a world of shadows and illusions. Here it walks at home where what it sees is one with it. The building of a concept of the self is what the learning of the world is for. This is its purpose; that you come without a self and make one as you go along. And by the time you reach “maturity” you have perfected it, to meet the world on equal terms, at one with its demands.
2. A concept of the self is made by you. It bears no likeness to yourself at all. It is an idol, made to take the place of your reality as Son of God. The concept of the self the world would teach is not the thing that it appears to be. For it is made to serve two purposes, but one of which the mind can recognize. The first presents the face of innocence, the aspect acted on. It is this face that smiles and charms and even seems to love. It searches for companions, and it looks at times with pity, on the suffering, and sometimes offers solace. It believes that it is good within an evil world.
3. This aspect can grow angry, for the world is wicked and unable to provide the love and shelter innocence deserves. And so this face is often wet with tears at the injustices the world accords to those who would be generous and good. This aspect never makes the first attack. But every day a hundred little things make small assaults upon its innocence, provoking it to irritation, and at last to open insult and abuse.
4. The face of innocence the concept of the self so proudly wears can tolerate attack in self- defense, for is it not a well- known fact the world deals harshly with defenseless innocents? No one who makes a picture of himself omits this face, for he has need of it. The other side he does not want to see. Yet it is here the learning of the world has set its sights, for it is here the world’s “reality” is set, to see to it the idol lasts.
5. Beneath the face of innocence there is a lesson that the concept of the self was made to teach. It is a lesson in a terrible displacement, and a fear so devastating that the face that smiles above it must forever look away, lest it perceive the treachery it hides. The lesson teaches this: “I am the thing you made of me, and as you look on me, you stand condemned because of what I am.” On this conception of the self the world smiles with approval, for it guarantees the pathways of the world are safely kept, and those who walk on them will not escape.
6. Here is the central lesson that ensures your brother is condemned eternally. For what you are has now become his sin. For this is no forgiveness possible. No longer does it matter what he does, for your accusing finger points to him, unwavering and deadly in its aim. It points to you as well, but this is kept still deeper in the mist below the face of innocence. And in the shrouded vaults are all his sins and yours preserved and kept in darkness, where they cannot be perceived as errors, which the light would surely show. You can neither be blamed for what you are, nor can you change the things it makes you do. Your brother then is symbol of your sins to you who are but silently, and yet with ceaseless urgency, condemning still your brother for the hated thing you are.
7. Concepts are learned. They are not natural. Apart from learning they do not exist. They are not given, so they must be made. Not one of them is true, and many come from feverish imaginations, hot with hatred and distortions born of fear. What is a concept but a thought to which its maker gives a meaning of his own? Concepts maintain the world. But they cannot be used to demonstrate the world is real. For all of them are made within the world, born in its shadow, growing in its ways and finally “maturing” in its thought. They are ideas of idols, painted with the brushes of the world, which cannot make a single picture representing truth.
8. A concept of the self is meaningless, for no one here can see what it is for, and therefore cannot picture what it is. Yet is all learning that the world directs begun and ended with the single aim of teaching you this concept of yourself, that you will choose to follow this world’s laws, and never seek to go beyond its roads nor realize the way you see yourself. Now must the Holy Spirit find a way to help you see this concept of the self must be undone, if any peace of mind is to be given you. Nor can it be unlearned except by lessons aimed to teach you that you are something else. For otherwise, you would be asked to make exchange of what you now believe for total loss of self, and greater terror would arise in you.
9. Thus are the Holy Spirit’s lesson plans arranged in easy steps, that though there be some lack of ease at times and some distress, there is no shattering of what was learned, but just a re-translation of what seems to be the evidence on its behalf. Let us consider, then, what proof there is that you are what your brother made of you. For even though you do not yet perceive that this is what you think, you surely learned by now that you behave as if it were. Does he react for you? And does he know exactly what would happen? Can he see your future and ordain, before it comes, what you should do in every circumstance? He must have made the world as well as you to have such prescience in the things to come.
10. That you are what your brother made of you seems most unlikely. Even if he did, who gave the face of innocence to you? Is this your contribution? Who is, then, the “you” who made it? And who is deceived by all your goodness, and attacks it so? Let us forget the concept’s foolishness, and merely think of this; there are two parts to what you think yourself to be. If one were generated by your brother, who was there to make the other? And from who must something be kept hidden? If the world be evil, there is still no need to hide what you are made of. Who is there to see? And what but is attacked could need defense?
11. Perhaps the reason why this concept must be kept in darkness is that, in the light, the one who would not think it true is you. And what would happen to the world you see, if all its underpinnings were removed? Your concept of the world depends upon this concept of the self. And both would go, if either one were ever raised to doubt. The Holy Spirit does not seek to throw you into panic. So he merely asks if just a little question might be raised.
12. There are alternatives about the thing that you must be. You might, for instance, be the thing you chose to have your brother be. This shifts the concept of the self from what is wholly passive, and at least makes way for active choice, and some acknowledgement that interaction must have entered in. There is some understanding that you chose for both of you, and what he represents has meaning that was given it by you. It also shows some glimmering of sight into perception’s law that what you see reflects the state the perceiver’s mind. Yet who was it that did the choosing first? If you are what you chose your brother be, alternatives were there to choose among, and someone must have first decided on the one to choose and let the other go.
13. Although this step has gains, it does not yet approach a basic question. Something must have gone before these concepts of the self. And something must have done the learning which gave rise to them. Nor can this be explained by either view. The main advantage of the shifting to the second from the first is that you somehow entered in the choice by your decision. But this gain is paid in almost equal loss, for now you stand accused of guilt for what your brother is. And you must share his guilt, because you chose it for him in the image of your own. While only he was treacherous before now must you be condemned along with him.
14. The concept of the self has always been the great preoccupation of the world. And everyone believes that he must find the answer to the riddle of himself. Salvation can be seen as nothing more than the escape from concepts. It does not concern itself with content of the mind, but with the simple statement that it thinks. And what can think has choice and can be shown that different thoughts have different consequences. So it can learn that everything it thinks reflects the deep confusion that it feels about how it was made and what it is. And vaguely does the concept of the self appear to answer what it does not know.
15. Seek not your Self in symbols. There can be no concept that can stand for what you are. What matters it which concept you accept while you perceive a self that interacts with evil, and reacts to wicked things? Your concept of yourself will still remain quite meaningless. And you will not perceive that you can interact but with yourself. To see a guilty world is but the sign your learning has been guided by the world, and you behold it as you see yourself. The concept of the self embraces all you look upon, and nothing is outside of this perception. If you can be hurt by anything, you see a picture of your secret wishes. Nothing more than this. And in your suffering of any kind you see your own concealed desire to kill.
16. You will make many concepts of the self as learning goes along. Each one will show the changes in your own relationships, as your perception of yourself is changed. There will be some confusion every time there is a shift but be you thankful learning of the world is loosening its grasp upon your mind. And be you sure and happy in the confidence that it will go at last and leave your mind at peace. The role of the accuser will appear in many places and in many forms. And each will seem to be accusing you. Yet have no fear it will not be undone.
17. The world can teach no images of you unless you want to learn them. There will come a time when images have all gone by, and you will see you know not what you are. It is to this unsealed and open mind that truth returns, unhindered and unbound. Where concepts of the self have been laid by is truth revealed exactly as it is. When every concept has been raised to doubt and question and been recognized as made on no assumptions that would stand the light, then is the truth left free to enter in its sanctuary, clean and free of guilt. There is no statement that the world is more afraid to hear than this:
I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not know what I am doing,
where I am, or how to look upon the world or on myself.
Yet in this learning is salvation born. And what you are will tell you of Itself. 
The more time we take to spend with this passage, the more meaningful it becomes to us. This is the third day I spent with this and each time I read it; I get closer to the beautiful way in which our true identity is slowly revealed to us. The world of images proves itself meaningless, while the truth shines on behind the ruse, seeming to dawn as the clouds dissipate. There is no war, no great destruction, no meanness or spite involved. When the untruth fails us, when we no longer cling to our illusions, there is the truth the same as it always was, unchanged and certain.
As babies, everyone else gets to tell us who we are – we are pronounced human, named, our fingers and toes are counted. Healthy or malformed, well or unwell. We are assigned a gender, we are cared for or neglected, we learn the rules of our household, our community, our schools and churches. When we express any kind of angst about the meaning of our lives or the truth about our identity, we are sent to counselors, religious gurus, or reprimanded about how thankful we should be for our daily provisions! We learn to smile when we are sad; we learn to laugh at cruelty; we learn to plot and scheme. This is what we have to do to survive in the world and of course we would never do it if it were not for them, they asked for it, they deserve it, they did this to us and deserve the spite we devise for them. We blame our parents, our siblings, our friends, and neighbors for the loss of our innocence. But Jesus assures us that we chose to come in the world, we wanted to be more than our brothers, we chose specialness and separateness, we came here because we opposed the oneness and unity of God, of Love, of Sonship.
This may be hard for us to accept when we look at the image of our precious little babies. They seem so new and undefiled. We will do everything in our power to protect them, to keep them safe from the bullies of the world, from being laughed at, from being scorned, from being beaten and torn. But no matter what you do, you cannot protect them from the world or from what they chose. We come to the world because we asked to come to the world. We come here to learn in time and space the world of opposition and opposites. We get to live out our own conceptions. We get to live in the marvelous, magical realm of image, forms, of spaces and outlines between us rather than the oneness and unity of God. In the magical realm, I can gain on you. I can get more likes. I can, if I am charming and enchanting enough, if I work at it, if I am incredibly lucky, make you feel at a great disadvantage next to me! For my increase is your decrease. All that is mine comes to me at great cost and I must hoard things and I must protect what I have, and I must treat you suspiciously because you may steal it from me, you may plot to murder me if you are next in line to my throne, your jealousy will target me and blame me for all your ills and suffering. My wealth and privilege are a cause for you to hate me not rejoice with me. This is what we get in the realm of marvels and magic, of space and time, of form and flesh. And it all spells death.
And so we come here to preoccupy ourselves with the self-concept. Who am I as defined by the world? I am a human. I am a woman. I have crooked teeth. I have lumpy thighs. I love to read. I like to travel. I am a teacher. I am a sister, a daughter, a mother, an aunt, a granddaughter. I am smart in some ways and incredibly stupid in other ways. Some days I love my looks, other days not so much! Some days I am productive, other days I am lazy. No matter what I think of myself, on any given day, I am very much devoted to my self-concept. I work hard to show off my advantages and hide my disadvantages. I blame those who used their power against me. I tend to idolize those who used their power for me. I look in the mirror a lot to find out more about this concept I have of myself. Your opinion of me matters to my self-concept, and I will hold you personally responsible if my self-concept is tainted in any way – it will be your fault for you spoke to me in grievous tones, you snubbed me at the last class reunion, you mocked my efforts to improve myself. You did not congratulate me properly when I won the game of Scrabble by a landslide.
This self-concept is at variance with our true and holy Self. This self-concept helps us to survive in madness because it is itself insane! It has no meaning. It merely exists from moment-to-transient-moment in an illusion of life, a dream which keeps changing, a dream which keeps leading nowhere, going about in circles, dashing all hope, keeping us so involved in nothingness that we take little to no time to question its validity and veracity. It is a self-concept that is always on edge, never long at ease, always questioning and trying to prove itself by comparing it to others and their self-concepts. It can never walk in true fellowship or joyous peace for it is jealous and full of spite and always comparing its experiences and privileges against those it sees in others. This self-concept smiles outwardly but behind its seeming innocence and well-wishing, its pretty gifts and trite offerings, it is in love with mystery and murder, spite and judgment.
Jesus tells us quite plainly that our Self, our true Being is not found in symbols. We cannot find our Self in flesh and forms, in passions and other people or in other places. All of that will pass away with no worry and no fret because this spells freedom. Freedom from all accusations, expectations, blame, and condemnation that appear to us in so many forms as long as we seek our identity in flesh. When we no longer accept the way the world defines us, when we no longer identify with flesh and all the roles that flesh assigns to us, our minds are finally open to the truth about who and what we really are. There we are, in all our shining glory – past all the blood and guts and gore of where we tried to find our beauty and our bliss.
The best place to be saved from the nothingness of this realm is the very place that the world is afraid of the most. For only when we admit that we cannot find our Self or know our Being in our roles, in our passions, in our likes and dislikes, in our friends and enemies, in our flesh and in our bloodlines, in what we are doing or where we are going or how we look or what we are looking for in the world, can we see past all that would obscure the Self within.
This is where our salvation lies. It is the laying down of the ego and all of the concepts that would make and maintain the fragile, faulty, false self-image of the world. The world’s first response to such a state is to panic, to find a therapist, to take to drinking, to leave your spouse and take up with someone half your age, to start a war, to go back to school, to get a new degree to add to your collection. If it is your child who does not find meaning in the world, you will do your best to keep them engaged in the world, get them into sports, find them a musical instrument to master, put them on meds, find them a new tutor, or remind them to be grateful for their sustenance and all the sacrifices others make for them. The world fears those who go within, for they do nothing for the status quo, they cannot be tempted by the world’s charms, they raise to question and to doubt all assumptions that cannot stand the light.
But have no fear! This is where our salvation is born. This is where our Sonship is remembered. This is where our everlasting Self reasserts Itself within our consciousness and is reborn.
Read over this passage carefully and prayerfully and ask Holy Spirit to teach you the difference between the self-concept and the Self. Spend as much time as it takes with this passage. Do not worry about the syllabus! This is a particularly beneficial use of our time in this study. We will never lose our place in the Kingdom of God. All that stands between is merely a matter of awakening to that which never left us and has always been within.
A Course in Miracles. Chapter 31 The final vision v. self-concept versus self. Foundation for Inner Peace, Second Edition (1992).
For daily 2021 Workbook lessons visit www.i-choose-love.com courtesy of Linda R.
Audio credit: www.eckiefriar.com