Training Your Mind to Choose Peace

Training Your Mind to Choose Peace: An Introduction to a Course in Miracles

What comes to your mind when you think of meditation? Sitting with a straight back, chanting a mantra or focussing on the breath? Feeling bored while you try to control/watch/observe your mind?

Sitting in lotus pose with your eyes closed has become the defacto view on meditation, so much so that many people think it is all there is to meditation. They try sitting quietly for a few minute, fail, and then give up.

There are many other types of meditation, including self enquiry (which has its own problem that it becomes confused with psycho-analysis). An example of this is what the Indian sage Raman taught. He asked his students to meditate on Who am I?

A Course in Miracles(ACIM or the Course from now on) has a fresh new approach to meditation. I had been hearing quotes from the ACIM for a long time, but had never considered it. It’s language seemed dense and boring, and it didn’t seem to make any sense. And yet, it was full of inspirational quotes (some of which I will share below).

It was Eckhart Tolle who finally cleared the block for me. In one of his videos on the ACIM, he said:

If you find it easy to sit in meditation and feel peaceful, but lose that peace as soon as you leave the Yoga mat, then ACIM is for you; it makes no assumptions on how advanced a student you are, and works with the level you are.

It teaches you how to reach the Infinite by way of the world, by practising love and forgiveness towards your fellow human beings.

Tolle gave a brief introduction to ACIM, and that had me hooked. It still took me months to really understand what the course really says. One of the reasons I’m writing this article is to save You that time.

A Mind Training Program

At its heart, the ACIM is a mind training program. We are too concerned with what we do, and not enough with what we think. We seem to believe we are not responsible for our thoughts.

ACIM says that what we think is as important as what we do. So it’s not just good enough to be goody-good on the outside, while being filled with hate and anger inside.

It also accepts that we are NOT in control of our minds, at least not yet, and so gives a series of excercises to do so.

The aim is to change our way of thinking, so that faced with problems, we react with patience and kindness, rather than irritation and anger, which is our default state.

The Reason ACIM turns people away

There is a big problem with the Course that turns many people away. I should mention it now.

First: The course is written in heavy Christian language, making people think its yet another Christian teaching. It is not. I will go over the details of this when we look at the history of the course.

Second: Though the course uses Christian language, it reinterprets the terms. So sin is missing the mark, not remembering who we are. Salvation is remembering who we are, Beings of Pure Essence.

In this way, ACIM is closer to Advaita Vedanta than traditional Christianity. Advaita, if you have never heard of it, is a philosophy of Hinduism that says that we are God, but have forgotten it and gotten stuck in this world, which is a bit like a dream or illusion. A bit like the Matrix, except there is no “evil” computer except our own mind.

A Very KEY Thing to Understand: ACIM is not a religion, and expects nothing from you in terms of belief etc.

So even though it uses Christian language, please remember that the Course is religion neutral, and its main goal is to train your mind. It does not claim to be better than any other meditation technique out there. In fact, the ACIM clearly says all religions and meditation techniques are incomplete, as you cannot talk about the Infinite using words; but we have to start somewhere.

Same with the word God. You don’t have to believe in a God in the Christian sense. Replace God with Your Higher Self, the Inner Teacher, or your True Self, if that sounds better.

Is the Course suitable for YOU?

Only you can answer this question, but I find the best students of the Course are those who have been meditating for some time, have studied other philosophies like Advaita, Zen, Buddhism, Yoga etc.

That’s because the Course, being pure non-dualistic, is closer to these philosophies than traditional religion.

For me, I found the Course offers the best balance between being too dry and other worldly on the one extreme, and being all lubby-dubby, hugging your neighbour and talking to your plants (for the other extreme).

But your mileage may vary. At the minimum, I would recommend reading the 2 books I list at the end, as the 2 writers I mention have a different world view than me, and may even be better writers than me!

I hope I have not turned you off by now. Let’s look at how the Course trains your mind.

Projection, and not seeing the REAL WORLD

In psychology, there is a concept called projection. Projection occurs when a person “projects” their own thoughts and feelings on to others, so as not to feel guilty. So the angry person thinks the whole world is full of angry assholes, the paranoid person thinks everyone is out to get them. The old joke explains this well.

A man goes to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrists shows him some Rorschach images, which are just paint blobs on a piece of paper. The patient is supposed to interpret these images according to his mind state.

The doctor shows him the first ink blob. “What do you see?”

“A man and a donkey having sex.”

The doctor shows him another blob. “What now?”

“A man is having sex with your grandma.”

The doctor puts down the paint blobs. “You are sick.”

“I am sick?” says the patient. “You are the one showing me dirty pictures!”

And that’s projection for you. We project our thoughts to the outer world, and we think our thoughts are the real world.

The ACIM says that we never see the real world, we only see our own fears, anger, hate etc projected on to the outer world. Here is one the first of the inspiration Course quotes we will share:

You think you have many problems, but you only have one problem.

The Course says that we only have one problem, and all the problems we face are different manifestations of it. The problem is: We have forgotten who we are, and trying to find ourselves by looking at the thoughts we project to the world.

A lot like the Cave analogy of Plato. Plato said we are like people who have lived our whole ives in a cave, and only seen the read world as shadows. We have no idea what is out there, and everything we know about our “world” is wrong.

This is why the ACIM is a Course in Mind Training, as it teaches you to train your mind to stop looking at the dream like world, to stop projecting your own thoughts on to the world, to see the world as it is, a place of forgiveness and love.

But enough theory. Let’s talk about some practical now.

Mind Training in the ACIM

The practical part of the Course in Miracles is in the Workbook, which contains 365 lessons, one for each day of the year.

You can start the Workbook without reading the book, though it is recommended you read the book in parallel, so you can get the bigger picture of what the Course is talking about.

Let’s look at Lesson 1. Nothing in this room means anything.

You have to look at things in the room, like a chair, and say This chair does not mean anything to me. This table does not mean anything.

And the good thing is, you only need to do this for 5 minutes.

This lesson trains you to understand that objects in themselves have no meaning, except those which we give to them. This is to stop the habit of the mind to project everything onto the outer world.

Then in Lesson 3, you say: I do not understand anything I see (in this room, in this street etc). Again, you are training the mind not to project its story to the world.

Chapter 4 you go radical: My thoughts do not mean anything. You look at a thought and say, This thought about eating ice cream while doing a headstand does not mean anything.

This is radical because nowadays, thinking is supposed to bet the highest form of thing you can do, and this exercise is basically saying your thoughts are as meaningless as the world around you.

Lesson 6 & 7 are very powerful. I am never upset for the reason I think. I am upset because I see something that is not there.

This is a great statement. You think you are upset because you don’t have the dream job, or the dream spouse, or whatever, but the reason you are really upset is because you are not seeing the Real World. Instead, you see a projection of your own thoughts, which are always negative (as they come from the ego), and you try to blame the outer world for your inner problems.

The Course is very powerful because it gets you to see that all your problems are inside, and created by your own mind. It does this in a very religious language, but like I said before, once you see past the form, the content is very useful.

The Course itself says the same thing: It says we focus too much on the outer form of the teaching, and not enough on the inner. It’s like getting a beautiful painting, but complaining that the frame isn’t beautiful.

The Course changes your thinking over 1 year. Surprisingly, at the end it doesn’t say “Well done lad, you are a Master now, here is your diploma.”

Instead, it says this is the beginning, and invites you to take your teachings and apply them in the real world.

And the course is very practical. As you do the daily exercise, you will get a chance to apply the teachings to your daily life. Like the lesson I talked about “I am never upset for the reason I think.”

The day I was doing that, I felt really depressed, and had to really struggle to meditate, but when I did, I realised that the depression came from inside, and I was trying to find someone outside to blame it on. That’s what most people do: “My boss is an a-hole, my wife don’t respect me, the government is corrupt” etc etc, instead of accepting that problem is really inside them.

Another lesson that had me in tears is: “I could choose peace instead of this.”

That day, I had a fight with the family (something trivial, as always), and at the same time, the electricity company sent me a inflated bill for £600 (which is what I paid a year), with a threatening letter saying they would take me to court. I tried calling their call centre about the wrong bill, but as usual, no one picked up after 45 minutes. I was really burning with anger at the time. If the Electric company’s CEO had dropped by, only one of us would have left the building alive J (I’m putting a smiley for any police officers reading this).

And as I was shaking with anger, I saw my lesson for the day, which I hadn’t done since morning: I could choose peace over this.

I realised that though bad things were happening, being angry was my choice. I could as easily choose to be peaceful. As soon as I realised that, it was like someone had lifted a ton of weight from my shoulders. That’s what had me in tears. I could, and did, choose peace.

And that’s how the Course works. Each lesson will become useful in your daily life. In the start, you do the lessons once or twice for 5 minutes. Later lessons have to be repeated throughout the day, at least once an hour (but don’t worry if you forget, as the Course is very forgiving). But you don’t have to struggle to remember the lesson, as it will always apply to something happening in your life.

And that, ladies and gents, is the Workbook. For today, my lesson is: “The Holy Spirit talks through me today.” You can replace Holy Spirit with the Inner Teacher or Inner Buddha if you want. But the Teacher is talking through me today, as I had this article just sitting on my laptop for months, and have only just come back to it. It seems the Inner Teacher wants me to finish this, and since He IS talking thru me today, it is a great day to do so!

Next Steps:

If you really want to get started with the Course in Miracles, here’s how I recommend it.

First, the course itself is free to read online, but if you just try to read it, you will feel lost. So I advise people to follow these steps:

1) Return to Love Marianne Williamson

I recommend getting the audio of a Return to Love Workshop. The workshop is great because it has people asking questions, and you learn more that way.

Many people have Audible subscription these days, and if you do, I recommend getting the audio.

If not, feel free to get the book.

Note: Some people complain that Marianne spends too much time talking about Luuhhhvvvvv. If all this talk of emotion offends you, you might want to reconsider what makes you so angry talking about emotions. I was a lot like this for a long time, until I realised I was suppressing my emotions, and only anger and hate remained. Outside of the Stars Wars Universe, hate and anger do not help you at all, materially or spiritually.

2) Gary Reynard – Disappearance of the universe

Gary is great, in that he talks about the Advaita part of the Course, ie, the world is a dream, an illusion (yes, the Course does say that, but it says to wake up from the dream you have to first accept and forgive the world, as YOU created this world. Radical stuff indeed).

I recommend reading Gary after Marianne, as I feel the Love and Forgiveness part of the Course is more important to understand.

Also, Gary has a sense of humor, and this offends some people. Shocking!

3) The Course

You can read it online, buy a copy, or buy an audiobook. I prefer the audiobook for the main part, while I just did the exercises online (though I now have print and eBook versions as well).

Start work book first , read the Course in parallel.

The 1st 40 days you will find very confusing and non-sensical. Just work through it, the whole thing will start to make sense.