Lesson 12: I am upset because I see a meaningless world.

Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer, 1514

This idea is important because it contains a correction for a major perceptual distortion. We think what upsets us is what is “out there”: a frightening world, a scary world, a world gone crazy… But these are attributes we have given the world. The world, itself, is meaningless.

We are to look around and glance from one item to the next slowly. Give the same amount of time to each object. What we see doesn’t matter. As we look around, say “I think I see a hostile world, a dangerous world, a beautiful world…” But don’t try to alter time intervals between what is pleasant and unpleasant because for the purposes of this exercise, there is no difference between them. Afterward, say “But I am upset because I see a meaningless world.”

I think I see a creative world, a skilled world, a beautiful world, a sterile world, a scary world, a dying world, a dangerous world. But I am upset because I see a meaningless world.

What is meaningless is neither good nor bad so why should a meaningless world upset me? If I could accept the world as meaningless and let truth be written upon it, I’d be indescribably happy. But because it is meaningless, I feel compelled to write upon it what I’d have it be. What I want it to be is not the truth.

Wapnick points out that Lessons 5 & 6 said, “I am never upset for the reason I think” and “I am upset because I see something that isn’t there”. This lesson amplifies those ideas. It does not deny that we perceive the world in certain ways, nor does it tell us we should deny our experiences. It’s simply showing us that what we perceive is not real.

Wapnick says if we are inclined to include “good” attributes to the world, what we need to remember is that contrasts and opposites root us solidly in the world of dualistic thinking.

The text defines Heaven as “an awareness of perfect Oneness,” in which there is no duality (T-18.VI.1:6). Thus, there is no good and evil in Heaven — only God. Learning to recognize this is an important part of our training.

An illusory thought is an illusory thought is an illusory thought.

I am upset because I see a meaningless world.

Lesson 1: Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.

The Revelation of St. John: 11. St. Michael Fighting the Dragon by Albrecht Dürer (1498).

When I say “that basket does not mean anything”, it feels different to me than when I say “that cat does not mean anything” or “that hand does not mean anything”. Yet, ACIM says the purpose of the exercise is to not make allowances for some things over others. One thing is like another. 

We are asked to be non-judgmental, which of course is very difficult to be. Wapnick says that’s OK that we are judgmental because the purpose of this lesson is to help us realize that we are coming to ACIM with a set of premises and a hierarchy of values we’re not aware of.

He quotes from the Text:

“To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning. No belief is neutral. Every one has the power to dictate each decision you make. For a decision is a conclusion based on everything that you believe. It is the outcome of belief, and follows it as surely as does suffering follow guilt and freedom sinlessness.” (T-24.in.2: 1 -6)

This reminds me of Nietzsche’s lion stage in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The task of the lion is to kill the dragon whose name is “Thou Shalt!”. Not only must the lion kill the dragon, he must destroy every scale (each with it’s own thou shalt!) on the dragon. As a child, the “thou shalt” is important because it helps us integrate with our society. But once integrated, we have to be willing to question our value systems in order to remain truly vital and alive. 

Wapnick says this lesson contains the complete thought system of ACIM. There is no difference between any of the things in this world. They are all part of the illusion which reflects the thought system of the separation. We create a hierarchy of illusions, but it’s still the exact same illusion. When we become aware of this, we begin to realize our whole life is based on a lie.

The lessons are meant to be humbling. I don’t want to walk around believing my hand (or the cat) is the same as an easily replaceable inanimate object. I do believe my body is real and that I am in the world. (And that my cat is real and in the world.) But Wapnick says that if I believe this, I cannot believe in the reality of God.

I no longer believe in the God that was handed down to me as a child, but that’s not the God ACIM refers to. I think God in ACIM is probably more like what writers and philosophers have called “the ground of being”. Bodies, like inanimate objects, deteriorate and turn to dust. What deteriorates is not. What is really real, Is.

Wapnick says that if we could do these lessons perfectly, we would have no need of them. The idea of the lessons is to notice how we don’t practice them in our every day lives. If you find yourself having no more difficulty applying the lesson to your hand as to a pen, Wapnick suggests that you think of breaking the pen and then breaking your hand and noticing if you are able to place the same value on both.

The reality is, we have a hierarchy of values. The point of the lesson (and all of ACIM) is to make us mindful of that hierarchy.

[The picture of the woodcut above is The Revelation of St. John: 11. St. Michael Fighting the Dragonby Albrecht Dürer (1498). Dürer may have been thinking of the inner struggle of the Catholic Church at the time, but his woodcut reminded me of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Milton translated the war between angels and Lucifer as the origin story for Satan. After St. Michael slays Lucifer (the dragon), Lucifer and his fellow angels are cast out of heaven. The only power Lucifer can gain over God after the fall is his persuasion over human beings to turn away from God in favor of the sensual, material experiences of earth. Mythologically speaking, it is the separation.]