"The past is over. It can touch me not."
We are learning in the Course that mind is the cause of the world we see. Say I find myself angry at someone. Instead of assuming, as I have done all my life, that what I have seen is real, I recognize that it is an illusion of some kind. I dont try to figure it out, I just give it to the Holy Spirit. I recognize that my angry thoughts are not caused by what I see, but rather, my thoughts of anger caused my perception of what I see.
My thoughts are prior to any sight and sound. Many people see this in what to me is a partial way. They see that our present feelings are not caused by what is presently happening, but they assume that there must be something in the past that caused these feelings. "Can you recall another time you felt like this?" is their key question. The idea is that you can remember some past event that aroused this feeling, and by realizing that the feeling is an unresolved feeling from the earlier event, you can detach the feeling from the present one. "I'm not really angry at you; I am angry because you represent my mother to me." That sort of thing. The Course does talk about this kind of "shadow figure" from the past, but it points out that such shadow figures "are not real, and have no hold over you unless you bring them with you" (T-13.V.6:2).(Sections IV through VI in Chapter 13 all deal with releasing the past.) In other words, our present distress or anger is not caused by the past, but by a present decision to bring its pain into the present. A decision being made in the present can be undone in the present.
The past "can touch me not." Past events are not the cause of my feelings, either. The mistake in that kind of connecting of present emotions to past events, which certainly can be useful to a limited degree, is that it still makes the false connection of some event or person as the cause of my feeling, with my feeling as the effect. The key the Course gives is that "the past is over." If I am seeing the past I am "seeing but what is not there" (1:2). The one true thought that can be had about the past, says the Course, is that it is not here (W-pI.8.2:1). It does not (any longer) exist. All that exists is a thought in my mind which I call a memory, and that memory is imperfect, slanted to my perceptions and with no awareness of the inner reality of other people who were also present. All I remember is what I saw, what I heard, what I thought, what I felt. So my picture of the past is totally inadequate and cannot be the basis for any kind of rational judgment.
When I do recognize that my present feeling is caused by viewing present events through the filter of a memory of the past, that is good because it can serve to help me detach my feelings from the things happening in the now. But I need to go one step further. I need to see that my feelings are not caused by the past, either. The past has no power over me. The past doesnt exist. The past I remember is my own thoughts about the past.
If my feelings are not caused by the present and not caused by the past, then what are they caused by? Certainly not by the future, which has not happened yet. Then what?
"I am affected only by my thoughts" (W-pII.338). Only by my thoughts. That is the bottom line. The Course would tell us that ultimately what we have to learn is that there is nothing outside of our mind (T-26.VII.4:9; T-10.in.1:1). "There is nothing outside you. That is what you must ultimately learn..." (T-18.VI.1:1-2). There is nothing there to affect us; thought is all there is. Everything else is the effect of thought, not the cause of anything.
Why do we have thoughts that cause bad feelings? It all goes back to the original thought of separation. We think we have stolen our being from God, we think we succeeded in creating a separate self, and we think that God must be angry. We believe in the wrath of God. In less theological terms, we are guilty because we see ourselves existing in a world that demands selfishness for survival. We are guilty because (we think that) we are separate and it is our own fault.
We have this profound sense of guilt, so profound it terrifies us. We cannot even bear to look at it. We are afraid of oblivion, afraid of death, more afraid of hell. Fear transmutes into many forms: anger, depression, jealousy, apathy. We open our eyes and immediately we are looking for a scapegoat, something we can blame as the cause of these terrible feelings. Inevitably we find a culprit. "You! You are the one who has stolen away my peace!" We made the world to serve this purpose.
The Holy Spirit comes into our lives to "employ the means you made for exile to restore your mind to where it truly is at home" (W-pII.7.3:3). We look on each event as a possible scapegoat for our awful feelings. The Holy Spirit looks on each event as a possible means of showing us Love. We learn to see everything as either Love or a call for Love. To the ego, everything witnesses to separation and guilt. To the Spirit, everything witnesses to the reality of love.
To perceive the world forgiveness offers we must be willing to let the past go, to see that it cannot touch us now. The forgiven world can only be seen now. We have to choose to stop looking at "a past that is not here."
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