Commentary on Lesson 1: Nothing I see…means anything.

by Robert Perry

Teaching

There is no teaching in this lesson, but I'll say a few things. This lesson obviously seems like a downer. But its meaning is central to the Course. The Course wants to drain the color out of our world, so to speak. It wants to slowly drain the meaning out of the things we see. We tend to think this is a bad thing, but ultimately this will liberate us from the painful meanings we see around us, and it will open us up to the joyful meanings that lie beyond physical form.

This lesson is an extension of the Course's teaching about the distinction between form and content—content being meaning. Form and content are two entirely different things. A particular form does not inherently have a particular content. No matter what the form, one can easily imagine assigning it a different meaning, since that, of course, is what other people are already doing. They see in that form a different meaning than we do—either slightly different or dramatically different. There is nothing inherent in the form that requires it to have the meaning we see in it, rather than another, which means that form has no inherent meaning, no inherent content.

This reminds me of a vision that Helen Schucman had. In her vision, she saw the Pieta, the famous scene in which Mother Mary holds the dead body of Jesus, only here, as Mary looked down at her son, she said, "This means nothing."

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Notice that you are to "look slowly" (1:1) and apply the idea to whatever you see. Later lessons will ask you to keep looking at the object for the duration of the repetition. Let each application sink in. Quality is more important than quantity.

Notice, too, that you are applying the idea "very specifically" (1:1). This, of course, was one of the rules from the Introduction.

Finally, notice that you are applying the idea "to whatever you see" (1:1). This lack of exceptions was the other rule from the Introduction.

You start nearby—this table, this chair—and then you move farther away—that door, that body. This gives you a sense that the idea applies to what immediately surrounds you and that its applicability spreads out from there and just keeps going.

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This paragraph is all about that second rule—no exceptions. We are to apply the idea "totally indiscriminately" (3:4). We'll see the word "indiscriminate" pop up a number of times in the next many lessons.

Jesus emphasizes that complete inclusion is not needed. That would make the exercise "ritualistic" (3:5). This is one of only two references to ritual in the Workbook (the other is rIII.In.2:4). It has been latched onto and used as an argument against trying to follow the practice instructions. Yet neither of the references to ritual are saying that following the instructions is ritualistic. If you think about it, this would be rather odd after an introduction that was all about doing the practice "as you are directed to do" (In.8:3). Rather, what is ritualistic, according to these two references, is thinking that if you make sure you cover everything in terms of numbers, you will magically achieve salvation. The Workbook does care about numbers, but the active ingredient within those numbers is the quality of your practice. The driving force of our transformation is applying the ideas many times in a quality way, not merely racking up perfect quantities.

Further, we don't need to apply the idea to everything we see. We just need to follow those two rules from the Introduction—apply it specifically and exclude nothing—and our learning will automatically transfer to everything we see. That transfer is not something we do; it happens of its own accord.

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Here we get our concrete instructions regarding amount, timing, duration, and mental posture:

  • Twice (ideally morning and evening)
  • A minute or so (unless that feels rushed)
  • Unhurriedly, slowly, leisurely, comfortably—it's quality, not quantity, that matters

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