This lesson is hugely important. In fact, it bills itself as the single most important lesson in the Course. "Today we take the largest single step this course requests in your advance towards its established goal."
Why is it so important? Because the Course (as it tells us in its very first words) aims at restoring to our awareness "the meaning of love" (T-In.1:6). And this lesson is all about letting into our minds what love really means. Notice how often some version of "the meaning of love" occurs in this lesson:
- Love's meaning is obscure to anyone who thinks that love can change. (2:1)
- Its [love's] meaning lies in oneness. (3:3)
- Love's meaning is your own, and shared by God Himself. (4:2)
- No law the world obeys can help you grasp love's meaning. (5:1)
- What the world believes was made to hide love's meaning, and to keep it dark and secret. (5:2)
- If you achieve the faintest glimmering of what love means today, you have advanced in distance without measure. (7:1)
- And He Himself will place a spark of truth within your mind wherever you give up a false belief, a dark illusion of your own reality and what love means. (9:3)
- In loving gentleness He will abide with you, as you allow His Voice to teach love's meaning to your clean and open mind. (9:5)
So today is all about learning the meaning of love.
What is the meaning of love? I think we tend to misunderstand the idea from the Introduction that it is "beyond what can be taught." We often think that means love cannot be defined. However, while the meaning of love goes beyond what words can express, words are needed to point the way to it, to give us a dim idea of something that is too immense for our current minds to comprehend.
To understand what love really means, we need to understand what it doesn't really mean. So much of the Course is focused on that. That is really the point of all those special relationship discussions, isn't it? They tell us what love is not. They tell us that love is not special. Love doesn't single people out and say to them, "Because you give me a particular kind of pleasure, I will love you in a particular special way (while the pleasure lasts)."
In other words, what love is not is everything we think that love is. This leads us to a sobering conclusion: The Course is saying that we don't know what love is. It is telling us that we don't know how to love. That is not a very flattering claim. In fact, it's probably one of the worst things you can tell a person. Imagine saying to someone, "You don't know how to love. You don't know what love is." That's brutal. Yet the Course is saying that to all of us.
In light of this, today's lesson can take on some of its real significance. The whole point of this lesson is allowing into our minds what love really means. We are trying to become capable of loving again. That is why this is "the largest single step this course requests."
This again raises the question, what is love? What does it really mean? I wrote an article about this a couple of years ago (called "What Is the Meaning of Love?") that I'll excerpt from to try to answer that question:
What is love?
We are almost in a position to answer the title question: What is the meaning of love? Workbook Lesson 127, "There is no love but God's," holds the key. Interestingly, this is an entire lesson about the meaning of love. It mentions "love's meaning" or "what love means" eight times. Further, it is "the largest single step this course requests in your advance towards its established goal" (W-pI.126.6:5). Surely the combination of these two features is not an accident. In addition, if we pay attention, this lesson tells us exactly what love really is. Here are the opening two paragraphs of that lesson:
Perhaps you think that different kinds of love are possible. Perhaps you think there is a kind of love for this, a kind for that; a way of loving one, another way of loving still another. Love is one. It has no separate parts and no degrees; no kinds nor levels, no divergencies and no distinctions. It is like itself, unchanged throughout. It never alters with a person or a circumstance. It is the Heart of God, and also of His Son.
Love's meaning is obscure to anyone who thinks that love can change. He does not see that changing love must be impossible. And thus he thinks that he can love at times, and hate at other times. He also thinks that love can be bestowed on one, and yet remain itself although it is withheld from others. To believe these things of love is not to understand it. If it could make such distinctions, it would have to judge between the righteous and the sinner, and perceive the Son of God in separate parts. (W-pI.127.1-2)
Notice all the things here that love is not. I see five different categories of what love seems to be but isn't:
- Love has no different kinds; you cannot love one person one way and another person another way.
- Love does not change with changing circumstance; you cannot love at times and hate at other times.
- Love has no degrees, no varying amounts of intensity.
- Love has no levels; it does not range from lowest love to highest love.
- Love has no separate parts; it does not make distinctions between people, giving itself to one person while withholding itself from another.
What do all of these categories have in common? They all see differences within love. Isn't this essentially the problem we have seen all along? Throughout, we have seen love mixed with something different, with hate, separation, exclusion, attack, bondage, etc. That, too, is undoubtedly the problem with the above five categories. In other words, the differences within love exist only because love has been combined with something different. That is quite clear with a couple of the categories-the second and fifth-which are openly about combining love with an opposite. But it is almost certainly true with the other categories as well. For instance, you only get degrees of love (#3) when there is a spectrum stretching from the most intense love to the most weak and mild love, such that at the mild end is a love so relatively indifferent that it isn't all that loving. Similarly, you only get levels of love (#4) when there is a spectrum stretching from highest love to lowest love, such that at the low end is a love that is so selfish and animal that it too isn't all that loving. Again, you only get differences within love when you inject into it unloving elements.
The reason I've spent so much time on what's wrong with our love is that once we understand what love is not, that automatically tells us what love is. What is wrong with our love? It combines love with elements of hate. It makes the opposite of love part of love. Our love thereby becomes a hateful love, an attacking love, an exclusionary love, a selfish love, a fickle love, a demanding love. Our love becomes a walking contradiction.
What, then, is real love? It is, quite simply, an unmixed love. It is a love not combined with anything else. It is pure love. Lesson 127 says it as plainly as possible:
Love is one…It is like itself, unchanged throughout. (W-pI.127.1:3, 5)
Here is the key to the meaning of love: "It is like itself." Everything in it is love. It contains nothing else. It is absolutely homogeneous. It is the same throughout. Every part of it is like every other part. It is only love. It contains no elements of hate, for love is not like hate. It is like itself.
This, of course, is how God loves. To distinguish God's Love from our "love," the Course says that there are no gaps in God's Love. It says that "the least and littlest gap…in His eternal Love is quite impossible. For it would mean His Love could harbor just a hint of hate, His gentleness turn sometimes to attack, and His eternal patience sometimes fail" (T-29.I.1:4-5). Here is the exact same notion, that real love does not contain any unlike elements. "It is like itself." That is the meaning of love.
This sounds ridiculously simple, and on a conceptual level, it is simple. But on a practical level, it is revolutionary. Let's look at what is implied by the simple notion that love "is like itself."
Real love is completely impartial and without exception
When we know the meaning of love, our love will not embrace one and reject another. Rather, we will love everyone to the same degree. "You cannot enter into real relationships with any of God's Sons unless you love them all and equally" (T-13.X.11:1). This means that our love is impersonal, in the sense that it is not based on attributes that are specific to a particular person. It is a response to something universal in each person. But this love is also personal, in the sense that it is not remote or aloof. It really does love each person deeply. The Course often speaks of this love using the words "dear" and "tender." For instance, a Course prayer has us say, "I am he on whom You smile in love and tenderness so dear and deep and still…" (W-pII.341.1:2). Amazingly, another prayer describes God's Love as having a "tenderness I cannot comprehend" (W-pII.233.1:7).
It loves everyone in the same way
We, of course, are used to loving each person differently-as a friend, or a lover, or a child, or a parent, etc. The emotion of love actually differs depending on that person's place in our lives. To put this another way, our love differs depending on the person's degree and kind of proximity to us. Real love, however, has a different premise. It assumes total proximity. It is based on the fact that others are literally one with us. Always being a reflection of this total proximity, real love doesn't take different emotional forms. Rather, the same emotion is merely expressed in different physical forms. You love your spouse in the same way as your friend or as your child, which is the same way you love a complete stranger. You just express that love in different ways.
Real love is constant
Each day we watch our love rise and fall with changing circumstances, like a boat on a restless sea. The same person we love intensely in one moment we may be angry or bored with in the next. Our love includes alternations with unloving emotions, which makes it a contradiction. Being only love, real love is perfectly constant, no matter what the outer circumstance. It forever floats serene and untouched above the restless seas of life. As Lesson 127 says, "It never alters with a person or a circumstance" (W-pI.127.1:6)
Real love has limitless intensity
It is natural to us that love comes in different strengths, different degrees of intensity. Yet as we saw earlier, that assumes a love that has been diluted with something else, a love that has been mixed with an opposite. The only way to avoid diluted love is to have a love of limitless intensity. Even the slightest lessening of intensity means that it has been watered down. Unless it is unlimited, something else has been stirred in. The Course therefore describes the love of our true Self this way: "Its love is limitless, with an intensity that holds all things within it, in the calm of quiet certainty. Its strength comes not from burning impulses which move the world, but from the boundless Love of God Himself" (W-pII.252.1:3-4). Real love has limitless intensity, boundless strength.
Real love only gives, gives itself wholly, and only gains thereby
Human love is a constantly changing patchwork of giving and taking. Sometimes it makes demands on our loved ones and sometimes it gives. But its gifts are carefully measured and almost always conditional. They are more bargains than gifts. In contrast, real love "makes no bargains" (T-8.I.1:5; 21.III.9:3) and makes no demands: "Those who see themselves as whole make no demands" (37.2:7). Rather, it sets others free, for "Love is freedom" (T-16.VI.2:1). And it only gives, holding nothing back in the process. "With love in you, you have no need except to extend it" (T-15.V.11:3). In a state of real love, you give all of yourself to each person. This is not a sacrifice meant to obligate that person to give back. Paradoxically, by giving all of yourself away, you are filled up. As the Course puts it, "Like [God], you can give yourself completely, wholly without loss and only with gain" (T-15.VI.4:6). In case we find this giving so extreme as to be unnatural, the Course adds shortly afterwards, "And this is love, for this alone is natural under the laws of God" (T-15.VI.5:7).
Real love, once embraced, becomes our only emotion
For our love to not be combined with unloving elements, it has to become the only emotion in us. Remember Jesus' assessment of Helen and Bill's relationship? He said, "love is not the only emotion." Clearly, he was implying that love must become the only emotion. Otherwise, he said, they would not know what love is: "How can you know the meaning of love unless it is total?" Can you imagine a state in which the only emotion ever in your mind is the kind of love described here? Of course, joy and peace would also be in you, for they are an inherent part of love. But negative emotions would never appear in the temple of your mind, would never cross its holy space. If, as the Bible says and the Course quotes, "perfect love casts out fear," then a mind filled with perfect love would literally have no room for fear, or any other negative emotion.
The love described in the above points seems unimaginably extreme, beyond comprehension. Yet it is the simple result of cleaning love of contamination by its opposite. That is all it is. It is a love that is "like itself." And what else deserves the name of love? At one point, the Course speaks of power that has been diluted by its opposite: weakness. It says that "weakened power" is a contradiction in terms, and then concludes, "Power is unopposed, to be itself" (T-27.III.1:5). The exact same thing is true of love. Love is unopposed, to be itself.
I hope this gives you some sense of the immense significance of today's lesson. The reason we are not with God is that we chose against love. We chose to forget what love means. And so we entered a world in which there is no real love, in which no one knows how to love, not really, in which love is a wholly alien experience. Today we are trying to reverse this. We are trying to remember what love is.
Purpose: This is an extremely significant lesson, for it asks you to "take the largest single step this course requests in your advance towards its established goal" (6:5). You take this step by releasing your beliefs that limit love and opening your mind to God so that He can teach you love's true meaning.
Longer: 2 times, for 15 minutes
This exercise is very similar to yesterday's, in which you went to the quiet center in your mind and asked God's Voice to correct your false beliefs about giving. Today, you do the same, only asking God to correct your false beliefs about love.
Repeat the idea and then "open your mind and rest" (8:2). Now let go of your beliefs-one after another-in the laws and limits of this world, for all of them justify limited and changing love. Let go of your beliefs in partial love, selective love, and changing love. As you give up each such belief, God will replace it with "a spark of truth" (9:3), an understanding of what love really means. Call to Him and ask Him to illuminate your mind on the true meaning of love. That is the essence of this practice period: to open your mind, let of your beliefs that limit love, and ask God to teach you the real meaning of love, which is far greater and more sublime than your mind alone could ever understand.
Remarks: Gladly give this time. It is the best use of time you could ever make. For if you gain the tiniest glimpse of love's real meaning, you truly have taken a giant stride. You have gone forward in your journey countless years and have brought freedom to everyone who comes here.
Frequent reminders: 3 times per hour, at least
Think of someone you know and silently repeat to him these lines: "I bless you, brother, with the Love of God, which I would share with you. For I would learn the joyous lesson that there is no love but God's and yours and mine and everyone's." Like the longer practice, this is a powerful technique for opening your mind to the real meaning of love.