Commentary on What Is the Real World?

By Allen Watson

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The real world is a symbol, like the rest of what perception offers. Yet it stands for what is opposite to what you made. Your world is seen through eyes of fear, and brings the witnesses of terror to your mind. The real world cannot be perceived except through eyes forgiveness blesses, so they see a world where terror is impossible, and witnesses to fear can not be found. W-pII.8.1:1-4

The Course's discussion of the term "real world" is somewhat paradoxical. We've read its statement, earlier in the Workbook, that "There is no world!" (W-pI.132.6:2). How, then, can there be a real world? It even admits there is a contradiction in the term (see T-26.III.3:3). And here we are told, in the opening statement on the topic, "The real world is a symbol" (1:1). A symbol is not the thing it represents; it only stands for something else, as the word "tree" stands for the object we call by that name. The real world is only a symbol, "like the rest of what perception offers" (1:1).

The word "tree" is not a tree. Likewise, the real world is not the thing it represents or stands for. It only symbolizes it. What does the real world symbolize or stand for? "Yet it stands for what is opposite to what you made" (1:2). We made separation; the real world symbolizes unity (but is not itself that unity). We made fear; the real world symbolizes love (but is not itself that love). We made error; the real world symbolizes truth (but is not itself that truth).

The world itself is nothing but a symbol of a thought. It can symbolize the thought of fear, or it can symbolize the thought of love. It can, in our perception, consist of "witnesses to fear" or witnesses to love (W-pII.7.2:2). The world itself is not the reality of anything; it merely stands for something that exists in the mind, as all perception does. It is "the outside picture of an inward condition" (T-21.In.1:5). What changes in the transformation effected by the Holy Spirit is not the world itself, but how we see it; what it symbolizes for us. This is why the message of the Course to us is this: "Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T-21.In.1:7).

The real world that we seek, and which is the goal of the Course for us, is not, then, a changed world, but a changed perception of the world.

The world is a symbol, either of fear or of love. "Your world is seen through eyes of fear, and brings the witnesses of terror to your mind" (1:3). The voice we choose to listen to, within our minds, determines what we see. If we listen to fear, the world we see symbolizes fear, and is filled with "witnesses of terror." The world thus tells us what we tell it to tell us.

When we listen to fear, we see things in the world that justify our fear. We see hatred, attack, selfishness, anger, conflict, and murder. All of these things are interpretations of what we are seeing. There is another interpretation possible in every case. We can join our perception to that of the Holy Spirit, and He will enable us to see the world differently.

"The real world cannot be perceived except through eyes forgiveness blesses, so they see a world where terror is impossible, and witnesses to fear cannot be found" (1:4). When we listen to love or forgiveness, we see things in the world that justify love. Nothing we see witnesses to terror. Imagine a world in which "terror is impossible," where nothing you see is saying to you, "Be afraid!" That is the real world as the Course defines it. Everything is seen "through eyes forgiveness blesses." The interpretation of everything we see becomes entirely different from the one we are used to.

The mind determines which world we see. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can choose what we want to see, and we will see it. The world we are looking at may or may not have changed, but the interpretation we put upon it will have done a 180. No longer will we see any of the vast variety of forms of fear the ego has invented; in their place we will see nothing but love, or the call for love. Nothing we see will call for condemnation and punishment. Everything we see will call only for love.

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The real world holds a counterpart for each unhappy thought reflected in your world; a sure correction for the sights of fear and sounds of battle which your world contains. The real world shows a world seen differently, through quiet eyes and with a mind at peace. Nothing but rest is there. There are no cries of pain and sorrow heard, for nothing there remains outside forgiveness. And the sights are gentle. Only happy sights and sounds can reach the mind that has forgiven itself. W-pII.8.2:1-6

"The real world holds a counterpart for each unhappy thought reflected in your world; a sure correction for the sights of fear and sounds of battle which your world contains" (2:1). If the real world contains counterparts for each unhappy thought, then it must consist of happy thoughts. The difference is in the thoughts about what is seen, and not in the objects of perception. In this sentence it seems almost as though the real world is like a library of videos, each consisting of a different interpretation of some person or event in our lives. We can choose to watch the videos of the Holy Spirit or those of the ego. Same scenes, but different Director, with a different meaning given to everything.

"The real world shows a world seen differently, through quiet eyes and with a mind at peace" (2:2). The difference lies in the peacefulness of the mind doing the perceiving. This is the first of three references to the state of the mind that is doing the seeing. Others are "the mind that has forgiven itself" (2:6) and "a mind at peace within itself" (3:4).

We all assume that our perceptions of the world are telling us something real about the world. In fact, they are telling us something about our own state of mind. The sights of fear and sounds of battle we perceive are only reflections of the fear and battle within our own minds. When our minds have been brought to peace, the world takes on a different appearance because our minds are projecting their own state upon the world. Let me, then, seek the healing of my own mind, and the healing of the world will take care of itself.

When we see the real world, "Nothing but rest is there" (2:3). No conflict, no "battle." I think that when I truly see the real world, there will be very little or no sense of urgency. There is a kind of attitude towards spirituality that instills what is almost a mode of panic: "We have to fix things, we have to get it right, and right away!" This is not rest. The sight of the real world is a restful sight, one that fills us with assurance that "nothing real can be threatened" (T-In.2:2) and therefore there is no need for panic.

"There are no cries of pain and sorrow heard, for nothing there remains outside forgiveness" (2:4). I do not think this means that we become indifferent to the world's suffering. In the Text, the Course tells us: "Love always answers, being unable to deny a call for help, or not to hear the cries of pain that rise to it from every part of this strange world you made but do not want" (T-13.VII.4:3). What I think this line means is that the cries of pain and sorrow are not heard as witnesses to fear, but as calls for help, as something requiring a response of love rather than a response of terror. The healed mind that sees the real world is not distraught by the cries of pain and sorrow because it knows that "nothing…remains outside forgiveness." Nothing is beyond hope or help.

And the sights are gentle. Only happy sights and sounds can reach the mind that has forgiven itself. (2:5-6)

Underneath the sounds of fear, the mind that has forgiven itself hears the hymns of gratitude (see W-pII.293.2:2). The song of love is louder than the dirge of fear. Everything that is seen carries in it the note of redemption.

There is a way to look on everything that lets it be to you another step to Him, and to salvation of the world. (W-pI.193.13:1)

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What need has such a mind for thoughts of death, attack and murder? What can it perceive surrounding it but safety, love and joy? What is there it would choose to be condemned, and what is there that it would judge against? The world it sees arises from a mind at peace within itself. No danger lurks in anything it sees, for it is kind, and only kindness does it look upon. W-pII.8.3:1-5

"Such a mind" as what? "A mind at peace" (2:2). A "mind that has forgiven itself" (2:6). "A mind at peace within itself" (3:4). Can I imagine what it would be like for my mind to be at peace within itself? Can I imagine what it would feel like to have completely forgiven myself, to have no lingering regrets over the past, no fear of future, no hidden guilt, and not one shred of a sense of failure? To be at peace, and to have totally forgiven myself, are the same thing. They must be. How can I be at peace if I have not forgiven myself for something? How can I forgive myself for something if I am not at peace about it?

Let me look at myself and be willing to face the self-condemnation that is hidden in the dark closets of my mind. I know it is there. It is the source of the constant vague uneasiness that haunts me, the tendency to look over my shoulder, the seemingly slight anxiety that comes with an unexpected letter or telephone call. Something in me is expecting to be "found out." But this self-judgment is the source of more than just my personal feelings of uneasiness. It is also the source of all of my thoughts of "death, attack and murder" (3:1). My fear of death comes from my buried guilt. My instinctive attacks on those around me are a defense mechanism I have developed to fend off judgment for my "sins." My desires to take life from others for myself (in the extreme, murder) come from the sense that something is lacking in myself.

And all of these contribute to my perception of the world; they are the reason why I see "sights of fear and sounds of battle" (2:1) everywhere. If my mind were at peace, if I had forgiven myself, I would see the world differently. I would see without these filters that distort my vision. I would see the real world. All "such a mind" would see is "safety, love and joy" (3:2).

Without guilt in my mind, "What is there it would choose to be condemned, and what is there that it would judge against?" (3:3). Guilt in my mind has driven me insane, and the insane world I see is the result of that guilt. That is why the Holy Spirit "knows that all salvation is escape from guilt" (T-14.III.13:4). If my mind had no guilt, it would see no guilt in the world, because all the guilt I see is nothing but the projection of my own. When I see someone as guilty today, when I would judge, let me remind myself: "You never hate your brother for his sins, but only for your own" (T-31.III.1:5). The problem I am seeing is not out there, in the world, but within my own mind. Let me then turn to the Holy Spirit and ask His help in removing guilt from my mind, that it may no longer block my perception of the real world. Let my goal, today and every day, be to have "a mind at peace within itself." From such a mind, free of guilt, the sight of the real world will arise quite naturally, with no effort at all, for I will be seeing clearly for the first time.

When our mind has forgiven itself, it is "at peace within itself" (3:4), and the world such a mind sees arises from that inner peace. As we have already seen, inner peace without self-forgiveness is not possible. Likewise, seeing a world of peace comes as we extend the peace within ourselves outward. We had this stated clearly way back in Lesson 34:

Peace of mind is clearly an internal matter. It must begin with your own thoughts, and then extend outward. It is from your peace of mind that a peaceful perception of the world arises. (W-pI.34.1:2-4)

A mind that has learned to forgive itself and be at peace "is kind, and only kindness does it look upon" (3:5). I have heard several spiritual sages remark that, if spirituality were to be boiled down to only two words, they might be, "Be kind." I have encountered a number of people in my life who set themselves up as very spiritual, perhaps as spiritual authorities, and in the end the thing that led me to mistrust their claims was simply this: They were not kind. I have detected this same tendency in myself as well! It is far too easy to be caught up in being "spiritually correct" or being right, and to lose sight of kindness.

When I have encountered the murderous ego in myself, and have learned to forgive it; when I have discovered my own belief in my weakness and frailty, and learned to forgive it; when I have foundered in doubt for years, and learned to forgive it; when I have discovered how often I do not live up to my own high standards, and learned to forgive it; when I have struggled with my own stubborn unbelief, and learned to forgive it-then, I will be kind. I have learned to be kind by being kind to myself. Let me engrave this lesson on my heart: The mind that has forgiven itself is kind, and only kindness does it look upon.

If I am quick to see danger lurking in those around me, and to question another's kind intentions, it is most likely because I am quick to question my own, and have not learned as yet to forgive myself.

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The real world is the symbol that the dream of sin and guilt is over, and God's Son no longer sleeps. His waking eyes perceive the sure reflection of his Father's Love; the certain promise that he is redeemed. The real world signifies the end of time, for its perception makes time purposeless. W-pII.8.4:1-3

The world that is seen by a mind that is at peace, having forgiven itself, is a symbol. A symbol represents something, or stands for something; it is not the thing itself, but something that indicates it or pictures it. What does the real world symbolize? "That the dream of sin and guilt is over, and God's Son no longer sleeps."

The real world is a symbol telling us that our dream of sin and guilt is already over, and in reality, we are already awake. The sight of the real world is a sign to us that what perception sees is only a dream, and there is a higher reality beyond it. When we see nothing to condemn, that sight is telling us of a higher order of reality. When we perceive only safety, love, and joy surrounding us, with no danger lurking anywhere, that perception is communicating to us that we are not these bodies, nor does life have an end. It is telling us that only love is real, and fear does not exist. Within the illusion of perception, we are seeing something that speaks of an eternal reality. What we see reminds us that we are not the dream. Our mind is already awake, because:

God creates only mind awake. He does not sleep, and His creations cannot share what He gives not, nor make conditions which He does not share with them. (W-pI.167.8:1-2)

Mind exists only awake, because God created it awake. What He creates can't be asleep if He did not give us that sleep. Nor can we make ourselves be asleep. Therefore we must be already awake. That is what the real world symbolizes to us. Within the illusion it speaks to us of our eternal reality. Within the world, the perception of this symbol is our only goal. Anything more than this takes us beyond the world of perception entirely. Our ultimate destination is beyond this world. But although it is our ultimate destination, what lies beyond perception is not our concern now. Our work lies in the realm of perception: "Perception must be straightened out before you can know anything" (T-3.III.1:2). "Instruction in perception is your great need" (T-11.VIII.3:5).

We are engaged in the process of letting our perception be straightened out, which is what forgiveness does. As we do this, we will see the real world more clearly and more frequently, until it is all we see. And then our work will be done, and God will reach down and take us home.

Forgiveness is the means by which I will recognize my innocence. It is the reflection of God's Love on earth. It will bring me near enough to Heaven that the Love of God can reach down to me and raise me up to Him. (W-pI.60.1:4-6)

As we begin to perceive the real world, we are beginning to wake up. Perhaps we have had some tiny glimpses of the real world. The Text refers to "a little flicker of your eyelids, closed so long" (T-18.III.3:4); perhaps we have known that much, at least. Each glimpse of the real world we experience is a bit like the misty images of our bedroom as we hover between sleep and wakefulness. Sometimes those images, flashed upon us as our eyes briefly flick open, become integrated into a dream that is still going on. That is what we are like. We are in that odd state halfway between sleeping and waking. The Course refers to a borderland between the worlds, in which "you are like to one who still hallucinates, but lacks conviction in what he sees" (T-26.V.11:7).

"His waking eyes perceive the sure reflection of his Father's Love; the certain promise that he is redeemed" (4:2). We are not yet wholly awake, but we are waking. The sights of the real world reflect the Father's Love to us. The new perceptions, given us by the Holy Spirit, bolster our confidence that we are, indeed, redeemed.

The more we see the real world, the more we realize that the need for time is over. "The real world signifies the end of time, for its perception makes time purposeless" (4:3). The purpose of time for us is nothing more than to perceive the real world. When we perceive it, there is no more need for time because it has accomplished its purpose. In Review IV of the Workbook, we are told that each time we pause to practice the lesson for the day, we are "using time for its intended purpose" (W-pI.rIV.In.7:3). Each time we stop and try to overcome an obstacle to peace, each time we let the mercy of God come to us in forgiveness, we are using time for the only purpose it has. "Time was made for this" (W-pI.193.10:4; see all of W-pI.193.10:1-5).

Let me, then, today, use time for its intended purpose. Let me remember the lesson, morning and evening, and every hour in between, and often between the hours. Let me cooperate willingly in the transformation of my perceptions. Each time I sense a disturbance in my peace, let me turn within, and seek the healing light of God. Let me realize that this is the only thing time is for, and that there is no better way to spend it. Let me seek to hasten the day when I will have no more need of time, when all my perceptions have become united with the vision of Christ, and the real world stands sparkling in beauty before my eyes.

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The Holy Spirit has no need of time when it has served His purpose. Now He waits but that one instant more for God to take His final step, and time has disappeared, taking perception with it as it goes, and leaving but the truth to be itself. That instant is our goal, for it contains the memory of God. And as we look upon a world forgiven, it is He Who calls to us and comes to take us home, reminding us of our Identity which our forgiveness has restored to us. W-pII.8.5:1-4

Once time has served the purpose of the Holy Spirit, He has no more need for it. But it is up to us whose purpose time serves. Two sections in the Text discuss the two uses of time: Chapter 13, section IV, "The Function of Time," and Chapter 15, section I, "The Two Uses of Time." These sections tell us, in sum, that we can use time for the ego or for the Holy Spirit. The ego uses time to perpetuate itself through seeking our death. It sees the purpose of time as destruction. The Holy Spirit sees time's purpose as healing.

The ego, like the Holy Spirit, uses time to convince you of the inevitability of the goal and end of teaching. To the ego the end is death, which is its end. But to the Holy Spirit the goal is life, which has no end. (T-15.I.2:7-9)

We are asked to "begin to practice the Holy Spirit's use of time as a teaching aid to happiness and peace" (T-15.I.9:4), and we do this by practicing the holy instant. "Time is your friend, if you leave it to the Holy Spirit to use" (T-15.I.15:1). There is a need for time while we are still learning to use it only for His purposes, to take the present moment, letting past and future go, and seek peace within the holy instant.

Each day should be devoted to miracles. The purpose of time is to enable you to learn how to use time constructively. It is thus a teaching device and a means to an end. Time will cease when it is no longer useful in facilitating learning. (T-1.I.15:1-4)

Sentence 2 starts with the word "now." That "now" refers to the point at which time has served its purpose. There is nothing more to be done, nothing for Him to teach us, nothing for us to learn or to do, except to wait "for God to take His final step." Time continues briefly, allowing us a short while to appreciate the real world, and then time and perception disappear. This "last step" is something referred to quite often in the Course; the phrase "last step" or "final step" occurs twenty-nine times (see, for instance, T-6.V(C).5 and T-7.I). It represents the transition out of perception (duality) and into knowledge (unity), out of the world and into Heaven, out of the body and into spirit. Every time it is very clear that this is something accomplished by God alone; we have nothing to do with it. Our only part is preparing ourselves for it, cleaning up our perception until all of it is "true perception," free from fear. Or as it was put in the longer blue above, "Each day should be devoted to miracles." That is all that time is for.

"That instant," the instant in which God takes His final step (5:2), "is our goal, for it contains the memory of God" (5:3). An analogy that comes to my mind is that of a football team trying to win the Super Bowl. The "final step" is the awarding of the trophy, so to speak. That is the team's ultimate goal. But they actually have nothing to do with the trophy; their part is to win games and arrive at that moment in victory. The trophy then is given to them by the officials of the NFL. Although the image of striving for a victory over opponents does not really fit our attaining the real world, the general idea does. Our part is only getting to the place (the real world) in which the awarding of the trophy (the memory of God) is possible, but that last step is taken by God Himself. We are not learning to remember God. We are learning to forget everything that makes that memory impossible, to remove all the false learning we have interposed between our minds and the truth. When we have removed the barriers, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the memory of God will return to us of itself.

"And as we look upon a world forgiven" (that is the outcome of the work we have done with the Holy Spirit, learning to forgive), "it is He Who calls to us and comes to take us home" (God is the One Who takes us on this final step beyond the real world), "reminding us of our Identity Which our forgiveness has restored to us" (5:4). When we have forgiven the world, the memory of God is restored to us, and also the memory of our own Identity in Him. This latter part is not something we do; "it is He Who…comes to take us home."

This is not just an interesting theological point. It has practical implications. Sometimes, once we have entered on a spiritual quest, the ego can distract us by getting us to try to go directly to God. We can get caught up in a struggle to try to remember God, to try to recall our Identity as the Son of God. Although this is our ultimate goal (like the trophy in the Super Bowl game), if we make it the object of our direct efforts, we will never get there. That would be like setting out to steal the trophy instead of winning it legitimately. Our attention needs to be focused on doing that which, if done, will prepare us to receive the memory of God from His own hand. Namely, forgiveness. If we make remembering God, or our Identity, our immediate goal, we are really trying to bypass the steps that are necessary to reach that goal. We cannot skip those steps:

I will forgive, and this will disappear.

To every apprehension, every care and every form of suffering, repeat these selfsame words. And then you hold the key that opens Heaven's gate, and brings the Love of God the Father down to earth at last, to raise it up to Heaven. God will take this final step Himself. Do not deny the little steps He asks you take to Him. (W-pI.193.13:3-7)

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