What does "mind" mean?

Question: How is the mind related to the brain?

Short answer: The mind is, in Robert Perry's words, "the aspect of the self that includes the faculties of awareness, volition, thought and emotion." It is totally non-physical, pure spirit, and one with the Mind of God, even though it seems to be split into a part that remains with God and a part that has become a separate, "individual mind." The brain is not the mind but a part of the body, a physical manifestation of the belief in an "individual mind." The mind is restored to awareness of its oneness with the Mind of God by renouncing wrong-mindedness and choosing right-mindedness, which sets the stage for God to lift it back to One-mindedness.


The mind is "the aspect of the self that includes the faculties of awareness, volition, thought and emotion."

The above definition is taken from the entry on the subject of "mind" in Robert Perry's Course Glossary (available on this website and in book form from the Circle of Atonement — I recommend reading Robert's entry on "mind" in its entirety). While this exact definition doesn't appear anywhere in the Course, it captures well the traits that the Course consistently ascribes to the mind. It could be called the generic definition, because it applies equally to all the forms the mind can take, from the Mind of God to the separated or split mind. Mind, in whatever form it takes, is characterized by the four aspects listed above:

Awareness: The ability to be conscious of what it is (its identity), where it is, and what it is doing
Volition: The ability to make decisions
Thought: The ability to generate ideas
Emotion: The ability to feel the effects of its thoughts (in the Course, emotion is the effect of thought)

Of course, this definition is not an exhaustive one, but it is a good thumbnail sketch of the mind's basic attributes. The Course has much more to say about the mind, which we will explore below.

The mind is totally non-physical, pure spirit, and one with the Mind of God, even though it seems to be split into a part that remains with God and a part that has become a separate, "individual mind."

To clarify how the Course sees the mind, it may be helpful to briefly trace the mind's "descent" from its original pure state in Heaven to the state it seems to be in at present. For this, I will be drawing mainly on the first section of the Clarification of Terms (C-1), which provides definitions of the terms "mind" and "spirit." At the end of this Q & A, I will draw from the same section to trace the mind's "ascent" back to its original state.

The mind as God created it is the Mind of Christ, the Son of God. The Mind of Christ is an extension of the Mind of God, the result of God's extension of Himself in creation. As such, it is totally non-physical, pure spirit, and absolutely one with the Mind that created it. Being one with God, it shares His Identity, His Will, His Thoughts, and His emotions of absolute love and joy. In addition, each of its aspects is one with every other aspect. Even though there is a paradoxical sense of "individuality" and "partness" within the one Mind of Christ (see, for instance, T-2.VII.6:1-3 and T-4.VII.5:1), the individual parts of this Mind are not truly separate from one another, but are indissolubly joined. And the unified Mind of Christ, sharing the attributes of God Who created it, creates as God does, extending spirit and increasing God's Kingdom. This is the state of the mind in Heaven, a state that the Course calls One-mindedness.

However, when we made the decision to separate from God, the unified Mind of Christ appeared to split. And so, in our present state, each of our minds now seems to be split into two separate parts: a part that remains joined with God and Christ, and a part that seems separate from Them. What's more, as a result of this split, we now seem separate from each other. Each of us now believes that he or she has a truly separate "individual mind" (C-1.2:1). Instead of being part of the unified Mind of Christ, it now seems that each of us has a mind of our own with a unique individual identity, a separate will, and private thoughts and emotions. In short, each of us believes that we have become an ego.

But it is crucial to realize that in truth, none of this has really happened. We only believe it did. The "part" of us that is separate from God and the Sonship is "entirely illusory and makes only illusions" (C-1.4:1). Thus, even though the mind seems to have taken the form of a separate ego, in fact it remains exactly as it was originally. It is still non-physical, still pure Spirit, and still absolutely one with the Sonship and the Mind that created it. Therefore, even when we seem to be thinking with our illusory "individual mind," it is our real mind that is actually doing the thinking. And it is this mind, not the ego, that the Course appeals to when it addresses each of us as "you": a Son of God in Heaven who remains as he always was, but falsely believes that he is an ego, a separate "individual mind."

The brain is a part of the body, a physical manifestation of the belief in an "individual mind."

The belief that we are egos leads inevitably to the belief that we are bodies, living in a world of other bodies. The body is "the ego's chosen home" (T-23.I.3:3), the "proof" that we really have separated from God and really have become egos. And once we believe that we are bodies, it must follow that mind itself is something physical. That "something physical" is, of course, the bodily organ that most of us consider to be synonymous with, or at least inseparable from, the mind: the brain.

But though we generally believe that the brain is the mind, or at least is the home of the mind, the Course tells us in no uncertain terms that this is not the case. The brain is simply part of the illusory body, and all it does is interpret the illusory things the body's illusory senses report to it (see T-22.I.2:9). Therefore, it exists entirely within the realm of illusion, and this leads the Course to draw some very startling conclusions about the brain. Among those conclusions, the Course tells us that the brain and the physical eyes that serve it cannot really see (see W-pI.92.1:3-5), and that the brain cannot really communicate (see T-22.I.2:9-3:3). Most startling of all, the Course tells us that because we think with the Mind of God and only the thoughts we share with Him are real, the brain cannot even really think (see W-pI.92.1-3). Indeed, the Course considers the idea that the brain can think absolutely preposterous:

You…believe the body's brain can think. If you but understood the nature of thought, you could but laugh at this insane idea. It is as if you thought you held the match that lights the sun and gives it all its warmth; or that you held the world within your hand, securely bound until you let it go. (W-pI.92.2:1-3)

The Course's radical severance of mind and brain raises some serious questions, which deserve to be looked at squarely. One question: Given that brainwave measuring instruments show that the brain is indeed active whenever thought is taking place, is there any connection at all between the mind and brain? I would say that certainly there is. Clearly events in the mind do have measurable effects on the brain, and so there must be a sense in which the mind expresses itself in this world through the brain, just as it acts in this world through the body in general. But the key point is that, in the Course's view, the non-physical mind is the cause, and brain activity is the effect. This is the exact reverse of the more conventional view, in which brain activity is seen to be the cause, and "mind" the effect.

But this leads to another question. If it is indeed true that the mind is cause and the brain is effect, then why does altering brain chemistry (through, for instance, giving antidepressant medications) seem to have such a profound effect on the mind? Doesn't this indicate that the brain is cause and the mind is effect? Not according to the Course. In its view, all forms of physical medicine alleviate symptoms only because the non-physical mind has given its power to them. When physical medicine works, all that has happened is that the patient's mind has decided to allow it to work: "Special agents seem to be ministering to him, yet they but give form to his own choice" (M-5.II.2:8). Therefore, it is only because we believe in the "magic" of physical medicine that altering the brain's chemistry seems to alter mental states. In fact, the non-physical mind is the true agent of change. Again, the mind is cause, and the brain is effect.

The mind is restored to awareness of its oneness with the Mind of God by renouncing wrong-mindedness and choosing right-mindedness, which sets the stage for God to lift it back to One-mindedness.

This, in a nutshell, is how the mind "ascends" back to its original state. Remember, in our present state, each of our "individual minds" now seems to be split into two separate parts: a part that remains joined with God and Christ, and a part that now seems separate from Them. In this divided state, the mind seems to be cut off from the will it shares with God, and thus it seems to be imprisoned. (One form this takes in this world is the mind's seeming imprisonment in the brain.)

In this situation, "the only remaining freedom is the freedom of choice" (C-1.7:1). That is, the mind can choose which "side" of the divide it wants to give its allegiance to by choosing which of two voices to accept as its guide: the ego or the Holy Spirit. The ego "lives" in the separate, illusory part of the mind and represents the belief in separation that initiated the split to begin with. The Holy Spirit lives in the real part of the mind and calls us to remember our eternal oneness with God, Christ, and each other. The choice for the ego is the choice for false perception or wrong-mindedness; the choice for the Holy Spirit is the choice for true perception or right-mindedness. Both choices are illusions, being within the realm of perception, but the illusion of true perception is such a pure reflection of truth that it opens the way for God, Who "takes the final step Himself" (C-1.5:3). Once we commit fully to right-mindedness, He lifts our awareness back to our original state of One-mindedness — a state which, in truth, we never left.

What aspect of the mind makes this crucial choice? The aspect which the Course calls "consciousness" (C-1.7:3), which in the Course's terminology simply means the conscious mind. The Course tells us that "all choices are made consciously, with full awareness of their consequences" (M-12.6:4), but that we then bury those choices in the unconscious mind in order to deceive ourselves into thinking that they were not our choices (see W-pI.136.3-4). The Course's aim is to bring those choices back into consciousness, and remind us that we do have the power of choice: our conscious minds can "choose once again" (T-31.VIII.1:5).

Devoting our minds to choosing right-mindedness in the context of our daily lives is our calling as Course students. Through continually choosing to turn away from the ego's call to separation and hear instead the Holy Spirit's call to union, our minds will eventually make the final choice for God, and in that instant be restored to awareness of their true Identity as the Mind of Christ, God's beloved Son.

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