What does the Course mean by “only happy sights and sounds can reach the mind that has forgiven itself”?

Q. The Workbook says, “Only happy sights and sounds can reach the mind that has forgiven itself” (W-pII.8.2:6). What does that mean? Will we still see the same sights and sounds that we do now, and just interpret them as happy? Or does it mean that we will actually see different sights and hear different sounds than we do now?

A. First, my understanding of the Course’s teaching is that the state of the real world (which is what that passage is talking about) is one in which our physical senses still work as normal, but a) our minds assign a new meaning to all the sensory stimulu, and b) our focus is much more on true perception (which is separate from physical sensation) and so physical sensation recedes to the background.

In terms of our physical senses working as normal, that is directly stated in the Manual:

The body’s eyes will continue to see differences. But the mind that has let itself be healed will no longer acknowledge them. There will be those who seem to be “sicker” than others, and the body’s eyes will report their changed appearances as before. But the healed mind will put them all in one category; they are unreal. (M-8.6:1-4)

In terms of our physical sensation receding to the background, there is this from Lesson 164:

And so today, this instant, now, we come to look upon what is forever there; not in our sight, but in the eyes of Christ. He looks past time, and sees eternity as represented there. He hears the sounds the senseless, busy world engenders, yet He hears them faintly. For beyond them all He hears the song of Heaven, and the Voice for God more clear, more meaningful, more near.

The world fades easily away before His sight. Its sounds grow dim. A melody from far beyond the world increasingly is more and more distinct; an ancient call to which He gives an ancient answer. (W-pI.164.1:3-2:3)

Due to a) and b), we don’t need to physically see new sights and hear new sounds. What we experience of those sights and sounds is determined not by their form but by the meaning we assign to them. If a) we give them a new meaning, and b) we see and hear them faintly as we attend to a higher kind of sight and sound, then why would  it matter that we have new physical sensations?

If we look at the life of Jesus, he certainly seemed to see the same sights and sounds as everyone else, and he clearly talks that way in the Course. He talks about the same historical events that everyone else saw. He talks about his healings, his teaching, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his disciples—the same things that were recorded in the gospels. He just says he saw it all very differently.

And the fact that he saw the same things is what allowed him to help people. If he hadn’t physically seen sick people, why would he ever give them miracles? To help people, we need to know their condition as they experience it. We need to know how it looks through their eyes. We need to listen carefully to their words. All of these things are mentioned in the Course:

Yet a savior must remain with those he teaches, seeing what they see, but still retaining in his mind the way that led him out, and now will lead you out with him. (W-pI.rV.In.6:5)

Do not despair, then, because of limitations. It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them. If you would be heard by those who suffer, you must speak their language. If you would be a savior, you must understand what needs to be escaped. (M-26.4:1-4)

No good teacher uses one approach to every pupil. On the contrary, he listens patiently to each one, and lets him formulate his own curriculum; not the curriculum’s goal, but how he can best reach the aim it sets for him. (P-2.II.7:2-3)

The Course is clear, then, that in the real world we will physically see the same sights and sounds. We should think of this as a positive—because it allows the right-minded to help others—and not a negative—because we don’t need to have different physical sensations to have a transformed experience. The sights we see will be given a new and ultimately happy interpretation, and they will also recede in importance as we dwell on Christ’s vision, which is beyond physical sensation.

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