How can my judgments be real if my mind is factually blank?

Question: I have been repeating the thought from Review IV: "My mind holds only what I think with God." It has reminded me that we are incapable of judging. When we think without God, the Course tells us our minds are blank and this is a fact of What we are. So is it really judging, if the mind itself is "blank"? How can illusory pollutants within our minds exist if factually our minds are blank?

Answer: The Course has two very different emphases when it comes to our resentful, judgmental thoughts. One emphasis is that we need to look at them honestly, acknowledging them for what they are. The other emphasis is that they have no effect on our nature; they don't turn us into sinners (even though in our eyes this is exactly what they do). Their effect is so nonexistent that, from the ultimate perspective, they are not really there.

Yet how do these two very different emphases go together? When we acknowledge just how angry—and yes, even murderous—our thoughts are, we tend to feel terrible. That terrible feeling comes from our belief that these thoughts have indeed changed us into something less than innocent, something monstrous. So looking at our judgmental thoughts for what they are seems to lead us away from the second emphasis, the idea that these thoughts have no power to stain our nature.

Yet the introduction to Review IV in the Workbook (W-pI.rIV.In) contains a brilliant discussion that says the exact opposite. It says that looking at these thoughts for what they are is the royal road to realizing their ultimate powerlessness.

The review begins by giving us its central thought: "My mind holds only what I think with God" (2:2). It then says, "That is a fact, and represents the truth of What you are" (2:3). In other words, our true condition is one in which the only thoughts that ever enter our mind are thoughts that come straight from God. Our minds are perfectly pure, perfectly holy.

Then comes a key statement: "Lack of forgiveness blocks this thought from his awareness" (2:7). When we have unforgiving thoughts, how can we possibly think that our mind holds only what we think with God? God doesn't have such unloving thoughts. So if we allow unforgiving thoughts into our minds, we will inevitably believe that our minds hold contents that we do not share with God. The discussion then continues:

Let us begin our preparation with some understanding of the many forms in which the lack of true forgiveness may be carefully concealed. Because they are illusions, they are not perceived to be but what they are; defenses that protect your unforgiving thoughts from being seen and recognized. Their purpose is to show you something else, and hold correction off through self-deceptions made to take its [correction's] place. (3:1-3)

Jesus' purpose here is not to list the many forms in which lack of true forgiveness may be concealed. His purpose is just to have us appreciate that there are many forms. The situation is this: Despite what we think, our minds are filled with unforgiving thoughts. It seems to us that we have only the occasional unforgiving thought. A great many of our thoughts seem quite well-meaning and constructive, even kind and caring. Many others seem merely neutral, or maybe anxious and worried, but still not unforgiving. What Jesus implies here is that this is the result of self-deception. We are concealing our unforgiveness in forms that look like "something else." These forms "protect" our unforgiveness from being corrected, because the "something else" doesn't need correction. It's just fine as it is.

For example, I might think, "I'll go ahead and do these dishes, even though they aren't mine. I would like to contribute to a clean and harmonious household." This thought looks responsible and even generous, but hidden within it may be an unforgiving thought: "After all, the person that actually dirtied these dishes won't get around to it, slouch that he is, so I guess I'll have to be the hero here. Once I finish, maybe he'll be decent enough to notice his guilt and my holiness."

The first thought is the form that conceals the unforgiveness in the second thought. Since that form already looks squeaky clean, it makes the whole package seem to not require correction. The unforgiveness-sniffing dogs pass right over it.

There is a key line, though, that we have passed over: "Because they are illusions, they are not perceived to be but what they are." We have already been told that these unforgiving thoughts are illusions, that they are not really there. In reality, my mind holds only what I think with God. So these unforgiving thoughts are not real; they are illusions. And it is central to the very concept of illusion that illusions "are not perceived to be but what they are." Right? Illusions by nature pass themselves off as something they're not.

But if you notice, we now have two ways in which these unforgiving thoughts pass themselves off as something they are not. The fundamental way is that they are something unreal passing themselves off as something real. Then on top of that, they are something unloving passing themselves off as loving. These two senses of "illusion" are crucial to understanding the entire discussion.

Let's continue with the next paragraph:

And yet, your mind holds only what you think with God. Your self-deceptions cannot take the place of truth. No more than can a child who throws a stick into the ocean change the coming and the going of the tides, the warming of the water by the sun, the silver of the moon on it by night. (4:1-2)

"And yet"—in spite of the fact that we hide our unforgiving thoughts in holy robes, they still cannot really pollute our minds with thoughts we are not thinking with God. They cannot introduce actual impurities into our pure and holy minds, for they are not really there. They are illusions.

Notice how in this paragraph Jesus again calls these thoughts "self-deceptions," just as he did in the previous paragraph. But notice how the sense of this term is now different. In the previous paragraph, these thoughts were "self-deceptions" because they were unloving thoughts made to look loving. In this paragraph, however, they are "self-deceptions" because they are unreal thoughts made to look real—real enough to pollute the pure mind that formerly thought only with God. So here we have the same two senses of "illusion."

I realize this is probably hard to follow, but the practical consequences are fairly simple: Most of our seemingly nice thoughts are double-layered deceptions, and we have to undo the first layer in order to undo the second. If we keep intact the first layer, we also keep intact the second—it's a package deal. Let's look at both scenarios.

When I say, "That thought about doing the dishes was so kind and generous" I am keeping intact the first layer of deception, that this thought is loving rather than unforgiving. This automatically keeps in place the second layer, that this thought is real rather than illusory. As a result, somewhere deep in my mind, I look past the first disguise and say, "What a spiteful thought that was! Now look what you've done, you've introduced a real pollutant into the mind that once was so pure and holy. You've made a devil of God's Son." In other words, the nice façade I put on that thought led directly to guilt.

But I can go the other way. I can say, "That thought was a deception. It was an attempt to deceive myself into believing that it was kind and generous, when actually it was just unforgiveness in disguise." This will of course tempt me to feel guilty, but instead I need to press on. Having undone the first layer of deception, I need to undo the second. I need to realize that there is a deeper layer of deception, that this is not only an unloving thought passing itself off as loving, but also an unreal thought passing itself off as real.

Imagine the freedom of going that second step! Then I can apply to myself that wonderful image of the child throwing the stick into the ocean. I can realize that when I throw my unforgiving thoughts into my mind, I don't really change my mind. I don't pollute the holy mind that God gave me in my creation. I am just a little boy on the shore of my limitless mind, throwing the petty sticks of my unforgiving thoughts into that boundless ocean. As little boys are so prone to do, I grandiosely believe that those thoughts change everything. I believe they determine what the ocean is, they swing its whole nature in their direction.

But of course I am just entertaining foolish fantasies. Unheeding of my tiny sticks, the tides come and go as they always have. The water warms in response to the sun as it has for eternity. And when evening comes, the ocean's surface will faithfully reflect the moon's light, as it always has and always will. Regardless of my little sticks, the ocean of my mind moves in perfect responsiveness to the gravitational pull of the moon, the warmth of the sun, the light of the moon. It is not possible that this ocean could ever do otherwise, that it could ever depart from the influence of those heavenly sources. For this ocean only moves, only thinks, in perfect concert with God.

My only chance to realize this wonderful truth, however, is to undo that first layer of deception. If I can muster the strength to see through the first lie, then I can see through the second. If I can admit the lie that says my unforgiving thoughts are really loving, then I can go the second step. I can laugh at the grandiosity that my unreal thoughts could ever change the perfect holiness of my oceanic mind, created by God Himself. Let us, then, take that first step, so that we can take the second.

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