Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.
This first lesson we are invited to do twice a day and at our leisure, taking up no more than a minute of time in each interval. This creates a nice easeful way of introducing a concept to a mind which believes that everything means something and usually crucial to existence. But we are called to begin to change our sight from that of the physical world to one of Sacred Sight, or Spiritual Sight as the Course would describe.
Caroline Myss, medical intuitive and author of Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, describes this approach to sight as “becoming more aware of the extraordinary world that lies beyond your eyes” with the term Symbolic Sight (57). Whether it is called Sacred, Spiritual, or Symbolic Sight, it encourages the observer to witness her relation to the environment and reflect on the energy present and begin to see what is truly real, that which is beyond what the human eye can see.
The first lesson in A Course in Miracles invites us to do just that. It is our introduction into True Sight. We start this journey by being asked to look at our close surroundings and contemplate this statement:
This table does not mean anything.
This cup does not mean anything.
This candle does not mean anything.
And then to our more outer surroundings…
That car does not mean anything.
That tree does not mean anything.
That concert hall does not mean anything.
Since this is lesson one, it is fine to sit with these words and to take them at face value. We all come to the Course on different paths and at different paces. However, for a moment, let us see the profundity that lies within them and explore the awakened possibilities of the words: “Nothing I see in this room means anything.”
It is similar to Aparigraha, one of the Yamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The Yamas, for practicing yogis, ignite the moral compass within to live a moral life with oneself and the world; guidelines for yogic living on and off the mat. It is similar with the Course in that the words of Patanjali are encouraging one to live by a more noble code and to put that into practice, daily. In the example of the first lesson, we put forth the practice of Aparigraha, non-attachment.
This lesson calls upon Aparigraha in a deeper sense beyond being unattached to earthly materials but to our definitions of such items and the words in which we use to describe them. Think for a moment about the word table.
What does table mean to you?
How would you define what a table is?
What is your first memory of a table?
Just these questions alone can bring us out of thinking that we know what a table truly is. No doubt, table may mean something very different to me then it does to you. I am not looking through your eyes, how do I know what you think a table is or what you see known as a table? Yes, we have agreed as a society what a table is but does that make it true, finite, or eternal? For example, we can cut off the legs of what we call a table and use the legs as walking sticks and the top, a decorative piece of art on the wall where we can add some decorative lighting to it. Thus, what was agreed as the word table no longer is that. Lastly, and easily seen, the words you would use to describe a table could potentially be different than the words I use. So, really what is a table?
Your first memory and experience with said object, how does this askew your definition of the word table? Maybe your first experience with a table you hit your head on it and it caused you severe pain, leaving you very cautious whenever you think of a table. Maybe you remember heartwarming meals with your family. Maybe it was place where no one ever sat and it was never used because you ate in front of a television. The experience one with an object laces the definition and sentiment one has with a word which also makes a word very changeable.
To bring this example more to life, I recently went by a home decor store that sells refurbished home items. In the warehouse, I saw this massive teal door frame that encased a set of double doors with four small glass windows at the top of each. It was big and beautiful. I stared at it wondering what on earth it could be used for just sitting there in a warehouse. I let my mind go with ideas: take it apart, put glass over one of the doors and install some legs and make it a table; take the entire thing and do just that and make it a big table; mount it in a big room and use it as art to remind us of the doors of perception. When I left I asked the owner “how someone could use the big door frame with the double doors in the back of the warehouse?” His answer was much different and more practical than mine. He said “install it in a home as an actual door.” What do you know, I was seeing a table and art and he was seeing a true functioning door. Thus, how do I know what a table truly is or what anyone else sees as a table. Why get hung up on something that means nothing at all, as the lesson suggests?
Let me add here to the ephemerality of the words we use. Just think of any foreign language. For example, if a table is truly a table, how come it has other words for it in other languages, like mesa in Spanish. This lesson calls upon humility in our detachment to the words we put on things. It asks us to begin to investigate the encoding we put on a word and can we practice Aparigraha and let it go.
In closing, beyond the practice periods maybe begin to wonder what is beyond the words we use? Can we let go of the severity, past feelings, and meanings we put on words? Can we look beyond what is in front of us to something deeper? When we take a label away from an object, what is left?
This is where we shall leave it today, letting go of our attachments to words and meanings to see beyond, where nothing we see means anything. Seeing with Sacred Sight.