Perception is the only mode of awareness available to the separated mind. To say it another way, perception is a way of consciously viewing ourselves and the world that is based upon the a priori assumption- or belief- that separation is real. Once we have accepted this false premise- that we are truly separate from God and from one another, that the ‘I’ within ‘me’ is an island unto itself- then perception is the primary tool of awareness at our disposal.
Having said all of that, perception is one of those concepts from the Course that is not altogether obvious to me. I mean, what is it exactly??? Is it perception to see any physical form whatsoever? Or is it perception to see a world populated with separate people and separate things? Writing often helps me clarify my learning, so here goes…
In our world of language, the word perception typically refers to a viewpoint, to an image or impression or experience that arises when we look at something in a certain way. If two people look at the same building from different locations, they will see differences, even though the building is the same building. There is general agreement in our world that if both people came around to look at the building from the same spot, they would see the same thing, and thus share the same perception.
Albert Einstein was convinced this simple principle was an underpinning of the universe. He felt that if the truth is true, it must be true to everyone who shares a common reference point (e.g. perception), and so he developed a mathematical language for converting one perception (e.g. reference point) into any other. This universal perception translator kit- the theories of Relativity- required that space itself change shape in response to the movement of its energetic and mass-laden contents. This finding was completely unexpected, but ultimately came from the simple assertion that something true in our world should be true to everyone who looks at it from the same point of reference. And the theory to date has stood the test of time.
Remarkable… but does it make the observed event True?
In relationships, two people may have very different views of the same event. Both may have participated in the exact same conversation, yet walk away with completely different experiences because of their personalities, beliefs, past histories, etc. Thus, if both people had had the same past experiences and had made the same conscious choices about how to interpret and/or respond to those experiences, then presumably they would both be capable of viewing experiences in a similar light. At a minimum, when we grasp the experiences that shape each other’s viewpoints, we are able to better understand one another. In this case, the perceptual differences are the inner context of beliefs, goals, desires and fears that color our individual awareness.
Are these the perceptions the Course is talking about? One of them? All of them? I’m not sure. At the end of the day I think the Course is saying that any mode of awareness in which the meaning of what is observed or experienced is capable of changing depending upon how you elect to view it or ‘frame it’ is a perception.
I find it really interesting when the Course says that, “Perception is a result, not a cause.” (T.21, I.1:8) The result of what? If perception is a mode of awareness in which meaning is subject to variation depending upon our viewpoint, then a world in which perception reigns would be a world in which multiple viewpoints are possible. Clearly separation is the fundamental and necessary element of such a world. The Course says that, “Consciousness, the level of perception, was the first split introduced into the mind after the separation, making the mind a perceiver rather than a creator.” (T.3, IV.2:1)
I often find it helpful to take an assertion and wonder what the opposite would mean. If my day-to-day experience is rooted in perception, which is the product of separation, and creating is its opposite, what would an experience of creating be like? The top of my head doesn’t exactly peel off, but this tact is often very insightful. My answer at this moment is that a perception is a mode of awareness in which we make something and place it ‘out there’, external to ourselves, where we can look at it. Creating, on the other hand, is a flowing extension of a Self into its creations in such a way that the Creator and the Created share an Identity. When we create we don’t chuck ‘things’ out there into an external world and look back on them from the outside: we are It. We don’t generate images or phantoms or shells of unreality. We extend Reality Itself. We give ourselves wholly and completely to our creations. They are us and we are they. Wow.
Do try this at home. Imagine it. Feel your heart ripple with the ineffable. You give yourself wholly, but completely counter to the world of perception, there is no transfer from you to another. You lose nothing. There is no depletion of your stores. In fact, there is only gain… There is extension of the Self into something new and equally whole. There is more of You. More of Creation.
“To extend is a fundamental aspect of God which He gave to His Son. In the creation, God extended Himself to His creations and imbued them with the same loving Will to create…” (T.2, I.1:1-2) “In this sense the creation includes both the creation of the Son by God, and the Son’s creations when his mind is healed.” (T.2, I.2:7)
Healing our perceptions is the work of our journey home. As the Course of Love states, “The loftiest aim of which you are currently capable is that of changing your perception.” (CoL, 19.23) This is a key step in unwinding our core belief-experience of being a little, separate, individual ‘thing’. When we perceive rightly, the world we see so closely aligns with Reality that God is able to flood our awareness with Knowing once again and, because our chosen perception is so close to Reality, we will not resist It’s coming any longer.
“Right perception is necessary before God can communicate directly to His altars, which He established in His Sons. There He can communicate with His certainty, and His knowledge will bring peace without question.” (T.3, III.6:1-2)
A world of perception is a world of assigned meanings. We perceive differently because we assign different meanings. As we relinquish our need to interpret as separate individuals, we allow the Holy Spirit to bring our perception back to a right-minded worldview, to the vision of Christ. There, the tumblers fall into place, the door swings open, and Love is Known.
Our pernicious belief in the reality of separation is gone forever.
Sounds wonderful, and yet… Despite the fact that perceiving is not our natural mode of awareness, it is all we appear to know right now! In A Course of Love Jesus notes that prior to the separation, when our awareness was rooted in unity, it was quite impossible for us to understand, imagine, or experience what a separated state would be like. It was a completely foreign concept. It was only when we experienced it that the “reality” set in…
“The only way to make the unbelievable believable is to alter what you experience. The state in which you now exist was not only unbelievable but also inconceivable to you in your natural state. Experience was required in order to alter your belief system and is required now as well.” (CoL 18.10)
We now have the opposite problem. Separation is all we appear to know. We are plagued by perceptions. Attempting to have a moment of awareness without it is challenging to accomplish- in the area of effecting moments of genuine transcendence, we are like scientific researchers who have just found a new phenomenon, but have no idea about its governing parameters or the conditions in which it arises- and virtually impossible to conceptualize. I believe this is why a great many spiritual paths in our culture rely upon experience. The Reality we seek transcends concepts.
The key to transformation of our experience is to unify the heart and mind, so that they move together, in lockstep, towards the experience we wish to have. “A mind that can conceive of a creator combined with a heart that yearns for knowledge of, and union with, that creator, can bypass the need for the separate thoughts of the separated one’s thought system… In order to remember unity you must, in a sense, travel back to it, undoing as you go all you have learned since last you knew it, so that all that remains is love. This undoing, or atonement, has begun- and once begun is unstoppable and thus already inevitably accomplished.” (CoL, 19.17,19)
There is one last thing we must refuse to do, and that is to continue placing ourselves in the Driver’s Seat. Jesus says, “Your willingness to accept me as your teacher will help you to accept my sight as your own and thus to be right-minded. The way you have perceived of yourself and your world until now has not been right-minded, and you are beginning to realize this. Thus it is now appropriate for the realization to come to you that your mind, and your perception, can be changed.” (CoL, 19.23)
Remember that a world based upon perception is a world of changing meaning. To return to unity, meaning becomes changeless (and beautiful, exhilarating, uplifting, profound, stunningly acceptable, etc.). I’m not sure that we, as separated minds, are capable of conceiving of a single meaning to give all of the events we perceive. Our lives are a constant encounter with perceptions that overwhelm our ability to even try: famines, storms, wars, disease, loss, etc. We might come up with a meaning that is satisfactory to us in a few cases, but not universally… Not in the face of such tragedy. You see, we are stymied by a belief in separation, so long as we choose it.
A universal meaning must be rooted in unity. If we could each simply come up with our own version of a universal meaning, it wouldn’t be universal! We need a teacher like Jesus to supply the One Meaning that underwrites all Beingness, that is meaningful when overlaid onto any set of circumstances or perception whatsoever. And we need the trust and willingness to accept that meaning in any set of circumstances we find ourselves.
Then, perceptions may dissolve. Knowledge may return. Our experience of unity with Creation may be remembered. Our participation in Creation may continue.