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 You Respond to What you Perceive

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited to bring clarification to certain points of the dialogue and for easier readability. For this reason, it does not match the corresponding audio mp3 word-for-word. However, the overall content and the expressed ideas remain unchanged.

Speaker: “You respond to what you perceive and as you perceive so shall you behave.” Everyone’s familiar with the golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ This means that the perception of both must be accurate. You have to have a correct perception of others and you have to have a correct perception of yourself, otherwise, we’re back to that behavioral thing, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. And Jesus says it goes much deeper than just trying to return kindly acts and to act kind and hope others will act kindly to you. You have to perceive correctly. The way that first sentence is ‘You respond to what you perceive and as you perceive so shall you behave’ gives you a real sense that behavior is an effect that comes automatically after the perception. In others words, if I perceive attack, my behavior will be a response to that perception of attack. It’s not responding to what somebody is seemingly doing on the level of form, but it’s my perception or the meaning that I’m giving to what I see on the level of form. A good example would be the movie ‘Being There’ with Peter Sellers who plays Chauncey Gardener, this real innocent, childlike gardener who goes out into the world after years in seclusion. He’s never been out of the house, and a gang comes up to him as he’s walking down the street the first time out in his life. He’s up in years and they come up to him and they say, ‘Hey, honky!’ they’re cussing at him and they pull out their knives and they’re going right at his face with their knives right up to his nose and he’s just looking at them real innocent. All he’s ever known is television and after they persist with the language and cussing at him and pointing these knives at him he finally reaches into his pocket where he’s got his little TV changer and he clicks it as though to change the channel, like I don’t know if I like this channel. I think I’m going to change the channel. It’s like a total defenselessness. He’s not flinching. He’s not ducking, he’s not running, his face isn’t tensing up. That’s an extreme example of you respond to what you perceive. You have to perceive attack before you can respond in a defensive way. That’s a real basic metaphysical cornerstone tonight when we go into things. It’s what you perceive. It’s the meaning that you give to the images that the eyes are seeing that’s crucial.

In psychology, for years they tried to figure out what comes first. When you see a bear and you start to run do you think, ‘I’m afraid. I have to run.’ Does the fear come first? What comes first? Do you start to get all sweaty and your heart starts to go fast? What’s going on in the mind or what’s going on in that brain that’s making it come out that way. In the Course, here’s the master psychologist Jesus who’s laying it out and saying, well you have a mind and your thoughts are where it’s all happening. Basically if you have a fearful thought or ego thought you could call it, then fear gets produced from that ego thought. It’s not like the emotion comes first and determines the thoughts, the emotion doesn’t necessarily determine the response of heavy breathing or sweaty palms or whatever, but it’s the thoughts that come first.

So, once again, that’s helpful if you’re studying metaphysics to say I’ve got to get to the source of the problem. I need to get to my thinking. If I’m feeling upset, if I’m feeling jealous, hurt or abandoned or depressed or one of thousands of emotions, the Course simplifies it and says those are all just sprays of fear. There are basically only two emotions. Isn’t it nice? Truth is simple. Instead of having to learn you have 15 thousand emotions, no, he says you’ve got two emotions, love and fear. Then he goes even further to say that there are two thought systems in your mind, one’s the ego and one’s the Holy Spirit; when you’re listening to the Holy Spirit and you’re lined up with that thought system you’re going to feel loving, peaceful, and joyful. When you’re listening to that other thought system in your mind, you’re going to feel fearful or one of those thousands of emotions that don’t feel good. It could be boredom even. Boredom is a spray of fear.
That really simplifies things. That there are these two thought systems in the mind, just two and that you’re choosing one or the other every single second of every single day. Even when you’re sleeping and dreaming, mind is very active and powerful and it’s continuing to choose between these two thought systems. You have a nightmare. You wake up in a sweat of terror. It’s still the same thing. It’s still choosing the fear based thought system. So, that’s good news.

Well now if there’s this confusion going on, and I’m choosing between love and fear I’ve got to start to be able to tell them apart, and I’ve got to start to be clear in my mind and have some discernment about these thoughts because other than that it seems to be that the emotions just come. It seems to be that the emotions are the first cause. Sometimes it seems like there’s something that happens and you have a reaction but other times, have you ever had those times when you just have a melancholy day and you don’t know where it came from or you’re feeling a little down or depressed or a little fearful and anxious? You’re trying to think what is it? It seems to be buried way down there but really the mind is choosing love or fear. We have to get into talking about the mind. We have to get into talking about unconscious beliefs in the mind to really get down to what’s going on. This is what the Course is about.

Now to spring on the idea that we just had I was going to jump ahead to page 200 which is just a continuation of our first idea. It says, But truth is real in its own right. To believe in truth you do not have to do anything. You do not have to do anything. Isn’t that a nice idea? I think a lot of times in the spiritual journey there’s a belief that it’s going to be a long hard journey with lots of hard work, but Jesus says to believe in truth you do not have to do anything. Understand that you do not respond to anything directly, but to your interpretation of it. You’re interpretation thus becomes the justification for the response. This carries over into the idea that we just talked about where it’s an interpretation that the mind is making of what’s going on on the screen. That’s where the problem is. Really, the only problem we have is that we have an interpretation problem. The lesson from the course would be lesson #2 ‘I have given everything I see all the meaning that it has for me.’ I’m giving it the meaning. Three people see an accident happen on a corner. They take it down, what did you see? Well, you get three interpretations. You go to a movie. It seems to be a quiet movie and all of a sudden the guy in the back just starts laughing. There seems to be something funny there. In his mind he’s just interpreting what’s happening on the screen as funny. That’s not the way we’ve been raised to think in the sense that’s not the way in the past we’ve thought. In the past we’ve learned that movie made me laugh. That person’s funny. He makes me laugh. That person hurt my feelings. That person just aggravates me so much I can’t stand him at work. The cause is something that someone is doing behaviorally and my mind is upset because of what they’re doing, but the Course is saying you’ve got it backwards. It’s the other way around. It’s your interpretation of your brother’s behavior. It’s your interpretation if it’s gloomy and cloudy for twelve straight days and you’re down in the dumps. The backwards thinking would say I am really sad because I haven’t seen the sun for twelve days and I love the sun. The Course turns it around and says your interpretation of twelve cloudy days is what’s upsetting you. It’s not the cloudy days.

Participant1: Or twelve 90 degree days…

Speaker: Or twelve 90 degree days…right. You can start to get a sense that the interpretation problem is a problem of cause and effect being reversed. Where the ego’s thinking is in there saying you’re little, you’re weak, you’re tiny, you’re frail, you’re vulnerable. You’re a little bitty body. A little bitty person in a gigantic world and there’s all these big powerful forces outside of you. You had better be careful because the economy could collapse or aids could spread or there could be a hurricane or a flood and there’s all these things that you’ve got to be afraid of that are out there in the world. All that the Course is saying is that all the fear and all the upset is coming from the interpretation problem in our own mind. That’s good news because gee, if I have made my mind up one way and I’m seeing falsely then I have the power of decision in my mind to change my mind about how I look at the world, and I can give up the fear. Now, that’s good news. It can also seem like a pretty big job because there are lots of things that I’m afraid of in the world, things buried in my mind. I’m not even sure what they are, but there seem to be an awful lot of fears, and it can seem like a big job going into the mind and looking at all these thoughts and beliefs.

Participant2: About the sub conscious or unconscious thoughts or fears, beliefs; what would you consider to be the best way to uncover those?

Speaker: Get into a relationship. That will do it! That flushes it up right away. The Course says whenever you’re in relationship these beliefs get flushed up rapidly because the mind has tried to deny them, and when you get into a relationship the ego basic urge is to project the guilt and project the pain onto your brother. When that happens it’s not about pooh-poohing the relationship or saying, I’ve got to get out of here but it’s like ok there’s something that I’m seeing in you my brother that I have denied or I’m unwilling to look at in myself. Another way is to study the Course because he lays it out there, he starts to talk about these beliefs. He talks about beliefs of time and space which are pretty deep, and he talks about beliefs in levels of the mind

Participant2: Do you think the more you study the Course the more you become aware of your total mind?

Speaker: Yes, it’s like raising all these unconscious beliefs to the light. It’s not like you have to fight them and it’s not like you have to destroy them but all you have to do is to raise them up so you can see this is just a belief that can be held up to the light of truth. It can be seen as backwards in cause and effect or it can be seen that it’s not in line with the Holy Spirit’s thought system and then once you can see it, it’s dispelled. The reason it seems to go on and on and take a while is because there are all these beliefs, but they are all sprays of the ego and it’s a matter of going down deeper and deeper in the mind and being able to see all the beliefs as false.

You could think of a sky scraper and all the office windows are black because the lights are turned off at night. That’s like the mind and up where the flag’s blowing that’s where the experience is of being in the world. It’s like not really being aware that you’re standing on this giant skyscraper full of dark corners of beliefs. So, you’re up there and it seems to be an experience of starting at the top and going down by the floors with the Holy Spirit and turning on the light switches in each room. It seems like oh boy, this takes a while to go down and get all these. But, there’s a big shift that can occur and it only takes an instant because there’s a main switch for the whole building. If you can get down to the basement where the main switch is, the ego is out of business because then ‘plink!’ the whole thing lights up.

Remember we said there are only two voices in the mind and that’s the Holy Spirit and the ego and you’re deciding between one and the other in every instant. But when the decision gets made at the very bottom of the mind in the basement, when the mind makes a decision for the ego or the Holy Spirit, it comes through all these filters of beliefs through all the dark offices, and on the surface it comes out as if it’s a decision between things in the world.

In other words, I decided to come to this meeting tonight. That seems like a real decision doesn’t it? I could have gone off and watched a movie or done something else but I made a real decision to come. Or I made a real decision to have a meat loaf sandwich instead of the tuna or to buy the Pontiac instead of the Chevrolet. On the surface, on the top of the sky scraper all of the decisions seem to be between form things, it seems like we have to make decisions constantly between things in this world. We make decisions what to wear, where to go, who to see. But, that’s all up where the flag is blowing and basically Jesus is saying well, it seems that way on the surface. It seems like you are a person and you’re making decisions up here between objects. Do I wear the green sweater or the blue sweater? Well, Jesus in the end is saying they’re both projections, they are both illusions. There’s a real choice down in the basement that you can make and when you make it, it will bring you indescribable happiness. It’s what we would call a form/content distinction. Content is a decision of mind or a decision to choose the Holy Spirit or the ego. That’s a very fundamental decision in the mind. Now a form decision, between the green sweater and the blue sweater doesn’t matter. So all the things that we were taught that you had to do in order to be a good girl and good boy, those were all at the behavioral level. That’s not where choice really is. The Course isn’t really advocating anything in terms of some things are better to do than other things. A good example would be suppose you go down to an inner city area and you come across a person who looks like a homeless person and you decide to take out some money and give the homeless person five dollars or something. Now, people may have all kinds of opinions and interpretations of that. Oh, that’s very kind and sweet to give that person five dollars. Other people may say, that guy is clearly an alcoholic. You’re just going to give him five dollars and he’ll just carry on with his habit. What the Course is saying is how do you feel? What is your motivation that is behind the action? Always, the Course keeps coming back to what is it for? What is my intention? Am I giving that money because I feel guilty? Because I’m comparing myself to that person and I’m saying I’m so much better off than they are. They should have it because they need it more than I do and I’m guilty so I’ll give them the five dollars and get on with my life or is it given out of an intention of no strings attached, something that you feel moved to do. It could be the spirit moving through, giving the money through you. That’s the crucial point, the decisions on the surface really don’t mean anything in and of themselves but it’s the motivation. What is my motivation and that’s why it’s a twelve hundred page course because it’s a matter of really getting clear in our minds, discerning and hearing between the Holy Spirit and the ego’s voice. Because they can seem to be very mixed in there; there can seem to be a lot of level confusion.

Here’s just a hypothetical example of a house that’s decorated with lots of art work and a gallery of ancient Chinese vases from the Ming dynasty worth lots of money, thousands and thousands of dollars and then a little girl is opening a door and a dog gets in and starts running through the house. The little girl starts playfully chasing the dog and goes around the corner and one of the big vases starts teetering and tottering and falls over and just cracks into a thousand pieces. We have a parent now who’s watching this thing and once again it’s the interpretation of the events that have just happened that will lead to the parent’s response. If the parent is absolutely furious and screaming, what are you doing!? I told you not to come in here with the dog! Jesus would say that it’s a misinterpretation that there’s something of value on the screen that’s taking priority or precedence over love, that really the Holy Spirit’s response is always one of an attitude of love. But, to maintain that peace of mind and to maintain holding with the Holy Spirit you’ve got to let go of the priorities and thinking there are certain things in form that are more valuable than love or more valuable than peace of mind. It’s a letting go of the attachments or the investments in certain form things that are in place of love. We can’t maintain consistent peace unless we do that.

Participant: People are generally taught at this corrective level of behavior. Is there any other way? That’s just the way it is. Don’t run out in the street. Don’t put your hand on the stove. Don’t talk back.

Speaker: Jesus addresses that at one point in the text about teaching from the positive. He basically says that the simplest most straight forward lesson is do only that. It’s teaching by example teaching by the affirmative as opposed to the normal way in the world or the ego’s way of don’t do this, don’t do that and then coming down with punishment or retribution when it’s violated, which seems very steep. It seems like maybe if Jesus was a parent he could teach that way because it’s completely clear in his mind and everything that he does is completely consistent.

It would be like telling a child not to smoke, and the parent smokes or telling a child not to drink and the parent drinks. This is a course in changing our perceptions and changing the way we think and then lining up with the Holy Spirit. Then automatically as we change the way we think and perceive, that would be demonstrated to our children. If all minds are joined, kids can pick up things at a deeper level than just the behavioral level. The parents can fight and fight and fight and then ok now let’s get our act together before we go in there. But, the Course teaches that minds aren’t private. Minds are joined, and instead of asking the question how do I apply the course with my kids it really comes back to this Course is for me! I need to really apply this in my own life and then when situations come up more and more I can ask the Holy Spirit how to handle specific situations. So, it really brings the focus back to it’s my perceptual problem and I need a solution, and it takes out of the other realm.

So we kind of have it down to we have one big interpretation problem going here. What do we need to do to clear up these interpretations? Jesus gives the Holy Spirit’s interpretation of the world. This is something that we need to know because this is an interpretation that will bring peace, or as you said there’s another world that’s not in the materialistic world that’s a world of peace and joy if we can just consistently hold on to the Holy Spirit’s interpretation. That’s it! The Course calls it the real world. Good news. ‘Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help regardless of the form it takes.’ If you look at that interpretation, you can see that there’s something missing from it from an ego’s perspective, and that’s attack. If every loving thought is true and everything else is an appeal for healing and help then the perception or the interpretation of I’m being attacked is missing. The Holy Spirit does not perceive attack. Remember we don’t react directly to the behavior, we respond to our interpretations. If we can line up with the Holy Spirit’s interpretation then we will either perceive everything as either love or as a call for love. Basically he says at another point, whether someone’s extending love to you or calling for love, you’ll give love because you would answer a call for love with love, perceiving the need.

Now, through the ego’s lens, when someone seems fearful and screaming and they seem to be shouting and they seem to be angry that’s perceived as attack and that’s where the defenses come up. That’s where the counter attacks come in, the vicious cycle. It comes from that misperception. Basically it goes on in the next page to say, ‘Only appreciation is an appropriate response to your brother. Gratitude is due him for both his loving thoughts and his appeals for help for both are capable of bringing love into your awareness if you perceive them truly.’ That’s why relationships are so helpful in getting to these beliefs, because when I’m in a relationship at work or at home or whatever and it seems to be a real difficult relationship or a real persistent pain, the reason it’s so helpful is that his appeals for help are capable of bringing love into my awareness if I can perceive them as calls for help. If I can not judge the behavior and just remember with the Holy Spirit, Oh, yes this is a call for help, then that changes everything. That takes all the struggle out of trying to prove I’m right, making a point, defending my personal interest and all those other things. They kind of all get suspended.

The next thing is why does it seem so difficult to choose the Holy Spirit’s interpretation? He’s in my mind. He’s always there. He never perceives attack. He always perceives love and a call for love. In the quality of miracles section there’s what I call a little snapshot of the mind. The mind is in a deceived state, the everyday perceptual world is really deluded because remember perceiving sickness and pain and suffering and death in Jesus’ view is a hallucination. It’s pretty twisted. That’s not the way the Holy Spirit looks at the world. So, it gives a little bit of a snapshot of what’s really going on in my mind in this deceived state. He talks about thoughts in the mind and competition between the thoughts. He also says that you are used to classifying some of your thoughts as more important, larger or better, wiser or more productive and valuable than others. “This is true of the thoughts that cross the mind of those who think they live apart, for some are reflections of heaven while others are motivated by the ego which but seems to think. “ So, if you can think of these great brilliant white thoughts that are in the mind that are reflections of heaven, that are reflecting the Holy Spirit’s light and then there are these dark thoughts that are pitch black.

‘The result is a weaving changing pattern that never rests and is never still. It shifts unceasingly across the mirror of your mind and the reflections of heaven last but a moment and grow dim as darkness blots them out. Where there was light, darkness removes it in an instant and alternating patterns of lightness and darkness sweep constantly across your mind. The little sanity that still remains is held together by a sense of order that you establish. Yet, the very fact that you can do this and bring any order into chaos shows you that you are not an ego and that more than an ego must be in you. For the ego is chaos and if it were all of you no order at all would be possible.’

Now, here’s the key point. He says, ‘yet though the order you impose upon your mind limits the ego it also limits you. To order is to judge and to arrange by judgment.’ So, the mind is in a kind of deluded state now. It’s forgotten its creator and its source and it’s got a mixture of the thoughts that are reflections of heaven and the thoughts that are the ego in it, and it tries to order and judge things to try to bring some kind of order. But, remember the mind in its natural state is very expansive. It doesn’t have this classification in ordering and these are like the mind sets of the perceptual world. Everybody seems to have a different view of the world. Everybody has different preferences. Everybody has different likes and dislikes, personal interests, hobbies and these are like the mindsets of the perceptual world. This is the ordering that is taking place in the deceived mind. I like my women this way or I like my men this way or I like these kinds of foods and on and on. But everybody seems to have their own classification of ordering in the world. Basically, he says it will seem difficult to learn that you have no basis at all for ordering your thoughts, that the only way to really let go of the ego is to quit trying to judge. Remember the biblical thing to judge not lest ye be judged. The basic element to letting go of these twisted interpretations and this misperception is to let go of judgments. Let go of trying to order our own thoughts. So, basically it’s simple. The Holy Spirit only has two categories whereas the deceived mind has millions of categories for everything. The Holy Spirit has two categories. The only judgment involved is the Holy Spirit’s one division into two categories. One of love and the other the call for love; oh, we’re back to that again, that instead of perceiving all these hierarchy of illusions and orders of difficulty. The Holy Spirit has a really clear vision, a clear mind. He just perceives two orders; love and a call for love. So why is it so difficult to perceive like he does all the time? He kind of gives us a peek into that. He says, ‘You cannot safely make this decision for you are much too confused either to recognize love or to believe that everything else is nothing but a call for love.’ Why? He says, ‘you are too bound to form and not to content. What you consider content is not really content at all. It is merely form and nothing else.’ Here we come back to decisions in the mind.
Form is that real obsession with thinking we know what’s happening. What’s valuable in form is ordering and judging. Saying everybody knows inner city life is something to be afraid of more than living out in the country, or everybody knows that a hundred dollar bill is more valuable than a penny is still form/content. It’s very bound with specifics. You have to start giving up thinking that you know what’s going on in form so that you can perceive with the Holy Spirit. So, that’s a pretty big distinction.

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