Gratitude is all the rage in spiritual circles right now, which is great. But the fact that the Course also speaks about gratitude can make it easy for us to mistakenly assume that its talking about gratitude in the same way in which its being discussed and promoted by most. However, it’s important we don’t miss that as with most things, what ACIM means by gratitude, is not what we initially think it means. This is because in his Course, Jesus consistently takes familiar everyday concepts, and redefines them according to the metaphysics of ACIM. And gratitude is no exception. In fact, the Course’s take on it is a perfect example of it’s tendency to rework common established ideas to help us better understand his right-minded curriculum.
While the everyday meaning of gratitude is to appreciate and give thanks for what we have, JHS (Jesus/the Holy Spirit) deepens this idea by uncuffing it from our understanding of ourselves as body personalities. Again, it’s always important and necessary to start with remembering the basics of the Course’s metaphysics: there is no physical world or universe of time and space. Who you are is not a body. We are a mind and spirit, created by, and one with God in truth- despite the fact that we can’t fully fathom this while we think we’re here.
So if we’re not a body- with things, people, places, and problems that populate our changing material lives- how do we make sense of gratitude? Jesus gets straight to the point in the first paragraph of lesson 195. Setting aside the fact that he insists that there is no world or bodies as we know it, it doesn’t make sense to be grateful for things that we, as individuals, appear to have because this world is founded on the very idea of scarcity, imperfection, and separation. This guarantees that there will always be suffering in this world. And while even one person suffers, we can’t be truly free of pain because we are one and the same. So long as there appears to be suffering, no one has cause for giving true thanks.
In saying that though, Jesus reminds us that despite appearances, the Holy Spirit has in fact removed the cause of all suffering. Recall that ’cause’ refers to the level of the mind, from which we quite literally made up this world of duality. And ‘effect’ refers to the level of the world and behaviour. So what he’s really saying here is that although there does appear to be undeniable suffering in the world, it’s not really happening in Truth. It’s an illusion- a projection of our mind’s belief in separation. This belief in separation from God (aka sin) that made up the world we appear to inhabit, is false and has already been erased (on the level of the mind), meaning the problem of suffering has already been solved because it never was (we’ll revisit this apparent paradox in another post). The short of it is that a world in which sorrow exists is impossible and has never been, because there is no separation from God, suffering does not exist in Him, and God is all there truly is.
So where does this leave the practice of gratitude? In the Course, it all boils down to the idea that true gratitude is about giving thanks for what is real: God and our true home in heaven in which there is no pain, never has been, and never could be. As ACIM students, what we’re doing when we practice gratitude then, is giving thanks for the fact that any suffering we think we see or experience in the world, in ourselves, in others- be it in the form of pain, fear, sickness, anger, grief, etc- is not, and never can be, real. We first remember and align ourselves with Love/God, so that we can be truly grateful for what Is: our true identity as Christ and our home in the perfect, eternal, oneness of God.
We use the pain we think we see or experience, and bring the idea back to our right-mind for questioning. We want to bring it to JHS as our Teacher and Guide, and question whether the very concept of suffering is true despite all appearances to the contrary. We ask of them: could this suffering/pain/trauma/tragedy/scarcity/loss etc have been created by, or part of God; our Father and perfect, unconditional, unchanging Love without opposite? We know the obvious answer is no. But we do need this gentle practice of coming back within, reconnecting with JHS, and recalling what’s true by running our perceptions, feelings, and beliefs by their sanity check- the benchmark of God- to help keep us firmly on course with the Course (pun intended sorry!). By doing this, we get into the habit of denying the inherent reality of suffering by first reminding ourselves of what is real within us, and every other living being in this world.
Maintaining this practice of remembering what is real is what constitutes the practice of forgiveness; of continually shifting our perspective from the world, to the ego-ruled wrong-mind, and finally returning our awareness to the Holy Spirit in our right-mind. The practical benefit of getting into the habit of doing this is that it will eventually dissolve the ability of anything not of God to affect us. The suffering we experience, see in others, let alone the devastation we see beamed to us daily on the news, will gradually cease to upset and anger us as it once did.
Note! This does not mean we become apathetic, uncaring, insensitive to the pain of others or ourselves, or fail to help where we can and feel moved to. It simply means that whatever we choose to do or not do in response to pain as it manifests in this world, we won’t be accompanied by or driven by the anger, grief, guilt, anxiety, overwhelm, and/or sense of hopelessness we would otherwise typically feel in response to such suffering.
All that we do differently as part of this practice is shift who we’re choosing to think with, and interpret our world through. We re-align ourselves with JHS- the sane and only alternative teacher from our default ego-guide setting. This is a change that occurs only on the level of the mind. We choose to join with the Holy Spirit, affirm who we really are, and embrace the true state of Love, Peace, and Joy that lives within and defines us, because we recall that we are still as God created us. We are all one. We are joined in God as Christ- the innocent and holy Son of God Himself. And it’s this that we can truly be grateful for. Not the illusory externals of our life, but rather for the fact that it’s impossible that we be separate from each other or God, in His state of eternal love and peace.
Of course, there’s nothing in the Course that would suggest you shouldn’t be grateful for, or appreciative of, what we do appear to have on the level of form- as per the more mainstream understanding of practicing gratitude. By all means, be grateful for all you are blessed with. Just also know that it is nothing compared to what you truly have; to the gifts that God has given you that you already have and that you can be aware of – right here, right now– even whilst dreaming that you are apart from Him. So however you do it, remember that JHS is always encouraging us to go deeper and use everything in our lives to keep coming back to the fundamentals of his teaching- even an idea as seemingly straightforward as gratitude- so we can eventually come back home to Him and our Self, as one in God.