A Course in Cause and Not Effect

An Overview of Chapter 12 of the Text

This article was written by Allen Watson

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

In the chapters leading up to Chapter 12, the Course has presented some key concepts. These concepts are summarized in the opening paragraphs of this chapter, which is entitled “The Holy Spirit’s Curriculum.” A curriculum is a listing of subjects taught in a particular course of study. This chapter is thus another overview of what the Course is trying to teach us. The opening paragraphs remind us that the mind is always the source or the cause, and that everything else is the effect of choices made in the mind.

  • mind chooses and interprets
  • emotions react to mind’s interpretation
  • behavior results

The mind, where choices are made, chooses between two possible interpretations of things and people in our lives. It chooses between “the two evaluations,” as it was called in an earlier section (T-9.VII). Mind chooses based on what we want to see: either the ego’s world or God’s creation. Our mind chooses the ego’s interpretation most of the time. As a result, we see attack or desertion or betrayal or enslavement (manipulation and control). Then, we make our interpretation real (real to us but not really real). We believe it is a fact, and not just our perception.

Secondly, we have an emotional reaction to our interpretation of things. We feel attacked. We feel ourselves to be the victim of the world we see. We feel angry, and want justice or vengeance; we feel pain.

Finally, in many cases, we translate the emotional reaction into behavior. We act like a victim. Perhaps we even get sick. “Oh! How you have hurt me!” we say to our brother. When we act out our emotions and play the victim, we are actually attacking our brother. It is a particularly vicious attack because it is disguised and looks like something else. By acting the victim, we are hurling an accusation at our brother: “You are a victimizer! You are a betrayer, a deserter, an attacker, a controller. ” That is never the truth about him; it is only our interpretation, which we have made real to ourselves, and now are trying to make real to him.

Sometimes, however, we don’t act out the emotion. We control our behavior. We smile and act nice; we pretend we don’t have the emotional reaction. We actually may believe that we are being loving by doing so, avoiding conflict. Actually, it may sometimes be healthier to act out the emotion we are feeling (although it is still a vicious attack!). By suppressing the emotion, we are splitting and attacking our own mind. One part of the mind is seeing the other person as a sinner and having a strong emotional reaction, while the other part is telling us we can’t act that way and be a loving being. The integrity of our mind is destroyed.

Although it may be more honest to act out those emotions of hurt and betrayal, doing so is not the final answer. The Course does not want to leave either behavior or emotion intact; it wants to change them both. Attacking the emotion directly cannot do that. Trying to stifle your fear, your hurt, and your anger simply isn’t possible. As long as the interpretation on which the emotions rest remains unchanged, you cannot forgive in truth. “This is a course in cause and not effect” (T-21.VII.7:8), it tells us. You can’t fix the problem by changing things on the level of the effects, which is the level of behavior or the level of our emotional reactions. You have to go back to the level of cause, which is the choice made in mind and the interpretations based on that choice.

So you can’t fix it by altering the behavior; you can’t fix it by altering the emotions. You can only fix it by going back to the source, the decision in the mind to interpret in a certain way. We need a different interpretation, a different judgment. That is why the entire process begins only when we are willing to give up our interpretations, to call every one into question (T-11.VIII.3:8), to realize that we don’t know what anything means (T-11.VIII.2:3, 5), and to ask the Holy Spirit for a different way of seeing things.

His way of seeing things—His interpretation—is called here “the judgment of the Holy Spirit” (T-12.I.Heading). We saw in the previous section that only loving thoughts give this world any reality at all; everything else is false. Therefore the Holy Spirit interprets things in this way:

Every loving thought is true. Everything else is an appeal for healing and help, regardless of the form it takes. (T-12.I.3:3–4)

That is the truth. Any other interpretation is the result of our ego, which imposes what it wants to see on top of the truth, and obscures it. All of our problems, all of our confusion and emotional pain, stem from this one source. We are not the victims of the world we see (W-pI.31.Heading); rather, I am the victim of my own interpretations, the victim of my own thoughts about what things mean.

This chapter, then, is about what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach us: to accept His judgment in place of our own. It tells us what we will begin to see when we are finally willing to let go of our interpretations, to stop thinking we understand anyone else’s ego, and to allow the interpretation of the Holy Spirit to arise in place of our own. “I will step back and let Him lead the way” (W-pI.155.Heading) is one way of summing up this process; I withdraw my belief in my own interpretations of things, and I accept His judgment into my mind. This isn’t about finding better parking places; it is about seeing everyone and everything in the world with different eyes (W.In.4:1).