Recently, I have found myself captivated by a passage very early in the Course’s dictation. It is not found in the familiar FIP edition of the Course (or even in what’s now termed the Original Edition). It is only in Helen’s notebooks and also in the Urtext, the typescript that Bill typed up from Helen’s dictation. [Since the writing of this article, this passage has been incorporated into the Complete and Annotated Edition of A Course in Miracles, as you will see referenced below.] The passage is this:
Have a good day. Since only eternity is real, why not use the illusion of time constructively? You might remember that “underneath are the everlasting arms.” (T-1.15.2:1-3)
These comments have no context; there is no related material surrounding them. They stand alone, and as you can see, are quite brief. Yet they grow on you. The more I think about them, the more I see in them.
Further, they are significant in a historical sense. They are the very first reference to the idea of reality versus illusion, the notion that eternity is real and time is an illusion. (The lines “Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists” were actually dictated later.) This contrast between reality and illusion, of course, would become the philosophical backbone of the Course. Before this point, the closest references we had were two mentions of “lower-order reality,” which referred to the physical level. Yet obviously, even a lower-order reality still has reality. For good reason, then, these references were changed by the editors to the “bodily level.”
The above passage, however, foreshadows so much more than the Course’s philosophical backbone. It, in fact, foreshadows a great deal of what would become so distinctive about A Course in Miracles. Let’s go through the three sentences one by one.
“Have a good day”
Jesus starts off using a typical, throwaway comment that we make to each other all the time. We offhandedly tell people to “have a good day,” with only the vaguest idea of what we mean by that. We probably mean something like, “Have a day you find enjoyable,” or, “Have a day with agreeable rather than difficult circumstances.” And we probably have no particular thought about how they can have that good day. It’s just a pleasant thing to say. You aren’t supposed to think about it too much.
Jesus, however, has thought through exactly what he means by “Have a good day.” He ends up filling out our rather vacant conventional saying with his own rather profound spiritual teaching. As a result, the kind of day he is calling “good” is significantly different than our usual bland conceptions. Further, he has in mind a specific way to have that good day.
This is so characteristic of the Course, to take some familiar cultural container, like “have a good day,” and fill it with totally unfamiliar content, which has both spiritual depth and specific injunctions for how to experience that depth.
“Since only eternity is real, why not use the illusion of time constructively?”
Now we can see more of what he means by “have a good day.” It has something to do with using the illusion of time constructively in the awareness that only eternity is real. Let’s look at this more closely.
Of course, we normally go through the day experiencing the events of that day as quite real. They seem to be all that is real. The things that impinge on us, that poke our skin or bruise our egos—they seem to almost be the sum total of reality. We know, of course, that there is more to reality than what is affecting us today, but experientially, that “more” doesn’t matter very much. On an emotional level, “reality” is made up of the things moving in front of us that have the potential to either stroke us or kick us.
Yet the above sentence, of course, says something quite different. It says that those movements are not real, for the time in which they occur is also not real. According to that sentence, only eternity is real. How different would our day be if we could establish and maintain that awareness! Imagine being able to pass through situations fully aware that what you see is not real, that the forms in front of you are just shadows, that you are literally walking through a dream?
You might think you would stop caring altogether about this shadow play and the way that you walked upon its stage. Yet that is not what this sentence says. It seems to be saying, “While you are in the dream, why not take part in it constructively?” What an interesting question! Try asking yourself that question and see how your mind reacts. Ask yourself, “Since only eternity is real, why not use the illusion of time constructively?”
The sense I get from asking myself that question is twofold. First, I get the sense that, since time is not real, it can’t use me. It can’t force me to react to its play in a particular way. The power is not in its hands; the power is in my hands. Therefore, I am free to use time however I want. Second, if I can use time how I want, then why wouldn’t I use it constructively? After all, I’m here for now; I’m in time. Why not do something positive with it?
What comes to my mind is the word “game.” Isn’t this what a game is—something you take part in while being aware it is not real? A game is a specially designed activity that to some degree mimics real life but is not real life. When you buy real estate in Monopoly, you don’t expect to come out of the game actually owning more real estate. Of course, we often forget that our games are only games. Thus, they often become deadly serious, with what seem to be very real consequences attached to them.
Imagine, then, going through your day with the awareness “This is just a game; it is not real life.” The money is just Monopoly money. The real estate is just Monopoly real estate. What happens here does not affect real life. Real life is eternity. However much I lose, however much I win, it has no effect on my real life in eternity. And since it is just a game, why not use it constructively?
What does it mean to use time “constructively”? I have a special fondness for the word “constructive.” If we could all just be constructive, wouldn’t the world be a far better place? Jesus, too, seemed a bit fond of the word. It (“constructive” and “constructively”) crops up sixteen times in the Urtext, even if only six of those made it into the final Course.
Based on those references, what does it mean to Jesus to be “constructive.” In most cases, it means to give miracles. For instance, Jesus calls becoming a miracle worker a reinstatement of the mind’s “purely constructive powers” (T-2.VIII.5:4). He even explicitly calls miracles “constructive acts” (T-2.IX.1:2). A secondary meaning is that “constructive” is something that moves you forward in your own learning. For example, Jesus speaks of using his “experiences constructively” (T-6.I.17:9), by which he means applying the lesson of his crucifixion to your life in a helpful rather than unhelpful way. He also says that sorting out the true from the false is “a process of division only in the constructive sense” (T-2.XIII.6:2). The principle of separation is usually destructive, but this particular application of it is actually constructive.
In other words, to be constructive is to do something that advances others in their journey home (by giving them miracles) or advances yourself on your own journey (by moving forward your learning). The dictionary meaning of “constructive” is “serving to improve or advance; helpful.” Jesus has modified this meaning to fit his system, so that it becomes “serving to advance toward eternity.”
This, apparently, is what we should spend our days doing—advancing others and ourselves on the journey home. As long as we are in a world of unreality, why not spend our time helping ourselves and others back to reality?
“You might remember that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms.'”
This is actually a biblical reference. It comes from Deuteronomy 33:27: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” On the surface, this doesn’t seem particularly related to the previous sentence, but on closer inspection it is intimately related. Both sentences describe a remedy to the crippling change and uncertainty of time. While we seem blown and buffeted about by the winds of time, we can stand firm on an unshakable foundation outside of time. That unshakable foundation becomes our refuge, making us immovable in the midst of the time’s raging storm.
In the previous sentence, that foundation was eternity. But in the biblical allusion of our current sentence, “eternity” has morphed into “the eternal God.” Now, our safety lies in more than the something impersonal like eternity; it lies in the Love and protection of a Person. Is it appropriate to say that God is personal? God may not have the boundaries—the ego, personality, and body—we associate with personhood, but He does have the Self, Mind, Heart, and Will we also associate with personhood. I think it is most accurate, therefore, to call Him a Person, with the capital “P” signifying the lack of the usual boundaries and limits.
This biblical reference is another foreshadowing of the later Course. The Course loves to reference the Bible, and in the process consistently turns the relevant biblical passage into a statement of the Course’s own teaching. That is exactly what we see here. Obviously, the author of Deuteronomy, in writing about the eternal God and the everlasting arms, was not thinking that only eternity is real and time is an illusion.
I find that phrase “underneath are the everlasting arms” so evocative. One of our most emotionally resonant images of safety is being held in the arms of a loving and protective parent. Here, that image has been immensely elevated and expanded. The parent becomes God. The fleeting embrace becomes something permanent, as implied by the word “everlasting.” The support of those arms becomes our foundation, as implied by the word “underneath.” And this unshakable foundation of love and protection becomes our stable “refuge” in the midst of the swirling river of time. What a beautiful idea. Jesus referred to “the everlasting arms” four times in the early dictation. Now we know why.
Notice, however, that this is more than just an idea. It is a practice. When Jesus says, “You might remember that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms,'” we have to see that in the context of “Have a good day.” We need to see it as part of this larger instruction for having a good day. What he really means, then, is to remind yourself of this thought throughout the day, as a way to have that good day.
This is especially clear in looking back on this with from the perspective of the later Workbook. There, the notion of remembering a certain quotation throughout the day, in order to have a truly happy day, is absolutely central. We are often told to “remember this [lesson] throughout the day” (W-78.11:1), or to “remember it very often today” (W-63.3:1). We do this in order to have a happy day, as we can see from the following passage:
Let us be glad to begin and end this day by practicing today’s idea, and to use it as frequently as possible throughout. It will help to make the day as happy for you as God wants it to be. (W-62.4:1-2)
The following quotation even looks a great deal like the sentence under examination. Both ask us to remember throughout the day that Divine strength constantly supports us:
We will remind ourselves that He remains beside us through the day, and never leaves our weakness unsupported by His strength. (W-153.18:4)
Thus, what we have in the admonition to “remember that ‘underneath are the everlasting arms'” is a kind of proto-Workbook practice. Just as the Workbook asks us to repeat a particular Course quote throughout the day in order to have a happy day, so this sentence asks us to remember a particular Bible quote throughout the day in order to have a good day. Here is yet another way in which our passage foreshadows the Course to come. In its focus on the unit of the day, and on practice in order to have a different day, it specifically foreshadows the whole program of the Workbook.
Therefore, Jesus is not just telling us that we are safe because only eternity is real. He is giving us a practice that will allow us to experience that fact, and thus actually have a good day.
I hope you now can see why I’ve been so captivated by this little micro-discourse. I find it remarkable how it foreshadows so much of the Course: the philosophical foundation of reality versus illusion; the Workbook’s practice of having a good day by repeating an idea all day long; the focus on giving miracles (via the reference to “constructive”); the filling of familiar forms (like “have a good day”) with unfamiliar content; the quoting and reframing of biblical passages; the combination of impersonal elements (like eternity) with personal ones (like the everlasting arms); the combination of philosophical abstractions (“only eternity is real”) with practical instruction (to practice an idea all day long); the combination of the unreality of the world with living constructively in the world. It is as if, here in these three early lines, we have the entire Course in miniature.
The real reason, though, that this little discourse captivates me is its practicality. It may start out with the bland, vacuous saying, “Have a good day,” but then it tells me what that means and how I can have that kind of day, in ways that are both powerful and effective.
While in time, it seems that the ground is constantly quaking beneath our feet, giving us no safe place to stand. Yet inside ourselves, we can stand on ground that never shakes. We can stand on changeless ground, far removed from the fickle caprice of time. We can stand on eternity. We can rest in the everlasting arms. And we can regard this as the only domain that is real. This will allow us to take part in time more lightly, more serenely, realizing it is only a game. We can be calm and collected, knowing that the stakes are not high, that indeed, the stakes are not real. It is just an illusion, a parade of shadows. Because this parade has no power over us, we are free to take part in it however we want. Given that, why wouldn’t we take part in it positively, constructively? Being constructive means giving miracles, and thus advancing others toward that same reality we are rooted in. It also means progressing in our own learning, and thus advancing ourselves. As long as we are in this illusion, why not spend our illusory time advancing everyone toward reality?
How do we actually have a day like this? We practice. We repeat to ourselves throughout the day, “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” As often as we can, we take a moment and sink into the peace of remembering that our foundation lies outside of time, in a safe and certain reality that is the only reality. By remind ourselves of this often, we live in that consciousness all day long. We physically function in time, yet mentally live in eternity. While our hands deal with the things of time, our feet are firmly planted outside of time.
Let’s do a slightly expanded version of this practice. Look about you at all the things that cause you anxiety. Say to yourself, “This is just a play of shadows, just a dream. It cannot hurt me.”
Then turn within and remind yourself, “Only eternity is real. Underneath are the everlasting arms.” Feel the peace of that thought. Feel yourself standing on an immovable foundation. Feel yourself resting in those everlasting arms. Feel a sense of refuge, of sanctuary, realizing that this sanctuary can never be touched by the hands of time.
Finally, now that time cannot touch you, now that its threat has been lifted from you, say to yourself, “Why not use the illusion of time constructively?”
You may even want to ask within, “Holy Spirit, how can I use this illusory situation constructively?”
Ideally, of course, you would do this practice—both the shorter and longer versions, along with your own variations—frequently all day long. Then you would truly be carrying out the instruction in this brilliant little passage. And then you really might find yourself having a genuinely good day, a day like you’ve never had before.