“I am affected only by my thoughts”

I’ve been getting a lot of mileage lately out of Lesson 338, “I am affected only by my thoughts.” I’m especially taken with the first paragraph:

“It needs but this to let salvation come to all the world. For in this single thought is everyone released at last from fear. Now has he learned that no one frightens him, and nothing can endanger him. He has no enemies, and he is safe from all external things. His thoughts can frighten him, but since these thoughts belong to him alone, he has the power to change them and exchange each fear thought for a happy thought of love. He crucified himself. Yet God has planned that His beloved Son will be redeemed.”

Of course, the idea that we are affected only by our thoughts is old hat for Course students. But however much we have heard it, we haven’t let the idea all the way in — not even close. That’s what I’ve been trying to do in my practice: let it all the way in. I’ve been asking myself: What if this idea is really true? What if all my fear, all my sense of danger, all my wariness of my “enemies,” and all my worry about eternal things can be undone simply by exercising the power of my own mind, by exchanging “each fear thought for a happy thought of love”? Could it really be that simple?

I’ve also been reflecting on the relationship between this idea that I am affected only by my thoughts and the idea that other people’s thoughts have a profound influence on me: As the Course says, our “influence on each other is without limit” (T-6.I.18:2). My understanding of how this works is that while the direct cause of all I experience in this world is my thoughts, the influence of other people’s thoughts can reinforce the thoughts I already have, if I allow it to do so. Strictly speaking, I am affected only by my thoughts; other people’s fear-based thoughts can negatively affect me only to the extent that they “reinforce errors [I] have already made” (T-1.III.5:9). This is good news: Though other people’s fear-based thoughts can influence me, I have the power to override this influence if I so choose. I am never a helpless victim of other people’s thoughts.

And there is more good news: This influence of others’ thoughts on me can work in a positive way as well. I can allow other people’s love-based thoughts to positively affect me by reinforcing the love-based thoughts I already have. Not only that, but I can use my own thoughts to positively affect other people. Of course, since they too are affected only by their thoughts, my influence cannot override their own choices. But I can still offer them my positive influence. I can refuse to reinforce their fear-based thoughts with my own, and choose instead to reinforce their love-based thoughts with my own. In fact, the Course tells us, it is our function to use our powerful influence on each other in this way: It “must be used for [our] joint salvation” (T-6.I.18:2).

This, then, has been my line of thinking, both in my formal practice and in ongoing application to my daily life: “I am affected only by my thoughts. Therefore, I have nothing to fear from the outside world. I can use my mind to filter out the negative influence of the fearful thoughts, words, and actions of others, so those things won’t have a negative effect on me. At the same time, I can use my mind to let in the positive influence of the loving thoughts, words, and actions of others, because I want these things to have a positive effect on me. With my fear thoughts thus not reinforced and my happy thoughts of love thus reinforced, my own thoughts, words, and actions can be a positive influence on others. I can use my influence on others for our joint salvation.”

This line of thinking has had a powerfully liberating effect on me. I’m getting a deeper and deeper sense that I can be both free of the world’s negative influences, and free to embrace the world’s positive influences. I can thus both refuse to reinforce the negative influences and happily choose to reinforce the positive influences. This will free me to devote myself fully to the function of miracle working, so I can have a wholly positive influence on the world. What a wonderful way to live!

And I can do this right now, because I am affected only by my thoughts. Nothing and no one can keep me from living this way. Right this second, I can stop crucifying myself, and take my part in God’s plan through which His beloved Son will be redeemed. “It needs but this to let salvation come to all the world.” Oh, how I would love to let this idea all the way in!


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