Lesson 17 • January 17


Lesson 17

I see no neutral things.

Practice Instructions

Purpose: To continue teaching you the real cause and effect relationship between what you think and what you see. You think that outer events cause your perceptions, but in fact your perceptions are caused by your thoughts.

Exercise: Three or four times (three are required), for one minute (less if there’s resistance).

  • With eyes open, say, “I see no neutral things, because I have no neutral thoughts.”
  • Then look about you, resting your glance on each thing you see long enough to say, “I do not see a neutral [name of object], because my thoughts about [such objects] are not neutral.”

Remarks: As usual, it is crucial to treat whatever you see as the same. The carpet may be neutral in itself, but you do not see it that way, because your perception of it arises from thoughts that are inherently non-neutral. Even if the carpet is black and white, figuratively speaking, your thoughts always color it.


The true meaning of cause and effect in this world, according to the Course, is that thoughts are the cause and the world is the effect. We tend to believe that events or actions in the world cause us to think in certain ways; the Course says the opposite. “It is always the thought that comes first, despite the temptation to believe that it is the other way around” (1:3). We have no neutral thoughts and therefore we see no neutral things.

What is our usual tendency when we find ourselves having certain thoughts? We ask ourselves, “What made me feel this way? What made me depressed, or angry, or bored?” But the thought always comes first. It was not anything outside of your mind that caused you to think in a certain way. Rather, your mind caused the world you see.

The lesson becomes quite radical in its statements at times:

Regardless of what you may believe, you do not see anything which is really alive and really joyous. That is because you are unaware as yet of any thoughts which are really true and therefore really happy. (3:2-3)

I’ve been studying the Course now for ten years and I still have trouble fully accepting the idea that I don’t see anything really alive. I know that the Course states that the body (which is what I see with my eyes) does not die because it has never lived, and so I know intellectually that the Course defines “alive” quite differently than we normally do. By “alive” it obviously must mean something nonphysical, because it writes off the physical body as not being alive at all. But I have to admit that I still need to practice with this lesson because my instinct is still to regard bodies as alive. I have to work at it to remember otherwise.

I recall speaking with my friend Lynne a little over a year before her body “died.” She was a student of the Course. Her body had deteriorated rapidly during the preceding year, and after several surgeries was only a shell of what it had been. She remarked to me that she was really learning the truth of what she really was. I said, “I guess you have a little more understanding of what the Course means when it says, ‘I am not a body.'”

“I damn well better not be!” she exclaimed, laughing.

These two ideas—that nothing I see with my eyes is really alive, and that nothing I see is neutral because my thoughts are not neutral—can be disconcerting. Even so, they have their plus side. The lesson is the same for us all, although for some, like Lynne, it seems to be accelerated. Yet our bodies will wither and decay just as hers did, only a little more slowly. It is a welcome relief to realize that the body’s only meaning is given it by our mind. The mind and spirit are what are alive and real; they are the cause, and the body and its world are only the effects of thoughts.