Cleaning Out the Mind's Cubbyholes
Let's imagine our minds as being filled with rows of cubbyholes. Each cubbyhole represents a particular relationship in our lives. We have cubbyholes for our parents, our children, and our friends. We even have cubbyholes for people we haven't seen in years.
In each cubbyhole, we store various thoughts toward the particular person. Some of these cubbyholes contain largely benevolent thoughts. Others are filled with grievances and other dark thoughts.
We may think that everything is stored away neatly. After all, we rarely "look" into most of these compartments. However, the fact that we're not aware of our stored-away thoughts doesn't mean that they're not affecting us.
Cleaning Out Dark Thoughts
The Course in Miracles asks us to open up each cubbyhole, and clean out any dark thoughts that we're storing inside. In doing this, we clear out the darkness from every corner of our minds.
As an example of this, I may have a row of cubbyholes that represent people whom I haven't seen in years. I may not think that it's important to identify my thoughts toward these people -- after all, I may never see them again.
The Course, however, points out that my thoughts toward these people are still in my mind, and those thoughts may be blocking the full experience of a miracle. The Course asks me to open each cubbyhole, and let God flush out any dark thoughts I'm storing inside.
Exchange Grievances for Miracles
I may decide to "take a look" at my thoughts toward a handful of people whom I haven't seen in twenty years. As I begin to think of those people -- and honestly identify my thoughts toward them -- I may find a significant amount of resentment or anger stored away. As I give over those resentful thoughts to God, and let Him exchange my grievances for miracles, my overall sense of peace is increased.
The Course wants us to open up every cubbyhole -- open every relationship to God. Although this process may seem overwhelming (after all, most of us have thousands of these "relationship cubbyholes"), I find that the practice forms a momentum. The first dozen, or hundred, compartments that we open may require a reasonable amount of effort. But then our minds become comfortable with the process, and things begin to flow more smoothly.
This, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful practices in the Course. By identifying and releasing the "stored grievances" in our minds, we create a wide opening for God's miracles to flow in. The practice requires honesty -- even some courage. But the results can be felt in a very practical way. I often feel an increased sense of peace by allowing just one cubbyhole to be cleaned out by God.
Dark Thoughts Are Blocking Miracles
To summarize, there are two main points that I'm building on in this chapter. The first is that our dark thoughts are the primary blocks to miracles. The second point is that grievances are among the most common forms of dark thoughts. As we open up our grievances to God, and let Him replace them with miracles, our minds are healed.
Before moving on, I'd like to share an observation from my work with this type of practice. I occasionally find that there is some discomfort that arises when I first open a door on a locked-away relationship.
Someone may come to mind whom I haven't thought of in years -- someone whom I have some grievances against. I immediately feel uncomfortable, and want to slam shut the door on that compartment. But if I take one more step, and say, "God, I have some dark thoughts toward this person. I didn't realize it until this moment, but I don't want to lock those thoughts away. Please take them, and replace them with your miracles," I am taking a powerful step.
The real challenge in this process is to turn the dark thoughts over to God instead of locking them back away in their cubbyhole. If we bury them away, says the Course, they won't suddenly be resolved. They will simply be hidden. If we want our minds to be healed, we need to give God permission to wash these thoughts away, and give us a new perception instead.
Exercise: Empty the Mind's Cubbyholes
Having said that, I'd like to present an exercise that builds on these ideas. This exercise is one of the most challenging in this book. As I mentioned earlier, you're welcome to work with these exercises in whatever way is personally meaningful. I will, however, try to be as comprehensive in my presentation as possible.
Step 1. The first step in this process is to choose a person in your life who troubles you. It could be someone who seems quite irritating, or someone who seems just mildly annoying.
Step 2. Next, describe why this person troubles you, using as much detail as possible. You're encouraged not to "censor" your current perspective. This step calls for a great deal of honesty.
(ex. Debby constantly gossips, she always asks me to do things for her, and she acts very petty. I just don't like being around her. No one really likes being around her.)
Step 3. Even though these things may seem to be "facts" (and on the worldly level, some of them may be), let's reframe them in terms of our thoughts. Let's restate step two in the form of, "I'm choosing to see (person) as (quality).
Taking Responsibility for Our Thoughts
"We may have some resistance to this. Part of our mind wants to say, "I'm not choosing to see things this way; they just are this way." Although things may indeed be this way on a behavioral level, the Course wants us to take responsibility for our thoughts about them.
Again, our job in this step is to rewrite each sentence from step two in the form, "I'm choosing to see _________ as __________." This is a powerful step because it involves taking full responsibility for our thoughts. By doing this, we're identifying the contents of the cubbyhole.
(ex. I'm choosing to see Debby as someone who constantly gossips, who always asks me to do things for her, and who acts very petty. I'm choosing to see Debby as someone I don't like being around. I'm choosing to see Debby as someone whom no one likes being around.)
Bringing Dark Thoughts to the Light
Step 4. Now we can evaluate how we feel about what we're thinking. We're pulling these stored-away thoughts out into the light.
Let's ask ourselves: How do we feel about these thoughts? Are they bringing us peace? If not, might we be willing to accept a new set of loving thoughts and inspired perceptions?
If we find that we are willing to receive a new perception -- a new set of thoughts for the cubbyhole -- let's say the following prayer:
God, I lay these thoughts before you.
I have no idea how I should look at this person.
But I am willing to receive a new view.
I give you my thoughts in exchange for your vision.
Then let's sit for a full minute and exchange, to the best of our ability, our view of this person for something new. God can show us a spark of beauty in this person that we may have never before seen. In seeing this spark of beauty, we will strengthen it in ourselves.
Replacing Dark Thoughts with Loving Thoughts
This can be a very holy process. It can bring peace to our minds and gentleness to our hearts. Our goal in this minute is to let our personal thoughts about this person be replaced with God's loving thoughts about him or her.
We can use imagery in this practice. We can, for example, imagine this person stepping out from behind a costume. The costume is the old way we've been seeing her. But that isn't who she really is. We can envision this person shedding her old role like an actor at the end of a play, and coming forward to greet us.
Regardless of whether or not we use imagery in this process, our goal is to let a spark of God's light be revealed in this person. We want to exchange our old ways of seeing her for God's new way. Every time we do this with anyone in our lives, we're letting our own minds be healed.
Holding Resentments = Feeling Unhappy
In the Course, this type of exercise holds a central place. According to the Course, we can't find a real sense of peace if we're storing dark thoughts toward anyone. The Course teaches that there is an exact relationship between holding resentments and feeling unhappy. Every dark thought that we hold toward anyone causes us pain.
When I first read this idea in the Course, I was stunned. My dark thoughts toward that slow driver on the road are causing me pain? My judgmental thoughts toward those people on television have an impact on me? The Course says yes. But it also says that if I let God show me a spark of innocence in those people, I'm doing the best thing for my own state of mind.
That is why it can be so valuable to identify our current thoughts about a person, and become willing to exchange those thoughts for miracles -- God's loving thoughts. As we do this, our own minds are healed.
Trading Our Thoughts for Miracles
If we do indeed take a minute to trade our thoughts for miracles, there are a couple things that can happen. We may begin to feel a lightening of our hearts, or we may feel stuck in our old perceptions.
If we feel stuck, it doesn't mean that we've failed. The simple act of practicing strengthens our desire for a change. It is a statement of willingness to let God step in. If we hold our focus -- regardless of immediate results -- we may find changes in our perspective slipping in over time.
As always, a sense of peace is an indication that we're on the right track. God's miracles bring peace to our minds and lighten our hearts. That is what we're aiming for.
In the example that I gave above, the person admitted that she held a negative view of her co-worker Debby. If this person is indeed willing to exchange her thoughts for miracles, she may find a warm sense of appreciation coming to fill her heart. She may see qualities in her co-worker that she had overlooked before.
Regardless of how the miracle transforms her perceptions, she will end up feeling more peaceful than before. In letting God heal her view of another person, she is letting her own mind be healed.
This article was excerpted from:
About the Author
Dan Joseph is the author of Inspired by Miracles, called "up-lifting, rewarding, strongly recommended" by the Midwest Book Review. Dan can be reached at www.DanJoseph.info