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Between Anonymous Graves

Always one more thing. And language is so imprecise, a bludgeon where a feather might be better. Piano notes reach me from a distance, reminiscent of lakes but not at all of telephones.

The mail way of doing it? All morning I watch robins work the berry bushes and wonder how I ever coveted pie. The tallest pine trees on the farthest hill mark the limits of my vision today and it is enough, it is more than enough.

Curtains drawn and the sound a mattress makes when an unfamiliar body settles across it. Whiskey where a fool might have better tried a fiddle. The dark becomes nobody and yet we love it so, we do.

Over brunch studying a map of the United States and plotting our circuitous route as far west as Colorado before turning North for the Canadas. You think about the bones of horses when it gets cold and nothing else will warm you. Grasshoppers in the burdock, dew where the grass falls heavy on its side.

And the sentences have a way of elongating when she is not here. Feather and father are similar only if you think spelling is an art. I have gone farther than anyone I know and yet remain hobbled, whistling at night between anonymous graves.

Arrive already! One’s poetry understood at last as a long hymn to winter, that season of profligate insight. We bind up our tears and go walking past towers of burning tires.

The deer this year are slower than usual, as if grateful for something, or else aware of how hungry I am for their elegance. As always unaware of that which I am unaware.

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Following Jesus in A Course in Miracles

Plockhorst_Jesus_Good_Shephard

Bernhard Plockhorst’s “The Good Shepherd.” When I was little, we had some sheep, and so the image of Jesus as shepherd was particularly resonant for me. I still like it; it speaks to me of his gentleness, his kindness and his protectiveness. Our encounter with Jesus through A Course in Miracles brings these qualities to bear on the work of remembering that we are not the ego’s handiwork but rather God’s, and that we remain as God created us.

It is a mistake, I think, to approach A Course in Miracles as if it were merely a light-hearted picnic en route to the Gates to Heaven. It is not that an emphasis on inner peace and joy is wrong per se, but that it can distract one from the actual forgiveness inherent in the course’s healing process.

To adopt A Course in Miracles as one’s spiritual path is to undertake a serious and challenging interior journey from grim forgetfulness to remembrance of God. It is to look closely at an interior landscape and thought system that resists being looked at and literally stops at nothing to avoid being seen for what it is.

Why does it so viciously and tenaciously defend itself from being known? Because it correctly perceives that to see it is to to simultaneously see what it is not and – because our longing for God, though hidden, is greater than our longing to be separate from God – exchange it for Truth. The ego knows it is doomed when we see it offers us nothing but pain.

Grandeur is of God, and only of Him. Therefore it is in you. Whenever you become aware of it, however dimly, you abandon the ego automatically, because in the presence of the grandeur of God the meaninglessness of the ego becomes perfectly apparent (T-9.VIII.1:1-3).

A Course in Miracles, through the text, workbook and Manual for Teachers, restores to our memory God’s grandeur, and the ego is dissolved accordingly.

But it does not go quietly nor willingly! And, for most of us, it does not go without the help of a devoted guide. Thus, the course, in addition to providing a means by which to remember God, provides a friend with whom to bring that means into application.

My brother you are part of God and part of me. When you have at last looked at the ego’s foundation without shrinking you will also have looked upon ours . . . I give you the lamp and I will go with you. You do not take this journey alone (T-11.In.4:1-2, 5-6).

In a sense, those words are metaphorical – Jesus is not actually going to show up with an oil lantern and escort us through our personal Boschian drama, the way a friend might walk with us through the streets of Boston or Baton Rouge with a flashlight and map.

On the other hand, if we cannot take those words literally – if we reduce them merely to a good idea – then we are quite likely bereft. So a question emerges and presses on us: How do we make contact with Jesus in a real and practical way with respect to “looking at the ego’s foundation without shrinking”?

To be with Jesus is not acquisitive but rather receptive. Why? Because he is already here: our inquiry of him makes it so.

The answer has to do with the reverence that naturally flows from giving careful and sustained attention to that question, which in part has to do with not rushing to answer it. It is easy to substitute intellectual verbosity for spiritual experience. One way to avoid that trap is to willingly stay in the insecurity of not-knowing, which in a sense is to trust not knowing – or to trust that we are not alone in the state of not-knowing.

In his Commentary on Jesus and the Blind Man, Tara Singh observed that “a sincere question has the ability to relate you to life instantly and brings you to the direct perception of Reality” (79).

Thus, it is not necessary to know but rather to inquire of Jesus in a serious and attentive way, and to bring all of one’s desire to awaken to bear on the inquiry. In a way, it is reminiscent of Lesson 27 in the ACIM workbook: “Above all else I want to see.” Think of nothing but your yearning to see, says Jesus, and vision will be given you because it is already given to you. But be honest: what else will you think of? What else do you want?

The real question is, how often will you remember? How much do you want today’s idea to be true? (W-pI.27.4:1-2).

So it is a question of our commitment, of the energy that we are ready and willing to bring to our practice. Part of studying A Course in Miracles means facing our unwillingness to practice A Course in Miracles. We are asked to give vision priority amongst our many competing desires (W-pI.27.1:2). Tara Singh said that when we do that – when we sincerely give attention to Jesus – then we are met by Jesus in the present moment, and there is nothing metaphorical about it.

If you are present, then the Master is here, because what He said is eternal and always accessible. In the present, the past and future meet. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (79).

To give our attention to Jesus without expectation – I will perceive him this way, he will answer this way, et cetera – is to become radically open and Jesus responds to that openness in a real and tangible way. Our reverence – which is a form of gratitude that simplifies and purifies attention – makes it possible.

Nobody can give attention for us, and the internal egoic drama that must be undone will feel utterly personal for a long time. Yet a state comes when we begin to perceive – beyond the specificity of images an idols – the fear and guilt that is common to all of us and shared by all of us. But before that, we have to share the seeming specificity of our spiritual journey with Jesus. We look at what we are frightened to look at, and we ask him to look with us and – when we are ready to no longer be alone – he will be with us, and his presence will be transformative at every level. His presence is a transformed way of seeing; He is vision.

From insane wishes comes an insane world. From judgment comes a world condemned. And from forgiving thoughts a gentle world comes forth, with mercy for the holy Son of God, to offer him a kindly home where he can rest a while before he journeys on, and help his brothers walk ahead with him, and find the way to Heaven and to God (W-pII.325.1:4-6).

Thus, I don’t want to avoid the work of looking at the ego’s foundation, however intimidating and even terrifying it might seem. It is essential to our shared freedom, because only by looking at the foundation can the rest of the egoic edifice be toppled.

I also want to be clear that this work, this looking, is not a solo gig: A Course in Miracles repeats over and over that Jesus shares the way, that the Holy Spirit is within us, and that you and I are walking the path to Heaven together. Those are words that point to an important truth: we are not alone in any way and our companions are our salvation.

It is not necessary to know in advance what it means to avail oneself of Jesus’ help and to be so helped. In fact, it is more helpful to simply rest in the not-knowing. To be with Jesus is not acquisitive but rather receptive. Why? Because he is already here: our inquiry of him makes it so.

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Swallowing Stars

Clouds from the west bunch like gray flowers folding. A female cardinal settles in the dogwood tree not unnoticed. Chipmunks trill from risky perches on the backyard fence. Hunger is everywhere happening now.

One longs for bookstores from the 1970′s, one feels in the wind the dust of ancient Palestine. God is reconstructed when you kneel, recalled in the prayer you utter leaning forward. Swallowing stars in order to rest my wings? I remember baking bread in Vermont, I remember swans flying overhead singing.

And I try to say ahead of narrative of course, terrified as always of correction. With you I surrendered the compass, with you I burned the charts. Oh to hear the rustling maple leaves a final time before the sun rises! Bliss where gravel calls the river home.

She laughed when I went into the garden naked to gather tomatoes for a salad. You move beyond the bible and beyond shirts falling softly onto motel floors, only to arrive at the ancestral whiskey bottle and Jesus saying quietly try again. I mean that hymn and no other. He burned the envelope in which she mailed no photograph.

And yet at night the faroff owl reminds me that it’s not about me and never was. When I go slowly, God is there, going slower. One day I will set the twenty sentences aside and breathe and even sleep. For now a little rain, a bowl of olives from Chrisoula’s grove in Greece, and sheets on the clothesline trailing beautifully away in the mid-summer wind.

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Plunging Hungrily the Royal Blooms

Oh morning, so green and vivid, you are never not here when I am! Butterfly balm grows so high I can see it at the window while laying in bed for Christ’s sake! And at 5 a.m. – no kidding – hear the energetic buzz of hummingbirds plunging hungrily the royal blooms. The dog curls up tighter in the crook of my knees which are delighted to be so useful.

I thought I would die but instead I dreamed of a new way to write syllabi. You want to open, so open. Make contact with possibility – which is freedom – which is God – and thus forever welcome. Also, your definitions are like an ice cream stand that sells only gravel so maybe give attention to a revised business plan?

“Shove over,” says Chrisoula, and I do, but then I not-so-subtly sneak back, hard and perennially hopeful. What are dividing lines but invitations to reconsider one’s understanding of Christ? Gertrude Stein planned her last words, which should surprise no one. Oh Sappho, you would have made me go down on you in silver moonlight without reciprocation and I would have, happily!

All the apple trees of New England are now pleading with me for a sentence and so here it is. Thank you for bearing such lovely fruit and allowing me to make love in your shade half a dozen – no, wait, a dozen – no, a thousand – times over the years. Emily Dickinson doesn’t blush but she does question my math. One time we were trespassing and the woman in question said are you not afraid of the owner and failing that of God and I said in reply – and I meant it, mouth full of Honeycrisp – may they both now come.

Jesus steps to the left in order to let the divine oxen pass. When I see all the sad men in the cart – all of whom believe they are being carried to their death – I leap in and begin throwing them out, one by one, and Jesus catches them and sets them on their feet, giving them each both a map to and a brochure for the Kingdom. The man without shoes has weathered but sexy toes! I am carrying you this bread, the sea is spilling from my shoulders, and every time I open my mouth a sparkly disco ball comes out insisting “dance.”

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What Emerges When We Perceive Loss

Moonlight confuses the roosters, oddly. Narrative is what emerges when we perceive loss and need a bridge. At 4 a.m. the rain has an odd, a sort of ammonia smell to it. Once upon a time a man without shoes began writing twenty sentences a day and I am, still.

The coffee grows cold while I search for the right word. We also project onto others ideals and that, too, is a form of attack. How busy one’s brain can be, like a moth trying to understand the light for which it would die! I wanted to tell the woman at the co-op it was okay but didn’t because I could see that opening my mouth – regardless of what came out – would only confirm for her that it was not okay, and might never be again.

Summer passes and one remembers older summers as a means of keeping time. Sparse bluets near the stone wall and chunks of enviable quartz. I am never not in the mind of oxen. Writing projects that cannot be completed in a matter of hours confuse me and always have.

Perhaps one day we will meet in a yarn store. I am less impressed with the interstate highway system than some people I know. The dog studies the rainy window, her mind drifting to an intensity I can barely imagine. Some women say yes, that’s all.

Resisting Christ by loving Jesus. One studies their need to be right and comes to a god that doesn’t want to be seen. Minor arpeggios, rose petals, breasts. The morning hour stultifies, and once again the prayerless men ascend their humming gallows.

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The Unexplored Interior

Did I mean burgundy? A beggarly inclination perhaps. I was distracted when she came. Also, the fawn’s skull glistened in light rain and it made me sad. At two a.m. I breathe cool air at the window and whisper names that otherwise are left unsaid.

What do I mean when I say “more than words can say?” We are all finding our way, is what nobody seems to want to accept. In my dream you are strong but still want me to call. There are limits to imagination maybe? Pumping gas, one stands and stares north and wonders about all the things that didn’t happen, and won’t, or maybe won’t.

Days of rain give way briefly to sun. Bluets in the cemetery mean stop and give attention for Christ’s sake. Red is God while blue is God’s home and purple is the hurt I feel without either. Townes Van Zandt steadies me before the unexplored interior. Is there such a thing as too late?

Chaos attends inaction. Wordiness is refuge but poems are white stones. Remember that publishing and creating are different, that one is extension and the other commerce, and be guided accordingly. Crows pick the mown hayfield, reminding me that we all have to eat, but we don’t have to call it eating. Emily Dickinson turns away at the door and it’s okay darling, it’s more than okay.

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On Attention to Thought

Watts_Brook_Worthington

I often compare thought to a river or stream. That is a metaphor, of course, and like all metaphors has its limitations, but perhaps it is helpful, too. The stream is what is: and it contains us even as we give attention to it.

When I say “give attention to thought” I mean literally sitting quietly and observing what is happening in the interior. A thought about moonlight arises and I look at it – does it have an edge? Where did it come from and where does it go? Can I stay with it? Does it respond to my direction?

The point of this exercise is twofold. First, it allows me to directly experience the truth of “the observer and the observed are one.” I am familiar with this through the writing of Krishnamurti, but it is not an idea that began with him, and it is not limited to him. It’s more in the nature of a fact, and it is a helpful fact to know in an experiential way.

In order to learn this – to experience it – I have to be able to perceive thought without judgment. That is, I have to let thought arise and be able to explore it without simultaneously saying “this thought is bad,” “this thought is shameful,” and “this thought is likely to be productive.”‘

For me, this is where A Course in Miracles has been especially helpful. I look at thought with the Holy Spirit and trust the Holy Spirit to guide me – I let the Holy Spirit do the judging. The part of my mind that longs to judge and separate steps back and allows the part of my mind that remembers God to lead the way.

Please understand that I am not saying this is the right way to use A Course in Miracles, or even that you should use it this way. I am simply talking about what works for me, what has been most helpful.

Sooner or later, when one is giving nonjudgmental attention to thought, one begins to see the way in which the looker – the questioner – is implicated in what is being seen and questioned. That is easy to write but hard to express: you really have to have the experience. It’s trippy at first but then it becomes natural; it’s just another way of thinking but one that is maybe a little more helpful because it’s not inherently separative. It perceive wholeness because it is wholeness; it’s not really trying to be or do anything else.

In other words, you become aware that thought is just looking at itself – that is all one movement – and the idea that there is a “you” watching or directing or whatever is just another part of that movement, neither more or less important than any other part.

[t]hought has come to attribute itself to an image of an observer, a thinker. This gives it much greater authority, because it then apparently comes from a being who should know what to think. On the other hand, if it’s just going on mechanically, it might have no more significance than a computer (David Bohm On Dialogue 81).

Most of us if we consider what Bohm is saying – that thought is essentially a machine, just reflexive – then we are going to resist it. Of course my thoughts matter! But that is just ego talking – ego insisting that its thoughts are reality. But as Tara Singh has pointed out over and over, thought is interpretative. It’s never the fact but always the perception, the interpretation of the fact.

So when we give attention with the Holy Spirit, we begin to right-size thought – we see what it can do and what it can’t do and – most importantly – we see that what we are in truth is not thought.

If you look closely at the lessons of A Course in Miracles, especially the earlier ones, they are often urging us to move beyond the shallow levels of thought to the thoughts that we think with God (see, for example, lesson 74). I am suggesting that what this means is simply that we let go of the egoic mode of thought – which is so heavily invested in and attached to the egoic I, the narrative I – and align our thoughts with Truth as God created it.

If we let go of judgment, and do so in a spirit of willingness to learn how God thinks, then quite quickly it will be given us to experience Truth in this way. Why? Because that is all that really is – everything else is the busy chatty smoke screen that we throw up. Stop giving attention to it, give it a while to dissipate, and see what remains.

Tara Singh gives a beautiful example of this in Moments Outside Time. He is taking a taxi through rural India for the airport, and the taxi breaks down. The driver leaves and there is Tara Singh, sitting by the road, clock ticking.

I observe anxiety entering into my nervous system and thought promoting horror. There is a part of the mind that is ever still; I can deal with emotion and senses (305).

That is a couple of wise and insightful sentences! He is recognizing the existence of anxiety – there is no denial – but simultaneously acknowledging that he has the inherent capacity to respond to it. He doesn’t have to be carried away by it; the anxiety is not what he is in truth.

That is why he can say that “to observe and be aware of what goes on within is one of the great gifts of Heaven” (305).

So when we give attention with the Holy Spirit, we begin to right-size thought – we see what it can do and what it can’t do and – most importantly – we see that what we are in truth is not thought. So we are no longer regulated by it, and thus, no longer regulated by what is external.

This takes time to learn and bring into application. It is not hard to learn, but undoing patterns and habits of thought that have built up over a lifetime – that have thousands of years of separative energy behind them – is not easy. A Course in Miracles is a way of saying that we are not alone – that Jesus has done this and is here now to be our model, and that the Holy Spirit is within us in a tangible way, and that it too has only the goal of helping us.

When this is all clear and operative, there is really nothing left but an exuberant gratitude, which of course is Love. “I stayed with the spirit of gratefulness all through,” said Taraji. “Since I would not deviate, all would have to be well” (306).

That is because all is well, because it was created perfectly. That is the gift we are learning to accept; that is the Truth which we are learning to align.

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