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The debt I feel to A Course in Miracles is large; yet simultaneously, it is known that there is nothing to be in debt to, nor a self to be so indebted.

stone-wall-detail

close up
the walls invite passage
beyond them

This paradox is problematic only if one expects language to function differently than is its nature. Words are separative – once they are employed, separation is afoot and it is hard to avoid slipping into its shadow.

On the other hand, it is also possible to be aware of this difficulty, and to simply use words as skillfully as possible. This applies not only to speaking or writing them, but also to listening to and reading them.

Always ask: to what is the writer/speaker pointing? And always give them the benefit of the doubt. It is very interesting to give attention to cooperation, especially with respect to these kinds of spiritual or philosophical inquiries. The potential is there; why not make use of it?

A Course in Miracles was a final stop for me on the spiritual quest/religious seeker expedition. It was the top of the mountain – the stars so close you could kiss them – before heading back down (because that what summit experiences are for – to teach you how to descend). I gave the course all my attention and effort, such as I was able, and it rewarded me by undoing both God and self, which is another way of saying it made clear the distinction between what is true and what is false.

Everyone wants to know what this means or feels like or whatever but we have to figure it out for ourselves. Anyone who pretends otherwise is still confused. It’s true that a good teacher will help us “figure it out” but – again, paradoxically – these teachers rarely identify themselves as teachers. They’re just people who show up with certain insights and behavioral patterns that, when briefly in congress with our own insights and behavioral patterns, make the next step clear.

Eventually, the “next step” is seeing that there is not only no next step, there are no previous steps either.

But saying that that way is being too clever, really.

The apparent bifurcation of reality – I am a subject perceiving objects – is problematic mostly because we tend to see the “I” as somehow other than subject or object. In fact, we create a subtle trinity – subject and object and the “I” that knows them both.

But really, this “I” – this ego or empiric self or whatever – is just another object within subjective awareness.

Once we get clear on that, then everything else sort of slides into place. There is nothing to do and nobody to do it.

This doesn’t mean that life becomes a matter of celestial light shows and operatic angels. On the contrary, life continues pretty much the same as it always did. How could it not? The appearance of doing and more specifically of bodies doing the doing just keeps on keeping on.

It’s like being at a play and mistaking it for reality and then suddenly realizing it’s only a play. The play goes on but now we know what it really is.

My Zen friends says things like “before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water and after enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.” I’ve used that phrase myself, being more or less shameless about semantic pollination.

And I think it’s helpful in one way because it makes clear that nothing dramatic is going to happen in terms of experience but it is distractive in another way because a lot of people – and I am one – have used it over the years to justify all sorts of stupidity and silliness along the lines of “I’ve got it and you don’t” and whatever loveless shenanigans go along with that.

The crucial aspect of that chopping wood/carrying water phrase is “after” because it makes clear that something has happened and, as a consequence of that something, everything else is now clear. And in this clarity, everything else is the same but it’s also not remotely the same.

All of this really boils down to the belief that whatever “I” is, it’s real and capable of causing things (as opposed to being just another effect, just another appearance). It’s deciding things, organizing things, feeling things, making progress, falling behind, and so forth. Who doesn’t feel that way?

But when we give attention to it – especially to the inherent subjectivity of it – then this “I” is eventually seen as simply an appearance showing up from time to time. No matter how persuasive it appears and no matter how frequently it appears it is still only as real as any other mirage.

Thus, believing in it as a kind of source or agent or center is incoherent. Life doesn’t have a center; it doesn’t have a creator. Our belief to the contrary is the separation. It’s that simple.

This is why A Course in Miracles can say there is only one mistake with only one correction, despite the appearance of its many forms all appearing to demand many forms of correction.

You have no problems, though you think you have. And yet you would not think so if you saw them vanish one by one, without regard to size, complexity or place and time, or any attribute which you perceive that makes each one seem different from the rest (T-26.II.3:3-4).

This belief in a separate self  at risk of loss and eventually death is what effectively makes separation real – at least as an experience. But if it’s wrong or incoherent, then what’s the problem? There isn’t one.

buried-stone-wall

what appears to separate us
sinks into that
which holds us eternally as one

The thing is, you can see this fact clearly and slip right back into trying to fix it. But trying to disbelieve an insane belief or otherwise rid oneself of it doesn’t help because it reinforces the idea that a) there is something to believe or disbelieve in and b) that there is somebody who is in charge of that belief and disbelief.

So what can we do?

Well, it helped me to become a devoted student of A Course in Miracles. Believe me when I tell you it would have been a lot easier had some other path presented itself. But as my great aunt used to say, “you dance with the one that brung you.” And there is no doubt that it was A Course in Miracles that grabbed me by the arm at the spiritual disco and said “no more holding the wall up – let’s get out where the mirror ball’s brightest.”

But that’s just me. A Course in Miracles is not inherently any more or less helpful than Zen or Catholicism or Islam or therapy or LSD. But one might experience it as such, and if that is the case, then why not go all the way?

That logic worked for me. Over time it pointed me to teachers that a lot of other ACIM students don’t both with or even actively resist – David Bohm, Edmund Husserl, Roland Barthes, Emily Dickinson, to name but a few.

Lots of fingers all visible in the light to which they were pointing . . .

Out of the daily lessons, and study of the text and related material, and the many teachers whose work I read and pondered and wrote about, a practice (for lack of a better word) slowly emerged.

I began to give attention.

Giving attention is not precisely meditation or prayer though it often resembles them. The semantics don’t matter very much. It is really a question of simply being present to everything that arises as it arises – objects, ideas, feelings, theories, emotions and so forth.

I call what arises “the welter” but again, who cares what I call it?

The essence of this attention is that it includes the desire to exclude things (that we are scared of or critical of or whatnot). It is nonjudgmental and gentle and sustained, to the maximal extent. This means that one can see the welter clearly and more or less whole, more or less intact.

Then, sooner or later, one recognizes the way in which everything is naturally included in life – even that which is apparently being excluded.

Sooner or later, one realizes that the self cannot stand inquiry and collapses in on itself, without ever injuring or impairing life itself.

Sooner or later, one sees that something is happening, even if one can’t say precisely what it is or why it is.

And sooner or later, one sees that this something – whatever and whyever it is – is not contingent on a discrete and empirical observer who can be named and set apart.

Again, there are a lot of ways to experience this – philosophy, meditation, therapy, drugs, combinations thereof and so forth – but all one is really seeing is that which is actually there, the whole of which cannot be defined or grasped. Ease with the fundamental mystery doesn’t erase the mystery but – paradoxically – it does erase its mysteriousness.

An analogy I sometimes use is that of eddies in a brook. I happen to like brooks and rivers and spend a lot of walking beside them, sitting beside them, swimming and fishing in them and so forth.

Eddies are real – they are little currents with distinct forms. They have a past and a future. They have effects, pushing other eddies this or that way, yielding up new eddies and so forth.

But for all of that, they are really just the brook being a brook.

Part of a brook being a brook is to have these apparently separate eddies, and part of an eddy being an eddy is to apparently originate from and return to the brook.

When the eddy dissolves, the brook is still there.

stone-walls-blur

walls blur
and fall away –
what remains is red
and the forest
red fell away from

So the suggestion here is that being human is like an eddy in the river of life. That’s all. We are akin to currents playing out within the whole – not separate from the whole. And sometimes those currents ask what they are and where they came from and so forth. They don’t have to perform that inquiry – there’s nothing special about doing so – but sometimes they do.

That is where you and I are, more or less.

The answer to these apparently profound and challenging questions – what is God, what is life, what is the self – is not complicated or mysterious but it can seem that way so long as the eddy insists that it is not the brook being a brook but is something other than the brook.

If we stay with the analogy, we can see the incoherence of that position clearly. The eddy sets itself up as something it is not in order to study what it is. You want to tell the eddy to just chill out and enjoy the ride. Just be an eddy, man. Just be the brook being a brook this way.

The eddy (like the egoic self) can insist on this separation – eddy here, brook there/self here, God there – and get very intellectual and fundamentally dogged about all of it but all this effort and intensity does not – can not – undermine the basic fact that the eddy is still just a current in the brook.

It’s still just the brook being the brook.

That’s just a way of looking at the problem of separation, or thinking about it. It’s not offered as some fundamental or new truth in and of itself. But perhaps it is helpful.

If you are a student of A Course in Miracles, then be attentive to it and whatever practice emerges therefrom. Don’t worry what anybody else is doing or saying. Help what helps you help you. No big thing.

And if you want to shuffle on and try something new, or stop trying altogether, then great. Shuffle on. Or take up knitting. Or just sit on the back porch and watch chickadees. You can always shuffle back to the course or the church or the endless litany of personal problems when and if it seems appropriate. In the end, nobody is going anywhere so what’s the rush?

After all, here we are, you and I, at the end of a ridiculously long post which really only wanted to say: thank you for being here.

Thank you.

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The Tao Te Ching observes that ‘to be’ and ‘not to be’ arise mutually. The one includes – necessarily makes possible – the other. It is like holding a coin and asserting that only the side we “see” exists; of course both sides exist. How could it be otherwise?

little-rainbow

a little rainbow
on the barn floor ~

neither here
nor not

and yet

Thus, as soon as one says A Course in Miracles is the way, the truth and the life, then Zen is also the way, the truth and the life. And the Catholic church. Atheism, too.

As soon as we say that democracy represents the future of human culture, then communism represents the future of human culture. As soon as someone says “turn the other cheek,” somebody else says “the art of war is of vital importance to the state.”

And so forth.

The emergence of a reference point always yields other reference points, whether we are talking apparent big-ticket items like Being or minor stuff like vanilla ice cream vs. chocolate.

Indeed, all those apparent differences point to the underlying illusion: that choice is real and so is the chooser.

This is not a problem that needs to be solved, though it often presents as one. We cannot end duality by arguing against it.

However, it may be helpful to be clear about the insistent presence of apparent opposites, the relationships that appear contingent upon them, and the self that perceives and engages with them. Conflict arises when relative viewpoints appear to clash with one another, making the victory of one over the other seem both necessary and inevitable. But if both viewpoints are illusory, and are seen that way, then there cannot really be a conflict.

When we see an illusion as an illusion, all that ends is our sense of it as “real.” The ancient Hindus used the example of a rope mistaken for a snake on the path. So long as one perceives a “snake,” then the rope is a snake, and one responds accordingly. But when one realizes it is only a rope, then the perception of the snake ends, and the response to the snake ends as well. It’s just a rope. It always was just a rope.

In that example, the snake is the illusion of the real; the rope is the real. When perception aligns with reality (is brought to and subsumed by knowledge as a student of A Course in Miracles might put it), nothing changes and yet everything changes.

A Course in Miracles suggests that “[s]alvation is a borderland where place and time and choice have meaning still, and yet it can be seen that they are temporary, out of place, and every choice has been already made” (T-26.III.3:6).

The course is dualistic. It appears within a context where choice has meaning because loss and gain appear real. The ACIM curriculum reframes this apparent choice not in terms of what is “correct” but what is most “helpful” in terms of seeing that there really is no choice nor one to choose. Heaven was never lost and so there is nothing to seek or regain (T-26.III.5:2), and God has only one child – not a whole bunch all vying for attention (T-9.VI.3:5) – so we all have all the love there is.

There is no basis for a choice in this complex and overcomplicated world. For no one understands what is the same, and seems to choose where no choice really is. The real world is the area of choice made real, not in the outcome, but in the perception of alternatives for choice. That there is choice is an illusion. Yet within this one lies the undoing of every illusion, not excepting this (T-26.III.6:1-5).

The course can help us discern the true from the false and on that basis, “choose” what is true, though this choice is really choiceless. It’s similar to the “gateless gate” of Zen. Before you pass through it, the gate is real and attainable. After you’ve gone through it, there isn’t any gate and there never was.

Emily Dickinson charted this experience – perceiving the whole from within the fracture and knowing (and loving deeply) both – with considerable insight.

Without this – there is nought –
All other Riches be
As is the Twitter of a Bird –
Heard opposite the Sea –

I could not care – to gain
A lesser than the Whole –
For did not this include themself –
As Seams – include the Ball?

Or wished a way might be
My Heart to subdivide –
‘Twould magnify – the Gratitude –
and not reduce – the Gold –

From within the illusion, opposites, the choices they engender, and the conflict thus begotten all appear logical and inevitable. They appear natural.

Yet it is also possible to intuit that which lies beyond words – the whole that includes the parts by transcending them, even if from the limitations inherent in our first-person subjective experience, the whole cannot actually be grasped or known.

A split mind cannot perceive its fullness, and needs the miracle of its wholeness to dawn upon it and heal it. This reawakens the wholeness in it, and restores it to the Kingdom because of its acceptance of wholeness (T-7.IX.4:4-5).

This isn’t something that happens to the discrete empirical self; it is the undoing of that self by what contains/creates it. It can’t be forced or learned or accomplished. It just happens. It’s just happening.

Philosopher Archie J. Bahm offered a wordy translation of the Tao Te Ching, the first chapter of which reads:

Nature can never be completely described, for such a description of Nature would have to duplicate Nature.

No name can fully express what it represents.

It is Nature itself, and not any part (or name or description) abstracted from Nature, which is the ultimate source of all that happens, all that comes and goes, begins and ends, is and is not.

But to describe Nature as “the ultimate source of all” is still only a description, and such a description is not Nature itself. Yet since, in order to speak of it, we must use words, we shall have to describe it as “the ultimate source of all.”

If Nature is inexpressible, he who desires to know Nature as it is in itself will not try to express it in words.

To try to express the inexpressible leads one to make distinctions which are unreal.

Although the existence of Nature and a description of that existence are two different things, yet they are also the same.

For both are ways of existing. That is, a description of existence must have its own existence, which is different from the existence of that which it describes; and so again we have to recognize an existence which cannot be described.

We might use “God” or “Life” in place of “Nature” and see how those sentences resonate.

Words are symbols. They point to things (including, sometimes, themselves). When they are used skillfully, they can shift our attention from illusion to reality. They cannot become that reality; but they can gesture towards it.

That is where we are now: in the presence of words pointing to that which cannot be expressed through words. It is tempting here to fall back into the particular illusion: the apparently discrete self choosing between myriad options, making things happen, taking this or that stand.

Yet can we – even briefly – see how all of that apparent choosing and apparent being simply runs by itself and includes what we tend to believe is a separate self with agency?

What it means, how it arises, what its source is . . . we can’t say. But that it is we can say with certainty.

Perhaps in the end awakening really only means realizing that nobody is sleeping and so nobody can actually wake up. There is nothing to look for and nobody to do the looking. We dream: and dream we are dreaming: and dream we wake up.

Emily Dickinson again:

How good – to be alive!
How infinite – to be
Alive – two-fold – The Birth I had –
and this – besides, in Thee!

And thus we are back at the beginning: the mutual arising of being and non-being. The particular and the general; the way and the no-way. The one is not superior to the other; and neither is absolute. Both point in their way to the ineffable. We are not what we believe we are: nor are we anything else. And yet, how certainly wonder-full this infinite being in Love . . .

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glimpses-through-fence

glimpses

So long as there is seeking, there will be people who appear to have answers, and who will share those answers as part of an exchange – for money, for worship, for intimacy and so forth.

There is nothing wrong with this. When questions are projected, answers appear. When answers appear, acceptance or rejection of answers appears. Acceptance and rejection both beget new questions.

It is sort of like the forest. Trees have leaves and because they have leaves, some or all of those leaves fall to the ground. When leaves leaves fall to the ground they decompose. From the resultant mould, new trees appear.

Seeking is just part of a cycle that includes finding. What is found is never enough and what is sought is never actually found.

There is nothing surprising about this. There is nothing right about it. There is nothing wrong about it either.

Rather, it is interesting in that cycle to see where our attention is going. Are we looking for answers? Playing with answers? Extending answers to others? What answers?

The appearance of answers is helpful because they point back to the questions being asked. Often, those questions aren’t the subject of attention because they are disquieting or disturbing and so they are quickly projected.

We hate uncertainty so we ask a special person to handle the questions for us. Sometimes we pretend to be that special person for others. Tara Singh called this the lovelessness of “I’ve got it and you don’t.”

But if we can get a good look at the questions, without the drama of gurus and guides, of right and wrong, then we are closing in on the source of disquiet itself. What is so painful about these questions that we don’t want to just look at them?

A Course in Miracles often shows up in people’s lives when they are ready to have a direct experience of God – that is, when they are ready to look closely at the appearance of separation (self here, God there) in order to learn that this separation is illusory – it appears real, but it is not real.

In alternately gentle and intellectually convoluted ways, the Course invites students to question the appearance of separation. Eventually this questioning reaches the questioner: who is doing all this asking? What is their real problem?

Those questions cannot really be answered in an external way. Certainly there are people who profess to answer them. Certainly there are religious traditions that profess to answer them. But the truth is that when you reach the questioner, you are alone. And the first thing the questioner says is, “we need help. Let’s get someone else in here. Who should we get?”

The questioner isn’t real – it’s more of a pattern or condition. It’s sort of like when you hit ctrl-alt-del: the computer doesn’t give you a a box of chocolates and long-stem roses. It doesn’t start crooning Bob Dylan songs. It shuts down. That’s what it’s programmed to do. It can’t do anything else. If we expect it to do something else, then we’re going to be disappointed.

The questioner just asks questions: it doesn’t really know how to question itself. It doesn’t even really care about answers. One can say things like “question questioning” or “question the questioner” but that just leads to an infinite regression. Those statements sound clever, but they don’t actually lead anywhere.

The suggestion here is to just sit with it – the questioner, the projections, the answers. All of it. See how it all runs without interference. The questioner questions and answers appear but if we are attentive, we see that this happens somewhat automatically. It’s as natural as shivering when it’s cold and sweating when it’s hot.

This is helpful to see! It means there is no need to attend to it. We can let it all be.

What happens when we are no longer rushing to know? What happens when we are no longer insisting on the prerogatives of the seeker? Where is the guru when the seeker is no longer seeking?

It may be seen simply that there is only wholeness naturally encapsulating questions and answers, seekers and gurus, Buddhas and Christs, trees and leaves, dogs and their walkers, and clouds at 4 a.m. that cover up a waning moon.

This wholeness cannot be objectified – it can’t stand outside itself. It can’t break into parts, one of which studies the balance and calls it “wholeness.” It can be gestured toward – skillfully or otherwise – but it remains both invisible and indivisible.

Often, we confuse “peak” experiences as being more “whole” than anything else. For example, in the ACIM community a lot of so-called students are deferential to so-called teachers who have seen lights or are in dialogue with ascended masters or been directed by Jesus to scribe supplemental texts to Schucman’s work.

The point isn’t that those things can’t happen – the point is that it doesn’t matter whether they happen. They are just experiences, no better or worse than washing a toilet, baking a loaf of bread, or kissing an old lady’s cheek.

Experiences come and go. Preferences come and go. Coming and going comes and goes. That is the nature of the whole. It is never more or less itself, and we are neither near nor far away from it.

this moon
is the only moon –
and yet the clouds and I
keep passing
it

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moon

oh moon
how gratefu I am
here
and not here
with you

Space is a helpful metaphor for what we are calling God – those of us prone to that word – but it is still just a metaphor. In and of itself it is not liberating. It is not that to which it points.

Consider a ceramic tea pot. In late morning, after we have finished our tea, it rests on the counter. Space is precedent to the pot – without space, the pot cannot “be.” Space “holds” the pot; the pot occupies space. It fills a tiny amount of space there on the counter.

Yet the tea pot also contains space – a tiny amount of space is inside the tea pot.

In this example, we are the tea pot and space is God. Space is the divine. We are this form that exists within the divine – we are contained, or held, by the divine – and yet we simultaneously contain the divine.

When the tea pot breaks – or is filled with tea – or is put away in a cupboard – what happens to the space that contained and is contained by it? Nothing at all. It’s still there.

Just so with what we are calling God and just so with what we are calling our “self.”

Metaphors (like space and tea pots and God) are linguistic constructs and not meant to be conclusive or dispositive. Rather, they (hopefully) helpfully point at that which cannot be contained or referenced by linguistic constructs.

Here it is helpful to paraphrase Ryokan, whose take on the traditional Zen story of the finger pointing at the moon is so richly clarifying.

You know the story – the novice asks her master to point to the moon. The master points at the moon in the sky and the novice stares at the teacher’s finger and says, “how beautiful the moon is.”

Here is Ryokan, somewhat paraphrased:

You stop to point
at the moon in the sky
but your finger is blind
unless the moon is shining.

One moon, one careless finger pointing –
are these two things or one?

The question is a pointer
guiding a novice
out of ignorance as thick as fog.

Look deeper!
The mystery calls and calls:
No moon, no finger –
nothing there at all.

The metaphor in this post – space and the tea pot – is the pointing finger that Ryokan so cheerfully demolishes. The invitation is to “look deeper” – to give attention to what is showing up without rushing to label or define or compartmentalize it. See the “space” that is neither “space” nor “no space.”

Or don’t see it. Ryokan’s “point” is that looking and pointing – and even the moon itself – are neither real nor not-real, neither here nor not-here. Whatever this is, it is not contingent on understanding or application. In a sense, that is liberation – the recognition there is nothing to do and nobody to do it and yet apparently doing happens.

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Eventually you see through the details that seem to comprise your life. The lovers, the friends, the roads, the jobs, the poems. The this and the that. You see how it all comes and goes, rises and falls, clarifies here and blurs over there. You see how on close observation edges and seams aren’t actually discernible. There is only this experiencing, which knows it is experiencing. It’s strange and lovely and luminous, the way the ordinary is when one is attentive.

winter-river

love is always
trying on
new lovers

We live now in an old parsonage on Main Street. The village around us is full of people. Dogs are almost always walked on leashes. A half mile that way is a river that whispers at night and by dawn floats through the field in tendril streams of mist. Just beyond is a line of hills, the far side of which appeared to Emily Dickinson. At night I dream of the old house and the old trails and my dogs, all gone now as if they really were just a dream.

Some simplicity and clarity attends when one realizes that A Course in Miracles is simply a course – a curriculum with a beginning and an end. You take it – you maybe take it again – you enter into this or that relationship with teachers and fellow students – and then . . . you shuffle along. Or stride maybe. Or not. God waits only on the end of waiting.

Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven . . . because you can find nothing else. There is nothing else. God is All in all in a very literal sense (T-7.IV.7:1-4).

Which Emily Dickinson knew all along, saying of Heaven’s locale:

To Him of adequate desire
No further ’tis, than Here –

And so it is, at last.

When one consents to know Heaven – to give over all hindrances and reservations that preclude knowing it, which is simply to no longer do battle with them, which is simply to see there is no self to direct any engagement with them at all, good or bad, right or wrong – then Heaven is simply what is because it always always was what is. Clear and fine, like corn tassels in a light breeze, or a crescent moon in a late winter sky, or a chickadee’s two-note spring song coming from over the hill . . .

Well, that is a way of saying it. There are others. Why shut up when you can cheerfully sing, however nonsensical and misdirected the song? For what else does one fall in love with chickadees? We aren’t getting anywhere because what we are is beyond coming and going, beyond singular and plural, beyond even subject and object. It’s this – this this – regardless of whether we can articulate it.

what we are together
can never die

never arrive
or improve or go away

who cares
if I can’t explain it

I can’t explain moonlight
in apple trees either

and yet the one keeps shining
on the other

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open_field

the fields
are full
of the Beloved

On the other hand, why not pick up A Course in Miracles?

When there is a sense of seeking – and of one who is doing the seeking, who is in charge of the seeking – then means and methods will appear as well. This is natural and availing oneself of those means and methods is okay. It’s more than okay.

Attachment to the means and methods – this is the way and the only way – begets conflict. But resisting means and methods when one is naturally drawn to them also begets conflict.

It is not necessary to take a stand for or against that which appears. So we are students of A Course in Miracles – so what? We could as easily be Zen acolytes or Catholic novitiates or sparrows on a tree in somebody’s yard.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said that “simply to live is holy.” This is such a lovely statement! It makes clear that holiness is uncontingent and unconditional. Heschel does not qualify “live.” He does not say to live “rightly” or according to the tenets of this synagogue or that church or as a vegetarian or anything else.

Being itself is holy. It is all the holiness there is. Nobody and nothing is required to complete it, just as nobody and nothing initializes it.

Perhaps seeking does not end when one finds what is sought, or learns the answer to some deep and complex question, but rather becomes comfortable with not knowing, with resting in peace with the impossibility of conclusions. Means and methods come and go; goals and outcomes come and go.

Somebody recently shared a saying from Shunryu Suzuki. He said that if one begins zazen with a goal of getting something – enlightenment, say, or inner peace – then they are involved in “impure practice.”

Perhaps. But can we also see that the possibility of an impure practice necessarily begets the possibility of a pure practice? The two are not separate. Can we see how Suzuki’s well-intentioned and compassionate directive implies that a pure practice is more desirable than the alternative and so itself becomes a goal?

There is no way out of this duality! That is the mystery, the joy, the paradox, the confusion and the utter, almost annihilating, frustration. There is only this. Not getting it is as impossible as getting it because there is nothing to get. Not seeing it is as impossible as seeing it because there is no “it” to see. Nor is there some central being or self for whom all of this might resonate or make sense.

There is nothing either correct or incorrect with saying or writing this, nor with reading it, nor even with adopting it as a stance against the inexpressible puzzle of existence. But please see that whatever one does can never obliterate the fundamental truth: what this is I cannot say, but that it is is beyond question.

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little-home

a little home
is all the home
there is

A Course in Miracles works so long as one thinks there is something to do and someone to do it. When truth is at last allowed to be true – which is to see illusion as illusion – then the course is no longer necessary. If you take a bus to Boston, you don’t stay on board after it pulls into South Station.

The suggestion is that we give attention in a gentle and sustained way to the sense of a discrete empirical self to whom things happen and who makes choices and takes actions which cause other things to happen. That “self” is comprised of memory, desire, concept and sensation. We simply give attention to this welter as it rises and falls. No more and no less.

To be aware of all this as it arises in sensation and thought is sufficient – there is nothing else to do or see. Indeed, there is nothing else that could be done or seen. To clearly see “all this as it arises in sensation and thought” is to see through it. It is undone of its own accord.

“Undone” doesn’t mean that self and external world disappear (though their more pernicious effects may be alleviated); rather, self and world are simply seen for what they really are – appearances coming and going.  There is no longer resistance to them; there is no longer any desire to modify them, avoid them or cling to them. Illusion is seen as illusion; truth is seen as true.

Consider, for example, a person being sawed in half by a magician. If you don’t know that it is an illusion, you might feel apprehension as the “trick” unfolds. You might want to rush the stage to save the soon-to-be-dismembered individual. Yet when it is seen that what is happening is an illusion, the need to do anything about it ends. There is nobody to be saved. There is no cause for worry or alarm. You sit back and enjoy the apparent show, or leave and go to another show.

There is no suggestion here that A Course in Miracles – or any other apparent spiritual path or practice, broadly defined – is bad or evil or unhelpful. On the contrary. Just as one can be grateful for aspirin when they have a headache, one can be grateful for a spiritual path when “seeking for inner peace” arises. And, just as when we reach for aspirin and not a hammer when our head hurts, so we reach for resonant spiritual paths or practices when we are “seeking” God, Heaven, Nirvana, enlightenment, inner peace and so forth.

A Course in Miracles is a means in a context where means and ends appear to be real. In that context, the course cannot be an end. It is important to be clear about this. Often, we objectify a spiritual path or practice, which is to make an idol of it, and therefore become distracted from the here-and-nowness to which the spiritual path or practice actually points. Use the course so long as it is helpful. And when you are done with it, set it aside.

Give attention to what appears to be happening: the whole of it. Attention is the new teacher – it is the Holy Spirit, to borrow the language of A Course in Miracles. In attention’s uncompromising and altogether neutral luminosity the nothing-that-is-everything is surely and naturally beheld. This is the end of seeking; this is what it means to be at peace.

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empty_bottle


how clear the container
becomes in the light
that is never not passing through it

Trying to tease out the self, and make the self happy and productive in its apparent life, is like bucketing out the sea with a sieve. We can try to do it, and it might appear successful from time to time, but eventually the futility becomes clear. What then?

In essence, what we call “our” “lives” are in truth a participation in love. Love is our relationship with the whole through the appearance of countless parts; we give consent to this relationship through the gift of attention. To gaze deeply at a tree or a bird of a slice of bread is to see not yourself – that is too easy – but rather to see God, in which both you and the tree or the bird or the bread – in a mutual act of love – dissolve.

Christ’s eyes are open, and He will look upon whatever you see with love if you accept His vision as yours . . . (T-12.VI.4:4)

“God” in this context does not mean a discrete Creator or a divine first cause or an anthropomorphic entity lording it over his subjects from afar. It means simply the impersonal truth or love that is beyond both expression and measurement. In its vastness, its utter stillness and silence, it is contingent on nothing. We don’t speak of it with words and we don’t encounter it in or through the fractious regression we call the self.

It is as impossible to not know this truth as it is to speak of it clearly and unmistakably. Even our insistence on objectifying it – as a thing to be known, labeled, learned, or consumed – neither harms nor dismisses nor obscures it. Truth remains forever true. Our greed, confusion, loneliness and aggression are like ripples in the smooth surface of a stream, coming and going, rising and falling. We don’t mistake the eddy for something other than the brook; why mistake the appearance of the world for something other than the unknowable Mind of God endlessly spilling over and into and out of itself?

. . . your banishment is not of God, and therefore does not exist . . . You are at home in God, dreaming of exile, but perfectly capable of awakening to reality (T-10.I.1:7, 2:1).

And really, to say even this much is to say too much. We are already awake. Yet to say less is not necessarily better. We cannot feed each other with the word “bread,” yet by it we might see our way to yeast and wheat and water. The shared table replete with divine loaves is often where we remember there is no such thing as hunger. So it is with this intimately ineffable mystery we name for the moment “God” and approach through what we call “self.” All we are really talking about is Love. Or Emptiness. Or Truth.

And really, who cares what we say? What is nomenclature but another ripple? When our feet burn we leap into the cool waters that flow before us, and learn there is neither fire nor water, nor one to distinguish between them.

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trails_north

faint trails
pointing north
are
and are not
the way

From time to time someone will say that there are no doctrines or methods or paths by or through which awakening happens. There is just this perfect awareness presently manifesting as multiplicity. There are countless variations on this concept; it’s a staple of the contemporary nondual movement.

The fly in the ointment is that saying “there are no doctrines or methods or paths” is itself a path. It is – as virtually everything is once we resort to language – dualistic. No-path is only possible when there is a path. When we declare that we’ve got it, and that it can’t be found by any method, then we’ve implicitly declare a method – the method of renouncing all methods. We are on the way of no path, which is a path.

It’s better to simply accept that as soon as we start talking about awakening, no matter how efficient or eloquent or well-intentioned our speech is, we’re merely babbling. Language is fun and interesting, and it can be helpful in its way, but when we take it literally it becomes distracting blather. The difference is one of investment – specifically, who is investing in what.

The thing is, people want to hear this stuff and so there are people who are going to say it. The one begets the other. You and I – right here in the text – are proof of that. But this mutual arising is not inherently problematic. We don’t have to fix it so much as just let it be. We might compare it to viewing a garden – we have a preference for yellow chrysanthemums, say, and yet the garden is full of yellow, red, orange, purple and white chrysanthemums, and other kinds of flowers to boot. So we just focus on the yellow ‘mums. We get off on what we get off on, and let the other flower watchers tend to their preferences. No big thing.

But we can make it a big thing! We do this by insisting that yellow is the best color and then striving to not see all the other colors save to disparage them. We might start coming up with internal justifications for this effort – write books and blog posts. We might start trying to persuade others to only see yellow, to join us in advocating yellow. If we can make it a movement then we can start giving purveyors of non-yellow flowers a hard time. We can get rid of everything that isn’t yellow! And won’t life be dandy then.

All this can happen very subtly. It shows up for most of us from time to time, in varying degrees. I’m hardly immune and trust you aren’t either. And the thing is – again – there is nothing wrong that we’ve discovered that the way to oneness is to see there is no way. I wrote something similar in my notes the other day – “the only sight required is that no insight is required.” There’s nothing wrong with saying it or even believing it.

But when it rises to the level of attacking others – under the guise of helping them or otherwise – than it does behoove us to give attention in a gentle sustained way as to what is really going on. We’re not bad or evil, but we are maybe indulging distraction.

A Course in Miracles puts it this way.

Salvation is the recognition that the truth is true, and nothing else is true . . . Truth cannot have an opposite . . . Nothing but the truth is true, and what is false is false (W-pI.3:1, 5, 9).

Thus, we can say the truth is true without effort. No amount of doing, non-doing or undoing can change this simple fact. You can share it, not share it, sell it, twist it, ignore it and it won’t change. It is unaffected altogether by you and me because we are just appearances within it. Just as a reflection in a pool can’t cause a ripple, you and I can’t disturb the clear stillness of Truth.

So within the context of believing that we are separate actors with volition and all that, what is to be done?

If you’re awake, then let your waking be. If you’re asleep, let your sleeping be. Whatever you are calling this experience – this beingness, this humanness, this whateverness – just let it be and see what happens. Just give attention to what is happening – the people on paths, the people arguing in favor of paths, the people wondering if there’s any such thing as paths, and the welter of your response to it all.

Make contact if you can with the self who cares about these things, and wants to be right and sure about them, and who believes there are other selves who, like us, have a choice in such matters. You might make a discovery that will lead you to an inner peace that surpasses understanding. Or maybe you’ll just fritter a few hours away in quasi-meditation. And that’s okay, too.

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