≡ Menu

The End of Self-Imposed Darkness

Things don’t bother me the way they used to. I can say that honestly, and I can say, too, that this relative equanimity is an effect of my study of A Course in Miracles, which includes the serious and sustained effort I have made to bring it into application.

Part of the reason that things do not bother me so much is that I am slowly coming into the realization that they aren’t what matters – that what is going on externally, or appears to be going on externally, is sort of like ripples across the lake’s surface. It’s evidence of what is, but it isn’t the thing itself. It really doesn’t matter what the external circumstances are up to, and external circumstances include my response – my feelings and ideas about what is happening. All of that is just so many dead leaves being pushed around by the wind.

It is important to me that you understand I am not denying the existence of what is external. I am simply relating to it differently, based on my clarifying understanding of what I am – and what you are – in truth. That’s all. I am very happy with chickadees and moonlight and my wife and kids and books of poetry and fresh bread and all of that. None of that is a problem. But none of it is a solution either.

That is a really helpful insight when we get to it: that nothing external is the problem and that nothing external is the solution. Then we can begin to just let the world be. And all letting it be means is that we don’t have to give it the same kind of attention. The answer isn’t out there; the question isn’t even really out there.

[T]he problem of separation, which is really the only problem, has already been solved. Yet the solution is not recognized, because the problem is not recognized (W-pI.79.1:4-5).

So long as we insist that we have problems – mortgages that can’t be paid, dogs that die, cakes that fall, whatever – then we will not see the one problem we have, which is separation, which is what gives rise to all these seeming problems. They come into existence because we take seriously the idea that we are these bodies with minds inside them, all part of an evolving narrative.

There is nothing wrong with any of that. It’s not something we have to do “while we’re here” or whatever. I am very busy in the world: I teach, I write, I publish, I play poker with my kids, I go for walks with the dog, I sleep with my wife, I eat local and grow as much of my own food as possible, I bake bread, I protest against the death penalty, I am an elected public official in my town, I vote.

It’s just that more and more, I don’t confuse those things with reality: they are ripples on the lake’s surface. They are not the wind.

We come to that realization by giving attention to the separation. When you really get close to it, then you see that it never happened because, try as you might, you can never make contact with the separated self. When we stop giving attention to – or investing in – separation and the self upon which it rests, then it is gone. It’s gone in the sense that when you tell the truth, the lie is gone. I can tell you I have five dollars in my pocket but when I empty them to reveal only one, the lie ends.

The only way to dispel illusions is to withdraw all investment from them, and they will have no life for you because you will have put them out of your mind. While you include them in it, you are giving life to them (T-7.VII.4:4-5).

External phenomena and events are illusions in the sense that we project meaning onto them – the meaning is the illusion. The chickadee or the spouse or the job or the mountain is not. They are just there, like everything else, coming and going. But what is always there is attention, or our capacity for attention, and when we get into that in an applied way, a lot resolves itself very quickly. A lot is revealed.

That is really what we are bringing into application: the gift of attention. We are giving attention to all that arises, which eventually leads us to the one who is giving attention who, it turns out, cannot be found. That no-self is the real peace – the real equanimity. That is the moment we encounter what Meister Eckhart called the unmanifest isness that is God, and are at home in it.

I am not saying I get this all the time or that I get it perfectly. I am just figuring things out in my slow, stubborn way and being blessed despite what my general stupidity and arrogance. What can you do but what you can do?

I am simply saying that things even out and settle. And they make sense: what A Course in Miracles teaches (for all its density and complexity and for all the confused blowhards pontificating about it :) ) is true and helpful. It’s not the only way, but it’s a pretty effective way, to those who are so inclined.

Anyway, I don’t worry about all that so much anymore. I’ve always been a wanderer and a stumbler. What I am learning is that wandering is not really lost and stumbling isn’t really falling. They aren’t even really wandering and stumbling. It’s like you can give attention to your breath, or forget all about your breath, but you’re still breathing.

So that is what is happening. That is what I am learning. I just come back to the responsiveness of attention: the way that it gently leads me to the separation that never was. “Look, look,” it says. “You aren’t what you think you are.” You light one candle and when it doesn’t kill you, you think: maybe I can light two. Or three. Maybe I can find somebody with a lantern. And little by little the self-imposed darkness ends.


Between Lovely and Starvation

Snow and starlight a welcome shelter, though one wonders what the killdeer think. Tuffets and buntings the fine line between lovely and starvation. Last night’s skunk returns, leaving tracks over the now-covered garden. Meandering is an art premised on radical inclusion, which is simply love. Some things we try to settle into over and over and they keep spitting us back and when will we learn? We can only be home when we’re home and with whom we are home. An interim of kisses will not distract me, nor will I say no. How quiet the landscape is after the first snow! How slowly I walk through it, like not even walking at all. The sourceless light goes with me now and you are its favorite lamp.


The Proffered Hand

You could burn every clock ever made and I wouldn’t mind. You could grow the perfect rose, too. Reheated coffee tastes different, depending on the mug it’s in, which is part of what I am getting at re: form. We were lost in that diner a long time, exiting as if from a singularity, and I still couldn’t love you the way you wanted or needed, could I? Loneliness teaches us what we have yet to learn about how to love, which is obviously why I spent so much time with it. Response matters whether you’re drunk in Burlington, Vermont or sneaking into a Dublin convent. What you don’t share remains a secret and to that degree you go unsaved. Unclothed? Unrobed, maybe. Metaphors, of course, are essentially a form of violence, despite our sense that they are unavoidable. They aren’t. Yet what a castle can’t do, a cottage in the woods often will. It’s fun to think there is a single note song out there and we are it but sooner or later you have to come clean about God and Love. I mean, snow falls and deepens all morning and it’s the same old story as it ever was: we ignore the proffered hand in order to go on with crutches.


Death is not the End


One of our Australorps as a baby . . .

Our bodies are going to die but that’s okay – they know how to die. I was amazed when I saw this: that life knows how to die, how to let one form of itself settle out and go. We don’t have to teach our bodies how to live, and we don’t have to teach them how to die. It is hard to believe, actually.

This is why A Course in Miracles would so often point out that our bodies are wholly neutral communication devices whose only real purpose is the Holy Spirit’s purpose of forgiveness (see W-pI.199.4:3-5). They are like flowers or stones or horses or stars. They are just assemblages of matter – biological chemical machines doing what they were made to do. Morality and ethics and metaphysics don’t enter into it.

So from time to time I remember that: this body, with its parts that have been fun, parts that have been painful, features I like and features I don’t, and so on and so forth, is going to die and disappear. Emptied of breath, burned to ash and scattered on a Vermont mountain or in the sea, to be carried away by breezes and currents. It’s not so scary when I realized I don’t have to do anything about it: I don’t even have to accept it. It’s just part of what is. It’s part of the movement of Life.

And when the body goes, the egoic self goes too. All my memories and dreams, my hopes and fears, my narrative identity, the vast and intricate story that I call “Sean” and others call “Love” or “Dad” or “Professor” or “blowhard” or whatever are going to go, too. Death is the end of that self – it, too, will empty out and fade away.

This is true whether we are Jesus or Stalin or Emily Dickinson or the Earl of Sandwich. Traces of our activity might remain in the form of ideology or art or whatever, but still. Death brings the body to a close, and brings to a close as well the narrative self attached to that body. So much of our human culture and evolution resists this fact, and has developed many sophisticated defense systems against it, but so what? You can dress your pig in a tuxedo but he’s still a pig. You can invent stories of an afterlife, of streets paved with gold on which angels gently trod, but that doesn’t make it truth.

When we give attention to the fundamental question of separation (the observer from the observed) then we are led naturally to the truth, which is that there is no separation. And we can at last relax and breathe within life, without needing to solve or improve or amend it in any way.

However stressful this insight seems to us – however much it roils the subconscious folds – A Course in Miracles teaches that it’s all okay because this death is not the end of what we are in truth.

To the ego, the goal is death, which is its end. But to the Holy Spirit the goal is life, which has no end (T-15.I.2:8-9).

Thus, what ends – what is subject to ending, which includes bodies (ours and animals), stars, moonlight, cheesecake, bluets, tree stumps, rainbows, kisses and clocks – are simply passing forms (the dream or illusion) of what is real, because it does not end. And Life is that: and that is all Life is. It is what continues: what flows. What else could it be? It’s not the variegated forms it takes. Those forms come and go but they come and go within Life. Our bodies and stories, too. And it’s okay – it’s more than okay. It’s what Peace is, and Joy, too.

I am rereading Tara Singh’s lovely little book Gifts from the Retreat. His reading, understanding and sharing of A Course in Miracles is simultaneously so rich and so simple. How grateful I am to have encountered him, his wise and clear teaching!

The Benediction that we are now beginning
to discover is THE ACTION OF LIFE –
It is involuntary and impersonal.

The Action is ever of Life.
Every moment Its perfection is complete.

It is independent.
To the Spirit, no justifications are valid.

It deals with the individual
and not abstract ideas.
Action is the humanistic beauty
of the individual.

It deals with the goodness in each
and awakens us to higher values.
Circumstances and the assumptions
of consequences It dissolves.

We can read this – or have it pointed out to us – and it won’t be without some hint of meaning, but we still have to bring it into application. That is our responsibility. For a long time, I understood this to mean diligent effort on my part – this site emerged out of that desire to refuse to be casual, to be bent at all costs on awakening.


When our Mama duck had babies a couple years back . . .

But it is simpler than that – much simpler. It is simply a question of attention. When we give attention to the fundamental question of separation (the observer from the observed) then we are led naturally to the truth, which is that there is no separation. And we can at last relax and breathe within life, without needing to solve or improve or amend it in any way.

This happens in its own time and way. It isn’t something we do – it’s more in the nature of a sunrise. It is more in the nature of a gift already given. When we stop resisting and trying so hard, Life reveals its inherent perfection just as it is. No mysteries, no secrets.


Becoming Yes

I had a sense as the moose disappeared into shadows that we had informed one another, in the way that water fills a mug, or starlight my cupped palm. One struggles at times to see any imperfection at all anymore. Cutting bittersweet where the yard falls away, adjusting the oven so the the bread will crisp just so. A world of coffee will not long sustain me, nor do I dream anymore of anything frightening. Syllables precede us, lighting the way, exactly as Roland Barthes suggested. Or was it Gertrude Stein? Well, someone pointed to a window, someone said “here’s how it opens.” And does it matter now, being no longer on either side of but rather in the bourn? Its eternal beneficent flow? He said to me a long time ago, when he knew – but I was yet learning – that I had it, what do you want to do with it? And now this: sentence after sentence becoming yes. Yes.


By The Window

Rain at 4 a.m., soft and unexpected, and Chrisoula whispering “do you have to?” as I slip out of bed to stand by the window, dressing for a walk. Dogs almost always say yes, which is part of why we love them so. No stars, no moon, but D. forgot to turn his porch light off, its faint rays slipping over the fire pit and barren garden. Her dream of me matters, as does getting past it into whatever else – if anything – this life is for. I turn south into old fields despite the mud, despite the cold. We go where the heart says go? While the mind pries open its prismatic vastness. Well, maybe. I’m a wordy guy in the end, more interested in trisyllabic utterances than getting anything right. You do what you can. For a long time I was scared of the devil, carried flashlights and guns, and sketched a map of the world in my head. But then I realized he was just like me: disgraced in Heaven, missing his father, and stumbling accordingly. Prodigal children abound! For you then this rain which I entered and was blessed by. And for you the trail I followed back alone.


Lovely Lonely Fragments

To the extent we are traveling, we are now slowing down. Now we are taking small steps designed not to move us to a new location but rather to see where we are clearly. Prisms are helpful, also mirror balls. The smallest shards of ice at the tip of the lilac bush, and – once or twice a lifetime – the radiance of trout leaping at dusk, perfect rainbows emanating from the river spray flung from their muscular bodies, all in the last beams of the far off falling sun. Your mind holds what the light puts there, and everything else is simply the flotsam left by your habit of embroidery. One dream of one kiss can obscure awakening, despite our best intentions. That is one way to think of it; surely there are others. A day of darkness eventually sheds its shadowy woolens and you find yourself on a rickety ladder scraping ice and dead leaves from the gutter, at the far end of which is an empty robin’s nest. Remember in summer when hummingbirds visited the bee balm, hovering before the bedroom window? We never forget what reminds us God is Love and Love is Reality perceived – for now – in lovely lonely fragments. Butterflies, shoulders, moss, peas. How cold and blue my hands are and yet how steadily I work, removing detritus that obstructs the needed flow. It’s a metaphor, yes, but not only that. We don’t really have wings but in mid-November, with her eyes upon you, it can feel that way. You can feel that way. And so what? She always comes to me early in the morning before I walk, pulling the blankets over us, and I am happy then, I am more than happy.