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Reflecting Heaven

Reflect the peace of Heaven here
and bring this world
to Heaven

Those lines from A Course in Miracles make no real sense if we think of Heaven as a location presently separate from us yet to which we are headed, sooner or later. As soon as we indulge spiritual travel plans for the future, we are effectively dissociated from the present moment and from our capacity to be attentive to it in a calm, gentle and creative way.

Better, I think, to consider how we might bring “Heaven” into application right here and now without a lot of metaphysical fussing and postulating.

The response of holiness to any form of error is always the same. There is no contradiction in what holiness calls forth. Its one response is healing, without regard for what is brought to it (T-14.IX.8:1-3).

This is not as mystical as it sounds, in part because everything and everyone is holy, and so there really isn’t any pressure to either discover holiness or become holy. Once we are clear about that, then our capacity to give attention to the present moment and what is going on within it clarifies and becomes intentional in a non-selfish way. Dramatic interference, characteristic of the egoic self and our clinging to it, sloughs away. We don’t confuse someone else’s needs with our own. We aren’t limited to what “we” can get right now.

In Love Holds No Grievances Tara Singh observed that every relationship into which we enter brings with it a potential for correction, and that we are responsible for bringing that correction about.

There is a healing that is needed, a compassion and understanding that are necessary. And thank the Lord that it is so because now you can grow into being responsible. You know where to begin. You will never know the Peace of God until you do so (74-75).

I am talking about a kind of action here that is creative. By “creative” I mean that it is open and non-judgmental, as much as possible. In the same way that I can’t write a poem if I am demanding the poem conform to this or that ideal to which I happen to be attached at a given time, I cannot really be loving – in the divine or Platonic, not the sexual/romantic, sense – if I insist that love look this way or that.

It is always good to ask how the other party or parties is seeing things. Even if all we discover is that we don’t know, that’s good information. It means we can ask directly. Or we can give more attention in an effort to learn somewhat indirectly. But our focus shifts away from our needs, our perspective, our vision to the other person and, in a broader sense, to the relationship itself.

Am I giving you a hug because I like to think of myself as a loving and sensitive? While I am listening to you share, am I quietly congratulating myself on being such a good friend? Where is my attention in the relationship? Am I responding to my own needs, however subtly, or am I genuinely willing to accept what is, as it manifests through you and our relationship, regardless of how it comports with whatever order I want to impose on it?

Creativity might be understood as allowing expression without insisting it assume a particular form. It goes beyond the form to the content: the old idea of form as use. If you’re dying of thirst, who gives a damn what the mug holding the water looks like.

Anyway, this is part of what I am learning. It is hard. It is scary sometimes, too. You don’t realize how much naming and judging and compartmentalizing you do until you consciously give attention to it in an effort to not do it so much. We aren’t nearly as loving and selfless as we pretend. This was the interior desert to which Thomas Merton so often referred.

What is lonelier than death? To confront the emptiness, the void, the apparent hopelessness of this desert and to encounter there the miracle of new life in Christ, the joy of eschatological hope already fulfilled in mystery–this was the monastic vocation (Contemplation in a World of Action 253).

But – and this is the fun part – it is that very pretense that obscures the fundamentally holy and lovely and generous and creative self we are in truth. Holiness is inherent – it is what remains when we stop trying so hard to be holy. Reflecting Heaven is effortless once we realize it is natural, implicit in what we are, and hindered only by our stubborn and misguided efforts to be what we already are.


Reaching the Desert You Promise

At three a.m. you wake up a suspect but ten minutes later the wild stars and frigid air insist you are held and beloved. How grateful I am for tea on mornings when the coffee grounds spill to the floor. When I cry, I cry hard, and the months that pass when I don’t, well, what can you do but what you can do? There is a sense now that some lovely vista will remain unreached, some critical insight go undiscovered. Yet when you know you don’t know, you basically know, right? Or am I only being clever? Coming back from teaching last night I pulled over to watch a bull moose trot north along the road, eventually ducking into a little clearing below K.’s house. How big and glorious they are in thinning moonlight! How shaggy as the year turns winter! And a dry snow spat from unseen clouds, hissing a little on the driveway when I pulled in, tired and angry and scared, despite the great Love of which I am mostly now aware. It turns out that saying what you don’t want to say isn’t the answer either although it does move you in a helpful direction. I love you in ways for which I am just beginning to be thankful. Yet I still stagger through sleep in a hurry to reach the other other side (repetition intended!), a habit that I refuse to give up, even though it doesn’t really serve. I meant to write “the same old dream of mail” but snakes – who, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, are a symbol of death in the maw of the hungry Other (for I am terrified of being eaten above all other fears) – abound, and so. Thank you Meister Eckhart for going silent at a critical moment. I chose the wordy – not the religious – life, and am only now reaching the desert you promise I will not die in.


The Clear Note Reality Sings


Susan Gilbert Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s sister-in-law and one of her greatest, most passionate loves . . .
“I have but one thought, Susie, this afternoon of June, and that of you, and I have one prayer, only; dear Susie, that is for you. That you and I in hand as we e’en do in heart, might ramble away as children, among the woods and fields, and forget these many years, and these sorrowing cares . . .”
(Image; Houghton Library, Harvard University. MS Am 1118.99b, Series I, (29.4))

When we have an encounter with someone, we can say – as A Course in Miracles does – that it is not an accident (M-3.4:4). But this is tricky. We don’t want to slip into thinking that some external agent or intelligence is arranging our lives to suit its purposes. That becomes special very fast. Subtly we reduce the other person to a tool of God’s love for us.

The offense in that moment isn’t against God or even the other person really. Rather, it is a confusion about what meaning is, how meaning is made, and how we learn from it in order to discern reality.

When we give attention to experience, to life as it is in the moment, we always perceive it in a particular form: the New England forest at dawn, on a trail laid by deer, or the arms of a man or woman who knows what we need before we ask, or a little chapel at the end of a dirt road where a candle is always burning and dust motes shimmer in beams of yellow light.

But it is always that form and not another. I am not simultaneously in the New England forest, and the streets of Dublin, and the vast plains of Kenya. All three would perfectly accommodate learning and coherence but I can only take them singly. There is nothing wrong with this, or even limiting in this. It’s simply a condition of our material existence and perception.

So when we are in relationship with anyone – briefly or otherwise – the relationship is a fact. Why it is a fact (i.e., an accident or not an accident) is not nearly as interesting or important as our response to the relationship. Our response can be loving or not loving, gentle or not gentle, helpful or unhelpful. This is always true and it is really all that is true.

It doesn’t matter what we are seeing, or how it found its way into our perception. It matters that we accept responsibility for it, where responsibility means seeing it clearly which in turn means seeing with a whole mind, which naturally undoes the more pernicious aspects inherent in both perception and experience.

We are responsible for giving attention to life. Evasion avails us nothing.

When you are willing to accept sole responsibility for the ego’s existence you will have laid aside all anger and all attack, because they come from an attempt to project responsibility for your own errors . . . Give them over quickly to the Holy Spirit to be undone completely, so that their effects will vanish from your mind and from the Sonship as a whole (T-7.VIII.5:4, 6).

It is the attention we give that matters, not what we give attention to. It doesn’t matter why life takes the form it takes. It really doesn’t. What matters is that we are attentive to it. We can wake up in a laundromat as easily as a zendo. Fussing about why certain people are here, or do the things they do, or what the lesson is, or what we did in a past life, or what we need to do in this one going forward . . . truly that is just a form of static we impose on the clear note reality sings eternally.

I am learning this. This is what I am learning. I am looking at who I am in relationship with and what arises in the context of those relationships. If it’s guilt and fear, then great. Now I look at guilt and fear. If it’s a kind of goofy happiness, then great. I look at that. If it’s about sex, okay. Writing? Okay. Intellectual arrogance? Fine, I’ll look at that too. That’s it. That’s all. And it’s enough, actually.

This person might be in my life because he was my spiritual preceptor at an Irish monastery in the fourteenth century and I fled at a critical moment in the relationship and now we are continuing the lessons. That’s a fun story! I am very good at those stories. But this person might also be here simply because the law of large numbers means that over the course of seven or eight decades we are going to meet a few people who “get” us so instantly and intimately that it’s like they are us.

In the end, who cares what rationale I adopt for the appearance and existence of the relationship? I still have to deal with it, which is to give attention to it. It’s like when the fuel lines go on the tractor, you fix the fuel lines. You don’t launch into a metaphysical exploration of the tractor’s existence. That might be fun and interesting but there’s fields to be plowed, timber to be dragged. As my wise Buddhist friends say, chop wood, carry water. The ordinariness of this work – just giving attention to what is over and over – can be maddening to those of us in love with mirror balls and fallen angels and dead men hanging on crosses but so what? The bluets get on with life; I guess I can, too.

From the learning posture we adopt as students of A Course in Miracles, it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter what we are seeing, or how it found its way into perception. It matters that we accept responsibility for it, which responsibility means seeing it clearly which in turn means seeing with a whole mind, which naturally undoes the more pernicious aspects inherent in both perception and experience.

“Why” isn’t a great question, because it tends to just turn us in more circles. “How” isn’t much better because the capacity to love and be of service and give attention is already inherent in us. Faced with a trail that needs walking, we can talk and study and postulate until the sun falls, but sooner or later, we have to start walking. Only then do we learn that we aren’t going anywhere. One foot in front of the other is home.


The Old Dream of Snakes

You want quiet but the dog snores. And moves a lot in the night? Well, something is stirring and it’s not just the old dream of snakes. It’s okay. I cried hard remembering dead horses but a little before three a.m. the stars own a wild blue light you only see a few times after childhood. It is okay. A manageable hunger never hurt anyone. I remember Mr. Tower describing death as “over the bourn” and in that moment becoming a linguist. Be agile but bold, too. All trails take you somewhere is my implicit faith, and also you didn’t make all trails. Saturday I bought a new mug for my coffee (the old one busted while Sophia and I were loading the truck). The woman who made it – a librarian with admirable taste in graphic novels – said “it’s a flower vase” as I studied it and I said to her “not anymore” before plunking down my last pair of tens. Form is use, right? In poetry or pottery both. On the other hand, walking in the cold, I do wonder about the extremities. Frost is Persephone’s mother’s wedding dress cast aside in the frantic search. Something knocks in the woods and the dog abruptly turns, disappearing, leaving me alone with a buck who stepped wrong in the dark. Compose your own epitaph, Old Scratch! I smile a little back on the porch, wind blowing dead leaves over my feet and the lawn and Route 112 in the distance. You learn what you have to give and then you give it. The rest is a story, a good one more or less, but nearly ended now, and thank Christ too.




Mac, our beautiful and stubborn pony, died a year ago today. He was my daughter’s best friend.


All our hearts broke and we still cry thinking of him, but we are never not grateful.


What a gift he was . . .


Joyfully Learning with God


Yellow was one of my teachers this summer . . . the pilgrim grays of November suggest I didn’t learn a thing . . .

So long as one is willing to relearn everything, it is not possible to be wrong about A Course in Miracles. This is a natural extension of the fact the course meets us where we are and takes us as far as we are ready to go at a given point in time. When we need to know more – or different – we will.

Who is willing to relearn everything is attached to nothing, and thus has nothing to defend. Salvation and defenselessness go hand in hand (W-pI.153.7:1). Who knows this is true is no longer worried about debating whether the historical Jesus dictated the course, or whether Gary Renard is a fraud, or whether one needs to be practice meditation in order to really benefit from the workbook lessons. Opinion is not knowledge; it is merely an expression of one’s attachment to egoic perception.

We are always learning because the Holy Spirit in us is always teaching. We can ignore this and obscure it but we cannot end it.

When we are humble with respect to knowledge, knowledge remains a gift eternally giving of itself. When we decide we know all that we need to know, or that what we already know we know perfectly, or that what we know is qualitatively better than what somebody else knows, then we are effectively damming the flow of knowledge and damning ourselves to ignorance.

It is possible to be quite smart and informed and still be a damn fool. I am possibly almost expertly qualified to attest to this.

So it is important, I think, to remain teachable: to avoid conclusions, to be aware of those moments when we are “right” and others “wrong.” Those opinions will certainly arise but they need not be given special welcome. My Buddhist friends talk about “beginner’s mind,” that state of openness before experience and so-called expertise enter and we decide “I’ve got it!” Beginners learn well because there aren’t as many barriers that need to be scaled, modified, removed etc.

A Course in Miracles touches on this point, too. In the introduction to the Workbook’s third review section, we find this reminder:

Do not forget how little you have learned.
Do not forget how much you can learn now (W-pI.rIII.in.13:1-2).

The question is: what do we want? Are we ready to slough off the ego and its meaningless baubles passed off as reality? To become Christ-minded? To know God’s Kingdom as a present reality, eternally present in the quiet interior that is outside time and space, untouched by language, clear and impersonal and perfect?

If the answer is yes (even if tentative, even if qualified), then we are consenting to be taught how the peace that surpasses understanding is already so. We are in essence declaring our intention to become students of what is. As the Manual for Teachers says, “teaching is a constant process; it goes on every moment of the day, and continues into sleeping thoughts as well (M-in.1:6). We are always learning because the Holy Spirit in us is always teaching. We can ignore this and obscure it but we cannot end it.

Only guilt and fear dictate that learning is done, and they do so only when they perceive that their own undoing is imminent. Thus, when we are aware of our internal resistance to learning – regardless of the form it takes – we ought to rejoice, for it is a sure sign that our thinking is realigning itself in favor of spirit and against the ego.

The joy that arises in us as we seek God’s Will where God’s Will is naturally begets more such directed seeking. That is the essence of learning: one moves in the direction of what causes peace and away from that which causes conflict.

It is helpful then to give attention to what is going on: the broad panoply our feelings, thoughts and behavior. Beyond the form that our living in the world assumes is the simplicity of salvation – love or the call for love, to which the answer is always the same: Love. Nothing is that isn’t God. This is all we learn: over and over, in one form then another then another, until at last our learning ends and we pass beyond altars and saviors entirely to what – for now – we will not pretend has a name that we know.


As Far As The Dying Dog

A perfect quarter moon behind fast-moving storm clouds which clear abruptly to reveal Ursa Major upright in the heavens. Is this where it ends? Northern wind as always rolling down a vast marble empire I could walk through in my sleep. I follow the old dog’s lead now, the gift I couldn’t give the other because all I wanted was to keep him alive. I am still more or less a member of the fuck death school, notwithstanding the breadth of my reading list and generally knowing better. Quandaries lead to proposed solutions which lead to yet more problems, as if we love being lost. Or is it a game? I can tell you this: if you can’t reach the paradox yourself it will kick the door down on its own. I’m back in the relationship that yields only guilt and fear: I cannot leave and I cannot stay and she is the only one who knows. Imagine being given a voice only to learn your beloved has no ears. Oh Christ what did I do in a past life to stumble so in this one? There is no answer and there never was and that is the answer and yet. How I long to sleep but rise over and over at the hard hour to go as far as the dying dog will take me. You kneel by the frozen fire pond and pray it again: the wordless plea that birthed you: abandoned you: and still.