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How Undoing Takes Form

Okay but how does this work? How does this “undoing” take form? How does it avoid slipping back into the nonduality loop? How does it not become more mere spiritual navel-gazing? Or semantic Vedantic cleverness masquerading as wisdom?

Fair questions!

Play a game. Imagine that you could only ask one more question for the rest of your life. You can learn one more thing. What would it be?

Often, when I play this game myself or with others, the question is some variation of: how I can be more helpful? Where “helpful” is consonant with “loving,” “useful,” “forgiving,” “creative” et cetera.

In other words, when push comes to shove, ruthless honesty generally compels us to see that what we are really about is not ourselves but the collective – the all-of-us-together being all-of-us together. It doesn’t always work out that way, and we seem endlessly capable of forgetting it, but in the end, we are as Humberto Maturana says in Biology of Love, “loving animals.” We want to give to one another. We want to love.

So it figures that given a last chance to learn anything, what we want to learn is what will make us more loving.

Once we are clear that what matters is not our own spiritual shindig but rather the grandly inclusive shindig we are all of us throwing and sharing in right now – making love, making bread, making shelter, making art et cetera – what new questions arise?

In my experience, these new questions tend to be more pragmatic than abstract. The metaphysics fade. The word games are displaced if not dissolved. If we are serious about enacting our desire to feed hungry people, then our question is: how do we feed people?

And then our question breaks down yet further into helpful chunks: who is hungry? What are they hungry for? Where are they? How do I get food to share with them? How do I execute the mechanics of sharing, where “mechanics” means gathering food, delivering it, ensuring timeliness, cleanliness, freshness, consistency, funding and so forth.

Naturally that leads to new new questions: has somebody already answered these questions? Where is the knowledge housed? Rather than invent the wheel anew, can we just assist with an already-existing wheel?

And so on and so forth where “so on and so forth” includes feeding hungry people, learning how to keep feeding them, and then sharing that learning in order to generate a sustainable communicable practice of love within and for the collective.

When we are serious about solving problems for the other, then we are going to be focused locally, which means we are going to have to be in communion locally, and we are going to have to give up some modicum of control locally.

We are going to do all of this and we are going to just see what happens. And what happens will happen, and we will respond again, and something new will happen . . .

And in this we are always just trying to think in a new way – not in a self-as-center way, not in a humans-as-god-like way, not in a God-will-do-heavy-lifting-way, not in an I-know-what-works way, not in a look-at-how-special-I-am way.

We are just seeing that we don’t have all the answers, that we aren’t sure of all that much and so need to go slowly and humbly and cautiously, that “right” is always relative, that “perfect” or “best” tend to obstruct – sometimes fatally – “better.”

Love is natural but there are a lot of obstructions, many of which masquerade as wisdom and intelligence and reason. We have to be careful.

It is going to take a long while but I think the language of spirituality and religion are mostly defunct and need to be gently retired so that a new way of thinking and relating can come into being. We can hasten that evolution of clarity and peace simply by giving attention to what arises and responding to it gently and with care.

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God and Mind and Asking Better Questions

What is the source of all this? How does it come about? Is there only God? Only Mind? Only Consciousness? Maybe many Gods? Many Gods being mind being universal consciousness?

God_Spiral

Asking what the Source is may be less helpful than simply asking how things work and then trying to tweak them in the direction of coherence and functionality (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team).

I have asked the and similar questions for a long time. In my spiritual and cultural circles, these types of questions consistently and regularly arise.

Notice the way that a question begets an answer which in time begets another question. It’s good to ask questions but it’s confusing – sometimes violently so – to think that our answers are some kind of “end” or “conclusion.”

Mostly there is just this going on going on. As Gertrude Stein so aptly put it, “there is no there there.”

It is possible when posing the what-is-the-source question to slip into an endless loop hallmarked by watered-down Rumi quotes, A Course in Miracles, Eckhart Tolle, confused applications of the double-slit experiment, Nisargadatta’s rambling and just . . . call the loop itself is the answer.

But there are other ways. One of them is to reframe the basic question from “what is the source” to: what is this? What is this world? This self? This experience?

That is, rather than look for origins or absolutes – rather than look for answers that purport to end in some ultimate way the questions – just try to better describe and understand what is actually happening.

For me, this approach has been more interesting and helpful. It offers a way out of the loop by shifting focus from specific points within the loop to the loop itself.

And at that level, it has been helpful not to rush or assume and/or prioritize certain goals but rather to go slowly and just attend the process. Questions seem to require answers but do they? What do we really want to know? And is questioning the best way to learn it?

Although it is possible to have a sort of meta-experience – oneness, ecstatic union with the Godhead, awakening, enlightenment (note how the name and description of the experience varies with the cultural context in which the experience arises – this is a clue!) – knowledge of “reality” as such is actually beyond our capacity to know.

Again: reality (the ultimate, the one, the truth, the ultimate one truth et cetera) is beyond the range of our perceptual and cognitive abilities and so reference to it is neither helpful nor necessary.

If you can’t get there – because there is no there there – then you can stop traveling. You can be here, which is all the where there is.

To set the question of ultimate reality – The Source, say – aside can seem quite dramatic, especially for those of us who have devoted significant time and energy to meeting/embodying/knowing this Source. But the grounds for doing so are coherent and not unduly complex.

Knowledge is structure-dependent. That is to say, perception and cognition are limits. They are bounds. What appears to us as the world is framed by – made possible by – our organismic capacity for perception. An ant, a butterfly, a sunflower and a grain of sand all perceive a vastly different “world” than a human being does.

Given this non-controversial (but also non-trivial) observation, what grounds do we have for a) assuming that our perception is anything other than relatively correct and b) that our perceptive and cognitive abilities are the ones that are aligned with reality?

It’s not that we can’t handle the truth; it’s that we are by definition closed to it.

Note, too, that the way that we perceive the world guides – makes possible – how we respond to it: by talking, sharing, loving, arguing, et cetera. And this responsiveness also differs according to the context in which it arises.

That is, a communist woman in 1930s Russia is going to have a different experience than a male middle class consumer in the United States circa 2018. Thus, we have matriarchies and capitalism and Christians and – diving down a level – politics, societies, economics, religion. These are invented concepts by which we explain and interact with the perceived world. The one makes possible – and reifies – the other, but neither is a 1:1 correspondence with the Truth or the Whole. They are just organism-specific modes of being.

When one sees that clearly – and then accepts it as a basic fact of this embodied experience – then the spiritual quandaries and big metaphysical inquiries – become a lot less dramatic. They don’t press as hard; really, they stop pressing at all.

The point is that we perceive and cognize – we do our living in – a world defined by the organism we are – and then explain and interact with that world using the language and mythology – the narrative – of the dominant group of organisms in which we appear and do our living.

There is nothing wrong with this! It is natural and mostly beneficial. Where the fly meets the ointment is that we tend to forget that this world and way of living in it is not written in stone, is not some stable singular truth. We forget that the living we are doing is basically A way of living rather than THE way of living.

And then we double down on this forgetting and end up deeply invested in and attached to the mistaken belief that the living we are doing is true or at least intimately correlated with truth – and so all those who are living differently are, to varying degrees and with varying degrees of moral culpability, wrong or false.

That’s why it’s easy to keep chickens in torturous conditions and then kill them, or chop down trees for yet another shopping complex, or enslave people whose skin is a different color, or murder people who decline our invitation to worship a different God or what-have-you.

So if we stop asking after some external Absolute Source – God, the One, the Divine, the Beloved – and simply ask after how things work, then all that dysfunction and incoherence will reveal itself. It’s not mysterious or even difficult.

But it does ask something of us: it asks us to give attention: to be attentive. It asks us to remember that we are not pinnacles or centers but processes. Ripples observing the river, if you will, where the ripple cannot see the lake where the river begins, nor the sea in which it ends.

So what we end up doing when we give attention in a coherent way is undoing the forgetting of the separating that we are doing when we are incoherent and inattentive. Giving attention and being coherent requires study. It requires discipline and reflection. And it requires local action – changing the way that we shop, vote, grow or don’t grow plants, interact with animals, make art, raise kids and so forth.

Tara Singh was right: it is not enough to learn. We have to bring what is learned into application. There is no other way and only we can do it.

Thus, it is not enough to be tolerant of the other! Given the other, we have to see the specific way in which our thinking and being creates – inevitably makes necessary – the other.

We must become responsible for the way that we are thinking and also the way in which we are not thinking. This is the work and there is really no other work. Whatever else we are doing – parenting, teaching, gardening, cooking, dancing, walking, sleeping – we are attending to the undoing of the line of thinking by which the other arises and our conflict with them becomes real and consequential.

Peace abounds but it must be enacted and embodied. This is what we are doing – whatever else we are doing – here and now.

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One Way A Course in Miracles Works

The question was: what am I?*

Reading and studying – taking, say – A Course in Miracles was basically a way of organizing my thinking with respect to answering that question. Naturally, it eventually became a way of gathering with those who were also using it to organize their own thinking with respect to answering that question.

So in a sense the course was basically a way of reifying thought itself, under the guise of shifting the contents of thought, without actually answering (or even addressing, really) the question.

That is incoherent.

You could imagine someone who is hungry, and who knows she must prepare a meal, and who opens the cupboard and begins moving the ingredients around without actually cooking. Perhaps if the flour is on the top shelf and the sugar on the bottom . . . Perhaps if the salt is placed in a position of prominence . . .

But never any bread. Never any soup.

Eventually it was clear this shifting, this organizing (and corresponding reification of incoherence) was not an answer to the question but rather the question from another perspective, which is to say, the same old question still unanswered.

But also, it is good to be clear about that, and one can be grateful to the context within which clarity dawns, without confusing that context for the light itself. Indeed, that is one way A Course in Miracles works.

That is coherent.

* Well, there were lots of questions, but they were mostly neatly helpfully included within that question. That question is actually not that hard to answer, especially once a) the need to reframe it becomes obvious and b) the ability to reframe is assumed (or remembered, maybe, or recalled even).

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On Love and Justice

God knows of justice, not of penalty (T-29.IX.3:6).

Any sentence in A Course of Miracles can be the clear bell which summons us from a dream of separation and conflict to the quiet stillness of peace and fellowship.

This sentence from The Forgiving Dream (in The Awakening) will serve that function if we give it the space. The text of A Course in Miracles, like all the holy scriptures, from Ecclesiastes to Newton to Emily Dickinson, blossom in the nurturing light of attention.

That sentence exists – in the text and in this moment – so that we might remember that we have not been judged and found wanting by God. That is not what God is. No penalty attends us. Therefore, there is no need for self-defense through projection or attack of any kind. We can breathe. We can feed one another. We can give one another shelter.

Those seven words are a blessing and a promise: they bless us with forgiveness by assuring us that despite our interior fear and psychological fragmentation we have done nothing wrong; and they promise that we have something to offer our brothers and sisters: the very same forgiveness, which is seeing them in the light in which God sees us: innocent and in need of neither defense nor justification. We are each the other’s servant: here to help, because we are ourselves helped.

Those seven words intimate that together we might remember – even if only faintly, even if only briefly – the love by which the wholeness of life is given to us so that we might give it away in turn. Because we are loved without condition, we can love without condition. What else could Heaven possibly mean?

It is helpful to set aside time to remember our own holiness, our own perfection, our own capacity to be a healing presence in the collective. Not as a routine or a habit. Not as an obligation. Rather, we simply sit quietly in sunlight, or by a window while it rains, and let all thought come and go, taking with it its dreams of judgment, its dreams of terms and conditions, its dreams of who is welcome and who is not. We let that go and give attention to what remains without worrying too much about what – if anything – remains.

Letting all thought come and go does not mean to not have any thoughts: it means to see thought for what it is: images that arise in the mind, the way clouds are reflected in a still pond. No more and no more less. A thought only has the power we give it; if we simply watch it pass, then it passes.

Attention is not beholden to thought; thought is beholden to attention. It is important to see this. The world is saved and made safe(r) accordingly.

It is not necessary – nor possible really – to dwell forever in some meta-spiritual state of radiant inner peace. The laundry needs to be done, dinner needs to be made. Gardens need to be planted, deadlines met, dogs walked. It’s okay. This, too – this welter, this experience of being complex in a complex world – is just stillness from another angle.

It is like if you hold a prism one way it’s just a chunk of glass. But if you hold it another way, then rainbows dance all around you. But the prism is always a prism. Light is always just light.

So it is with the self; so it is with awakening. Seen one way it’s a state of radiant calm and certainty. Seen another, it’s a busy life being surfed with equal parts equanimity and when-will-I-get-to-sit-down.

That is the justice of God: that which appears is always simply that which appears. It is never better or worse than any other appearance. It is the same love through a different lens. We don’t even have to switch lenses.

There is no penalty because in the ultimate sense there is nothing to be right about and nothing to be wrong about. We aren’t at risk of condemnation. There is neither judge nor jury. There is no executioner. There aren’t even charges against us.

There is only this: this this.

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Merging Opposites as Spiritual Practice

The first paragraph in Sharing Perception with the Holy Spirit (in chapter 14: Teaching for Truth of A Course in Miracles) is a concise and insightful unit of writing. It begins with a simple question: What do you want? (T-14.VII.1:1)

Tara Singh used to say that when one reached a moment in the ACIM text or workbook where a question was posed, it behooved them to stop reading, quietly and interiorly attend the question, and then see what – if any – answer arose thereto.

We are students of A Course in Miracles because we want inner peace instead of conflict, but the problem is that we don’t know what peace is, we don’t really know what conflict is, and we can’t actually distinguish “inner” from “outer.” So we equate inner peace with good feelings: things going the way we want them to, getting this or that beneficial outcome, our brains quiet and our bodies at rest.

Happy outcomes, cheerful dispositions, and amenable material conditions are fine in and of themselves, but they come and go. When we attach to them – when we make our inner state contingent upon them as stable unshifting objects, even subtly – then we condemn ourselves to conflict.

So from time to time the course invites us to begin again or anew by asking us what we want. It’s like the abbot at the monastery calling us into her office and saying, look, what are you still doing here?

Taken in the right spirit, it’s a clarifying and helpful question.

To this question the course proposes a binary choice set first in a metaphorical frame and then in a more literal frame: Light or darkness, knowledge or ignorance. Both are options but we can only have one or the other (T-14.VII.1:2).

The course justifies this binary by pointing out that light dispels darkness – by degrees as the one is brought closer to the other – and that knowledge dispels ignorance in approximately the same way (T-14.VII.1:5). It is like saying that we can look at the apple hanging on the tree, or we can pluck the apple, but we cannot do both simultaneously. Both are options but the one mitigates the other.

Is this true? Analogy can cloud as much as clarify. We don’t have to take the course at its word. Part of what is so tempting about ACIM is its apparent purity: it’s all or nothing, light or dark, knowledge or ignorance. It can be comforting to see life so starkly; to imagine there is a right decision between only two choices; and then to be the one who chooses rightly. We can imagine God in the heavens – or Tara Singh or Nisargadatta in the afterlife – admiring our wisdom and holiness.

But we all know that both dawn and twilight are gradual, and that even the pure dark of night or pure light of day are not stable and permanent conditions but are subject to shifting, to gradations. Life does not really present as “either/or,” however much we wish it would, or pretend it does. It is a dynamic welter that includes – but cannot be stilled by – the appearance of binary options.

So is it possible to move beyond the apparent binary – the division into opposites that mandates choosing one over the other?

The course answers that question in the affirmative.

Opposites must be brought together, not kept apart. For their separation is only in your mind, and they are reconciled by union, as you are (T-14.VII.1:3-4).

The temptation is to see opposites as opposites and to hold them apart from one another. Night is not day, and vice-versa. One doesn’t merge them into something new altogether.

But oddly, the course implies that merging – undoing difference by seeing the mental conditioning upon which it depends for existence – is precisely what is called for.

Keep in mind that A Course in Miracles is not talking about literal dark and light here. Those are metaphors for knowledge and ignorance. And, again, it is not talking about knowledge in the sense of knowing how to bake bread or throw a baseball vs. not knowing how to do those things.

Knowledge in A Course in Miracles is a state in which there are no questions, nor one to ask questions, nor another to ask questions of. Ignorance is the belief that there is a self whose existence is at stake in the world, and other selves – most especially a big Self in the sky – who can either help or hinder us, and against whom we are pitched in opposition.

So how might this merging contemplated by the course work?

It is possible to bring apparent opposites together because their separateness is in the mind (T-14.VII.1:4). The divisions we perceive are ideas. When I walk in the forest and come upon the boundary between my land and my neighbor’s land, what do I find? There is no line. Just oak and maple trees, the same on either side. Just bracken. The deer tracks and the fox tracks go back and forth. It is all one forest, all one earth, all one solar system, et cetera.

Division is an idea; it is not an embodied fact.

Another way to think of it is to return to the analogy of dusk and dawn. If we sit quietly at either end of the day, and give attention to the light, it will be clear that although the light is always in this or another state, it is never only in that state. It shifts. Absent a clock, there is no one moment where it is clearly “night” as opposed to “dusk” or “twilight.”

It is the same with dawn. There is a moment when the sun breaches the eastern hills, a moment when the trees at the far end of the pasture are faintly – then less and less faintly – visible, but all of this is a movement. Absent a clock, there is no “dawn” or “morning.” To say other wise is arbitrary.

What is there then?

There is light according to the reference point of perception: your senses attest to the data they are given, which is always being given.

Perception is the medium by which ignorance is brought to knowledge. Yet the perception must be without deceit, for otherwise it becomes the messenger of ignorance rather than a helper in the search for truth (T-14.VII.1:7-8).

To be “without deceit” in this respect is simply to give attention to what arises, or appears, or is perceived (which includes thoughts about what arises or appears or is perceived) without getting worked up about it. Let it be what it appears to be: an apple tree, a horse, a daughter, the sound of the river, the smell of lilac, a memory of a parent, a mental note to send an email to so-and-so.

We don’t want to lie to ourselves about our bodies or our senses – how they function, what appears through and with and to them. We don’t want to fake some vague spiritual ideal or try to conform to some abstract religious image. We want to be as present as possible to what is given, which includes our ideas about who is giving what to whom, and just let it all come and go. It’s okay; it’s more than okay.

This being open to experience as it is given is the merging of what appears to be in opposition. This gently sustained attention is the merger contemplated by A Course in Miracles.

What happens when we do this? At the end of day, say, when we are sitting quietly in the changing light? Or walking in the forest without troubling ourselves with ideological divisions that inhere only in the possessive and appropriative mind?

The suggestion is that what happens is that the whole of what appears is the union of light and dark, and if we are very careful (filled with care) about not rushing to judge this or name it or anything like that, then we will see clearly – we will know – that the reference point we are in that moment is not apart from that union. What appears as the self is no different than the light and the dark.

In union, everything that is not real must disappear, for truth is union. As darkness disappears in light, so ignorance fades away when knowledge dawns (T-14.VII.1:5-6).

Yes, there is a point where it is dark, and yes, there is a point where it is light, but those are points relative to a seeming center. That center is forever spilling into and out of itself: it cannot ultimately be discerned apart from the perceptions that appear to point back to it. As perceptions come and go (which they must) the so-called center – the radial self – also comes and goes.

Does anything remain? The course suggests that Truth does not come and go. Broadly speaking, the Christian tradition – especially in its more ontological expressions  – suggests that God does not come and go. Christ does not come and go. But these are just ideas, aren’t they? Clever sentences that arise in perception?

Let us say carefully that “Truth” (or “God” or “Knowledge” or “Source”) is the existing union of the apparent many points, the gently undulating fabric of them, with countless centers forever coming and going. It knows itself. You, too.

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Empathy and A Course in Miracles

I have become curious lately: when I am judgmental towards another (angry, fearful, vengeful et cetera), why that and not empathy?

That is, when someone is behaving in a way that offends or troubles me, why do I see only the misbehaving other? Why do I not see myself?

When I am judgmental in a way that creates inner conflict, it hurts me. Sometimes the pain is obvious and intense, sometimes subtle and mild – but there is always a sense of being hurt or unsettled.

It often feels to me like rejection: like being pushed away from the fire or out of the cave, like being asked to walk out into the desert alone. “You don’t belong with us – go away.”

And yet, I am the one doing the pushing – I am the one saying (interiorly or otherwise) to the other, “you don’t belong – get away.”

Is this clear?

Say the man at the register asks me twice if I brought my own bags, rolls his eyes when I say I forgot, sighs audibly pulling out a paper bag for my food. I am embarrassed at my ecological oversight, angry to at being called out on it in public, and insulted that this young man would speak and behave this way to someone at least a quarter century older than he is . . .

Is this clear? My feelings are hurt by his behavior so I judge him: I cast him out. This is not how people behave in the world.

Yet I am the one feeling the pain. I am the one feeling alone. I am the one who is hurt. Why?

Because I reacted with judgment rather than responding with empathy, and in doing so I endorsed the separation between self and other. Of course it hurts me. That is what the separation is.

What would that scene resemble if I felt empathy? If I laid judgment aside and empathized? That is, what if I perceived the other judging me and saw only my own capacity to judge others and, knowing how much that judgment hurts and how it preserves and nurtures the separative life, opted simply to let it pass. Perhaps I thank the cashier for reminding me of the importance of conserving precious resources. Perhaps I simply stand quietly by, allowing my own reactions (my own judgments) to dissipate.

Empathy is just a way of seeing the other as our self – not in a mystical or magical way. Just in a very matter-of-fact way. Whatever they’re doing wrong, we see how we do that too sometimes and in some ways. We see how, in this sense, we are truly one mind.

Neither your brother or yourself can be attacked alone. But neither can accept a miracle instead without the other being blessed by it, and healed of pain . . . The power to heal the Son of God is given you because he must be one with you (T-21.VI.7:1-2, 4).

When this “one mind” – this shared mind – is seen clearly, it is easy to see how judgment (executed through projection and denial) hurts both us and the people we so casually label as “other.” And so the motivation to do things differently also arises.

You are your brother’s savior. He is yours (T-21.VI.9:1-2).

Salvation is a way of thinking – or, more accurately, of relating to thought, in which that which is not separate is not perceived as separate. What follows in the realm of action is somewhat beside the point.

In the example of the cashier, what I do in response to the cashier is not really the point. The point is noticing my own judgment, my own lack of empathy, and being willing to have that undone, and giving attention to it so that it can be undone. Right there in the moment.

That you and your brother are joined is your salvation; the gift of Heaven, not the gift of fear . . . The Son of God is always blessed as one (T-21.VI.8:1, 10:1).

When we are empathetic – when we perceive with clarity our shared mind, and tend to it as we would tend our own child – then we become grateful. Gratitude begets peace, and peace begets yet more gratitude. That is a nice cycle to offer the world. And it it ours to both give and receive.

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ACIM Drama: A Pep Talk

When I briefly explored one-to-one teaching of A Course in Miracles a few years ago, I found that people were not really interested in the course so much as they wanted strategies for dealing with what was coming up in their lives. Questions about work, family, health, psychological wellness . . .

I thought it would be about working through certain course ideas – the specific language and mythology and so forth – but it was much more in the nature of traditional talk therapy. When this became clear, I stopped doing “teaching.” But still, it was an interesting space, because it reflected back to me my own concerns.

Basically, we all want to be happy and at peace, and our lives are really an intense pursuit of those ideals. We want solutions or fixes – preferably quick, preferably painless. A Course in Miracles can be the solution or fix, but it tends not to be quick and painless. Quite the opposite actually, especially when we really begin to practice it.

Still, that isn’t to say that strategies for responding to what arises can’t be helpful. For example, we can decline to be drama kings or queens.

Whatever is going on around you – big stuff, little stuff, family stuff, professional stuff – just be the person who isn’t freaking out. Be helpful and kind, and remember that helpfulness and kindness often boil down to not interfering. Sometimes we just have to sit or stand calmly by and let things unfold. Sometimes our best contribution is to not make any contribution at all.

Of course we are not always going to be able to do this. Nobody is perfect. We are all human and that means that we make mistakes and get confused. It’s okay. Forgiveness can mean just letting our humanness be what it is without a lot of drama. We don’t have to change anything; we just have to see it all clearly as it is given to us.

Giving attention is a form of being present without actually interfering. It is “to see it all clearly as it is given to us.” Just see what is happening. And remember that part of what is happening is your internal judgments: this is good, that’s bad, I should do this, that person should do that.

Just let all that be too. It comes and goes, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t build a house on what comes and goes, so don’t rest your self on it either. Just let it be. Be homeless. If you are okay in your spiritual homelessness, then you will become a home for others.

It’s a way of being helpful: just being the calm one, not needing to assert anything or become anything or announce anything. People need that, even if they don’t know it’s what they need. They gravitate towards it.

Of course you are going to feel sorrow and fear and confusion and so forth. Those are inner feelings and like everything else they come and go. They are like clouds in the sky, right? The clouds drift and change shape and color, and sometimes get very close and threatening and sometimes are very far away and majestic, and yet the sky is always just there. It is unaffected by the clouds. It holds them all equally. The clouds are dramatic; the sky isn’t.

So the suggestion is to model the sky, and not get worked up about what is happening, other than to just notice it as it happens. If there is some action you need to take, it will take itself for you, and you will just be carried along with it.

That is what the world needs, really. People who are quiet and still, who are not feeding the machine, who aren’t trying to be saviors, who are okay with being the sky when everyone else is cloudy. We can do a lot of good simply by withdrawing from the race to define and then implement goodness.

Goodness – kindness, lovingkindness – is what we are. The work is to get out of the way and let life be. It isn’t even work really. It’s more like not working. It is like we are flailing in stormy seas and hear a voice that says “stop – don’t move – be still.”

And we are like, “fuck that – I’ll drown.”

But then after a while we get so tired we stop flailing, and instantly the seas are calmed, and there is sandy ground right beneath our feet, and we see the chaos and conflict was all in our heads, all imaginary, and that this still calm is our real home, and it’s not a place but a condition, and it is always available, always with us. The drama was on our end; it wasn’t inherent.

So that is a strategy for approaching the world and our lives in it: just slow down, give attention, and don’t be dramatic. Then the so-called work of being an ACIM student – study, inquiry, dialogue, stabilization – can proceed apace.

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Forgetfulness and A Course in Miracles

To remember is merely to restore to your mind what is already there (T-10.II.3:1).

This is an important concept, integral to practicing A Course in Miracles. We aren’t really learning anything – as in acquiring missing information in order to reassemble a puzzle. We are simply remembering what we know but forgot.

Yet I want to propose another level to that previous sentence and say: we are simply remembering what we know but forgot and forgot we forgot.

We could think of it like this. Say that we are lost and want to go home. We know that we have a home – we can picture it and so forth – but we don’t know where we are, so we can’t say how to find our home.

Therefore, we seek familiar landmarks, ask for directions, buy a map, steer by the moon and sun and so forth.

That’s how “know but forgot” works. There are strategies we can use to regain – to remember – what is lost.

Now say that we are lost. And we want to go home but we forgot where our home is. And we forgot we forgot where our home is.

In that case, we can’t even say we are “lost.” We don’t know even that basic fact about our condition, let alone have any idea how to devise a strategy for becoming unlost.

Our experience of separation is like that. We are not separated but we have forgotten this fact and we have forgotten that we forgot.

Therefore, separation appears normal. It appears “right.” Of course we are individuated bodies housing discrete selves with agency and intention. Of course there is a world “out there” filled with other bodies. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong, deluded, confused, et cetera.

The thing is, there is always within separation a nagging feeling that something is off. By and large, we attribute this feeling to external causes – the wrong political leaders, the wrong romantic partners, wrong diet and exercise choices, rain when we wanted sun, sun when the garden needed rain . . .

But addressing those external glitches never fully resolves the nagging feeling. Yoga, meditation, Nisargadatta, Thomas Merton, the Law of Attraction, EFT, peyote, Tantric sex . . .

They all work a little some of the time. And some of the time they work a lot.

But that quiet interior sense that something is amiss – just a hair’s breadth off – persists.

For some of us – certainly for me – A Course in Miracles showed up as yet another external solution. It was the latest variant in a familiar pattern of grasping at outside solutions to what clearly seemed to be external problems.

Yet by studying the course, and bringing it into application in my life, and by following its directives even when (perhaps especially when) they pointed beyond the course, eventually I remembered that I forgot that I knew.

And so the issue became not one of external solutions to external problems, but of internal solutions to the only problem there is.

Rather than devolve into metaphysics, let me point to a helpful moment of insight in this regard. Sometimes biography is helpful.

Years ago I was driving home from teaching and feeling very agitated about a particularly vexing relationship. I really wanted it to no longer be such a bothersome presence, but getting to that juncture felt as likely as me building a rocket and flying it alone to the moon.

As I drove, I passed a big field and noticed deer grazing near the tree line. I pulled over and watched them for a few minutes. It was peaceful and quiet and still.

When I began driving again, I realized that the vexing relationship which had dominated the past forty-five minutes of driving had been absent the whole time I was gazing at the deer. It was as if it literally did not exist.

And yet, now it was here again – in all its vexatious glory.

And yet, if I turned in an interior way to the deer at dusk again, then the relationship dissolved.

In one fell swoop the healing power of attention revealed itself. And I saw clearly that the issue was this: since we can’t not give attention, why not give it intentionally?

That was my introduction to attention, and my life – in all its experiential variety (spiritual, artistic, parental, culinary, sexual, student, teacher, gardener, walker, whatever) – has not been the same since.

Attention became the new teacher and A Course in Miracles – its many texts, teachers, conflicts and insights – receded. Nobody who’s staring at the moon needs a finger to point out the moon.

This is why I urge people – when there is a shared space of consensual learning – to let go of ACIM and all its metaphysics, poetry, conflicts and so forth and just give attention.

What shows up? How does it show up? What is included? what is excluded? What does attention want? Where does it begin? Does it have an end? It is responsive? To what or to whom? Does it think? Is it playful?

And so forth.

Unless you first know something you cannot dissociate it. Knowledge must precede dissociation, so that dissociation is nothing more than a decision to forget (T-10.II.1:1-2).

Attention is not the end of the spiritual inquiry. There is work to do with respect to subject and object, the observer and the observed, the role of relationship, effective means of stabilizing insight and so forth.

But attention can be the end of forgetting. It can undo the pernicious consequences of our “decision to forget” and attend in a helpful nurturing way our emerging wakefulness.

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Helpful Spiritual Junctures

For a long time I wanted to be right about A Course in Miracles. Eventually, this desire was superseded by the recognition that what actually mattered was helpfulness. If studying Gary Renard was helpful to someone, what did it matter if I thought he was peddling lies?

A focus on helpfulness is sustainable because in an important sense there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong.” Therefore, efforts to reach and remain with “right” conclusions are hindrances to inner peace.

From the perspective of the body, this is confusing. After all, we can all point to “right” ideas, theories, practices and so forth. We can all point to “wrong” ones, too. Adopting advantageous positions is what the body is all about.

But, in terms of wholeness, the body’s perspective is ipso facto not the whole. It is partial, fragmented. It emerges from and reconfirms separation. Whatever it knows – whatever thought, opinion, idea that it adopts – is by definition also partial and fragmented.

Whenever you think you know, peace will depart from you, because you have abandoned the Teacher of Peace. Whenever you fully realize that you know not, peace will return, for you will have invited Him to do so by abandoning the ego on behalf of Him (T-14.XI.13:3-4).

“Him” in this quote refers to the Holy Spirit, which is undivided present moment awareness.

None of this is to say that we cannot be relatively “right” or “wrong.” In fact, from the body’s fragmented perspective, we can’t not be relatively “right” or “wrong.” But it is important not to confuse “relative” with “absolute.”

Most of us – in our quest for certainty – confuse “relative” with “absolute.”

It is important to see that our quest for certainty is doomed by virtue of that which quests for it. The only certainty is uncertainty. In a real sense, our home – such as it is – rests in not-knowing, in un-certainty.

What A Course in Miracles calls “separation” is simply our resistance to this fact.

If we look into this, we notice that part of bodily experience includes forming maps by which we navigate life. Maps are basically stored collated judgments: civic responsibility matters, God is real and Jesus is his son, greed is a sin, eat vegetarian, college degrees matter/don’t matter, climate change is a myth, floss your teeth, do yoga, don’t tell lies, et cetera.

It’s hard to stake out this or that ground (i.e., put together a map) and not feel like it needs to be defended. After all, it’s our map, it’s vital to our bodily experience and it’s only useful if it’s right. Nobody wants an inaccurate or altogether wrong map. Nobody should be surprised that we feel protective of them.

Often, defending our map means attacking those whose maps appear different, where “attack” means “point out they’re wrong,” however subtly, passive-aggressively, etc. For example, somebody might say that A Course in Miracles and the Dzogchen tradition of Buddhism are synonymous. For them that’s a coherent and helpful map. But your map requires that the course be Christian without any deviation into eastern philosophy or theology.

So you start arguing with them. Maybe you do this to their face, maybe you do it an online setting, and maybe you just do it in your head. The point isn’t the form the argument takes; it’s the existence of the argument at all.

We only argue because we believe something real is at stake. We only argue because we believe something real is threatened.

But “nothing real can be threatened” and “nothing unreal exists” (In.2:2-3).

Thus, once we’re in the space of argument, we’re doubling down on our perception of separation. And to be separate is to be conflicted, and conflict by definition is the absence of peace.

That is why it behooves us to investigate this issue so carefully.

Again, the maps themselves are not the problem; they inhere in bodily experience. They can and should be taken seriously; but too often they are taken literally.

This distinction (taking something seriously vs. taking it literally) matters. For example, in a dialogue about spirituality, “wholeness,” “oneness” and “nonduality” can all point to the same insight. But they can also all point to radically different insights. If we take them literally, we deny their potential for sameness. Yet when we take them seriously but not literally, their potential for sameness clarifies. When this broad applicability is seen clearly, the inclination to argue that one application is absolutely or inherently better than another – is right and the other(s) wrong – largely subsides.

In other words, when we look closely at the premise of our inclination to argue in order to be right, there is a lot of smoke but no fire.

So the important aspect of our maps – whether they are spiritual, cognitive, semantic, et cetera – is their helpfulness, not their “rightness” or “wrongness.” “Right” and “wrong” are distractions. Helpfulness is a form of love because its focus isn’t on form but content.

Another way to think of it is this popular optical illusion.

two_women_optical_illusionWhen we first look at it, we see an older woman. Naturally, we say “this is an image of an older woman.” It seems to be a very defensible position. We are obviously “right.” If someone else comes along and says “no – it’s actually an image of a young woman,” of course we are going to disagree.

But if we keep looking, eventually the image flips – perception aligns differently – and now we see the young woman.

One image that can be seen two ways – both cannot be seen at once; and neither is more or less right than the other. So what happens to our argument that the image is of an old and not a young woman? It dissolves; it’s no longer sustainable. It’s obviously both at once, even though we can only see one at a time.

It’s not that anybody won the argument. It’s not that both sides were “right” (thus allowing for some hypothetical “wrong”). It’s that there are no grounds for argument in the first case.

The suggestion in this analogy is that our sense of being a discrete embodied self is somewhat like that: you can see it from a strictly material perspective (we’re bodies having an experience in the world with other bodies) but that is not the only way to see it. You can see it from myriad religious perspectives (Hindu, Buddhist, et cetera) or from scientific perspectives (Schrödinger is a good read in this regard) or from a post-structuralist perspective (Karen Baraft, say), or from any combination thereof.

Again, the point is not that there is a right or a wrong way to see (or think) about things. The point is that all we can really know is unknowability; there is nothing to be certain about except uncertainty. So the question is: is what shows up helpful or not helpful?

Obviously the spiritual inquiry does not end when we see this clearly. But it is a helpful juncture.

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Life Requires No Rehearsal

Life does not require rehearsal: it executes itself perfectly continuously, never pausing to reconsider, never begging a do-over. This does not mean that our response will always be one of pleasure or amusement or enjoyment; it might be the opposite.

But our response is just more of life happening: whatever label we assign it, it’s still just life.

bracken

bracken just shy of the river . . .

This is simply a way of saying that what is is what is: it’s this and nothing else. This is all there is. This this, and not any other this.

When we give attention to what unfolds or appears – to what is – it is always there. We are giving attention to what is given to us, in the sense that we do not have to invent or create or amend it. Here is the world, and every one and every thing in it, and every thought and idea about it – given, continuously, without condition or qualification.

We don’t get ready for life because life is always already ready for us. Life lives us; not the other way around. When we observe what is given, we are there too – our thoughts and ideas, our feelings and memories, our habits and appetites, our fears and our hopes.

That which constitutes “us” and that which constitutes “life” are not different. It is like a single river flowing. There are all these eddies, flowing and following their flow, but they’re still just the river.

Someone might say, well, we can practice at certain aspects of living. We can improve at them. That’s a form of rehearsal, no?

It’s a fair point. I am a better writer today than I was twenty years ago because I write consciously daily, study other writers, and so forth.

I am more patient today because I have observed the consequences of impatience, which motivated me to observe the conditions giving rise to it in order to train myself to respond to those conditions differently, more patiently.

But even in the moment of all this “practice,” what is life doing? It is certainly not waiting on me to be more patient or to write in a better way. My “practice” is just life being life. In that moment – in any moment – what else can life be?

What happens subsequently – as a consequence of practice – is always only a dream, in the sense that it’s not here presently, while what is happening presently – what is here presently – is always complete and whole. Nothing is ever absent, even when the present is comprised of longing for what is absent.

Be honest. Can you find one moment of your life which is not complete and whole?

Don’t tell me of a time when you were sad or angry or hurt or otherwise put out. In the moment of your sorrow, your sorrow was perfect, was it not? When you looked at it clearly, was it not there in rich and vibrant and resonant plenitude?

And was your resistance to it not also perfect – full and strong, crackling with judgment? And your dislike – wasn’t that perfect as well? Clear and disdainful, like a well-lit middle finger?

Consider that sorrow and joy are like one sea – when seen in this light, the sea is dull and green and flat. When seen in another light, it is blue and throbbing, spitting salty spray.

The same thing seen two ways according to perceptual circumstances: just so with what we call happiness and grief.

Thus, there is nothing to be done. It is all unfolding precisely – perfectly – as it does. Which is another way of saying that one can do anything: bake bread, pray the rosary, give your honey a massage, go walking in the forest, write a letter, remove a splinter.

If you look at what is happening, there it is happening, and your looking is as much a part of “it” as that which is looked at.

There is nothing special or unusual about this! No training required, no secret handshake. No learning or healing, no willing or choosing. No God or Jesus or other divinity, east or west, large or small, needs to intervene.

This right now – this this – is sufficient unto wonder and delight.

Life is expert; life is prepared; life is performing on the high black wire without a net, no pole for balance, and no cameras taking note. We hold our breath, clasp our hands, turn earnestly to scriptural babble. We think we’re not ready, that we don’t deserve it, but we are and we do.

And really, how could it be otherwise? Can you find even the slimmest of slim spaces between you and life?

Of course not.

This is it: and so are you.

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