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We are apt to think that self-improvement matters: that we are in a state of becoming that can go in any number of directions and that this state is subject to a personal power of choice.

stone-wall-detail

how the stone wall ~ settles ~ without permission ~how the bracken rises ~ around it

In general, spiritual seekers almost always want to be better people – kinder and gentler, slower to anger, given to love and healing. It seems like a foolproof goal. Who would argue with kindness and gentleness? Not me.

I do gently observe, however, that ideals – even when professing love and healing and the end of anger – are a distraction from a simple truth.

That truth is that at any given moment you are capable of profound love and kindness; you can be the very light of the world. That power inheres in you.

You don’t have to become what you already are.

Of course, if it is that simple, then why are we not all Gandhi? Why is the world not a veritable garden of Eden? Why has MLK’s dream gone fractured and unfulfilled? Why is there still hate and anger and suffering?

This is actually a tricky question to answer. In the spiritual circles with which I am most familiar, the tendency is to say something like “our gift for love – our identity as love – is obstructed by a habitual tendency to deny its existence.”

In other words, we make the apparent absence of love a problem to be solved – specifically, a problem that we have to solve.

We subtly shift the focus to the self that wants to be loving and has work to do (overcome the habit of ignorance, end the denial et cetera) in order to achieve a future state of lovingkindness.

Most religions and spiritual practices – often unwittingly, sometimes wittingly – encourage precisely this sort of shift-in-focus. There is and has always been a vast market for postponing love. It probably won’t go away anytime soon.

I want to make a suggestion that can seem overly simple and insufficiently spiritual, especially for those of us whose language and focus revolves around Jesus, the Buddha, awakening, nonduality, et cetera.

The suggestion is this: put aside your quest for God or enlightenment and simply be helpful. Eschew spiritual drama for clear and common sense-based acts of love.

I am suggesting you give attention to that which makes you smile more. To that which allows you to listen more. I am suggesting that you give attention to common ground rather than gaps in the ground.

I am suggesting you keep this as simple as possible. If your goal is to be kind and gentle, start with yourself – eat well, rest well, play well and work well. Opportunities to be kind to others will naturally arise. You will recognize them.

It’s okay that those opportunities seem tiny or insignificant. They aren’t. Love is whole. There is no such thing as a small or ineffective or insignificant act of love. So don’t reach for the brass ring; just do what is in front of you and trust that it’s sufficient. It is.

Just let service happen. Of its own, it will flower and lift you – enlighten you, awaken you – with it.

I am also suggesting that you already know how to do this – and where to do it – and who to do it for and with. It is not a secret and it is not a mystery.

There is nothing radical in this suggestion and there is nothing new in it, either. It’s Saint Francis and Bodhisattva vows all over again. We know it and we know we know it.

You are always looking right at love, and it is always looking right back at you.

So the point isn’t to be radical or new: the point is to discover that love is both natural and present and that service-as-an-expression-of-love is our natural vocation. It is the end of effort and becoming; it is the advent of a still, sustainable and serious joy.

Life will go on with its ups and downs. People we love will die and people we love will have babies. Parades will be rained on and other days the sun will be so bright the frisbees will throw themselves.

Current events will go on, too. Policies we admire and support will be enacted; policies we fear and oppose will be enacted. Politicians we admire will disappoint us; politicians we despise will surprise us.

It’s okay. Let that which comes and goes come and go. Opportunities for love don’t pass and your ability to be loving doesn’t either. Spirituality – so-called – runs by itself. Let it do its thing and you do your thing: discover and explore and make manifest your ability to be selfless and loving – the very light of the world. There is nothing else to do, and only you can do it.

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There is something about A Course in Miracles that brings out the academic in many students. It brings out the intellectual. The text is both abstract and complex in its consideration of big subjects like God and time and reality. In the ACIM community there is a lot of energy around being right and wrong – which teacher we read, which edition we read, whether we partake of other spiritual traditions.

chains dangling in barn

bound / unbound

There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of that. If you are interested, and have some facility for it, asking big questions, exploring complex texts, and talking the material out with others can be fun and interesting. I do it often.

But unless our goal is to be professors of A Course in Miracles, the intellectual approach is not – in, of and for itself – sufficient. It is like the oil and the wick without a flame to set it alight.

When my father died, it wasn’t my intellectual understanding of the course that helped me. Indeed, as he died and for many days after, my philosophical clarity and open-mindedness – the sum and substance of all my scholarship – just vanished. I did not reach for it and it did not offer itself.

I remember watching and listening to Dad breathe his last breaths. Would I be okay? What would it be like to live in a world without my father? Was he in pain? Was there any last thing I could do for him? It was all an unknown future and it was only seconds away.

But I wasn’t scared. Each time one of those “big” questions arose, it was gently answered by an awareness of the loving relationships that comprised “my” life. In course parlance, these were special relationships that were transformed into holy relationships because they were no longer about what one could get, but about what one could give.

I knew that my wife, Chrisoula, was with me. In those moments I perceived her less as a body – less as “my wife” and more as an unshakable ground enveloping me in a way that went beyond my ability to describe. I knew that my children were with me – that they would trust me to help them understand what was happening and find a way through it, however hard or confusing it got. All the love was present; nothing could undo it.

That night, driving home from the hospital with my family, there was a big soft moon in the summer sky. A lot of our drive was along a river: I would look at the moon, then at the river rippling with moonlight, then at the moon again. There was a clear and simple sense that what passes, passes, but that something remains. There was no need to name it – God or Love or Truth or Awareness. It was sufficient that it was unmistakably present. I was held by it; we were all held by it, the living and the dead alike.

My practice of A Course in Miracles is – relatively speaking – intellectually rigorous. That is not the only way to approach the course, nor even the best way, but for me it it is a helpful and natural way. I read deeply and widely, reflect carefully and then, when it seems to be all worked out, I rip it up and keep going.

The suggestion here is not that my response to my father’s death was especially graceful or unflawed. There was – there remains – sadness and confusion. Life goes on; the body has its experiences. I stumble along like everyone else.

Rather, the suggestion is that the intellectual work of studying A Course in Miracles is basically prefatory in nature – it matters, but it’s not all that matters. It’s not even most of what matters. You can do a lot of work to put up a tent, but then you get in the tent. You don’t put up another one.

Looking at the moon, then at the moon’s reflection, and then at the moon again was a kind of exercise in perception pointing to a deeper truth. The one image was not separate from the other; if one was absent, the other was absent as well. Concepts of causation and division dissolved. God is not something from which we fell or literally separated from a long time ago. God is more in the nature of that from which we rise and to which we return, which rising and returning functions as an appearance.

Lesson 223 of A Course in Miracles puts it this way.

I was mistaken when I thought I lived apart from God, a separate entity that moved in isolation, unattached, and housed within a body. Now I know my life is God’s, I have no other home, and I do not exist apart from Him. He has no Thoughts that are not part of me, and I have none but those which are of Him.

Some people like the image of a wave. It rises from the ocean and falls back into the ocean. It looks briefly separate – its own form, its own movement – but it is always only the sea.

I like eddies in a brook myself. If you look closely, you will see that the current is really many little currents – they spin off here and there, they create other currents, they merge with those currents, reemerge from them. But they always dissolve back into the larger flow from which they arise. They are always just the brook seen a certain way.

It is good to read ideas like that and agree or disagree with them. It is good to dismiss them or take them to heart. But what is really lovely and stunning is to see it for oneself: not as someone else’s idea that we learned in a book, but as a clear and simple fact of our own experience.

I point here to the difference between a lived fact and a remembered or projected fact. The former is what A Course in Miracles calls “knowledge;” the latter, “perception.” Our academic study will refine our perception; it can be a critical component of our “purification” (as in “[M]iracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first) but sooner or later we are brought into relationship with holiness itself. Holiness – wholeness – presents itself.

A better way of saying this is that we become aware of the holiness – the relationships – by which our natural wholeness is unobscured. This holiness – manifest in these relationships – is already extant. It is already given. We don’t “do” anything – it’s not about learning or prayer or doing good works. Rather, it is there – it is present, unconditionally so – and the effect of its being clouded is gone.

We might think of the moon: its light is a fact whether it is hidden by clouds or on the other side of the earth. We don’t create its shining, we can’t “move” clouds or rearrange the earth’s position in space to make the shining better or clearer or more “here right now.” But we can “know” the light is there, and sometimes we can see it clearly, which confirms our knowing. In time, we no longer need to literally “see” the moon to know it is there. It is there.

Lesson 69 says this about what it is given and our awareness of what is given.

Have confidence in your Father today, and be certain that He has heard you and answered you. You may not recognize His answer yet, but you can indeed be sure that it is given you and you will yet receive it.

So we have to be the ACIM student that we naturally and presently are. We have to take the teacher we are called to take and work with them. We have to live the life that right now appears before us. Nothing needs to be explained or even understood. The gift of our attention to that which is showing up is sufficient; it is more than sufficient.

Life in the world naturally include adversity, frustration, pain and loss – sometimes intensely so. That is okay. Our study of A Course in Miracles does not relieve us of life. Rather, it opens us up to life so that we can perceive it as it is in fact, as it is in truth – absent judgment, absent special narrative, absent personal goals.

The secret, if there is one, is simply that what we call “God” is in fact nothing other than this: this this.

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On Concluding

Often it is helpful to go slowly: to not rush to conclusions, and to be aware of the many threads that are present in thought. Attention is a way of asking: what is showing up? What is here?

For most of us, what shows up is some variation on “our” lives. The first-person subjective lens naturally attends our experience and helps to organize it. Nobody is immune to this; nobody needs to be immune. It is just there.

It is helpful to notice this without rushing to explain or define or qualify it. Noticing it is a way of letting it be: of just residing in the sense of “I am.”

We might attend this “noticing” in the spirit of sitting on a beach or the back porch: grateful, aware, relaxed, in no hurry.

We might notice the subtle impulse to be right about experience (it reflects brain-based reticular activating systems), or to reach some conclusion about experience (I am not a body), or discover some spiritual first cause for experience (God).

What is interesting is not so much those options in and of themselves but rather their appearance and what underlies them: the impulse to conclude, and to conclude rightly.

Indeed, the assumption that is possible to conclude, and to conclude rightly.

The suggestion is simply to see this – the impulse and assumption – and to see what happens when we sort of hold them up to the light without acceding to their demands. They are very demanding: believe me! Make use of me! Only me!

And so forth.

What we are doing now is neither accepting nor rejecting them but just noticing them. We deliberately avoid conclusion in favor of just giving attention. What is showing up? What is here?

There is a tendency to fragment, and then to be concerned about the truth of just a little part of the whole. And this is but a way of avoiding, or looking away from the whole, to what you think you might be better able to understand (T-16.II.2;1-2).

It might be noticed that experience is not contingent on understanding, even though understanding is sometimes a nice aspect of experience. However, just as I don’t need to understand the science behind stars in order to behold them in wonder and joy, I don’t need to understand or otherwise manage consciousness right in order to be conscious.

A better and far more helpful way to think or miracles is this: You do not understand them, either in part or in whole. Yet they have been done through you. Therefore your understanding cannot be necessary (T-16.II.2:4-6).

In a sense, this is what it means to say that we are already awake: nothing has to happen in order for us to be awake. Awakeness, so to speak, is already a fact. It is here: it is this.

[I]t is impossible to accomplish what you do not understand. And so there must be Something in you that does understand (T-16.II.2:7-8).

Part of “this” – this Something in us that does understand – includes learning about it, inquiring into it, wanting to share it, and so forth. It includes sometimes just chilling out with it, so that we can visit the neighbors, bake cookies with the kids, watch television, do the dishes. It includes forgetting or losing it, missing it, searching for it, finding it.

And sometimes part of “this” is feeling deeply and wholly unified – not separate
from anyone or anything.

It’s nice when that sense of wholeness is present but it’s still just a passing experience, still just a feeling. It’s no better or worse than a headache or a traffic ticket or a bowl of fresh raspberries.

Again, the inclination to conclude – to decide this is what the self is, this is what life is, this is what God is, this is how to know God and so forth – has a tendency to overwhelm our present experience, which is always all there really is.

Simply giving attention to what is showing up allows us to sense the way in which “the whole” is just another concept that shows up, that “being right” or “being correct” are just more concepts that show up. Even “God” – sacred to many of us – is just a word, just an idea, just a concept.

So we are looking at all that, and it is never not appearing, never not showing up, and maybe what begins to happen in that we relax with respect to the impulse to figure it out, to solve it, to put a pin in it. Fortunately, there’ s no hurry and it can’t really be done wrong.

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(1)

In my dream
we walked to the lake
and you asked me questions
about awakening and love.

Your hands gestured
in the moonlight
like birds
whose name was not yet given.

“I want to know
what you know,”
you said. “I want
to know the whole of it.”

When we reached the water
you continued
across it
borne on its surface like an image of the moon.

I knelt on the beach
and watched you go,
neither calling you back
nor bothering to follow,

for what could I say
that you had not given me to say?
And where could I go
you had not already helped me go?

And where else could you learn
that I was your student
and you my teacher,
save in the solitude

I alone can give you?

(2)

The invitation inherent in A Course in Miracles is to know thyself. Any other knowledge is illusory. To know is to know thyself. Everything else is simply perception.

brambles

reverent tangles

Perception is the body’s way of sensing what is going on and attempting to understand and collate it. Through its senses the body gathers data and through its brain it organizes that data in order to sustain, nurture and protect the body.

Perception is not separate from what is perceived. There is no such thing as hearing without sound, no such thing as sight without what is seen and so forth. There is no space between hearing and what is heard, seeing and what is seen.

Perception is always experienced in the particular. We hear chickadees and crows, see apple trees and moonlight, touch rivers and horses, taste ice cream and sauerkraut, smell wood smoke and bread baking.

Perception is separative and thus invites preference, the hierarchizing of what is different according to the body’s relationship to pleasure and pain.

Perception causes conflict, which includes efforts to resolve conflict in favor of peace, inner and otherwise.

Perception always appears as local and personal. It implies a center, which is the body, and an experiencer and decider, which is the self.

Yet upon investigation, it is seen that the body too is perceived. It is sensed. Like all that is perceived, the body comes and goes.

And upon investigation, it is seen that the self too is perceived. It is conceptual – an interpretation of bodily experience as central, personal and causative. It is an idea about what all these perceptions and memories of perceptions and anticipations of perceptions mean for the body.

Perception runs by itself, without regard for any apparent interpretation or investment.

wren-in-barn

the song
outsizes
the singer

It is possible to be attentive to what is perceived.

Attention is responsive. It can be directed.

But attention is also neutral. It observes a funeral the same as a birthday party. Of itself, it excludes nothing, even itself.

Attention is impersonal. Its function never changes.

The suggestion to “give attention” is simply a suggestion to be aware of what is perceived – objects, feelings, ideas, will and so forth.

Attention exposes the relative nature of bodily existence, which allows one to see clearly the full nature of human experience.

Seen clearly, the full nature of human experience points to – but is not itself – knowledge.

Knowledge is that which is without opposite.

It cannot be objectified.

It has no parts.

It is not “whole” because that would imply the possibility of “not-whole.”

Knowledge is not “of” something.

fallen-tree

fallen tree
staring back

It cannot be gained or lost. It cannot be refined or expanded. It cannot be taken or given. It cannot be taught because it cannot be learned.

That which is relative – the self, the body – does not transform into that which is absolute.

The relative does not “come to know” the whole.

Perception does not become knowledge.

However, through attention, perception can be seen as fractured and separative.

Through attention, perception can be seen as only relatively true.

Through attention, one can see that what is “relatively true” is false.

Through attention, one can see that what is “false” is not wrong but simply unreal.

Perception reaches no further than that distinction.

Though perception will keep running so long as the material conditions for its function continue to appear, it no longer commands investment or attachment.

Attention – previously the servant of the body and the self – turns to what is true. It turns to knowledge.

However, nothing actually happens. Nothing actually changes.

There is nothing to turn to, just as there is nothing to turn away from.

Knowledge is not hidden. It has no boundaries, guarded or otherwise.

What always was and always will be simply is.

kindling

before the fire

And nothing else is.

The language of A Course in Miracles can be maddening. It appears to invite discord. It appears to imply that learning is necessary. It appears to imply hierarchies of experience and wisdom necessitating choice.

And yet.

To the devoted student, the course is simply a means of discerning what is false.

The course simply teaches the ready student to see the false as false, which is the only precondition to knowing what is true.

What is true cannot be taught.

It is simply what is when what is false is seen as false.

A Course in Miracles has no objective other facilitating this discernment.

(3)

Life belongs to the Giver of Life.
It belongs to itself.
There is no such thing as “my life”
or “your life.”
There is no such thing as “our life.”
There is only Life,
beginningless
and endless
and without division.
It is incapable
of being owned
and cannot be made
into what it is not.
When the one who dreams
they are apart from life
sees all this clearly
they become like a violet
in a part of the field
nobody visits.
Where is loveliness
when no one beholds it?
Where is grace
when nobody receives it?
What is wholeness
absent naming?
How perfectly
the secret flower blooms . . .

(4)

Beloved,
I only share
what you asked me to remember

before there was a garden –
before there was a flood –
before there was the One –

there was this love

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[The human mind] evolves in a certain way such that it is like any new tool, in that it has its diseases and difficulties. It has its troubles, and one of the troubles is that it gets polluted by its own superstitions, it confuses itself, and the discovery was finally made of a way to keep it sort of in line . . .

~ Richard Feynman

At a point, there was a sense that reading and studying and sharing about A Course in Miracles was somewhat like climbing a sand dune. The harder one worked – the more one dug in – the more the ground gave way. The summit one aimed at was literally being clawed away by the effort to attain it.

fallen-tree-detail

reading fallen trees

Once we see that our efforts are undermining our objective, it is coherent to simply stop. We stop and see what happens. We stop and reassess. Maybe we are looking at the problem wrong, or perceiving the wrong solution. Who knows? Maybe we don’t have to climb this sand dune after all. Maybe there isn’t any problem in the first place.

So we let go and slip to the bottom and take a look around.

In the case of A Course in Miracles, it was seen that my regimen of study and sharing was well-intentioned but aggressive and was itself obscuring the peace and clarity to which the text and lessons generally pointed.

Letting go of that (a year or so ago) was not easy, but it was necessary, and so in a sense, after a flurry of hand-wringing and kvetching, it was easy. A space opened up in my life – the time that had been previously given to the course, the attention given to it and so forth was dissolved and in its place was a sort of stillness. It was like discovering an enormous field. What should you do with it?

When we don’t rush to fill the field, the stillness, but rather let it be, then we might see that the field is already full – of grass and flowers, butterflies, swallows, ticks, whatever. It’s humming along just fine. Stillness, too. This doesn’t mean we can’t do something with the field if doing something is fun or interesting or helpful in some way, but it does mean that we aren’t obligated to do anything. Stillness is not conditional on anything we do or don’t do. Neither is life.

The suggestion is that we are working very hard to do something that needn’t be done. It can be done, but it doesn’t have to be done. And if our goal is peace and understanding and coherence, then maybe all our spiritual activity is counter-productive.

Still, for me in the wake of so much study and sharing, the desire to do something remained. Yet at the same time, it was also seen that the question what should be done could not be answered in an absolute sense and was therefore not a very good question. It was like the sand dune all over again.

Insisting on ACIM or zazen (or celibacy or vegetarianism or psychotherapy etc.) are all forms of resistance. All spiritual doing is a form of resistance. As the course might put it (or one of its more famous teachers anyway), it is a way of getting caught up in the form when what we are really after is the content.

The problem isn’t ACIM or zazen and so forth – they are wholly neutral (which means their helpfulness is always relative). The problem is our insistence that they are it with a capital I. They are the answer. We’ve got It!

The problem is not the spiritual path but the underlying belief that this or that path is right in an absolute – not a relative – sense. And, more subtly, the problem is the belief that there really is some one to do all this insisting and some other one or ones to whom the argument (in favor of ACIM, zazen, etc.) has to be made and won.

So all that had to be looked at very closely, and it wasn’t really a spiritual inquiry. It was dispassionate and logical. Who or what is the self exactly? What is its problem? What is the nature of its relationship to other selves? Who cares? What’s at stake?

It was not a question of reading about the self or writing and talking about the self or adopting someone else’s definitions and answers. That was all familiar static. What was needed now was the clear signal, to whatever degree was possible. And the way that happens is we consent  – through attention – to a direct experience of looking at difficult questions and seeing what answers, if any, are there to be had. If it’s raining and you want to know what rain is like, then you just step out into the rain. Books can’t help and nobody else can stand in a downpour for you.

When we dig into the question of what we are and what the nature of being is, then sooner or later we realize that the subjective first-person perspective which inheres in the human experience cannot know the whole though it can know it does not know the whole.

horse_neck_detail

reading the horse’s neck in rain

That is not an especially complicated idea. Nor it is a new idea. In a sense, it is simply an observation of how thought, broadly defined, has evolved and where we now find ourselves with respect to it.

But it is the source of a great deal of incoherence and thus conflict.

We can see the eye and we can see the brain and we can see the function of seeing in terms of mechanics, but we cannot see seeing. “Seeing” is not an object but an effect.

This is not especially problematic as it pertains to sight. However, it is the same thing with consciousness, and that is problematic, or can be.

We can perceive the body and its points of sensation. We can see the brain which collects data produced by the senses. So we can perceive the function of perception in terms of mechanics – how the senses gather data, how the brain organizes it, the reportable perception emerging therefrom – but we can’t see mind or consciousness.

Mind or consciousness is not an object but an effect. We can’t remove consciousness and put it on a table and observe it, the way we can with a heart, say. And if we could objectify consciousness – put it over there on the table for study – with what would we be conscious of it?

Consciousness can’t get outside itself. First person experience can’t become third person experience. Third person objective experience always arises within the first person.

This leads to a kind of illusion. Because it cannot see itself objectively, and thus ascertain what it is and where it comes from, first person subjective experience is apt to allow for the possibility of mystery or divine forces as its source. It indulges superstition. It indulges its indulgences.

The self that we perceive – which is real in its own right – suspects there is more to life, which “more” is hidden from it, and so it begins an arduous search for God or Truth, for that which is the Whole.

And that search is bound to be futile because there is nothing to find. There is no mystery. Nothing is missing. This is it. This this.

We might think of it this way. If our dog is missing, it makes sense to go out and look for our dog. We should pull out all the stops – put up fliers, a website, offer rewards, organize search teams, spend hours in the forest whistling and calling and so forth.

But if our dog is trotting along beside us while we do all this, then doing it is not coherent. It’s not necessary. The dog is here.

path_through_hayfields

reading the open landscape

So the suggestion is that thought is constantly projecting some absence and simultaneously working to solve the problem that something is absent. It’s a kind of loop, and the answer isn’t to find what’s absent, it’s just to see the loop for what it is and let it be.

With respect to A Course in Miracles – and spiritual seeking generally – in the final sense, they point beyond themselves, effectively ending or undoing themselves. For students who are interested and ready, the course can do this. It can bring us to the far reaches of thought where stillness abides, and truth.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being uninterested and unready. There are lots of ways to try and climb a sand dune and anyway, all that happens at the top – should you get there – is that you have to come back down.

And really, “back down” isn’t a big deal either. You’re at the beach. Go swimming or build a sandcastle. Read some cheesy summer fiction. Show off your abs or admire somebody else’s. It’s okay. It’s more than okay, because we are all here together.

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We might be tempted to say that the student who sees a snake and subsequently sees it is a rope made a mistake. Thought inclines towards right and wrong so that kind of judgment can seem natural and even necessary. Yet there is a way to see this that is not about mistakes at all.

tree-by-river

a favorite tree in early spring

We see the snake on the path and we recoil. In that moment, based on all the available data, we are “right.” We are seeing a snake and so we react accordingly. We don’t have any information to the contrary. What else are we supposed to do?

Yet a moment later, we recognize that we’re looking at a rope and so the snake is effectively canceled out. The first vision of the coiled object is corrected. It is a rope. It was always a rope.

And we are right now, of course. But does it follow that we were wrong earlier? The wrongness of our earlier vision is only evident based on what we know now; back then, it was right. Back then it was solid.

Still, we might say, “well, sure. It was right. But now that we have all the facts we can see it is clearly wrong. So it was wrong then, too. We just didn’t know it.”

That’s a valid observation, but it rests on the dubious premise that now we do have all the facts, and that we can know that we have all the facts, and so we can rest absolutely assured that our rightness now will never become our wrongness in the future.

But can we really say that? Should we?

What if the rope turns out to be a stick? Or becomes a snake again? What if it’s a water hose? Or an old shirt tossed just so?

Since those outcomes are possible – our earlier shift from snake to rope makes that clear – then we have to allow that future shifts are possible, too. Today’s right may very well be tomorrow’s wrong.

So maybe we can see the way in which our confidence – and the self-righteousness it engenders – is misplaced. Some things seem clear – that there is something in the path, that we thought it was a snake, that it turned out to be a rope.

But inherent in that clarity is the recognition that perception is fallible – that experience is rife with fallibility. This is an interesting observation because we are always so certain that we are right, that what we are seeing and thinking and feeling is correct and real and the only way to see it.

This is a reflexive position: we tend not to be aware we are taking it. We aren’t constantly inquiring into perception – is that really a tree? Are those really birds I hear? We just see a tree and hear birds singing in it.

And that example might seem very simple and basic – a tree is a tree, birds are birds – but as the snake/rope example demonstrates, it is possible to be wrong even about that of which we are presently very certain. The issue becomes cloudier when we think about who we love and who we hate and how we behave in this or that social situation.

If we look closely and openly, then we might notice that it’s almost as if thought is at odds with the fact that “the known” is not really “all the known” or “the whole known” but is only “part of the known.”

It is by its very nature fragmented, and we cannot escape that. We can only notice it.

So the suggestion is that we give attention to the ways in which thought and perception are misleading or slippery. This isn’t like facing down a snarling ego or peering into the abyss. It’s just the nature of things. All we can do is be aware of it so that when it comes up we can check it – we can be cautious and attentive before rushing to judgment.

At first blush, this kind of attentiveness and passivity is destabilizing. The center turns out not to be so central, the foundation not so sure. But in time it might also reveal itself as a kind of calming force. It takes some of the pressure off and allows us to let life be as it is without having to be responsible to it or for it.

Of course judgment and preference will keep on keeping on. But that’s not a problem. We might think of it like going to the bathroom. Most of the time that’s a barely-noticed physical experience – we have to go so we go – but sometimes it’s very pleasant, sometimes urgent or even painful, and sometimes stressful.

Going to the bathroom is all of that depending on where we’re at with it in a given moment but whatever it is, however it shows up, we don’t make a metaphysical issue of it. We aren’t asking: why do I pee? What is peeing? Why can’t I pee better?

It’s just peeing, right? And like that, thought it just thinking. The former is a hint about how to handle the latter. Let thought be thought and see what happens.

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The healing anticipated by A Course in Miracles – which is the healing that attends one’s study of it – is simply the ability to discern between what is false and what is true.

bluets

leaning into the light

This discernment is natural but having forgotten we can do it, we need to remember how to do it. That is what the curriculum does: it restores to mind its capacity to discern between what is true and what is false.

We don’t have to change anything or resist anything; we don’t have to figure anything out; we don’t have to give anything up or buy anything new. We are merely asked to give attention to our self and its experience in the world.

Eventually, a gentle and sustained attention reveals the conflict that seems to be inherent in what we call our lives. The conflict is this: we believe we are separate beings with agency, in a world filled with similar beings, and that we are all in competition for scarce resources ranging from food to sex to seats in the movie theater.

And we are wrong.

Generally, we don’t see that we are wrong right away. First we decide – as Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman did – that there must be another way, and then we start seeking that other way.

A lot of wise people will say that seeking is the problem. But seeking isn’t the problem. The problem is the underlying belief that there is a decider – someone who can actually say “there must be another way” and be right about it.

It can take a long time to see that we are wrong about that. Yet it is this insight that makes the end of conflict possible – not because at last we have found the “right” path to follow or “right” action to take but because it is clearly seen that there is nothing to do and – more to the point – no body to do it.

Heaven is wholly true. No difference enters, and what is all the same cannot conflict. You are not asked to fight against your wish to murder. But you are asked to realize the form it takes conceals the same intent (T-23.IV.1:7-8).

The perception of differentiation is what obscures Heaven. Sure we love some of what appears – this teacher, this spiritual practice, this poet. We can spend a lot of time coveting a text or a lover by pretending our experience with them will be transcendent or holy or whatever.

But all these “loves” only appear because we have accepted perception of differentiation as reality. The error isn’t in choosing among the many appearances; that just happens. Rather, the error is in believing those appearances reflect reality and the choices therefrom meaningful.

When truth is seen as true, the false naturally falls away, and what was was always there is seen because it was and is always there.

All that happens is that we are no longer confused about the difference between what is false and true, and so the conflict inherent in falsity no longer plagues us. We know that truth has no parts or differences and therefore there is nothing to fight about or worry about.

We are still going to see blueberry bushes and smell baking bread and feel cold when it snows and enjoy a nice snuggle and advocate for the end of the death penalty or whatever but we aren’t going to consider those objects, activities, and ideas to be real in any ultimate or absolute sense. They are merely appearances.

The distinction may seem subtle to the point of why-bother-making-it, but all healing and all peace flows from our awareness of what is true and what is false.

A Course in Miracles puts it this way.

The body’s eyes will continue to see differences. But the mind that has let itself be healed will no longer acknowledge them. There will be those who seem to be “sicker’ than others, and the body’s eyes will report their changed appearance as before. But the healed mind will put them all in one category; they are unreal (M-8.6:1-4).

What should we do?

If you are interested in A Course in Miracles, take it. Take the course. Read the text, and do the lessons. If a teacher or guide is helpful, find them and make use of them. Don’t worry is it right or wrong; it’s neither.

If you are on the far side of the course, and sort of playing with waking up, then give attention to what is going on. Just look at what’s happening – the objects that appear, the differences, desire and fear, theory and idea. All of it.

This looking – this giving of attention – is healing. It reveals the whole by revealing that in truth nothing is separate from anything else nor ever was. You are already perfect; already awake. You rest in God at rest in you.

Perception forges ahead but its forging is no longer taken as fact. It is no longer taken as reality. It’s what shows up and leaves.

But God never leaves, nor left, and so it is with us.

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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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