For me, Lesson 18 of A Course in Miracles is like oatmeal (made with water, not milk or cream) and without maple syrup or blueberries. It’s bland but filling. There’s no active resistance but there aren’t any spiritual fireworks either. Actually, this is fitting, since this lesson is the first that introduces the soon-to-be-essential idea that, since our minds are all joined, we are not alone in experiencing their effects. Sometimes, the healing happens outside the range of our perception – in some other dimension of time, say, or far away from us in terms of space or buried deep in the dense physical matter of our bodies. I don’t doubt the efficacy of this lesson; but the experience of it is beyond “me.”
I want to make two brief observations about this. First, it is essential to our practice that we be willing to dismantle the self. Hence the quotes surrounding the word me in the preceding paragraph. As difficult or disturbing as the idea may be, we are not our bodies and we are not the many stories we tell ourselves about our bodies. Our progress to Heaven – a word I use here to mean awakening – is hindered by our refusal, often buried quite deep, to give up the centrality of the self. Over and over, the course will remind us of this – sometimes in quick asides, sometimes in formal lessons, sometimes in the explanatory prose of the text. We can move this process along by checking at all times our willingness. If we can find a shred of it – and lift it in our perception to Jesus – then we’re doing good work.
It’s important to remember that awakening, properly understood, is a gift. We don’t buy it and we can’t bargain for it. Thus, we have to be in a space of receptivity for it. Kids at a birthday party isn’t a bad metaphor – look at their faces, their bodies, their energy. There is a joyful anticipation combined with a complete confidence that the gift will be bestowed that is unstoppable. That’s the space we want to be in.
My own quick aside – and yes, I know I’m not the first person to say this: we can learn a lot about waking up by watching children.
The second observation I want to make regarding this lesson is that for a long time I was annoyed with the text for asking me to pay attention to my brothers and sisters. In an infantile – not a childish – way, I needed everything to be about me. I believed that any attention Jesus paid to you was attention taken from me. It was intolerable! In my mind, I rationalized this by saying that once I woke up, once I got it, then I would be very compassionate and helpful. But until then, no. Even when I began to appreciate intellectually that the forgiveness I extended to you was offered to me as well, I still reserved a special desire to be Jesus’ only child, his favored student.
This is a frankly silly and unproductive way to approach the course. And really, it is only in the last year or so that I have even begun to crack it a little. But the whole point of becoming miracle workers is to help others become miracle workers, too. In fact, in some ways, the course can be seen as little more than an introduction to waking up – it’s real goal is to make us fit for leading others back to God. This leading back need not take the form of A Course in Miracles. The form is quite irrelevant. But the content – which is a clear, lucid and innocent love – is relevant indeed. And we only “get” that love when we offer it to others. In fact, we might not even know that we have it until we see ourselves extending it.
Thus, I cannot wake up – I cannot meet my true self – without you. And I mean this quite literally – you, reading this right now. We need each other! So thank you for being here, and for bringing your love to our shared space.