Blog

Help Comes In Many Forms

Our need for help is obvious. Our own efforts are insufficient and likely to spill and roll in chaotic directions, like marbles spilling across the floor. We need texts and teachers – Zen masters, the Psalms, A Course in Miracles, good psychotherapists. Something. Without help, our spiritual exile is unnecessarily prolonged.

Thus, it is critical to be open both to our need for help and the actual form that help takes when it arrives. Because it always does arrive. Truly, we are not bereft.

Last night I read Yaeko Iwasaki’s enlightenment letters. She was twenty-five years old when she attained enlightenment. Less than two weeks later, she was dead. Her letters – which are written to her teacher, Harada-Roshi – are contained in Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen.

I’ve had this book for years – a close friend twenty years ago was a devoted Buddhist and follower of Kapleau, and I sort of dabbled with zafus. My efforts were sincere but more or less half-assed and in time I drifted along – back to Catholicism, back to Christianity, and eventually – long story – short – to A Course in Miracles. Recently, I pulled Kapleau’s book back out because I wanted to read something that was a bit more grounded than the opacity of the course.

I say that carefully, of course. I don’t object to the opacity, so much as need to step away from it at times. And it’s not really fair to call the course opaque – it is actually quite practical and simple. But our minds are capable of complicating anything, and when that happens – when I perceive that happening – it is sometimes helpful to gently step away for a few days or weeks or even longer just to breathe. It’s not a crime against God. God goes nowhere and our attention directed at other traditions or teachers is simply God another way. It’s no big deal.

Zen was fascinating to me – still is, in a sort of academic way – in my early twenties. It seemed practical in a way that Catholicism – my Christianity of choice back then – was not. Sure, I could read Thomas Merton and follow his efforts to unite Zen with Jesus and Christianity. There’s no doubt his work resonated for me in helpful ways. But I liked the instructions I was given at the Zendo. Sit like this, count your breaths and let’s talk again in a few years. There was a formality to it. There were these non-negotiable boundaries. I needed that then.

Reading Yaeko Iwasaki was inspiring. Her letters are very grateful and loving and lucid and they neatly track her experience of awakening. Reading them, I didn’t feel a need to make it Buddhist or Christian, if that makes any sense. It just seemed like what can happen to any of us if we pay attention in a disciplined way. Most fascinating was the way she cycled through her enlightenment. At first blush it has the air of a good acid trip or something – like she woke up in an amusement park where all the rides and treats are free. But then the experience evens out and becomes much more natural and grounded. It becomes almost ordinary.

I like this, in particular:

 . . . now that I have penetrated deeply and have acquired an unshakable aspiration to Buddhahood, it is clear to me that I can continue in my spiritual discipline forever and in this way perfect my personality to its fullest, impelled by the vow, which rises naturally within me, to save all sentient beings.

The truth is that we can become as addicted to crucifixion as well as to enlightenment. I think you can fool around for a long time – lifetimes maybe – in any practice. The conditions that Yaeko Iwasaki – especially with respect to service, the lovingkindness extended to all creation – resonates deeply with my understanding (which of course is always evolving, always growing sharper and more useful) – of A Course in Miracles.

***

I woke up from a pleasant dream at 2 a.m. and couldn’t sleep last night. I remembered Yaeko’s letters, and my friend with whom I have lost touch, and I felt very happy. I like the night a lot. The stars through the window, faint light on the neighbor’s white barn. It is very quiet and beautiful. I have been focusing on a review of the first five ACIM lessons, and they came through with unusual simplicity last night. I sat in bed and didn’t feel a need to do much of anything else. Every now and then that electric feeling of no-thoughts swept by. It is still so hard for me to trust the Holy Instant, to say yes to God, to awakening. But it is nice when that’s okay, when I can let it be what it is and not need to fix it or improve it.

Help comes in many forms, from many directions. We just never know.

Putting Aside the Metaphor

I have been reading Krishnamurti lately. Tara Singh – the only ACIM teacher that I read with any frequency – was an associate of Krishnamurti’s and often refers to him and his teachings with great respect. Somewhere on the FACIM website – probably their very helpful online question and answer archives – they note that Krishnamurti’s teachings are not substantially different from those in A Course in Miracles.

Where they do differ, of course, is in the mythological overlay in which they are presented. ACIM is unabashedly Christian; Krishnamurti, at least in my reading, shuns any overt reference to religion or psychology. In fact, it seems to me that he goes to great pains to avoid using language that can envelop us in any kind of system – be it religious or spiritual or psychological or whatever.

Singh is similar. Reading him, you encounter only brief references to Jesus. It is as if – having studied with Krishnamurti – he saw beyond the theological overlay of Christianity into the heart of A Course in Miracles.

Reading Singh has always felt liberating to me. Liberating and expansive.

I mention all this because I have been struggling lately with the course’s presentation of Christianity. Who is this Jesus? Who is this Holy Spirit? As a lifelong Catholic and as someone who, even when not practicing a traditional mode of Christianity, it is very hard for me to utilize that language. In fact, sometimes it seems to be setting me back. I cannot say “Holy Spirit” without imagining or picturing or fantasizing a separate being, willing apart from me.

Now, from a strict course interpretation, this is all just another great opportunity to forgive. I realize that. And I value it.

But I am increasingly feeling drawn to a language that is plainer and that does not force me to do so much interpreting or reinterpreting. In other words, I don’t want to take “Holy Spirit” and have to remind myself that “Holy Spirit” is akin to my right mind. Et cetera.

Krishnamurti encourages us to resolve the fear problem by resolving the authority problem by simply looking at it. We are the author of the fear. Once we have this clear – really clear, not just intellectually clear, not just clear in language – then we are forever free of fear.

There is a clarity to that that I enjoy. The language of the course – which is elevated and lovely in its own right – has been off-putting lately. Another level or layer that one needs to forgive.

It moves me to ask how we can undo – it is not an action so much as no action. As Tara Singh says (I paraphrase), There is nothing to do and nobody but you can do it. I love that! Krishnamurti says we can wake in all of ten minutes if we will just focus our attention, follow our thinking, understand how we are doing this to ourselves.

The course locks me into Jesus, the Holy Spirit, questions of God. But I want to put them aside. I want to let them all go.

I understand – because I have both read and heard testimony – that the course, too, moves beyond this. The extended Christian metaphor eventually fades. We see through it to the truth. Perhaps. Maybe I am at the beginning of that process, that particular undoing.

I was telling a student of mine about the importance of remaining open to different teaching styles, different methods. Don’t close doors, because we never know what is going to work. We don’t really know from which direction help is going to come.

I am practicing forgiving A Course in Miracles, forgiving the language, forgiving the metaphor. I want to put it down, lay it aside. I want to wake up in my real home.

Reading Marianne Williamson

One of the first “miracle” writers I ever read was Marianne Williamson. I found A Return to Love in the local library, and because it was the only book about A Course in Miracles  they had, I took it out. It’s Williamson’s flagship book – contains the famous quote (our deepest fear . . . ) that is so often attributed to Nelson Mandela.

And it’s a good book. I’m glad that I read it when and where I did. I don’t think of Williamson as being a particularly challenging writer. She’s a good writer, but the ideas that she puts forth aren’t especially hard to grasp. She’s got that New Age therapeutic thing down pat – Oprah’s the master, but Williamson knows the drill. It’s a nice blend of affirmation and challenge, always skirting the implication that you can’t do it or that you’re going to have to change too much.

I think that Williamson would disagree with that last line, actually – that ACIM doesn’t push us to change too much. And, in fairness, lots of people I know find Williamson to be exactly the kick in the pants they need to really ramp up their spiritual practice.

At the beginning of my practice with A Course in Miracles, I needed some encouragement. It felt abstract to me and it was, in subtle ways, kind of undermining my long held beliefs in traditional Christianity. Reading Williamson made me feel like I had a friend on my side. It was like a coach saying, You can do this. You can do this.

And, really, that’s nothing to sneeze at. That kind of support is critical. And I still remember a particular line – here paraphrased – about people who want to star on the world stage but still don’t know how to star in their own life. I’m not sure that’s a “real” ACIM approach to life, but it certainly resonated with me. It still helps me narrow my focus, trying to bring into application the principles of A Course in Miracles.

I’ve tried picking up other books by Marianne Williamson – Illuminata, Everyday Grace, and so forth. I can’t get into them. They just don’t resonate. Even Return to Love doesn’t nurture me the way it once did. Glancing at these days is more nostalgic than anything else.

Do I recommend Williamson? I do. I think she’s a good read, especially for people who are new to the course or are really questioning their worth in relation to the course. She is a good writer in the sense that you aren’t lost in abstraction. And she cares about people and she cares about ACIM. That is not an insignificant thing.

These days I find my reading moving in the direction of Tara Singh and others. I can’t read a page of Singh without feeling a sort of shock in my system. It’s like diving into a frigid river, that sense of waking up or coming to suddenly. Important stuff.

But our paths in A Course in Miracles are different. People come to it in their own way. As the text says, our role in the atonement is very personal and very specific. So are the spiritual or miracle coaches who guide us towards and into that role. I’m grateful to Marianne Williamson for her lucidity and her willingness to share her path with her brothers and sisters. I admire her energy and her politics. And if I’ve “moved on” it’s only because she helped make the next step possible.

Reading Gary Renard

The first ACIM book anyone gave me was Tara Singh’s Nothing Real Can Be Threatened. The second was by Gary Renard – The Disappearance of the Universe. Singh was handed to me somewhat as a second thought. Renard’s Disappearance came with the following bromide: “This is the course.” And while for me, it has been Tara Singh who has shaped my practice and made waking up even a dim possibility, there is no denying that Renard’s book was helpful.

If we can say one thing about Gary Renard it might be this: nobody is indifferent to him. I don’t meet many course students who have such a strong opinion about any teacher as they do Renard. Even Ken Wapnick, who edited the text, taught the course and helped shepherd it through the world for several decades, seems to call forth a more mild response than Renard.

But I liked Gary Renard’s book. It was helpful at the time, and I am grateful for it. I had some issues with it – and I’ll get to them – but I still share my copy of Disappearance of the Universe with people for whom I think it might be helpful. It is accessible in a way that the course itself is not, at least initially. Disappearance of the Universe is not dense, not hard to read, and it’s even funny at times. That sense of humor matters to me. Remember what Jesus says of the separation: it’s a mad idea at which we “forgot to laugh.” Ken Wapnick pointed out many times how serious course students and study groups can be. If you’re not having fun, if you’re not laughing, then maybe you’re missing something. It’s worth considering.

Renard didn’t skip the “have fun” part of the course. If serious is the way you approach A Course in Miracles, then look out. Renard brings the funny and the irreverent. For me, in the  end, that style wasn’t a good fit, but it might be for you.

If you want to read Gary, then read him. If you want to take a stand with respect to his honesty or lack thereof, then do so. And then move on with your practice.

The premise of Disappearance is this. Renard is in spiritual crisis, seeking the “better way” that Schucman and Bill Thetford both sought and, in apparent response, two ascended beings come to him. Arten and Pursah aren’t human – they’re divine beings, former disciples and followers of the historical Jesus who, after many many lifetimes of learning the principles of A Course in Miracles, show up in Renard’s Maine living room to teach him the secrets of life and the universe. Over the course of nine years of appearing and teaching – sometimes transporting Renard through time and space – Renard writes a book under the direction of Arten and Pursah.

That book is The Disappearance of the Universe.

And that premise drives a lot of people nuts. In fact, a lot of teachers – notably Jon Mundy, Robert Perry, Bruce MacDonald and Greg Mackie – have taken serious issue with Renard and his writing. If you’re interested, you can read Perry’s analysis of Renard’s work here, while Renard addresses charges of fraud at his website.

I’m a big believer in avoiding conflict wherever possible. From a strict ACIM perspective, we are never justified in perpetuating conflict. From my confused and error-prone human status, I’m doing the best I can. And that means that I like to take what works and leave what doesn’t behind. My two cents? There’s a lot to learn from in Renard’s work. But if you can’t swallow the whole Arten and Pursah thing, if the claims to being the reincarnation of St. Thomas are too much, then let it go. Gary isn’t the only teacher out there.

The more spectacular aspects of Gary’s life are, in my opinion, the least interesting. If you are struggling to understand A Course in Miracles and you need help, then Disappearance of the Universe may well be helpful. It may not be the end of your study – for me it was important to move on from Renard – but it might be a useful bridge. Renard is faithful to what I consider a fairly orthodox understand of the course – the most notable teacher and practitioner of this approach being Ken Wapnick (to whom Gary owes a considerable debt).

A big part of Renard’s draw is that he really champions the fact that he’s not a scholar, not a religious persona, not a genius, not a writer. He cheerfully owns up to not knowing anything about where the commas go and what a semicolon does. He’s a regular guy, like you and me. And given that A Course in Miracles can be a very demanding text, a lot of people are looking for someone to bring it to another level, one that doesn’t feel so scholastic or esoteric.

There are pros and cons to that, of course. In a sense, I appreciate the need to find ways to approach the course from a less-intellectual point-of-view. At the same time, A Course in Miracles is what it is – and if it’s too abstract or if its metaphysics are too confusing, then perhaps a more reasonable thing to do is try another path. The course is clear that it is but one form of the universal curriculum. There is no shame in trying another.

But the yardstick needs to be what is helpful – what works for you.

For me, Gary’s work has not retained its level of influence. The irreverence, the drama, the earthly predictions, the resultant hullabaloo in the ACIM community eventually distracted me from my own experience of forgiveness. So I moved on.

When I first began to study the course, I was deeply confused about “where” God was – if he wasn’t out there, up in the sky, and if the Holy Spirit wasn’t up there with him, then where were they? I really struggled with the idea that God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit were inside of me. That concept eluded and challenged me.

It was Renard’s text that simplified that idea. I remember a few weeks after reading Disappearance and praying a bit on it, that I finally was able to move away from this idea of God as a punitive intelligence far away from me but always watching, ready to clip me upside the head at the slightest wrong. Was Renard the cause of the insight? He wasn’t the sole cause. Would it have come anyway? Probably.

On the other hand, there was something in Renard’s book – at that point in time and in my study – that loosened some interior blocks and allowed me to move forward in my understanding and application of the course. For that reason, I am grateful to Gary.

What do I think of the charges that Renard is a fraud? That he created this whole Arten and Pursah thing in order to scam students and make money? Is that all he is – a spiritual scam artist, one more snake oil salesmen getting rich off lost souls who don’t know better?

In a general sense, I feel that everybody needs to come to their own insight with respect to Gary’s writing, and the yardstick needs to be whether it helps them understand A Course in Miracles and bring into application. That’s a personal question that nobody else can answer for you.

For me, Gary’s work has not retained its level of influence. The irreverence, the drama, the predictions, the hullabaloo in the ACIM  community eventually distracted me from my own experience of forgiveness. So I moved on. I read Your Immortal Reality quickly and I haven’t bothered with his third book – Love has Forgotten Noone – at all. I don’t feel like I have the time anymore to wade through the noise. Tara Singh has proven a much more grounded and consistent teacher for me.

That doesn’t mean what I say is right for you. It may not be. As I said earlier, the question of whether his visitors were real or metaphorical – Renard has never compromised on saying that they are the real deal – has never been of particular interest to me. I have not had similar experiences and to the extent I’m skeptical – and I am – I’m also open enough to realize that I don’t know everything. I’ve left it at that and moved on.

A Course in Miracles asks us to pose one question with respect to everything we encounter on this earth – “what is it for?” (T-24.VII.6:1)

Let not your foolish fancies frighten you. What is immortal cannot be attacked; what is but temporal has no effect. Only the purpose you see in it has meaning, and if that is true, its safety rests secure. If not, it has no purpose, and is means for nothing (T-24.VII.5:3-6).

Renard’s first book has made my experience of A Course in Miracles a better one. It has helped me bring it into application – exactly the way that Tara Singh says we must, if we are truly going to experience its promise of peace and joy.

If you want to read Gary, then read him. If you want to take a stand with respect to his honesty or lack thereof, then do so. And then move on with your practice. If his books are helpful, then great. If they aren’t – if they don’t resonate, if they distract you, if the grow dim with time – then put them down and move on with your practice.

A Course in Miracles Text

When Helen Schucman began to channel A Course in Miracles, what came first was the text. This is the bedrock of the program – a massive tome that outlines with great clarity and precision the theoretical underpinnings of the course’s non-dualistic thought system.

The daily lessons, which are contained in the workbook, build on the ideas that are contained in the text. The text itself is Christian in both language and image, but it parts ways with most traditional understandings of Christianity at the outset. The overarching theme is an abstract spirituality, echoes of which occur in most major religions and spiritual practices. As the course makes clear, it is not possible to have a “universal theology” but a “universal experience” is possible and certainly desirable. It is that experience to which the text – in conjunction with the balance of the course – aims.

In order to induce that experience – to lead students into that experience of peace and joy through forgiveness – the text is necessary. It begins somewhat simply – with fifty principles of miracles – but slowly progresses into more complex ideas. After you’ve read it a couple times you’ll start to see that the ideas are repeated in different forms. Reading and re-reading the text becomes an exercise in familiarity, the echoes resonating in your mind. It is a difficult work to assimilate in one sitting. Study – often rigorous study – is helpful.

The aim of the text is to change our experience in the world – to be able to bring into application its principles and ideas. Without the text, the lessons would make little sense. In the same way, without the lessons, the text would be impossibly abstract.

I began my practice of the course by reading the text. After a day or two, I slipped into the lessons, establishing a pattern that remained constant for many years. In the morning, I would read a few pages of the text – sometimes at random, sometimes focusing on a challenging or comforting section – and then I would read the lesson (I always do them in order) and practice it.

The first few times I read the text, I approached it somewhat as a bible. I didn’t want to mark it up. It felt sacred to me. Yet after a while, I began to make notes on the inside cover of certain pages that contained ideas I thought were useful, that I didn’t want to forget.

After another while, that list became so long that I gave up and just started underlining. Today, that first text – a paperback copy published by the Foundation for Inner Peace – is falling apart. There’s more underscore than simple text. I have a new copy now – hard cover – and use that for reading. I don’t bother with writing utensils at all, and rarely read more than a few paragraphs at a time. Our experience as students evolves, which is another way of saying that the course meets us where we are. It is always maximally helpful although its helpfulness is not always clear.

I’m a big advocate of the lessons, pushing them on fellow students – I hope gently – as often as possible. I think A Course in Miracles is truly meant to be lived, and in order to do that, we need to rigorously bring its principles into our lives day after day. It’s the only way to achieve the degree of change – the alteration of mind patterns – that the course envisions for us.

But I do love the text. It is comforting at times, challenging at others. I cannot quite imagine my day-to-day life without it.

A Course in Miracles: Cult?

Is A Course in Miracles a cult? One of my students asked me this other day. His question was genuine, but troubling. After all, the word cult has nothing but negative connotations (unless you’re a fan of this band, of course).

You_Choose_The_Way
Country roads diverging . . . Like ACIM, you can choose the way to go, or even not to go at all . . .

Generally, we understand a cult to be a group with rigid (usually in stark contrast to traditional practices and beliefs) belief systems that are religious or spiritual in nature. They are authoritarian – you have to follow the group, the leader of the group, and in the process surrender your identity. You don’t have a lot of choices in a cult. For these reasons, they are rightly seen as exploitative and dangerous.

The other aspect of cults is that they tend to involve – in practice or in perception – some degree of mind control. And what does A Course in Miracles call itself? A course in “mind training” (T-1.VII.4:1).

But that’s a simplistic rendering of a complex idea. A Course in Miracles is a self-study curriculum that teaches its students that the only problem they truly have is their decision to think apart from God – that is, to imagine that their will and God’s will are separate. This split leads to fear and guilt which we then project onto the world. This allows us to believe that we aren’t fearful and guilt-ridden because of any decision we made; it’s all caused by the mean and nasty world outside of us. We blame the world for our problems. And since God made that world, and we fear God as well. That’s the psychological set-up that human beings are dealing with, according to A Course in Miracles. Through the text and especially through the daily lessons, the course aims to restore to our minds their capacity to think with God and to remember our fundamental unity with all Creation. The dysfunction and pain of fear and guilt abate.

A Course in Miracles is not for everyone, of course. There are plenty of people for whom it is too far-out, its metaphysics too hard to believe or even understand, and so forth. This is okay! The course is clear that it is only one form of what is calls the universal curriculum. There are many ways to be whole and healthy – including atheism, psychotherapy, Buddhism and others. There is no one way to be right. Rather, there are many ways and it is incumbent on us to find the way that works for us. If that’s ACIM, great. If it’s not, that’s great too.

Really, A Course in Miracles is simply one expression of the perennial philosophy. Using Christian language and imagery, with a healthy dose of Freudian psychology and Platonic philosophy, it gently asserts that we are not separated from God but only believe that we are separated.

In other words, there is no expectation that A Course in Miracles is the only way to live a spiritual life.

Moreover, the course is deeply personal and meets each student where they are. Thus, one person’s practice of the course may look entirely different from somebody else’s practice. Just compare some of Ken Wapnick’s course-related writing to that of Tara Singh. It is possible to have two very different but effective teachers because the course emphasis is on the individual, not on conformity to some group standard or ideal.

The value of the Atonement does not lie in the manner in which it is expressed. In fact, if it is used truly, it will inevitably be expressed in whatever way is most helpful to the receiver (T-2.IV.5:1-2).

Really, A Course in Miracles is simply one expression of the perennial philosophy. Using Christian language and imagery, with a healthy dose of Freudian psychology and Platonic philosophy, it simply asserts that we are not separated from God but only believe that we are separated. Thus, its goal is to restore to our memory the fact of unity. We are mistaken; it aims to correct our mistake. No more and no less.

It is also critical to understand that A Course in Miracles really has no centralized leader or board of directions. There is certainly the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) headed by the late Ken Wapnick and his wife Gloria. The Foundation aims to help students understand and bring into application the course. And while I think it does aim to be definitive, it is hardly coercive. There are a lot of people running around doing stuff with ACIM that wouldn’t pass muster at the Foundation. You don’t see that sort of variety or permissiveness in a cult!

The Foundation for Inner Peace publishes a version of the course that many students consider the “official” version. The FIP was established by the scribes – Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford – for the purpose of disseminating A Course in Miracles. At the same time, there are several other version of the course available – older ones, modified ones, altogether rewritten ones . . . The course is a diverse community with considerable dissension when it comes to “what it says,” how to understand what it says, and how to practice – or embody – what it says.

And again, the course – while it aims to help us work better with our minds in order to restore us to the sanity of remembering God – is also clear that it’s not the bottom or the only, line. It’s not the only way to heal and it’s not the only way to come into contact with God. If you want to shake the dust off your sandals and try something different, then go for it. It’s not a big deal.

Is that to say that there are not teachers out there who ask a lot of their students? That there aren’t groups that are demanding loyalty from their members while also professing to follow A Course in Miracles? It’s possible, of course. That’s true of a lot of religions and spiritual traditions. And even within perfectly healthy and open communities, there can be individual who display cult-like behavior.

I don’t mean to suggest then that one can’t find examples of behavior in the ACIM community that aren’t troubling. For example, a number of students have been troubled by this teacher and the group that he founded. But I know people who studied with him, and moved on when it was time to do so. They’re solid course students and good teachers in their own right.

In my own experience, most students of the course are disciplined and intelligent and altogether in touch with their own power of decision. Most of them study at their own pace and in their own way – sometimes venturing out to study groups for tea and discussion – but rarely more. Indeed, most serious students have more in common with monks than with cult members.

So no. For my money – and you are entirely welcome to disagree of course –  A Course in Miracles is not a cult. It’s radical. It’s intense. It can change your life and that can be a scary experience – both for you and people who love you. But it’s not going to ask any sacrifices of you – it isn’t going to take anything that you didn’t want to give anyway. The only teacher it is really going to share with you is the Holy Spirit – your inner teacher, who is the Voice for God, the part of your mind that remains healed.

To the extent it functions for the individual, the course offers a way towards joy and peace. Curious sojourners are invited to take a look at it, to try it, to shelve it and try it again. It’s okay! As noted earlier, the bottom line is that if it works, great. And if it doesn’t work, then that’s great, too.

Course in Miracles Daily Lesson

I tend to read the ACIM daily lesson in the morning. Somewhat following the suggestion of Tara Singh, I spend a few minutes coming to a place of stillness. I don’t want to rush into the lesson, turn the workbook into just another item on the day’s to-do list.

Lying in bed, I try to bring my attention to the Course’s “rules for decision.” I simplify this, too. Our days are filled with judgment and decision. The ego-based mind judges and decides on behalf of the body, on behalf of scarcity. It believes that it has to protect its little corner of existence and it manufactures an “I” that handles the job. We identify with the “I” and then the game is on.

But the Holy Spirit, the right-thinking mind, aligns itself with God, abundance, spirit. It denies there is such a thing as scarcity, as separation from the Divine.

A Course in Miracles promises that my day can be filled with peace, quiet joy, a sense of purpose, a harmonious unity, if I will turn the power of decision over. Let the Holy Spirit, the right mind, do the choosing.

I don’t always make it there perfectly, but I try. When I am settled, I brew a pot of tea. I let the dog out – sometimes I walk her, sometimes just stand outside and look at the starlit sky while she bustles here and there.

I come in, pour some tea, and study the lesson. I always read a few pages of text first. I do a breathing exercise before or in the middle of the reading. I want to be as calm and focused as I can be. I want to bring all my energy to this lesson, this reading.

Then I read the lesson. Then I follow its suggestions. And when I am finished, I like to keep a few minutes simply to savor the quiet, the calm and peace that tends to follow the learning, the undoing that is involved.

Oddly, soon after that, I feel a lot of energy surge through me. If my family is up, I cook them breakfast. If they aren’t, I come to the basement to begin the day’s writing. It is easier for me in the morning hours, easier after prayer.

Most of the lessons ask me to return to them several times a day. One minute, maybe two. Practice the exercises. It is a way of bringing my mind into alignment with Mind – if that’s not too abstract or weird. It is a way of reminding myself that I am not alone, that I am not even “I.”

This ritual, this application of A Course in Miracles, has been very fruitful for me. It is not the only way – just as the Course is not the only path – but I am grateful to have found it.

Reading Tara Singh

The first time I read Tara Singh it was as if a prism had been held to the light. Suddenly, the light was both simpler and more complex. It was both lovelier and deeper. It is hard to write about that moment – even now – without resorting to cliche. The feeling that a gap in my understanding of spiritual matters had been bridged – maybe better to say “could” be bridged – was pervasive. Here at last was the teacher.

A Course in Miracles is a difficult text on many levels. It is extremely abstract. Its origins invite wonder, skepticism and doubt in equal measure. And, at least for me, it is a tricky thing to bring into practice. With the course, it is sometimes easy to “talk the walk.” In fact, I think some very well-meaning people – me included – do just that.

My friends Jim and Judy – who run an ACIM study group in a nearby town – introduced me to Tara Singh by lending me their copy of Nothing Real Can Be Threatened. I read a few sentences – literally no more than a paragraph – and had to put the book down because it was like somebody had just dropped hot coals on my brain. This man understood. He got it. And more than that – he could communicate it.

I believe firmly that our study or practice of the course is always deeply personal. It meets us where we are – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally. This is what makes it sacred. Our true spiritual undertakings are always of the heart – heaven joined to heart, if you will – and it is what is missing in the rigid formalism of most organized religions. Before I read Taraji, my own experience of being a course student often felt at odds with what I read or saw in other students’ experience. It wasn’t that they were wrong or dishonest. It was simply that their experience did not resonate with mine.

In part, that was because my interactions with ACIM quickly moved away from a sort of Christian-centered practice. Initially, I was praying to the same God and having the same idealistic and reverential relationship with Jesus that I had since I was old enough to toddle into Catechism classes. God was a stern taskmaster that I feared and Jesus was the son I could never be. I simultaneously wanted their love and hated them for making me want it and not just giving it.

But after a few months of sincere practice – doing each lesson, reading and re-reading the text, and exploring some of the work of the more popular teachers – there was a shift. In fact, I remember very clearly being out in the fields with the dogs, looking at the stars at about 4 a.m.. It was the spot in our walks where I always stopped to say a prayer. A beautiful quiet place! And I realized as I began to pray that the course was not positing any external intelligent being running the show. God was not separate, judgmental, or bent on revenge. That was my fantasy. It was not what the course was teaching.

I was dizzy because I realized that everything I had been thinking – for my whole life to that point, because I have always been thinking and relating and wondering about God and Jesus and Spirit and all of that – was wrong. Or rather, that the course was gently asking me to consider another possibility. And because I found the course so comforting and practical, I was able to consider that perhaps what it was suggesting was true. Or more helpful.

That is quite a place to be, really. The trusted edifice crumbles, disappears like dust and you find that you are still standing. No lightening bolts from the sky, no cosmic hand to pluck you off the earth and drop you into a fiery abyss . . . How is it possible? And the new space feels . . . familiar. It was simultaneously terrifying and edifying. On the one hand, I felt as if I were betraying some old ideal – that Abrahamic God in the sky. I felt as if I had all this wasted time on my hands, a lifetime, maybe more. And yet . . .

I felt lighter, too. I felt happier, in a natural and serious way. Though I would – and sometimes still do – yo yo around with these things, in that moment I shrugged off a long-standing naivete and assumed a new responsibility for my spiritual condition. I am aware of how arrogant that sounds. All I can say is that it was true and that all its truth really did was show just how far I have to go.

This was also the moment where I realized that I needed a community – not famous writers and their best-selling books, not popular bloggers – but real people. I looked into some local study groups, found the one run by Jim and Judy and maybe fifteen minutes after we started talking, Jim lent me his copy of Nothing Real Can Be Threatened.

Life takes care. We are always being lifted.

*

I want to be careful about what I say regarding Tara Singh. I am not really qualified to talk about the man. And as regards his writing – which has become so important to me – I want only to be respectful. I was devastated when I learned that he had died years earlier, making it impossible to take a workshop with him. Being introduced to Mr. Singh . . . It was one of the few times in my life that I actually felt as if I would drop everything, walk a thousand miles and so forth just to study with this one person. You know that Buddhist story about the young man who cuts his hand off to get the attention of the man he wishes to study with? Only Tara Singh has ever made that story make even the slightest bit of sense. I do not take teachers or guides lightly. But Tara Singh was different right away. Just a few sentences and I knew. He felt that real to me, that essential.

So I have made do, then, with reading his work. There is quite a body of it and you can find it at good used book stores. You can visit the Joseph Plan Foundation, the organization he started which is continued by many of his students. They do periodic retreats, which perhaps I will attend someday. But right now – for the past year or so – it has been his books and sometimes his videos and audio recordings. There are plenty of them and not one has felt dispensable or unnecessary.

What resonates in particular for me is Taraji’s insistence on bringing A Course in Miracles to application – that is, rescuing it from the inclination to talk it to death, to render it merely an idea. That is a big risk for me, as I am a skilled talker and prone to using that gift defensively. There is no real compromise on this point in his work – nor is there, really, in the course. You cannot see both worlds and so must choose one. Period. Decide! Knowing that, embodying that, Tara Singh’s work is largely free of the contemporary softness and reassurance that characterizes a lot of new age and self help writers of our day. I don’t know what he was like in person, but in his writing he is deeply focused and precise. A sense of urgency and possibility is present in every word. He perceives the transformational power of the course and wants to share it, extend it.

He is also able to readily step beyond the Christian mythology that serves as framework on which the essential ideas of the course are settled. This was so important to me – having the ideas in the course translated or clarified in a way that released them from dependency on old ideas. I say that carefully – the Christian mythology matters to me because I know it and am familiar with it – but too big an investment in that language, in those symbols becomes a limitation. As the course points beyond itself, I was being asked to grow or evolve beyond myself, but until I read Tara Singh it was not altogether clear to me how I was going to do that. There is a liberating quality to his teaching that is both grounded in the course and yet reaches far beyond it. It is rare and electric.

I do not think Tara Singh is for everyone – nor does he need to be. Nor, probably, would he have wanted to be! I am committed to this idea that there are many trains running to the station of Truth and we need only ride one, and no one is better or superior to another. Pick the one thing that will teach you you need no thing! For me, Taraji has been a challenging and comforting – and above all, useful – guide to ending our Separation from God, coming to stillness, seeing the Kingdom, and finding Peace.

What more can we ask from a teacher?

*

Over the years, I have come back to this post – tweaking it a little here, taking something out there. One’s opinion changes – one’s intellect sees things this way and then that. But what is eternal never changes.

My devotion to Tara Singh as a teacher – as an temporal embodiment of the grace inherent in A Course in Miracles and, by extension, all of us, has never wavered. It is of that which is eternal. I have come to appreciate the rigor of his dialogues, the tenacity with which he refused to succumb to the comforting – yet dysfunctional – patterns of thinking that were always old, always of the past.

When one reads Taraji closely, one is led to Krishnamurti, and through their combined insights to the great Indian saints – Sri Aurobindo, Sri Maharshi, Sri Anandamayi Ma . What a gift. It is like a flower that continues to grow, smaller shoots emerging around it, a veritable garden of wisdom and delight. One realizes that they are always being led, that the wisdom of God is never not active, and sees at last the truth of “I need do nothing.” It is given. It is always given.

Thank you for reading, friend, and for sharing the way with me a little while. I am grateful for your companionship, as I am grateful for Taraji’s, all of us together remembering the wholeness that we never left.

Sail Around

I like the old folk songs. Singing them, playing them. The good ones keep changing, don’t sound the same as yesterday. Or they make you wonder, the way the words go. It’s comforting, but you can’t say why exactly.

Like this: “The cold cow died/sail around.” Sail where? With whom? Around what?

It stayed in my head today – laying on the floor whispering, walking in the dark, driving on the highway. The word “sail” rendering nicely with Freud’s “oceanic feeling,” which for some reason was on the brain.

Anyway, Jake, the old dog, died today. It was gentle as those things go, a couple hours of hard breathing, then a darkening, then a letting go. There was time to say goodbye. And I was there at the end, sitting a little off from him. Mostly I felt grateful. I was ready. I wasn’t a few months ago. Maybe I wasn’t a week ago.

Tara Singh says, give attention. Notice your feelings, what you do. Don’t judge your thoughts, just see them. You don’t understand them anyway. If you can really see them, that is something. That is a beginning.

I noticed how I lean toward prayer, reflexively. How I hate weakness. How I savor grief in exquisite sips, like a moth drinking tears.

And I noticed all my brothers and sisters, both the ones who know I’m their brother and the ones who don’t. It doesn’t matter. I was grateful that I could be kind out in the world, could remember the importance of that, of making it be about someone else. I was grateful for the many kindnesses shown to me all day, going here and there, doing things.

And then later, in the familiar winter dark, walking in the field behind the old home, watching planes fly back and forth below the shimmering Milky Way, cold and shivering in the dark, I listened for him. Footsteps in the frosty grass, jangle of tags coming up behind me. How many years that Love helped me clarify!

But he was gone, he didn’t come back. The old dog died, sail around.

A Place to Pivot

I was thinking of gurus today. Follower energy. The desire to be led. Gurus and their followers being a manifestation of that energy, that passivity. Maybe that lack of energy.

Gurus give answers, right? Direction. So they absolve their disciples, their students, whatever word you use, of some responsibility, the responsibility to act, to decide to act and to act. The only action becomes the giving over of that responsibility.

Does that make sense?

You say, I’m lost and confused and I don’t think I can find my way out. Well I do, says the Guru. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. That’s not the point. That’s not what we were asking for, was it?

So we say, Okay. You drive. You take the reins. You decide which fork we should take. It’s okay. I’ll follow. Following is nice. You get to look at the scenery. You get to think, At least I’m not the one who has to make choices, who has to come to a decision.

The real teacher would say, But you do have to choose. You do have to decide.

The real teacher probably wouldn’t have taken the reins in the first place. She knows better. She isn’t going to let us off so easy. Those teachers are hard to find. They don’t put up ads looking for students. They aren’t counting on you to pay the bills or keep a few potatoes in the pot.

At the doctor’s office, I have follower energy. Cheerful helpful follower energy. I’m nice to everyone – very grateful, very humble – then the doctor shows up and I remember why I’m here. It’s not about being nice to people who are busy and stressed. It’s not about shining a little light. It’s about me. I want an answer.

It’s good to see that! Good to know it. At least then you can begin to tease out the false and the true. You can laugh at yourself – look at me, I want a guru! I don’t care so much about what’s happening to my heart or why I have this headache. To me, whatever is happening inside my body is just a symbol of some deeper problem, some estrangement, some separation or divide.

It’s a spiritual thing. I can feel it in the doctor’s presence, the same as a priest, the same as a good lecturer on Christ. What is this brokenness? And how are you going to fix it?

The doctor has her computer, her charts. She has her busyness, her own affairs. I knew a priest who listened to confessions thinking about his mother. He was never there with the sinner begging for mercy. There’s a real awareness, a real intelligence that’s called for. And it’s hard, very hard. I’m not telling you I have it. Don’t think that.

If you knew the Answer, the Absolute, would you sell it? If you could free everybody – if you knew how to – would you market the solution? Travel around wearing a white robe, always speaking with a replica Ming vase of lilies nearby?

Everything is for sale but the name of God. It’s true.

It could be this, says the doctor. Could be that. Let’s run this test. Take this pill for a month and that one for two months. Come back in thirty days. That can go on for years! It already has.

Today’s lesson in A Course in Miracles says, “These thoughts do not mean anything. They are like the magazines I see in this rack, the dog I see on the street, the clouds I see in the sky.”

Tara Singh says, If you could understand the truth of that lesson – really grasp it for just one second, then you would be enlightened.

This morning at 4 a.m. the sky was filled with stars, and every few minutes one of them would go sailing away, falling with a bright flash over the horizon. It can mean anything you want it to mean. God is coming, God is here.

In 4 a.m. darkness, starlight on what snow remains in early January, the dogs follow me. We stumble through the field towards the pond, listening to the wind. They walk nose down, I walk head up, staring at the sky.

I asked myself, What do I want from the doctor today?

The answer: Peace. Peace and a place from which to pivot.

Peace – okay. Let that go. Everybody knows what peace is.

But what does that mean – a place from which to pivot? That’s weird.

It means a space in which one can suddenly and totally and emphatically change. Not change appearances or diets, but be made anew. Born again. Not the slow transition inside the chrysalis – quicker. Shedding the past, the future, time, every last symbol of the beholden.

It’s an old dream, older than the one that leaves you singing about being a poor wayfaring stranger.

Probably gurus mean well. Doctors, too. Most of them anyway, don’t you think? After all, we create them. We want answers and healing and somebody has to do it. Follower energy begets leader energy. It’s a law.

But if all that’s true, ask why we never get to Peace or Love, why we’re never healed. The doctor today was great, very funny, full of the crackling energy of the universe, just like those shooting stars, but no peace. No place to pivot.

Why not?

Come home, make tea. Take a nap, try to write. Come back to it again. Who is blessing who? Do I have it wrong?

Pivot from what? To what?