Accepting Uncertainty: Practicing ACIM Lesson 61

I want to make an observation related to Lesson 61 of A Course in Miracles. It has to do with the question of the extent to which understanding the course intellectually matters to our practice. I think this lesson is one of the times when the course implicitly suggests that intellectual grasp isn’t so important, that accepting a degree of uncertainty is actually helpful.

Lesson 61 is one of those grandiose moments A Course in Miracles frequently offers its readers. “I am the light of the world.” For a lot of us, we just run with that language because saying it feels good. In course parlance, the ego loves that phrase. “You’re damn right I’m the light of the world. I’m the brightest light there is.”

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rocks scavenged from the brook past the horses, drying on the back porch railing

I do that too, of course. I’m not preaching from some rarefied altar here. It feels good to think about myself as the light of the world. I become very patient and generous and gentle when I think of myself that way. I sort of imagine myself as a cool contemporary Jesus shining his light hither and yon, a New England Christ with horses and pigs and a garden.

We all have some variation of that grandiosity happening in our minds. The problem isn’t that it’s happening, it’s that we don’t notice it’s happening. It can be very subtle. If we aren’t attentive and vigilant, the ego will slip right in under the guise of holiness and appropriate literally everything to serve its own ends. We think we’re too spiritual or psychologically evolved to fall prey to it but that kind of unfounded confidence is the ego.

So Lesson 61 feels like a big ego trap, because its essence is exactly the sort of big idea our ego loves to take for a spin. The key to noticing this happening is the good feeling it gives us, and the subtle way that we interpret “feeling good” as spiritual. It’s helpful to notice that happening and then question it. How sure are we that we really and truly know what’s going on here?

The thing is, that level of “feeling good,” and the positive effects that flow from it – gentleness, patience, generosity, et cetera – , are temporary and not very durable. They’re temporary because they pass. And they’re not durable because, in addition to being temporary, they get rattled far too easily. Somebody’s mean or needy or an unexpected demand is made on my time and . . . bam! So long light of the world. Hello darkness, my old friend (to quote an old and dear guide).

In Lesson 61 the course is pointing to something that does not pass and cannot be rattled or undone and so delivers a lasting and sustainable peace and happiness.

But in order to begin to get all that, we have to get out of the way. We have to perceive the ego’s move to take over our experience of Lesson 61 and actually actively stop it.

The course actually warns us that the ego is going to make this kind of move. It says that the phrase “I am the light of the world” is a simple statement about what we are and not “a statement of pride, of arrogance, or of self-deception.”

It does not describe the self-concept you have made. It does not refer to any of the characteristics with which you have endowed your idols (W-pI.61.1:3-5).

Those qualifications are incredibly important. That’s why they’re right there at the beginning of the lesson. They are flashing yellow lights telling us to slow down and check ourselves, to see where our attention is, to make sure we’re not getting carried away with delusions of ourselves as worldly saviors whose holiness elevates use above the hoi polloi.

One way to do that in our practice of A Course in Miracles is to read the text and workbook closely, and really inquire as to our understanding. This is not a paradox! I am not suggesting that intellectual understanding trumps practice. I am simply suggesting that close reading is a way of staying close to the course. I am saying this proximity ultimately strengthens and enriches our experience as learners.

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Opening a little space for the horses, shade into which to extend their pasture, and trails on which to wander . . . an ongoing project, a kind of therapy, a meeting place of minds . . .

For examples, in those sentences I just cited (W-pI.61.1:3-5), the course is asking if we are truly clear about the distinction between self and self-concept. Are you?

It asks if we are clear-eyed about our idols and the qualities by which we make them our idols – the historical Jesus, the westernized Buddha, the affluence and influence of Eckhart Tolle and other contemporary spiritual teachers. Are you?

For most of us, the answer is some variation of “not really.” Sometimes we’re clear and sometimes we’re fuzzy. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t. That’s why we’re here – working our way through learning what it means to be one-without-another et cetera.

Thus, when we do this lesson, it is actually not a bad idea to do it with uncertainty. Just be in the space of not fully understanding what it means to be “the light of world.” Be in the space of knowing how easily and frequently we turn this sort of thing into a hymn to our specialness. Be confused and unskilled. Be a beginner.

And then see what happens, right? Just see what happens. Do what the lesson asks, trying mightily to be honest and stay out of the way. You might imagine Jesus saying, “yes, yes – that’s it – get to where you don’t know anything and see what happens.”

What happens?

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a little space in the side yard to write, to sit quietly, to stargaze at night, to drink coffee when the sun rises

I don’t know what happens for you, other than that as you look closely at what obscures the light of the world in you, the more clearly that light will shine. We don’t need to do anything other than look at the impediments. The light is there; you don’t have to find it, turn it on, replace the bulb or anything.

You just need to look at what makes looking hard, and then let what happens happen. And things will happen! And, generally speaking, they will be things that make you happy in the sense of being gentle and peaceful in sustainable ways, and in touch with a sense of meaning to your life that cannot be shaken.

Love Does Not Compare: ACIM Daily Lesson 195

Let us pause for a moment and think of those with whom we compare ourselves. I mean literally search our thoughts and find those individuals (or groups even), and maybe even do a little comparing right now.

Aren’t these folks easy to find? Easy to objectify? Easy to envy or scorn? Those who are less patient, less diligent in their scholarship, less attentive to food security? Those who are richer, thinner, or can run farther faster? Those who panic when faced with a crowd and those who can’t shut up and share the stage?

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dawn in the hayloft, light hinting red

It is helpful to see this rogues gallery and to acknowledge its existence. We made it. Its halls are worn bare because we visit so often and so faithfully.

Lesson 195 of A Course in Miracles is ostensibly about gratitude, but it yokes this core concept to our tendency to compare ourselves to others and find them – or us – wanting. Comparison, it turns out, is not a recipe for inner peace.

You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you, nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. Love makes no comparisons. And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love (W-pI.195.4:1-3).

Love makes no comparisons . . .

We have to stay with that phrase for a moment because it is so utterly beautiful and also so mind-numbingly ridiculous.

Doesn’t that phrase feel electric in your brain? “Love makes no comparisons,” “Love does not compare . . . ” Doesn’t it resonate when uttered as if the very angels of Heaven were harmonizing along with you?

And truly, don’t you feel a little self-righteous saying it? I do. Like how cool is it that we are the ones who know that love makes no comparisons . . .

But look. As human observers, we make comparisons. We live by them. We compare foods, find some nutritious and others a chemical abomination, and then eat accordingly. We have to go on a long drive and opt for a Bob Dylan playlist, not Techno, because we want to be happy and relaxed on our drive, not jaw-grinding insane.

Or we love someone – we hold them, kiss them, watch over their rest, catch our breath when they smile – because we’ve been around, we’ve seen the options – and this someone is the best someone. They’re good to us, they make us laugh. They know when we need a little extra attention and when we have to be alone. Not just anybody can be this somebody!

You cannot not make comparisons. Okay? You really have to see this! You have to see how comparing actually inheres in your body, in your thoughts, and in the language you use. Comparison is you; it’s as much you as anything else you’d like to say is you.

We have to see it that way because if we don’t, then the utter ridiculousness of the lesson – upon which its helpfulness is predicated – won’t be clear. You see? You are being told to adopt as a practice something that you literally cannot do. It isn’t fair. It’s masochistic.

So what do we do?

Lesson 195 advises us to let our gratitude make room for “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death” (W-pI.195.5:2).

All these go with you. Let us not compare ourselves with them, for thus we split them off from our awareness of the unity we share with them, as they must share with us (W-pI.195.5:3-4).

Do you see what happened there? We – you and I, of all people – got thrown in with “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death.”

It’s not a mistake. It’s a fact of our shared unity. If you are honest, can’t you see yourself somewhere in that list? It’s not a description of others – it’s a description of our own living.

Comparison only makes logical sense if there are at least two things. I can compare my right hand to my left hand, but not my right hand to my right hand. I can compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out back, but I can’t compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out front.

What is one and thus the same cannot be compared to itself.

We thank our Father for one thing alone; that we are separate from no living thing, and therefore one with Him. And we rejoice that no exceptions can ever be made which would reduce our wholeness . . . We give thanks for every living thing, for otherwise we offer thanks for nothing . . . (W-pI.195.6:1-3).

Sure, you say. We are one. But it feels and seems and appears like we’re separate . . .

Yes. I hear that. It is an important insight. And really, to pretend otherwise is vain and pretentious. And we are past that now. We don’t wake to fake awakening or act out fantasies of nonduality or pretend we’re in an intimate 1:1 correspondence with Jesus, Yahweh, and the Buddha.

It’s good to be clear that we are having a dualistic experience. It’s good to remember that we are not alone in saying it. And it’s good – it’s more than good, actually – to give close attention to what the course asks of us next in the lesson.

Then let our brothers lean their tired heads against our shoulders as they rest a while. We offer thanks for them. For if we can direct them to the peace that we would find, the way is opening at last to us (W-pI.195.7:1-3).

Please see the clarity of that last sentence: it does not say that peace that we have or know or are. It says the peace we are still looking for. It refers to the peace we haven’t found. It envisions a future state that is not this present state.

You see? The course is recognizing that we aren’t there yet. We don’t get it yet. And it is no big deal. The sky isn’t falling, pits aren’t opening, and lions aren’t laying down with lambs.

So we can relax and get on with the other two sentences in that passage. We give thanks (sentence two) and then help our brothers and sisters rest (sentence one). We put the metaphysics and intellectualizing aside and actually help our brothers and sisters.

And isn’t that the part we all want to skip? It’s so much sexier to read Francisco Varela and Emily Dickinson, write Japanese short form poetry, see who liked our last post and who retweeted our last tweets.

Who wants to go donate a few hours at the local food pantry? Who wants to walk around the crappy parts of town and hand out coffees or blankets or bologna sandwiches? Who wants to visit a nursing home and read to someone who never gets visitors? Who wants to knock on doors for signatures for a bill that would ban pesticides that are harmful to bees? Who wants to do the dishes even though it’s not your night to do the dishes?

Tara Singh is my ACIM teacher because he brought the course out of the clouds. He ended the distractions of mysticism, psychic powers, ascended masters; really, he ended the ideal of special experiences altogether. He taught me that the earth is my home, not the sky. He taught me to garden and gaze dreamily at the stars, to enact local service and to go off to a quiet place to pray, to study critical texts and clean the bathroom.

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my shadow gesturing at blurred prisms on the hayloft’s western wall

Lesson 195 never says this but it should: Act in the world with your body. Act in a way that helps other people. When you do this, the love and peace from which you still feel alienated, and the oneness that remains true even though you can’t really see it yet, will be revealed.

An ancient door is swinging free again; a long forgotten Word re-echoes in our memory, and gathers clarity as we are willing once again to clear . . . Walk then in gratitude the way of love (W-pI.7:4, 8:1).

So don’t sweat the comparisons. Let them come, let them go. Don’t sweat the impossible. Don’t try and mentally work out what it would mean to be beyond all that. If it’s your job to understand and help others understand, then that will happen. But right now – and perhaps for a long time to come – our job is to love one another, to help one another.

We are the lost and forsaken. We are the lost sheep. But it’s okay! Don’t look for home, don’t complain about how unfair life is, don’t lament your fate. Rather, with clear eyes, gaze about and see the widow, the orphan, the soldier, the prisoner, the refugee, the hungry, the frail, the abandoned, the hopeless . . .

They are here: help them. In simple nondramatic ways, be of service. See what happens next.

A Course in Miracles Lesson 284

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt.

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attention given to experience as it is given . . .

It does not seem controversial to say that if we are hurt, then something caused our pain. For example, if I drop the bureau I am carrying up the stairs and it lands on my toe, then we know what caused the pain. That’s easy.

Let’s say that there is a particular social situation – certain people in a certain setting – and when I am in that situation, I feel hurt and anguished. I go and – lo and behold – experience hurt and anguish.

That is trickier, right? The “cause” of the pain was the social situation, but one could argue the deeper “cause” was my decision to go there in the first place.

Both those examples share a common premise: the pain is real and it is caused by something external (even if I am “choosing” to subject myself to that external).

But what happens if there is no cause? Can there still be pain?

A Course in Miracles asks us to consider the possibility that pain, being causeless, does not exist. It cannot exist.

Loss is not loss when properly perceived. Pain is impossible. There is no grief with any cause at all (W-pII.284.1:1-3).

How can this be?

There is a clue in the preceding lesson. The prayer in Lesson 283 notes that we made an image of ourselves and called it the Son of God (W-pII.283.1:1). We made an idol of this image and used it deny our shared identity with God (W-pII.283.1:3, 5). The prayer intimates the antidote.

Now are we one in shared Identity, with God our Father as our only Source, and everything created part of us. And so we offer blessing to all things, uniting lovingly with all the world, which our forgiveness has made one with us (W-pII.283.2:1-2).

If the “self” who is subject to hurt is not real (but an image made to obscure wholeness) then what happens to pain? It cannot be real either, correct?

It is the giving of attention that undoes the persistent illusion of a separated self; not that to which the attention is given.

Of course that analysis turns on our openness to the idea that the self is not real (but is a manufactured image). To the degree we resist that conclusion, we are going to experience pain – not as punishment for resistance but as a simple consequence of believing we are that which can suffer.1

We all believe that we are bodies, having a temporal-spatial experience in a world that contains other bodies. We all question the nondual premise that the body is an illusion. Why else was this post written? Why else is it being read?

A Course in Miracles is indifferent to when or by what means we undo our mistaken belief about what we are in truth. Lesson 284 implicitly recognizes this, and urges us not to get hung up on the details of when/how.

This is the truth, at first to be but said and then repeated many times; and next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations. Then to be considered seriously more and more and more, and finally accepted as the truth (W-pII.284.1:5-6).

Those words describe a process that unfolds in time to a body. There is no need to rush through – or denigrate or deny or otherwise worry about – the experience of being a body. In time, teachers appear, ideas are embraced, and new practices are suggested. Insight is given. A Course in Miracles both accepts – and gently encourages us not to linger on – this experience.

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt. I would beyond these words today, and past all reservations, and arrive at full acceptance of the truth in them (W-pII.284.1:7-8).

Our practice is one of giving gentle sustained attention to experience as it is given. This may at times include intellectual analysis, at times the devotion of prayer or meditation, and at times mundanity and minutiae. It doesn’t matter. It is the giving of attention that undoes the persistent illusion of a separated self; not that to which the attention is given.

A Course in Miracles is unusual in that it makes no significant demands of its students. Even this far into the lessons, if we read closely, we see the inherent patience and gentleness of the curriculum. It is like a child learning to swim with a loving parent whose only concern is the child’s safety and happiness. “You want to dip just one toe? That’s okay. You just want to play in the sand? That’s okay. You don’t want to learn to swim at all? That’s okay.”

And all the while knowing that when the child is ready to wade into the waves and leap into the blue – that will be okay, too.

1. Please note that the image – so long as we believe it is real – is real for us (see for example (T-26.VI.1:2-4). This can be a confusing distinction, but it matters. A mirage in the desert is not a real oasis, but it is a real mirage. Observe a child with Santa Claus – so long as their belief is total then Santa is real. Or observe adults who believe in a distinctly masculine sky God directing human affairs. It is easy to be dismissive of those examples; but it can also be helpful to ask: what belief (or beliefs), conscious or otherwise, do I currently cling to that I may subsequently learn is/are false? If you say “none,” how do you know? How could you know?

A Course in Miracles Lesson 194

My practice of A Course in Miracles is grounded in the ordinary. It finds itself in what arises day-to-day – baking bread, mowing the lawn, writing poetry, drinking tea with Chrisoula, and walking and talking with my children.

The course is efficient and practical. The attention I give to it on its terms is returned to me with a surfeit of graceful interest. The gift that we were given in creation is revealed; the truth of “I need do nothing” becomes a fact, a sure foundation upon which inner peace both rests and extends.

Lesson 194 of A Course in Miracles neatly captures this emphasis on what is ordinary, this benevolent practicality, and the luminosity that naturally attends when we are no longer looking for drama or magic or any other kind of special personal experience. The lesson urges us to place the future – and be extension, the past and present – in God’s hands. When we do, we rest in peace ourselves.

Then is each instant which was slave to time transformed into a holy instant, when the light that was kept hidden in God’s Son is freed to bless the world. Now is he free, and all his glory shines upon a world made free with him, to share his holiness (W-pI.194.5:3-4).

But the poetry and eloquence of the course belies the grounded nature of this transformation. When we resolve to place our lives in the hands of God, and bring our attention to this placement throughout our day, then the effects are felt here. The effects are felt now.

What worry can beset the one who gives his future to the loving Hands of God? What can he suffer? What can cause him pain, or bring experience of loss to him? What can he fear? And what can he regard except with love? (W-pI.194.7:1-5)

The line at the supermarket is too long – we place our future in the hands of God. Our child is struggling at school – we place our future in the hands of God. We do not have enough money to pay the mortgage – we place our future in the hands of God. We are teacherless, partnerless, lost, confused, scared . . .

We place our future in the hands of God. No more and no less. It is enough.

There is nothing that we encounter in our day that is not shadowed by our fear of the future. Everything that we do as bodies in the throes of the egoic belief system is shaped by the past in anticipation of an improved future. And what has this mode of thought brought us but pain? Pain with intermittent relief from pain, sure, but still pain.

And A Course in Miracles comes along and offers us a way out of this cycle. It offers us a new thought system, and a method by which we might surely attain it. It dissolves our ruinous engagement with time not through personal understanding but through our willingness to “let the future go, and place it in God’s Hands” (W-pI.194.4:5).

This is literally a practice! It is an action that we take when faced with fear, guilt, anger, lust, greed, grief and so forth. The circumstances of our pain don’t matter. The apparent cause or causes don’t matter. Nothing matters but that we place the outcome – and the attendant feelings – in God’s hands. And when this placement becomes “a habit in [our] problem-solving repertoire,” then we will know at last salvation and peace (W-pI.194.6:2).

It is important to see that we are not made perfect by this practice. We don’t become Buddhas or ascended masters. Our bodies continue to be bodies – hungry, lustful, capable of fatigue, subject to emotion. Biology and neurochemistry proceed apace. But we are no longer ruled by those material externals. We do not fight them; we merely look beyond them.

[H]e who has escaped all fear of future pain . . . is sure that his perception may be faulty, but will never lack correction. He is free to choose again when he has been deceived; to change his mind when he has made mistakes (W-pI.194.7:6-8).

That is a description of you and I today – right now – if we choose to accept it.

Do you see the loveliness in it? The absence of consequences? The gentle practice by which we are led away from the world of guilt and fear and into love and forgiveness? It is so simple. I am not saying it is easy – I would be a liar if I did – but I am saying that it is simple. And I am saying that it is a transformation bequeathed to us over and over. And all we are asked to do is try to remember – moment by moment, day by day – to surrender our personal ideals and expectations and ideas of improvement. All they have ever done is bring us to grief.

In the end, Lesson 194 is the manifestation of the new way promised us by A Course in Miracles. We place our future in the hands of God and together learn that “only good can come to us” (W-pI.194.9:6).

A Course in Miracles Lesson 186

Here is the thought of true humility, which holds no function as your own but that which has been given you (W-pI.186.1:2).

Ask yourself: when told that salvation of the world depends on you, does not a chorus of internal voices begin to clamor in various degrees of consent and disagreement? Anticipation and resistance?

And hearing those voices – and not pretending they are not there, and not playing favorites amongst them, or otherwise dismissing their effects – can we begin to give attention to what, if anything, can be encountered beyond them?

Our true self cannot be discovered in thought. We aren’t going to think our way to the Truth. This does not make thought bad or unnecessary; only superfluous to Truth. We can think our way to baking brownies or clearing trails or driving to Chicago, but we cannot think our way to Reality.

So there is a presence beyond our egoic response to A Course in Miracles, that tends to us as we sit quietly, willing to experience it.

Our self-made roles are shifting, and they seem to change from mourner to ecstatic bliss of love and loving. We can laugh or weep, and greet the day with welcome or with tears. Our very being seems to change as we experience a thousand shifts in mood, and our emotions raise us high indeed, or dash us to the ground in hopelessness (W-pI.186.8:3-5).

This self can save nothing – salvation is not contingent on it in any way. Rather, salvation is contingent on our willingness to be led beyond this tiny self, this fragile construct of thought and feeling and language.

. . . certain as the sun’s return each morning to dispel the night, your truly given function stands out clear and wholly unambiguous. There is no doubt of its validity. It comes from One Who knows no error, and His Voice is certain of Its messages (W-pI.186.11:1-3).

Our practice of this lesson, then, depends on our willingness to set aside our various mental, emotional and psychological images of the self in order to find out what remains. Because it is what remains that is the foundation of the world’s salvation. So we can ask: what stays when we release our insistence on this or that role for ourselves? Who are we when we no longer rush to define ourselves in terms of what we think the world needs?

We think that our ideas are a form of knowledge, aspects of truth, helpful pointers to a self that can eventually fit into the world and maybe even save it from itself. But this thought (regardless of the myriad forms it takes) is simply faith wasted in yet another illusion. We have to let it all go – our images of helpfulness, kindness, gentleness, willingness, love. All of it. Can we do that? Admit that we don’t know? Admit that we even our purest ideal of lovingkindness contains the rank seeds of selfishness?

It is hard. It is very hard.

And yet, to the precise degree that we can entertain it as a possibility, help is given. Help is there. It is like we are so busy drawing maps to lead us home that we fail to notice we are already are home. What is required is not effort, but gentle and sustained attention to the present, which is forever sufficient.

Thus, the question is not how do I save the world, or what do I need to do to save the world, but rather am I giving attention to the Voice for Love (W-pI.186.4:1)? Nothing more is asked of us because nothing more could be asked.

The ego’s many voices – its pretend logic, its passionate directives – will fade and disappear as we observe them without investment. What remains? What emerges from what remains?

Those are interesting questions; and it behooves us to be discovered by the answers.

On Seeing Only the Past

I see only the past (W-pI.7).

The seventh lesson of A Course in Miracles is a beautiful way to reconnect to how practical and powerful the course is, and how readily it can be applied in our day-to-day lives.

What is the past but interpretation clung to in place of reality? When we see only the past, we are relying on our ideas about people, places and things – about life itself. This person is good, that flower is best, life is unfair. And all of that interpretation simply obscures reality which is always quiet, peaceful and flowing.

Our intentions can be very sincere and our desire all but perfect but it won’t matter if we are still only seeing the past. The past is always personal – it always reflects our goals, our investment in outcomes, our attachment to our feelings. We enshrine memory – we put it on a pedestal – and from that special place it blocks the Light that is God so that we seem to live only in shadows.

This habit of seeing only what is of the past can be very subtle. Many students of A Course in Miracles – certainly I am one of them – come to an intellectual appreciation of this lesson. Yes, yes, we say. The past impedes our experience of the present. We get it. On the surface, we are very devoted and committed. But deep down it is a different story.

So much of what feeds the ego is outside the immediate reach of our awareness. It emerges from the welter of Freud’s unacknowledged and unexplored cavernous interiors. We don’t have to go excavating for it – this is not a course in spiritual archaeology. But we do have to be vigilant to what is happening in the present. When we are not joyful and when we do not know peace, it is because we are separated from reality – which is to be separated from God – and we are separated this way because we have again allowed the past to intrude on our experience of God and love.

It is not my job to heal the past or even to uncover it. I merely need to be a faithful witness to the present effects of seeing only the past, and then to give those effects to the Holy Spirit, willing that they be undone for me.

Fortunately, to witness the present effect of seeing only the past is sufficient for healing.

This happens to all of us – separation, anxiety, fear, anger. There is no point in pretending otherwise and no point in feeling depressed or discouraged about it. When we practice A Course in Miracles – studying the text, doing the lessons, giving attention to forgiveness and love, and working with brothers and sisters to bring all this into fruitful application – we become increasingly aware of the gap between peace and conflict. We realize that we are invested in conflict – that we want it – and we perceive too the apparently vast space between our conflicted self and the peace that surpasses understanding.

This is a critical insight! Only when we realize how far we have to go, and how futile are the resources we call our own, that a real journey of healing and love can begin. And it will feel like a journey – it will resemble a journey – but the farther we go along it, the clearer it will be that we are merely traveling in place. We are merely remembering that we already have all that can be given, and that we are already home in Creation, where differentiation of any kind is impossible.

In other words, when I am tense and angry in a meeting, say, it is not necessary to dig into the past to find some similar incident or supposed cause. Analysis is not required! Rather, it is imperative I hold my tension and anger without judgment – to see them as mistakes in need of gentle correction rather than sins condemning me to an eternity in hell. When I do this, the Holy Spirit softly intercedes and dissolves the present conflict by bringing my attention back to the present, which A Course in Miracles calls a Holy Instant.

It is not my job to heal the past or even to uncover it. I merely need to be a faithful witness to the present effects of seeing only the past, and then to give those effects to the Holy Spirit, willing that they be undone for me. And they will be. And to that extend, my reliance on the past as a means of interpreting or understanding – manipulating, really – reality is diminished.

As this happens with greater frequency – as we gain confidence in our holiness and in the positive influence of our holy teacher – our stranglehold on the past will begin to diminish on its own. We will notice this in the sense that things which used to bother us – which used to cause us all manner of grief and anguish – are no longer such a big deal. We might not even notice them.

What happened? We learned to identify with the Holy Spirit – that’s what happened. We learned to want only what God wills for us.

That is our liberation. That is the field in which we awaken.

This is such a simple idea – we see only the past – and yet there is such a profound opportunity for healing in it. In all things, at all times, give attention to the way in which the past is seeping into your perception and shaping your conclusions and driving your behavior. Simply see it: take notice of what is happening, and what its effects are. The essential conflict will be clarified: we are given the Kingdom now, we are blessed in reality now. We are being tapped by God on the left shoulder and stubbornly looking to our right. It’s funny when we see how obstinate we are, and how forgiving God is, and how easily the apparent mess is corrected.

It truly takes very little to shift our attention from wrong- to right-minded thinking. What is hard is seeing the need for it – that is where the egoic mind/self is most aggressive and wily. The impulse to think we’re doing fine, making progress on our own and so forth can be both pervasive and persuasive. But once we have established the need for releasing the past as the only way to fully dwell in the Holy Instant, it is largely done for us. Really, we are simply seeing reality, which is not dependent on either our perception or interpretation to be real.

In any case, there is no power that can withstand our mind’s decision to return to love, to return to the holy present that in reality it never left.

A Course in Miracles Lesson 193

All things are lessons God would have me learn.

It is possible to experience peace in this world, a facsimile of what we will know when we remember again that what we are in truth is not separate from what God is. The means of peace is forgiveness: the sharing of our perception with the Holy Spirit, that it might be directed toward Heaven rather than the ego’s self-serving hell.

Lesson 193 of A Course in Miracles is a clear and explicit statement of this principle: there is nothing in this world that cannot serve the purpose of salvation if we will simply share it with the Holy Spirit and Jesus. Given to the Teacher who knows the way Home, all things facilitate that longed-for return.

However abstract or unrealistic or even complicated this idea might seem, it is in reality quite simple: the only lesson that we really need to learn is “forgive and you will see this differently” (W-pI.193.3:7).

The form of the lessons changes constantly, but its content – the healing power of forgiveness – never does. Thus, we might be forgiving a spouse for being impatient or angry. Then we might be forgiving the President of the United States for advancing a policy with which we disagree. Then we might be forgiving the neighbor’s dog who barks too loud. Then the homeless guy outside our office. Then the rain. Then daylight savings. Then chocolate . . .

How do we know that these things – and myriad others need to be forgiven in the mode of A Course in Miracles? By the degree to which we still experience pain – if we are upset or angry or wracked with need or sad or grieving, then it is certain that we have not yet fully shared with the Holy Spirit.

Don’t let this become yet another source of guilt! Jesus and the Holy Spirit are models of truly infinite patience. They merely await our willingness, healing as much as we are able to share with them, and then quietly resting while we summon the willingness to offer yet more seeming strife and anguish. It’s not a crime to take this by degrees.

But when we are ready to be free of suffering – and to know the peace that surpasses understanding – we can begin to approach our lives with the earnest diligence of the student who is ready – like really ready – to graduate.

Let mercy come to your more quickly. Do not try to hold it off another day, another minute or another instant. Time was made for this. Use it today for what its purpose is. Morning and night, devote what time you can to serving its proper aim, and do not let t time be less than meets your deepest need (W-pI.193.10:2-6).

Our deepest need is to end the seeming separation and return to God. Nothing will satisfy us – nothing – but to restore to our memory the Source of our Creation and to know ourselves again as what we are in Truth.

The way to do this is to see in each form that presents itself – in work, in family, in friends, in the news, in our reading, our dog walks, our seeming idle thoughts, our dreams, our longings, our memories – as yet another opportunity to forgive and thus see differently.

God would not have you suffer thus. He would help you forgive yourself. His Son does not remember who he is. And God would have him not forget His Love, and all the gifts His Love brings with it (W-pI.193.8:1-4).

Joy is a daily thing – and peace is sure when we refuse to cling to the ego, the frail and malicious self, that seeks to replace God and control all things. Let go. Let the Holy Spirit teach you how to see the forest, how to see the other drivers, how to see children and cats, and sunsets and cheesecakes.

The purpose of our existence is merely to practice forgiveness that we might remember we are wrong about what we are and thus deeply confused about our true existence. We are given a Teacher who can lead us home as surely as a river finds the sea. In this lesson, Jesus urges us to avail ourselves of that Guide – and to give salvation as much of our willingness as we possibly we can.

Heaven waits on us. And we want nothing less.

Scalability and A Course in Miracles

When my software friends talk about scalability, they usually mean the ability of a program or system to handle exponentially more work without significant alteration. The underlying model naturally expands to handle increasing loads.

I was thinking about that concept this morning while trudging through the rain with my dog. A Course in Miracles, I decided, was scalable. Let me share a couple of personal stories to support what I hope is not too inelegant a metaphor.

A few months after I began to study the course in earnest, I made a significant mistake in one of my classes. I’d taught the students A and then graded their papers as if I’d taught them B. My error came to light during a somewhat tense classroom discussion when everyone was wondering why their grades were so low. They were angry; I was mortified.

I was also scared. I pictured them going to the Dean, writing letters to the college paper, and maybe even hiring lawyers. I was new to the college and still working on first impressions. This was not what I needed or wanted!

Here’s what I did. I hastily promised I would figure out how to fix the problem and then ended the class early. I left the school and drove thirty minutes east to one of my favorite mountains and climbed it. When I got to the top I wandered around the summit praying in a breathless sort of way and trying to remember a helpful phrase or lesson from ACIM (like this one).

Eventually, I realized that no matter what happened, it wasn’t the end of the world. Even if I got fired and publicly humiliated, I would figure something out. It wasn’t a spiritual insight so much as resignation. But it settled me. I drove home and made dinner for my family. I fed the dog. I told stories to the kids at bedtime.

When I saw the students again two days later, I offered them a few choices on how to fix the problem. We talked it over and they chose the one that made the most sense. Nobody wrote any letters. Nobody turned me in.

It was all – surprise surprise – okay.

Here’s what worked in that situation: rather than panic and fight (which is my default mode), I created space in which to make contact with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I ended the class and went to a favorite mountain. I prayed. I turned my thoughts towards the healing inherent in A Course in Miracles. I stayed with it until I found something resembling peace. And then I did what was in front of me. Even if I wasn’t feeling it one hundred percent, I acted as if Jesus had my back and everything was just fine.

In retrospect, that was not a very big problem! It happens to all educators from time to time. The solution is apparent and natural and it’s just no big thing. When stuff like that happens today I just breeze through it. I don’t even really recognize it as a problem, per se.

Fast forward to about a year ago. I am an elected public official and in my community I sometimes have to chair standing room only meetings. The press is there. The public is there. State and local officials are there. There are rules of order that have to be followed and it’s my job to know and apply them.

At one meeting, a resident stood up and publicly berated me for what he believed were procedural violations. He was angry and caustic. People were watching. That same feeling – fear and guilt – welled in chest.

When he finished speaking I took one step back from the microphone. I closed my eyes and thanked Jesus that I could remember to say thank you. I asked for wisdom in my response. I drew a deep breath. Then I stepped to the microphone and responded to this individual.

I applied the same steps, right? Create a space in which it is possible to ask your internal teacher for help. Trust that the help will be there. Then step back into your life and do the best you can.

I understand that there is no order of difficulty in miracles (T-1.I.1:1) and that at the metaphysical level our problems do not have orders of complexity. I understand that our only problem is our perceived separation from God regardless of whether it manifests as a headache or a fatal car accident.

My point is simply to demonstrate that as we grow closer to the course – studying it, practicing it, teaching it – it scales for us. It’s there for the stubbed toes and it’s there for the diagnosis of cancer. It’s there when our child runs a fever and it’s there when our house burns down.

Importantly, it scales within us. The so-called little problems in my life are slowly dissolving. The so-called big ones are getting less so all the time. Why? Because the course scales inside me to handle whatever guilt, grief and anguish I project on the outside.

We learn that miracles do not heed degrees of difficulty by bringing them to application. We see it happen. And more than that, by some spiritual osmosis that I will not pretend to understand, we become those miracles.

What am I really saying? In part, I’m saying that if you feel called to study the course, to make ACIM your spiritual path, then go for it. Bring your whole self, as you understand that at this time, to the process. The sooner you do, the lighter you’ll be.

And I’m also saying – for those of you who, like me, are still struggling with woes in the world of illusion – take heart. It gets better.

A Course in Miracles Lesson 169

By grace I live. By grace I am released.

From time to time I am reminded that kindness is not complicated – really it is just a question of putting another’s needs before our own – and that it is all the light we need to find our way to Heaven. For this we need each other: to enlarge our capacity to hear the call for love and to practice – for practice does make perfect – our capacity to respond with love. There really is nothing else to do.

Somehow, when our focus is on being kind, the egoic self is gently set aside. There’s no anger or viciousness to it. We aren’t rejecting anything. It’s more like we just acknowledge our brokenness and ask – humbly – to be able to serve in spite of it. The ego can’t withstand that grace-filled movement towards our brothers and sisters. When we privilege others, we undo the ego’s need to make them be our enemies, its means of perpetuating our separation from God.

When you choose to help those the ego made to hurt you, you are responding to a call much deeper and lovelier than the ego can possibly withstand.

We can do this, really, because as students of A Course in Miracles we know that giving and receiving are the same thing (M-2.5:5). Thus, when we respond with love to a brother or sister, we are also offering love to ourselves. This isn’t complicated! We all know how happy it makes us to help others. We were made to serve one another! There is no other, no better use to which we can put these bodies. We are literally capable of ending war and starvation and oppression and violence.

Yet our objective is greater than the end of conflict in the world: we seek the unity of Truth, the Oneness of God. We want to return to that state that each of us dimly remembers and daily laments that we ever turned away from it. We did not say no to God! But we think we did and so the effect is the same. Kindness is what reminds us we only dream and urges us to awaken. It lays the groundwork for a divine homecoming. We don’t yet know when or how or what it will look like, but in the offering of kindness we testify to our confidence that it is assured.

The ending must remain obscure to you until your part is done. It does not matter. For your part is still what all the rest depends on. As you take the role assigned to you, salvation comes a little nearer each uncertain heart that does not beat as yet in tune with God (W-pI.169.11:2-4).

What a beautiful mission! And what is our part in bringing it about? Simply to be kind: to extend miracles from the interior altar that knows nobody has left God and the ones who believe otherwise will soon remember the truth. It seems impossible but if you prayerfully turn within, the direction will be clear. You are only here to help others (T-2.V.A.18.8:2). Don’t even think about helping yourself – that’s been taken care of.

What is the face of Christ but his who went a moment into timelessness, and brought a clear reflection of the unity he felt an instant back to bless the world? How could you finally attain to it forever, while a part of you remains outside, unknowing, unawakened, and in need of you as witness to the truth (W-pI.169.13:3-4)?

So we are urged to gratitude for this opportunity to walk a while longer through this world of pain and woe, the better to shine the light of Love upon all its shadows and clutter, and to gather up the brothers and sisters who are still yoked to its sorrow and grief (W-pI.169.14:1). We aren’t spiritual giants and we aren’t holy gurus. There is too much work to be distracted anymore by titles and labels and churches and rules. We are simply those who at last are ready to love one another in the manner of the One who sent us, giving and receiving kindness, and lighting the way a little brighter that we might all be home forever.

A Course in Miracles Lesson 167

There is one life, and that I share with God.

Lesson 167 is one of the more challenging daily lessons in the ACIM workbook. Its emphasis on non-duality, its exploration of the unreality of death, and its call that we seek to mirror the Thoughts of God right now today challenge me on many levels. I want to take the abstractions and make them specific, turn death into a metaphor, and postpone perfection. In a way, this lesson invites me to confront the source of my resistance to the Course in general, paving the way to the radical healing it can impart to the willing.

Although I like chirping about non-duality as much as the next student of A Course in Miracles, in truth the concept is overwhelming. Our brains incline toward opposites; the body’s perception is grounded in duality. It is one thing, the bed is another, and the book another, and the window another, and the stars outside another, and . . .

There are not different kinds of life, for life is like the truth. It does not have degrees. It is the one condition in which all that God created share. Like all His Thoughts, it has no opposite (W-pI.167.1:1-4).

If the Course is right, then we cannot rely upon the perception inherent in our bodies. We need to make contact with the mind that considers no opposite because it knows there is no opposite to consider. This is not an intellectual experience, but a spiritual one. We can’t reason our way to it. We provide the willingness to learn, and so we learn, and at some point in the learning the conditions of knowing ourselves as mind are revealed. It is more in the nature of a gift then an accomplishment.

Yet the brain insists it can somehow learn this on its own. We don’t want to give up the body’s centrality. we like the warm bed while the wind blows and we like the stars that flicker in the dark and cavernous sky. We want to bring God down to this level. Abstraction is terrifying to us because all we know is the specificity of separation. But we can’t have both. This lesson reminds us that we are going to have to choose.

At the heart of that non-duality is the teaching that death is not real. God created Life, what God created has no opposite, and so Life cannot end. There is not state in opposition to it.

There is no death because what God created shares His Life. There is no death because an opposite to God does not exist. There is no death because the Father and the Son are one (W-pI.167.1:5-7).

Again, this confounds our physicality – all that we know of life in the world is that it ends. When we are happy, we know that some unhappiness waits down the road. When we are joyful, we know that sadness is still in the wings. We know that our bodies and the bodies of those we love are going to slow down and break down and then stop altogether and decay slowly into dust. Don’t tell me death isn’t real. Don’t do that.

And yet the Course insists: nope, no death. And so I look for compromises. I can accept the idea that death is not real because I can make it a metaphor of sorts. I can say, for example, that I will turn to dust but that dust will assume the shape of a willow tree or a rose or a dung beetle. In that way, well sure, life goes on.

But the Course does not teach that. I can compromise all I want but A Course in Miracles does not. Again, Lesson 167 brings me face-to-face with the tension between what I want and what the Course teaches.

Finally, this lesson urges me to give up the specificity of separation and stop clinging to the supposed reality of death and simply accept that what I am is a Thought in the Mind of God – whole, pure, unchanging and eternally joyful. Why wait?

Let us today be children of the truth, and not deny our holy heritage. Our life is not as we imagine it . . . We will not ask for death in any form today. Nor will we let imagined opposites to life abide even an instant where the Thought of life eternal has been set by God Himself (W-pI.167.10:1-2, 4-5).

And I say: yes, that sounds nice. I’ll get to it tomorrow. Tara Singh taught that there are two problems: we can’t see a truth and we think we can put of God until tomorrow. This lesson suggests that we don’t have to do that – that we can slip out of the sorrowful dream of separation and wake up to Oneness. And in response, we hedge. We like it, we talk about it, we write about it but . . . we won’t do it. Not yet.

So seeing our resistance that way – having it brought so clearly to our awareness by the lesson – what can we do? It seems impossible sometimes, the idea that we can just stop being bodies and brains, stop fighting love, stop insisting on the horror show of sleep. It’s too much. It’s too hard.

At the end of the lesson, Jesus reminds us that all we have to do in the world is be willing to learn. If we make our decisions with the Holy Spirit and allow healing to happen, then dreams of hell will shift slowly over to dreams of Heaven – right here, right now – and then the step from sleeping to waking will be as no step at all.

A sleeping mind must waken, as it sees its own perfection mirroring the Lord of life so perfectly it fades into what is reflected there. And now it is no more a mere reflection. It becomes the thing reflected, and the light which makes reflection possible (W-pI.167.12:3-5).

When we face our resistance, we see what blocks the recognition of God’s Love. We don’t have to do anything about it. When we see it clearly and associate it with our unhappiness, then we are ready to allow Jesus to show us a different way. We are ready to let the Holy Spirit assist us in a new way of seeing. All that is done for us, according to our willingness. The new life is already there and as it is revealed we are reminded that it is our truth, and our source, and our real life.

Lesson 167 is hard, but it is also a sign of Jesus’s faith in us. We are ready to go deeper and see more clearly the nature of the separation, and thus move more surely in the direction of atonement. That movement is itself joyful – reflecting Heaven – and ensures our safe awakening in God.