Beyond Jesus and History, This Love

It can be helpful to see both history and present events not in terms of people but of currents; often the current gets a face – Jesus, say, or Buddha – but it is still a current, not an individual. And the current is merely a pattern in life, broadly defined, which is in motion, albeit at paces which are often outside our perceptual – and even cognitive – range.

Christ_Buddah
Still silent Buddha beside the trail to the river . . .

Jesus, for example, was the public face of a Jewish movement that was both religious and political. He arose from cultural circumstances that he did not create but with which he was in relationship. Absent the men and women – Jewish and Roman and other – who were doing their living the way they were doing it at that time in that place, Jesus could not possibly have been Jesus. He was not meaningfully separate from his era; he cannot be meaningfully separated from history.

Bob Dylan once remarked that if he hadn’t come along doing the Woody Guthrie/socio-political folk/ rock’n’roll thing, then somebody else would have. He meant simply that it was an error to focus on him so intensely; the real point was that the movement of the music and the culture were not the work of the one but of the many. He was, he said, more like a link in a chain than the chain itself, or that which brought the chain into being.

On this view, the “one” – Jesus, say, or Bob Dylan – is less a cause of events and more of a face that one uses so as not to lose the narrative thread comprised by those events. The “hero” is not causative; people working and living and loving together are causative. Circumstances arises collectively. The hero is the stand-in so we can keep the story intact and accessible.

Why does this matter? What relevance does it have for us as we think through our spirituality and practice?

I am proposing a shift in thinking: that we think of ourselves not as separate discrete beings but as aspects of Being, no one of which is more important or helpful or necessary or meaningful than another. When we make this shift, our priorities shift in favor of love, and the effect is is a natural and serious happiness that is shared.

When I sit by the brook and give attention to the pools and currents before me, I notice there is one brook. There is one body of water flowing. Yet within that one body – that one movement – there are all these various sub-movements, swirling and spilling in and out of one another.

These eddies have their own form which unfolds in time; in this sense, they have their own separate identity. They beget other eddies and ripples, catch drifting twigs and leaves and carry them forward, unwind in the shallows, sink in the white water.

Yet the eddy’s existence is forever contingent on the brook. It is always just the brook being the brook a certain way for a few moments. The eddy dissolves but the brook doesn’t – the flowing water keeps on flowing. Water is still water.

Christ_in_all_things
Wherever one looks, there is Christ . . .

I am proposing that we see our own being as akin to an eddy in a brook. The atoms of which our bodies are comprised will decohere in time and recohere in other forms.

When the body goes, the mental psychological narrative that feels so essentially us – the ego, in ACIM terms – is going to dissolve as well. But what aspects of it were truly “ours” in the first case? Weren’t they just images and words and ideas which were floating through the culture? And won’t they keep floating after we’re gone? When the batteries run down in a radio it goes silent but music isn’t destroyed. It just plays on other radios. You can’t destroy music.

Our focus on heroes – on individuals – reinforces the concept that we are ourselves either heroes or followers. Competition, discord, and confusion tend to flow from this hierarchal, patriarchal belief system. Again, from a narrative perspective it’s functional. The problem comes when we think it reflects an actual independent objective reality.

So to think in a new way – one in which we are aspects of a collective – nodes, rather than separate discrete entities – inverts our traditional notions of self and body and world, and it isn’t easy. One has to work through the material in order to become convinced of its utility. And then one has to be vigilant in order not to slip back into old ways of thinking. It is eminently doable but it’s challenging.

Programs like A Course in Miracles exist to help us with this shift in thinking. Of course, the risk is that they become idols themselves; systems that we have to defend. If you find yourself arguing with somebody over whose interpretation of ACIM is right, then you’ve lost the thread. Step back, refocus, and then go on in love and kindness. It really doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing with the course; what matters is what you are doing, and what you are doing is easily evaluated: is it helpful? Is it – in a deep and serious way – making you happier?

But even that is to put too fine a point on the learning process envisioned by A Course in Miracles. In fact, the more pragmatic aim of the course is to introduce you to a teacher, and that teacher will advance the curriculum accordingly in an interior way. You are not responsible for your happiness! But you are responsible for your study, for the attention you give to your teacher, and whether you will practice what she suggests you practice. Once you have undertaken the course in the form of ACIM, then you are responsible for responding to the material in a way that evokes – clearly and sustainably – your inner teacher.

Have you met your teacher? Not the human stand-in – Ken Wapnick or Tara Singh, say – but the one the course calls the Holy Spirit? That is really all that matters. If you haven’t, it’s worth looking into what, if anything, you might do to facilitate the meeting. And if you have had that meeting, then it’s worth committing in a radical way to the new learning experience that naturally evolves from being in relationship with this teacher.

We do not become Jesus through the course. In fact, Jesus is eclipsed by the course. It is akin to the Buddhist concept that if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. Jesus is a big draw but once you commit to learning, he more or less recedes. The course is not about aligning with the right historical figures or narrative traditions: Jesus, Saint Paul, Thomas Merton, Ken Wapnick, David Hoffmeister, Christianity, Advaita Vedanta, et cetera. Rather, it is about taking the teacher who points to the deeper currents and, in pointing to them, points beyond them as well.

Imagine that we are on the beach watching surfers. They wear colorful neoprene suits and balance on vividly painted boards. They are elegant and athletic and beautiful.

fallen_petals
petals fall off flowers to rest briefly on the porch but the world is not fallen and we are not fallen . . .

As we watch them, as we delight in watching them, someone comes along and invites us to give attention to the waves themselves. The surfers are cool, they say, but the waves . . .

So we do – we give attention to the waves. And the waves are magnificent – they are enormous, powerful, sensual. They astound us by transcending us. We cannot take our eyes off them. That such natural beauty and power should exist in the world . . .

As we watch in awe, we are then asked to consider not the waves but the sea itself. Yes, the waves are incredible, we are told, but the sea is so vast and complex . . .

And so we do – we give attention to the sea. And the sea is enormous and mysterious and . . .

How far can this pointing go? How deep will the Holy Spirit take us?

How far are we willing to go?

Generally, our attention is given to the world. We see its injustices and travesties, say. We see the daily grind of chores and errands. We like our morning coffee, don’t like our morning commute. We see the many layers of relationship. We see the needs met, and the needs unmet, and we work strenuously to redress the perceived imbalances.

And then the Holy Spirit comes along – our teacher if we are tracking A Course in Miracles – and says, “yes, that’s all well and good, but let’s go a little deeper. Let’s look at the currents.” And then it invites us to go even deeper, and deeper yet.

Eventually, our attention ceases to take critical notice of the world. It’s there but our attention is moving towards the sources of this world. We begin to actually understand the external world is a reflection of internal conflicts. And more and more we give attention to those conflicts. They arise from fundamental emotions: fear, love, lack of trust, infantile spiritual hungers . . .

A Course in Miracles is a practical tool for learning how to go very deeply into this interior, into these primal psychological origins, in a way that eventually safely and coherently plunges us past all conflict, and into the eternal wellspring of peace and joy and happiness. It restores us to the love that is our natural inheritance.

And, mirabile dictu, there is no Buddha there! There is no Jesus. No Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie. Not even the cultural currents that begat those identities remains. Love is simpler than that. True inclusivity undoes that which it welcomes so that what remains is only love.

life_death_flowers
what dies, dies, and what lives, lives, and what neither dies nor lives goes on . . .

This serenity waits only our care-filled study. It awaits only our commitment to learning, which is to say, it waits only unequivocal trust placed in our teacher, who cannot fail. Shall we let go of history, our own and the world’s to boot? Shall we let go of the old stories and attend only the still quiet voice for God?

If not, then okay, but why not? What are we waiting for?

I extend my hand to you. I, too, am scared; I, too, am learning to trust; I, too, am not ready to go alone into the valley. I ask you to go with me: to trust me that I might trust you. We have come so far together, sometimes hand-in-hand, sometimes at distances it seemed we could not bridge.

But now – so close to the end, so near the final wall of fog and bracken – shall we bind ourselves, one to the other – and go on in love to the Love in which we were never separated to begin?

Becoming Responsible for Happiness

Helen Schucman wrote A Course in Miracles and projected responsibility for that project onto her ideal of Jesus. Because the course is so helpful to me, I am deeply grateful to her for seeing the work through, and am not especially concerned about the ethics and particulars of her writing process. You do what you have to do to express what you have to express. That is what healing is.

river_glass
glass smoothed and polished by the river out back, where we walk and gather what is lovely, in one of many rituals of happiness . . .

However, once you disentangle the text (by which I mean all three primary volumes of the course) from a historical and agentic Jesus, then your own responsibility towards study, learning and application are clarified. You are called to meet the course where you see it (a corollary to the principle that the course meets you where you are). Being right or wrong about it, getting it or not getting it . . . these fall away as your attention is directed to your own experience of being a student, which is neither right nor wrong but simply is. Attention becomes the teacher and it is always instructive.

The question becomes: is the course helpful? Is a given teacher or approach helpful? And, of course, how are we defining “helpful?”

The course is “helpful” to the extent it makes us happy in a natural serious way. This should not be conflated with feeling good all the time. Part of being happy means accepting periods of struggle and confusion and grief with equanimity and honest inquiry; part of being happy means looking closely at interior material that is frightening or offensive in order to see past it to the love that is our “natural inheritance” (T-in.1:7). “This course has explicitly stated that its goal for you is happiness and peace” (T-13.II.7:1). Thus, the text observes that . . .

. . . delay of joy is needless. God wills you perfect happiness now. Is it possible that this is not also your will? And is it possible that this is not also the will of your brothers? (T-9.VII.1:7-10).

Happiness is not an object one has or doesn’t have. It’s not an event or outcome that meets our personal preferential standards. Rather, it is a process in which one finds oneself, an inclusive flow through which one’s living filters in helpful, nurturing and quietly joyous ways.

Note too that “happy” in this instance also means “having happiness to give.” In general, we know we are happy less by how we feel and more by how we make others feel. This can be a challenging shift in thinking for a lot of us – truly it was for me – but nonetheless, it matters. Happiness is what we share, not what we have. And paradoxically, it is only by giving it away without qualification or condition that we actually have it.

To gain you must give, not bargain. To bargain is to limit giving, and this is not God’s Will (T-7.I.4:3-4).

Again, I am talking about the deep happiness envisioned by A Course in Miracles, not the shallow ersatz imitation promulgated and sold by the world. The love we are given is not limited by formal constraints. It heeds none of the limits we impose on it; it doesn’t even notice these limits.

If we attend to this serious happiness, then it will in turn attend to us, and then everything will fall into place. Our practice, our metaphysics, our ideals, our understanding our unconscious drives . . . By this I mean simply that concepts of oneness, Heaven, awakening from the dream and so forth will naturally clarify. We already know what we need to know; we experience what we need to experience because that is the experience we are having. This is always unique to us, always perfect, and always helpful.

When we see our living this way, and live authentically from that seeing, then we are – in ACIM parlance – a Teacher of God. We no longer perceive another’s interest as separate from our own (M-1.1:2). All that matters then is the extension of love and peace, which are the fruits of forgiveness, which is itself a fruit of our reliance on a power that is – to paraphrase Saint Paul – in us but not of us.

A Course in Miracles is an invitation to live this life in a new way, one that is premised on love, simplicity, kindness, generosity, service, inclusiveness and trust. It is a practice of radical honesty and inquiry. The form this learning-to-live-in-love takes naturally varies according to context, but the content – to borrow a time-honored course trope – will be the same.

The form of the course varies greatly. So do the particular teaching aids involved. But the content of the course never varies. Its central theme is always, “God’s Son is guiltless, and in his innocence is his salvation” (M-1.3:2-5).

Thus, in my stumbling stuttering way I manifest simplicity and generosity and kindness by writing and homesteading – raising as much of our food as possible, contributing to local economic structures that undo pernicious national and global structures, etc. Somebody else achieves the same effect driving a cab. Somebody else by practicing medicine. Someone else with their saxophone. And so forth.

The question is not the form but the content, and so it is only that to which our attention is directed. One might think they are attracted to homesteading because the work is honest, the diet healthy, the economics more virtuous and the communal aspects more moral but, in fact, it’s simply because that homesteading is where love appears in this case most clearly and pragmatically, and so naturally one goes there. Naturally one does their living there. Naturally – indeed, inevitably – one brings forth love there.

And what does this bringing forth love teach us? That love, as such, is not limited to the homestead or to homesteading. It is everywhere. It spills and overflows and illuminates and slakes and blesses literally everything. It lights up our little self and our little world and in its radiance we understand that this beam reaches contexts we cannot even imagine.

Little by little we surrender to this love and, like a beneficent sea, it lifts us and carries us gently beyond our perception of limitations, our small designs and plans, our secrets and lies, and our fear of death and hell.

The work, then, is to simply attend our own gardens and not worry too much about what others are up to. Helen Schucman brought forth love in the form of A Course in Miracles through what one might reasonably call confusion about authorship. It doesn’t matter! What matters is that the course is here, and that it is up to us to contextualize it, to bring it into application in our own living that we might dream a dream of happiness and peace with one another and then wake up . . .

What is helpful? What makes you happy? To what life does your intuition direct you? Our responsibility is to our own surrender and our own giving of attention. That’s all. Things work out, and then things just . . . disappear, leaving only love. We are together learning – and living together as one – this very fact.

A Non-Illusory Stillness

Yet ask: if stability is a “user-generated illusion that is helpful,” then what is stillness? After all, I have said and not retracted this:

The you you think that you are – this body, this personality, this history – isn’t God. Rather, the stillness inside us – the deep center from which all peace springs – is God. It is there waiting for us. It never changes. It saves us from the world and it saves us from the mortal self in which we have so long been deceived.

And what exactly is A Course in Miracles getting at with its description of a dwelling places that never changes?

There is a place in you where this whole world has been forgotten . . . There is a place in you which time has left, and echoes of eternity are heard. There is a resting place so still no sound except a hymn to Heaven rises up to gladden God . . . (T-29.V.1:11-3).

We might say that stillness is a user-generated concept that pacifies a restless mind by referencing a natural state of restfulness.

old_chicken
One our older chickens foraging in the side yard . . . our egg layers are part of what make us happy and enable us to make others happy . . . we are deeply grateful for these birds, even in their dotage . . .

That is, the idea of stillness that is awakened by the word “stillness” functions as a reminder that we can experience quiet and inner peace and also functions as a trigger to enact that experience in a felt way.

Our minds are busy, but they don’t have to be. Our minds are full but they can empty themselves. The Buddhist concept of mind as a lake is helpful here. Worry and anxiety are like currents which stir up the silt and make the lake cloudy and dark. When those currents subside, the lake is clear and shimmering, perfectly reflecting all that appears before it.

As centuries of meditators and contemplatives have demonstrated, it is possible to learn how to quiet the mind. It’s not a religious or spiritual feat; it’s a human practice that makes us more peaceful (or still, if you like). And that peacefulness (or stillness) in turn allows our natural inclination to be kind, generous, patient, forgiving, creative, helpful – in a word, loving – to flow more readily. That flowing is a form of healing, of cleansing. It heals our split mind by allowing us to remember in greater and greater clarity the oneness that is our shared actuality.

It’s true that A Course in Miracles doesn’t advocate a formal meditation practice. But to adopt this as a rule means ignoring a couple of important aspects of the course.

First, the course is confused – because its author and editors (Schucman, Thetford and Wapnick) were confused – about the body. They were intellectuals whose milieu was academia; they prized thought. Like a lot of western theological thinkers, their thinking basically eclipsed the body. As I have said elsewhere, the course really perpetuates the old and unhelpful Christian dualism of spirit vs. body. There is nothing unusual about this, and none of us are immune to that type of thinking, but that doesn’t make it helpful.

So part of a sound and holistic ACIM practice is about making space for our bodies without getting worked up about whether they’re real or unreal, or whether Christ is in them or not in them or anything like that. The body is present; we have to let this be the case, live our living, and see what happens.

It is far less a dilemma than the course – and Christianity generally – have made it seem.

Second, although the workbook lessons never explicitly say so, they clearly imply that quiet time given to contemplating oneness – with God, with Creation, with the Other – is fundamental to our learning process. The curriculum is not complete without this practice. We have to make a quiet interior space in which learning can both occur and stabilize.

No more specific lessons are assigned, for there is no more need of them. Henceforth, hear but the Voice for God and your Self when you retire from the world, to seek reality instead. He will direct your efforts, telling you exactly what to do do, how to direct your mind and when to come to Him in silence, asking for His sure direction and His certain Word (W-ep.3:1-3).

We can quibble about semantics (it’s a beloved game to be sure) but this is clearly a call to contemplative prayer, to meditation, to stillness.

Is there something beyond all this? Beyond the body, other bodies, the world, the universe? In a sense to ask that question that way is to miss the point. The course is about remembering peace through forgiveness which is the intentional practice of overlooking error in order to perceive our shared interest in love. That is our practice. And our practice of forgiveness – which is our enacted experience in the world – is nurtured by shared contemplative prayer which is our communion with God. Do the work – attend the process – and let the spiritual chips fall where they fall.

As to whether anything lies beyond this remembered love . . . Does it matter? Again, our work is simply to be attentive to one another, in a forgiving way, and to see what happens when we do. “What happens” is not of our own doing – we aren’t responsible for it. Service and that which keeps us fit for service is imperative – taking care of our brothers and sisters and allowing them to care for us.

God will come to you only as you will give Him to your brothers. Learn first of them and you will be ready to hear God. That is because the function of love is one (T-4.VI.8:4-6).

Give the gift it was given you to give. Make others happy by seeking with them – by enacting with them – the Kingdom of God. Our shared practice of helpfulness in time reveals the stillness upon which our living rests. That stillness, once revealed, will gently encompass us, ending both inquiry and conflict.

Loving the One and the Other

Let’s say – more or less adopting Humberto Maturana’s phrasing – that love is the consensual coordination of doings among observers, each of whom could be the other.

butterfly in the bee balm

On this view, love is basically the embodied enacted agreement, tacit or otherwise, to cooperate with one another in the activities that are our living and give rise to our world. The grounds for this agreement (which excludes nothing, i.e., it includes rocks and quasars and clams and giraffes and marigolds et cetera) are that any perceived differences in form, while apparent, are not in and of themselves proof of any actual separation. Thus, who helps another helps her own self. Who makes another happy makes her self be happy.

We can expand this by saying – again, in concert with Maturana – that this definition of love is not a question of philosophy or some other abstraction but rather of biology. That is, love is a natural extension of stucturally-determined experience, and when it is not extending itself, something has interfered.

Daily life shows us that even though we live in war and hurt each other, we are loving animals that become bodily and psychically ill when deprived of love, and that love is both the first medicine and the fundament for the recovery of somatic and psychic health. We are love-dependent animals at all ages. Indeed, most if not all human suffering arises in the negation of love and is cured through the restoration of love (Maturana The Origin of Humanness).

A possible analogy might be vision. Our eyes don’t “choose” to see. Seeing is what eyes do because that is how they are made; it is what they are for (see also T-24.VII.6:2). Their function arises from their design and construction and cannot be meaningfully separated from it. You and I, as human observers, naturally extend love. This is, as A Course in Miracles points out, our “natural inheritance” (In.1:7). It arises as a consequence of our design (and we are not the designer/author).

What, then, is the problem? If love is a natural extension of our very structural existence, then why is so much of our activity, and so many of the systems to which we are subject, basically unloving? Why do they make love so difficult?

This is a good question! We became students of A Course in Miracles, followers of Buddha and Jesus, participants in psychotherapy, yoga practitioners, vegetarians and Tantric sex partners because of it. And yet the hurt and unhappiness go on. Why is it so hard, this thing that – in our brain, in our heart, in our gut, in our soul – it seems should be so natural and effortless?

A Course in Miracles suggests that our awareness of love is blocked, and so we’ve forgotten it even existed, much less bother living in, as, and through it. An eye is made to see. But if you put a blindfold over it, then it won’t see. Its function hasn’t changed. Its natural abilities aren’t ruined. It’s just that their extension and application has been stymied.

Something like that is going on with love.

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places by the garden to take our rest . . .

By and large, we aren’t happy, and our unhappiness is related to what blocks the free expression and extension of our natural inheritance which is love. We don’t need to learn what love is or improve our ability to love or anything like that. We just need to remove the blocks to its natural extension. We need to give attention to practices and systems that are unjust, inefficient, and dysfunctional. Navigating the world is harder than it ought to be. And even if we aren’t personally in crisis, it’s easy enough to point out who and what is. Look at the Middle East (it’s on fire). Look at the coral reefs (they’re dying). Look at the tiger population (it’s dwindling). And so on.

The occasional bright spot aside, something is not working well (or at least not working as well as it could). If love is what we are, we seem to have found a way to forget this, and/or to act as if it were not true.

A Course in Miracles doesn’t talk about enlightenment so much as awakening, and I think this is a helpful metaphor. We have forgotten some important facts about our being, and we have forgotten that we have forgotten them, and the effect of this double forgetfulness is exactly like we are asleep and having a bad dream.

For example, say that while sleeping I dream of doing battle with a monster in a dark forest while meteors light up the sky and burn the earth and my late father cries out for me to come help him but I do not know where he is or how to find him. Frightening stuff! Yet what is really going on is that I am asleep in bed beside Chrisoula and in a few hours I’ll get up and make breakfast, and then read, write and teach. However real the dream appears, it’s just a dream.

You have chosen a sleep in which you have bad dreams, but the sleep is not real and God calls you to awake. There will be nothing left of your dreams when you hear Him, because you will awaken . . . When you wake you will see the truth around you and in you, and you will no longer believe in dreams because they will have no reality for you (T-6.IV.6:3-4, 7).

In A Course in Miracles, our sleep is the separation from God from which nightmares – the apparent causes of our unhappiness – arise. Maturana would phrase it differently. He would suggest that thousands of years ago human beings side-stepped from a mother/woman-focused way of living and into patriarchy, a system of living predicated on dominance, submission, attack, defense, competition, subjugation, et cetera (see also T-2.VIII.2:5). Patriarchy begets subsystems like war and militaries, economies and taxes, prisons and malls and landfills, which as a whole serve the system rather than the person. They might do some local good – consider your neighborhood elementary school, perhaps, or the nearest hospital emergency room – but on balance, they are not about love so much as profit, not about the person so much as the continuity of the system out of which they take their function. We keep trying to fix them, and replace them, and some of our efforts are noteworthy (representative democracy, for example) but still. There is work to do. And the suggestion is that we are basically tweaking symptoms rather than going right to the heart of the matter, which is remembering love as the way to end the separation, which is our brief detour into patriarchy, which is unhappiness.

Maybe Maturana is right. I don’t know. Maybe ACIM is right. I don’t know that either. I do know that taking both as maps by which navigating experience (being in the world) is simplified and clarified has been helpful. That is, rather than get lost in arguments about right and wrong (which reinforce the patriarchy or separation or however one wants to explain our ongoing systemic unhappiness and negation of love), one can simply read the maps and venture out into the territory, learning as they go. As I am fond of saying, give attention and see what happens. Set aside the metaphysics and just try to make the world in which you live more just and fair and loving. Literally put your body at the service of love. What happens?

You will first dream of peace, and then awaken to it. Your first exchange of what you made for what you want is the exchange of nightmares for the happy dreams of love (T-13.VII.9:1-2).

For me, especially in the past year or so, rather than focus on possible causes or explanations, I find it useful to simply give attention to description. It turns out that if you describe the problem you are having then you simultaneously describe – by implication if not explicitly – the solution. It is not always easy to see this, but it is still there to be seen.

ceramic_elephant
a ceramic elephant my grandmother gave me . . . resting on the poetry shelf in the hay loft . . .

If we are unhappy, why? We don’t like our job, our spouse, our school, our body, our spiritual tradition, the movie we’re watching, the food we’re eating, the weather outside . . . The more specific we get about what’s missing, or present but not functioning, the better. If it’s raining you can get an umbrella. If you’re uncomfortable in jeans you can put on a skirt. It’s not as sexy as metaphysical and philosophical ruminations, but it tends to yield higher returns. Or at least pragmatic ones. It turns out we can fix what’s broken and, if we can’t fix it but tried in a sincere way, then we can accept what’s broken with minimal distress. Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer,” like the Golden Rule, is not unwelcome.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Becoming happy is actually not a metaphysical problem, though it can be reflected on in those terms. Unhappiness is a problem of acting in the sense that it reflects deviation from love, which is to say, per Maturana, deviation from “the consensual coordination of doings among observers, each of whom could be the other.”

Besides, when we give attention to the so-called small stuff – the local stuff, that which is present right here and now – the apparently global or even cosmic stuff is not left untouched. For example, our decision (mine and Chrisoula’s) to raise pigs for meat, chickens for meat and eggs, to garden (veggies, fruits, berries) intensely, to buy, barter and potlach with nearby farmers and homesteaders, is not just an affirmation of local economy. It is also a rejection of larger economies which are disconnected from people and the earth on which they bring for their living and thus, in the service of profit, hurt people and the earth. Does our living this way smash patriarchy, as the kids say? Well, no. But it does withdraw consent from patriarchy. Thus, in a local way, it begets love, and in the cosmic way, it at least mitigates the ongoing harmful effects of patriarchy (or separation). So it does in fact diminish patriarchy (or separation). Over time – and with your help – the effects of this diminishing are nontrivial.

But really, all that talk about patriarchy and separation and Jesus and the Buddha and so forth can be too much. In fact, all we are actually doing, Chrisoula and I, is what makes sense while making us happy. So ask: what makes sense while making you happy?

I like the hard work of spading gardens, lugging sacks of pig feed, clearing pasture and trails, cutting firewood, putting up fencing. Chrisoula enjoys the tedium (see Cheryl’s point below for a fair criticism of my word choice here) of weeding, harvesting, sewing, and putting up food. We both enjoy homeschooling our kids. We deeply appreciate how this way of living places us in relation to other people and to the earth and to the various systems to which we are subject. Often, what works about it is as simple as being tired at day’s end and so sleeping better. In this work and what arises from it, one can start to forget there was a problem in the first place. “You will first dream of peace, and then awaken to it . . .”

I am saying that when we give attention to the little stuff – the local stuff – and make our objective our own happiness, we will rediscover – or reawaken to, if you like – what it means to be a loving human being, a loving human observer in community with other observers, consensually coordinationg our doings. It isn’t complicated; it’s simply a matter of attending to what’s there to be attended, in the natural way of attending to it. Weeding a garden, going for a walk, washing the dishes, making love, writing poems, mowing the lawn. These activities do not occur in isolation but in community, and the borders or boundaries we use to define community (self and others) are very porous when studied up close. The one with whom you walk, break bread, kiss and converse, could be your own self. Thus, cooperation and camaraderie and dialogue becomes natural because we aren’t trying to change anybody or prove anything; we are just taking good care of each other, we are being servants and Bodhisattvas without making a big deal of it. It’s easy because once you cut through all the constructed layers of egoic self, serving others in kindness is what we want. We can’t actually be kept from it.

forget_me_nots
Forget Me Nots by the river

Importantly, our bodies know how to do these things. Gardening, cooking, making love, resting . . . Our bodies lean into these activities without a lot of effort. They commune with the earth and the other as if knowing exactly what the other needs, as if the other really were just the one in a different light. And really, says mathematician Louis Kauffman, how could it be otherwise?

The universe is constructed in such a way that it can refer to itself . . . the universe can pretend that it is two and then let itself refer to the two, and find out that it has in the process referred only to the one, that is, itself.

He later clarified that observation, paraphrasing physicist John Wheeler.

The Universe is a self-excited circuit, arising from its own observation of itself, which is that very observation of itself. There is nothing in the universe except the self-participation of the nothing that becomes information and form arising from its own eternal return.

And he is very close to Heinz von Foerster’s observation – dear to Maturana as well – that “I am the observed relation between myself and observing myself.”

Thus, when we turn to other observers, and the world which they appear to share with us, there is often a sense of a mysterious but abiding love. Whether we consider fellow human beings or trees, rivers, birds, rocks, flowers, seahorses, black bears or grains of sand, a respectful sustainable communion emerges that has as its foundation this inquiry: where, if anywhere, does the one end and the other begin?

Giving sustained and close attention to that question – giving attention to it literally in the fabric of the living we right now are bringing forth – was the most “spiritual” practice I ever undertook . . .

According to A Course in Miracles, all that you and I have set between our selves and love can be undone. All we have to do is see the way we have literally built a world and a way of living in that world that obscures love. See the obscurations and the obscurations will dissolve. Maturana called this system of blocks and obstructions patriarchy. A Course in Miracles calls it the separation (and the ego). Set aside for a moment the name, and focus on that to which the name points: we live in a way that attacks purity, simplicity, innocence and love. Yet we cannot defeat love, end love, or destroy love. We hold at a distance the very thing that we long to hold dear. All our loneliness and grief in this world and way of living testifies against the ineffectiveness of what we are doing, signifying our perennial desire for what Bill Thetford called “another way.”

If you would look upon love, which is the world’s reality, how could you do better than to recognize, in every defense against it, the underlying appeal for it? And how could you better learn of its reality than by answering the appeal for it by giving it? (T-12.10:1-2)

So the course, not unlike (though not precisely like) Maturana, urges us to live in radical (from the roots) proximity to our natural inclination to love one another, and to bring this loving forth in these very bodies in this very world through cooperation, inclusiveness, generosity, simplicity, sharing, playing . . .

” . . . replace your dream of separation with the fact of unity. For the separation is only the denial of union, and correctly interpereted, attests to our eternal knowledge that union is true (T-12.10:5-6).

Essentially, we embody peace in order to learn that bodies are not the bounded objects we think they are, and that love is the natural extension of what we actually are.

violets
the violets have been magical this year . . .

Love makes us happy and healthy. Love dissolves the negative effects of patriarchy and separation – our long nightmare-ridden sleep – like handfuls of salt scattered in the sea. It is as if they were never there in the first case. First we will dream of peace, then we will awaken to peace . . .

Love waits on welcome, not on time, and the real world is but your welcome of what always was. Therefore, the call of joy is in it, and your glad response is your awakening to what you have not lost (T-13.VII.9:7-8).

So there is nothing to do and yet, until we remember this, there is so much to do, and all of it has to do with bringing forth love. We do this according to whatever ideals are operative in us at a given time. Given our desire to be happy and to heal the world, and given a spiritual practice and curriculum like A Course in Miracles, what we do is attend our brothers and sisters in order to maximize their own happiness. Doing so lifts us as well.

Eventually we learn that love was all there was anyway, and there is nothing to do, and nobody to do it, but why rush? Why not – right now – share the love you deep down know you is yours to give?

Letting Happiness be Our Spiritual Teacher

Stability and durability are user-generated illusions that are helpful. They facilitate happiness and happiness – like attention – can be our spiritual teacher if we want.

What do I mean when I say that “stability and durability are user-generated illusions that are helpful?”

young_zucchini
the zucchini are coming in . . .

Well, I don’t perceive the back stairs as clouds of atoms which are mostly empty space in which electrons swarm. Rather, I perceive and otherwise experience them as solid wooden beams nailed to a wooden frame. Doing so is functional. I’d never get in and out of the house if I experienced nothing but clouds of atoms and swarms of electrons.

In a similar way, a lightening bolt’s existence seems very short – a mere blip in the long span of a human life. Yet that human life barely measures against the expansive duration of, say, a star.

What appears stable and durable from one perspective does not appear so from another.

That is why we say that stability and durability are a matter of perception inhering in an observer and working for that observer. The observer’s perception constructs a world in which that observer enacts their living. Thus, there are as many worlds as there are observers.

The comparisons humans make (to suns and lightning bolts, say, or to floorboards and atoms), and the conclusions we draw from these comparisons (usually some variation of “our world is the one true world”), tend to confuse the fundamental issue that everything is a process. Even the observer who is observing the various changes is a process.

But so what? What good is knowing all that? We still have to figure out how to be kind to people who are not kind to us. We still have to figure out how to share resources with other living creatures, including other humans (especially those who don’t look like us or think differently from us et cetera). We still have to deal with our confusion and unhappiness nudging us toward clarity and joy, as if clarity and joy were ideals. We still have to deal with ideals.

For me – which explicitly means not for you, though my experience may be helpful in the context of your own, and vice-versa – dialing down the drama of these issues and questions has been helpful.

I don’t need to solve fundamental problems of the cosmos – what banged and where it banged and what happens when it all runs down, if in fact it does. I don’t need to untangle the metaphysical and theological bracken of the past few millenia.

I find those issues fun and interesting – they have a place – but the pressure to do more than merely give attention to them has abated considerably.

No, what I need is to be patient, generous, forgiving, nurturing, humble, diligent, just, fair – in a word, loving.

So the question is fundamental and clear: what helps me be more loving?

grape_arbor
sitting in the shade of the grape arbor at Chrisoula’s family’s house . . .

That is the only question that matters anymore, and everything that appears – from A Course in Miracles to baking bread to legal weed to swimming in the brook to teaching research and writing to making love – is evaluated accordingly.

The answer is basically this: If it’s for love, then use it and share it. If it’s not for love, then set it aside.

And here’s a fact I am only just beginning to see in a deep sustainable way: everything, without exception, is for love.

I certainly don’t think that the answer to all our problems lies in emulating first century Christian communities, but I do think it’s worth reflecting on how they understood love (in the wake of Jesus): shared wealth, commensality (eating together), all property held in common, service to the poor, non-participation with evil, pacifism and so forth.

And I agree with Tara Singh that “in service there is holiness that takes away loneliness and depression.”

We have to rise to a state of right-mindedness to extend the compassionate nature of Mother Earth with her flowing rivers blessed by rain. Right-mindedness knows nothing of the duality of loss and gain, success and failure. It identifies only with the abundance of goodness (The Joseph Plan of A Course in Miracles for the Lean Years 17).

That is, by giving our lives to our brothers and sisters, we are made whole. Giving love is the way to receive love. And the giving varies according to the observer, because the world that needs love varies according to observer.

Thus, I march to protest the mistreatment of women and immigrant families. I teach from texts that explore what it means to be a peaceful, thoughtful, responsible human being in community with other beings, including plant, mineral and animal. Chrisoula and I grow our own vegetables and fruit, raise our own meat, and work closely with local farmers and gardeners to make up the balance through barter, potlach and local non-corporate sales. We join and patronize cooperatives as much as possible. We try to reduce and reuse and repurpose with an eye ever on sustainability.

I am learning to “lean out” of the commons as a white man in order to make space for women and people of color to assume leadership roles and guide the creation of a more just and loving world.

In dialogue I try to listen. In writing, I try to keep it simple and honest.

I have a lot to learn, and to unlearn.

These are all actions that feel important because they place the radical equality of all life at the center of our civic and communal and private life. They aim to sustain local agriculture and business practices which help ensure food safety for all of us. They actively redress present and historical patterns of violence and repression. They dislocate the discrete self, expanding the apparent center so that it is more inclusive, and thus more creative and fertile and sustainable

I take literally these maxims of Heinz von Foerster: “A is better off when B and better off” and “Always act so as to increase choice.”

In light of all this, “awakening” as such is not a personal event but rather remembering the shared awareness of the vitality of love as a ongoing process in which we are all included without condition or qualification and through which our living as discrete entities is transcended and undone.

That is a mouthful! But if it sounds fancy or unduly mystical, it’s not. It looks and feels like what it looks and feels like when you are deeply happy and maximally helpful. Critically, you already know this. It is already your experience.

Happiness and helpfulness naturally intersect, reinforcing and infusing one another. We call this mutuality “love.”

greek_coffee
Greek coffee – in a lovely mug somebody was throwing away – a bittersweet delight at dusk . . .

I want you to be happy. The best I can do to this end is to act in ways that leave us both better off, and that optimize your ability to act in ways that leave us all better off. Since the “whole” and the “future” are cognitively closed to human observers, we are left with doing the best we can with what is given to us. It’s not a mystery; the love you need is the love you have to give, and the love you have to give is the precise love the world is – right now – asking you to share.

So we give attention, and we give love, and we try to stay open to the love that others give. We know we are doing it right when we are happy. Happiness is a great teacher, well worth following.

Loving God Means Loving Others

I am moved by these lines from Matthew’s Gospel:

You shall love God with all your heart,
all your soul and all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.

The second commandment is like it:
You shall love your neighbor
as yourself.

On these two commandments
depend the whole Law
and the Prophets.

An equivalence is established here: loving God and loving one another are not functionally separate. You cannot meaningfully have one without the other.

strawberries
our strawberry beds are rich this year . . .

How shall we think about this? How shall we bring it forth in our living?

Often we are tempted to go into the question of what is God and is there actually a God and so on. Are the gospels objectively true? Is A Course in Miracles really the work of the historical Jesus?

These are fun and interesting questions, and have their place accordingly, but if our goal is inner peace and the joyful extension of love in community, then analysis that has as its goal being right or wrong about deities and their scriptures is mostly a distraction.

Really what I am saying here is that practicing the second commandment (love your neighbor) makes analyzing the first one (love God) superfluous, save as an academic exercise. Because while you might be unclear about what or where God is, or how to be in communication with God, you are not unclear about what or where your brother or sister is, or how to be in communication with them.

And, if you are honest in your inquiry, you are not unclear about what it means to love them.

So one can understand these lines from Matthew’s Gospel as a gentle suggestion to move beyond the merely intellectual or ideal and into the messy domain of consensually loving one another other.

Of course we will disagree with one another. Of course there will be relationships or situations from which we must distance ourselves. But disagreement and distance are not opposite to love.

For example, loving my racist brother does not require me to go to a white supremacy rally with him. Indeed, loving that brother requires me not to attend that rally and, within the context of our shared space of dialogue, to try to persuade him not to go.

This is love because it sees my brother not as a lesser being because of his racism but as a confused being who can become clear and loving in his own right, and has as its goal facilitating that clarity and lovingkindness.

It is a truly a fine line but it is manifestly possible to walk it, both alone and with others. If you are curious what this walking looks like, consult Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

fallen_apple_tree_blossoms
fallen apple tree embraced by blossoming wildflowers

In a similar way, loving an abusive husband or father does not require that one remain in the physical space where the abuse happens. Indeed, it requires removing oneself and others from that situation. And it requires holding the one who is violent accountable – civilly, criminally, spiritually – for their actions.

If I am aware of abuse or violence, then my first priority in love is to help those who directly suffer the violence find safety and otherwise facilitate accountability. My second priority is to help the one enacting the violence. But note that “help” in that context means making unambiguously clear (in the shared space of dialogue) that violence cannot be an effective or sustainable solution to any problem. There is another, better, way.

So we make amends, learn the better way and then bring it forth in our own living. If you are curious what this sort of forgiveness (of those who are violent and oppressive) resembles in practice, consult any decent biography of Nelson Mandela.

As these examples make clear, love is hard. It is not for the faint of heart. In application it is often frustrated, blocked, and otherwise attacked. But also, to be loving in this way is very much in our nature. It is in that sense given. And, as A Course in Miracles points out, a true gift must include the means by which to bring it to fruition. God, as such, does not just hand out seeds but also soil and water and sunlight.

In “Perception of the Future and the Future of Perception,” Heinz von Foerster pointed out that “A is better off when B is better off.” If there is one pie between the two of us, we are better off when we share it. This is true in our families, friendships, and larger communities. It always applies.

We can observe this principle in any aspect of our life – our family, our classroom, our work space, our zendo, our town, our country. Its natural corollary – or foundation, perhaps – is the Golden Rule which is isomorphic to all human cultures and practices. Treat others as you would like to be treated. I cannot lift you without lifting myself, and vice-versa.

We are very much together and not separate.

So if we are curious what it means to love, it means to ensure the mutual well-being of all of us. And “all of us” should not exclude maples trees and salamanders and blue whales and oceans. We are very much together. We are not separate.

This may not be difficult conceptually. But it is quite difficult to bring into application, and so sometimes we invent conceptual difficulties as a distraction.

For example, it is easier to get into a debate about the existence of God than to love someone whose actions – separating children from their parents at the border, for example – grievously offends us and necessitates in our living a loving response. It is always easier to condemn and let the condemnation be the sum total of our response, than to condemn and go on loving.

brook_flowing_east
the brook behind our home flowing east

Loving people who appear unlovable is not easy, especially because love is a process not a discrete event. It’s “hiking” not “the hike.” So all the time in all our living we have to figure out how to engage in this process of love which – in addition to being natural, wonderful, inspiring, et cetera – is messy, confusing, discouraging, et cetera.

This is what it means to be student of A Course in Miracles specifically, or a Christian more generally, because this is what it means to be a human observer in the world. Loving notwithstanding is what it means to live. We commit to bringing forth love in our living, and doing so in ways that extend love to everyone and everything without qualification or conditions. It is natural but not easy.

Thank you for helping me understand this material in a way that allows me to be less distant from it (less disembodied with it, perhaps), and for not leaving me when I stumble (as I so often do) trying to bring it all into practice.

Transcending Even Awakening: A Haibun

Say that we go to Boston, you and I. Everybody wants to go to Boston. Boston is fun and interesting and once you’ve been there, you’re a changed person. Boston goes with you. It becomes a way of life.

volunteer chives
a little chive plant that jumped the garden to blossom and loosen seed in the tall grass abutting the horse pasture . . .

Say, too, that we have heard stories about a certain Boston experience – a way the pigeons have of flying away from City Hall Plaza all at once, as if a great veil were being drawn up into the sky. Those who have seen it say you can’t put the vision into words. They say it’s like part of you is lifted as well. They say it’s better than prayer, better than sex, better than hot apple pie in winter . . .

So we go to Boston. We see a Red Sox game. We visit the Gardner Museum. We walk along the harbor, buy fried clams in Quincy Market. We get iced coffee and sit in the plaza to see if the pigeons will do that pigeon-veil thing.

The suggestion here is that being spiritual – a terribly confusing phrase in its own right – is like going to Boston. That is, it is a lawful exploration of a law-governed environment. It’s not supernatural; it’s natural.

And the further suggestion is that “natural” in this context is altogether sufficient unto our desire to be whole, know God, see the light, get religion, go to Heaven, et cetera.

I’m saying you’re a Buddhist because somebody told you Buddhism was the way to go, and you liked their description, and there was this chance of enlightenment, so . . .

I’m saying you’re a Christian for the same reasons, a student of A Course in Miracles for the same reasons, and a devourer of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra books for the same reasons.

And I’m saying that the effect of all those apparently divergent paths and traditions is precisely the same: A human observer giving attention to being a human observer in hopes of experiencing the transcendent experience that sometimes attends human observing.

It’s okay. Strike that. It’s more than okay.

Here is something I learned last year, that has been very helpful to me: Boston doesn’t matter. Buddhism doesn’t matter. A Course in Miracles doesn’t matter. Phenomenology doesn’t matter.

Being a human observer matters. And you and I are already fully wholly human observers, with full access to the panoply of experiences that go with being that particular observer. We can ascend all the peaks, endure all the deserts, and plumb all the depths.

For me, that insight ended a lot of querying and questing, without ending the happy investigation of living and loving. It turns out that the ordinary undoes our pesky longing for the extraordinary. When one sees a patch of wild chives a certain way, one sees through their secret desire for angelic interventions, ascended masters and coded languages by which to keep the saved apart from the damned.

What does a “certain way” mean? And how exactly do we bring it into application?

mushrooms
mushrooms and grasses sprouting in the remnants of a manure pile . . .

What can I say but “give attention?” Attend with care and curiosity – with love, if you will – the sundry phenomena that appear to your bodily senses and also become a scholar unto whatever you want to understand. Take your living with a serious joy.

Give attention and see what happens! See if the pigeons fly away from the square. See if renegade chives blossom outside the garden. See what it feels like to be happily Godless yet deeply religious. See Jesus in a hemlock tree, and then see just a hemlock tree, and then see only love spilling forth in the form of saviors and hemlock trees.

And whatever you learn, however apparently trivial, pass it on. It’s the loving thing to do.

wild chive blossoms –
how briefly
the narrow gate widens

Being Homo Amans: Happiness as a Spiritual Practice

I say sometimes to my students: “take what you learn and act in the world with it. Do something.” And when they ask what they should do, I tell them to help somebody in a way that makes both parties happier than they were before the encounter started.

Related to this – especially when it comes to spiritual paths and practices and the inevitable contentions when one relates with them – is to have as one’s standard in this domain be that what’s right is what works.

sideyard lilac
lilac in the side yard

Let me briefly address those two ideas.

First, it is important to allow our ideas and insights to have full run of the bodies in, through and to which they occur. If you are having ideas about peace, then behave peaceably. Don’t screw around by being casual or self-deprecating. Jesus and the Buddha were just people, like you. Beget peaceful practices that themselves beget peace. If that is not happening in your living – if everything is remaining at the level of the intellect – then something is wrong. The circle is not connecting, or closing. The wheel can’t go.

I am not disparaging the intellect. Praise and glory to the inner librarian, the inner scholar, and the inner cartographer. Truly! But a librarian without a writer of books is lost. A scholar without a classroom is lost. A cartographer without an explorer is lost.

You see where I am going with this.

I propose that we think in terms of identities – or essences – that make one another possible, that define and empower one another, so that what emerges is not one or the other but rather a relationship. Absent the explorer, no cartographer, and absent the cartographer, no explorer. You might think of the yin yang symbolism as an apt image. Somewhat less elegantly, you might imagine a bear eating blueberries, then shitting the blueberry seeds in sunlight so new bushes will grow, which in turn feed more bears who in turn shit more seeds . . .

Since I like bears and blueberries, I’ll use those images to build out the second idea. I proposed that a way to think about spirituality is to ask if it works. Is it helpful? If your spiritual practice has peace and justice as one of its goals, then are you helping instigate peace and justice? If yes, okay. Keep doing what you’re doing. If no, then reevaluate.

So there is this system we call a bear and it eats these berries, which are little systems themselves. The bear wants to make more bears, and the berries want to make more berries. This is a way of saying how life loves itself, how its aim is just to keep going, keep flowing. Life is what recreates itself, in and through all these observers, some of whom – like us – are aware of the the flow and some who aren’t. The flow doesn’t care; it just is. But it is sweet to see it – sweet like blueberries, rough and beautiful like bears.

The blueberries work for the bear because they energize her and satiate her, and they can do the same for her little cubs, if she has any. They help her be a living bear and to bring forth her bearness. But it works for the berries, too, because even as they lose their autonomy in the bear’s jaws, their seeds are set free in a most fertile way. As the bears brings forth her bearness, the blueberries bring forth their blueberryness. It works for both parties, you see?

You want to be happy. I want to be happy. I don’t mean the silly ersatz happiness of our team wins the Super Bowl, or we just ate a slice of fresh-baked bread with butter and cinnamon, or had some really great sex. Those things are fine – they are more than fine, really – but they are like fireflies compared to the great lantern of joy that is our inheritance and essence.

grazing_horses
horses grazing the far pasture, watching them from the woods

Happiness is what doesn’t come and go. It is not touched by external circumstances, which of course include your personal response to those circumstances. When we are happy we are helpful in a direct clear way because all that matters is extending our happiness. Joy wants to be shared, the same way life wants to be shared.

The blueberry is sweet and nutritious and so the bear wants it and takes it, and the way she consumes the berry maximizes the berry’s potential to become a new bush redolent with new berries. That is the nature of berries and bears. Our nature is to be happy and to extend our happiness through sharing, being nearby, co-creating, et cetera. We are loving creatures, what Humberto Maturana characterized as less Homo Sapiens than Homo Amans.

So I say: go do something today, something that works. And you will know it works by the measure of joy it brings you. Joy is infectious; it travels, radiates, disperses. It’s like a bear in a blueberry patch, a blueberry seed in bear scat. What makes you happy? Deeply naturally productively happy? Do that. That is your spiritual practice.

Spirituality and Wild Goose Chases

The idea there is some external purpose to life – divine or mystical or otherwise – is problematic in the sense that it tends to promote wild goose chases and inattention to what’s right here right now.

light, crucifix
light, openings, crosses, rafters . . . the space in which we find ourself tells us a story about our self . . .

We are “children of a loving God,” or we are “sleeping spiritual beings surrounded by a light which gently awakens us,” or there are ascended masters of various sizes, shapes and proclivities who have secret wisdom to offer . . .

These (and other) narratives are old stories born of an unwillingness to stay with the present moment, and the uncertainty (or unknowing) that such staying mandates. They are designed to magnify the self (even – sometimes often – under the guise of undoing the self) by giving the self something to do, like search for itself or for God or for Truth.

There is nothing wrong with these stories, other than that we believe them to be true and make use of them accordingly. An adult parent who believes in Santa Claus isn’t hurting anybody, but his children might be disappointed come the morning of December 25 when there’s no gifts under the tree.

It’s not a question of letting go of distracting narratives but simply looking beyond or through or around them. Think of them as blossoms in a garden that has absorbed all our attention; now we want to see the leaves and stems, and the smaller flowers here and there, and the cool shadows close to the earth, and the ants and so forth.

Attention and observation of the present moment in its fullness is literally the work of a lifetime, and it doesn’t help to be running after imaginary angels and gods and scriptures and so forth.

One way to think of this is to distinguish between the narrative we make and the narrative we are given. The latter is peaceful, even when ostensibly violent or conflicted, while the former reinforces and reifies conflict, no matter how apparently pure and noble our intentions.

In my own experience, which may or may not be helpful, what works is to become aware of the nature of attention – its scope, its responsiveness, its operative fullness – and simultaneously to let attention be, or at least discover the limits of “my” relationship to it.

The suggestion is that there is no “you” or “I” directing attention, though those pronouns and that which they temporarily signify do show up within attention. But their appearance is more in the nature of a reflection than anything solidified or capable of agency. They are helpful in a limited way.

I say “suggestion” in order to be clear that experience or being in these respects may show up differently for other folks. Those differences are generally only slight differences of degree, but the semantics employed to express those differences can admit to gaps one can ride an elephant through.

It’s good to go slow and not be in any rush to build a tribe or even get anywhere in particular. The collective has already found us, and “the way,” strictly speaking, does not require any discernment on our part.

Of course, it can sound silly to say that – even mystical. It can sound like some sort of divine imperative to be a couch potato or slacker or just existentially indifferent.

But the suggestion – there’s that word again – is that the opposite is more accurate. There is work to be done, learning and teaching, communication awaiting sundry embodiments. Absent a central director – God or self – life doesn’t stagnate but opens into a dynamic flow, flowering even, where the focus is not on outcomes or advantages, save in the broadest and most abstract sense.

It is a paradox but “you” become most peaceful and productive and creative when there is no longer an “you” to be found, and the world is saved – which is to say, made anew in us – once we stop our endless fixation on its shortcomings and griefs.

Love Comes Naturally

Yet it is natural to love one another. It does not take effort or discipline; we don’t have to be taught. Love arises in us as a condition of our being. You could say that we are love, and does it not feel true? Does it not feel like you did not say those words alone but in concert?

light_facing_east
facing east, surrendering

In the hayloft where I write three windows face east. Glass bottles line the dusty sills, prisms hang in the panes. At dawn, as the sun rises, the room fills with a glorious light; rainbows glide across the walls and floors. At times I cannot bear this loveliness and have to look way. Other times it makes me as happy as if war itself were forever dissolved, the hungry fed and the imprisoned set free.

And yet war goes on. Hunger goes on. The prisons are full. The poor cut their pills into quarters. So my studies go on, laying me low, brushing me aside, lifting me up . . .

Why? What is the cause of this long sufferance? And what if anything shall we do to end it, you and I?

In A Course in Miracles, “separation” is the belief that we have an identity apart from Creation itself. But the course teaches that this belief is an error.

You have not only been fully created, but have also been created perfect. There is no emptiness in you. Because of your likeness to your Creator, you are creative. No child of God can lose this ability because it is inherent in what she is . . . (T-2.I.1:3-6).

In his essay Biology of Love, Humberto Maturana noted that “love is the grounding of human existence,” but acknowledged that we are alienated from this basic truth.

In the blindness that the negation of love creates in our living, we stop seeing ourselves as part of the harmonious interconnectedness of all existence in the unending dynamics of life and death, and we begin to live guided by ambition, greediness and the desire for control . . . we suffer because we become denied by the very same world and psychic existence that we are bringing about, as this is a world and psychic existence that denies the fundaments of our existence as loving animals.

Thus, as A Course in Miracles points out, “[T]he secret to salvation is but this: that you re doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1).

No matter what the form of attack, this still is true. Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true (T-27.VIII.10:2-4).

light_and_love_and_miracles
light
and love
and miracles

We are loving beings who make systems by which our capacity for love – but not love itself, never love itself – is thwarted. And yet as we construct these systems, so can we also deconstruct them. We can give careful and sustained attention to what obstructs the free flow of love in and through our being and do the necessary work of clearing space, opening channels, and getting out of the way.

For it is work and it is not easy. It takes effort. It takes discipline. It takes time and energy, more than we might care to give. We have to learn to see the fundamental deception in a sustained way, which is the only way it can be dissolved. We have to see the deception of self-satisfaction – “I’ve done enough” or “I’m all done” or “It’s too hard / confusing / unrewarding.” It is the hardest step of all.

For the work is not to perfect our own being but to clarify it through service and contemplation so that the world itself – the collective that holds the individual as dearly as it holds the all of us – might remember its natural inclination to love. Tara Singh said to be fully awake was to be always learning.

A student has to give life for life.
Learning is to Be the Children of God.

(Tara Singh, The Voice that Precedes Thought 155)

ACIM_light_you_bring
the light you bring,
A Course in Miracles

So I go on reading the difficult texts. So I surrender to what I cannot understand, what yet baffles me, what ruins me and in my ruin lifts me up. So I open my eyes to loveliness and to that which would obscure and denigrate and end loveliness. For it is through the clear seeing of our own poverty and ignorance that the grace to learn is given. To awaken is merely to begin again, forever.

So this morning I come to the hayloft, and write this, and offer it to you, whose love is my salvation, and whose joy is my joy is our joy.