The Journey Ends in Love

There is a certain pattern to my practice of A Course in Miracles. Lately it has become more pronounced. I stumble into a state of real happiness and peace. It’s heavenly, if you’ll forgive a cliche. But then – after a minute or a few hours, sometimes even a day or two – doubt and fear enter. I doubt the feeling is real or that I’m worthy of it. I fear losing it.

In response to that fear and doubt, two things happen simultaneously. First, I clutch at the peace, trying to make it mine because I don’t trust God. I don’t trust the peace. Second, I become dismissive. “Oh well. I don’t really want that love anyway. Take your ball and go play with some other sucker, Jesus.”

And then, sure enough, I am separated from the love of God. And it hurts so much.

Here is what I am learning right now: it is important to see that I am choosing against Love. I don’t want to see that and I certainly don’t want to say it. But it’s true. I want the Love that Jesus offers to be conditional. I want an external God to offer and then jerk it away, like a cat toying with a mouse. That’s how God is, right? Cruel and spiteful, delighting in my misery.

If I can convince myself that is true, then there is nothing to be done. It’s not my choice to be unhappy; it’s just how it is. I am God’s victim.

That’s the lie that allows me to blame someone else – God and Jesus, in this case – for my unhappiness.

In a way, we preserve the egoic self – we make it real – by defending it against these imagined attacks from God.

There is a wonderful line in the course that asks us: do you prefer that you be right or happy (T-29.VII.1:9)?

Be glad that you are told where happiness abides, and seek no longer elsewhere. You will fail. But it is given you to know the truth, and not to seek for it outside yourself (T-29.VII.1:10-12).

Sometimes I feel that somewhere, somehow, I whispered “yes.” I thought God wasn’t listening. Probably I hoped he wasn’t. But he was. He sent Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And they have taught me so patiently. Their lesson is so simple: I am doing this to myself. And so I can choose not to do it. They will help.

No more than that, but no less either. It is enough.

Before this Love – even with such teachers beside me – I am scared. I don’t want to lose myself – small, sad and pathetic as that self is. I think it’s all I have. To surrender it and live in God . . . what is that but annihilation? What is that but loss?

And so it goes. It is too late to turn back and tarrying has become so painful. “Follow me,” says Jesus. “You who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

One or two steps only and the journey ends where it began: in Love.

Relaxing into Awakening

From time to time I am reminded that it is okay to relax. I can become very intense about A Course in Miracles, trying to understand it better, trying to write about it with greater clarity and insight. It is good to be passionate and there is nothing inherently wrong with aspiration, but sometimes we have to unclench. We can’t drag Heaven down to us.

Earlier today, while walking, I passed a garter snake. It was resting beneath a pine tree whose limbs I cut earlier this summer. There is some new growth under there and the insect population has increased considerably – crickets and and spiders and so forth. And there are patches of sunlight where before was only a deep unbreakable shade. It is a nice place for a young snake now. Easy to blend in, easy to hunt, easy to warm the blood.

When I was younger, I would have caught that snake. I was good at it – I knew a lot about snakes and I like trapping them and keeping them in a big tank for a few days. Snakes scare people but so long as I know they are there I am okay with them. I jump when they surprise me, but if I see them clearly, it’s not a problem.

To catch a snake, you have to be incredibly patient and gentle. I am not advocating that you catch one – I think it is nicer to just observe them in their habitat. But when I was a kid, I knew that you had to wait for the right moment, be quick in that moment, and to be firm but gentle in your handling.

I thought about that this morning as I watched this little garter snake. It didn’t appreciate my presence, the way I hunkered down to watch it. I called the kids even and we spent a few minutes with it, until it glided away into the taller grass. We liked it.

Awakening is that way: you pay attention. You don’t really have to do anything. It’s there, you notice it, and you appreciate it. The more you can let it be, the more it will bless you. You get a few minutes in the sunlight with your kids and a snake. You forget about becoming more perfect, or writing a great post, or the stresses of teaching in the fall or having no money or whatever. You don’t decide to forget it – it just leaves.

And yes, it comes back. But for a moment I remembered. Relax. Breathe. It’s okay. You’re home.

Forget Your Inner Feelings

From time to time I talk to students of A Course in Miracles who feel bad that they still experience guilt and anger and fear and sorrow and whatever other icky emotions you can name. How can it be after all the lessons and study and prayer? Aren’t we supposed to be deliriously happy all the time? Attended by ascended masters? Personally visited by Jesus? How is it that we’re still exhibiting all those nasty human traits? We should be angels by now!

I hear that. I have days where my expectations of spiritual growth or nirvana or what have you get in the way of peace. I eat too many potato chips and think, a holy man wouldn’t have done that. Or I space out in front of Netflix. Or I am insufficiently worried about nuclear war or too casual about banking regulations. It’s always something.

That is the egoic self at work. It likes problems – personal problems, global problems, problems on sitcoms, problems with the neighbors. It just chews through them like bears in a blueberry patch. It is especially fond of the spiritual ideal – our personal image of the holy man or woman. It can toy with the self for years with that image, that ideal. Maybe lifetimes. It’s quite a cycle. I’m not holy but I want to be holy so I’ll do this thing which is holy and okay now I’ve done it and I’m not holy so I’ll try this other path . . . It’s tiring! And like hamsters on the proverbial wheel, we never really get anywhere.

Here’s a better approach – one consistent with the teachings of A Course in Miracles: don’t worry about your inner feelings. Don’t worry about matching up to any ideal that you project. That’s just static. It’s got nothing to do with what you are in truth and nothing to do with realizing that truth.

Just let it go.

Take a look at section seven of the seventeenth chapter of the ACIM text. The subject is the need to be faithful – in our brothers and sisters and in our selves. It is teaching us that only the mind can solve a problem – as soon as a problem appears unsolvable it is because we have decided that the body is going to be part of the solution. But take special note of how the course addresses this particular body/mind confusion.

. . . bodies cannot solve anything. It is their intrusion on the relationship, an error in your thoughts about the situation, which then becomes justification for your lack of faith. You will make this error, but be not at all concerned with that. The error does not matter (T-17.VII.3:5-8).

The emphasis in italics is mine. The course takes for granted that we’re going to confuse body and mind. And it doesn’t care! It’s not relevant. It has nothing to do with waking up. Can you sense how liberating this is? How it frees us entirely and forever from consequence? The activity of the egoic self – it’s about me and my progress, me and my improvement, me and my standing in the community, and so on and so forth – is a given. And it’s without effect.

You can relax. You can breathe. You don’t have to resist those “bad” feelings. They’ve got nothing to do with anything that matters.

Use not your faithlessness. Let it enter and look upon it calmly, but do not use it (T-17.VII.5:3-4).

You can substitute “anger” for faithlessness. You can substitute “lust.” You can substitute “indifference.” Whatever you name those feelings which you judge as negative and which you have decided impede your waking up to Oneness in God, plug them into that phrase. And be very clear about the directive: you can let those feelings enter – don’t fight them in any way, don’t get all alarmed and panicky about them – but don’t make use of them. That’s all. It is like Gandhi said so many years ago – it wasn’t that he didn’t have anger in him. He did. He just chose not to identify with it. And in that choice, he was liberating from having to act on it in any way.

Your anger (or guilt or fear or whatever) is not a problem – your belief that your anger is a problem is the problem. So let it be. Let the inner feelings come and go and don’t freak out about them. Stay focused. You want to be peaceful and loving. You want to be in the Kingdom of Heaven. Okay. That is the goal. That’s all you need to do.

There is No Self Here

The part cannot practically experience the whole, although it can conceive that a whole exists. Its conception of this whole, however, will always be fragmented because the part looks out from and through its brokenness. It is a bit like saying I am in pain and I don’t like it – there must be something else. Well, sure. But we postulate that “something else” in terms of a better (less painful) fragment, an improved fragment. We are escaping “this” for “that.” So we are still in the same framework – call it dualistic, call it addiction to becoming, call it confusion about past, present and future. So long as we accept separation as our condition – and we have and we continue to – then we cannot have a direct experience of the whole, what A Course in Miracles and other spiritual and religious traditions call God.

Yet some groping – or grasping perhaps – is not out of order. It might even be essential. Can we say it is natural? Certainly we have been at it for a long time. We have the Buddha and Jesus and Nanak and Gandhi. We have transcendental meditation and the Silva mind system. We have the internet. We are very sincere and very diligent even. And somehow the difficulty continues: we remain in conflict – social, psychological, spiritual. What gives? Why is peace so difficult?

I want to bring order to the grasping. That’s the first thing. I want to see clearly what is going on in all this seeking and exploring and yearning. If possible, I want to see where it is helpful and where it is not. I am going to try and redirect the energy so that it moves in helpful ways and slows to a trickle or stops altogether in those grooves where it is not.

In order for this ordering to be effective, I have to engage some faith: I have to believe – to at least consider as true – that the whole exists. That’s it. That is the ground of the ordering: that the whole is.

You see, if the whole is then the difficulty – the wrongness of the seeking and yearning for oneness, that particular energy which is the root of conflict – is ended. I only think it is real. Now, thinking and believing it is real is a big deal! I am not minimizing that. But imagine that you are being asked to scale a tremendous mountain – ten times the height of Mount Everest. You are going to hedge and plan and quiver and quake. Who wouldn’t? But if you know that the mountain will reduce to a mild hill as soon as you set your foot on it, then the whole thing becomes very simple.

Of course, the trick is in learning what the illusion is! That is what the part – the separated self, if you like – is not very good at.

So I take as my starting point a need for order and I ground that need on my faith that the whole is. What then?

Look, for a moment, at the final lessons of A Course in Miracles. They do not have the tenor of finality – rather, they are like a springboard. It is as if, having cleared some ground and refined our thinking a bit, we are now ready for the real work.

This course is a beginning, not an end. Your Friend goes with you. You are not alone . . . He knows the way to solve all problems, and resolve all doubts. . . You need but ask it of Him, and it will be given you (W-Ep.1:1-3, 7, 9 ).

You need but ask . . . What does that mean and what, if any, relationship does it have with order?

One of the qualities of a serious student – one bent on ending the separation, regardless of the what religious or spiritual tradition to which they adhere – is that she is attentive. She realizes that awareness can be curative. That it can have an energy and volition that is not necessarily one’s own. This is the attraction of prayer and meditation. But we don’t have to call it that. We simply have to pay attention – and in doing so, take note of who is paying attention. If you go deep enough – if you keep trying to make contact with that one, the ghost in the machine if you will – then you will soon see that it’s not there.

It is so funny – and terrifying too – but there is really no self. I think this realization can be quite natural – it is certainly possible. It is the fruit of sincere attention to what is.

When we make contact with the truth that “we” are not what or who we believed, then things begin to get interesting. It is like the part suddenly realizes it is not actually a part . . . but if that is the case, if that is what is happening, then what is having the realization?

Is it possible that we are One already, dreaming that we are a part? That is what A Course in Miracles suggests. Can we – through orderly attention – realize that? Experience it?

Yes, we can. But we have to ask. It’s not: hey, One. Help a poor part out. It’s just paying attention. Maybe you kneel and listen. Maybe you walk in the woods and hum. I don’t know what form the attention takes for you. But when you find it – when you practice it – you are naturally bringing order to your seeking. You are asking, from within the dream, that the dreamer wake up.

I know this all can sound very new age-y and faux spiritual and like a college freshman spouting philosophical nonsense from within a haze of illicit smoke . . . and maybe it is. But maybe there is something to it. I am just saying that if you pay attention to how your mind works – if you do this carefully and responsibly – then you will begin to experience the difficulty of separation in a new way. The cracks will show. It is a very personal thing – I got here through A Course in Miracles and David Bohm, not to mention a slew of writers and thinkers I’ve been studying for the past thirty years or so. Your path is different. But the end is the same. There is no self here. There is not even a “here” here.

So you take the first step – maybe another. You give it a try, that’s all.

The Ego Loves Improvement (That’s Why Nothing Ever Changes)

I want to make the observation that the ego is not averse to improvement – that improvement, a sense of becoming – better, faster, wiser, more insightful, what have you – is integral to it. The ego is about movement away and towards – it is not satisfied with the present condition and so envisions a better future and then attempts to move towards it. Time is very important to the ego – time in terms of past, present and future.

But the ego never arrives, because the future never arrives. Emily Dickinson was right – eternity is composed of nows. We are always in the present whether we realize it or not. The future cannot, by definition, arrive. And so the energy of becoming – of projecting the better and brighter and more winsome – never ends. It can’t end. Not of its own volition anyway.

The ego is simply the way we think – it is the conditioned brain with its grooves and habits, its set patterns of reasoning and concluding. It is thought. It is really the movement of that thought – the process of that thought. It is like this river into which we step and then are swept along, following it wherever it goes. And at some point we think: this is not so good. This is bad. Sometimes this flow is really painful – sad or frightening or disturbing.

And we want out. We all want out. That’s why Jesus and the Buddha and A Course in Miracles and Eckhart Tolle and whatever else are so popular – we hope they will get us out. They are the flotsam we grasp at. We hope that by following them or practicing their precepts or studying them will somehow get us out. What we don’t see is that there are structural flaws in the way we think. A major overhaul is called for. There are no external solutions, no matter what the priests and gurus tell us.

In a sense – a painful sense (though ultimately liberating) – there is no Jesus. There is no course.

The thing is – and this is hard to realize and harder still to sustain as realization – the ego cannot help us with the overhaul. The ego is the problem. And the ego says, yes, there is a problem but it refuses to see that it is the problem. And then when the implication enters that it is the problem, it gets very creative about solutions: therapy, medication, better exercise regimens, more Ken Wapnick, yoga, less Gary Renard, road trips, and so forth.

But all of that – whatever the particular merits – remains the egoic flow. It remains the projected future. We have a new idea and it feels nice but the problem is that we have ideas. And we don’t see that. Or we do but we then we quickly allow the insight to be subsumed by new ideas. Awakening is about letting go of all the structures. That’s all. And it’s tricky. It really is.

I say this in part because I have written about the ego as vicious and mean and fighting for its life. That language is helpful in that it catches our attention. But it has the effect of separating us from the ego. And more and more I am appreciating the simple need to accept the ego’s presence. It is more in the nature of a tic than an enemy. It is like a record that skips (remember records?) and so rather than hear the song we hear he same stuttering lyric.

If you close your eyes for a moment, you will encounter what the course calls the ego. Sit with it. It is just your particular mind – the conditioning, the thoughts, the memories, the knowledge. All of that converging and bubbling and spewing. Maybe you will look at it and think: I don’t want this. But remember that your wanting release from it is part of it. All that noise up there is not going to help you. It is the problem itself and the problem is always replicating. It is always moving, always regenerating.

When we see that – when we are aware of it – then we begin to intuit a space beyond that, and a voice beyond that. “Space” and “voice” are blunt words and I apologize for that. We are trying to get at something that can only be hinted at with language. But what the course might do for us is allow us to begin moving away from the egoic flow simply by seeing it and realizing it cannot be other than what it is and that what it is is itself the problem. The ego cannot undo itself. Period. Knowing that opens up the possibility of contact with that which can undo the ego.

Many years ago a neighbor briefly had a unicycle and from time to time I would ride it. I had to go quicker than felt safe in order to maintain my balance. You couldn’t really think about it – you had to do it. And when I was doing it – riding – it was exhilarating in a sort of fluid electric kind of way. And when thought entered – look at me! – it was over. I toppled over.

For me, that is a little like what discerning the ego – and creating space for the Presence – feels like.

Willingness, Gift

I have wanted to clarify two ideas that have been recurring in my thoughts about A Course in Miracles: the necessity of willingness and awakening as a gift. They are important concepts – more so than perhaps first acknowledged – and ought to bear some scrutiny. What am I saying when I saw that we need merely to be willing? And what are the implications of awakening as a gift?

Willingness is not activity. This is the first thing. It’s a space or a condition. We are not talking about the activities that seem to arise from willingness (prayer, meditation, study), and we are not talking about the potentials of willingness (what might happen), and we are not talking about willingness as a spiritual requirement in the sense of “do this or else.”

I am suggesting that to be truly willing is to be outside or or beyond activity and ambition and consequences. If you think about that – we are talking about an end to activity, ambition and consequence – it is somewhat crazy. And it is possible I am wrong, of course. But I think there is something to it.

Whatever we do – whatever state we attain – it is good to be in touch with the motivation behind it. Why do we want this? When we question motivation, we meet the ego. Sometimes it is quite obvious and sometimes it is extremely subtle, but the ego always wants. It is the ego who desires advancement, progress, becoming. It is the ego who engages in comparison so that it can say we are not good enough and have to get better (but at least we’re not as bad off as some poor bastards we can name).

Usually, willingness implies a goal – it is a kind of motivation. I am willing to be healed (because health is better than disease), I am willing to be less angry (because it is interfering with my job), I am willing to give over my material scarcity to Jesus (because I want material abundance) and so forth. It is always conditional.

But if we continue to question it – just question it, just keep our motivation in sight, and keep its relation to the ego clear – then what happens to our willingness?

One thing I can tell you is that it does not go anywhere. It does not leave us just because we are stripping it of activity and goals and all of that. And not only does it stay, but it becomes more expansive and more gentle and also more dynamic. There is a quality of liberation. It is like you every day you follow the same routine with your horse – groom it, tack it up, ride it, dress it down – and then one day you stop doing those things and just watch the horse and you realize it is alive independent of you and can spend its days doing its own thing.

When you realize that – about your horse, or about willingness – then a true relationship becomes possible.

Don’t take my word for it either. What do I know? Mostly what I am asking you to do is have your own experience of willingness – look into it, sit with it, ask it questions. In fact, there is no value to anybody else’s experience in this regard. You have to have your own. You have to build that relationship.

Related to this idea of willingness is the idea of awakening as a gift. I want to make clear the premise of that idea and also try to understand at least a little about some of its effects. It is a bit of a loaded word – probably not the best one to use.

I described a kind of willingness a moment ago, the salient qualities of which were the absence of ambition, activity and consequence. Another way to say that is that there is no past or future involved in it, and no self in need of blessing. It has a kind of purity to it, perhaps evocative of that miracle principle which reminds us of the value of purification (T-1.I.7:1).

That state is hard precisely because we are always about doing – and we are always about doing something in service of some honorable goal. And we are always about doing something in service of an honorable goal because of the expected benefit to us. That’s the ego. It’s not just being mean to other people. It can also become quite invested in awakening. I have said it many times – the ego has no objection whatsoever to A Course in Miracles so long as it remains at the idea level and is never seriously brought into application.

If we follow this, we will see that what we do – be it a certain diet, a certain prayer routine, visits to a psychotherapist – can never yield up what we want. So long as we remain invested in becoming something, or achieving something, then we remain timebound. Awakening remains a future state – we keep it in the realm of illusion. It’s not that those activities are bad as opposed to good. They are simply illusory.

We have to let go of the idea that we can do anything – anything at all – that will wake us up. We can’t. It is not something that we accomplish and it is not something that we earn through good deeds. Nothing you do in the illusion is going to end the illusion. Help is going to have to come from beyond your limited understanding and your limited means.

All you can really do is wait. All you can really do is be – I use that verb carefully, of course – willing.

We are waiting for something to be given to us. Or – a better way to say it – we are waiting to realize what has already been given to us.

Or an even better way to say it is that we are simply realizing that “it” is inherent in us.

My biggest problem with the word “gift” is that it implies a separate giver – a God that is out there doing its own thing, from time to time bestowing something on its creations. That’s not what A Course in Miracles is talking about. We aren’t earning a gift from a separated God. We are realizing that we have the gift already as a condition of what we are in truth. One can’t give something to itself. It simply has it.

Again, the ego loves that last paragraph. It eats it right up. It is delighted to credit itself as God, delighted to say that it has the power to awaken itself and others. But that is not how it works. So long as the ego remains a viable presence in our thought system, we are only playing at waking up. When it is gone – when we are no longer busily seeking awakening in order to be truly happy – then something interesting can happen.

Willingness is the state in which we realize the gift. It doesn’t create the gift and it doesn’t give the gift. It is merely the light which makes the gift’s presence clear. Wanting the gift, and working for the gift, and expecting the gift to be like this or like that, all obscure the gift and make it illusory. So we have to go further than we thought. In a sense, we have to get past our ideas about awaking, and our faith that some combination of right action and good intentions will yield it up.

On Clearing A Space For God

In one of his sermons, Meister Eckhart addressed the problem of the egoic self as it relates – or tries to relate – to God. Strictly speaking, it cannot. Eckhart envisioned a condition in which one passed beyond even the concept of making space for God in order to have a relationship in the first place. In essence, Eckhart was saying that not only was God not a physical external consciousness or entity, God wasn’t even an idea with which one could occupy their mind or direct their contemplative energy.

Man’s last and highest parting occurs when for God’s sake he takes leave of god. Saint Paul took leave of god for God’s sake and gave up all that he might get from god as well as all he might give – toether with every idea of god. In parting with these he parted with god for God’s sake and God remained in him as God is in his own nature – not as he is conceived by anyone to be – nor yet as something yet to be achived, but more as an is-ness, as God really is.

“(N)ot as he is conceived by anyone to be – nor yet as something yet to be achieved, but more as an is-ness, as God really is.” That is quite an ideal, isn’t it?

Yet perhaps even more shocking is the idea of “taking leave of God.” It flies in the face of reason – or at least our assumptions about God and Heaven and Awakening. Isn’t the whole point – of A Course in Miracles, of Christianity in general – to get closer to God? Certainly I’ve done my share of pontificating on that theme.

Yet sitting with those words for a bit reveals that beneath the veneer of our initial reaction lies something else. Something that isn’t shocked or even challenged but altogether comforted. It sees in Eckhart a vital truth. If we are practicing A Course in Miracles because of an imagined personal benefit (at one end of the extreme improved external circumstances, at the other end, awakening), then our practice is ultimately bereft. It’s not about us – certainly not the “we” that we believe we are.

Eckhart urges us to a greater undoing than many of us can imagine. Indeed, when we do see the depth of the commitment he advocates, many of us are apt to shop for a new medieval theologian with which to wile away the reading hours. Remember, the egoic self is not scared of A Course in Miracles because it can twist even that contemporary scripture to its own ends. It is not even scared of God because it can render God conceptual so easily. Thus, our spiritual practice becomes about our progress, our improvement and our condition. And that is a recipe for failure – the same old same old.

This might be very subtle – almost unnoticeable – but it is true.

Another way of saying this might be that if God is One, then God cannot be aware of itself. God is not both subject and object. So as long as we are perceiving God as separate –  a thing, an idea, a feeling, or an energy source from which we are separate and to which we are heading, with the noblest of intentions – then we are merely going in circles, much to the delight of the egoic self.

This reminds me of something Jesus says in A Course in Miracles: “You who would judge reality cannot see it, for whenever judgment enters reality has slipped away (T-13.VII.5:5).”

Judgment in any form obscures God – Reality, Truth – from our vision. The decision to study the Course in order to wake up is a judgment. The decision to pray for guidance in difficult situations is a judgment. You might say they are good judgments – and I would be hard-pressed to disagree – but the fact remains. We are still locked in the physical brain’s dualistic mode: good vs. bad, right vs. wrong.

But what God is, is not that.

Yet even to write it – however clever, however eloquent – is to mistake it. Right? And so it is natural to ask then: given Eckhart, given the Course, given the conniving ego and its deathly agenda, what exactly are we supposed to do?

Christ is still there; although you know him not. His Being does not depend on your recognition. He lives within you in the quiet present, and waits for you to leave the past behind and enter into the world he holds out to you in love (T-13.VII.5:7-9).

See the emphasis on the present? God is – Christ is – where the past and future cannot intrude. We are being gently instructed in a mode of surrender that surpasses both our understanding and our inclination to survive because it insists that the past is illusory and unhelpful. One might ask: I can focus all day on the present moment – its sights, sounds, smells, sensations – but it is still “I” that is focused. It is is still “I” who is practicing this awareness. What gives?

And it is true. We cannot get rid of this personal worldly self alone – we need God’s help. And yet to seek that help is to preserve the personal self by acknowledging its need for salvation.

Can we say that awakening, then – even when cast in terms of time – is not logical? That the end-game, so to speak, is beyond our capacity to imagine? Tara Singh said somewhere that “there is nothing to do and only you can do it!” Wise – and yes, elliptical – words. But opacity is not necessarily unhelpful, particularly where our own ideas of clarity are limited.

We are leaving the comfort of our many resources – intellectual, psychological, emotional – behind. Is it possible that this “leaving,” this undoing is what Jesus had in mind when he used the metaphor of the child to explain Heaven? The child is innocent – that is, she or he trusts completely in the wisdom and beneficence of their mother or father. Their dependence is perfect because it is without reservation. At a young age, it doesn’t even contemplate alternatives. It is wholly united in its loving acceptance.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Eckhart again.

God does not intend that man should have a place reserved for him to work in since true poverty spirit requires that man shall be emptied of god and all his works so that if God wants to act in the soul he himself must be the place in which he acts . . . (God takes) responsibility for his own action and is himself the scene of the action, for God is one who acts within himself.

The belief that there is some active and significant contribution that we make to awakening – and that there is a corresponding personal benefit once awakening is attained – is going to have to given up. We are not ascending to God so much as allowing the dissolution of that which obstructs God’s active flowing here and now. Even A Course in Miracles – even the New Testament – even Meister Eckhart’s illuminating and courageous sermons – must be abandoned and given over.

We can hold onto nothing – we must surrender effort, we must surrender ambition, and we must surrender understanding. All of it hinders our awareness of God. You can take nothing with you into the present moment. You must meet it unencumbered in all ways.

The peace of God passeth your understanding only in the past. Yet here it is, and you can understand it now (T-13.VII.8:1-2).

Eckhart, too, saw freedom in the present moment. In it, one’s experiences – whatever form they took – were no longer one’s own. “I am free and empty of them in this now moment, the present.”

So it goes. What seems impossible to us is hardly so to God. Jesus reminds of this all the time – in the New Testament, in A Course in Miracles, in teachers like Eckhart, and even in the private recesses of our being where he speaks in a familiar voice. Our practice aims at a goal it cannot articulate. It longs for an experience that it must first accept on faith. It is like stepping into thin air, like finding God in the fall.

The Mutuality of Prayer

When I was growing up it sometimes seemed as if prayers were offered up to just about anybody, so long as they had some connection to the Christian monotheistic tradition. God, the saints, Mary, dead relatives, Jesus, Jesus’s dog. If you had ears – or had once had ears – then you were a fit object for prayer. I wondered sometimes if it mattered how we directed our prayer. Were prayer requests to Jesus more likely to yield fruit than those offered to our grandparents? Or Saint Jude? I used to pray to trees and flowers. Was that okay, too?

When it comes to prayer – especially prayer that is linked to getting some thing or some result (what is traditionally called petitionary prayer) – we all want the secret sauce. How do you pray to God for help? How do you ensure a response? Are there any guarantees when we pray?

One way to approach prayer is to focus less on results and more on process. We should not come to God and Jesus the way we approach real estate agents or car salesmen. It is not a question of bringing our A game, the better to maximize returns. It is closer to marriage, closer to parenting. It’s closer to a friendship that lasts a lifetime. Sometimes, it is important to ask what we can offer. Sometimes it’s better not to think about our needs and wants but to focus on those of others. It’s not that God is going to turn away from us in anger or disgust. It’s just that we love God, too. Why not act that way?

If we are honest, this makes intuitive sense. God is not in the dark about our lives. It is not like we are filling in the blanks for a boss who only thinks of us when we come in for a raise or to complain about office politics. As Jesus said so long ago, “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

There is real comfort in that line. If we really give attention to it – if we are open to it – then we see that it calls on us to be faithful. It asks that we take a deep breath and be a little slower to judge what’s going on in what we are calling our lives in what we are calling the world. Behind every plea to God that our lives be changed – whether we’re pulling for more sun during the family vacation or the removal of fatal cancer cells – is the notion that we know better than God what’s right and good and necessary. And we really have to question the wisdom of that conclusion. We have to consider the possibility that we don’t have a clue – or at least that somebody else might have more clues than we do. As Bill Thetford said to Helen Schucman, there must be a better way, right.

Does this mean that prayer is fruitless? Beside the point? Or maybe just a matter of listening rather than talking? Or something else altogether?

Not necessarily. Nor, by the way, are we supposed to play it tough. If we’re scared or in pain, then we should bring it to God. By all means we should talk to God, if talking to God is what works, what resonates, what comforts, what helps. Reach for the hand of Jesus. If your best friend or your child needed you to listen to them, would you turn away? Would you tell them to suck it up?

It’s always okay – it’s more than okay – to turn to God or Jesus (or Buddha or a grandmother or Saint Terese) when we’re in need. Those are important prayers. What I am suggesting – gently, gently – is that we reconsider the nature of our investment in prayer. Are we asking for comfort or are we asking for a specific result that we’ve decided is right? It is another of asking: are we trusting a ay other than our own?

To trust God is to be faithful. To trust God is to see your own self differently. It is to recognize the futility of self-directed and self-obsessed effort. It is to seek a better way. When we are really in that space of trust it helpfully shifts the focus from our own efforts to an effort – a source – that transcends us. It’s a letting go of what is small in favor of what is grand and inclusive and joyful. It’s not academic or intellectual. It can be done in our lives – an embodied experience – and we can feel its effects.

Prayer has its own energy. That’s one of the reasons it can be fruitfully compared to significant relationships. There’s nothing static about it. What works today might not work tomorrow. What worked ten years ago and hasn’t been tried since might make a sudden reappearance. It’s a two way street. It has to be.

That, in the end, is what we can rely on: the mutuality of prayer. Whether we come to the zafu or the prie dieu or the bedroom rocker or a favorite tree in the forest . . . we go there to meet the One who is there because that is where we go to meet them.

Transformational Fires

We burned deadfall yesterday. It is the tail end of burning season and as usual winter left us with a lot of excess wood. Some we cut into firewood. The rest – along with whatever lumber is no longer useful around the place – we burn.

Chrisoula and the girls were with the horses, so Jeremiah and I spend the morning talking and working. Lugging branches, stacking logs. Mostly we talked about gaming – Dungeons and Dragons, Elder Scrolls V. Who would win in a fight – Gandalf or Voldemort? That sort of thing. But during one of our breaks – he with his apple juice, me with my tea – he commented on how so much wood could become so little ash so quickly. It was a good point. I hadn’t noticed.

Lately I have been aware of how much I don’t understand. And, along with that, how hard I work to understand. It is as if I face an abyss, frantically trying to define and redefine it. Is it possible that we don’t have to solve every mystery? That awakening might have more to do with acceptance and letting go than with understanding?

The wood we burn is dense and heavy. Some of it needs to be chainsawed. Some we snap over our knees. But we are always aware of it – heavy, rough, long, crooked. It has its own shape, its own texture. It has form. It has a name: red maple, white pine, dogwood, beech and birch.

When we toss it into the flames, that form is utterly consumed. It is no longer what it was just a few minutes earlier. Is that the same as saying it is gone?

Leaning on a shovel and watching the fire, I felt acutely aware not of the wood’s disappearance but of its transformation. It’s important to be careful in saying this. The wood becomes flame and then it becomes ash. It is still there but its form has changed. The wind comes and stirs the fire and lifts little whirlwinds of ash, scattering them over the lawn, all the way to the neighbor’s. What remains we’ll scatter in the gardens, mixed with the soil where – in time – it will be converted to pumpkins and tomatoes and lettuce that we’ll eat.

So you realize then that you are not looking at things so much as at a process – a sort of ongoing transformation of matter into energy, matter into other matter. And you realize that you, too, are part of that process. You are witnessing it not from the outside but from the inside. When your body goes – taking with it your name, your history, your story as you now identify with it – the process in which it has always flowed will not cease flowing. It goes on.

Can we identify with that process? Not as a separated part of it, not as a superior observer, not as poets or aspiring mystics but simply as the process itself? Beyond the many forms that the world assumes is a content that is eternal and unchanging. Is this it? One way to find out – one way to make the necessary contact, have the direct experience – is to pay attention and be present without trying to figure it all out. We didn’t invent the process. It doesn’t need our permission to continue.

Most of the women and men who have shepherded A Course in Miracles through the last five decades have been academic intellectuals. It’s natural in that light to approach the course intellectually, with our brains in the lead. But I am suggesting that our practice can be informed by some other sense, some other guide. Can we set our intellects aside for even a few minutes? Can we feel our way to Heaven?

Yesterday, sitting with the fire, talking with my son, I felt the Holy Presence. I can’t explain it very well. It has do with loving my life as it happens rather than how I wish it had happened or hope it will happen. It has to do with being attentive. You watch the fire. You consider seriously – and debate fiercely – the merits of fiction’s famous wizards. And somewhere in the midst of all that – no warning – you slip into the Heaven that always exists beyond ideas and forms, beyond the reach of the brain and its exaggerated capacity for reason. You are transformed. You go on.

Seeing with the Holy Spirit

The other day I was thinking about how we see with the Holy Spirit. I use that phrase – or one like it – a lot. It’s a key premise of awakening through A Course in Miracles. We have to choose the Holy Spirit as our teacher. We have to let go of the ego and see with the Holy Spirit. But what does that mean practically?

To use the lens of the Holy Spirit is simply to see wholly and without judgment. It’s a way of seeing another person or situation or memory without judging it. We don’t compare and contrast with previous experiences We just let it be in our awareness. By holding it there and not tainting it with it egoic ideas, we heal it. It is healed simply by our willingness to let it be itself.

For example, the other day I was on a long drive, and I was passing many beautiful homes. They were large and attractive. Many of them had a farm component – horses or cows. It was a New England postcard, right out of Robert Frost. Those scenes have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. And for reasons that I don’t know but can only make educated guesses about, they represent an ideal of success. I always thought I would live in one of those homes, on one of those large picturesque farms. But I don’t. And sometimes I am unhappy about that.

As I drove, feelings of envy arose. Feelings of scarcity. I was angry about what I have and what I don’t have. I would plot an ambitious course of writing and networking that would net me millions! Then I would tell myself anybody who lives in a big house must be spiritually deprived.

Those are familiar feelings! But as they came up, I didn’t do anything along the lines of management or control. I just let them be. I looked at them with the Holy Spirit. “Oh, look. Here comes the idea about being more spiritual than other people because my house is so small.”

Because I wasn’t judging the thoughts and feelings, it was easier to let them go. They weren’t as scary or intimidating. They were just thoughts. And I saw that each of them revolved around this idea of me in this body. I wanted security and safety for my life and the big New England farmhouse represented that. It was a symbol, nothing more. As soon as I was clear on that, a real peace flowed through me. There aren’t any houses that can provide us security or safety. That comes from our relationship with God. I trusted that completely. The rest of the drive felt very gentle and beautiful. It just flowed.

That is what I mean when I say that we have to “see” with Jesus or with the Holy Spirit. Just observe what is happening – how you are feeling, what you are thinking. It doesn’t matter if the thoughts are good or bad, whether they scare you or make you happy. Just let them be. If you can give them all your attention – if you can let them be in the field of your awareness – they will clarify and then fade. You will be free of them. It is nothing mystical, nothing mysterious. Just being aware of what is happening and giving it our attention in a spirit of trust and faith.