Engaging the Dream

The question of how to engage with the world continues to vex. I remember reading the blog of an ACIM student seveal years ago in which she talked about getting bored during a coffee date with friends and – because it was all just a dream – told them they were boring her and got up and left. The Course teaches that the world is a dream (see, for example, T-18.I.5:1-3) – but precisely what this means, or how we’re going to experience it after awakening, is a bit more vague. There are plenty of students running around talking about how God has “taken the last step.” Often, they are the ones who want my money in some way.

On the other hand, what do I know? My own experience of “awakening” is that it’s more disconcerting than not and often quite painful. Joy always seems to be playing catch-up. I confess to some envy regarding people whose experience of undoing is perennially ecstatic and liberating. It’s a rocky road to Heaven. Hiking boots, walking sticks, water bottles and some good hand-rolled trail mix are well-advised. The only other thing I can say with confidence is that a certain ordinary-ness attends the slow dawn of enlightenment. And I mean that in the most pedestrian of ways. There are mornings when I feel I could literally leap into Jesus’ arms and be carried away to a kingdom in the sky but then one of the kids wakes up and they need some juice. Jesus is there too but it’s way less romantic. Do we really have to change diapers in Heaven? The answer so far seems to be yes.

I don’t think it’s wrong for students of A Course in Miracles to face the world. We have to be honest with ourselves. If we experience the world as real, why fight it? Indeed, accepting its seeming reality is often conducive to the very peace and joy for which I long. My daughter gets annoyed with me when we’re out because I insist on talking to everyone. Come on, Dad, she’ll say. Do you really have to ask the bank teller whether she’s happy working in a bank? To which I can only respond, it feels natural to take an interest in people and in the world in which they live. A word uttered in love is neither idle nor chit chat. I suppose some people are annoyed with conversation but my deeper sense is that they appreciate being seen as something other than a “teller” or a “cashier” or a “police officer.”

Jesus advocated a radical equality. Anybody could break bread with him. Social constructs of gender, family and class were simply ignored. That seems complicated – after all, I just called it radical – but it’s not. Not really. We are all brothers and sisters. We like a good meal, enjoy sleeping when tired, tell stories, etc. We’re brothers and sisters. Behind the Course’s sometimes abstract veneer lies a simple truth: we are one (T-1.I.19:1). And given that, why not do unto the seeming others as we’d like to be done unto? I appreciate it when students ask me how my kids are, or what got me into Emily Dickinson, or what I think about this headline or that one. It means they don’t see me in the single dimension of professor. It feels good to be humanized.

The more I practice the Course – the more I share it – the less path-like it seems. If I’ve learned anything it’s the utter uselessness of most of what I’ve learned so far. Be kind, be gentle and leave the rest to God. As Saint Augustine said, love and do what you will. In a very rough way – and in a way that I cannot even begin to pretend I know enough about to recommend to anyoone – I am trying to engage the world in a consistently loving manner. Say “please” and “thank you.” Stop long enough to see people outside whatever socially-approved roles they’ve accepted. Be a good listener. Don’t lie about your spiritual progress, especially to yourself. And so forth.

I’m aware that love isn’t really a list of do’s and don’t’s. It’s more of a general prescription. It’s a general spirit of engagement, rather than specific terms of engagement. And it seems to flow better when spiritual aid – be it through Jesus, the Buddha or Guru Nanak – is called on at the outset. Whatever else happens, it’s good to keep in mind that we’re not alone.

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