First the Deluge, then Heaven

Why do we study A Course in Miracles?

I think this is a good question, one that perhaps should be asked from time to time. What is the point of our effort and our diligence and our commitment? In the text, Jesus promises that “[n]othing survives its purpose (T-29.VI.3:1).” We can only go so far as we are willing to go. We cannot do more than we set out to do.

So what is it we are doing?

Since accepting – embracing, really, with both hands and a starving heart – the course as my spiritual path, my life has changed. I smile more. I am more relaxed, less susceptible to the ups and downs of life in the world. I am more patient with myself and others. I am both less defensive and less aggressive.

I’m not perfect in any of this, of course, but the difference is tangible. It is noticeable. I am grateful for it.

But is that what I really want? To be a nicer guy? A more spiritual guy? A kinder and gentler teacher – of writing, of reading, of practicing ACIM?

We have to be careful about settling. We have to be careful about becoming invested in external improvements. They’re nice, of course, but they are still just part of the dream. Jesus cautions us against becoming comfortable, of declaring ownership of some parts of the dream, as if enlightenment were a buffet.

The choice is not between which dreams to keep, but only if you want to live in dreams or awaken from them . . . You cannot dream some dreams and wake from some, for you are either sleeping or awake. And dreaming goes with only one of these (T-29.IV.1:5, 7-8).

And remember, too, that all dreams – regardless of their form, their apparent quality – begin in hate and fear (T-29.V.7:4).

It is waking that liberates us once and for all.

Well, the other morning I woke early to walk the dog. It was a few minutes to four and the wind was howling and the rain was spraying in silvery sheets. Branches whistled falling out of trees. The dog kept looking at me like, “really?” So we turned back. I didn’t want to but it was okay.

When I got home, I went downstairs to check the sump pump. And the sump pump was busted. And our basement was flooded. Water was spewing from the foundation walls, gushing up through floor cracks. I raced upstairs and woke Chrisoula. For half an hour or so we frantically pumped and bucketed. Then we gave up. It was coming in faster than we could get rid of it. We started to carry stuff upstairs – books, games, photographs, musical instruments. The kids came out of their bedrooms bleary-eyed to help. It was cold and wet. It was unsettling.

And with all of it I was okay. That was supposed to be my time for prayer and meditation, for silence and solitude, but I was okay. I wasn’t acting like a jerk. I wasn’t whining out loud or complaining to God inside. I paid attention to the kids to be sure they were safe and understood that it was all going to be fine. I kept perspective about what needed to be saved and what could be left to soak. Chrisoula stopped to make me coffee. Sophia asked if there any Course in Miracles books I needed to carry up.

There was a lot to love and be thankful for, not the least of which was that ten years or so ago I would have been a one-man emotional wrecking crew.

And then, out in the windy rain, tossing another bucket of dirty water onto the sodden lawn, I heard with simple clarity: “no. You are giving yourself too much credit. This isn’t what the course is about. It wants you to go even deeper than nice. It wants a transformation even more profound. Keep going!”

I felt shaken by that. It’s not enough to be a sweetheart? To chuckle in the face of all this water and property damage?

We have to decide: are we here to get better at this part of the dream or do we want to wake up from dreaming altogether? The course does not equivocate. When it urges us not to seek outside ourself (T-29.VII.1:1), it means it literally. Heaven is not a better approach to flooded basements. That’s just the happier form of the dream from which we are trying to awaken. We can see it – take note of it – and then keep going.

In his book Remembering God in Everything You See, Tara Singh notes that it is not enough to have an improved personality, a winsome approach to parenting, a chipper attitude when face-to-face with adversity. All that is personal. It is of the self. We have to go past it to what is impersonal.

Impersonal Life alone has the energy,
the direct contact,
and the resources to cope with any situation.

I think this is what it means to be able to say authentically “[t]here is no peace except the peace of God (W-pI.200).

It’s no small potatoes to be a good companion to those around you. If the basement needs to be dealt with, then deal with it. When it’s time to cook dinner, cook dinner. But there is more than just a happier, more grounded life in the world. And it is that to which the course calls us. I am grateful that I am becoming a kinder, more thoughtful and gentler man but I am bent like madness on Heaven.

Emily Dickinson┬ásaid that she wasn’t getting to Heaven but rather “going all the time.”

Not going when the external world was perfect and benevolent but all the time. Not going when the house is dark and quiet and the angels do gymnastics while I pray but all time time.

Now is there silence. Seek no further. You have come to where the road is carpeted with leaves of false desires, fallen from the trees of hopelessness you sought before. Now are they underfoot. And you look up and on toward Heaven, with body’s eyes but serving an instant longer now. Peace is already recognized at last, and you can feel its soft embrace surround your heart and mind with comfort and with love (W-pI.200.10:1-6).

So the seeker becomes a finder and the finder learns that what he sought was forever given and always at hand. The waters rose and then they receded. Such is the nature of floods. Some of our stuff is lost; some of it is just dandy. Such is the nature of stuff.

And beyond all of that – beyond me writing and you reading even – is the light of Heaven itself, bright as a star and as near as our noses. More and more, we’re going there all the time.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Jeanne February 1, 2013, 2:48 pm

    I’m endeavoring to wrap my mind around the term, “impersonal” and the meaning of it. My first thought was to be “aloof” or “uncaring.” But then I recalled reading a book by Byron Katie. She writes about how she has found love in everything, even in the face of (seeming) adversity. She smiles and loves regardless of the circumstances, even when faced with death and disease and bodily discomforts that would send many people into a state of anxiety and/or depression. Is her way of being, the impersonal way that is written here?

    • Sean Reagan February 1, 2013, 3:27 pm

      Hi Jeanne,

      Thanks for reading and writing. Yes, I think what Byron Katie is saying is moving in that direction – a love that does not separate or judge. But it’s not really about us – how we behave or the attitude we take towards people. At that level, it will always be personal. But when we begin to make contact with the love of God we see that it is impersonal in a very grand and loving sense – it is for everyone equally. It doesn’t love you more than it loves me, it isn’t more accessible to me than to you. It doesn’t recognize the differences that we take for granted. It doesn’t indulge our fantasy of being special separated sons and daughters.

      Talking this way moves in the direction of the two levels of the course. At the level of time and the body – where we are, almost all of us, almost all of the time – we are grounded in the personal and aspiring to the impersonal. Byron Katie’s example is a good one – loving what shows up, regardless of whether the ego judges it as good or bad, worthy or love or unworthy of love. The more we practice that kind of impersonal loving, the closer we get to the love of God – which is the level of Heaven, of spirit. At that level, we are one – and the illusions of separate selves with separate stories is undone.

      Does that make sense at all? For a long time in my practice of the course I wanted to be loved specially by Jesus or God – you know, the student at the front of the class, the one who gets called on to demonstrate forgiveness for the other students. But as I have kept at this, it becomes clearer that God’s love is an impersonal presence, a power that does not know me as Sean with his history and his likes/dislikes and so forth.

      Sometimes I feel as if God’s love is an invisible river that is flowing through us and around us all the time. I go walking by rivers all the time – they don’t flow for us, or glitter in sunlight for us, or sing across the rocks for us. It is impersonal. But it is still uplifting and beautiful and all of that.

      Anyway, thanks for a great question!

      Sean

  • Jenn February 2, 2013, 6:37 am

    A great reminder for me! We tend to give ourselves to much credit like you said. We can’t settle we have to keep going. Sometimes I forget this and I have to realize that it’s not enough. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Sean Reagan February 2, 2013, 9:07 am

      Thanks for reading Jenn!

  • Aleta February 2, 2013, 11:06 am

    This is a great reminder for me, too! Thanks, Sean, and thanks to your other readers for their comments!

    • Sean Reagan February 2, 2013, 11:42 am

      Thanks, Aleta and yes – thanks to all who are reading and thinking out loud here!

  • Jeanne February 3, 2013, 1:32 am

    So, to clarify for me, are you thinking that as we look on all aspects of life with love, we eventually begin to incorporate God’s Unconditional and Impersonal Love into our lives?

    I’ve had a few events, I’m sure not unlike the people who are reading this blog, where I felt One with All. But if I had any conscious involvement in creating that condition, which I believe that I did not, I have no idea what my involvement would have been. But I did feel like I was Loved with an Impersonal Love. Regarding a possible way to heaven, I have discovered that when I shift my disposition to one of enthusiasm, joy and love, the whole world seems to shift too. The latter situation I have total control over, but the former situation (Oneness with God), I do not.

    I figure that if I can stay in that shift towards love, enthusiasm and the such, perhaps I’ll experience heaven yet. Does anyone have any thoughts here?

    I’ve been studying the Course since the late 90’s and felt a shift for around the 3 beginning years. It was at that time that I left the house with a song in my heart and lots and lots of enthusiasm. I made sure that I was helpful to many people. Things flowed, synchronicities and miracles happened. However, as a side note, I didn’t feel that Oneness that I had felt before.

    After 3 years, I made the mistake of asking God to help me to overcome fear. Initially, I was fine. I’d be in my right mind and ask the Holy Spirit to remove the thing that was making me fearful. And He did. But over many years (after 9/11), I began to forget to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance mostly because I became very busy with my business. After a while, I felt no love and very disconnected with God.

    I’m now reading this blog hoping to remember to stay the course. No pun intended. lol I would love to find myself in a place (mentally/spiritually) where I can begin to see things as Byron Katie does, as I did way back when.

    I do start down a peaceful path, but somehow, something seems to suck me back into a dark void. Any advice on how to stay on track? Also, should I have taken this offline? I figured that perhaps advice to me might help someone else out there. Thanks Sean and everyone else in advance.

    • Sean Reagan February 3, 2013, 7:40 am

      Honestly, Jeanne? You sound pretty focused and spiritually well to me. Honesty and willingness are really all that’s required. I’m not sure I’d articulate things much differently than you did in your comment. That oneness with God is in the nature of a gift, something given. But here in the world some effort seems to be required and when we exert energy in the direction of love and kindness, it feels right somehow. It feels helpful. I think it is okay to trust that.

      So far as wondering away and forgetting to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, I think that’s okay too – probably better than okay actually. I don’t know anyone – myself included – whose trek along this path is all roses and sunshine all the time. It’s hard work and it’s scary work and there are shadowy places. When we’re in them, it’s helpful to remember that we aren’t alone – both in the sense that Jesus/Holy Spirit is with us too – but also that brothers and sisters are walking alongside. Me, Ron, Jenn, Aleta, your friends where you live, whomever – we are not traveling this path, with all its ups and downs, alone.

      Your comment calls to mind that section of the text called The Peace of Heaven. It’s in chapter 13, The Guiltless World. You are seeing so clearly the contrast between the benefits of reliance on the Holy Spirit vs. reliance on self and world!

      You have need of contrast only here. Contrast and differences are necessary teaching aids, for by them you learn what to avoid and what to seek. When you have learned this, you will find the answer that makes the need for any differences disappear. Truth comes of its own will unto its own (T-13.XI.6:2-5).

      Sounds to me like you’re half a step away from the Kingdom, Jeanne!

      Thanks for writing so openly. Offline or online doesn’t matter to me; whatever is most comfortable. Enjoy the day!

  • Ron February 3, 2013, 5:08 am

    Jeanne,
    I can relate to your comments. My way has been that I needed to get to where I wanted the presence of the Holy Spirit more than anything else. I spent years trying to “make myself”, and for that to stop, serious suffering was needed. As ACIM says “God’s teachers have learned how to be simple. They have no dreams that need defences against the truth. They do not try to make themselves”. (M-4.VI.) This passage blows me away, and leads me onwards towards simplicity. Instead of the usual thing about optimists and pessimists and glass half full/ half empty I can see that the way is to to live with an ever-empty glass.

    • Sean Reagan February 3, 2013, 7:47 am

      Well-said, Ron. The last sentence of the quoted passage – “They do not try to make themselves” – is truly a gem. Thank you!

  • Jeanne February 3, 2013, 5:08 pm

    Thanks Ron and Sean! Your comments help to make me feel that everything will turn out just fine. I know that I seem to be in a quandary as to what to do. But in reality, I know exactly what to do. I need to be diligent in my thinking (I used to be so good at that, now I feel my mind is scattered) and I need to study the Course more often (several times during the day) and not allow myself to get off track because I think another author offers me a “a new better way.” lol I used to study only the Course. Everything worked out fine then. Nuff said! It’s really nice to have other people around who are well-versed in this material. I’ve attended several Course meet-ups and most understand it differently than I do. Not so, here. Much love to all! : )

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