To remember is merely to restore to your mind what is already there (T-10.II.3:1).
This is an important concept, integral to practicing A Course in Miracles. We aren’t really learning anything – as in acquiring missing information in order to reassemble a puzzle. We are simply remembering what we know but forgot.
Yet I want to propose another level to that previous sentence and say: we are simply remembering what we know but forgot and forgot we forgot.
We could think of it like this. Say that we are lost and want to go home. We know that we have a home – we can picture it and so forth – but we don’t know where we are, so we can’t say how to find our home.
Therefore, we seek familiar landmarks, ask for directions, buy a map, steer by the moon and sun and so forth.
That’s how “know but forgot” works. There are strategies we can use to regain – to remember – what is lost.
Now say that we are lost. And we want to go home but we forgot where our home is. And we forgot we forgot where our home is.
In that case, we can’t even say we are “lost.” We don’t know even that basic fact about our condition, let alone have any idea how to devise a strategy for becoming unlost.
Our experience of separation is like that. We are not separated but we have forgotten this fact and we have forgotten that we forgot.
Therefore, separation appears normal. It appears “right.” Of course we are individuated bodies housing discrete selves with agency and intention. Of course there is a world “out there” filled with other bodies. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong, deluded, confused, et cetera.
The thing is, there is always within separation a nagging feeling that something is off. By and large, we attribute this feeling to external causes – the wrong political leaders, the wrong romantic partners, wrong diet and exercise choices, rain when we wanted sun, sun when the garden needed rain . . .
But addressing those external glitches never fully resolves the nagging feeling. Yoga, meditation, Nisargadatta, Thomas Merton, the Law of Attraction, EFT, peyote, Tantric sex . . .
They all work a little some of the time. And some of the time they work a lot.
But that quiet interior sense that something is amiss – just a hair’s breadth off – persists.
For some of us – certainly for me – A Course in Miracles showed up as yet another external solution. It was the latest variant in a familiar pattern of grasping at outside solutions to what clearly seemed to be external problems.
Yet by studying the course, and bringing it into application in my life, and by following its directives even when (perhaps especially when) they pointed beyond the course, eventually I remembered that I forgot that I knew.
And so the issue became not one of external solutions to external problems, but of internal solutions to the only problem there is.
Rather than devolve into metaphysics, let me point to a helpful moment of insight in this regard. Sometimes biography is helpful.
Years ago I was driving home from teaching and feeling very agitated about a particularly vexing relationship. I really wanted it to no longer be such a bothersome presence, but getting to that juncture felt as likely as me building a rocket and flying it alone to the moon.
As I drove, I passed a big field and noticed deer grazing near the tree line. I pulled over and watched them for a few minutes. It was peaceful and quiet and still.
When I began driving again, I realized that the vexing relationship which had dominated the past forty-five minutes of driving had been absent the whole time I was gazing at the deer. It was as if it literally did not exist.
And yet, now it was here again – in all its vexatious glory.
And yet, if I turned in an interior way to the deer at dusk again, then the relationship dissolved.
In one fell swoop the healing power of attention revealed itself. And I saw clearly that the issue was this: since we can’t not give attention, why not give it intentionally?
That was my introduction to attention, and my life – in all its experiential variety (spiritual, artistic, parental, culinary, sexual, student, teacher, gardener, walker, whatever) – has not been the same since.
Attention became the new teacher and A Course in Miracles – its many texts, teachers, conflicts and insights – receded. Nobody who’s staring at the moon needs a finger to point out the moon.
This is why I urge people – when there is a shared space of consensual learning – to let go of ACIM and all its metaphysics, poetry, conflicts and so forth and just give attention.
What shows up? How does it show up? What is included? what is excluded? What does attention want? Where does it begin? Does it have an end? It is responsive? To what or to whom? Does it think? Is it playful?
And so forth.
Unless you first know something you cannot dissociate it. Knowledge must precede dissociation, so that dissociation is nothing more than a decision to forget (T-10.II.1:1-2).
Attention is not the end of the spiritual inquiry. There is work to do with respect to subject and object, the observer and the observed, the role of relationship, effective means of stabilizing insight and so forth.
But attention can be the end of forgetting. It can undo the pernicious consequences of our “decision to forget” and attend in a helpful nurturing way our emerging wakefulness.