A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. . . . Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day . . .
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
. . . kindly refrain from being so fucking authoritative . . .
– Hayden Carruth
These days I read A Course in Miracles much more loosely than before. It is not a question of study so much as a kind of tacking back to balance. A spiritual practice brings us to the point of self-inquiry and then we are on our own: we have to ask the questions and discover the answers ourselves. The the text and workbook (and related material) simply restores me to the crucial remembrance: I am responsible for giving attention. Nobody and nothing else – including A Course in Miracles – can do this for me.
Saint Francis de Sales said that we learn to love by loving. That is a very clear and helpful way to put it. We have to take action in order to come to clarity: we have to ask questions in order to receive answers. If we are bent on an experience of Love, then we must bring love into application in our lives. Even if we don’t know how to do this, there are little steps we can take: we can listen carefully to someone, we can bake bread, we can share a piece of music. There are always subtle intimations of what to do next.
Love is a kind of service: a kind of putting another before oneself. We aren’t being kind for glory or honor or whatever we might get in exchange: we are kind in order to learn kindness. We learn to love by loving, so that is what we do, as best we can. Love teaches us as we go. That is what I am learning: the next step is given. I don’t have to invent it. So the focus shifts from from getting to giving and, at another level, from making to receiving.
Aldous Huxley riffed on de Sales in his book Time Must Have A Stop. He wrote:
There isn’t any secret formula or method. You learn to love by loving – by paying attention and doing what one thereby discovers has to be done.
This seems sound. When we give attention, the self to some degree is dissolved, and we perceive what is with greater clarity and insight. We naturally become clearer with respect to our brothers and sisters: who needs to be left alone, who needs us to reach out, what form the reaching out should take. It all unfolds very gentle and easy, like drawing another breath.
This is very simple! But we are very good at complicating and obscuring things. For example, A Course in Miracles has always inspired two strands of thought that are excellent forms of resistance. I am personally familiar with both; that is why I can talk about them.
The first strand is the implication that one can be “right” about ACIM while another is “wrong” and that this distinction has some real merit. Ken Wapnick, for all his helpfulness – and his helpfulness was considerable indeed – tended to objectify the course and make it something about which people could be wrong. And because he was so visible and authoritative, it sort of naturally created the impression that this was an appropriate way to approach A Course in Miracles, maybe even the way.
But it doesn’t take much to see that “right” and “wrong” are fairly shallow applications of truth, and that any investment in them is an investment in lovelessness. I can certainly disagree with someone when it comes to their practice or understanding of ACIM – this site is full of such examples – but I understand that disagreement in terms of what is helpful and not helpful to the person at a specific time.
Giving attention rarely yields up anything worth reporting. You have insights but they are mostly in the nature of remembrances – “oh right. This.” Inherent in them is the knowledge that the truth can’t be taught or transmitted or translated. Everyone has to arrive at it in their own way.
For example, if somebody is deeply attached to the historic Jesus as the author of the course, then great. That can be a very fruitful way to study ACIM. I don’t personally find that viewpoint persuasive, but all that means is I don’t adopt it in my own practice. This no longer seems like a big deal to me. There are plenty of students – many who read and share here – who are not precisely tracking my own sense of A Course in Miracles and yet they are deeply inspiring and helpful to me. It turns out that we don’t have to agree, that love can readily accommodate what we perceive as our differences.
It is very very difficult to justify interfering in another’s spiritual practice, and it is almost never warranted on academic or intellectual grounds. We all have bigger fish to fry.
From the perspective of the separated self, it is very comforting to think that one is “right” and others “wrong.” Our brains naturally think this way, and society has clearly evolved accordingly. We feel safe when we can point to another and say, “they are wrong.” It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about a spiritual path, health care reform or the best guitar player. But if are honest, does this habit of us vs. them really work? Are we really at peace when we are judging our brothers and sisters and finding them wanting?
It’s important to see that with very little effort we can redirect our focus to our own inquiry without having to judge anybody else’s. It’s their business; we have our own. That is part of what Huxley meant when he wrote there aren’t any secrets or methods. You give attention and the way reveals itself and this is an incredibly personal and intimate experience. Nobody – not Tara Singh, not Ken Wapnick, not Aldous Huxley – can tell you what to do or how to respond in that space.
I am saying then that my own practice became much more helpful and focused when I stopped caring whether people agreed with me or whether I was in accord with this or that course teacher or spiritual writer. I trust what works, give attention accordingly, and don’t sweat the fallout.
The second strand of thought that can be very helpful in keeping us from the work of inquiry is a kind of new age spiritual drama and razzle dazzle that sometimes infuses the ACIM community (and lots of others, of course). Gary Renard’s books are the apotheosis of this aspect, but he’s hardly alone. A Course in Miracles has always inspired a lot of psychic drama and magical thinking. I can’t count the number of times people have reached out to ask about the lights of Lesson 15 (I saw them! I haven’t seen them yet!) or shared intense and vivid past life narratives in which I am implicated in various ways, and so forth.
I recognize that for many people a mirror ball experience of Christ seems helpful. I was bent on it myself for a long long time – well before ACIM showed up in my life. But more and more I find all that energy distracts from the simple work of questioning what we are and what truth and what reality is in whatever personal way that inquiry manifests for us. Those past life/ascended master/heaven-as-a-disco experiences tend to advertise themselves: we are always talking about them.They tend to be – they aren’t always but they tend to be – about specialness.
On the other hand, giving attention rarely yields up anything worth reporting. You have insights but they are mostly in the nature of remembrances – “oh right. This.” Inherent in them is – again – the knowledge that the truth can’t be taught or transmitted or translated. Everyone has to arrive at it in their own way.
I am not saying that anybody is wrong who follows Ken Wapnick or adopts his or another view of A Course in Miracles. Or that somebody who believes they were Mary Magdalene in a past life is missing the spiritual boat. We all have our paths and we have to follow them. I am saying the differences on those paths are not as interesting or important as we think and that focusing on them is a form of resistance. My experience teaches me that sooner or later we come to a place of simple inquiry and at that point all the drama and spiritual bureaucracy just falls away. It’s like fixing a tractor more than anything else. You roll up your sleeves and do the work.
Love (arising from the work of giving attention) teaches me that it doesn’t really matter what other people are doing. Their path and approach and practice is not about me. When I see a space for dialogue I enter it, and sometimes that yields very helpful and creative relationships. And sometimes I just shrug the dust off my sandals and keep on keeping on, as brother Dylan said. What else can we do? You can’t tend to anybody else’s garden. Grow your own, share the harvest, and let the spiritual chips fall where they may – and they always do may sooner or later.
The looser I hold A Course in Miracles – the less emphasis I place on being right about it, or being special with respect to it, or having grandiose experiences because of it – the more helpful and gentle it becomes. Obviously I have a long way to go (in case that wasn’t evident), but still.
Perhaps the idea I am exploring here – the suggestion I am making – is that we question even A Course in Miracles. Remember always the directive of Lesson 189 – forget everything, including the course, and go empty-handed unto God. We tend to attach to ACIM – become its students or its teachers, become very serious and self-righteous, writing little books about it and all that – and while that isn’t necessarily harmful, it really is just another form of delay. It just postpones the peace and joy for which we so long.
And anyway, in my experience, the looser one holds A Course in Miracles, the greater its capacity to heal and inspire. I am saying: get clear about what helps and then don’t deviate from that. Life will support you; Love will be your teacher.