People ask sometimes how A Course in Miracles changed my life. There are simple answers I give: I smile more. I share more. I’m more patient and gentle. Not perfectly so, but noticeably so. On the other hand, I don’t know if that’s really true. I don’t keep smile records. And it’s hard sometimes to talk about the course in ways that don’t feel cheap and inadequate (not that you’d know it from my wordiness).
On the other hand, one thing I am learning to do is keep my mouth shut. I have always been nimble with words, kind ones and hurtful ones. When I am angry or scared, I have a tendency to use language to beat back the object of my fear or anger. To deliberately hurt another because you are frightened . . . that is not so good. Understandable perhaps, but not desirable. As Bill Thetford pointed out – and as Helen Schucman quickly agreed – there must be another way, right?
That agreement – to which we, too, are party – is the cornerstone of the change ACIM begets in our daily living.
Earlier this week, I found myself in a stressful situation. Someone was not where they said they would be, and when they finally arrived – late – they were preoccupied and unable to focus on me.
I was a little annoyed when they weren’t there, but when they arrived unable to tend to my needs, I began to get angry. Whenever I feel anger, I know that it is a result of fear, and so I try to make contact with it. I try to find the fear.
Soon enough, little tendrils of anxiety were obvious. I could observe them. They were like weeds quickly scaling a stalk, tightening and climbing, threatening to overtake everything. Fear often comes very quickly but if you give careful attention, you can perceive its movement.
It was a challenging situation. Money was involved. My children were involved. A lot of thoughts ran around in my brain: I would never treat anybody like this. I’m paying for this, damn it! I have to stand up for my children. And so forth.
But I did not say anything. I sat quietly and waited. I concentrated on witnessing what I felt and thought without surrendering to it, without allowing it to vent outward. I knew that if I talked it would not be from a place of love, but a place of hurt and anger and fear. And we have choices now! That is one of the promises of A Course in Miracles. We can “choose again.” We can decide to try and remain peaceful despite external circumstances, despite our psychological distress. I chose silence because I have always appreciated the Dalai Lama’s observation that we are here to help others, and if we can’t help them, we can at least not hurt them.
Even when we are roiling with negativity, we can still practice kindness. We don’t have to give in to the ego’s demand that we attack a brother or sister. Mohandas Gandhi said that it was not that he was incapable of anger but that he succeeded “on almost all occasions to keep my feelings under control.”
Whatever may be the result, there is always in me a conscious struggle for following the law of nonviolence deliberately and ceaselessly. Such a struggle leaves one stronger for it (My Faith in Nonviolence).
Of course I am not Gandhi, but it was nice to hear the ego insist this was a crisis and to respond to its insistence with calm and quiet. It was not that the negativity disappeared, replaced by lovely angels singing hallelujah and offering kale and green tea smoothies, but rather that I was able to simply stay with the Holy Spirit, which is to say: I was attentive to my capacity for gentleness, kindness, helpfulness. I was attentive to my – which is really our – capacity for lovingkindness. I did not lose that essential connection.
When we do that – when we do not allow the external world (which includes emotion and thought) to influence and affect us, when we do not let it drive our decision-making process, when we simply observe it in a spirit of gentle open-mindedness – then we see the potential of the choice that A Course in Miracles awakens in us. It is not the power to be happy but to know peace at the deepest level. It is the power to remember what we are in truth.
If you are to be conflict-free yourself, you must learn from the Holy Spirit and teach only by Him. You are only love, but when you deny this, you make what you are something you must learn to remember (T-6.III.2:2-3).
Later – much later – I was able to see the situation in a different light. I understood the pressure that this other person faced. I understood that while what happened had involved me, it was not about me. It was simply another event in an unfolding narrative. Blame was not necessary; only kindness. Only forgiveness, where forgiveness is understood as simply seeing that everything is taken care of anyway. It is okay. It is more than okay.
And I was deeply grateful that I hadn’t screwed it up by giving voice to fear, anger and impatience. In my admittedly inept and awkward way, I had stayed with Jesus. I had stayed with the Holy Spirit. I had stayed with Love – or perhaps it is better to say I remembered that Love cannot leave. My willingness wasn’t perfect, but it was enough. We have to engage our lives right where they are. We have to what is in front of us in the spirit of love, no matter how impossible that might seem.
Sometimes that is what a blessing looks like. That is what a miracle is. And that is how this particular spiritual practice – as strange and wordy and baffling as it can be – has changed my life.