Last night – a little after one a.m. – I walked across the road into recently-cut hayfields all the way to where the forest pushes against what is yet open, maple saplings and goldenrod and flimsy white pines not quite reaching my knee the visible testament of Creation’s Will which is never not extending.
Partly by feel – for the absence of the moon and my resistance to flashlights made seeing difficult – I found my way to the old stone wall and sat a while facing north. Ursa Major lumbered over the dark horizon taking with him the old ideal of narrative. In the distance, a great-horned owl asked the perennial question, and farther away, another answered. It was cold but not too cold, and loneliness never entered into it.
Separation we might call the internal sense that we are not whole, are somehow broken or dysfunctional, and it always manifests as the desire that external circumstances be other than what they are. It is the salient fact of our human-shaped lives: deep down we are convinced that some critical aspect or element is either missing or defective and so experience devolves to a quest for healing, a search for what is lost. It is an old story, and we are very good at telling it. But we have to ask: is there another way?
Separation is not a psychological problem nor a theological problem – psychology and theology are responses to the problem. Sometimes they are helpful; sometimes they are not. And we are rarely any good at telling the difference. God is simply the idea of liberation – a proposed manifestation of liberation, say – concocted by a mind that believes it is jailed. But you cannot be saved if you are not fallen or otherwise in crisis. You can squeeze your eyes shut and call it night, but that does not make it night. It does not mean you need a lamp: you need to open your eyes.
Again: the problem is that we think there is a problem that requires solution (or resolution), and that this “problem” can be solved by (yet more) thinking. It is like we are banging our heads against a wall and we want the pain in our heads to stop so we decide to just bang a little harder. We can have the insight that “the problem is that we think there is a problem” but if it remains an intellectual ideal then we are still caught. Why? Because so long as we insist there is a solution (a healing) then we are ipso facto accepting the premise that there is a problem. And there is no problem. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is broken. Nothing is missing.
A large part of the problem many students have with A Course in Miracles is that they take it literally. This is what fundamentalists always do: ignore nuance, ignore subtlety – avoid the responsibility to think critically – and just pretend that asking no questions (or asking only shallow questions not designed to lead to answers) equals faith and faith is sufficient unto God and Heaven, period.
But A Course in Miracles is not going to save your body from death, it is not going to make you rich or beautiful or wise, it does not contradict the laws of science, and it is not proposing a supernatural reality in which angels and other metaphysically light-filled bipeds visit and offer direction. If you believe in it, it will let you down. If you cling to it in a storm, you will drown.
The course is simply an extended and poetic metaphor for the problem that all human beings have: deep down we are convinced that some aspect of our lives is missing or defective and so our lives become a search for what is missing. By virtue of repetition, it allows us to see the inherent futility in seeking and thus to stumble to a standstill, to the sweet bewilderment in which it at last becomes possible to surrender, to let go, to simple give attention without expectation or desire of return.
Please see this: every time we pick up A Course in Miracles because we think it is going to help, or that it’s somehow necessary, then we are tacitly consenting to remain imprisoned and confused. Loveliest of all lovely mornings is the one where we reach for the blue book and stop ourselves because we know that whatever must happen next, it cannot be contained by a book. Or a teacher. Or a diet. Or a prayer. Or a practice.
Last night, walking back, the winds picked up – their beautiful timbre and bluster jostling my steps beneath riotous stars and the vivid seam of Via Lactea and I remembered what my late uncle said, the two of us drunk and facing the sea: “always piss with and not against the wind.”
So you see, the spiritual search – however well-intentioned, however sincerely undertaken, however rigorously brought to application – is what makes the non-problem problematical. It is like looking for our glasses while our glasses are on our face. Everywhere we look, our glasses are there, but we don’t know it. Our search is doomed because we already have what seek. Indeed, our seeking is only possible because we have what we seek.
That last sentence matters. “Our seeking is only possible because we already have what we seek.” What does it mean? People sometimes say to me, “I don’t know God.” Or, “I don’t know peace.” And my answer is always the same: “how do you know that you don’t know?”
If we stay with that question – which is entirely a question of whether we are ready to stay with it – then we will understand that this whole idea of separation – and the concomitant quest for God and healing – is nothing more than an elaborate (and largely unhelpful) fiction.
Emily Dickinson – (who cleared the New England trail, who bore the requisite lamp) knew.
Blue is blue – the World through –
Amber – Amber – Dew – Dew
Seek – Friend – and see –
Heaven is shy of Earth – that’s all –
Bashful Heaven – thy lovers small –
Hide – too – from thee –
This life is it: in all its apparently messy and convoluted and unsolvable gorgeousness. Heaven isn’t what you think: it’s what is when you stop taking what you think seriously. Blue is blue all the world through. Or, as A Course in Miracles puts it:
Truth is. It can neither be lost nor sought nor found. It is there, wherever you are, being within you (T-14.VII.2:2-4).
With the wind, with the wind . . .
One day earlier this summer I stopped reading and went into the woods not to admire the light or the trees or the birds only but to build something: to clear something: a trail, then several trails, then barely perceptible paths between trails. When the nagging feeling arose that I was bereft of God – when the old story begged a fresh rendition – I did not answer with words but with an ax and bow saw. I chose these tools because they are quieter than a chainsaw, and slower than a chain saw, and don’t reek of gas and oil like a chain saw, and also because they ask something of my attention that I was hungry to give, that I was ready – at last – to give.
Everyone comes to the remembrance that nothing is lost and everything whole in their own way and their own time. It is a personal choice, somewhat tethered to insight and willingness and – often – desperation. It is in the nature of an allowance from the deep interior we so rarely visit (Dickinson will show you how, if you let her). We piss with the wind, we consent to know what we know without being coy or childish about it, and we choose the right tools and go where they can be fructive.
I asked myself this question: will it disturb a chickadee? The sweet resin of birch and pine filled the air as I worked. In the morning moose scat lay where the day before I’d opened a way, as if in blessing, as if in love. In time, the trails became like lines drawn in the sea with trailing fingers: there but not there, as I was there and then not. And it was okay, it was more than okay. And what but thank you – a thousand times thank you – can I say to you who were with me all the while?
How tired I am, how wordy and joyful, Creation spilling through morning and all . . .