Learning Love Through Service

I think there is value in thinking about kindness – general, simple ordinary kindness. Helping shovel the walk, listening carefully to other people’s stories and questions, paying for lunch, offering up compliments, sharing experience. That sort of thing.

“Thinking” in this context means thought, feeling, plans, memories, actions and so forth – the whole external movement of the egoic self. When we give attention to others, we ease up on that self-concept with its endless conceits for getting (materially, emotionally, psychologically) at the expense of others.

A good rule of thumb seems to be: play nice and don’t worry so much about winners and losers.

Of course, that is not precisely the central teaching of A Course in Miracles. But it’s okay. Very few of us are ready to experience broad metaphysical leaps into Heaven. Instead, we catch glimpses of it and savor its crumbs here in the world we call home. And while we believe we’re here, we have to do something.

People sometimes say “how do we wake up? How do we let go of thought? How do we experience Christ outside of the brain’s buzzing?”

There really is no good answer. We can’t force insight. When we make awakening a goal it becomes like the horizon which remains ever in the distance, dooming us to endless repetitive travel. Instead, we have to come to an intensity that is more passive than active, and to an awareness that is not reflecting back on itself (look at me!). If this seems altogether too vague and abstract, that’s because it really makes no sense to the ego. The ego wants to do; spirit is content to be.

So the capacity for passive intensity and non-self-reflective awareness is in the nature of a gift (given both universally and unconditionally). It is absolutely not an accomplishment. If at any level I perceive it as a spiritual badge of honor accruing to me and not to you, then I am missing it.

What we can do here in these bodies in this world is be kind, preferably without making a big holy deal of it. In my experience there is always someone around me who could use some help of some kind. When I am willing to help others – and keep the willingness simple (and keep the focus on them) – then the others show up and ask for help. It’s all very natural and straightforward and even fun.

Does this mean there is no relationship between acts of kindness and awakening? Can these little gestures in the separated world of illusion help stir us from the sleep of forgetfulness?

In at least one way – a tangential way – yes.

Taking care of other people tends to quieten the brain which in turns allows for the voice of the Holy Spirit to come through more clearly and consistently. Stillness is Spirit’s stage. And while a certain Bodhisattva inclination is not the only way to achieve this – forest walks before dawn, long drives, cutting wood, gazing through prisms and writing work are all effective – it is a reliably helpful way.

And putting us into sustained helpful contact with our Teacher is a central goal of A Course in Miracles. So in that sense, yes, service is wonderfully helpful.

I say all this to remind myself what matters. It is possible to get so wrapped up in the course or so involved in ideals of awakening or so invested in spiritual literature that our sleep only deepens and the ego’s stranglehold tightens. Sometimes the best way to learn about Love is to simply get out there and show a little of it.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • the happy forgiver December 15, 2013, 4:41 pm

    Lovely thoughts…expecially this time of year when it’s easy to get caught up in our holiday to-do lists and ego-insanity and overall busy-ness! Here’s what’s on my Santa check-list:
    forgiveness
    kindness
    inner peace

  • Eric December 16, 2013, 8:55 pm

    Hi Sean,

    I think this is an important point about service to our brothers. It can be so easy to just grab the blue book and seclude ourselves, becoming more self absorbed than before encountering ACIM. This can cause one to become more separated and estranged from their brothers/sisters, than they were before the course came into their lives, especially with some of the interpretations that are out there about our brothers.

    Yet the course uses interpersonal relationships in the helping of healing the intrapersonal and the Holy relationship is the special means the course uses to save time.

    Yes, we need to study the text, do the lessons. Yes, we can talk about the course and the ideas it presents. Yes, we can go to certain teachers and listen to lectures or go on cruises and feel special being course students. But if we’re just going to ACIM groups, lectures, and/or cruises, we’re separating ourselves from all our brothers/sisters.

    Not only can service ease us from completely identifying with our own self concepts, but also from the self concepts we put upon our brothers/sisters from the ideas we hold about them, rather than a relationship that can develop with them.

    You wrote: “Thinking” in this context means thought, feeling, plans, memories, actions and so forth – the whole external movement of the egoic self.”

    Eric: I understand what you’re saying, but I kind of hesitate on this. This certainly does come from the realm of perception, but this can also be the Holy Spirit leading us. As the course tells us, that the Holy Spirit uses the body as a means of communication and that love still must be expressed from one body to another for a little while.

    And is this really external? I know it appears external, but is our experience of the world external? Is that even possible? I don’t think it can be, though I often get lost in the world and it appears to be. Yet when I’m in my saner moments, it is not a matter of belief to see that my experiences of the world are always internal. My experiences of my brothers/sisters are always internal. The form may appear outside myself, but the content is always within. There is no world apart from myself.

    Through service, minds can join. Not only can we begin to loosen our own self concepts, but the concepts that we have made for our brothers/sisters can be loosened. Instead of seeing our own split mind everywhere, we can begin to see the reality of our brothers/sisters. We can begin to look past the physical entity (form) and can begin to join in (content).

    There are two passages about our brothers/sisters that I think is very telling about what the course is trying to teach us. One is the problem, and the other is the solution.

    In sleep you are alone, and your awareness is narrowed to yourself. And that is why the nightmares come. You dream of isolation because your eyes are closed. You do not see your brothers, and in the darkness you cannot look upon the light you gave to them. ~ACIM

    God’s Will is your salvation. Would He not have given you the means to find it? If He wills you to have it, He must have made it possible and very easy to obtain it. Your brothers are everywhere. You do not have to seek far for salvation. Every minute and every second gives you a chance to save yourself. Do not lose these chances, not because they will not return, but because delay of joy is needless. God wills you perfect happiness now. Is it possible that this is not also your will? And is it possible that this is not also the will of your brothers? ~ACIM

    BTW, you bought me a pretty delicious cup of coffee the other day. Thank you 🙂

    Eric

    • Sean Reagan December 17, 2013, 5:44 pm

      Hi Eric,

      I’m glad you liked the coffee! Ha ha!

      I am using “thinking” more in terms of how I understand Bohm and Krishnamurti in their dialogues. I don’t feel settled on it but it feels clearer to me somehow. It moves in a direction of clarity, is maybe a way of saying it. It’s not perfect, I know.

      I do think all of that is external, though I say that in a careful way. These kinds of abstractions are hard to get clear in writing – I think sometimes in vocal dialogue it’s easier because you can stop someone and say, wait, what do you mean by that. And then the talk gets a life of its own.

      It seems clear to me that the Holy Spirit can and sometimes does act through what is external. I experience that. But it is still in the nature of projection – I am not ready to “see” only internally so I put it out there and “see” it that way. But that still feels like an interim experience, en route to something far less complicated.

      I experience the undoing of my preference for form over content to be gradual!

      I feel, too, that “Sean” – this form, which includes my stories and memories and hopes and all that – is also external to God though again, I say that carefully. So when we talk about “self,” I think that term too can be problematic.

      In all the passages you offer, the meaning shifts depending on how we understand “you” – is it “you” as in Sean and Eric et al or “you” as in Christ? I think we can read the course either way – one is not right or wrong. But it seems clear to me – and I am willing to be wrong (big of me, I know) – that “perfect happiness now” is not directed at that which identifies as Sean but at that which identifies as the always flowing Love of God.

      Ego and spirit don’t meet; my attachment to form has to end wholly before I am going to have that experience of perfect love and happiness.

      I think spiritual bypassing is an interesting phrase for a real phenomenon. I’m hardly immune to it. But I have not read a great deal about it. I think good teachers or really practical spiritual traditions like zazen or the workbook lessons can help ameliorate it some. What do you think of it?

      Sean

  • Eric December 17, 2013, 8:11 am

    P.S.

    Hi Sean,

    I’d also be interested in hearing your thoughts on spiritual bypassing.

    Eric

  • Eric December 18, 2013, 7:07 am

    Sean: I am using “thinking” more in terms of how I understand Bohm and Krishnamurti in their dialogues. I don’t feel settled on it but it feels clearer to me somehow. It moves in a direction of clarity, is maybe a way of saying it. It’s not perfect, I know.

    Eric: That’s OK. I’m not concerned about this. My understanding of thought from Krishnamurti and Bohm would equate to the egoic thoughts of the conceptual self, where there is an “I” and then a world separate.

    Sean: I do think all of that is external, though I say that in a careful way. These kinds of abstractions are hard to get clear in writing – I think sometimes in vocal dialogue it’s easier because you can stop someone and say, wait, what do you mean by that. And then the talk gets a life of its own.

    Eric: I don’t doubt or argue that this appears external. Nor do I want to present myself as someone who is not often taken in by the world. But, when I stop and really contemplate it, there is and never has been anything I have experienced as external. It is virtuously impossible to experience the world externally as all experience is within the mind. Yes, it often appears external when caught up in the world, but in truth the entire world is experienced within the mind. Have you ever experienced the world outside the mind?

    Sean: It seems clear to me that the Holy Spirit can and sometimes does act through what is external. I experience that. But it is still in the nature of projection – I am not ready to “see” only internally so I put it out there and “see” it that way. But that still feels like an interim experience, en route to something far less complicated.

    Eric: I feel the Holy Spirit acts within the world. As the course says, this world is full of miracles and the Holy Spirit is the medium of miracles. Yet, if going back to where experience of the world is, is it truly external? Both the world and the Holy Spirit are experienced within mind.

    There is a line in the course that says, “”Heaven and earth shall pass away” simply means that they will not continue to exist as separate states.” ~ACIM

    It seems that as a long as we divide and compartmenalize the internal with the external there will remain separation. But like you said, this has to be said carefully. I certainy do not mean to think that we can just delude ourselves into this, or that simply because it is written in a book, I/we can repeat it and call this spirituality as it is often done.

    I’m just offering the question, can you/I/we experience the world outside mind? I really am beginning to see a freedom and true responsibility with this question.

    Sean: I experience the undoing of my preference for form over content to be gradual!

    Eric: I could very easily be yelling in traffic tommorow morning. I’m not even sure that spiritual progess is even linear. My experience is more of ebb and flow.

    Sean: I feel, too, that “Sean” – this form, which includes my stories and memories and hopes and all that – is also external to God though again, I say that carefully. So when we talk about “self,” I think that term too can be problematic.

    Eric: I think this depends on who you’re talking to. Personally, I try to keep it as practical as possible, so I don’t concern myself too much with metaphyiscal talk, such as, “there is no me”, etc.

    Sean: In all the passages you offer, the meaning shifts depending on how we understand “you” – is it “you” as in Sean and Eric et al or “you” as in Christ? I think we can read the course either way – one is not right or wrong. But it seems clear to me – and I am willing to be wrong (big of me, I know) – that “perfect happiness now” is not directed at that which identifies as Sean but at that which identifies as the always flowing Love of God.

    Eric: Well, the course is said to be written within the ego’s framework. It uses concepts and symbols to convey ideas. And the course does say that Spirit does not need be taught, but the ego must be. Keep in mind also about those passages, that Christ would not be asleep, nor not see brothers, nor would there would be a need for salvation. So I think the passags are speaking to the conceptual self to help go beyond the conceptual self.

    Sean: Ego and spirit don’t meet; my attachment to form has to end wholly before I am going to have that experience of perfect love and happiness.

    Eric: This is where I think blurring that line between the observer and the observed, the internal and the external, Heaven and Earth can be helpful. I’m not saying that one should delude themselves and try to talk themselves into believing this, but to really inquire, contemplate, meditate, pray on this.

    But you said something I think important. It’s not necessarily form that is the problem, but identification with form. As the course says:

    Communication ends separation. Attack promotes it. The body is beautiful or ugly, holy or savage, helpful or harmful, according to the use to which it is put. And in the body of another you will see the use to which you have put yours. If the body becomes for you a means which you give to the Holy Spirit to use on behalf of union of the Sonship, you will not see anything physical except as what it is. Use it for truth, and you will see it truly. Misuse it, and you will misunderstand it because you have already done so by misusing it. Interpret anything apart from the Holy Spirit, and you will mistrust it. This will lead you to hatred and attack and loss of peace. ~ACIM

    Eric: I would also ask, what conceptual ideas do you hold of perfect love and happiness? You’re saying that you must do this in order to achieve that. Not only does there seem to be a conceptual idea of what “that” is, but there is a separation to be “that”. I’m not saying I don’t do this myself, because I do, but I think it is important to look sometimes when we set these spiritual goals up to be achieved. Already I am on one side of the river looking over, believing I am here, but need to get there. That in itself seems to be a form of separation.

    Sean: I think spiritual bypassing is an interesting phrase for a real phenomenon. I’m hardly immune to it. But I have not read a great deal about it. I think good teachers or really practical spiritual traditions like zazen or the workbook lessons can help ameliorate it some. What do you think of it?

    Eric: Yes, I think it is a very real phenomenon in spirituality and one that is certainly in ACIM circles. I think it is something that most if not all people practicing spirituality go through at one point or another. The idea that conceptualizing metaphysical ideas is somehow real awakening. I think it is very easy to see within the course community.

    Examples are people saying that it doesn’t matter because it is all an illusion. Or people telling others that there is no world in answer to a person discussing a difficulty they are going through. This can also be seen when having a discussion of the relative and someone uses spiritual gymnastics and discusses it from the Absolute. I’ve seen two “course students” tell a woman that it was her ego as the reason her son was killed. I’ve also seen “course students” berate, curse at, and belittle other people, all the while laughing, because it is all an illusion. I began to call this sociopathic spirituality.

    Ken Wapnick bluntly states that he feels course students are some of the worst people on the face of the earth due to this. Examples he gives in a joking manner are people smiling and sipping champagne at a funeral, because nothing happened. Or don’t call a course student if your appendix is bursting, because instead of getting a ride to the hospital, you’ll be quoted lesson 136, “Sickness is a defense against truth”.

    That may sound funny, and I thought it was until I saw someone bring up a health concern on an ACIM site and people began to quote lesson 136 to the person.

    Spiritual bypassing can often make a person: detached, apathetic, emotionally shallow, callous, unable to connect in relationship, etc.

    YouTube has a pretty funny example of this called, “The Advaita Trap: Absolute and Relative Confusion.” It is two cartoon bears dueling the non-dual

    There is also a funny article on this. Google- The Advaita Shuffle

    Hugh Prather (late course student and teacher) wrote an article on this called, “Where will the course be in the 21st century.”

    And there is also the book, “Toward a Psychology of Awakening” in which the author John Welwood who coined the phrase discusses.

    I think this is an important topic, not because of morality, but to see if we might be falling into this very trap. I know, for myself, I sometimes catch myself falling into this

    Eric

    • Sean Reagan December 20, 2013, 8:35 am

      Hi Eric,

      You asked if one can “experience the world outside mind?”

      My first thought is that we think we do and so we have to deal with that thought – that belief – that the world/self are divided states.

      I think, too, that one can say over and over “the world is not real” or “I am not a body” and convince themselves that they’re knocking on Heaven’s door because that’s the new tape that runs in their brain. This is very much a risk for me, as I tend to memorize stuff and then forget that somebody else offered it to me, and so I think I am discovering or living it. So I have to be careful. This was one of Tara Singh’s repeated themes in teaching the course: don’t just accept it because somebody else (him, Wapnick, whatever) says it: mind your experience.

      I think we are in agreement in essence, because I would say that I “experience” what is external more and more simply as a projection, and I seem to finally be able to see that clearly and know it as an illusion, even if that knowing doesn’t necessarily always slow the illusion-making down.

      But the further I go in these discussions – here in writing and when I am able to do it on walks with people who are thinking/reading in sympathetic ways – the more I feel I am speculating or repeating things I’ve read. I am really invested – that is the word – in trying to check what I say against what I experience. Is this true for me right now?

      You also asked this question:

      “I would also ask, what conceptual ideas do you hold of perfect love and happiness? You’re saying that you must do this in order to achieve that. Not only does there seem to be a conceptual idea of what “that” is, but there is a separation to be “that”. I’m not saying I don’t do this myself, because I do, but I think it is important to look sometimes when we set these spiritual goals up to be achieved. Already I am on one side of the river looking over, believing I am here, but need to get there. That in itself seems to be a form of separation.”

      That is wonderfully phrased, that bit at the end with the river imagery (Jordan, the water is wide, etc).

      All I can say in response is I agree, and that it is a trap of the egoic self/brain device, and that I fall into sometimes and that being aware of it is as close to healing as I get.

      In a related way, the temptation to keep the course in the egoic framework is very hard to ignore. That, I think, is what is happening when students attack others with lesson 136 (that is what is happening) and all of that. I agree whole-heartedly with Ken on this issue, and it seems to be a real problem. We want the course but not the undoing it offers, because that undoing is hard work and often mysterious and sometimes even painful. Like therapy!

      But you know, people don’t want to hear otherwise. We live in a strange culture: there’s a great spiritual hunger (which is why the self-help and spiritual publishers thrive the way they do) but there is also a remarkable naivete and childishness because we expect enlightenment the way we expect a cheeseburger and when we learn it’s not so simple we just shop for another path.

      I’m not immune to that, either.

      I’ll take a look at those youtubes and maybe the Welwood book. I agree: that is an important issue.

      Thanks, Eric.

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