Merging Opposites as Spiritual Practice

The first paragraph in Sharing Perception with the Holy Spirit (in chapter 14: Teaching for Truth of A Course in Miracles) is a concise and insightful unit of writing. It begins with a simple question: What do you want? (T-14.VII.1:1)

Tara Singh used to say that when one reached a moment in the ACIM text or workbook where a question was posed, it behooved them to stop reading, quietly and interiorly attend the question, and then see what – if any – answer arose thereto.

We are students of A Course in Miracles because we want inner peace instead of conflict, but the problem is that we don’t know what peace is, we don’t really know what conflict is, and we can’t actually distinguish “inner” from “outer.” So we equate inner peace with good feelings: things going the way we want them to, getting this or that beneficial outcome, our brains quiet and our bodies at rest.

Happy outcomes, cheerful dispositions, and amenable material conditions are fine in and of themselves, but they come and go. When we attach to them – when we make our inner state contingent upon them as stable unshifting objects, even subtly – then we condemn ourselves to conflict.

So from time to time the course invites us to begin again or anew by asking us what we want. It’s like the abbot at the monastery calling us into her office and saying, look, what are you still doing here?

Taken in the right spirit, it’s a clarifying and helpful question.

To this question the course proposes a binary choice set first in a metaphorical frame and then in a more literal frame: Light or darkness, knowledge or ignorance. Both are options but we can only have one or the other (T-14.VII.1:2).

The course justifies this binary by pointing out that light dispels darkness – by degrees as the one is brought closer to the other – and that knowledge dispels ignorance in approximately the same way (T-14.VII.1:5). It is like saying that we can look at the apple hanging on the tree, or we can pluck the apple, but we cannot do both simultaneously. Both are options but the one mitigates the other.

Is this true? Analogy can cloud as much as clarify. We don’t have to take the course at its word. Part of what is so tempting about ACIM is its apparent purity: it’s all or nothing, light or dark, knowledge or ignorance. It can be comforting to see life so starkly; to imagine there is a right decision between only two choices; and then to be the one who chooses rightly. We can imagine God in the heavens – or Tara Singh or Nisargadatta in the afterlife – admiring our wisdom and holiness.

But we all know that both dawn and twilight are gradual, and that even the pure dark of night or pure light of day are not stable and permanent conditions but are subject to shifting, to gradations. Life does not really present as “either/or,” however much we wish it would, or pretend it does. It is a dynamic welter that includes – but cannot be stilled by – the appearance of binary options.

So is it possible to move beyond the apparent binary – the division into opposites that mandates choosing one over the other?

The course answers that question in the affirmative.

Opposites must be brought together, not kept apart. For their separation is only in your mind, and they are reconciled by union, as you are (T-14.VII.1:3-4).

The temptation is to see opposites as opposites and to hold them apart from one another. Night is not day, and vice-versa. One doesn’t merge them into something new altogether.

But oddly, the course implies that merging – undoing difference by seeing the mental conditioning upon which it depends for existence – is precisely what is called for.

Keep in mind that A Course in Miracles is not talking about literal dark and light here. Those are metaphors for knowledge and ignorance. And, again, it is not talking about knowledge in the sense of knowing how to bake bread or throw a baseball vs. not knowing how to do those things.

Knowledge in A Course in Miracles is a state in which there are no questions, nor one to ask questions, nor another to ask questions of. Ignorance is the belief that there is a self whose existence is at stake in the world, and other selves – most especially a big Self in the sky – who can either help or hinder us, and against whom we are pitched in opposition.

So how might this merging contemplated by the course work?

It is possible to bring apparent opposites together because their separateness is in the mind (T-14.VII.1:4). The divisions we perceive are ideas. When I walk in the forest and come upon the boundary between my land and my neighbor’s land, what do I find? There is no line. Just oak and maple trees, the same on either side. Just bracken. The deer tracks and the fox tracks go back and forth. It is all one forest, all one earth, all one solar system, et cetera.

Division is an idea; it is not an embodied fact.

Another way to think of it is to return to the analogy of dusk and dawn. If we sit quietly at either end of the day, and give attention to the light, it will be clear that although the light is always in this or another state, it is never only in that state. It shifts. Absent a clock, there is no one moment where it is clearly “night” as opposed to “dusk” or “twilight.”

It is the same with dawn. There is a moment when the sun breaches the eastern hills, a moment when the trees at the far end of the pasture are faintly – then less and less faintly – visible, but all of this is a movement. Absent a clock, there is no “dawn” or “morning.” To say other wise is arbitrary.

What is there then?

There is light according to the reference point of perception: your senses attest to the data they are given, which is always being given.

Perception is the medium by which ignorance is brought to knowledge. Yet the perception must be without deceit, for otherwise it becomes the messenger of ignorance rather than a helper in the search for truth (T-14.VII.1:7-8).

To be “without deceit” in this respect is simply to give attention to what arises, or appears, or is perceived (which includes thoughts about what arises or appears or is perceived) without getting worked up about it. Let it be what it appears to be: an apple tree, a horse, a daughter, the sound of the river, the smell of lilac, a memory of a parent, a mental note to send an email to so-and-so.

We don’t want to lie to ourselves about our bodies or our senses – how they function, what appears through and with and to them. We don’t want to fake some vague spiritual ideal or try to conform to some abstract religious image. We want to be as present as possible to what is given, which includes our ideas about who is giving what to whom, and just let it all come and go. It’s okay; it’s more than okay.

This being open to experience as it is given is the merging of what appears to be in opposition. This gently sustained attention is the merger contemplated by A Course in Miracles.

What happens when we do this? At the end of day, say, when we are sitting quietly in the changing light? Or walking in the forest without troubling ourselves with ideological divisions that inhere only in the possessive and appropriative mind?

The suggestion is that what happens is that the whole of what appears is the union of light and dark, and if we are very careful (filled with care) about not rushing to judge this or name it or anything like that, then we will see clearly – we will know – that the reference point we are in that moment is not apart from that union. What appears as the self is no different than the light and the dark.

In union, everything that is not real must disappear, for truth is union. As darkness disappears in light, so ignorance fades away when knowledge dawns (T-14.VII.1:5-6).

Yes, there is a point where it is dark, and yes, there is a point where it is light, but those are points relative to a seeming center. That center is forever spilling into and out of itself: it cannot ultimately be discerned apart from the perceptions that appear to point back to it. As perceptions come and go (which they must) the so-called center – the radial self – also comes and goes.

Does anything remain? The course suggests that Truth does not come and go. Broadly speaking, the Christian tradition – especially in its more ontological expressions  – suggests that God does not come and go. Christ does not come and go. But these are just ideas, aren’t they? Clever sentences that arise in perception?

Let us say carefully that “Truth” (or “God” or “Knowledge” or “Source”) is the existing union of the apparent many points, the gently undulating fabric of them, with countless centers forever coming and going. It knows itself. You, too.

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