This is a long post! Perhaps I drank too much coffee this morning. Or perhaps it is the snow. There is something about sitting in a rocker and writing while it snows . . .
The Golden Rule and A Course in Miracles
There is a relationship between what is internal and what is external – between reality and illusions – both in terms of how external illusions are made and in how they are undone in favor of Truth (T-21.In.1:1-2).
Much is made of the fact that A Course in Miracles does not regulate behavior or set up formal rituals of prayer and meditation and worship. It is true that the course is deeply personal and so any efforts to formalize and standardize its practice would be misguided and ineffectual. Yet to ignore the world and our life in it in favor of comforting spiritual ideas and principles also reflects a confused reading of the course.
In truth, we are called to be each other’s savior and we need to pay attention to this fact and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in its application.
It is a theme of the course that we do not wake up alone but rather with and through one another. The Holy Spirit is made real in that relationship.
What you offer to your brother you offer to Him, because He cannot go beyond your offering in His giving. This is not because He limits His giving, but simply because you have limited your receiving (T-9.VI.2:4-5).
Indeed, the Holy Spirit does not awaken us so much as inspire us to awaken one another. It is through that action that the blocks to Love are undone and Heaven at last becomes our reality.
You are not yet awake, but you can learn how to awaken others. Very simply, the Holy Spirit teaches you to awaken others. As you see them awaken, you will learn what waking means, and because you have chosen to wake them, their gratitude and their appreciation of what you have given them will teach you its value. They will become t witnesses to your reality, as you were created witness to God’s (T-9.VI.5:1-4).
This is not complicated! By giving to others, we are giving to ourselves. Nobody receives anything unless we all receive it. We could call that the Law of Oneness – it is literally impossible to give love to anybody and not receive it yourself because there are no separate selves.
And in fact, the course does offer an explicit – even traditional – guide for behavior.
The Golden Rule asks you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . The Golden Rule is the rule for appropriate behavior (T-1.III.6:2,4).
In those two simple lines, the course neatly emphasizes the importance of our relationships with one another. Yet it adds an important caveat missing from most applications of that rule.
You cannot behave appropriately unless you perceive correctly. Since you and your neighbor are equal members of one family, as you perceive both so you will do to both. You should look out from the perception of your own holiness to the holiness of others (T-1.III.6:5-7).
This reflects the principle that “[Y]ou respond to what you perceive, and as you perceive so shall you behave (T-1.III.6:1).” In terms of A Course in Miracles, the Golden Rule is only helpful to you and I – and everyone else – when our perception is healed.
I think there are two points there that bear repeating. First, we are each other’s saviors – right here in this world of dreams. And second, that concept of salvation only works when we are healed, when we are “looking out from the perception of our own holiness.”
So before we turn our attention to others, to those relationships, we need to turn inward and make contact with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That is the first relationship – self and Jesus, self and Holy Spirit – upon which the others – you as my savior, me as yours – are contingent.
Waking Early, Walking with Dogs
I want to give two examples of how this seems to be playing out in my own life. One is walking and the other is writing, Please understand that I in no way mean to suggest that what works for me ought to work for you. I am well aware of the limits of experience. The point is to help one another get closer to the Love that we are scared both to accept and extend. We can’t do that when we are prescribing form. Rather, we have to support each other in our search for that unique form in which is most clear to us that God is not insane (T-25.VII.7:1). It is in that spirit that I offer these thoughts.
A couple of years ago I felt a need to intensify my spiritual life, but in a focused sort of way. Intensity was not new to me; focus was. My attention wandered a lot – I read all kinds of stuff, tried all sorts of therapies and prayers. Every day saw a new plan for enlightenment, a new plan to make money and so forth. I burned like a sparkler – bright and hot but in all directions all at once. And that just wasn’t working.
When we are clear what the problem is, then we perceive the answer. In a way, the answer is the slate upon which we scribble notes about the problem. When we stop scribbling, the slate is clear. The answer is simply there.
Which is not to say that we are ready to embrace it! Or that we really even want it. Often, when the answer arrives, we say internally, “what else do you have, Jesus?” We are so sure that we know better.
As the need to focus became clear, the need to wake early and walk the dogs also became clear. The connection between the two was not obvious to me. Or rather, I sensed it was the answer but it did not make logical sense. I wanted the answer to be that I should turn away from ACIM towards another path – back to Buddhism. Or to certification as an energy healer. Or I should write a best-selling novel.
One of the ways I know that it is Jesus speaking – and not the egoic self – is that Jesus’ voice doesn’t argue or explain itself. It doesn’t respond to deprecation. It just gently repeats itself. Get up at 4 a.m. and walk the dogs. That’s all.
And so I did it. The feeling that this was the answer to my fragmentation didn’t go away and so at last I said, okay. I set the alarm and went out walking, accompanied by canines (who were, it should be said, entirely – even ecstatically – supportive – of Jesus’ idea).
It did not take long – a few days maybe – to realize what was going on. I had always walked the dogs around 6:30 a.m.. At that hour, the neighbors were up. They’d wave at the window or come out to chat. They’d drive by to work and pull over for a quick hello. Sometimes I even ran into other walkers and dogs on the trails in the woods. As meditative as those walks were, they were all too often interrupted. Indeed, one walked with the expectation of interruption.
That is okay but it is not fruitful in terms of a deep and vital spiritual life.
At 4 a.m., the walks were different. The houses were dark. The only light was the moon and the stars. At best I’d spook a deer, or cross paths with a skunk, or hear killdeer screech as they fled ground nests to which I’d stumbled too close. Without thinking about it, the walks became longer. My brain got quieter. As soon as I stepped onto the porch and aimed myself towards the field just east of the house, I began to make contact with a stillness that theretofore I’d only read about, or perceived in brief flashes. Insight arose. Talking to God became less verbal and more fluid. There was a flow in which I was naturally included – you too – but considerable sensitivity was needed to know it.
On those walks – still – I began to develop that sensitivity, that awareness.
It is important not to make to much of that experience, but it is also important not to make too little of it! I am not saying I was awakened. I did not become the Buddha or Jesus’ right hand man. I am just saying that I began to experience a solitude and a quality of communication that transformed me. The energy of those walks did not end when I got home. Indeed, I began to experience them as a sort of first stage of prayer, followed by making tea as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone, and then sitting in the dark in what is best called contemplative prayer.
It became a practice, many hours in the morning in which the desire for God was natural and not intimidating. It was not complex and in general it was not projected. In that space, contact with the Holy Spirit – that symbol of the healed mind – was at last made. Its voice became familiar. The personal relationship with the inner teacher settled itself.
What I am saying is that space became a space of healed perception. As the text notes, and I said earlier, the Golden Rule is only applicable in ACIM terms when when we look out from our own holiness. We start with our minds. And we know our holiness when our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit – as teachers and guides and companions – is settled and sure.
Thus we have to take whatever sustained action in our lives facilitates our relationship with the divine. As that relationship becomes clear and the lines of communication open and available, we are at last capable of becoming each other’s savior. We will be told what to do, and how to do it, and where to do it.
It is not Jesus’ goal to play games with us or indulge in mysteries.
On Wordiness and Salvation
After a few months – maybe more – of those walks, I began to feel an urge to write. This was not so unfamiliar. I have been writing since I was a little kid and it is a rare day when I don’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I have never not had time to write. At the time I was finishing up a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, freelancing for a number of magazines, and publishing lots of poems.
But this impulse was to write about the course itself – or rather, my experience with it – and to do so not in a private journal but somehow publicly. That felt risky to me. And undesirable. Though I taught and wrote professionally, I doubted my ability to assume such a role with A Course in Miracles. Even at that point, I knew that my own path was a little less orthodox than others. The teachers I followed, certain convictions I held, and so forth. I didn’t want to argue with anybody. I didn’t want to mislead anybody. There were lots of ACIM teachers of varying stripes and qualities out there.
There were a lot of reasons not to heed that impulse!
Yet, the urge persisted, and I began to accept that it wasn’t really negotiable. Whether we call it a specific gift or simply the skill in which I am least scared of Love and so most capable of allowing Love to shine, writing is what I do. I began to see that my resistance to this particular writing project, and my concerns and questions about it, collectively represented the separation. There it was, right in front of me.
The atonement – the undoing – could not be accomplished except by going to the writing itself. Or perhaps better to say, through the writing.
This was not such a big deal, really. As I have said, writing is fairly comfortable and reflexive for me. Yet you cannot publicly without sooner or later having somebody come along and listen and perhaps even stay to hear more. I felt as if my light – the writing – were hidden beneath a basket – my resistance. Yet now and again I would lift that basket to peek at the light and when I did, somebody always noticed.
In other words, you showed up.
All the solitude and prayer and inner work and whatever else we are doing comes to fruition when you and I are in relationship. When I write, I am offering you salvation. Not perfectly and not consistently – not yet – but surely. I am trying to be honest and willing and clear. I am trying to say what I know and what I don’t know without confusing the two. This is an ongoing process and it is not easy. But it is my function.
I take my lead from the course.
Your special function is the special form in which the fact that God is not insane appears most sensible and meaningful to you. The content is the same. The form is suited to your special needs, and to the special time and place in which you think you find yourself, and where you can be free of place and time, and all that you believe must limit you (T-25.VII.7:1-3).
Our acceptance of that function seems to invoke the presence of our brothers and sisters. Slowly, it has become clear to me that the writing is meaningless unless it finds a home in readers. I know many of you are probably saying “duh” right now, but it has not always been so obvious on my end. While I love to write, and am good at it in my way, it is another thing entirely to offer it up publicly. There is some letting go of one’s safety zone, there is a need to engage in new and personal ways, there is a need for responsibility to both the material and the readers, and there is a need – most difficult of all – to allow the writing to lead where you need to go.
As rewarding as it is, none of that is easy.
I am trying to say – inartfully and perhaps even uncertainly – is that the writing is actually collaborative. Not only in the obvious worldly sense of the writer creating words and readers partaking of them, but in the deeper sense of salvation. On my side and yours, salvation is being offered and – piece by piece by piece – is being accepted. It is not salvation until we accept it; and we cannot accept it until we offer it.
The Branching of the Road
Anyway, this is getting long, isn’t it?
How do you get close to the Holy Spirit so it can direct you? And when it is time to offer salvation, how do you do it?
What is your function?
I don’t know what your experience is or should be. I think it is helpful to develop a close and reliable relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Like our taste in music or philosophers, the way that we enter into a relationship with the divine is uniquely ours. For me, I had to go walking at 4 a.m. in the woods with my dogs. It might be that for you, but it will more likely be something different. I know people who get to the same place through baking bread, zazen, running, yoga, kirtan, and so forth. You feel a certain pull, a certain insistence that this is going to help. So you do it.
And then, when you do it – when you stay with it – I think that a sense of the form begins to clarify. Your function is to give and receive love through forgiveness, but the form it takes will be uniquely suited to you. As our perception heals, our capacity to bring the Golden Rule into helpful and healthy application comes into play. We find our function, that work in which it is most obvious to us that God is not insane and through which we are most able to extend salvation to our brothers and sisters and thus receive it of them.
I don’t think this is an easy process. I have tried to be clear that at many levels I resisted it and sometimes still do. It evolves. What worked at one point doesn’t at another. There have been times, for example, where I used the wake early thing to abuse myself. I started forcing myself to wake up at 3 a.m. and then 2 a.m.. You want devotion? I’ll show you devotion. But it was very hard and it caused a lot of pain and confusion. And one day I heard that quiet voice just say we’re going to take a break now. And for a month or so I just woke up when I woke up. When the balance was restored, I started waking early again.
So it’s easy to slip away or get confused. You have to be vigilant. You have to listen.
In many ways, those of who are students of A Course in Miracles stand perennially at what the text calls “the branching of the road.”
When you come to the place where the branch in the road is quite apparent, you cannot go ahead. You must go either one way or the other. For now if you go straight ahead, the way you went before you reached the branch, you will go nowhere. The whole purpose of coming this far was to decide which branch you will take now. . . No one who reaches this far can make the wrong decision, although he can delay. And there is no part of the journey that seems more hopeless and futile than standing where the road branches, and not deciding on which way to go (T-22.IV.1:1-4, 7-8).
It is important to see that the hopelessness and futility are a result of our not deciding. It is always our choice to remain separated or pursue atonement.
But we don’t need to be intimidated or discouraged by that. We don’t have to get worked up thinking that it’s all about big decisions, complex theological reasoning, or immense psychological shifts. Can we make the change that Jesus asks us to make in our lives, the one what will draw us closer to him?
And then, having made and sustained it, can we begin to offer salvation – however tentatively, however stubbornly – to our brothers and sisters?
These are tiny steps down the right path. And at every step of the way, guidance is available to make the way clear and the burden of it light indeed. If you can’t take them for yourself, take them for me. Or your neighbor. Or your daughter or son. Or your dog or your horse. Or the birds at the feeder or the flowers in the garden or even the flakes of snow falling from the sky. Your willingness to take these steps opens flood gates of mercy and love that flow both from you and to you.
Miracles are a kind of exchange. Like all expressions of love, which are always miraculous in the true sense, the exchange reverses the physical laws. They bring more love both to the giver and the receiver (T-1.I.9:1-3) .
If we are honest, isn’t that what we’re after? And the course is so clear about how to make it happen.
Two thousand years or so ago, Jesus said to his followers that whatever they did to the least of their brothers and sisters was done to him as well. Perhaps A Course in Miracles updates that. Whatsoever we do to any of our brothers and sisters is done for Jesus and for us. And by it, Heaven is gained at last.