On Becoming a Servant

What does it mean to be responsible?

It must mean, in part, to give attention to what presents itself and to respond to it in meaningful and helpful ways.

Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles / Meister des Hausbuches

But that begs another question: what does “meaningful and helpful” mean? And who decides?

I think that “meaningful” and “helpful” are actually clear. They aren’t mysteries or puzzles. But we have to be patient and allow them to show themselves. It is like bird-watching, where you have to just be very still and quiet. You have to be patient. You have to wait a little.

One way to think of “meaningful and helpful” is to think of service – to become a servant. More specifically, to make one’s life about every one else’s life. To become the servant of whoever and whatever appears. If we all did this, there would be a lot less conflict. There would be a lot less disorder. There would be a lot less imbalance.

At some point in his teaching career – I think closer to the end – Ken Wapnick began to talk about making our lives about the other person. If you buy a coffee, make the experience about the cashier. If you are driving down the highway, make the drive about the other drivers. If you are talking to your spouse, make the dialogue about them. And so forth.

It is a very practical and non-dramatic way of being, and it is also a lot harder than it sounds. Slipping into the self-centered mode often happens without our noticing it. And even our generosity can be subtly self-serving: look at how spiritual I am being!

In my own experience, as a conscious human being generally, and a student of A Course in Miracles specifically, there has been a sort of slow evolution in terms of responsibility. It has involved a realization that the self – that which identifies as “Sean” – is not actually doing anything but is more in the nature of another image, another idea. So one relaxes into experience and allows it to happen. It is a kind of passive witnessing from a dissolving center.

I recognize that can sound like I am boasting about a personal spiritual accomplishment. But to me it feels more like an acknowledgment of reality. It’s like a guy taking credit for the existence of the stars, and then realizing he’s not the author of the stars, but the stars are still there. So he just enjoys the stars without worrying who put them there, keeps them there, and so forth.

It’s in the nature of a correction, rather than accomplishment.

It’s hard to say why, but as this experience of selflessness deepens, there is a corresponding deepening of the ability to be of service. It’s like the less self one encounters, the more love has to offer, and so offers it in a gentle and natural way.

“Love” in this case isn’t anything dramatic. It doesn’t call attention to itself. It’s actually mostly just about realizing that whatever is going on isn’t about me. So a student worried about writing a paper, or a neighbor whose sheep are always wandering into our garden, or a driver who rear ends me, or whatever, are not happening to “Sean.” They’re just happening. And seeing it that way changes how one responds to it. It changes what it means to be responsible.

This is not a position that “Sean” adopts; it is just a clear seeing of real experience. So the response to those situations doesn’t originate in “Sean” as a function of his intelligence and compassion and will. It arises in a more organic way, a more holistic way.

The form of the specific response isn’t actually the issue (advising the student, helping the neighbor build a fence, reassuring the other other driver it’s okay, or whatever). That doesn’t matter so much. You think it does but it actually doesn’t. If you are very quiet and still, you see that life happens of its own accord. Experience happens. As I said earlier, there aren’t any mysteries and there aren’t any puzzles. You will “know” what to do, in the sense that “what to do” is just there. It just happens.

It’s true that we slip and out of this insight, but forgetting that the self is just another appearance, another dot in the matrix so to speak, doesn’t injure the matrix. Life goes on. It’s like if you turn off the lights in the bedroom. The bed and nightstand and bureau and cat don’t disappear. They’re all there whether the lights are on or not.

It is also true that writing about this stuff is often contradictory. One can get very efficient with “Vedantic semantics” – writing about awakening – and that efficiency can be misleading. It’s tricky ground, and the way isn’t always clear. For me, there is often a lot of stumbling and backtracking. I often feel like a kid in the backseat saying “are we there yet? Now are we there?”

But the mode of travel doesn’t really matter, because we aren’t actually going anywhere. And after a while, it gets easier to remember that and just settle into the ride.

This is not a way of thinking about – or practicing – A Course in Miracles that makes sense to everyone. If it is helpful, great, and if it’s not, that’s okay too. It is in the nature of a suggestion, a sort of “this is what it’s like for me.” Presently my experience includes writing this out, as presently yours includes reading it. Let us be thankful for one another, and be guided accordingly.

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