In one of his sermons, Meister Eckhart addressed the problem of the egoic self as it relates – or tries to relate – to God. Strictly speaking, it cannot. Eckhart envisioned a condition in which one passed beyond even the concept of making space for God in order to have a relationship in the first place. In essence, Eckhart was saying that not only was God not a physical external consciousness or entity, God wasn’t even an idea with which one could occupy their mind or direct their contemplative energy.
Man’s last and highest parting occurs when for God’s sake he takes leave of god. Saint Paul took leave of god for God’s sake and gave up all that he might get from god as well as all he might give – toether with every idea of god. In parting with these he parted with god for God’s sake and God remained in him as God is in his own nature – not as he is conceived by anyone to be – nor yet as something yet to be achived, but more as an is-ness, as God really is.
“(N)ot as he is conceived by anyone to be – nor yet as something yet to be achieved, but more as an is-ness, as God really is.” That is quite an ideal, isn’t it?
Yet perhaps even more shocking is the idea of “taking leave of God.” It flies in the face of reason – or at least our assumptions about God and Heaven and Awakening. Isn’t the whole point – of A Course in Miracles, of Christianity in general – to get closer to God? Certainly I’ve done my share of pontificating on that theme.
Yet sitting with those words for a bit reveals that beneath the veneer of our initial reaction lies something else. Something that isn’t shocked or even challenged but altogether comforted. It sees in Eckhart a vital truth. If we are practicing A Course in Miracles because of an imagined personal benefit (at one end of the extreme improved external circumstances, at the other end, awakening), then our practice is ultimately bereft. It’s not about us – certainly not the “we” that we believe we are.
Eckhart urges us to a greater undoing than many of us can imagine. Indeed, when we do see the depth of the commitment he advocates, many of us are apt to shop for a new medieval theologian with which to wile away the reading hours. Remember, the egoic self is not scared of A Course in Miracles because it can twist even that contemporary scripture to its own ends. It is not even scared of God because it can render God conceptual so easily. Thus, our spiritual practice becomes about our progress, our improvement and our condition. And that is a recipe for failure – the same old same old.
This might be very subtle – almost unnoticeable – but it is true.
Another way of saying this might be that if God is One, then God cannot be aware of itself. God is not both subject and object. So as long as we are perceiving God as separate – a thing, an idea, a feeling, or an energy source from which we are separate and to which we are heading, with the noblest of intentions – then we are merely going in circles, much to the delight of the egoic self.
This reminds me of something Jesus says in A Course in Miracles: “You who would judge reality cannot see it, for whenever judgment enters reality has slipped away (T-13.VII.5:5).”
Judgment in any form obscures God – Reality, Truth – from our vision. The decision to study the Course in order to wake up is a judgment. The decision to pray for guidance in difficult situations is a judgment. You might say they are good judgments – and I would be hard-pressed to disagree – but the fact remains. We are still locked in the physical brain’s dualistic mode: good vs. bad, right vs. wrong.
But what God is, is not that.
Yet even to write it – however clever, however eloquent – is to mistake it. Right? And so it is natural to ask then: given Eckhart, given the Course, given the conniving ego and its deathly agenda, what exactly are we supposed to do?
Christ is still there; although you know him not. His Being does not depend on your recognition. He lives within you in the quiet present, and waits for you to leave the past behind and enter into the world he holds out to you in love (T-13.VII.5:7-9).
See the emphasis on the present? God is – Christ is – where the past and future cannot intrude. We are being gently instructed in a mode of surrender that surpasses both our understanding and our inclination to survive because it insists that the past is illusory and unhelpful. One might ask: I can focus all day on the present moment – its sights, sounds, smells, sensations – but it is still “I” that is focused. It is is still “I” who is practicing this awareness. What gives?
And it is true. We cannot get rid of this personal worldly self alone – we need God’s help. And yet to seek that help is to preserve the personal self by acknowledging its need for salvation.
Can we say that awakening, then – even when cast in terms of time – is not logical? That the end-game, so to speak, is beyond our capacity to imagine? Tara Singh said somewhere that “there is nothing to do and only you can do it!” Wise – and yes, elliptical – words. But opacity is not necessarily unhelpful, particularly where our own ideas of clarity are limited.
We are leaving the comfort of our many resources – intellectual, psychological, emotional – behind. Is it possible that this “leaving,” this undoing is what Jesus had in mind when he used the metaphor of the child to explain Heaven? The child is innocent – that is, she or he trusts completely in the wisdom and beneficence of their mother or father. Their dependence is perfect because it is without reservation. At a young age, it doesn’t even contemplate alternatives. It is wholly united in its loving acceptance.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
God does not intend that man should have a place reserved for him to work in since true poverty spirit requires that man shall be emptied of god and all his works so that if God wants to act in the soul he himself must be the place in which he acts . . . (God takes) responsibility for his own action and is himself the scene of the action, for God is one who acts within himself.
The belief that there is some active and significant contribution that we make to awakening – and that there is a corresponding personal benefit once awakening is attained – is going to have to given up. We are not ascending to God so much as allowing the dissolution of that which obstructs God’s active flowing here and now. Even A Course in Miracles – even the New Testament – even Meister Eckhart’s illuminating and courageous sermons – must be abandoned and given over.
We can hold onto nothing – we must surrender effort, we must surrender ambition, and we must surrender understanding. All of it hinders our awareness of God. You can take nothing with you into the present moment. You must meet it unencumbered in all ways.
The peace of God passeth your understanding only in the past. Yet here it is, and you can understand it now (T-13.VII.8:1-2).
Eckhart, too, saw freedom in the present moment. In it, one’s experiences – whatever form they took – were no longer one’s own. “I am free and empty of them in this now moment, the present.”
So it goes. What seems impossible to us is hardly so to God. Jesus reminds of this all the time – in the New Testament, in A Course in Miracles, in teachers like Eckhart, and even in the private recesses of our being where he speaks in a familiar voice. Our practice aims at a goal it cannot articulate. It longs for an experience that it must first accept on faith. It is like stepping into thin air, like finding God in the fall.