On Finding Out What It Means to Awaken

Two quick thoughts before I start rambling. First, many of you have compassionately reached out regarding Mac’s death and I am grateful for that. It strengthens and comforts me, and that strength and comfort naturally extend. Thank you.

Second, I mention Daan Dehn in this post and paraphrase some of his teaching. That, of course, can be a risky process. You may want to check out his site to ensure I haven’t twisted his wisdom to suit my own ends. He is a kind and serious student and teacher.

My identification with the Holy Spirit proceeds apace but is not yet total or perfect. I feel grief for my daughter, frustration at my stumbling spiritual practice, angry that the basement is flooding today and so on and so forth. I won’t lie about that.

Therefore, I offer these thoughts as one who walks beside – perhaps even a little behind – you, as we share this path. If what I say is helpful, then great. If not, no hard feelings.

*

The sequence of lessons I am currently working through aims to undo the traditional understanding of what it means to give and receive. In the world’s eyes who gives, loses, and who receives, gains by the giver’s loss. If I bake a batch of cider doughnuts and give them to you, I don’t have any doughnuts but you do. It is a system based on sacrifice.

A Course in Miracles would reverse that, teaching instead that “to give is to recieve (W-pI.108.7:3). It is a critical lesson.

Sacrifice is so essential to your thought system that salvation apart from sacrifice means nothing to you. Your confusion of sacrifice and love is so profound you cannot conceive of love without sacrifice (T-15.X.5:7-8).

This is about more than just rethinking our attitude toward sharing doughnuts or stepping outside our comfort zone to hug more or overcoming our fiscal insecurity to pay for coffee or whatever. Those things are fine, of course – often better than fine – but they do not reflect the utter thought reversal contemplated by A Course in Miracles.

Thus, when we study and practice the idea that giving and receiving are one in truth, we are actually tackling – indeed, we are revising, are seeing anew – cause and effect.

Effect and cause will be far better understood from this time on, and we will make much faster progress now. Think of the exercises for today as quick advances in your learning, made still faster and more sure each time you say, “To give and to receive are one in truth” (W-pI.108.10:2-3).

I don’t think this is a hard concept to talk about. It is not especially hard to understand intellectually. The challenge for many of us – certainly for me – is how do we take it beyond the level of opinion and intellect? How do we actually live it rather than simply hold it up as a spiritual ideal?

One way to do that is to find a helpful teacher.

I have written before about my first experience of reading Tara Singh. A handful of his sentences and my understanding of the Course and my practice was altered at the deepest levels. I could literally feel certain resistances crumble inside of me. A dozen veils lifted; clouds parted. It was instantaneously powerful and transformational.

That intensity has grown quieter and steadier over the years, but my devotion to Tara Singh has not diminished. For me, he is a clear, lucid and inspiring ACIM teacher. I read a little of his work almost every day. It both grounds and lifts me. His radiance touches the eternal and I respond accordingly.

Ken Wapnick has also been an important influence. Indeed, as I grow with the Course – and in particular as I write about it and learn what it means to write about it – my admiration and respect for him expands. I wrote to him once, forgiving him for focusing so much on western cultural influences (which I believed ran generally counter to the Course’s expansive and inclusive applicability and specifically denigrated its Vedantic leanings). He was very gracious and kind and supportive.

All that said, the single most helpful advice I have ever received came via email from a man that most Course students I talk to have never heard of. Indeed, before I read and eventually wrote to him, I didn’t know who Daan Dehn was either.

I encountered his teaching because a few years ago I hit a wall. I understood A Course in Miracles pretty well and I had a daily practice, but something was missing. There was a certain shallowness to my experience. Perhaps it’s better to say there was a certain familiarity to it. It was beginning to resemble just another dish at the New Age Christian/Half-assed Buddhist buffet table I’d been patronizing since my early twenties.

When I gave space to the possibility that I was “talking the walk,” as they say, it became clear that despite my best intentions and sincere efforts, I was simply repeating old mistakes. I was refusing awakening. I was doing the same unhelpful dance and pretending it was different because I was doing it in a new set of clothes.

This quickly deepened into a crisis. I truly wanted a more vivid and helpful experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the awakening that was their promise. But I felt trapped by my past and my habits and by my obvious spiritual limitations. I knew that I couldn’t just say the Course was radically transformational. I didn’t want to be shallow and superficial. But I wasn’t sure what else to do. I didn’t know how to get to the next level.

One rainy afternoon I was sitting at the table with my laptop, drifting through a bunch of ACIM links, one of which led me to this essay by Daan. I read the first paragraph and sat back. The clarity and intensity blew me away. It spoke to me in the same way Tara Singh had. I felt as if I had been peering in vain through a dusty window and somebody had just given me a cleaning agent and some rags.

For some there seems to come a time, usually after years of intense devotion to the Course (or any other spiritual path for that matter), that something changes radically, the Course no longer seems to “work,” at least not in the sense that many testimonials say it does. This is a crucial time; many quit at this point and go shopping the metaphysical buffet for another “path” that “works.” Yet here is the real beginning of A Course in Miracles.

In time, I emailed Daan. He had spent significant time with Tara Singh. I trusted his knowledge and experience. I asked him a lot of questions, most of which he answered. There was one, however, to which he seemed to give short thrift. I asked him what it meant to know – to truly know at the experiential level – that time and the body were illusions.

That question came from the heart: I could talk a blue streak about ACIM metaphysics but could not longer pretend that I knew at the deepest levels what they meant. How does one know when they are in illusion and when they are not? I was begging him: tell me. Please. Give me the answer.

Daan wrote back: “find out.”

It may be no better advice has ever been given me. Certainly no more practical advice has been. I didn’t especially appreciate it at the time (it felt dismissive), but I understood that my resistance to it was a clue. So I gave those two words some attention.

It turns out they are quite powerful.

I return to those two syllables quite often. More than I care to admit, I forget to offer the gift of wordiness to the Holy Spirit. I take back the academic and intellectual mindset that properly offered is part of God’s gift. Clinging to eloquence and the intellect inevitably leaves me lost and frightened and defensive. The light is blocked. Love is pushed away.

Those two words are a perennial salve. They remind me that awakening is not a mental puzzle. They remind me that I cannot talk or write my way either to or through the proverbial Gates of Heaven. They restore some humility and engender willingness.

Find out. Find out.

In the preface to A Course in Miracles, Helen Schucman says that A Course in Miracles “emphasizes application rather than theory, and experience rather than theology (viii). She notes that the workbook “emphasizes experience through application rather than a prior commitment to a spiritual goal (ix).

It is the difference between reading about gardening and actually planting, nurturing and harvesting one. The former cannot possibly substitute for the latter. And if you are hungry, you cannot eat a book about gardening. You cannot chow down on a conversation about food. You have to grow food.

In A Gift for All Mankind, Tara Singh pointedly asked his students whether they were ready to muster the intense awareness necessary to end the duality of life in the world.

Do you want to come alive, be reborn and resurrected? Do you want to know the Absolute – not opinion, but the Absolute? (31)

If one answered in the affirmative, then he said that A Course in Miracles was a miracle that enabled one to be so reborn and to know the Absolute not as a good idea but as a fact.

[A Course in Miracles] says neither learning, nor religion, nor affluence has worked. Why? Because learning must be brought into application – application is what is missing (35).

Daan’s suggestion that I “find out” what the Course meant when it taught about Reality emphasized application and experience. This is what the Course envisions as well. We are urged to make contact with our internal teacher – the Holy Spirit. This is a deeply personal experience that happens outside of words. It is obviously true that external teachers and fellow students can be helpful. It’s not a crime to read and write about our learning. But none of that can substitute for the personal relationship with the One Teacher who knows.

In the end, we have to find that Teacher and learn what it means to be their student. There is nothing else to do, and nobody can do it for us.

I raise all this because, while practicing Lesson 106 a few days ago, it was clearly intimated that I was remaining attached to thinking and outcomes, and thus not accepting the full breadth of what the Holy Spirit could offer. Lesson 106 invites us to step fully into the truth of “to give and receive are one in truth” (W-pI.108). But I was allowing myself to be satisfied with an intellectual grasp of the concept. I was fooling myself. I was insisting on dull sleep, not the “intense awareness” that Singh taught was precedent to awakening.

Please understand that this deception – this unwillingness, this refusal to be resurrected – is not itself a problem. It happens. Don’t regret it and don’t castigate yourself. Don’t judge it in yourself or in others. Let it be.

The solution to internal deception is always the same:  see the fact of resistance, refuse to hide it or hide from it, and resolve to find out – in the most intimate and naked way possible – what it means to awaken.

Fear obstructs us. Fear is what stands between what we think we are and what we are in Truth. It is no more complicated than that. Yet we are always in the presence of the One who can deliver us from that fear by passing through it beside us. I am in relationship with that One. You are, too.  Together we are Christ. Is it not time to find out – literally – what that means?

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • June Fish November 27, 2013, 11:12 am

    By Jove, Man, I think you’ve got it! LOL!!
    I’m seeing this very thing you wrote about. This is what I see: The perceived “hardships” you are dealing with now ARE your teachers. You can receive inspiration and learning ABOUT truth from listening to and reading what other teachers say and write. But like Eckhart Tolle (one of my favorites) says, words are merely signposts pointing you to the direction you should take to satisfy your deep inner longing. I have discovered the life situations I “suffer” are in reality, precious opportunities to apply what I have been learning ABOUT. There is no firmer foundation to build on than the inner KNOWING that comes from experiencing first hand “Oh, so that is how it works.” Your post has strengthened me in my awakening process. Thank you!!!

    • Sean Reagan November 27, 2013, 8:02 pm

      🙂
      Thanks for reading, June – I’m glad it was helpful!

      Love,
      Sean

  • MARY November 28, 2013, 7:32 am

    Dearest Sean:

    i am thankful for your beautiful words

    peace brother
    love
    mary

    • Sean Reagan November 28, 2013, 9:26 am

      Thank you so much, Mary! Have a beautiful day –

      Love,
      Sean

  • Cheryl November 29, 2013, 9:19 am

    It seems so circular and self-defeating, Sean, this use of thought to attempt to get beyond thought. Part of me knows that as long as I keep looking for the key that unlocks the door, I will stay stuck behind it. I will “seek and not find.”

    And from that space, the only avenue that appears open is to “talk the walk.” And that feels untrue. And ultimately is a dead end.

    How can this journey be personal, impersonal and interpersonal all at the same time?

    How do I “finally” realize I want God above all else and not be even the tiniest bit of afraid of what that might look like? How can I keep turning my life over to the Holy Spirit when I don’t have total trust?

    These are questions the intellect knows already have been answered, and that, as it is for each aspect of this One Mind, it is up to me to “Find Out.”

    But something inside keeps begging to be told “How.”

    • Sean Reagan November 29, 2013, 11:59 am

      Hi Cheryl,

      1.

      I wrote an answer – it’s below (#2) – but then reread it and realized I was responding mostly to your first sentence, which dovetailed perfectly with what I am writing/reflecting on this morning in another space. So thank you for the synchronicity.

      As to to the “how?” and its multitudinous manifestations, I am more and more realizing that “how” isn’t as sexy as I once thought (which of course makes it easier to let go of). Its premise is an illusion: it presumes something needs to be done. It presumes a present dysfunction that can be mechanically resolved and thus brought to a future state of grace. Only the ego thinks that way!

      So when “how” enters my thinking, I let it pass the way I let the rest of the brainy effluvia pass . . .

      I don’t think there is a how, in other words, which is its own mystery (like how a path can be personal/interpersonal/impersonal at the same time).

      2.

      Yes, thought is defeating – or rather, it is defeat. Thought cannot undo itself. Asking the ego to “solve” problems made by the ego is nonsensical. In a way, when we reach this place what we are dealing with is not a problem but a paradox: the very premise from which the whole situation emanates is untenable. It can’t be fixed. Pretending otherwise is like pretending we can hammer nails with a peanut butter sandwich.

      David Bohm, of whom I am much enamored and cannot recommend enough, in particular his book “on Dialogue” and in particular particular the chapters “The Problem and the Paradox” and “The Observer and The Observed” – likens it to a polluted river. There is a factory upstream that is dumping toxins into the river. We live downstream a few miles and our part of the river is poisoned. So we go in to clean it up and we use various cleaning agents and methods and it works a little or for a little while or it doesn’t work at all but none of that matters because we aren’t dealing with the problem at its source – we are dealing with a symptom, a manifestation.

      The ego is our down river. We can’t engage with it – or we can, but it’s not going to help. We have to find out what is up river. We have to travel the interior landscape to find the source of thought.

      So what happens outside of thought? What is the space in which thought happens? Who is thinking? Who is the observer?

      What happens when we face those questions and demand answers?

      More and more what strikes me as most practical about ACIM is the way it introduces us to self-sufficiency, to self-reliance. If we look closely at the course, and our experience in it, sooner or later we see that it is not really teaching so much as introducing us to our teacher. What else is it doing but saying, go inside and find the Holy Spirit?

      I know that can seem like bullshit semantics but the distinction is no less real for being fine and subtle. What happens when we become unwilling to accept what thought says? When we stop taking the output of our brains seriously?

      3.

      I’m still not sure I got around to engaging your thoughts very well here but it’s time to enter the kitchen and create that way. Forgive my rambling . . .

      Love,
      Sean

  • Cheryl November 29, 2013, 1:10 pm

    Hi Sean,

    Thank you for such a timely and thoughtful response. Since beginning my study of the Course in earnest, I have often found myself struck by the paradox you mention, which brings to mind the Einstein comment that we can’t solve our problems by the same way of thinking that created them.

    But what you’re saying and what ACIM says goes further, I gather, saying simultaneously that we can’t solve the problem by thinking because thought IS the problem and it doesn’t matter anyway, as the problem already HAS BEEN SOLVED, we’ve just blocked our awareness of it.

    I also find myself amused, delighted even, that as I attempt to use intellect to figure all this out, a mess that intellect got me into in the first place, I am going to have to move beyond “brainy effluvia”:) and trust that which the intellect has always regarded with suspicion.

    And, irony of ironies, I’ve resisted reading David Bohm because in reviewing some of his material, I’m not sure my intellect has enough muscle to plow through his work with any real understanding.

    But, enamored by synchronicity, as always — our shared Wilkes-Barre birthplace and Penn State alma mater — and trusting your recommendation, I have ordered “On Dialogue.”

    I’ll let you know how that works for me 🙂 In the meantime, hope you are enjoying creating some kitchen magic. (My Picasso pie-baking skills outdid themselves yesterday with a gluten-free apple/dried cranberry work of art….just kidding, but it did taste pretty good…)

    Thanks again.

  • Claudia November 30, 2013, 9:31 am

    Talk about synchronicity. (My maternal side is Wilkes Barre, so perhaps that explains it. 🙂 This morning’s reading was on the real meaning of sacrifice, and who we are identifying with when we believe we are giving something up. And my rumination over the past few weeks has been all about the lesson “I Need Do Nothing.” All of that was brought home once again with fresh words by these posts above. Thank you.

    You have put words to my dilemma ~ whether I’m “talking the walk,” although I’ve never heard or considered that exact phrase before. It’s perfect. When I started as a Course student, perhaps as the Holy Spirit’s inducement to use whatever I have to offer, as I do have a counseling degree, it seemed like I was always seeing and saying helpful things to others. My ego loved being so brilliant all of a sudden (ha!) and people really seemed to be helped by my insight. (And I’m reminded of that passage in the gospels where the hypocrites said, “but Lord, Lord, didn’t we heal the sick in your name?” and Jesus said, “Go, I never knew you.” Or something like that – the point being that God can use any vessel to help others who need help – the fact that I’m a Course student doing it doesn’t say anything about me, it says something about the Spirit that helps. Anyway).

    Now something has shifted. Seems the more I try to explain my Course path, my lessons, my new understandings, the less sense I seem to make (to others and myself). I certainly don’t feel helpful. So for now, I’ve stopped talking to others about it – stopped trying to proselytize verbally – and am aiming instead to simply live the lessons in my daily life. “Being” quietly, rather than “saying” anything.

    And then comes the validation ~ that “unwinding” feeling in my chest when I see some relieving truth ~ as I click “open” on a post like this one, Sean, or turn to the next page in the Course to find “I Need Do Nothing” as my morning’s reading. (And isn’t it wonderful to find one of those “don’t worry, you can’t fail, this is going to happen, the work will be accomplished” acorns in the text whenever struggling in a moment of self-defeat and puzzlement of whether we’ll ever find out way out of this world of illusions?)

    So my path seems to be that I live what I believe around those God has put in my life, rather than trying to “talk my walk.” Thanks for giving me words for that.

    • Sean Reagan December 1, 2013, 9:42 am

      Thank you, Claudia. I love this:

      God can use any vessel to help others who need help – the fact that I’m a Course student doing it doesn’t say anything about me, it says something about the Spirit that helps.

      Yes!

      That distinction between “being” and “saying” is so important – and hard! At least for me, being the wordy man I am. But you are right – we are lifted in that effort, that intention – by God, or Spirit, which gives us the acorns of wisdom and inspiration to manage another step, another day.

      Behind the truth of “the end is sure” is an even more delicious (and terrifying, in a way) truth: that the end is already accomplished. We already are home, perfectly still in the Stillness of God. No more learning or effort is required.

      More and more I am reminded of that simple fact: it is done.

      Thank you for reading and sharing, Claudia . . .

      Love,
      Sean

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