I’m free fallin’
– Tom Petty
A Course in Miracles distinguishes between “now” – which is the present, which is here, which is all there is – and “eternity,” of which “now” is only an approximation (T-13.IV.7:5). I have used those terms somewhat interchangeably, and need to be more sensitive.
I have been saying for the past year or so that a lot of what we are doing in terms of thought or mind is more mechanical than “spiritual.” It’s pragmatic. We are seeing how thought functions and seeing the effects of its functioning and, because those effects are not loving or healing or creative, deciding to choose another way. We are going Thetford.
This is an incredibly important aspect of studying A Course in Miracles. The poetry and mythology – of God, of Jesus, of Holy Spirit, of ego, of resurrection and crucifixion, of lilies and miracles – in a sense need to be put aside in order to focus simply on how thought works. There is no substitute for giving attention to what we call our life: what passes for sadness, what passes for happiness, the objects of our longing, longing, our appetites, our memories, our addiction to memory and so on and so forth. There is only so much reading and study one can do before we have to get up or go out and just do it.
One thing we discover when we do do that in a gentle and sustained way is that “now” is the only time there is. In the present moment, the past is gone. In the present moment, there is no future. Perfection and wholeness abound. A Course in Miracles is hardly unique in its insight that human beings have misplaced or obfuscated “now” and so must somehow recover or rediscover it as a condition of awakening. It is a cornerstone of the human experience of awakening, common to countless spiritual and religious traditions. Consider, for example, William Samuels (whose awakening emerges in part from the Christian Science tradition which is so intimately connected to A Course in Miracles).
What has man done to this ubiquitous, all-inclusive, ever-present now? He has made it the most infinitesimal part of a great time system. He has sandwiched it between a past that stretches infinitely in one direction, and a future that extends forever in the other . . . To humanity, now – this very moment of Awareness – is so fleeting, so ephemeral and transitory, that one cannot find it on the very device used to measure it (A Guide to Awareness and Tranquility 10).
It is important to understand that using the past to judge the present – which is to be conditioned – is inherent in our biological bodies. That’s what the brain does, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to remember that eating the red berries kills us but the blue berries are okay. It’s good to remember how to make sourdough starter, or heal a bloody wound, or find our way out of the forest home.
It’s even okay for the brain to generalize: responding to a certain set of circumstances in a particular way because they resemble prior circumstances. When the sky clouds up and darkens, tornadoes sometimes come. So we want to find shelter. We don’t want to wait to see if this particular weather event will yield deadly force or not.
We are simply giving attention to what is without interference (which often means seeing how eagerly and surreptitiously we do interfere). And this takes time, and that’s okay (T-13.IV.7:3).
I think we can see in terms of evolution that it made a certain kind of sense for the brain to do this. It’s not a moral failing. But clearly, there are limitations – or should be. This is very much what David Bohm’s exploration of thought as a system so helpfully explored. Krishnamurti, too. We didn’t learn to be discerning with thought – we didn’t have a right relationship to it. It went out and judged everything and we listened without question. Eventually, we simply took thought for reality, despite the fact that it causes endless fragmentation, segmentation and conflict. This is what A Course in Miracles calls the separation. This is what we are trying to undo or resolve or escape. But, for the most part, our efforts rely on the same system that made the problem, and so the problem just metastacizes.
We can’t think our way out of a trap made by thought. That seems to be law. Thought is not useless by any means, but it doesn’t undo itself. It is like any other biological process: it does what it has evolved to do. So it’s not a question of changing anything, but rather of seeing it as it is. Your opposable thumbs are capable of wreaking unbelievable havoc but they don’t. They just do what you tell them to do – make coffee, bake bread, pat a dog, press the space bar. We are aiming for a similar awareness – a similar mode, a similar relationship – with thought.
And we can get that mode by giving attention to our awareness of the present moment, for “only ‘now’ is here, and only ‘now’ presents the opportunities for the holy encounters in which salvation can be found” (T-13.IV.7:7).
Samuels repeatedly works to de-mystify this awareness.
Let us define Awareness and have our meaning carefully understood. This is not a mystical term and there is nothing difficult to understand about it. As we refer to it here, Awareness is the simple consciousness of being (A Guide to Awareness and Tranquility 17).
Tom Petty’s protagonist in Free Fallin’ can’t do this: he can’t face the simplicity and clarity of what is, preferring instead fantasy or escape.
I wanna glide down over Mulholland
I wanna write her name in the sky
I wanna free fall out into nothin’
Gonna leave this world for awhile
Petty is a good contemporary example of what James Hillman called the puer aeternus, the eternal youth forever bent on soaring and dreaming and never coming down, never touching the earth. But awakening is in a sense a form of maturity, of accepting what is without needing to fly away from it or change it. We give attention to now, which is to forego the fantasy of escape. As Tara Singh used to say, our only job is to not wish that things be other than they are.
A Course in Miracles suggests that there is another step beyond this, but that it’s taken by God (T-17.II.4:5) and so – for better or worse – falls outside our present purview. Our work now is to come to the awareness of the present moment in which there is only perfection and peace. We are simply giving attention to what is without interference (which often means seeing how eagerly and surreptitiously we do interfere). And this takes time, and that’s okay (T-13.IV.7:3). We glimpse Heaven in this moment; God is present too, and what is meant to happen happens.
“Eternity” is poetic and esoteric, and when I use it I feel a lifting inside myself: a kind of ascension towards light which pleases me because it is lovely and peaceful and still. But I am yet Icarus – which is to say I am still beholden to specialness. The work now is not to soar but – to extend the Greek metaphor – to be Daedalean and focus rather on the mechanics of wing-building, the better to facilitate their practical application. Here – now – what else is there to do?