What do we clutch? Hold dear? What person, place, thing, situation, idea is precious to us? To what does our capacity for defense appear to naturally arise?
This seems like a question of form but it is not. It is in fact a question of content: it is in fact a question about our mind’s natural gift of attention which begets awareness, and the ends to which we direct it.
Attention given to fear yields strife and anguish, while attention given to love yields Love.
I might say, for example, that one thing I hold dear is A Course in Miracles. I have many editions of it on my book shelf. I have many secondary texts – Tara Singh and Ken Wapnick and so forth. I have a website devoted largely to exploring and witnessing to my personal experience of the course.
Can I go beyond those objects? Can I allow their materiality to be translated to symbol?
Ostensibly and initially, my ACIM materials are symbols of a particular spiritual path and a certain religious approach to walking that path. “Spiritual” in this case means awareness of and desire to encounter a transcendent reality that complements empirical reality. “Religious” means a particular belief system by which one gives form to that spirituality.
That is a familiar paradigm for most of us; it is embedded in the human experience, even as its expression varies widely in terms of both form and intensity.
But can we go beyond that as well? Do these symbols allow another – a deeper – level of interpretation?
I think they do, but the farther we go from the familiar, the slower and more cautiously we need to move. We have to choose our words carefully. And we have to forgo pretense – we have to avoid easy conclusions, and the projection of insight or wisdom that we’ve perhaps read about but have not yet experienced.
In that spirit, I will try to say a few things in the direction of penetrating the special symbolism of A Course in Miracles.
If I am honest, I must acknowledge my desire to be “right” about the course. In truth, it is not possible to be either right or wrong about A Course in Miracles, because “right” and “wrong” are relative positions whose consequences are both constructive in terms of spiritual insight and growth.
That is to say – if we hew to ACIM terminology – the Holy Spirit’s devoted relationship with us is not contingent but rather unconditional.
Why would I want so badly – so insistently – to be right unless I believed it was possible to be wrong and that undesirable consequences attended “wrongness?”
The temptation at this juncture of inquiry is to leap into either justification or explanation. Well, I feel this way because X, Y and Z. Or, it’s okay to feel this way because A, B and C. I’ll fix it with L, M and N. And so forth.
But can I stay with the desire to be right for a moment? Put off the inclination to obscure it with solutions? When I do stay with it, I see that it is born of fear – the belief that there are consequences to being wrong. And if I don’t run from that fear but continue to look at it without acting on it, then the fear is penetrated somewhat. It becomes possible to ask: what consequences? Administered by whom? Affecting who or what?
Those questions – gently if nervously asked – reveal an important premise. They are predicated on the belief what I am must be separate from at least one other thing, and that that other thing is more powerful than me and tends actively towards revenge.
You see where this is going, right?
Last night I had a vivid dream. I stood outside a glass cube inside of which a woman I did not recognize lay on an elaborate couch. A young priest stood off to her left, out of her range of sight, and asked the same question over and over: what do you fear? What do you fear?
In the dream, I could not hear her answers but mine were clear: “God,” I said. “I fear God.” And the truth of that insight – that fact – felt sledgehammer heavy. I sagged against the glass, sobbing, begging to be freed from this fear. Yet the priest – from whom the necessary blessing, the undoing of this last obstacle to peace (T-19.IV.D.3:4) would be extended – could not hear either my answer or my tears. I was bereft.
The observer of the dream entered to question the dream: was I sincere in my expression of my longing to be free of the fear of God? If I truly wanted to be so liberated, would I not have constructed the dream differently? Put myself on the couch? Put a door in the walls? Empowered the priest to step through them?
And out of those labyrinthine musings I woke up and lay in the darkness of just-before-dawn wondering: what walls need to come down? What priest needs to be found? What woman needs to be helped?
My devotion to A Course in Miracles, which at the material level reflects books and so forth, is a symbol of the old familiar spiritual question (what am I and what is the relationship between what I am and what reality is) and a potentially religious answer. At a deeper level, it is about wanting to make the “right” religious choice and that wanting is a form of fear. And that fear is the fear of God.
When I give attention to it that way – when I am willing to see the problem where it is and not outside of me – I see the truth of it. I clutch – hold dear, cherish, protect, make special – A Course in Miracles in order to ensure that my capacity for attention is not directed towards the real problem: my perception that I am separated from God, Love, What-Is.
Of course, this is not a reflection on the course. One could say the same thing about going to mass on a daily basis, or about zazen, or anything. Really, it is about our minds which are in a sense self-hypnotized to believe that they are disempowered, fragmented, and besieged when in fact they are unified and holy, in the deepest sense of the word (from hāl which means whole, wholeness, etc.).
Thus, if we look again at the imagery of my dream, we believe that our problem is separate from the solution (the glass walls), that the solution is not within us (but in someone special – a priest), and that we are in competition for the solution (someone else is being blessed or healed, not us).
None of those conclusions are especially sound. In the light of reason they become flimsy indeed. And really, that is the point. Attention is power: and it can be directed as we choose. It is in the nature of a light: that upon which it rests is no longer in darkness. This is why it is imperative to use attention wisely, fructively. What do we want to enlighten?
In truth, that which is lit by our attention ceases to be mysterious and secretive. We become aware of it; it enters our field of awareness. Thus, it no longer operates from shadow, driving us this way and that, making us feel like victims of powers beyond our ken.
Here is what the hypnotized, the separated, the unhealed mind has temporarily forgotten: that of which we are aware is subject to our power of decision: nothing is beyond the reach of our healing insight, peace is our mode, Love our natural inheritance and divine union our home.
And so I can say – outside with the dog, say, studying rocks in the brook’s cold freshet – “I will not fear God today but rather walk with my brothers and sisters toward God, calmly, quietly, gently.”
And so I write it, and you read it, and that is one movement, as we are one, too.