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The Alternative to Defining God

The question of whether God exists as an object that can be defined and perceived by another object – i.e., a self apart from yet yearning to return to God – is not as helpful as it may seem. In effect, it reinforces the very confusion it purportedly aims to undo.

“Purportedly” works here because it allows for the possibility that we actually like what doesn’t work because it doesn’t work. Seeking can be a very effective way to avoid seeing what is already wholly given.

Being a student of A Course in Miracles means in part raising to question literally every single belief to which we cling.

To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning. No belief is neutral (T-24.in.2:1-3).

Nothing is excluded, including our ideas about God, wellness, holiness, wholeness, et cetera.

We want to become aware of the way in which ideas about God impede our ability to gently and consistently give attention to life itself, to life in the way in which it is given now.

The upshot of all this questioning tends not to be answers as such but more a general recognition that there are no answers in terms the questioning self would recognize or accept. That is, eventually one realizes that the world and self as we understand and relate to them cannot satisfy that which longs to be satisfied.

There is no body, no object, no idea, no place, no practice and no activity that is going to bring and allow us to retain peace.

At that sterile juncture – that appearance of nothing – our lives can seem like an exercise in futility.

But “futility” is not precisely the word, for the surrender to which we refer owns a joyful quality. It arises less out of defeat and more out of a recognition that there is no battle being fought. We aren’t losing a war – we are realizing that we aren’t fighting a war in the first place.

What does a soldier do who suddenly realizes his life is not in danger? That she does not have to kill or hurt anyone?

One thing that happens is they can rest: they can draw a breath and let it settle. With respect to the question of defining God, one might discover that it is less pressing now that the incessant need to understand, explain and explain literally everything has abated.

This is not to suggest that inquiries into the nature of God (or Source or First Cause et cetera) are wrong or unhelpful. Rather, it is to note the way in which the inquiry both arises and is undertaken: is joy or peace conditional on the answer? Is being right or wrong at stake? Is there some conviction that this question is more important or valuable than, say, what to have for dinner?

We want to become aware of the way in which ideas about God impede our ability to gently and consistently give attention to life itself, to life in the way in which it is given now. We want to become aware of our willingness to have the Truth obscured under the guise of seeking Truth.

When we see clearly the nature of our resistance and unwillingness, it naturally subsides, leaving in its place a quiet and self-sustaining happiness. This is “the condition in which God is remembered” (T-24.in.1:2).

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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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It may be that we look at the external world as being full of lessons which, once learned, will undo that world in favor of peace and love. It is not the worst way to think about the world, but it is not how the world is undone.

Any investment in the external world and the life that is engendered by and through it will keep us yoked to that world’s yin/yang roller coaster of hurt and grief, loss and confusion, et cetera. To respond to anything – as a lesson, as an opportunity to be of service, as a wrong to be righted, as a form of hate to be translated into love – is to make it real, and to make one illusion real is to make all of them real.

For no one can make one illusion real, and still escape the rest. For who can choose to keep the ones that he prefers, and find the safety that the truth alone can give? Who can believe illusions are the same, and still maintain that even one is best? (T-26.VI. 1:7-9)

Yet that is precisely what we are doing when we insist on learning from experience.

One way we respond to this problem is to give up almost everything in favor of one or two special things. We are like children who, told to come out of the water because it’s time to go home, come into the shallows to our ankles but no further. It’s true we moved in the direction of leaving the water, but we are still in the water. In a practical sense, we are no closer to going home than when we were neck-deep and frolicking.

This special thing – this idol by which we obscure the Lord – is frequently another person, another spiritual path, or some form of activity like work or parenting or making art. It seems as if we can just be in this one relationship, or find that one perfect-fitting spiritual path (or the one teacher on that path), or do the special work that only we can do, then everything will be okay. These are “good” desires, “good” aspects of the world, “good” applications of self.

But even in their goodness they are harbingers of loss and death.

Anything in this world that you believe is good and valuable and worth striving for can hurt you, and will do so. Not because it has the power to hurt, but just because you have denied it is but an illusion, and made it real. And it is real to you. It is not nothing (T-26.VI.1:1-4).

Our belief that there is at least this one good thing worth pursuing and possessing reinforces the underlying error or illusion upon which every other error or illusion is founded: that there is a discrete self who causes things to happen and to whom things happen. The one “good” illusion becomes the gate through which the rest of them parade.

And through its perceived reality has entered all the world of sick illusions. All belief in sin, in power of attack, in hurt and harm, in sacrifice and death, has come to you (T-26.VI.1:5-6).

There is a point in one’s study of A Course in Miracles where this becomes obvious. We have fallen for the lie there is something out there upon which the truth is contingent – a lover, a belief system, a spiritual practice, a career, a calling. This realization can be very painful because no matter where we turn a nagging voice says “but that’s an illusion too.” Our spouse, our zafu, our exercise regimen, our political ideals, our poems and paintings. It’s like the Hindu practice of “neti, neti,” a sort of via negativa. Our lives become an apparent litany of “not this, not this.”

Because this experience can be sterile to the point of leaving no reason to live, we naturally succumb to the understandable temptation to forego it altogether. What’s so bad about an idol? How can a slice of raisin bread be bad? Even gurus enjoy an orgasm from time to time don’t they? And so forth. This is easy to do and often happens without our noticing it. Even a practice of “neti, neti” can become an idol, a thing to which we cling.

But eventually we get tired of the merry go-round and step off it. “I can’t keep even one illusion. There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ illusion. Fine. Now what?”

What is helpful is simply noticing what is happening. We realize that we have had an insight (there are no good illusions and so we can’t keep any of them), and that we are resisting its implications, and that this resistance is painful. Perhaps it is terrifying. Or confusing. We just have to look at this. We don’t have to do anything about it. We just give attention to what is happening. Judging it, amending it, making art of it . . . that’s all just more grist for the mill of attention.

Give attention and let the spiritual chips fall where they fall, which is all they’re going to do anyway. Let it all go, and watch as it does. Let it all come flowing back, and watch as it does.

How does this help? It helps in a few ways.

First, attention almost always brings us – if only briefly – to the present moment. And the wonderful thing about the so-called holy instant is that it does not contain the past or the future. There are no insights in the holy instant, there are no consequences in the holy instant, and so there are no personal reactions in the holy instant.

When you look closely and openly at what is happening, there is only what is happening – nothing else! It is such a clear and simple thing that we tend to look right past it. But it is always right here and always right now. So “not this, not this” becomes “only this. This this.”

Second, as we settle into a relationship with the holy instant (as outlined above), we begin to give attention to the underlying error of separation itself. We look at the belief that there is someone doing all this who can choose to stop it.

Most of us – most of the time – conflate this “someone” with the self we believe we are. “Sean” is projecting this and that, so an improved “Sean” will choose to stop projecting. “Sean” is obsessed with being right, so a more insightful and less possessive “Sean” will become more interested in just being happy.

But “Sean” – and you, too, whoever you are – is just another illusion. “Sean’s” body is just as illusory as any body “Sean” perceives. Those discrete selves who seem capable of so much activity are just more projections. They are just another bright shiny reflection that disappears when grasped at.

This is all the separation is: the belief that the projected self is responsible for what happens. Once that belief is gone – and it goes when even mildly challenged – what remains is peace. What remains is Truth.

The section of A Course of Miracles that is the focus here (The Appointed Friend) encourages us to adopt the Holy Spirit as our “Friend in truth” (T-26.VI.3:4), appointed by God (T-26.VI.2:7), who will bring us “gifts that are not of this world” (T-26.VI.3:5). Doing so will help end our habit of choosing among illusions.

This can be a helpful construction but please see the way that it sustains the underlying dualism it aims to undo: that there is a self who needs a friend, without which friend, the truth will remain forever at bay.

So the suggestion I am offering is that a point comes when even the Holy Spirit is an illusion, when even that apparently harmless ideal becomes too painful an obstruction to manage. If it is helpful, okay. Use it. But if it is not, it’s not. Don’t be afraid to go there. The text which offers us this special “friend” is simultaneously teaching us that eventually we’ll have to go beyond this friend. What did the old hymn say?

we got to walk this lonesome valley –
we got to walk it by ourselves.
Ain’t nobody else can walk it for us –
we got to walk it by ourselves.

In this way – as happens so often when one closely reads the text – A Course in Miracles undoes itself and points to an experience that cannot be mediated and cannot be controlled or directed, not even by the course itself.

So give attention to the one who gives attention. Can you find the giver? Can you find the source? Can attention turn around on itself? Can you find your true self? Can you find that which never changes? Is not subject to events? Is not bound to response? Has no preferences? Perceives no difference that would make judgment possible let alone desirable?

If we undertake our inquiry into this self patiently, gently and honestly, then we will see that the source cannot be found. We cannot grasp the self. It always slips through that which would hold it, without ever quite leaving or disappearing. Because we cannot find it, we make substitutions for it, the most notorious of which is God.

But knowing God – knowing the Absolute, however one defines or labels it – is beyond the limits of our faculties. Our perceptive capabilities, our intelligence and learning, our memories and dreams, our cultural affluence and dynamic social fabrics can at best point in the direction of that which cannot be perceived, studied, known, shared or otherwise made real. It is beyond real and unreal, and even saying that little is saying too much.

These posts often drift into poetic abstraction. That’s okay. It’s one way of alluding to that which cannot be alluded to. In the absence of pure truth, we make do with conditional references. In a world of broken legs, who doesn’t need a crutch?

Yet the post also aims at a practical teaching: to suggest that one give attention without any expectation of a result that can be conveyed in language or via the senses, while simultaneously trusting that a result will be given. Nothing simpler can be imagined than to simply notice what is happening, where noticing does not exclude frustration, confusion, forgetting, resisting, denying and so forth.

Look, and you will see Christ looking back at you, and there will no longer be a looker and a looked-at, but only looking itself, and it will be enough. It will be all there is.

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Merry Christmas (2016)

There are gentle reminders that we are not alone, and that our awakening from dreams of death and separation into the light of seamless life is sure, and Christmas can be one of them, if we want it to be.

“Adoration of the Magi” / Giotto di Bondone

Christmas is another story in time, another cultural artifact reflective of learning and place, another image that we place before God, and worship in God’s place, but the harm is not to God, nor to wholeness, nor to Life. It is simply a form of delay: of putting off for another day the quiet happiness of resting in Creation as Creation, which is our home.

When we see at last that we – the discrete self called “Sean” or “insert-your-name-here” – is not in charge of anything, and cannot really do anything, and is more in the nature of a ripple in the living waters of Christ, then we can begin to relax into whatever celebration of holiness presents itself. It isn’t that Christmas is right, and it isn’t that Christmas is wrong: it’s that Christmas is here. Now it is Christmas.

So I wake at three a.m. and distribute gifts beneath the tree and stuff stockings with candy and baseball cards and polyhedral dice. I water the tree so it won’t be thirsty. I write a note from Santa to those of my children who still believe in Santa, and I read in my late father’s breviary prayers and intercessions and hymns, and later yet carry hay and a little grain to the horses for whom it is not Christmas but simply another morning in winter. This is how life appears to me: this is what happens.

In Christmas we can give attention to the birth of that which cannot die, and which calls us to partake of its divine and eternal life. This is not a child in a manger, though it may help us to see it that way. It is a Christian ideal, though it may help us to use that language and imagery.

And the life of which we speak is not human – is not contingent on a heart or lungs – and was not really born and so will not really die. It is that which existed before the universe, and which flows in and through the universe, and will remain when the universe is gone. We call it “God” or “Love” or “Light” or “Life” and these words, while well-intentioned, mainly reflect our spiritual poverty because that to which they point cannot be contained by syllables. It contains the syllables! And contains that which utters or writes them . . .

And so one drifts into abstraction or poetry, metaphysics or textual analysis, deep thoughts about inner peace and justice. It’s okay. But in Christmas -if we want and if we are ready – we can turn away from all that. We can sit quietly by and be attentive to the stillness that is never not at hand: we can partake of the joy that is our true being and essence, which cannot be divided, and is wholly given.

So Jesus is born: and we are born with him: and from our kitchens and our barns, with our families and our friends, we sing alleluia in whatever way is fit. In gratitude we become the Lord, and the Lord – in Love – becomes us.

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A Course in Miracles: Ending Self-Improvement

We are apt to think that self-improvement matters: that we are in a state of becoming that can go in any number of directions and that this state is subject to a personal power of choice.

In general, spiritual seekers almost always want to be better people – kinder and gentler, slower to anger, given to love and healing. It seems like a foolproof goal. Who would argue with kindness and gentleness? Not me.

I do gently observe, however, that ideals – even when professing love and healing and the end of anger – are a distraction from a simple truth.

That truth is that at any given moment you are capable of profound love and kindness; you can be the very light of the world. That power inheres in you.

You don’t have to become what you already are.

Of course, if it is that simple, then why are we not all Gandhi? Why is the world not a veritable garden of Eden? Why has MLK’s dream gone fractured and unfulfilled? Why is there still hate and anger and suffering?

This is actually a tricky question to answer. In the spiritual circles with which I am most familiar, the tendency is to say something like “our gift for love – our identity as love – is obstructed by a habitual tendency to deny its existence.”

In other words, we make the apparent absence of love a problem to be solved – specifically, a problem that we have to solve.

We subtly shift the focus to the self that wants to be loving and has work to do (overcome the habit of ignorance, end the denial et cetera) in order to achieve a future state of lovingkindness.

Most religions and spiritual practices – often unwittingly, sometimes wittingly – encourage precisely this sort of shift-in-focus. There is and has always been a vast market for postponing love. It probably won’t go away anytime soon.

I want to make a suggestion that can seem overly simple and insufficiently spiritual, especially for those of us whose language and focus revolves around Jesus, the Buddha, awakening, nonduality, et cetera.

The suggestion is this: put aside your quest for God or enlightenment and simply be helpful. Eschew spiritual drama for clear and common sense-based acts of love.

I am suggesting you give attention to that which makes you smile more. To that which allows you to listen more. I am suggesting that you give attention to common ground rather than gaps in the ground.

I am suggesting you keep this as simple as possible. If your goal is to be kind and gentle, start with yourself – eat well, rest well, play well and work well. Opportunities to be kind to others will naturally arise. You will recognize them.

It’s okay that those opportunities seem tiny or insignificant. They aren’t. Love is whole. There is no such thing as a small or ineffective or insignificant act of love. So don’t reach for the brass ring; just do what is in front of you and trust that it’s sufficient. It is.

Just let service happen. Of its own, it will flower and lift you – enlighten you, awaken you – with it.

I am also suggesting that you already know how to do this – and where to do it – and who to do it for and with. It is not a secret and it is not a mystery.

There is nothing radical in this suggestion and there is nothing new in it, either. It’s Saint Francis and Bodhisattva vows all over again. We know it and we know we know it.

You are always looking right at love, and it is always looking right back at you.

So the point isn’t to be radical or new: the point is to discover that love is both natural and present and that service-as-an-expression-of-love is our natural vocation. It is the end of effort and becoming; it is the advent of a still, sustainable and serious joy.

Life will go on with its ups and downs. People we love will die and people we love will have babies. Parades will be rained on and other days the sun will be so bright the frisbees will throw themselves.

Current events will go on, too. Policies we admire and support will be enacted; policies we fear and oppose will be enacted. Politicians we admire will disappoint us; politicians we despise will surprise us.

It’s okay. Let that which comes and goes come and go. Opportunities for love don’t pass and your ability to be loving doesn’t either. Spirituality – so-called – runs by itself. Let it do its thing and you do your thing: discover and explore and make manifest your ability to be selfless and loving – the very light of the world. There is nothing else to do, and only you can do it.

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Intellect and A Course in Miracles

There is something about A Course in Miracles that brings out the academic in many students. It brings out the intellectual. The text is both abstract and complex in its consideration of big subjects like God and time and reality. In the ACIM community there is a lot of energy around being right and wrong – which teacher we read, which edition we read, whether we partake of other spiritual traditions.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of that. If you are interested, and have some facility for it, asking big questions, exploring complex texts, and talking the material out with others can be fun and interesting. I do it often.

But unless our goal is to be professors of A Course in Miracles, the intellectual approach is not – in, of and for itself – sufficient. It is like the oil and the wick without a flame to set it alight.

When my father died, it wasn’t my intellectual understanding of the course that helped me. Indeed, as he died and for many days after, my philosophical clarity and open-mindedness – the sum and substance of all my scholarship – just vanished. I did not reach for it and it did not offer itself.

I remember watching and listening to Dad breathe his last breaths. Would I be okay? What would it be like to live in a world without my father? Was he in pain? Was there any last thing I could do for him? It was all an unknown future and it was only seconds away.

But I wasn’t scared. Each time one of those “big” questions arose, it was gently answered by an awareness of the loving relationships that comprised “my” life. In course parlance, these were special relationships that were transformed into holy relationships because they were no longer about what one could get, but about what one could give.

I knew that my wife, Chrisoula, was with me. In those moments I perceived her less as a body – less as “my wife” and more as an unshakable ground enveloping me in a way that went beyond my ability to describe. I knew that my children were with me – that they would trust me to help them understand what was happening and find a way through it, however hard or confusing it got. All the love was present; nothing could undo it.

That night, driving home from the hospital with my family, there was a big soft moon in the summer sky. A lot of our drive was along a river: I would look at the moon, then at the river rippling with moonlight, then at the moon again. There was a clear and simple sense that what passes, passes, but that something remains. There was no need to name it – God or Love or Truth or Awareness. It was sufficient that it was unmistakably present. I was held by it; we were all held by it, the living and the dead alike.

My practice of A Course in Miracles is – relatively speaking – intellectually rigorous. That is not the only way to approach the course, nor even the best way, but for me it it is a helpful and natural way. I read deeply and widely, reflect carefully and then, when it seems to be all worked out, I rip it up and keep going.

The suggestion here is not that my response to my father’s death was especially graceful or unflawed. There was – there remains – sadness and confusion. Life goes on; the body has its experiences. I stumble along like everyone else.

Rather, the suggestion is that the intellectual work of studying A Course in Miracles is basically prefatory in nature – it matters, but it’s not all that matters. It’s not even most of what matters. You can do a lot of work to put up a tent, but then you get in the tent. You don’t put up another one.

Looking at the moon, then at the moon’s reflection, and then at the moon again was a kind of exercise in perception pointing to a deeper truth. The one image was not separate from the other; if one was absent, the other was absent as well. Concepts of causation and division dissolved. God is not something from which we fell or literally separated from a long time ago. God is more in the nature of that from which we rise and to which we return, which rising and returning functions as an appearance.

Lesson 223 of A Course in Miracles puts it this way.

I was mistaken when I thought I lived apart from God, a separate entity that moved in isolation, unattached, and housed within a body. Now I know my life is God’s, I have no other home, and I do not exist apart from Him. He has no Thoughts that are not part of me, and I have none but those which are of Him.

Some people like the image of a wave. It rises from the ocean and falls back into the ocean. It looks briefly separate – its own form, its own movement – but it is always only the sea.

I like eddies in a brook myself. If you look closely, you will see that the current is really many little currents – they spin off here and there, they create other currents, they merge with those currents, reemerge from them. But they always dissolve back into the larger flow from which they arise. They are always just the brook seen a certain way.

It is good to read ideas like that and agree or disagree with them. It is good to dismiss them or take them to heart. But what is really lovely and stunning is to see it for oneself: not as someone else’s idea that we learned in a book, but as a clear and simple fact of our own experience.

I point here to the difference between a lived fact and a remembered or projected fact. The former is what A Course in Miracles calls “knowledge;” the latter, “perception.” Our academic study will refine our perception; it can be a critical component of our “purification” (as in “[M]iracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first) but sooner or later we are brought into relationship with holiness itself. Holiness – wholeness – presents itself.

A better way of saying this is that we become aware of the holiness – the relationships – by which our natural wholeness is unobscured. This holiness – manifest in these relationships – is already extant. It is already given. We don’t “do” anything – it’s not about learning or prayer or doing good works. Rather, it is there – it is present, unconditionally so – and the effect of its being clouded is gone.

We might think of the moon: its light is a fact whether it is hidden by clouds or on the other side of the earth. We don’t create its shining, we can’t “move” clouds or rearrange the earth’s position in space to make the shining better or clearer or more “here right now.” But we can “know” the light is there, and sometimes we can see it clearly, which confirms our knowing. In time, we no longer need to literally “see” the moon to know it is there. It is there.

Lesson 69 says this about what it is given and our awareness of what is given.

Have confidence in your Father today, and be certain that He has heard you and answered you. You may not recognize His answer yet, but you can indeed be sure that it is given you and you will yet receive it.

So we have to be the ACIM student that we naturally and presently are. We have to take the teacher we are called to take and work with them. We have to live the life that right now appears before us. Nothing needs to be explained or even understood. The gift of our attention to that which is showing up is sufficient; it is more than sufficient.

Life in the world naturally include adversity, frustration, pain and loss – sometimes intensely so. That is okay. Our study of A Course in Miracles does not relieve us of life. Rather, it opens us up to life so that we can perceive it as it is in fact, as it is in truth – absent judgment, absent special narrative, absent personal goals.

The secret, if there is one, is simply that what we call “God” is in fact nothing other than this: this this.

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On Concluding

Often it is helpful to go slowly: to not rush to conclusions, and to be aware of the many threads that are present in thought. Attention is a way of asking: what is showing up? What is here?

For most of us, what shows up is some variation on “our” lives. The first-person subjective lens naturally attends our experience and helps to organize it. Nobody is immune to this; nobody needs to be immune. It is just there.

It is helpful to notice this without rushing to explain or define or qualify it. Noticing it is a way of letting it be: of just residing in the sense of “I am.”

We might attend this “noticing” in the spirit of sitting on a beach or the back porch: grateful, aware, relaxed, in no hurry.

We might notice the subtle impulse to be right about experience (it reflects brain-based reticular activating systems), or to reach some conclusion about experience (I am not a body), or discover some spiritual first cause for experience (God).

What is interesting is not so much those options in and of themselves but rather their appearance and what underlies them: the impulse to conclude, and to conclude rightly.

Indeed, the assumption that is possible to conclude, and to conclude rightly.

The suggestion is simply to see this – the impulse and assumption – and to see what happens when we sort of hold them up to the light without acceding to their demands. They are very demanding: believe me! Make use of me! Only me!

And so forth.

What we are doing now is neither accepting nor rejecting them but just noticing them. We deliberately avoid conclusion in favor of just giving attention. What is showing up? What is here?

There is a tendency to fragment, and then to be concerned about the truth of just a little part of the whole. And this is but a way of avoiding, or looking away from the whole, to what you think you might be better able to understand (T-16.II.2;1-2).

It might be noticed that experience is not contingent on understanding, even though understanding is sometimes a nice aspect of experience. However, just as I don’t need to understand the science behind stars in order to behold them in wonder and joy, I don’t need to understand or otherwise manage consciousness right in order to be conscious.

A better and far more helpful way to think or miracles is this: You do not understand them, either in part or in whole. Yet they have been done through you. Therefore your understanding cannot be necessary (T-16.II.2:4-6).

In a sense, this is what it means to say that we are already awake: nothing has to happen in order for us to be awake. Awakeness, so to speak, is already a fact. It is here: it is this.

[I]t is impossible to accomplish what you do not understand. And so there must be Something in you that does understand (T-16.II.2:7-8).

Part of “this” – this Something in us that does understand – includes learning about it, inquiring into it, wanting to share it, and so forth. It includes sometimes just chilling out with it, so that we can visit the neighbors, bake cookies with the kids, watch television, do the dishes. It includes forgetting or losing it, missing it, searching for it, finding it.

And sometimes part of “this” is feeling deeply and wholly unified – not separate
from anyone or anything.

It’s nice when that sense of wholeness is present but it’s still just a passing experience, still just a feeling. It’s no better or worse than a headache or a traffic ticket or a bowl of fresh raspberries.

Again, the inclination to conclude – to decide this is what the self is, this is what life is, this is what God is, this is how to know God and so forth – has a tendency to overwhelm our present experience, which is always all there really is.

Simply giving attention to what is showing up allows us to sense the way in which “the whole” is just another concept that shows up, that “being right” or “being correct” are just more concepts that show up. Even “God” – sacred to many of us – is just a word, just an idea, just a concept.

So we are looking at all that, and it is never not appearing, never not showing up, and maybe what begins to happen in that we relax with respect to the impulse to figure it out, to solve it, to put a pin in it. Fortunately, there’ s no hurry and it can’t really be done wrong.

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On Knowledge and Perception

(1)

In my dream
we walked to the lake
and you asked me questions
about awakening and love.

Your hands gestured
in the moonlight
like birds
whose name was not yet given.

“I want to know
what you know,”
you said. “I want
to know the whole of it.”

When we reached the water
you continued
across it
borne on its surface like an image of the moon.

I knelt on the beach
and watched you go,
neither calling you back
nor bothering to follow,

for what could I say
that you had not given me to say?
And where could I go
you had not already helped me go?

And where else could you learn
that I was your student
and you my teacher,
save in the solitude

I alone can give you?

(2)

The invitation inherent in A Course in Miracles is to know thyself. Any other knowledge is illusory. To know is to know thyself. Everything else is simply perception.

Perception is the body’s way of sensing what is going on and attempting to understand and collate it. Through its senses the body gathers data and through its brain it organizes that data in order to sustain, nurture and protect the body.

Perception is not separate from what is perceived. There is no such thing as hearing without sound, no such thing as sight without what is seen and so forth. There is no space between hearing and what is heard, seeing and what is seen.

Perception is always experienced in the particular. We hear chickadees and crows, see apple trees and moonlight, touch rivers and horses, taste ice cream and sauerkraut, smell wood smoke and bread baking.

Perception is separative and thus invites preference, the hierarchizing of what is different according to the body’s relationship to pleasure and pain.

Perception causes conflict, which includes efforts to resolve conflict in favor of peace, inner and otherwise.

Perception always appears as local and personal. It implies a center, which is the body, and an experiencer and decider, which is the self.

Yet upon investigation, it is seen that the body too is perceived. It is sensed. Like all that is perceived, the body comes and goes.

And upon investigation, it is seen that the self too is perceived. It is conceptual – an interpretation of bodily experience as central, personal and causative. It is an idea about what all these perceptions and memories of perceptions and anticipations of perceptions mean for the body.

Perception runs by itself, without regard for any apparent interpretation or investment.

It is possible to be attentive to what is perceived.

Attention is responsive. It can be directed.

But attention is also neutral. It observes a funeral the same as a birthday party. Of itself, it excludes nothing, even itself.

Attention is impersonal. Its function never changes.

The suggestion to “give attention” is simply a suggestion to be aware of what is perceived – objects, feelings, ideas, will and so forth.

Attention exposes the relative nature of bodily existence, which allows one to see clearly the full nature of human experience.

Seen clearly, the full nature of human experience points to – but is not itself – knowledge.

Knowledge is that which is without opposite.

It cannot be objectified.

It has no parts.

It is not “whole” because that would imply the possibility of “not-whole.”

Knowledge is not “of” something.

It cannot be gained or lost. It cannot be refined or expanded. It cannot be taken or given. It cannot be taught because it cannot be learned.

That which is relative – the self, the body – does not transform into that which is absolute.

The relative does not “come to know” the whole.

Perception does not become knowledge.

However, through attention, perception can be seen as fractured and separative.

Through attention, perception can be seen as only relatively true.

Through attention, one can see that what is “relatively true” is false.

Through attention, one can see that what is “false” is not wrong but simply unreal.

Perception reaches no further than that distinction.

Though perception will keep running so long as the material conditions for its function continue to appear, it no longer commands investment or attachment.

Attention – previously the servant of the body and the self – turns to what is true. It turns to knowledge.

However, nothing actually happens. Nothing actually changes.

There is nothing to turn to, just as there is nothing to turn away from.

Knowledge is not hidden. It has no boundaries, guarded or otherwise.

What always was and always will be simply is.

And nothing else is.

The language of A Course in Miracles can be maddening. It appears to invite discord. It appears to imply that learning is necessary. It appears to imply hierarchies of experience and wisdom necessitating choice.

And yet.

To the devoted student, the course is simply a means of discerning what is false.

The course simply teaches the ready student to see the false as false, which is the only precondition to knowing what is true.

What is true cannot be taught.

It is simply what is when what is false is seen as false.

A Course in Miracles has no objective other facilitating this discernment.

(3)

Life belongs to the Giver of Life.
It belongs to itself.
There is no such thing as “my life”
or “your life.”
There is no such thing as “our life.”
There is only Life,
beginningless
and endless
and without division.
It is incapable
of being owned
and cannot be made
into what it is not.
When the one who dreams
they are apart from life
sees all this clearly
they become like a violet
in a part of the field
nobody visits.
Where is loveliness
when no one beholds it?
Where is grace
when nobody receives it?
What is wholeness
absent naming?
How perfectly
the secret flower blooms . . .

(4)

Beloved,
I only share
what you asked me to remember

before there was a garden –
before there was a flood –
before there was the One –

there was this love

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A Course of Sand Dunes

[The human mind] evolves in a certain way such that it is like any new tool, in that it has its diseases and difficulties. It has its troubles, and one of the troubles is that it gets polluted by its own superstitions, it confuses itself, and the discovery was finally made of a way to keep it sort of in line . . .

~ Richard Feynman

At a point, there was a sense that reading and studying and sharing about A Course in Miracles was somewhat like climbing a sand dune. The harder one worked – the more one dug in – the more the ground gave way. The summit one aimed at was literally being clawed away by the effort to attain it.

Once we see that our efforts are undermining our objective, it is coherent to simply stop. We stop and see what happens. We stop and reassess. Maybe we are looking at the problem wrong, or perceiving the wrong solution. Who knows? Maybe we don’t have to climb this sand dune after all. Maybe there isn’t any problem in the first place.

So we let go and slip to the bottom and take a look around.

In the case of A Course in Miracles, it was seen that my regimen of study and sharing was well-intentioned but aggressive and was itself obscuring the peace and clarity to which the text and lessons generally pointed.

Letting go of that (a year or so ago) was not easy, but it was necessary, and so in a sense, after a flurry of hand-wringing and kvetching, it was easy. A space opened up in my life – the time that had been previously given to the course, the attention given to it and so forth was dissolved and in its place was a sort of stillness. It was like discovering an enormous field. What should you do with it?

When we don’t rush to fill the field, the stillness, but rather let it be, then we might see that the field is already full – of grass and flowers, butterflies, swallows, ticks, whatever. It’s humming along just fine. Stillness, too. This doesn’t mean we can’t do something with the field if doing something is fun or interesting or helpful in some way, but it does mean that we aren’t obligated to do anything. Stillness is not conditional on anything we do or don’t do. Neither is life.

The suggestion is that we are working very hard to do something that needn’t be done. It can be done, but it doesn’t have to be done. And if our goal is peace and understanding and coherence, then maybe all our spiritual activity is counter-productive.

Still, for me in the wake of so much study and sharing, the desire to do something remained. Yet at the same time, it was also seen that the question what should be done could not be answered in an absolute sense and was therefore not a very good question. It was like the sand dune all over again.

Insisting on ACIM or zazen (or celibacy or vegetarianism or psychotherapy etc.) are all forms of resistance. All spiritual doing is a form of resistance. As the course might put it (or one of its more famous teachers anyway), it is a way of getting caught up in the form when what we are really after is the content.

The problem isn’t ACIM or zazen and so forth – they are wholly neutral (which means their helpfulness is always relative). The problem is our insistence that they are it with a capital I. They are the answer. We’ve got It!

The problem is not the spiritual path but the underlying belief that this or that path is right in an absolute – not a relative – sense. And, more subtly, the problem is the belief that there really is some one to do all this insisting and some other one or ones to whom the argument (in favor of ACIM, zazen, etc.) has to be made and won.

So all that had to be looked at very closely, and it wasn’t really a spiritual inquiry. It was dispassionate and logical. Who or what is the self exactly? What is its problem? What is the nature of its relationship to other selves? Who cares? What’s at stake?

It was not a question of reading about the self or writing and talking about the self or adopting someone else’s definitions and answers. That was all familiar static. What was needed now was the clear signal, to whatever degree was possible. And the way that happens is we consent  – through attention – to a direct experience of looking at difficult questions and seeing what answers, if any, are there to be had. If it’s raining and you want to know what rain is like, then you just step out into the rain. Books can’t help and nobody else can stand in a downpour for you.

When we dig into the question of what we are and what the nature of being is, then sooner or later we realize that the subjective first-person perspective which inheres in the human experience cannot know the whole though it can know it does not know the whole.

That is not an especially complicated idea. Nor it is a new idea. In a sense, it is simply an observation of how thought, broadly defined, has evolved and where we now find ourselves with respect to it.

But it is the source of a great deal of incoherence and thus conflict.

We can see the eye and we can see the brain and we can see the function of seeing in terms of mechanics, but we cannot see seeing. “Seeing” is not an object but an effect.

This is not especially problematic as it pertains to sight. However, it is the same thing with consciousness, and that is problematic, or can be.

We can perceive the body and its points of sensation. We can see the brain which collects data produced by the senses. So we can perceive the function of perception in terms of mechanics – how the senses gather data, how the brain organizes it, the reportable perception emerging therefrom – but we can’t see mind or consciousness.

Mind or consciousness is not an object but an effect. We can’t remove consciousness and put it on a table and observe it, the way we can with a heart, say. And if we could objectify consciousness – put it over there on the table for study – with what would we be conscious of it?

Consciousness can’t get outside itself. First person experience can’t become third person experience. Third person objective experience always arises within the first person.

This leads to a kind of illusion. Because it cannot see itself objectively, and thus ascertain what it is and where it comes from, first person subjective experience is apt to allow for the possibility of mystery or divine forces as its source. It indulges superstition. It indulges its indulgences.

The self that we perceive – which is real in its own right – suspects there is more to life, which “more” is hidden from it, and so it begins an arduous search for God or Truth, for that which is the Whole.

And that search is bound to be futile because there is nothing to find. There is no mystery. Nothing is missing. This is it. This this.

We might think of it this way. If our dog is missing, it makes sense to go out and look for our dog. We should pull out all the stops – put up fliers, a website, offer rewards, organize search teams, spend hours in the forest whistling and calling and so forth.

But if our dog is trotting along beside us while we do all this, then doing it is not coherent. It’s not necessary. The dog is here.

So the suggestion is that thought is constantly projecting some absence and simultaneously working to solve the problem that something is absent. It’s a kind of loop, and the answer isn’t to find what’s absent, it’s just to see the loop for what it is and let it be.

With respect to A Course in Miracles – and spiritual seeking generally – in the final sense, they point beyond themselves, effectively ending or undoing themselves. For students who are interested and ready, the course can do this. It can bring us to the far reaches of thought where stillness abides, and truth.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being uninterested and unready. There are lots of ways to try and climb a sand dune and anyway, all that happens at the top – should you get there – is that you have to come back down.

And really, “back down” isn’t a big deal either. You’re at the beach. Go swimming or build a sandcastle. Read some cheesy summer fiction. Show off your abs or admire somebody else’s. It’s okay. It’s more than okay, because we are all here together.

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On Error and Correction

We might be tempted to say that the student who sees a snake and subsequently sees it is a rope made a mistake. Thought inclines towards right and wrong so that kind of judgment can seem natural and even necessary. Yet there is a way to see this that is not about mistakes at all.

We see the snake on the path and we recoil. In that moment, based on all the available data, we are “right.” We are seeing a snake and so we react accordingly. We don’t have any information to the contrary. What else are we supposed to do?

Yet a moment later, we recognize that we’re looking at a rope and so the snake is effectively canceled out. The first vision of the coiled object is corrected. It is a rope. It was always a rope.

And we are right now, of course. But does it follow that we were wrong earlier? The wrongness of our earlier vision is only evident based on what we know now; back then, it was right. Back then it was solid.

Still, we might say, “well, sure. It was right. But now that we have all the facts we can see it is clearly wrong. So it was wrong then, too. We just didn’t know it.”

That’s a valid observation, but it rests on the dubious premise that now we do have all the facts, and that we can know that we have all the facts, and so we can rest absolutely assured that our rightness now will never become our wrongness in the future.

But can we really say that? Should we?

What if the rope turns out to be a stick? Or becomes a snake again? What if it’s a water hose? Or an old shirt tossed just so?

Since those outcomes are possible – our earlier shift from snake to rope makes that clear – then we have to allow that future shifts are possible, too. Today’s right may very well be tomorrow’s wrong.

So maybe we can see the way in which our confidence – and the self-righteousness it engenders – is misplaced. Some things seem clear – that there is something in the path, that we thought it was a snake, that it turned out to be a rope.

But inherent in that clarity is the recognition that perception is fallible – that experience is rife with fallibility. This is an interesting observation because we are always so certain that we are right, that what we are seeing and thinking and feeling is correct and real and the only way to see it.

This is a reflexive position: we tend not to be aware we are taking it. We aren’t constantly inquiring into perception – is that really a tree? Are those really birds I hear? We just see a tree and hear birds singing in it.

And that example might seem very simple and basic – a tree is a tree, birds are birds – but as the snake/rope example demonstrates, it is possible to be wrong even about that of which we are presently very certain. The issue becomes cloudier when we think about who we love and who we hate and how we behave in this or that social situation.

If we look closely and openly, then we might notice that it’s almost as if thought is at odds with the fact that “the known” is not really “all the known” or “the whole known” but is only “part of the known.”

It is by its very nature fragmented, and we cannot escape that. We can only notice it.

So the suggestion is that we give attention to the ways in which thought and perception are misleading or slippery. This isn’t like facing down a snarling ego or peering into the abyss. It’s just the nature of things. All we can do is be aware of it so that when it comes up we can check it – we can be cautious and attentive before rushing to judgment.

At first blush, this kind of attentiveness and passivity is destabilizing. The center turns out not to be so central, the foundation not so sure. But in time it might also reveal itself as a kind of calming force. It takes some of the pressure off and allows us to let life be as it is without having to be responsible to it or for it.

Of course judgment and preference will keep on keeping on. But that’s not a problem. We might think of it like going to the bathroom. Most of the time that’s a barely-noticed physical experience – we have to go so we go – but sometimes it’s very pleasant, sometimes urgent or even painful, and sometimes stressful.

Going to the bathroom is all of that depending on where we’re at with it in a given moment but whatever it is, however it shows up, we don’t make a metaphysical issue of it. We aren’t asking: why do I pee? What is peeing? Why can’t I pee better?

It’s just peeing, right? And like that, thought it just thinking. The former is a hint about how to handle the latter. Let thought be thought and see what happens.

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