Politics and A Course in Miracles

I had a nice long talk once with an individual who teaches ACIM professionally. They were smart and committed, and had reflected a lot on their practice and comprehension of A Course in Miracles. I learned a lot.

Near the end, this individual advised me to stop following politics and to stop being politically active. The premise of politics was conflict which meant you had to choose sides. Therefore it was dualistic and incompatible with a nondual spiritual practice such as A Course in Miracles.

It was not the first time I heard some variation of that argument; nor was it the last. When conflict arises, course students often retreat to ideals of nondualism as a way of not looking closely at what is going on.

This is an understandable impulse, and I am not immune to it. It is hard to be in the midst of conflict without trying to solve it or get away from it, and it is also hard to look at the disagreeable material evoked by conflict.

Spiritualizing resistance and denial is always easier than getting our hands dirty.

The teacher who as telling me to turn away from politics was really saying two things. First, they were asking me to validate their experience by replicating it.

Second, they were tracking a thought process that went approximately like this:

a. Following politics and engaging in political action is stressful;
b. I don’t like stress;
c. Therefore stress is bad;
d. Therefore, stress isn’t spiritual;
e. I am spiritual so I can’t be stressed;
f. I need to remove politics from my experience, but I can’t admit to the stress because that undermines my sense of myself as spiritual;
g. Therefore, I’ll say politics is dualistic and incompatible with ACIM; so that
h. Turning away from politics is what authentic and correct ACIM students do.

This (torturous) logic mirrors in many ways a thought process I have indulged many times over the years. It is not unfamiliar; it is (somewhat) easily remedied.

Going forward, this post has two themes:

1. If X stresses you out, then stop doing X. “It stresses me out” is a perfectly fine reason to stop doing something; and

2. You can be political and a student of A Course in Miracles.

An interesting exercise is to sit quietly for an hour or so and give attention to what happens. Don’t worry about what happens; just notice it.

Now don’t notice it. Don’t have any experience. Just stop. Don’t get off the train, stop the train – and the tracks and the earth on which the tracks lie and the galaxy through which the earth spins, and . . .

You can’t do it. This is the most important thing I learned in the School of Giving Attention. Whatever we want to call it, however we want to explain it, whatever we want to do with it, there is something going on. Where “we” are, experience is.

There is this: this this. There is always this.

This – whatever it is – appears to include an almost infinite array of content. Every human being you meet looks different. That is such an amazing thing! And they wear different clothes! And they sound different! And walk differently! And some of them have dogs or babies or umbrellas or ice cream cones.

Better than any movie is to just sit quietly on a bench and watch the infinite variety of content stream by. And it works no matter where you sit: in the city, in the forest, in the chicken pen, the garden, a classroom, a mosque.

We can get very metaphysical and intellectual about this exercise – and from time to time I do – but that is not the point right now.

Right now the point is just to notice what is happening, and then to notice that – again, whatever it is, however it works – you can’t stop it.

You can’t stop it, but you can respond to it.

You can pat somebody’s dog, or compliment their hand bag, or buy them a bagel, or give them a big hug. You can write a poem or an essay, take a photograph, buy a book about phenomenology, go home and bake bread, or do yoga (street yoga!).

Or you can just keep sitting there.

Whatever you do will have an effect on the stream, but it won’t end the stream. You can make a little splash or a big splash but the stream keeps going.

It is important to see this.

This is a helpful insight because it teaches us that what we do is not as big a deal as we think. The stream – experience, God, Life or whatever – is not at stake in our choosing.

Therefore, if something stresses you out – Donald Trump, say, or wordy ACIM writers – then just walk away.

We are allowed to do that. It doesn’t make us more or less spiritual.

(Really, it’s not possible to be “more” or “less” spiritual. Those are meaningless qualifications. The stream doesn’t care about them – they are both just floating through it).

It follows then that if we are allowed to just walk away from something, then we can also walk towards it. From the perspective of the stream, does it matter?

It doesn’t.

So if we want to be political, then we get political. If we want to choose a political cause or candidate, then we choose one. If we want to be a nasty woman, or march with nasty women, then we get nasty. Choosing a political stand is not different than choosing not to take a stand.

Democrat vs. Republican

or

Politics vs. No politics

or

Nasty vs. Not nasty

We are still choosing, right?

Here is the thing. Part of this experience of experience that we talked about earlier includes choices. They are present. You can see them; you can experience them.

Again, put off the metaphysical dialogue (about free will, agency, discrete selves et cetera) for the time being. Let’s chill out with being smart or correct.

Instead, without a lot of drama or analysis, let’s just see the way that life includes this sense of being local to a body. Let’s just see the way that apparently localized life includes this capacity for response.

And let’s ask: what responses are helpful? That is literally the only question we need to ask and answer. If we can do anything, then what is the best something?

This post is already too long so I won’t keep going. I’ll just make this last observation: the best something – which helps us and helps others, which makes everyone softer and happier – is always the something that is loving. Kindness, patience, generosity, mercy, good humor . . .

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Eric March 6, 2017, 7:10 am

    Good morning Sean,

    It’s funny reading this about getting away from politics in order to “advance” oneself in spirituality, because it reminds me of an ACIM website where people discussed ACIM, etc.

    There was a lady who visited this site quite often and she would ruffle quite a few feathers with her discussions. I suppose I should digress and say that some of the people on this site were self professed “experts” on ACIM. Anyway, this lady would challenge some of the statements that these experts would make. Now I have to admit, this lady made some pretty valid arguments about some of the conventional wisdom being spread around on this site. This didn’t sit too well with the regulars who have been coming to this site for years.

    So one day they got together and decided to ban her from the site. Keep in mind that this woman did not use vulgar language, she did not attack anyone, she only questioned quite a few statements that were being taken at face value. I have to say though that during this woman’s time on the site, these people were rather disrespectful towards her.

    When I asked why they banned her, I was told that they were trying to heighten their awareness and she was just being an unwelcome distraction to this process. In my opinion, these people thought they had ACIM all dialed in and figured out, and this lady was causing doubt in this due to her well validated questions.

    I told them I likened this to a person meditating to “progress spiritually” only to fall back into yelling at someone to get the hell out because they walked in on them during their meditation and screwed it all up.

    The point being, spirituality in my opinion is not about escapism or trying to make the “bad things” go away. It’s not about insulating oneself with other “spiritual people” in order to “progress spiritually” through denial.

    These people could have used this scenario with this woman as something to look within themselves to ask, “why is this bothering me so much”? Instead to “feel better” they decided to get rid of the problem. I’m not saying that we should just feel abuse from others or look for conflict, but this woman did nothing but question some of the conventional wisdom and offer her own insights on ACIM.

    I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there is a new edition to the course from Helen’s handwritten notes. I’m reading it now and it is so grounded in everyday life. It gives practical example after example of this. As the course says, action must occur in this world. It can’t be stopped.

    There’s a term in Buddhism called disengagement. This actually hasn’t been defined correctly due to trying to translate Pali and Sanskrit into English. The more accurate definition is correct engagement. That to me makes much more sense.

    Eric

    • Sean March 6, 2017, 1:37 pm

      Nice to hear from you, Eric. I hope you and your family are well.

      I have actually been disinvited from course groups twice. Once because the group had a fast rule about not invoking other traditions and I was constantly forgetting and saying things like “Dogen says . . . ” or “David Bohm wrote . . . ” The other time I knew a member from another setting which led to some awkwardness and he took a position that either he went or I went.

      In both those cases though people were polite. And it was okay. I don’t mine when people try to build like-minded communities.

      Also, both course teachers I most admire – Tara Singh and Ken Wapnick – from time to time suggested to students they might learn better with other teachers in other settings.

      So I think that stuff sugars out in the end, but being nice about it while in process is a good idea.

      I didn’t know there was another ACIM version out. I’m not surprised, I guess. And I hope it’s helpful, in its way. Sounds like you are appreciating it.

      Thanks for reading, Eric.

  • Eric March 6, 2017, 2:35 pm

    Hope you and yours are doing well also. I didn’t realize that you’re such a polarizing figure Sean for someone to give an ultimatum 🙂

    • Sean March 7, 2017, 8:36 pm

      Yep – that’s me . . . 🙂

  • Mike March 21, 2017, 4:36 am

    Beautiful! I can’t wait until tomorrow to experiment with cannon balls and swan dives. I’m at a place now where I affirm “I Am of Help” – that takes the edge off of “what help do I do?” I think your imagery now will make it “softer and happier” to pick my “local responses”.

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