It is no small thing to know oneself, to make the commitment to know oneself and follow through on it. If we want to change the world – to end all forms of conflict forever – it begins with this interior journey. It is the opposite of selfishness because its only aim is to undo the self upon which the guilt and fear which give rise to the external world of conflict rest. We don’t say it is possible or impossible to do this. We give ourselves to it and see what happens.
There is no other activism, no other healing, and no other work. And only you and I can do it.
The world opposes this kind of knowledge. In truth, we oppose it. So that is the ground with which our interior journey begins: external opposition and internal resistance.
EXTERNAL OPPOSITION TO INNER PEACE
The world was made in order that we might forget – and go on forgetting – who and what we are (T-5.III.11:1, T-12.III.7:5). It has no other purpose. And we have to give credit where credit is due. The world is very good at what it does. It fulfills its function perfectly. It is filled with the latest gadgets, the latest dietary and exercise fads, wars and starving children, poor people shoved to further and further margins, endless stories about celebrities and gurus. Our bodies grow sick and decrepit. Everything we profess to love dies in time. We can’t take our eyes off it.
The precise form of this external conflict will vary, but its fundamental existence – its content – never does. It is uniquely suited to its task: holding our attention on what is outside of us, convincing us that what is external is real and causative, and thus keeping us from ever looking within to consider another, a better, possibility.
Seeing the world for what it is can be frustrating but there is no point in getting angry or self-denigrating or petulant about it. We shouldn’t resolve to become better people, as if what is needed anywhere is simply a few improvements. Resolutions and good intentions are part of what make the external system go. Rather, we need to see it simply for what it is: an inarticulate chaos that hypnotizes us, rendering us moment-by-moment and day-by-day incapable of asking serious questions and staying with the answers, however complicated and apparently painful they seem to be.
The way to undo the world – or to begin to undo it – is to give attention to it in a nonjudgmental way. That is what it means to look at something with the Holy Spirit (T-5.III.11:6), and that is what it means to practice forgiveness. We give attention to what is while simultaneously suspending our egoic habit of judgment. The reason we need the Holy Spirit is because the ego – with which we are mightily identified – will not consent to look at itself or its seeming effects in a thoughtful critical way (T-13.IX.8:1-2). Sacred intervention is non-negotiable. We need help. If we didn’t, A Course in Miracles and other belief systems wouldn’t exist.
So we give attention to what is happening at the level of the body and the world. We take note of the way our senses respond to the material world and the way our thoughts interact with the data collected through the senses. We see the way an observer/observed paradigm arises seemingly quite naturally, and we note too our addiction to that paradigm. We begin to perceive – dimly at first but with increasingly clarity – that it is all constructed. It is all made up. It is real only because we believe it is real (T-2.VII.5:5-6).
That is the gift of the miracle: it establishes only that we are dreaming and can choose another dream – a happier one, a more just one, a more lovely one (T-28.II.4:2-3). In that light, what we are is no longer a consequence or effect of what we perceive externally – the wars, the gadgets, the sicknesses, the weather, other people and so forth. We are still within the observer/observed framework but we are aware of it and so our identification with it is loosened. It is no longer synonymous with reality. We can question it.
That is the first opposition we encounter – the belief the world is real and valuable and that we can work out some kind of salvation within it on terms of our choosing. When we see it finally as an illusory distraction from true salvation, then we are able at last to turn inward in a helpful way, to begin in earnest the work of self-discovery. And that is when we encounter the second opposition which is our own resistance. We learn that we don’t actually want to know who we are because we don’t want to learn it is our choice to be separated from God (M-5.II.1;7). We certainly don’t want the responsibility that awareness entails.
Internal resistance can be much more insidious than that posed by an illusory world. When we learn that the world is not real but is rather an artificial construct, we move through it more gracefully, less encumbered by its seeming laws and rules. There may be some initial jarring but it quickly settles. We are no longer at the mercy of cruel or indifferent external forces. What’s not to like?
On the other hand, the pressure of learning that we don’t want to go deeper, don’t want to find out who and what we are in Truth – that we are in fact the authors of our own misery – can feel an ice pick to the head. It turns out that the ego is perfectly happy to retrench while we indulge in spirituality, saying that the world is not real, practicing the lessons of A Course in Miracles, counting our breaths on zafu, whatever. The ego is not undone just because we stop whining about the weather or kvetching about our spouse or arguing with the television. It just waits and when the time is right, it whispers that we were wrong about the world, and mistaken in our spiritual practice, and that there are better alternatives that it will give us in its own time.
How does the ego get away with it? Simply because we listen to it. It exists because we allow it to. And more than that – and this is what we don’t want to see, don’t want to accept – we want it to exist.
The truth is, we prefer our spiritual comfort zones. We don’t want to change. We are resistant. And why are we resistant? Because we are scared. We are scared of what we are going to find beyond the ego’s voice and machinations. What if there is nothing? What if there is an angry, punitive God? What if we’re not smart enough or strong enough or spiritually agile enough to handle it, whatever it is?
It reminds me sometimes of the quarry jumping I used to do. The ledges were fifty, sixty feet above the water. The fear wasn’t so much about what would happen – you knew it was going to be okay because people had been jumping and diving here for years. The fear was that once you leaped, there was no going back.
It is my understanding – in no small part because it is my experience – that one can linger a long time at this stage. A long time. You feel some pride and gratitude for having gotten this far. You feel justified in saying, “why can’t I just hang here?”
But it is like Peter, John and James on the mountain where Jesus is transfigured in the company of Moses and Elijah. It is such a radiant spectacle that Peter suggests they set up tents – that they make the experience a permanent arrangement. But Jesus says no. And so they leave the mountain and go on to Jerusalem and eventually to Calvary and the cross. In a way, that story teaches us that we have to keep going even when we want to stop, even when it seems altogether reasonable to stop. The end is sure but that is no excuse to forgo the journey.
And more than that, the truth is that once we have seen through the facade of the world – once we have learned how futile its means and ends are – there are only two options: going forward no matter how scary it is, or death.
The roads this world can offer seem to be quite large in number, but the time must come when everyone begins to see how like they are to one another. Men have died on seeing this, because they saw no way except the pathways offered by the world. And learning they led nowhere, lost their hope . . . It is true indeed there is no choice at all in the world (T-31.IV.3:3 – 5, 8).
Yet against this grim outlook, A Course in Miracles assures us that the peace of God permeates every relationship of which our “lives” seem to be composes, enlightening all of them without exception but:
[t]he peace that already lies deeply within must first expand, and flow across the obstacles you placed before it. This you will do, for nothing undertaken with the Holy Spirit remains unfinished (T-19.IV.2:2-3).
We have to move forward with the Holy Spirit, no matter how terrifying or apparently hopeless it is. We have to jump.
So we encounter resistance and trace it back to its apparent ultimate source – which is the fear of God (T-19.IV.D.3:4) – and there it is undone in the same way that every other obstruction and obstacle we encountered was. We gently raise it into the light of awareness – we give it attention with the Holy Spirit – and like snow dissolving beneath the warm sun of early April – it fades away as if it had never existed.
The desire to get rid of peace and drive the Holy Spirit from you fades in the presence of the quiet recognition that you love Him. The exaltation of the body is given up in favor of the spirit, which you love as you could never love the body (T-19.IV.D.5:3-4).
The Holy Spirit’s is the Voice of Love, and when we finally allow its dulcet tones to reach our ears – let those who have ears hear! – internal fear and guilt are naturally and irrevocably undone. We don’t end our resistance – the Holy Spirit ends it when we ask sincerely and humbly that it be done for us. We can’t fake this moment. We have to be desperate, pretty much dragging the bottom but that’s okay. Sometimes the best bets are the ones we make when there’s nothing left to lose.
We make this healing, this undoing a process – a journey, a curriculum – and that is okay (it is more than okay, really) but in truth it happens in an instant. In truth, it doesn’t even happen. Rather, we remember that it already has happened. There is no middle ground between the ego and spirit (T-4.II.8:6, 8). What we are in truth remains constant and is not affected by our ongoing effort to deny and forget it.
It does not matter if you think you are in earth or Heaven. What your Father wills of you can never change. The truth in you remains as radiant as a star, as pure as light, as innocent as love itself (T-31.VI.7:2-4).
It is worth repeating: the most radical thing we can do is know ourselves as God created us. To do so, we will have to overcome the world and we will have to overcome our egoic selves. In a way they are one and the same, but we only see that on the other side. Only after they are undone do we see that they are the same problem perceived from different vantage points.
Thus, though the world is not real – and the course does not equivocate on this point (W-pI.132.4:2-3) – the world remains the ground in which we see the work of salvation done in concert with our brothers and sisters. Although the egoic self is not real, it remains the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit restores our awareness of God and Heaven (T-4.I.2:9-10, T-5.II.2:5, 3:7). If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Where else would one undo illusions but where illusions are perceived to be? As the course teaches in lessons 79 and 80, we have to solve problems where they seem to be. Otherwise we’re just making new variants of old issues. And we’ve wasted enough time as it is.
This search – this journey – is not undertaken on terms blessed by the world, which is perfectly happy to encourage our search for the self so long as we limit ourselves to symbols, ensuring that what we discover will always be temporary and subject to change (T-31.V.14:1, 15.1-2). To the ego, this business of looking within in a sustained and committed way feels like death, but the only real risk we run is discovering that what we are in truth is Love – ever-extending, ever-blessing, ever-inclusive. And it isn’t that all we long to remember?