I’m working my way through a close reading of Rules for Decision. Yesterday’s post mused on the relationship between new beginnings and the rules. Today I’m wandering just a few sentences in, thinking about how utterly uncompromising A Course in Miracles is when it urges us to leave the decisions to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Thanks for reading.
The first time I read Rules for Decision, I got sort of obsessed with its promise that there was a way I could have the day I wanted. Greed entered. I wanted a day when my students stood up and cheered when I walked in the classroom. I wanted a day when strangers would hand me fifty dollar bills and thank me for the radiant Christ-like glow that emanated from my being. I wanted to leave my little house in the morning and come back at dusk to a mansion.
In a lot of ways, my early approach to A Course in Miracles was like that. It was in the nature of horse trading. I was always asking “what’s in it for me?” I figured I’d do the lessons, give the Course a certain amount of attention and in return God would deliver a grandiose and enviable life, as if Heaven were a package you could wrap and Jesus the divine equivalent of the Fedex guy.
If that sounds familiar, don’t worry about it. Wanting salvation on our own terms is part of being human. Very few of us get to skip that particular issue. In a lot of ways, it’s just that challenge for which Rules for Decision is directed.
The decision to see ourselves as bodies and act accordingly causes us a lot of unhappiness. In general, we associate bodies both with ultimately insatiable desire (appetites for food and sex and comfort and so on) and weakness (they hurt, grow decrepit and die). And we associate the world through which they stagger with scarcity and loss. We can’t both eat the same slice of apple pie.
In that light, a lasting joy and peace are impossible. We can scrap a little bit of happiness here and there, and we do, certainly, but we all know that it won’t last. We all know what’s coming. And really, that’s the whole point. The ego survives by keeping us tethered to the physical and the external. It throws us bones and feigns friendship even as it condemns us to misery and hopelessness.
What is particularly vicious about the ego and its condemnation is the false hope that we can get away from it. It’s Orwellian, really. In Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, the government holds lotteries that few – if any – people actually win. Yet the shred of hope that they someday might keeps them from rebelling or looking for hope and meaning elsewhere. They are pacified by scraps.
That’s the ego’s m.o. too. We think we can beat it with a bigger house. We think we can beat it with formal religion. We think we can beat it with a diet, with meditation, with the right yoga teacher. We think we can outsmart it.
But any plan that accepts the ego’s premise that the world and bodies are real is doomed. The way out – as Rules for Decisions cheerfully observes – is to heed Jesus’ instruction and surrender our decision-making power to the Holy Spirit.
The outlook starts with this: Today I will make no decisions by myself (T-30.I.2:1-2).
Easy enough, right? We know the Holy Spirit is there to handle the decision-making for us. We know that Jesus is ready to point the way and model the path and even hold our hand if necessary. What could be more simple?
The thing is, there are two aspects to this making-no-decision-by-myself thing. The first – and I think for many of us, the easier – is in checking our responses to situations as they arise.
So, for example, we get a flat tire while driving home and as soon as we step outside to fix it the Heavens open and a cold rain starts falling and then when we get a look at the spare tire we see that it’s flat too.
And we think: this is a crappy situation but you know what? I’m not going to freak out. I’m going to let Jesus decide for me. I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit what to do and then do it. I’m not the boss; they are.
There is a lot to be said for that sort of response. Refusing to respond to negative external situations before checking in with our internal teacher, our inner guide, is very important. It can head off a lot of guilt. Indeed, Rules for Decision is clear that we are supposed to do precisely this.
There is another level to that process and – at least for me – it is the harder. Not only am I to refrain from judging what my response should be to a given situation, I’m also not supposed to judge the situation. So in that flat tire scenario, I’d never get around to deciding “this is a crappy situation.” I wouldn’t judge it all.
Do you see the difference? In one scenario, we say life sucks but I’m turning to Jesus. In the other, we say I have no idea whether this situation is good or bad so I’m just going to let Jesus handle it. He’ll tell me what, if anything, I should do.
Our resignation as decision-maker has to be total. We’re not hiring someone to help us make decisions. We’re handing over the reins entirely, holding nothing back.
This means that you are choosing not to be the judge of what to do. But it must also mean you will not judge the situations where you will be called to make response (T-30.I.2:3-4).
And that distinction really matters. When we decide that a certain set of circumstances is bad, then we have effectively decided what the solution ought to be. If I say the flat tire is bad, then the solution is fixing the tire. If I say the rain is bad, then the solution is an umbrella or better yet a sunny intervention. And then when those things don’t show up, I get angry because God is letting me down.
And all the while, that is not how God sees it. The problem is not what I set up, but that I bothered to set at all. Jesus says in the text that when we judge our lives in advance this way, we
have set the rules for how you should react to them. And then another answer cannot but produce confusion and uncertainty and fear (T-30.I.2:5-6).
So this is the reason that we are so unhappy right now. This is why we can’t seem to ever break free of pain and sorrow. This is why we always fall back to pain and anguish.
You still make up your mind, and then decide to ask what you should do. And what you hear may not resolve the problem as you saw it first. This leads to fear because it contradicts what you perceive and so you feel attacked (T-30.I.3:2-4).
Thus, we have to engage decision-making at two levels. First – importantly – we have to refuse to judge what is happening in our lives. Divorce, job loss, too much snow, a headache, tulips that won’t grow, not enough time to ourselves – whatever it is, we have to leave it to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We have to accept that we don’t whether the situation is good or bad. We have to refrain from seeing it in that light.
That’s hard! It feels very natural to judge our lives this way. And we – or I anyway – can be quite stubborn about giving it up. You know, we have the flu and we spend a couple of hours retching and vomiting and we’re supposed to pretend that we don’t know whether it’s good or bad?
So we say, “Newsflash Jesus. The flu is bad. And you know what else is bad? Cancer. School shootings. Tsunamis.”
Doesn’t that sound logical? Reasonable? I felt righteous just putting it down.
And yet the Course doesn’t equivocate. Jesus doesn’t say, “okay, sure. We’ll carve out a few exceptions. You get to decide what’s good and bad in terms of physical illness, but the rest is off limits.”
It’s all off limits. We aren’t supposed to judge any of it. And it’s only when we don’t judge it, that we learn what, if anything, we’re supposed to do in response.
I’m not saying that if you get a diagnosis of cancer, you should do back flips. Or refuse treatment or something like that. But I am also not suggesting that you smother yourself with ashes and wail in lamentation. As hard as it is, if we can let it go just the tiniest bit, we start to see that life is not about us. It’s bigger and it’s more beautiful and it’s also more certain.
For example, when I teach, I often slip into the space of thinking I’m the sole judge of what is working or not working in the classroom. Some days I walk out with my head hanging, thinking, “well that sucked. They didn’t get the point I was trying to make. What a waste.”
And then an hour later, some student will come by and thank me for teaching the way I did because they really needed to hear such-and-such. Or whatever. And I remember: oh right. It’s not all about me. I don’t really know what it’s about. That’s why I’m such a terrible judge.
And if it’s not all about me – and if I know I’m terribly at making decisions- then maybe it’s okay to chill out on trying to decide what’s good and what’s bad and what’s helpful and what’s not. Maybe I can relax. Maybe Jesus really does have everything under control.
In the end, it becomes a question of trust. Perhaps that what it always comes down to. When I trust that I don’t have to decide where we’re going, decide what route to take, decide when to go, and even drive the bus . . . well, life gets simpler. Even though I don’t do this perfectly yet, I can assure you that not making decisions by yourself – by letting Jesus and the Holy Spirit make them for you – is vastly relieving. You wouldn’t believe how funny and easy and lovely life can be when you realize you’re not the boss of it.
And once we’re there, then it’s relatively easy to just accept instruction as to what we’re required to do. You learn that you don’t have to do as much as you thought. A lot of life goes on just fine without our intervention. And the things that the Holy Spirit asks of us – the response to a given situation – is always easy and natural. There’s not a lot of effort involved.
Indeed, this waking up thing – this not making decisions on our thing – can actually be playful. It can even be fun. In a way, it’s like catching snowflakes on your tongue. All you have to do is open your mouth.