One of the reasons A Course in Miracles is so effective is its insistence there are only two options available to us: we can be right or we can be at peace (T-29.VII.1:9). There is no middle ground. The clarity of that will save us, once we stop fighting it.
Rules for Decision is clear that when we are unhappy – when our feelings are not feelings of peace and joy and natural harmony – it is because we have chosen to be right about something. We have decided what the rules of life are, which means we have chosen how to win the game of life, and have found ourselves on the losing side.
The solution isn’t to ask for help in winning or adopt a new strategy. The solution is to stop playing the game.
[Y]ou have already gotten angry. And your fear of being answered in a different way from what your version of the question asks will gain momentum, until you believe the day you want is one in which you get your answer to your question. And you will not get it, for it would destroy the day by robbing you of what you really want (T-30.I.7:2-4).
How hard it is to see this – and, once seen, to accept and bring into practice. Rules for Decision reminds us that this impulse to be right is like a snowball rolling down a steep hill. If you don’t check it in its tracks, it’s going to build momentum and get bigger and bigger. It starts to influence other decisions. It gets messy fast.
Our reaction, of course, is to fight. That’s our instinct. You know, we decide that because we’re tired we need to leave work early and we get all excited about it – a good book, a glass of wine, a bubble bath. But just as we’re getting ready to go, somebody drops a “do-it-now” project on our desk. And we fight it! We get angry. We argue. We postpone. We try to delegate – forcefully.
It’s like being tangled in a web, isn’t it? The more we resist, the more enmeshed in the problem we become. Letting go – going limp – is really the way out. We have “sit by” as the Course says (T-30.I.5:3). We have sit by and let the given answer be revealed.
That is one of my favorite phrases in the whole text – the suggestion to just “sit by.” I’m not wired to just sit by. I’m wired to move fast and get things done. It’s the whole reason I became an altar boy when I was kid. I wanted to be able to move around a bit during mass.
I’m a walker by nature. I’m into movement. My students get dizzy sometimes because I can’t teach standing still – I wander all over the classroom. When I’m in the forest, I can build up to quite a clip. Sometimes people who walk with me ask who’s chasing us. To which I usually respond “I’ll rest when I’m dead.”
Yeah, yeah yeah. I know. I’m a lot of fun to walk with . . .
But the truth is, some of my most peaceful and happy moments are when I actually do just sit by – find a nice rock near the brook and sit on it. The dog romps and swims and I just hang out. I get a little dozy. Sometimes it’s a tree I sit near.
When we sit by, something magical happens. In the forest, it means that the birds come closer. Chickadees flit by near enough to touch. You can see the details of a pine cone – each fold, each tuck, each shade of brown softening into the next. You hear each note of the brook as it flows past – bass and treble, a hint of other voices. It’s mesmerizing.
It’s not just in nature. In the classroom, when I am still, I am often surprised by how the students fill the space my nervous intensity was trying to swallow whole. They get creative and insightful. I see them differently: we slip outside the normal hierarchy of teacher-student and the light of Christ shines a little. And I think, oh right. I don’t have to take care of everything. Somebody else has this covered.
Walking briskly isn’t a crime! But if our investment and attachment to it is such that we forget to sit by or refuse to sit by then it becomes problematic. We need to identify those places and moments in our life when we are so insistent on our way that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can’t get in with a shoehorn. And then have to slow down and make some space for them to do their thing.
Whenever I first sit by, I am almost always frustrated. I think, there’s a better spot on the river to sit. Then I think, man, it’s too cold to sit by. I’ll sit by tomorrow. Then I think, I should’ve brought a book. Or writing utensils. Why did I forget my pen? I should hurry home and bake some bread. I could be missing an important email.
That’s the resistance. That’s the insistence on my rules for a happy day: more sunlight, a good book, a chance to write a poem, emails to feed the ego.
But soon enough – if I don’t give in – those voices fade. And when they fade, what remains is the Holy Spirit. What remains is the clear and lively intimation of Heaven. A chickadee will sit on you if you are still enough and quiet enough (and the dog stays away long enough). And when it happens you think, oh my God. How many other miracles am I missing?
When we catch ourselves in a state of misery, Rules for Decision indicates that we should quickly remember “I have no question. I forgot what to decide (T-30.I.6:4-5).”
That is a simple way to remind ourselves that it’s time to sit by. It’s time to let go of our terms, and let the terms of God be revealed to us. And they will be. They are right there, humming beneath the chatter of our egoic thoughts and ambitions. God literally can’t wait for us to slow down and just hang out.
Peace was given to us. It’s present right here and right now. We don’t have to invent it or manufacture it or midwife it into our experience. Indeed, so long as we think we do have to play a role in peace, then we’re not going to experience it. Peace is letting go and letting God. It’s only hard because we make it so. And we don’t have to. Not anymore.