At 4 a.m. a couple days back I walked with the dog to the far edge of the field where the maple trees are lately surrendering their luminous papyrine leaves. A breeze followed me, sometimes going ahead, sometimes just keeping pace. The dog was far away in the bracken, splashing through the shallows of the old fire pond; one or two stars were dimly visible between low-hanging rain clouds. The farther I go in darkness, the slower I walk, as if what calls me is truly elusive, as if we could ever arrive anywhere other than here.
And where field meets forest, the one easing into the other in a literal way, in a natural way – where lately I perceive who is my home and how – I stood and listened to the sound of the leaves falling. The faint snap as they break from the parent limb, the whisper as they drift downward through blackness, the hush as they settle into frosty grass. So deep was my peace that when a solitary goose cried out overhead – perhaps startled by the dog into an early pre-dawn flight – I startled myself, dropped to my haunches, and remembered again the old familiar story of loss and separation.
So it has come to this then: attention given without expectation of recompense which yields awareness that only truth is true, in which awareness one realizes at last there is only that from which one cannot be – and so never was – separate.
The search for God ends not with lightening bolts and swinging gold gates, angelic choirs humming glory alleluia, but with leaves falling one by one in the New England night, the dog coming back to wait patiently for me to remember we’re supposed to be walking, and the sure sense that though you are not here, you are here, thus testifying through transcendent presence that Love decries all containers, including me, including us, and including even the slow-spiraling maple leaves, the last of which landed on my shoulder and stayed there longer than one might have thought.
Lesson 188 of A Course in Miracles urges us not to wait on Heaven, and gently but firmly reminds us that who searches for the Light of Christ obscures the Light of Christ. Call what is holy what you will – the word is not the thing – but you cannot seek that which you already are.
Enlightenment is but a recognition, not a change at all . . . [The light] shines in you because it lights your home, and leads you back to where it came from and you are at home (W-pI.188.1:4, 8).
We are apt to confuse the metaphor by over-investing in it: to think that “home” is another place and “you” another, a more authentic self. But Heaven is neither a location nor the future perfection of external circumstances. Rather, it is a present condition presently unrecognized. And those who seek it, by their seeking obscure it, as those who surrender such seeking by virtue of their “defeat” discover there never was any conflict, never was any enemy and never was a single thing to gain. Heaven is.
Nor is there a separate self in any meaningful way: there is only an idea of that self, which is to say a concatenation of ideals and memories and stories and goals, all of which are simply mental flotsam, psychical (of or relating to the mind) residue cast by a thought system whose very structure denies God (what is) and then denies that it denies God, forever entangling us in what can seem like hopelessly dense webs (which webs are the self, are the ego).
But a structure of thought – however old, however established, however apparently privileged – has no more staying power than those lovely maple leaves in autumn. Before the slightest of slight breezes they are bound to fall away, as thought too will disappear, like writing your name with a finger on the lake’s surface. When we stop attending to thought as if it were holiness itself – now what does it want? Now what is it saying – then its prattle fades and our attention returns to the stable simple clarity of what is.
. . . let your thoughts fly to the peace within. They know the way. For honest thoughts, untainted by the dream of worldly things outside yourself, become the holy messengers of God Himself (W-pI.188.6:4-6).
See the fact clearly then: God is here, now, and here now you have the means by which to recognize God. No learning or training or suffering is required. Moreover, this fact – this truth which is the cornerstone of the peace that surpasses understanding – never changes: it is true when we feel happy and centered in the bosom of Jesus and it is true when we feel sad and confused and abandoned by the Buddha. Feelings don’t enter into it. Religion and spirituality and psychology don’t enter into it. A Course in Miracles doesn’t enter into it. Truth is true: and we know it, though whether we are ready to admit it – and live accordingly – remains an open question.
When I walk back through the field I stay close to the forest, pausing by the crabapple tree to sniff its fruit, stopping here and there in hopes that the turkeys might start their low chatter in whatever trees they’ve taken to roost. In the distance, a rooster begins its throaty holler, and father away yet, an eighteen-wheeler lays on the jake brakes where route 112 begins its long descent into Christian Hollow.
To put away “the dream of worldly things” is simply to allow them to be what they are, without the constant effort of identification, evaluation and application. The rooster is perfect in the way the long-hauler is perfect in the way reruns of Thirty Rock are perfect and Emily Dickinson, too. Nothing is that isn’t God. The self – which is simply a way of thinking that is not helpful because it obscures rather than reveals reality – needs to be gently set aside in order that we might perceive – at last and again – the perfection that naturally inheres in Creation.
How do we do this? We choose a path and follow it until we learn the folly of following paths and so stop wandering, so stop searching, so stop expecting, and simply give attention to what is right here, right now. Leaves falling, cakes baking, mail arriving, herons rising. William Blake said (here paraphrased) that a fool who perseveres in his folly will become wise. And Emily Dickinson – heir to Blake and the lamp unto my stumbling oafish feet – knew that only attentiveness freely given could finally restore our awareness of Heaven.
That Grace – Myself – might not obtain –
Confer opon my flower –
Refracted but a Countenance –
For I – inhabit her –
We stand beneath falling leaves – we fall with them in love – we inhabit them in love – and accordingly – for a moment – we sample the divine emptiness in which there is neither leaf nor self nor darkness but only Grace itself . . . How sweet the fall is then! How lovely the New England night tending slowly towards the dawn! And how grateful I am in the darkness crowded and all with love . . .
As always, the dog leads the way home. My pants are soaked past the knee, my feet chilly in wet socks and wetter boots. I am thinking of hot coffee: I am thinking of you in your nest of warm blankets.
Yet in the front yard I pause and look a last time everywhere: the stars are gone, the tendril clouds illuminated by the strange light that so briefly precedes dawn: neither red nor gold but closer to blue, a mysterious blue that is not a color so much as a condition, the way Heaven is a present state presently unrecognized. Yes – that. I am saying that we go where we can go, we give attention to what falls there. We fall, too. And then we are home: then it is light.