When we have an encounter with someone, we can say – as A Course in Miracles does – that it is not an accident (M-3.4:4). But this is tricky. We don’t want to slip into thinking that some external agent or intelligence is arranging our lives to suit its purposes. That becomes special very fast. Subtly we reduce the other person to a tool of God’s love for us.
The offense in that moment isn’t against God or even the other person really. Rather, it is a confusion about what meaning is, how meaning is made, and how we learn from it in order to discern reality.
When we give attention to experience, to life as it is in the moment, we always perceive it in a particular form: the New England forest at dawn, on a trail laid by deer, or the arms of a man or woman who knows what we need before we ask, or a little chapel at the end of a dirt road where a candle is always burning and dust motes shimmer in beams of yellow light.
But it is always that form and not another. I am not simultaneously in the New England forest, and the streets of Dublin, and the vast plains of Kenya. All three would perfectly accommodate learning and coherence but I can only take them singly. There is nothing wrong with this, or even limiting in this. It’s simply a condition of our material existence and perception.
So when we are in relationship with anyone – briefly or otherwise – the relationship is a fact. Why it is a fact (i.e., an accident or not an accident) is not nearly as interesting or important as our response to the relationship. Our response can be loving or not loving, gentle or not gentle, helpful or unhelpful. This is always true and it is really all that is true.
It doesn’t matter what we are seeing, or how it found its way into our perception. It matters that we accept responsibility for it, where responsibility means seeing it clearly which in turn means seeing with a whole mind, which naturally undoes the more pernicious aspects inherent in both perception and experience.
We are responsible for giving attention to life. Evasion avails us nothing.
When you are willing to accept sole responsibility for the ego’s existence you will have laid aside all anger and all attack, because they come from an attempt to project responsibility for your own errors . . . Give them over quickly to the Holy Spirit to be undone completely, so that their effects will vanish from your mind and from the Sonship as a whole (T-7.VIII.5:4, 6).
It is the attention we give that matters, not what we give attention to. It doesn’t matter why life takes the form it takes. It really doesn’t. What matters is that we are attentive to it. We can wake up in a laundromat as easily as a zendo. Fussing about why certain people are here, or do the things they do, or what the lesson is, or what we did in a past life, or what we need to do in this one going forward . . . truly that is just a form of static we impose on the clear note reality sings eternally.
I am learning this. This is what I am learning. I am looking at who I am in relationship with and what arises in the context of those relationships. If it’s guilt and fear, then great. Now I look at guilt and fear. If it’s a kind of goofy happiness, then great. I look at that. If it’s about sex, okay. Writing? Okay. Intellectual arrogance? Fine, I’ll look at that too. That’s it. That’s all. And it’s enough, actually.
This person might be in my life because he was my spiritual preceptor at an Irish monastery in the fourteenth century and I fled at a critical moment in the relationship and now we are continuing the lessons. That’s a fun story! I am very good at those stories. But this person might also be here simply because the law of large numbers means that over the course of seven or eight decades we are going to meet a few people who “get” us so instantly and intimately that it’s like they are us.
In the end, who cares what rationale I adopt for the appearance and existence of the relationship? I still have to deal with it, which is to give attention to it. It’s like when the fuel lines go on the tractor, you fix the fuel lines. You don’t launch into a metaphysical exploration of the tractor’s existence. That might be fun and interesting but there’s fields to be plowed, timber to be dragged. As my wise Buddhist friends say, chop wood, carry water. The ordinariness of this work – just giving attention to what is over and over – can be maddening to those of us in love with mirror balls and fallen angels and dead men hanging on crosses but so what? The bluets get on with life; I guess I can, too.
From the learning posture we adopt as students of A Course in Miracles, it’s all the same. It doesn’t matter what we are seeing, or how it found its way into perception. It matters that we accept responsibility for it, which responsibility means seeing it clearly which in turn means seeing with a whole mind, which naturally undoes the more pernicious aspects inherent in both perception and experience.
“Why” isn’t a great question, because it tends to just turn us in more circles. “How” isn’t much better because the capacity to love and be of service and give attention is already inherent in us. Faced with a trail that needs walking, we can talk and study and postulate until the sun falls, but sooner or later, we have to start walking. Only then do we learn that we aren’t going anywhere. One foot in front of the other is home.