I want to look again at the introduction to A Course in Miracles, especially these lines: “[N]othing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.” When I look at that, I have the feeling that it contains everything one needs to realize the truth. But there is nothing to it in an intellectual way. It’s hard to explain as if you were going to teach it to a class. It’s more that it either has resonance or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, okay. But if it does, then perhaps that resonance can be constructive. Perhaps we can look at it and be guided a little.
The course came to me three times – it was only the third that I accepted it and began to learn. The second time, I read the introduction in my aunt’s house at Cape Cod, and while I sensed that this was not your run-of-the-mill new age spiritual pabulum, I could not bring myself to open up to it. I have a clear memory of being confused by the introduction, and even a little scared. I walked away from it for a good decade!
So I am saying, if it is not resonating for you, for whatever reason, then no big deal. Find what does.
Even after I began to practice though, once I did, the introduction still seemed distant. Too abstract maybe. I didn’t get it. But I remember one night putting my son to bed and reading ACIM with a little head light and I saw that the words could be taken literally. I didn’t have to add to them or subtract from them. If something could be threatened – my body, my son’s body, my ACIM books, whatever – then it wasn’t real, it was an illusion. I didn’t really appreciate that – the meaning – but it was clearer to me. I had a sense at least of how to read it properly.
Now I see that one thing those lines from the introduction do is they take away the possibility of becoming. They end that kind of seeking, that notion that we are subject to improvement, that we need improvement. There are no stages of spiritual development implicit in those lines – it is either real or it is an illusion. Period. It seems so simple but it is quite profound.
When I was a practicing Catholic, the future was very important. One was fallen, and there were rituals and sacraments by which one redeemed oneself. You confessed your sins. You took communion. So it was always implied that you were going to be better some day so long as you followed the institutional requirements. It was no different with Buddhism either, though I think most of my Buddhist friends would object. But you sat on a zafu and you counted your breaths and you read certain teachers and certain texts. And you aimed at enlightenment which was a future state different form this one and which you reached by sitting in this way and doing these activities.
Even psychotherapy – which is a sort of religion, too – was premised on the future. Today you are angry and you don’t know how to manage those feelings. But we will work together on this problem and understand it so that someday you will be peaceful and happy.
You see what I am saying? This idea of becoming – it’s old and pervasive and nobody escapes it. We are bent on getting better.
But what if it is the idea of better that is the problem?
That is what we are being asked by A Course in Miracles. What if what we are is already perfect and so there is no seeking, no striving, no searching? Doesn’t something in you rebel against that idea? It seems so natural to become something. Happier, more fulfilled, more helpful, more peaceful, enlightened, whatever.
But right away – just a few sentences in – and the course undoes that. There is no becoming to it, because we already are. We’re not getting to the place where nothing real can be threatened – we are already there because we are that condition. We are the thing itself and the thing, being one, is incapable of conflict. Thus, in reality, there can be no threat.
So when we catch ourselves projecting a future, can we stop? When we catch ourselves saying that we’ll improve tomorrow, can we stop? Just to stop the thought – the idea – would be enormously helpful. Just to challenge it, even a little. Not to say that we understand it or anything like that, but simply to see the truth, or be willing to see it: Nothing real can be threatened and nothing unreal exists.
So there is nothing to do. There is no self to improve – no self to defend – no self on which to work. If we accept that, then conflict ends.