Awakening is something of a paradox: we have to choose a path (or practice or whatever you want to call it) and then stick to it in the face of all opposition, both internal and external. At the same time, we have to realize that there is no such thing as a path and that single-minded devotion to anything of the world is destructive and not creative in any way.
In the Preface to ACIM Helen Schucman threw cold water on the idea that A Course in Miracles was the be-all-end-all of human spiritual development. The course
. . . emphasizes that it is but one version of the universal curriculum. There are many others, this one differing from them only in form. They all lead to God in the end.
Implicit in this observation is the truth that awakening is inevitable and does not in any way hinge on being right. No one path supersedes another.
I am perhaps a broken record with this story, but it bears repeating. A young monk approaches his wise old teacher. “Teacher,” he says. “Please show me the moon.” The teacher extends her arm and points her finger at the moon shining in the sky. The student gazes at the teacher’s finger and whispers, “oh, Teacher. The moon is so beautiful.”
We have all been where that student has been – are perhaps there now, and will likely be there again. That story is most often used to demonstrate the importance of focusing on the teaching, not the teacher, as the only way to attain truth. But that is simply another way of saying that we are easily confused by form. That we are, in fact, seduced by form.
And A Course in Miracles is simply another form! Helen Schucman says so right up front. Before we even get to the text, the lessons, the manual and the supplemental material we are told that it will have to be undone. When we begin to confuse the course with the inner peace to which it naturally and surely points, we are wandering away from its carefully laid-out system. We are confusing ourselves unnecessarily.
I say this not to lecture anybody but because it is a lesson I seem to be constantly learning. It has been twice pointed out to me in the past week or so that books are not – or are no longer anyway – necessary. I have been explicitly told that I already have all that I need to fully awaken.
And my response – internally, mostly – is always some version of “yes, but.”
We are always ready to accept the finger in place of the moon. We are always ready to lean on form over content.
What does this mean? What are we supposed to do?
It is helpful – deeply helpful – to be rigorously honest about our condition. We need to see that we are still students, still at what appears to be the beginning. And we have to acknowledge our resistance. We have to recognize that on some level, we are scared of the peace of God and are actively working against it.
If the course is not breaking us down, then we are not yet devoted to it. We cannot be liberated until we are absolutely clear about the terms and conditions of bondage. The ego is perfectly happy to translate itself: I am no longer a violent drunk or a lost soul or a selfish entrepreneur bent on profits rather than people. Now I am a happy and gentle and helpful man who only wants to assist others in seeing the light of which we are all composed. The ego loves that sort of thing. And we are always ready to accept such minuscule changes and call them our home.
But a brighter, shiner ego is not our goal. Undoing the ego is the goal. And that is a challenging and painful process. That takes courage and work and almost always assistance – from the Holy Spirit (in the form of insight and so forth) and fellow travelers both.
I have always felt a little superior to the student in that story – the idiot who confuses fingers and moons. But slowly I realize the reason that story appeals to me is because I am that student. I am hypnotized by form, happily trading the freely-given all for the various teachers and thought systems that point it out. Psychotherapy, tarot cards, Catholic mysticism, ACIM, EFT . . . Yes, yes, says the ego. Let’s try something new.
What does one do when they see this happening? When they see how fundamentally confused they are despite their best intentions and myriad efforts? When they futility of “this path is better than that path” is revealed for the sham that it is?
That is a helpful beginning, really. It is actually easier to study A Course in Miracles when we aren’t also trying to defend it against imagined spiritual interlopers. We get more out of it when we aren’t trying to convince people that our interpretation is better than theirs or someone else’s. Our application of the lessons, interaction with teachers, and deepening relationship with the Holy Spirit flows much more readily when we aren’t constantly demanding that it all deliver us up into Heaven yesterday.
A paradox cannot be solved rationally. It is not like figuring out how to build a bridge to span a river. Rather, as David Bohm points out in The Problem and the Paradox, a chapter in his book On Dialogue, what is needed is sustained attention.
. . . [a] deep and intense awareness, going beyond the imagery and intellectual analysis of our confused process of thought, and capable of penetrating to the contradictory presuppositions and states of feeling in which the confusion originates. Such awareness implies that we are ready to apprehend the many paradoxes that reveal themselves in our daily lives, in our larger-scale social relationships, and ultimately in the thinking and feeling that appear to constitute the “innermost self” in each one of us (78).
If we go back to the story of the confused student, we can ask: what happens next? The teacher is obviously wise. She is obviously committed to helping her students. It’s not the first time somebody has fallen in love with her finger. And if we are gentle with that student – and really, why shouldn’t we be? – he is not hopeless. He is making the mistake we all make.
And so perhaps we can assume that the student-teacher relationship continues. That the student wakes up the next day and does his chores and shows up in the zendo and does his reading and keeps coming back to his teacher with questions. She meets him where he is and gently leads him forward.
That is really what A Course in Miracles does – and does so well. It meets us precisely where we are and takes us exactly as far as we are willing and able to go. It’s not the only way by any means, but it’s not a bad way. It’s not a broken way. We say yes to it and keep in mind we will someday have to let it dissolve and fade away.
We want to hold our practice loosely – not cling to it, not get all co-dependent with it. And truly, it is easier than it sounds.
We are not meant to worship symbols. We are not called to be followers only. It may take time – perhaps more than we can imagine – but sooner or later we lift our eyes. Sooner or later we catch a glimpse of what we seek. It is always there waiting on us.