I have wanted to clarify two ideas that have been recurring in my thoughts about A Course in Miracles: the necessity of willingness and awakening as a gift. They are important concepts – more so than perhaps first acknowledged – and ought to bear some scrutiny. What am I saying when I saw that we need merely to be willing? And what are the implications of awakening as a gift?
Willingness is not activity. This is the first thing. It’s a space or a condition. We are not talking about the activities that seem to arise from willingness (prayer, meditation, study), and we are not talking about the potentials of willingness (what might happen), and we are not talking about willingness as a spiritual requirement in the sense of “do this or else.”
I am suggesting that to be truly willing is to be outside or or beyond activity and ambition and consequences. If you think about that – we are talking about an end to activity, ambition and consequence – it is somewhat crazy. And it is possible I am wrong, of course. But I think there is something to it.
Whatever we do – whatever state we attain – it is good to be in touch with the motivation behind it. Why do we want this? When we question motivation, we meet the ego. Sometimes it is quite obvious and sometimes it is extremely subtle, but the ego always wants. It is the ego who desires advancement, progress, becoming. It is the ego who engages in comparison so that it can say we are not good enough and have to get better (but at least we’re not as bad off as some poor bastards we can name).
Usually, willingness implies a goal – it is a kind of motivation. I am willing to be healed (because health is better than disease), I am willing to be less angry (because it is interfering with my job), I am willing to give over my material scarcity to Jesus (because I want material abundance) and so forth. It is always conditional.
But if we continue to question it – just question it, just keep our motivation in sight, and keep its relation to the ego clear – then what happens to our willingness?
One thing I can tell you is that it does not go anywhere. It does not leave us just because we are stripping it of activity and goals and all of that. And not only does it stay, but it becomes more expansive and more gentle and also more dynamic. There is a quality of liberation. It is like you every day you follow the same routine with your horse – groom it, tack it up, ride it, dress it down – and then one day you stop doing those things and just watch the horse and you realize it is alive independent of you and can spend its days doing its own thing.
When you realize that – about your horse, or about willingness – then a true relationship becomes possible.
Don’t take my word for it either. What do I know? Mostly what I am asking you to do is have your own experience of willingness – look into it, sit with it, ask it questions. In fact, there is no value to anybody else’s experience in this regard. You have to have your own. You have to build that relationship.
Related to this idea of willingness is the idea of awakening as a gift. I want to make clear the premise of that idea and also try to understand at least a little about some of its effects. It is a bit of a loaded word – probably not the best one to use.
I described a kind of willingness a moment ago, the salient qualities of which were the absence of ambition, activity and consequence. Another way to say that is that there is no past or future involved in it, and no self in need of blessing. It has a kind of purity to it, perhaps evocative of that miracle principle which reminds us of the value of purification (T-1.I.7:1).
That state is hard precisely because we are always about doing – and we are always about doing something in service of some honorable goal. And we are always about doing something in service of an honorable goal because of the expected benefit to us. That’s the ego. It’s not just being mean to other people. It can also become quite invested in awakening. I have said it many times – the ego has no objection whatsoever to A Course in Miracles so long as it remains at the idea level and is never seriously brought into application.
If we follow this, we will see that what we do – be it a certain diet, a certain prayer routine, visits to a psychotherapist – can never yield up what we want. So long as we remain invested in becoming something, or achieving something, then we remain timebound. Awakening remains a future state – we keep it in the realm of illusion. It’s not that those activities are bad as opposed to good. They are simply illusory.
We have to let go of the idea that we can do anything – anything at all – that will wake us up. We can’t. It is not something that we accomplish and it is not something that we earn through good deeds. Nothing you do in the illusion is going to end the illusion. Help is going to have to come from beyond your limited understanding and your limited means.
All you can really do is wait. All you can really do is be – I use that verb carefully, of course – willing.
We are waiting for something to be given to us. Or – a better way to say it – we are waiting to realize what has already been given to us.
Or an even better way to say it is that we are simply realizing that “it” is inherent in us.
My biggest problem with the word “gift” is that it implies a separate giver – a God that is out there doing its own thing, from time to time bestowing something on its creations. That’s not what A Course in Miracles is talking about. We aren’t earning a gift from a separated God. We are realizing that we have the gift already as a condition of what we are in truth. One can’t give something to itself. It simply has it.
Again, the ego loves that last paragraph. It eats it right up. It is delighted to credit itself as God, delighted to say that it has the power to awaken itself and others. But that is not how it works. So long as the ego remains a viable presence in our thought system, we are only playing at waking up. When it is gone – when we are no longer busily seeking awakening in order to be truly happy – then something interesting can happen.
Willingness is the state in which we realize the gift. It doesn’t create the gift and it doesn’t give the gift. It is merely the light which makes the gift’s presence clear. Wanting the gift, and working for the gift, and expecting the gift to be like this or like that, all obscure the gift and make it illusory. So we have to go further than we thought. In a sense, we have to get past our ideas about awaking, and our faith that some combination of right action and good intentions will yield it up.