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A Course in Miracles as Map

In a sense, A Course in Miracles became a distraction. Imagine that you are trying to reach a particular city, and have with you a map that guides you to the city. When you reach the city, the map is no longer helpful – indeed, if you insist on referring to it, it can only confuse you. It has done all it can do.

I have used that analogy for years – Boston as a space of awakening to which A Course in Miracles was directing me. But it confuses the actual experience, in that “awakening” or “oneness” or “inner peace” are not places to which one journeys in a linear way. There is neither travel nor destination (nor traveler, but that is actually a different – and more difficult – question).

It is clearer to think of “awakening,” “oneness” or “inner peace”  as processes (of relations, really) to which one acclimates in time. Imagine that you are unhappy with the ambient temperature. One option is to get up and look for a warmer or cooler location. Another is to accept the circumstances in which you presently find yourself. No travel required!

Of course, that analogy is of limited value as well. After all, if you’re cold, by all means you should find a warm stove or a heavy quilt or a cup of warm tea. And if you’re hot, please do dip a toe in the brook. Physical discomfort asks to be redressed, to whatever extent possible.

But our spiritual discomfort arises not from adverse (or even ideal) external circumstances – being outside Boston, say, or being too hot or cold – but rather from conflating external circumstances with causation. That is, we believe it is the world and cosmos that causes our grief or joy, our inner peace or lack thereof, and we conduct our living accordingly. Fix the externals!

A Course in Miracles suggests we have it backwards, at least as it applies to inner peace (happiness, joy, et cetera).

We look inside first, decide what kind of world we want to see and then project that world outside, making it the truth as we see it. We make it true by our interpretations of what it is we are seeing (preface xi).

This is not a radical position, nor it is it unique to A Course in Miracles. It is not inherently “spiritual.” It reflects a basic understanding of how perception and cognition operate in our structure as human beings.

Consider, for example, Humberto Maturana’s view in The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love.

As we conserve that which makes us human beings, we open a space for unending changes in the worlds that we bring forth as languaging beings without losing the human identity. Moreover, human beingness is a manner of living in interpersonal relations, not a form or manner of handling an independent world.

This reflects what writer Pille Bunnell calls “a significant aspect of Maturana’s cosmology.”

. . . namely he has impeccably avoided grounding his network of explanations in any externality, including those that are difficult to refute because they are invisible or taboo. If there were an externality, one would not be able to “get outside” that externality, and thus the application of the cosmology to itself could not take place. In this cosmology there is no referent other than the happening of the process of human living, with all that we do and experience as we live and reflect on ourselves, our doings, and our world.

If we accept this position generally, then the solution to any experience of conflict becomes apparent. As the course frames it, “Seek not to change the world, but to change your mind about the world” (T-21.In.1:7).

This is the meaning of Lesson 193‘s suggestion that if we forgive something, then we will see it differently. Forgiveness, in ACIM parlance, means looking without at our lives in the world in order to change our mind about our lives in the world. It is the means by which understand that happiness or unhappiness is not caused by cold but by how we think about cold (and bodies). When this shift in thinking occurs, a supernatural quilt does not appear and wrap itself around us. The ambient temperature does not suddenly rise. But our unhappiness at being cold will melt away because happiness is not caused by cold, or any other external condition.

Coincidentally, when we are no longer unhappy – or otherwise burdened with conflict – it often becomes easier to adjust our apparent external circumstances. We remember where the quilt is, or we remind ourselves that we don’t have to suffer and it’s okay to turn the heat up a few degrees. This change affects our bodies but not our happiness.

This is a major shift in thinking! Really, for many of us, it is an almost total reversal.

What does this mean in practice? How do we shift our thinking?

In my experience, it actually doesn’t matter what we do. Once we have made the basic connection, then the transition takes care of itself. It’s sort of like once you’ve “seen” the optical illusion, then it’s easier to see the next time. Eventually, it stops appearing as an illusion.

As I said earlier, this is simply a matter of understanding how cause-and-effect work. Our structural perception is backwards; it takes time and attention to straighten it out. But the straightening, as such, is eminently doable.

A Course in Miracles is in this sense a map – treating it as such matters. We use it to discover the means to undo our confused and conflicted belief system. But the map is not itself the means! Thus, our study has to find itself in application – in the world of the senses. I.e., when you reach Boston, give attention to Boston.

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