Something obstructs our happiness. We try and try and we don’t get any happier. Maybe we even get more scared and lonely and sad. Can we see that thinking is not always our ally? That our happiness may depend on a change of mind that transcends what we thought we knew?
Richard Feynman, a noted physicist, observed that the human mind is not good at keeping itself in order.
[The human mind] evolves in a certain way such that it is like any new tool, in that it has its diseases and difficulties. It has its troubles, and one of the troubles is that it gets polluted by its own superstitions, it confuses itself, and the discovery was finally made of a way to keep it sort of in line . . .
At a point, there was a sense that reading and studying and sharing about A Course in Miracles was somewhat like climbing a sand dune. The harder one worked – the more one dug in – the more the ground gave way underfoot. The summit one aimed at was literally being clawed away by the effort to attain it.
Once we see that our efforts are undermining our objective, it is coherent to simply stop. We stop and see what happens. We stop and reassess. Maybe we are looking at the problem wrong, or perceiving the wrong solution. Who knows? Maybe we don’t have to climb this sand dune after all. Maybe there isn’t any problem in the first place.
So we let go and slip to the bottom and take a look around.
In the case of A Course in Miracles, it was seen that my regimen of study and sharing was well-intentioned but aggressive and was itself obscuring the peace and clarity to which the text and lessons generally pointed.
The activity wasn’t helping. What was needed was a fundamental change of mind.
Letting go of all that (a year or so ago) was not easy, but it was necessary, and so in a sense, after a flurry of hand-wringing and kvetching, it was easy. A space opened up in my life – the time that had been previously given to the course, the attention given to it and so forth was dissolved and in its place was a sort of stillness. It was like discovering an enormous field. What should you do with it?
When we don’t rush to fill the field, the stillness, but rather let it be, then we might see that the field is already full – of grass and flowers, butterflies, swallows, ticks, whatever. It’s humming along just fine. Stillness, too. This doesn’t mean we can’t do something with the field if doing something is fun or interesting or helpful in some way, but it does mean that we aren’t obligated to do anything. Stillness is not conditional on anything we do or don’t do. Neither is life.
The suggestion here is that we are working very hard to do something that needn’t be done. It can be done, but it doesn’t have to be done. And if our goal is peace and understanding and coherence, then maybe all our spiritual activity is counter-productive. Maybe what is in order is a change of mind, a miraculous shift in thought that occurs before language and distinction even appear.
Still, for me in the wake of so much study and sharing, the desire to do something remained. Yet at the same time, it was also seen that the question of what should be done could not be answered in an absolute sense and was therefore not a very good question. It was like the sand dune all over again.
Insisting on ACIM or zazen (or celibacy or vegetarianism or psychotherapy et cetera) are all forms of resistance. All spiritual doing is a form of resistance. As the course might put it (or one of its more effective teachers anyway), it is a way of getting caught up in the form when what we are really after is the content.
The problem isn’t ACIM or zazen and so forth – they are wholly neutral (which means their helpfulness is always relative). The problem is our insistence that they are it with a capital I. They are the answer. And so we’ve got It!
The problem is not the spiritual path but the underlying belief that this or that path is right in an absolute – not a relative – sense. And, more subtly, the problem is the belief that there really is some one to do all this insisting and some other one or ones to whom the argument (in favor of ACIM, zazen, et cetera) has to be made and won.
So for me, when I talk about a change of mind, it involved looking closely at those confused ideals and goals. It wasn’t really a spiritual inquiry. It was dispassionate and logical. Who or what is the self exactly? What is its problem? What is the nature of its relationship to other selves? What is this world that the self and other selves appear to live and die in? Who cares? What’s at stake?
It was not a question of reading about the self or writing and talking about the self or adopting someone else’s definitions and answers. That was all familiar static. What was needed now was the clear signal, to whatever degree was possible. And the way that happens – the way we gain access is to the direct signal is that we give consent – through attention – to a direct experience of looking at difficult questions and seeing what answers, if any, are there to be had. If it’s raining and you want to know what rain is like, then you just step out into the rain. Books can’t help and nobody else can stand in a downpour for you.
When we dig into the question of what we are and what the nature of being is, then sooner or later we realize that the subjective first-person perspective which inheres in the human experience cannot know the whole though it can know it does not know the whole.
That is not an especially complicated idea. Nor it is a new idea. In a sense, it is simply an observation of how thought, broadly defined, has evolved and where we now find ourselves with respect to it.
But it is the source of a great deal of incoherence and thus conflict.
We can see the eye and we can see the brain and we can see the function of seeing in terms of mechanics, but we cannot see seeing. “Seeing” is not an object but an effect.
This is not especially problematic as it pertains to sight. However, it is the same thing with consciousness, and that is problematic, or can be.
We can perceive the body and its points of sensation. We can see the brain which collects data produced by the senses. So we can perceive the function of perception in terms of mechanics – how the senses gather data, how the brain organizes it, the reportable perception emerging therefrom – but we can’t see mind or consciousness.
Mind or consciousness is not an object but an effect. We can’t remove consciousness and put it on a table and observe it, the way we can with a heart, say. And if we could objectify consciousness – put it over there on the table for study – with what would we be conscious of it?
Consciousness can’t get outside itself. First person experience can’t become third person experience. Third person objective experience always arises within the first person.
This leads to a kind of illusion. Because it cannot see itself objectively, and thus ascertain what it is and where it comes from, first person subjective experience is apt to allow for the possibility of mystery or divine forces as its source. It indulges superstition. It indulges its indulgences. This is what Feynman was getting at; and this is where we need to learn how see clearly in order to change our mind.
The self that we perceive – which is real in its own right – suspects there is more to life, which “more” is hidden from it, and so it begins an arduous search for God or Truth or Reality, for that which is the Whole.
And that search is bound to be futile because there is nothing to find. There is no mystery. Nothing is missing. This is it. This this.
[At least so far as we can say . . . ]
We might think of it this way. If our dog is missing, it makes sense to go out and look for our dog. We should pull out all the stops – put up fliers, a website, offer rewards, organize search teams, spend hours in the forest whistling and calling and so forth.
But if our dog is trotting along beside us while we do all this, then doing it is not coherent. It’s not necessary. The dog is here.
So the suggestion is that thought is constantly projecting some absence and simultaneously working to solve the problem that something is absent. It’s a kind of loop, and the answer isn’t to find what’s absent, it’s just to see the loop for what it is and let it be.
With respect to A Course in Miracles – and spiritual seeking generally – in the final sense, they point beyond themselves, effectively ending or undoing themselves. For students who are interested and ready, the course can do this. It can bring us to the far reaches of thought where stillness abides and one is no longer bound to fruitless seeking.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being uninterested and unready. There are lots of ways to try and climb a sand dune and anyway, all that happens at the top – should you get there – is that you have to come back down. Summit experiences are nice but they are not “it.”
And really, “back down” isn’t a big deal either. You’re at the beach, right? Go swimming or build a sandcastle. Read some cheesy summer fiction. Take a nap in the shade of the sun umbrella. It’s okay. It’s more than okay, because we are all here together. We are changing our minds together.
Thank you Annie. I hope you and your family are well.
I’ve recently taken all my course materials and boxed them up and put them in the attic. I think I’m done with the course and all that surrounds it.
Hi Eric. It’s nice to hear from you. I hope you and your family are well.
I hear you. What can you do? The course is what it is, sometimes helpful sometimes not, and the course community is what it is, sometimes lovely and kind, sometimes small and maddening. I don’t know what’s right.
As you know, I have gone through long phases where I don’t look at the course. These days it seems helpful to me, so I attend to it, though the broader course community seems less helpful or necessary than before.
Attics are fine places for books. I have been shoveling a lot of mine to our attic myself. Some will probably come back down but others won’t and that’s fine.
You are a smart, thoughtful and devoted guy, course or no course. I’m grateful you visit from time to time and still hold out hope we might one day meet for coffee, though my capacity for travel seems to shrink almost daily.