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A Course in Miracles: Direct Experience

Krishnamurti would often tell people not to take his word  for anything but rather to find out for themselves what was what. Tara Singh, who studied carefully with Krishnamurti, often made a similar point: we need to have a direct experience of A Course in Miracles. It is not enough to read it, to read about it, to teach others and so forth. It has to come into application.

So we can say we have a need to know God – which is to know ourselves as whole – and that only direct experience can meet and truly answer this need.

Our yearning began when we when we separated ourselves from God. Separation is the only state we’ve known. It is the source of our drive for wholeness and holiness. If we are whole, all is resolved. Separation always longs for peace, for wholeness, for contentment. As long as separation is there, yearning is there (A Gift for All Mankind 30).

Taraji goes on to say that “this yearning within each of us brought about A Course in Miracles” (A Gift for All Mankind 30).

So we want to be holy – if we dream of it, yearn for it, aspire to it – then we are separated. There is nothing bad about this, like we robbed a bank or stared cross-eyed at kittens. It isn’t conducive to peace and joy, but that’s not a crime against Heaven. It is simply information that we can use to make a better choice, if we decide that’s what we want to do.

It is important to have a direct experience of the separation. We tend to want to avoid looking at it, because of guilt and fear, or else we want to talk endlessly about a long string of its symptoms. “My mother did this, and my father did that, and capitalism compounded it and my therapist is on vacation . . . ”

One way to see the separation more clearly is simply to look at the longing for holiness, for what is sacred, for God. What does it feel like? When does it arise? To what does it stand in contrast? That last question is a good one. We can only know longing if first we know lack, so what is the lack to which holiness is the answer?

Generally, when we look this way, we see that what is going on internally is that a lot of assumptions are being given more weight than perhaps they merit. For example, if we perceive ourselves as lacking in some way, then we must first have known ourselves as not-lacking. But in order for that state to exist, we have to compare it to a state of lack. So you see how those comparisons keep going backward, like turtles stacked on top of each other, and we assume they reflect truth, or reality.

So that is the other thing that we see: we see that we take our thoughts very seriously, even when they are in contradiction with one another. In fact, we work very hard to to make them “right” or “just” or “accurate.” We ignore certain other ideas, or suppress them, or project them onto some other person or tribe or country and blame them for everything.

We think we’re losing ourselves – but that is only because we are identified with this ego, this thought-up self, this elaborate fiction. But as that slips away, something remains and we are that, too.

Why it’s being done isn’t very interesting, even though a lot of us never get past that inquiry. What’s really interesting, as I was pointing out the other day, is asking who or what is doing it – when we ask that question, we start to look at the looker, and sooner or later begin to see that there is no looker.

That is why A Course in Miracles says that with respect to the ego, there is “no definition for a lie that serves to make it true” (C-2.3:1). In the end, the ego just isn’t there.

What is the ego? Nothingness, but in a form that seems like something (C-2.2:1-2).

It is a little distressing and unsettling when the internal structure of thought (which I am defining broadly here to include feelings, images, memories, and so forth) begins to crumble. We think we’re losing ourselves but that is only because we are identified with this ego, this thought-up self, this elaborate fiction. But as that slips away, something remains – I don’t want to call it God, not yet – and we are that, too.

I remember years ago sitting around a fire and a woman said that she was beginning to sense that everything was connected. Everyone nodded appreciatively. And I said – because I am still learning how not to be an arrogant blowhard – “just wait to you figure out it’s all one thing. That’s going to really blow your hair back.”

There are a lot of ways to say and understand this – and it is good to be loving and gentle if we are moved to talk about it. A Course in Miracles points out that only what God created is real – God is one, God’s creations are God’s thoughts, and thoughts don’t leave their source. What is real is not a bunch of things that fit together. It is one thing.

So it is can be fun and interesting to begin to see this and to recognize it not at the level of idea but at the level of knowledge, or experience.

When I was a young man – nineteen through about twenty-three – I drank very heavily and did a lot drugs with a special concentration on hallucinogenics. Part of what appealed to me was that once in a while, the experience of being high was transcendent. It wasn’t always – usually it was sad and sickening. Sometimes it was violent and scary.

But every now and again it would have a kind of Jim Morrisonesque elision: the doors of perception would open, there would be a heart-breaking clarity, a crystalline beauty. God was there and nothing else was there.

That is nice, of course, but it is also an expensive way to perceive those kinds of insights! I was very lucky to meet some people who helped me set that life aside. Slowly – I mean very slowly – I learned that there were other ways to sense God, to feel the flow or presence of what was not one, but beyond form altogether. Prayer, walks in the forest, disciplined writing, certain kinds of reading. Reality is free and always available, and we can experience it any time we like.

I experience it now through attention and, specifically, through giving attention – literally through making a gift of my attention. Attention gives way to awareness and awareness is a subtle form of direct experience. That is where my practice is now.

To some extent, of course, this is just a question of semantics. For example, what I am calling attention may sound like awareness to you. What I describe as a sort of ascendance – attention leading to awareness leading to direct experience of reality – you may know more as a sort of flow or all-encompassing movement.

Talking about the semantics is helpful when it is done in order to clarify and intensify the underlying experience. It is less helpful when it reflects an attempt to defend a position. Defense is not possible without attack, and both are conditioned on a self with which one is unquestionably identified. So when we start to argue about terminology in that way, we know that we are back at the beginning. It’s okay, but the way to undo it is not through argument but through the gift of attention, however we understand those words.

Attention to what is cannot fail to yield direct experience, even if only a faint or passing whiff of it. A Course in Miracles is one way to learn how to do this, but it is not the only way. The lessons always point us in the direction of experience: of bringing what is abstract into specific application. Paradoxically, it is this attention to specifics that reveals the true abstraction of which we – and reality – are composed.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Eric July 29, 2014, 3:29 pm

    Hi Sean,

    We sound very similar in our youth. I partied hard and took mushrooms and acid quite a bit. Most people were afraid to hallucinate while I thrived on it. I remember taking acid one time and finding the secret to life. And that was that there was no secret. I just had this peaceful knowing. I calm assurance I’ve never had before. But like you said, that comes at a high price. I think if I took a hallucinogens today, I’d probably crawl up in a fetal position and cry. It is certainly a poor substitute and caricature of a true mystical experience. Today, I prefer meditation/prayer, self inquiry, and Qigong as catalysts to any mystical experience, and try to experience the experience you’re referring to by trying, though often coming up short, living the course

    • Sean Reagan July 31, 2014, 5:34 pm

      Yeah, “caricature” is actually a good word. It’s not my cup of tea anymore either – I can barely handle two cups of coffee in a row now.

  • Alexandra August 1, 2014, 4:20 am

    Thank-you Sean, your writing it down, so concisely, with such detail and focused intent was what helped me step up to the next step I was ready for: attention to what is, just observing … thoughts, emotions … physical matter … and viola – it WORKS! Peace comes! It just is! Un-described and undisputed …
    It helped immensely that you wrote it down. It guided me to practice exactly what I needed to practice … so keep writing! It’s helpful. It’s immensely comforting and I’m valuing it daily. Thank-you.

    • Sean Reagan August 1, 2014, 8:07 am

      You’re welcome, Alexandra – I’m so glad it was helpful! Thank you for reading & sharing . . .


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