A Non-Illusory Stillness

Yet ask: if stability is a “user-generated illusion that is helpful,” then what is stillness? After all, I have said and not retracted this:

The you you think that you are – this body, this personality, this history – isn’t God. Rather, the stillness inside us – the deep center from which all peace springs – is God. It is there waiting for us. It never changes. It saves us from the world and it saves us from the mortal self in which we have so long been deceived.

And what exactly is A Course in Miracles getting at with its description of a dwelling places that never changes?

There is a place in you where this whole world has been forgotten . . . There is a place in you which time has left, and echoes of eternity are heard. There is a resting place so still no sound except a hymn to Heaven rises up to gladden God . . . (T-29.V.1:11-3).

We might say that stillness is a user-generated concept that pacifies a restless mind by referencing a natural state of restfulness.

One our older chickens foraging in the side yard . . . our egg layers are part of what make us happy and enable us to make others happy . . . we are deeply grateful for these birds, even in their dotage . . .

That is, the idea of stillness that is awakened by the word “stillness” functions as a reminder that we can experience quiet and inner peace and also functions as a trigger to enact that experience in a felt way.

Our minds are busy, but they don’t have to be. Our minds are full but they can empty themselves. The Buddhist concept of mind as a lake is helpful here. Worry and anxiety are like currents which stir up the silt and make the lake cloudy and dark. When those currents subside, the lake is clear and shimmering, perfectly reflecting all that appears before it.

As centuries of meditators and contemplatives have demonstrated, it is possible to learn how to quiet the mind. It’s not a religious or spiritual feat; it’s a human practice that makes us more peaceful (or still, if you like). And that peacefulness (or stillness) in turn allows our natural inclination to be kind, generous, patient, forgiving, creative, helpful – in a word, loving – to flow more readily. That flowing is a form of healing, of cleansing. It heals our split mind by allowing us to remember in greater and greater clarity the oneness that is our shared actuality.

It’s true that A Course in Miracles doesn’t advocate a formal meditation practice. But to adopt this as a rule means ignoring a couple of important aspects of the course.

First, the course is confused – because its author and editors (Schucman, Thetford and Wapnick) were confused – about the body. They were intellectuals whose milieu was academia; they prized thought. Like a lot of western theological thinkers, their thinking basically eclipsed the body. As I have said elsewhere, the course really perpetuates the old and unhelpful Christian dualism of spirit vs. body. There is nothing unusual about this, and none of us are immune to that type of thinking, but that doesn’t make it helpful.

So part of a sound and holistic ACIM practice is about making space for our bodies without getting worked up about whether they’re real or unreal, or whether Christ is in them or not in them or anything like that. The body is present; we have to let this be the case, live our living, and see what happens.

It is far less a dilemma than the course – and Christianity generally – have made it seem.

Second, although the workbook lessons never explicitly say so, they clearly imply that quiet time given to contemplating oneness – with God, with Creation, with the Other – is fundamental to our learning process. The curriculum is not complete without this practice. We have to make a quiet interior space in which learning can both occur and stabilize.

No more specific lessons are assigned, for there is no more need of them. Henceforth, hear but the Voice for God and your Self when you retire from the world, to seek reality instead. He will direct your efforts, telling you exactly what to do do, how to direct your mind and when to come to Him in silence, asking for His sure direction and His certain Word (W-ep.3:1-3).

We can quibble about semantics (it’s a beloved game to be sure) but this is clearly a call to contemplative prayer, to meditation, to stillness.

Is there something beyond all this? Beyond the body, other bodies, the world, the universe? In a sense to ask that question that way is to miss the point. The course is about remembering peace through forgiveness which is the intentional practice of overlooking error in order to perceive our shared interest in love. That is our practice. And our practice of forgiveness – which is our enacted experience in the world – is nurtured by shared contemplative prayer which is our communion with God. Do the work – attend the process – and let the spiritual chips fall where they fall.

As to whether anything lies beyond this remembered love . . . Does it matter? Again, our work is simply to be attentive to one another, in a forgiving way, and to see what happens when we do. “What happens” is not of our own doing – we aren’t responsible for it. Service and that which keeps us fit for service is imperative – taking care of our brothers and sisters and allowing them to care for us.

God will come to you only as you will give Him to your brothers. Learn first of them and you will be ready to hear God. That is because the function of love is one (T-4.VI.8:4-6).

Give the gift it was given you to give. Make others happy by seeking with them – by enacting with them – the Kingdom of God. Our shared practice of helpfulness in time reveals the stillness upon which our living rests. That stillness, once revealed, will gently encompass us, ending both inquiry and conflict.

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