The roads this world can offer seem to be quite large in number, but the time must come when everyone begins to see how like they are to one another. People have died on seeing this, because they saw no way except the pathways offered by the world. And learning they led nowhere, lost their hope (T-31.IV.3:3-5).
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (REM)
Few passages in A Course in Miracles speak so bluntly to its potential for nihilism as the one quoted above. Whatever you think matters in this world, whatever you think counts, whatever you think is helpful is . . . not. It leads nowhere. It’s nothing.
And unlike REM, the course does not suggest we’ll feel fine about this.
This is not an intellectual understanding, though it can begin as one. It is more in the nature of psychological trauma, of having some deep-down horror brought into the light. Your reasons for forgetting it are understandable, and you don’t want to be reminded now. You certainly don’t want a sustained relationship with it.
As the course makes clear, actually encountering the nothingness-that-is-the-world can make one long for death (which isn’t, by the way, either an escape or an end). To call this fact bleak is an understatement. Really, even calling it nihilism misses the point.
This juncture is painful, and is therefore experienced as such. And that is why we prefer not to reach it. Talk about it, sure. Speculate and hypothesize? Absolutely. Conflate reading about it in a book with actually living it? You bet.
Actually get there?
This is why the ACIM community prefers to focus on stuff like holy relationships and oneness. And when that doesn’t work, argue about whether so-and-so is right or wrong about holy relationsips and oneness. There’s plenty of chestnuts: Who’s your teacher? Which edition do you read? Do you see special lights?
All of these are are merely distractions from the difficult work of seeing an illusion for an illusion.
Oddly – or perhaps thankfully – all that really has to happen at this juncture is to see it’s all an illusion. It’s all a dream, without exception. Your kids, your lover, the sandwich you ate for lunch, the coffin your father was buried in and your father? All a dream.
And here’s the really hard part – there is nothing you can do in a dream about the dream.
I know, I know – we can “wake up” from the dream. We can avail ourselves of atonement, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness . . .
But waking up – and Atonement, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and forgiveness – are part of the dream, too.
Where did you learn about waking up? In the dream.
Where did you hear that God is Love? That your deepest fear is that you’re powerful beyond measure? That Jesus is the way, the truth and the life?
In the dream.
A Course in Miracles, tantric orgasm, holy relationships, enlightenment, nonduality, double fudge brownies, Bob Dylan songs and Emily Dickinson poems . . . dream stuff. Equally utterly illusory.
When we see at last that whatever the world offers cannot save us, despair can feel natural and justified. Yet all that has really occurred is that you’ve seen through the illusion.
When we see that it’s a dream, and that nothing in the dream can save us from the dream, that’s the end. That’s the one thing we have to do. We can’t do anything else.
Stop looking for a way out of the dream. There isn’t one.
Stop pretending that one part of the dream is better or more important or sexier than another.
Stop pretending you’re the dreamer and that if you can only find the right interior switch you’ll magically be in charge of the dream.
Just see the dream in which there’s nothing to do and nobody to do it.
A Course in Miracles refers to this learning experience as the “lowest point” (T-31.IV.4:8). It emphasizes that “no pathway in the world can lead to God, nor any worldly goal be one with His” (T-31.IV.9:3). Indeed, anything you experience as a body in the world has the singular purpose of “confusion and despair” (T-31.IV.9:5).
So what is to be done?
When you reach that juncture of the dream, your role in the dream has ended. At that point, you’re in God’s hands, far beyond the reach of dreams.
The better question is: have you reached that juncture? If not, why not?
Thank you so much Sean,
This is my first journey through acim and I accidentally came across your contributions from the start. I am taking my journey privately and treasure your companionship.
Acim was proposed to me over 20 years ago but I was not ready. Recently it was proposed this spring. I was not ready. Then one day a few weeks ago I began.
Enriched with 2 decades of zen, 32 years of sobriety, a childhood of Catholicism and an ending of a wonderful 8 year marriage, I now embrace the beautiful void.
Thank you for your companionship.
Thanks, Kaiser. I’m glad for the companionship, too!
Our paths are not dissimilar – I got turned on to the course decades before I finally settled into it, and my practice has been deeply informed by Catholicism and Zen. For me, the course was a wonderful & effective synthesis of so many apparently disparate streams. I’m grateful indeed.
Great piece on what could border on nihilism. I like the way you approach the Course. I do have a minor question, however. I was looking at a video you did on YouTube and you were talking about the things you love like dogs and flowers with which I heartily agree with you about both, but there isn’t one part of me that wants to give those up! Especially a tantric orgasm which I have not had to my knowledge.
So the “beautiful” parts of this dream are something I want to carry with me always just as if I had a lovely sleeping dream in which I had an experience that was lovely. But if it’s all “equally unreal” that hurts. I get that this is a dream but I also hold on to the Course idea of letting go of everything in the past except the beautiful parts.
Am I confusing levels here? Am I not understanding some basic metaphysic construct of the Course? Am I just a sentimental guy unwilling to release sentiment? I’d appreciate your thoughts. Kudos on your great work!
To the body, other bodies and body-related experiences will always be real. Violets, shooting stars, Irish setters. At that level, preference will always exist and appear more or less valuable. It is not helpful to resist this.
It IS helpful to notice when we are projecting beauty, holiness, love and so forth, because this involves confusion of cause with effect. That IS something we can heal, that the Course is given to help us heal.
The other evening I walked to the marsh and listened to red-wing blackbirds while the sun set. It was peaceful and beautiful, and I was very grateful.
But “peaceful” and “beautiful” are attributes of what I am in truth – they are aspects of God’s Creation – and they are inherent IN me. It is an error to think that deep sense of peace is CAUSED by the external world – the marsh at dusk, the singing birds.
Rather, the beauty of the natural world is an EFFECT of accepting my real identity AS God’s Creation.
When that correction occurs, then nothing is lost. But the peace and the calm and the holiness naturally extend beyond just the isolated event (sitting by the marsh) or object (setting sun, singing birds).
The peace and the calm travel with me; everything becomes beautiful; everything is filled with grace.
We see AS Christ, when we accept that we ARE Christ, because in Creation there is ONLY Christ.
I wrote more about this here recently:
Thank you, Jay!
Have you studied advaita vedanta at all too?
Have you written about this at all?
I have not studied Advaita Vedanta to the extent I have studied ACIM and the nexus between it and Christianity (especially its earlier expression integrating Platonism) and – to a lesser extent – constructivism and second-order cybernetics.
My path, so to speak, has tended to hew close to so-called western traditions though I did have a very passionate if half-assed Buddhist phase early in the process 🙂
I don’t think it’s an error to think of the course as a kind of Christian Vedanta, though it is such a quirky little program that it doesn’t neatly fit anywhere.
Some posts that perhaps touch on this confluence:
Listening to Birds with Jesus in the Void
Distinction and the Whole
Looking at I AM
Our Boundless Joyful Self
At least at my first beginnings it does seem to be non-dual in its teaching which is probably why I’m attracted to it.
Thank you for these recommendations. I will check them out!
also, sounds like “dark night of the soul” which once finally “enlightened” can be transcended or so I’ve read, not experienced yet. lol
Wow. Just watched the video. Deep.
I haven’t gone there yet. I’m a way beginner ACIM, like just started, but I have been learning about non-duality now for a few years.
They seem similar this way.
You really hit the nail on the head. I want to understand that my body is illusory, that this world is illusory, and yet I’m not ready to give it up yet. It’s almost like there is that fear that the body will drop if I do.
I’m sure if I could get there – to be self-realized to use advaita language – it would be great, after, of course, the dark night of the soul stuff – (lol. like it’s some kind of carnival ride I just have to take)
I wonder if when we(I) leave the body do we automatically reach to God or since we haven’t gotten to the juncture yet, we go back into the dream – again and again – until we finally give it all up and “come to God empty handed” at which point we will experience or merge into God/Absolute again.
And if this is a dream, that might imply, that you are in my dream. That since there is only God, that you are me are God. That all the teachers and books I learn from are just me sending a message to myself in this grand treasure hunt game back to myself.
It’s fun mental gymnastics!
Until I have to give up the world! lol.
But then it’s only tough up until the moment of full/total relinquishment of the world.
Once you go over that cliff, if all the teaching are accurate, it should be amazing!
We are already over the cliff!
All this is merely what falling feels like when falling briefly pretends it has a mind of its own 🙂
I have reached that place you describe and am in awful pain and sadness. Mostly because I had big plans but realize the world probably ain’t gonna’ last too much longer. I’ve been through the Course maybe eight or nine times – never made it all the way though. I have violently thrown the book across the room, let the dog chew it, set in on fire once, and of course always came back to it for the peace of mind it afforded me, despite the tantrums.
Yeah just extreme sadness that reality isn’t really real. And I do want to die. I am not sure I can reconcile this in my mind. Confusion is hell.
The darkness is not the end; the confusion is not real either.
If the peace comes and goes, then it’s not the Peace of Christ. Which isn’t a problem! It’s not a crime against God or nature!
But it does suggest that there are “miles to go” – or at least another step or two.
I think one of the things I am not always clear about in my writing is that there are practices that ground me – writing helps, helping others helps a LOT, trying to understand how this or that experience looks/works/feels for others helps even more . . .
It was also important for me not to mistake my longing for peace with a longing to die. The body’s death is not the end of confusion or grief, just the dissolution of a local experience of it.
So it was important to go into that as well, to try and look at the source of the suffering, which was not personal.
I mean obviously I hear you – I hear what you are saying, I have been there, it sucks, and until you’ve been there it’s really really hard to understand how the Course just undoes literally every illusion to which ego clings, but . . .
. . . as you point out – and know through your honest and heartfelt practice – the peace the Course afford is beyond measure. If you need to hear somebody say again, the Peace of Christ is not in you but IS YOU, then hear me say it. And if it’s hard to believe that for you today, then at least believe it for me. I think you know in a deep place, I’m not here writing this way because I have the answer but because I need the help and the love of my brothers and sisters.
Thank you for being here and bringing the light, brother. Keep in touch.
Why does Marianne Williamson run for president then? Arguably she is someone who understands ACIM better than anyone. Why bother? Is this not a fool’s errand in your estimation?
After awhile all this talk about living in a dream makes my head spin, it becomes white noise in my head.
I was at a bowling alley last night with a live band and bar and food and kids and adults and grandparents, all races and creeds all in joyous expression of life. The energy in the place was off the charts. Sorry but that’s my idea of heaven, not sitting around on a cloud playing a harp and singing god’s praises through eternity.
I’ve had a near death experience while upside down in my car rolling down an embankment onto a frozen river. I have had that ineffable feeling of love and peace beyond human understanding. Hell you can get it doing ecstasy.
What do I tell my 8 yr. old grandson? This is all illusion son. See that mushroom shaped cloud on the horizon? It’s not real, but let’s go inside and put on our haz mat suits and gas masks just in case.
Maybe running for president is Marianne Williamson’s idea of Heaven. Who knows? Maybe she’s doing it for the same reason you went to a bowling alley last night. I don’t know.
For my money, Tara Singh “knew the Course better than anyone” and he spent the latter years of his life trying to save the world with ACIM-inspired soup kitchens and shelters.
Ken Wapnick was a close second and he ran the publishing arm of the Course and a school. We are all doing stuff; the Course doesn’t indicate this is a crisis. It just wants us to access the Holy Spirit part of our minds rather than ego while we do it.
What do you WANT people to do? If you have a clear idea of Heaven is then why not do what you can to bring THAT vision forward for all your brothers and sisters? Your Friday night sounds like a lot of good old-fashioned fun, the kind that humans can be very good at when they want to be. Maybe the form of your Course practice is working to bring that world forth for all beings.
Yes, there are nontrivial threats in our lives – AI, nuclear weapons, war, climate change. It’s a long list and every item on it is terrifying. And yes, we can tweak the body chemistry – with MDMA, psilocybin, adrenaline, whatever – and have transcendent experiences. But peak experiences are just the opposite of the despondent horrifying valleys. Intense love at the level of the body is awesome but it’s still just the body being a body. It passes.
The Course is an invitation to find out what does not pass. And so long as we insist on identifying with a body – and forcing others to identify as bodies too – then we are going to be frustrated.
You mentioned you’ve been through the Course a bunch of times. Then you remember Lesson 186: “salvation of the world depends on me.” But the emphasis in that lesson is not on the form our part takes – eating peyote, ending nuclear missiles, learning to bake bread,a perfect game, whatever. Rather, we simply focus on discerning between the ego and the Holy Spirit, and then giving attention only to the Holy Spirit.
If that means a joyful night at the bowling alley with family and friends, then so be it. And if that means we have to nurture our kid and grandkids through a nuclear holocaust, then so be it.
I’m not going to argue with you that the world is fucked up, Tim. I’m just going to point out that that’s one interpretation and there are others. Joy is not caused by MDMA or Friday night festivities; MDMA and Friday night festivities are symbols of a mind that remembers it’s oneness with God. That’s my experience; that’s what happens when I practice the Course. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying it can work.
Finally – and I know tone is hard in online writing, I’m not trying to be a jerk here, this conversation would be a lot easier and more fun in person – maybe the Course isn’t the right framework for you at this juncture. There are lots of spiritual, religious and philosophical paths, as you know, and the nondual ones – especially in the gnostic tradition of Christianity – can be pretty bonkers. I don’t think it’s a crisis if someone decide there’s a better way to think about reality, problem-solving, et cetera.
Thanks for sharing, Tim.
Your writing is dense in a good way – I had to go back and re-read it more than once to catch what you meant –
so yeah – I’m just super sad right now – I miss my dad – he had Alzheimer’s and we used to play cards and he didn’t know who I was and didn’t remember what an asshole I was as a teenager – he gave me a good life – my mom had Alzheimer’s too and I took care of her the last 3 years of her life – she was 96 when she died – I feel living with her was my penance – my dues are paid in that respect-
I read the book “The Disappearance of the Universe” based on the Course and it made me angry because these two enlightened entities visit this guy over many years and they are clairvoyant and their final visit in 2001 is after 911. My takeaway – these assholes could have prevented 911 and they chose not to! So fuck them and the horses they didn’t ride in on. Then they disappear and just admonish the guy to keep forgiving people, yay!
I’m just sad dude. Super sad. The depression I wear around me is like a warm pale blue cloak. But of course I hate myself for falling into it so readily, so easily. But it is familiar and hence comforting in an ironic and odd way.
I suspect suicide is not an answer. I don’t think my consciousness will end. Probably just pick up where I left off.
I had some goals that were pretty long range so I keep telling myself what is the use if larger more heinous attacks on our soil are imminent. It sounds like a cop-out and probably is. Just the thought of the assholes of the world winning angers me to no end and I know it is fucked up thinking. I am rambling. You don’t need to reply at length. I appreciate the correspondence and quick response. I am not going to hurt myself. I have no stomach for it. And I have an eight year old grandson.
I just re-read this and it is a rambling mess – but u get it.
Thanks, Tim. No worries. I hear where you’re at and if you feel like connecting by phone or Zoom or something I’m always happy to talk ACIM, especially applying it to the fucked-up world. I’m here if it’s helpful.
Thanks again Sean –
Your writing really helped me focus on the magnitude of the psychic pain I was feeling and to not take it lightly. I will probably struggle from time to time with it but I am dedicated to the idea of non-duality wether in this world or the next.