After Idols

The various experiences for which we long are neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. It is the longing we must look at, not the object to which the longing attaches. That’s the error – to become focused on the object as if it were the problem (so often masquerading as the solution), rather the longing which actually generates the object.

To want anything other than what is is to implicitly deny that you already have everything. Longing begins in overlooking this simple fact, and it survives on the hunger generated by continuing to overlook this fact.

The north-facing bedroom altar. The underlying cloth was made by Chrisoula’s γιαγιά as a young woman in Greece.

But to understand this, you have to reframe your understanding of your body. Your body is an experience of the world, of the cosmos, creating a body in order to perceive itself. Thus, the body is not in any way “you” because you are not a partial or local phenomenon. You are the cosmos experiencing itself through a certain perspective. The body is more like an aperture than anything else – an absence or gap through which the whole is glimpsed, albeit partially.

If you don’t know this, then you will sense that something is missing and you will naturally want to find what is missing. At its most simple, this shows up in our craving for experience – new loves, flavors of tea, resonant songs and so forth. These experiences come and go on their own, but you can invest in them a kind of intensity and purpose that far exceeds the natural range of their being.

The little jade turtle was a gift to me from Chrisoula which she gave to me the night of our wedding when we were finally alone and could talk. The Buddha I purchased about twenty years ago in a state of utter panic, the cause of which I can no longer recall. The pastel rosary was a baptism gift to my son, who presently has no use for it, so I have temporarily appropriated it, often carrying it with me in my pocket, and sometimes even praying it. The other crucifix was a birthday gift from my children many years ago, and I wear it when I am out in the world but not around the house. The wicker basket holds certain other objects dear to Chrisoula and me, and the pins adorning it were made by youngest daughter in 2016 when she and other women were desperate for hope and turned to crafting to calm their hearts and share hope.

This constructs what A Course in Miracles calls “special relationships,” which are like idols worshiped for what we think we can get from them, rather than for what we can give. Nobody can actually give anything to an idol because idols are dead and inanimate. Their only life comes from the illusion of life projected onto them.

The solution is to look past the idol. Just forget about it. The idol has no power but what you give it; the special relationship only has the power you give it. Let it go. Let what happens, happen. Let what doesn’t happen also happen. You’ll see that the objects go nowhere, and the narrative apparently giving them meaning also goes nowhere, but the desire creating them . . .

The rabbits are me and Chrisoula at our wedding! See our Greek crowns? Fionnghuala made them for our most recent anniversary. The ikon in the lower right was a gift from my mother-in-law – she purchased it at a Greek monastery. The little wickless candles and their holder were a Christmas gift from Fionnghuala, who understands in a deep way how altars function.

. . . that shifts in a subtle but powerful way. Its generative capacity turns to life and renewal, rebirth in forgiveness, rather than death, sterility and mere repetition.

When we are invested in idols and specialness, we are projecting, we are casting out a self, which creates an apparent lack, which must then be filled, remedied, amended, healed. Suddenly, the song or the person or the landscape feels like a natural extension of you, the part of you that’s missing and which you must have, will have, and when you do have then you will be complete and know the joy and peace of God.

Not so. Not so.

The crucifix belonged to my grandmother. It’s made of Irish peat and hung in her house. I believe she got in during one of her many visits to Ireland. I like its feminine appearance and the four spirals near the heart. The marble elephant was a gift from a friend back in college; same with the blue glass shell. The felt mice leaning on the lamp are a recent addition; Fionnghuala crafted them a couple of months ago. I love how soft they are and how colorful. There were three originally, but kittens absconded with one. An altar that does not allow for play is not an altar.

On the one hand, this error makes a certain kind of sense because what you are seeing is only your own self projected. It is meet and just to care deeply for that self. But on the other hand, you don’t realize that you are looking at your own self. You think you’re looking at a song. Or a person. Or a landscape.

Hence the confusion, the specialness, which are the absence of holiness, for which you do not need to be forgiven but which you very much do need to allow to be corrected if you want to be happy in the deepest, most sustainable sense of the word.

Or is the altar closer to these rainbows generated by prisms hanging in the east-facing window? Floating across the bedroom walls and door? Beautiful, temporary, shifting? Here and then gone, but when gone not gone, for the potential to be regenerated never leaves? In other words, to what is our attention given? How is it given? The are good question, worthy of our intelligence and care, the answer to which brings us not to another altar but to the Love which generates all altars, which is our inheritance, remembered at last in us forever.

Peace is knowing that it’s all you, because it’s all life. It’s not something that you understand in an intellectual sense; it’s something that arrives in you as a fact of your own being. It is a moment of self-recognition and it ends the illusion of separation (which also, by the way, ends “you” as you presently understand yourself). Henceforth, you will not be tortured by fantasies of future joy conditioned upon finding the right person, place, spiritual practice or any other apparent thing.

You will say “oh.” You will say “oh . . .”

You will be grateful and still, and your praise will be quiet and meaningful. You will be a prayer generated by the Love that names you its brother and sister, in which you are home forever.

Make it so my dear friend. Make it so.

2 thoughts on “After Idols”

  1. Sean, thanks again for your words, which often speak to me precisely where I am in my pondering, sorting, and being. And thanks, too, for sharing the photos of your altar. Those wedding bunnies are just about breath-taking in their sweetness. Many blessings to you and yours.

    1. Hi Margaret,

      Thank you for the kind words – I appreciate very much you reading here. How is the course treating you these days?

      I hope all is well in these crazy times, and that you and yours are safe and happy.


      P.S. Yeah the bunnies are hilarious. Fionnghuala took a picture and really nailed all the details. It was very sweet.

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