Attention is the Holy Spirit

What A Course in Miracles calls the “Holy Spirit” is not separate from us. It is not like a teacher in front of a class, or the author of a book who lives across the country. Nor is the Holy Spirit one part of the larger whole we call the self – like a kidney or blue eyes or our obsession with photographing hummingbirds.

In a way, the Holy Spirit is simply a metaphor for the capacity of our mind to be healed. The healed mind is not split – it is not divided between God and self. It is not partial to the world while simultaneously courting Heaven apart from the world It is not frantically studying or meditating in an effort to improve or save itself.

It is at rest because it knows – beyond question – that it is one with what is. Its peace and sureness are in a literal and experiential sense our own.

We make contact with the Holy Spirit – with the healed mind – simply through attention. For example, as you read, your attention is focused on this text. But if you look up and out the window, it naturally focuses on something else: a cloud, a tree, a robin, a barn.

This capacity to be attentive is not limited to what is external. If we close our eyes, we see that we can be attentive to our anger, our uncertainty, our happiness, our desire.

A student of A Course in Miracles learns by practicing the course that his or her attention does not have to wander aimlessly but can be directed.

You are much too tolerant of mind wandering, and are passively condoning your mind’s miscreations. The particular result does not matter, but the fundamental error does (T-2.VI.4:6-7).

The simplicity of this truth is our liberation. It is the essence of Lesson 34 – we can see peace instead of whatever anguish or sorrow or conflict we perceive. The power of replacement is entirely ours (W-pI.34.6:4).

Nothing has to be given up. Not one single thing in the external world needs to change. As we take responsibility for our attention we begin to experience the sense of peace and happiness that naturally attends those who decline to participate in the false drama of humanity. What is unnecessary will fall away without effort. Our lives will simplify naturally and without sacrifice.

This is not easy. But if you are ready to do it, then the difficulties are brief and surmountable. Give attention to attention. When it wanders from peace and joy, bring it back. You have every right – and even an obligation – to do this.

The Holy Spirit – our healed mind – is ever ready to assume its calm and gentle role as our guide. It attacks nothing because it is threatened by nothing. It knows only its relationship with what is holy and beyond words. Its unalterable peace awaits only our willingness to embrace it. Why not now?

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  1. Hi Sean. I love this post. Following the Course is not complicated, but it does take thought, and the right actions will follow… I am starting my year of not living dangerously, with the Course, still doing what I like, simply with the attention it deserves, in 2 weeks. I will carry the daily lesson in my pocket to look at throughout the day. Soon it will be “2nd nature” Have a great day : )

    1. Hi Kathy,

      It is my experience that this sort of attention increases our capacity to be of service to others. In part this happens because as our psychological baggage is increasingly set aside, there is more time and energy to help others. We are not strengthening the self so much as undoing it and the more it is undone, the greater our inclination to serve others.

      In a way, when we give serious and sustained attention to life, we see as a fact the underlying premise of A Course in Miracles: we are not separate but one. Our neighbor is not a stranger but our savior, and what we offer them is what we offer ourselves.

      My ACIM teacher is Tara Singh. Service is a cornerstone of his practice and teaching. It is a natural consequence of devoting ourselves to knowing God as deeply and personally as we can. If we are not attentive to our brothers and sisters – and if our practice does not nurture this attentiveness – then some adjustment is called for. But that’s okay, too. We are all learning.

      Thank you for reading, Kathy.


  2. I found this article particularly interesting in that I have been thinking about attention and miscreation recently. I am a Hypno-Psychotherapist in private practice and am interested in your opinion how do you explain the behaviour of a person addicted to something in terms of attention?

    1. Hi Xavier,

      I think the natural inclination of mind is to be singularly attentive. It is also passive, in that it need do nothing. Both of those conditions are natural but we have sort of trained ourselves away from them, as you know. We force ourselves away from pliability and receptivity, and away from unified focus.

      In a way, the addict – to food, to sex, to booze, to whatever – has achieved that singular focus but in the absolute wrong direction. It is utterly external. In my late teens and early-to-mid twenties (I am 46), I was a hardcore drinker and drug user. My interior was a mess – the psychological pain was intense – but my mind was relentlessly focused on one thing: the next drink, the next fix. And of course it was always outside, always external.

      In a funny way, the intensity of that wrongly-directed singular beam of attention obscures the fact that we can direct it anywhere. It never (or rarely) occurs to the suffering addict, what if I focused this clearly and strongly on healing? Or on serving others?

      When our attention to a single external detail – a relationship, a bottle, whatever – I think two things (broadly speaking) happen. First, the other externals – like parenting, holding a job, etc. – suffer. Second, our mind falls into an even deeper sleep because there is literally no interior space in which it can flex and enlighten. All our attention is outside. Chaos and suffering necessarily ensue.

      A few years after I got sober, I worked with a therapist who practiced hypnosis. One of the most helpful insights in that setting was learning that the mind was responsive to internal direction, not reactive to external influence. It took me years to begin to apply that – and I am still learning, of course – but that is really the critical lesson. In a way that is the meaning of “The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1).

      Somehow, we all have to come to that place where we realize, however dimly, that we are not victims of circumstance or external factors of any kind. This is perhaps particularly challenging for an addict in the throes of addiction. Yet if they can begin to make that shift – even a little – they will perhaps recognize at a deep level that their capacity to be so devoted & focused is only misplaced. Redirection – and those who help us achieve it – is always a blessing!

      ~ Sean

      1. Thank you Sean. I appreciate your honesty. I am just wondering about what you call “redirection” in that could it be simply replacing one addiction for another? When does the addict know for certain?

        1. Attention that is directed outward seems to pull us away from ourselves. Addiction to alcohol or cigarettes might be a good example. The same energy and focus directed inward, seems to yield a different result. But it is not a guaranteed result. Your point is a good one: we can simply trade one addiction for another.

          In my experience, attention that begins with an inward intention, has a quality of expansiveness or opening. It is less like a laser tightening in on one thing: the pack of cigarettes, the bottle of whiskey. It seems to invite questioning: who is looking? who is being seen? At some point, one begins to grasp the essence of Krishnamurti’s observation that the observer and the observed are one. And then one is having a very different experience of the self and the mind.

          In a way, I suppose we are questioning the purpose of attention. For the addict, the intense outward seeing effectively masks his or her inherent powers of healing and love. It’s like using a magnifying glass to burn our skin instead of starting a fire with which to warm ourselves and prepare food. It damages rather than clarifies.

          Once we begin to redirect that energy in an interior way – with an intention of awakening or enlightening or experiencing oneness or whatever one wants to call it – I think the masking effect is gone. Isn’t it? Perhaps not instantly or perfectly, but its days are surely numbered.

          I’m not suggesting that there aren’t people using Vissipana meditation (or A Course in Miracles) the way someone else uses food – to avoid looking at difficult issues, to denigrate the self, to experience disempowerment and so forth. There are. It does seem like a risk in a lot of spiritual and related healing modalities. Perhaps it is a risk of attention, period.

          But there is a moment when one grasps the potential of mind as responsive rather than reactive and begins to apply it. That application of attention has a different starting ground. It begins with the attention of bringing light rather than hiding light. And inevitably, even if takes years (perhaps lifetimes – who knows), we get what we ask for. We become what we practice.

          I am just thinking out loud as I write, but that makes sense to me: what is the ground of beginning? What does the attention want? Because it will get – it will create – what it wants. That seems to be a law.

          Thank you, Xavier, for prompting me to keep thinking on this.

  3. Thank you Sean taking the time to reply to my questions. It is refreshing to read answers from someone who is speaking from experience and who has obviously toiled over these issues.

    For me the idea of inward and outward are one and the same in that they seem to me to be the same as the judgments we make about what is good and what is bad. I am struggling with the notion of directing attention in that what difference does it ultimately make on where we strive to direct our aim if it is going to find its way home anyway, the way the river returns to the sea. The idea of trying to control attention would imply for me an ego based act. What if the compulsion to drink or smoke or whatever is no different to any other compulsion we have but that we judge the behaviours as “bad”. There was a time not so long ago when smoking was not just acceptable but actually encouraged. What if it is the “judgment” that keeps the addict compelled to to doing what he does and it has nothing to do with the “external object” like drink or tobacco?

    I like the advice given in ACIM : “I will not judge anything by myself today.”

    Is there any human behaviour that cannot be seen as addictive and do we all not use these behaviours selectively as justification to control what is ultimately not under our conscious control, in order to feed the ego?

    This is the kind of thinking that my study of ACIM is evoking in me at present and I am delighted to have been able to share it with you and your responses have made me think further on this subject. Thank you.

  4. Hi Sean,

    It’s funny to come here and read your blog on attention, as I was just having a discussion with someone about the course speaking about mindfulness. One of the quotes was the same one you used here:

    You are much too tolerant of mind wandering, and are passively condoning your mind’s miscreations. The particular result does not matter, but the fundamental error does. ~ACIM

    There are also a couple more from the top of my head demonstrating this.

    Thoughts seem to come and go. Yet all this means is that you are sometimes aware of them and sometimes not. An unremembered thought is born again to you when it returns to your awareness. Yet it did not die when you forgot it. It was always there, but you were unaware of it. ~ACIM

    Everyone experiences fear. Yet it would take very little right thinking to realize why fear occurs. Few appreciate the real power of the mind, and no one remains fully aware of it all the time. However, if you hope to spare yourself from fear there are some things you must realize, and realize fully. The mind is very powerful, and never loses its creative force. It never sleeps. Every instant it is creating. It is hard to recognize that thought and belief combine into a power surge that can literally move mountains. It appears at first glance that to believe such power about yourself is arrogant, but that is not the real reason you do not believe it. You prefer to believe that your thoughts cannot exert real influence because you are actually afraid of them. This may allay awareness of the guilt, but at the cost of perceiving the mind as impotent. If you believe that what you think is ineffectual you may cease to be afraid of it, but you are hardly likely to respect it. There are no idle thoughts. All thinking produces form at some level.~ACIM

    Miracle working entails a full realization of the power of thought in order to avoid miscreation. Otherwise a miracle will be necessary to set the mind itself straight, a circular process that would not foster the time collapse for which the miracle was intended. The miracle worker must have genuine respect for true cause and effect as a necessary condition for the miracle to occur. ~ACIM

    Eric: There is a lot of talk about forgiveness “ACIM style”, but I hardly ever hear people speak about mindfulness and the present/Now, two things the course speaks about, especially the Now.

    If we’re to heal the mind, we must begin by bringing attention to our thinking. To practice forgiveness without bringing attention to our thinking and will only create the circular process that hardly fosters the time collapse for which the miracle was intended the course talks about.

    In the preface of the FIP edition, forgiveness is defined as recognizing our perceptual errors and looking past them. If we are to recognize our perceptual errors, then we must bring attention to our thinking, instead of just letting it run rampant on “default” mode and blindly accepting the thoughts as true, or as the course says, passively condoning the mind’s miscreations.

    As the course tells us

    To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning. No belief is neutral. Every one has the power to dictate each decision you make. For a decision is a conclusion based on everything that you believe. It is the outcome of belief and follows it as surely as does suffering follow guilt and freedom sinlessness.~ACIM


    You who have tried to banish love have not succeeded, but you who choose to banish fear will succeed. The Lord is with you, but you know it not. Yet your Redeemer liveth and abideth in you in the peace out of which He was created. Would you not exchange this awareness for the awareness of your fear? When we have overcome fear-not by hiding it, not by minimizing it, not by denying its full import in any way-this is what you will really see. You cannot lay aside the obstacle to real vision without looking upon it, for to lay aside means to judge against. If you will look, the Holy Spirit will judge and will judge truly. He cannot shine away what you keep hidden, for you have not offered it to Him, and He cannot take it from you.~ACIM

    Eric: There is a danger of the neo-advaita approach to the course of just dismissing everything because it is an “illusion” and trying to counteract error with “knowledge”. This is the attempt to make thought ineffectual and to minimize the fear in doing so. Though as the course says, this does not work and creates an illusion of peace that will surely crumble at some point.

    The course attempts to correct error from the bottom up and so to begin to practice the course it gives us a very fundamental foundation from which to build on. Attention being one of the pillars to this foundation.

    The Holy Spirit is the idea of healing. Being thought, the idea gains as it is shared. Being the Call for God, it is also the idea of God. Since you are part of God, it is also the idea of yourself as well as of all the parts of God. The idea of the Holy Spirit shares the property of other ideas because it follows the laws of the Universe of which it is a part. Therefore, it is strengthened by being given away. It increases in you as you give it to your brothers. Since thoughts do not have to be conscious to exist, your brother does not have to be aware of the Holy Spirit either in himself or in you for this miracle to occur.~ACIM

  5. Hi Xavier,

    You wrote: What if the compulsion to drink or smoke or whatever is no different to any other compulsion we have but that we judge the behaviours as “bad”. There was a time not so long ago when smoking was not just acceptable but actually encouraged. What if it is the “judgment” that keeps the addict compelled to to doing what he does and it has nothing to do with the “external object” like drink or tobacco?

    Eric: I have some experience in this being a former heavy smoker that has helped quite a few people quit smoking.

    My “smoking career” started off pretty stereotypical. I was a young impressionable kid of 12 years old with friends and one of the friends had stolen cigarettes from his dad. Looking back, it was probably peer pressure, the excitement of rebellion, the “buzz”, and it being a “grown-up” thing to do, that got me to smoke those first few cigarettes. It didn’t take me very long, before I was stealing my own cigarettes and smoking them by myself.

    After decades of smoking, I really wanted to quit and had tried numerous times and numerous ways. It seems I wasn’t alone, as about 75% of smokers want to quit smoking. So what kept me compelled to keep smoking even though I wanted to quit?

    Well, there was a real physical addiction that had distorted my psychological thinking. The addiction had created an illusion that I bought into. An illusion that was based off of fallacies.

    Smoking is based off of the negative reinforcement principle, meaning that it wasn’t the pleasure of smoking that kept me compelled to continue smoking, but the staving off of the discomfort I would feel if I discontinued smoking. I was essentially smoking the present cigarette to relieve the anxieties that the previous cigarette created and would continue to create as long as I was in the cycle of addiction.

    But smokers usually don’t see it that way. They only look to the relief of the anxiety and see that as pleasure. They might even say that smoking releases dopamine and hits the reward centers and that is why they smoke. Yet, the brain is always trying to find a homeostasis. It can’t control nicotine because it is a foreign poison. So it has no other choice, but to turn down its own sensitivity to naturally release dopamine. Essentially nicotine hijacks the brains neurotransmitters and the smoker then needs to rely on the cigarette to feel so-called normal, but there is nothing normal about it. It is an illusion and the smoker relies on the cigarette, much like a child relies on a parent to give them an allowance. It is imprisonment.

    The smoker may feel that smoking relieves stress, but this is also a fallacy. Smoking creates stress and withdrawal creates anxieties. Life stress actually accelerates nicotine withdrawal, as nicotine is an alkaloid and stress is an acidic producing event. The only “stress” that smoking relieves, is the stress it creates.

    Yet, being in the grip of addiction, the smoker doesn’t see the big picture. They only look to the immediate results. Dopamine is also not just some pleasure chemical. One could easily release dopamine being attacked by a shark as they could smoking. Dopamine is also a “pay attention to this” chemical. As a smoker continues to smoke and it gets more and more intertwined in their lives, the more they will unconsciously “pay attention to this”.

    This creates a belief about the cigarette through the physical aspect of addiction creating psychological distortions and beliefs.

    The only judgment I had about this was guilt/shame/ loathing for not being able to quit smoking when I wanted to. It wasn’t the addiction itself that was the reason I couldn’t/wouldn’t quit smoking, it was my beliefs about smoking that kept me in chains.

    Once I began to bring attention to my way of thinking and learning about my addiction and seeing how it distorted my thought process, I was able to begin to let go of my beliefs about smoking. Once I let go of my beliefs about smoking, I was able to quit quite easily. Yes, I went through withdrawal and cravings temporarily, but without the beliefs I once held firmly rooted in my mind, I was able to go through the process without suffering.

    When I first quit smoking (years before I would be introduced to ACIM) someone asked me how I did it. Without thinking I blurted out, “I lost my fear of this addiction.” The person looked puzzled and I was a bit too, as it came out faster than I was consciously thinking. They asked me what I meant by that, and unable to really answer, I just repeated it.

    I realized though, that this is what it was. I had let go of these beliefs and in doing so, the fear was gone. Addiction is fear.

    To break free from an addiction, one must take responsibility. IMO, to simply say I do this because I am an addict, is trying to absolve oneself of responsibility. Not only that, but to say this is a conclusion and conclusions close the mind for further questioning and investigation of the mind. The person is also NOT an addict. They have simply become addicted to a chemical. The chemical is the problem, not the person. For the person to believe that they are the problem, even when they remove the chemical from their lives, they will continue to feel “broken” somehow. Not only that, but this way of thinking usually leaves the person’s beliefs about the chemical intact, which may change the behavior, but not the mind, which can cause long term self-conflict where the person must take it one day at a time for the rest of their lives to resist the compulsion to live out the beliefs they still hold. That, IMO, is going from one prison to another.

    I could go on, but this is long enough of a reply already, LOL.

  6. The comment stream here has greatly deepened my reflections. I am responding somewhat loosely here . . .

    I understand the distinction between good and bad in a metaphysical sense, and don’t really disagree with it. Where it begins to diffuse is at the dense level of matter, of ego. In a deep way, we cannot judge because there is nothing to judge. That is really the Holy Spirit’s ultimate lesson, and the objective of opting not to judge alone.

    But most of us are not there! We are working our way through a world conditioned by separation-based thinking. We do not believe we are Christ (or Buddha or whatever image/symbol works), and so we suffer. At that level, judgment is absolutely called for: organic kale smoothies are better for me than whiskey. Meditation is better for me than fist fights. Both of those tend to faciliate a space in which the work of recognizing Oneness is more readily done, and more fructive.

    Of course to even say that is to engage in judgment! But the course is clear that our experience of separation is going to assume a certain form before we are truly able to slip into the nondual content in which judgment is naturally obviated.

    Your special function is the special form in which the fact that God is not insane appears most sensible and meaningful to you. The content is the same. The form is suited to your special needs, and to the special time and place in which you think you find yourself, and where you can be free of place and time, and all that you believe must limit you (T-25.VII.7:1-3).

    At the deepest level – or the most elevated metaphysical level – it is a fact that I was no further from Christ as a violent drunk than I am now as an attentive student of A Course in Miracles. But because my capacity to identify with Christ is not perfect – far from it! – I am left with the need to make choices here in the world of form that hopefully lead me out of it. Hence, therapy, meditation, study, exercise, gardening, et cetera.

    All human behavior can be seen as addictive and can be used to justify feeling and sustaining ego-based thinking. Yet it can simultaneously deliver us from that type of thinking & feeling. In my experience, the willingness to allow this transformation to occur is what facilitates it – it is not of me but most definitely through me. It is a mystery. I recognize it but I cannot always adequately talk about it.

    It is increasingly clear to me that the course is inviting us to experience attention – “attentionless attention” if that makes sense – as fundamental to knowing God. Again, writing or talking about this can be exasperating because it seems so inauthentic and imprecise. But giving the whole of our attention to something – a feeling, an idea, an orange, a sunset – seems to have the effect of dissolving one’s judgments and conditioned thinking and so we are left with what is closer to reality, closer to truth. In other words, no effort on our part is required really, other than that we be willing to surrender everything – which we can proceed to do at any pace that pleases us.

    I do not confuse my kale smoothie with Heaven or enlightenment, but at the level of illusion it does seem to ease me a bit closer to the attentive willingness that is enlightening. Other things work for other students. Somehow we have to find our way our way out. Fortunately, the way is there if we are able to both notice and accept it – and for that, some degree of attention seems helpful.

    Or so it seems to this wordy fool . . . 🙂

    1. Just to leave a quick comment. I think when it comes to addiction, for the addict, it is not so much about “good” or “bad”, but that the addiction itself is causing enough suffering for the person, that they begin to look for a different way. If we are to “know thyself”, then chemically inducing the mind and making it impotent such as alcohol abuse is hardly the way to appreciate the power of the mind. In essence, it is the attempt to escape the mind.

      The course tells us that choices need to be made here, even if they are illusions and action must occur in time. As long as we appear to be here, we will behave, and the course tells us that every thought will affect our experience, beliefs and behaviors.

      So yes, a kale smoothie in itself is a better alternative to a glass of whiskey. Though one should not fall into the spiritual trap that they do so, because it is “spiritual”.

      An observation I had on a quit smoking board was the constant arguments with people. Sometimes it could be chalked up to the new quitter going through withdrawal and being cranky, but often times old timers were in the middle of these arguments.

      The one thing I’ve always said about nicotine is that the person is not necessarily addicted to nicotine itself, but what it does.

      Nicotine addiction literally has a person’s fight or flight response continually being stimulated and then temporarily relieved. The amygdala is on constant alert, stimulating fear responses to a danger that is not really there (part of the reason of the illusion of addiction).

      I think that through years of chemical addiction, the person becomes addicted to that fight or flight response, or it could be that the person was already addicted to the fight or flight response and smoking was a great external expression as an outlet for this. Speculation though.

      But seeing the arguments on the board, I think I realized something. The “drama” was stimulating the fight or flight response in the individuals. Drama was giving the person a “high”, even though it was also causing conflict and attack in the person’s mind.

      So even drama is a drug that needs to be kicked. This was a great lesson for me, because even though I hardly participated in these bickering threads, I found that I also fed off of my own drama on my “spiritual path”. It is a lesson that I am continuing to learn and continually faltering at.

      I think to even bring attention, we must start with self honesty. When that honesty is not present, neither is attention. Instead we look to externals to either stimulate and/or blame. Anything to absolve ourselves from looking within with self honesty and bringing attention to it.

      This doesn’t mean that doing anything here is attempting to deflect this. After all, as the course says, action must occur in time.

      As the Tao Te Ching says, the idea of “good” and “bad” and societal rules are made by those and for those that have lost the way of the Tao. Or as St. Augustine put in the way when one is in connection with the Tao, “Love and do what you will”

      1. Yes – honesty is essential, even if we can only muster it in fragments. On some level, this is where a teacher or ally of some sort is most helpful. The lapse into self-deception is the separation. So vigilance – and probably help – is called for. I have been lucky in my teachers!

        I also appreciate the idea that we are addicted to drama – really, we could say that we are addicted to the energy of being separate, the energy it takes to remain separate.

        There are so many levels to work through, only to learn there were no levels in the first place! But intellectual data is only marginally helpful. It’s like the difference between reading about swimming and actually leaping into the pool.

        I say that as one who spent a great deal of time studying the pool . . .

  7. Beautifully explained and in a way that I feel has cleared up my own “wrong” perception in this regard. I have registered your message as:
    I will seek to be attentive in that way that does not allow it to be stolen. Trusting that my willingness to surrender the purpose of my every thought, word and deed to the Holy Spirit will ultimately reveal the truth which now lies behind veils of illusion.

    Thank you Sean.

  8. Nine years on, my thanks to Sean, Xavier, and Eric for this timely and clarifying thread. A very helpful conversation, indeed. All best.

  9. Been a spiritual seeker my whole life, but just found ACIM recently, via Eckhart Tolle. I adore it. It’s so powerful and deeply moving in a sublime and transformative way.

    But I was struggling with some of the Christian terminology and needed some clarity there. Turns out, what I remembered from Vacation Bible School as a child is completely useless to me in an ACIM context. I’m joking a bit. But also not, too.. So I needed some help. And through a Google search on the Holy Spirit in ACIM, I found your writings. Wow!

    Thank you so much for your work here. Your thoughts and elucidation and exegesis and just pure writing-craft artistry. You’ve already helped unfold some of the ACIM terminology mystery for me, and will continue to do so, I’m sure. I also picked up a couple of your books via Amazon recently too.

    Thanks again for your work. And blessings to you and yours.

    –Vincent L.

    1. Thank you Vincent – I’m glad it’s helpful.

      Yes, a nontrivial part of the course seems to be healing – reframing, refactoring – the Christian ideals that we took on as kids. I know my own experience of growing up Catholic has been washed clean. For me, the course helps to illuminate what works and helps, and thus allows me to focus on that, letting go of what was extraneous, hurtful, confusing et cetera. It is quite a journey – a lot of learning and sharing – and it is not finished yet.

      I’m glad you found ACIM and that it seems to be a good fit. Truly it was and remains life-changing for me.

      Please keep in touch!


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