I wrote a newsletter recently about not over-indulging metaphysical inquiry. A Course in Miracles makes all kinds of claims about reality and while it’s sometimes useful to understand what those claims are, we are not called to defend or attack them.
Our ACIM practice is not about winning an ontological argument but rather seeing through the conditions that make the argument appear viable (which, yes, can feel a lot like losing the argument) and realizing, Bill Thetford-like, that there’s another way.
If we go into the metaphysical claims the Course makes – like, say, that the world is not real – then the truth of the claim is in the experience, not the description or explanation of it. It’s there or it’s not. Either way, there’s nothing to argue about.
It is like being at the beach. You can love it or hate it – describe and explain it any way you like – but you can not say that you are skiing in Tahoe.
The world is a complex sensory experience, with a concurrent metatextual narrative, but we can’t actually say is it real or unreal because the one doing the observing is inherent in what is observed.
I understand how “the observer and the observed are one” feels cliché but it does help to see clearly how there is no way to be apart from experience in order to say it’s real or unreal. You’re it, no matter what it feels like.
Look at your hand. Now look at the nearest trees, bush or flower. Is the way they appear – is the way they are given – different? You value them differently, yes. And the value you assign to them changes your experience of them, sure. But the way they are given – aren’t they both just sense perceptions brought to a certain order based on the observer you are?
And isn’t the observer you are – the body, the self – also “just sense perceptions brought to a certain order based on the observer you are?”
You can love or hate the body but you can’t make it a sea shell. You can love or hate capitalism but you can’t make it world peace. What is the function of this limitation on creativity?
The suggestion here is that instead of worrying about reality – what it is, what it is not – just give attention to what is given and to how it is given. The birch tree, say. Or your hands. Or somebody else’s hands. How does the world appear? How is what appears separate – if it is separate – from the way it appears? Don’t read about it, don’t worry what a scientist would say, or Ken Wapnick or Tara Singh. What is your experience? Which is a way of asking, what is this experience? This this.
Giving attention to the world as an appearance shifts our inquiry away from judgment and towards the mechanics of attention itself. It brings us to the present moment. Judgment leads to arguments, wins and losses, penalties and prizes. But attention accepts a gift by giving a gift, and the gift both ways is itself.
You and I are not the authors of attention. It is responsive to us, but we did not create it. Therefore it is a gift to us. Yet its responsiveness means we can give it away – to a friend, a dog, a sunset. So attention is also a gift we give.
As we become more single-minded about the gift of attention, and more skillful in both its offer and acceptance, then we finally catch a glimpse of “who.” We can ask: to whom does the world (which includes and is not separate from the body) appear? Who is having this experience?
Of course, the answer to that question is easy, right? I am having this experience! Okay, then – to whom or what do you appear?
Whatever “I” is – this incredibly local but also cosmic experience of being – who or what is aware of it?
This is the juncture at which attention slips into – is elided by – awareness and discovers being and nothing, which are the last experiences and concepts available to us. This is where the search ends, like it or not. The good news is, since there’s nothing left for us to do, whatever gets done is done by God.
God takes you where you are and welcomes you. What more could you desire, when this is all you need? (M-26.4:10-11)
Believe this – accept it as true – and you will know again the peace surpassing understanding.