It can be helpful to see both history and present events not in terms of people but of currents; often the current gets a face – Jesus, say, or Buddha – but it is still a current, not an individual. And the current is merely a pattern in life, broadly defined, which is in motion, albeit at paces which are often outside our perceptual – and even cognitive – range.
Jesus, for example, was the public face of a Jewish movement that was both religious and political. He arose from cultural circumstances that he did not create but with which he was in relationship. Absent the men and women – Jewish and Roman and other – who were doing their living the way they were doing it at that time in that place, Jesus could not possibly have been Jesus. He was not meaningfully separate from his era; he cannot be meaningfully separated from history.
Bob Dylan once remarked that if he hadn’t come along doing the Woody Guthrie/socio-political folk/ rock’n’roll thing, then somebody else would have. He meant simply that it was an error to focus on him so intensely; the real point was that the movement of the music and the culture were not the work of the one but of the many. He was, he said, more like a link in a chain than the chain itself, or that which brought the chain into being.
On this view, the “one” – Jesus, say, or Bob Dylan – is less a cause of events and more of a face that one uses so as not to lose the narrative thread comprised by those events. The “hero” is not causative; people working and living and loving together are causative. Circumstances arises collectively. The hero is the stand-in so we can keep the story intact and accessible.
Why does this matter? What relevance does it have for us as we think through our spirituality and practice?
I am proposing a shift in thinking: that we think of ourselves not as separate discrete beings but as aspects of Being, no one of which is more important or helpful or necessary or meaningful than another. When we make this shift, our priorities shift in favor of love, and the effect is is a natural and serious happiness that is shared.
When I sit by the brook and give attention to the pools and currents before me, I notice there is one brook. There is one body of water flowing. Yet within that one body – that one movement – there are all these various sub-movements, swirling and spilling in and out of one another.
These eddies have their own form which unfolds in time; in this sense, they have their own separate identity. They beget other eddies and ripples, catch drifting twigs and leaves and carry them forward, unwind in the shallows, sink in the white water.
Yet the eddy’s existence is forever contingent on the brook. It is always just the brook being the brook a certain way for a few moments. The eddy dissolves but the brook doesn’t – the flowing water keeps on flowing. Water is still water.
I am proposing that we see our own being as akin to an eddy in a brook. The atoms of which our bodies are comprised will decohere in time and recohere in other forms.
When the body goes, the mental psychological narrative that feels so essentially us – the ego, in ACIM terms – is going to dissolve as well. But what aspects of it were truly “ours” in the first case? Weren’t they just images and words and ideas which were floating through the culture? And won’t they keep floating after we’re gone? When the batteries run down in a radio it goes silent but music isn’t destroyed. It just plays on other radios. You can’t destroy music.
Our focus on heroes – on individuals – reinforces the concept that we are ourselves either heroes or followers. Competition, discord, and confusion tend to flow from this hierarchal, patriarchal belief system. Again, from a narrative perspective it’s functional. The problem comes when we think it reflects an actual independent objective reality.
So to think in a new way – one in which we are aspects of a collective – nodes, rather than separate discrete entities – inverts our traditional notions of self and body and world, and it isn’t easy. One has to work through the material in order to become convinced of its utility. And then one has to be vigilant in order not to slip back into old ways of thinking. It is eminently doable but it’s challenging.
Programs like A Course in Miracles exist to help us with this shift in thinking. Of course, the risk is that they become idols themselves; systems that we have to defend. If you find yourself arguing with somebody over whose interpretation of ACIM is right, then you’ve lost the thread. Step back, refocus, and then go on in love and kindness. It really doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing with the course; what matters is what you are doing, and what you are doing is easily evaluated: is it helpful? Is it – in a deep and serious way – making you happier?
But even that is to put too fine a point on the learning process envisioned by A Course in Miracles. In fact, the more pragmatic aim of the course is to introduce you to a teacher, and that teacher will advance the curriculum accordingly in an interior way. You are not responsible for your happiness! But you are responsible for your study, for the attention you give to your teacher, and whether you will practice what she suggests you practice. Once you have undertaken the course in the form of ACIM, then you are responsible for responding to the material in a way that evokes – clearly and sustainably – your inner teacher.
Have you met your teacher? Not the human stand-in – Ken Wapnick or Tara Singh, say – but the one the course calls the Holy Spirit? That is really all that matters. If you haven’t, it’s worth looking into what, if anything, you might do to facilitate the meeting. And if you have had that meeting, then it’s worth committing in a radical way to the new learning experience that naturally evolves from being in relationship with this teacher.
We do not become Jesus through the course. In fact, Jesus is eclipsed by the course. It is akin to the Buddhist concept that if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. Jesus is a big draw but once you commit to learning, he more or less recedes. The course is not about aligning with the right historical figures or narrative traditions: Jesus, Saint Paul, Thomas Merton, Ken Wapnick, David Hoffmeister, Christianity, Advaita Vedanta, et cetera. Rather, it is about taking the teacher who points to the deeper currents and, in pointing to them, points beyond them as well.
Imagine that we are on the beach watching surfers. They wear colorful neoprene suits and balance on vividly painted boards. They are elegant and athletic and beautiful.
As we watch them, as we delight in watching them, someone comes along and invites us to give attention to the waves themselves. The surfers are cool, they say, but the waves . . .
So we do – we give attention to the waves. And the waves are magnificent – they are enormous, powerful, sensual. They astound us by transcending us. We cannot take our eyes off them. That such natural beauty and power should exist in the world . . .
As we watch in awe, we are then asked to consider not the waves but the sea itself. Yes, the waves are incredible, we are told, but the sea is so vast and complex . . .
And so we do – we give attention to the sea. And the sea is enormous and mysterious and . . .
How far can this pointing go? How deep will the Holy Spirit take us?
How far are we willing to go?
Generally, our attention is given to the world. We see its injustices and travesties, say. We see the daily grind of chores and errands. We like our morning coffee, don’t like our morning commute. We see the many layers of relationship. We see the needs met, and the needs unmet, and we work strenuously to redress the perceived imbalances.
And then the Holy Spirit comes along – our teacher if we are tracking A Course in Miracles – and says, “yes, that’s all well and good, but let’s go a little deeper. Let’s look at the currents.” And then it invites us to go even deeper, and deeper yet.
Eventually, our attention ceases to take critical notice of the world. It’s there but our attention is moving towards the sources of this world. We begin to actually understand the external world is a reflection of internal conflicts. And more and more we give attention to those conflicts. They arise from fundamental emotions: fear, love, lack of trust, infantile spiritual hungers . . .
A Course in Miracles is a practical tool for learning how to go very deeply into this interior, into these primal psychological origins, in a way that eventually safely and coherently plunges us past all conflict, and into the eternal wellspring of peace and joy and happiness. It restores us to the love that is our natural inheritance.
And, mirabile dictu, there is no Buddha there! There is no Jesus. No Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie. Not even the cultural currents that begat those identities remains. Love is simpler than that. True inclusivity undoes that which it welcomes so that what remains is only love.
This serenity waits only our care-filled study. It awaits only our commitment to learning, which is to say, it waits only unequivocal trust placed in our teacher, who cannot fail. Shall we let go of history, our own and the world’s to boot? Shall we let go of the old stories and attend only the still quiet voice for God?
If not, then okay, but why not? What are we waiting for?
I extend my hand to you. I, too, am scared; I, too, am learning to trust; I, too, am not ready to go alone into the valley. I ask you to go with me: to trust me that I might trust you. We have come so far together, sometimes hand-in-hand, sometimes at distances it seemed we could not bridge.
But now – so close to the end, so near the final wall of fog and bracken – shall we bind ourselves, one to the other – and go on in love to the Love in which we were never separated to begin?