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Beyond What Can Be Taught

One of the ways – perhaps the way – that the egoic self keeps me focused on separation from God (and not on atonement) is its insistence on finding and analyzing meaning. What is the meaning of life? The meaning of peace? Of conflict? Of the self? That is what judgment is: the search for, and categorization of, meaning.

This is not an insignificant observation. The human brain and psyche have evolved in such a way that the quest for meaning appears to have great value. We are all of us deeply attached to it. To begin to detach from it is radical. To say that everything – from a lovely sunset to a Monet painting to a mushroom-shaped cloud on the horizon – is meaningless feels reckless and frightening.

We are sustained by our ideas about life: being a father means this, being a husband means that, being a teacher means this, being a writer means that. Living in New England has this meaning, living within such and such a tax bracket has that meaning. And so forth.

If we surrender all of that, what remains? It can feel Wile E. Coyote going full tilt, then skidding to a stop and seeing that he left solid ground twenty yards back?

It feels like falling. And so we resist it.

Yet the attentive student sees quickly and early on that A Course in Miracles is bent on undoing meaning. Look at the Introduction to the text.

The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance (In.1:6-7).

In other words, the course is not an intellectual exercise in defining love or the Holy Spirit or the trinity or resurrection. Rather, it is a practical means by which we undo – remove – that which blocks our awareness of love.

It is like the difference between designing a bridge based on an exhaustive study of the history of bridges and simply building a bridge. Our goal is to actually get to the other side, not analyze how we’re going to get there.

The early lessons reinforce this emphasis on shifting away from the quest for meaning. Take a look, for example, at lessons one and four. The first asks us to consider that everything we perceive with our physical eyes is meaningless. The second adds our thoughts – which seem to be internal but are actually external as well – to the mix.

This can be a very destabilizing experience. When we begin to appreciate how deep-rooted our attachment to meaning is, the effort to release it can seem almost suicidal. No wonder the ego fights back, and no wonder we legitimize its resistance.

Yet the course does not leave us at an abyss. Its objective is not to terrify or intimidate. Rather, it is to suggest – gently but firmly – that we are simply confused about meaning, and that as we willfully clear up the confusion, we will naturally be restored to wholeness.

That is the premise of the lines quoted from the Introduction: we aren’t analyzing love, we are facilitating our awareness of love. And lesson four is even more explicit.

The aim here is to train you in the first steps toward the goal of separating the meaningless from the meaningful. It is a first attempt in the long-range purpose of learning to see the meaningless as outside you, and the meaningful within (W-pI.4.3:2-3).

What is the upshot of all this? For me, it allows contact with what is essential about A Course in Miracles: its practical emphasis on undoing the separation through miracles. I am not called to an academic or intellectual experience, but a healing experience that is outside the range of what I call my thoughts.

This can seem very mysterious and mystical – and it is tempting to take refuge in poetic language about union with God and all of that – but it is really hard work. We are giving up – inch by inch, thought by thought, memory by memory – what we call life in favor of love and in favor of reality. It is beyond what can be taught. And it is only our willingness – not our understanding – that takes us there.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Aiko June 17, 2013, 10:47 am

    Thanks. During the meditation, I was filled with judgements and criticisms. And I had a thought. “None of these matter.” And that was a relief. It was a relief because that was when I entered into the meaningful. And it is sure inside of me.

    • Sean Reagan June 17, 2013, 11:29 am

      Yes – it is a relief when me make that contact – when we can release what is external, especially thought.

      Thank you for reading, Aiko.

  • Janet Acquilano June 17, 2013, 8:31 pm

    This is hard work, not an overnight total success, although I have finally found the way that fits who I am. It is a step by step, inch by inch process, as I go through this life with more of this mindset all the time. Your posts are wonderful. Thank you

    • Sean Reagan June 18, 2013, 6:00 am

      Thank you for reading Janet. I agree – the commitment and then sticking to it is what matters. I’m glad the posts are helpful –


  • Emily June 18, 2013, 2:58 am

    Hi Sean, thanks for your timely post. What you describe is very related to what I am working through right now, attachments to the thought process, to thinking itself and the thought that something needs to monitor and “think about” this process and analyze and understand what is taking place. These are big attachments, fundamental to our academic understanding of who we are. The urge to try to understand is very great and there is a need to continue to return to humility. At a certain point, much of the process must take place outside our understanding and surrender to that is a big step.

    • Sean Reagan June 18, 2013, 6:08 am

      Hi Emily,

      Yes, that attachment to thought – this idea that thought is supreme and effective and honest and all that – is intense. Often it feels like an addiction, the mind just defaulting to this mode out of habit, even though it is fragmentary and painful and confusing. But then I think: well, I can think my way out of it! Thought is insidious that way: it creates problems, pretends it didn’t, and then sets about trying to fix them. It is truly a maze from which we can’t emerge on our own.

      Odd, too, how hard surrender can be. . . . Or how much we resist it, though it is all that is called for with respect to thought.

      Thanks again –


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