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A Course in Miracles as Map

In a sense, A Course in Miracles became a distraction. Imagine that you are trying to reach a particular city, and have with you a map that guides you to the city. When you reach the city, the map is no longer helpful – indeed, if you insist on referring to it, it can only confuse you. It has done all it can do.

I have used that analogy for years – Boston as a space of awakening to which A Course in Miracles was directing me. But it confuses the actual experience, in that “awakening” or “oneness” or “inner peace” are not places to which one journeys in a linear way. There is neither travel nor destination (nor traveler, but that is actually a different – and more difficult – question).

It is clearer to think of “awakening,” “oneness” or “inner peace”  as processes (of relations, really) to which one acclimates in time. Imagine that you are unhappy with the ambient temperature. One option is to get up and look for a warmer or cooler location. Another is to accept the circumstances in which you presently find yourself. No travel required!

Of course, that analogy is of limited value as well. After all, if you’re cold, by all means you should find a warm stove or a heavy quilt or a cup of warm tea. And if you’re hot, please do dip a toe in the brook. Physical discomfort asks to be redressed, to whatever extent possible.

But our spiritual discomfort arises not from adverse (or even ideal) external circumstances – being outside Boston, say, or being too hot or cold – but rather from conflating external circumstances with causation. That is, we believe it is the world and cosmos that causes our grief or joy, our inner peace or lack thereof, and we conduct our living accordingly. Fix the externals!

A Course in Miracles suggests we have it backwards, at least as it applies to inner peace (happiness, joy, et cetera).

We look inside first, decide what kind of world we want to see and then project that world outside, making it the truth as we see it. We make it true by our interpretations of what it is we are seeing (preface xi).

This is not a radical position, nor it is it unique to A Course in Miracles. It is not inherently “spiritual.” It reflects a basic understanding of how perception and cognition operate in our structure as human beings.

Consider, for example, Humberto Maturana’s view in The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love.

As we conserve that which makes us human beings, we open a space for unending changes in the worlds that we bring forth as languaging beings without losing the human identity. Moreover, human beingness is a manner of living in interpersonal relations, not a form or manner of handling an independent world.

This reflects what writer Pille Bunnell calls “a significant aspect of Maturana’s cosmology.”

. . . namely he has impeccably avoided grounding his network of explanations in any externality, including those that are difficult to refute because they are invisible or taboo. If there were an externality, one would not be able to “get outside” that externality, and thus the application of the cosmology to itself could not take place. In this cosmology there is no referent other than the happening of the process of human living, with all that we do and experience as we live and reflect on ourselves, our doings, and our world.

If we accept this position generally, then the solution to any experience of conflict becomes apparent. As the course frames it, “Seek not to change the world, but to change your mind about the world” (T-21.In.1:7).

This is the meaning of Lesson 193‘s suggestion that if we forgive something, then we will see it differently. Forgiveness, in ACIM parlance, means looking without at our lives in the world in order to change our mind about our lives in the world. It is the means by which understand that happiness or unhappiness is not caused by cold but by how we think about cold (and bodies). When this shift in thinking occurs, a supernatural quilt does not appear and wrap itself around us. The ambient temperature does not suddenly rise. But our unhappiness at being cold will melt away because happiness is not caused by cold, or any other external condition.

Coincidentally, when we are no longer unhappy – or otherwise burdened with conflict – it often becomes easier to adjust our apparent external circumstances. We remember where the quilt is, or we remind ourselves that we don’t have to suffer and it’s okay to turn the heat up a few degrees. This change affects our bodies but not our happiness.

This is a major shift in thinking! Really, for many of us, it is an almost total reversal.

What does this mean in practice? How do we shift our thinking?

In my experience, it actually doesn’t matter what we do. Once we have made the basic connection, then the transition takes care of itself. It’s sort of like once you’ve “seen” the optical illusion, then it’s easier to see the next time. Eventually, it stops appearing as an illusion.

As I said earlier, this is simply a matter of understanding how cause-and-effect work. Our structural perception is backwards; it takes time and attention to straighten it out. But the straightening, as such, is eminently doable.

A Course in Miracles is in this sense a map – treating it as such matters. We use it to discover the means to undo our confused and conflicted belief system. But the map is not itself the means! Thus, our study has to find itself in application – in the world of the senses. I.e., when you reach Boston, give attention to Boston.

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The Play Our Loving Longs to Behold

One could argue that this post reflects a category mistake: that is, it assigns qualities to something that should not be applied to it, which undermines the balance of the argument.

In other words, trying to locate an abstract entity like music or song in time and space (the way we could locate, say, a body or a piece of furniture) is an error. One can’t apply the standards of domain A to that which only abides in domain B.

Thus, one cannot – or at least should not – use the physical whereabouts of Fur Elise to disprove the existence of time and space (on the other hand, if we were just debating the nature or existence of time, music might still be useful because it necessarily occurs in – or over – time).

This is a fair and important criticism! But note: its efficacy as such rests on the assumption that time and space are real and have their own qualities apart from mental or ideal abstractions.

That is, it presumes the existence – the real measurable existence – of a physical domain against which things like concepts of beauty or ideas about justice and love can be compared.

Equating a song with, say, a body may be an error but in order for it to be an error, we have to accept certain premises about time, space, materiality and so forth.

So do we accept them?

I suggest that the only sustainable perspective viz. time and space and the objects that are subject to time and space as existing prior to and independent of observation (thus allowing for category mistakes or errors) is one of agnosticism. We can’t prove an external world exists, much less that it resembles our sensual reproduction of it. We can act like it exists – and we can argue that this acting is beneficial, even loving – but we can’t prove it exists, or say what, if anything, it looks/tastes/feels/smells/sounds like.

In that sense then, every thing that arises – object and concept alike – arises according to the structure we have, which is that of a wordy primate, whose language games beget both infinity and eternity, and so “every thing that arises” cannot be said to have a 1:1 correspondence with anything other than its own arising.

On that view, the category mistake dissolves, because we are no longer presuming an a prior validity of this or that domain. We don’t assume an objective physical world; we don’t assume time and space as constructs that exist independent of the structure that brings them forth; we don’t assume a self independent of the language play in which the self appears, et cetera.

On this view, even our identity as “a wordy primate whose language games beget both infinity and eternity, and and so “every thing that arises” cannot be said to have a 1:1 correspondence with anything other than its own arising” dissolves in a recursive dance that can only perceive its own dancing (and never the dance floor or the dancers or the tune). As Emily Dickinson put it:

Of life to own –
From Life to draw –
But never touch the Reservoir –

So all we can do is give attention to experience and being and see what happens: what else is revealed?

As I have been observing for years, the real question is whether a perspective or position or posture is helpful. And that is a very personal inquiry, forever subject to change. What helps you may not help me. And what helps me may not help me tomorrow. Such is the nature of the inexhaustible untouchable reservoir.

I am less interested in arguments about right and wrong than I am in giving attention – alone and with others, when and as appropriate – to the shared, interobjective arising of self, world and other and, through dialogue, seeing what is recalled, remembered, learned, and so forth.

In my experience, all this study – and all the shifts in living implied by all this study – point to Love. Even God as such is just a nontrivial idea that can, according to context, helpfully point to Love. But it is hardly the only pointer; let alone the most helpful.

Of course, you have something to say about that too! Thus, writing the way I do is in no small part an invitation: what do you think? What else can we do but ask? For I live in you – begin and end in you – and our shared wordiness brings forth the play our loving longs to behold.

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On God, Love and A Course in Miracles

I want to jot down some notes with respect to God, bodies, love, oneness and A Course in Miracles. I want to propose an anology: body as an instrument on which the melody of love plays. To me this is a helpful frame, one that gestures away from limitation and loss and towards undifferentiated oneness.

Imagine that you live in a cave and have never heard music. You’ve hear sounds (birds and wind, say), but not formal music. You have no idea what that even is. One day, you visit a nearby city where you come upon a woman holding a box-like instrument with strings. As her hands move along the box the most wondrous sounds emerge! A melody that rips you open like a ripe melon and spills your soul across the cobblestones. This is beauty! This is life!

Then a bee stings a nearby horse who rears and smashes the box-like instrument to pieces. The woman who held it leaves. You fall to your knees in grief. That brief moment of divine piercing beauty is gone, never to return . . .

In this – I know, I know, totally ridiculous – hypothetical, we have confused the source of music with the instrument upon which the music was temporarily played. We believe that when the instrument is gone, the music is gone too.

But of course we are wrong in that belief. The haunting lovely tune we heard can easily be played on another guitar. Or on a flute. Or a piano. It can even be whistled. We can even learn to do it ourselves.

The suggestion is that with respect to love and bodies, we are very much that traveler hearing music for the first time and equating it with the instrument. We are confused about the source of our experience of love. We experience love in bodies, and through other bodies, and so we believe that absent those various bodies, then there is no love.

Even if we intellectually disagree with this, we still believe it and the belief informs our living. There’s a reason we like hugs and sitting around fires and snuggling under warm blankets in winter.

But ask yourself: where is Beethoven’s fur elise?

We can readily point to objects like sheet music and recordings. But those are just examples of the music appearing; they are not where the music is.

Nobody believes that when a grand piano is destroyed Chopin’s etudes are gone. Or that when the sheet music is lost that the etudes are lost as well. Nobody believes that absent Chopin or Beethoven, music itself would vanish.

Where is music? Where is beauty? Where is love? Where is life?

These questions point to a reality that is not conditioned upon time and space and the materiality time and distance imply.

When my father died, life did not end. Love did not end. There was a dead body in the room, but life itself was not absent. My father wasn’t absent either, though the nature of his presence had deeply shifted. I do not expect this to be any different when my own body ceases to draw breath, its memories and dreams dissipate, and the patterning of its cognition and perception slows to a trickle then stops.

Life is not created by the body any more than music is created by an instrument. Life expresses through a body, sure. It temporarily appears in and through bodies, sure. But the body is not the source of life. It is not the cause of life. It is merely an instance of life.

Similarly, beauty and meaning are not in or of a body; this is clear simply from the fact that we don’t all agree about beauty and meaning. For example, I am in an open marriage with chickadees but most people barely notice them. All bodies draw breath, but not all bodies bother with the sacred formalities I indulge when it comes to these little birds.

Ai Weiwei gave a great demonstration of this principle when he purposefully destroyed a Han Dynasty urn. It was an object one could call “priceless” in both its aesthetic beauty and cultural relevance. But he destroyed it. And why not? Beauty and meaning aren’t locked in this or that form. Shatter the vase and art goes on (in photographs and video of the destruction, in countless essays exploring the act and so forth). Shatter the form but love, beauty and meaning go on.

So what happens when we shift our attention from the form to the content (to borrow one of Ken Wapnick’s chestnuts)?

One thing that happens is that the forms don’t go anywhere. That is, the particular instance of love remain viable and intact. Chickadees are still chickadees; Bob Dylan songs are still Bob Dylan songs; Emily Dickinson poems are still Emily Dickinson poems. Bodies gotta body.

But another thing that happens – the really interesting thing that happens – is that one’s investment in and attachment to these forms diminishes; indeed, it reduces almost to zero. That’s because one begins to know that love is not the form. We still perceive the form but our perception pales beside the love we know. Forms come and go; love does not. And what we respond to is not the form but the love. Form is different, various, shifting; love is the same.

This distinction is critical to the curriculum of A Course in Miracles. Forms are illusory; as such, they can either distract us in futile and frantic pursuits or they can remind us of Love. The whole purpose of our study is to learn to use the world and everything in it to remember Love.

Illusions serve the purpose they were made to serve. And from their purpose they derive whatever meaning they seem to have. God gave to all illusions that were made another purpose that would justify a miracle whatever form they took. In every miracle all healing lies, for God gave answer to them all as one. And what is one to Him must be the same (T-26.VII.15:1-5).

It can be very liberating to see and accept this. Seeing and accepting happen in time and space; they are “our” learning process. The chickadees are sweet to me because they point to the oneness of God. Of course I am in an open marriage with them. But once one sees this, then it is a relatively small step to shift from the formal instance to the generalized content. Why bother with chickadees when you can just revel in love?

What God calls one will be forever one, not separate. His Kingdom is united; thus it was created, and thus it will ever be (T-26.VII.15:7-8).

Love transcends the form through which we first perceive it. We aren’t bodies any more than guitars are music. We aren’t bodies to which spirits are attached and we aren’t spirits having bodily experiences. Our bodies are wholly neutral aspects of a time/space illusion that dissolves in love.

There is just this living appearing to itself: spilling over and onto and into and out of itself: and this living is loving. It is not like this, it is this: this this: and ever thus.

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Beyond the Meaninglessness of Thought

Tara Singh makes the excellent point that thought is absolutely uncowed by being told in the 10th lesson of A Course in Miracles that “My thoughts do not mean anything.” Indeed, it welcomes the idea, the way a congregation of well-intentioned Christians might welcome a hungry pilgrim. How else shall we convince the Lord of our sincerity and readiness?

But how shall we go beyond thought? Even to pose the question is to think. It can appear that we are trapped, that wherever we look we encounter yet another subjective thought.

However, we can use reason to see that our thoughts are not our own and that we did not make ourselves. A Course in Miracles frequently distinguishes between “thought” and “reason.” Rather than write the distinction off as mere semantics (which of course it is in a sense), it can be helpful to just take the course at its word and see what happens.

So let’s say that one way of thinking is to use reason, which is to say, to carefully articulate the appearance of cause and effect as they relate to one another. I notice I am hungry, I direct my body to the kitchen and heat up soup, and I eat it. Set aside for a moment the nontrivial question of who the “I” is and what it is *actually doing. Can we at least stipulate to the appearance of cause-and-effect and intention?

Given that, can we go another step and see that thought basically arises unbidden? That is, most of what is going on in our minds is appearing of its own accord? Memories, ideas, fantasies, plans . . . They spill over one another in a steady stream, coming and going. Given the word “grandmother” can you not think of your grandmother? Or grandmothers?

If we could actually control what appears in mind, then we wouldn’t need the A Course in Miracles or any other method of learning how to be calm and peaceful and kind. We’d already be there.

So if we look at thinking – at thought – we can see that it arises of its own accord. Whatever its source is, it isn’t our own intention and will. Our intention and will comes into play after thought appears. We can single out one thought or theme for attention, but we can’t stop the flow itself.

When we see this, another juncture opens up to reason. It’s the question of to whom or to what does thought appear? That is, what is doing all this noticing? What is aware?

If you, like me, are a smarty-pants then you already know the answer: there is only awareness. We are the vast container in which all of this coming and going appears. If you, like me, are lucky, then you’ve even had an experience of the container, of the great undifferentiated unified awareness. You have lived – briefly intensely – your oneness with the cosmos.

And you might – like me – have realized that even that oneness is simply an experience that comes and goes, and in that realization realized that you do not know and so cannot say what the Source of Awareness is or who your Creator is or literally anything.

There is clearly this – this very this – but its origins remain clouded. Who speaks of it is not speaking of it.

And thus we come to silence. Thus we come to humility. Thus we come to openness. Thus we come to the fact of:

In no situation that arises do you realize the outcome that would make you happy. Therefore, you have no guide to appropriate action, and no way of judging the result. What you do is determined by your perception of the situation, and that perception is wrong. It is inevitable, then, that you will not serve your own best interests (W-pI.24.1:1-4).

That is the space in which A Course of Miracles meets us: that is the radical openness in which we can authentically say that we do not know and so will refrain from judgment. We assume then the posture of the student – who is the disciple, the apostle – and we learn what is there to be learned. We do not make the curriculum, and so we cannot be the teacher.

So much of our peace and joy is related to that previous sentence – “We do not make the curriculum, and so we cannot be the teacher.” Truly it is the beginning of remembering God as Love in communion with our brothers and sisters.

In silence then we can give attention to our Source or Creator. If there is anything we need to know or experience or share, then it will be given to us. If not, no worries.

This is a practice of grateful acceptance for what appears conjoined to passive indifference for the origins of the appearance, or the means of appearance. Obviously I am not suggesting it is wrong or dangerous to look into appearances and appearing. Rather, I am suggesting that the outcome of these investigations is beside the point.

The point is the looking; not what is looked at, and not what is looking.

In an important sense, awareness is that which cannot be deceived. This is a subtle point. Our senses bring forth a world instantly, flooding it with signification. If I drop a glass you can’t opt not to hear it shatter; if lightening sears the skies, you can’t decide to not see it, or unsee it.

Awareness is not deceived. But our thinking can be quite slippery! We can question everything, including apparent answers, and we can judge the answers, and order them according to our judgment.

But it is possible to come to an awareness of awareness that allows us to see the utility of thought, which is to say, its limitations. There is a lot that thought can do; and there is a lot of static in it as well. Thought itself can’t unsort itself, but awareness can. Awareness is like an interpreter gently indicating what mental or communicative threads require attention and which can be allowed to meander off.

There is a juncture where we begin to appreciate the way in which life takes its own care and “our” contribution is remarkably minimal. So much of our thinking is just . . . not necessary. But good luck getting thought to agree with that.

I remember many years ago sitting in the former Dharmadhatu Center in Burlington, Vermont. Prior to meditation, a volunteer talked about allowing one’s thoughts to simply pass by, like dandelion seeds in a breeze. And I thought – budding spiritual master that I was – my thoughts are way too important to just let pass by.

I was then – and in some ways remain – fascinated by thought. I like ideas and I like words and I like the way words go together and how they mean and how meaning can affect the words in turn. Thinking – especially with others, in person or through their texts – literally turns me on.

But this doesn’t upend the ACIM principle that my thoughts don’t mean anything. The course distinguishes between egoic thoughts and thoughts we think with God. Only the former are meaningless. And awareness will direct our attention to the latter.

That is, the thoughts we think with God are already present. We aren’t waiting for an infusion of love or insight; we are already sufficient unto holiness. We are already sacred, and our sacredness touches everything, including thought.

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Living in Language (Or, Make Apple Crisp, not Apple Crisis)

We live in language. More specifically, we live a self and a world in language. Our spirituality as such does not exist prior to the words we use to bring it about. Hence, giving attention to language is almost always a creative and healing gesture.

In an earlier post I wrote the following:

The nonduality to which many folks point is simply a sustainable experience of this recursive awareness. It runs the gamut from “oh this?” to the heady thrills of a full-on acid trip. The self as such drops out; distinctions altogether drop out; and briefly one glimpses . . . well, what exactly?

The no-thing-ness out of which all things arise? The Face of the Living God? Christ? Nirvana?

I went on to talk about love as it occurs in Humberto Maturana’s thinking, and how that works for me as a descriptive moniker, but here I want to simply point out the importance of noticing that particular juncture: the moment when it appears we can give a name to that which is awfully hard to name, if it can be named at all.

The language that we use in that moment is informative – it specifies us as much as it specifies that which we observe.

Importantly, our attachment to the language we use in that moment specifies us even more so.

We tend to use the language that got us to that juncture in order to describe that juncture. We dance with the one that brung us, as my great-aunt Muriel (a gifted New England farmer) used to say.  That is, if we arrive at the nondual insight via A Course in Miracles then we will use phrases like “happy dream” and “the ladder of separation” and “choose again” and so forth. If we got there with yoga, then we will talk about chakras and Adho Mukha Svanasana.

If we got there by reading constructivists like Maturana, then we’ll use that language.

(Note that it is not so black-and-white: the language we use is often an amalgam of many languages. The suggestion here isn’t to police our languaging but rather to notice it and, perhaps, to be more intentional with respect to it)

We do this even though that which is glimpsed cannot actually be named – or, to put it another way, can actually be called literally anything at all. You can call the ocean “water” or “cinnamon raisin bread” but you’re still going to get wet when you enter it. You can call it “nondual awareness” but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be called “the Kingdom of Heaven.” We name this-that-we-glimpse for the sake of facility (it makes our social lives easier which makes our living easier) but it is a fact that the name can quickly override – can obscure almost totally – that to which it was supposed to helpfully point. People don’t burn non-believers at a stake because they’re feeling secure and confident in their belief system.

This obscuration tends to happen when and as we become attached to our description of the insight, to the name we give it, to the language we use. It happens when we invest in all of this, which is to say, when we – usually quite subtly – begin to believe that it’s right and that other names and descriptions and languages are . . . not right. Somebody fetch a torch!

A lot of spiritual teachers (I use that term broadly) are like this – they get very picky about the language that folks use to talk about, say, nonduality. Or Jesus. Or A Course in Miracles. They become very protective of their semantic preferences. I’ve attended a lot of ACIM study groups where you can’t mention Buddhism. Or refer to texts published by the Foundation for Inner Peace. I’ve talked to some very smart proponents of nondualism for whom reference to Jesus or Bohm dialogue is verboten.

This sort of exclusionary behavior is not a crime against God or Nature but it’s not especially helpful either. We are communal beings; anything confounding that is painful. I speak from experience, both as one who was on the receiving end of that sort of behavior, and as one who has indulged in it. Nobody needs to defend or protect what they know cannot be taken or attacked in any way.

If I say this red globular fruit is an “apple” and you say it’s a “pomme” and somebody else says “you’re both wrong – it’s a symbol of Adam’s Folly” – and if we get into an argument over what it actually is then we might have some interesting and edifying debates but we will never get around to making an apple crisp and sharing it with one another.

And it is exponentially more helpful and fun to eat apple crisp together than to argue about distinctions which may be moderately useful in certain contexts but are not dispositive in any ultimate sense.

In other words, make apple crisp, not apple crisis.

So the suggestion here is that we give attention to our own experience of naming our experience of ____________. Specifically, ask: 1) what language are we using to describe our experience and 2) how attached are we to its rightness?

Number 2 is the tricky one. Attachment can be very hard to notice; lifetimes can pass confusing good intentions for love.

In the earlier post referenced above I observed that “right” and “wrong” tend to arise in community – that is, when and as we encounter other people whose understanding differs in degree from our own. We have a choice in that moment! We can accept the differences as trivial – which is a form of love – or we can double down on the apparent differences and try to force the other to adopt *our preferences (and, failing that, at least resist their preferences), which is form of non-love.

Attachment to a point-of-view begets non-love almost inevitably, so it is useful to notice it happening at the outset, and to decide whether it’s really necessary or not. Hint: it’s not.

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Living Understanding

How does one live an understanding?

Let’s say that to understand something means that we a) are familiar with it, b) are confident in our familiarity and c) are able to extend, or contextualize, that familiarity into other domains.

On this view, understanding is basically relational, and affords an overview, or meta-perception, of those elements that are in relation.

So, for example, one might say that they understand a particular spiritual tradition – A Course in Miracles, say. In this case, that would imply that they are familiar with the elements comprising the course a Text, a Workbook, and a Manual for Teachers. It would also mean that they are familiar with its core concepts such as forgiveness, atonement and so forth. They see how all these elements and concepts both imply and inform one another, and are confident in their seeing, such they are able to “practice” – or extend – ACIM in and into their lives (through the lessons, study groups, study of secondary materials, working with a teacher and so forth).

Note that in this sense “understanding” is not related to “right” or “wrong!” Those concepts tend to enter our thinking in conjunction with other human beings whose “understanding” differs from our own to varying degrees.

It is an unfortunate aspect of our humanness that we perceive these differences as dangerous and in need of redressing (through attack and defense – i.e., “I am right and you are wrong,” “no – I am right and you are wrong) rather than mutual confirmation of our perceptual and cognitive structure, the subtle variety that structure entails, and the epistemic humility it necessitates.

How does this conceptual act of understanding relate to or inform our living? What is its nature in relation to experience?

Note that in asking this question, I am not suggesting that we are obligated to do something with understanding! Rather, I am suggesting that we give attention to – that we notice – the way that understanding is already informing and appearing in experience.

Is that clear? We don’t have an understanding that we then apply to experience. Understanding and experience are already conjoined. The suggestion here is to discover and realize the already-extant nature of the conjoining.

This is a nontrivial distinction. Experience happens. Observation of the experience happens. Contextualization of “observation of the experience” as observer and observed happens. Descriptions of contextualization happen.

The opportunity we have as human beings is to be aware that we are aware of experience as it happens, which awareness includes awareness that awareness is not separate from experience as it happens (even though it tends to feel as if it is).

The nonduality to which many folks point is simply a sustainable experience of this recursive awareness. It runs the gamut from “oh this?” to the heady thrills of a full-on acid trip. The self as such drops out; distinctions altogether drop out; and briefly one glimpses . . . well, what exactly?

The no-thing-ness out of which all things arise? The Face of the Living God? Christ? Nirvana?

Or perhaps nothing so fancy as love, understood in a way mostly consonant with Humberto Maturana and Gerda Verden-Zöller in their book The Origin of Humanness in the Biology of Love.

Love . . . is the domain of those behaviors through which an other arises as a legitimate other in coexistence with oneself. Love means or entails mutual trust in total body acceptance with no manipulation or instrumentalization of the relations . . . Manipulation and instrumentalization of another are attempts to control the behavior of the other by illegitimate means; they are manners of aggression and denial of the other and thus entail a different emotion than love.

My understanding of their understanding allows that the falling-out of self that underlies our experience of recursive awareness facilitates the ongoingness of love as a mutually specifying and recursive domain of distinctions encompassing self, other and world, the one spilling into other. Less river flowing from point A to B and more fountain arising out of and falling back into itself, thus endlessly creating itself.

Really, I am suggesting that experience itself is love – that it is a series of distinction made in order to make love tangible, understandable, and that the distinctions (which are other people, places, things, events and so forth) are merely expressions of love. They are creations, not separations (to borrow and perhaps bastardize the language of ACIM).

So to live an understanding is to notice love as the ground of experience – it is that from which we arise and to which we return in order to arise again. On this view, form is much less essential than process, and process is much less essential than relation.

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Point-of-View: God is Love

It can be helpful to observe that our experience of life arises as a point-of-view. We see life from a perspective that is both material (embodied) and cultural (ideal).

For example, imagine a pine tree in late December wreathed in red garlands. The tree and its decoration appear as a consequence of your embodied nature, your physical structure. You see things, including trees. “Christmas,” however, appears as a consequence of your cultural, or ideal (as in “of or relating to ideas,” not as in “perfect”) nature or structure.

At any given point, you are only observing what is there to be observed, both materially and culturally. If you are in Michigan, you are not observing Massachusetts, and vice-versa. And if it’s “Michigan” and “Massachusetts” you’re thinking of, then you are not thinking of “Mishigamaa” and “Massachuset” or “Messatossec.”

These are important distinctions to notice. Or rather, the process of distinguishing is important to notice. Distinguishing happens of its own accord; you don’t choose “Christmas” when you see a decorated pine tree, and you don’t choose “pine tree” when you see that green-branched object before you. You don’t see a mitten-shaped blob among other blobs on a piece of paper and think “oh look, a mitten.” You think “map,” “United States,” “Michigan” and so forth.

For me, it has been helpful to go deeply into these appearances and this appearing through a process of “giving attention,” which is a form of prayerful contemplation. It is a self-directing, self-producing and self-sustaining process of presence, akin to Thomas Merton’s “prayer of the heart” which

. . . seeks its roots in the very ground of our being, not merely in our mind or our affections. By “prayer of the heart” we seek God himself present in the depths of our being . . . (Contemplative Prayer 30-31).

“Heart” in this context refers not to a fleshy pump in our chest but to

. . . the deepest psychological ground of one’s personality, the inner sanctuary where self-awareness goes beyond analytical reflection and opens out into metaphysical and theological confrontation with the Abyss of the unknown yet present – one who is “more intimate to us than we are to ourselves” (Contemplative Prayer 33).

Finally, lest one confuse this prayerful attentiveness with something entirely abstract or mental, Merton reminds us that any rejection of what appears as external, worldly, sensual or material is “bad theology and bad ascetism.” He advocates for

. . . a simple respect for the concrete realities of every-day life, for nature, for the body, for one’s work, one’s friends and one’s surroundings (Contemplative Prayer 38-39).

Thus “giving attention” arises as and is enacted in the very context in which appears: this life, in this world, among all these other lives in this world. One needn’t work through metaphysics or theology in order to helpfully bring forth Love, which is merely to recognize and remember our authentic nature as love.

Instead, we just have to be present to our living in the natural way that is already given to us in our living to be present to our living, which is to say, to realize that we cannot be other than present (though we can pretend to be other than present (which, paradoxically enough, is still a kind of presence)).

Merton is careful to note that contemplative prayer is not esoteric. It is not a spirituality of renunciation (of the body of the self, the body of the other or the body of the world) but of mutual and inclusive embrace. He warns against falling for

. . . a false supernaturalism which imagines that “the supernatural” is a kind of Platonic realm of abstract essences totally apart from and opposed to the concrete world of nature, [and] offers no real support to a genuine life of meditation and prayer. Meditation [and prayer] have no point and no reality unless firmly rooted in *life (Contemplative Prayer 39).

To give attention is to sooner or later realize there is no giver, at least not in the sense one traditionally conceives, and thus nothing to actually do, at least not in the way one traditionally conceives. This runs directly contrary to our familiar mode of perception and cognition which suggest that a discrete self with agency is the operative center of existence. An interior self gazes out at the world, navigating it according to personal self-interest it determines.

What A Course in Miracles teaches – being a related aspect of the curriculum with which Merton engaged – is that this “familiar mode” is actually inverted. There is (to adopt the Thetfordian posture) “another way,” which is basically to realize the futility of “our” familiar way and opt instead of the way of God, or Love.

There is a real choice that you have the power to make when you seen the real alternative . . . This course attempts to teach no more than that the power of decision cannot lie in choosing different forms of what is still the same illusion and the same mistake . . . There is no road that leads away from [God] (T-31.IV.8:1, 3, 10:4).

It is not necessary to try and change or alter or destroy our experience of “a discrete self with agency” who is “the operative center of existence.” That self is an illusion (a misperception, really) and trying to “fix” or “undo” it only reinforces its existence.

Instead, it is helpful simply to see that self-concept as illusory, which happens naturally when we give attention. We don’t even have to give attention to that apparent self. We can give attention to literally anything – chickadees, our obsession with prisms, spring gardening plans, ice in the horse pasture. All roads lead to God, including those that appear to lead elsewhere. You can’t escape what you are!

Thus, what works – what heals by undoing, reminding us of our authentic nature as creators, as love – is the active gifting of attention. That to which the attention is given is actually beside the point.

But it is very hard to see this and, seeing it, to accept it and, accepting it, to consistently remember it! One slips back into the old mode all the time. But the fundament of love is not affected by our learning: giver, gift, and recipient are one in the giving. That’s it; that’s the game.

Thus a text such as A Course in Miracles can say that the only problem we have is the belief that we have problems (e.g., W-pI.79.6:2), which is really a way of saying that the only problem we have is the belief that there is a “we” at all. It’s “we” that brings “others” into existence, and “others” that bring about a world of limited resources necessitating attack and defense. Absent a vulnerable self, where could worry or guilt or fear reside? Absent separate selves, how can there be conflict?

When we give attention, attention takes over. It runs on its own. Accepting this – sort of like allowing the flow of a river to take us where it will – means that perception and cognition naturally align with love which produces a deep, creative and abiding peace and happiness.

And “deep, creative and abiding peace and happiness” are our actual identity or nature. Everything else is a distraction easily undone, once we figure out there is no “we” in charge of undoing.

Now there are no distinctions. Differences have disappeared and Love looks on Itself. What further sight is needed? What remains that vision could accomplish? We have seen the face of Christ, His sinlessness, His Love behind all forms, beyond all purposes (M-28.5:1-5).

In love, the need for the “discrete self with agency” dissolves because love comes forth of its own accord. Love itself becomes the “operative center of existence” which is everywhere all the time, and thus neatly undoes any need for time-space ideations like “center” at all.

Realizing this Love is not a personal accomplishment. It is not an event that happens to us and thereafter separates us from the ones who are unenlightened and unawakened.

Rather, it is the clear seeing that our inside is our outside, and vice-versa. Apparent boundaries dividing the physical world into objects (and the temporal world into events) are more like mutual confirmations of Love’s interconnectedness than actual division. They are the site where Love meets itself – re-members itself – and reveals itself to itself as undifferentiated, unfragmented, unopposed and incapable of conflict.

I am not challenging the appearance of an interior life being conducted in an external world. I merely suggest a practice of giving attention to the apparent distinctions that comprise our experience of this inner/outer dichotomy, and to the distinguishing which appears to cause it, and to see what, if anything, happens.

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Existence as Relationship in Love

We exist in relationship and relationship is process.

This is in contrast to our prevailing perception of existence which suggests that we are separate entities and that even relationship itself is a separate entity. “I” am “friends” with “you.” Or “you” are “my” “child.” Et cetera.

On this “traditional” view, separation abounds. We are parts having a relationship with some but not all other parts.

Thus, in order to know the peace that naturally attends that which cannot be differentiated or fragmented, we have to invert our perception. We have to reverse the order we impose on our living. Paradoxically, the way we accomplish this inversion/reversion is by doing nothing.

In a very real and pragmatic sense, the work, spiritual and otherwise, is simply to not be in the way.

green_moss

giving attention to the relationships implied by moss . . .

My own preferred way to invert perception and perceive this relationship and its process-like nature is to go outside and give close attention to something in the world. For example, if you look at the picture, you will see moss growing on one of the maple trees in our front of our home.

The moss requires light and moisture in order to grow. Thus, absent the sun and absent precipitation, it cannot exist. It also needs a surface on which to grow. Thus, absent the tree, the moss cannot exist. The tree – in addition to needing water and sunlight like the moss – needs soil in which to root.

Thus, the moss is in relationship with snow and rain, with the sun, with the maple tree, and with the soil in which the maple tree grows. In a different but significant way, it is in relationship with me, who finds its vivid green a solace in bleak winter and so seeks it out, camera in hand.

One can extend this interconnectedness apparently infinitely. What does Sean need to grow? Who made the camera he uses? What do they need? And so on.

I find these connections – and making them explicit – a deep and abiding comfort. I always have. It makes clear that when one node falls away, the whole does not also fall away. It makes clear there is no center or, if you prefer, that the center is everywhere.

Franz Brentano, who was Edmund Husserl’s teacher, and is thus in a nontrivial way the grandfather of phenomenology, pointed out that our thinking is invariably “about” something. We call this “intentionality.” Our thoughts are “about” our children or the sentence we are writing or the state of gun violence in the United States or what-have-you.

It is not necessary to take a stand with respect to the reality of these subjects – whether they actually exist and what that existence means and so forth. Nor is it necessary to indulge the (not-uninteresting) exercise of finding out whether it is possible to distinguish thinking from thinking’s subject.

Rather, it is simply helpful to note that these subjects arise in synchronous relationship with thought, with thinking.

“Thought” in this instance is approximately synonymous with “mind” or “awareness.” Our mind is not alone or singular, like a bright sun suspended in a void. It is more in the nature of, say, Boston – that is, a vast city teeming with activity.

I find that analogy – mind as a vast busy city – helpful, but it does need some explaining.

Our language is primarily denotative. That is, the words we use point to things in a seemingly precise and accurate way. “Apple” means that red globular fruit you’re slicing up for a pie. “Son” means the young man to whom you gave birth, griping about being asked to wash the dishes. And so forth.

Thus, we say “Boston” and think it means a particular city. There is only one Boston. It can only be found in one place.

But of course that is incoherent! In fact, there are countless Bostons and many of them have no material qualities at all. My Boston is not your Boston and never will be. You didn’t wander through it desperate, drunk and alone in your early twenties. You didn’t visit Fenway Park and the aquarium one day as a young child, a morning and afternoon forever cementing Boston as the world’s singular wellspring of joy and amazement.

“Ah,” you say. “Of course our mental constructs are different. Of course the narrative glosses are not identical. Your Fenway and my Fenway differ based on our histories and preferences and all that but they’re still Fenway. That is, there is still a static discrete object out there called Fenway Park to which we are both responding. The responses may differ but that which calls them forth does not.”

To which I say: are you sure? If you are sure, then how did you become sure? Would you stake your child’s life on that certainty? If you are unsure – which I find a more helpful posture – what does that uncertainty mean? Can we become sure? How? And if we can’t, then what does the ongoing uncertainty mean for our living going forward?

These are important questions! Lesson 32 of A Course in Miracles takes a stab at answering them when it states that “I have invented the world I see.”

You are not the victim of the world you see because you invented it. You can give it up as easily as you made it up. You will see it or not see it, as you wish. While you want it you will see it; when you no longer want it, it will not be there for you to see (W-pI.32.1:2-5).

In this way, the course is inviting us to invert our understanding of perception (seeing) and perception itself. The traditional mode assumes the world is real and we are in it and subject to it. Our thoughts and feelings about the world, and our response to it, are logically connected to its actual existence. The one precedes – or causes – the other (indeed, the course makes clear that this sequence of lessons isn’t about “reality” so much as “cause and effect” (W-pI.32.1:1)).

But A Course in Miracles asserts that this traditional mode of perception is literally backwards. In fact, we invented the world we see, and our invention obscures the real world, and thus obscures joy and peace and love. We live in a dream of our own making; our sufferance on its behalf is entirely optional. We are the cause of the effects we experience.

It is not necessary to agree with this position, nor to understand it in a rational way even, in order to be helped by it. It is sufficient to merely be open to the possibility that it might be helpful, to take a position that “I am not truly happy or at peace and so perhaps there is another way.”

This is what I mean by epistemic humility: the willingness to consider a way other than the one to which we seem congenitally assigned.

So the suggestion I make is that we give attention to our experience as it arises or appears to us. This is the essence of Husserl’s “phenomenological attitude.” Give attention to your first-person experience – explore it, describe it, dialogue with it – and see what happens.

Jan Koenderink, a physicist who makes a strong case for the inclusion of the phenomenological attitude in our living and thinking, makes the following observation about “what happens.”

there is visual awareness
though there is no one that sees
nor is there something seen

We can edit that little poem to account for “auditory awareness” or “tactile awareness” and its fundamental point remains intact.

there is auditory awareness
but there is no one that hears
nor is there something heard

Again, one doesn’t have to accept this or agree with it or even fully understand it (it is admittedly a big leap) in order to be helped by it. It is a fascinating aspect of this particular learning experience – whether one sees it as spiritual or scientific – that it basically teaches unto itself. It’s like dropping a flower petal into a stream – the petal is borne along without any contribution of its own.

Thus, we become interested in inner and outer peace, and give attention to it, and to what apparently obstructs it in our living, and . . . peace takes over and produces itself. It is self-generating and self-sustaining. It turns out that we – literally our very selves – are simply part of the active obstruction. And obstructions cannot de-obstruct on their own, but peace and love – or God or Jesus, if you like – can. And do.

I made up the prison in which I see myself. All I need do is recognize this and I am free (W-pI.57.2:2-3).

That is, we see the nature of the prison (which is our confused, or upside down, perception) and the prison is thereby undone. “We” don’t undo it because “we” are the prison. But the undoing still occurs.

So we give attention. We just gently give attention to life – what works, what doesn’t, past and future, hopes and dreams, fear and gratitude, other people, plants, rocks, stars, rivers and lakes. All of it; the whole welter. That is literally all we have to do. Giving attention in that way – not judging what occurs, merely noticing what occurs and not resisting what occurs – is what the course means when it instructs us to forget everything and come empty-handed unto God.

Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught you, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God (W-pI.189.7:1-5).

In my experience (and returning to our analogy), it was helpful to see Boston not as a place but a process. Not as a static object encased in space and time like an insect in amber but as a process. That is, I saw it as a network of relationships folding and unfolding into and out of one another, which no discernible start or end point. Seeing it that way made clear the value of “holding onto nothing” and “laying aside” all my thoughts, beliefs and ideas. What could possibly hold them but other thoughts, beliefs and ideas anyway?

Seeing life as relationships which are process-like gently undoes my faith in separation. Giving attention becomes the teacher and the student. Self and world fall away, save as appearances. Confusion abates and the peace and love that is our nature and our living comes forth of its own sure accord.

There is always more to say about love – our home and fundament – but this post is already too long. Thank you, as always, for reading. Happy holidays.

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On Happy Learners: Shared Remembering is Joy

What kind of learner shall I be today? With whom shall I undertake my study? What will be the standard by which my learning shall be judged either helpful or unhelpful?

A Course in Miracles teaches its students that “. . . the essential thing is learning is that you do not know” (T-14.XI.1:1). Everything begins when we are no longer invested in our “knowing,” when rather than defend it and justify it we choose instead to simply let it go. Doing so clears a space in which we can declare with integrity “I am determined to see things differently” (W-pI.21).

So the kind of learner we want to be is one who is “determined to see things differently,” and who recognizes that their past learning inhibits or obstructs this new mode of seeing. A mind which is closed cannot welcome anything new; similarly, a mind which is already full cannot welcome anything, new or otherwise.

Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God. (W-pI.189.7:2-5)

Becoming this kind of student presupposes humility. When we truly try to relinquish the familiar, we see how hard it is to do that. We see how committed we are to maintaining the status quo – only learning what reinforces existing belief systems and structures, only taking teachers whose teaching will not push us too far outside our comfort zones.

Humility comes naturally to us when we are honest about how unwilling we actually are. Tara Singh pointed out that it is possible to call oneself a student while constantly evading the learning to which the course calls us.

In has been my experience that the student is energized by ending the preoccupation with deception. The one who is not a student, but who thinks he wants to become a student, is attached to the illusion of learning. The difference is that one values undoing while the other is still interested in self-improvement and is going contrary to the very premise of the Course (Nothing Real Can Be Threatened 35).

Here, “deception” means our willingness to pretend that we are sincere and devout in our determination to “see things differently.” It means that our study is tepid and shallow, aimed at reinforcing the self-concept from which the course would otherwise allow us to be liberated. And rather than see this misguidance as it is and thus see it corrected, we merely glance at it, say “good enough” and carry on. Thus, our guilt and fear continue unabated under the guise of “I’m doing the best I can and getting better little by little.”

So it is helpful to become focused on uprooting our passivity and casualness. It is helpful to refuse to settle for half measures. This is a subjective experience, different for all of us, and giving attention to it answers the second question: with whom shall I undertake my study?

I shall study with folks who buttress my efforts to “see things differently,” by cheering me on when cheering is called for, and by calling me out when I become stubborn, argumentative, lazy and so forth. This presupposed a shared commitment to learning how to be better at being-in-love. Naturally this buttressing is mutual. We go together, or we do not go at all.

These folks are usually but not always course students. They are usually but not always present in a physical way. Some are dead, available only through texts they generously created and which remain accessible. Some are far away, available only through the occasional email or phone call. Sometimes they don’t even know they are helping or what they are helping with.

It doesn’t matter. I am grateful for them and turn to them as often as possible.

This leaves a final question. How shall we know if our study is helpful or unhelpful? Really the answer to that question is how happy we are – not in a merely emotional way and not in a merely circumstantial way. That level of happiness comes and goes. Rather, we are talking about happiness as a more holistic and integrated wellness that is relatively unaffected by our feelings and circumstances.

That happiness is impersonal and has to do with love. It is a reflection of our acceptance and extension of love in the broad Maturanan sense. When we attend that love, happiness arises naturally as our being, rather than as an experience of that being. Its essence is communicative, cooperative and communal. It isn’t worried for itself.

I am not suggesting we are all there or even should be. I am suggesting that our learning arises from our interior awareness that this state of joy exists and is our inheritance and thus merits our study and attention. We are the student remembering joy in the presence of students remembering joy whose shared remembering is joy.

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On Understanding and Lesson 3 of A Course in Miracles

The third lesson of A Course in Miracles asks us to declare that “I do not understand anything I see . . .” (W-pI.3). I want to say something about this lesson, mostly arising from my own experience of being a course student. Perhaps it will be helpful.

As human beings who are social and whose social communion arises primarily in our languaging, we make meaning and our meaning-making is premised on understanding. At any given moment, our experience “means” something and more than not we “understand” it. If we understood less or less consistently, then there wouldn’t be any experience, personal or otherwise. In a sense, to be bereft of meaning is to no longer be.

This is to say that we don’t have to be taught over and over what the growling in our stomachs is or what will quiet it. Faced with a cliff we turn back rather than leap forward. Every object in our world appears already-named, already-contextualized, already differentiated from the background.

Does this make sense? In a very basic and fundamental way, we are quite functional and this functionality seems to arise from understanding meanings that appear to be pre-given or at least already there. Our experience is always shared (it includes both animate and inanimate others), always meaningful (named, contextualized, differentiated), always anticipatory (there’s a future for which we must provide),and always re-membering (there’s a past which taught us how to handle the present and provide for the future).

But the perceptual and cognitive tools by which this dynamic and vivid experience appears are incomplete. Clearly they do not reveal a whole but rather a sequenced composition of parts necessary to the observer’s continuity. We get what we need. Critically, these perceptual and cognitive tools do not consist of a 1:1 correspondence with some external reality. Your goldfish can’t sleep in your bed, your cat could care less about Emily Dickinson poems, and you can’t persuade a cheetah to go vegetarian. The world is not fixed or pre-given but actively and continually constructed by observers; indeed, the world is its observers.

The upshot of all this as it relates to A Course in Miracles – forgive my long-windedness – and its lessons is that when we encounter words we translate them according to a context of which we are at best only partly aware. This “translating” and this “awareness” (partial or otherwise) are pre-intentional; they just happen. If you think they don’t, take a look at the word “Jesus” and don’t recognize it or attach any personal or historical or theological meaning to it. You can’t. You aren’t built that way.

So, when I began to study A Course in Miracles, I did so intellectually. I read it over and over, read all the secondary material (Wapnick, Singh, Williamson, Renard et cetera) I could get my hands on, took notes, turned those notes into essays and published them, talked with other students and teachers both online and off, correlated ACIM ideas with other spiritual, religious, philosophical and psychological traditions, took positions on contested issues . . .

That kind of study is quintessentially “Seanish.” It’s what this particular “I” does and it’s how this particular “I” does it. More to the point, generally speaking, it’s functional. It works. It’s fun, it’s nurturing, it’s dialogic, it’s sexy (at least I find it sexy when it appears in others so I assume it’s sexy when I do it) . . . so, generally speaking, it’s how living occurs. Not a lot of reflection precedes it. It feels right and natural. It feels given. It’s me being me; I just do it. Why not?

But in saying that, I am implicitly saying something that Claire Petitmengin recognizes as a challenge to clear thinking and communication which in turn complicates – sometimes painfully – our living together as human beings called to bring forth love.

[Since] our cognitive processes are the most personal
and intimate things about us, we think we are familiar with them, and cannot imagine for a moment that any particular inner effort should be necessary to become aware of them. . . [Yet] not only do we not know that we do not know . . . we believe that we know.

Is this clear? We don’t know that we don’t know, and we don’t know what we don’t know. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that we believe we know and so we never undertake to learn in a meaningful, transformative way. If we already know, then what is there to learn?

This is a universally human experience, but it can be especially acute in overly-verbose smarty-pants types like myself.

My early experience of the course lessons was shaped by the conviction – largely unseen and unchallenged at that point – that I already knew. The course was not new information so much as a reorganizing of principles and ideas with which I in my scholarship and mental wizardry was already familiar. It wasn’t the cake but the icing and I was already a pretty good baker.

So when the lesson said “I do not understand anything I see,” I assumed I understood what those words meant and cheerfully did the lesson. But that assumption was the very problem the lesson was given to address!

Thus, I was in a very important and consequential way blind to the course even as I “practiced” it.

My awakening as such began when at last I could read that lesson and rather than “do” it as I “understood” and “knew” it, stop and ask: “wait – is it true that I don’t understand anything I see? That can’t be right. Is it right? Oh my God it might be right . . . ”

At that juncture, with that question, learning begins because I am no longer specifying the outcome or answer. I am giving attention to the experience without qualifying it. I am not “assigning” meaning but rather seeing what meaning, if any, will naturally arise. I am receptive and open (if trembling and tentative). I am assuming the posture of a student. I am making inquiry from a state of epistemic humility. I don’t know what will happen and I am letting that be okay. If only for a few seconds I am suspending my inclination to know and be certain in order to simply be.

And it turns out this simply being is a process – a form of becoming – that enfolds us into one another and into the world, and the other and the world into us. To the extent we are able to sustain our attention to this process, then our learning as such transitions from a goal-oriented exercise to the lucid tranquility of awareness itself.

Our being – never still, never quiet, never discrete – yields to our becoming, which shapes and alters our being, which yields to our becoming, and so the processual, recursive nature of our experience continues. We are, so to speak, immersed anticipatingly, recursively, becomingly, livingly, that is, enkinaesthetically, with our world (Susan A.J. Stuart).

When I don’t know, and I know that I don’t know, then learning begins. Receptivity and generosity begin. In this beginning this way, I am no longer a teacher. Love is the teacher.

And here is the thing: Love’s classroom scares me. The human classroom intrigues and inspires and excites me but, because Love’s classroom doesn’t give a rat’s ass about scholarship or IQ or effort, it scares the crap out of me.

If Love didn’t scare me, then the course would not be a helpful or necessary corrective, and this public writing (which is in a sense a kind of atonement) would not be necessary either. You are probably here because you, too, are scared of Love, though this fear no doubt shows up – is described – a little differently for you.

Yet here we are, learning what it means to be in love, and how to be in love, which is to say, how to bring forth love, together and apart, for all the world that our living together brings forth. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I am grateful, especially since so much of my living suggests I’m basically not even aware of you, let alone loving you in a way that saves us and our world.

In my experience, A Course in Miracles is not about ending our spiritual search/psychological quest for wholeness/philosophical yearning for Truth in some ultimate or final sense but rather about making a better beginning. It taught me how to be humble and thus open to a way of thinking and being that at times still feels deeply unnatural. And yet.

That is all I mean when I say I have moved on from A Course in Miracles. It ended the foolishness and loneliness of delay which arose from misplaced confidence in personal knowing and shallow insistence on the sufficiency of becoming better. It nudged me gently but surely into a light which, oddly enough, you embody. But – equally oddly – you only embody it as I see it in you. And vice-versa.

Thus, absent you, no me. Absent me, no you. Our shared love – tender and tentative as it may be, dim as it sometimes seems – is literally the light of the world. I saw it the moment I knew I wasn’t seeing it: and you were the one that I saw.

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