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Pacing in the ACIM Daily Lessons

The early lessons of A Course in Miracles go slowly, the one building on the other in ways that can feel so slight as to be almost negligible. We might long for the express lane to awakening, or a path that appears less obtuse. Yet both the pace and the logic of the progression of the ACIM daily lessons builds a strong foundation for healing at the level of mind.

The sixth lesson of A Course in Miracles is a good example of this: “I am upset because I see something that is not there.”

We are not consistently happy. Our sense of peace and joy is always compromised. If we are not hurt or angry or guilty in one moment, we may well be in the next, and so a sense of impermanence always threatens even our happiest moments. Lesson Six of A Course in Miracles is an invitation to deepen our understanding that both our distress and our fragile inner peace are illusory because they they are premised on a wrong idea.

If we can reach that wrong idea, and see its ineffectiveness, then we can replace it with a better idea, which is to say, we can begin to re-learn a joy and inner peace that are not conditional.

We think that we are angry because so-and-so stepped on our toe. Or because it rained on our picnic. We think we are depressed because our preferred candidate didn’t win election. We think we are scared because the world isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously.

That is, we notice our feelings and we identify their cause. Absent the cause, we wouldn’t feel the way we feel. And the causes are always outside our control. I can’t fix the rain, I can’t cast more than one more vote, I can’t keep the world from stepping on my toes.

Lesson six does not deny the law of cause-and-effect, nor the way that it appears in our lives, but it does suggest that we reconsider our certainty that the external world can actually function as a cause. We are asked to name “the form of the upset (anger, fear, worry, depression and so on) and the perceived source very specifically” (W-pI.6.1:2).

This specificity is what allows us to anchor the lesson in a personal way (these are my feelings), and also in a way that feels logical and rational (this is the world I live in). The lesson’s effectiveness – and the workbook’s overall effectiveness – is strengthened by this.

For example, we might say “I am angry at my boss because she doesn’t recognize how much overtime I give to my job.”

Or, “I am depressed about my marriage because my partner no longer expresses much interest in me.”

Or, “I am scared because I don’t have enough money to pay next month’s property tax bill.”

To the ego – that is, to the habitual thought patterns that characterize our thinking minds – these seem like reasonable statements. Who would disagree?

But to each them, without qualification or conditions, Lesson Six adds: “I see something that is not there” (W-pI.6.1:4-5).

That is, the actual cause of our upset is not the named external cause but rather the fact that we “see something that is not there.”

In other words, both the form of our upset and the apparent cause are illusions. We think they are real – they certainly seem real and feel real – yet they are not. We are getting worked up literally over nothing.

But not quite nothing! For so long as we accept fear and guilt and anger as a part of our reality – to be judged good or bad, reasonable or unreasonable, to be mitigated, resisted, et cetera – than those experiences will remain real for us.

Whatever you accept into your mind has reality for you. It is your acceptance of it that makes it real. If you enthrone the ego in your mind, your allowing it to enter makes it your reality. This is because the mind is capable of creating reality or making illusions (T-5.V.4:1-4).

Thus, lesson six allows us to begin undoing what we have accepted into our mind. We look at the specific forms of our upset and distress as well as their perceived causes, but beyond that – as the lessons and our study and practice progress – we are undoing the very idea that what we are can be vulnerable at all.

. . . God created you as part of Him. That is both where you are and what you are. It is completely unalterable. It is total inclusion. You cannot change it now or ever. It is forever true. It is not a belief, but a Fact. Anything that God created is as true as He is. Its truth lies only in its perfect inclusion in Him Who alone is perfect. To deny this is to deny yourself and Him, since it is impossible to accept one without the other (T-6.II.6:2-11).

Accepting this as our actual identity feels like a big step and, as we currently think and live, is is, but keep in mind that we are not called on to make it either alone or all at once. Indeed, the Lessons of A Course in Miracles aim at gently but surely correcting our thought process so that accepting our oneness with God does not feel like a big or scary or dramatic step. Rather, it feels natural. It feels like saying “yes to what already is.

To that end, Lesson Six is a gentle nudge to look more closely at our thinking, and to consider that it may not be working very well. That’s really it. We are getting tied up in knots over something that’s not there. We are like children panicking over a nightmare, unable to discern that it was only a dream (e.g., T-6.V.2:1-5).

Giving our attention and energy to the order of the workbook lessons, we begin to perceive the light that wakens us and, in time, to perceive that the light is us. As we accept that our egoic thinking only perpetuates anxiety, depression, fear and guilt by virtue of a confused application of the law of cause-and-effect, we naturally make space for a healthier way of thinking, one that allows our natural happiness and love to extend themselves in perpetuity.

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A Course in Miracles: Spirit Makes No Comparisons

Everything that we perceive arises as – and on account of – distinctions. A raspberry is not a blueberry which is not a bowl of ice cream which is not the river flowing in the distance. Given our structure, in order for anything to be brought forth, it must be distinguished from what it is not.

If you look into this, you will see how it works. Just look at the cup; look at the river; look at your desires and dreams. After a while, one naturally begins to wonder what the first distinction is, or even what the ground from which the first distinction (and all subsequent distinctions) arise.

These are fun and interesting questions! The challenge is that, given our structure – both physical and cognitive – we cannot reach the undifferentiated ground from which all distinctions arise. We can speculate about the ground; we can argue for its existence. But we can’t reach it. The Beginning, the Source, God, the Divine Et Cetera – remains forever separate from us (at least in form 🙂 ).

A Course in Miracles asserts that this habit of distinction – which is separation – represents the fundamental difference between ego and spirit. Ego distinguishes, and its distinctions are its ongoing struggle to live; spirit does not make comparisons and thus lives forever.

Critically, spirit cannot be known via comparisons (or judgment of any kind).

Spirit . . . is not a continuum, nor is it understood by being compared to an opposite. Knowledge never involves comparisons. This is its main difference from everything else the mind can grasp (T-4.II.11:9, 11-13).

This bright line – spirit here, ego there – is the foundation of ACIM’s assertion that spirit is forever unaware of ego and vice-versa (e.g., T-4.II.8:5-8). You can’t get there from here. You can’t have a spiritual experience as an ego.

But there is hope because our distinction-making minds can learn to be “right-minded.” To be right-minded is be “uniformly without attack” (T-4.II.10:2) because the mind understands and accepts without question that spirit “is not in danger and does not need to be salvaged” (T-4.II.9:7).

Ego’s dominion crumbles when we no longer perceive spirit as an enemy – that is, as a separate object that has something we want (eternal life, perfect joy) that it won’t just share with us. Our battle with our misperception of spirit is literally what the ego is. When we stop fighting, ego is gone.

This is what A Course in Miracles intimates right-mindedness is. And the inevitable outcome of this healed clarity is the realization that perception itself is unnecessary (T-4.II.11:3).

That is a powerful statement that makes no sense – and cannot make sense – to the structure that we have and with which we are aligned. How can one live without perception?

You may ask how this is possible as long as you appear to be living in this world. That is a reasonable question. You must be careful, however, that you really understand it. Who is the “you” who are living in this world? (T-4.II.11.5-8).

To the body, the world and other bodies will always be real. They will always be the beginning of our questioning, which means that – as regards what the body cannot understand – and our answers will be confused and unhelpful. You can’t explain how a bicameral legislature works to a child; no more can you explain spirit’s function to the ego (whose very existence depends on misunderstanding).

So the work as such is to let go of ego. This happens when we give attention to our living and notice when we are thinking egoically – which is to say, in terms and conditions that make sense only to bodies. I want this and if I don’t get it I’ll be miserable, I must have that to prove to everyone I’m special, that person is evil, this person is not pleasing me, et cetera.

Noticing these thought patterns is not easy! We are habituated to thinking from the perspective – the location – of a body at stake in a world. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to take the alternative slowly, to admit to confusion or even fear. It’s okay to notice ego but still not understand how to think another way – with God or Spirit or Christ.

Admitting our status as beginners is what brings forth the ladder we ascend to joy and peace; it’s what makes the ascent possible.

In truth, as soon as we open ourselves up to the confusion that a good question initially begets, we are no longer of the ego, but are turning our attention to the abstract light of Christ, or Spirit, which is itself the answer.

That is, we begin to perceive that the answer is not how to better use the body, or better relate to other bodies, but rather to attend the light – the life – in which those bodies are brought forth.

The Kingdom of Heaven is you. What else but you did the Creator create, and what else but you is His Kingdom? . . . Your ego and your spirit will never be co-creators, but your spirit and your Creator will always be (T-4.III.1:4-5).

In other words, there is no distinction between “having the Kingdom of God and being the Kingdom of God” (T-4.9:7). The body believes there is a difference; spirit knows otherwise.

In your own mind, though denied by the ego, is the declaration of your release. God has given you everything (T-4.III.9:1-2).

Give attention. Let the world soften and blur. Let the body be a body. When we release the body from the demands of ego, it becomes a prism through which the light of Christ – which is the light of Love – streams. We are not the object which notices those streams; we are the streams. We are together – the very streams of Love.

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Doubt as a Christian Virtue

Radical doubt underlies my experience of being Christian. At any moment – for any length of time – I am willing to let the whole practice and tradition go, to see it all as unhelpful, confused, discriminatory, superficial, distracting, unnecessary, illogical . . .

It is like an enormous wave overtaking this aspect of my experience, decimating it and strewing the pieces for miles across the landscape.

The work is to let this wave of doubt come and go of its own volition without resisting it, without trying to turn it into something that it’s not. And then, in the ruins, in whatever remains, reconstruct anew the fundamental relationship: self/other, self/Christ, self/God, self/world, et cetera.

It is not easy.

Given my structure as Homo Sapiens, my inclination is to solve problems and resist what appears to cause them. When uncertainty arises, the inclination is to do whatever possible to convert it to certainty. Doubt is the sand on which no stable residence can be constructed.

This feels rational and self-loving. After all, it is a natural aspect of being human. I am not disappointed in myself for being unwilling to live in doubt.

Yet on the other hand, doubt, too, is natural. It, too, arises as a fundament of my structure and nature. Clearly it is sometimes merited – how else do we learn? Become more loving, helpful, patient, instructive? Thus, I want to notice doubt. I want to give attention to it.

Letting doubt just happen – letting it arise naturally in my living without rushing in to change it – is what I mean by “noticing” doubt. By “giving attention”, I mean simply letting doubt have its own space by being in responsive dialogue with it. What does it feel like? What does it want? It clearly wants my attention. But why? How?

Who and what am I when I doubt?

I do not seek doubt, and yet at times it is there. I cannot kill or otherwise end it, for it always returns. While I have the capacity to respond to doubt, I am not its author. I am not its master. Like temptation, like surrender, it is given.

Of course, if doubt is natural, then it arises in concordance with Christ, the light in which all things have their existence. In the lawful order of God, that which appears is what is given and, as such, is the material in which it is also given to work out holiness and grace, and to end – if possible, to whatever degree possible – our alienation from God and Love.

Thus, rather than resistance and disdain, doubt deserves welcome and acceptance. In a sense, this suggests that Christ is that which – in addition to welcoming Christ – is that which doubts Christ. Christ inheres in doubt as well as certainty.

Thus, when I sit quietly and doubt Christ, I sit with Christ. In my nonresistance to doubt, I affirm Christ and Christ affirms me, even if – perhaps especially if – I do not experience the relief and joy such affirmation would seem to propose.

So Christ does not come and go according to my experience of doubt or of certainty; Christ is present in and as both.

This is another way of saying that Christ is beyond – transcends, perhaps (is other than) – the dichotomy of “I feel good/I feel bad.”

I am not suggesting that if we are unhappy we should double down on our unhappiness. It’s okay to come in from the rain. It’s okay to take an aspirin. It’s okay to call bullshit on somebody who’s full of shit (temporarily or otherwise). I simply observe that doubt is not antithetical to living Christianly.

When I no longer resist doubt but accept it as “also Christ,” as “Christ which does not come or go,” then an opening appears. Life widens. Doubt exposes a chasm, an abyss, one we are already toppling through in darkness. It reveals that as constituted – in our very living right now – we cannot find our way, cannot assert who “we” even are, or what “our way” might even be.

And yet, in this emptiness – in this void – we discover agape, the unconditional, impersonal, all-inclusive love which shifts our living from the narrow confines of self (that can be lost, found, and lost again) to the radiant wellspring of the collective, the whole related unto us, in which my joy and your joy are one joy, one love.

It is knowing this one love that enables us to live from it – as it – and thus embody the good news that death is conquered and only happiness and peace need attend our living. Doubt is not a failure of faith, nor a glitch in our well-being but the essence of our humanness, which forever relates us through Christ to Love itself.

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Attention without Goals

One way to think about giving attention is to see it as essentially permissive or even passive – it does not seek to change the object which is being attended (which may include attention itself). Attention has no goal outside its own expression or existence.

A great deal of our psychic energy, especially in our western religious and intellectual traditions (the generative nexus where A Course in Miracles dwells), focuses on changing the objects in our attention through healing, improvement, modification, amendment, substitution and so forth.

For most of my life, the predominant culture has emphasized “wellness,” “self-help,” and the dawning of a “new age” in which holiness, inner peace and joy prevail.

In that setting (and in the setting of anticipating that setting), is it natural to focus on what is not working – what makes us unhappy – and then actively work to transition to happiness. In that setting, not striving for spiritual betterment et cetera is incoherent.

For example, say that I am frustrated with how much prep work I have to do for the summer class I teach. I’d rather be planting in the garden, re-fencing the horse pasture, fixing the back stairs, gazing at violets, sitting with my feet in the river . . .

A traditional approach to that dilemma would be to try and change the frustration to acceptance – to go from being unhappy to happy – and to do so by specifically interacting with the frustration. We “deal” with the external circumstances.

On that view, perhaps I meditate on the reasons to be grateful for teaching – the student/teacher relationships, the income, the insights into specific writing and critical thinking challenges and how to respond to them, the opportunity to practice compassion and clarification . . .

Or maybe I bargain, because compromise is spiritual. I will do half the requisite prep for classes, and work in the garden but wait a few days to re-fence the pasture.

Or maybe I reframe the issue altogether. Why complain about teaching when some people don’t have clean water or safe homes? I mean, Jesus was literally tortured and executed and he didn’t whine. Have some perspective Sean!

Giving attention is an alternative to all that. I don’t say those approaches are wrong; they are certainly consistent with my experience over the years. But giving attention is different.

When I give attention to frustration I just let the frustration be what it is. It is like welcoming a nagging guest into my home. When I give attention, I don’t try to cut the visit short, or limit the number of rooms they can see, or curtail the dialogue. I just notice the visit, attend to it, and keep on attending and noticing until it is over.

Noticing is a form of being curious: I just want to see what this experience is. What does it feel like? What does it seem to want? Why do I want from it?

I became fluent in the language of “letting go,” “letting be” and “just breathe” and all of that around age twenty-two. That was when my confused Catholicism and early forays into psychotherapy met the Buddha and I began a relatively brief and half-assed (but intense and influential) study and practice of Zen.

But even in that setting – for which I remain grateful, tendrils of which yet bloom in my living – my “letting go,” “letting be,” and “just breathe” were subtly conditional. I’ll let go and let be and just breathe because doing so will cause negativity to evaporate, leaving only joy and inner peace.

In that way, self-improvement, betterment, willfulness and so forth all remained active ideals, active motivations. An underlying sense of needing to achieve a state other than the one I was presently in remained pervasive.

And it went on being pervasive through my thirties and forties. Through a much more serious and relatively mature engagement with Catholicism and psychotherapy, and finally through A Course in Miracles which for the better part of a decade supplanted psychotherapy and Catholicism and functioned as the whole of my practice.

It is important to remember that better/self-improvement/etc is okay; the impulse occurs in everyone, to varying degrees. We have the structure of human beings. That means that we have an inherent tendency to notice and solve problems. And, given our opposable thumbs and gift for language and so forth, we have become almost unimaginably good at problem-solving. Heart transplants, walking on the moon, representative democracy, food cooperatives, toilet paper . . . How grateful I am!

And yet, the ostensibly simple problem of being able to sit quietly without stress or anxiety, and to let others sit that way as well, appears practically insurmountable. Just being happy, content, at ease, alone and with others . . .

This became painfully and viscerally obvious to me in the past couple of years, as all my learning and thinking and study and sincerity failed to transform the underlying mechanism of “notice what’s wrong, identify a fix, apply the fix, evaluate the fix, notice what’s still wrong, identify a fix, apply the fix . . .”

Was there any way off that conveyor belt going nowhere?

I began to think of giving attention as a sort of spiritual practice coexisting with my practice of A Course in Miracles at some point in 2015. I realized then that a particularly vexing relationship did not exist unless I looked at it, and in that moment, became utterly fascinated with how attention worked.

What did it mean that fear and guilt could literally disappear? Where did it go? Why did it come back? Was attention responsive? Biological? What was the difference between attention and awareness? Why can’t attention give attention to itself? Or can it? Are there a priori reasons that a source/cause should appear or not appear to its effect?

These questions led to some very complex thinkers and fields of research, a lot of which I can only pretend to understand. Yet that study truly shifted the way I interacted with the world and with others sharing that world (broadly defined to include people, black bears, sunflowers, stars, et cetera). I went slower, with more patience and humility.

But it wasn’t until the past year or so that I began to realize “giving attention” was akin to what other folks were calling “meditation” or “mindfulness practice” or “contemplative prayer”.

In that tradition, “giving attention” is liberating, just because it frees me from the ongoing cycle of self-improvement, which always see-saws from “things are great!” to “things need work.” I become willing at last to see in a clear and fructive way my utter ranklessness (the premise of our shared equality) and the futility and lovelessness of believing it is possible to have something that others do not (which is the underlying premise of self-improvement – it is very hard to see this clearly but it’s there to be seen).

When I no longer needed to change anything, when I was truly willing to just let it be what it was, and attend to it on those terms, rather than my own, living settled in a very deep and loving way.

You could imagine the shift somewhat like someone who stumbles on an old guitar and plays around with it, learning some rudimentary chords and melodies. But then one day someone more expert shows her how to tune the guitar. And suddenly, everything she was doing has a new flavor. It coheres in a delightful, integral and harmonious way.

The essence of giving attention – or mindfulness or meditation, if you like – is simply intentional nonresistance. What is this experience? What does this breath feel like? What does that bird sound like? *Where does it sound? What does the zafu feel like on my ass? Who is this “me” asserting possession of that ass? Et cetera.

It is an ongoing noticing what is happening – what this experience is – without rushing to do anything about it, which includes defining it, explaining it, translating it, et cetera.

I tend to prefer an academic approach to the world. I am happiest with books, second happiest writing, and third happiest talking about what I’m reading and writing. That’s okay!

But it is also profoundly powerful to simply spend some time noticing all that without needing to engage with it. A lot of what arises doesn’t require engagement; and when engagement does happen, it is enriched and nourished by the calm of having been still and attentive, by engaging on terms other than those that “I” assert.

Of course, one could argue that “giving attention” is a form of engagement; I wouldn’t disagree. Yet I might reframe it: “giving attention” is a form of being in gentle relationship with what gives attention, a soft mutuality that is less active than contemplative and more present than provactive, proactive, et cetera.

In any case, a generative inner peace obtains – not merely our personal feeling of at-ease, but an ease that offers itself to a world that receives it, as if confirming – and conforming to – a blessing.

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Inner Peace and Christ as Light

With respect to inner peace, the suggestion here is twofold.

First, the world is forever an image of God which is endlessly partial and thus merely hints at God.

For example, imagine that you see the Sistine Chapel but only through a narrow window. The size of the window only allows you to perceive a slim portion of the overall work. What you see captures the grandeur and loveliness of the whole but never the whole itself. You want to see the whole – how could you not – but the means of seeing forever limit your perception.

In that way, our structure as human beings brings forth a partial world. It appears “whole” relative to us (there is only this – this this!) but upon investigation and consideration, we see that this relative wholeness (while helpful, natural, lovely, nurturing, et cetera) is never Wholeness itself.

Second, the light in which this partial world is seen, is perceived, is Christ, and the light is what lives. What is seen – the actual image – does *not live, anymore than a photograph of you can speak, bake bread, make love, visit the horses, et cetera. You are not the image of you, nor is anything else.

Given the first condition – partiality and intimation – longing naturally arises. We long to know that which we are structurally prohibited from knowing. Or, put another way, we long to transcend our structure. Thus desire – holy and otherwise.

Sometimes this longing begets practices – a wide range of them, some spiritual, some not – which aim at transcendence or understanding, at – broadly speaking – managing this longing.

One of those paths – the path on which I shuffle and stumble, so often confused, occasionally clear and joyous, nearly always wordy – deploys a Christian language and ritual which aims at comprehending and integrating – and comprehending and integrating comprehension and integration – nonduality.

On that path, our savior is a Living Christ, who is (I suggest) “the light in which this partial world is seen, is perceived.” As I sometimes say – less dramatically and poetically, with less theological gravity: “give attention.”

Attention is a gift to us, because we did not invent it, and it is a gift from us, because We can – with care, with intention – offer it. To give attention is to notice deliberately, and noticing is a form of love.

Thus, when we give attention, we love, and what we attend is “in love” and this giving-attention-as-love can become ecstatic and holy very very quickly. One slips into it; indeed, in a certain light, a Christly light, one is never not slipping into it.

The wonder of this amplifies when it becomes clear – as in time it must – that we, too, are attended. We, too, are simply images visible in the light that is Christ.

That is, when we turn attention on itself, to its source, there is nothing to be found. The central self, organizer, director – the one for whom so much is at stake – is simply not there. There is no center and, also, the center is everywhere. Alleluia!

This is the paradoxical beauty of attentiveness: eventually everything in it dissolves without actually dissolving. There is nothing there, and everything is there to prove it.

All of this should be understood simply as a way of thinking about this shared experience of being human, a way of ordering that experience in order to make us happier, healthier, more peaceful and helpful, and so forth.

We have a subjective experience of being, of being human in a context (world, culture, family, obsessions, challenges) and the question arises of how we are to respond to that experience and context.

The way that we respond works or fails to work, and we adjust accordingly (often without knowing we are adjusting, for it is natural to seek balance, homeostasis, coherence – this is what life does, that is how God Gods).

Thus, I enter daily – moment by moment – a relationship with Christ, who is the light in which all things (including Christ) are seen, and that light (that consciousness, awareness, spaciousness) is always sufficient unto our longing, especially when we relax and allow longing to simply be a phenomenon to attend rather than a problem to be solved.

I don’t say that God – the Whole, et cetera – appears. I don’t make any grand assertion like that. I simply say that the longing engendered by partiality – this endless dance of distinction which is our living – is satisfied by Christ, by devout and faithful attention to the light in which the longing appears.

I say this not to teach you – for indeed this is the lesson you are always teaching me – but rather to say that your student is happy, grateful, ambling hither and yon, and home.

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Self, Self-Image and God

Say that I take a picture of you, and set it next to you. Now I have you and an image of you.

wild_violets

wild violets near the apple trees where to mow would be to refuse the gift attention offers

If I want to feed you – bake you bread, make you tea – I will not place sustenance before the photograph.

If I want to hold you or walk with you, I will not cradle or sidle the photograph.

You are not the image of you.

If we throw the photograph into a fire, you do not burn. If we throw it into a lake, you don’t drown.

This is clear to the point of silly, right? The photograph is an image of you and you are not the image.

Now say that the embodied self – the one I feed and hold and walk beside – is also an image. On this view, the photograph is an image of an image.

But if this is so, then what is that image – the embodied self – an image of?

That is, the photograph is an image of your body, which is your external appearance to an observer (who could be your own self). But if your body is also an image, then of what is it an image?

Here I am going to dodge a little, but playfully. Here I will say that your body – that vivid, three-dimensional, pulsating loveliness – is a distinction which arises when any observer (which must include you) distinguishes “you” from all that is “not-you.”

{in this way you bring forth – for me – love}

On that view, you – your body, your appearance – is a cleft in the void, a brief seam in the indivisible wholeness that is God, pure emptiness and plenitude, not-one-and-not-two, one-without-another and not-one-without-another . . .

Of course, this is all experienced as your body (as an image, an appearance) by my body. “A cleft in the void, a brief seam in the indivisible wholeness that is God, pure emptiness and plenitude et cetera” is poetic wisdom or nonsense, according to whether it helpfully points in the direction of – facilitates, really – entering directly intimately this experience of image-intimating-God.

If I have a photograph of you – an image – I will tend to the image with love, because it reflects you, right? I don’t throw it in the fire or in the lake. I don’t desecrate it.

But I don’t confuse the image with you, the embodied you, the you that I walk with, bake bread with and sit quietly before the fire with.

In the same way, given the actual you, the embodied you, the sit-by-the-fire you, I am patient, gentle, helpful and kind (according to my limits, which are legion), again, because the embodied you reflects – indicates in its partialness – God.

{for our partialness is holiness, our appearance itself is Christ forever indicating the generative God out of which all appearance rises}

The image hints. It points at what gives rise to it. Appearances, too, hint. They arouse a desire to know fully, wholly, directly, intimately the other, who is our own self, which is also a hint, an appearance longing for the other. The world is constituted, is brought forth, by this mutual reflexive longing, the self forever seeking itself in the other – the multiplicity of others – all of whom are intimations of God, Wholeness, Generative Emptiness, the Divine Et Cetera and Holy Et Alia et cetera.

{for the world is always the brim, always spilling, always the horizontal refulgence, the eclipse that never eclipses, the shirt that never fully falls to the floor but hangs suspended in half-light, angel and ghost, holiness and haunt, here and not-here both}

At the level of the image – the appearance – which is the level of distinguishing, of distinction – there is only ever longing, the existence of which is contingent on never being fully satisfied, fully met, or fully given and received.

Yet by entering longing – by giving attention to its moisty circularity – one glimpses – tastes – God, which is both void and plenitude, timeless and formless, before and after and outside language and also the radiant essence always speaking, forever bringing forth the joy and peace that surpasses understanding in love: this love: this you, always you.

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On Bringing Forth Reflexive Domains

One element of reflexive domains is that they are not pre-existing. We do not discover or detect them. Rather, they arise with us. We bring them forth as they bring us forth. This is love.

When I say “bring them forth” I do not mean that we will them into being. For we, too, are brought forth. We are not our own author! We arise with the reflexive domain; as we specify, or distinguish, it, in turn it specifies or distinguishes us.

Seeing this mutuality clearly allows one to experience living as reflexive. What we call the self is simply a reflexive loop – really, many reflexive loops – intertwined with an apparently infinite number of other reflexive loops. The shared loopiness is the reflexive domain.

One way to give attention to this, is to attend one’s ordinary experience in a simple but focused way. Take my cup of coffee this morning. In order to perceive “cup of coffee” I must distinguish it. I must separate it from what it is not.

Thus, the mug of coffee is not the table on which it rests. It is not the east-facing window that frames it. It is not the room in which the table and window are found. It is not the house in which the room is found, nor the town in which the house is found, nor the country in which the town is found, nor the planet on which the country is located, nor the solar system in which . . .

You see where this goes? In order to specify the coffee mug, the entire universe must also be specified. The mug – and the whole cosmos – come into being at the same time. Absent one, the other is not possible. They mutually specify one another.

It’s true we ordinarily don’t think of it this way. It’s true that when we look at the coffee mug we don’t also realize the universe. But that does not make the observation untrue or unhelpful. You can, if you like, look at your morning tea or coffee, and see in it the literal shape and form of the cosmos.

And to say this is simply to say that the mug – and the cosmos – and the awareness of both – arise together in a reflexive domain, that is neither a beginning nor an end, but simply a process. And, as a process, it is stable unto other observers who observe it in their own reflexive domain – one that the present-awareness we call the self may not have the slightest inkling of, just as your coffee mug is probably not aware you are using it to give attention to the cosmos.

Our living changes a little based on this insight. It’s harder to sustain anger and jealousy and greed and so forth. Since everyone can be our own self, the need to “win” or “possess” loses a lot of its intensity. The desire to help seems to come to the fore, probably as a function of self-love, or just love itself.

But even if it doesn’t, it’s okay, because the domain itself simply goes along, endlessly transforming and looping and folding. War, famine and pestilence can’t deter it. Not seeing it doesn’t deter it. I can’t see the back of my head right now but the hair on it grows just fine.

However, we notice as give attention that this ongoing process, this infinitely transformative loopiness, these sensuous undulations, are responsive. It is possible to give attention; it is possible to respond. We can try to feed the hungry; we can invent vaccinations for diseases; we can be dialogic rather than monologic. We can choose non-zero sum games rather than zero-sum games.

We can seek and find coherence.

All this is a way of saying that reflexive domains are creative. Creativity is their essence. It is natural to bring forth love and coherence. It is natural to be playful and peaceful. It is natural to serve one another.

This is a lovely thing to perceive! The work becomes less about our own “awakening” or “enlightenment” than simply attending the bringing forth of love in a reflexive domain whose transformations are fundamentally loving.

Thus, we aren’t inventing love or fighting for love or insisting on love: we are simply giving attention to the love that naturally arises as a function of the reflexivity that we naturally are. There are blocks to love, yes. There is looking away from love, yes. But these are not proof of hate! They are not proof of the absence of love! Rather, they are emptinesses whose form specifies love. When we see this, the love that is is naturally brought forth is brought forth.

For example, I might notice that I am impatient in the classroom, and that my impatience makes some students anxious, frustrated, confused. But the very impatience and its effects make clear what love is – love is the patience and kindness which soothes anxiety, calms frustration, and clarifies confusion.

The apparent absence of love testifies to the ongoing presence of love, and when it does, then love is present. Love is brought forth.

Love does not actually become absent. We merely forget about it, or fail to notice it, or stubbornly resist it. But love is akin to breathing. It’s just there. It inheres in living. We can become more or less skillful, attentive, responsible and so forth with respect to breathing but so long as we are living, we are breathing. Just so with love.

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On Reperceiving

I have been thinking lately about the concept of reperceiving. Reperceiving is a way of enlarging the field of awareness, such that one no longer focuses obsessively or exclusively on a personal or subjective sense of an experience, set of circumstances, et cetera.

When we repercieve, it becomes possible to perceive more of the situation – other perspectives or possibilities, which in turn foster humility and other forms of gentleness as we respond to the situation.

Here is how Shauna Shapiro, a mindfulness teacher whose work is clear and helpful puts it in “Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making” (co-written wth Hooria Jazaieri and Philippe R. Goldin):

. . . our ethical decision making process, when personal is typically driven by emotional intuitions, however, these can be modified and brought into more conscious awareness and reflection, by taking a more objective approach to the situation. One of the central features of mindfulness practice, is this capacity to shift perspective from subject to object, whereby experience becomes less personal and subjective, allowing the practitioner to see with greater clarity and objectivity. This shift in perspective has been termed reperceiving.

I actually wonder if reperceiving is a misnomer. My sense is that perception is initially sound, but then egoic mind patterns enter and “reperceive” the situation through their own distorted and distorting lens, begetting confusion and discord to varying degrees.

On that view, the second – or repeated – perception (the reperception) is the ego’s and is unhelpfully complex, self-serving, dramatic, et cetera.

In that sense, mindfulness-based practices allow for a spaciousness in which one’s ego-based patterning is slower and less tenacious, which means that the original clear seeing – which is our natural state, our natural seeing – retains its fundamental clarity and efficacy.

The basic idea is to redirect our attention in a way that broadens awareness. Mindfulness practices help by emphasizing non-resistance. We simply notice what is – we give attention to it – without instantly moving to change, amend, alter or improve it. We just let the experience be what it is. When we do this in an gently sustainable intentional way, awareness expands – spaciousness arises – and there is more clarity, compassion, patience, interest and so forth.

As Shapiro et al note, this has nontrivial social and cultural ramifications.

There is ample empirical evidence that mindfulness increases compassion and empathy. It has been suggested that through helping one dis-identify with a subjective, ego-centered perspective, mindfulness helps practitioners to see another’s perspective and to cultivate greater empathy and compassion.

As I alluded to here, one way to understand the final lessons of A Course in Miracles may be as encouraging us to develop a mindfulness practice. “Greater empathy and compassion” are equivalent to bringing forth more love. Reperceiving – however one defines it (though tracking Shapiro is probably the better part of wisdom 🙂 ) – simply direct us to notice how noticing expands to become more effective and inclusive, which is to say, more loving.

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What are Miracles

In A Course in Miracles, miracles are shifts in mind away from fear and towards love. In that sense, our function as miracle workers is to become consistently and sustainably miracle-minded. To be patient, kind and gentle where we were formerly impatient, unkind and rough. Or, simpler yet, to be loving where we were formerly fearful.

That is easy enough to say but remarkably difficult to bring into application. It is the gap between saying “God is Love” and actually living that way. We do it at some times and in some places. We do it with some people. But we do not do it uniformly or consistently. Why? Why do we resist what would make deeply, naturally and sustainably happy?

I think the unsexy is answer is simply that our conditioning in favor of fear is sufficiently powerful that undoing it is not easy and thus presents as undesirable. The radical and unconditional love to which A Course in Miracles directs our attention often appears irrational or even impossible, the domain of saints and martyrs.

Yet I suggest that this radical and unconditional love is our fundament – is the very ground and essence of our being – and so is deeply natural and even effortless. It is our shared domain, brought forth through mutuality – through cooperation, coordination and communication. It is our life but unrecognized, unrealized. Hence our feeling of loss, separation, victimhood, spiritual poverty, et cetera.

Of course, the hope in all that is simply that we already are what we week. Therefore, the solution as such is simply to see clearly what already is. We don’t nee to obtain anything new – an idea, a teacher, a practice. We simply give attention – settle into stillness and acceptance – and allow Love to reveal itself to us again, to presently remember itself in our living.

The final five lessons of A Course in Miracles direct us to a meditation practice in which we surrender self-centered control and goal-setting in favor of giving attention to what is. We do not direct what arises, or master what arises, or modify what arises. We merely observe what arises as it arises.

And if I need a word to help me, Love will give it to me. If I need a thought, that will Love also give. And if I need but stillness and a tranquil, open mind, these are the gifts I will receive of Love. Love is in charge by my request (W-pII.361-365.1:1-4).

[This is easier to understand if we remind ourselves that God is Love, and amend the workbook language accordingly, as I have done here]

Thus, the culmination of our study and practice is the work of sitting quietly with Love, allowing life to live itself through us, without interference or resistance of any kind (grasping, obsessing, controlling, et cetera).

I do not suggest this is easy. But I do suggest it is natural. And that after a little egoic blather, Mind settles and what arises is Love – in and out of familiar forms (friends, teachers, bluets, guitars, horses, home-baked bread, dreams, chocolate, orgasms, Emily Dickinson poems, chickadees, deer prints by the river, starlight, spinach seeds and so forth).

In that sense, A Course in Miracles falls away because it must, because it is not actually there, and yet paradoxically remains present if we need to gently touch it or be held by it, when touching or being held is helpful.

There is no shame but only helpfulness in giving warm welcome to the many formal symbols Love assumes in our Living.

For our practice now is merely to turn repeatedly towards Love – to bring forth Love in all we do – which is finally to lose our selves in Love – to forget that which is not Love – which together is to find the still and silent Self we are – together – in Love.

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A Shorter Course in Miracles

A few years ago I realized that my sense of being a student of A Course in Miracles had shifted. There was a feeling of having “finished” the course, and of needing to direct my attention in new ways and other directions.

I say this carefully, because learning is ongoing, and I don’t want to give the impression I think I’ve attained any special state or insight with respect to the course or God or inner peace. I was a diligent student, as diligence goes, and my gratitude for the course is immense, but I am always being touched by folks whose understanding and practice deepens and expands my own.

I sometimes observe that spiritual growth appears less like climbing a ladder or advancing by degrees and more like just shining a light around an enormous darkened space. When we lift our lanterns together, more of the space is illuminated. We all see better. And nobody’s lamp is sufficient on its own. The work, as such, is to learn to lift our lamps and to help and support others in lifting their own.

Thus, we do what’s in front of us to be done (write this, study that), and let the various spiritual chips fall where they may. Since they are going to fall anyway, what do we have to lose by relaxing and letting be?

Last month, during a relatively busy weekend of reading and grading papers, I wrote a little document called A Shorter Course in Miracles. It clocks in under 400 words – more like a micro-course than a short course, I suppose. It had been on my mind for a while; it was nice to write it out.

Although it seems like one writes because they have something to say, I actually write in order to see what is going on in my thinking. Writing is always responsive for me. It is always a form of learning rather than teaching, even as folks are sometimes helped by what is written or shared.

Thus, this micro-course, this Shorter Course in Miracles, this writing exercise, is simply another way of looking at what is there to be looked at and learned from. And if something is there to be engaged with, then engage with it. As to results or outcomes, let be. Let be.

You can read A Shorter Course in Miracles online if you like, or you can download a copy.

As always, thank you so much for reading what I write. Without you, it wouldn’t mean a thing.

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