≡ Menu

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.

{ 0 comments }

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.

{ 2 comments }

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.

{ 0 comments }

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.

{ 0 comments }

Love Begins With Two

In “You Have to Be Two to Start: Rational Thoughts About Love” Ernst Von Glasersfeld makes an interesting observation which is that in order to experience love, “you have to be two.” That is, what is one has to construct an other – become two – and then be in relationship with that other in order to know love.

This relates to George Spencer-Brown’s notion – supported by his weird but rigorous algebra – that the universe is capable of seeing itself, but in order to do so must cleave itself into a part that sees and a part that is seen. It distinguishes itself from itself.

But Spencer-Brown points out that since the universe is not actually distinct from itself, any division is always partial and thus, in its partiality, is false to itself. It hints at oneness, but is never actual oneness.

That is, so long as we are experiencing self and other, we might catch glimpses or intimations of oneness, and these hints might be comforting or orgasmic or exhilarating, but they are never actual oneness, no matter how intense or apparently persuasive.

Von Glasersfeld’s analysis makes clear that love is not a mystical union wherein two separate parts become one such that the separate parts are no longer separately identifiable. Rather, it is a common-sense art two (or more) separate parts practice out of a shared desire to see and share with the other.

We are self and other precisely because what is one – what distinguished by us as self and other – desires love. In this sense, the appearance of separation is the literal form of desire.

As von Glasersfeld understands it, insisting that love be “mystical” or “spiritual” can actually impede our experience of it.

I have reached the conclusion that there is a widespread illusion that makes the continued existence of love impossible. As long as children are brought up to believe that love just happens like a magic spell which comes from outside and creates and perpetuates itself, then it cannot function. Love – as Ovid pointed out long ago – is an art. It has to be constantly created and requires persistent vigilance, care, and thoughtfulness.

Given the appearance of self and other, we must become responsible unto the implicit – the apparently embodied – desire for love.

In this sense, a “mystic” is really someone who has learned that unity is our shared fundament and then does the hard work of sharing that learning and practicing it with others (broadly defined so as to include sunflowers, pine trees, oceans and stars et cetera) each of whom could be our very own self. Thus, as von Glasersfeld points out, to be loving always includes an ethical responsibility unto the other.

The partner is always what we experience of him or her. We have abstracted him or her from our own experiences and therefore he or she is our construction and not, for example, a thing in itself which exists independently from us.

Everyone and everything that we encounter is a distinction that we – ourselves distinctions – make. To be “mystical” is to perceive in a sustainable ongoing way the underlying unity inhering in our apparently disparate experiences.

I suggest that the sustainability of this insight necessarily makes us radical peace activists. When we perceive love as the fundament, then we also see clearly how so many of the models and systems used to instantiate and maintain justice, equity and peace and so forth are broken and dysfunctional and so must be discarded and replaced.

This is true when it comes to caged children at the southern border of the United States, hungry women and men living without shelter, and reliance on non-local and corporate food producers to eat.

Thus we contemplate and study oneness but we are also seeking to bring love forth in the actual apparent circumstances of our living. To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, a mystic who is not making the world a better place has only learned half the lesson, and the radical peace activist who is not aware of her unity with all life has likewise only learned half the lesson.

Learning half the lesson does not mean that we cannot be happy but it does mean that deep joy and inner peace, and a world free of hatred and fear, remain ideals that are only occasionally sampled, rather than sustainable mainstays of our shared living.

Jesus was a revolutionary who did not become an extremist since he did not offer an ideology, but himself. He was also a mystic who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense, he also remains for men and women of the nuclear age the way to liberation and freedom (Nouwen Seeds of Hope 220).

I do not suggest these are easy lessons to learn, nor hold myself out as an exemplary student. The way is arduous, if less so than we were taught. It takes attention; it takes commitment.

Like you, I work not from a sense of superiority or spiritual excellence, but from a sense of duty and humility in which learning is ongoing. The return of love unto love is cyclical. We are never going to “graduate;” we are not travelers who will one day arrive at a place called Heaven. There is nobody who “wakes up” or becomes “enlightened.”

More and more I see the work of love as akin to gardening and homesteading, wherein we work cooperatively with one another and with the earth to bring forth sustenance in the form of a cycle which nurtures body, plant and earth as one.

We might identify with one aspect of the cycle more than another – we might even appear to be one aspect of the cycle (gardener rather than plant, say) – but what matters is the attention and devotion we give to our ongoing experience of the cycle. Plants and soil are attentive, too. If we aren’t noticing this, then we aren’t noticing love in its fullness.

So here – where I live and study and act – we trade and barter for seeds. We compost as much as possible and return it to our gardens and the gardens of our neighbors. We grow mostly what feeds us (kale, potatoes, squash, beans) but also some of what delight us (decorative gourds, miniature pumpkins). We put food up and trade and barter and potlach with other local farmers and homesteaders. We do most (not all but most) of our shopping at cooperatives in which we are members.

It is not enough – it is not nearly enough – yet it makes us happy, relates us creatively to our little patch of earth and the women, men and other creatures with whom we temporarily dwell. It builds soil for those who come after us; it minimizes our dependence on corporations and other entities we do not respect. But still.

It makes sense to us to live this way, however imperfectly. It feels coherent. It is a way of perceiving the other and our selves and our shared world in ways that maximize shared healing, wellness, happiness and so forth. It emphasizes cooperation, coordination and communication.

Nouwen wrote that we are human not because we can think but because of our potential to love, which love is a poor reflection of the greater love that created us.

I am speaking about a love between us that transcends all thoughts and feelings precisely because it is rooted in God’s first love, a love that precedes all human loves . . . when we trust that the God of love has already given the peace we are searching for, we will see this peace breaking through the broken soil of our human condition and we will be able to let it grow fast and even heal the economic and political maladies of our time (Seeds of Hope 260, 267).

Nouwen’s God is Spencer-Brown’s Universe and von Glasersfeld’s One-which-makes-itself-two. The distinctions in language are not essential; the experience to which they point does matter, because it can helpfully point us in the direction of an ever-deepening, ever-encompassing, ever-self-seeding love.

We are unto each other like soil and blossoms, like sun and rain, harvest and pantry. May our shared grace and Thanksgiving be bountiful!

{ 0 comments }

Distinctions and the Whole

I want to talk a little about giving attention as an exercise by which we see through the distinctions we make to that which makes distinction possible or, if you like, the groundless ground from which all distinctions arises or “the Mind which caused all minds to be” (T-28.I.11:3), et cetera.

It is natural to make distinctions; the distinction that we already are is very skilled at making distinctions. It is not necessary to reach the first distinction or the original distinction. It is sufficient just to notice a distinction as it happens.

sunlit-maple-treeFor example, say that I distinguish a tree. There it is – a maple tree in the side yard. In order to distinguish the maple tree, two things have to happen. The first is the positive distinction of the maple tree. The second is the negative distinction of everything that is not the maple tree.

The two distinctions go together – they arise together, they mutually specify one another – but we tend to notice only the positive one. I don’t see the maple tree and the cosmos. I see the maple tree.

This can become a useful exercise! Simply give attention to something. Observe the maple tree (or coffee mug or sleeping cat or what-have-you). Notice it fully. Then notice it has boundaries, which is how you identify it as a tree (or a cat or a what-have-you).

The boundary is a division: on the inside of the boundary, the frame the boundary makes, it’s all maple tree. On the other side, the outer side, it’s the cosmos. It’s everything but the maple tree, which thus makes the maple tree possible. Can you notice this?

I don’t mean notice Main Street in the background, or the church on the far side of Main Street, or the hill beyond the church, or the sky beyond the hill.

I mean notice the everything-the-maple-tree-is-not.

If you notice the hill, say, then you’ve just shifted objects. The maple tree is gone, dissolved into everything-the-hill-is-not, which in turn specifies the hill.

The question – whether it’s the hill or the maple tree that we are distinguishing – is can we notice the balance? Not as a collection of separate objects but as the generative stillness from which the object under consideration is abstracted?

It is possible to catch a glimpse of the cosmos this way. And even a glimpse of the glimpse can be life-changing.

That’s the first part of the exercise of giving attention.

The second part is also about noticing. It goes like this: we notice that the maple tree and everything-the-maple-tree-is-not fit perfectly together. Together they are the entirety of the distinction. Thus, when they are brought together, the distinction vanishes. There is no maple tree and there is no everything-the maple-tree-is-not.

Thus, in this perfect fit – this natural complementarity – division disappears and what remains is unity, oneness, et cetera.

Does this make sense? Can you see it that way? In the actual process of giving attention can you see the maple tree and everything-the-maple-tree-is-not which is to say, see unity, oneness, et cetera?

Perhaps it is like folding a sheet of paper and cutting a heart out. Remember how we did that as children? And perhaps later with our own children? The heart is distinguished – it is a distinction made with scissors in the paper. Yet it fits perfectly into the heart-shaped hole that remains. If you put the two together, there is no longer a distinction. There is the whole from which the distinction arose.

We call that whole “unity,” which is sensible.

However, to distinguish it as a unity, as I do here, means that there is now “unity” and “everything-the-unity-is-not.” The same logic as before applies. We bring the two together and get one. And by getting “one” we get “all-that-is-not-one.”

In our living, it seems we cannot go beyond this ongoing distinguishing, which appears as infinity because it never ends. The distinctions keep going; it is turtles (or distinctions) all the way down.

Some folks call this a vicious circle, because it is effectively a trap. It is like the sentence “I am a liar.” If it’s true, it’s false. But if it’s false, then it’s true. There is no escape.

It can feel that way when we go deeply into the distinctions and the process of distinguishing. It is a loop.

Yet note that the realization of the loop, the circularity, co-exists without conflict alongside the various distinctions we make. That is, we realize this infinity that appears like a trap but oddly enough we can still bake bread, muck the pasture, discuss Husserl, make love.

The circularity isn’t vicious; it’s fructive. It’s a functional circle. It’s creative.

So I want to suggest thinking about this less as a circle reenacting itself over and over on a plane, and more a spiral endlessly widening and narrowing and undulating. Each loop absorbs all previous loops, so it’s a new loop, but in the sense of extension. It is creative rather than merely repetitive.

Here is how mathematician Louis Kauffman puts it.

Everything is determined by the delineation of nothing. Comprehension and incomprehension share a common boundary. Any duality is identical to its fitting together into union (Constructivist Foundations Vol. 13, No. 1, p. 33).

Our living, as such, is both infinite and finite, and this is not a problem unless we start trying to use one of the poles to obviate the other.

In this way, we are neither one (unity) nor two (multiplicity). We need a new logic, or a new sense of our living.

It is in this sense that I suggest that A Course in Miracles does not go far enough. It remains firmly in the “one with God” camp, which is useful – profoundly useful in my experience – but not dispositive.

It is in this sense that I was called to explore other approaches to understanding this living experience that is so rich and vivid and joyful but also sometimes confusing and painful and even mysterious.

I do not suggest anybody else has to wander – or wonder – as I do, though I am certainly grateful for the company.

Once we realize that we are an observer within a system, the limits of which exceed our capacity for observation, but which do not disallow our ongoing observation and exploration and play, then a lot of our living simplifies. Free of the need to be “right” in an absolute sense, we are empowered to be creative, which is a synonym for loving.

As I have outlined above, to “be creative” is simply to give attention to the circularity naturally comprising our self, other selves, and the countless worlds our mutuality bring forth.

Donald Hoffman’s work exploring the world as a perceptual interface related to fitness rather than veridicality suggests that we take our living seriously but not literally. The world we bring forth – that we experience – is our reality but is not the reality.

A lot of stress and anxiety and discord dissolves once we see and accept this.

Yet I do not assert that this insight is the end of our shared work (or play, perhaps). It needs to be understood, applied, integrated and expanded. There is always more to learn and we can always be more skillful in our loving with others. In this sense, the work and play as such exceed us. But that, too, is a comfort.

{ 2 comments }

Lenten Journal: Our Multi-Dimensional Companions

In experience, the journey from ego-based dissociation towards God (or from fear towards love), specifically invokes the other as a multi-dimensional companion: comforter, scherpa, reflecting pool, dialogue partner, psalmist, lover . . .

To be praxical is to be in love with the other (who could be our own self) in the fullness of their multi-dimensionality and, paradoxically, to be out of love, as a precondition for moving towards love.

The other is always my projection, or construction, and could always be my own self. Hence, the best rule for behavior, and generally for getting along in the world, is the Golden Rule, which Heinz von Foerster articulated as “A is better off when B is better off.”

Thus, to be in love with you, is to want what is best for you, trusting that what is best for you will, in turn, be best for me. In looking out for you, in making your happiness and wellness my priority, and the focus of my acting, I am also, simultaneously, tending my own self and its happiness and wellness.

This is a way of recognizing that there is one love, not many loves. Or, perhaps, that love is public – like the sky, say – and not private (like my feelings about the sky).

Yet, critically, I do not necessarily or always know what is best for you. I cannot see the whole, but only a fragment of it. My existence – my structure as homo sapiens – is perspectival, and so my assertions of knowledge with respect to what is helpful, requisite, loving, salvational et cetera is by necessity only partial. It is always conditional on what is available to me given my perspective.

Thus, if I am honest and humble, then I must admit that when it comes to determining what is better or best for you, I am neither an unbiased nor even an especially effective arbiter. How could it be otherwise, given my natural limitations?

Thus, I am in this sense – owing to my inevitable partiality, or partialness – out of love. I need help helping you.

I don’t think this is a problem, so long as I am clear about it, and in no rush to “fix” things. To be “out” of love is okay in the sense that it naturally points towards “in” love; it is quickly and automatically self-correcting. But we have to see it, and seeing it means letting it be.

It’s when I decide not to let “out-of-love” be and hurriedly assert half and quarter-measures based on purported good intentions that things go awry, which is to say, extend confusion by postponing clarity. It’s not a crime against God or Nature but why put off healing?

Is there a way to know what is good for you?

Sometimes it is sufficient to ask what is good for me, and then allow the answer to function for both of us. For example, neither of us want to go hungry or live in a war zone or be beaten.

So food security, peace-building, safe houses, anger management programs, sound conflict resolution opportunities, meaningful work and so forth are all fine. I try to help bring them forth by sharing with others, donating time and energy (and money, when I have it), voting for wise women and men and so forth. It helps the all-of-us, which of course includes me.

But mostly I think that figuring out what is good for the other is to actually ask them and then listen to the answer without deciding in advance what the answer ought to be.

In this context, “asking” sometimes means reading and thinking about what I’ve read. For example, I have learned a lot in the past six months or so reading Rebecca Traister and Susanna Danuta Walters.

But also, sometimes, maybe even more of the time, it means actually asking people what they want or need, being sure I understand it, and then trying to figure out how to bring it forth in a way that is mutual, sustainable, responsive, et cetera.

This happens in my marriage, with my children, my mother and siblings, the classrooms where I teach, my neighbors . . .

And it is not easy. Apparent failures abound. Coming up short abounds. Prioritizing peace and nonviolence and consensus models of conflict resolution is challenging, especially in settings where power imbalances feel so unmovable and intimate.

That brings up what I experience as the hardest aspect of attending the other in a radically loving and helpful way: I secretly don’t believe or accept that they are also me. I like saying the Golden Rule aloud – I like the image of me living it – but the truth is I feel deprived when I prioritize you, and I don’t trust you to prioritize me.

Nobody wants to see this in their own self. A lot of what passes for spirituality is an eloquent and fanciful denial of these qualities.

But to clearly see these “out of love” qualities is very helpful. Pride, self-centeredness, stubbornness, willfull ignorance, pettiness, greed, lust . . .

When we see them, they are already being undone, and so another way the other is valuable to us is that when we try to serve them, we discover our unwillingness. We discover our selfishness.

We discover our fear.

Which, again, feels terrible but “terrible” in the way getting a shot feels terrible. It stings but the long-term effects are worth it. Indeed, getting the shot means healing is underway.

When I am no longer deluding myself about psychological growth and spiritual heroism I can get on my the praxis of love and do things like wave to the neighbors, ask the kids if they want to talk or play or do they need a ride somewhere, bake muffins for Chrisoula so she’ll wake to a warm and fresh-smelling kitchen . . .

And that turns out to be okay! It turns out to be more than okay. It is a mode of service premised on what is ordinary and natural and given – what is here to be done, no bells and no whistles.

So the other shows us the way to go, goes with us as we go and – critically – is where we are going. We could say it this way, too: Love shows us the way to go, goes with us as we go and – critically – is where we are going.

The other is love.

Of course, we are “other” too, and in that capacity are sometimes reminded of how lovely and helpful and kind our brothers and sisters can be, including our own self, all of us stumbling up the trail together, summit bound on feet of clay, as I am reminded – wordily, wordily – on this, the 24th day of Lent.

{ 0 comments }

ACIM: Healing through and with Others

I suggest that the other – I am thinking primarily of people here, but the suggestion applies as broadly as one wishes, reaching sunflowers, galaxies and time – is a construction, and that special attention should be given to others we construct who we love to distraction, as well as those we despise to distraction. This is what it means to heal through and with others.

I suggest the other we hate and the other we love are the same person in that they reflect the same interior process of construction, and that they thus reflect the same fundamental problem which is “distraction from love’s creative function.”

This raises two broad questions:

1. How or why is the other constructed? Who constructs? Of what is the other constructed?

And 2. Distraction from what?

The second question is actually easier to answer, and in terms of happiness, inner peace and remembrance of unity with God – more important to answer.

The answer is: distraction from our capacity as love to create, which I distinguish – loosely tracking the language of A Course in Miracles – from our capacity as egos to make.

That is, we construct (or make) the other, and this process of construction is a poor imitation of the process of creation which does not create others but rather as love creates love. Or, more aptly, domains in which love recognizes and remembers itself.

Miracles enable you to heal the sick and raise the dead because you made sickness and death yourself, and can therefore abolish both. You are a miracle, capable of creating in the likeness of your Creator. Everything else is your own nightmare, and does not exist. Only the creations of light are real (T-1.I.24:1-4).

This is consonant with the course’s insistent that Mind is always creating (T-2.VI.9:7), and always producing “form at some level” (T-2.VI.9:14).

What about the first question: how or why do we make the other, especially the special others, who we either hate or love (or sometimes both) to such unhelpful distraction?

A traditional way of thinking about living is that an external world exists apart from us – it’s out there – and that we perceive a faithful reproduction of it via our senses and then think about that reproduction – name it, categorize it, et cetera.

On this view, others are just . . . there. As are we. And some of those others are attractive to the point where we cannot think clearly in their presence, and some are so awful that we cannot think clearly about them or their existence.

A Course in Miracles – and other traditions too, like, say, radical constructivism – assert that we have it backwards. Thought creates the external; consciousness, not matter, is the foundation. And so what we are is consciousness, or awareness, or thoughts in the mind of God or what-have-you, and that is what others are as well.

On this view, those “others” are actually our own self, idealized or despised, but always idolized. We “fall” for this appearance (or projection or dissociation) of our self – into either love or hate – and our falling becomes the full focus of our living. It eats up all our attention. It doesn’t want to share.

When we are in love, we experience this idolization as pleasing. When we are in hate, we experience it as painful. How could it be otherwise? We are always happier when we accept ourselves; and we are always unhappier when we reject ourselves.

The other is just an extension of this basic principle: know thyself, and do unto others as you would do unto your own self.

And, as mentioned above, this idolization and the intensity of the feelings it engenders, distracts us from what is really going on which is the action of creativity that is naturally inherent in consciousness, or Mind, or God, or the Mind-of-God.

[Note my intentional point here that what we call this is far less important than that we perceive It at all; naming matters but not to the extent we usually assert]

So what do we do?

1. We get clear on our confusion. We realign our thinking with coherence. We do this through study and reflection (or clarity and contemplation); and

2. We examine for viability what we learn; we bring it into application, as Tara Singh often said. We become service-minded.

I have been better at the first step than the second, though the distinction between them is thinner than first appears. They are less like steps, one leading to the other, than like puppies chasing one another in a happy circle.

So, you know, what theories or belief systems or traditions appeal to you? Resonate for you? The spiritual ones, the philosophical ones, the psychological ones, the linguistic ones . . . Study them. Understand them. As best you can, know what they are and how and why they matter to you.

You can never do this perfectly or finally because learning is always ongoing – always in flux – but you can become familiar with the general ongoingness. You can swim with the current, rather than against it.

And then, naturally, give attention to how your living is affected by this study. In what ways are you happier? Calmer? Gentler? More helpful?

In my experience “happier, calmer, gentler and more helpful” are intimately connected to others. That is, our living is fundamentally relational (thus indicating the oneness that is our fundament).

But this connecting focuses less on the apparent individuals involved, and more on the collective that together those apparent individuals comprise, and – somewhat more abstractly – on creation itself, which is to say, on “happiness, calm, gentleness and helpfulness” without embodied reference points (apparently collective *or individual).

This represents an inversion of traditional models of thinking, especially with respect to cause-and-effect, but it is eminently doable, and there are lots of paths/traditions/practices to provide guidance and companionship. There are no royal roads, but plenty of fellow travelers and maps of varying quality. The way, as such, is arduous but not nearly to the extent we fear.

It begins and ends in the other, a role I cheerfully play for you, increasingly intentionally, and a role you play for me, my gratitude for which is hard to put into words.

This mutuality is our truth, as such, and when we understand it not as some deep metaphysical pronouncement but more akin to puppies chasing their tails, then we’re pretty much already saved.

{ 0 comments }

ACIM Rules for Decision: Suspending Judgment

I want to look at the Rules for Decision in A Course in Miracles, specifically the first “rule.” It reflects the course’s radical pragmatism, especially with respect to suspending judgment as a means of securing happiness and inner peace, our own and everyone else’s.

Today I will make no decisions by myself (T-30.I.2:2).

The basic premise of decision-making (which is inseparable from the overall framework of A Course in Miracles) is that we never decide alone. We always choose with a partner.

You will not make decisions by yourself whatever you decide. For they are made with idols or with God. And you ask help of anti-Christ or Christ, and which you choose will join with you and tell you what to do (T-30.I.14:7-9).

Importantly, the partner – or teacher – that we choose to join with us in decision-making will always advocate for our happiness as it understands happiness.

Your day is not at random. It is set by what you choose to live it with, and how the friend whose counsel you have sought perceives your happiness (T-30.I.15:1-2).

God perceives our joy in terms of what we can give; ego, or anti-Christ, perceives our joy in terms of what we can get. God’s plan works. The ego’s plan has never worked, though it does sustain the ego.

Given those stark differences, it make sense to consider carefully how we make decisions.

There are two aspects of our declaration to make no decisions for our self that especially bear looking at.

First, in declining to decide by our self, we acknowledge an intention to refrain from judging what to do when it appears that choice or decision is called for.

Second, we will not substitute our own judgment about the situation to which we believe we are called to respond, because if we do, then we have established the rules guiding our response which can only produce “confusion and uncertainty and fear” (T-30.I.2:6).

It is the second element that is most challenging for us.

This is your major problem now. You still make up your mind and *then decide to ask what you should do. And what you hear may not resolve the problem as you saw it first. This leads to fear, because it contradicts what you perceive and so you feel attacked. And therefore angry (T-30.I.3:1-5).

We look at a situation, decide what it is, and then ask for help, pledging to accept without judgment whatever solution is offered.

But having already set up the problem, we are also setting up how it should be solved, and so we have effectively already dictated what the answer must be as well.

In that sense, in terms of insisting on our own judgment, we are in as deep as we can go.

So the real work is not so much encountering problem after problem and asking for divine assistance in resolving them as they appear, but rather in giving attention to the belief system and conditioning that gives rise to “problems” in the first place.

This is subtler and harder to notice. But the rewards for doing so are greater.

Let me offer a personal example. Let’s say that I cannot pay my bills this week, which is a recurring challenge, and Chrisoula and I are both stressed and struggling to communicate fairly and honestly with each other about work and money.

I look at that situation and decide I have a) a money problem (there isn’t enough) and I also have b) a marriage problem (a wife who is way to focused on material things).

I then say to the Holy Spirit: I don’t know how to solve this problem so I am giving it to you. I will accept your solution without qualification or quibble. You fix money and my marriage.

But the Holy Spirit’s “solution” will likely confuse me because it won’t align with the problem as I’ve set it up. My judgment is already infesting the whole process because I have already decided what the problem is: lack of funds and a complaining wife.

The Holy Spirit’s solution might be, say, study lesson 76 more closely. And I’ll think that’s the answer to a different problem. My problem is not money and a wife that complains too much.

And then I’ll dismiss the Holy Spirit and double down on my own judgment.

A Course in Miracles is saying in this context: we can’t even effectively get to the “solution” stage because we haven’t looked without judgment at the situation.

For most of us – for me, certainly – looking at my life without judgment is very difficult. Indeed, it is a radical step. Of course my lack of funds equals a problem. Of course my marriage is stressed and suffering. Of course those situations need to be fixed (more money, mellower wife).

But note that A Course in Miracles is not saying our so-called problems won’t be fixed. Indeed, it is saying that if we don’t judge the situation, then the “answer” that we get will make us truly and deeply happy. It will being us inner peace that we can extend to the world.

So, again, in context, my so-called money and marriage problems can be redressed but only when I see them clearly. Perhaps the real problem is that I have forgotten that what I am is subject only to God’s laws, which only give and never take (W-pI.76.9:6).

And when I remember that, then my focus shifts from what I don’t have to what I can give, and I stop perceiving others as causes of my problems, and thus can be grateful again for their presence and companionship.

When we choose to not decide for our selves about any situation, let alone the decisions those situations seem to engender and necessitate, we will know an abiding happiness.

Your judgment has been lifted from the world by your decision for a happy day. And as you have received, so must you give (T-30.I.17:7-8).

We are generally okay with asking Jesus to help us so long as we get to decide with what we need help. But the possibility that we don’t even know what our problems are . . . that we don’t know what is working and what is not . . .

That is not something with which we are generally okay.

So in this way, the Rules for Decision are an intense way of guiding us to a non-judgmental mindset that applies to the whole of our living without exception. This is the point of the course’s emphasis on “generalizability” (T-3.V.2:3).

However, the upside to this radical surrender of judgment is significant. Inner peace and joy are given to us wholly and without condition and we will naturally give them away to others (T-30.I.17:6). All we have to do is realize and accept that a) we don’t know how to be happy and b) we are in relationship with an inner teacher who does know.

The point is to go deeply into this in order to see how it functions in our thinking, which is how we get clear on the need to change the patterns of our thinking. We become miracle-minded by seeing the need for a miracle, for a shift in thinking away from fear and towards love. We want to become habituated to miracle-minded thinking.

{ 2 comments }

Lenten Writing: Love is our Praxis

In “Autopoiesis, life, mind and cognition: Bases for a proper naturalistic continuity” Villalobos suggests that “the autopoietic aphorism ‘to live is to know’ . . . means that cognition, in its most basic and embracing sense, corresponds to the praxis of living.”

I put the essay down – I am reading and writing and cooking at once, the house empty for a few more minutes – and think again how a sense of how to live naturally appears in our living. Nobody has to teach us how to breath digest food or fall asleep. We don’t have to learn how to think or communicate or have preferences.

Critically – and invoking Maturana – we do not have to learn how to love.

Love is our natural praxis, even if it is blocked or impeded or confused or what-have-you. We are homo sapiens amans.

If we have to learn anything, it is how to recognize what we already know how to love and be happy. Basically, we need to get out of our own way.

So to live praxically – to be praxical – is to love, but in a natural way, not an affected way.

What do I mean by “affected way?”

I mean that it is possible to invent “kinds” of love, and then based on that categorization, to segment who gets what love and how much and when they get it, and then – and this is where the conflict begins – assume the order we’re applying is God-given, correct in some absolute sense, reflects a Platonic ideal, et cetera.

Love as we practice it – praxical love – reflects equality, consent and freedom. It is aware – or, at a minimum, aspires to be aware of – all others, not merely the others with whom it happens to be in physical contact. Our spiritual partners, sexual partners, intellectual partners, poetic partners, noumenal partners . . .

Those relationships – which vary in form – do in fact reflect a pure or ideal love that (if we are tracking A Course in Miracles) is God-given, God-lit, grace-filled.

We could call the form a symbol of the love; symbols enhance communication when they are viewed pragmatically and taken seriously. They become problematic if we conflate them with Truth, if we take them literally.

May I edit this living – this life – so that its symbols align more harmoniously – coherently – with God-lit love?

Would that be “right” praxis?

Yet, for all my wordiness I do not know this love very well, neither source nor symbol, content nor form.

I am often confused and conflicted. Am often estranged from those I long to hold close, arguing with those who I long to praise, talking over those I wish only to hear. I am lonely a lot. I am prone to religious fantasies.

Is characterizing my living this way a move – however clumsy, however uncertain – towards a coherent praxis of love? That is, isn’t the one who is confused about love the one for whom a loving praxis is most required?

[Or am I playing again, setting up a straw man – a straw spiritual pathos – to elicit sympathy and otherwise distract from the clarity that is right here right now insisting there is no other?]

When I say that love is our natural praxis, I assert that there is nothing to do but trust one another, attend gently and efficiently what arises, and be prepared for sudden changes in the dance. New partners, new steps, new music . . .

As this Lenten Writing has slipped my intentions, been less a lantern lighting the dark months until Easter and more a moon between clouds: here, briefly – brightly and clearly – and then gone, long enough you wonder is it there still.

But Lent goes on, even when by the calendar it is not Lent, as writing goes on (writing is my praxis – how silly to ever imply otherwise!), even when it is not Lenten Writing, and the going on is the actual light, the actual luminosity (what Henry said, here paraphrased, how Christ is the light in which all things – including Christ – appear).

One writes and sees what they write and says: okay, so I am learning how to let love be love. That is good to know! On this, the fifteenth day of Lent, and the first day of Spring, may all things – green and wordy and otherwise – be like unto their Creator.

{ 0 comments }