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Coffee and Chores in the Void

In the morning I take my coffee to the barn and sit on a bale of hay. It is still dark though eastern hills bleed pale light. Mid-April but still cold enough to button the old flannel overshirt my father wore.

Pull the purple wool cap Chrisoula made down over my ears.

Sit shivering in the dark, sipping coffee, listening to birds sing.

Listening to birds sing, then listening to the silence between the songs of birds.

Shiver: coffee: bird song: silence.

And eventually – as faint beams of sunlight enter the barn through dusty windows, and caffeine sets the blood humming – getting around to wondering:

Does bird song break – does it fill – the silence?

Does silence support the bird song? Does it make the bird song possible?

And so on, in variation.

Coffee: bird song: silence: inquiry.

Yet the questions – because of their underlying reliance on the existence of cause-and-effect, and its underlying reliance on linearity, none of which we are allowed to take as Truth – go nowhere.

Go on and on going nowhere.

And yet.

Sunlight illumines banks of cloud laying still on the horizon: mallow and lilac, roseate accents, lavender folds. How fast one’s coffee cools, the mug chilling already-chilled fingers!

The bird song and the silence cancel each other, like one plus minus one leaving zero. There is neither bird song nor silence: there is only emptiness. Only stillness.

There is only this – this this – pouring itself continually from itself into itself: the nameless and formless endlessly creating what is nameless and formless endlessly creating.

So what? Who cares?

Really: who cares?

Finish the coffee, rise and stretch. Set the mug on a shelf near the WD-40, and get going on chores. Throw feed for the chickens and fill their waterers. Throw hay to the horses, water them under watchful eyes. Head indoors to slice apples for drying, get bread dough going, hang laundry, wash dishes. Write and teach. This and that.

And so on and so forth and so on.

How sweet to touch the hem of the Mother’s dress as she passes in the morning! How satisfying to care for the Father in His many forms asking for care. Thank Christ for coffee in mid-Spring, and mornings given to the birds.

Thank Christ for you, in whom and through whom all of this is given, over and over, in love.

Easter Love and Last Steps Home

Ten years ago when my relationship with A Course in Miracles was just beginning, people talked about Gary Renard a lot. Were his ascended masters real? Was he a big liar?

It seemed to matter that one take a stand on that question. And lingering behind a lot of the conversations was an implicit longing for supernatural experiences of one’s own – to be visited by illuminated beings, to channel the newest insights of Jesus, to see lights, hear voices, taste Heaven.

folded crocus
Yet another crocus . . . there can be no secrets in Love . . .

These are old desires, familiar to all of us and our ancestors. Nor is there indication they are going away any time soon. I am hardly immune myself. Part of appearing human is the longing to be other than human, to transcend human.

And yet.

When I give attention to the world, what I notice is its lawfulness and transparency. By lawfulness, I don’t mean people’s behavior. I mean the apparent physical world itself: the appearance of violets, the flowing of rivers, the taste of apples. And by transparency, I mean the still calm intelligence in whose care all this appearing and flowing and being unfolds and is extended.

Can you make violets multiply beyond measure? Can you make them green instead of purple? Can you make the river flow in another direction? Can you make the trout in the river grow wings and fly away? Can you you go to the orchard and see bananas on the trees? Instead of black bear scat under the blueberry bushes can you see gold coins?

Easter sunrise splitting the hills that my Holy Prefect Emily Dickinson once gazed at . . .

And as you fall in love with all this – this beauty, this bounty – can you not fall? Can you stop that within you which longs to partake of the beauty and extend the bounty?

Truly: what have you ever done that God cannot undo, and what have you ever left undone that God cannot do?

When we sit quietly and give attention to living, we perceive its beneficence. It takes care; it lives and offers its living. Here, too, it is clear that “I need do nothing” (T-27.VIII.10:1). Indeed, what even am I? “I” not apart from the dew in the meadow, the stars in the sky, the thrumming of blood between this heart meeting that heart . . .

The extraordinary experience (ascended masters, new scriptures, disco ball spirituality) distracts us from the miracle of ordinary experience – the very living presence of Love in the world as it is given, right here and right now. And when we perceive this gift – this givenness, this Love – it flows through us, undoing the sense of separation, and we learn again that the Love of God, being All in all, permits no exclusion or alienation. There is no “Sean,” no “Mike,” no “Cheryl,” no “Robin.” There aren’t even violets and rivers. There’s just this: this this.

horses on Easter morning wondering why I’ve got a camera and not hay . . .

Truth is, we don’t need ascended masters. Or rather, we already have ascended masters, save for most of us they appear in mundane forms easily overlooked. Here is the vegetable garden already being planted, here is the potato garden ready to be expanded here is the flower garden and here is its bee hive, here are the horses and the chickens, here is the nearby river and the back porch on which to sit quietly at night and listen to the river as it flows quietly beneath ten thousand stars and low rolling hills, the far side of which my wise and loving and fiery Sister Emily Dickinson once gazed at.

What wonder! What gratefulness! What a miracle!

It is not required that we stray beyond the very living that is right now, right here blessing us beyond any measure, each and every aspect of it calling us home to our God, in Whom self, other and God are utterly dissolved, melted and commingled beyond commingling.

A hidden Easter egg reminding me yet again that nothing is ever hidden
. . .

There are no secrets. Nothing is hidden. We need nothing that is not already given. Only the willingness to see it and the readiness to accept it. The Peace of Christ is here; the Love of God is here. I offer you my wordiness as a hand, that by taking it, you and I might together behold Creation more clearly, and gather it calmly in our shared heart. Shall we not – on this day of resurrection and new beginnings – together take the last step home?

Hands to Work, Hearts to God

I say not that the body is real or unreal, but that I am not a body, and so the body as such is not really my concern. But what am I then? What is my concern?

This is an old question which is amenable to many different answers. If you are reading this, it is likely that A Course in Miracles is a significant aspect of how you go about answering it. Certainly it was – is – for me.

peas
snow settles in the garden where only days ago we planted spinach and peas in sunlight under the watchful eyes of horses and crows . . .

Here is our answer: we are Creations of a just and loving God, in Whom there is no perception and so no differences and so no separation. We are extensions of God, abstract ongoing expressions of Love, utterly alike, utterly one with what extends.

And yet we have forgotten this, and have forgotten we forgot, and so we experience fear and guilt, and the world is broken, and we are without hope of a better way.

A Course in Miracles has a whole mythology around how this apparent separation and resultant grief occurred. At some point, we all want the structural comfort of a story. But stories are just pointers. They point not to themselves but to something vivid and alive.

The lovely thing about A Course in Miracles – what gently distinguishes it from most other Christian practices – is that no story is actually necessary. If we want, when we are ready, we can remember our fundamental Oneness with the Lord right now, and so never feel guilt or fear again.

That is because there is only one mistake, and so there is only one correction. There is only one problem, and so only one solution (e.g., W-pI.80.1:5). The appearance of many mistakes and problems is a distraction; we don’t have to fall for the illusion of multiplicity.

It is given us to see that the one mistake is to believe that we are separate from God. The one problem is believe that this separation is real and has real consequences.

Both instances are healed in the same way: we see that the beliefs are errors. We are one with God. When we see the belief that we are separate as a mistake, then the truth of oneness dawns on us, because it is always dawning on us. It is us.

last year’s collard greens already sprouting anew, vivid symbols that life is ongoing and sustainable, and that we too can be so reliable and tenacious and generous . . .

Hence the popular metaphor of veils (e.g. T-12.I.9:11, T-20.V.7:6). We see as through a veil – draw back the veil and see with utter clarity the real world. We cannot see the Beloved’s face – draw back the veil obscuring it and behold with utter clarity the kind and loving gaze of Christ. And so forth.

Veils are easy to move. However, believing that we are allowed to move them is another thing. Perhaps we are scared of what we will see. Perhaps we are scared of being seen. Perhaps we are scared of violating some rule or law or tradition that says don’t touch the veil. Never touch the veil.

But we put the veil up. We invented every law, tradition, story and concept surrounding veils. We are the one saying “don’t touch the veil that I’ve put up.”

So we can draw aside the veil as well.

It is healing to remember that we are not separate from God, and this healing does not occur in parts or by degrees. The veil is drawn or not. A juncture comes in our practice where this becomes painfully obvious. We are doing this to ourselves (T-27.VIII.10:1).

Yet if it’s so easy, then why not just do it? Why the big production – a massive and often overly-wrought Text, a slim and often vague Manual for Teachers, 365 lessons, this teacher and that teacher and conflicts and choices and . . .

Why?

the empty flower garden opposite the chicken pen. In a few weeks it will begin to flower, loud with bees and bright with sun and blossoms . . .

Well, because the one for whom it is easy is hidden and so doesn’t get to calmly go forth and reclaim its Home in God. In its place is an imposter whose entire existence is predicated upon fear and difficulty. We are Children of Love whose power is such that we can pretend – and even actually believe – that we are children of fear, chaos, lawlessness and death.

But this imposter – this confused, alienated and terrified child – which A Course in Miracles calls the ego – is simply another veil. We hold it with both hands before the Face of Christ; release it and it will fade to nothing before it reaches the floor. Release it and forget it ever existed because in the Loving Gaze of Christ all we will remember is what we are and that memory becomes an invitation to God to draw us back into seamless, endlessly creative Love.

“But it’s hard.” Or, “I don’t understand how to let go.” Or “isn’t it all just words?”

Well, yes. Sure. But can we at least be willing to learn that those complaints and others like them are forms of resistance which arise solely from the one who does not want us to remember God? Scared and lost kids who think they’re responsible for their own safety will say a lot of stuff. We don’t have to listen.

Indeed, it’s better not to listen. We are allowed to gently shush that child, and let them know that we are taking the reins. They can breathe. We got this.

When we learn this – when we take the reins – then we naturally reject the complaints and distractions offered by the childish ego. We quietly say, “no thanks. Not today.”

an old wooden jar beyond the pasture . . . nothing is ever actually ruined, nothing is ever actually empty . . .

For a little while, we might still wait for something to take the place of the ego’s yammering. We might subtly believe it’s our job to replace the ego’s voice with a wiser voice, a smarter voice, a more miracle-minded voice.

It’s not.

Our job is to let go in favor of Jesus and God and that’s it. That’s the work. Game over.

This takes the form of saying politely but firmly “no thanks” to any voice that insists 1) we are yoked in any way to the body’s adventures and misadventures and b) that God is mysterious, complex, inaccessible, remote or in any way apart or other than us.

Just keep saying “no thanks.” And gradually the voices testifying to our weakness and incompetence and valuelessness will subside. And what takes their place is what was always there, forgotten but not disturbed, nor compromised in any way: the Love and Peace of God. And we will know – not think, not believe, not perceive but know – that we are the Peace of God; we are the Love of God.

“Neti, neti” as our brothers and sisters say in a related tradition. Not this, not that – only Love. Thus, be not disturbed by the many veils then for there is only one. Be not disturbed by the many reasons not to see this veil or interact with this veil or draw aside this veil.

Our fear is unjustified because God is just and we are God’s Creation. Love is our shared Home; there is nothing else to learn, and nowhere else to go.

. . . writing in early April, Good Friday, in a world that is falling apart, in which we must learn yet again how to be each other’s savior. Snow falls, turns to rain, then back to snow. We hunker against a hard wind blowing through the valley as we feed the horses and chickens, check on recently-planted spinach and peas, the wintering-over collard greens. Though you are not here, you are here, and my thoughts turn to you constantly. How can I tell you how grateful I am for your patience with my slow learning? Your willingness to play along with my teacherly posturing? God and the Love of God and Christ in Whom the Love of God is made manifest only arise for me because you consent to see them in me. How else could I possibly remember them? In this way, your reading is an act of Love, service unto a brother yet struggling to put it all together. “Hands to work, Hearts to God,” taught one of my older sisters. She also taught that “God is love, and if you love God you will love one another.” So we gather yet again – here in the garden, here in the text, here in the prayer – constructing again a living altar unto Love.

Late March Musing

I sent out a newsletter this morning. Being the socially clumsy and poorly-organized man that I am, I don’t know the precise overlap between who reads what I post here and who reads there. If you’re not signed up and you’d like to be, please feel free. And if not, no worries.

I have been happy lately, in the natural way that sometimes visits, especially when I am not working overtime to force my point-of-view on the world. Chrisoula and I have been half-assed homesteaders for years; Covid-19 reminds us that a more committed practice not only helps our family but expands our ability to be helpful to others.

In dialogue and action, we are deepening our commitment to self-reliance and local relationship in terms of food production. And we are thinking, too, of how to work differently, and otherwise make our living more creative, sustainable, and service-oriented.

This is not for everyone! I hope you will forgive me if I sound preachy. Healing takes the form that is most helpful to us, that most readily reminds us that our identity is not yoked to a body, and that the world of perception is illusory (e.g., T-2.IV.5:2). For me, in part, that has always taken the form of rigorous study and writing.

But it also includes a relationship with the world premised on actively working to balance the scales of justice so that all people enjoy the modest material abundance (and comfort and safety) that characterizes our living here on our homestead. I don’t always know what that means, so I have to be in relationship with others in order to learn. Together, we think out loud about how to help each other and how our helping can naturally extend to others.

This latter work – as opposed to study and writing – is harder for me, because it evokes the body and the body always evokes relationship. I am happiest in the forest or pasture, alone with my thoughts. With others – since childhood – I can be impatient, insecure, haughty, overly-sensitive . . .

I am, as Chrisoula often gently points out, a high-maintenance guy.

So learning proceeds apace, in the company of those with whom learning and healing are presently most effective and, as I consent to the posture of learning, which begins in humility, it is given me to be happy.

Healing is never only of the world (its pandemics, wars, famines or tsunamis et cetera) nor only of the self (its fear, guilt, pride, greed, et cetera) but is rather about discovering – and then gently living in – the nexus that self, world and other is.

We give attention to the life that is given to us, in all its beauty and confusion and pain, and we learn that beyond the flux and chaos is a stillness and peace and that the means to that joyful state is service unto one another, in whatever form appears.

To that end, I hope you are well, and that your families and communities are well, and I thank you for reading and sometime sharing with me here. Truly, without you, it would not mean a thing.

Love,
Sean

We are not Bodies

The body’s adventures always end in death. There is no way out of this. Death touches every aspect of the body’s experience: whatever happens, be it good, bad or in-between, is always terminal. There is nothing that is permanent or consistent in the body, what the body makes, or what the body does.

prismThus, so long as one’s identity, one’s selfhood, is entangled in any way with a specific body, then death will appear to be the end of that self, too. There is nothing the self can do to or with the body that will prevent this.

When these facts become clear, then the following possibility appears: we can question our identity and investigate its apparent location. We can see if we are bodies or if we are not.

You and I are students of A Course in Miracles because at some point in our living we became willing to look into the apparent finality of death, glimpsed its false premise and became willing – however dimly – to know the truth.

We asked a question and the course was given as (or as part of) the answer. This is why it behooves us to attend the course closely, in a serious and disciplined way. There are many trails to the summit, but we asked for one especially suited to our experience, and that trail was given. This is it.

Most of us do not seriously question our identity and investigate its apparent home in the body. The ego – which is literally (and simply!) the argument that self and body are inevitably permanently conjoined – is alternately vicious and wily in its efforts to get us to look away from it.

It is critical to understand that the ego is not a thing, but an idea. It is a pattern in thought, not thought itself. It does not have any independent existence or identity. When it fights, it is merely doing what it was made to do. When it pleads with us, the same. When it beguiles us, the same.

The ego is nothing more thanĀ  a part of your belief about yourself. Your other life has continued without interruption, and has been and always will be totally unaffected by your attempts to dissociate it (T-4.VI.1:6-7).

Ego is just a persuasive idea that we no longer recognize as “just an idea” or “just a pattern in thought.” Thus, questioning our identity and investigating its apparent home in the body feels threatening. And because the threat feels real, protecting against it – by ignoring it, arguing against it, projecting it – makes sense. What else can a body do?

So we look away. This looking away can take the form of opting for another path, or arguing with this or that ACIM teacher, or just raw denial. Maybe I’m a Buddhist! Maybe Ken Wapnick was right after all! I don’t have a problem with the body! These are all forms of negotiating with the ego, of trying to compromise with it, and they never work.

They never ever work. Indeed, they are part of how the ego sustains itself.

What do we do?

Imagine you built a little castle of sand at low tide. Imagine you love it and others admire it, too. How proud you are!

Then imagine the tide comes in and begins washing the castle away. You don’t negotiate with the tides. You can’t plead with the sea to stop flowing. You can’t compromise.

The sea just does what seas do. You have to let go of your castle.

Bodies die. Full stop.

It is possible to resist this fact for a long time, and to become discouraged and even depressed in the process. When death is allowed to appear to triumph over God and Creation, what other feeling is possible?

The other option – the one that A Course in Miracles offers – is simply to learn that “we” are not bodies. On that view, the body’s adventures (from food to sex to healing) don’t touch us. The body’s end is not “our” end. We no longer need “a way out.” We aren’t “in” in the first place.

But knowing this is an all-or-nothing deal and it can’t be faked. We have to let the body go entirely, without condition, holding nothing back, in order to learn that we are not the body. We can’t become cheerleaders for letting go while subtly or secretly holding on, and we can’t let go just a little. We have to let go all the way.

Critically, this “letting go” does not happen at the level of the body. It is a decision made at the level of mind. There is nothing the body can do to let go of the body; it’s like asking water to let go of “wet.” That’s not how it works.

This becomes a real challenge. We are so “in” our bodies, that we can’t discern what it means to make a decision apart from those bodies. We keep looking for an embodied experience of “nonduality” or “letting go.” We want to experience – in the body – bodilessness.

But the body doesn’t have bodiless experiences. You can’t change your body in order to change your mind about what the body is.

Only when we accept this can the Holy Spirit begin to actually teach us what mind is and thus allow us to change our mind about bodies and learn that we are not bodies and are unaffected by what appears to happen to bodies.

. . . [The Holy Spirit] knows the Will of God and what you really will. But this is understood by mind perceived as one, aware that it is one, and so experienced. It is the Holy Spirit’s function to teach you how this oneness is experienced, what you must do that it can be experienced, and where you should go to to it (T-25.II.6:2-4).

This is hard. It is painful. We come to the Holy Spirit in a sense of utter defeat. We become willing not because of valor or intelligence or holiness but because we can’t see any other option.

The Holy Spirit meets us at the bottom. And there it begins to gently but surely teach us that we are not bodies.

What do we do then with the body? How does one have a body and let the body go?

A Course in Miracles is clear that the best – really, the only – use of the body is to bring joy and peace to others. This is actually a profoundly simple exercise. It happens naturally when we stop emphasizing the personal nature of the body’s experiences. When the body is no longer “Sean’s,” then it naturally becomes helpful to others.

Here, I’d like to say something about prisms, which have been very helpful symbols to me over the years. There is an equivalent in your experience. (Or, if you like, you can become obsessed with prisms). They are a cheap and efficient way of experiencing a deeply instructive, natural beauty.

When I was a little boy I was obsessed with prisms – mostly in quartz and drops of water. I could ogle rainbows a long time. They were so beautiful. I marveled that the world functioned in such a way that this beauty could be so consistently produced.

Prisms made me happy and they made me feel that God was good and never not attending in a care-filled way. I kept an eye out for them; I had favorite rocks. I didn’t mind ice or rain at all. Prisms hid there.

One day, when I was seven, the janitor at our little local school, gave me an actual prism, turned me to the window, and told me to hold the prism to my eye. I had never done this before. I had no idea what to expect. I don’t know what I looked like when I followed his instructions but the janitor and the two teachers present burst out laughing. I can still feel how happy my obvious sense of wonder and amazement made them.

What I learned in that moment was that one didn’t have to wait on sunlight to hit the back pasture quartz rock or for raindrops to hang just so off the maple trees. You could take the prism with you. You could be safe and happy anywhere. The gift of beauty and joy was no longer conditional; it went with me.

That was forty-six years ago and a day has not since passed that does not include prisms. I hang them everywhere; I often have one in my pocket.

And here is the thing: the body is a kind of prism. Or you can think about it that way. Its value, as such, is that the light of Love may pass through it and inspire others by reminding them of the Love that is in them.

Prisms do not make decisions; they have a structure and they do what that structure does. Given light, they offer beautiful flourishes of light’s spectrum.

To let go of the body is simply to stop insisting it have a structure or purpose other than the one that it naturally has. When the body is given to God, then God becomes peace and joy extended to other bodies. We do nothing. That’s really important. Prisms don’t cooperate with the light; they don’t negotiate with the sun; they don’t decide to share beauty; they don’t decide who to shine for or when. They are what they are and what happens happens.

Thus, don’t be stressed about your body. You are not a body. But the body isn’t a bad thing. It’s not evil. It’s not a problem to be solved. It can make love, eat chocolate, drink coffee, go for long walks through the village and beyond. It can hang prisms everywhere.

Again, the body is merely a prism through which the light of Love passes or doesn’t pass. Ego and self-obsession are like curtains or veils obstructing the light. Drop them and the love will radiate naturally.

The happiness that we extend and share is not an ersatz happiness. It’s quiet and calm and nondramatic. It doesn’t make things worse; it doesn’t assert itself; it doesn’t insist on going where it’s not invited; it helps because it doesn’t want to hurt.

This happiness is loving because it expands us and our living – it opens us to others. It becomes us.