Building Better Worlds: ACIM in Practice

On the other hand, if you think that this stuff matters – that is, if you believe a political party is right or wrong, better or worse than the others – then you’re in as deep as you can go. At that level it’s just ego; there are no checks. You might as well pretend it matters who wins the Superbowl.

This is different from caring about certain outcomes in the world. Wanting kids to be fed and sheltered; wanting women not to suffer violence; wanting an end to weapons of mass destruction . . . those are goals entirely consistent with our ongoing spiritual realignment with Love. By all means work to bring them about in durable sustainable ways.

It’s not the goal that’s the problem – every sane person wants peace and happiness for their brother and sister and is willing to work to make it so.

No, the insanity appears when we decide that we know better than everyone else how to reach those goals and everybody else needs to get on board with us like yesterday.

This is the rank lovelessness of “I get it and you don’t,” against which Tara Singh warned.

I know, I know. You’re the sane one, not the insane one. I’m preaching to the choir. But riddle me this: how did I know where to draw the sane/insane line so you’d understand exactly what I meant? And how do you know on which side you’re to be found?

Hint: “I get it and you don’t.”

No. We’re in as deep as we can go, you and I. So the question becomes: what is to be done? And the answer is – because the answer is always – give attention in a forgiving way (an ACIM forgiving way) and see what happens.

Again, the problem is not that you’re frustrated that there are hungry kids in the world. What kind of monster accepts that kind of suffering?

The problem is the little tinge of righteousness you get about feeling that way, which almost always corresponds to vilifying somebody or something – Donald Trump, Congress, Capitalism – so big and/or vague you can’t reasonably be expected to do anything about it. This creates plausible deniability, which is essential to ego’s goal of continual self-deception.

Plausible deniability is how self-deception is sustained. We can’t fully lie to ourselves about the situation. We aren’t stupid. We’ve read books, talked to therapists. We know a yoga mat from a zafu. But we can’t fully own the lie either, because we’re scared and unsure of what the consequences will be and we don’t really want to find out.

Thus, we create mini-narratives in which we tell ourselves (and others, if they ask) that we would have owned the lie but couldn’t for reasons beyond our control. The phone rang. So-and-so was having a bad day. We were taking a “me” day away from stress. If you’d had my father . . .

These little excusal narratives allow just enough slack in attention to let us go on in self-deception. And self-deception creates a barely tolerable status quo in which our misery never quite reaches a level where we’re ready to blow everything up in search of a real solution.

Can you notice that? Because noticing that will redirect you to what you can do about whatever is vexing you. What you can do about it. In this way, you will become responsible for how you see and that means you will perceive a different world in which there is a lot you can do. A lot.

Making a commitment to this level of seeing is different than most spiritual paths the world offers us. It makes a different set of demands on our attention and living. It doesn’t tolerate half-measures (not because it’s vindictive but because half-measures don’t work). It’s more like on-the-job training than a spiritual practice. More psychotherapy than prayer.

Eventually, you will realize that the problem isn’t hungry kids. It’s adults who are so confused and tolerant of their confusion that obvious solutions and corrections to literally any problem become invisible or impossible.

You know, adults exactly like you and me.

Then you get arguments and straw men and studies and white papers and NGOs and social media campaigns and long talks into the night about the injustice of it all . . .

. . . and the kids are still hungry. And we still have that nagging feeling inside that there’s something we should do about it, would do about it if we could only remember . . . what self-help book it was it in . . . which yoga position is it unlocks the kundalini . . . is it Saint Francis I like or Saint Therese?

Yes. That’s not great. And yes. There is another way.

Heal yourself. Penetrate the illusion that you’re powerless; correct your seeing so that you stop perceiving the external appearance – the whole world of forms – as a symptom of an interior condition that believes it is a victim of outside forces. Get right on cause-and-effect. Stop acquiescing to powers you neither admire nor respect.

Get the reins back. Be real. Ask: where do you want us all to go?


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20 Comments

  1. Holy wow. You’ve just shown a blinding light on ALL my excuses for avoiding addressing the dark issues of the human condition. And then reminded us of the way to help and be healed.
    Thank you. Sincerely.

  2. P.S. The video that appears at the end of your post is black with the message “This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated.”

    1. Not sure what video you were seeing as I didn’t add one but you got me thinking and so I did . . . Thanks, Donna 🙏

  3. This take-no-prisoners voice is very helpful, Sean, even as it stirs up ego sludge . . . especially because it stirs up ego sludge.

    You know, David (who does not fancy himself a “student” of any spiritual tradition) is a great teacher for me because he tends to cut through all the bullshit of the “mind-based middleman” when it comes to what you write about.

    When he sees someone who is hungry, he feeds them. No questions asked.
    And yet he sees more as more “spiritual.” HA!

    Thanks for this,
    Cheryl

    1. Thanks Cheryl. It’s nice to hear from you 🙂 It’s interesting – I agree that teachers who cut through the “mind-based middleman bullshit are valuable,” significantly because I think the course is also asking us to cut through that bullshit. “Spiritual” can be such a distraction from love.

      Also Cheryl? David’s great, sure, but I know you and you, too, are part of the better world 🙏

      Love,
      Sean

  4. Ooof, this hits where it heals. It’s so easy in these times (all times?) to retreat to a righteous position of powerlessness. Or, to pin ones hopes on someone that we perceive to be in a position of power. But, it’s me, in my life, always “at choice” about how to be with the problem. I’ll be sitting with this one, today, as I consider how to align my internal conditions with love, so that I can align my actions with what is real.

    1. I’m glad it was helpful Melissa. I think sometimes we get confused that we are supposed to rise above or be somehow disaffected by the world when ACIM is really inviting us to go right into it and just heal, heal, heal! Thanks for being here – really appreciate your presence 🙏

      Love,
      Sean

  5. “Holy wow.” I like that, Donna! And I love all the great comments from others here thus far.

    “I get it and you don’t” is never going to fit into the “spiritual realignment with Love” which, I thought at first, was the major punch of this post.

    But no…instead it is the convicting heartbeat of: how long have I been tolerating and perpetuating half measures and half truths?! And really, “how long” isn’t EVEN the right question. Perhaps the better question on my end is, “when will I truly allow Love to have the reins?”

    Holy wow indeed.

    Much gratefulness, Sean, and to everyone who has shared here.

    Love,
    Jessica

    1. . . . and the weird thing is that love HAS the reins, we don’t have to do anything but let go of the idea that it doesn’t . . . and yet lifetimes pass debating, analyzing, assessing, arguing, pontificating . . . it’s like we WANT to suffer, at least a little . . . and we don’t want to look at THAT either . . .

      all this of course drops us right into Singh’s “bring it into application . . . ” the challenge that for some reason we want to avoid . . . always easier to talk the walk, I guess . . .

      and yet here we are together 🙂

      gratitude and love right back, Jessica . . .

  6. I am new to your website.
    I realize that this is a digression, but in your 9th paragraph, above, you said: “Again, the problem is not that you’re frustrated that there are hungry kids in the world. What kind of monster accepts that kind of suffering?”
    You probably meant that question to be rhetorical, but in fact it is a real one and one that needs to be addressed. What kind of monsters? Try Stalin, Mao Ze Dong, Pol Pot– all of them practiced genocide on their own people for their own utopian reasons. Some time ago I realized (with a shock) that one issue I had to deal with was to forgive even them (and others similar) for their actions.
    This is an extreme example of the challenge of forgiveness but it suggests an important lesson: Unless compassion and forgiveness are extended everywhere and to everyone, those concepts are meaningless.
    The good thing about wrestling with this is that it makes it a lot easier to forgive local political talk with which you might disagree .
    Thank you for your posts. I have only read a few of them, but I think they are good.

    1. Thanks for your note, Andrew. You raise several important issues here.

      The question was aimed at reassuring folks who are worried that caring about making a better world means they aren’t good ACIM students. I see this a lot. Our ACIM practice invites us into a particular relationship with the world which necessarily involves bringing forth love, and I want to encourage folks to try this and, for those who are doing it, I want to support them.

      But basically, you are right – it IS a rhetorical question! But one that hopefully lends itself to a meaningful inquiry, as you point out. There ARE monsters in the world – ranging from Pol Pot to serial killers to bullies driving kids to suicide. What shall we do about this?

      Here I want to agree with you about the extension of compassion and then add a level to the analysis, one that was deeply helpful to me (which you do not mention but which you have perhaps worked on).

      In general, I agree with you that forgiveness for bad actions and compassion for bad actors are to be extended without qualification or condition. And when we reach the juncture where we can’t extend forgiveness and compassion, then we know that this is where we need to deepen and strengthen our spiritual practice by asking for help, doubling down on prayer, whatever.

      It is good to discover this unwillingness (and good to notice how we subtly justify it, and how this justification bears the hallmarks of hate, not love).

      I think this approach to forgiveness and compassion is good practice even with ACIM which directs our attention away from specific behaviors and towards the psychological/spiritual conditioning which drives that behavior.

      So yes: forgive Pol Pot et al.

      The level of analysis I want to add is: can we see ourselves in Pol Pot et al? That is, rather than say “bad man but I forgive you” can we say “that’s me – I did that.”

      This is the message of the old spiritual “Were you there?” A Good Friday favorite from my church-going days 🙂 We like to say “not me – I’d never crucify Jesus.” But implicit in every line in the song is this challenge: of course we were there. We scourged him, laid a crown of thorns on his head, whipped him along Via Dolorosa, nailed him to the cross and hung around making small talk while he choked to death.

      The horror that is crucifixion – or Pol Pot’s regime – is also me. It is also you. “I am that.”

      I don’t have a hard time forgiving the neighbor who loses his temper with me because I lose my temper too. I don’t freak out when my kid forgets to feed the horses because hey, I forget stuff too. Guy on the other side of the political aisle? I can get there.

      But genocide? That’s outside my experience. That’s not me.

      The suggestion I am making is yes. Yes it is me. The act may be foreign but the spirit out of which it arises – the fear, the hate, the darkness – is not.

      Meeting the monster within, so to speak, is horrifying at the outset but remarkably tame in the aftermath because only after we meet the monster do we see clearly that monsters are exceptions and that angels – if I can use that metaphor – are the norm. Our nature is love – cooperative, communicative, coherent. Monsters are angels who have forgotten who and what they are, and are crying for help, and sometimes their cries are catastrophic.

      So yes. Wrestling with monsters is good practice. It shows us our limitations with forgiveness and compassion, so we know how much help we need. It makes it easier to manage the smaller (but still nontrivial) ethical challenges that abound in our day-to-day living. And, in the end, it allows us to accept even monstrousness as an extension of love.

      Thank you again for sharing, Andrew!

      Love,
      Sean

  7. Thank you again for another great read and commentary. The Work is so hard! The peace it brings is so real and good – and look! We are spreading it around! Miracle!

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