Called Home to the Holy Instant

Often I am outside before dawn. Light changes; the world wakes up. Chickens and horses, neighbors walking dogs, the traffic on Route Nine going east. When we are still and quiet, the world wakes up inside us. Thought slows and the mind extends far beyond the body, discovering it is already one with the horses, the hills, and the slowly brightening sky.

Over and over the Holy Spirit guides me back to what A Course in Miracles calls the “holy instant,” and which other traditions call the present, Brahman, Now, et cetera. In the holy instant, I realize again my fundamental unity with all Life. Division and conflict are illusions. There is only Love – impersonal and impartial, perfectly neutral, perfectly just.

This realization cannot be forgotten. It can be ignored and defied but it can never be forgotten. It lives in all of us, a faint spark with a divine mandate of conflagration. We cannot make Truth untrue.

I knew God all the time as a child. God was everywhere in all things – the rough tongues of calves, buttercups in the meadow, sunlight on quartz after it rained. The world was not separate from me and I was not separate from life. It was holy in a way that required no defense or explanation. Like a creation of God that knows it cannot leave the Mind of its Creator, I lived without guilt or fear. My innocence was perfect freedom.

This is a projection, of course! Yet like all projections it contains a kernel of truth which must not be disowned. I did know God, and this knowing began to erode around the time my “I” began to distinguish itself. Two? Three? I know it accelerated a lot around age four. Suddenly I was a body, suddenly there was a world in which that body – and other bodies that it loved – was not always safe. Life was divided and set against itself. There was nothing to be done. And the Newsweek covers, which my father read religiously, made clear that it was only going to get worse.

This happens to all of us. It is a human story, echoing in all the other stories we tell and sing. The long journey home, the snake in the garden, the help we are condemned to mistake and crucify. But “I” is not a crime against God or Nature. It’s not even unnnatural, in and of itself.

Rather, our belief in it – which is our acceptance of it as our identity (what ACIM calls “a tiny mad idea”) – is an error that can be corrected. For me, the desire that it be corrected was eclipsed by a fear of what would happen if I so much as tried to correct it.

Coming to terms with that took years. Years. It took facing down fear – of you, your body, your God, and my inability to control any of it. It took facing down the nihilism of seeing there was way no way out on the ego’s terms. I had to learn it good enough to teach it. It was not easy. It still isn’t.

I mentioned being outdoors. Dawn can become too easy so sometimes I go out at night. We live in a New England village but it’s not hard to reach the forest. Ten minutes, a couple of benign trespasses and I disappear from the world of people and their seemingly endless problems. I become one with the moon and stars, with owls and bats, and one with late fall wind keening in the pines.

The practice is to give attention to the Holy Spirit. To consent to be guided by the Holy Spirit to the holy instant, where self dissolves, taking with it our strange religion of having problems.

For most of us, awakening is not a lightning bolt but something gentler and more sustainable. You know how you wade into the sea, then lean forward diving into it? Like that. “Waking up” in the softest, sweetest – in the easiest – sense of the word.

We dream that reality is a dream. But reality is not a dream. It’s this: this this.

If you say this little essay is just words, I agree! It is just words. But words aren’t useless. I can’t eat the word “food” but I can use it find something I can eat. We cannot undo thought with more thought. But thought can learn to look at itself, inquire into itself, ask how it is generated and how it sustains itself.

Thought can ask – and live the answer to – the question: who or what is behind all this? Beyond the contents of thought, beyond the movement generating that content is . . . what?

The answer to this question is not another thought but an experience: like (while not at all like) how dawn slowly reveals a world that had been hidden in shadows and darkness. It’s not supernatural and it’s not special. In it, an owl is a bird, not a messenger sent by God to tell us a secret.

The secret – such as it is – is that this is okay. It really is. When we stop insisting on specialness, holiness is revealed.

It took a long time to become lost, and yet it takes no time at all to be found. The Holy Spirit endlessly reminds us what we are in Truth by asking us to offer to the world only what we want to receive. Hence the suggestion “give attention.” Rest in the body in the world. Fight nothing; resist nothing.

Whether dawn or midnight, I always hear the river. I live a few stone’s throws from the middle branch of the Westfield River. During the day the world is too loud to hear it, but at dawn and at midnight, you hear its continual murmur, hymn-like and clear. You understand what Heraclitus meant when he said nobody steps in the same river twice because it’s never the same river and never the same person.

And yet.

Beyond the ever-shifting nature of reality is that which does not change for it is that to which the river appears, and without which the river cannot be said to exist. You are that. You were always that. Its name is your name, its essence is your essence, and its truth your truth. I invite you to remember this: to discover it for yourself; I remind you that you are allowed to be happy, to know peace, and to be one with Creation.

Indeed, I remind you that you cannot be other than unified in and with Creation, and that this unity is happiness and peace. Together we make it so.


  1. Tat tvam asi.
    I have always remembered that phrase from the Vedantas, from a first year world religion course at St. Michael’s College in Toronto.
    “That thou art.”
    To live it, to realize it as a new experience that gently dawns.
    Thank you, Sean.

  2. Good morning Sean
    I read your article while watching the dawn break over the ocean, black birds stirring, coffee brewing, cool winters morning, citrus trees abundant catching the morning light……a very profound peaceful alrightness emerged. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    New Zealand

    1. You’re welcome, Sandra. Thank you for reading & sharing. “A profound, peaceful alrightness” – yes!

      ~ Sean

  3. I read about empathy this morning from the book and so your words seemed very apropos. I am struggling to reach someone who, after many years in the light has strayed into the darkness. I was with him yesterday and my first impulse was to save him with “words”. Instead, I postponed the conversation we must have and this morning realized the Holy Spirit had a much better plan than me trying to “save” him from my “wisdom” involving his current dilemma. I am always at my best as a conduit or I begin to believe my PAST is a treasure trove for the world to find amazing shortcuts to “solutions” when my past is the resting place of my amazing ego and it power to make me belive this is the repository of answers when all it really is remains illusionary and temporary. I will meet my friend tomorrow and introduce him to whatever I am instructed to say from Him who is all-knowing. I don’t need to plan or “think it through”. I just need to give the directions I know I will be provided.

    1. Thanks for reading & sharing, Luke. I identify. Yes, deferring to the Holy Spirit is a good plan. But I find that even when I make mistakes, the Holy Spirit can use them in the service of happiness and the good. In that way, everything becomes just a little easier to navigate because, in the ultimate sense, in the healing vision of the Holy Spirit, there ARE no mistakes 🙂 Love holds everything.

      Thanks for being here 🙏🙏

      ~ Sean

  4. For 15 years I have been an off and on reader of the course. Each time I
    it’s wisdom has helped me find some peace. Still the sorrow in this world stops me cold and I ask again and again, “WHY Suffering?”

    1. It’s a good question, Jim. As you know, the Course maintains that the outside world is the picture of an inside condition ( It is a projection. Therefore, the “sorrow” is not out there but in here; it is MY sorrow. Hence the other Course teaching, the secret to salvation – mind AND yours – is that I am doing this all to myself (T-27.VIII.10:1). And since I am doing it, I can also do something else.

      For all of that to make more sense than just “cool idea” I have to actually study and practice the Course, where “practice” means bring it into application on a daily basis. Nobody HAS to do this – there are lots of paths and methods, by all means do what works – but if we DO do it, then we will begin to know a peace that undoes the world and allows us to live happily with our brothers and sisters.

      Thanks for sharing and being here, Jim.


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