The Many Ways We Get Home

Often when I am especially grateful for A Course in Miracles, I write about it in what I hope are helpful ways. I try to focus on the mechanics as I understand them, and not to overdo the spiritual drama. Being happy is not a race so we’re all experts and beginners at once but it’s easy to forget that. I really do want you to love me.

The thing is, the language of A Course in Miracles is not broad. It doesn’t – to borrow a course term – generalize well. Half the key phrases, like forgiveness and atonement, have meanings that are bound up in Christian Science, German transcendental philosophy and a version of Freud that so far as I can tell nobody has taken seriously since the late fifties.

None of that means the course can’t be helpful; it manifestly can. But it does mean that after a certain juncture, one sort of finds their self  longing for a more inclusive dance.

Or not! Ken Wapnick’s apparently stubborn insistence that the course means what it means and that we shouldn’t be looping in Buddhism and Lacan and so forth are understandable from that perspective. When you’re home, you don’t burn down the building. It’s your home!

But one woman’s home can be another woman’s way station. I sometimes feel as if the “celestial speedup” – a delicious phrase and concept – doesn’t obligate some of us to aim for a vocabulary and practice that is less formally onerous. The goal is to be happy (in a deep and sustainable way) and not right about this or that spiritual path. Does it matter?

Well, yes. Clearly. But also: what’s right is what works. And so it’s important to be rigorously honest about what works and what doesn’t. A Course in Miracles is comforting to me, but I don’t always trust that. I’ve been good over the years at hiding what hurts beneath a veneer of respectability.

Sometimes when I write posts like this one or this one, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking: be careful of pretending that you’re more committed than you are. Be careful of coveting some esteem you haven’t merited. And I get up and walk out back to the horses, who are very calm and beautiful in the moonlight, and let things sift and settle and simmer, which they always do.

In general, I think it’s important to divest from overly theistic belief systems. Assertions with respect to absolutes or unconditionals or objectives feel altogether unsustainable to me. There is always this: this this, and it never doesn’t reflect love and lawfulness, and it’s never not sufficiently responsive. Also, it doesn’t depend on posturing with respect to what causes it.

In general, I think it’s important to observe the Golden Rule – to basically act in ways that are clear that what’s good for A is good for B, and also generally increase the possibilities for our shared living. As Ken used to say (here paraphrased): a good way to live is to make everything about other people

In general, I think that “love” means allowing others to exist without defending themselves. Love assumes radical equality. You don’t have to prove your value or worth to me, and I don’t have to understand your value or worth. Your value and worth are established.

In general, I think explanations are less effective than descriptions, and “how” questions are more helpful and creative than “why” questions. Very little appears to be forbidden (although how would we know?), but it’s also clear that some of our actions are more functional and expansive than others. Why ignore this?

All of those observations make for a kind of living that is basically uncertain and slow. In a lot of ways, my life is shifting into a mode that most people find at best boring and at worst emblematic of the very problem they’re trying to fix.

But more and more I don’t observe any problem other than the various faulty lenses (or interpretations) that I bring to my observing. A lot is given – is just here – and my contributions are sort of beside the point. It’s when I get confused about this and start bopping around like the hyperactive love child of Julie McCoy (cruise director) and Merrill Stubing (ship captain) that things begin to grind and grate unhelpfully.

For a long time I used to think that what Bill Thetford said to Helen was “there must be a better way.” But at least in the text, what he actually said was, “there must be another way.”

Well, there is always another way. Which may or may not work – we have to find out by giving attention. And if it doesn’t work for us, it still might work for others so we have to give it space. And others, too.

To this day I miss some of my college professors and  certain courses because they changed my life. They taught me how to think better, how to evaluate texts and belief systems, all with an eye toward being a healthy happy man who isn’t making things worse. But I wouldn’t go back there, because other learning projects came, and anyway, we have to get on with living.

Is it this way with A Course in Miracles? Time to move on/time to get going, as brother Tom Petty sang? I am always wondering that myself, especially when I find myself being fairly orthodox with respect to it (as the last two most recent posts indicate). Yet what can we do but flag our concerns – notice what’s there to be noticed – and then keep going?

Gifts of Light (Just Hug Already)

Say that you and I are sharing together. We are in a cafe, perhaps, having tea or coffee. We are talking about Emily Dickinson and her struggle to adequately express her deep spiritual insights and experiences in the Christian and other patriarchal languages that were given to her.

There I am. There you are. There is the tea and the coffee. And there is the cafe around us – tables and chairs and booths, wall art, mirrors, baristas . . .

Can you see our dialogue? I don’t mean can you imagine the scene I just described; I mean, in that moment, can you see our dialogue – can you the sharing that we are co-creating in the moment?

Does it have a form? Does it move? Is it responsive? Alive?

If it’s easier, try this: at some point today or tomorrow you will have a conversation of some significance with someone. When and as you do, can you see the dialogue you are having? Can you see what is being co-created in the moment?

Does it have a form? Does it move? Is it responsive? Alive?

I am indicating here a shift in how one understands the verb “to see.” I am defusing it from the bodily senses and expanding it to include the finer, subtler tones of awareness. What is revealed when we “look” at what is abstract and conceptual? Beyond the names we give it, can we see it? Experience it? Does it see and experience us?

Although this takes getting used to, one can develop a way of seeing that doesn’t “stop” at bodies and other material objects, but rather takes notices of the patterns – the energies – in which those bodies are dimly implicated.

I am thinking here along these lines in A Course in Miracles:

The wish to see calls down the grace of God upon your eyes, and brings the gift of light that makes sight possible. Would you behold your brother? (T-25.VI.3:1-2)

And, related:

As nothingness cannot be pictured, so there is no symbol for totality. Reality is ultimately known without a form, unpictured and unseen (T-27.III.5:1-2).

The exercise I am suggesting is not strictly aligned with A Course in Miracles. I have simply over the years found it a helpful way to manifest “the grace of God” upon my eyes so that I might “behold my brother and sister.”

When the focus shifts from the body to what is creating, we make a move in the direction of mind, where abstraction is natural. The body is inherently limited, but the mind is not – it can travel, don masks, give without losing, gain without cost. It defies the limitations of the body.

Complete abstraction is the natural condition of the mind . . . Every mind contains all minds, for every mind is one (W-pI.161.2:1, 4:2).

When we share together, our ideas are abstractions that meet and create new abstractions. Your ideas enter me, and mine enter you, and new ideas exfoliate accordingly. In this way, love extends itself without limit or condition.

The suggestion I make is to give attention to this at the level of creation. That is, rather than look at a specific idea or thought or image, note the creativity literally forming and reforming – folding and enfolding – in dialogue. See the mind in its natural condition and mode of expression.

This is not a metaphor! Our capacity for awareness is highly evolved, if somewhat alien to us in our present state of identifying so intimately with a body. Exercising awareness is restorative; it is like being slowly filled with light and – prism-like – radiating rainbows everywhere.

When we give attention to one another and our shared creating in this way we “give welcome to the power beyond forgiveness, and beyond the world of symbols and of limitations” (T-27.III.7:8).

I think this sort of thing can get complex and mysterious pretty quickly. Notwithstanding my deep love of complexity and my not-so-secret longing to always be the smartest guy in the room and adored by all, I think the real work here is not to understand intellectually, but to just practice seeing.

That is, seeing – in the sense the course is using here – is not an intellectual exercise but an actual act we take in relation with one another. It’s like the difference between defining “hug” and giving/getting a hug. I mean, of course, let’s talk about the etymological roots of “hug” and all that, but also . . . let’s hug already.

Students Need Teachers: ACIM to the Rescue

From time to time I remind myself that the primary (we could even say “sole” but I think that’s probably inaccurate) goal of A Course in Miracles is to introduce us to the Holy Spirit, who is our Teacher. From the course preface:

The Course makes no claim to finality, nor are the Workbook lessons intended to bring the student’s learning to completion. At the end, the reader is left in the hands of his or her own Internal Teacher, Who will direct all subsequent learning as He sees fit.

That is the premise from which I often suggest that it’s okay to put aside course metaphysics (e.g., is consciousness the first step in separation), spiritual drama (ascended masters! light shows!), and self-help/improvement (e.g., manifest your best life now).

All of those are effectively distractions. They aren’t wrong in any effective sense; they just postpone the actual work ACIM proposes we do and thus also postpone the logical and practical outcome of that work: relationship with an internal Teacher who knows we are not separate from God and knows how to help us know it, too.

Here’s an experiment. Can you hear the Holy Spirit? If yes, then it’s ACIM game-over, unless you’re called to be a formal teacher/Boddhisattva (like, say, Ken Wapnick).

But if you can’t hear the Holy Spirit (which is to say, you find my asking annoying or confusing or discouraging), then it’s worth asking a) if A Course in Miracles is the right spiritual path for you and/or b) whether your practical application of it might need to be tweaked.

[please note that an interim phase exists in which “hearing the Holy Spirit” is neither perfect nor consistent. Generally, though, when we’re in that phase, we know we’re in it]

The Holy Spirit is not a separate entity from you. It is not a supernatural being to which only devout or new age Christians have access. Rather, the Holy Spirit is your sane mind and its voice is quiet, calm and confident. Its direction is always helpful. It knows that separation is an appearance, not a law.

[The Holy Spirit] represents your Self and your Creator, Who are One. He speaks for God and also for you, being joined with Both. And therefore it is He Who proves Them One (C-6.4:2-4).

Essentially, the course suggests that there are two voices in our mind. The voice of the ego is loud and insistent, demanding and grandiose. It plans and plots. It’s shifty and contradictory. It answers questions with more questions. It thrives on complexity.

You can observe these egoic patterns of thinking in your mind. You can observe their effects in your mind and in your living.

And, you can also observe the alternative: a voice that is mature, calm, patient and responsive. Given a question, it offers an answer. It simplifies and clarifies. Merely to be in its presence is to be at peace.

That, too, is a pattern of thinking in our mind, albeit one from which we are estranged. Thus, a nontrivial aspect of the ACIM curriculum – really, its whole shebang – is learning how to discern between those two voices. One of them knows God and wants you to know God and one of them does not know God and doesn’t want you to figure out that it doesn’t.

In course terms, God is neither a big idea that we mentally “get” nor a big show of joy and peace that our physical bodies experience in physical terms. Brain and its casing are neutral, not fundamental and not causal.

Rather, God is an experience of coherence that generates peace and joy in communion with others in ways that transcend body/mind duality. On this view, God is normal and natural; it doesn’t even need to go by the name “God.” Names don’t even exist to it.

[note too that letting go of one’s attachment to this or that name of God – which is to let go of ontological preference altogether – is also a phase, one that can be especially acute in terms of confusion, grief and anxiety]

Importantly, we don’t have to force any insight, experience or communion; it’s all already in place. We simply have to listen to the Teacher who already knows it’s in place, and let her/him/it (you choose!) restore it to our thinking in our mind. You wouldn’t go into a math class and assume that you have to teach the teacher algebra! You’d just give attention to the teacher teaching you.

Just so with A Course in Miracles . . .

[and note that upon restoration, distinctions like “our thinking” and “our mind” will no longer be necessary, save as teaching devices. But in strict terms of A Course in Miracles, that’s cart-before-horse]

Thus, find the teacher and heed their instruction. What else can a sincere student do whose goal is to not to linger in the classroom forever?

Secrets in A Course in Miracles

Because so much of my epistemology relies on accepting uncertainty, and being open to revelation from what is not presently within the range of my knowing, it can be difficult to countenance A Course in Miracles which professes an end to uncertainty for those for whom it is the way (T-6.V.C.8:8).

Of course it was once for me very much the way, and so that past relationship becomes a sort of fructive omfalós by which I can countenance it, with backward glances that are equally grateful and critical.

The course was understood by its early authors, editors and readers to be paranormal – to fall outside the accepted boundaries of natural law. An aura of magic attended it. Later, they would realize this was an error and try to redo the assignment but the cat was out of the bag. The moment Helen Schucman declined to put her name on the text, Gary Renard and his ascended masters were inevitable.

For serious students of the course Renard is a distraction, a fact which often only becomes clear after reading and reflecting on his work. It’s okay. But Helen Schucman is also a distraction. For that matter, so is Jesus.

Indeed, even A Course in Miracles – the gestalt of its curriculum and many classrooms – is a distraction from that to which it would direct us.

And that can be tricky ground on which to stand or shuffle along.

My tribe, so to speak – the body of fellow students who with me form an ACIM classroom – are that collective of folks (mostly women as it turns out, which is itself instructive) who go very deeply into A Course in Miracles, discover a tiny door hidden inside it, a door with a note that reads “do not open under any circumstances,” and who open the door and go through it.

I think the door is obvious once you know what you’re looking for and decide you want to find it, but apparently one can spend lifetimes – thousands of them – deliberately missing the door. In the end it’s okay, but it feels like going on a picnic and then refusing to eat food outdoors. I mean sure, it’s your call, but . . . why?

In terms of my ACIM teachers, I think Ken Wapnick knew about the door – and what lay beyond it – but remained embedded in the course, Boddhisattva style, doing what he could to get folks to notice – if not pass through – the door. I think this; I don’t know this. But the progression of his writing and teaching suggests it.

I believe Tara Singh went through the door early – maybe too early and maybe too quickly – and thus can be quite – even fatally – confusing to sincere students. Distributing food to the poor alongside Mother Theresa . . . where in ACIM does it say do that?

Which feels like a good question until you realize that you’re hungry and need to eat.

(If you’re still puzzled by people who eat pizza while professing to have no body (W-pI.136.20:5), Singh is a better teacher than Wapnick)

Opening the door is transgressive and it has to be this way. It’s not that something bad happens on the other side or that there are gods or angels or demons or ACIM bosses who will punish us for opening it.

No, the transgression matters because it is an assertion of responsibility and an acceptance of the consequences which attend that assertion. When we open the door, we become constructive in the nearly literal sense of building something with our own mind and our own bodies.

It’s kind of like you thought ACIM was the church and it turns out it’s just a pep talk for going out and building a church.

But “the church” is not a physical structure, nor even a metaphysical one. It’s a social one and like everything else we do in language, it’s virtual.

When we pass through the door we absolve our share of mind of its invented paternal gods and related patriarchal structures, and become unto our own self – and to one another – the designer/creator one naturally is.

On that view, God and all projects related to God become nontrivial ideas that can be helpful or unhelpful according to context, and so cease to function as either causes or judges. The work becomes to find what is most helpful (most functional) in the bringing forth of love, in the very context in which we find our self, and that works tends to be free of the old images of spirituality and religion and even right and wrong.

Indeed, to optimize love, it sort of has to be free of old images. As Humberto Maturana says, “every love is love at first sight.” Otherwise it isn’t love but something else.

If you are happily studying or teaching A Course in Miracles, then by all means don’t let me stand in your way. But if you are studying or teaching, and there is a nagging sense of missing something, and you keep looking back at the course to find it . . .

Well in that situation, what you are looking away from is the door. And I say: turn to it. Turn to it, and open it, and fall into love, over and over and over.

Christ is Given

Christ is given as the light in which Love is remembered, and therefore there is nothing to seek. There is something to accept – to remember – but nothing to seek.

The interior silence
to which beauty brings us
is the light of Christ
in which all things –
including Christ –
are seen

It is like Christmas morning. Upon seeing gifts beneath the tree, what do we do? We open them gratefully in the presence of those who have gifted us and who we have gifted in turn. We don’t put on our coats and boots and embark on a lifelong search for gifts which are right there.

Christ is given.

Yet for many of us, “Christ is given” exists as an ideal rather than a felt or lived fact. It could be our reality, but it’s actually not. For it to be our reality, we believe we have to do something – meditate more, go to church, study A Course in Miracles, work at a soup kitchen, eat fewer potato chips.

When we believe that – and act according to that belief – we are unaware that Christ is given. This unawareness is a function of our unwillingness to accept that Christ is given (rather than earned or bargained for or distributed only to the worthy).

Unwillingness is a form of fear. The way it plays out in our living might look different (i.e., the reasons we give for our unwillingness – lack of meditation, anger at the church one grew up in, et cetera) but fear itself is not different. Fear is fear, in the same way that joy is joy. But at the level of relative being, fear and joy wear masks that reflect our belief in differences. And we have to meet the problem where it is, which is to say, how it appears.

A problem cannot be solved if you do not know what it is. Even if it is really solved already you will still have the problem, because you will not recognize that it has been solved (W-pI.79.1:1-2).

The apparent specificity of our problems is the means by which we go beyond specificity to the generalized guilt and fear which arise from a decision to be separate from God.

So what do I see when I give attention to my unwillingness to accept that Christ is given as the light in which Love is remembered, and so there is nothing to seek?

For me, I see a long line of books, a deep course of study that includes Emily Dickinson, Thoreau, Husserl, Tara Singh, Sylvia Plath, Krishnamurti, Humberto Maturana, Ernst von Glasersfeld, Gertrude Stein, Francisco Varela, Donald Hoffman, Louis Kauffman, Chris Fields, Diana Gasparyan . . .

I see the hundreds of thousands of words I have written, some public and some not, as I have sought in my half-assed and stumbling way to be in dialogue with these women and men . . .

I see a fluid and beautiful web of insight comprised of vigilance and discipline and intellectual tenacity, my own and that of others.

And yet this web floats untethered. It is ungrounded. Because it is untethered and ungrounded it is unstable and thus incapable of meaningful and sustained function.

When I look at my unwillingness, I see that I have neglected something. I see that all my study has somehow missed a most basic fact, some critical underlying fundament that would ground it, allow it to be helpfully functional.

So, for me, unwillingness takes the form of study – an investment in and attachment to an intellectual pursuit of knowledge, insight, truth. I’d rather study Christ, than know Christ. In fact, in a way, I study Christ to avoid knowing Christ.

Seeing it this way allows me to realize that whatever I do going forward, it cannot take the form of more study.

In this way, I realize that “unwillingness in the form of aggressive intellectual study” is actually fear. Plain old fear. And to be fearful is to choose to be separate, and to believe that separation is a meaningful choice.

. . . dissociation is nothing more than a decision to forget. What has been forgotten then appears to be fearful, but only because the dissociation is an attack on truth. You are fearful because you have forgotten. And you have replaced your knowledge by an awareness of dreams because you are afraid of your dissociation, not what you have dissociated (T-10.II.1:2-5).

That last line is very important. Our decision to be separate is what frightens us, not what we have chosen to be separate from. We tend to look at our fear and think it is fear of God or love or divine retribution or punishment or some other kind of horrible loss or sacrifice.

But really, we are just scared of a decision that we made. This is important! It shifts the “problem” from outside of us to inside; it shifts responsibility for fear from “out there” to our own self.

Our decision to separate ourselves from Love begets a world that is vast and complex and serves entirely to justify our fear. Nuclear war, unexpected meteors, plagues and viruses, incurable cancer, fatal car crashes . . . Of course we are scared. Of course we are fearful.

And yet.

A Course in Miracles – like many spiritual curricula – gently suggests that there is another way, and that this other way is to simply look at our fear where it is (the interior) and notice it is not nearly so catastrophic or overwhelming as it initially appears. We give attention to our fear, which is to become responsible for it, and over time, this gift of attention, this gentle nondramatic responsibility, undoes fear, until at last we see clearly the simplicity of choosing to remember love, which is to say, choosing to remember that Christ is given as the light in which Love is remembered, and so there is nothing to seek.

Our problem isn’t the absence of Christ, or our distance from Christ, or confusion about Christ. It is our belief that Christ – that Love – is absent or distant.

If you could recognize that your only problem is separation, no matter form it takes, you could accept the answer because you would see its relevance. Perceiving the underlying constancy in all the problems that seem to confront you, you would understand you have the means to solve them all. And you would use the means, because you recognize the problem (W-pI.79.6:204).

What form does our unwillingness take? Seeing it, can we let it go? Can we perceive the fear beyond it and then can we let the fear be? Can we simply look at the fear in order to learn what it is, what it wants, how it functions, where it comes from and so forth? Doing so is what undoes it. Doing nothing in particular is healing because it brings us into contact with something deeper than fear, which is Love.

No more than this attentiveness is required; no more could be required. In the gentle and sustained application of attention, the answer to all our so-called problems will appear because it is already given.