Accepting Uncertainty: Practicing ACIM Lesson 61

I want to make an observation related to Lesson 61 of A Course in Miracles. It has to do with the question of the extent to which understanding the course intellectually matters to our practice. I think this lesson is one of the times when the course implicitly suggests that intellectual grasp isn’t so important, that accepting a degree of uncertainty is actually helpful.

Lesson 61 is one of those grandiose moments A Course in Miracles frequently offers its readers. “I am the light of the world.” For a lot of us, we just run with that language because saying it feels good. In course parlance, the ego loves that phrase. “You’re damn right I’m the light of the world. I’m the brightest light there is.”

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rocks scavenged from the brook past the horses, drying on the back porch railing

I do that too, of course. I’m not preaching from some rarefied altar here. It feels good to think about myself as the light of the world. I become very patient and generous and gentle when I think of myself that way. I sort of imagine myself as a cool contemporary Jesus shining his light hither and yon, a New England Christ with horses and pigs and a garden.

We all have some variation of that grandiosity happening in our minds. The problem isn’t that it’s happening, it’s that we don’t notice it’s happening. It can be very subtle. If we aren’t attentive and vigilant, the ego will slip right in under the guise of holiness and appropriate literally everything to serve its own ends. We think we’re too spiritual or psychologically evolved to fall prey to it but that kind of unfounded confidence is the ego.

So Lesson 61 feels like a big ego trap, because its essence is exactly the sort of big idea our ego loves to take for a spin. The key to noticing this happening is the good feeling it gives us, and the subtle way that we interpret “feeling good” as spiritual. It’s helpful to notice that happening and then question it. How sure are we that we really and truly know what’s going on here?

The thing is, that level of “feeling good,” and the positive effects that flow from it – gentleness, patience, generosity, et cetera – , are temporary and not very durable. They’re temporary because they pass. And they’re not durable because, in addition to being temporary, they get rattled far too easily. Somebody’s mean or needy or an unexpected demand is made on my time and . . . bam! So long light of the world. Hello darkness, my old friend (to quote an old and dear guide).

In Lesson 61 the course is pointing to something that does not pass and cannot be rattled or undone and so delivers a lasting and sustainable peace and happiness.

But in order to begin to get all that, we have to get out of the way. We have to perceive the ego’s move to take over our experience of Lesson 61 and actually actively stop it.

The course actually warns us that the ego is going to make this kind of move. It says that the phrase “I am the light of the world” is a simple statement about what we are and not “a statement of pride, of arrogance, or of self-deception.”

It does not describe the self-concept you have made. It does not refer to any of the characteristics with which you have endowed your idols (W-pI.61.1:3-5).

Those qualifications are incredibly important. That’s why they’re right there at the beginning of the lesson. They are flashing yellow lights telling us to slow down and check ourselves, to see where our attention is, to make sure we’re not getting carried away with delusions of ourselves as worldly saviors whose holiness elevates use above the hoi polloi.

One way to do that in our practice of A Course in Miracles is to read the text and workbook closely, and really inquire as to our understanding. This is not a paradox! I am not suggesting that intellectual understanding trumps practice. I am simply suggesting that close reading is a way of staying close to the course. I am saying this proximity ultimately strengthens and enriches our experience as learners.

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Opening a little space for the horses, shade into which to extend their pasture, and trails on which to wander . . . an ongoing project, a kind of therapy, a meeting place of minds . . .

For examples, in those sentences I just cited (W-pI.61.1:3-5), the course is asking if we are truly clear about the distinction between self and self-concept. Are you?

It asks if we are clear-eyed about our idols and the qualities by which we make them our idols – the historical Jesus, the westernized Buddha, the affluence and influence of Eckhart Tolle and other contemporary spiritual teachers. Are you?

For most of us, the answer is some variation of “not really.” Sometimes we’re clear and sometimes we’re fuzzy. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t. That’s why we’re here – working our way through learning what it means to be one-without-another et cetera.

Thus, when we do this lesson, it is actually not a bad idea to do it with uncertainty. Just be in the space of not fully understanding what it means to be “the light of world.” Be in the space of knowing how easily and frequently we turn this sort of thing into a hymn to our specialness. Be confused and unskilled. Be a beginner.

And then see what happens, right? Just see what happens. Do what the lesson asks, trying mightily to be honest and stay out of the way. You might imagine Jesus saying, “yes, yes – that’s it – get to where you don’t know anything and see what happens.”

What happens?

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a little space in the side yard to write, to sit quietly, to stargaze at night, to drink coffee when the sun rises

I don’t know what happens for you, other than that as you look closely at what obscures the light of the world in you, the more clearly that light will shine. We don’t need to do anything other than look at the impediments. The light is there; you don’t have to find it, turn it on, replace the bulb or anything.

You just need to look at what makes looking hard, and then let what happens happen. And things will happen! And, generally speaking, they will be things that make you happy in the sense of being gentle and peaceful in sustainable ways, and in touch with a sense of meaning to your life that cannot be shaken.

Love Does Not Compare: ACIM Daily Lesson 195

Let us pause for a moment and think of those with whom we compare ourselves. I mean literally search our thoughts and find those individuals (or groups even), and maybe even do a little comparing right now.

Aren’t these folks easy to find? Easy to objectify? Easy to envy or scorn? Those who are less patient, less diligent in their scholarship, less attentive to food security? Those who are richer, thinner, or can run farther faster? Those who panic when faced with a crowd and those who can’t shut up and share the stage?

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dawn in the hayloft, light hinting red

It is helpful to see this rogues gallery and to acknowledge its existence. We made it. Its halls are worn bare because we visit so often and so faithfully.

Lesson 195 of A Course in Miracles is ostensibly about gratitude, but it yokes this core concept to our tendency to compare ourselves to others and find them – or us – wanting. Comparison, it turns out, is not a recipe for inner peace.

You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you, nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. Love makes no comparisons. And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love (W-pI.195.4:1-3).

Love makes no comparisons . . .

We have to stay with that phrase for a moment because it is so utterly beautiful and also so mind-numbingly ridiculous.

Doesn’t that phrase feel electric in your brain? “Love makes no comparisons,” “Love does not compare . . . ” Doesn’t it resonate when uttered as if the very angels of Heaven were harmonizing along with you?

And truly, don’t you feel a little self-righteous saying it? I do. Like how cool is it that we are the ones who know that love makes no comparisons . . .

But look. As human observers, we make comparisons. We live by them. We compare foods, find some nutritious and others a chemical abomination, and then eat accordingly. We have to go on a long drive and opt for a Bob Dylan playlist, not Techno, because we want to be happy and relaxed on our drive, not jaw-grinding insane.

Or we love someone – we hold them, kiss them, watch over their rest, catch our breath when they smile – because we’ve been around, we’ve seen the options – and this someone is the best someone. They’re good to us, they make us laugh. They know when we need a little extra attention and when we have to be alone. Not just anybody can be this somebody!

You cannot not make comparisons. Okay? You really have to see this! You have to see how comparing actually inheres in your body, in your thoughts, and in the language you use. Comparison is you; it’s as much you as anything else you’d like to say is you.

We have to see it that way because if we don’t, then the utter ridiculousness of the lesson – upon which its helpfulness is predicated – won’t be clear. You see? You are being told to adopt as a practice something that you literally cannot do. It isn’t fair. It’s masochistic.

So what do we do?

Lesson 195 advises us to let our gratitude make room for “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death” (W-pI.195.5:2).

All these go with you. Let us not compare ourselves with them, for thus we split them off from our awareness of the unity we share with them, as they must share with us (W-pI.195.5:3-4).

Do you see what happened there? We – you and I, of all people – got thrown in with “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death.”

It’s not a mistake. It’s a fact of our shared unity. If you are honest, can’t you see yourself somewhere in that list? It’s not a description of others – it’s a description of our own living.

Comparison only makes logical sense if there are at least two things. I can compare my right hand to my left hand, but not my right hand to my right hand. I can compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out back, but I can’t compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out front.

What is one and thus the same cannot be compared to itself.

We thank our Father for one thing alone; that we are separate from no living thing, and therefore one with Him. And we rejoice that no exceptions can ever be made which would reduce our wholeness . . . We give thanks for every living thing, for otherwise we offer thanks for nothing . . . (W-pI.195.6:1-3).

Sure, you say. We are one. But it feels and seems and appears like we’re separate . . .

Yes. I hear that. It is an important insight. And really, to pretend otherwise is vain and pretentious. And we are past that now. We don’t wake to fake awakening or act out fantasies of nonduality or pretend we’re in an intimate 1:1 correspondence with Jesus, Yahweh, and the Buddha.

It’s good to be clear that we are having a dualistic experience. It’s good to remember that we are not alone in saying it. And it’s good – it’s more than good, actually – to give close attention to what the course asks of us next in the lesson.

Then let our brothers lean their tired heads against our shoulders as they rest a while. We offer thanks for them. For if we can direct them to the peace that we would find, the way is opening at last to us (W-pI.195.7:1-3).

Please see the clarity of that last sentence: it does not say that peace that we have or know or are. It says the peace we are still looking for. It refers to the peace we haven’t found. It envisions a future state that is not this present state.

You see? The course is recognizing that we aren’t there yet. We don’t get it yet. And it is no big deal. The sky isn’t falling, pits aren’t opening, and lions aren’t laying down with lambs.

So we can relax and get on with the other two sentences in that passage. We give thanks (sentence two) and then help our brothers and sisters rest (sentence one). We put the metaphysics and intellectualizing aside and actually help our brothers and sisters.

And isn’t that the part we all want to skip? It’s so much sexier to read Francisco Varela and Emily Dickinson, write Japanese short form poetry, see who liked our last post and who retweeted our last tweets.

Who wants to go donate a few hours at the local food pantry? Who wants to walk around the crappy parts of town and hand out coffees or blankets or bologna sandwiches? Who wants to visit a nursing home and read to someone who never gets visitors? Who wants to knock on doors for signatures for a bill that would ban pesticides that are harmful to bees? Who wants to do the dishes even though it’s not your night to do the dishes?

Tara Singh is my ACIM teacher because he brought the course out of the clouds. He ended the distractions of mysticism, psychic powers, ascended masters; really, he ended the ideal of special experiences altogether. He taught me that the earth is my home, not the sky. He taught me to garden and gaze dreamily at the stars, to enact local service and to go off to a quiet place to pray, to study critical texts and clean the bathroom.

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my shadow gesturing at blurred prisms on the hayloft’s western wall

Lesson 195 never says this but it should: Act in the world with your body. Act in a way that helps other people. When you do this, the love and peace from which you still feel alienated, and the oneness that remains true even though you can’t really see it yet, will be revealed.

An ancient door is swinging free again; a long forgotten Word re-echoes in our memory, and gathers clarity as we are willing once again to clear . . . Walk then in gratitude the way of love (W-pI.7:4, 8:1).

So don’t sweat the comparisons. Let them come, let them go. Don’t sweat the impossible. Don’t try and mentally work out what it would mean to be beyond all that. If it’s your job to understand and help others understand, then that will happen. But right now – and perhaps for a long time to come – our job is to love one another, to help one another.

We are the lost and forsaken. We are the lost sheep. But it’s okay! Don’t look for home, don’t complain about how unfair life is, don’t lament your fate. Rather, with clear eyes, gaze about and see the widow, the orphan, the soldier, the prisoner, the refugee, the hungry, the frail, the abandoned, the hopeless . . .

They are here: help them. In simple nondramatic ways, be of service. See what happens next.

A Course in Miracles Lesson 284

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt.

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attention given to experience as it is given . . .

It does not seem controversial to say that if we are hurt, then something caused our pain. For example, if I drop the bureau I am carrying up the stairs and it lands on my toe, then we know what caused the pain. That’s easy.

Let’s say that there is a particular social situation – certain people in a certain setting – and when I am in that situation, I feel hurt and anguished. I go and – lo and behold – experience hurt and anguish.

That is trickier, right? The “cause” of the pain was the social situation, but one could argue the deeper “cause” was my decision to go there in the first place.

Both those examples share a common premise: the pain is real and it is caused by something external (even if I am “choosing” to subject myself to that external).

But what happens if there is no cause? Can there still be pain?

A Course in Miracles asks us to consider the possibility that pain, being causeless, does not exist. It cannot exist.

Loss is not loss when properly perceived. Pain is impossible. There is no grief with any cause at all (W-pII.284.1:1-3).

How can this be?

There is a clue in the preceding lesson. The prayer in Lesson 283 notes that we made an image of ourselves and called it the Son of God (W-pII.283.1:1). We made an idol of this image and used it deny our shared identity with God (W-pII.283.1:3, 5). The prayer intimates the antidote.

Now are we one in shared Identity, with God our Father as our only Source, and everything created part of us. And so we offer blessing to all things, uniting lovingly with all the world, which our forgiveness has made one with us (W-pII.283.2:1-2).

If the “self” who is subject to hurt is not real (but an image made to obscure wholeness) then what happens to pain? It cannot be real either, correct?

It is the giving of attention that undoes the persistent illusion of a separated self; not that to which the attention is given.

Of course that analysis turns on our openness to the idea that the self is not real (but is a manufactured image). To the degree we resist that conclusion, we are going to experience pain – not as punishment for resistance but as a simple consequence of believing we are that which can suffer.1

We all believe that we are bodies, having a temporal-spatial experience in a world that contains other bodies. We all question the nondual premise that the body is an illusion. Why else was this post written? Why else is it being read?

A Course in Miracles is indifferent to when or by what means we undo our mistaken belief about what we are in truth. Lesson 284 implicitly recognizes this, and urges us not to get hung up on the details of when/how.

This is the truth, at first to be but said and then repeated many times; and next to be accepted as but partly true, with many reservations. Then to be considered seriously more and more and more, and finally accepted as the truth (W-pII.284.1:5-6).

Those words describe a process that unfolds in time to a body. There is no need to rush through – or denigrate or deny or otherwise worry about – the experience of being a body. In time, teachers appear, ideas are embraced, and new practices are suggested. Insight is given. A Course in Miracles both accepts – and gently encourages us not to linger on – this experience.

I can elect to change all thoughts that hurt. I would beyond these words today, and past all reservations, and arrive at full acceptance of the truth in them (W-pII.284.1:7-8).

Our practice is one of giving gentle sustained attention to experience as it is given. This may at times include intellectual analysis, at times the devotion of prayer or meditation, and at times mundanity and minutiae. It doesn’t matter. It is the giving of attention that undoes the persistent illusion of a separated self; not that to which the attention is given.

A Course in Miracles is unusual in that it makes no significant demands of its students. Even this far into the lessons, if we read closely, we see the inherent patience and gentleness of the curriculum. It is like a child learning to swim with a loving parent whose only concern is the child’s safety and happiness. “You want to dip just one toe? That’s okay. You just want to play in the sand? That’s okay. You don’t want to learn to swim at all? That’s okay.”

And all the while knowing that when the child is ready to wade into the waves and leap into the blue – that will be okay, too.

1. Please note that the image – so long as we believe it is real – is real for us (see for example (T-26.VI.1:2-4). This can be a confusing distinction, but it matters. A mirage in the desert is not a real oasis, but it is a real mirage. Observe a child with Santa Claus – so long as their belief is total then Santa is real. Or observe adults who believe in a distinctly masculine sky God directing human affairs. It is easy to be dismissive of those examples; but it can also be helpful to ask: what belief (or beliefs), conscious or otherwise, do I currently cling to that I may subsequently learn is/are false? If you say “none,” how do you know? How could you know?

A Course in Miracles Lesson 194

My practice of A Course in Miracles is grounded in the ordinary. It finds itself in what arises day-to-day – baking bread, mowing the lawn, writing poetry, drinking tea with Chrisoula, and walking and talking with my children.

The course is efficient and practical. The attention I give to it on its terms is returned to me with a surfeit of graceful interest. The gift that we were given in creation is revealed; the truth of “I need do nothing” becomes a fact, a sure foundation upon which inner peace both rests and extends.

Lesson 194 of A Course in Miracles neatly captures this emphasis on what is ordinary, this benevolent practicality, and the luminosity that naturally attends when we are no longer looking for drama or magic or any other kind of special personal experience. The lesson urges us to place the future – and be extension, the past and present – in God’s hands. When we do, we rest in peace ourselves.

Then is each instant which was slave to time transformed into a holy instant, when the light that was kept hidden in God’s Son is freed to bless the world. Now is he free, and all his glory shines upon a world made free with him, to share his holiness (W-pI.194.5:3-4).

But the poetry and eloquence of the course belies the grounded nature of this transformation. When we resolve to place our lives in the hands of God, and bring our attention to this placement throughout our day, then the effects are felt here. The effects are felt now.

What worry can beset the one who gives his future to the loving Hands of God? What can he suffer? What can cause him pain, or bring experience of loss to him? What can he fear? And what can he regard except with love? (W-pI.194.7:1-5)

The line at the supermarket is too long – we place our future in the hands of God. Our child is struggling at school – we place our future in the hands of God. We do not have enough money to pay the mortgage – we place our future in the hands of God. We are teacherless, partnerless, lost, confused, scared . . .

We place our future in the hands of God. No more and no less. It is enough.

There is nothing that we encounter in our day that is not shadowed by our fear of the future. Everything that we do as bodies in the throes of the egoic belief system is shaped by the past in anticipation of an improved future. And what has this mode of thought brought us but pain? Pain with intermittent relief from pain, sure, but still pain.

And A Course in Miracles comes along and offers us a way out of this cycle. It offers us a new thought system, and a method by which we might surely attain it. It dissolves our ruinous engagement with time not through personal understanding but through our willingness to “let the future go, and place it in God’s Hands” (W-pI.194.4:5).

This is literally a practice! It is an action that we take when faced with fear, guilt, anger, lust, greed, grief and so forth. The circumstances of our pain don’t matter. The apparent cause or causes don’t matter. Nothing matters but that we place the outcome – and the attendant feelings – in God’s hands. And when this placement becomes “a habit in [our] problem-solving repertoire,” then we will know at last salvation and peace (W-pI.194.6:2).

It is important to see that we are not made perfect by this practice. We don’t become Buddhas or ascended masters. Our bodies continue to be bodies – hungry, lustful, capable of fatigue, subject to emotion. Biology and neurochemistry proceed apace. But we are no longer ruled by those material externals. We do not fight them; we merely look beyond them.

[H]e who has escaped all fear of future pain . . . is sure that his perception may be faulty, but will never lack correction. He is free to choose again when he has been deceived; to change his mind when he has made mistakes (W-pI.194.7:6-8).

That is a description of you and I today – right now – if we choose to accept it.

Do you see the loveliness in it? The absence of consequences? The gentle practice by which we are led away from the world of guilt and fear and into love and forgiveness? It is so simple. I am not saying it is easy – I would be a liar if I did – but I am saying that it is simple. And I am saying that it is a transformation bequeathed to us over and over. And all we are asked to do is try to remember – moment by moment, day by day – to surrender our personal ideals and expectations and ideas of improvement. All they have ever done is bring us to grief.

In the end, Lesson 194 is the manifestation of the new way promised us by A Course in Miracles. We place our future in the hands of God and together learn that “only good can come to us” (W-pI.194.9:6).

A Course in Miracles Lesson 186

Here is the thought of true humility, which holds no function as your own but that which has been given you (W-pI.186.1:2).

Ask yourself: when told that salvation of the world depends on you, does not a chorus of internal voices begin to clamor in various degrees of consent and disagreement? Anticipation and resistance?

And hearing those voices – and not pretending they are not there, and not playing favorites amongst them, or otherwise dismissing their effects – can we begin to give attention to what, if anything, can be encountered beyond them?

Our true self cannot be discovered in thought. We aren’t going to think our way to the Truth. This does not make thought bad or unnecessary; only superfluous to Truth. We can think our way to baking brownies or clearing trails or driving to Chicago, but we cannot think our way to Reality.

So there is a presence beyond our egoic response to A Course in Miracles, that tends to us as we sit quietly, willing to experience it.

Our self-made roles are shifting, and they seem to change from mourner to ecstatic bliss of love and loving. We can laugh or weep, and greet the day with welcome or with tears. Our very being seems to change as we experience a thousand shifts in mood, and our emotions raise us high indeed, or dash us to the ground in hopelessness (W-pI.186.8:3-5).

This self can save nothing – salvation is not contingent on it in any way. Rather, salvation is contingent on our willingness to be led beyond this tiny self, this fragile construct of thought and feeling and language.

. . . certain as the sun’s return each morning to dispel the night, your truly given function stands out clear and wholly unambiguous. There is no doubt of its validity. It comes from One Who knows no error, and His Voice is certain of Its messages (W-pI.186.11:1-3).

Our practice of this lesson, then, depends on our willingness to set aside our various mental, emotional and psychological images of the self in order to find out what remains. Because it is what remains that is the foundation of the world’s salvation. So we can ask: what stays when we release our insistence on this or that role for ourselves? Who are we when we no longer rush to define ourselves in terms of what we think the world needs?

We think that our ideas are a form of knowledge, aspects of truth, helpful pointers to a self that can eventually fit into the world and maybe even save it from itself. But this thought (regardless of the myriad forms it takes) is simply faith wasted in yet another illusion. We have to let it all go – our images of helpfulness, kindness, gentleness, willingness, love. All of it. Can we do that? Admit that we don’t know? Admit that we even our purest ideal of lovingkindness contains the rank seeds of selfishness?

It is hard. It is very hard.

And yet, to the precise degree that we can entertain it as a possibility, help is given. Help is there. It is like we are so busy drawing maps to lead us home that we fail to notice we are already are home. What is required is not effort, but gentle and sustained attention to the present, which is forever sufficient.

Thus, the question is not how do I save the world, or what do I need to do to save the world, but rather am I giving attention to the Voice for Love (W-pI.186.4:1)? Nothing more is asked of us because nothing more could be asked.

The ego’s many voices – its pretend logic, its passionate directives – will fade and disappear as we observe them without investment. What remains? What emerges from what remains?

Those are interesting questions; and it behooves us to be discovered by the answers.