Notes on the God of Uncertainty

Hugh Gash makes an interesting observation in “Constructivism and Mystical Experience:”

” . . . when there is a mismatch between experience and what is expected, gaps are experienced that reveal an inadequacy in previously constructed ways of organizing the experience.”

Say that I often get irritated when people wake up and come downstairs because it disrupts my morning ritual of prayer, reading and writing. Then, one day, I notice that the presence of others is not disruptive but easily integrates into my morning dance with the sacred, and that this makes me happy – happier than my attempts at solitude.

Why? What happened? What is different this morning?

Answering those questions matters because I want to be happy, and I want to be socially inclusive, and happiness and inclusiveness are related. They are mutually generative. I value my family; I don’t want to be petty and exclusive with respect to our shared space and living. The more welcoming I become, the happier I become. They happier I become, the happier they become. They happier they become, the more welcoming I become. It is a warm and nurturing cycle.

Gash suggests that the gap between my expectation (which is premised on my usual response, my past response) and my experience (which is new) makes clear that the way I have been organizing this particular experience is inadequate, or flawed. I have constructed it in unhelpful ways, and have now learned that there is another – or better – way.

How shall I bring this better way forth more consistently and sustainably?

I think giving attention to this specific question is a form of spiritual living, in the sense that it recognizes something is missing and seeks to find that something and then formally integrate it.

But in order to be effective, this giving attention has to go slowly. It has to proceed with epistemic humility. If I quickly assert that what is missing is “God” or “Love” or “right understanding of A Course in Miracles” or “a consistent meditation practice” et cetera, then I am effectively shoveling the mud of the past into the gap.

Our work is to let the gap be! To let flow through it what flows through it: to see what flows, and to let what flows be what it is, without a lot of intervention and aggression. We have to let what is new be new, which means unfamiliar and surprising and probably a little uncomfortable.

This is not easy to do. And, that, too, is part of why I say it is spiritual, because my sense is that spiritual living requires attentiveness and discipline and especially maturity, the specific maturity of accepting the tedium inherent in simply being still (being attentive in a disciplined way), especially when the stillness isn’t instantly rewarding or sexy or remunerative or otherwise gratifying.

We tend to ignore gaps, to slide right over them. Or, noticing them, we fill them with past conceptions and practices. Often, we don’t notice we are sliding or mindlessly filling. And then when we do notice we try to unfill the gaps, or demand others gaps appear so we can handle them mindfully.

But that is now how gaps work! Gaps occur on their own; we can’t force a gap to appear. All we can do is go slowly and attentively, living the very lives we are living, and when gaps appear, respond to them gently and cautiously.

It helps me to think of gaps as stray dogs who tag along in my vicinity but who are too frightened to initiate or manage direct contact. I have to be quiet and slow. I have to murmur and coo. I have to carry treats. I have to kneel and open my palms, not make eye contact.

And after I’ve maximized openness, I have to let the dogs control the encounter. It’s their encounter. I have to be grateful for whatever happens, no matter how tentative or scant or apparently unsuccessful it is.

That’s it. I just live with my living. This is what living is. It’s this – this very this. It’s this very going slowly, this very going humbly, this very ongoing posture of a servant attending an uncertain god, whose uncertainty is holy and so can never transition to certainty.

Yes, in a way this is just wordy bullshit. Yes, we are always only loving our own self. Yes those gaps are just Sean another way. Those stray dogs are just Sean remembering Sean, the universe universing. Yes, yes, yes.

And yet.

The God of Uncertainty yields Her blessing only when we consent to not force Her into the high church of certainty, where the priests are devout patriarchs who wear blinders inside and are scared to go outside after dark. They’re big on obedience and faith; you can’t ask too many questions. Messiness is not allowed, beginning again and starting over are verboten, et cetera.

We don’t know what we don’t know ever. All our insights and learning are subsumed by a horizon of “what if.” Thus, the church of our not knowing – the altar of our slow and humble, our uncertain God – is everywhere always. We are never not praying. We are never not communing. She is never not in attendance.

What does the open heart learn who worships at this particular altar?

One, that they are not only the forever unknowable whole, for they are also always the sliver in whom the memory of original fracture tells and retells its origin story, forever insisting on its narrative prerogative. We are called to heed our stories for those stories are how we pray to the God of Uncertainty. They are alms and offering both.

The Gift of Attention is all She asks. And what she gives in reply is a reminder that the part being apart is also the whole, and in order to be a part apart it cannot remember the whole. We want to be the whole, secretly know we are the whole and yet . . . our experience is one of separation from the whole.

This separation begets yearning which is always for our God, whatever the particular object – a person, a dog, a landscape, a memory, a goal. The object (which is always an image) points to the God of Uncertainty, who Herself eschews direct observation, preferring hints and murmurs, glimpses and fragments.

Thus, our yearning is sacred, because it arises from separation and points toward oneness, towards unity. It is the very fulcrum on which the hymn of happiness is never not being softly sung. When we yearn for what is already accomplished – which is all the yearning there is, else how would we know what to yearn for (for our God has made us in Her image and what we are is expert yearners) – we know, without knowing, ecstatic unity.

And should we ever taste ecstatic unity – which we do, surely, from time to time – we forget it almost instantly, as condition of our being, which is forever bent on seeking and losing, having and giving away, remembering and forgetting. The one brings forth the other, and the other obliterates the one, and so becomes the one, the only, which then – by necessity, by love – brings forth the other.

On and on it goes, now as humans, now as maple trees, now as starlight, now as black bears, now as neutrinos, now as God-knows-what . . .

Maturana on Self as Distinction

With respect to the self, Humberto Maturana makes the following observations (in his essay “Biology of Self-Consciousness):

The distinction of the self is an overwhelming experience . . . once it takes place the distinction becomes the referential ground for all other distinctions . . .

And perhaps most critically, he observes that the “experience of the self as an object obscures its original constitution as a relation . . . ”

What we call the “self” is a distinction that is made in experience. In the same way I distinguish a coffee cup from what is not a coffee cup, I distinguish the “self” from what the self is not.

On this view, what we are calling the self is simply a kind of experience that arises in organisms capable of reflection. It is a sort of primal distinction, in that it enables all other distinctions.

That is, the cosmos comes into being in reference to the self for whom the cosmos comes into being.

So far we are not making any spiritual observations. We are simply seeing the way human perception and cognition work, which is a way of contextualizing our own perception and cognition.

We are what sees and, critically, we are also what we see. Our observations – be they of chickadees, children or chocolate cakes – are not separate from us. The appearance of separation is an effect to which we acclimate (like not seeing the blind spot that is in our eye). But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule; it’s not real.

Maturana emphasizes that tremendous power of this primary distinction. The self is overwhelming, so much so that it obscures its own origins. It might even go scurrying off after those origins, sometimes under the guise of a spiritual quest. What am I? What is Truth?

If you want to correlate this to the separation in A Course in Miracles you can, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to bring God into it at all. Indeed, bringing God or Jesus or Heaven into it is often just a way of sustaining the obscuration. Why make this harder than it has to be?

You are that which obscures what you are: you are that which asks what you are. Give attention to the distinctions that appear (what is this, what is that) and give attention to how they appear (in time and space, and in language). Separation is an appearance contingent on a mode of thinking that can – if one wants and is otherwise amenable – be undone.

But it is not a mystery. No supernatural origins or causes or methods apply. It is as simple as climbing down the ladder we climbed up, or retracing our steps on a path. And it can begin with this insight: “ladder” and “path” are analogies, and the use of analogy is separative.

Heal!

Healing in Holy Relationships

Over and over in the past week or so I have turned to these sentences from A Course in Miracles about healing and holy relationships.

Hear a brother call for help and answer him. It will be God to Whom you answer, for you called on Him (P-V.8:4-5).

I want to observe and reflect upon the circular – or entangled, perhaps – nature of the holy relationship indicated by these sentences.

When our brother or sister calls to us for help, it is in fact our own call to God for help. On this view, our brother or sister is our own self.

When we respond to our brother or sister, it is God to whom we respond. On this view, our brother or sister is God.

Thus, in our relationship with our brother and sister, they function as both God and our own self.

Also thus: our “own self” is – to our brothers and sisters – both God and brother and sister.

If we look at the relationship closely (the one between us and any other and the one between us and God), we see that the various entities – self, brother/sister, and God – are distinct but, depending on perspective, also the other entities.

In fact, the closer one looks, the more  one sees not “entities” but “relations” and, perhaps, “relating.”

So we could also say that “Self,” “God” and “Sister/Brother” are simply labels affixed to the same thing. The labels may be helpful in terms of organizing our thinking about that thing – that relationship, that relating – but they are not themselves that relationship or relating. They are indicative, not veridical.

What shall we do with this?

We could start by considering this sentence (from the same course section): “We are deceived already,if we think there is a need of healing” (P-V.7:4).

That sentence makes clear that there is no actual need for healing but that one can be deceived about this. Thus, if one is deceived, then there is a need for learning. There is a need for clarification (or the undoing of deception, if that is easier).

In other words, we need to learn that there is no need for healing, and the one who will teach us is “one who seems to share our dream of sickness” (P-V.7:5). This “one” is our brother or sister who comes to us in pain and asks for help; it is also our own self, when we bring it to a sister or brother in pain. Both instances beget forgiveness.

Let us help him to forgive himself for all the trespasses with which he would condemn himself without a cause. His healing is our own (P-V.7:6-7).

So we can ask: What will our living look like, and what will our brothers and sisters look like, and what will the world that we construct together and apart look like, when we realize that there is no need of healing?

We will see the face of Love shining in, through and as all things. Neighbors, sunflowers, toll booths, slippers and feral cats. All of it. This love is impersonal, all-inclusive and unconditional. That is why it is our – and all life’s – “natural inheritance” (In.1:7). And that is why it permeates all life, regardless of form.

Of course, this love – which in course terms is given to us in creation by God – can be overlooked and ignored. And that overlooking and ignoring can yield a state of suffering which appears to be a result of lovelessness.

But our experience of lovelessness is not proof of love’s absence or negation! It is merely proof of our confusion about love (and the need for healing).

So our learning – which is really a sort of undoing – has to do with no longer overlooking or ignoring love. The natural effect of this learning is that we remember – we see again – the love that is always there.

How shall we teach others to notice love? By noticing it in their own self and responding to it where it is.

How shall we teach them not to ignore their natural capacity for joy and peace? By noticing the pain ignoring it causes them and gently suggesting that there is another way.

Note that this “teaching others” is by definition a reciprocal act – it is literally a form of relating to God – and so it necessarily involves our own learning. We, too, are stubborn and ignorant. We, too, are confused and unsure. We, too, are in need to hand-holding, hugging, encouragement, and aid.

Thus, sometimes, “teaching” looks and feels like “being helped by others.” But, as we observed at the outset – at what I suggested is a “holy entanglement” – there are no others.

When we are in pain and our sister soothes us, it is the love of God. When our brother is in pain and we soothe him, it is the love of God. We think of “the love of God” as a noun – an object, a thing – but perhaps it is more helpful to think of it as a verb – as a process, a flow, a flux, a dynamic.

Thus, with respect to healing and holy relationships, we might think of two big ideas:

1. Nothing is actually broken and in need of healing, but we can be deceived that something is broken and in need of healing, so we need to learn that we are deceived; and

2. The process of our personal call for help and our personal response to others’ calls for help – and their calls and their responses, both to us and to others – is, collectively, the “Love of God.”

Again, in the case of point 2, Love is not seen as an object but a process. It’s not something one gives but rather giving itself.

Both of these points represent ways of thinking – or of organizing our thinking – that are unfamiliar. However, giving attention to them in a sustained way will naturally make their application more natural, which in turn inspires joy and peace.

Thus, our practice is to be present to our brothers and sisters – to go with them two miles when they ask if we will go with them one, and to ask them to go with us a mile when we are need of company and assistance, and to accept the help they offer in response.

In such a process, who could not be healed? This holy interaction is the plan of God Himself, by which His Son is saved (P-V.5:7-8).

Thus, we heal together but learning together that healing is not necessary but learning is. We are both student and teacher unto one another and the world we make is our classroom.

On Ending Projection

It is helpful to remember that projection is a mode of perception, not an action that we take, like writing a letter or mowing a lawn. It is a way of seeing that is at odds with reality and is thus dysfunctional. It enhances rather than dissipates our sense of separation from life. Thus, ending projection is really a matter of choosing a more helpful way of thinking.

All metaphors are clunky, but we could think of it this way. Yesterday, when I came in from my walk I looked at the calendar. I pulled my glasses from my pocket to read and saw only a blur through shadows. I squinted, moved my head back and forth, shifted my glasses and nothing helped.

Then I realized that I was wearing my sunglasses, not my regular reading glasses (insert embarrassed smile). Once I put the right glasses on, everything clarified. I could see again.

So when we project, it is like we are focusing through a wrong lens. The solution isn’t to do anything, other than focus through the right lens.

Even that is a bit misleading because it makes an image of us picking and choosing between lenses – like trying on this or that pair of glasses until everything comes into focus.

But the shift we are talking about – from wrong-seeing to right-seeing – is simply a change of mind. It takes place internally. There is nothing to do. We don’t have to resolve to stop projecting, we don’t have to apologize to the object of our projection, we don’t have to make an amends to Jesus for screwing up his ACIM program. Nothing.

We are  not seeing clearly and so we choose to see clearly. No more than that. But no less, either.

The simplicity of this is both astounding and intimidating. When we see the truth of “the secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1), then we are given the means of ultimate liberation. We may yet delay our release – we may backtrack into denial and projection – but the game is truly over. It is merely a question of when we choose to bring the truth into application. How clear!

And yet, after so many years of resistance – lifetimes, perhaps – how frightening to think that we can at last be happy and at peace forever. We become paralyzed a little. We freeze up. It happens to all of us, and it is understandable.

When we discern that we are holding some external influence (a person, place, thing, event, etc.) responsible for our inner peace, then we are given an opportunity: to continue to obsess over and blame this external influence for our problems, or to accept that we can be hurt by nothing except our own thoughts (W-pII.281.h).

If we choose the latter, then we are taking responsibility for own salvation. This alone creates a powerful shift in perception. Our focus moves from the external – the person who impedes us, the job that doesn’t function, the city that’s too loud, the weather that’s too wet, whatever – to our thoughts. We give attention to thought itself.

When we give attention to thought, sooner or later we learn that its flow is no different than anything else that is external – a river, a tree, the song of a bird. Its apparent importance and power are simply affects we’ve assigned to it and then pretended that we weren’t involved in it at all. But the truth is that of itself, thought is nothing. It is merely another external detail.

A Course in Miracles meets us where we are, accommodates our illusions of preference, and moves us as far into healing as we are ready and willing to go. It is very practical and efficient, and its efficacy is premised mostly our willingness to let it work without getting in the way.

And so at last our attention moves away from mental thought and towards what A Course in Miracles calls “the thoughts we think with God” (e.g. W-pI.51.4:4). In those thoughts our joy and peace are found. In those thoughts is our home.

How do we do this? For me, it is a matter of making A Course in Miracles my spiritual practice, for lack of a better word. I read the text, I do the lessons, I heed my teacher and trust that eventually the requisite insights will blossom which in turn heal this fractured perception. And, notwithstanding a few bumps and wrong turns here and there, that is pretty much how it has gone.

More and more I appreciate and respect the deeply personal nature of A Course in Miracles. It meets us where we are, accommodates our illusions of preference, and moves us as far into healing as we are ready and willing to go. It is very practical and efficient, and its efficacy is premised mostly our willingness to let it work without getting in the way.

. . . [T]he memory of God cannot shine in a mind that has obliterated it and wants to keep it so. For the memory of God can dawn only in a mind that chooses to remember, and that has relinquished the insane desire to control reality. You who cannot even control yourself should hardly aspire to control the universe (T-12.VIII.5:2-4).

I am not saying that ACIM should be anybody’s spiritual path and, if it is, I am not saying that they should walk it this way or that. I am merely bearing witness to how it has worked – and continues to work – for me.

There is really nothing to do but give attention to our practice, right here in the world, and trust that we are not alone in it. Tara Singh encouraged his students to bring a sense of order to their lives – to make God their first love – and to know as a result that “the Divine Intelligence is there to help” (Love Holds No Grievances 54).

It can seem boring and insufficiently mystical at first – to clean our house, eat simple healthy food, focus intently on the daily lesson’s directive or whatever – but that is only because, as a means of resistance, we insist that God be a mystery, or distant, or conditional.

God of course is none of that. God is here now, a present reality presently unrecognized. The slower we go and the simpler we live, the more vividly and clearly our recognition of that fact – that truth – dawns in our minds.

Faith Concludes the Journey

Reason takes us so far; faith finishes the journey.

Faith is in the nature of assent, a quiet yes offered internally. It is like reason delivers us to the desert’s edge, but faith is what sustains our first steps into that apparently dangerous wilderness. This is why A Course in Miracles teaches us that “[w]here learning ends, God begins . . .” (T-18.IX.11:4)

Love is not learned. Its meaning lies within itself (T-18.IX.12:1-2).

What then are we learning? We are learning to offer to the Holy Spirit that which we would withhold from God, the fragment of reality we think we stole and now rule in shadows and uncertainty. That part of us which cherishes darkness and separation and its own will is all that must be brought to light.

This is the little part you think you stole from Heaven. Give it back to Heaven. Heaven has not lost it, but you have lost sight of Heaven (T-18.IX.1:6-8).

This giving back (or bringing to light) is a symbolic gesture. It s important to see this. We are not actually returning a stolen piece of Heaven to Heaven. God, like Heaven, is indivisible. What never happened need not be fixed or repaired. But because we believe it happened – and because this belief is the separation – we need to mimic the amends.

In this sense, healing is simply the recognition that sickness never was.

We heal in this way by offering all the apparent symptoms of separation to the Holy Spirit: our fear that our bodies are the wrong size or shape, our anger at our parents, our frustration with money, our dissatisfaction with work, the injustice of war and poverty, the crossword puzzle we can’t complete, our headaches, stubbed toes and cancerous lesions . . .

All of these are merely symptoms – or symbols – of our belief in separation. They are in the nature of idols whose sole purpose is to obscure the unchangeable fact of our oneness with God. They are illusions and thus bound to failure.

Beyond all idols is the Thought God holds of you. Completely unaffected by the turmoil and the terror of the world, the dreams of birth and death that here are dreamed, the myriad of forms that fear can take; quite undisturbed, the Thought of God holds of you remains exactly as it always was (T-30.III.10:1-2).

Yet the question is never will illusion prevail, but rather how long will we postpone our celebration in God that illusions are not real? For the separation from God continues only so long as we insist it must.

Reason is what guides us through the text and workbook of A Course in Miracles. Reason teaches us that the myriad forms of fear we perceive are not separate problems in need of separate solutions but rather symptoms of the only problem we have. Reason persuades us that we need a Teacher to show us the other, the better way, which is accomplished by showing us that “[y]our one central problem has been answered, and you have no other” (W-pI.80.1:2).

Faith is what allows us to accept that all our problems have been solved, that peace is inherent, and that joy is now. Faith stands on the foundation reason built and leaps. Its gratefulness is akin to wings. It is not afraid so much as eager. It is ready to learn that the final lesson was what we expected all along it would be: We remain as God created us and God’s Will is done. Perfect wholeness abounds.