The premise of clarification is that we don’t know but we can know, and that means exist by which to know. The means are reason, dialogue and education.
Clarification matters because it nurtures our happiness and makes it easier to service others. It undoes ambiguity about the need for service and confusion about the form of service and thus clears the way for love, which is our natural inheritance as human beings.
Imagine that someone begins to study A Course in Miracles. Early into their study, they run into the concept of forgiveness and recognize its importance to the curriculum.
“Ah,” they say. “Forgiveness. I know what this is. When somebody wrongs me, I forgive them. I take the high road. That is what it means to be spiritual.”
From the perspective of ACIM, this is a mistaken understanding. In course parlance, forgiveness is not about perceiving an error and agreeing to overlook it on spiritual grounds. Rather, it is about a shift in perception such that error is no longer seen.
The confusion between a traditional conception of forgiveness and the ACIM version is understandable. It’s not a crisis. But correcting the error is essential if one is going to fully practice course principles and bring them into application.
Or imagine that someone says to us that Emily Dickinson is a better poet than Robert Frost. We’re big Dickinson readers and take umbrage at any suggestion she’s not the best poet ever.
Clarification reminds us that while we’ve read Dickinson closely, we have not read Frost closely, which affects are capacity for rational judgment. Clarification reminds us that qualifiers such as “better” and “best” are mostly valuable at a personal level. They aren’t measurably objective qualities.
Thus, before we start debating the issue, we need to clarify in the interest of being fair and just with our interlocutor. First, we want to brush on our reading of Frost. Second, we want to get a better grip on how the word “better” is being used in this particular context.
We don’t want to randomly guess, and we don’t want to speak or act from ignorance. We want to know.
So clarification is the passage from not-knowing to knowing. It is not black and white! There is a spectrum and our thinking moves along it. The goal is to move towards clarity, not away from it.
Given that clarity matters, how do we practice it? What does it look like in practice?
The means of clarification are threefold. The first is dialogue, and the second is education, ad the third is reason. They are obviously interrelated, the one informing the other.
Dialogue means an interior openness to change, and the capacity to be radically honest with respect to it. It is the process by which this openness manifests. While it often involves sharing with other people (in ACIM study groups, Bohm dialogue groups, et cetera), it doesn’t have to. When we are in the space of dialogue, we are giving careful attention to what is happening to us inside. It is in the nature of an interior inquiry.
For example, if we are reading the Rules for Decision in A Course in Miracles, a dialogic mindset would be aware of our interior response to the text: are we frustrated and dismissive? Are we scared that we’re not “getting it?” Are we plotting how to personally benefit from it? Are we not attending the reading but thinking about something else – the meal we’re about to have or a fight we had earlier?
None of those mindsets constitute a crisis! But if our aim is understanding, then we have to be attentive, and seeing where and when we are not attentive is what allows us to refocus and become attentive.
Dialogue is a way of ensuring that we see clearly what is distracting us from being fully and authentically present. What are the fears and resentments and fantasies that hold our attention rather than allowing it to embrace the present moment, the “holy instant” as A Course in Miracles calls it?
All we have to do is see the blocks; we don’t have to fix them. Dialogue – whether we are working in solitude or actively with other people – allows us to see these blocks and, by virtue of this seeing, attend to their undoing.
Thus, to be “in dialogue” is to be committed to giving attention to what is happening as it happening. We don’t judge in advance, we don’t worry about fixing anything, we don’t decide what’s going to show up and what’s not. We just look: we give attention in a gentle but sustained. Whatever shows up, shows up.
Another means by which we clarify is education. Think of the earlier example of the beginning ACIM student who is confused about forgiveness. How is this error corrected?
By study. They continue to work with the curriculum: reading the text, doing the lessons, consulting the Clarification of Terms. Maybe they read some of the more helpful course teachers.
If we notice gaps in our learning or practice, what can we do to fill them? It doesn’t have to be academic in nature, although it can be. Writers who are not explicitly spiritual – who might reject that term outright – can be very helpful to our evolving understanding of nonduality, oneness, consciousness, et cetera.
Say that we want to adopt a more proactive service in our community but we aren’t sure what that means. How do we figure it out?
We educate ourselves. We identify unmet needs by talking to people in our community – religious and political leaders, activists, neighbors, educators. We read the paper. We brainstorm with trusted friends. The answer is out there. We can find it.
Education is a cornerstone of clarification. In conjunction with dialogue, it moves us deeper into the clear light of Love in which service is clear and effortless. It’s not a problem if we’re not in that light yet; the point is to move in that direction in a sure and steady way.
Someone might ask: that’s all well and good but what about the errors we don’t see? After all, we can’t know what we don’t know. A lot of errors go on without our noticing.
This is a good question and raises a critical point about clarification.
In order to be most effective, clarification has to be ongoing. It’s not like a tool that we pick up when the need for it is clear; it’s like a practice we adopt with the understanding that it’s never not necessary.
A habit of clarification will move quickly through the little stuff. That’s fine. When the big stuff comes up – unexpectedly, dramatically – our inclination to “always be clarifying” will see us through.
Dialogue and education work together: each informs and buttresses the other. Together, they enlarge our capacity for attention and reason.
Attention and reason are the hallmarks of clarification as they relate to the work of bringing forth love through happiness and service. We do the work that is before us to the best of our ability and trust it to deepen and remediate where we are yet shallow, ignorant and confused.