Giving is What Matters

It is helpful to remember that as we become more aware of what A Course in Miracles calls the ego, we may feel the effects of egoic thinking quite intensely. Patterns of thought and behavior and feeling that went unnoticed before suddenly call attention to themselves. It is not always comfortable when this happens! It can feel like failure, like falling back down a hill we’ve spent a long time climbing.

But really, it’s okay. Crazed machinations of egoic thought are not new and, as distressing as they may seem, are no more or less important than anything else going on, inside or out. They are just another facet of the various landscapes to which we are giving attention. And it is the giving of attention that matters in the end; not the images to which attention is given.

The forgiveness process of A Course in Miracles is about looking clearly and – as much as possible – without judgment at what is going on. If we are sad, then we look at our sadness. If we are listening to birds at dawn, then we look at listening to birds at dawn. Nothing is excluded, and nothing is better than anything else. It’s all equal. It might not seem so initially, but sooner or later this equality reveals itself.

People ask me sometimes: what is the point? So I am looking at looking at a banana split – so what? That’s not spiritual. That’s not healing. Or they say that it hurts to look at so-called negative aspects of character – lust, greed, anger, dishonesty. We’re supposed to change that stuff – not just stare at it.

Well, yes. I appreciate that. I feel that way myself quite often. But the suggestion I am making is that giving attention – which is to say, looking with the Holy Spirit – is itself curative. There’s really nothing else to do. We don’t understand that, at least not initially. It’s too simple. We prefer drama – big insights, big shifts, and all of that. We want results. We want outcomes that make us happy.

But really, healing simply happens because we are being attentive, and what we are attentive to is not very important at all. There really is nothing more to do! And it’s impossible to do it wrong, because attention isn’t our creation. It’s just there, a kind of responsiveness forever present. So the pressure comes off a little. Life isn’t our personal responsibility. How hard is it to do nothing?

When giving attention becomes difficult – because we see how selfish we are, how impatient, how naive, or whatever – it is important to remember that this is a form of clarity! And clear seeing is quite literally the Holy Spirit in action. Our impatience or selfishness is no more or less valuable in this regard than a sunset or a grilled steak. Attention is not contingent on that to which it is given. Give the Holy Spirit an inch and then sit back and watch it take the miles.

So we give attention. We don’t worry so much how it feels or whether it’s working or what results we’re getting. We don’t really know anyway. It is the gift of attention that matters. No more than that, and no less. We rest in giving: we become giving. And it’s enough; it’s more than enough.


  1. It occurred to me after posting this that the question – how hard is it to do nothing – was perhaps a bit spiritually aggressive. It is actually very hard to do nothing! That is why we struggle so, or that is why I struggle so. But I do seem to be learning that just letting all that go – through attention – is what brings peace.

    Maybe it’s like this: in our hand we clutch a chunk of gold. Letting it go is simple – just open your fingers and turn your palm upside down. That’s nothing! What’s hard is that we think gold is valuable – letting go of that thought, that belief – that is what is hard. That is where we get hung up.

    So if we can see that – that it is thought that makes letting go difficult, that taking thought so seriously makes letting go difficult – then maybe that is helpful. We can get clear on what what our beliefs are and how they are serving or not serving us. We can evaluate them fairly and without drama and then make a decision about what to do. That is really all A Course in Miracles asks of us, all that it would teach us to do.

    But, you know, it is so much more appealing to just talk and act as if we already know, already have the answers and so forth . . .

  2. Hi Sean,

    The ego really does like to keep us on our toes, which, I guess is understandable since we are in perpetual movement toward dissolving it completely.

    In recent months, I have been noting the “change” that has happened in my perception, interpretation and response to actions and events both of the world as I bring this renewed attention back in focus again and again.

    What I see more and more often is that for much of it (but, alas, not all) there is either little judgment, or judgment so fleeting it dissolves as I move my thoughts elsewhere. This is most deeply noted on what previously was most black and white not too long ago.

    This neutrality or (and I hesitate to call it this) detachment feels — well, perhaps peaceful is the best word — but because I am no longer applying the same belief system to life as I once did, I can feel off-kilter and a little out of step. And, this is where the old people-pleaser persona gets stuck. I sometimes will look at myself as I “think” others are looking at me . . .and the ego questioning begins in earnest.

    Your thoughts on this process are so helpful, Sean. You say what I see and even if I don’t see clearly yet . . .I willingly look at the finger pointing toward the moon and feel a deep and abiding gratitude.


    1. Yes, I hear this . . . we are shifting our goal (from specialness to holiness) and so the old structures of thought and belief no longer serve and the tension can range from uncomfortable to terrifying. It is easier – or seems easier anyway – to fall back into old patterns.

      The temptation of the ego becomes extremely intense with this shift in goals. For the relationship has not yet been changed sufficiently to make its former goal completely without attraction, and its structure is “threatened” by the recognition of its inappropriateness for meeting the new purpose. The conflict between the goal and the structure of the relationship is so apparent they cannot coexist (T-17.V.4:1-3).

      I think my own resistance here most often takes the form of not wanting to feel unpleasant or uncomfortable feelings – so when they arise, I move away from them. That’s natural, in its way, but more and more I am seeing the wisdom of just continuing to give attention to it all, regardless of whether it feels good or makes intellectual sense or wants to be written about or whatever. Even if I can’t give all my attention – or can only give a little – it’s enough.

      Be willing, then, to give all you have held outside the truth to Him Who knows the truth, and in Whom all is brought to truth . . . Be not concerned with anything except your willingness to have this be accomplished. He will accomplish it; not you (T-17.I.6:1, 3-4).

      I think we are called to take those sentences literally. Or at least try, and see what happens.

      Thanks for sharing, Cheryl. Hope all is well!


  3. In our Western culture we think of detachment as a negative. I once envied “passionate” people. But the reality is detachment brings the blessing of peace. Detaching from outcome is not the same as ignoring injustices/ unpleasantness in this world of ours. It is not letting circumstances affect ones’ peace.

    1. “Giving attention to” is sticky for me because of “who” is deciding when/what to do so. Especially when I add, “who” is labeling the what? Objects seem like an innocuous exploration of this for me. Behavior patterns though seem harder. For example, am I primarily selfish, or self-critical (that criticizes myself as selfish)? This even makes suspect the “innocuousness” of giving attention to an “object”: am I looking at a mountain peak, the mountain, or the range, or the landscape? I suppose there’s something in this “dead-end thinking” that I’m trying to “attend” to, but it sure hasn’t focused enough yet to have experienced any peace about it. Funny thing is though, there is nothing I can do about it. Except give attention to “my” trying and “my” giving up, ad infinitum (“my” label), in efforts such as meditating, breathing, reading your posts, and then abandoning those same.

      1. Hi Mike,

        Your comment got lost in the spam filters – I’m sorry that it took a while to restore it. Thank you for your note.

        The thing about attention is that it’s operative anyway. You can’t not be giving it. So I am suggesting just notice that – notice that whatever is going on, attention is present. And notice, too, that attention is somehow responsive – that you can move from the tree to the mountain, from the mountain to the moon, from the moon to the sea. You can move from a thorny intellectual quandary to a perky television sitcom. And so forth.

        Before I bring semantics into it – and before I bring all the big questions into it – I just want to experience, as an apparent condition of being or consciousness – this fact of attention. I want to be in relationships with it.

        For myself, this has been a revelatory experience. I can direct attention to “the one who is giving attention” and see what happens. I can give attention to our collective penchant for naming everything – Sean and Mike, Leslie and Cheryl, Maple tree and moonlight, black bear and daffodil.

        And in all of that I can see what happens – what is revealed and so forth. Sometimes I am resistant – I don’t want to see – and so I give attention to that. And so forth. Nothing is excluded, because nothing could be. Attention – the fact of it, the experience of it – is really beyond my ability to control or shape. All I can do is be in relationship with it and let the spiritual chips fall where they may. And they always do may.

        I am not saying this should work for everyone. There are plenty of ways to read and practice A Course in Miracles and to explore nonduality, and this is only one. I try to be clear always that I am learning myself and so everything I write ought to be taken with a grain of salt if not the whole damn shaker. But still. This has worked for me and seems to resonate for others as well, so I keep at it. It’s not always easy or clear but it has been helpful.

        Thank you so much for sharing!

        ~ Sean

    2. Hi Leslie,

      Thank you for sharing this. Tara Singh used to say that when we are no longer reliant on externals then we finally have something authentic to offer the world – we have a peace and love that is not personal, that does not emerge from the subtle (or not-so-subtle) desires and rages of the ego. Service (right action, maybe) arises from our willingness to no longer be at the mercy of headlines and circumstances, sensations and ideas. I have always been moved by this vision.


  4. Hi Sean. I’m experiencing the intensity of the ego now that I’m paying more and more attention. With each opening, comes a pushing back. One thing I notice, particularly in the middle of the night, is how harshly I can begin to judge myself – of how I should be doing this, how I persistently “fail” each day and feeling as if I have no hope of advancement. All an ego trick, I know, and so I am aware of that too. And then I sigh, (knowing what the course says about sighs). And so I look again, and ask for help, and read helpful blogs….

    Hope you’re well. Thank you for being here.

    1. Thanks for reading & sharing, Claudia.

      I think that push back is natural – I certainly feel it myself from time to time. What has been hard for me – but necessary – is letting it flow, not pushing back against the pushing back, if that makes any sense. It is hard to put into words without sounding like a complete idiot, but egoic machinations are only effective to the degree I allow them to be. I can also choose to just let them be like the wind, which passes, or like the taste of cheesecake, which passes, of like a flower blooming, which passes.

      Seeing that this is possible is a huge step, and then beginning to make it our reality – bringing it into application, as Tara Singh used to say, is this whole other project. It feels so daunting and crazy and yet, oddly, once we step into it, it has its own healing energy. It’s like our mind wants to be clear, wants to be free of all that sputtering egoic chaos. More and more I understand that to give attention is itself healing – that’s all I need to do. Again, easy to say, more challenging to live, but still.

      It looks like that is a new blog – or at least a new face for the work you’ve been doing – is that so? I liked these lines very much:

      . . . settle down to listen
      As your Helper shows the truth in all
      See your troubles as your own projections
      Forgive yourself and answer Heaven’s call.

      I’m well, Claudia, and hope you are too – thank you so much for writing & reading & being part of this whole process!


  5. Sean, it makes complete sense to me to not push back on the pushing back. And there is peace that comes with the thought of allowing that flow, but at the same time, a tiny terror rises saying that if I don’t fight through it forward, I’ll lose the thin string that tethers me to this path and I’ll wake up ten years from now wondering what happened? Silly fear I know. There is no way I could lose awareness of this journey now, I’m too deep in. Thanks for talking it out with me.

    And yes, is a new forum I am using to post my poetry mostly. I loved the name so I jumped on it. Thanks for liking some of my stuff. I love poetry and putting all these thoughts and learning down that way for my own sake.


    1. I don’t know that any fear is silly; if they are impeding our natural inheritance of joy and peace, then we have to give gentle attention to them. They’re all pretty much equal in that regard. That’s what the course is here for – that is why you and I trade notes from time to time – that is what it means that we are literally joined in salvation. To keep looking at the shadows – big, little, dramatic, undramatic – that block the full radiance of Love.

      I resisted for so long this application of A Course in Miracles – its call to look patiently and clearly at all the interior crap that makes me feel unworthy of even a scrap of God’s love, let alone the whole kaboodle.

      More and more I appreciate that the “self” fighting to save itself or make progress or improve spiritually is itself the ego. Our real identity is beyond peril and thus beyond the need for either saving or improvement. Thus, patiently allowing the interior chaos and ruin to show itself is – while crazy-making and terrifying in the moment – the surest way to remembering ourself as God created us.

      I suspect at this point the option of quitting or forgetting altogether is no longer a real possibility. We’ve made the choice – we remember that we made it – and what remains is the work of application. It’s hard but I often remind myself: the company is good!

      Thanks, Claudia.


  6. Sean, these words made me feel so much better. “More and more I appreciate that the “self” fighting to save itself or make progress or improve spiritually is itself the ego. Our real identity is beyond peril and thus beyond the need for either saving or improvement. ” Ironic, I know. I’m making myself feel better by knowing that feeling awful (and feeling better) is just the ego. But while I’m still hanging out in this body, I’d rather feel better. Thank you.

    1. . . . for which I am never not grateful . . . .

      thanks for checking in Karen . . . I was thinking about you the other day, we have to find a way to have a cup of tea or coffee one of these days. Hope you’re well!

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