We can be creators or imitators. Most of the time we are imitators. But if we are truly interested in an experience of inner peace, in the transcendent Love that A Course in Miracles calls God, then we will have to become creators. It is not an impossible transition, but it can seem quite daunting.
What does it mean to be an imitator? To imitate is to use another thing as a model and then seek to replicate or simulate it. The imitator copies what they see or perceive. A poet, for example, might see a heron at dawn and then try to recapture the experience in a poem. A painter would do the same in her medium. In both cases, they are imitating a previous experience.
Imitation is not limited to artists. Many people have a comfort food – a bag of chips, a bar of dark chocolate, pizza from a particular restaurant, whatever. At one point in time, eating that food staved off some negative feeling, or kept us from toppling into an emotional abyss, and so now we imitate that moment. We repeat the gesture in an attempt to get the same result.
This is essentially how thinking itself works. Certain things show up in its field of perception: people, places, ideas, events, concatenations of those things. Thinking compares those things to its memory – of the same things, of similar things, of what it was taught about those things, categorizes it as good or bad, safe or dangerous, fruitful or draining and the dictates some action accordingly.
This happens very swiftly but if you look closely at the pattern of thinking, you will see that it works this way.
We see some intimation of this early in the ACIM text when we are encouraged to ask how the mind could ever have made an ego.
There is . . . no point in giving an answer in terms of the past because the past does not matter, and history would not exist if the same mistakes were not being repeated in the present (T-4.II.1:3).
In Moments Outside of Time, Tara Singh observed that what we are in truth is timeless and perfect and that knowledge of this reality is what ends the self-imposed separation from God. Psychology and other intellectual activity, he said, are of no help.
Brain activity gives validity to images of memory. In truth, it is mere illusion. The moments outside of time instantly dispel the illusion (19).
The suggestion is that there is another way to relate to our minds, that thinking – as we know it in terms of language, intellect, ideas and so forth – is not the way that we remember we are still one with God.
Eternity is one time, its only dimension being “always.” This cannot mean anything to you until you remember God’s open Arms, and finally know his open Mind. Like Him, you are “always”; in His Mind and with a mind like His. In your open mind are your creations, in perfect communication born of perfect understanding . . . God’s meaning is incomplete without you, and you are incomplete without your creations (T-9.VI.7:1-4, 7).
Thus, in course terms, creation is analogous to God’s creation of us: we are extensions of God. When we create, we extend – Love – in the same way that God’s extension of Love created us. There is really no way to meaningfully understand or appreciate this at the level of the body in the world. At that level, life is very specific: our needs are specific and the solutions to those needs are correspondingly specific. Yet true creation cannot be limited.
Anything made for a specific purpose has no true generalizability. When you make something to fill a perceived lack, you are tacitly implying that you believe in separation . . . Inventiveness is wasted effort even in its most ingenious form. The highly specific nature of invention is not worthy of the abstract creativity of God’s creations (T-3.V.2:3-4, 7-8).
The text points out that we labor to know what we are, forever inquiring of ourselves as to what we are, and yet the question is profoundly misdirected because it assumes that a) we actually know what we are and b) are responsible (let alone capable) for providing it to ourselves (T-3.V.4:1-4). What doesn’t know itself can’t meaningfully ask itself what it is. That is a recipe for madness.
The course then makes an interesting observation: we cannot perceive ourselves correctly, it says (and thus know what we are in truth) because we “have no image to be perceived (T-3.V.4:5).
That seems so profound and important to me: we have no image to be perceived.
An image requires that something go before it – it always stands for something else (T-3.V.4:7). Consider the photograph of a tree: it makes a very realistic looking approximation of the tree but it is not the tree. The tree went before it in time. The tree precedes the image of the tree.
Thus, our self-image is based on memory. It comes out of the past. Thus, it is imitative, not creative.
So we can make two ACIM-based observations about creativity: the first is that it is generalizable and the second is that it is not related to the past. Physicist David Bohm observed that memory is very slow to adapt to changing reality, especially when we are highly invested in certain outcomes (Changing Consciousness 131).
In other words, if I am driving to Boston to see a concert, memory will provide a reasonable set of driving instructions. That’s good and relatively innocuous. But say my wife asks me not to go: she’s tired, one of the kids is sick, I went to see Bob Dylan last year . . . what does memory do in that instance?
That is not black and white. I might feel put upon – I might feel spiritually challenged. Basically I will create images and respond to them: my wife as a nag, my children as flu-prone, Dylan as dying so this might be my last show, me as a man always asked to give things up for some greater good other people choose and so on and so forth.
It might not go that way – it might be completely different – but you take my point. No matter how it goes, I am always drawing images based on the past in order to justify a certain response to circumstances.
And the course advocates something different.
There is no link of memory to the past. If you would have it there, then there it is. But only your desire made the link, and only you have held it to a part of time where guilt appears to linger still (T-28.I.4:5-7).
In order for us to experience this sense of the present – this freedom from image which is freedom from the past – we are going to have to become very attentive. Fiercely attentive. As soon as our attention deviates – into need, into judgment (which always begins by taking the form of naming what we see or feel), into desire – then we have lost it.
Something important happens when we are this attentive, this devoted: we are restored somehow to gratitude and by virtue of gratitude, to service. It is hard to explain this exactly but it always happens. In the Holy Instant – in the present – we begin to experience, to know at a deep level, that we “get” by “giving” and that all we are really here to do is serve the spark of God we perceive in our brothers and sisters.
We begin to want to help people – however they need it. And we always know how they need it because it is our need as well. So it might be something big and dramatic like a financial gift or a place to stay for a few weeks and it might be something very simple, like just saying “hello” to someone who really needed in that instant to be reminded that they matter, that they are loved.
Service is how we achieve and sustain our awareness of the present moment in which both the past and the future simply dissolve.
Practice giving this blessed instant of freedom to all who are enslaved by time, and thus make time their friend for them. The Holy Spirit gives their blessed instant to you through your giving it. As you give it, He offers it to you (T-15.I.13:3-5).
Paradoxically, it takes time to learn that we are not bound by time. Yet as we learn it, we naturally master it because it reflects our natural state. We are reminded that what we are is without form and outside of time altogether. We need imitate nothing for there is nothing to imitate. We are creation. We are the Love that we call God.