A great deal of energy in the ACIM community goes into being right, which generally means proving others wrong. Or at least persuading them not to ask certain questions certain ways. It is painful, whatever side one takes.
Of course, I have contributed to this demoralizing situation. How else would I know it? The damage isn’t really to the community or the course, both of which are simply patterns of cognition, but rather to our deep interior longing for peace, which cannot be satisfied in a competitive environment.
One of the points I often tried to make – sincerely but brokenly – was that it is not in fact possible to be right or wrong, other than in a relative way.
I say “broken” here because in that writing I wasn’t simply speaking to my own experience and understanding. I was trying to persuade you; I was trying to win you. I wanted something: I wanted to be right, which is to say, I wanted you to be wrong.
Saying it is not possible to be right or wrong in any absolute – as opposed to a temporarily relative – way sends a lot of course students, a lot of folks generally, around the bend.
For example, many devoted followers of Ken Wapnick are acculturated to his rigid “it’s this, not that” way of thinking. Thus, the possibility of exploring ACIM’s natural concordance with Krishnamurti, or noting that the course perpetuates some very traditional western dualisms, or pointing out that Ken’s scholarship with respect to gnosticism was, um, wanting, can’t really be countenanced. You end up arguing where you meant to be helpful.
And there are folks who can’t bear that Gary Renard might be anything less than an opportunistic lying blowhard. Or that some issues – like supporting gay marriage, opposing literal readings of the Second Amendment, or a moral obligation to feed the hungry – necessarily admit to degrees of right and wrong.
And, of course, there are folks like me who decide that we “get it” – because of how smart we sound when we listen to ourselves, and because we read so much and are very impressed with our reading. This intellectualism and wordiness, regardless of how shallow, becomes a spiritual qualification for instructing others, whether they are asking for help or not.
Earlier this year, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was gently shaken by a breeze that does not allow the one it touches to speak any more about truth or oneness or wholeness. It went full Wittgenstein, saying, “Of that which we do not know, we must not speak.”
And then it made really really clear how little I actually know . . .
It seems clear that if we look into experience, without blinking or substituting or lying to ourselves, then it is not possible to be right or wrong with respect to others. For ourselves, sure. For others, not so much. If we allow them the same freedoms we allow ourselves – which we must, finally – then how can we tell them what to believe? Or not to believe? What to think? What not to think?
It is not that right and wrong don’t appear – they do, manifestly – but that by virtue of their appearance, its very nature and substance, they cannot be weaponized against another.
God, truth, the whole, the absolute, awakening, enlightenment – all are nontrivial ideas forever beyond our ability to know in anything other than a relativistic way. They are surprisingly less interesting – and infinitely less dramatic – when this becomes clear.
And what happens then? When there is no course to teach or to learn? When others are not there for us to measure up against?
For me, there is going slowly. There is study and meditation. There is the deep hard work of doing one’s living and loving in a local way that is premised on love and service, both of which naturally inhere in the human observer. There are models and maps but their helpfulness is contingent and easy to get lost in. Eventually it’s clear: we have to find our own way. We have to let it happen or not happen.
The question is not what does Sean think – not even for Sean is that the question – but rather how what Sean says appears for you, what it loosens and lightens, what it tangles and what it tightens. That is all on you. That is all your own making, your own experiencing.
The language of A Course in Miracles – being so dense and inconsistent, so obtusely Christian, so unsure of whether it’s descriptive or injunctive – no longer serves. Perhaps it never did.
Or did it? And who can say, really? Does it matter?
Earlier today a chickadee perched briefly in the maple tree in the side yard. How perfect it was: how precisely seeing it was seeing. I go with you, because without you I am not. A great loneliness is ended: a great stillness opens.
This happened in Cambridge, a long time ago.