What leads one to – and sustains one through – a serious study of A Course in Miracles?
There is no one answer to this question; indeed, there are as many answers as there are ACIM students. We might subsequently group the answers together based on perceived similarities but this is a matter of convenience for minds given to analysis. We do like trends and patterns.
But the answers were not offered that way and, importantly, they were not experienced that way. They were personal, intimate, subjective. They were yoked to ever-shifting narrative fabrics. We can extract them, pin them to a wall, label them and categorize the labels but we can never undermine the fundamental ecstasis in and as which they first appeared.
Once this is seen clearly, it becomes very difficult to sustain arguments that there ought to be uniform approaches to A Course in Miracles (or whatever other spiritual path or tradition is under consideration). Helpful, yes. We are all adopting helpful modes of study. But if we are defining “helpful” in such a way as to render other modes “wrong” (rather than “not helpful in our personal present context”) then we’ve missed something important.
What is the “something important” that we’ve missed?
Really, it is just the importance as human observers to maintain a humble outlook on our living, because this humility is the prism through which love radiates most helpfully.
We aren’t having every possible experience, we are having this experience. We aren’t experiencing every possible mode of experience, we are experiencing this mode. We only have some information, not all information, and we are only able to process that information according to the apparatus we are, not some other ideal apparatus.
This should not be controversial. If I ask you to define the state of string theory in 200 years, your answer will necessarily be incomplete and speculative at best. If I ask you to extract nectar from a flower and convert it to honey, the best you can do you is subcontract the job to a bee. If I ask you what Lewis Payne was thinking as the noose settled on his shoulders, your answer must be speculative, no matter how informed you happen to be with respect to that particular juncture of history.
These gaps are not isolated examples. They speak to the fact that human observers are cognitively and perceptually limited. We are closed, not open-ended. This closure is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it is fundamentally creative because by it a world is brought into being. It’s just that we can’t take the next step – the one we so long to take – and argue that this world and this experience are the world and the experience.
I suggest that letting go of insistence on truth, or on truth’s knowability, is a first step towards effective inner peace. The second step is figuring out how to live in a gentle and sustained way with uncertainty. What can we count on if nothing can be counted on?
These steps (letting go and living in uncertainty) are neatly managed when we realize that it’s okay to identify some people, places, things, belief systems, et cetera as helpful. If it helps to do the lessons of A Course in Miracles, do them. If it helps to take belly-dancing lessons, take them. If it helps to be in therapy, be in therapy. If it helps to have a lover, have a lover.
The key is to give careful attention to the essence of helpfulness. At what juncture or in what circumstances does it slip into being right? Into the subtle belief that we are having some insight or experience that others don’t have and we deserve some credit for it?
Seeing that juncture doesn’t mean what we’re doing is suddenly wrong – that would be to double down on the first error of thinking we were right in the first case. Rather, it’s just an invitation to make contact again with helpfulness. We got confused; we can get unconfused, too.
For example, ever since age 15, with varying degrees of intensity, regularity and competitiveness, I have been a runner. Running is helpful to me; I am mentally clearer and calmer when I maintain a regular running practice.
But sometimes when I run – or just after running – I feel superior to other people. I’m more fit than so-and-so, which means I have more self-respect, which means I’m more spiritual. I’m stronger than that guy, which means I’m sexier. I’m psychologically stronger than all those walkers, because pain doesn’t scare me. And so forth.
I don’t freak out anymore when those ideas arise. They are relics of a patriarchal systemization of human experience. There are better ways to organize and express one’s thinking; I am not without recourse to them. So when those judgments and self-aggrandizements show up, I don’t take them seriously. I don’t take them as truthful.
Rather, they are stand-ins for fear and greed and as such are reminders that I have forgotten the real reason why I run: because it is helpful, not because I am trying to one-up as much of the population as possible.
Running isn’t an answer in any absolute sense, and I don’t think it works for everyone. It’s just helpful for me. When the focus is on helpfulness, my happiness – and, by extension, the happiness of those with whom my living intersects – is expanded.
Sometimes when I share this with folks, they are disappointed because it feels very basic and insufficiently spiritual. It’s what you learn the first week in Psych 101, not in the midst or near the end of a rigorous spiritual practice that has as its goal the end of our separation from God and awakening to our essential oneness.
That’s very true! Also, so what?
If we are honest we will see that we come to our spiritual practice because we weren’t happy. At the most basic level, that’s it. We were confused, lonely, scared, guilty. The world was on fire with war, hunger, poisoned oceans and other catastrophes. And we wanted to feel better; and we wanted the world to be better, and it seemed like a spiritual approach was the best way to bring these changes about.
The real secret to feeling better is basically to be nice to yourself and to others. Do unto them as you’d like them to do unto you. It’s so simple a five-year-old can understand it; and it is so hard to practice that most adults hide behind theological and philosophical and other such facades for their whole lives.
When we live that way – in functional harmony with the Golden Rule – then not only are we better off but, by extension, the world is better off, too.
It is hard to notice that we’re being jerky. We are wired to overlook our own jerkiness and, when we do notice it, to justify it by pointing to how others are being jerkier.
It is even harder to notice the our being jerky doesn’t just hurt other people, it hurts us. Really, it primarily hurts us.
And it is really really really hard to actually stop being jerky (which is different from apologizing for being jerky or resolving to be less jerky going forward).
It is always easier to just let the organism run the program it’s running rather than try to step in and go from jerky to not-jerky, from not-jerky to affirmatively kind, and from kind to loving.
It takes a lot of discipline which, absent humility, is hard to come by.
This post began with a convoluted look at what drives us to become ACIM students. How do we get here? It then pointed out that this question anticipates as many answers as there are students and so there cannot really be a single or right answer. From there it suggested we adopt a humble approach to our living. Rather than try to justify or otherwise invest in our spiritual practice, why not simply practice the Golden Rule? Since others by definition could be our own self, whatever we offer them and the world we jointly inhabit, we offer to ourselves. It recognized that this is hard to do but specifically pointed out that humility can be helpful.
Really, the argument here is that rather than ask big questions, why not keep it simple and try to focus on our own happiness which necessarily means focusing on other people’s happiness? Doing so is a practical way to the happiness which begat this spiritual inquiry and journey in the first case.