The word is not the thing.
Sooner or later, we have to make some peace with this, bring it into application. I have a friend who experienced what she felt was true oneness. She proceeded to tell her partner who was with her at the time. Her partner said, “did the experience last as long as the explanation of it did?” It was a good point.
We have to communicate. And words are a viable means of doing this. But they are naturally porous. I write “dog” thinking of the dog who sits near my feet awaiting her walk. But you think of the neighbor’s dog who kept you up all night barking. We have pinned down exactly nothing. And it gets harder when we talk about God and Love, not to mention Separation and Atonement which have very specific ACIM meanings. It is a mistake to trust language too much.
I am saying that talking about all this is not always fruitful and can in fact be quite dangerous in the sense that it perpetuates the very problem we are trying to solve.
One way of using words responsibly is to engage in dialogue. I don’t mean a conversation between two people. I mean a dialogue – that is, the creation of shared meaning. This can be a singular experience or it can include any number of other people. In the kind of dialogue that I envision here, we talk very slowly and carefully. Our objective is to recognize the tricky nature of words and mitigate that by choosing them carefully.
Choosing words carefully means that we are also paying attention to our internal filters: we are aware of our conditioning, our biases, our opinions and the way that they influence language. We might say that they are our language. And we are willing to suspend all of it, or at least try to suspend it, in the interest of dialogue, of creating some shared meaning.
Obviously, the other piece of this is listening. Our filters are translating what others say, too. Often, when we are talking to someone – and I am using talking in a very broad sense, including what is happening now between you and me – we are not really hearing what they say so much as measuring the degree to which it comports with our own beliefs, opinions, et cetera.
When we approach dialogue carefully, we realize that we have a tendency to view others (and the world at large) as little more than extensions of what we want to believe we are. We are not really making any room for what is – we are insisting on our interpretation of what is.
How does this help with our practice of A Course in Miracles? The course is really just an extended metaphor for changing our mind. It calls us to interact differently with how we think. Mind is both the problem and the solution. Words like “Jesus” and “God” and “Holy Spirit” are good for capturing our attention, but they must be undone if we are going to experience the end of the separation. Not temporarily undone – all the way undone.
The word is not – the word is never – the thing.
To be in dialogue – with oneself, with another, with the course – is to move slowly. It is to fix one’s intention on discovery of what works – what is functional and helpful – and then to proceed cautiously and responsibly. In course terms we say the ego is always ready to undermine us. But we might simply say that using mind to undo mind is complex – a paradox even – and so we have to be alert. We have to be sensitive. There is nothing sinister at work here. We are simply undoing a habit of thinking – of using mind – that is quite entrenched. It’s hard – of course it is hard.
But it is also doable. This, to me, is the great gift of A Course in Miracles – at least in my life. It has made awakening possible. Its Christian language, Platonic philosophy and Freudian ideal caught my attention and held it long enough to see the problem. The solution, of course, is neither Christian nor Platonic nor Freudian. But that’s okay. We have to see the problem – we have to know it – before the solution becomes obvious and accessible.
I am saying: go slowly and ask a lot of questions. When you get scared, don’t try to solve the fear. When it seems impossible, relax. Rest, even. It’s okay. Or it’s going to be.