We have the structure of human beings living in the world with other human beings, and other forms of life with their own unique structures. That is the physical context in which we encounter A Course in Miracles. Thus, our learning takes place in bodies and has as part of its subject those very bodies.
This can be a challenging concept to understand. For example, we tend to hear “I am not a body/I am free” (W-pI.199) from the perspective of our bodies: our eyes read the words, our brains translate them into meaning and then decide how to behave in the world given that information. The lesson appears wrapped up in the very form it denies.
ACIM students are often reluctant to admit that they accept the existence – relative or otherwise – of their bodies. We believe that the course teaches otherwise and we want to be good students. We want to fit in with our spiritual tribe, and so subtly or otherwise we pretend that we get it – we aren’t bodies, we’re free! We pretend that we are living it, when in fact it’s just words.
Denial shows up on a sort of spectrum. At one extreme, we say to people who are sick or suffering, “well, you’re not a body,” with a sort of implicit “shake it off.” There’s an unfortunate amount of that in the ACIM community. I don’t think the ones doing it are bad people. They aren’t trying to be hurtful. But still.
At the other end of the spectrum, we keep our denial to ourselves. We “pretend” that we believe we’re not bodies, but never actually look in a sustained and nonjudgmental way at the pretense, and so the lie hums along just below the surface.
Most of us move around this spectrum. It doesn’t really matter where we are on it – the effect is the same. We don’t learn the lesson that is offered. But the way off this spectrum (and into a space of learning) is simply to acknowledge the truth of our self-deceit: “I understand this concept intellectually but I don’t know how to live it. It isn’t my experience of reality. It’s just words.”
What I am trying to say – because it is very much what Jesus is saying implicitly throughout A Course in Miracles – is that it is okay that it’s just words. It’s okay that we don’t get it. In fact, it is more than okay. It is the whole point. If we could learn all this stuff in the blink of an eye without a lot of work, then there wouldn’t be any need for A Course in Miracles. After all, we’ve had Jesus and Buddha for two thousand and twenty-five hundred years respectively and we’re still lost. We’re still confused. There is no shame in it. On the contrary, there is a lot of potential.
So it’s good to be honest about that. Honesty is a sort of space in which our right minds can function: sending a few shoots of clarity and right-thinking into the mix that will hopefully take root and blossom into real insight. The Holy Spirit is not much help when we are satisfied with our progress and full of self-righteousness. Why pretend otherwise?
A few years ago I was invited to a spiritual get-together in a neighboring state. The friend who invited me mentioned that one of the individuals organizing the event (an elder in that particular community) was into A Course in Miracles and was really looking forward to talking with me.
The two of us ended up talking for an hour or so on a patio overlooking the Connecticut River. It was one of the hardest and most confusing talks I have ever had about the course. This person kept talking about bodies as illusions – really going into it – but always adding almost casually, “so if a person is in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t matter. It’s just part of the dream.”
The fourth or fifth time this happened, I realized we were not talking about a hypothetical situation. And we were not having an intellectual dialogue about illusions in A Course in Miracles.
I struggled in that conversation to make the point that we are not meant to suffer here in this world – that it is crucial to take care of ourselves, whether that means going to AA meetings, getting chemotherapy or moving to a safe house or otherwise ending an abusive relationship.
Indeed, hiding behind the metaphysics of “I am not a body/I am free” is the opposite of healing.
The body is merely part of your experience in the physical world . . . it is almost impossible to deny its existence in this world. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial (T-2.IV.3:8, 10-11).
The course goes on to explain that “unworthy” in this instance is synonymous with “unnecessary.” In other words, we don’t recover and embrace the mind by denying or somehow hiding the body.
But it is important to be clear that this hiding – this inclination to keep secrets while feigning spiritual wellness or expertise – happens to all of us from time to time and to various degrees. And it can be very hard to see it happening. We are very good at fooling ourselves. I think all of us have these kinds of blind spots. We “fix” them by becoming aware of them and offering them, through awareness, to the Holy Spirit (T-10.II.2:3).
We all get very excited to learn that we are not bodies – on some level, I think we know intuitively that we are not, and so we are grateful to be reminded. We are eager to relearn our truth and to live from its space. But we can’t rush the process of undoing. Sometimes, in our desire to wake up – to please Jesus, be a good course teacher and student, et cetera – we use words to suggest we’re further ahead in the learning process than we actually are. For example, I might paraphrase Tara Singh or Krishnamurti and pretend that their insights are mine.
In my early twenties I drank and did drugs in a very self-destructive way. A lot of people – family members, counselors, even cops on a few occasions – tried to point out how dangerous and crazy my behavior was. I listened but I didn’t hear. It wasn’t until I was sleeping in my car and vomiting blood that a dim light went on and I realized that I needed help. And even then it took more than a few tries to find my way to sanity.
If you had run into me in those days, you would have found me studying Thoreau and Saint John of the Cross and Jacques Derrida. I had even run into A Course in Miracles! I was smart in a way, but in another way, I was utterly hopeless. I could discuss the relationship between Emerson’s Self Reliance and Merton’s Contemporary Prayer but was entirely incapable of seeing that my life – stealing money from friends and family, lying to everyone I met, retching my way through the few lucid moments I had – was an utter and chaotic mess. It hurt me and it hurt others.
Even though things are not nearly so discordant today, I am hardly immune to the underlying error: mistaking my body for my true self. The key is not to fall into judgment over it: to think I’m a bad person or a bad ACIM student because for an afternoon or a conversation or a whole week I fell for the old lie that I’m a body. That’s just spiritual pride masquerading as love. It happens, sure, but it still needs to be called out.
So why not let it be? Be broken. Be dysfunctional. I often use the verb “stumble” around here because it helps keep me honest. I’m not a spiritual giant striding manfully into Heaven while scores of angels cheer me on and ask for my autograph. I’m stumbling and grumbling and learning so slowly that it almost seems like going backwards.
But it doesn’t matter. What matters is willingness – not the form it shows up in. In other words, it’s being a happy learner that counts. Critically, while it’s nice to remember that joy is the sure result of our learning, it’s hardly a prerequisite to getting started.
All we can do is give attention to what is unfolding within and without us, and to do so with as little judgment as possible. This is hard to do and yet it comes as such a relief. Even a little effort can yield helpful results. Honesty is crucial: not the movement to find or fix problems, but simply to see what is appearing right now and accept it. In these bodies in this world, that is healing.
Hi Sean, A beautiful post this one is. Thanks for the honesty it took to write it. I get it more than just the words that I read. I hope all is well with you!
Great reading! Very helpful to me. Thanks.
Hi Susan! I’m glad it was helpful – thank you for reading –
As always, Thank you for your words Sean. For me there is a key difference between being a body and having one. I am not a body, am much more than a body, but … I have a body. By loving it, I also love others and myself.
Hi Emily – Yes, I think that’s a good way to put it, actually – when we love our bodies, we are loving our selves and so loving others. It’s all one movement. I like that very much.
Emily, I loved the way you phrased your comment. Thank you very much!
Hi Sean, running out the door and I want to reply later, but IMO, this is one of the best blogs you’ve written. Excellent, just excellent.
Thanks, Eric. Always a surprise to see just two sentences from you 🙂
So insightful, thank you very much!
Thank you Janine!
Reading over Lesson 199, I paused at this sentence: “[The body] is a part of the illusion that has sheltered [the ego] from being found illusory itself.”
To me this is saying that because the body is the last bastion of the ego, it is what we still will cling to after we have “let go” of everything else that anchors us to this world.
And because I cannot — or will not — (now matter how much I “try”) give up the belief that this body is in some sense “me,” I move in the direction of freedom by reminding myself over and over and over again that there is nothing “this body” can do to bring me the peace of God. But, I have also found that by taking care of this body — running, eating gluten free, resting when I am tired — I become less wrapped up in its demands and (perhaps ironically) am more likely to forget about it.
I guess what I am saying, is that as long as I believe I am a body, the easiest way to move beyond the body is to take care of the body.
If that makes sense…
Yes, it makes sense. It’s kind of paradoxical but it’s by loving and being gentle with our physicality that we move beyond it, or begin to. Often, for me, just admitting to the confusion is helpful, and remembering that I don’t really have to do anything about it, other than not hide it.
We need to trade some gluten-free recipes some time – I’m using a lot of Bob’s Red Mill products for baking (pancakes, pie crusts, muffins and wraps mostly). What kind of gluten free flour do you use? And what are you doing about pancakes?
It all comes down to pancakes.
This diatribe comes under the category of be careful what you ask for. 🙂 But, here goes:
When I started gluten-free baking two years ago, I began acquiring a pantry full of exotic-sounding ingredients: sorghum, teff, quinoa, garbanzo bean, almond and millet flours; brown rice and sweet rice flours, tapioca and potato starches and arrowroot and xanthum gum. I also use a lot of coconut oil, but the flavor can be overpowering and my husband isn’t a fan.
All that being said, this summer I discovered Tom Sawyer gluten-free flour (David brought it back from a trip to the Outer Banks) and a couple of weeks back I ordered 25 pounds — I was feeling ambitious at the time — of Better Batter gluten-free flour. I find both to be exceptional as a substitute for “regular” flour in a recipe. Still, tinkering is required (an extra egg, more vanilla, a little more baking soda or powder, slightly more liquid until you get what you’re aiming for.) And some things just don’t translate — my quinoa dumplings literally disappeared in my chicken broth after cooking a few minutes too long!
As for pancakes, I have a recipe I’ve used several times that calls for a mix of flours, including some buckwheat, which contrary to its name, is gluten free and a flavor I really like. These pancakes are very good l and if you like, I’ll e-mail the recipe to you (don’t want to take up too much space for off-topic stuff).
Then again, it seems pancakes certainly are applicable to “Learning in Bodies,” especially in your kitchen….
Please do email a recipe – or post it here. I can’t be the only one who gets religious about pancakes . . .
Here it is.
Unless you are adventuresome or interested in going gluten-free, you may not find it worth the effort. A website link is included (Her dark chocolate brownies are better than most, even those with gluten 🙂 )
1 3/4 cups brown rice flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup almond flour (I used almond meal)
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 teaspoon xantham gum
1 cup soy milk (or milk of choice; I use unsweetened vanilla almond)
1 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons organic coconut oil
1 tablespoon honey or raw agave nectar (I prefer honey in this recipe)
1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Dear Sean, my oh my, how refreshingly, painfully Helpful, these many symbols of personal truth for you and me are, and perhaps more of us than we can want to know about. BUT I am soooo grateful for all the helpful Meanings I received as I read your thoughts and I sense a deeper than usual calm relief, acceptance AND letting go literally of so much mis-understanding that I have accumulated in my mind for these past 3 1/2 yrs. that I thought I was moving ahead. Now, I’m happy within to just Be gratefully where I am, and Let J/Holy Spirit be in charge of each day and stay quietly open to His guidance. With renewed loving Gratitude , sally
Hi Sally – it’s great to hear from you – I hope you and your family are well – I’m glad the post was helpful, in its way.
There are no words to tell you how grateful I am for your words, merely I am grateful with my whole heart!
Thank you Janice . . .
I’m about to make up for those two sentences 🙂
It’s funny when I read this blog, because I just had a discussion with someone about this very thing before I read it.
One of the things I really love about the course is that it doesn’t have us just completely deny the body all together. I think this is a very smart approach by the course, because as you said in your blog, people would most likely just pretend they transcended the body to appear spiritual.
Instead the course looks to reinterpret the body through the Holy Spirit as a means of communication. As it tells us with such lines, such as: (I’ll be quoting from the Original Edition. The wording maybe a little different, but the passages remain the same in what is being said)
Child of God, you were created to create the good, the beautiful, and the holy. Do not lose sight of this. The love of God for a little while must still be expressed through one body to another because the real vision is still so dim. Everyone can use his body best by enlarging man’s perception so he can see the real vision. This vision is invisible to the physical eye. The ultimate purpose of the body is to render itself unnecessary. Learning to do this is the only real reason for its creation. ~ACIM
Remember that the Holy Spirit interprets the body only as a means of communication. Being the communication link between God and His separated Sons, the Holy Spirit interprets everything you have made in the light of what He is. The ego separates through the body. The Holy Spirit reaches through it to others. You do not perceive your brothers as the Holy Spirit does because you do not interpret their bodies and yours solely as a means of joining their minds and uniting them with yours and mine. This interpretation of the body will change your mind entirely about its value. Of itself it has none. ~ACIM
If you use the body for attack, it is harmful to you. If you use it only to reach the minds of those who believe they are bodies and teach them through the body that this is not so, you will begin to understand the power of the mind that is in both of you. If you use the body for this and only for this, you cannot use it for attack. In the service of uniting, it becomes a beautiful lesson in communion, which has value until communion is. This is God’s way of making unlimited what you have limited. The Holy Spirit does not see the body as you do because He knows the only reality anything can have is the service it can render God on behalf of the function He has given it. ~ACIM
Communication ends separation. Attack promotes it. The body is beautiful or ugly, holy or savage, helpful or harmful, according to the use to which it is put. And in the body of another you will see the use to which you have put yours. If the body becomes for you a means which you give to the Holy Spirit to use on behalf of union of the Sonship, you will not see anything physical except as what it is. Use it for truth, and you will see it truly. Misuse it, and you will misunderstand it because you have already done so by misusing it. Interpret anything apart from the Holy Spirit, and you will mistrust it. This will lead you to hatred and attack and loss of peace. ~ACIM
Eric: Of course there are so many more, but there is no need for a quote fest. I do want to revisit the quote about the body you posted on your blog. Once again, I’m surprised to see someone else quoting this, as I often find I am the only one quoting this line. I think this passage is an important one and one I was using in my discussion previous to reading your blog. I’m going to quote it in its entirety though, as I think there is something said that is extremely important for us to understand.
The body, if properly understood, shares the invulnerability of the Atonement to two-edged application. This is not because the body is a miracle but because it is not inherently open to misinterpretation. The body is merely a fact in human experience. Its abilities can be and frequently are over-evaluated. However, it is almost impossible to deny its existence. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial. The term “unworthy” here implies simply that it is not necessary to protect the mind by denying the unmindful. [There is little doubt that the mind can miscreate.] If one denies this unfortunate aspect of the mind’s power, one is also denying the power itself. ~ACIM
Eric: The course tells us that the body’s abilities can be and frequently are over-evaluated. Essentially this means we are also over-valuating the body itself. But here’s the “spiritual” trap. When we try to convince ourselves that we are not a body to look more spiritual or pretend that we have transcended the body, the body is still being over-evaluated. It is seen as something that must be escaped, but what the course is teaching us is that we are not a body, but in human physical experience we (appear to) have a body. To deny this is an unworthy (or as you said, unnecessary) form of denial. In doing so, it is denying the power of the mind itself, something the course is trying to get the student to recognize…the power of the mind
Instead, beautifully, the course takes the practical approach. It merely looks to reinterpret the body to be used as a means of communication to others. As one of the passages above mentions, as the body is used as a means of communication on behalf of the Sonship, we will not see anything physical except as what it is. In other words, we can begin to let go of over-evaluating the body. We can begin to stop projecting meaning onto the body as this or that to serve ourselves. We can begin to see that the body is merely a learning device for the mind. We can begin to see that truly we are not a body, while at the same time not having to pretend to have transcended the body. As the course tells us: Do not despair, then, because of limitations. It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them. ~ACIM
It is unfortunate to read or hear course students say that it does not matter, because it is all just an illusion. It is also unfortunate that this is prevalent in the course community. Though it is not just the course community and I think just about everyone goes through this phase at one point or another. Unfortunately, some people get stuck here. Apathy is not spiritual progress, it is spiritual bypassing. Sure, deluding oneself that it doesn’t matter because it is all an illusion, because the person read it in a book might make oneself feel good for a while. But there will come a time when the *bleep* hits the fan and the illusion of being spiritually advanced will come crashing down like a house of cards.
I am always a bit wary when someone tells me that since they read the course, everything has become so wonderful because they now realize that everything is an illusion. I don’t think spirituality is all about sunshine and rainbows. It’s about honesty, courage, and willingness to really look at what we repress in the dark corners of our mind and when that stuff comes up it can be challenging. It can be disorienting and in some cases it can bring on what Grof called a spiritual emergency or dark night of the soul.
I’m not saying that life doesn’t become more wonderful as we journey on this spiritual path. As we really begin to honestly look at ourselves and let the Holy Spirit correct our perception, life does begin to feel lighter. But we cannot bypass the work. We cannot progress spiritually by simply taking metaphysical concepts and intellectualizing them, believing this is the truth that will set you/I/us free.
The course does not ask us to be apathetic to the world. Unfortunately, some quotes taken out of context and then taught out of context has brought this idea about. This idea also sometimes come about in western Buddhism. The idea of detachment. Yet, religious scholar and practicing Buddhist, Dr. John Peacock spoke about this word “detachment” in his lecture, “Before the Theravada” being a sloppy translation from the Pali and Sanskrit language of Siddhartha’s time into English. He said that a more accurate translation would be “correct engagement”. I think this is what the course is also teaching.
I think that is true and also a necessary part of the journey – the rainbows stop satisfying and we so we turn back to the storm. It’s a gift to go down, really. I’m not sure anyone avoids that altogether, which is why – hearkening back to some of our earlier conversations regarding Gary Renard (or thinking generally about other debates one can have – which edition to read, which teacher to follow, whether to eat meat, etc.) I feel really uninterested in those debates. It is increasingly my sense that people are where they are for a reason and – even if it’s not obvious to me – doing the best they can.
I have certainly had my share of getting misty-eyed at rainbows . . .
I’m not sure what you’re talking about or what this has to do with Gary Renard. Yes, I’ve also had my experiences of misty eyed rainbows. I didn’t say that spirituality isn’t about sunshine and rainbows, but that it wasn’t ALL about sunshine and rainbows and that probably everyone at one time or another goes through this phase at one point or another of taking metaphysical concepts and intellectualizing them, believing this is the truth that will set them free.
Yes, people are where they are at for a reason, that is obvious. Everyone, no matter what path/faith/or no faith are where they are for a reason. I don’t think this means that it always mean that this is God’s plan.
In the introduction of a required course, it says that while we cannot establish the curriculum, the time we elect to take is voluntary.
The course also says:
Have you really considered how many opportunities you have had to gladden yourself, and how many of them you have refused? ~ACIM
To heal is to make happy. I have told you to think how many opportunities you have had to gladden yourself, and how many you have refused. This is the same as telling you that you have refused to heal yourself. ~ACIM
Eric: These passages are a telling sign that we can refuse/resist God’s plan and that it takes our cooperation. We may not be able to resist it forever as God’s overall plan is inevitable, but as the course says, we can linger in time and that time can waste as well as be wasted.
Which is why the passage about the separation being healed says that it could take millions of years or longer. Because it depends on cooperation. And yes, people are doing the best they can, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share our experiences and talk about pitfalls that we may have gone through.
To me the statement, “someone is doing the best they can” is one of understanding the person is thinking/behaving/acting in a way because of where they are in their thinking, which then affects behavior/acting. It is not morally condemning the person even if one doesn’t condone the actions.
If someone is suffering from addiction. I come with the understanding that they are doing the best they can, but at the same time I do not leave them to their own devices and ways of thinking. I share with them that this thinking is deluded and based off a belief in illusions. I give that person advice and information that might not have been in their awareness or they never thought about in a certain way, that can help make that penny drop.
I’ve never “healed” anyone, but I don’t know how many emails and messages I’ve gotten from people that have told me they didn’t really want to quit smoking, but what I’ve told them made them see smoking in a whole different light and see what a fallacy it really is and so they freed themselves from this addiction.
Often times, my advice was unsolicited. Sometimes at that point in time the person didn’t want to hear what was said. Sometimes I was told I was flat out wrong. That’s fine. I’m not speaking truth in the highest sense. I am speaking from my perspective from actual experience. It doesn’t resonate with everyone, just as my writings on the course don’t resonate with everyone.
I maybe blunt- analytical sometimes or often times, but I’m OK with that. I have no interest in playing politics or looking spiritual. The idea of spiritual bypassing is one I am trying to strengthen, so I am sharing my perspective on it. I’m also strengthening the idea that you can’t bulls@#t and bulls@#tter and in that, I could very well be talking to myself on this as this is the idea I am sharing and thus strengthening.
Who knows? Like me stumbling upon J. Krishnamurti’s statement to the student about whether they want truth or an explanation, which caused the penny to drop for me. Someone might stumble upon something being said about thinking cognitive understanding of concepts written in a book being equated to “enlightenment” and stop and think, “You know what? I was/am doing that and didn’t even really consciously realize this.” And the penny drops. Now the person is doing the best they can with a different understanding.
We’re all doing the best we can.
I was thinking of our earlier conversation – the first I remember having with you on this site – about Gary Renard, and how in that discussion I kept coming back to the point that he is helpful to some students (including me at one point in time), and I don’t see a place to really be critical of them for that. I can say for myself that this or that teacher or method or mode doesn’t work but I don’t feel qualified to say it for others.
I meant to relate that to the idea that we are all where we are for a reason – studying with Ken Wapnick, trying to relate Bohm to A Course in Miracles, getting off on nature or whatever – because that is just (as you said) the best we can do at a given time.
I might not have made that point very artfully or thoughtfully. And it may have been a reach in any case . . .
If I am understanding you correctly, I agree that “the best we can do” is not always the most helpful or ideal or what-have you. Addiction – to booze, cigarettes, whatever – is a good example. It is, however, where we are at that moment, and honesty about that fact is where healing begins.
I agree with you that extending help to others matters but would add the caveat (I think you would agree but don’t want to be presumptuous) that we can offer insight etc. but can’t force people to get well. It’s the old “lead a horse to water ” adage.
In other words, I did not stop drinking and doing drugs because people I hurt begged me to stop or because various professionals advised me to do so. Instead, there was an internal movement/insight/awareness that I associated then and still with God/Holy Spirit. Only after I realized how broken I was and how futile were my own resources did help – through brothers and sisters – became possible.
Leaving aside complicated theology for a moment, I would just say regarding “God’s plan” that it is my experience that climbing up the ladder separation led me down is sometimes messy and scary and painful. I don’t equate that negativity with God’s will or plan – I tend to think of it more as my resistance to what is otherwise a pretty clear and straight path to healing. I think we are generally of a mind on that.
I am sorry if my earlier comment gave the impression that I was arguing with or trying to correct you. Please know that I am deeply grateful for and honored by your participation here.
“It is increasingly my sense that people are where they are for a reason and – even if it’s not obvious to me – doing the best they can.”
We do not know anyone’s story. All we know is wherever we meet someone, that is where we are at that moment. If we choose to see their innocence, we see our own. If we choose to forgive them, we forgive ourselves.
As The Course so eloquently says:
“Come gladly to the holy circle, and look out in peace on all who think they are outside. Cast no one out, for here is what he seeks along with you. Come, let us join him in the holy place of peace which is for all of us, united as one within the Cause of peace.”
Debate, like resistance, is futile. My intellect can only stretch so far…and no further. It is my heart that is limitless.
Thanks, Cheryl. For me, debate is a form of resistance. I am only slowly learning – and slower yet learning how to make use of – the distinction between dialogue and debate.
Thanks too for the recipe. I went gluten and dairy/egg free in early June of this year. I am only just now beginning to think about baking from scratch again – though I have continued to bake for Chrisoula & the kids, of course.
Just wondering, Eric, in your research, why do you think so many students of of all levels, refer to Jesus’ teachings so often by using the word ‘Course’ and so seldom use the Authors name !?!? As I read it this way, it feels like I’m about to read a legal document and I shift mental gears in order to understand it as a message from my ‘Elder, brother’. :0
I can only speak for myself Sally. It’s personal preference and I sometimes say the course, sometimes the author, and sometimes Jesus.
What do you mean by “my research”?
Hi Eric and Sally. I do not feel the Christ Spirit originated in Jesus, although he is our most well known person who lived it totally. When I refer to the Course, I also do not say “Jesus says” because to me, that would make it more of a worship of a single being, which to me, defeats the whole purpose of this Course, We are all One and no one is special. When explaining the Course to someone who has not heard of it, I do bring in Jesus as the orator of the text. What is in the Course is part of all of us, and what we are supposed to be seeing in everyone, at all times. I was brought up in the Church, but have never believed that Jesus is the only Son of God. We are all that one Son.
It is a pleasure meeting both of you.
Nice to meet you too. That was very nice. It reminds me of what Sean wrote about in the blog Christ before Jesus.