A Course in Miracles explains the origins of our guilt and suffering in the world in terms of a mistaken belief that we are separated from God. In this sense, the separation is the only real problem that we have (W-pI.79.1:4).
Thus, our separation from God is what we are trying to solve, or resolve. Or dissolve maybe. When that separation ends, then our journey from fear to love ends too. Our suffering is diffused into joy.
The temptation in talking about separation is to regurgitate the mythology of A Course in Miracles (i.e., “Into eternity, where all is one, there crept a tiny, mad idea, at which the Son of God remembered not to laugh” (T-27.VII.6:2)). But that’s tricky, because we sometimes take that mythology literally. Or else we get bogged down in the metaphysics, like wading through heavy mud. What had the idea? Who forgot to laugh?
Literal translations of what are meant to be helpful fictions, and metaphysical wool-gathering, are really just means by which we keep the possibility of salvation far off in the future. Why do that when it is available now?
So what is the separation? How do we make contact with it? And, importantly, what can we do to facilitate its demise?
A Course in Miracles says that we are “at home in God, dreaming of exile, but perfectly capable of awakening to reality” (T-10.I.2:1).
That is a nice image: we are asleep in heaven, dreaming we are in hell. So all that one has to do is wake up from the dream. There’s nothing to be done in the dream itself. The dream is the level of illusion. The cause of awakening does not reside there.
The Son is the Effect, whose Cause he would deny. And so he seems to be the cause, producing real effects. Nothing can have effects without a cause, and to confuse the two is merely to fail to understand them both (T-21.II.10:6-8).
If we could see the clarity of this, it would liberate us from sorrow and confusion: we live in the dream of separation, and there is nothing inside that dream that we can do to end it. The action takes place at another level, internally.
At some point, human beings – or consciousness, if you like – took a wrong turn. We differentiated ourselves from our environment: the flowers, the trees, the buffalo, the people, the stars. We decided all that was out there and that we were a perceptive center. Naturally this made us feel special. We began to feel entitled. We wanted more. And we wanted better.
David Bohm has written about this clearly and persuasively.
[f]ragmentation . . . originates in thought – it is thought which divides everything up. Every division we make is a result of how we think. In actuality, the whole world is shades merging into one. But we select certain things and separate them from others – for convenience, at first. Later we give this separation great importance. We set up separate nations, which is entirely the result of our thinking, and then we begin to give them supreme importance. We also divide religions by thought – separate religions are entirely a result of how we think. And in the family, the divisions are in thought. The whole way the family is set up is due to the way we think about it (On Dialogue, 10).
The problem, of course, is that when we separate ourselves in this way, we seem to be alone. At the ontological level, this is terrifying. And it is way less satisfying than being one with stars and tulips and sleepy babies and turtles sunning themselves on logs and all of that.
In a way, over time, without ever once stopping to consider what we were doing, we set our tiny selves up as rulers only to learn that we had given up the only Kingdom there is.
This is a fact of human cognition and perception; it guides our thinking right now. And rather than face fear and dissatisfaction head on and re-embrace Oneness, we double down on separation. We continue to deny reality and we begin to project our fear outside, out there. This is the ego, the false self that insists on specialness and opposes God, and thus becomes the symbol anchoring our ongoing experience of separation.
Exclusion and separation are synonymous . . . We have said before that the separation was and is dissociation, and that once it occurs projection becomes its main defense, or the device that keeps it going (T-6.II.1:4-5).
This dissociation inevitably leads to conflict. We want to become better than what was One – stronger, faster, smarter, bigger, more powerful. We want to triumph over what we abandoned – not in the least because we are afraid of it, afraid of its retribution. We begin to concentrate on improving ourselves: our appearance, our belief systems, our weapons, our medicine, our stories. You and I do this; we all do this.
What you project you disown, and therefore do not believe is yours. You are excluding yourself by the very judgment that you are different from the one on whom you project . . . projection will always hurt you. It reinforces you belief in your own split mind . . . (T-6.II.2:1-2, 3:1-2).
In this way, our focus is no longer on being but on becoming. And that is how the idea of time is made and sustained: one needs a future into which they can project their imminent perfection, as well as a past at which to look back on and judge as “less than.”
This happened. We did this. And projection became our default mode of perception. And the distinctions and divisions and fragments multiply exponentially.
This is how A Course in Miracles can say that the separation “occurred over millions of years (T-2.VIII.2:5).
In time, we forgot that the separation was simply a decision that we made – a way of thinking insisting it is “right” and “objective” when it has literally no grounds to make that assertion. Oneness became the dimmest of dim memories, a state that belonged only to rare human beings who had attained superhuman spiritual insights, like Jesus and the Buddha. We made God cruel and indifferent. And as our anguish and guilt predictably deepened, we passed it on to the external world through projection. The problem was never us – it was never our mode of perception. It was always some imperfection or flaw in the external world. The other was the problem; not us.
And in a way, this worked. We built bigger and better cities. We beat back plagues and lowered infant mortality rates. We tripled our life spans. We crossed the ocean and flew to the moon. We invented money, six-string guitars, representative democracy, and water purification filters. We invented cheese-flavored popcorn.
On the surface of it, there is so much for which to be grateful!
But of course we remain broken. We remain miserable and unsatisfied. The “God-shaped hole” that Sartre noticed yawns wider and wider. We yearn for inner peace. All this might be very subtle, barely noticeable, but it is there. It is the essence of our human condition. Deep down we sense we are as grand as moonlight, as deep as the sea, as strong as a mountain, and yet our lives appear to be a struggle with suffering until we admit defeat and die . . .
What is whole has everything and so never knows yearning. But what is separated from wholeness knows only lack and scarcity. That is the condition of those who sleep and dream of hell. That is the itch we gave birth to eons ago and have never managed to scratch.
And it will only get worse. Consider:
We have tried education but all that learning has not saved us. We are smart but we are hardly wise. We build cars that go 120 miles per hour and set the speed limit at 65. Five hundred years ago we killed each other with axes and clubs and now we have nuclear weapons – we can eliminate all life forever – and we call it progress. We call it safety. Where is the wisdom in that?
We tried wealth but that hasn’t worked. The emptiness we are talking about cannot be filled with fancy cars and elaborate houses and designer label clothing. Saving for retirement isn’t the worst thing in the world but it won’t restore wholeness to our fragmented minds. We still hurt each other. We still gorge on food we don’t need. Money brings out the worst in us, not what is wise.
And even religion has failed us. Jesus said two thousand years ago that “the kingdom of God is at hand” and “love they neighbor as thyself” and where are we? Twenty-five hundred years of Buddha, two thousand of Jesus, five hundred years since the enlightenment, a century and a half of Thoreau, fifty years of Gandhi and Martin Luther King . . . where are we?
Part of coming to terms with the separation from God is accepting that there is no external system that is going to save us. Not A Course in Miracles, not the law of attraction, not a rigorous study of David Bohm. We have to see this. We are beyond systems now. We build these systems with our separated minds and all they beget is more separation.
I think you and I can see this if we look closely at what we call life and don’t shy away from what we see there that is uncomfortable, unfamiliar or scary.
The separation is really no more than a habitual mode of thinking that privileges the egoic self over Oneness. It is a way of thinking that manages to screw everything up while simultaneously denying that it’s doing anything wrong. The problem is always out there: if we could only elect a different politician, or persuade people to become voluntarily poor, or stop eating meat, or become celibate, or follow Jesus . . .
This is why A Course in Miracles says over and over that salvation is literally nothing more than the recognition that we are doing all of this to ourselves.
The secret to salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. No matter what the form of the attack, this is still true. Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream (T-27.VIII.10:1-6).
Salvation is the return to wholeness. It is the end of separation. It is literally a shift in thinking, a new paradigm in the structure and movement of thought.
If you look at the workbook lessons of A Course in Miracles, they are rarely taxing or demanding. We don’t have to crawl across cut glass. We don’t have to stay in one position for six hours. We don’t have to tithe or cut off our hands or confess all our supposed sins in public.
Rather, the lessons simply ask that we devote some consistent time and energy to a shift in our thinking, away from fear and towards love.
The purpose of the workbook is to train your mind in a systematic way to a different perception of everyone and everything in the world. The exercises are planned to help you generalize the lessons, so that you will understand that each of them is equally applicable to everyone and everything you see (W-In.4:1-2).
The course insists that there is a space beyond the familiar structure of our thinking that we can access and that accessing it will transform all life as we know it.
What is beyond thought? Can we be still enough to find out? Devoted enough? Everything comes down to this!
The whole premise of ACIM is that yes, we can go beyond thought’s limitations. Quite easily actually. The course is very practical in this regard. It is very simple and clear: do this, then do that. We don’t even have to believe in it what we are doing – its efficacy, its rationale. We just have to be willing.
And gradually, as we practice, the belief system of separation is replaced by love, which is one. This is in the nature of a return, a dawning awareness of what was given to us by God, and how that gift remains pure and whole and true right here, right now.
We can have that experience of unity. We can know the deep and quiet stillness of knowing that nothing is that isn’t God. We can be that stillness. We can know only love.
But that knowing ends as soon as thought enters and says: I want this experience to be mine! As soon as we remember “me” and try to clutch experience to that self – to possess the experience, own it, manipulate it, lord it over others – it ends.
Oneness is what is – the given – and separation is the thought that reaches in and tries to make what is whole and one fragmented and many.
We can observe this movement in our thoughts if we are attentive. If we watch our thinking – how it arises, what it does, where it goes, what it asks of us, how we respond – we can see how thought makes time real and shifts us away from being to becoming, from our home in love to our exile in fear.
It feels very natural to us to be in time and to be devoted to becoming, to self-improvement. But once we have experienced the alternative, even a little, we see that in fact it is separation and fragmentation that are deeply unnatural. The calm stillness of inner peace – lit by the Christ, the love inherent in all of us – is our true natural state.
All this can seem very mystical and abstract, but it is not. We are living the separation right this very moment, and we can choose to live the alternative right now too. We can move from fear to love.
When we do that, we see how thought is illusory – and how perception is illusory, too. Not in the sense of a hallucination – a thing which isn’t there. But rather, a thing that is there but is seen wrong and so confused with something else. When we choose to return to God, which is to remember that we never left God, then clear seeing becomes our experience and our belief in separation falls away like mist in a rising sun.