Let us pause for a moment and think of those with whom we compare ourselves. I mean literally search our thoughts and find those individuals (or groups even), and maybe even do a little comparing right now.
Aren’t these folks easy to find? Easy to objectify? Easy to envy or scorn? Those who are less patient, less diligent in their scholarship, less attentive to food security? Those who are richer, thinner, or can run farther faster? Those who panic when faced with a crowd and those who can’t shut up and share the stage?
It is helpful to see this rogues gallery and to acknowledge its existence. We made it. Its halls are worn bare because we visit so often and so faithfully.
Lesson 195 of A Course in Miracles is ostensibly about gratitude, but it yokes this core concept to our tendency to compare ourselves to others and find them – or us – wanting. Comparison, it turns out, is not a recipe for inner peace.
You do not offer God your gratitude because your brother is more slave than you, nor could you sanely be enraged if he seems freer. Love makes no comparisons. And gratitude can only be sincere if it be joined to love (W-pI.195.4:1-3).
Love makes no comparisons . . .
We have to stay with that phrase for a moment because it is so utterly beautiful and also so mind-numbingly ridiculous.
Doesn’t that phrase feel electric in your brain? “Love makes no comparisons,” “Love does not compare . . . ” Doesn’t it resonate when uttered as if the very angels of Heaven were harmonizing along with you?
And truly, don’t you feel a little self-righteous saying it? I do. Like how cool is it that we are the ones who know that love makes no comparisons . . .
But look. As human observers, we make comparisons. We live by them. We compare foods, find some nutritious and others a chemical abomination, and then eat accordingly. We have to go on a long drive and opt for a Bob Dylan playlist, not Techno, because we want to be happy and relaxed on our drive, not jaw-grinding insane.
Or we love someone – we hold them, kiss them, watch over their rest, catch our breath when they smile – because we’ve been around, we’ve seen the options – and this someone is the best someone. They’re good to us, they make us laugh. They know when we need a little extra attention and when we have to be alone. Not just anybody can be this somebody!
You cannot not make comparisons. Okay? You really have to see this! You have to see how comparing actually inheres in your body, in your thoughts, and in the language you use. Comparison is you; it’s as much you as anything else you’d like to say is you.
We have to see it that way because if we don’t, then the utter ridiculousness of the lesson – upon which its helpfulness is predicated – won’t be clear. You see? You are being told to adopt as a practice something that you literally cannot do. It isn’t fair. It’s masochistic.
So what do we do?
Lesson 195 advises us to let our gratitude make room for “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death” (W-pI.195.5:2).
All these go with you. Let us not compare ourselves with them, for thus we split them off from our awareness of the unity we share with them, as they must share with us (W-pI.195.5:3-4).
Do you see what happened there? We – you and I, of all people – got thrown in with “the sick, the weak, the needy and afraid, and those who mourn a seeming loss and those who feel apparent pain, who suffer cold or hunger, or who walk the way of hatred and pain of death.”
It’s not a mistake. It’s a fact of our shared unity. If you are honest, can’t you see yourself somewhere in that list? It’s not a description of others – it’s a description of our own living.
Comparison only makes logical sense if there are at least two things. I can compare my right hand to my left hand, but not my right hand to my right hand. I can compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out back, but I can’t compare the maple tree out front to the maple tree out front.
What is one and thus the same cannot be compared to itself.
We thank our Father for one thing alone; that we are separate from no living thing, and therefore one with Him. And we rejoice that no exceptions can ever be made which would reduce our wholeness . . . We give thanks for every living thing, for otherwise we offer thanks for nothing . . . (W-pI.195.6:1-3).
Sure, you say. We are one. But it feels and seems and appears like we’re separate . . .
Yes. I hear that. It is an important insight. And really, to pretend otherwise is vain and pretentious. And we are past that now. We don’t wake to fake awakening or act out fantasies of nonduality or pretend we’re in an intimate 1:1 correspondence with Jesus, Yahweh, and the Buddha.
It’s good to be clear that we are having a dualistic experience. It’s good to remember that we are not alone in saying it. And it’s good – it’s more than good, actually – to give close attention to what the course asks of us next in the lesson.
Then let our brothers lean their tired heads against our shoulders as they rest a while. We offer thanks for them. For if we can direct them to the peace that we would find, the way is opening at last to us (W-pI.195.7:1-3).
Please see the clarity of that last sentence: it does not say that peace that we have or know or are. It says the peace we are still looking for. It refers to the peace we haven’t found. It envisions a future state that is not this present state.
You see? The course is recognizing that we aren’t there yet. We don’t get it yet. And it is no big deal. The sky isn’t falling, pits aren’t opening, and lions aren’t laying down with lambs.
So we can relax and get on with the other two sentences in that passage. We give thanks (sentence two) and then help our brothers and sisters rest (sentence one). We put the metaphysics and intellectualizing aside and actually help our brothers and sisters.
And isn’t that the part we all want to skip? It’s so much sexier to read Francisco Varela and Emily Dickinson, write Japanese short form poetry, see who liked our last post and who retweeted our last tweets.
Who wants to go donate a few hours at the local food pantry? Who wants to walk around the crappy parts of town and hand out coffees or blankets or bologna sandwiches? Who wants to visit a nursing home and read to someone who never gets visitors? Who wants to knock on doors for signatures for a bill that would ban pesticides that are harmful to bees? Who wants to do the dishes even though it’s not your night to do the dishes?
Tara Singh is my ACIM teacher because he brought the course out of the clouds. He ended the distractions of mysticism, psychic powers, ascended masters; really, he ended the ideal of special experiences altogether. He taught me that the earth is my home, not the sky. He taught me to garden and gaze dreamily at the stars, to enact local service and to go off to a quiet place to pray, to study critical texts and clean the bathroom.
Lesson 195 never says this but it should: Act in the world with your body. Act in a way that helps other people. When you do this, the love and peace from which you still feel alienated, and the oneness that remains true even though you can’t really see it yet, will be revealed.
An ancient door is swinging free again; a long forgotten Word re-echoes in our memory, and gathers clarity as we are willing once again to clear . . . Walk then in gratitude the way of love (W-pI.7:4, 8:1).
So don’t sweat the comparisons. Let them come, let them go. Don’t sweat the impossible. Don’t try and mentally work out what it would mean to be beyond all that. If it’s your job to understand and help others understand, then that will happen. But right now – and perhaps for a long time to come – our job is to love one another, to help one another.
We are the lost and forsaken. We are the lost sheep. But it’s okay! Don’t look for home, don’t complain about how unfair life is, don’t lament your fate. Rather, with clear eyes, gaze about and see the widow, the orphan, the soldier, the prisoner, the refugee, the hungry, the frail, the abandoned, the hopeless . . .
They are here: help them. In simple nondramatic ways, be of service. See what happens next.