I am not a body. I am free (W-pI.199.8:7-8).
There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach (W-pI.132.6:2-3).
The Course makes no claim to finality, nor are the Workbook lessons intended to bring the student’s learning to completion. At the end, the reader is left in the hands of his or her own Internal Teacher, Who will direct all subsequent learning as He sees fit (preface to A Course in Miracles).
The experiences we have are shaped by the cognitive and perceptive capacities of bodies. We can’t fly like crows and we can’t live underwater like fish and we can’t calculate a billion chess moves in a single second.
We can build machines that help us do those things ( or actually do these things) but we cannot do them unaided. And even the machines we build are limited by what we can know and perceive. You can’t build a machine to do X, if you can’t conceive of X.
Thus, cognition and perception – impressive as they are – are limits.
Yet they are also generative, in that absent their function – including the constraints on that function – no world comes forth in which to do our living. That is, cognition and perception also bring forth the very environment in which we live and have our being. They shape the world, color it, order it, et cetera.
If somebody in the ACIM community disputes the existence of the body – as sooner or later almost every student does – then the question arises: how would you know?
That is, absent the cognitive and perceptual abilities of the body, how would you be able to experience – and then share that experience of – not having a body?
In other words, it takes a body to imagine that one is not a body and is therefore free (of bodies and the world they bring forth).
That is not necessarily a dispositive argument, but still. I do not think these questions are out of place in the community of A Course in Miracles (though when I raise them folks often bristle). We do like the comfort of magical solutions. We do enjoy imagining ourselves as heirs to benevolent mysteries.
However, what we are really doing when we covet magic and mystery is claiming the special status of The One Who Knows, whose knowing is defined in significant part by the poor ignorant bastards who don’t know and thus fall outside the safe bounds of our spiritual fortress.
This, as Tara Singh pointed out, is a form of lovelessness. We all do it and so we are all also called to stop doing it.
A Course in Miracles is a symbolic text that if taken literally ends up confusing its students. Its primary author – Helen Schucman – more or less abandoned the project, leaving it to others to edit and promulgate. Some of those others conflated (knowingly and otherwise) their personal agendas with those of the course. A lot of the public energy in and around the ACIM community resembles a culture of naiveté and spiritual grift.
It is less like a quiet church in which to commune with the Beloved and more like a crowded noisy bazaar where it’s hard to think, not everybody has your best interests at heart, and the exits aren’t clearly marked.
Yet for all that, the course retains its fundamental ability: to introduce the sincere student to her own internal teacher, which the course calls the Holy Spirit, and which I call attention.
(Side note: of course you should ignore everything I say! What do I know?)
Attention is what allows us to gently see what works and what doesn’t and to deepen our relationship with what works while setting aside that which does not. Awakening is not a spiritual event but an ongoing sustainable process by which our thinking and being clarify in ways that reduce conflict. As conflict in its various forms abates, what remains is peace.
We are by nature loving, cooperative and inclusive animals, but it takes learning and practice to recover and hold this fact in creative and fructive ways.
This process is not – repeat not – a mysterious project involving mysterious agents and hidden causes that somehow do away with bodies and transport us to veritable Edens where we cavort with the similarly blessed.
Rather, the quiet happiness, the calm joy, the serious desire to be helpful and kind are embodied experiences that loosen the stranglehold our fear of loss – and fear of death as the ultimate loss – have on our bodies. That’s all. The course is helping undo fear but that undoing happens here, in and to and with the body in which our experience is brought forth from the world our body brings forth.
When the body – and its world – becomes as natural and lovely as a dandelion or a chickadee or a thunderstorm, then there is less to cling to and more to simply be grateful for. It is enough, truly. You can set about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, beating your sword into a plow and so forth. Or making puzzles, baking bread and going for walks. Or whatever lights your candle.
You can be freely and fully the loving animal you naturally are.
It is true that a kind of transcendence is being implied here. Emily Dickinson’s body of work (poems and letters) is a beautiful and complex exploration of this experience. But the transcendence is experienced locally! That is, there is the one who transcends and there is that which is transcended and . . . wait for it . . . they are the same! So the transcendence is less about rising above and more about perceiving the way in which our being is more in the nature of, say, a Mobius strip (or an Escher painting or a sentence like “[T]he reader of this sentence exists only while reading me”*).
And given attention – that is, given the teacher A Course in Miracles pledges its students – one cannot help but see this and know this is in a natural and serious way.
It is always hard to talk intelligently and clearly about this material, especially because one experiences it – and extends it – in such deeply personal ways. I hope you will forgive my clumsiness and tendency to prattle.
*Borrowed from Douglas Hofstadter’s book Metamagical Themas.