What kind of learner shall I be today? With whom shall I undertake my study? What will be the standard by which my learning shall be judged either helpful or unhelpful?
A Course in Miracles teaches its students that “. . . the essential thing is learning is that you do not know” (T-14.XI.1:1). Everything begins when we are no longer invested in our “knowing,” when rather than defend it and justify it we choose instead to simply let it go. Doing so clears a space in which we can declare with integrity “I am determined to see things differently” (W-pI.21).
So the kind of learner we want to be is one who is “determined to see things differently,” and who recognizes that their past learning inhibits or obstructs this new mode of seeing. A mind which is closed cannot welcome anything new; similarly, a mind which is already full cannot welcome anything, new or otherwise.
Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God. (W-pI.189.7:2-5)
Becoming this kind of student presupposes humility. When we truly try to relinquish the familiar, we see how hard it is to do that. We see how committed we are to maintaining the status quo – only learning what reinforces existing belief systems and structures, only taking teachers whose teaching will not push us too far outside our comfort zones.
Humility comes naturally to us when we are honest about how unwilling we actually are. Tara Singh pointed out that it is possible to call oneself a student while constantly evading the learning to which the course calls us.
In has been my experience that the student is energized by ending the preoccupation with deception. The one who is not a student, but who thinks he wants to become a student, is attached to the illusion of learning. The difference is that one values undoing while the other is still interested in self-improvement and is going contrary to the very premise of the Course (Nothing Real Can Be Threatened 35).
Here, “deception” means our willingness to pretend that we are sincere and devout in our determination to “see things differently.” It means that our study is tepid and shallow, aimed at reinforcing the self-concept from which the course would otherwise allow us to be liberated. And rather than see this misguidance as it is and thus see it corrected, we merely glance at it, say “good enough” and carry on. Thus, our guilt and fear continue unabated under the guise of “I’m doing the best I can and getting better little by little.”
So it is helpful to become focused on uprooting our passivity and casualness. It is helpful to refuse to settle for half measures. This is a subjective experience, different for all of us, and giving attention to it answers the second question: with whom shall I undertake my study?
I shall study with folks who buttress my efforts to “see things differently,” by cheering me on when cheering is called for, and by calling me out when I become stubborn, argumentative, lazy and so forth. This presupposed a shared commitment to learning how to be better at being-in-love. Naturally this buttressing is mutual. We go together, or we do not go at all.
These folks are usually but not always course students. They are usually but not always present in a physical way. Some are dead, available only through texts they generously created and which remain accessible. Some are far away, available only through the occasional email or phone call. Sometimes they don’t even know they are helping or what they are helping with.
It doesn’t matter. I am grateful for them and turn to them as often as possible.
This leaves a final question. How shall we know if our study is helpful or unhelpful? Really the answer to that question is how happy we are – not in a merely emotional way and not in a merely circumstantial way. That level of happiness comes and goes. Rather, we are talking about happiness as a more holistic and integrated wellness that is relatively unaffected by our feelings and circumstances.
That happiness is impersonal and has to do with love. It is a reflection of our acceptance and extension of love in the broad Maturanan sense. When we attend that love, happiness arises naturally as our being, rather than as an experience of that being. Its essence is communicative, cooperative and communal. It isn’t worried for itself.
I am not suggesting we are all there or even should be. I am suggesting that our learning arises from our interior awareness that this state of joy exists and is our inheritance and thus merits our study and attention. We are the student remembering joy in the presence of students remembering joy whose shared remembering is joy.