I would like to write a bit about outcomes – our inclination to project a future that accommodates our ideas about happiness and satisfaction and peace. To think this way is an egoic habit and so can feel natural but in truth it is deeply unnatural and impedes our recognition that we are already awakened creations in God’s Kingdom.
Think not that you can find salvation in your own way and have it. Give over every plan you have made for your salvation in exchange for God’s. His will content you, and nothing else can bring you peace (T-15.IV.2:5-7).
I’ll reference a couple of personal experiences from the past month – one ostensibly joyful, the other negative to the point of heartbreak. It has been given to me to see both experiences as essentially the same, and to learn that our perceived separation from God is based not on what happens externally but rather on outcome-based thinking.
In a way, outcomes are like goals – they reflect preferred results. They obliterate the present by keeping our attention on the future. The future is by definition an illusion: it is not happening. The greater our investment in or attachment to the future is, the greater our perceived distance from God.
Of course we cannot really be distant from God, but we can believe we can be distant, and so for all intents and purposes, we are distant. The belief functions as illusory distance. If you want to know how powerful your mind is, consider that it is has convincingly made a world in which you believe you are irretrievably separated from Love, which is your natural inheritance (T-in.1:7).
This talk about outcomes is not to say that we can’t make plans for a chronological future – I’ll meet you for coffee in an hour, I’m going to see Bob Dylan in December, our tax bill is due in January and so forth. Rather, we want to be aware of the psychological future we continually project: the deep conviction that our joy and peace are contingent on specific outcomes at least partially under our control. Happiness is now and it is given unconditionally. Anything else is a lie.
I wrote in a recent newsletter that Chrisoula and I recently became owners of a relatively large piece of land. In a way, it is a dream come true for us – it allows us to expand our homesteading lifestyle. Our gardening space will quadruple, we will be able to cut our own firewood, tap our own maple trees, and raise more animals for meat. We will have a hayfield and an apple orchard.
As it became clear that we were going to receive this gift, I got nervous. I began to think of all the things that could go wrong. This was my dream: it had to be God’s will. There was really only one acceptable outcome: I get the land. Anything else fell short.
It is important to understand that I was fully prepared to live with whatever happened. Had the deal fallen through, I wasn’t going to lose myself in a whiskey bottle. I am sure I would have prayed and talked and worked it through. And in my inartful and stumbling way, I would have eventually been fine.
But that isn’t my point here: my point is be clear that I had chosen a desirable outcome. I had taken a stand where no stand was needed. As soon as I did that, my happiness and peace were compromised. It didn’t matter what happened. I could get or not get it; I could be graceful or not.The fact that I was invested in a given outcome meant that I had substituted my will for God’s. And once that happens, the game is over.
This is a subtle but important point: as soon as we judge an outcome in any way, we have abandoned the Holy Instant – the present moment – and stepped into illusion. The effect is perceived distance from God and all the grief that flows therefrom.
Every allegiance to a plan of salvation apart from Him diminishes the value of His Will for you in your own mind. And yet it is your mind that is the host to Him (T-15.IV.3:6-7).
That is why the Course teaches us that true peace is always of God – there is no other source (T-15.IV.2:8). Nothing that happens in the world can affect us unless we want to be distracted from the Love that we have because it is what we are.
The ego is happy to let us live gracefully with disappointment. “I wanted this and I didn’t get it but that’s okay – I trust God.” The ego is delighted with that logic because a) it keeps us focused on externals (the possibility that something outside of us will bring us peace, at least eventually) and b) it keeps us focused on the future (where God is not because it is not).
When we get what we want, what happens? When the land was “mine,” what was different? What had changed?
I quickly discovered that I was still invested in projection: I had the land, now I wanted a particular solar-powered house and a two-story barn. I needed to post the land so that hunters only used it with my consent and only during certain seasons. I had to meet with a logger to begin putting together a forest management plan and so on and so forth.
Do you see? Outcome-based thinking never ends. It doesn’t matter in the least what happens. There is always another future, always another outcome. There is always another condition.
I had made the land a condition: when I get this, I will be a new man. I will know God and I will know peace. These conditions were very subtle and hidden, of course, because I’m such a spiritual man and so gifted with A Course in Miracles and all that but it was there. It was operative. And when it happened – when I had the land – I just kept right on projecting. When it comes to avoiding the present, we’re like the proverbial dog with a bone. We don’t stop.
Why does this happen?
It happens because despite all our good intentions, we don’t really want the peace of God. We want our version of God. We want to be the authority. Faced with Sartre’s God-shaped hole, we hoist the ego’s shovel and go to work.
It is good to see this happen. In a way it sucks because it seems so negative: we’re still resisting God; we’re still turning our back on Heaven. But it’s actually positive because when we see it – and see its effects – we can make another choice. We can choose again. In a way, that is all A Course in Miracles wants for us: that is all it wants to give us: a chance to choose again (T-31.VIII.1:5).
I reflected on this as the weeks passed. In a deep way, I felt as if this lesson from the land was critical to my spiritual growth. I’d been speaking and writing for years about how the external cannot satisfy our desire to know God and how the past and future impair our experience of God as a present Love. Now I was being given a chance to experience it: to bring it into application, as Tara Singh would say.
I began to perceive that outcomes – what happens – all happen within the Holy Instant. The Holy Instant is what happens: it excludes nothing. Birth, death, morning runs, winter blues, hard cider and Emily Dickinson poems – all are contained within the Holy Instant. To believe otherwise is to believe that we contribute in a creative and meaningful way to the Holy Instant – and we emphatically do not. It is always there – always present, always available – because God is always ready to give it to us (T-15.IX.1:7).
Thus, it is not a question of growing spiritually, or finding a better spiritual path, or practicing ACIM more intensely, or going to church, or doing yoga, or finding a better partner or a new teacher or anything. Nothing is missing. Everything is given. And when we’re ready, we’ll settle into the gift that is always given.
Each time I felt myself pulled towards outcomes, I gently reminded myself they were simply distractions from God. It didn’t matter if I was teaching, writing, parenting, walking or cooking dinner. When my mind drifted, I brought it back. I gave it back. It was easy: and it was lovely.
And then my fourteen year old daughter’s horse died.
Mac went down in the cold rain. The regular vet couldn’t help so we transported him three hours to an equine hospital in New York. We stood vigil while Mac grew sicker and sicker. As the sun rose Monday morning, he went into surgery. An hour into the operation, he died. Mac – the Haflinger quarter horse cross around which my daughter’s life revolved – was gone.
Throughout that experience, I was held and supported – and knew I was held and supported because I could feel it – by Christ and by Love. These were not abstractions! They were the love manifest by every one who cared for us, helped us, invited us to lean on them, and so forth. Every time someone mentioned the word “outcome” – and it seemed to come up at least once every fifteen minutes – I remembered that there are no outcomes: there is only this moment. And someone was there to remind me it was okay to remember that.
I chose to be faithful to that truth: I chose to stay with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And I was not made bereft. Instead, I was given peace and the gift of service. In truth they are not separate.
In the Holy Instant we remember that what we are in truth is one with God. It is that memory that renders us capable of true service: when you want for nothing, it is easy to give everything. It just happens. It is natural in the deepest sense of the word.
Thus, I could see with great clarity when Sophia needed me and when she needed to be alone with Mac. I could give attention to thorny issues about the surgery without giving space to either anger or impatience – with the vets, with how to pay for it, with other voices that wanted to weigh in. I knew that what was happening was not about me. When I was hungry, I remembered to eat. I remembered to feed others. I remembered to ask for help and to accept it when it was offered.
This is not to say that there were not times when I felt sorrow – great waves of it. My brain did not stop pumping out ideas and images and stories. I sobbed. I stepped out into the rain, peered into dark clouds and cried out to God for mercy for my daughter and her horse I begged Jesus to stay close to me, and close to my daughter, and close to Mac. I said thank you over and over, often without any clear sense of what I was grateful for. A little language to remind us that life is in better hands than ours is a good thing, a peaceful thing. It helps. Trust what is helpful. The Holy Spirit is never not speaking to us.
In the Holy Instant, we remain focused on what is: not on what would distract us from what is. Does that make sense? Things that seem to be good will happen in life and things that seem to be bad will happen too. They are the same. All that matters is God. We are not quitting or giving up or abandoning anybody when we make God the singular fact of our lives. Indeed, it is the only way to know – and extend – peace.
In a dream the other night I walked a dark road through stone and brier. Rain and wind beset me. For a long time I walked with my head down, studying my bloody feet. When at last I looked up, a faint light beckoned. I walked quicker towards it. Time passed. I crested a hill and at its peak saw that the light was a lantern and that I held it. That which I sought was already given – it was already here. And when I looked closer I saw that my hand wasn’t the only hand holding the light. Yours was there, too, and we were home.