On Remembering to be Grateful

The debt I feel to A Course in Miracles is large; yet simultaneously, it is known that there is nothing to be in debt to, nor a self to be so indebted.

This paradox is problematic only if one expects language to function differently than is its nature. Words are separative – once they are employed, separation is afoot and it is hard to avoid slipping into its shadow.

On the other hand, it is also possible to be aware of this difficulty, and to simply use words as skillfully as possible. This applies not only to speaking or writing them, but also to listening to and reading them.

Always ask: to what is the writer/speaker pointing? And always give them the benefit of the doubt. It is very interesting to give attention to cooperation, especially with respect to these kinds of spiritual or philosophical inquiries. The potential is there; why not make use of it?

A Course in Miracles was a final stop for me on the spiritual quest/religious seeker expedition. It was the top of the mountain – the stars so close you could kiss them – before heading back down (because that what summit experiences are for – to teach you how to descend). I gave the course all my attention and effort, such as I was able, and it rewarded me by undoing both God and self, which is another way of saying it made clear the distinction between what is true and what is false.

Everyone wants to know what this means or feels like or whatever but we have to figure it out for ourselves. Anyone who pretends otherwise is still confused. It’s true that a good teacher will help us “figure it out” but – again, paradoxically – these teachers rarely identify themselves as teachers. They’re just people who show up with certain insights and behavioral patterns that, when briefly in congress with our own insights and behavioral patterns, make the next step clear.

Eventually, the “next step” is seeing that there is not only no next step, there are no previous steps either.

But saying that that way is being too clever, really.

The apparent bifurcation of reality – I am a subject perceiving objects – is problematic mostly because we tend to see the “I” as somehow other than subject or object. In fact, we create a subtle trinity – subject and object and the “I” that knows them both.

But really, this “I” – this ego or empiric self or whatever – is just another object within subjective awareness.

Once we get clear on that, then everything else sort of slides into place. There is nothing to do and nobody to do it.

This doesn’t mean that life becomes a matter of celestial light shows and operatic angels. On the contrary, life continues pretty much the same as it always did. How could it not? The appearance of doing and more specifically of bodies doing the doing just keeps on keeping on.

It’s like being at a play and mistaking it for reality and then suddenly realizing it’s only a play. The play goes on but now we know what it really is.

My Zen friends says things like “before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water and after enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.” I’ve used that phrase myself, being more or less shameless about semantic pollination.

And I think it’s helpful in one way because it makes clear that nothing dramatic is going to happen in terms of experience but it is distractive in another way because a lot of people – and I am one – have used it over the years to justify all sorts of stupidity and silliness along the lines of “I’ve got it and you don’t” and whatever loveless shenanigans go along with that.

The crucial aspect of that chopping wood/carrying water phrase is “after” because it makes clear that something has happened and, as a consequence of that something, everything else is now clear. And in this clarity, everything else is the same but it’s also not remotely the same.

All of this really boils down to the belief that whatever “I” is, it’s real and capable of causing things (as opposed to being just another effect, just another appearance). It’s deciding things, organizing things, feeling things, making progress, falling behind, and so forth. Who doesn’t feel that way?

But when we give attention to it – especially to the inherent subjectivity of it – then this “I” is eventually seen as simply an appearance showing up from time to time. No matter how persuasive it appears and no matter how frequently it appears it is still only as real as any other mirage.

Thus, believing in it as a kind of source or agent or center is incoherent. Life doesn’t have a center; it doesn’t have a creator. Our belief to the contrary is the separation. It’s that simple.

This is why A Course in Miracles can say there is only one mistake with only one correction, despite the appearance of its many forms all appearing to demand many forms of correction.

You have no problems, though you think you have. And yet you would not think so if you saw them vanish one by one, without regard to size, complexity or place and time, or any attribute which you perceive that makes each one seem different from the rest (T-26.II.3:3-4).

This belief in a separate self  at risk of loss and eventually death is what effectively makes separation real – at least as an experience. But if it’s wrong or incoherent, then what’s the problem? There isn’t one.

The thing is, you can see this fact clearly and slip right back into trying to fix it. But trying to disbelieve an insane belief or otherwise rid oneself of it doesn’t help because it reinforces the idea that a) there is something to believe or disbelieve in and b) that there is somebody who is in charge of that belief and disbelief.

So what can we do?

Well, it helped me to become a devoted student of A Course in Miracles. Believe me when I tell you it would have been a lot easier had some other path presented itself. But as my great aunt used to say, “you dance with the one that brung you.” And there is no doubt that it was A Course in Miracles that grabbed me by the arm at the spiritual disco and said “no more holding the wall up – let’s get out where the mirror ball’s brightest.”

But that’s just me. A Course in Miracles is not inherently any more or less helpful than Zen or Catholicism or Islam or therapy or LSD. But one might experience it as such, and if that is the case, then why not go all the way?

That logic worked for me. Over time it pointed me to teachers that a lot of other ACIM students don’t both with or even actively resist – David Bohm, Edmund Husserl, Roland Barthes, Emily Dickinson, to name but a few.

Lots of fingers all visible in the light to which they were pointing . . .

Out of the daily lessons, and study of the text and related material, and the many teachers whose work I read and pondered and wrote about, a practice (for lack of a better word) slowly emerged.

I began to give attention.

Giving attention is not precisely meditation or prayer though it often resembles them. The semantics don’t matter very much. It is really a question of simply being present to everything that arises as it arises – objects, ideas, feelings, theories, emotions and so forth.

I call what arises “the welter” but again, who cares what I call it?

The essence of this attention is that it includes the desire to exclude things (that we are scared of or critical of or whatnot). It is nonjudgmental and gentle and sustained, to the maximal extent. This means that one can see the welter clearly and more or less whole, more or less intact.

Then, sooner or later, one recognizes the way in which everything is naturally included in life – even that which is apparently being excluded.

Sooner or later, one realizes that the self cannot stand inquiry and collapses in on itself, without ever injuring or impairing life itself.

Sooner or later, one sees that something is happening, even if one can’t say precisely what it is or why it is.

And sooner or later, one sees that this something – whatever and whyever it is – is not contingent on a discrete and empirical observer who can be named and set apart.

Again, there are a lot of ways to experience this – philosophy, meditation, therapy, drugs, combinations thereof and so forth – but all one is really seeing is that which is actually there, the whole of which cannot be defined or grasped. Ease with the fundamental mystery doesn’t erase the mystery but – paradoxically – it does erase its mysteriousness.

An analogy I sometimes use is that of eddies in a brook. I happen to like brooks and rivers and spend a lot of walking beside them, sitting beside them, swimming and fishing in them and so forth.

Eddies are real – they are little currents with distinct forms. They have a past and a future. They have effects, pushing other eddies this or that way, yielding up new eddies and so forth.

But for all of that, they are really just the brook being a brook.

Part of a brook being a brook is to have these apparently separate eddies, and part of an eddy being an eddy is to apparently originate from and return to the brook.

When the eddy dissolves, the brook is still there.

So the suggestion here is that being human is like an eddy in the river of life. That’s all. We are akin to currents playing out within the whole – not separate from the whole. And sometimes those currents ask what they are and where they came from and so forth. They don’t have to perform that inquiry – there’s nothing special about doing so – but sometimes they do.

That is where you and I are, more or less.

The answer to these apparently profound and challenging questions – what is God, what is life, what is the self – is not complicated or mysterious but it can seem that way so long as the eddy insists that it is not the brook being a brook but is something other than the brook.

If we stay with the analogy, we can see the incoherence of that position clearly. The eddy sets itself up as something it is not in order to study what it is. You want to tell the eddy to just chill out and enjoy the ride. Just be an eddy, man. Just be the brook being a brook this way.

The eddy (like the egoic self) can insist on this separation – eddy here, brook there/self here, God there – and get very intellectual and fundamentally dogged about all of it but all this effort and intensity does not – can not – undermine the basic fact that the eddy is still just a current in the brook.

It’s still just the brook being the brook.

That’s just a way of looking at the problem of separation, or thinking about it. It’s not offered as some fundamental or new truth in and of itself. But perhaps it is helpful.

If you are a student of A Course in Miracles, then be attentive to it and whatever practice emerges therefrom. Don’t worry what anybody else is doing or saying. Help what helps you help you. No big thing.

And if you want to shuffle on and try something new, or stop trying altogether, then great. Shuffle on. Or take up knitting. Or just sit on the back porch and watch chickadees. You can always shuffle back to the course or the church or the endless litany of personal problems when and if it seems appropriate. In the end, nobody is going anywhere so what’s the rush?

After all, here we are, you and I, at the end of a ridiculously long post which really only wanted to say: thank you for being here.

Thank you.

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