Sometimes, in order to focus on A Course in Miracles, it is necessary to simplify our lives. It is not a mistake to create circumstances in which attention can be more readily summoned and sustained. Indeed, our peace and joy depend upon it.
To be in the Kingdom is merely to focus your full attention on it. As long as you believe you can attend to what is not true, you are accepting conflict as your choice (T-7.III.4:1-2).
In the penultimate sense, this “focus” refers to an interior experience. It does not mean – or does not have to mean – that we spend all day in a chapel on our knees before a bloody cross.
Rather, our attention is directed to the altar in our mind, what the course refers to as “the only reality” (T-7.III.4:8).
For many of us, those are nice words – reassuring and even inspiring – but they are not yet our lived reality. So the question becomes: how do we develop this gift of attention that is itself the Kingdom of God? How do we make contact with this interior altar that is “a reflection of perfect Thought?”
It begins with identifying two things: first, what presently helps bring us to attention? And second, what presently impedes that movement?
We have to be very patient and gentle in asking these questions, because the ego is quick to jump in with its opinions and ideas and suggestions. Before we know it, we are off down its rabbit holes.
What brings you to stillness? To silence? What brings you closest to the intimation of God’s Love?
For me, the answer is walking. And then, the writing of certain teachers. And finally, slow and careful reading – often a sentence at a time – of A Course in Miracles.
Of course, the answer to these questions is deeply personal. It might be baking or gardening or quilting or kayaking or playing music or fasting or meditating. Your beloved teachers are almost certainly different than mine. And the way in which you experience your sacred texts, whatever they are, will be different as well.
The point is to be honest and clear about what works for us. And then – when we know – to begin to honor it as our spiritual practice. To give it all the space it requires and to brook no compromise with respect to it.
That idea – of compromise – brings us to the second element of making contact with our capacity to be attentive: we have to identify that which stands in our way.
This is often a much harder knot to untangle. In part, that’s because it means giving up and the egoic self – which believes deeply in sacrifice and scarcity – hates to surrender anything. So we can be very resistant to this step.
Yet we shouldn’t avoid it. Over the course of this summer I have had to make some very difficult choices about how I spend my time and who I spend it with. I hope I did this lovingly and gently. But of course it is always hard.
I looked for those situations – whether they involved people or activities – that sapped my energy. Walking invigorates me at every level – physical, emotional, spiritual. But some people drain me. I left our meetings over coffee or whatever feeling tired or argumentative or unsure. That’s on me, of course! If I choose to see a brother or sister as difficult, that’s on me.
But I can also make the loving choice not to indulge the negativity, regardless of where it comes from. In this world, in our lives the way we perceive them, some people and activities are more nurturing and loving than others.
We have to be willing to say: this is not helping me make contact with God. It is okay – it is more than okay – to seek those learning situations that are most helpful to us.
Our sense of what is helpful and what is not will almost surely shift with time. Change is the essence of the separated world and so long as we wind our way through it in a learning posture, we are going to encounter new teachers and educational opportunities.
But our North Star should always be: does this [relationship, activity, thought system, thing et cetera) naturally help me deepen and clarify my remembrance of my unity with God?
Ruthless honesty is our ally, as is the willingness to follow its lead.
In a sense, when we do this, we are mirroring the Holy Spirit, whose mandate is to evaluate and educate.
He sorts out the true from the false in your mind, and teaches you to judge every thought you allow to enter it in the light of what God put there. Whatever is in accord with this light He retains, to strengthen the Kingdom in you. What is partly in accord with it He accepts and purifies. But what is out of accord entirely he rejects by judging against it (T-6.V.C.1:2-5).
It is true that the undoing contemplated in this passage is wholly of the mind, but the point remains. We must be vigilant on behalf of what strengthens our capacity to bring our attention to God. Why wouldn’t we be?
What distracts us from our practice is to be set lovingly and firmly aside. As the course does not encourage equivocation, nor should we as we make space for it in our lives.
All of this reminds me something Tara Singh wrote in Excerpts from the Forty Days in the Wilderness. I quote it here in full and without alteration.
Simplicity introduces one
you will never know non-dependence.
Will you value
and resort to the expediences of the system
or will you live according to
your own conviction?
Your unwillingness to change your lifestyle
binds you to the world of compromises.
To have something of God to give the world
and frees one from the external system.
The earnest question will emerge
out of the urgency to change the lifestyle,
FOR THEN THE WHOLE LIFE WILL BE
BEHIND THE QUESTION.
IS YOUR LIFESTYLE NOW
RELATED TO REALITY?
That is a good question, isn’t it?