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On War, Peace and A Course in Miracles

I sent another newsletter out – a rather lengthy one. I imagine I’ll get to another at some point in early October. If you are interested in signing up, please feel free.

I am teaching Emerson on the subject of War and Peace these days. It’s a tough sell to students not accustomed to reading nineteenth century American English, averse generally to logic, and basically already deeply cynical about the possibilities of peace. Yet I like Emerson – as I like all the Transcendentalists – and this essay in particular.

Emerson was the vanguard of those (mostly) New England writers and thinkers whose work, while not precisely harmonious with A Course in Miracles, readily integrates with it. Thoreau and Emily Dickinson – the patron saints at whose wordy altars I an always kneeling in homage – were deeply attuned to the Vedantic spirituality that informs ACIM. Thoreau would have been put off by its overarching Christian metaphor I think. And Dickinson . . . well, who knows what Dickinson would have thought. We are still learning how to read her.

Anyway, in his essay, Emerson notes that war – and peace – are projects of thought.

[A]lways we are daunted by the appearances; not seeing that their whole value lies at bottom in the state of mind. It is really a thought that built this portentous war establishment, and a thought shall also melt it away.

The material world, he added, but reflects one’s “state of thought.”

This is reminiscent, of course, of Jesus in A Course in Miracles. In many ways, the belief system of the course rests up on the idea that “projection makes perception” (T-21.In.1:1).

The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. But though it is no more than that, it is not less . . . It is the witness to your state of mind, the outside picture of an inward condition (T-21.In.1:2-3, 5).

This is a powerful statement that is apt to be overlooked or watered-down. Daan Dehn points out that it places a singular responsibility on students of the course.

The entire process of perception requires first that you look within and decide what you want to see and then it is seen as desired. And, once again, there are but two ways of seeing — separation or wholeness — regardless of the specific form. Those who subscribe to the humanistic, halfway approach attempt to rationalize, justify or somehow magically or metaphysically explain away the appearance of war and hunger, sickness and death while steadfastly refusing to accept responsibility for the appearance thereof. This is not what the passage says! It says YOU are the dreamer of the world. You, singularly and individually (but not personally as a separate entity, as that “you” is illusory), are dreaming the entire universe of pain and suffering, sickness and death. It is not a “collective” dream; there is no such thing as collective — the whole is not merely the collection of its seeming parts.

We are comfortable talking about how we feel when our cat dies or when we’ve got a cold or when we’re processing what it means to have nasty parents or something. But nuclear war? Starving children? Rape?

Most of us are not looking at that stuff. We don’t want to. It’s too hard.

One of the reasons that I teach the way I teach – and teach the particular material that I teach – is because it forces me to consider some fairly complex and demanding applications of A Course in Miracles. If I look out at the world and see chemical weapons raining down on children far away – and people being gunned down at work – and babies starving to death – then obviously, there is some serious guilt and fear and anguish inside of me. I don’t want to hide from that.

Yet how, exactly, should I respond to it? How do I deal with conflict on such a vast and horrifying scale? Emerson’s simple observation remains instructive. I cannot fix anything by trying to fix what is external. I must address the thoughts that give rise to it. The course tracks a similar solution.

You have enslaved the world with all your fears, your doubts and miseries, your pain and tears; and all your sorrows press on it, and keep the world a prisoner to your beliefs (W-pI.132.3:4).

Lesson 132 goes on to point out, however, that “[t]here is no world apart from what you wish, and herein lies your ultimate release.”

There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach . . . healing is the gift of those who are prepared to learn there is no world (W-pI.132.6:2-3, 7:1).

Thus, the course can insist that “salvation is easily achieved, for anyone is free to change his mind, and all his thoughts change with it (W-pI.132.2:1).

So we accept responsibility for the external as a projection of our guilt and fear. We do not ascribe to it real effects. This is a critical distinction and the root of the truly radical nature of A Course in Miracles. It is fine to feed a hungry child, fine to carry a sign that says “peace now,” and fine to email your political leaders. We have to do something with these bodies we seem to have – might as well be gentle and kind and productive. We as well be Bodhisattvas.

But the true change – the real peace – is going to come from an internal decision to accept that the external world is not real. In a sense, the real work of A Course in Miracles – of the peacemaker, if you will – comes when she or he stops believing in the world and devotes themselves solely to healing their mind.

All that is required is that we recognize we want to be healed and that we cannot heal ourselves. That allows the willingness to be guided by a new Teacher: the Holy Spirit.

Don’t be afraid of looking at the seeming big stuff – war and famine, murder and torture. The miracle heals it all with ease because it all springs from the same error: that we are separated from God. Whether it’s a toothache or a nuclear winter, it’s the same problem. So the solution is the same.

That’s not how we perceive it of course! But we don’t have to fix our perception. We simply have to notice it. We have to see its brokenness and accept that we’re not going to be able to fix it and thus avail ourselves of the One who can. It sounds simple but it’s not. Emerson knew that as well as anyone. He wrote War in 1838. One hundred seventy-five years later, we’re still trying to figure it out.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Fred Wahlstrom September 20, 2013, 10:49 am

    Well said Sean, Atman is Brahman. Nothing left to bitch about.
    When I was very young and read Krishnamurti I just didn’t get ” you are the world”. The guy really means it. I went to see Richard the Second last night at the Utah Shakespear Festival, the whole dream is laid out by the bard, it seems he was pointing at this also. Everything is a reminder, or a common thread running through this dream.


    • Sean Reagan September 20, 2013, 8:01 pm

      Thanks Fred . . . it’s been a while since I read Richard the Second but you’ve piqued my interest . . .

      ~ Sean

  • zrinka September 21, 2013, 2:52 pm

    Sean, what an amazing * newsletter* essay. So interesting and compelling from beginning till its happy end 🙂 Many of your insights I have witnessed in my own heart. As for the *happy ending*, I feel that you got what you wanted. You faced your fear and darkness, and chose peace and love. Isn’t that your deepest desire:) Land is just the materialized symbol of possibility – of Peace and love. Instead of symbol of peace, you chose peace. You find it in yourself. That is wonderful. I have no doubt that inner peace will bring more peace, presented and materialized in most appropriate form. Be it this land or another land or the land you already have but still don’t know it. It is like buying parts of the *outer* world (land, house, job, sky, stars, relationships), and finally recognizing they already belong to us. I love E. Dickinson poem and how you interpreted it. She extends so beautifully your thought and vice versa. This poem – and your thoughts on it – are close to what I am feeling lately. I had pretty intense few days (actually months:)), where I kept coming back (in my mind) to this analogy, starting with an image of being in the dark with a small match. I am scared. If I move, perhaps the only (external) Light I have, will die (of wind, or change). If I stay the way I am, the match will eventualy die. So I move, in search of another light. I believe I will find something. Perhaps some wood, so I could light a big fire. But I think to myself, even if I find nothing, I believe in a miracle. Somehow I know, that if I keep moving, if I keep facing my fear, going through darkness, touching the unknown with my bare hands – — I will find —- what I am looking for… Eventually, the external light fades. I found nothing outside. No light. I am scared even more, but I keep moving through darkness. There is no coming back. I touch with my hands those faceless shapes, grose textures, but I do not scream. I remind myself, that this creatures I meet are not arms of octopuses in the deepest of the seas, but cold plastic arms of little baby toys, parts of furniture, firm walls of my room. There is nothing to fear. It is just – me, my ‘world’, my ‘things’. Perhaps I even stumble on a door for another room. Why not leave this room? So, I just go through it. While searching for outer Light, I realize that I am not longer afraid. I move through darkness, that is my Life, my room, my soul, and I believe * That is the miracle God gives us.That belief that Lights our hearts, while faced with (our) complete darkness.
    Anyway, I am so happy you went to sleep and found your inner Light:) Love and peace, dear Sean!!! Z*
    Ps. not related to the essay, but to the article, I enjoyed reading your view on Emerson and Transcendentalism, and similarities with ACIM. Wonderful*

    • Sean Reagan September 23, 2013, 5:30 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Zrinka. Every now and then I feel like I stumble into God . . .

      I love the image you share of finding your way in darkness, without light – very much in that Dickinson mode of going without light as its own light. This is a new idea to me. I have always loved that poem but feel very invested in light – as a metaphor for what? God? Jesus? Bodhisattvas? I don’t know. I am happier walking in moonlight at 4 a.m. than dark though I do both. Your insight mirrors Dickinson’s – that our longing for light is itself a kind of darkness – but when we move without it, or let it go – detach? – we are still able to move. The way is not contingent on light? On being seen with physical eyes? I know the way at 4 a.m. and in darkness – and with a dog – I can manage it. The metaphor gets strained but it feels important . . .

      And yeah . . . the transcendentalists. For me, nineteenth century New England. There was so much insight & lovely writing in that time & space, slowly subsuming now in the world’s grim loam . . .

      • zrinka September 23, 2013, 10:19 am

        Dear Sean, we are daily Lost in this amazing, intoxicating and therefor hurtful play of light and dark. As Plato said, it’s all an illusion and misperception. And If we come out of our (mind)cave, we will swimm in Light. Sure, we have to come out, but to what color…What is the color of my true love’s hair?:) Perhaps white is the best, because it unites All of them. But still… so often we use word Light for God, as oppose to something. What if I was blind? What would a color mean? I’d rather not use any word at all, dark or light, but just prepare my bathing suit (soul and body) for that swimm with my Love:) I was born in 4.30 am. My favourite part of the day. The closest it gets to *swimming*. (Dawn often sounds like Lisa Gerrard http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN6YuyE3jvk) But to awake in sunrise, one must go through night. Every night.
        I was always very invested in Light as a metaphor for God, Jesus, Bodhisattva, Love, Heaven, Home, Beauty. Afraid of the *Dark*, I didn’t wan’t it to exist, so I denied it. For me, everything and everyone was essentially good. Idea of Good and Light were extremely strong in my perception. But that very *judgement* was revealed as false, because Love is beyond judgements, beyond good and bad, beyond light and dark. We all carry what we recognize as *good and bad*, the challenge is not to deny or elevate anything, but to recognize everything, accept it and, from that peace, go beyond. Perhaps it is even better to say (instead of going beyond)- to go FORWARD, because *forward* is what we as human beings can imagine and actually do:). For *beyond* we imagine one must have wings, so we easily fall in trap of redeeming sanctitude.
        I like what you said, that our longing for light is itself a kind of darkness. I would just add, that most of the time (because of the resiliency of ego) longing for light is longing for *OUTER* light, for the light we could see, read, hear, love or touch. We seek Light in Other. Rarely, we rely on our inner resources, and that is why we end up in complete darkness. Only when there is nothing to hold on to in outer world, when all (other) Ideas and comforts have fallen in our mind (as instruments or illusions), we will withdraw and turn to oureselves – stop taking from the „world“ and start giving – — the enormous strenght and love which resides in us, our very own light. Yes, we are moved by our intrinsic commitment to Life*Love, but we don’t see it because we rely so much on the world to give us strentgh.

  • zrinka September 21, 2013, 3:13 pm

    I forgot to paste a link for a song I wanted to share with you, related to that whole dark-light theme:)

    • Sean Reagan September 23, 2013, 5:35 am

      Wow . . . shades of Neil Young but the lyrics are (w/ all due respect to Neil) more profound . . . that is an amazing song. This has not been on my musical radar, Zrinka – Thank you so much for sharing. I love this!

      • zrinka September 23, 2013, 10:28 am

        Jason Molina is amazing, he created many beautiful, soulful songs. Yes, definitely shades of Neil Young:), but perhaps more personal and fragile***

        • Sean Reagan September 25, 2013, 4:18 pm

          Zrinka I am so grateful to you for sharing Jason Molina with me . . . I have been listening to him on youtube, in small sips which is the only way I can take the powerful artists. To say I am enjoying him is not quite right – it feels very much like a hole I didn’t know was there is being filled, if that makes any sense. So . . . thank you.

          And with respect to your comments about light and dark the other day in reply to my replay . . . I am where I was when we first began trading comments here: wondering what a suitable emoticon for gassho is . . .

          Thank you.

          • zrinka September 25, 2013, 6:36 pm

            Gassho dear Sean, gratitude is mutual:)*

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