A Walk to Stillness

We have to come stillness, to awareness. But how?

Perhaps first we have to learn that is gift. Stillness is a gift. Or perhaps better to say, it is there already, waiting. The gift is the way in which we are temporarily absolved of all the brain chatter and clutter that obfuscates stillness.

I have friends who have dedicated their lives to rigorous meditation practices, lives of service, intense prayer. I see nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, I see a lot that is right with it.

But I wonder – increasingly I wonder – is it really necessary?

To have what is given, to experience the stillness that is already there – the stillness that is rich and creative and inspiring, like a bolt of lightening – what do we have to do?

We have to be open to some slipping. Some neural pathway, long unused, suddenly lighting up. There’s an ancient action that takes place. We recognize it but we aren’t sure how to call it forth. Then it’s there, just like that. Like it was there all along, which it was. Which it is.

Last night I walked the dogs and after I walked myself. I do that sometimes. The older dog requires such care and attention that I don’t always see the stars. I don’t hear the wind. I do, of course, but not the same way. I don’t mind that. It’s a lovingkindness to a friend, a faithful companion.

But I like my walks of foolishness too. My walks into stillness. So I drop the dogs off at the house, and then go on my own way a little while. Just a little.

And I thought last night as I walked alone about those moments of crystalline clarity where briefly, God slips in and there is nothing else. How hard to put it into words – maybe you’re not even supposed to try – but how lovely it is, how free, to be beyond personality, beyond language, out of time.

Such a lovely and empowering space . . . and if it is simply there, if it is what is real, what is true, then why do we refuse it? Why do we make it so difficult?

So I stopped walking. Where the road dips a little at the old bridge, right over Watts brook, I stopped. I come into stillness when I pay attention. Not to the chatter of the brain – which is like this writing here, but maybe thicker, and without beginning or end – but to what appears to be external. God is cause, I am effect. Yet all that I perceive is also effect, what I create.

So watch it. Listen to it.

I leaned on the old bridge and looked down. The light was gone and so all I could see was the blurred banks of snow like giant gray thumbs extending along the banks. Here and there the bracken reaching over it, spidery limbs swaying in the breeze. On the North side of the bridge the water sounds were light, separate notes harmonically converged, like a glockenspiel. But on the South side it was a low, dull roar. There are fewer rocks there and the landscape drops, the water building momentum with nothing to impede it. It was cold and I could see a few stars twinkling here and there like the beginning of paralysis and I was balanced between these two musics, this one music they were together, balanced on the old bridge looking at the water and the sky.

And it came to me. It did. Just a flash, like a card falling out of a gambler’s sleeve. A glimpse of the face of Christ, behind the veils, behind the world of form. I would live forever for a taste of it!

Yet that is why I lose it. Why we lose it. I want to make it mine – this body’s experience, this self’s improvement. The same greed that makes me sneak the last cookie, the last wedge of cheese.

Who is it that interferes? Who wants to possess what cannot be possessed because it simply is?


I walked all morning today, up and down the back roads, through snowy fields, past barns, dripping eaves. I knelt to study stones, read tracks, glory in sunlight . . . In my mind you were there and we were talking. I was talking about the stillness – what it feels like, how to find it. I wanted to know if you knew why we lose it, why we clutch at it. It was a beautiful morning, a beautiful walk – how sweet to share the time with you – but we did not walk in stillness.

The Juggler Reconsiders His Calling

I ran into a friend the other day – he was finishing lunch, I was buying eggs and kefir – and I stopped to say hello. Jim was the facilitator of an A Course in Miracles discussion group that I attended for a while. I hadn’t seen him in several months. It was nice to catch up.

Later, it got me thinking about this website, which I shuttered back in the summer and re-opened earlier this month. I shut it down because it was complicating both personal and professional boundaries. At the time if felt like a practical decision, but I come to see more in the line of a defensive gesture. I needed some privacy, needed to create some quiet in which to settle out this business of disdaining the light of being read.

In mulling it over, a recurring word or theme is “congruent.” To me it means consistency at all levels of one’s existence – spiritual, physical, work, play. It means not parceling off different parts of life in an effort to hold other parts at bay.

And it means – for me anyway – that that I cannot please everyone, cannot bear for others their burden of judgement. What does this mean exactly? Well, for most of my adult life I have been deeply reticent about being a Christian and following Jesus. I don’t want to hurt or alienate friend who are legitimately pissed off at establishment sects of Christianity, whose lives are routinely invalidated by Christians who are alternately fearful, misguided and sometimes malicious.

I don’t want to defend the Pope anymore, or try to rationalize him, or be an apologist on behalf of progressive Protestants. I don’t want to pretend a scholarly interest in the link between Paganism and early Christian communities in a vain effort to validate both.

And I’m even more wary of talking about spirituality in terms of its application – what it actually means to me, now. I have wandered pretty far afield of all but the most wacky of  Christians. Telling people that you channel Jesus as one of many ascended masters, that you can hear the Holy Spirit, that you believe (or want to believe) that your body and the world are effect and not cause, that you experience the world as a dream . . .

Well, it invites a bit of ridicule.

Yet being incongruent – being silent – is even worse. We limit ourselves when we parcel our energy up into little pockets. Poetry on this shelf, the Tarot cards on that one. Jesus here, Buddha there.

It’s like I’ve devoted my life to juggling and I don’t even like juggling. I’m not even particularly good at it.

Anyway, I have come around to thinking – and trying to put into practice – a conviction that you cannot peacefully or meaningfully keep the best parts of yourself to yourself. They are in you because they need to be shared – your identity lies in sharing them. If what you create – a poem, a blog post, a lesson plan – is created out of Love then it will find its way through the ether to those who need it.

Your job is to create, to extend. Period.

Or so I say. Or think. Or write anyway. I started this post very early in the morning and came into the basement after dinner – and maybe three thousand words into another project – to finish it.

The Undoist Speaks

When I first read A Course In Miracles, I felt I were home after a long and meandering trip that most of the time seemed to be going nowhere. Here at last was a spiritual practice at once mystical, intellectual and deeply practical. I sensed in it an off-ramp to my confusion, a chance to bring order to the chaos and uncertainty that otherwise characterized my life.

That was the door in. And, for quite a while, it was the long hallway, too. I followed it diligently, striving always to be sincere and disciplined. I knew, even if I was not quite sure how to articulate it, that I had stumbled upon my practice. I began to write publicly about both A Course in Miracles and what seemed like my spiritual insights. I was more ambitious than I was able to admit, and fixated on spirituality as a personal accomplishment to wield in the power dynamics of certain personal relationships.

I regret that; also, it’s important to be honest about that.

Each morning I read the text and did a single daily lesson. I made small notes next to key passages. Then, on the inside flap, I wrote the page numbers where I’d made notes.

It wasn’t long though before I realized that there were simply too many key passages. So I abandoned the process of checking in favor of underlining. If a sentence seemed to hold even a hint of wisdom, any jewel or nugget without which one would miss the whole, then I underlined it.

And so I went my study the way one does when they are convinced that they’re the smartest kid in the class. I was vigilant but not humble; and I talked and wrote a lot.

Until one day, exhausted from what I couldn’t precisely say, I stopped and asked myself what I was doing.

For me, hardest of all the ACIM lessons is perhaps this: it is about undoing, not doing. It is not about acquiring new ideas or sprucing up old ones. It is not about gaining some masterful understanding of obscure spiritual principles and laws. It is not about improving ourselves so that others will admire and even envy us.

Rather, the course aims to retrain our minds in order to remove the many blocks to love, which our natural inheritance (T-in.1:7).

I realized that my practice had been almost exclusively intellectual and even arrogant. On the one hand, this was understandable given my educational background and professional callings. After all, I am a writer and a teacher.

But on the other hand, my aggressive and expositive approach to the course material – as if it were a text to be deciphered, translated and then re-composed – was clearly an obstacle to its effective application. I certainly had a lot of new ideas. I found myself talking a lot more about A Course in Miracles and other spiritual paths. I was delighted with how articulate I was, how far-ranging my theology had become.

But – and this is where the true gift of the course becomes evident – I had to admit that I was no closer to God. No meaningful practice of forgiveness or lovingkindness had appeared in my life. I was the same old well-intentioned blowhard I had always been – talking the walk while making a big show of studying the maps.

And so I did what all devoted ACIM students must do from time to time: I renewed my commitment to learning from A Course in Miracles. I put the pen down and simply read. I tried to apply the lessons in a new way. When my brain wanted to analyze and create pithy ACIM-related quotes I could use to wow other students, I let the inclination pass.

Instead I asked: what is going on in this lesson? What am I being asked to learn? What am I being asked to forget? I wanted answers to those questions to become my new bellwether. I wanted to hear Jesus and the Holy Spirit, not the ego.

Because it was so hard – and because I seemed to be making precious little progress – I eventually broke down and in a very literal way asked the Holy Spirit to help me. If it wasn’t too much trouble, could I be led to a place of quiet and stillness? Could I be given a sign that I was doing something useful or helpful?

About a week later, sitting in the kitchen by the stove while water boiled for tea, I had a vision. The kitchen was empty so far as my physical eyes could see, but another pair of eyes clearly beheld Jesus sitting on the floor across from me, head on his knees, arms wrapped around himself, quietly sobbing.

I had no idea how to respond to that vision. It scared me, in part because I knew that I had somehow created it, or called it into being. I felt like somebody else had taken hold of my imagination and made something with it that I did not want to see, let alone engage with.

If it had been possible to leave that image of Jesus behind, I would have. But it stayed with me. It followed me through the day like a sad, hungry dog. It was there the next day, too. Nothing change in it: Jesus cried while I watched. I hated it and hated that I hated it, and wished that it would go away.

But it didn’t. And so at last, as I sat each morning in what continued to feel like half-assed efforts at prayer and meditation, I began to imagine trying to comfort Jesus. I imagined myself crossing the kitchen floor, sitting beside him, perhaps putting an arm over his shoulders.

It was a nice idea, but the thing was, in my imagination, I could never get more than halfway across the floor. Fear stopped me. And there wasn’t a whole lot of mystery as to why. I was afraid that when I offered consolation, Jesus would look up at and his eyes would be filled with accusation. Tears of sorrow and grief, yes, but also unstinting blame. It was a look that would say, You did this to me.

And I knew perfectly well what would follow from that. God was out there somewhere, close nearby, thinking, You’re going to pay. I’m going to make you pay for what you did to my son.

Even now I hate writing that! Hate seeing the words, hate the sad old story they represent. It is difficult to express how much disappointment and anguish that series of visions caused me. I did not want to accept that I lived in fear of Jesus and God. It was an abhorrent idea. It could not be mine – it had to belong to somebody else. Somebody who was weak, uneducated, uninformed, unsophisticated, living in denial . . .

And yet the truth could not – would not – be denied. That was me – that was where I stood in relation to God and to Jesus. Guilty and condemned and too scared to do anything about it.

And that became the beginning of my practice of A Course in Miracles, which continues to this day.

I gaze into the void of the belief that I am estranged from God and Jesus, that reconciliation is impossible, and even my death will not bring peace or closure. That’s a grim belief system and a gruesome interior horror show but facing it, however weakly, however hesitantly, became the cornerstone. It became, in its way, a good start.

This is what means to undo: to come to the realization that all we have taught ourselves and all that the world has taught us is not helpful. It is useless. It cannot bring us closer to God or to our brothers and sisters. It cannot foster the Happy Dream that precedes our union with Heaven.

The journey to love – the ascent to Grace, the ending of the separation – begins with letting go of all that we have accumulated. The mental baggage and psychological detritus must be abandoned, left by the side of the road, so that we might go on increasingly unencumbered, arms free to welcome our brothers and sisters, including Jesus.