Called Home to the Holy Instant

Often I am outside before dawn. Light changes; the world wakes up. Chickens and horses, neighbors walking dogs, the traffic on Route Nine going east. When we are still and quiet, the world wakes up inside us. Thought slows and the mind extends far beyond the body, discovering it is already one with the horses, the hills, and the slowly brightening sky.

Over and over the Holy Spirit guides me back to what A Course in Miracles calls the “holy instant,” and which other traditions call the present, Brahman, Now, et cetera. In the holy instant, I realize again my fundamental unity with all Life. Division and conflict are illusions. There is only Love – impersonal and impartial, perfectly neutral, perfectly just.

This realization cannot be forgotten. It can be ignored and defied but it can never be forgotten. It lives in all of us, a faint spark with a divine mandate of conflagration. We cannot make Truth untrue.

I knew God all the time as a child. God was everywhere in all things – the rough tongues of calves, buttercups in the meadow, sunlight on quartz after it rained. The world was not separate from me and I was not separate from life. It was holy in a way that required no defense or explanation. Like a creation of God that knows it cannot leave the Mind of its Creator, I lived without guilt or fear. My innocence was perfect freedom.

This is a projection, of course! Yet like all projections it contains a kernel of truth which must not be disowned. I did know God, and this knowing began to erode around the time my “I” began to distinguish itself. Two? Three? I know it accelerated a lot around age four. Suddenly I was a body, suddenly there was a world in which that body – and other bodies that it loved – was not always safe. Life was divided and set against itself. There was nothing to be done. And the Newsweek covers, which my father read religiously, made clear that it was only going to get worse.

This happens to all of us. It is a human story, echoing in all the other stories we tell and sing. The long journey home, the snake in the garden, the help we are condemned to mistake and crucify. But “I” is not a crime against God or Nature. It’s not even unnnatural, in and of itself.

Rather, our belief in it – which is our acceptance of it as our identity (what ACIM calls “a tiny mad idea”) – is an error that can be corrected. For me, the desire that it be corrected was eclipsed by a fear of what would happen if I so much as tried to correct it.

Coming to terms with that took years. Years. It took facing down fear – of you, your body, your God, and my inability to control any of it. It took facing down the nihilism of seeing there was way no way out on the ego’s terms. I had to learn it good enough to teach it. It was not easy. It still isn’t.

I mentioned being outdoors. Dawn can become too easy so sometimes I go out at night. We live in a New England village but it’s not hard to reach the forest. Ten minutes, a couple of benign trespasses and I disappear from the world of people and their seemingly endless problems. I become one with the moon and stars, with owls and bats, and one with late fall wind keening in the pines.

The practice is to give attention to the Holy Spirit. To consent to be guided by the Holy Spirit to the holy instant, where self dissolves, taking with it our strange religion of having problems.

For most of us, awakening is not a lightning bolt but something gentler and more sustainable. You know how you wade into the sea, then lean forward diving into it? Like that. “Waking up” in the softest, sweetest – in the easiest – sense of the word.

We dream that reality is a dream. But reality is not a dream. It’s this: this this.

If you say this little essay is just words, I agree! It is just words. But words aren’t useless. I can’t eat the word “food” but I can use it find something I can eat. We cannot undo thought with more thought. But thought can learn to look at itself, inquire into itself, ask how it is generated and how it sustains itself.

Thought can ask – and live the answer to – the question: who or what is behind all this? Beyond the contents of thought, beyond the movement generating that content is . . . what?

The answer to this question is not another thought but an experience: like (while not at all like) how dawn slowly reveals a world that had been hidden in shadows and darkness. It’s not supernatural and it’s not special. In it, an owl is a bird, not a messenger sent by God to tell us a secret.

The secret – such as it is – is that this is okay. It really is. When we stop insisting on specialness, holiness is revealed.

It took a long time to become lost, and yet it takes no time at all to be found. The Holy Spirit endlessly reminds us what we are in Truth by asking us to offer to the world only what we want to receive. Hence the suggestion “give attention.” Rest in the body in the world. Fight nothing; resist nothing.

Whether dawn or midnight, I always hear the river. I live a few stone’s throws from the middle branch of the Westfield River. During the day the world is too loud to hear it, but at dawn and at midnight, you hear its continual murmur, hymn-like and clear. You understand what Heraclitus meant when he said nobody steps in the same river twice because it’s never the same river and never the same person.

And yet.

Beyond the ever-shifting nature of reality is that which does not change for it is that to which the river appears, and without which the river cannot be said to exist. You are that. You were always that. Its name is your name, its essence is your essence, and its truth your truth. I invite you to remember this: to discover it for yourself; I remind you that you are allowed to be happy, to know peace, and to be one with Creation.

Indeed, I remind you that you cannot be other than unified in and with Creation, and that this unity is happiness and peace. Together we make it so.

Awakening to Truth through A Course in Miracles

Truth needs no interpretation, because it needs no defense (T-17.IV.10:2). It is one without another, perfect in its simplicity (T-26.III.1:8).

That’s the suggestion A Course in Miracles makes. In truth there is no choice, because there is nothing to choose between (T-26.III.1:10). Thus there is no conflict anywhere in the system. That’s not the way we live right now – eternally happy and always at peace. But it was once, and it will be again.

That, too, is a suggestion the Course makes.

For now, ensconced in bodies beholden to a world in which uncertainty is the law and the death the certain end, what the truth is is not really our concern. It’s like we want to travel to Boston but the car is broken. First we have to fix the car, or find another way to travel. Boston will be there.

In A Course in Miracles, the “way to travel” has to do with the interior guidance we follow for our living. We have two choices – the Holy Spirit and ego. The Course teaches us how to clearly discern between them and, based on that discernment, to make a decision to listen to one and not the other, so as to no longer be conflicted and torn.

Ego and the Holy Spirit have profoundly different teaching styles which produce very different outcomes. We are always listening to one or the other, and with a little practice, can notice their effects instantaneously. The Holy Spirit produces awareness of a calm and sustainable happiness that naturally gives itself away. It is in us but not of us (M-4.I.1:5).

The ego produces both possessiveness and defensiveness, always with a barely-manageable intensity. Happiness is a fleeting feeling we pursue and cling to, not a thing we are and thus effortlessly extend.

Both the Holy Spirit and the ego are in the human mind as ways of interpreting and understanding what we perceive. Both are telling a story. Both are familiar but ego tends to be the one to which we most readily give attention. We have been conditioned by family and culture to take its teaching literally for a thousand lifetimes. It adds up.

The ego interprets against truth, distorting it to make competition and conflict seem reasonable and inevitable. The world is full of clashing interests and agendas; as bodies we are vulnerable; if we don’t look out for number one who will?

And then, having sold us that bridge, the ego comes up with all kinds of ideas about how to look out for our selves, not a single one of which ever involves seeing the falsehood of the underlying construct, which is the separated, alienated self which is itself an illusion.

The Holy Spirit also interprets, but always in favor of truth. It knows we are not ready for a direct experience of Love, so it facilitates a happier and happier dream. Where once we suffered alone, now we share and celebrate. The Holy Spirit understands what illusions are but, rather than resist them, it uses them to teach us how to see beyond illusion, and thus to become increasingly open to truth.

So our ACIM practice in many ways is simply to look in a deep and sustained way at our thoughts – at the patterns in our thinking – and notice how thought functions. Can we see when we are projecting? Can we see how bias subtly arises to shade our view?

This has to do not with the content of thought but with its function – the way that thought works. That is what we want to see, and that is what the Holy Spirit will gently undo. The specific projection is never the problem; it’s the inclination to project at all that is the problem. And so that is what needs to be healed.

And as we do this, in time, we slowly awaken. The sleep of forgetfulness ends, one miracle at a time. We begin to perceive in harmony with truth because our minds are no longer held captive by ego, entranced by its deception and manipulation. We go slower and judge less; we are less attached to particular outcomes because we trust God. We know that all things work together for good (e.g., M-4.I.1:4). Acceptance, not understanding, is required.

There is a lot of happiness in this way of living. The happy dream is no joke. Nor is the happy dream static or one-off. It becomes happier and happier as we open more and more to the Love and understanding that is our natural state of being in creation.

We do not have to protect the truth. We do not have to seek, study or contemplate oneness. We simply have to give attention to the Holy Spirit, following its lead, and learning from its reliability, that our faith in God is not misplaced, and can only lead to an ever-deeper experience of joy and peace.

Walking Away from Golgotha

A Course in Miracles uses crucifixion as a symbol of the separation which occurs routinely in our living as the sense of being unfairly attacked. It’s an abstraction with consequences to which we can respond with love.

Crucifixion symbolizes the attempt to combine attack and innocence (T-27.I.1:1). There is the one who does the crucifying – the attacker, the victimizer, the evil one, i.e. you – and there is the innocent one being crucified, being victimized, i.e., me.

You’re the Roman soldier with a hammer, and I’m Jesus laying down on splintered wood.

The thing is, the desire to be crucified – to suffer and sacrifice – is not separate from the desire to crucify. You can’t have the one without the other. When I feel victimized – misunderstood, neglected, wronged, whatever – then by definition I have brought forth the one who victimizes. I make my brother an enemy, a crucifier which – wait for it – means I have crucified him.

There is – thank Christ there is – another way.

The suggestion the Course makes – the healing it offers – is that this view of crucifixion reflects a deep confusion about what we are in truth, what our brothers and sisters are in truth and, critically, what God is.

You cannot sacrifice yourself alone. For sacrifice is total. If it would occur at all it would entail the whole of God’s creation, and the Father with the sacrifice of His beloved Son (T-27.I.1:7-8).

When I perceive myself as victimized I am actually victimizing you. I feel righteous in this – how could I not? I am the Christ and you are the murderer of Christ. In this way, I make myself the sign that you have lost your innocence; you need only look at me to be reminded of your condemnation (T-27.I.2:3).

Do we really believe God thinks that way? Or would condone behavior that reflects thinking that way?

When we realize the answer is “no,” and then commit to thinking differently – to thinking as God thinks, which is to consent to be reminded that our will and God’s Will are not separate but perfectly aligned – then healing begins. We remember our shared innocence.

Wish not to make yourself a living symbol of [your brother or sister’s] guilt, for you will not escape the death you made for him. But in his innocence you find your own (T-27.I.1.2:6-7).

When I free you from responsibility for my suffering, then I naturally witness to your innocence. And here is the thing: when I witness unto yours, I also witness unto mine. Just as sacrifice is total, so is salvation. Only innocence recognizes innocence. We are liberated as one because we are one.

The world cannot be saved by attack. You and I cannot be saved by attack. Our innocence can only be remembered – brought to mind – when we lay down our weapons, release our ideas about just war and righteous conflict, and meet one another in the space which arises when attack is no longer viable.

This is hard to do. It requires that we be intentionally vulnerable; it requires that we be radical; it requires that we accept, literally, that our only function is to “love in a loveless place” (T-14.IV.4:10).

It requires that we enter into a sustained committed – indeed, a monogamous – relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Leave all decisions to the One Who speaks for God, and for your function as He knows it. So will He teach you to remove the awful burden you have laid upon yourself by loving not the Son of God, and trying to teach him guilt instead of love. Give up this frantic and insane attempt that cheats you of the joy of living with your God and Father, and of waking gladly to His Love and Holiness that join together as the truth in you, making you one with Him (T-14.IV.5:4-6).

Today, let us be neither the one with the hammer nor the one on the cross. Let us walk away from Golgotha together, hand-in-hand, to remind our brothers and sisters of our freedom and our peace. What other function could possibly be worthy of us?

Personal Statement re: ACIM

I began to study A Course in Miracles at the end of a long spiritual drought. I had walked away from the Catholic church forever, ending a decades-long relationship that had shaped and guided all my fundamental belief systems. It was a big deal.

happy place

I’d known about the Course – had flirted with it a couple times, made fun of it now and then – but the third time I picked it up, I was in crisis and it was somehow clear that this strange book was – for better or worse – the help that was being given. I gave myself to it accordingly.

A Course in Miracles was familiar but alien, attractive but oddly conservative, and more confusing than not, but I came to it with the fervor of a drowning man grasping at driftwood. I was lost and scared, lonesome and depressed. ACIM was the unexpected – and not always desired – solution.

A couple things happened. The first was that around lessons 79 and 80 I had a traumatic but not unhelpful spiritual insight. In the woods with the dogs at 4 a.m., moonlight striating snowy pines, I saw clearly that the God I’d been worshiping was basically the cruel and judgmental one Jonathan Edwards identified in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. I was intellectually ashamed and spiritually devastated. The God of Love to which the Course referred did not exist anywhere in my cosmology or theology. How could that have happened?

The second thing that happened was that I discovered the work of Tara Singh. Each sentence and line illuminated my mind. The clarity of his thinking, the intensity of his devotion, the rigor of his practice . . . It changed my relationship to the Course forever. Any remaining hint of a New Age, Oprahesque psychological vanity project was utterly dissolved.

That first year, those two events, and that first round of lessons . . . I did not look back. I have been a slow and self-willed learner, yes, but I have not turned back. I have not refused to hear.

I do not profess any expertise with the Course, save a certain stubborness and devotion. It is my path; there is no other. A Course in Miracles offers me the possibility of transformation at the level of the mind. It undoes what is personal and thus painful, ever shifting the psychological trendline away from fear and towards Love. It restores to awareness the truth that what I am is not separate from Creation, and that the erroneous belief otherwise produces all conflict.

I have no other word for this but healing. It is the other way to which Bill Thetford alluded, inaugurating Helen’s years-long writing project, through which – at long last – I came in a practical and radically helpful way to Jesus. I remembered my function.

All conflict is internal, and the solution is always to become nonviolent. Nonviolence means to cease resistance of every kind. It is to let go of everything that makes attack and defense feel necessary, rational, justified, valuable et cetera. When we become nonviolent, we create openings in our lives and the world through which Love passes, gently restoring us to a sustainable and non-dramatic happiness that is easy to give away. Giving it away is what it is.

The commitment to living nonviolently forces you into a sustained relationship with the holy instant. It asks that you give everything to God, without qualification or condition. The joy is all-encompassing. Nothing in my life prepared me for what would happen when I decided to take A Course in Miracles seriously, and to consent to whatever transformation it brought forth.

Healing is collaborative. It cannot be done alone. It occurs in relationship. Every relationship is a question: will you rest in the Holy Spirit’s judgment of you, which is God’s judgment, or will you struggle yet another day – yet another hour, yet another minute – in the ego’s judgment of you?

The Holy Spirit sees us as totally innocent and teaches us how to remember our innocence by helping others become happy, joyous and free. The Holy Spirit frees us to create as God creates. It teaches us that we are each a Guest at the Altar of Life, and that our sole function is to respond to the cries for love that we hear there.

The Holy Spirit guides us toward a life of service unto our brothers and sisters, which both begins and ends with self-love. God has one Child, not many, and that child has one function: to remember her own innocence by discovering in it in everyone else.

The ego sees us as always at risk of loss, always called upon to sacrifice, and without recourse of any kind save attack and defense. It demands that we compete with others for scarce-and-getting-scarcer resources rather than cooperate with them. It demands that we ignore their cries for help rather than communicate and respond to those cries with love and mercy.

The spiritual path to which A Course in Miracles calls us is a collaborative study and practice. We collaborate with all Creation, with all Life, and we do not fear the limits that the body seems to impose on us. We accept them happily as opportunities to share with our brothers and sisters the joyful news that the sleep of forgetfulness is but a dream from which we can easily awaken.

It is possible to be naturally, deeply and seriously happy. We can be at peace with all life, and our living can be informed by a radiant coherence that is in us but not of us. All we have to is give up the fight against ourselves.

Again, I share with you – in writing, in dialogue, one to one, and so forth – not because I have anything special to say or offer, but because it is only with you that I remember I am not special, and so together we can rest – however briefly – in holiness. Even a minute is enough.

Thank you, always, for sharing this path with me.

Searching for God Correctly

A Course in Miracles teaches us that our lonely journey in search of God will fail because it excludes that which it would find (T-14.X.10:7).

It is impossible to remember God in secret and alone. For remembering Him means you are not alone, and are willing to remember it (T-14.X.10:1-2).

The search for God has many names – it is simultaneously a quest for peace, for meaning, for comfort, for order, for grace, for aid, for an end to suffering and pain. It is, in the deepest sense, a longing to be loved and, especially, to know we are loved, to trust we are loved.

Ego interprets this longing in terms of form. The “form” of A Course in Miracles, or the “form” of church, or the “form” of a therapist, or the “form” of a lover, or the “form” of yoga. The form becomes of the object of pursuit; the form becomes all that matters.

To the ego, if the form is acceptable the content must be. Otherwise it will attack the form (T-14.X.8:2-3).

If our spiritual practice can be affected by a shift in form – the church burns down, the text is misplaced, our lover leaves us – then it is not a spiritual practice of healing but rather an active ongoing denial of our responsibility to accept and extend miracles. This is a hard truth that we all have to face at some point. Facing it is what drives us to accept the Holy Spirit and its holy alternative.

The Holy Spirit translates the form of our lived experience (which includes our addiction to form) into relationships, all of which are the same because they are all simply opportunities to remember love by receiving love and to receive love by offering love. This simplicity accelerates healing by making clear that all life is a simultaneously a cry for love and a response to that cry (T-14.X.7:1).

A lot rests on “simulteously.”

When we live this way, then the form our living takes recedes in importance. Eventually it disappears. We accept our role as miracle-workers by accepting our need for miracles. Our one need is for love and our sole function is to join with our brothers and sisters in order to remember love.

Everyone seeks for love as you do, but knows it not unless he joins with you in seeking it. If you undertake the search together, you bring with you a light so powerful that what you see is given meaning (T-14.X.10:5-6).

A Course in Miracles is a course in learning what we are in truth. It undoes the false identity endorsed by the ego and restores to awareness the holiness of all Creation, which is holy because we are not apart from it.

In practice, the Course is an invitation to reframe our lives. We are not really husbands, daughters, lawyers, or alcoholics. We are not really democrats or republicans, or Athenians or Spartans. We are brothers and sisters remembering that our Father in Heaven loves us. This remembering is active; it is our calling and our function. We are participants in it; our cooperation matters.

Where there is love, your brother must give it to you because of what it is. But where there is a call for love, you must give it because of what you are (T-14.X.12:2-3).

This is but another way of saying that nothing real can be threatened, and nothing unreal exists (T-in.2:2-3).

Therefore, in a nontrivial way, we can set aside the grand search for God – whatever name we have given it, however personal we take it, whatever secret goal it contains – and instead tend to our brothers and sisters. It is possible for us to welcome them home, one and all, without exception, and to allow them in turn to give us welcome.

Truly, there is nothing else to do anymore, and only we can do it.

The Thirty-Fifth Principle of A Course in Miracles

Miracles are expressions of love, but they may not always have observable effects (T-1.I.35:1).

Most traditional understandings of miracles imply observable effects that are usually supernatural. Or at least spectacular enough that nobody could possibly call them ordinary. Jesus walking on water, say, or turning water into wine. Closer to home, we win the lottery or the cancer goes into remission.

But A Course in Miracles teaches us that miracles are shifts in perception away from fear and towards love, which in turn reflect a shift in our psychological – our mental and emotional – orientation that brings us closer to our true self, the one that God created as an extension of His innocence and perfection.

That transformative shift does not always mean that we can “see” it or otherwise take note of it with the body’s senses. Its effects may fall well outside the body’s capacity for noticing. Love is not merely an emotion – nor some prescribed ritual of behavior – but is rather the very ground of our identity, our being How do you “see” seeing? How do you “see” attention?

The changes that are induced by the miracle occur at the level of the mind. While they may have effects in the external world, those effects might be judged negligible. They might even not appear. For example, say we forgive a brother we long considered too greedy or aggressive. Maybe on some occasions we believe we were victimized by their actions. Our behavior is always polite and efficient but our feelings were often hurt. We meant well but the truth was, guilt and fear were the authors of the relationship.

The miracle intervenes on this by allowing us to see our role in the relationship clearly. It allows us to be responsible without feeling guilty. It’s not a performance for our parents or the priest or the therapist. This ACIM practice of forgiveness liberates our brother from that judgment – because, having taken responsibility, we no longer need to project the guilt and fear.

Nothing has necessarily changed externally but internally everything has changed. We aren’t angry anymore. We aren’t hurt. We aren’t running from our lives anymore.

The change is meaningful in our experience – it makes us happy by inducing peace – but this does not automatically mean that it will lead to observable changes in our external situation or in the behavior of the various people with whom we are in relationship. But we don’t need it to. We practice forgiveness and we allow the situation to evolve as it evolves. God’s will, not our will.

ACIM’s emphasis on internal change reflects its overall teaching that the external world is a reflection of our internal state. Therefore, the primary goal is not to change the world, but to change our perception of it. This is why miracles can still be effective even though they do not appear to change the world in any way.

A true miracle transforms perception, which is what forgiveness is, and thus leads to our increased awareness of the Cause for peace and happiness. Our resistance to this Cause dissolves, even if only a little. Our practice is devoted to this change of mind, independent of the world “out there.” That might change and it might not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the shift in our interior away from fear and towards love.