I had a nice long talk once with an individual who teaches ACIM professionally. They were smart and committed, and had reflected a lot on their practice and comprehension of A Course in Miracles. I learned a lot.
Near the end, this individual advised me to stop following politics and to stop being politically active. The premise of politics was conflict which meant you had to choose sides. Therefore it was dualistic and incompatible with a nondual spiritual practice such as A Course in Miracles.
It was not the first time I heard some variation of that argument; nor was it the last. When conflict arises, course students often retreat to ideals of nondualism as a way of not looking closely at what is going on.
This is an understandable impulse, and I am not immune to it. It is hard to be in the midst of conflict without trying to solve it or get away from it, and it is also hard to look at the disagreeable material evoked by conflict.
Spiritualizing resistance and denial is always easier than getting our hands dirty.
The teacher who as telling me to turn away from politics was really saying two things. First, they were asking me to validate their experience by replicating it.
Second, they were tracking a thought process that went approximately like this:
a. Following politics and engaging in political action is stressful;
b. I don’t like stress;
c. Therefore stress is bad;
d. Therefore, stress isn’t spiritual;
e. I am spiritual so I can’t be stressed;
f. I need to remove politics from my experience, but I can’t admit to the stress because that undermines my sense of myself as spiritual;
g. Therefore, I’ll say politics is dualistic and incompatible with ACIM; so that
h. Turning away from politics is what authentic and correct ACIM students do.
This (torturous) logic mirrors in many ways a thought process I have indulged many times over the years. It is not unfamiliar; it is (somewhat) easily remedied.
Going forward, this post has two themes:
1. If X stresses you out, then stop doing X. “It stresses me out” is a perfectly fine reason to stop doing something; and
2. You can be political and a student of A Course in Miracles.
An interesting exercise is to sit quietly for an hour or so and give attention to what happens. Don’t worry about what happens; just notice it.
Now don’t notice it. Don’t have any experience. Just stop. Don’t get off the train, stop the train – and the tracks and the earth on which the tracks lie and the galaxy through which the earth spins, and . . .
You can’t do it. This is the most important thing I learned in the School of Giving Attention. Whatever we want to call it, however we want to explain it, whatever we want to do with it, there is something going on. Where “we” are, experience is.
There is this: this this. There is always this.
This – whatever it is – appears to include an almost infinite array of content. Every human being you meet looks different. That is such an amazing thing! And they wear different clothes! And they sound different! And walk differently! And some of them have dogs or babies or umbrellas or ice cream cones.
Better than any movie is to just sit quietly on a bench and watch the infinite variety of content stream by. And it works no matter where you sit: in the city, in the forest, in the chicken pen, the garden, a classroom, a mosque.
We can get very metaphysical and intellectual about this exercise – and from time to time I do – but that is not the point right now.
Right now the point is just to notice what is happening, and then to notice that – again, whatever it is, however it works – you can’t stop it.
You can’t stop it, but you can respond to it.
You can pat somebody’s dog, or compliment their hand bag, or buy them a bagel, or give them a big hug. You can write a poem or an essay, take a photograph, buy a book about phenomenology, go home and bake bread, or do yoga (street yoga!).
Or you can just keep sitting there.
Whatever you do will have an effect on the stream, but it won’t end the stream. You can make a little splash or a big splash but the stream keeps going.
It is important to see this.
This is a helpful insight because it teaches us that what we do is not as big a deal as we think. The stream – experience, God, Life or whatever – is not at stake in our choosing.
Therefore, if something stresses you out – Donald Trump, say, or wordy ACIM writers – then just walk away.
We are allowed to do that. It doesn’t make us more or less spiritual.
(Really, it’s not possible to be “more” or “less” spiritual. Those are meaningless qualifications. The stream doesn’t care about them – they are both just floating through it).
It follows then that if we are allowed to just walk away from something, then we can also walk towards it. From the perspective of the stream, does it matter?
So if we want to be political, then we get political. If we want to choose a political cause or candidate, then we choose one. If we want to be a nasty woman, or march with nasty women, then we get nasty. Choosing a political stand is not different than choosing not to take a stand.
Democrat vs. Republican
Politics vs. No politics
Nasty vs. Not nasty
We are still choosing, right?
Here is the thing. Part of this experience of experience that we talked about earlier includes choices. They are present. You can see them; you can experience them.
Again, put off the metaphysical dialogue (about free will, agency, discrete selves et cetera) for the time being. Let’s chill out with being smart or correct.
Instead, without a lot of drama or analysis, let’s just see the way that life includes this sense of being local to a body. Let’s just see the way that apparently localized life includes this capacity for response.
And let’s ask: what responses are helpful? That is literally the only question we need to ask and answer. If we can do anything, then what is the best something?
This post is already too long so I won’t keep going. I’ll just make this last observation: the best something – which helps us and helps others, which makes everyone softer and happier – is always the something that is loving. Kindness, patience, generosity, mercy, good humor . . .