Present Moment Awareness and A Course in Miracles

Generally we conflate inner peace with a good feeling – an ideal personal experience. It’s subjective, meaning it happens to us – it’s our experience of being. We have it.

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A lot of us know intellectually that’s an inaccurate representation, but underneath it remains a powerful belief. It’s part of the working algorithm of our self. We have the right map – we study it and preach on it every day – but we aren’t actually out in the territory.

This isn’t a crisis but it’s good to look into it. What do we know is true that we are still treating as relative or false?

A stable spiritual practice in the nondual tradition (of which A Course in Miracles is one example) does mean that a lot of the coming-and-going isn’t as distressful as it once was. We aren’t spiritual ping pong balls anymore, ricocheting this way and that in reaction to life “out there.”

But it is an error to believe that equanimity in the face of what changes is tantamount to inner peace. It’s more in the nature of a sign that we’re on the right trail. It isn’t an end in and of itself.

Inner peace has nothing to do with what appears and with what we perceive. It us unrelated to concepts like “inner” and “outer.” In fact, it is unrelated to that which has an opposite.

Really, even saying “inner peace” is effectively consenting to ongoing conflict.

Saint Paul’s phrasing – “a peace which surpasses understanding” – may be more helpful here because it implies that we aren’t going to get hold of peace in an intellectual way. It isn’t an object or a goal that we can pursue through study. It isn’t an idea that we can grasp or express in language.

What, if anything, do we do?

If we are students of A Course in Miracles, we might give particular attention to the so-called holy instant. The “holy instant” is just another way of saying “the present.” People have been writing and thinking and otherwise inquiring into the present moment – its dynamism, its transformational power – for thousands of years. It is part of our human heritage.

Ignoring – or overlooking or otherwise missing – the present is also part of our human heritage. Missing the present moment doesn’t seem to be a problem for trees or bears or stars. But our big brains have evolved in a way that we tend to see the parts and not the whole, and – critically – to believe that this fragmented mode of perception reflects Truth.

This error of perception enshrined in thought is literally the cause of all our conflict. We accept divisions where there aren’t any and then work very hard to defend – often in physically and psychologically violent ways – those divisions.

So a really good way of ending the conflict that inheres in our perception of separation as reality is to look into the present moment and see its wholeness and perfection.

In order to look clearly at the present – enacting present moment awareness, say – it can help to put aside our ideal of the intellect as a guide. In other words, don’t get hung up on whether the past is real or whether the future is real. In truth, those metaphysical dilemmas will take care of themselves. We don’t have to solve them.

All we want to do is look into the present moment and see what it is, how it works, what happens in it, what its effects are and so forth.

Take this very instant, now, and think of it as all there is of time. Nothing can reach you here out of the past, and it is here that you are completely absolved, completely free and wholly without condemnation (T-15.I.9:5-6).

That is a simple directive: take this very instant now and think of it as all there is to time. Can we do that? There is an implicit promise of peace in doing so.

This is not an intellectual exercise. It is an exercise of attention: can I look clearly at this moment and really see it?

One way to clarify this exercise is to try and not be in the present moment. If we are regretting the past or obsessing about the future, where and when is the regret and the obsession?

It is here. It is now.

If our attention wanders – into fantasy or memory – was the present moment impaired? We may have lost its beneficence, but we didn’t ruin it. When we are confused about the present moment – or ignoring the present moment – where but in the present does our confusion and ignorance occur?

When we see that we cannot help but be in the present moment, then it becomes easier to see it clearly. It’s this: just this: and this this. Indeed, “[T]he Holy Instant is this instant and every instant” (T-15.IV.1:4). Very simple, right? And yet, it’s so simple that our habitual overlooking constantly skims right past it.

So when we drift, we bring ourselves back. We don’t chastise ourselves. We just come back. We don’t analyze why we drifted. We just come back.

A practice that is grounded in the willingness to perceive the present moment as it is, without intellectual adornment or egoic investment, is a significant learning tool. It is in this attentiveness and awareness – in this holy instant – that we begin to see with practical clarity that a) we are not broken parts of a lovelier whole, and b) that we are not parts at all, and so c) there is nothing to fix or do.

Attention given to the holy instant naturally undoes the conceptual locks and chains that block us from perceiving Truth as Truth. This is what the course is getting at when it reminds us that “[O]ur task is but to continue, as fast as possible, the necessary process of looking straight at all the interference and seeing it exactly as it is” (T-15.IX.2:1).

Keep coming back to the present moment, and that which obscures the present moment, will lose its stranglehold. Healing – our “return” to Wholeness – is thereby facilitated.

In the holy instant the condition of love is met, for minds are joined without the body’s interference, and where there is communication there is peace . . . For communication embraces everything, and in the peace it reestablishes, love comes of itself (T-15.XI.7:1, 6).

Truly, there is only this one moment. In it, the Whole is given to us, including the ability to see beyond our perception of separate parts. Give attention to it. This is the only gift it asks, and the only one we give.


  1. When I was 25 — and I remember this distinctly — I woke up in the middle of the night and came awake to this feeling of complete and seemingly endless peace. It was permeated with something akin to joy but somehow richer. At that moment I thought quite clearly: “This is IT,” followed almost immediately by “I can die now.”

    I wasn’t following any spiritual path at the time. I was deeply in love and perhaps that had something to do with how open my heart happened to be. I have similar moments — sometimes out of nowhere — but none have lived and breathed in truth such as that one did.

    Obviously, I carry it with me and revisit it often. And I wonder if remembering this experience is an aid or a hindrance to opening to the present moment, where the peace that passes understanding may show up in a different way.

    Who knows?

    Thanks for these thoughtful writings on the Course, Sean. They always bring me back when I wander off. . . 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading and sharing, Cheryl.

      One of the things I continue to appreciate about ACIM is its insistence on relationship – that where we are with others, is where we are with God, so giving attention to others and to relationship is a form of giving attention to God. Where this gets tricky is the nearly inevitable confusion of self with body – our own and others – and the belief that relationship is at the level of the body, or simultaneously with the body and the mind, rather than simply the mind.

      Your remembrance is probably both a hindrance and an aid, depending on the contexts in which it variously appears. I have slowly accepted this about my own experiences – they are neither good nor bad, though my mood, circumstances, and so forth can make them seem one way or the other. And whichever way they “seem,” there seems to be some accompanying lesson.

      It’s almost like a vast show that exists only to distract me from noticing it’s a show.


      Chapter 15 – which I was reading while thinking about the ideas in this post and writing them – talks about how basically everything changes, but holiness doesn’t change. I am comforted by that.

      1. please explain your meme a little more deeply”it’s almost like a vast show that excists only to distract me from noticing its a show”.
        Are you implying that we are actors upon a stage?🙏

        1. Hi David,

          No, I am not thinking of actors on a stage, though I understand the helpfulness of that analogy. For me, it leaves intact the idea that we are separate entities so I steer away from it.

          I am suggesting that the whole perceptual panorama – including the gestalt of thought, feeling, logic, hope and dread et cetera that attends it – is a singular projection designed to hide from the one projecting that it IS merely a projection.

          Life is captivating! From stars to grains of sand, from a good meal to a good sneeze, from the death of a beloved dog to the joy of throwing a frisbee . . . Emily Dickinson poems, Robert Johnson songs, Max Ernst paintings . . . all of it is merely a projection. The intensity, complexity and expansiveness of it can HIDE the fact that it is, in the end, merely an illusion.

          I do not intend by the world “illusion” to denigrate anything. A mirage is not a real oasis but it IS a real mirage. The interesting thing is always that which does the projecting – mind, consciousness, the Godhead, whatever. Tracing the illusion back to its source is the real work (and language is only minimally helpful), because it is in that way that we discover what Jesus was getting at when he said “the Father and I are one.”

          The question is whether the analogy works, whether it is helpful in deepening the fundamental inquiry into reality, God, oneness, whatever. Ultimately, what we are looking at is prior to language, so all language can REALLY do is vaguely gesture but sometimes those gestures are fruitful, and allows us to move a little further up the stream.

          Notes in the direction of an answer! Thank you for reading and sharing, David. I appreciate it.


  2. Yes, I too find your writing and “take” on the course a very peaceful experience. I discovered your posting again over the holidays, and am quite happy and grateful to read them. This one ties great to the one that testified/illustrated only Whole is ever present. And though the show goes on, it does seem to start reinforcing “but hey, no matter, something here is never changing!”

  3. I’m on lesson 72 holding grievances is an attack on God’s plan for salvation. I found myself asking Holy Spirit about grievances and salvation, I found that the present and the now kept coming to me as an answer. This led me here, I appreciate your excellent article! I also appreciate the reminder that we need to be patient and kind to ourselves!


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