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Reading the Rules for Decision: Catching Snowflakes on your Tongue

I’m working my way through a close reading of Rules for Decision. Yesterday’s post mused on the relationship between new beginnings and the rules. Today I’m wandering just a few sentences in, thinking about how utterly uncompromising A Course in Miracles is when it urges us to leave the decisions to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Thanks for reading. 

The first time I read Rules for Decision, I got sort of obsessed with its promise that there was a way I could have the day I wanted. Greed entered. I wanted a day when my students stood up and cheered when I walked in the classroom. I wanted a day when strangers would hand me fifty dollar bills and thank me for the radiant Christ-like glow that emanated from my being. I wanted to leave my little house in the morning and come back at dusk to a mansion.

In a lot of ways, my early approach to A Course in Miracles was like that. It was in the nature of horse trading. I was always asking “what’s in it for me?” I figured I’d do the lessons, give the Course a certain amount of attention and in return God would deliver a grandiose and enviable life, as if Heaven were a package you could wrap and Jesus the divine equivalent of the Fedex guy.

If that sounds familiar, don’t worry about it. Wanting salvation on our own terms is part of being human. Very few of us get to skip that particular issue. In a lot of ways, it’s just that challenge for which Rules for Decision is directed.

The decision to see ourselves as bodies and act accordingly causes us a lot of unhappiness. In general, we associate bodies both with ultimately insatiable desire (appetites for food and sex and comfort and so on) and weakness (they hurt, grow decrepit and die). And we associate the world through which they stagger with scarcity and loss. We can’t both eat the same slice of apple pie.

In that light, a lasting joy and peace are impossible. We can scrap a little bit of happiness here and there, and we do, certainly, but we all know that it won’t last. We all know what’s coming. And really, that’s the whole point. The ego survives by keeping us tethered to the physical and the external. It throws us bones and feigns friendship even as it condemns us to misery and hopelessness.

What is particularly vicious about the ego and its condemnation is the false hope that we can get away from it. It’s Orwellian, really. In Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, the government holds lotteries that few – if any – people actually win. Yet the shred of hope that they someday might keeps them from rebelling or looking for hope and meaning elsewhere. They are pacified by scraps.

That’s the ego’s m.o. too. We think we can beat it with a bigger house. We think we can beat it with formal religion. We think we can beat it with a diet, with meditation, with the right yoga teacher. We think we can outsmart it.

But any plan that accepts the ego’s premise that the world and bodies are real is doomed. The way out – as Rules for Decisions cheerfully observes – is to heed Jesus’ instruction and surrender our decision-making power to the Holy Spirit.

The outlook starts with this: Today I will make no decisions by myself (T-30.I.2:1-2).

Easy enough, right? We know the Holy Spirit is there to handle the decision-making for us. We know that Jesus is ready to point the way and model the path and even hold our hand if necessary. What could be more simple?

The thing is, there are two aspects to this making-no-decision-by-myself thing. The first – and I think for many of us, the easier – is in checking our responses to situations as they arise.

So, for example, we get a flat tire while driving home and as soon as we step outside to fix it the Heavens open and a cold rain starts falling and then when we get a look at the spare tire we see that it’s flat too.

And we think: this is a crappy situation but you know what? I’m not going to freak out. I’m going to let Jesus decide for me. I’m going to ask the Holy Spirit what to do and then do it. I’m not the boss; they are.

There is a lot to be said for that sort of response. Refusing to respond to negative external situations before checking in with our internal teacher, our inner guide, is very important. It can head off a lot of guilt. Indeed, Rules for Decision is clear that we are supposed to do precisely this.


There is another level to that process and – at least for me – it is the harder. Not only am I to refrain from judging what my response should be to a given situation, I’m also not supposed to judge the situation. So in that flat tire scenario, I’d never get around to deciding “this is a crappy situation.” I wouldn’t judge it all.

Do you see the difference? In one scenario, we say life sucks but I’m turning to Jesus. In the other, we say I have no idea whether this situation is good or bad so I’m just going to let Jesus handle it. He’ll tell me what, if anything, I should do.

Our resignation as decision-maker has to be total. We’re not hiring someone to help us make decisions. We’re handing over the reins entirely, holding nothing back.

This means that you are choosing not to be the judge of what to do. But it must also mean you will not judge the situations where you will be called to make response (T-30.I.2:3-4).

And that distinction really matters. When we decide that a certain set of circumstances is bad, then we have effectively decided what the solution ought to be. If I say the flat tire is bad, then the solution is fixing the tire. If I say the rain is bad, then the solution is an umbrella or better yet a sunny intervention. And then when those things don’t show up, I get angry because God is letting me down.

And all the while, that is not how God sees it. The problem is not what I set up, but that I bothered to set at all. Jesus says in the text that when we judge our lives in advance this way, we

have set the rules for how you should react to them. And then another answer cannot but produce confusion and uncertainty and fear (T-30.I.2:5-6).

So this is the reason that we are so unhappy right now. This is why we can’t seem to ever break free of pain and sorrow. This is why we always fall back to pain and anguish.

You still make up your mind, and then decide to ask what you should do. And what you hear may not resolve the problem as you saw it first. This leads to fear because it contradicts what you perceive and so you feel attacked (T-30.I.3:2-4).

Thus, we have to engage decision-making at two levels. First – importantly – we have to refuse to judge what is happening in our lives. Divorce, job loss, too much snow, a headache, tulips that won’t grow, not enough time to ourselves – whatever it is, we have to leave it to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We have to accept that we don’t whether the situation is good or bad. We have to refrain from seeing it in that light.

That’s hard! It feels very natural to judge our lives this way. And we – or I anyway – can be quite stubborn about giving it up. You know, we have the flu and we spend a couple of hours retching and vomiting and we’re supposed to pretend that we don’t know whether it’s good or bad?

So we say, “Newsflash Jesus. The flu is bad. And you know what else is bad? Cancer. School shootings. Tsunamis.”

Doesn’t that sound logical? Reasonable? I felt righteous just putting it down.

And yet the Course doesn’t equivocate. Jesus doesn’t say, “okay, sure. We’ll carve out a few exceptions. You get to decide what’s good and bad in terms of physical illness, but the rest is off limits.”

It’s all off limits. We aren’t supposed to judge any of it. And it’s only when we don’t judge it, that we learn what, if anything, we’re supposed to do in response.

I’m not saying that if you get a diagnosis of cancer, you should do back flips. Or refuse treatment or something like that. But I am also not suggesting that you smother yourself with ashes and wail in lamentation. As hard as it is, if we can let it go just the tiniest bit, we start to see that life is not about us. It’s bigger and it’s more beautiful and it’s also more certain.

For example, when I teach, I often slip into the space of thinking I’m the sole judge of what is working or not working in the classroom. Some days I walk out with my head hanging, thinking, “well that sucked. They didn’t get the point I was trying to make. What a waste.”

And then an hour later, some student will come by and thank me for teaching the way I did because they really needed to hear such-and-such. Or whatever. And I remember: oh right. It’s not all about me. I don’t really know what it’s about. That’s why I’m such a terrible judge.

And if it’s not all about me – and if I know I’m terribly at making decisions- then maybe it’s okay to chill out on trying to decide what’s good and what’s bad and what’s helpful and what’s not. Maybe I can relax. Maybe Jesus really does have everything under control.

In the end, it becomes a question of trust. Perhaps that what it always comes down to. When I trust that I don’t have to decide where we’re going, decide what route to take, decide when to go, and even drive the bus . . . well, life gets simpler. Even though I don’t do this perfectly yet, I can assure you that not making decisions by yourself – by letting Jesus and the Holy Spirit make them for you – is vastly relieving. You wouldn’t believe how funny and easy and lovely life can be when you realize you’re not the boss of it.

And once we’re there, then it’s relatively easy to just accept instruction as to what we’re required to do. You learn that you don’t have to do as much as you thought. A lot of life goes on just fine without our intervention. And the things that the Holy Spirit asks of us – the response to a given situation – is always easy and natural. There’s not a lot of effort involved.

Indeed, this waking up thing – this not making decisions on our thing – can actually be playful. It can even be fun. In a way, it’s like catching snowflakes on your tongue. All you have to do is open your mouth.

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Aleta February 28, 2013, 12:13 pm

    I love these Rules for Decision entries you are doing, Sean. I need to be reminded SO much not to try to take control but to trust! To be mentally still and trust that the answer will come. Thanks again, Sean!

    • Sean Reagan March 3, 2013, 7:43 pm

      Thanks Aleta – I appreciate the feedback. And yes, I so hear you on the trust thing. It’s hard! But then what else can we do but keep trying? I feel like I’m done going back, trying new paths, and all that. This is it!

      I hope the quilt-making is going well!


  • sally February 28, 2013, 12:55 pm

    Dear brother-teacher, Regarding T.30.I, thanks for the chuckles leading up to the ‘filet mignon’ that was stressful for my ego at bedtime, recognizing that I have run on automatic most of my life. And my greatest fear and frustration last night, was in any seeming emergency my ‘automatic response’ turns on in a split second, and I don’t have any chance to Ask first. Then i came to your paragraph beginning with “It’s all off limits….and when I came to “….and it’s only when we DON’T judge it, that we learn what, if anything, we’re to do in response.” I realized that with the changes that I recognize in me lately, and all the reasoning you gave us in the remaining part of the Post, I WILL to learn to obtain this great sense of being relieved of being in charge of everthing, that truly does weigh heavily over time. (Oh I forgot to say,upon rising this a.m., at my desk, JUST before reading your Post, my phone rang. It was my computer illiterate adult son asking me go on line and fill out a Police Report for his car break into and robbery last night……. 🙂 Yes, Jesus is my only Teacher and I am so grateful his brother Sean, is in my daily life helping out in these much appreciated ways. LUV sally

    • Sean Reagan March 3, 2013, 7:42 pm

      Yes! I hear that, Sally. The you-know-what hits the fan and I’m five minutes – or more like an hour – into the crisis before I remember to ask for help. But I think we are getting better, you and I. We are following a teacher that isn’t going to abandon us and has infinite patience. Thank you so much, Sally. I hope all is well with your son and all your family.


  • Eric G. February 28, 2013, 1:08 pm

    Hey Sean,

    Rules for Decision is also one of my favorite sections of the course. It is really where we can apply what the course says on a day to day basis. Yet, I often find myself falling short of this. Thankfully there is also the section, “Choose Once Again” to help us/me.

    Another section I like that ties into “Rules for Decision” is the section “Setting the Goal”, which I think is called “Practical Forgiveness”, in the Original Edition. I find these two tie in nicely together. One giving an abstract idea of the Holy Spirit’s use of goal and the other with the more concrete application of doing so.

    One of my other favorite sections is the one on specialness. I love all the chapters in this section.


    • Sean Reagan March 3, 2013, 7:40 pm

      Thanks, Eric. Picking a favorite section of the Course is like trying to pick my favorite Dylan song (or Emily Dickinson poem, maybe). There’s just too much goodness to choose from!

      I hear you on how those sections link up together. One of the things that’s most impressive to me – and helpful, really – about the Course is how consistent it is. Ken Wapnick often compares it to a symphony – with themes coming up over and over in greater degrees of complexity. It really has a very beautiful, interwoven sort of fabric feel to it. We’ve talked a bit about the whole channeled text thing – I think that’s one of the aspects of ACIM that really testifies to the holiness of its Source. I know we often get lost in its abstraction, but it is actually a remarkably straightforward and consistent text.

      Thanks again for reading, Eric – hope all is well.


  • Jeanne March 1, 2013, 1:21 am

    Sean, I love the rules for decision. Your post comes at a good time for me, as usual. I used to apply those rules and my life was like magic. Then I stopped. My business got too busy and I forgot to apply them until I was sinking in them. So you are reminding me to put this in place again. And for that, I thank you!

    When I was applying the rules, I paid attention to my body (communication device) and it gave me the hint that I had made a decision by myself. Initially, I realized it many minutes or hours or days later. Bummer! But as I got better, I’d get butterflies when something “bad” happened and noticed them right away (within seconds). I used those butterflies to help me to realize that I had made a decision. Then I would tell my stomach to calm itself. Once I was calmed down, (and this came quickly), then you’d see me wagging my finger in the air telling God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit that they promised to make these decisions for me. And I would relinquish my judgement to them, understanding that I had no idea what this situation meant.

    Every single time that I asked them to resolve my “dilemma”, the situation would turn out well. That is 100% of the time. I guess my point is that when we have really perfected this, then we will remember to allow Jesus/Holy Spirit to make a decision for us before we have judged it one way or the other. But there is also value in realizing that you did make a judgement, as soon as you can, so that you can decide that you really didn’t/don’t know what was/is happening and then, allow Jesus/Holy Spirit to decide for you.

    But I feel that it is extremely important that you calm yourself while turning it over to Jesus and then you have to let it go. Get on with listening to some nice music or paying attention to the beautiful sky. I believe that the reason you must calm yourself is, if you do not then you are still judging. The same point for letting it go, if you are dwelling, you must be fearful/happy/whatever, and therefore judging it. But if you are calm and you released it, then you are in a neutral state (for lack of a better description) and you are telling the universe that all is well. Just my two cents worth.

    • Sean Reagan March 3, 2013, 7:35 pm

      You’re welcome Jeanne. I’m glad it’s helpful. It’s nice when our lives feel magical, isn’t it?

      Yes, I agree with you – there are lots of clues in our daily lives to tell us who’s helping us make our decisions. I tend to notice those moments when I am a state of resistance – I don’t have time to reflect or pray. I don’t want to be reminded that I have a spiritual practice. Whatever. I see that resistance and I remember: this means you’re working with the ego. So yeah – paying attention to the signs – in our heads, our bodies, whatever – is very helpful. That’s how it works.

      Thanks, Jeanne!

  • Bet Carbery May 1, 2013, 6:48 am

    Hello Sean

    I can see how handing over big decisions is beneficial. I’ve got a couple of bigguns in my life and it’s a great relief to hand them over and, in the meantime, in the knowledge that there will be a resolution in the best interests of everyone, I can be at peace. I have to constantly remind myself that is all I need do but it’s not so difficult because I know I do not know what to do.
    However, what about all the small, even tiny, decisions we make minute by minute? Like what book to read, phoning someone, booking a holiday, applying for a job etc, etc. Do we just hand them over and wait when we know (or think we know) the appropriate action?
    I would appreciate your response

    • Sean Reagan May 1, 2013, 12:35 pm

      Hi Bet,

      One way to think about it is that there *are* no small decisions. Whether we’re deciding to walk 3.5 miles vs. 3.3 or deciding whether to relocate to another country for work, it’s all the same. Differentiation of any kind is the backbone of the separation. In that light, we *ought* to turn over every decision – all of them.

      There is that critical line in the Rules for Decision, that if we can get into the habit of turning decision-making over with the decisions we recognize, then eventually a natural habit (of giving over) will develop that will see us through all our decisions, big and small, recognized and not recognized.

      I think that is what we are aiming for: a sort of Christlike awareness that effortlessly informs our perception and thus guides our behavior.

      There is a nice reference to this issue in the urtext (not all of which made the cut for the FIP edition) that reads (in context):

      “ALL miracles mean Life, and God is the giver of Life. He will direct you VERY specifically.

      (Plan ahead is good advice in this world, where you should and must control & direct where you have accepted responsibility. But the Universal Plan is in more appropriate hands. You will know all you need to know. Make NO attempts to plan ahead in this respect.)

      Miracles are habits, and should be involuntary.”

      So I think we have to assume that it’s okay to plan to see a movie on Friday, or buy groceries, or feed the cats, or hike this hill instead of that one, and so forth. I don’t think we are hurting anything or anyone by invoking the Holy Spirit every time we tie our shoes, but at the same time, it’s okay to just live, you know?

      More and more, I see this all as an attitude, or habit of thinking that the Course is teaching us to adopt. We make contact with the gift given to us by God and its light touches everything without any effort on our part. I certainly pray a lot – some days are better than others – but I am also noticing that when I approach life with a certain amount of reverence and humility and willingness, then things tend to turn out okay whether I bothered with formal prayer or not.

      I guess the other thing is that it’s my experience that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are perfectly happy to meet us where we are. So there are days when I need to be told whether to walk the dog the long way or the short way, or something very simple and basic, and I ask and then wait a little, and then I’m given the answer.

      In the end, I think it is that holy communication – that level of knowing that we are being cared for and attended to and are a fundamental part of the “Universal Plan” – that we are really after. And once we’re clear that’s what we want, who cares whether we get it with the so-called big stuff or little stuff? We’re on the path and we’re hiking with mighty companions. What else is there?

      I hope that’s helpful, Bet! Thanks again for writing & reading.


  • Bet Carbery May 2, 2013, 7:06 am

    Mmmmm – OK Sean – I’ll give it a go. As you say approach life with reverence, humility and willingness and be relaxed I think.
    Thinking about it I did get a strong urge to clear my house and to live with only stuff that serves me – a process which continues. This creation of space in my house, creates more space in my head and more space in my life which allows me to concentrate on more truly important matters. There’s also a feeling of being in a state of readiness, the ability to let go is increased ensuing in a greater feeling of freedom. Plus, the stuff I’ve given away is of more use to others than it is to me. So when you think about it an inner urging to do something simple can sometimes lead to something a little more profound.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful reply.

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