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Reading the Rules for Decision: On Sitting By

One of the reasons A Course in Miracles is so effective is its insistence there are only two options available to us: we can be right or we can be at peace (T-29.VII.1:9). There is no middle ground. The clarity of that will save us, once we stop fighting it.

Rules for Decision is clear that when we are unhappy – when our feelings are not feelings of peace and joy and natural harmony – it is because we have chosen to be right about something. We have decided what the rules of life are, which means we have chosen how to win the game of life, and have found ourselves on the losing side.

The solution isn’t to ask for help in winning or adopt a new strategy. The solution is to stop playing the game.

[Y]ou have already gotten angry. And your fear of being answered in a different way from what your version of the question asks will gain momentum, until you believe the day you want is one in which you get your answer to your question. And you will not get it, for it would destroy the day by robbing you of what you really want (T-30.I.7:2-4).

How hard it is to see this – and, once seen, to accept and bring into practice. Rules for Decision reminds us that this impulse to be right is like a snowball rolling down a steep hill. If you don’t check it in its tracks, it’s going to build momentum and get bigger and bigger. It starts to influence other decisions. It gets messy fast.

Our reaction, of course, is to fight. That’s our instinct. You know, we decide that because we’re tired we need to leave work early and we get all excited about it – a good book, a glass of wine, a bubble bath. But just as we’re getting ready to go, somebody drops a “do-it-now” project on our desk. And we fight it! We get angry. We argue. We postpone. We try to delegate – forcefully.

It’s like being tangled in a web, isn’t it? The more we resist, the more enmeshed in the problem we become. Letting go – going limp – is really the way out. We have “sit by” as the Course says (T-30.I.5:3). We have sit by and let the given answer be revealed.

That is one of my favorite phrases in the whole text – the suggestion to just “sit by.” I’m not wired to just sit by. I’m wired to move fast and get things done. It’s the whole reason I became an altar boy when I was kid. I wanted to be able to move around a bit during mass.

I’m a walker by nature. I’m into movement. My students get dizzy sometimes because I can’t teach standing still – I wander all over the classroom. When I’m in the forest, I can build up to quite a clip. Sometimes people who walk with me ask who’s chasing us. To which I usually respond “I’ll rest when I’m dead.”

Yeah, yeah yeah. I know. I’m a lot of fun to walk with . . .

But the truth is, some of my most peaceful and happy moments are when I actually do just sit by – find a nice rock near the brook and sit on it. The dog romps and swims and I just hang out. I get a little dozy. Sometimes it’s a tree I sit near.

When we sit by, something magical happens. In the forest, it means that the birds come closer. Chickadees flit by near enough to touch. You can see the details of a pine cone – each fold, each tuck, each shade of brown softening into the next. You hear each note of the brook as it flows past – bass and treble, a hint of other voices. It’s mesmerizing.

It’s not just in nature. In the classroom, when I am still, I am often surprised by how the students fill the space my nervous intensity was trying to swallow whole. They get creative and insightful. I see them differently: we slip outside the normal hierarchy of teacher-student and the light of Christ shines a little. And I think, oh right. I don’t have to take care of everything. Somebody else has this covered.

Walking briskly isn’t a crime! But if our investment and attachment to it is such that we forget to sit by or refuse to sit by then it becomes problematic. We need to identify those places and moments in our life when we are so insistent on our way that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can’t get in with a shoehorn. And then have to slow down and make some space for them to do their thing.

Whenever I first sit by, I am almost always frustrated. I think, there’s a better spot on the river to sit. Then I think, man, it’s too cold to sit by. I’ll sit by tomorrow. Then I think, I should’ve brought a book. Or writing utensils. Why did I forget my pen? I should hurry home and bake some bread. I could be missing an important email.

That’s the resistance. That’s the insistence on my rules for a happy day: more sunlight, a good book, a chance to write a poem, emails to feed the ego.

But soon enough – if I don’t give in – those voices fade. And when they fade, what remains is the Holy Spirit. What remains is the clear and lively intimation of Heaven. A chickadee will sit on you if you are still enough and quiet enough (and the dog stays away long enough). And when it happens you think, oh my God. How many other miracles am I missing?

When we catch ourselves in a state of misery, Rules for Decision indicates that we should quickly remember “I have no question. I forgot what to decide (T-30.I.6:4-5).”

That is a simple way to remind ourselves that it’s time to sit by. It’s time to let go of our terms, and let the terms of God be revealed to us. And they will be. They are right there, humming beneath the chatter of our egoic thoughts and ambitions. God literally can’t wait for us to slow down and just hang out.

Peace was given to us. It’s present right here and right now. We don’t have to invent it or manufacture it or midwife it into our experience. Indeed, so long as we think we do have to play a role in peace, then we’re not going to experience it. Peace is letting go and letting God. It’s only hard because we make it so. And we don’t have to. Not anymore.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Aleta March 11, 2013, 9:08 pm

    I am having a big lesson in sitting by right now. My Dad is dying, but it is not known when that will happen. I am 8-hours drive away from home and with my family – staying with my sister. I feel so torn — I don’t want my father to die, but he will (he’s 92 and very ill) and there’s no question of that, just of when, and so since he will, I want him to hurry up so he can be relieved of his suffering, and so that I can go on home and plant the garden and work on my mourning, then I feel guilty for that! And I know that right here is where I need to be right now, so I’m learning to let go of what I want and let God’s terms be revealed to me. Also, I’m finding that when I stay in the moment in this situation, I am at peace and am able to say to my Dad what needs to be said, etc.; but when I remember the past with my Dad (and I was always his favorite), I get all upset and cry and can’t focus on him but it becomes about me and how I feel. Thus a lesson in staying in the Holy Instant and letting go the past. I have pretty much subconsciously dreaded this moment my entire life and now that it is here, I am grateful for several things: that I found the Course, that my husband is also a Course student, that there’s a Course study group with wonderful people in the area that I attend when I come here (My family is traditional Christian, and though there may be some things we can agree on, most of it we don’t and they mostly think I’m going to hell. I never evangelize the Course with them but they know I study the Course and they do ask questions about what I believe about certain things ‘”Now you don’t believe in Easter, right?”‘ from time to time which is interesting.), and that I have resources on line to refer to, your blog being in the top 10.
    Anyway, your “sitting by” really struck a chord with me right now and I just wanted to share the awesome experience I’m going through. I hope this made sense; I have been so tired and may not be expressing myself well!
    Love and peace to you, Sean, and to everyone.

    • Sean Reagan March 12, 2013, 5:21 am

      Thanks, Aleta.

      Well, you are sitting by with the hard stuff! I don’t know that we can’t feel it’s all a mess – going back and forth between the sanity of the Holy Instant and then the egoic “me me me.” More and more I believe that the Course really wants us to be able to do that without judging ourselves. There is a lot of holiness in being able to say, “right now I am making this about me” and just letting that be okay. Besides, it’s hard to know in any given moment what is called for – the plan is bigger than us. Releasing sorrow – manifesting grief – may just be what the world needs. Who knows?

      Anyway, thank you for sharing Aleta. I don’t know you, of course, in the worldly way, but you always sound very focused and grateful when you write, and those qualities will see us through just about anything!

      Keep in touch and hang in there –


  • Claudia March 11, 2013, 9:49 pm

    Aleta, I pray you find the peace to know that we are One and that you are not losing your father. This is but a dream and you will awaken and find yourself with him, joined and at peace again. I know you will miss his physical presence while on this earthly plane, but he will never be separate from you. Relax and know the peace of God whispering the truth to you. Good moment to sit by. You are loved.

    Sean, what a coincidence. This chapter was my reading for today and here it is expounded upon in your blog. I love the synchronicity. I am always grateful for your gifts.

    • Sean Reagan March 12, 2013, 5:23 am

      Thanks Claudia! It’s a great chapter. I fear I’m losing people by writing about it so closely – move on already! – yet it’s really helpful to me. The closer I go to the text, the more clearly I see how straightforward and simple it is, and how the whole of it is contained in each section. I feel very grateful these days for this path.

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