These are my notes for a recent Sunday discussion group. If you are interested in joining, let me know.
In Lesson 41 I want to look first at the first paragraph, and bring our attention to certain words in it. I’m often critical of the pompous and obtuse language of A Course in Miracles, but it is deliberate. There are no accidents in salvation, and there are precious few in the lexical choices in ACIM.
The first word is “eventually.” Eventually means “after a sequence of events or challenges in time.” Lesson 41 is explicitly acknowledging that our Course practice occurs in time. This is an implicit way of saying, forget about the metaphysics of time (and the world and all of that) and just do the work.
It is also an invitation to relax our expectations of when we’ll awaken. The promise that we will awaken is made – it’s clear in the categorical nature of “completely,” which means without exception or qualification – but the precise time and date . . . we don’t need to know that. It won’t help us do the work.
Nor is this a new idea. The Gospel Jesus urges us to “keep watch because you do not know the day or the hour at which I come” (MT 25:13). We are not waiting for an end times in which Jesus appears apocalyptically but we are waiting on salvation.
Again, as ACIM students – we are kind of like updated disciples, if you will – we just have to do the work that’s in front of us. Giving attention to how we are in relationship with thinking, with our brothers and sisters, with the world that seems to be our home, and our willingness to be corrected with respect to all of it. It’s enough; it really is. Lifetimes can pass doing this work.
That first paragraph in the lesson includes a lot of names for suffering but the two given primacy are “loneliness” and “abandonment.” These are experiences that we all know. They are inherent in the human frame. We fear abandonment and loneliness is always a symptom of abandonment. Nobody is immune. Yet the Course promises that these experiences will be “completely” overcome when we truly know that God goes with us wherever we go, whatever we do.
Our confidence in that idea is what helps us accept the truth of “nothing real can be threatened, nothing unreal exists” (T-in.2:2-3).
It’s important to remember that our local experience of loneliness and abandonment – like being alone when we’d rather have a friend on hand, or being left by a partner for someone else – is a symbol of the actual loneliness from which we suffer, and abandonment we fear, which is the loneliness of being separated from – or abandoned by – God. The deeper the apparent suffering, the closer we are to seeing through the symptom to the actual harm.
When we know that God goes with us everywhere, as a function and extension of what we are in Creation, then the external circumstances won’t matter. How could they? We are one with God. But so long as they do matter, we need a program like A Course in Miracles. And we need each other to bring our shared practice to fruition.
The separation is not about the local you – the “Sean” – although that is where we work it out. That is what the second paragraph of the lesson makes clear – the so-called “cures” that we come up with for our anxiety, depression, misery, helplessness, et cetera. We have pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy, we have television and potato chips, we have yoga and meditation, we have cigarettes and alcohol. All of these things affect our local experience of loneliness and fear. But none of them address the underlying problem of separation. Effectively, they distract us from it. Do them or don’t, but don’t pretend anything or anyone is being healed thereby.
The cures offered by the world don’t solve the problem of separation because separation is not a real problem. It’s an imagined problem, a vast and ornate fantasy manufactured to hide a clear and simple truth, which is that we cannot be separate from Creation or Creator. It’s like watching Lord of the Rings on a screen and believing it’s on us to help Frodo make it to Mount Doom. We can think that way all we want but it’s never going to change the fact that Frodo, his journey, and Mount Doom are all fictitious.
On the other hand, since we are working this separation thing out in the context of separation, then it will seem like we are fixing it. Some lottery tickets do come in. Some bodily ills are healed. Some relationships do last a lifetime and make us safer and happier than we ever dreamed was possible.
In that way, these sentences from the lesson are simultaneously relative and absolute truth:
You can never be deprived of your perfect holiness because its Source goes with you wherever you go. You can never suffer because the Source of all joy goes with you wherever you go. You can never be alone because the Source of all life goes with you wherever you go (W-pI.41.4:1-3).
We don’t believe this because – if we are being honest – in the context of separation it’s obviously not true. And the Course is saying, that’s okay. Don’t worry about that – how things appear or what you happen to believe about them. It’s better to be honest about where we are then to fake it. Forgiveness isn’t about making an idol of some future state and then pretending it’s already accomplished. It’s about facing our present wretchedness – the “dark and heavy cloud” obscuring out true self – so that we can “eventually” pass through it to “the light beyond.”
En route to that light, our lives will become happier but not because of what we’re getting. Joy is an effect of what let go. Freedom is about what we no longer insist on carrying. Happiness is the simple effect of knowing ourselves and others as God does. Judgment is not required at all.
The one practice period to which we are called begins with repeating the idea and then just letting go of any investment in or attachment to our thoughts. That’s the release upon which our joy, freedom and happiness depend. This means allowing our thoughts to just be what they are without getting involved. We don’t have to change or fix anything. We just have to notice when we are judging our thoughts – this one is good, this one is not – and not buy the judgment. So we judge, so what? There is another judge who knows better than we do. We’re in that judge’s care now.
The lesson says something interesting here. It says that we are trying to “leave appearances and approach reality” (W-pI.41.7:4). Here, our thoughts are “appearances.” Even the observer of these appearances is an “appearance.” “Reality” is what happens when we know that the observer and the observed are not separate, when the thinker and the thought are equally unreal then they collapse into one another. In this way, guilt and fear are undone. There is only this: this this. Which is another way of saying, there is only God. Which is another way of saying, God goes with us wherever we go.
If there is only God then everything – including the illusion that one can be separate from God – is also God. The specific dream goes away upon awakening – no more “Sean,” no more “Ted,” no more “Sandy” – but the mind that dreams remains. This is why the lesson can insist that it is quite possible to reach God – even in the dream. Not because God is in the dream, but because the mind that dreams can always wake up. “The way will open, if you believe that it is possible” (W-pI.41.8:4). Even if it doesn’t, the effort is never wasted (W-pI.40.8:7).
Since separation is an illusion, there is no such as failure in this practice. Therefore, we can let what “seems” be. We don’t have to enter the conflict any more. Together, we will gently and happily do what is in front of us, committing the results to a power greater than ourselves, and rejoice that it is so.