Response, Reaction and A Course in Miracles

Response is not often called for. Things happen, both internally and externally, but we don’t have to respond to them. We don’t have to act.

Often, when we sit quietly and do nothing in particular, we notice that life goes on. If we are really attentive, then we will also see that what goes on includes us. It even includes our attention. It is like a river, a movement which enfolds us at every level. It is hard to talk about intelligently or clearly.

Response is different from reaction. Reaction is what we notice after: the bee stings us and we react and then after we see what occurred. Or somebody steps on our toe and we shout “how dare you step on my toe! I am going to hire a lawyer!” And then – a moment later, an hour later, a year later – we see what happened.

It is not that reaction is outside our control – it is not – but that we are only aware of it after the fact.

Response, on the other hand, follows deliberation – at least a little. Something happens and instead of reacting, we give it space. There is a moment or two – sometimes more – of reflection. We see the potential for anger or self-righteousness or whatever and we just sit with it. Maybe we will do something and maybe we won’t.

It’s important not to confuse response as being somehow better than reaction. It’s not, at least not inherently. Both are actions. Both can emerge from either right- or wrong-minded thinking. They’re just different, that’s all. And it’s a good difference to notice.

There is a quality of attention that nurtures our practice of A Course in Miracles. It is a way of sharing awareness with our healed mind. The field of our awareness picks up so much: sunlight on brooks, black bears in trees, hurt feelings when people don’t respond the way we want, anger when the government does this instead of that. We’re hungry, we have to be in a meeting in ten minutes, the lawn needs to be mowed . . .

What A Course in Miracles calls the ego – a self made to substitute for our healed mind – adopts a judgmental approach to this. Sunlight and black bears are good. Mosquitoes and ATVs are bad. Hunger is okay when there’s a rhubarb pie waiting; it’s bad when we’re driving on the highway. And so forth.

That is what passes for attention in the world: but it is merely judgment based on desire. It is merely the body giving credence to perceived orders of need, all of which place it at the center.

There is another way to be attentive and that is to allow the healed mind – the Holy Spirit – to manage the flow of our awareness. This is the opposite of judgment because the healed mind is focused not on appetite but on what is real vs. what is false. And because it can effortlessly distinguish between them, it is unafraid. It is never overwhelmed. There is never any basis for guilt.

When we give attention to the healed mind, there is only inner peace. We do not feel stressed or upset. Whatever enters our awareness is gently lit by Love. It’s hard to write about, but you know the feeling. You cannot be disturbed. It’s very simple and natural.

When we are in that space, there is no question of “what should I do?” Doing flows in that space, surely and naturally.

Why aren’t we always in that space? What happens?

The habit of engaging with God and His creations is easily made if you actively refuse to let your mind slip away. The problem is not one of concentration; it is the belief that no one, including yourself, is worth consistent effort (T-4.IV.7:1-2).

Those are potentially liberating sentences! They suggest that engagement with God is natural, a sort of default state from which we can stray but which we can never impair or denigrate. The problem isn’t that God is distant or hard to reach or demanding but that we are unwilling to make the consistent effort to ensure the divine contact.

And why do we not make that effort? Because we believe that we aren’t worthy of it. If we question this – our worthiness or lack thereof – we will see that it, too, reflects our sense of separation from God. If we aren’t worthy, then we must be something other than a Creation of God.

We all believe this on some level. We wouldn’t be here – reading, writing – if we didn’t. And yet it’s worth questioning, isn’t it? It’s worth considering there might be another way – a gentler way, a more natural way. That is the premise of A Course in Miracles: are we ready to try a different approach to God? Are we ready to question our separation?

Thus, when we find ourselves vexed by the question of right action – of what response, if any, is required under any given circumstances – we are really staring squarely at our separation from God. So long as we insist on action, on choosing this action vs. that one, then we are working from the assumption that we are not what God created.

To be in the mind of atonement is to give over one’s attention: to let go of the way of thinking that says “we” know what’s best and it’s “our” job to do it. The separation is simply a habit of thinking that God is not present and so it’s up to us to handle things. When we are ready, we can let that go. Nothing is required but willingness: to accept there is another way, and to wait as it reveals itself.

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  1. Well said Sean,
    Your words remind me of this from Meister Eckhart…

    God is always ready,
    but we are very unready;
    God is near to us,
    but we are far from Him;
    God is within, but we are without;
    God is at home, but we are strangers.

    1. Yes it is! And remembering it daily – moment by moment – is our purpose & function. Some days are betters than others but the end is sure – that is the real comfort.

      Thank you for reading Janet!

  2. Wow. Thanks for clearing the illusion.
    I decided this week that the only thing I really know how to do is forgive so that is my response to the world now and now and now.

  3. Hi Sean,

    It’s funny, reading your last blog, “Living with a Course in Miracles”, one of the first things came to mind was the passage:

    The habit of engaging with God and His creations is easily made if you actively refuse to let your mind slip away. The problem is not one of concentration; it is the belief that no one, including yourself, is worth consistent effort (T-4.IV.7:1-2).

    Somehow I got sideways in my reply and ended up forgetting about it. Yet, I think for myself at least, this is one of the reasons that frustration sometimes arises when it comes to the course as a path.

    When looking for my own solutions, instead of looking to the Holy Spirit for guidance, I am not making a consistent effort. The course tells us that miracles are habits and should be involuntary and in the passage you quoted, speaks of the habit of engaging with God.

    It seems to make these habits, we must first work on consistent effort. I don’t think it necessarily means we need to have a consistent mind, but that we must be consistent in our effort to choose the Holy Spirit/Holy Instant. As the course tells us:

    The necessary condition for the holy instant does not require that you have no thoughts which are not pure. But it does require that you have none that you would keep. Innocence is not of your making. It is given you the instant you would have it. Yet it would not be Atonement if there were no need for Atonement.~ACIM

    Never approach the holy instant after you have tried to remove all fear and hatred from your mind. That is its function. Never attempt to overlook your guilt before you ask the Holy Spirit’s help. That is His function.~ACIM

    Jesus tells us:

    It is possible to reach a state in which you bring your mind under my guidance without conscious effort, but this implies a willingness that you have not developed as yet. The Holy Spirit cannot ask more than you are willing to do. The strength to do comes from your undivided decision. ~ACIM


    The Holy Spirit is in you in a very literal sense. His is the Voice that calls you back to where you were before and will be again. It is possible even in this world to hear only that Voice and no other. It takes effort and great willingness to learn. It is the final lesson that I learned, and God’s Sons are as equal as learners as they are as Sons. ~ACIM

    The course tells us, “Remember, then, that God’s Will is already possible, and nothing else will ever be.”

    This echoes what Meister Eckhart said. God is always ready. As the course tells us that the universe of love does not stop because we do not see it. We are literally at home in God, dreaming of exile. Making our own solutions to the problems we have also made. A vicious circle of our own making. As we’re told, God is not the author of fear, we are.

    The course tells us that we feel that we aren’t worth consistent effort, but I think we/I also don’t make consistent effort for another reason. I think there is a sense of losing something or the little we/I have, will be taken from us/me. There is the idea of, “OK, you can have these aspects of the dream, but let me have this one. Don’t take this one from me.”

    Though the irony is, every time I have responded to a situation and looked to the Holy Spirit for guidance, I have never been let down. Nothing has ever been taken from me, except maybe the anger, guilt, etc. I have never regretted the answer when I truly asked. Never.

    The course tells us: You could live forever in the holy instant, beginning now and reaching to eternity, but for a very simple reason. Do not obscure the simplicity of this reason, for if you do, it will be only because you prefer not to recognize it and not to let it go. The simple reason, simply stated, is this: The holy instant is a time in which you receive and give perfect communication. This means, however, that it is a time in which your mind is open, both to receive and give. It is the recognition that all minds are in communication. It therefore seeks to change nothing, but merely to accept everything. ~ACIM

    On a side note, yesterday I pulled down, “I am That: Talks with Nisargadatta Maharaj”, and started re-reading portions of it and found even more clarification in the course through reading his words.


    1. Thanks, Eric. I have not read Nisargadatta Maharaj in any real way so I will add that to my list.

      I appreciate the emphasis on habit in your comment – that is increasingly a word of choice for me when it comes to describing what the course is teaching us: we are shifting from one mindset – one habit of thinking – to another. It’s hard but not impossible. The real joy is seeing it actually work from time to time – or stepping back and realizing that in time we are getting better – slower to anger, gentler with our guilt, less freaked out by fear. And yes, that requires a consistent effort – over and over we are reminded of this. The joy and peace are there for the taking but we have to show up and ask: and our asking has to be habitual, something outside of thought. I think we are naturally oriented towards atonement thinking, or to miracles, but have spend thousands upon thousands of years thinking otherwise. After a while, you start to think the lies are true because the real truth has been hidden for so long.

      Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  4. Thanks, Sean, for another enlightening post! I really appreciate the time you spend sharing your insights and understandings!! I have learned so much through your posts! Have a blessed day! <3

    1. Hey Christina! Thanks for the kind & supportive words. I’m glad it’s helpful. thanks so much for being part of it.


  5. hi sean:

    i truly see there is an evolution going on, more and more a knowing between us,(mankind) i have been on this path for 20 years and i am always ending up with someone who understands. (this time its you but i have met you before) It is truly amazing and miraculous the patience of God. i try and am succeeding more to live in love.

    peace brother

    1. Thanks for the kind & insightful words, Mary – yes God’s patience is truly miraculous, leading us all precisely to those people, places and situations where we can be most helpful and undo the most the guilt. Thanks for sharing the way –


  6. I’m doing the best I can. I need do nothing but what am I going to live on and ergo what is my special function, if any, here? Pain won’t go. Help please. Namaste and blessings. Eileen.

    1. Hi Eileen,

      Thank you for writing. I am sorry that you’re going through a hard time.

      Our function is to accept salvation for ourselves through the practice of forgiveness. It’s my function and it’s your function. In all things, at all times, we want to invite the Holy Spirit – that part of our mind that is healed and thus recalls its Oneness with God – to share our lives: to look at our lives: to teachus how to look at our lives.

      Thinking that way – or having someone talk to us that way – is not always helpful, though! When we are in real pain – when we cannot see straight for all the emotional turmoil – we usually want a more specific kind of help.

      It is not God’s will that we suffer – not in Truth and not in the dream we invented to hide the Truth. It is possible to feel happiness and inner peace. There are two ways to get there that work for me – that move me in the direction of relief. Perhaps they will work for you as well.

      First, it is helpful sometimes to focus on other people, to try and make our lives about somebody else. Often, when I am in a real bad space, I will bake – a pie, a cake, cookies, bread. Baking makes people in my house happy. Sometimes I send emails to friends or even call them just to say hey, how are you, I’m thinking of you. I’ll play some game with my children that they love but I don’t. And so on.

      Loving others is a way of loving ourselves: it is a way of expanding the radius of love. Service just seems to open something in our hearts the ego would prefer stay locked.

      Second, I don’t dwell on the metaphysics of the couse – that we’re not bodies, that this is all an illusion, et cetera. I accept it but I don’t torment myself with it. When the going gets tough, I keep things very simple: I make sure that I am eating healthy food. I don’t force myself to read War and Peace but instead watch sitcoms that make me laugh. I exercise. I go into the woods and stop to admire the pond. I try to sleep.

      Related to that, if I need help, I ask for it. Sure, medicine and psychotherapy and all of that is magic. But truly, if we have a headache, it’s better to take an aspirin with the Holy Spirit then grit out teeth and pretend the pain isn’t real because the blood vessels in our head aren’t real.

      Help others. Be gentle and kind to yourself. And ask for help and then – when it is offered – accept it.

      You know, I guess there is one other thing I do. I pray! I perch on my zafu and commune with God. Or fall to my knees and plead with God to make things different or better. I’m not proud about prayer: I’ll do what works. I’ll try anything.

      We aren’t meant to suffer, Eileen! There is a form this dream takes in which you can be happy, joyous and free. The ego will try to keep you from finding that form, but the Holy Spirit will lead you unerringly to it. Listen as best you can to that quiet inner voice: where do you go to feel peace? What has worked in the past? Who needs your help right now?

      One second at a time, one step at a time, one prayer at a time . . . You will get there.

      Feel free to keep in touch if that is helpful or necessary. I’m here.


    2. Oh and also . . .

      I wrote a post related to finding our function – I don’t know if it is helpful – but here it is. It’s a good question, what is our function, and your instinct that finding it is related to your joy is right on.


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