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.