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Simple Nowness

Part of what I mean by giving attention is really allowing ourselves to simply be as we are at any given moment. When we focus on what is, we are less focused on what should be, could be, used to be and so forth. That is what A Course in Miracles means when it urges us to “[f]orget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God” (W-pI. 189.7:5).

When our mind is not wandering all over the plains of fear and desire, it rests naturally in the Heaven that is always present: the simple nowness of what is.

To do nothing is to rest, and make a place within you where the activity of the body ceases to demand attention. Into this place the Holy Spirit comes, and there abides . . . there will always be this place of rest to which you can return T-18.VII.7:7-8, 8:1).

“Rests” in this case really means a kind of passive intensity: there is nothing to but be aware of that which rises and falls, rises and falls. It is like watching the sea, perceiving the waves as separate entities but unable to say where one ends and the other begins. We are alert but not worried. We are aware without rushing all over the place, trying to force our ideas of order onto what is already perfect as it is.

I use the word “flow” sometimes and that is okay, so long as we understand that we, too, are the flow. There is a sense of motion, of ongoing-ness from which we cannot be separate, despite our myriad efforts to be. If there is a secret to salvation – there isn’t, but if there was – it might be that the flow longs for itself, and “giving attention” is the flow’s way of remembering itself, of teaching itself to itself.

There is no substitute for truth. And truth will make this plain to you as you are brought into the place where you must meet with truth . . . where God is, there are you. Such is the truth (T-14.VIII.4:1-2, 4:4-5).

It cannot be said enough: there is really nothing to do but discover that there is nothing to do. Who seeks for God obscures God. Who longs for awakening only deepens their grief-filled sleep. Right now, right here, God is and we can realize this because as ACIM points out over and over “where God is, there you are.”

This is not a religious experience, nor even especially a spiritual one. That is an emerging insight for me, and one to which I have always been resistant. I cherish the guru, the roshi, the priest: from them I accept wisdom and aspire to their elevated station. I want awakening to be special – God’s gift to me, his favorite child, and one which I will the transmit to those I deem worthy.

But awakening is inclusive by definition and it requires nothing that we don’t already have (T-18.IV.7:7). That is why I always say that the gift is already given; all that remains is to say yes. Moreover, though I am deeply grateful for those who leave some kind of record of the path (Emily Dickinson, David Bohm, Tara Singh, etc), awakening cannot be taught. We have to perceive the need for it ourselves, become responsible for it ourselves, and then discover it ourselves. I’m not saying guides and companions are impossible or unnecessary but they can very easy distract us from the work which is essentially mundane and mechanical. As Tara Singh so often said, “there is nothing to do and only you can do it.”

This is what it means to give attention: nothing is excluded. We observe everything – every fear, every shame, every secret, every dream. We don’t have to do a single thing but that: observe what is without any effort to redefine or expand or alter it in any way.

So we have to do what is in front of us: make the bed, make pancakes, visit our parents, get the mail, mow the lawn, walk the dog, lift weights, write poems, paint the bathroom, read a book, play Monopoly. Whatever. A fructive sense of order arises when, rather than wishing the external were other than what it is, we simply respond to it without drama or expectation. The present moment becomes very rich and dynamic indeed when we aren’t trying to make it be another moment.

In a way, it is like walking deer trails in the forest: those thin, barely perceptible trails that wind ever deeper to hidden glens in the bracken. We don’t tell the trail where to go or how to go. We just go along with it. It decides; we just follow.

In all that worldly doing – which is really just a gentle aware response to what arises (what we might call the phenomenal world, if we want to be fancy) – we are also giving attention to our internal world, which is our feelings and thoughts and ideas and all of that. That world is even vaster than the external world. A trip to Antarctica is nothing compared to our mind’s capacity for peregrination. But the work is still the same: to see the fear and anger and happiness and lust and sadness and resistance  and all of it arise and just let it be. No drama, no resolutions. They aren’t problems: they are just like leaves being blown this way and that by the wind.

One of my favorite Zen stories was told by Edward Espe Brown, who was a cook at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. His book The Tassajara Bread Book changed my life about twenty years ago. He talks about his temper: he is tired and busy and everyone makes demands on him – less salt, more turnips, warmer soup and so forth. And he is always getting angry and it shows. People can feel it. One day his teacher comes and hears Brown out and says gently “of course you can get angry.” Brown feels a deep relief: his teacher gets it! His teacher has his back. But then Roshi says – gentler yet – “just don’t.”

So we can have these feelings and ideas – and if we are honest these are even more influential and powerful than what is external – but they are still just the same old illusion, rising and falling, rising and falling. So we give attention to them: we perceive the quality of the memory, the color of the feeling, the breadth of our plot to get what we desire.

And then sooner or later – and this is inevitable – we begin to see that the phenomenal world has no real meaning outside what we give it internally. It’s not an illusion in the material sense: but we are not really seeing it, because it is fogged over by the dense web of definitions and demands and judgments we place on it. That is what A Course in Miracles means when it says the outside world is the picture of an inward condition (T-21.in.1:5). We see what we project: we don’t see what is.

And what about all that internal stuff that we are projecting and dissociating? All those feelings that we are trying to avoid or mitigate or pawn off on the external? They arise collectively from a single misbelief: that a discrete, separate self exists and possesses a meaningful agency.

In my experience, this is where A Course in Miracles takes us: it brings us to that false self (which is a belief system) and invites us to see clearly that we do not want what it offers and that there is another way, one in which we can have what we want.

The Holy Spirit asks of you but this; bring to Him every secret you have locked away from Him. Open every door to Him, and bid Him enter the darkness and lighten it away . . . He brings the light to darkness if you make the darkness open to Him (T-14.VII.6:1-2, 4).

This is what it means to give attention: nothing is excluded. We observe everything – every fear, every shame, every secret, every dream. We don’t have to do a single thing but that: observe what is without any effort to redefine or expand or alter it in any way. I don’t mean to lean too hard on metaphor but it is like stepping into a river: we just have to step into the river. We don’t make the river and we don’t make its flow. The river needs nothing from us: but if we enter it, it will carry us downstream anyway. There is nothing special or unusual about it.

So, in a sense, when we give attention we are consenting to allow Life to be what it is,  and what we discover – and this was Tara Singh’s insight, too – is that Life takes care. This is not a mystical statement nor a magical one: it is a fact, like gravity or the expanding universe. Life takes care: not even death can stop it, as any gardener knows.

Every second the planets rotate. What energy! Can you conceive of how many billions upon billions of breaths are taken every second? And all that breathes grows. Can you see the energy behind Life? That energy is what Love is; and the whole of creation is an extension of it (How to Learn from A Course in Miracles 41).

So we have the insight: we catch the glimpse. And it is enough. It is like a seed that just grows and disperses itself and takes over the garden: a mustard plant, or perhaps the spiraling tendrils of gourd plants. As we give attention, our capacity for attention naturally enlarges. The energy is of life: not us. Thus, the self dissolves through no effort of our own and what is is and is enough. It is more than enough.

Anyway, that is my sense of it on a Saturday morning. Thank you, as always, for reading.

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