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The Folly of One Way Only

Awakening is something of a paradox: we have to choose a path (or practice or whatever you want to call it) and then stick to it in the face of all opposition, both internal and external. At the same time, we have to realize that there is no such thing as a path and that single-minded devotion to anything of the world is destructive and not creative in any way.

In the Preface to ACIM Helen Schucman threw cold water on the idea that A Course in Miracles was the be-all-end-all of human spiritual development. The course

. . . emphasizes that it is but one version of the universal curriculum. There are many others, this one differing from them only in form. They all lead to God in the end.

Implicit in this observation is the truth that awakening is inevitable and does not in any way hinge on being right. No one path supersedes another.

I am perhaps a broken record with this story, but it bears repeating. A young monk approaches his wise old teacher. “Teacher,” he says. “Please show me the moon.” The teacher extends her arm and points her finger at the moon shining in the sky. The student gazes at the teacher’s finger and whispers, “oh, Teacher. The moon is so beautiful.”

We have all been where that student has been – are perhaps there now, and will likely be there again. That story is most often used to demonstrate the importance of focusing on the teaching, not the teacher, as the only way to attain truth. But that is simply another way of saying that we are easily confused by form. That we are, in fact, seduced by form.

And A Course in Miracles is simply another form! Helen Schucman says so right up front. Before we even get to the text, the lessons, the manual and the supplemental material we are told that it will have to be undone. When we begin to confuse the course with the inner peace to which it naturally and surely points, we are wandering away from its carefully laid-out system. We are confusing ourselves unnecessarily.

I say this not to lecture anybody but because it is a lesson I seem to be constantly learning. It has been twice pointed out to me in the past week or so that books are not – or are no longer anyway – necessary. I have been explicitly told that I already have all that I need to fully awaken.

And my response – internally, mostly – is always some version of “yes, but.”

We are always ready to accept the finger in place of the moon. We are always ready to lean on form over content.

What does this mean? What are we supposed to do?

It is helpful – deeply helpful – to be rigorously honest about our condition. We need to see that we are still students, still at what appears to be the beginning. And we have to acknowledge our resistance. We have to recognize that on some level, we are scared of the peace of God and are actively working against it.

If the course is not breaking us down, then we are not yet devoted to it. We cannot be liberated until we are absolutely clear about the terms and conditions of bondage. The ego is perfectly happy to translate itself: I am no longer a violent drunk or a lost soul or a selfish entrepreneur bent on profits rather than people. Now I am a happy and gentle and helpful man who only wants to assist others in seeing the light of which we are all composed. The ego loves that sort of thing. And we are always ready to accept such minuscule changes and call them our home.

But a brighter, shiner ego is not our goal. Undoing the ego is the goal. And that is a challenging and painful process. That takes courage and work and almost always assistance – from the Holy Spirit (in the form of insight and so forth) and fellow travelers both.

I have always felt a little superior to the student in that story – the idiot who confuses fingers and moons. But slowly I realize the reason that story appeals to me is because I am that student. I am hypnotized by form, happily trading the freely-given all for the various teachers and thought systems that point it out. Psychotherapy, tarot cards, Catholic mysticism, ACIM, EFT . . . Yes, yes, says the ego. Let’s try something new.

What does one do when they see this happening? When they see how fundamentally confused they are despite their best intentions and myriad efforts? When they futility of “this path is better than that path” is revealed for the sham that it is?

That is a helpful beginning, really. It is actually easier to study A Course in Miracles when we aren’t also trying to defend it against imagined spiritual interlopers. We get more out of it when we aren’t trying to convince people that our interpretation is better than theirs or someone else’s. Our application of the lessons, interaction with teachers, and deepening relationship with the Holy Spirit flows much more readily when we aren’t constantly demanding that it all deliver us up into Heaven yesterday.

A paradox cannot be solved rationally. It is not like figuring out how to build a bridge to span a river. Rather, as David Bohm points out in The Problem and the Paradox, a chapter in his book On Dialogue,  what is needed is sustained attention.

. . .  [a] deep and intense awareness, going beyond the imagery and intellectual analysis of our confused process of thought, and capable of penetrating to the contradictory presuppositions and states of feeling in which the confusion originates. Such awareness implies that we are ready to apprehend the many paradoxes that reveal themselves in our daily lives, in our larger-scale social relationships, and ultimately in the thinking and feeling that appear to constitute the “innermost self” in each one of us (78).

If we go back to the story of the confused student, we can ask: what happens next? The teacher is obviously wise. She is obviously committed to helping her students. It’s not the first time somebody has fallen in love with her finger. And if we are gentle with that student – and really, why shouldn’t we be? – he is not hopeless. He is making the mistake we all make.

And so perhaps we can assume that the student-teacher relationship continues. That the student wakes up the next day and does his chores and shows up in the zendo and does his reading and keeps coming back to his teacher with questions. She meets him where he is and gently leads him forward.

That is really what A Course in Miracles does – and does so well. It meets us precisely where we are and takes us exactly as far as we are willing and able to go. It’s not the only way by any means, but it’s not a bad way. It’s not a broken way. We say yes to it and keep in mind we will someday have to let it dissolve and fade away.

We want to hold our practice loosely – not cling to it, not get all co-dependent with it. And truly, it is easier than it sounds.

We are not meant to worship symbols. We are not called to be followers only. It may take time – perhaps more than we can imagine – but sooner or later we lift our eyes. Sooner or later we catch a glimpse of what we seek. It is always there waiting on us.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Paula July 23, 2013, 5:30 pm

    Excellent post! Thanks for putting it into words!

    • Sean Reagan July 23, 2013, 5:41 pm

      You’re welcome, Paula. Thank you for reading.

      ~ Sean

  • Karen E. Beck July 23, 2013, 8:43 pm

    “Teacher, teacher! Your face! Your finger! The pond! The moon!

    The same….the same only different!”

    Who is the teacher? Who is the student?

    • Sean Reagan July 24, 2013, 9:21 am

      Thanks for reading, Karen . . . These days I feel pretty clear that I’m the student . . . though the teacher is patient & generous indeed.

  • Michael July 23, 2013, 9:14 pm

    Great post, Sean. It got me thinking about how we oscillate towards and away from Truth. As we move away, into the individual-ness of an ego, trying to “make it on our own”, we struggle and suffer, and eventually we return, torn down and opened wide, to sleep with the sacred books we love beneath our pillows. To carry them close to our chests. To hunker down with the Truth. Somehow both ends of this spectrum are false- that we need a book, and that we don’t need a book.

    And then there is this other paradox… To express beauty and love, we have to individuate and be something, be… well… who we are. Not as ego’s. But as extensions of Love. And then here, too, we yearn to return… To be Love, unqualified. We are Love, but we are not all of Love.

    To move into this latter paradox, I think, is what I/we desire- to offer Love and return to Love. To be an individual expression of Love while residing in Unity. To be fully human, and fully divine. To draw near and listen, and to expand and create.

    I was thinking a lot about paradoxes today, and I post this link b/c I thought it was interesting the way paradoxes came up…



    • Sean Reagan July 24, 2013, 9:28 am

      Hi Michael! Thanks for reading & writing – nice to hear from you.

      As I was saying on this thread, I agree with the metaphysics but then most of us – me certainly – have to work it out in the world of form. More and more I appreciate ACIM’s emphasis on just being attentive to our experience as bodies & ego’s. It is excruciating on one level and yet at the same time intensely liberating. And it does appear to involve phases – of learning, of growing, of deepening and so forth. One of my favorite ACIM teachers – somewhat off the beaten path – has talked to me about going through a period of several years in which he simply avoided the course altogether. And his teacher said at the time, Great! That’s perfect! So somehow, as you say, we have to keep our eye on the metaphysical truth while settling the terms and conditions of being bodies in a world of other bodies. Oddly, it is both easier and harder than it sounds.


  • Xavier Nathan July 24, 2013, 5:40 am

    Another great post. I love the way you write. The story of the finger pointing to the moon reminds me of the the story of the signpost and how people mistake the signpost for the destination. I have definitely done that in the past with various beliefs and am sure continue to do so now more subtly. Your post is a good reminder to be vigilant that “a brighter, shiner ego is not my goal”.

    My favourite part of this article is:
    “She meets him where he is and gently leads him forward.That is really what A Course in Miracles does – and does so well. It meets us precisely where we are and takes us exactly as far as we are willing and able to go. It’s not the only way by any means, but it’s not a bad way. It’s not a broken way. We say yes to it and keep in mind we will someday have to let it dissolve and fade away.” It is the best description that I have come across for A Course in Miracles.

    Thank you Sean.

    • Sean Reagan July 24, 2013, 9:20 am

      Thanks for the kind words, Xavier – much appreciated!

  • Eric July 24, 2013, 7:30 am

    Nicely written Sean. Now if certain course teachers would read this and the preface, the course might not be presented as a superior path to students, presenting specialness.

  • Zrinka July 25, 2013, 9:15 am

    Great article, dear Sean:) I had many images while reading your thoughts, but one prevailed.
    You know the moment when Siddhartha finally touched the Earth, asking her to witness his spiritual sincerity? She then cried out „I am your witness“. The dawn of his enlightenment. I always loved it, because I find it so revealing and touching.
    So what did that man do, when faced – for .. 000000th time – with his Mara, his ego, his shadow? It happens to all of us, that drama of SELF. Only he finally found a way to Be, one, at peace. What did he do? How did he..? We know only his gesture, but in zen buddhism (as you know:)) gesture is more than a means to a state, it is the embodiment of a perfect thought. What does his gesture indicate? I think that image*situation* shows us both – that we can GROUND ourselves in heaven – and – that heaven GROUNDS us. *Ground* is an important word. So is *hand* 🙂 They intertwine somehow in meaning. Giving a hand, pointing a finger, showing the way, showing the ground on which we walk. Our belief. Something beautiful is happening in this image of Buddha. Kind of a paradox. Delicate becomes strong and strong becomes delicate. Return of Love in the seat. It also highlights courage and humility. His Mara didn’t frighten him, he did not dramatize. But he needed to *ground* himself – to attain his balance. So he did it. One hand towards Earth. Not letting the illusion become (too) real, and losing the balance. In this world, balance is of most importance.
    In the end, it must be our finger, our hand. Look at our hands. We point one hand towards heaven, and one towards earth.

    • Sean Reagan August 1, 2013, 9:16 am

      Thank you, Zrinka. So often your articulation mirrors my intention & elevates my own wordiness: I am so grateful that you visit & share here. I am humbled, really. I hope the Croatian flowers are still blooming, still lovely.


      • Zrinka August 1, 2013, 12:07 pm

        Dear Sean, I am grateful to be here:)
        Croatian flowers are still lovely. This year they bloom so vigourously, with so much love and devotion. Like little warriors of love (Life). Perhaps it’s just my imagination:)))
        But, yes,.., something is (always) changing. I have an image of our lovely Earth, giving life (voice) to beautiful vision (words) of Dante. I see her sing, “But already my desire and my will
        were being turned like a wheel,
        all at one speed,
        by the Love which moves the sun and
        the other stars*
        And we flowers sing with her, all at one speed:)

  • Mary Alberici July 30, 2013, 10:09 am

    Sean, found your blog ‘by chance’… ha! I am moved and inspired… always a good thing. I wanted to add that in ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order” David Bohm talks about Wholeness being a way of looking. I love how that expresses exactly what the Holy Spirit is leading us to see. The Wholeness we have always been…
    Much love,
    Mary Alberici

    • Sean Reagan July 30, 2013, 3:07 pm

      Thanks for reading, Mary – it’s nice to meet you! Yes, Bohm is wonderful – I have both enjoyed and been deeply challenged by his thinking, especially his dialogues with Krishnamurti. Thanks again for dropping by!


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