Given the premise of A Course in Miracles – the world is not real and we remain as God created us – the question often arises, “but what do I do?” We can only ask this question because we still identify with the world and bodies. The answer – “nothing” – is unsatisfying (as “nothing” always is to that which fears it is nothing) and so we seek out other answers and call that seeking “our life” or “our life’s purpose” or “our function in life.”
If we could see that the question of what to do is merely a form of resistance – and not a reasonable interrogatory about how to spend the interim period between sleep and wakefulness – then it would not be so hard to answer. There is no interim period between awakening and what awakening is not. It is one or the other. To suggest otherwise – and to make that otherwise our practice – is to choose hell in the midst of Heaven.
Much of what we call the ego is simply the habit of thinking – insisting, really – that unhappiness is joy, that pain is pleasure, and that tears of anguish are an unreserved blessing. Why else would we keep doing what doesn’t work? We must have persuaded ourselves that it does work, or that it will work someday, or that – at a minimum – it’s still better than the alternative, which is really really bad.
It is like bashing our head against a wooden wall and telling ourselves it’s okay, we like it, because the only other wall we can imagine is made of stone. That we could just stop doing this thing that hurts does not occur to us. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?
All along we thought that inner peace was an accomplishment, and so we made it a goal, and now we learn that it is a gift, and we already have it, and so all our accomplishing and effort was simply a painful distraction.
Sometimes it’s good to ask – and answer – “why” questions. But sometimes we have to put them aside and give attention to the present moment. To do this is not to avoid answers but rather to step outside the framework – call it mental, neural, habitual, addictive, whatever you like – that is causing the problem in the first place.
If you are stuck in a loop, the answer does not lie in the loop, but in just stepping outside it. This is why A Course in Miracles teaches that “[w]hen you lay the ego aside, it will be gone” (T-8.VIII.8:6). It is that simple.
It would appear that I have perhaps contradicted myself here. In the first paragraph I said that the answer to “what to do” is “nothing,” and now I am talking about making decisions to stop hitting our heads or to step outside loops.
But you see, doing nothing is the end of the ego. The ego is a busybody, a chatterer, a planner, a doer. It is never still, never attentive, never just grateful. When we do nothing, we have laid the ego aside. Krishnamurti purportedly said once that his secret was that he didn’t mind what happened. That is a way of saying that he allowed reality to be what it was without interference or judgment. He did not pursue pleasure.
If we watch our thoughts closely, we will see that we do “mind” what is happening. We have opinions and ideas and judgments, and they translate in to plans for action, and then we act and react to whatever is thus set in motion, and then we have opinions and ideas and judgments about that and then . . . it is a cycle, an endless loop and we are doing it.
So instead we do nothing. For a minute or two at first, then more and more. It does not take long to see that life does not ask anything from us. It is a miracle, really. All along we thought that inner peace was an accomplishment, and so we made it a goal, and now we learn that it is a gift, and we already have it, and so all our accomplishing and effort was simply a painful distraction.
What joy there is in seeing this! And we forget it – or drop it for a little while – but then what joy to see that it is not diminished or compromised when we pick it back up. There are no mysteries and no secrets, just this quiet still happiness growing more so all the time.
An excellent article on a theme that has recently been occupying my mind. Thank you.
You’re welcome, Xavier – thank you for reading & sharing. I hope you are well!
I woke up at 3 am feeling I was at the bottom of the roller coaster ride and this time I did find that the ego really can be ‘vicious ‘! Then I read your message to us, and your words ‘lay the ego aside’ and other ways of seeing it, solved my long time confusion about what it really is, and the peace I thought I lost, I “picked it up again” and this message has brought me back to sanity. My peaceful thank you dear ‘brother’ Sean ,
You’re welcome, Sally. I’m glad it was helpful. I hear you on those roller coaster rides – they are painful indeed – but we can “choose again” and that is the blessing. That is the way out!