About ten years ago I went to the zoo with my daughter's Kindergarten class. All the moms were split into small groups and I shared my chaperoning duties with a mom who had just moved to town. Though I had never talked to her before, in our four hours together, she told me her sad story which ended with her husband cheating on her and a nasty divorce. It seemed random at the time that she would tell such a story to a stranger, but I've since realized that no interaction is ever without purpose. If you're not aware of its purpose, you can be sure that the ego is using it for its purpose of reinforcing the separation. Judgment is its key tool.
Over the years of practicing the Course and looking at my own mental activity as I interact with people, it has become clear that in any interaction there are simply two options: we offer peace by choosing to mentally join or we offer conflict by choosing to separate. Joining serves the right-minded purpose of awakening and judgment serves the ego's purpose of separation.
Thinking back on the way I listened to my new friend at the zoo ten years ago, I can't help but cringe. Though I was not aware of it at the time, my listening was laced with judgment. As my friend talked, my mind intuitively did what minds are designed to do; continue the belief in separation by finding differences. I had a good marriage and she didn't; she was unstable and I was stable. She was suffering and I was not. A mental inequality developed in my mind. I became the superior one in the area of handling love and marriage.
If we truly want to be helpful to someone in need, it is imperative that we notice these blocks that stand in the way of our listening. That day at the zoo, though I sounded kind, concerned and loving, I could not have really been helpful. By not being aware of the judgment in my mind, the gift I offered was that of separation, which is the source of all pain to begin with. Though on the surface the interaction seemed to be helpful, at a deep level it must have left us both dissatisfied.
In order to join, we must be aware of the obstacles that stand in the way of joining. As we listen to people, the first step is to notice the judgment in our own minds. This means that as we listen, we watch our own thoughts. We carefully take note of our reactions to what we are hearing. Notice your mind's attraction to opposition. Watch your reaction when someone is telling you something you don't agree with. Watch the anger rise. Or if you hear of a sad story, watch your outrage; your desire to protect the victims and your harsh condemnation of everyone you perceive as guilty. Watch yourself feel superior, inferior, right, morally justified, more spiritually advanced. All these reactive feelings make the separation real for you.
The second step is to forgive. As we notice the ego's agenda of separation in our own minds we forgive ourselves – we simply look and don't judge. To have an ego is no sin. As long as we see a face in the mirror, we have an ego like everybody else and it speaks loudly (even louder as you start to notice it more!) There is no reason to feel guilty about that. If you feel guilty. Notice yourself feeling guilty without judging yourself for it.
For a long long time noticing your ego as it seeks its purpose of separation is all that you may be able to do. Notice how it takes a stand for or against anything anyone says. Watch it send the senses out to look for evidence that differences are important. Watch how much you want to be right, how you want to blame, share your point of view, make a case that shows you in the most favorable light. Notice how much you want to be innocent; how you always must feel superior or inferior --- NEVER equal. Watch how you think you know better, how much you don't want to tolerate other people's view, or their habits.
This noticing becomes a kind of open-eye meditation where you progressively become fully aware of your mental activity as you interact with the people in your life. I found this excerpt from the writings of Pema Chodron that clearly describes this phase.
The first thing that happens in meditation is that we start to see
what's happening. Even though we still run away, and we still
indulge, we see what we're doing clearly. One would think that
our seeing it clearly would immediately make it just disappear,
but it doesn't. So for quite a long time, we just see it clearly. To
the degree that we're willing to see our indulging and our
repressing clearly, they begin to wear themselves out. Wearing
out is not exactly the same as going away. Instead, a wider, more
generous, more enlightened perspective arises.
As we notice the ego do what it does and do nothing about it, we begin to unmask it. Its movement in our minds becomes more and more obvious and it begins to have less of an effect on us. We are slowly releasing our identification with it. We begin to see it clearly in all its hate and ugliness. But still, we do nothing. We don't try to change it or fight it. It's reacting to it that perpetuates the belief in separation. However vicious it may appear, it can have no power over us if we don't identify with it.
When you least expect it you'll be listening to a friend, or even somebody you dislike and as you listen, you'll become aware of the ego's judgmental voice in your mind looking for differences that you can react against. You'll see clearly the ego's activity in your mind, but you won't be impressed with it. Then for just a second these barriers will disappear and a gentle, all-inclusive sense of love will take over. For an instant you'll lose track of the differences your ego was keeping tabs on and you will perceive only shared interests. All the differences in form that seemed so important will become meaningless.
A sense of joining in love and true compassion will bless the moment and you'll be experiencing what the Course calls the "Holy Instant." At that moment when you stop perceiving differences, you will have a glimpse of who you are in reality; beyond the body. You will understand the meaning of Matthew 18 verse 20, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (replace the word "joined" for "gathered.")
You will see that in reality you can only interact with yourself and that who you thought was a separate brother is nothing more than a projection whose only purpose is to help YOU go home. You will know who you are without your judgment, your defenses and your fear. That feeling, however fleeting, will have you so hooked that you will want to practice joining frequently – every time you have a seemingly casual interaction. And when judgment creeps in and you inadvertently offer separation, it will hurt so much that you will instantly choose against the pain.
The Course says "If you would let the Holy Spirit tell you of the Love of God for you…… you would experience the attraction of the eternal. No one can hear Him speak of this and long remain willing to linger here." (T15 IX 5: 1,2.)
Your choice to join will transform your relationships and in your loved ones' faces you will see your own progress. By choosing peace in every situation you will become truly helpful to those around you. You will be letting them know, that they can also choose that peace and love that you feel. Your choice for peace will speak louder than any words. It will be informing everyone around you that there is a 'real alternative' to their suffering and just as you are making the choice for peace, they can make it too.
Since it's Christmas Eve I wanted to share with you the Christmas message on T-15 X. which encourages us to join in celebration:
" Let the Holy Spirit teach you, and let me celebrate your birth through Him. The only gift I can accept of you is the gift I gave to you. Release me as I choose your own release. The time of Christ we celebrate together, for it has no meaning if we are apart.
The holy instant is truly the time of Christ. For in this liberating instant no guilt is laid upon the Son of God, and his unlimited power is thus restored to him. …. And to see me is to see me in everyone, and offer everyone the gift you offer me."
Let us release our brothers from our judgment and join together in celebration. Merry Christmas.
Related post: A lesson in listening