Jun 18, 2010

Perception lies

I used to pride myself on my understanding of the metaphysics of the Course, which I got from years of listening to Ken Wapnick. Now I'm realizing that the experience has to come first and the intellectual understanding follows; not the other way around. Many concepts that I took for granted before, are losing their meaning. For example, I used to write that the Holy Spirit is the "memory of God within our mind." That was helpful to me because I couldn't see the Holy Spirit as separate from my own mind. But now as I think of "Holy Spirit" I don't really know what that is beyond a name that we use to symbolize healed perception.

My experience is that there is only me. There is nothing external. It was me identified with the ego before and now it's still me, but a lot less identified with the ego. That force within me that used to oppose has somehow been replaced by this other force that accepts. Attachment to outcome is replaced with awe of how perfect things are as they are. A desire to control, replaced with no desire to control or manipulate and trust that life goes on with or without my control and without it, it's a lot happier. Concern with the body, replaced with little concern with the body. Attachment to rules replaced with freedom from rules. This shift is internal. I act the same; I speak the same; only the purpose behind what I do is different.

I'm not equally clear every moment and I'm not sure why or how that works. I still notice ego reactions come and go. They are few and far between and as they are looked at in real time, they seem to lose their power quickly. The underworld of negativity that used to surface once in a while does not seem to be there now. There is more space in my mind so I can see the ego clearly and a gentle forgiving attitude accepts my state of mind as it is in the moment and offers no resistance to it.

I've been more aware of how our experience lies. For example, my experience is that I feel guided all the time. I seem to know exactly what I'm doing in the moment. All I have to do when an invitation to do something comes (an external invitation or my own thought that invites me to do something) is ask myself: "is this what I'm doing?" And I actually "feel" at that moment if this is an "honest" action for me, or not. An honest action is an action that requires no sacrifice. It's action that is consistent with the love that flows freely when the ego is not there; it's actually and simply, what I want to do at that specific moment. A dishonest action is an action that I would do with the ego's motives of seeking love, giving to get, manipulating or impressing others, etc. This "guidance" that I could swear comes from some higher power, is an illusion. A part of me knows there is no one out there to guide me, yet somehow; my experience is that I "feel" guided.

I was over at FACIM over the weekend and Ken (Dr. Kenneth Wapnick) said something that resonated with me. He said, as I've heard him say many times, that "the Holy Spirit does not send you messages…." (Basically, the HS does not tell you what to do; it doesn't guide you. How could it? It would have to first validate you as a separate self if it did.) Those messages that we experience, (or in my case the feeling that I am guided) "…….are just a metaphor for acceptance of what is." When we are in harmony with what is, everything "seems" perfectly orchestrated as if a higher power had its hand in it. The reality is that it's our perception that determines our experience of the world. When we perceive without judgment, the world appears to be perfect and we can't see a problem with anything. But even healed perception is an illusion. It's just a stepping-stone.

Lesson 169 says that "Grace is acceptance of the Love of God within a world of seeming hate and fear. By grace alone the hate and fear are gone, for grace presents a state so opposite to everything the world contains, that those whose minds are lighted by the gift of grace can not believe the world of fear is real. (W-169 italics and bold mine)

As we look at the world with total acceptance, we come to see that every situation is perfect because it's for us. The right minded way of looking at the world is that it's for our use. Its only purpose is to help us become aware of our true nature. We can use every situation to lead ourselves out of suffering or root us further into it. So divorce, disease, war, loss, death, don't happen to us; but for us. We also understand that for others so when things happen to our loved ones, we see them as opportunities and not catastrophes. By looking at the world with a clear mind, we empower everyone we come in contact with to make the choice for peace for themselves. By our own acceptance of what is, we let others know that they also can choose to rise above suffering.

W-135:18-1 reminds us of this, "What could you not accept, if you knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good?" And that One is you!



Apr 23, 2010

Resistance and Listening to One Voice

Since I came back from the School for the Work, I haven't experienced resistance. Resistance is that heavy feeling I used to feel when what I was doing did not match what I thought I should be doing. I felt resistance often. If I had chores to do or a project to complete, I thought about them often during the day and I felt badly because I wasn't doing them when I thought I should. Some things I never did at all and the thought that I should have weighed me down.

For the last three weeks, my days have been flowing effortlessly. I wake up in the morning and wait. I may have a thought about what I will be doing during the day. There may even be a plan or a schedule; but plans, schedules, and ideas are just images that pop into my mind. My mind now understands that they are not real. I don't expect anything to happen until I'm actually doing it.

I notice I'm getting up. I stand and start walking. I follow my body to where it is going. If it's morning a thought may say "you're going to brush your teeth," and it seems likely that that is what I'm going to do, but I don't know for sure until my hand picks up the tooth brush and I'm brushing my teeth. I hear plans: "You should go to the grocery store," or "you should go to your yoga class." To these ideas my mind automatically responds: "that's a nice story…," because I know that ideas about what I should be doing are just that; ideas. I only know they are true when I'm pushing the cart into the supermarket or I'm laying down my yoga mat on the floor. My mind is in a perpetual state of not knowing.

There is a force within me that guides every move I make from the moment I wake up until I go to bed at night. I'm being lived. My only job is to trust that everything will happen as it should without my control. That trust increases daily as I witness how everything is taken care of perfectly and at exactly the right time.

I have somehow surrendered what I used to think was my own will and I'm living in harmony with the script as it comes. It's like watching a movie in which I'm temporarily identified with one of the characters. I'm looking at the script from a particular point of view, but I have no choice as to what will happen in the movie. The scrip with all its possible variations has already been written. The movie has been filmed. I'm just a spectator. The idea that I could have ever believed that I wrote my own script as I went along seems crazy now. I'm pretty sure that most of my suffering came from that one belief.

Experiencing no resistance means that whatever I'm doing is what I want to do. There are no "shoulds" or "shouldn'ts" and no wishes or regrets. Occasionally, there is a thought that opposes what I'm doing, or a judgment thought that creeps in, but it has so little glue that it doesn't stick. These thoughts remind me of how painful life use to be when I believed in them. For these thoughts, I carry a notebook where I write down the thought as it happens and later inquire into its reality using the The Work or, I simply watch the thought as it passes through my mind with a smile on my face as I've been doing for years through my practice of A Course in Miracles.

Thoughts and stories are beautiful! They keep me company. I thank them as they pass for keeping me entertained, but it is clear that they are just stories. I sometimes daydream about how much I might actually get accomplished in this life now that there is no resistance. But then I laugh because I have no idea what it is that I will accomplish. How can I know what I will be doing in ten years when I don't know what I will do in the next five minutes? I laugh because so far this unending source of energy has kept me organizing closets and letting go of bags and bags of stuff I don't seem to need anymore. I wouldn't trade my daily work in the house for anything. I'm having the time of my life. One day I re-potted all my house plants and planted a vegetable garden. I get excited about cooking new things and mixing foods I never knew could be mixed. I enjoy every minute I get to spend with my children. I don't seem to get tired. I yawn and lie down at times, but I haven't yet felt that feeling I used to get when I couldn't wait another minute to take a nap or to go to bed at night.

As I look back at my life prior to this shift, I see that I always did exactly what I was supposed to do in the exact moment I should be doing it. The anxiety I frequently felt was caused by my mind being at odds with what I was doing. My mind had its own ideas of what was right or wrong. It offered constant commentary on everything. If I was tired and slept in, my mind threw a fit because it thought I should be getting up and being more 'productive.' If my back hurt, it was upset because it thought it shouldn't hurt. If I ate too much, it felt guilty because it thought I shouldn't be eating so much. If I was depressed, it thought I should snap out of it.

What happened in my life was my path and though at the time I didn't always realize it, I followed it perfectly. Even what seemed like setbacks to my judging mind; was all necessary and part of a perfectly crafted curriculum. Every problem, every upset, every shred of anxiety and all the resistance I felt were gifts. They reminded me to forgive. Without them I couldn't be where I am.

My only function is and has always been to be in harmony with what is. As long as we argue with reality, we will experience resistance. If we fight resistance we reinforce the false suffering self in us. When we plow through resistance what we are saying is that we know better. And as long as we think we know better, we can't hear the true voice of our integrity.

This does not mean we don't take action; it simply means we don't get invested mentally in avoiding what is. Our purpose is to find joy in whatever it is that we are doing. Sometimes that is not available. The practice that led me to the shift I experienced was that of looking at resistance without judgment. That is forgiveness. It's forgiving yourself for reacting to your thoughts. It's forgiving yourself for making what is illusory, real.

Apr 3, 2010

A new beginning

Long before I found A Course in Miracles, I followed Howard Roark. From the moment I imagined him at the edge of a cliff about to jump, I fell in love with him. I was in my early twenties, and no character in literature has made more of an impact in my life than him. Here's a guy who has just been kicked out of the most prestigious school of architecture for refusing to draw buildings using design guidelines from the past, and yet he is serene, focused and unaffected. He doesn't think about what the future will be like for him without a title. Instead, he goes for a swim. He gets butt naked, climbs up to a cliff and jumps into the lake.

One of Ayn Rand's purposes in writing her novel "The Fountainhead" was to portray the "ideal" man. Howard Roark is the ideal man. He is a man who consistently acts, speaks and designs for himself. He never gives to get or acts to impress. When he speaks, he says what he wants to say. Words for him are tools for communication; not manipulation. He acts consistently with what he wants and needs for himself. Ayn Rand calls him "selfish," and in her world that is the ultimate compliment.

Yet Howard Roark is one of the kindest men in literature. Because he doesn't need anything from anyone, he also expects nothing. When he helps, he demands no gratitude because he helps for his own sake. His integrity can never be sacrificed. As a result, he offers the highest form of help possible, which in Ayn Rand's words is to recognize other's "own independent value."

Howard Roark cannot be hurt by people or circumstances because he gives them no power to make him happy. His happiness comes only from his personal achievement; from doing what he is born to do. The first line in the novel is: "Howard Roark laughed…….He laughed at the thing which had happened to him that morning and at the things which now lay ahead." From that point on until the end of the 727 page novel, he keeps on laughing and smiling as he faces adversity because no matter what happens to him – and a lot does – he is free.

After his swim in the lake Roark goes into the world to practice architecture. In early twentieth century New York City he is way ahead of his time. He is labeled a "modernist" and throughout the novel he is abused and condemned by a society that is not ready for him. Yet, no matter how difficult the situation gets for him – several times in the novel he loses everything - he cannot suffer because his core belief is that nothing can hurt him. He knows that his body might be hurt or inconvenienced; he may become poor or even be thrown in prison; but he understands that a man can only hurt himself by giving power to the world to hurt him.

At one point in the novel he says to his friend Steven Mallory: "I don't think a man can hurt another, not in any important way. Neither hurt him or help him. I really have nothing to forgive…." Roark understands that he can't forgive another man because a man can't hurt him in the first place. How can he forgive someone for something he didn't do?

Over the last eighteen years, I have struggled to reconcile my love of Howard Roark with my practice of A Course in Miracles. I understood partially and only for brief moments what one had to do with the other. Last week I had a revelation which took me back to Howard Roark. I awoke to the realization that there is nobody out there to do things for. There is only one and that one is me. For the first time in my life I felt deep love for myself and as a result, for everything I see. I experienced this will rise within me that allowed me only to speak and move for myself.

This force that directed my actions made it impossible for me to do anything with the ego's motive which is to seek love, approval or attention from others. For two days I couldn't speak, move or even smile for other people's sake. Speaking or moving outside of this new found integrity felt like deep betrayal and I wouldn't dare betray it for the sake of others. Following this Will that guided my words and actions, I understood, was the end of suffering.

When this happened I was in a program called "The School for the Work," by Byron Katie. People noticed me and interpreted what they saw as a sign of grief. They were kind to me and offered me food, water and comfort. They tried to hug me. They asked me questions. They smiled at me. But I couldn't answer to please them, or to make them feel better. I could only move for myself, speak for myself even write for myself. Those first few hours after my mind cracked open, I was so moved by the freedom I felt, that I cried. I felt drunk with Joy that came from feeling complete. If I had a fear, it was only that somehow, I would choose to go back to doing things for others.

Little by little over the past week I've learned how to act normally again. I look the same and sound the same; the only difference is in purpose. My words and actions are honest because their purpose is not to manipulate. The blessing to others is that if I am with them, I am fully present and not calculating consciously or unconsciously what I might get in return. I'm no longer seeking approval. I have become Howard Roark.

I understand now what Ken Wapnick meant when he said that ultimately you realize that the Holy Spirit is you. When your mind lets go of its identification with the ego you become what you are in reality. Without the ego, you are that mind, which A Course in Miracles calls the Holy Spirit, which knows its true nature. Everything you do with this mind is honest because it does not need anything. This means you no longer reinforce the ego with its dream of separation in yourself or others. The "Secret Vows" which the Course talks about are off. Without the ego's motives, your purpose is only to extend love. And with love you can only be truly helpful.




Jan 16, 2010

Dreams and the practice of A Course in Miracles

A few nights ago I had a dream that upset me. I was in Buenos Aires, in one of the nicest avenues, except that in the dream it was grotesquely fancy. The street was lined with designer store fronts that were gilded with gold leaf and the side walk was tiled with white Carrara marble. It was crowded with shoppers carrying Christmas bags. I had just parked my car and I walked carefully carrying two stacked trays of ham and cheese croissant sandwiches and a fruit platter on top. I was taking the food to a meeting at the goodwill offices which were right up the street.

A woman accidentally swung a shopping bag over my trays and they fell to the ground. The croissants and fruit scattered all over. Within seconds, a half a dozen orphan children dressed in rags were diving for the sandwiches and the grapes which still rolled every which way on the crowded sidewalk.

I went up to a little boy of about six who was collecting green grapes in between the people's feet. I helped him pick up a few that had landed under a mail box. I said, "Sweetie, can you wash them before you eat them?" He looked at me with his big sad brown eyes; his face smeared with dirt, and nodded, then kept reaching for more. As I looked up, the shoppers wearing nice clothes and carrying bags with expensive gifts, walked by as if the children did not exist. Some walked around them; others pushed them to the side avoiding eye-contact. Nobody wanted to notice the children. It was as if the integrity of their perfect lives could be preserved ONLY if they didn't look.

When I woke up my eyes were wet. I had a feeling of helplessness that stayed with me even though the dream was over. My instinct was to move away from the pain, just like the shoppers in the dream, but I stayed with it for a few minutes and as soon as I became fully awake the pain left me, instantly.

It is tempting to believe that the circumstances within a dream can have an effect on us. Dreams can be convincingly real and while we sleep, they seem to be the cause of our suffering. For a while, I really believed I was sad because I felt sorry for the orphan children. But once I woke up I realized that in reality, there is no posh street with stores gilded in gold leaf; there are no croissant sandwiches, no indifferent shoppers and no orphan children. Even the character with which I identified in the dream, while she looked like me, in reality, does not exist. The real source of my pain is that I forgot I was dreaming and I got emotionally involved in a non-existent situation.

In the same way, what causes us to suffer in our lives is not what happens to us, but that we believe we are someone we are not. We believe we are separated selves living in the world apart from our Source. In Lesson 5 in the workbook we practice repeating that: "I am never upset for the reason I think." I think I'm upset because some circumstance made me upset, but the real reason I'm upset is that I believe I'm a character in a dream subject to the conditions of the dream.

The practice of A Course in Miracles is about remembering that we are the dreamer and not the character in the dream. Only the dreamer who caused the dream can choose to awaken. The goal of our practice is to get back to the mind of the dreamer because only he can choose to be whole again. But day in and day out instead of learning that we are the cause of the dream and not the victim of it, we give the world power over us by making it the cause of our pain and suffering. Every time we suffer, we demonstrate that the world must be real because it had the power to cause us pain. Only what is real can cause an effect.

The daily practice that can help us decrease our identification with the character in the dream is quite simple. Whenever something upsets us, we stop and look at it. We don't run away from the anxiety or the pain. If we do, we give the dream power and a reality it doesn't have. We first recognize that if we are upset, it must be because we are looking at the problem from the perspective of the character of the dream. The character of the dream believes the world is real and can have an effect on her. The character in the dream is identified with a vulnerable body she thinks she needs to protect. It's pretty scary being a character in a dream and believing the world can strike at any moment. So we look again, but this time instead of looking at the problem from the point of view of the character of the dream, we look at it with the part of our mind that knows our real identity. The Holy Spirit, which is the memory of God within our mind constantly reminds us that we "are at home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality." (T-10.I.2:1) And while the situation that upset us may not change, the anxiety and pain associated with it will fade because we will, at least temporarily, become aware that we are dreaming and that dreams can have no effect on our true identity.

It's very easy to become invested in the situations of our lives and to believe that by changing the circumstances we can have peace. This is nothing more than a trap. If I knew that waking up would instantly heal all suffering, why would I try to ease the pain by focusing on changing the circumstances? Had I been lucid in my dream of a couple of nights ago, I could have given every orphan child a loving adoptive parent. I could have clothed them and showered them with beautiful Christmas gifts. That would have made the dream much happier. I might have found a temporary feeling of peace and wellbeing like we have in our lives when we get what we want, but that peace is not the perfect peace of God which can only be experienced by knowing who we are in reality.

The practice of ACIM is not concerned with making the dream more pleasant. If the world is an illusion created by the ego to keep us mindless, why would we invest in changing it? As we obsess over global warming, war, poverty and we fear that we might catch the next flu virus, the ego is fulfilling its purpose of keeping us identified with the character in the dream. The Course doesn't tell us what we should or should not do. When we are called to help others, or if we want to champion a cause that we believe in, we should do it, but without joining in the suffering. We can use any activity we choose within the world for the purpose of overcoming the dream. All professions, causes and activities are equally suitable for that purpose.

What we don't want to do is focus on changing the circumstances because as long as we do, our investment will be on keeping the dream real rather than on waking from it. What we are here to demonstrate is that the dream can have no effect on the peace of God in our mind. Whenever I feel stress or anxiety, I look at my investment in the dream which shows up as attachment to outcome. Do I 'need' for a situation to be resolved in a certain way for me to experience peace? Whenever I notice a need, I can be sure I am looking at the situation from the perspective of the character in the dream whose happiness depends on the circumstances of the dream.

Once we make the shift from identifying with the character in the dream to looking at the world from the perspective of the mind, everything changes. If someone attacks me, I don't blame her because in the attack I recognize that like me, she is just trying to hold on to her false identity. I begin to realize that we are all the same. We all fear awakening from the dream. We all cling desperately to our false identities because they are all we know.

But the more we practice looking at our guilt and fear, which show up in the world in symbols such as orphan children, suffering victims of natural disasters, war, etc., and we recognize that what we are seeing is just a picture of the fear in our minds, we begin to awaken to our true identity. Progressively we experience more and more of the peace that is our natural inheritance.


From the section entitled "The Hero of the Dream." T-27.VIII.9: 1-8 In gentle laughter does the Holy Spirit perceive the cause, and looks not to effects. How else could He correct your error, who have overlooked the cause entirely? He bids you bring each terrible effect to Him that you may look together on its foolish cause and laugh with Him a while. [You] judge effects, but [He] has judged their cause. And by His judgment are effects removed. Perhaps you come in tears. But hear Him say, "My brother, holy Son of God, behold your idle dream, in which this could occur." And you will leave the holy instant with your laughter and your brother's joined with His.