A Talk about Nothing

(this is a transcript of a talk given at the Southwest Miracles Center in Phoenix, Arizona on May 25, 1997. It has been edited to improve readability)

Where do we begin? First of all a few ground rules:

I was asked in advance for a topic on which I was going to speak and I laughed. There are no preparations to be made in advance, but, sort of jokingly, I said, "If you have a bulletin put in there Jesus was not Religious." He wasn't a moralist either. Jesus has never given us, either 2000 years ago or in a book called A Course in Miracles, rules for trying to live this life. Why is that? Because there is no rule for living this life, there is no such thing. Yet religions inevitably want to come up with a set of rules and structures about how we go about living our little daily lives and be "nice people" and forget about Jesus. There are hundreds of thousands of Christian churches today...at this very moment...preaching the gospel as they understand it and they won't teach a thing that Jesus taught. There will hardly be any of the direct words of Jesus spoken from a pulpit in a Christian church this Sunday. What did Jesus say? "Resist not evil." How many preachers are going to preaching that sermon today? He said that a man cannot be his disciple unless he hates his mother and his father and his brothers and sisters...yea, even his own life. Whoa! How many preachers are going to be preaching that one today? Not a good way to increase the church building fund, I'll tell you for sure.

I think that, if we really open our eyes, even our human eyes, and look around, we see, it's not hard to see, that the world as we know it is coming very rapidly to an end. And, if you are a sincere student of A Course in Miracles, that's good news. But, there may be that little inkling that still wants to say "Oh, you're so negative!" No, just sober. I've been clean and sober for 10 years now. I'm a recovering humanoholic, a recovering dramaholic...that's the universal 12 Step program, by the way - Dramaholics Anonymous. Every human being qualifies. I saw a movie last night and in it one of the main characters was asked about his life and he said he was just leading a very uninteresting, lazy life. Then he said that anyone who thinks that his life is more than that is merely overdramatizing the insignificant.

Actually it came to me this morning that I'm going to talk about nothing. That's what we're talking about today - Nothing. It's the most important topic in A Course in Miracles... Nothing. I'm not so much interested in talking about it because talking about becomes another way we avoid the actual action of A Course in Miracles. Long before ACIM, Oscar Wilde observed that the Western mind, given a choice between being in Heaven and hearing a lecture about Heaven, would choose to hear the lecture about Heaven. And I think that we must begin to see that deception among the many others....that we would rather talk about salvation than to allow the action of salvation to operate in our lives. What is the action of salvation? UNdoing, DEconstruction, UNravelling, falling down, taking apart. Yes, the Southwest Miracles Center is going through another transformation and this one may well be its transformation into invisibility. And, if that be so, that's good. Hugh Prather set a beautiful example when he formed the Dispensable Church in Santa Fe. It was not designed to last, it is not supposed to last, it is a temporary device. Yet we inevitably want to make an institution of it. The energy of the Course is so vital that it has resisted the institutionalization of it so far, but that won't last.

"The sole responsibility of the miracle worker is to accept the Atonement for himself."

That statement appears very early in the Text. And very late in the Manual for Teachers it says,

"The sole responsibility of a Teacher of God is to accept the Atonement for himself."

So, what is this Atonement? I find it interesting that very, very late in the Text it says,

"There is no statement the world is more afraid to hear than this:" (And here I would like to put a parenthetical remark), "There is no statement that you are more afraid to admit than this:"

"I do not know the thing I am, and therefore do not
know what I am doing, where I am, or how to look
upon the world or on myself." (T-31.V. 17:6-9)

Then the Course goes on to say something very curious, have you ever noticed?

"Yet in this learning...." It calls the admission that you don't know anything learning.

I do not know the thing I am. I do not know where I am or who I am or what I'm doing or how to look upon anything or on myself - THAT is learning, as far as A Course in Miracles is concerned. "Yet in this learning..." it says, "is salvation born."

Begun! That's the beginning. That's the door that one has to pass through.

It is my contention that, if you look at it carefully, you really do not want the result that A Course in Miracles offers you. And you are using the concepts of A Course in Miracles to avoid that result. That result is the UNdoing of your personal life...but not in sacrifice. You see, the Course will never take anything from you that you feel deeply is valuable. What it wants you to see, to be willing to see, you do not have to know how to see this, but you must be willing to see, is that it is valueless because it is...nothing. It's nothing.

Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk of the first half of this century, says in his autobiography, The Golden String, "I suddenly saw that all the time it was not I who had been seeking God, but God who had been seeking me." Have you noticed that you are always seeking? Everything you do is a form of seeking. What is it that you are seeking...truly? I would suggest that, first and foremost that you are seeking comfort, security and pleasure. And, what could that be but a personal agenda? That seeking for comfort, security and pleasure will always fail. It will temporarily succeed....for a moment...but sooner or later it all falls down. Pleasure is always fleeting. The higher the pleasure, the faster it passes. At a deeper level we are seeking some way to stabilize this idea of self. We are seeking to authenticize and identify this individual, separate, special entity. We even use our "spiritual path" in order to become a "spiritual person." That is an oxymoron of cosmic proportions. There is no such thing as a spiritual person. Those two things are the opposite of one another. The word "person" or "personality" comes from an Etruscan phrase, per sona, "through sound." It referred to the mask that the players wore in the dramas which had a megaphone built in. Your persona is your mask that hides your real self and yet you are always trying to glorify and stabilize the persona, the image, the mask. We don't want to come to the place where we have to say "I don't know." Oh, we can sit around in study groups and say it, but I'm not talking about the concept of "I don't know." I'm talking about the realization, the total disorientation, the complete amnesia that comes with realizing that I really don't know who, what or where I am. Whoa!

Griffiths, who had sought through religion and philosophy, was educated at Oxford, had gone into the priesthood and then the monastery, finally realized that he had no way to conceive of God, "Was He truly a Person, as Christian writers maintained, or might He not be conceived impersonally, like Brahman, or again might not the absolute reality be simply a state, like the Nirvana of the Buddha?

"Thus my mind was gradually reduced to chaos. All the elements of religion which had been building up into a living structure in my soul, and had seemed to meet in the harmony of a living temple, of which Christ was the corner-stone and the principle of unity, now fell apart, and I was lost in confusion. At last I decided that I must make a new start."

That was the undoing. We can't build a structure out of God. There is no way to structure It and yet the mind, the small "m" mind, the ego-mind, the no-mind (because it is not a mind at all; it doesn't think; it just keeps repeating the same idea over and over in an infinite variety of forms) always wants to contain God within a structure because structures protect the ego. And I'm not just talking about physical structures, I'm talking about psychological structures as well - all kinds of definitions and paradigms that we hold about who we are and how we should be...they are all false. So, Griffiths goes on to say, "I saw that it was not I who was seeking God...." We must begin to see that we are not truly seeking God, we are seeking to avoid God, even when we claim to be seeking God. We are not seeking Reality; we are seeking an idea of God that we are holding and that's just not what God is.

"I suddenly saw that all the time it was not I who had been seeking God, but God who had been seeking me." Listen to this carefully. "I had made my self the center of my own existence...."

Is that not what we all do? Do we not see and interpret everything from a particular center? And we look out upon the universe as if this were the center of time and space. When I say it like that it seems ludicrous and you might say, "Not really," but the truth is that is your moment-to-moment activity, your habit. Any time that is past is past...from you! Not past relative any other reference, but past from you. The future is future from where you are right now. "Up" is up from you. "Down" is down from where you are. So, you are the center of your universe.

"I had made my self the center of my own existence and had my back turned to God."

This is a Benedictine monk admitting this to himself,

"All the beauty and truth I had discovered had come to me as a reflection of His Beauty, but I had kept my eyes fixed on the reflection and was always looking at myself."

Yes, dear Narcissus!

"But God had brought me to the point at which I was compelled to turn away from the reflection both of myself and of the world which could only mirror my own image."

You see, an interesting way to read the Course is to interchange the words "world" and "self." They are the same thing. When it says "There is no world!" it also says that there is no self because you cannot have a self without a world for it to be in. And you cannot have a world without a self to perceive it. So, "self" and "world" are the same, identical concept.

"During that night..." and he called it a night, just like John of the Cross, "the mirror had been broken and I had felt abandoned because I could no longer gaze upon the image of my own reason...."

God, how much darker could it get?

"and on the finite world which I knew. God had brought me to my knees and had made me acknowledge my own nothingness. And, out of that knowledge, I had been reborn. I was no longer the center of my life and, therefore, I could see God in everything."

I-me-mine "was no longer the center of my life and, therefore, I could see God in everything."

About three years ago I started writing a piece on willingness. The Course says that all it takes is "a little willingness." Boy, did I stumble across some interesting stuff. One that stuck with me comes from the section of the Manual for Teachers called "The Development of Trust" on which all of the other attributes of a Teacher of God are based. It describes six stages in the progress of a Teacher of God and in the fifth stage, after periods of "undoing", "sorting out", and "relinquishment" In this fifth stage, a "period of unsettling" the Course says this about the advanced Teacher of God:

"He thought he learned willingness, but now he sees that he does not know what the willingness is for."

Then I began to use my computer search program to look at all the things the Course says about willingness. I realized then that, while we say "all the Course asks is a little willingness," we forget that the Voice that asks for a "little willingness" is the same Voice that calls the entire history of physical universe "a tiny tick of time." So, you must understand that his perspective is a little bit different. "A little willingness...." I was staggered by the things it said you had to be willing for. I said, "I can't do this. I wouldn't even know where to start." And then I found the saving grace,

"And your willingness need not be complete because His [the Holy Spirit's] is perfect. It is His task to atone for your unwillingness by His perfect faith, and it is His faith you share with Him there. Out of your recognition of your unwillingness for your release, His perfect willingness is given you." [T-16.VI.12 3-5]

So that all the Course actually asks us to do is look upon the fact that we really don't want the Course, we really don't want the result. We are fighting it with every subtle trick we have. As Satan's children we are the deceiver, the liar and the seducer. And, who is it that we are kidding? Only ourselves. Let's drop the pretense and look at the fact that the ego loves the idea of salvation, loves to talk about it, write about it, preach about it....as long as it is not NOW! I remember how clearly that was spoken to me. I was at a Jack and Layle Luckett intensive in Sedona a few years ago and on the last day we had a talk about Resurrection. Then we split up into groups of 4 and went down to a private section of Oak Creek for a blessing ceremony. Beautiful place! The creek was flowing. It was clear and just rocky enough to allow visible currents. In this ceremony each of the four in turn would be blessed. He or she would tell the other three how the ceremony should be, what to say, what to do. Some got naked, some wanted to be totally immersed, some sprinkled on the head, it didn't matter, no rules. And then the other three would perform the ceremony. This went on until each of the four had been blessed, each in his own way. After our group finished we were standing around talking. One of the members was a beautiful Hawaiian woman, dressed in a brilliant yellow sun dress and a brilliant yellow sun hat. She looked like the sun itself - bright and glowing. And as we talked she mentioned the material on Resurrection and said, in all innocence, "I love this Resurrection thing. I really liked what was said today. But I'm not ready yet. I have some other things I want to do first."

So, is it possible to look in the mind and find that one is resisting? And...there's no problem in that, no guilt in that. Don't make a problem out of the fact that you are unwilling. It's more important to be self-honest, see the unwillingness and admit it very dispassionately, just as fact. A fact is never a problem...because it's a fact. Our opinions about it become the problem. We would like to think that we are oh-so-much-more-evolved. Well, evolution doesn't mean anything; salvation is now. Either you see or you don't. And if you don't, you are unwilling. End of logical argument. There need not be a problem in that. If one makes a problem of it, guess who is involved? The "me" that wants to sustain itself, the "me" that wants to participate in salvation. It will never be a participant because salvation is the absence of the "me," the undoing of I-me-mine...and nothing else. When I am no longer the center of my life I see God in everything. When I-me-mine had disappeared into the nothingness from which it came, then God is everywhere.

Out of the mouths of children: in the 19th century Hasidic tradition the 8 year old son of a rabbi met up with another, older rabbi. The older rabbi said to the boy, "I'll give you a ducat if you can show me where God is." And the eight year old replied, "I'll give you two if you can show me where he's not."

There was a young woman from the early part of this century by the name of Simone Weil. She never wrote anything spiritually to be published. What little exists consists mostly of letters she wrote to a Catholic priest. In one of them she speaks of the implicit forms of the Love of God. She says that we demonstrate that we love God in many ways that we do not consciously recognize. In this paper she says,

"We all know that there is no true good here below, that everything that appears to be good in this world is finite, limited, wears out, and once worn out, leaves necessity exposed in all its nakedness.... But as soon as we have seen this truth we cover it up with lies.... Men feel that there is mortal danger in facing this squarely for any length of time. That is true. Such knowledge strikes more surely than a sword; it inflicts a death more frightening than that of the body. After a time it kills everything within us that constitutes our ego. In order to bear it we have to love truth more than [bodily existence] itself."

That's a tall order! And this psychological death (of the ego) we fear much more than bodily death. In fact you would rather die than give up your specialness. That's unwillingness! And there's no problem in it.

The key is: if we are going to use a map...and this blue book called A Course in Miracles is no more than a map...we must start with "YOU ARE HERE", you know, the great big red arrow - YOU ARE HERE. It does no good at all to look at a map and study all the roads leading out of San Francisco when you are up to your ass in quicksand in Ajo, Arizona. We must begin with "YOU ARE HERE." You must know where you are. You must become intimately familiar with all your hatreds and your pettiness and your greed which you don't really want to admit. But only by looking at the dark clouds (how many times does the Course talk about clouds?), only by walking into the dark clouds do we find that they have no substance. It's only by looking at this stuff that we can discover that it is false. As long as we are looking away from it we will always believe it is real. If you are looking away from your guilt, your hatred and your anger it is because you think it is real. The Course says, in effect, "Stop and turn around and look at it for a minute." It won't be fun; it won't be comfortable, but you will get through it. And you will get through it to where the light truly is. The Light is on the other side of these dark clouds and only by going through these dark clouds do we get to the light. Not by running away from them or trying to get around them. And yet, so often, in the so-called spiritual life, we try to learn a whole set of concepts that we can spout and pretend to be living that seem to make us somehow better than the other guy. That's not what Spirit is about...it's not about being better than the other guy.

Jesus gave us only two rules. The Pharisees tried to trick him, they were very ingenious, the lawyers of the first century. Can you imagine preachers being lawyers? TILT! They wanted to trick Jesus so they asked him, "What is the greatest commandment?" His response blew them away. He quoted directly from the Old Testament, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind and with all thy soul." "And" he said, "there is a second which is like unto it...." Identical to it, precisely the same commandment. "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self." and he meant that quite literally because your neighbor is thy self. and then he said, "On these two hang all the laws and all the prophets." Love thy neighbor as thy self because he is your self. There is no place where I stop and you start. But that must be a realization. The concept is meaningless, the words are meaningless. It must be an experience, an intensely personal experience that you would love to tell the world about but you can't because there are no words to describe it.

Bede Griffiths begins his book by talking about something that happened to him when he was a young man which started him off on his spiritual search. But he said that he couldn't even talk to himself about it. He tries, but the words always fall incredibly short. Thomas Merton pointed out that what so often happens is that one gets a little glimpse of the Light and can't wait to run around and tell everybody else when all God wants is for us to sit with and in that Light and allow that little glowing ember to grow into a burning flame. The catch is that this flame will burn out the dross, the ego, the self to the point that I will no longer be the center of my own life and I will see God in everything. But there is no personal benefit to salvation. Please get that. You came to the spiritual life looking for a personal benefit. You wanted your own personal life to be better. That's not what the true spiritual life is about.

Joel Goldsmith observed that initially it does seem that things get better....for a while. The Holy Spirit is a great seducer...beats the ego at its own game. But then the benefits seem to cease, to go away. What does one do when it ceases to improve the personal life? Does he go off to another island in the metaphysical buffet and try another so-called path that seems to be a bit nicer, a bit more pleasant? Do we go to the Conversations with God group or the Ascension group now that A Course in Miracles has become a bit dry and is no longer fun? Where do we go next in order to look for self-improvement? This movement is ingrained in the entity so there is no real problem in it, but it is important to see that one does not truly want the result Spirit is offering. Spirit says, "There is no world!" The only answer the Holy Spirit ever gives is "It is not so."(1) The Holy Spirit doesn't say, "Go build a temple on the north side of Sedona." or any such nonsense. The Holy Spirit didn't say any of that. The ego knows how to speak in "Thees" and "Thous" and high-flown, so-called spiritual language and concepts. None of this is true. It's not about establishing anything on this planet. Early in the Text, the Course says, "Shallow roots must be uprooted." Who has read that? Can you feel just a little chill of fear when you hear that? It's OK.

Regarding another experience, Griffiths said,

"All that I had been through up to this hour had been leading up to this. At Eastington I had been led through the asceticism which our way of life forced upon us to break with the material world and to control my natural feelings and appetites. Then in the painful struggle in prayer during the night with the Cowley Fathers I had been brought to renounce my own reason. Now I was made to renounce my own will, to surrender the inmost center of my own being. Each renunciation had been dragged out of me painfully against my own will. I had struggled against it and felt it as an invasion of my being by an alien power. There was indeed something terrifying in this power which had entered into my life and which would not be refused. It had revealed itself to me as love, but I knew now that it was a love that demanded everything and which was a torment if it was resisted. Once the surrender had been made that power took over the direction of my life. I had been striving to come to terms with it, to allot it a certain place in my life, but it had shown me that it would accept no compromise."

Straight out of A Course in Miracles, "Salvation is no compromise."

"I had wanted to keep my own will and direct my own life, but now I had been forced to surrender. I had placed my life in the hands of a power that was infinitely beyond me and I knew from this time that the sole purpose of my life must be to leave myself in those hands and to allow my soul to be governed by that will."

Wow! And you don't come to that except by grace. You can't rush to it. You think you are walking toward it and you are actually walking 180 degrees away from it. But that's OK because you wouldn't walk toward it anyway. It's going to bite you on the butt one day when you are least expecting it. "Let not the left hand know what the right hand is doing." Didn't Jesus say that? Didn't he say, "I come as a thief in the night."? Didn't he say, "No man shall know the time."? You won't. And all of your attempts to know the time, to evaluate your progress, to even examine your spiritual life are all just forms of resistance, merely resistance. And it's OK; it's not a problem Once we see it only as a fact, it is not a problem. A fact is not a problem unless we make it into one. Let's not make a fact into a problem. The resistance is there. Let us find the resistance. Look for the blocks to the awareness of Love's Presence. Look for the barriers you have erected against Love. I'm just quoting straight out of the Course. Don't search for Truth; don't search for Love. You wouldn't know where to look or what to look for. Find out, discover, admit...give yourself the gift of self-honesty...that you really don't want what this course is offering. And, if it is too painful to bear right now, that's fine. Jesus says the most marvelous thing in A Course in Miracles, "If you want to be like me...." exactly like me, Jesus, "I will help you, knowing that we are alike." (T-8.IV. 6:3-4) And what does he say that he will do if you want to be different? "I'm going to beat you up!"? "I'm gonna force ya!"? "I'm gonna try to convince ya!" No, he says merely, "I will wait until you change your mind." You see ultimately there is no choice in the matter and ultimately you are very pissed off about that. It's only a matter of time and in the end that doesn't matter in the slightest. So Jesus can have infinite patience because he knows it doesn't matter. He knows it doesn't matter, "I will wait until you change your mind." with no condemnation, no criticism; there's no problem in it at all. If you want to be different than Jesus, he says, "OK fine, play that game a little while longer" until you see that as the actual source of all your pain. Once you see the smoking gun in your own hand, you will drop it. Once you see that your desire to be a special, individual, separated self as the cause of all your pain; when you finally see for yourself...I can't tell it to you, doesn't matter if I do...when you finally realize and recognize for yourself that specialness is the root cause of all your pain and suffering, you will drop it; you will no longer want this special self. But, at this moment, you would probably rather die than give up your specialness. And that's OK. Because that is how this appearance of specialness arose in the first place - specialness is the idea of death. And we do seem to die...physically. We are really not afraid of that, though we may pretend to be, because we have done that many times before. The one death which you will encounter only once is the psychological death, allowing the "I" to no longer be the center of my existence, to give up on the entire idea of "I-me-mine." That one psychological death is the final death. That is the "old man who must die" in St. Paul's terms, so that "the new man can be reborn." It has nothing to do with this body; it is only a neutral piece of meat which but symbolizes my idea of wanting to be separate. It does nothing more than that. It appears to be a fence that appears to enclose a piece of Spirit.

The world will not "end in punishment and death. In lightness and in laughter is sin gone, because its quaint absurdity is seen." (Lesson 156) I love that phrase...quaint absurdity. "It is a foolish thought, a silly dream, not frightening, ridiculous perhaps, but who would waste an instant in approach to God Himself for such a senseless whim?" asks the Course. "Yet you have wasted many, many years on just this foolish thought." But it is just a silly idea that could never work in the first place. And what a joke it is to find that I never did do this. You see that is what forgiveness is - to find out that this never happened. This talk never happened! Chuang Tsu saw this 2500 years ago and said, "You and Confucius are dreaming. And when I say you are dreaming, I am dreaming too. Perhaps in ten thousand generations a wise sage will come along and explain all this....or....it could be any day now." We must begin to see that none of this essentially matters. The Southwest Miracles Center doesn't matter; A Course in Miracles doesn't matter; the world, the earth, the third rock from the sun doesn't matter; Homo sapiens doesn't matter - none of those things really have any meaning at all. You can step aside from spiritual teachings and see, even in a scientific sense, that none of these things makes any significant difference. We want to believe that they do, but they don't. It's all nothing. Shakespeare wrote the play, "Much Ado about Nothing."

J. Krishnamurti, in something that had a terrific impact on me when I first read it, from his Commentaries on Living, says,

"You are nothing. You may have your name and title, your property and bank account, you may have power and be famous; but in spite of all these safeguards, you are as nothing. You may be totally unaware of this emptiness, this nothingness, or you may simply not want to be aware of it; but it is there, do what you will to avoid it. You may try to escape from it in devious ways, through personal or collective violence, through individual or collective worship, through knowledge or amusement; but whether you are asleep or awake, it is always there. You can come upon your relationship to this nothingness and its fear only by being choicelessly aware of the escapes.

Here I think he uses "choicelessly" to mean "having no opinion or judgement about it" Just be aware of the fact of the various methods of escape, that you are constantly trying to escape from the realization that your personal life is as nothing, no real meaning.

"You are not related to it as a separate, individual entity; you are not the observer watching it; without you, the thinker, the observer, it is not. You and nothingness are one; you and nothingness are a joint phenomenon, not two separate processes. If you, the thinker, are afraid of it and approach it as something contrary and opposed to you, then any action you may take towards it must inevitably lead to illusion and so to further conflict and misery. When there is the discovery, the experiencing of that nothingness as you, the fear -- which exists only when the thinker is separate from his thoughts and so tries to establish a relationship with them -- completely drops away. Only then is it possible for the mind to be still; and in this tranquility, truth comes into being."

I would like to wrap this up with another from Mr. Krishnamurti from early in his teaching career, a talk he gave in London in 1931,

"In everything, in all men, there is the totality, the completeness of life... By completeness I mean freedom of consciousness, freedom from individuality. That completeness which exists in everything cannot progress: it is absolute. The effort to acquire is futile, but if you can realise that Truth, happiness, exists in all things and that the realisation of that Truth lies only through elimination, then there is a timeless understanding. This is not a negative. Most people are afraid to be nothing. They call it being positive when they are making an effort, and call that effort virtue. Where there is effort it is not virtue. Virtue is effortless. When you are as nothing, you are all things, not by aggrandisement, not by laying emphasis on the 'I', on the personality, but by the continual dissipation of that consciousness which creates power, greed, envy, possessive care, vanity, fear and passion. By continually being self-recollected you become fully conscious, and then you liberate the mind and heart and know harmony, which is completeness."


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©1997 daan dehn

1. cf. Lesson 166 (click on Back button of your browser to return to text)