"It teaches but the very obvious. It merely goes from one apparent lesson to the next, in easy steps that lead you from one to another, with no strain at all." [T600/645]
These statements from the opening paragraph of the final chapter of the Text of A Course in Miracles would certainly seem to imply some sort of upcoming summary of its principles. Yet, after reading the Course for several years, it still is not apparent exactly what these steps are. There are places, like the "The Lessons of the Holy Spirit" [Chapter 6], that seem to outline "steps," but as I look at them I am uncertain even how to begin. For several years I have inquired as to the real beginning of A Course in Miracles. By this I mean after one has read the Text and done the lessons: if one still finds himself with the experience of separation, then what?
About three years ago I came upon the realization that, even though I had studied the Course intensely for years, that I hardly understood what it was really saying. I began to look furiously for something, anything, that I felt I could understand. I found lesson 79 -- "Let me recognize the problem so it can be solved." I was already conceptually familiar with the teaching that there is but one problem and therefore one solution. This lesson reawakened in me that it is very reasonable that the solution to a problem is to be found within the problem itself and not somewhere else. In fact, as lesson 80 continues, the discovery of the problem exactly as and where it is also reveals that it has already been solved. Now, of course, this lesson defines the problem explicitly -- separation. Yet, after 3 years of intensively exploring and "understanding" such words and concepts as separation, unforgiveness, grievance, attack thoughts, self-concept, my "problems" still appear to be unsolved. What I must deduce from this is that knowing the words and concepts about the problem is insufficient and is not what is meant by recognize. What does the Course mean by recognize the problem?
Recently I was reminded that lesson 23 actually foreshadows 79 and 80 and identifies the process as "steps."
"...you are not trapped in the world you see, because its cause can be changed. This change requires, first, that the cause be identified and then let go, so that it can be replaced. The first two steps in this process require your cooperation. The final one does not."
It then says a very curious thing, the principle of which Course students should be very familiar with, but most often overlook its stunning paradox,
"Your images have already been replaced. By taking the first two steps, you will see that this is so."
So, the first step in recognizing what has already happened is identifying the cause of the world. Yet, as I look through the Course, it also mentions other "first steps," among which are:
"The first step...is the undoing of the getting concept." [T99/107]
"Recognizing that your mind has been merely blank, rather than believing that it is filled with real ideas, is the first step to opening the way to vision." [Lesson 8]
"The first step toward freedom involves a sorting out of the false from the true." [T464/499]
"...the first step in the undoing is to recognize that you actively decided wrongly, but can as actively decide otherwise." [T83/90]
Are there many, different first steps? Or rather, is there something so all-inclusive that could encompass all of these seemingly disparate "steps"? By now one must realize that whatever the Course is pointing to is not a lot of separate steps or things, but something which is comprehensive and all-encompassing. In chapter 28 there is an astonishing statement,
"The miracle is the first step in giving back to cause the function of causation, not effect. For this confusion has produced the dream, and while it lasts will wakening be feared." [T552/595]
Many Course students get sidetracked into discussions and interpretations of the Course's many references to the real world or even knowledge, which is beyond perception. Books are published with wide readership speculating as to what the outcome of awakening might look like. Theories and prophecies abound as to the "future world," even as to the dates involved. Yet, of what use is speculation or discussion about a future state to those who seem to suffer now? Who cares about the wondrous future of the year 2011 when his or her child is apparently dying now? Just a few paragraphs later A Course in Miracles gives clear direction on this score,
"What waits in perfect certainty beyond salvation is not our concern. For you have barely started to allow your first, uncertain steps to be directed up the ladder separation led you down. The miracle alone is your concern at present. Here is where we must begin." [T553/596]
Begin! The miracle is the beginning! Would this not mean then that, if one has not experienced the miracle, he has not even made the first step, not even begun?
Now, this is a course in MIRACLES, is it not? Why is so little attention given to miracles in all of the so-called teachings? Lots of talk about love and forgiveness, but almost none at all about miracles. Oh yes, there is the "miracle" of getting a new job, or improved health, or money showing up when needed, but none of these have anything to do with what A Course in Miracles means by miracle at all. Somehow we must be clear exactly what a miracle is before we can proceed, and perhaps the most comprehensive delineation of miracle is given in the section of Chapter 28 to which we have referred above.
"The miracle establishes you dream a dream, and that its content is not true. This is a crucial step in dealing with illusions." [T552/594]
"The miracle returns the cause of fear to you who made it. But it also shows that, having no effects, it is not cause...." [T553/595]
And there it is -- the recognition of the problem, the identification of the cause of the world, the undoing of the getting concept, the realization that your mind has been merely blank, the sorting out of the false from the true, the recognition that you actively decided wrongly and can as actively decide otherwise -- the first step and more...MUCH MORE!
One of the most difficult, fearful and most often misinterpreted passages from the Course is where it asks one to admit,
"I am responsible for what I see,I choose the feelings I experience, and I decide upon the goal I would achieve. And everything that seems to happen to me I ask for and receive as I have asked." [T418/448]
In order to avoid the radical meaning of this admission, most "interpret" it in such a way as to dilute its meaning almost beyond recognition. It means what it says! You are responsible for everything you see because you are responsible for the way you "see" -- both projection and perception. Lesson 15 has this to say about your way of "seeing":
"It is because the thoughts [of separation] you think you think appear as images that you do not recognize them as nothing. You think you think them, and so you think you see them. This is how your 'seeing' was made. This is the function you have given your body's eyes. It is not seeing. It is image making. It takes the place of seeing, replacing vision with illusions."
A common misinterpretation of this is in the attempted application only to seeming "specific" events or persons and the related "specific" feelings -- specific "cause and effect" associations. Yet the Course is repeatedly clear.
"It serves no purpose to attempt to solve it [the problem] in a special form. It will recur and then recur again and yet again, until it has been answered for all time and will not rise again in any form. And only then are you released from it." [T506/544]
You have but two emotions -- fear and love -- and each results in a way of seeing -- separation or oneness, regardless of the form which appears. The attempt to see problems as specific and separate is but the attempt to maintain the fundamental problem unseen and unsolved. So if you are perceiving separation, you are experiencing fear, regardless of the fact that you may attempt to gloss over it, call it something else and refuse to recognize it as such. You are not experiencing love unless you are perceiving wholeness. This is very important and must be clearly seen and understood.
An even more pervasive, misleading and dangerous misinterpretation of this passage, subscribed to by many of the prominent "teachers" of the Course is:
"I am not responsible for what happens, but I am responsible for how I respond to it."
This approach, which comes more from late 20th century humanistic psychology than from the Course, attempts to allay the guilt associated with another's errors, but completely ignores a most fundamental teaching of A Course in Miracles, the one which makes it rather unique among the world's spiritual teachings: that you are responsible for your brother's errors. This humanistic interpretation would entirely overlook PROJECTION, without which there would be no perception. Repeatedly the Course instructs that the errors you see in others are but your own errors projected outward and that you cannot see your own sinlessness, but you can see it reflected in your brother once you choose to see it there.
"Your home is built upon your brother's health, upon his happiness, his sinlessness, and everything his Father promised him." [T562/605]
This would seem to blow a huge hole in the common self-centered, humanistic misinterpretation. The entire process of perception requires first that you look within and decide what you want to see and then it is seen as desired. And, once again, there are but two ways of seeing -- separation or wholeness -- regardless of the specific form. Those who subscribe to the humanistic, halfway approach attempt to rationalize, justify or somehow magically or metaphysically explain away the appearance of war and hunger, sickness and death while steadfastly refusing to accept responsibility for the appearance thereof. This is not what the passage says! It says YOU are the dreamer of the world. You, singularly and individually (but not personally as a separate entity, as that "you" is illusory), are dreaming the entire universe of pain and suffering, sickness and death. It is not a "collective" dream; there is no such thing as collective -- the whole is not merely the collection of its seeming parts. Here the Course makes a very comprehensive statement that is very apt to be overlooked or misinterpreted:
"Do not project responsibility for your belief in [the ego] onto anyone else, or you will preserve the belief. When you are willing to accept sole responsibility for the ego's existence you will have laid aside all anger and attack, because they come from an attempt to project responsibility for your own errors." [T121/131]
SOLE RESPONSIBILITY! This is some willingness! Yet, as long as the world is perceived as having real effects, how could anyone be willing to accept full responsibility for it? The magnitude of the fear and weight of guilt would be more than anyone could bear. Who can conceive of such a responsibility? Miracle principle 24 seems exceedingly clear and unequivocal:
"Miracles enable you to heal the sick and raise the dead because you made sickness and death yourself, and can therefore abolish both." [T2/4]
How many understand this as literally true? How is all this reconciled? How can a miracle accomplish this?
"The miracle does nothing but to show him that he has done nothing." [T552/594]
"A miracle is a correction. It does not create, nor really change at all. It merely looks on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false." [W463/473]
"Like every lesson that the Holy Spirit requests you learn, the miracle is clear. It demonstrates what He would have you learn, and shows you its effects are what you want. In His forgiving dreams are the effects of yours undone, and hated enemies perceived as friends with merciful intent. Their enmity is seen as causeless now, because they did not make it. And you can accept the role as maker of their hate, because you see that it has no effects." [T552/595]
YOU! Maker of their hate! This clearly makes one responsible for what he sees as outside himself. Yet it simultaneously establishes the complete unreality of all hate, sickness, death and conflict -- of the world in toto. The Text further describes the miracle:
"The miracle does not awaken you, but merely shows you who the dreamer is. It teaches you there is a choice of dreams while you are still asleep." [T551/593]
Ah, choice! A Course in Miracles repeatedly points to the fact that salvation is a choice and that there is only one.
"The first is a decision that you make. But afterwards, the truth is given you." [T603/648]
Yet serious students of the Course must finally ask "When and how do I actually make this choice?" A Course in Miracles answers very specifically,
"There is a choice that you have power to make when you have seen the real alternatives. Until that point is reached you have no choice, and you can but decide how you would choose the better to deceive yourself again." [T609/655]
"You cannot evaluate an insane belief system from within it. .... You can only go beyond it, look back from a point where sanity exists and see the contrast." [T164/176]
Seen the real alternatives! See the contrast! Where would one see the real alternatives, how would one go beyond his insane belief system to a place where sanity exists, except within the context of the miracle? This brings us right back to the fact that the miracle is the beginning and truly the only thing necessary. What else could encompass all of the seemingly widely divergent goals of A Course in Miracles?
"There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach." [Lesson 132]
"There is nothing outside you. That is what you ultimately must learn...." [T358/384]
Are not these one and the same? What could possibly be the means that would teach such a seemingly absurd, incredible and impossible lesson? Is there anything imaginable or comprehensible which could make such a radical conclusion obvious and real? Is there anything that could bring about the total and radical demonstration of these statements?
Certainly neither mere practice and discipline nor simple affirmation and assertion; not even a clear, conceptual understanding of these ideas could bring this about. Only some sort of radical experience, which demonstrates these statements as one and the same and an all-inclusive FACT, not merely concept, could accomplish the goal of A Course in Miracles -- that is the miracle. The miracle is both the recognition of the problem and the solution.
Then, if the miracle has not occurred in awareness, must we not ask what are the conditions for its occurrence? In the same section quoted at the beginning of this essay, the Text says,
"Only unwillingness to learn could make such an easy lesson difficult." [T600/645]
and in the section on "A Little Willingness" it says this about the holy instant,
"The desire and the willingness to let it come precede its coming." [T354/380]
So, here we have two of the conditions for the miracle -- desire and willingness. What would this desire look like? How or why would it come? Again and again the Course attempts to engage our reason,
"Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way." [T18/22]
"Who would be willing to be turned away from all the roadways of the world, unless he understood their real futility? Is it not needful that he begin with this, to seek another way instead?" [T608/654]
Here once more the Voice of the Course is pointing toward the real beginning: to finally realize that all of human existence is meaningless and futile, that it is going nowhere -- it always ends in pain and suffering, sickness and death. This is what could be termed the EXISTENTIALIST CONCLUSION: that personal existence is meaningless within a chaotic and meaningless universe. Careful examination clearly shows that the first 20 lessons of the Workbook are pointing directly to this recognition. In particular, Lesson 13 points to the fact that "A meaningless world engenders fear." The previous lesson has already asked one to let go all concepts of the world -- good or bad, satisfying or unsatisfying -- and recognize the world of form as merely meaningless. Lesson 13 then underscores the importance of this recognition,
"It is essential, therefore, that you learn to recognize the meaningless, and accept it without fear."
Why would the recognition of the meaninglessness of the world be fearful? Lesson 13 asks one to admit,
"A meaningless world engenders fear because I think I am in competition with God."
This lesson suggests that one will find this admission "preposterous." Yet this is the very crux of the entire idea of self and world. The Course then reminds us,
"However ridiculous the idea of attacking God may be to the sane mind, never forget that the ego [the idea of a self apart] is not sane." [T77/84]
In order to believe in the reality of a separate self or an objective world requires a belief that you have set yourself in competition with God and defeated Him. This is the reason that the admission of the meaninglessness of the world is fearful. It leaves one with no option but God, whom this world declares as dead.
After one actually sees that there is nothing real, lasting or fulfilling here, the Course cautions,
"But do not judge the lesson that is but begun with this. ... For from this lowest point will learning lead to heights of happiness, in which you see the purpose of the lesson shining clear, and perfectly within your learning grasp. ...."
"The learning that the world can offer but one choice, no matter what its form may be, is the beginning of the acceptance that there is a real alternative instead." [T608/654]
One choice...always only one choice in every moment -- between a miracle and a grievance, between oneness and separation, between reality and unreality. The absoluteness of this choice would certainly point out the fallacy of seeking God or Truth or enlightenment as a hobby or pastime. Because of the all-encompassing and unequivocal nature of Truth, this approach could never work. And to seek it merely for the purpose of becoming an even more "special" human being is a deception of the first magnitude. This search for accomplishment and achievement could never possibly succeed because its goal is the direct opposite of spiritual actualization. This is why the cultivation and practice of personal virtue and piety have nothing whatever to do with true spiritual realization. This is so much so the fact that "A Little Willingness" continues,
"You prepare your mind only to the extent of recognizing that you want it [the holy instant] above all else. It is not necessary that you do more; indeed, it is necessary that you realize that you cannot do more." [T354f/380]
This is where most spiritual seekers get caught up. The desire, determination or necessity to demonstrate a personal or special capacity to become enlightened is no more than another block to the awareness of what always already is. Therefore there is no need for any sort of spiritual practice; no technique, method or discipline is either necessary or ultimately effective. In fact, the opposite is finally true; all forms of practice or discipline require force and coercion, which are opposite to real freedom. They are all merely more forms of avoidance and evasion. In this respect the Voice of the Course even chides us a bit,
"And it is very hard for you to realize it is not personally insulting that your contribution and the Holy Spirit's are so extremely disproportionate. You are still convinced that your understanding is a powerful contribution to the truth, and makes it what it is. Yet we have emphasized that you need understand nothing. Salvation is easy just because it asks nothing you cannot give right now" [T356/382]
In other words, one need only be willing to allow the miracle, which waits always merely for acceptance.
"The miracle is taken first on faith, because to ask for it implies the mind has been made ready to conceive of what it cannot see and does not understand." [W463/473]
In several places the Course says that a little willingness is all that is required. Yet in the section of the Manual for Teachers, wherein it outlines six stages in the development of trust, appears one of the more sobering statements in the Course. After "a period of undoing," followed by periods of "sorting out," "relinquishment," and then "a period of settling down" the Teacher of God arrives at the fifth stage: "a period of unsettling" in which "He thought he learned willingness, but now he sees that he does not know what the willingness is for." [M10/11]. When one gets just a peek at the many ways that the Course means willingness, it begins to look monumental, It says, among other things, that one must be willing...
"to question every value that you hold." [T464/499]
"to hide nothing." [T8/11]
"to accept only the eternal." [T173/186]
"to let illusions go." [T557/600]
and on and on. But does the Course not say it is but a LITTLE willingness which is required? Yes, but one must remember that the Voice which calls the willingness "little" also calls the entire history of the manifest universe "a tiny tick of time," a "tiny instant." [T511/550]. What, then, would this "little" willingness look like?
"All you need to give away this world in glad exchange for one you did not make is the willingness to see the one you made is false." [T237/254]
Willingness to see the world you made is false! This would, of course, obviously include the self you made up as well, in that the idea of objective world and the idea of a self apart are exactly one and the same idea. Does this not require that one first of all be willing to see that he is the maker of the world he sees and the self he experiences as real? How would this happen? Are we not once again back to the necessity of the miracle? The only way to the recognition of Reality is through the complete relinquishment by the Mind of the idea of separation regardless of its form. And this can happen only through an involuntary agency arising in the Mind, but not within the province or control of the self. This is the miracle! There is no solution to an unreal problem and, therefore, no escape or option for the separated, special self. The solution is that there is no problem in the first place, which is what the miracle demonstrates.
"The world you see has nothing to do with reality. It is of your own making, and it does not exist." [Lesson 14]
"The world you see does not exist, because the place where you perceive it is not real." [T559/602]
and the willingness to accept this as true is one way in which willingness could be understood. Stated in a slightly different way, the Course points to the real definition of willingness:
"The first illusion, which must be displaced before another thought system can take hold, is that it is a sacrifice to give up the things of the world. .... It takes great learning to realize and to accept the fact that the world has nothing to give." [M32/33]
and it means all of the things of the world, without exception, including any and all concepts of a limited and separate, special self, because
"Accept a little part of hell as real, and you have damned your eyes and cursed your sight, and what you will behold is hell indeed." [Lesson 130]
"One illusion cherished and defended against the truth makes all of truth meaningless, and all illusions real." [T439/472]
Yes, even one, any one, because the thought of separation, like truth, is holographic; each aspect contains the entire power of the whole. The most cherished of all illusions and the fundamental basis for all of them is the desire to be a special, unique, distinctive self -- a personhood apart. This is particularly deceptive in the attempt to become "spiritual" and to demonstrate or assert special powers or capacities as evidence of one's personal spiritual achievement. Spirit is not personal and has nothing to do with accomplishment or achievement.
Whatever form the illusion of specialness or separateness takes, any perception of separation is the same as all the separation there is.
"...while you think a part of you is separate, the concept of a oneness joined as one is meaningless." [T484/520]
Separation is not relative, more or less; it either is or not ...absolutely! This absoluteness is what makes A Course in Miracles so simple yet so seemingly difficult. A little fear is the same as all the fear there is. Anger is not more or less; it either is or not. The slightest twinge of guilt is all the guilt there is.
"There are no small upsets. They are all equally disturbing to your peace of mind."
"You cannot be without sin a little. You are sinless or not." [Lesson 36]
At this point one may become overwhelmed by the immensity of the task at hand. Yet because all is given to those who would receive, the Course is once again compassionate and simple,
"And your willingness need not be complete because His [the Holy Spirit's] is perfect.... Out of your recognition of your unwillingness for your release, His perfect willingness is given you." [T323/347]
Recognition of YOUR own UNwillingness; your rejection of perfect, unlimited freedom! Who has honestly done that? Let us not deceive ourselves: the fact that one still perceives himself to be in a world of separation, pain, sickness and death or in need of help, salvation or enlightenment is ipso facto proof of unwillingness and the mere assertion of one's willingness is meaningless in light of this evidence. There is no way the self, the ego, the separated one will (or, as a matter of fact, due to its construction, can) volunteer to be undone. Even if it says it does, it lies. It is the lie. The self is the avoidance, the attempted opposition to Reality.
This step of recognizing unwillingness is so important that the Course emphasizes it in several ways. One of the most profound is in the section entitled "The Fear of Redemption" wherein it says,
"You may wonder why it is so crucial that you look upon your hatred and REALIZE ITS FULL EXTENT." [T225/242-emphasis added]
and lest there be confusion, hatred is unwillingness for only Love is the Will of God. Anything else, whether it be called fear, guilt, grief, worry or whatever, is what unwillingness is. The text of this passage continues,
"You are not seriously disturbed by your hostility. You keep it hidden because you are more afraid of what it covers. ... You are not really afraid of crucifixion. Your real terror is of redemption."
Who has come face to face with this realization? Who is willing to see and admit this as a fact of his existence? The Course is asking one to honestly look for and actively bring to conscious awareness his unwillingness in all of its various forms and guises and to finally recognize, once and for all, that "I of myself do nothing because I of myself am nothing." The beauty of A Course in Miracles is that it finally brings one to the realization that he, as a separate (therefore unreal) entity can do nothing at all from his unreal position except to attempt to avoid, evade or postpone the absolutely inevitable dawning in his awareness of his One True Identity. There is no method, no place, no mechanism by which he, of his own self-direction, can move one millimeter closer to God. He is always already in God and all self-directed movement, no matter how "spiritual," is always away from Truth. The inevitability of the dissolution of his false, special identity is what he is always attempting to avoid, even at the cost of "death." Left to one's own devices, the tiny self will always opt to postpone awakening "just a little bit longer." Awakening is not at all threatening to the ego if it believed to be an occurrence yet to be.
So, we now see two conditions which must be met before the beginning, the miracle, can occur:
(1) the recognition that the world holds no hope for real happiness. And this requirement has a twist, in the words of the Course,
"Learn now, without despair, that there is no hope of answer in the world." [T608/654]
This is a very crucial step and may not be bypassed or overlooked. Without this recognition as a firm beginning, there exists no motivation to seek beyond the paradigms of human existence for an alternative. And the most important aspect of this step is -- WITHOUT DESPAIR! Certainly many have lost their hope in and for the world, but what would make this recognition possible without despair? Could faith arise from anything but a glimpse, perhaps but a vague hope, that there is, in fact, an eternal Self, a real world, another way of seeing and being?
(2) the moment-to-moment recognition of unwillingness in all of its various forms; in other words, the active search for "the blocks to the awareness of love's presence."
Here, then, are two conditions for the miracle. Are there others? Yes, there does seem to be two more:
"...the recognition that you do not understand is a prerequisite for undoing your false ideas." [Lesson 9]
A prerequisite -- something which must come before. This is so very important that virtually all of the Text and Workbook is designed to lead one finally to an admission about which the Course says:
"There is no statement that the world is more afraid to hear 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.
"Yet in this learning is salvation born." [T614/660]
It is notable that A Course in Miracles calls this admission of profound ignorance "learning." This is but one of many examples of the Course's use of words in which it means something far different from its usual connotation. And not only is it necessary that one learn that he does not know but also that, from where he seems to be, in the manner which he currently perceives, he cannot know. Once again we see that the first 20 lessons of the Workbook are aimed directly at this realization.
Another requirement, closely related to the actual realization of one's profound ignorance, perhaps even coming as a result thereof, is stillness.
"The miracle comes quietly to the mind that stops an instant and is still." [T549/591]
What is it then that would cause the mind to stop for an instant? It cannot occur through force or contrived or cultivated through technique or discipline; it must be totally free and without coercion. What is generally referred to as "meditation" is nothing more than self-hypnosis, self-induced sedation; it is the result of self-imposed conflict. Real stillness is when the mind becomes spontaneously quiet and without thought. This state is highly energetic and attentive. Only in this stillness and the profound realization of the meaninglessness of all of one's acquired "educated ignorance" is the mind open and free to receive the Truth.
Now we have the requirements for the awareness of the miracle:
* Desire and Willingness
* Not-Knowing and Stillness
in which one is finally able to follow the instruction given near the end of the Text,
"Let us be still an instant, and forget all things we ever learned, all thoughts we had, and every preconception that we hold of what things mean and what their purpose is. Let us remember not our own ideas of what the world is for. We do not know. Let every image held of everyone be loosened from our minds and swept away." [T602f/648]
Is the miracle cause or effect of this? Yes! As a timeless movement, it is, of course, both. Let it be now! Accepting no substitutes for perfect unconditioned and unconditional Love and Happiness, realize the perfect contradiction of both the desire for Love and the rejection of It -- both held in your Mind. Left unresolved by you, in the electricity of this contradiction, Mind, being whole, will provide a spontaneous resolution not of your fabrication. For a moment the distance between hope and despair will disappear and a real alternative, not of your making, will appear. Only the miracle, involuntary and beyond anyone's separate control or bidding, is the impeccable way out -- the only agency which cannot be touched or corrupted in any way by the ego. The "solution" to the "problem" of the world and self, which are but two aspects of the same "problem," is no solution at all. It is the realization that the SEPARATION NEVER OCCURRED!
"How simple is salvation! All it says is what was never true is not true now, and never will be. The impossible has not occurred, and can have no effects. And that is all." [T600/645]
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©1995 daan dehn (2/24)