One of the more common practices I experience in study groups of A Course in Miracles is the sharing of "miracles," -- "What miracle did you have last week?" This points up one of the major fallacies in the typical approach to the teachings of the Course -- most come to A Course in Miracles to RECEIVE miracles rather than GIVE them. Yet the Course is quite clear that,
"The first step in the reversal or undoing process is the undoing of the getting concept." [T99/107]
and that the only way to recognize that you have ALREADY RECEIVED the only real miracle you will ever need, the miracle of Atonement, is to GIVE them.
My problem in this sort of group "miracle" sharing has always been that, since my involvement with the Course, my mundane life has come apart at the seams; my business collapsed rather suddenly and unexpectedly, my daughter left and refused to speak to me for four years without explanation, my budding singing career fell apart overnight and my "love life" mysteriously vanished. It seemed that everything was being taken away. I found little comfort in the Manual for Teachers,
"First, they [the Teachers of God] must go through what might be called 'a period of undoing.' This need not be painful, but it usually is so experienced. .... These changes are always helpful." [M8f/10]
Somehow I vaguely understood, but that didn't make me at once happy about it. When I would attempt to share my "miracles of undoing" I could see that they made others very uncomfortable also. So I learned just to share the generic miracle of undoing in a quiet way. What else could I say?
What is a miracle anyway? This, in itself, is a topic fit for an entire paper. For now, let us consider two points,
"...miracles violate every law of reality as this world judges it. Every law of time and space, of magnitude and mass is transcended...." [T214/230]
"The miracle does nothing. All it does is to undo. And thus it cancels out the interference to what has been done." [T547/589]
This second point ties into a fundamental teaching of the Course -- that the Atonement or salvation is already an accomplished fact, needing only acceptance of it which means relinquishing all interference, the unwillingness to participate. It seems to me that these two points rather exclude such things as getting money or a new job or a new relationship as "miracles." Yet this is what many students of the Course call miracles. The fifth principle of miracles states,
"Miracles are habits and should be involuntary. They should not be under conscious control. Consciously selected miracles can be misguided." [T1/1]
Therefore, it seems that the fulfillment of our conscious wantings is not a miracle at all. Miracles are for undoing the illusion not for reinforcing it, making it more comfortable or pleasurable.
One major early stumbling block for many students to understanding the Course is the teaching that this world is illusion. This, of course, is not a new teaching; it is an integral part of Hinduism and Buddhism. But, let us not get too theoretical too soon. Virtually every one reading this book experiences the pages as being solid, their body as very real. Now, there may be an experience in which this universe is actually experienced as a sort of hologram, an insubstantial dream. There are also certainly many reports of so-called "out-of-body" or "near-death" experiences in which the body is experienced as outside the perceiver. If, however, these have not yet been experienced as such, there is nevertheless another way of understanding this concept of illusion that anyone can comprehend. We come to that understanding by taking a look at how the mind, which we have habitually called ours, works.
All of our thinking is in words, is it not? And words are but symbols for the thing itself; symbols which we have made up and which are not inherent or intrinsic to the thing itself. Whenever we see something, the first process on which the mind operates is a comparative search of memory for the closest possible match. Finding the match, it also finds the symbol attached--glass, for example. In addition to the symbol, glass, it also finds all the accumulated knowledge, opinions and previous experience with glass, all of which is brought forward and experienced in this moment. In so doing, the experience of this new thing, in this moment, is obliterated by the entire past history of knowledge and experience with a similar object or situation. This is really not much of a problem with simple, concrete objects, but it is a major problem in psychological or abstract situations. In these instances, the brain takes in the entire environment, sights, sounds, smells, etc. and begins a search for the closest match. Since there will be no exact match, it will tend to select the most powerful element in the present first and match it to a similar element from the past, thereby distorting the match. Of our senses, smell has the fastest route to memory. So that, if there is a particular smell in the present that evokes a strong past memory, our first reaction will be to the smell and the memories it brings. Then, depending on individual tendencies, sight, sound and tactile sensation will follow. What then arises is a composite reaction based on all of these inputs. The truth is that the present situation is not exactly like any of the past references and, therefore, our reaction is to an illusory idea based only on past experience. WE ARE NOT PRESENT to the experience at hand. We are always reacting to ghosts from the past and never experience the present as it really is.
In addition, as we name the thing or process, this name applies only to the specific, apparent form of the thing; we do not know its essence, where it came from, what it is made of fundamentally. We DO NOT KNOW what a single thing IS. We have made up lots of symbols and information about its form, behavior and parts, but we do not know what it actually is. So from this we can see that virtually all of our experience operates in an unreal dimension, always bringing the past to the present and allowing nothing really new to happen and missing it if it does. Thought, then, is never present. It always interposes itself between the experience and ourselves. It is impossible for thought to Be Here Now.
A Course in Miracles is leading us to a radically new, transformed mental process in which thought does not interfere; in which we can experience things just as they are before being modfied via language and thought, time and space. The result of the Course is a no-mind, in the linear, sequential, partial, analytical sense of the word -- it brings a holistic vision in the truest sense -- something beyond the capacity of the linear mind to understand or comprehend. This experience, this new way of "seeing" is available to each and every one of us now. It is this experience that will lead us on to Truth. And, until we have encountered this "seeing", all we have encountered is our own unwilingness, our willful blindness.
"The blindness of humanity is so great that people are actually proud of their blindness."(2)
What this new vision does, then, is to undo all of our past experience and bring us in contact with the present as it actually is. "Salvation is undoing." It is about letting go of all of our educated ignorance, our mistaken certainties, so that we may experience things directly without the interference of thought, idea, concept, explanation -- all of which come from the past. Now there is a good word -- explanation. "Ex" means "out" and to "plain" is to "make flat." Much of our mental energy is the attempt to "flatten out" our experience, to rationalize or to justify our behavior, none of which is at all real and merely serves to separate us from being 100% in the experience itself, thereby missing the real meaning. We separate ouselves and stand apart from our own experience via thought, judgement, and opinion attempting to establish our own meaning, which, of course, is always from the past.
What is it that makes the undoing so painful? First and foremost is the ego's resistance. Our insistence on the reality of separate individual existence makes the relinquishment of its fruits very difficult. Beyond that, even when we see the need to let go, we cannot. The old habits are so ingrained that of ourselves we cannot let go. It is like a man who has fallen down a vertical mine shaft and grabs a rope on the way down. He cannot crawl up the rope and it does not go to the bottom. So he hangs there crying "Help!" After a few days help arrives and pulls him out of the shaft. But his hands are so contracted around the rope that he cannot voluntarily open them. The contraction of hanging-on has become his normal state; the muscles no longer remember how to open up. It requires some outside help to painfully pry the fingers loose and the hands open and exercise them a bit until they "remember" their real natural state of freedom and flexibility.
We find ourselves in an analogous situation in consciousness. In fear we have contracted around a very tiny and limited idea of self. This contraction has become so habitual that it has become our seeming normal state. We no longer remember the freedom and power of our true natural state.
In Illusions Richard's oil-stained notebook likens our lives to "a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all...going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth."(3) Then one day one of the creatures decided to let go, to the horror and chagrin of the others. At first he was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks, "yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more. And then the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, 'See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!'" His reply was, "I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go."
In a less literary but more actual vein, the pain and confusion of the transition has been referred to as the "dark night of the soul," a phrase first used by St. John of the Cross in the 16th century. In this century, Thomas Merton has described this state more thoroughly,
"...this 'death' of sense and of spirit which brings the final liberation from attachment, is not the fruits of man's own ascetic effort alone....[it] is a pure gift of God....unless it is clear that we mean seriously to undertake a total renunciation of all attachments, the Holy Spirit will not lead us into the true darkness, the heart of mystical desolation, in which God Himself mysteriously liberates us from confusion, from the multiplicity of needs and desires, in order to give us unity in and with Himself...."(4)
and goes on to share his own personal experience,
"But oh! How far I have to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived. For now, oh my God, it is to You alone that I can talk, because nobody else will understand. I cannot bring any other man on this earth into the cloud where I dwell in Your light, that is, Your darkness, where I am lost and abashed. I cannot explain to any other man the anguish which is Your joy nor the loss which is the Possession of You, nor the distance from all things which is the arrival in You, nor the death which is the birth in You because I do not know anything about it myself and all I know is that I wish it were over -- I wish it were begun. You have contradicted everything. You have left me in a no-man's land."(5)
More succinctly, Rilke shared his perception,
"Strange, to see all that was once relation so loosely fluttering hither and thither in space.'(6)
Whether we like it or not, our current way of perception, this world if you like, must come undone before another can take its place. The Course itself even alerts us,
"In the transition there is a period of confusion, in which a sense of actual disorientation may occur. But fear it not, for it means only that you have been willing to let go your hold on the distorted frame of reference that seemed to hold your world together. This frame of reference is built around the special relationship. Without this illusion there could be no meaning you would still seek here.
"Fear not that you will be abruptly lifted up and hurled into reality. Time is kind, and if you use it on behalf of reality, it will keep gentle pace with you in your transition. The urgency is only in dislodging your mind from its fixed position here. This will not leave you homeless and without a frame of reference. The period of disorientation, which precedes the actual transition, is far shorter than the time it took to fix your mind so firmly on illusions. Delay will hurt you now more than before, only because you realize it is delay, and that escape from pain is really possible. Find hope and comfort, rather than despair, in this: You could not long find even the illusion of love in any special relationship here. For you are no longer wholly insane, and you would soon recognize the guilt of self- betrayal for what it is." [T322/346]
The problem is that we do not actually know how to let go by our own volition even if we want to. Help from what seems to be outside this contracted idea of self must involuntarily free us from our "selves."
"Undoing is not your task, but it is up to you to welcome it or not." [T419/450]
In the immediately preceding paragraph, the Course elaborates,
"All that is asked of you is to make room for truth. You are not asked to make or do what lies beyond your understanding. All you are asked to do is let it in; only to stop your interference with what will happen of itself...."
It is indeed very difficult for the mind accustomed to achievement and acquisition to perceive benefit in and therefore welcome undoing. Yet A Course in Miracles is quite clear,
"A major step in the Atonement plan is to undo error at all levels." [T19/23]
"The Holy Spirit will undo for you everything you have learned that teaches that what is not true must be reconciled with truth." [T250/268]
"Yet all that stands between you and the power of God in you is but your learning of the false, and of your attempts to undo the true. Be willing, then, for all of it to be undone, and be glad that you are not bound to it forever." [T275/296]
What else is to be undone?
"the past in the present" [T2/2]
"the burden of unshared ideas that are too weak to increase" [T75/81]
"all the consequences of my wrong decision" [T83/90]
"the belief in differences" [T110/118]
"the belief that anything is for you alone" [T156/168]
"the fear by which the ego would make the present useless" [T281/302]
"All things that change" [M69/72]
"the separation" [T18/21]
"what the ego has made" [T73/79]
"what fear has produced" [W73/73]
"the ego" [T202/217]
"what never was" [T357/382]
"your false ideas" [W15/15]
"everything you have learned" [T254/273]
"this concept of the self" [T611/657]
"the god of sickness" [T173/186)
In the movie Jacob's Ladder the chiropractor quotes Meister Eckhart not once but twice,
"The devils that seem to be ripping your life away from you, seen from a different level, are but angels freeing you from your attachments to the earth."
For the tiny self which validates its existence by achievement and acquisition it seems a loss to "give up this world," but the Course is quite clear,
"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 this world." [M32/33]
This is the beginning, the "first illusion," the essence of A Course in Miracles -- freeing you from your attachments to the earth. The Course is very specific that it requires no sacrifice, and goes on to tell us that to give up this world is no sacrifice. Until we have come to the realization that
"The world I see holds nothing that I want." [Lesson 128]
we have not even truly begun A Course in Miracles. How are we to begin this undoing? The Course answers,
"The way to undo an insane conclusion is to consider the sanity of the premises on which it rests. You cannot be attacked, attack has no justification, and you are responsible for what you believe." [T84/91]
Being a sincere student of A Course in Miracles requires questioning and challenging every value and concept one holds until one arrives at the stark realization that one really doesn't know anything real at all, that his day-to-day "thinking" is essentially insane and that none of his achievements and acquisitions has brought lasting happiness. This is a very difficult realization for the mind which is steeped in acquired "knowledge" and things which it considers vital for its survival. The very last thing that most humans want to admit is "I don't know." And yet the Course tells us,
"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]
This is the real beginning of A Course in Miracles, the door we must all pass through. There is a tremendous power in agnozia or conscious ignorance. The frank and radical realization and admission that one does not know provides the psychological space or openmindedness that allows that which is already in process to continue unimpeded. Jesus said this in a profound and poetic way almost 2000 years ago,
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."(7)
If one is willing and interested in encountering and living in the actual state of Not-Knowing, the truth shall be given him. How does one do that? One way is by asking a real and vital question to which one does not know the answer and to which one is vigilantly unwilling to accept an intellectual or conceptual answer. Then one's life becomes the answer to that question. The entire power of transformation responds to that deeply sincere question which is lived as the moment-to-moment theme of one's existence.
Why is it that one must not accept an intellectual or conceptual answer? Any answer that the formal, imaginal mind might give is based on the past which is conflict and suffering. Therefore, anything that the mind might conceive or contrive has within it the seeds of conflict and suffering and whatever it gives birth to will be but conflict and suffering regardless of any superficial changes in form.
We are being inexorably and inevitably drawn into and by an unimaginable future. Everyone wants peace and happiness and will have them, but not by imagineering, modifying or manipulating the current forms and paradigms. This unimaginable future makes no reference whatever to existing structures either materially or psychologically, it is beyond them, it transcends them. It is a wholly new thing.
How, then, can we move toward this unimaginable future? In a very profound sense we cannot; we need do nothing; this future is unfolding without our help; only our interference delays it. The Chinese philosopher/mystic, Chuang Tzu, about 2500 years ago cautioned about not using the mind against God,
"The true man of old knew nothing about loving life and hating death. When he was born, he felt no elation. When he entered death, there was no sorrow. Carefree he went. Carefree he came. That was all. He did not forget his beginning and did not seek his end. He accepted what was given with delight, and when it was gone, he gave it no more thought. This is called not using the mind against Tao and not using man to help heaven. Such was the true man."(8)
More recently Simone Weil has gone even farther and is much more specific,
"The attitude that brings about salvation is not like any form of activity. The Greek word which expresses it is [Greek word not reproducible here], and patientia is rather an inadequate translation of it. It is the waiting or attentive and faithful immobility that lasts indefinitely and cannot be shaken. ....
"Active searching is prejudicial, not only to love but also to the intelligence, whose laws are the same as those of love. We have just to wait for the solution of a geometrical problem or the meaning of a Latin or Greek sentence to come into our mind. Still more must we wait for any new scientific truth or for a beautiful line of poetry. Seeking leads us astray. This is the case with every form of what is truly good. Man should do nothing but wait for the good and keep evil away. He should make no muscular effort except in order not to be shaken by evil."(9)
One of the first things we must see is that all our attempts to visualize, manipulate or "create" this future are but INTERFERENCES to what is inevitably happening, trying to use man to help heaven. But heaven does not need our help; the river knows where it is going. All that is necessary is a profound and radical surrender to the process which is already moving us -- the process of undoing.
"Give Him [the Holy Spirit] but what He asks, that you may learn how little is your part, and how great is His. It is this that makes the holy instant so easy and so natural. You make it difficult, because you insist there must be more that you need do. You find it difficult to accept the idea that you need give so little, to receive so much. 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." [T356/382](10)
What is it that makes this surrender possible? Perhaps first that we see the problem exactly as and where it is. In all situations, large or small, the solution of a problem is contained within the problem itself. When a problem is thoroughly and rigorously understood in its broadest and deepest context, the solution becomes immediately apparent. We must first actually realize that all of our attempts to "create" peace and happiness have been and will continue to be miserable failures. We DO NOT KNOW what these are. We have no experience of them. Truce, yes; peace, no. Temporary sensual gratification, yes; real lasting happiness, no. All of our attempts to "make it happen" are but various forms of unwillingness to LET IT HAPPEN. The Course tells us in no uncertain terms,
"The children of God are entitled to the perfect comfort that comes from perfect trust. Until they achieve this, they waste themselves and their true creative powers on useless attempts to make themselves more comfortable by inappropriate means. But the real means are already provided, and do not involve any effort at all on their part." [T19/22]
NO EFFORT AT ALL! We truly need do nothing. A Course in Miracles is quite clear about our only function,
"The sole responsibility of God's teacher is to accept the Atonement for himself. Atonement means correction, or the undoing of errors." [M46/48](11)
Until we have accepted the undoing for ourselves we have not yet even begun to be students of A Course in Miracles.
Return to Chapters
©1993 daan dehn
1. T614/660f. This phrase appears twice on this page.
2. St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions [III.iii(6)]
3. Richard Bach, Illusions (1977)
4. New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 210
5. Seven Storey Mountain, pp.209f
6. Rainer Maria Rilke, from the first elegy, Duino Elegies
7. Matthew 18:3
8. from Inner Chapters, (trans. Gia Fu-Feng & Jane English)
9. Waiting for God (1973), p. 197f
10. text is from the second edition
11. see "sole responsibility" also T22/25, 79/85, and 503/540