by D. PATRICK MILLER
I place the future in the hands of God." AND "I will step back and let him lead the way."
I choose the joy of God instead of pain. • Forgiveness offers everything I want.
God's will for me is perfect happiness. • Salvation comes from my one Self.
God goes with me wherever I go. • I seek a future different from the past.
I place the future in the hands of God."
ACIM Workbook Lesson 194, A Course in Miracles
“I will step back and let him lead the way.”
— Workbook Lesson 155
These two lessons, as well as others like them, might be called the Course antidote to worry. On the face of it, the advice is simple: Turn over your concerns, anxiety, and need to control or plan to God, and Whoever That Is will take over everything for you. (What, me worry?)
But there’s a lot beneath the surface of these lessons, which is always the case with the Course. Since it says elsewhere that “God is an idea,” these lessons will call forth whatever our current idea of God is. If we’re having a religious hangover and still entertaining the idea of a white-maned, judgmental superdaddy-in-the-sky, we might well fear facing our future in his hands. After all, some of the cruelest incidences of personal tragedy and mass destruction have been excused with the old saw, “God works in mysterious ways.”
If, however, we’ve shifted to a New Age God of unceasing illumination and prosperity, we may think these lessons suggest that getting everything we ever wanted is easier than we might have imagined. The problem with this flower-strewn path to grace is that, on closer inspection, we’re likely to find that the flowers are plastic and the path repeatedly dead-ends in the disappointment of one wishful expectation after another.
The longer I’ve worked with the Course, the less it seems like a “spiritual” discipline than a cognitive one. In fact it calls itself a “mind-training,” which means that it is a discipline of how to think. That means gradually refining our ideas, and learning how to choose wisely among them as our guides to attitude, behavior, and relationship. As our idea of what God is deepens and expands, so does the quality of guidance we receive from that God.
Since the Course also offers the definition “God is but love and therefore so am I," this gradual mind-training means that we are coming to understand our whole being as love itself. Love is not likely to lead us on the ego's way, or facilitate a future that we already have planned. And that’s why these lessons call on our courage and readiness to be shown another way.
“I choose the joy of God instead of pain.”
— Workbook Lesson 190, A Course in Miracles
“It is very difficult to sacrifice one’s suffering. A man will renounce any pleasures you like but he will not give up his suffering.” ― G.I. Gurdjieff
Of the many confrontive lessons in A Course in Miracles, this one is nearly the most unsettling of all (though definitely second to “Sickness is a defense against the truth,” which… well, don’t get me started). On the face of it, one might well ask who wouldn’t choose joy over pain.
Yet the choice exists because virtually all of us came down on the side of suffering long ago.
Not only that, suffering is the choice we inadvertently reinforce at almost every moment of awareness — especially when we are most desperate to ease or avoid our habitual suffering. Most addictions get their start in the temporary and ultimately destructive sensations of feeling “high” in order to mask some kind of habitual pain, physical or otherwise. The United States is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic for precisely that reason.
When I was in the fifth grade I remember being bullied by another kid everybody called "Lemon" (which possibly annoyed him), who was always threatening to put me in “a world of hurt.” The Course says that is exactly what we have done to ourselves by mistakenly believing that our consciousness is trapped in a world of space, time, decay, and chaotic, remorseless change.
Not only that, we have forgotten how, when, or why we chose this trap… but we have nonetheless senselessly bullied ourselves into a world of hurt. And as Gurdjieff suggested, we are often so identified with that world that we’ll fight to defend it.
Key to the solidity of the world of hurt, however, is the conviction that we did not choose to be here, and that we are the world’s hapless victims (some of us more than others). The Course gives no quarter in responding to the near-universal belief in victimization:
“It is your thoughts alone that cause you pain. Nothing external to your mind can hurt or injure you in any way. There is no cause beyond yourself that can reach down and bring oppression. No one but yourself affects you. There is nothing in the world that has the power to make you ill or sad, or weak or frail. But it is you who have the power to dominate all things you see by merely recognizing what you are. As you perceive the harmlessness in them, they will accept your holy will as theirs. And what was seen as fearful now becomes a source of innocence and holiness.” [from the text for Lesson 190]
What intrigues me about this passage is the suggestion that we can “dominate all things” not by bullying them, but by perceiving their harmlessness. That means forgiving everyone and everything that we tend to think is attacking or punishing us. And to do that, we have to withdraw the hurtful projections that we have placed on virtually everything.
And to do that, we must “merely recognize” what we are. Choosing “the joy of God” over our well-worn, habitual hurts is the beginning of that mere recognition. Great choice, if you can make it…
“Forgiveness offers everything I want.”
— Workbook Lesson 122, A Course in Miracles
I have experienced two fundamental ways of being in the world. Until I became chronically ill I lived the normal life of ego: looking out for No. 1, trying to preserve my habits and defend my fixed worldview, and making bargains with my fears in order to squeeze some enjoyment out of life. In this consciousness everything felt risky and there were few people I trusted. But I could always compare myself to someone less fortunate and feel like I was getting some of what I wanted.
After a seven-year health crisis that devastated my former sense of self, I found myself on a spiritual path. This meant I couldn’t focus on looking out for No. 1, because I wasn’t sure of who or what I was anymore (or even if an "I" exists at all!). It meant entering a never-ending discipline of surrendering my habits and enlarging my worldview in the light of new information and insights.
In a day-to-day sense, I don’t know if my spiritual way of life is any easier than my old ego-driven way. Sometimes it’s more demanding.
What has made the shift worthwhile is that my life makes sense to me now, and I feel consistently guided toward growth and service. In the old life I deeply doubted my worth and purpose, and secretly thought that I had too many unsolvable problems to be of real help to anyone.
The bridge from my old life to the new was forgiveness: the complete release of my pained idea of who I was. This is the most important work I have ever done on my own behalf. In retrospect I marvel at the victory I was earning during the time that I seemed to be suffering a total, grinding defeat.
In fact, I was astonished when I began to appreciate my defeats, downturns, and disappointments. The sooner they were forgiven — that is, the sooner I gave up looking at them in the same old way — the more quickly my misfortunes seemed to add to my strength, alertness, and responsibility. Gradually, experiences that I would have never wanted were transformed into unexpected gifts.
Forgiveness is the science of the heart: a discipline of discovering all the ways of being that will extend your love to the world, and discarding all the ways that do not. As forgiveness liberates your thinking, you may find yourself looking beyond the world-wearying drives of self-promotion and competition in order to get everything that you want.
Congratulations! Now you are consciously evolving, no longer running the treadmill of humanity’s favorite follies. Now you will be led by inspiration everywhere you are needed.
(This edition is adapted from The Forgiveness Book.)
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“God's will for me is perfect happiness.”
— Workbook Lesson 101, A Course in Miracles
I’ve known perfect happiness once in my life, under the most unexpected circumstances. About a year into my initial study of the Course, I was at the lowest point of a prolonged illness, where I would remain for some time. I was out of work, out of an intimate relationship, perpetually in pain from a vicious variety of bodily symptoms, and beset with the feeling of having failed at everything I’d attempted up to that point of my life.
I’d also undertaken this strange spiritual discipline that I had told relatively few people about, because I wasn’t sure it was something I should admit to anyone. This discipline, this bulky and difficult “course in miracles” was either helping me heal or driving me steadily into an otherworldly insanity. In my often-foggy mental state, I couldn’t be sure which direction I was going.
Then one morning, after the usual troubled and unrefreshing sleep, I awoke unreasonably happy. This was utterly unexpected because there was obviously nothing to be happy about, besides the sardonic awareness that I had “nothing to lose.”
Over a few hours’ time, it dawned on me that this was exactly the reason. In my current circumstances, I could not possibly be any less attached to the world around me, yet still be alive and conscious. Quite without meaning to — and quite exhausted by struggling not to let go of everything that had ever mattered to me — I had actually let it all go.
I was not happy about losing that struggle. Yet there was a paradoxical result: I was sublimely happy about nothing at all.
Every other form of happiness I could remember had been connected to beneficial circumstances: being in love, succeeding at something I had planned to achieve, being high on endorphins from long-distance bicycling, or simply walking in nature. But this perfect happiness had arisen in utterly contradictory conditions. I felt physically wrecked, professionally ruined, and emotionally alone in a way I had never known. I was barely able to walk a few blocks to the grocery store and back, much less bike or hike anywhere.
The happiness I felt wasn’t changing those circumstances, nor did I think it would. Within that same day, the unprecedented joy subsided, and I was once again consumed with the battle to live in constant pain and somehow find my way forward in the world again. Yet that happiness awakened me to a different kind of reality, something I’d read about in the Course without really understanding it. This perfect and completely unconditional happiness was actually my home.
also by D. Patrick Miller:
“Salvation comes from my one Self.”
— Workbook Lesson 96, A Course in Miracles
The instructions for this lesson include focusing on it for five minutes hourly (good luck with that) in this particular form: "Salvation comes from my one Self. Its thoughts are mine to use." Those words are to be followed by a period of searching the mind for the thoughts of our “one Self.”
In a recent application of this lesson, the first thought that came to my mind was “pure love.” There was a sense of quiet infinity behind these words. I realized that this kind of love was not a feeling of desire, affection, or positive regard for anyone or anything in particular. It was not even love for everyone or for the world at large, like the classic Greco-Christian notion of agape (universal love for God and humanity, the highest form of altruism).
Instead, this thought of love had nothing to do with the world around me whatsoever. The Course asserts that we find ourselves in this world because we turned away from the love of God (or thought we did, at any rate). Thus the “salvation” delivered by this kind of love has nothing to do with saving the world, or anyone’s life, or even our souls.
The salvation delivered by the pure love of our one Self is a healing memory of what we are and where we came from. It is the memory of the infinite, timeless, and unbelievably powerful silence of Oneness, for lack of a better term. That’s difficult to hold onto in an everyday world fractured by constant noise, the relentlessly ticking clock of time, and our chronic forgetfulness. (No doubt that’s why the Course urges us to look for our Self on an hourly basis!) However we managed to turn away from our “one Self,” getting back to it is a profound and demanding discipline — in part because we will inevitably try to bring that Self into this world, where it’s never going to fit.
On the other hand, the discipline is ultimately joyful, especially compared to all the worldly challenges we may pursue for the sake of less rewarding goals. We can train ourselves to become successful in business, war, or even romance, yet eventually find all of it unstable and unfulfilling — especially when its inevitable cancellation date comes due. Any degree of attachment we have to this temporary world of beauty and horror all mixed together is, at best, a faint echo of the love that we are. And when our attachments end, it not love but delusion that disappoints us.
As ACIM’s Text Introduction states: “The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence, which is your natural inheritance.”
As we ever-so-slowly remove our self-made blocks to the awareness of love, we will feel progressively less trapped in the world we made to oppose it. And from our growing freedom will arise healing thoughts & actions that can truly be called saving graces.
also by D. Patrick Miller:
“God goes with me wherever I go.”
— Workbook Lesson 41, A Course in Miracles
If a single suffering lies at the core of the “human condition,” it is loneliness.
This is the price we pay for a separate identity, which has a dense web of negative consequences: “Depression is an inevitable consequence of separation,” as the text for this lesson explains. “So are anxiety, worry, a deep sense of helplessness, misery, suffering and intense fear of loss.”
According to the Course, what we have separated from is our awareness of God. But who or what is this God? Is it an invisible super-daddy watching and judging us from on high, or a spectral presence hovering over our shoulder, or just a sentimentalized fantasy substitute for the perfect parents we never had? The God of the Course is a bit more difficult to grasp than any of these common projections.
You might call this God a whole & infinite consciousness that’s obscured by our partial & wounded self-awareness. One section of the Course repeats, in mantra-like form, the idea that “God is but love and therefore so am I.” This confronts us with the radical notion that we may have everything all wrong. Instead of existing as lonely individuals ceaselessly on the search for love, we are love itself.
In other words, we are actually the very consciousness of belonging, stability, care, and at-homeness for which we seek. But that whole & infinite awareness exists independently of our bodies, and even of the individual “mind” that seems to be carried around by the body.
Instead, that awareness is held by an incomprehensibly vast mind that we don’t contain or control, and is literally “not of this world.” That mind is God, and it’s admittedly difficult to imagine how such an infinite awareness can “go with us wherever we go.”
A valuable clue can be found in the Manual for Teachers, where ten characteristics of “teachers of God” are listed: Trust, Honesty, Tolerance, Gentleness, Joy, Defenselessness, Generosity, Patience, Faithfulness, and Open-Mindedness. If we wanted to define love by its components, these qualities would serve as well as any.
To the extent that we manifest these qualities, we are expressing the “love of God” that the Course assures us is our very nature. Exemplifying all these energies all the time — or even a few of them on a sustained basis — may seem like a tall order. Yet because love is our true nature, we actually need not strive or struggle to attain these characteristics — but we do have to stop forgetting that they are what we are.
Thus, when a moment of loneliness strikes, one way to answer it is to ask: "What situation or person (including myself) can I treat with greater trust... or honesty... or tolerance... or gentleness... or joy... or defenselessness... or generosity... or patience... or faithfulness... or open-mindedness?" This may provide a means of turning loneliness inside out, as it were, and finding new ways to know and extend the love that goes with us everywhere.
“I seek a future different from the past.”
— Workbook Lesson 314, A Course in Miracles
Here’s a lesson for addicts everywhere — and from the Course point of view, addicts are everywhere.
That’s because each of us is habituated to a false and shaky idea of our individuality and specialness. Whether we consider ourselves wonderfully special or awfully special really makes no difference. Holding on fiercely to any kind of specialness is what grinds us down and makes our past repeat itself.
We may find ourselves with a haunting depression, chronic illness, or recurring relationship dysfunction because we don’t get the connection between clinging to what we’ve always believed about ourselves — good, bad, or uncertain — and the repetition of negative ideas, energies, even physical symptoms.
To deal with the tension of clinging to all our ego-attachments, we may develop more obvious addictions to dangerous substances, unproductive behaviors, or destructive patterns of relationship. For a while these disorders will reinforce and intensify our “self-addiction,” although they have a deteriorating tendency that can eventually undo all our self-defenses.
This is the classic story of addicts who “bottom out.” It may seem that they’ve reached the end of the line with a drug or unhealthy relationship, when they’ve actually reached the end of the self they’ve always believed themselves to be. Hanging onto their specialness eventually undoes them, and the self they’ve long tried to be just isn’t sustainable.
Then arrives the time to “seek a future different from the past.” That means seeking a self that’s different as well — although strictly speaking, it actually means seeking less self than one has acted out in the past. It means learning to think, make decisions, and act on the basis of instincts that are not entirely self-serving.
For lack of a better term, we can call such instincts “divinely inspired” because they are rooted in a mystical source that’s beyond us, bigger than us, and altruistic by nature. And it is the gradual replacement of old, self-serving instincts with divine new ones that leads us into a different future that is genuinely free of an unproductive past.
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