Discover more from Sean Reagan / A Course in Miracles
Everything Falls Apart
. . . remembering the cause for friendship
I wrote this a couple years ago for a fellow traveler in ACIM who was entering the so-called lonesome valley. I've modified it a bit. It speaks to my conviction that we have to come to spiritual crisis in order for A Course in Miracles to make sense, but also that we don't have to linger in the crisis. Suffering is an error that can be corrected, and friendship is a good way to correct it.
There was a juncture in my study and practice of the Course where everything fell apart and nothing helped. It was one of a handful of dark and isolated periods of my life that are hard to talk about without sounding melodramatic or clinical. It has to do with meaninglessness. The Course alludes to it here:
Real choice is no illusion. But the world has none to offer. All its roads lead to disappointment, nothingness and death . . . The world was made that problems could not be escaped (T-31.IV.2:1-3, 6).
This is nihilism and the Course is clear: it is at this junction that we either learn the greatest and final lesson or we die (T-31.IV.3:4, 6).
I took the lesson seriously.
When we are in hell it is because we are listening to the lies of the ego. It tells us that we are bodies, that God is cruel, and that there is no way out of suffering - not even death will bring us peace.
We have a reasonably clear understanding of oneness and love but because it is filtered through the ego's vicious and upside-down lens it produces distortions and illusions.
Often, when we are closest to piercing the veil of illusion - when we are ready at last to become fully responsible for projection and denial - the ego panics. Our awakening is its end, and so it plays its final card - the rank terror of existential dread. It shows us hell. It leads us to the void and says “jump.”
If we play along - if we buy what ego is selling - then it's not ego that's at risk, we are at risk. Ego isn't trapped, we are trapped. Ego isn't living a lie, we are living a lie.
. . . as long as the ego is reasonably satisfied with you, as its reasoning goes, it offers you oblivion. When it becomes overtly savage, it offers you hell (T-13.IV.1:6-7).
It is not a crime against God or nature to be scared, and to project and deny because we are scared, but it is a sign that we are listening to ego, who is not the teacher of peace and happiness.
Even when the ego attacks so savagely that it tries to take the life of someone who thinks its is the only voice, it speaks of hell even to him. For it tells him that hell is here as well, and bids him leap from hell into oblivion (T-15.I.5:2-3).
There is another way, which is to filter our understanding and practice of oneness and love through another teacher, namely, the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit teaches thus: There is no hell. Hell is only what the ego has made of the present. The belief in hell is what prevents you from understanding the present, because you are afraid of it (T-15.I.7:1-3).
The Holy Spirit always invites us to give attention to the present, and to the extent we fear doing that - and we all do fear it to some extent - it teaches us that our fear is unjustified, that it's okay to take baby steps, that we aren't alone, et cetera.
What does this look like in practice?
For me it looked like accepting that I was still asleep, that I could not on my own wake up, and thus needed help. Nihilism humbled me. All my discipline, study, intelligence and care-filled effort led me . . . right into the ego's trap. It’s a basic error and we all make it but still.
So I gave attention to the dream. Okay, it's a dream - what does that mean? It was not only a spiritual inquiry, but a psychological one. I didn't ignore the body or the world. Why in the dream does it feel good to play with puppies? Why in the dream are there so many stories about family? Who came up with the idea of evil? Why is Emily Dickinson like oxygen?
In a sense, the Holy Spirit calls us back from the void by giving us permission to live simply and happily, in a quiet sustainable way. Okay - we are metaphysically trapped and existentially terrified - but apparently we can also cook dinner for the family, or pick up the neighbor's mail when they're sick, or feed a stray cat, or listen to Mozart and those are all good and helpful acts, so there at least symbols of love in the dream, so . . . let's do that. Let’s love and see what happens.
Ken Wapnick used to say, whatever is going on, make it about the other. Make the dream better for others. If we are trapped, then okay. Others are trapped with us so let's help them. And if we can't help them, let's at least not hurt them.
The experiential trap is real because we experience it. But I can tell you the way out: stop fighting it. Just accept it. Sink into it. Be trapped. Be the beautiful kind person you are who also happens to be trapped in an existential crisis. Surrender. Become Christlike - become nonviolent unto the trap and the one who made it (and the one who consents to its making) and all those who appear trapped in it with you. Do this for real - don’t let the metaphysics or anything else distract you.
All of this - giving attention to the dream, not fighting the trap that the dream appeared to be, trying to practice nonviolence and be of service - was together a practice of love at which I often failed but which I did not quit. And eventually the Holy Spirit got through to me. It taught me what relationship was by giving attention with me to every single one of them. Where was the cry for love? Where was the response to that cry? It urged me to help end the experience of loneliness everywhere it appeared by accepting its end everywhere it appeared. It taught me how to reach out and ask for help, and how to say yes and keep it simple when others reached out to me.
Basically, the Holy Spirit continously teaches me how to be open to having the whole world and my whole life and every relationship transformed into a single giant opportunity to remember, literally, love.
For me, every relationship became a light - stars in a dark sky, lanterns on a dark road, camp fires at a distance - by which it became possible to move again, to find a way forward again. Really, to live again. Suddenly I was not alone and there was something to do. I had a function again. I had something to share again.
We are allowed to live and be happy, and our brothers and sisters need us to accept and extend this allowance, because our happiness and peace is theirs. We are all in this together. We all have something to give, we all have something to accept.
As that became clearer, the nihilism and the fear drifted away, like a bad dream. The prison cell had neither bars nor locks. People were happy to help. God provided. I found myself in a very ordinary space that was nonetheless luminous in ways that are hard to put into words. It was simultaneously no big thing and also The Alpha and The Omega, et cetera.
It feels in a lot of ways like being born again, a lovely phrase that sometimes gets co-opted. For me, being born again is less about choosing the right savior and more about remembering - and remembering not to forget - our shared innocence. God has one child and we are it.
I understand as the world thinks we are more or less strangers, but in another sense we are obviously doing the beautiful difficult work of joining in order to remember how to be each other’s savior. I am grateful to you for extending the truth of your experience, and for listening as I share my own. Friendship on this path is never unwelcome. It is, in its way, the holiest of relationships.
P.S. I host an ACIM discussion group on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. EST. If you'd like to be added to the list, let me know.