Chapter 1:  Learning How to Live Well
Chapter 2:  In Retrospect
Chapter 3:  On Decisions Proving Tough to Make
Chapter 4:  Still Trying to Make the Grade–in Life?
Chapter 5:  Stop and Smell the Roses–and Live!
Chapter 6:  When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

Chapter 7:  An Old Dream Revisited
Chapter 8:  David: a REAL Relationship
Chapter 9:  On the Job
Chapter 10:  Learning from Relationships Passing Through

Chapter 11:  After Walking Away from the Garden of Eden
Chapter 12:  Trying to Merit God’s Favor
Chapter 13:  Living under the Gift of Grace
Chapter 14:  An Ever-Closer Walk with God
Chapter 15:  Experiencing the Happy Dreams the Holy Spirit Brings



The dreams the Holy Spirit gives are indeed happy.  I am still learning, but I know more now.  When in my early thirties, I was dreaming the dreams of this world, caught in fantasies of an unreal past, and vulnerable in the extreme.  After many years and many hours of studying A Course in Miracles, I have experienced more and more hours and days of peace.  Oh, it is still not 100 percent.  But Jesus says, “In this world you need not have tribulation because I have overcome the world.  That is why you should be of good cheer.”

When I let my mind drop into fantasies, I forget how to live.  Yet the Course promises that the way will be smooth.  “Time is kind, and if you use it on behalf of reality, it will keep gentle pace with you in your transition.”  It is not a hard path of learning, this better way structured to bring us to Awakening.  Every year gets better, every decade a giant step beyond the  previous.  More and more I leave fear behind as I try to see the face of Christ in my brothers and sisters.

What lessons am I learning?  Attack is not the way to go.  Anxiety is borne of the capriciousness of the ego.  And my worth is not measured by what I do.  Of course, there are many other lessons, some repeated frequently as I make my way still on this side of the bridge.  As many before me have said, God is not finished with me yet.

This book details the issues and problems arising from my  life story and then dealt with in the manner of A Course in Miracles.  In looking back, I find that three relationships–Self-to-self, self-to-others, and self-to-God–have informed the whole.  These images tell me that it is love that supports life and all my relationships of whatever nature.  Regardless of the relationship, however  tenuous, it is love that speaks to me in the everyday issues of which I tell you here.

Images in a Reflecting Pool was written by rereading journal entries, beginning the year that I discovered A Course in Miracles.  If the entry seemed germane to my quest, I have quoted directly from my journal.  Otherwise, I have penned a reflection based on some incident recorded there.  I have sought to follow the way of the Course, but the ideas herein are my own.

As you read, reflect on your own developing personal philosophy.  Don’t take my word for it.  Take nothing unto yourself unless it finds a gentle place in your heart.

Jesus walks with us in our quest, as he has promised.

Chapter 1: Learning How to Live Well

Understanding the way the mind works is to understand the reality that we make for ourselves.

Library science is my profession, but learning how to live well is the mission.  And I don’t mean monetarily well.  We can’t truly help others until we find the still point within that makes it all make sense

At what point does a strong sense of Self become egotism rather than protection against Hamlet’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”?  Self-confidence with humility is a boon enjoyed by so few of us—but what a joy when it visits even in fleeting moments.

A failure to view life positively is not benign.  It creates momentum, and if one doesn’t watch it, negativity will snowball to become a veritable avalanche.

We are sometimes told, “Live each day as though it were your last.”  But this is not helpful advice if one has the wrong attitude toward work—an attitude that everything should have been done yesterday maybe, if not before.

Some of the best advice in this vein I ever received was from an older and wiser family friend who reminded me, as I embarked on a new job that entailed establishing a middle school library, “Remember that you don’t have to do it all on the first day.”

A recurring theme in my journal is the need to enjoy all the moments of my life.  If you are doing something (or failing to) that makes you crabby, you are yourself ruining the very essence of living.  If life is not lived in daily moments, it is not “lived” at all.

Journal writing is an invaluable tool for the centering of one’s life and work.  Once I went for 19 months with only two entries.  It is instructive that the last entry before starting this dry period was entitled “New Centering.”  I had reached a plateau and was willing quietly to rest there for awhile.

Creative assessment of real desires can help bring them about.  But too much introspection can become retreating, and this fuels neurosis.

On making good decisions:  “I’m feeling reassured that I will know the right decision to make if I pay attention to my nocturnal dreams, keep a positive and happy outlook, and listen to my heart (i.e., the Holy Spirit dwelling within).  Psychic inclinations help, but I must check them out and not go overboard.”

When a song goes through my head, I pause to remember the lyrics.  It is a fruitful path to the unconscious.  Like a dream, the lyrics frequently take me a step deeper in my psyche.  When I found myself humming “Mona Lisa,” I had to ask the obvious question, “Am I being cold to the people in my life?”

Ego is such a powerful motivator that when it is let go, one must find a substitute worth living for.  Mine is a genuine but perhaps grandiose desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world.

But that is not the whole of it.  One still must fill countless hours with the minor chores of daily living.  One cannot always be doing great things.  And if these chores fill so many hours, can anyone say what “great” really is?

A candid personality attracts because its owner seems to have dropped—at least for our eyesight—the mask that we normally wear.

Too much talk can kill a dream rather than increase the likelihood of its coming true.  Often the words are a weak substitute for truly living an experience.  Paradoxically, excessive verbaliza- tion can be a smokescreen set up to hide one’s inner being, which we believe (inaccurately) would be worthy only of rejection if viewed without its mask.

My family doctor asked, “What are you doing for fun?”

“Everybody,” he continued, “needs something to look forward to.”

There is more common-sense emotional advice in those brief words than in most hours of psychoanalysis.

I wonder if I’ve sometimes created a tempest in a teapot out of boredom.  If I get upset about something, then I have the upset to deal with rather than the boredom.

Do I seek fear to avoid boredom?

For the anxiety-prone part of me:  “Sometimes I simply have to disengage my mind from worry.  That seems the healthiest way to live, and I have not always been able to do that.”

There is a truth about mental illness that mostly only the mentally ill see.  At the heart of a split from “reality” is a sharp glimpse, however imperfect, of Reality.  Always there is a partially formed mystic crying to get out.  Who knows but that a psychotic sufferer has opted to jump ahead by one of the most wrenching means?  Who knows what contributions the next life will bring?

Many psychotic periods are a kind of trial-by-fire to purify the soul.

Choosing a pathway without suffering may take longer, and so is it any wonder that we in our impatient world sometimes opt for the shortcut, however stigmatizing that may be?

“I think I choose sickness when I’m ready for a break from the world.”  A day after writing this, I came down with a virus that gave me a fever and mild aches for a week.

My pipe dream that I could be happy just reading all day quickly evaporated, and in its place came a great need for people, which sent me to the phone.  When I wrote those words, did I know I was getting sick, just below the surface in my unconscious mind, or was I doubly psychic (intuiting sickness and giving my reason for it)?  It is also true that I was at a turning point in my work, ready to take a new direction after finishing the tasks of the past months.  Was God trying to get my atten- tion?  It is only in retrospect that the answers to questions like these ever come.

A decision made upon facing possible illness:  “I’ve been my own worst enemy in fearing health conditions in the past, and it’s time to put faith into action and not aggravate the situation with meaningless fears.”

Recognizing that a behavior is irrational is the first step toward changing it.

On understanding the way the mind works:  “I’m realizing that my superego (as Freud would say) is very strong, even severe.  Maybe if I were more forgiving, my thoughts of what I ‘should’ do  would be less punishing.  The choice to do the loving thing is not at all coercive.”

Chapter 2: In Retrospect

On looking back in regret:  “Watched a program on television about the sixties.  I don’t think I was very reflective politically and socially in that time of my life, and I certainly know that I lacked courage.  Will I look back and regret my blindness today?”  And later on, “I was so  unreflective in the sixties.  I wonder if I will look back on my life one day and feel that I went through all of it in a daze?”

My college suitemate during my freshman year was a senior with wide-ranging interests in the arts and culture, but who majored in economics, passed the CPA, and went on to get a Ph.D. in her field.  I once asked Joanne about this seeming “split” in her interest, and she responded that she wanted to keep her avocation and vocation separate; she wanted something “like economics” to pay the bills.

I realize in retrospect how much to heart I took this comment.  Even in college I longed for and deliberately planned for a profession.  The fact that what I eventually became (a librarian) is different from my college dreams (first, journalist; then, English college professor) is not particularly important.  What is important is that all of these vocations are a little tangential to my “real” interests, which are a cluster of spirituality, metaphysics, and psychology.  Something within me feared “getting lost” in these less-tangible areas.  In my work life I touch the here-and-now, the practical problems of interaction in and contribution to the secular world.  My head may be in the clouds, but my feet are on the ground.  Of course, it is the clouds that show me how to live.

Did I take on too big a challenge in this lifetime?  Is that why I shade toward the serious?  Or is it just my ignominious narcissism coming into play?

I once saw a hallucination of my bad karma.  It was a woman with flashing eyes who gave me a knowing look and seemed to scream at me (though silently) that “her” intent was to “get mine” (i.e., get what “should” be coming to me in this life).

Looking back, I remember that when I was a little girl, I didn’t want to be greedy (e.g., getting even “my share” of Easter eggs) nor to get “too much” for myself (I rarely told what I wanted for Christmas).  This suggests an attempt even as a child to deal with the “getting mine” that I recognized in the hallucination.  Fifteen years of denial in adult life followed that hallucination, and then the ghost seemed largely expiated.  There was never any question that I would selfishly seek my own “just desserts” instead of following what I perceived to be God’s will for me.  The set of my will was very strong because the love (however remote) that kept me on track was genuine.  And that has made all the difference.

A 25-year-old losing a first job can’t know yet that all of life is a constant ebb and flow.  And all the ebbs yet to come can be seen as blessings in disguise as well.  Great inner growth is usually the by-product.  Possessing the knowledge that vicissitudes are natural is one advantage age always has over youth.

There is no sure way to know when one is actually in a fortunate period of life.  Once I was very unhappy for nine months in a job that I disliked.  In retrospect I believe this was actually a period of real internal growth, having repercussions that have reverberated down all the years since.  I had felt almost compelled to get a job.  On some level, did I choose the unhappiness of that job as a necessary byproduct to a speedier learning process?

It really is fruitless to look back unless it teaches a way to take a better route in the future.

The “worst” doesn’t happen ever to me.  Even when it seems to, it isn’t as bad as worry has anticipated, and I come out of it better off.  As much like Pollyanna as it sounds, this dynamic is probably an axiom of life and not my own lucky charm.

When I was a child, I used to look out my bedroom window at night, dreaming about the future with much anticipation.  It wasn’t until I returned to Florence and the neighboring hill town of Fiesole for the second time in 25 years that I knew why.

Gazing out at panoramas has a great calming effect on me; I have at such times no worries about the future and no problems of any kind.  I have not had great roles to play in this lifetime, as it turns out, but I have lived through a private drama that has led me ever more closely to God.  And this was what the better Self in me wanted all along.

Chapter 3: On Decisions Proving Tough to Make

Years ago I was director of admissions at a small college for six months.  It didn’t work out for the college or for me.  When I left, I learned secondhand that the college president didn’t think that I was “suited for administration.”

That remark stung more than leaving the job.  Once I entered library science, the specter of administration loomed as a career ladder.  Because I have always had way too much ambition, I’ve tried to reconcile innermost needs with that specter many times.  But it can’t be done.  Yet have I really wanted to prove, all along, that my old boss was wrong?  Is that really why administration has been such a bugaboo for me?

Sometimes I think library science as a career just fell in my lap.  In this work I’m able to plan ahead and therefore have few deadline pressures.

Yet my first ambition—journalism—would have been filled with those very deadlines that I most dread.  What benign destiny altered my life plan for the better?  I can claim no credit for this, because I gave up on the idea of journalism and opted for library science for all the wrong reasons.

Many of our life decisions—as we “remember” them—may be based on myth.  The “reasons why” that I’ve told myself may have had no basis in fact.  We construct a fiction in retrospect that sounds more rational than the decision was at the time.  Or am I just more of a mythmaker than the average person?

Individuals sometimes “fight all the way” decisions that are providential.  This learned from reading anecdotal accounts of heavenly guidance.

Is this what has been going on for me as I resist library administration?

Not that anybody has asked.  I say ahead of time that I’m not interested so that I won’t be tempted with an offer I can’t refuse (an offer that “can’t” be refused normally appears, at least for me, to be ego-inspired).

I have to be certain that the ego is not the motivator here.  Perhaps I am destined to be in indecision about this for awhile.  Maybe I should stay in non-resolution until I learn what my soul is trying to tell me.  Yet non-resolution over a long period of time, I have learned, usually counsels “no.”

On a decision proving tough to make:  “Earlier this week I intuited, ‘You’re already made up your mind,’ and I hadn’t (consciously) about library administration.  But then soon I realized that my unseen partners probably know more about my life’s intentions than I do, at least what seems to be the most rational or logical way to carry out the purposes I set before I was born.”

I think I’m finally clear on “no promotions” at my job.  For years I’ve been pushed about by the impetus to succeed in my profession, and there has lately been some spillover in my writing.    It’s what Joseph Campbell calls a “concretized symbol” that will “push you around.”

I had a lovely synchronicity in that I read a journal entry and found total agreement with a passage from Campbell that I read the night before.  Campbell warns the artist (and specifically a writer) not to let his work (the art) get contaminated by his job (his employment).

For people with such impetus, he affirms, “. . .to keep up with your responsibilities and your fitness and still nurture your creative aspect, you must put a hermetically sealed retort, so that there is no intrusion, around a certain number of hours each day—however many you can honestly afford—and that time must be inviolate.”

In my case, my writing is informed by my employment.  At my job, I enjoy the social inter-actions and they teach so much about how people respond in all sorts of ways.  (Not surprisingly, that’s also the greatest personal benefit I got from the study and teaching of literature.)

All second-guessing and other vacillations aside, sometimes just not wanting to do some-thing is sufficient reason not to do it.  And even if it flies in the face of one’s habitual pattern of decision-making.  Maybe that pattern has always been flawed, even though it served in another time and place.

This is a new day, as described in a biblical passage:  “. . .rejoice and be glad in it.”

Sometimes timing is everything.  I was once extremely ambivalent about taking a given job, but the moments in which I needed to act always seemed to arrive when I was in a positive attitude.  I did take the job; it did have drawbacks; but that early contradictory work life made possible the smooth pathway on which I walk today.

Persistence will carry the day (and the goal) when thoughts of indecision and low self-esteem threaten to block leaving the gate.

If the process of making up my mind is unduly protracted and conflicted, I have come to realize that the option I’m considering is wrong for me.

Very high moments create a kind of super-sentient emotional tone from which we can see and understand far more than possible in the routine of daily normal living.  It is a bit of an artificial state of mind, but is nonetheless a better time to suggest new pathways than moments of depression.

I was on a high from successfully defending my dissertation when the dream to publish first emerged.  Years later I can say that the impulse to write was a genuine idea possible of  accomplishment and the instigator of some of my most rewarding hours.

A “godfather’s offer” (one I can’t refuse, as in the classic movie) is at least tangentially related to the fatal flaw of Shakespeare’s tragic characters and, for me, is virtually always coming from the ego.  If one makes the decision not to be ruled by the ego, the whole Force of the universe comes into play to reinforce this truly holy endeavor.

On the unreality of reflection:  “I have noticed a tendency to ‘resolve’ issues in my journal, and then–later–impulsively to choose a different answer.  I think I try to form a certain reality from wishful thinking, but then make a different decision when life seems to suggest otherwise.”

A vacation is not always the best time to make decisions about puzzling problems.  At least twice in one year I made that attempt, only to find when I returned to my normal routine that my decisions did not make sense.

Written upon reflection, two years subsequently, “It is easy to plan when very rested, as I was during that Christmas.  But the unreality of my thinking gives me pause for thought.”

On the impetus not to hide talents in the ground:  “My tendency to find a ‘should’ in life is causing me some problems.  I am too rigid (and unforgiving of myself) when believing that I must always try to do what I ‘should.’  In particular, right now the ‘should’ is taking the form, ‘I have these talents, so I should. . .[whatever].’

“All of this is a monkey on my back that I can’t seem to shake off.”

When I awaken with a certain idea, I wonder if my subconscious has served up a message.

On self-tolerance and self-acceptance:  “I remember waking up one morning with the thought, ‘A lot of us believe in a world where everything is not a matter of life and death.’  It seemed a thought from the Other Side, a plea for common sense in decision-making.  Maybe I need to meditate on why I have such a problem with a ‘should.’

“Am I too irresponsible?

“Am I not dependable?

“Am I innately lazy and try to whip myself into shape by manufacturing imperatives?

“Have I accepted a big challenge in this lifetime and probably take myself too seriously in trying to work it out?

“Do I fear regretting to work as hard as I can?

“Do I just have too strong a superego?”

Later . . .

“I know now that if I forgive more readily, I will realize the world can forgive me as well when I don’t measure up to some standard of unreachable perfection.”

There is a way of living by intuition and a way of living by rational choice (the latter usually called just “reason”).  The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.  But I have found that life is freer, more natural, happier, when I am brave enough to let intuition rule.  And it does take some bravery.

It takes a certain willingness to follow intuition.  Maybe there will always be a question in my mind about whether I am being rational.  But time and again events prove the correctness of following yet another hunch.

Do we have “free will”?  I once read someone’s remark to the effect that we act as if we do when we cross the street, so why not assume that we do?

Many years ago I was in a frame of mind in which unlimited possibilities seemed open to me.  The salient aspect of this period of time was that I was living with an attitude filled with love.  In making decisions, invariably I would come to a fork in the road.  It seemed that I could choose either way ahead and—this the questionable part—that either would be equally “OK”—just different ways to work out my destiny.  Maybe we really do live in a safe universe when we are at home in Love.

Reality offers what I really want–the prayer of the heart.

Sometimes the unconscious guides us to a certain familiar pathway as a warning.  If I find myself gazing vacantly out a window and fantasizing about the future, the future that I see is best avoided.

Remember not to try too hard to predict the future; probabilities change.

Chapter 4: Still Trying to Make the Grade–in Life?

I think we plan our lives before we are born.  If so, given that I have always spent much time in thinking about what I should do next, I’m sure I planned carefully on the Other Side.  I once had an intuition that my growing-up years went just as intended.  I wanted to emphasize working hard on academic pursuits and developing the impetus to achieve.  Now when I question the advisability of all that, surely some balancing act is taking place.

All of us enter life with a script that is filled with challenges and hurdles meant to build character in the highest sense possible.  But, as Wordsworth says, we forget about this intention (“. . .Shades of the prison-house begin to close/ Upon the growing Boy, . . . .”

Consequently, we attend alumni reunions with a bright smile, making conversation that lies about a successful life with rarely a cloud in the sky.  Instead, we should drop our masks and admit that life has been tough.  After all, we planned it that way—each and everyone of us.

On the instinct for acquisition:  “Recently I had the intuition that if money is viewed as security, one can never have enough.  It has taken me years to understand that.  The intuition came in the day or so after I had felt the internal question:  ‘Do you want a lot of money?’  That excited me, and I said a tentative, ‘Yes—if it doesn’t hurt anybody.'”

But later I began to think that this was a “devil’s” bargain re biblical injunctions:  “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  Now I think my great-grandmother’s quiet answer about money is best: “The Lord has blessed me.”  She had no money worries, but her financial security was certainly not a preoccupation for her.  The instinct for acquisition makes it hard to go God’s way.

We are our own worst enemy.  We do not have to do all things, even if all of these things are good.  Sometimes I entrap myself over a perceived “good goal” by taking steps to move toward it—knowing all the while that living out the goal will be painful.

There is an old expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  But I am always trying to make “it” better.  Isn’t this being too much of a perfectionist?

Achieving at my maximal level has long been a goal.  I don’t like to be defeated by anything, to drop out of the race without trying sufficiently.  An old “Father Knows Best” television program drove the point home to me while still very young (and aren’t we quite impressionable when young?).

I sense I could do library administration, albeit not without struggle.  Do I want to be one who, as Milton says, “slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat”?  Yet Milton’s famous passage also suggests that one would know good “by” evil, by the contrast.  This I don’t believe is necessary.  Maybe now is one time that my doubts should be respected, because the ultimate goal, being ego-related, is questionable (as well as tangential to what I really want to do).  It’s a replay of a “have it all” 1980s motif—surely a way of life most of us are coming to repudiate.

I learned after long soul-searching that my interest in the status of a job (and all that goes with that false value), and my dedication to having an academic career mean that I am trying to prove something to somebody that doesn’t need proving.  “Going into work matters too much to you” was the message of a particularly symbolic and insightful dream.

For some reason I knew I needed to write a book.  And I did—one for my field of library science.  Did I need the discipline or did I need the credential?  Or did I need both?  My motive is hard to fathom.

The karma of being what is really “myself” seems very important.  It’s “karma yoga”:  Don’t try to be the best somebody else, but find “your” truth.  As I think over my career options, the little excitement that I feel over some of them appears to be something best not reinforced.  My thinking that I should head for library administration as a way of succeeding was to make the obvious “jump” to greater success in the eyes of the world.  Maybe a risk finally that is truly worth taking is not to make this jump.  I fall back on the obvious truth that strong doubts about a given pathway, over a long period of time, mean that that route is best passed by.  All in all, I’ve decided that I want a “pathway with a heart” much more than a pathway of dubious “success.”

Career success pursued for its own end has no end.

On excessive ambition:  “I think my questioning of whether I am successful or not is neurotic.  Wanting to be ever and ever more successful is neurotic also.  It is the rat race personified.  And when would I ever be ‘satisfied’ with what I had achieved?”

My journal is filled with evidence that striving for more, more, more doesn’t work for me.  Two examples:  “I realize I’m not as happy as I once was because I’m not as grateful for all the blessings that I have.  I’ve taken some of it for granted, and it becomes tedious routine, but also I feel stressed from the ‘busyness’ of it all.”

“Part of me feels that an active and busy life is evidence of a wise use of time.  But the truth is that I tend to lose my perspective.”

These attitudes seem frankly to be ego at work.

A Course in Miracles says, “. . .nothing you do or think or wish or make is necessary to establish your worth. . . .Your ego is never at stake because God did not create it.  Your spirit is never at stake because He did.”  I’m dangerously close to being “unhealed” as I try to heal others through my writing.

As I’ve sought to withdraw support from the ego, it has sought to win back strength by guile.  I’ve been making an image of myself as a fulfilled individual, but it is just that—a hollow image made without love as I pushed for “more.”  Not a pretty picture.

A town government official with many responsibilities discharged with praise once turned down a “better” job offer in a larger community by saying that one can “climb too high.”  One man’s version of the Peter Principle.

But how much better would we all be if overarching ambition never took us beyond our scope?  We would know mastery in a given sphere.  Our nerves would be calmer.  And wouldn’t the world be a saner place as well?  In high school, I found myself with a very critical mind whenever I had far too much to do.  This suggests that for me an overly busy life is not conducive to my better spirit.  Why don’t I remember this the next time I assume yet another task at home or job?

I used to be a real worrier.  When yet another good thing had happened, seeming to make the anxiety needless, my father simply remarked, “Most things do turn out well.”

Why all the anxious moments?  I have come to believe that it was a psychological ploy.  I didn’t think I deserved good things unless I had given my “pound of flesh.”  And if things did turn out badly, I had done all I could:  I had really cared enough to make myself miserable. The base of it was that anxiety proved to be a goad to make me work harder—and thereby increase the likeli-
hood that most things would “turn out well.”  A trap of perfectionism carried to pathological extremes.

It is not good for me to get too close to my work, lest I become obsessive about it.  I was virtually a workaholic in college, but without the “high” which true workaholics find.  In my case, I worked hard to make the grades for graduate school, and I worked with blinders on.  My mind was numbed by the hard work, my personality warped.

Now I listen to my nocturnal dreams.  A couple of nights of bad dreams, and I know it is time to “let up.”  God doesn’t need drudges.  He can’t get through to them and therefore to what purpose does all the hard work serve?

A personal assessment made on the anniversary of my first year as a reference librarian:  “I jumped on a horse and tried to gallop off in all directions at once.”

Certainly I took on too many varied responsibilities that year, but beginner’s enthusiasm is a great propellant.  It was a hard year.  Now, years later, I find in the experience compelling reason to ride out the storm.  The first hard step is not a good indicator of all the joy that may follow.  When you step into a pool, the water is always at first quite cold.

Just “being” in life is affirming and good.  I don’t have to “do” all the time.  I have to realize that doing “more, more, more” to justify my existence is not necessary.

Is taking the easier pathway always suspect?  Must we always struggle to be a “success”?

I invariably overestimate the time that it will take to complete a task that I have been putting off.

Learning how to work properly has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn.  Faced with much work, I’m apt to feel great anxiety and be paralyzed by it.  Even a modest sense of “too much to do” will keep me working at a pace that is too fast, one I can’t sustain.

I do best when I consciously realize that there is more than enough time to do everything.  Then I work at a steady (but not slow) pace, and, most importantly, I enjoy the work.  My journal is filled with reminders to “pace” though the day.  Doesn’t this say to me that I ought to keep my duties always at a manageable level?

As much as I would like to turn out prodigious amounts of work, that is an instance of falling in love with the ordering process, a phenomenon I once heard in a warning dream.

I should know my own psychology counsels against this way of living unless the work is imposed from within (never from without), and there is little or no deadline pressure.

In rereading my prayer logs, I am struck by how similar my present-day requests are to past entreaties.  “Help me to carry out my job peacefully and without hassles continuously.”  There is a neurotic “always” to that quotation that is clearly pathological.  Better to move toward the positive in small increments.

If I have to work too hard at something, it may be the wrong “something”–timing off or whatever.  Usually, when the timing is right and the action right, a flow develops that makes the work come easily.

There is always time for what is needful.  This learned after long experimentation.  So why do I still fight fire when I have a desk filled with work, or a house that hasn’t been cleaned in a week?  What “bad thing” will happen to me if it isn’t all accomplished in the too-short time I have allotted?

Colds or “bugs” are a form of seeking outside ourselves, convenient crutches we use when we are very weary from walking in the world.  One then has an excuse to sit down.  Written a couple of days before I succumbed to a succession of mild but debilitating viruses:  “What do I really want to experience in my world?  I don’t want to be hassled constantly to do more-more- more.  I need to say ‘no’ to things for a month and then some.”

On the work complexities of modern life:  “I desperately need to learn how to pace myself.  If ever I get ahead at work, I immediately ‘fill my plate’ with a dozen things that are sure to swamp me eventually.”  Four days later, the dawn of a solution:  “I sensed today that I make things too hard.  I have too much a sense of responsibility.  I should let go and let God.  Life lived from mo-
ment to moment ‘listening’ (to the Holy Spirit) is much more interesting.  I can be much too work-oriented, so much that I become a drudge.”

Now I would add that much of my work is self-generated, but influenced by my colleagues, who are working at least as hard.  It is as though we were a group of children, backstage before a piano recital.  One’s nervousness and hyperactivity influences another, and then another, and yet another.  And to what end?  The dubious “achievement” of performing before an audience.  Now, proving our “worth” this way by more and more elevates work to a personal god whose demands are insatiable.  And isn’t that the clue that the dynamic is ego-based?

An experience in scholarly writing:  “I worked very hard last Monday, reading all day for my book.  I really didn’t enjoy it.”

Later on . . . .

”Most of that work was fruitless.  I didn’t put it in my book after all.  When work becomes a dull ache, it is usually wrong.”

On second-guessing my life’s work:  “What do I really want to do with the rest of my life?  Is it enough just to follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting on a daily basis?  Is long-range planning really a defense?  (A Course in Miracles suggests that it is.)  Could I do my writing as well as have a more successful library career?

The key to the latter would be ever-better interactions with the people I encounter everyday.  Sometimes I think the job of librarian really doesn’t accomplish much.  All of us work so hard on meaningless things; I see it all the time on the reference desk among the patrons, and I try to be tolerant.

Healing minds in the sense meant by the Course has really become my preoccupation.  Knowing that, is it any wonder that I’m still tied to my very social occupation even though I’d rather write?

Chapter 5: Stop and Smell the Roses–and Live!

One should make one’s living in a manner that allows true “living,” on the job as well as off.

Serving as a reference librarian and bibliographer is the pleasant way that I spend my day, the way that I earn a living that doesn’t consume all of me but allows me to think and dream about other things.

When I am stressed, I don’t make much progress in my spiritual life because I am too distracted.

Maybe I should take the route that allows me to live comfortably (emotionally) because big bucks in some other job might make me financially secure but very tense, anxious, and maybe even unhappy in the daily work.

There is a point at which too much work to do becomes clearly counterproductive, because one’s stress level impedes actually turning out the work at a reasonable pace.

In the midst of 800 junior high students clamoring for attention in their school library, I  once said to myself (over and over, in a kind of refrain), “If I do nothing else, I will remain calm.”

Of course, that affirmation actually put me in a frame of mind in which I could do something else.  Reverse psychology is a powerful protective device.

On the strength in remaining calm:  “When I’m not stressed, I think I can handle virtually anything.”

On solving problems:  “No decision can be really difficult unless we complicate the issue by worry.”

The re-entry problems at work on Monday are not physiological or even psychological for the frequently cited reasons.  After “flight” on the preceding two days, the body gets up once again to “fight.”  And the more relaxing the flight has been, the more likely the fight will bring fears.

One has let down one’s guard, and the ego doesn’t take kindly to peace.  It knows its days are numbered if its owner should ever learn to choose peace consistently.

Why is it that so many of us are cowards in the middle of the night?

If we could all learn how to separate “big deals” from trifles, we would certainly be well along the way toward living satisfactorily and peacefully.

Why do I seem to need to have permission to be happy—never to spoil it by worry?

A Course in Miracles says, “I can escape from the world I see by giving up attack thoughts.” Jesus means that the “real world,” a dream granted by the Holy Spirit, is without the conflicts that most of us experience in the modern, work-a-day, world.  The miracle comes about because of inner changes in a person.

Even the most conflicted day loses its punching power when one looks out on the chaos from a soft and warm heart.

For me, too much stress brings on anger (and, all too often, resulting attack), whereas overwork linked with perfectionism brings on a critical attitude.  Knowing this suggests that I should consciously avoid filling my life with patterns that bring out the worst in me.  Knowing this, does it not follow that I should cultivate peace at whatever cost to ambition?  It is best to observe what triggers one’s negative behavior, and then turn in the opposite direction.

“Stop and smell the roses.”  This everyday admonition invites speculation:  If we don’t, what is the worst that will happen to us?  An unexamined life may mean less real living (as opposed to existing), especially if what happens always seem to happen to us, rather than being selected by us.

My husband David has never wanted us to have outside household help, and even though I hate doing it, I have never really wanted help, either.  David vacuums while I do (rather superficially sometimes) the other chores.  Lately I’ve been trying to cultivate Hestia in my housekeeping.  She is the goddess of the home and hearth, the one who knows best how to “center” in the activity of the moment.

This centering in the moment is powerful stuff!  It seems to be working.  David has long said that if I didn’t just try to “get it over with,” I would feel better about the whole activity.  And now he’s delighted with my newly emerging attitude!

Is suffering a choice?  Leigh says “yes”; Betsy disagrees.  And neither has had a particularly happy life.  But the fact that suffering might be chosen should give us the impetus to walk lightly along our paths.  As the sympathetic executioner is reported to have said to Socrates on handing him the hemlock:  “And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what must needs be . . .”

Sometimes the best therapy is going to work each day.  An easy attitude toward one’s duties is a remarkable coping mechanism.  Should one resist, the force field may become stronger, and the flow all but gone.

David said that he thought I would be very good at library administration, but that I would be perfectly miserable in my work.  Yes, I too fear I would be in a place where no birds sing.  So I risk making a mistake by avoiding this challenge in order to travel peacefully along more pleasant pathways.

After all, the Course says, “Heaven asks nothing.  It is hell that makes extravagant demands for sacrifice.”     In the cool of fading evening, I think I will be glad I listened to the song of birds.

I remember in college hearing a professor mention that some character in literature “derived his meaning in life from work.”  I immediately saw myself in those words.  But in recent years my journal has been filled with variations on the theme, “I have to get over feeling that I want to push-push-push at work.”  The problem is that I become obsessive about work when I am truly “into” it, but my emotional make-up screams at me that I need to lighten up.

So I do—and the oscillations of greater and lesser work play themselves out over and over.  I would be better to seek a steady pace, not making the same mistake of work overload on a recurring basis.

It is hard for me to go easy when I see deadlines staring me in the face.  Yet this is just what I must learn to do.  The fact that the problem recurs proves that there is a better way for me to freely choose—and choose it I must.

Norman Vincent Peale counseled pacing in daily life (though he did not call it that).  If in God’s own time, it is not there, it was not meant to be there.  This also works to mediate against precipitous action.  I don’t know that it would work in a life-threatening situation, but in my own life and work, I know that considered action and going with the flow (not bucking the tide) is what gets the job done.

On what really counts in life:  “I’ve wondered if putting A Course in Miracles into practice in a fast-paced and demanding life is the best thing that I could do in that regard.  But I don’t think life is meant to be as fast-paced as we live it.”

On developing “flow” in living:  “I find that I can ‘tune into’ intuition or not—as I will.  The willing is largely unconscious; I make a decision to listen or not without really thinking about it.

Today, on my morning off, I wandered about—from the bookstore to the library to the frozen yogurt shop (for a snack) to KFC Chicken (for lunch).  It has been fun, and I feel more relaxed as a result.  Now I’m back home, lounging in the sun porch.  I need more undirected days like this.”

As Arthur Hays Sulzberger wrote, “Lead, kindly Light . . .Keep thou my feet:  I do not ask to see/ The distant scene; one step enough for me.”

Simply put one foot in front of the other and walk.  This is the secret of getting over an enervating malaise, if it is only mildly debilitating.  Truly pathological depression is going to require something more: usually medication as well as a good listening ear.  (And God has the best listening ear of all.)

On what “works” in work for me:  “This morning I was very sleepy and relaxed–a little numb.  As a result I slowed down at work to great benefit.  I need to stop falling all over myself to get my work done.”  Yet, the very next day, I wrote, “I seem to anticipate work and have a hard time doing that.  I don’t handle a million things to do very well.”  Yet, though I clearly recognized this a long time ago,  I still haven’t truly accepted it and planned my work accordingly.

I have a pattern of taking on more and more, getting “swamped,” and pulling back—only to repeat the same dynamic.  I may be addicted to an adrenaline rush which my body can’t sustain over the long haul.  So I end up anxious, and David does therapy for me over breakfast.  Not fair to him or my real Self.

A Course in Miracles says that the first obstacle that peace must flow across is the desire to get rid of it.

How true!

Chapter 6: When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple. . .

Years ago in a vulnerable state of mind I saw a phonograph record jacket that depicted a glamorous, vivacious woman in a cherry red, sequined dress, and in a smaller picture off to one side, a subdued, paler, more timid version of the same woman holding a violin.

I imagined that as a little child I would have wanted to grow up to be a glamorous woman, but that my parents wanted the artistic violinist.  (Playing the violin had actually been one of many ambitions of my father for me.)

Looking back, I know that the path my parents set me on was what the innermost “I” wanted in my lifetime.  (Certainly my talents are not “show biz.”)  But there is still that urge to be a freer sort of person than would ever have passed muster in my childhood home.

These fantasies are akin to the poem, “Warning,” in which a woman looks on her life longing to be a braver sort:  “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,” Jenny Joseph says.  Might I take this to heart?  Isn’t there time to redress?  And shouldn’t I begin right away?

If one ought not to attack others, one also ought not to attack self.  This truth was brought home to me in a dream about an old coffee mug that years ago, when I bought it, seemed very “me.”

(The images in the design of a young girl were quite reminiscent of my hairstyle and my physique.)  In the dream I totally shattered my mug and then heard the words, “You don’t take very good care of things.”  When I awakened and reflected, I realized that I had criticized my old self to my husband (who had not known me then) rather severely.  I hadn’t taken good care of my earlier self because I attacked it when older and “wiser.”

Yet “she” is still a part of me, deep within.  And “she” wants to be loved, too.  How can I assimilate an earlier, fragmentary self except that I integrate her into my all-encompassing movement toward a better tomorrow, with a new self that I can like better?

On internal role models:  “In many respects I want to be like the [blank] of my dream—masterful, living a varied life, helping others.  If it is true that all people in a dream are aspects of self, then this dream image may be a genuine self that I am or could become.”

On self-actualization:  “I probably try too hard, and if I loosened up, I would come closer to being a true professional in living.”

On the contradictions of personality:  “Why did I want to be so directed in my life by others?  My response is to become compliant.  Even my sense of what to do with my life is based in part on what I perceive to be the best advice of others.  At the same time, though (somewhat paradoxically), I feel a deep sense of inner direction that would not be swayed by others.”

A prayer for less self-centeredness:  “I like occasionally to be the center of attention—really to enjoy myself in an extroverted way.  Help me always to be aware of the equality of my fellowman, and not to let such ego-satisfying experiences be detrimental to my best philosophy.”

How much of what we do exists only for ourselves?  Even a teacher learns better the lesson that she teaches than do her students.

I gained and lost the same four pounds over years.  (Only recently have I stabilized at a good weight.)  Was there something awry with my eating patterns?  I seemed to be sabotaging my best efforts once the weight came off by immediately increasing my caloric intake.  A minor obsession but illustrative of our society’s emphasis on good looks.  And who knows what “good” really looks like?

Our good points are the flip side of our negatives.  When we see those negatives in others, we usually don’t realize that we are projecting.  We get angry because we don’t like what we have seen within.  My red-hot anger is always seeing something that isn’t really out there at all.

Surely I have lived the metaphor of Eve, usually unwittingly.

It doesn’t make me a goddess; it just highlights the advantages of learning from the patterns of others—be they real or fiction or something in-between.  There is sometimes a very explosive truth to the reality that comes up when life is lived close to the bone.

Individuals sometimes “fight all the way” decisions that are providential.  This learned from reading anecdotal accounts of heavenly guidance.  Is this what has been going on for me as I resist library administration?  Not that anybody has asked.  I say ahead of time that I’m not interested so that I won’t be tempted with an offer I can’t refuse (an offer that “can’t” be refused normally appears, at least for me, to be ego-inspired).  I have to be certain that the ego is not the motivator here.  Perhaps I am destined to be in conflict about this for the foreseeable future.  Maybe I should stay in non-resolution until I learn what my soul is trying to tell me.

A couple of centuries ago, John Keats called this useful mechanism “negative capability.”  Non-resolution over a long period of time, I have learned, usually counsels “no.”

Chapter 7: An Old Dream Revisited

Know that the impulse to love comes from the spirit.  When one is “crazy in love,” the feeling partakes more of what is within than what is without.  The person being idealized is somehow more yourself than him.  The best part is that the experience points to the Love at the center of one’s being.  At base one is seeking God, and it is not really fair to one’s beloved to make of him an idol in one’s journey back Home.

Some very idealistic people mix inappropriately the sacred with the profane.  Living out our being first of all as human may show    much about how to love God.  We can’t always repress the human, or we will be denying the very arena in which we have been placed.  And the human “ideal” may lead inexorably toward the heavenly ideal.  Much romantic love, in the beginning at least, manifests a kind of imperfect love for God that needs a concrete object.

Sometimes after a great shock (especially if high in negatives), we feel an almost supernatural calm and a certitude that all will be well.

I remember only two arguments with my college roommate in three years, probably because arguing with her was so rare as to be both shocking and threatening.

One argument ensured when she came in from class enthusing about O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.  She argued quite energetically for the positive value of pipe dreams, “if people don’t have anything else.”  I hadn’t heard the class discussion (nor yet read the play), but I vehemently declared with all the might I could summon that people should know the “truth”!

How was I to know that the next act in my own play would be years of clinging to a pipe dream and avoiding the truth?  Of course, on some level I did know, and so when I was railing at Betty, I was actually railing against my own life script.  Be careful of overreaction; it may tell you more than you’re yet ready to know.

I think my ideal for this life was Romantic love, in the sense of medieval chivalry or the great English Nineteenth-Century Romantic poets (Keats, Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge).

But then I went on a 15-year odyssey of self-denial.  Before birth, was I influenced by the good that Dante’s love of Beatrice wrought?

For a long time, there was a split in my life—a private dream that could not be assimilated except as spiritual growth.  I have come to think that any lengthy non-resolution is an example of Rainer Maria Rilke’s oft-quoted passage:  “I want to beg you, as much as I can, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms
and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.”

We can create randomness in our personal dramas, or we can create metaphor.  The great figures of history mostly created metaphor, which is why we remember them so well—we see ourselves reflected therein.  A drama formed from Jungian archetypes is normally the best teaching tool, and we are all, as a first priority, here to learn.  Why create our own metaphors out of whole cloth when we have the better option of learning from others?

There have been three periods in my life when I was especially attractive to men.  I was functioning at a very high level each time—very “up,” not depressed at all, and quite passionate. Most of my life, though, I have repressed my feelings and attracted men who didn’t want to get serious.  It was always a mistake in those situations to let my neediness show.

From a mind slant of another time and place:  “I was a different person, at once more akin to other people and sensitive to their needs, but also caring almost not at all what they thought of me.”

How liberating!  Is it too iconoclastic for life in our time?  Or, if practiced consistently, would it be the way to true freedom?

I once went through a very strange time when I realized that it was neurotic to care so much what other people thought or to try to please them so much.

But people developed ambivalent feelings toward me because by not caring what they thought of me, I sometimes attacked them.  I could see through their ego defenses and did not have nearly enough patience with these foibles.

Yet simultaneously I was truly loving people as children of God.  It was a contradictory time.  I was ready for Awakening, but not saintly enough to sustain it.

The well-worn rejection record entitled “Abandoned by Love” plays only when you put the record on the turntable.  And you can stop going around and around like that.

Was I brought low because sometime, somewhere, I had been too proud to love?

I once knew a young woman who made virtually no decisions without consulting God first.  By nature radiating happiness, Anna appeared supremely well-adjusted, sure in her knowledge of God’s watchful care.  In her presence, my own obsessions seemed very far away and very delusional.

One who truly knows God on a day-in, day-out basis invites sanity into every interaction. Such a person serves as a conduit to God for all others who may be less sure of His actions in everyday life.  And this achieved with no preaching at all.

People often come together to work out emotional problems that are mirror images to one another.  Then they part, sometimes to reencounter again, if the matter is very central to both.  Yet there remains no true resolution if the meeting point is especially impassioned.  God’s real will is found in a peaceful ending.

Living an ideal is good for the soul, but it won’t keep your feet warm at night.

Chapter 8: David: a REAL Relationship

Written three months before I met my husband-to-be:  “I want to find a man who is self-aware, emotionally stable, and sensitive to some of the deeper issues that I find important.  I want a clear-eyed self-assurance and sense of appropriateness about life.  Someone free to love without neurosis.”

All true in my experience of my husband.

I am reminded of a thought from a favorite narrative told by Michael Drury:  “. . .the spirit has a deeper knowledge, so translucent that one may not know it exists until some slant of light or storm reveals it. . .’Being begun so late, there was no time to lose.'”

The comment, “It’s a small world,” is not only misleading but actually dead wrong.  The world isn’t small, and there are millions of people in it.  The encounters that seem strikingly fortunate are most certainly karmic interrelationships being exemplified.  There is a higher plan at work.

Is “self-containment” a negative concept?

An old friend once thought so, believing perhaps that I was criticizing him, or that it led to holding one’s self aloof from other people.  But I think otherwise.  How many women, wishing to be married, find that their knight appears once they have learned to be happy within themselves?

I read once that a long-time mistress said, “If there is a secret to being loved, it lies in ‘not having to have it.’”

Written in my journal later in the evening after meeting my husband-to-be:  “I am worth love.  Everybody is.”  I had immediately intuited what would yet come to me through him.

We intuit love before it arrives.  One month after meeting David:  “I am developing a deep happiness. . . .  Something clicked as I walked across campus yesterday, and I realized I was quite happy.”

Is there an “old maid” syndrome?  These days, it’s more likely to be a love of work rather than fear of sex.

In the early months of my courtship with David, I questioned whether marriage to anybody would ever be right for me.

My analysis:  “I need to see myself as a desirable woman outside my work interests. Otherwise, my profession will be all my identity, and I am less likely to make the adjustments that ensuing marriage would entail.”

Three weeks later, a good sign:  The question, “Would I be happy married?”  The response, “I find myself wanting to spend more time with David.”

Journal writing can be a great, non-medical, antidepressant.  I used to be alone a lot, and as everyone knows, solitude can bring on brooding.  Writing tempered this by reassessment of who I was, where I was headed.  After my real, human connection with David developed, the impetus to write very long letters to myself just faded away.

Romantic advice:  “I don’t know how to act to move a cautious man to greater seriousness except to give him plenty of room and wait.”

Love on earth is always partial—less true than I would want.  Breaking up with a boyfriend as a “test” can be quite self-destructive.  Love can’t always be as strong as I would like it to be.  I’ve made this mistake twice; the first time, in college, quite disastrously.  The second time, though, my love came back—and he is the one I married six months later.

But I don’t recommend brinksmanship in romance.

On my primary relationship:  “Do I affirm David enough in the image that he has of himself?”

A prayer written mostly for myself three months to the day before David and I were married (and six weeks before we became engaged):  “Help me to take each day in order, not acting precipitously, learning how to wait for the proper timing.  Help me to know that all events–even the inconvenient ones—work together for good.”

In looking back, it seems to me that I have been alone a great deal in this lifetime.  My greatest truly human desire was to experience the love of a good man.  I have found that boon with David, but I waited a long time–37 years—before God was ready to grant the prayer.

Surely there must have been something negative in my past to create this long delay.  I suspect that I have been rejecting of men in earlier periods; I had not treasured the love that was offered me.

God grant that I will not err in this way ever again.  The karma entailed therein is simply too distressing.

Most never-married people who see marriage as making them one-half a person are badly misguided.  Marriage is best when two whole people meet, and by their relationship create a matrix that is larger than the sum of its parts.  Anything less is at least partially symbiotic.

Growing pains on moving from the single life to the partnered one:  “Basically I am very happy.  I need a little more time to reflect, time to enjoy being solitary.  I need to settle down and enjoy all my moments.  We are on the go so much, but that too is good.”

A prayer for David shortly after our second anniversary:  “David has changed so much since we have gotten married.  More and more he seems happier and happier.  He seems to respond to my romantic gestures.  What can I do to make our life together ever richer?”

A paradox of marriage:  I have frequently wanted some “alone” time since our marriage.  But if David is anywhere around, I even want to be in the same room.

On being receptive:  “Help me to live my life so that I accept the love that comes to me.”

By the way that I make decisions, buying the Porsche (even though it was six years old) was the wrong way to go.  I was reading the signs, and they all seemed to be negative.  But David would have felt thwarted if I had opposed it.  And, ironically, he wanted me to make the decision.  So I said “yes” against my better judgment.

And I joined David in driving it, enjoying the ride and trying not to be ego-driven behind the wheel of this luxury car.

My friend Pat said that, after all, this wasn’t a decision involving somebody’s life; it was just a material object.

But what if it had been a life decision?  What if someone close to me planned a life in ways that I thought wrong?  I could refuse to participate at all, losing him forever (perhaps ) or abandoning him to (possibly bad) fate.  Or I could take the risk with him, joining at pivotal points to do my part to make the drama work.  I would have to be convinced of a benign Overseer capable of righting every mistake.

Not unlike the Porsche, really.  This tiny mini-drama seemed a metaphor for other decisions, other times.

On what I needed in a mate:  “David says that I have a tendency to add 2 + 2 and get 5.  Part of my attraction to him has been his rational mind.”

You can sometimes get clues as to what is important to other people by what they do for you.

When I planned to work my usual, once-a-week, evening reference desk slot on David’s birthday, I hurt his feelings.  (Of course, he didn’t tell me this.)  David is one of those darling people who shows his love by the great effort that goes into doing things for their loved ones.  I realized that he had always gone to great lengths to celebrate my birthday.

Quickly I regrouped and made some extraordinary gestures to celebrate, with him, his special day.

That was all that he needed.  And what joy it gave both of us!

I used to look, rather pathologically, for hidden meanings, i.e., What was he really meaning to say?

My husband has reduced this tendency in me by a very rational pattern of interaction.

He always says what is on his mind when he is ready to say it.

And this is what a real relationship is all about.

I never get angry unless I am stressed.  This realization has eased many attack thoughts.  When I shift from feeling the anger to evaluating the source of stress, I find the discomfort quickly abating.  This dynamic is particularly pronounced in close personal interactions.  David never does anything that upsets me when I am at peace with the world.

When I don’t fuss back, David always rewards me (usually soon).   By catching himself up smartly and offering an apology.  Then he lets me know that he knows I’m right for him.

A commonly recognized problem, particularly for women:  “I have been trying to please incessantly, and that is because pleasing and being loved have been linked in my mind. . . .Actually, I read that a man might not want his wife just to ‘go along’ with his wishes because she might react that way to just anybody.  She should do something because she wants to.”

On the folly of non-assertion in relationships:  “Lately I have realized that I am resisting being compliant.  David doesn’t seem bothered by that.  If anything, it is just the reverse.”

Temper, temper!  When is it ever permissible to lose my temper?  I’ve already decided that it’s never OK at work, and now I’m beginning to feel the same with David.  He loses his temper and says something angrily to me, and I get furious.

What bothers me is that it feels good to blow off steam, but then I always regret it.  A Course in Miracles counsels against anger.  What are my options?

Update:  “A year’s end for my resolution of not to fuss with David.  I broke it only [X] times!  Trying to keep this resolution has made a real difference in our relationship.  And I have learned ways of coping that don’t include attack.”

David and I both get impatient when we can’t understand each other’s verbal shorthand.  Perhaps we have not always had, in our many lifetimes, the close relationship that we have now?    Maybe we didn’t have eons together in the past, but maybe we will have in the future.

When my husband teases me mercilessly, does he really just need more attention at the moment than he is getting?  That’s what he says about my childhood tormentors on the playground, my little friends who pulled my pigtails.

A life can be seen as one giant jigsaw puzzle.  I just saw anew the fact that my husband David has a large number of the most important pieces.  We had to change our morning routine for a month due to an early-morning class that he was teaching.  No more leisurely breakfasts at Perkins, where we would sit across from each other and have some of our best conversations.

Back at Perkins one Saturday morning, I just exploded with unsaid thoughts—a grab bag of tiny, insignificant little work-related problems.  I said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  All these little things are bothering me.”  He replied, calmly and quite to the point, “You haven’t had therapy in a week.”

Yes, we had been at Perkins the previous Saturday, and not since.

I recounted this at work to a colleague, herself a wife.  She was much amused and said, “Yes, it takes just that little bit every day.”

And I thought my increased understanding from reading when what seemed to be freeing me to know better how to live.  David modestly says there are many factors—a statement which led me to the jigsaw motif.

Going it alone for so many years may have taught me some independence, but David has fulfilled unmet needs in my life that were there for years.

You’d better believe I’ve thanked him profusely in the last week and apologized for my own whiff of personal attribution for what he actually does for me.

As I wrote later on, “David has changed me so much since we have gotten married.  Mostly, I have tried to follow A Course in Miracles, but I am also freed just to love.”  My personal prayer for David:  to love him ever more deeply.  The prayer the Holy Spirit bade me pray for David:  that he be blessed–that blessings reign down upon him.  And both prayers are being answered far more gloriously than I could ever have anticipated.

On the efficacy of silent interaction:      “David has been particularly sweet the last few hours.  I have been loving him silently.”

On surviving the busy life:  “If David and I are going to lead such busy lives, it’s very important to take moments out throughout the day to enjoy each other and what the day brings.

We need many moments of truly enjoying daily life.”

Most people don’t like advice even when it is well-intentioned.  Examples from life prove the point much better, and I certainly don’t have “the truth” (whatever that might be).  If David makes mistakes based on what I say, not only will he probably not learn very much, but he will blame me.  If he makes mistakes from his own decisions, he is far more likely to learn (even though learning from something more positive “takes” better).

How much “hands-off” should I be?  I do care, and it is hard to see what may be real problems play themselves out.  But David is very reticent to change anything major in his life situation; after all, he stayed in Atlanta for ten years.  On the other hand, before I met him, I moved about far too often rather than stay to work out a situation in a familiar setting.

Who is to say which way was better?  Certainly it seems to have worked well for David simply to ride out the storm, rooted in place.

I once dreamed, “Basic changes are necessary,” and I knew that this admonition had to do with my tendency to attack.  I wrote in my journal, “I realized in my sleep last night that I absolutely must basically make some changes in my attitude toward David.  I cannot attack him; the Course makes very plain the ramifications of that.  I must just quietly assert myself if I can’t go along with his direction.  If I communicate (really communicate) what I am feeling, we will develop an even better relationship.”

These words show that I have already undergone a great transformation from the Hera-like creature that I have imagined I once was.  I know in my bones that I am capable of a very raw rage that would alienate the bravest man.  Surely the world has split in a million pieces, like broken pottery, that dastardly part of me.  I hope now that I have become a vessel ready to receive refreshing water.

When I was a little girl, I heard my mother and father remark from time to time that we would do (blank) “when our ship comes in.”  I thought it was an actual ship, most likely loaded with gold and silver.

That image has stayed with me into my adult years, where it became attached to intangibles like the romantic love I so longed to enjoy.  Now David, just like my parents, makes the “ship” analogy from time to time.  I tell him that he is my “ship”—the one I waited 37 years to find.  This doesn’t fully satisfy him, but he does give me all I truly want in this world.  I have told David that the most important thing that I do is to interact with him.
This is the way of A Course in Miracles, played out in my life.

Perhaps the most important thing I’m doing now is interacting with David.  He is the spouse God gave me to love, as I am his. Human love at its best is a two-way street, and David and I are each other’s ticket back Home.

Chapter 9: On the Job

As behavior modification theories say, overlooking much negative behavior paradoxically is still the best way to effect change.  Then one tries by his own behavior simply to set a good example, reinforcing “good” behavior at the point that it occurs.

As a substitute teacher, I once “changed the rules” by becoming stricter in a negative sense with a class of high school students who were unruly—even though their behavior had actually improved over time.

It is easy to get impatient in such situations, but this says more about you than the behavior.  In this situation as in others, when there is much improvement, I tend to push for it all to be re-
solved, which is unrealistic.

I learned at the public library that people may not really care very much if competence is missing in some insignificant way if in fact they are treated well.  Trying to be too “perfect” equals  a lack of forgiveness (of others as well as myself) and is self-defeating in crucial ways for which the root cause goes unrecognized.

I’ve often regretted getting the Ph.D.  I did it because I bowed to the ego.  Once I was accepted in the program, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.  Before the fact, though, I had long had doubts that it was the way to go.

And I now know that for me, this dynamic is an indication of a pathway to avoid.  The Ph.D. has sometimes been a barrier between other people and myself—the very antithesis of what I want.

On meaning in life:  “I’m happy with my life, but I’m not doing anything that someone else might not do just as well.  It comes down to a question of what is really important in life, and that seems to me to be the relationships we develop—the ‘people’ factor.”

People’s bad attitudes don’t always mean that I have caused their discomfort.  Disbelieving this is a fairly common, but paranoid, reaction of adult women who grew up after being “good” little girls.  My journal during the period of one job is filled with variations on the theme, “Help me get along with [blank].”  I will never know how many of the interpersonal problems I really caused, and now, years later, does it really matter?  We are all in this together.

Making a careless mistake seems to be unforgivable for Ellen.  Is it because she never for-gives herself for same?  I cringe from her denunciation of my “mistakes” as though I were an errant child.  If one is intolerant of incompetence in the outside world, one is loosely holding a dagger that very easily can be turned to wound self (either by the attack of another or self-infliction).

If you find yourself in the midst of rejecting people, maybe you are electing to resolve old karmic wounds.  This is particularly likely if there is a sense that your co-workers want to think the worst of you.  Be patient.  This too shall pass.

As a part of my job, I used to have to write dreaded “peer evaluations.”  I could never reconcile an evaluative comment as different in any way from a judgmental one.  And both biblical injunctions and A Course in Miracles have given “thumbs down” to judging.

Years away from that period of required evaluation, I still don’t have the answer.  But I know that currently many of my colleagues believe that performance appraisals by administrators and middle management are uselessly subjective and meaningless.  Maybe we are tiring of striving to get kudos from each other, and just want to be left alone to do the best job that we can.

I must try to treat myself with the same loving attitude that I want to treat others, for I will never treat others with an attitude that I can’t sustain within myself.

An instructive directive from A Course in Miracles:  “I can escape from the world I see by giving up attack thoughts.”  I am more guilty of the thought than of the word or deed, though the potential for all three is there.  A former supervisor advised in writing peer evaluations, “Don’t go for the jugular.”  It is seldom (if ever) a good idea to “set him or her straight” by criticism.  Is there really any such thing as “constructive” criticism, or is it all negative?  If we force someone into defensiveness, surely we have done a negative thing.  And defensiveness in the wake of any kind of criticism is the usual human reaction.

I once had a position for which I was not sure I would be reappointed.  I consumed lots of mental energy and worked very hard, trying to ensure that I would be.  Then I had a vivid dream that said that nothing I could do could get me reappointed.  I awoke with the most delicious feeling of well-being and calm.  My journal reads, “In the dream, there was nothing I could do about it, and that released me.”

As it turned out, I was reappointed, though probably not for reasons over which I had any direct control.  Then I married and left that position before I even started on my next term.  So my innermost Self knew the pathway ahead, and gave me a dream that symbolically encapsulated a better future.  “She” was saying “leave” all the while, and it was I who was resistant.

On the workings of karma:  I once attended a writing retreat sponsored by my university.  Interestingly, among the attendees were virtually all the faculty members whom I knew well from outside my “home,” the library.  I was disappointed to realize that these people did not seek me out to talk during the entire three days (although a few people new to the university and to me, did).  From a karmic viewpoint, maybe there wasn’t anything more for me to work out with my casual “friends.”  I stayed at that university only three years, leaving three months after this retreat.

Our school systems have only recently turned, in some instances, to cooperative learning rather than competitive.  And sports activities, with their emphasis on teamwork, have long been recognized as a good training ground for the adult work life.

Toni Packer carries this idea into the religious realm when she asserts, “Striving to attain perfection can result in great virtuosity but it cannot accomplish a relationship of lovingness and care with the people around one.  Rivalry and love do not exist side by side.”

I have a tendency to entrap myself for the unseen future by making decisions that will be hard to reverse without losing face.  I perceive a “good” goal and take steps to commit to it, know- ing that it may involve anxieties that I didn’t bargain for.  Not a very humane way to treat myself.  Would I do it to other people as well?

On motivational rigidities:  “I have too many ‘ought’s in my life.  I just need some time to relax totally.”

I’m not the type for too much discipline in turning out work.  I lose something in my interactions with people.  The work becomes more important than the people.  Not the way to go.

I can’t be too disciplined.  If I require of myself a careful perfectionism in the work of the day, I become rather rigid.  Worse of all, my relationships suffer because they seem to be tangential, instead of possessing the properly central focus in my attention that they ought to occupy.

A trap of the Protestant work ethic:  “I’m trying to be more and more effective in my work, and that perfectionism turned in on myself makes me less forgiving of others who are more casual in their work habits.”

A grab bag of personal advice for on-the-job behavior:  “It helps to go really easy with people at work—keeping egalitarian ideas uppermost; relaxing into the day and not fighting it; listening to intuition (within reason); pacing, with an attitude to enjoy all; non-judgmental, helpful attitudes.”

More “work” reflections:  The paradox is that I get more done as I relax into the day and find time to interact with my colleagues.  And, if interaction is everything, and love of others is Jesus’ “light burden,” this readjustment of time ought to be my priority.  Certainly there is a Higher Law being enacted if, as I have discovered, I am actually more productive when I take time for others.

I feel liberated at work when I’m around my co-workers and realize that I’m not going to act on any ambition to be their administrator.  I can relax–and I do.

My journal entries when I was younger were filled with the expressed desire to do some-thing “meaningful” with my life.  But what is meaningful?  “Being there” for others is right at the top of the list, and that is certainly not a struggle to do.  This suggests that much of my struggle in life has always been essentially meaningless.

On competitiveness at work:  “A more relaxed pace is less threatening to my co-workers and a more humane way to treat myself.”  In my early years, did I fuel some unsatisfactory work relationships by my own competitiveness?

I am always trying to do everything myself alone, but life isn’t lived like that.  It is truly a team effort.  Trying to recapture this thought in the midst of a busy life is not always easy.

Never forget how those on the job influence one another.  Currently we seem to take on more and more, and unfortunately (and in illusion), this seems to leave us less and less time to do anything.  Surely in an era of lean and mean corporations and single-parent families, we don’t al-ways have a choice.  But we have more autonomy than we acknowledge, because we carry over the busyness when there is a choice as well.  We think that in doing a dozen varied things we are experiencing the “good life.”

Maybe it only takes one saner response in a circle of friends or colleagues to start the group back toward a more measured pace in living, more time to savor life.  Will you be the first?

On pleasing people:  “Trying too hard to please is a habit and may make people uncomfortable.”  Several years later, I still hadn’t learned the lesson of this.  I casually told my supervisor at work that I wanted to “please” her in some assignment.  She came back the next day, obviously having considered my statement, with the rejoinder, “You shouldn’t try to please me!”  I was rather surprised, so warped had been my conditioning.  My task is to be a whole person in my work, achieving (or failing) for reasons far more appropriate than the approbation of my superiors.

Giving of one’s self to others ought never to be a burden.  If it appears to be, maybe there isn’t enough love coming through first, smoothing the way.

Why can we see and diagnose other people’s foibles and games so much better than we can our own?  As the poet Robert Burns put it:  “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as ithers see us.”

When I truly meet a stranger, our eyes lock and we are not strangers at all.  I help the person find the library resources that he needs, but I often feel that much more is taken away than reference help.  Often the person comes back to thank me.

In this tired and stressful world, a little empathy may be the best that we can offer, and who knows how very much that might be the very gift needed?

If I let myself get critical (toward myself or others), I won’t be able to make a meaningful contribution, and this latter desire is very strong in me.  It disturbs me that I’m not doing much of anything that would make a real impact in the world or even at my university.

But I keep going back to my old belief that the relationships are everything.  Here and now in my interpersonal contact with others is all that I need to make whatever impact I was meant to make.

When I relax and let that idea dwell with me, I am at peace.

I get a certain expression on my face when I am tired after a hard day but feeling open, compassionate, helpful, patient (it’s hard to say exactly what).  There is something about this look that is very attracting.  Lots of people young and old gaze at me at such times with an admiring look.  It is not a compliment to me so much as an expression of their need for empathy, even from a stranger.

This world can be very cold; it behooves me to cultivate my sensitivity to others for ever and ever greater spans of time.

Chapter 10: Learning from Relationships Passing Through

My great-grandmother, when widowed at age 37 after 20 years of marriage, looked forward to bedtime because she would dream of being with her beloved Asa again.  I have the idea that there are specific feelings, usually that go unnoticed, associated with each person that we know.

That is why, when we dream of an old friend not seen for a long time, we experience anew the same feelings that we knew when in his presence.  I think this sense of tone in relationships also gives us the subtle good or bad “vibes” when we approach the people in a new environment. Per-haps, after all, the emotion remains throughout life here and on the other side; the content of experi-ence only is lost in the river of forgetfulness.

The right kind of Love mitigates against temptation more than anything else.  Indeed, it is the solution itself.  (On the other hand, love with a little “l” ensnares more quickly than virtually anything else.)

Did I alienate in another lifetime by my critical attitude?  Or, even worse, was I totally rejecting because I didn’t understand that attack/temper is a cry for help, expressed in the only terms that insanity knows?  Maybe this soul memory is why I don’t want to lose anybody this time around.

My cat taught me persistence.  I am allergic to Sylvester and all his kin, but David didn’t know that when he gave him to me for Christmas, six months after we started dating.  I almost gave Sylvester away once, but my friend’s husband objected, and so my cat won a reprieve.

Eventually, after much sneezing and many teary eyes, I found an allergist who knew the right treatment for me.

So Sylvester lived out his 17 years as the recipient of cat chow with treats of “people tuna” prepared by me.  He seemed contented with my cuisine and my various maid chores for him, but he showed his limited appreciation by mostly giving his attention to my husband, who brushed him.  (Any cat lover will understand.)

Contradictory signals:  I once knew a man, a homeowner, who tried to get his beloved to buy a condominium for herself just at the point when he was getting serious.

Sometimes we crave change for the sake of change.  But it is usually better to rearrange your furniture than to discard any relationship, however fragile, from your life.

Being immediately there for people is a powerful trait possessed by those who have charisma.  In women, it is the aspect of charm that attracts most surely.  Yet it is also most likely the secret for many men whom women find sexually attractive.  If genuine, it is a tool for great mo-ments of empathy.  If selfishly manipulative, the ending will be painful for both parties.

People do show love in different ways.  A friend who has been somewhat estranged from his family spends hours picking out the perfect Christmas gifts for them.  On the other hand, I have never been estranged from mine, and I am not a shopper—hence my gift selections are made with insufficient care.  I have come to understand that love wherever it is found is worthwhile and good.

I once “asserted” myself with an auto repairman after waiting an hour and 15 minutes without a prior consultation (before the work would even be “started).  This after seeing several men arrive and then leave with their cars repaired.  So why do I feel I failed?  My feminist defen-siveness came to the forefront, and I thought the worst.  Why does our current ethos pit men against women in a struggled competition that does no good for anybody?

I have a friend who creates trouble for herself out of boredom; she explained to me once that all of that turmoil makes life more interesting.  Certainly we need a certain level of stimulation to stay connected to our environment.  Maybe the drama we seek is truly because we are merely actors in a playhouse–Shakespeare’s character Jacques’s idea, “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players.”

If so, this act seems to be a morality play, and it is unlikely even if all is maya (illusion) that playing a villain doesn’t have bad repercussions for the whole play itself (as well as the character himself and the others on the stage at the time).

So my friend (mentioned above) is part of us all, and can’t really make trouble only for herself; we are “in it” with her.

There is very little in this world worth getting upset about in personal interactions.  And by “upset,” I mean “angry.”  This learned from the experience of following A Course in Miracles, which says:  “Anger is never justified.”  But you may have to read the book to understand that the madness that is this world is fully forgivable—fully possible of being overlooked.

I used to have outbursts of temper from time to time.  I would go along placidly until I felt attacked; then with some effort I would suppress it.  This dynamic might happen repeatedly until I would defensively push the offender back in an attack of my own.

And we in this world actually think this is justifiable behavior:  acting out of “self-defense” to put the other in “his place.”  But when one points a finger at another, there is no way around the fact that three remaining fingers are pointed back at one’s self.

Compliance is a two-edged sword.  On the one hand, it may make one more eager to follow the inclinations of another (not always a good thing).  On the other hand, it may readily open one to guidance from within, guidance that may be (falsely) perceived as an “other.”

In my own case, it made me willing to follow the lead of my parents while growing up.  Now, out of their sphere, I do fall in line with my husband’s wishes often, while at the same time retaining a good bit of autonomy for following the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit does not often put me at odds with the others in my life; more likely He draws a circle around all of us, a circle drawn by Love.

Angry outbursts don’t cause positive changes, although there is short-term “benefit” from venting hostility.  (The guilt comes later.)  Not a pretty picture.

As one reduces attack as a reflexive action, one’s super-sensitivity to criticism is correspondingly reduced.  It’s the truth of projection making perception.  If one doesn’t lash out at another in offense or defense, she will reinterpret in a more benign light anything that might follow.

Only one fact keeps attack alive in a relationship—that it “works” by getting the other to back down.  If the other doesn’t respond in this way, the dynamic is removed from the interaction.

Either the other can respond very negatively, leading to bad consequences not sought; or (better) the other does not respond at all, in light of the fact that the attack is all illusion anyway.

But the very best response is to rush to the offender’s side with help,  knowing that the attack has veiled a call for love.

If someone acts badly, it is decidedly not my job to set her straight.  No one likes to be chastised.  To deliver such a blow would be creating and meeting attack and defense at every turn.

Instead, recognize, as A Course in Miracles says, that the poor behavior is actually “distress that rests on error, and thus calls for help.”  Then rush to her side with that help.  You will always receive a blessing from this sequence of events, and it is quite probable that the person herself will be the deliverer.

It is sheer arrogance of the ego to think that I shouldn’t have to abide poor behavior from another.  Many wives’ attempts to talk out problems with their husbands never get off the ground because the men resist, believing that their wives are starting an argument.  When I am affected by a negative act or word from another, I think:  “I have done this thing in the past.  Am I ready to for-
give it in myself as well as the other?  This is perhaps my chance to eliminate it from my life forever.”

Certainly, until I do forgive it, the circumstance will revisit me, begging all the while for me to look kindly upon this wrong.

Some of the men closest to me over the years have had bad tempers.  I probably have a problem with anger; the men express what I repress.

But until David came along, I condemned them for it.  (In David’s moments of pique, I just call it madness and let it pass–as the Course suggests.)   I condemned because I projected my own “unacceptable” impulses.  In effect, they were expressing my rage for me—my unresolved, rejected rage—and that is why it angered me so.  I lost my respect for another in his display of temper, but it was really my own interior that I was chastising.

The less one shows anger, the less one will find anger in surrounding people.  Peace is infinitely reinforcing.

The more I view life as a laboratory, the less I need to please others, but the more I am willing to do so.  Some disagreements seem so very unimportant.  But the desire to please another is at base neurotic if the desire makes us in any way less than true to ourselves.

When the same pattern recurs, it is surely trying to teach us something.  The latest example:  When I’ve gone out on a limb enthusiastically to recommend someone, I’ve realized later that I didn’t know her well enough to be so enthusiastic.  For the person’s part, not only has she tried to gain advantage through me, but even by the attempt to do so has sought to “do me in.”  Yet this unsavory attempt against me has never worked.  My attitude:  I have needed to respond not in attack or retaliation, but just as a wiser person for the experience.
Yet my forgiveness may not be complete, because I have not really wanted to have much else to do with this false “friend.”

My lesson?  Don’t be so quick to praise lavishly on incomplete evidence.  It’s a good way to get burned.  As the Course says, “Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one, and then escape all pain that what you chose before has brought to you.”

Wanting to be “loved” by everybody is not a very laudatory goal.  After all, in this world we are all insane to one degree or another, so it follows that people in general are not going to “love” the right attributes.  People don’t know what it is that is best to admire, and so the adulation of the crowd is virtually meaningless as a measure of value.

Certainly we see this repeatedly in our near-worship of physical beauty, a phenomenon which passes for romantic love, at least in the beginning of many significant relationships.

Comparisons are the utmost folly.  There will always be those who have more and those who have less.  If “having” mattered in any genuine sense, only the upper class would be happy.  Who really believes that?  Yet we still chase economic security as the elixir of life.

Better to walk in a field of grain on a sunny day.  Cost:  nothing.  Lesson:  even the grain can’t grow without rainy days.

When we are treated badly, there is most commonly something within that cries, “I don’t deserve this!”  It is the true inner Self, reasserting preeminence over an ego–yours or his—that indeed may have transgressed.  This dynamic is particularly pronounced in people in trouble, who always believe that there is something “special” that makes their situation unique.  And they are right, for there are always mitigating circumstances prompting any false behavior by an ego-dominated personality.

In a vulnerable state of mind some years ago, I realized that one of my greatest neuroses was my desire to “please” others.  Other people may actually like this part of my personality, making the dynamic insidiously reinforcing.

By extension, I have come to realize that I’ve wanted to “please God” also by doing “His will” (all that I imagine He might want in my life script).  Yet, does all of this make me a more loving person?  I think not; it is actually on another level entirely.  It is even a way of trying to coerce love from another, i.e., if I please you (make you happy), you will “have” to love me for what I have done for you.  One ought not to have to “do” anything to be loved; it is our birthright as children of God.

But is it any wonder in this flawed world of ours that we twist ourselves about in madness trying to get more love?

Negative behavior or words on the part of you or another are just so much insanity.  And you wouldn’t get angry about a true psychosis, although you might wish mightily that it were healed.

Written a little over a year before getting the “green light” to write this book:  “I’m very conscious that what I do now is real living, but I don’t feel that I’m doing anything much for people.

I have some understandings, but I’m not doing anything to share them.  Should I write?  My guidance is not to start “that book” (based on my journal) yet.  My life is “very pleasant, at home and with all my friends at work.  And I enjoy what I do.  I know enough to know how to live well (non-neurotically, happily).  But shouldn’t I be doing more?  What am I doing to help other people live well?”

We live out dramas every day—individually and on a mass scale as a nation and a world.  Surely Shakespeare was right:  “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players.”

Is an unseen world learning from our triumphs and our tragedies?  Is this the real reason that paranoia afflicts those souls for whom the unconscious mind becomes available?  Not finding support for a reality beyond the obvious one in their philosophical or religious beliefs, they think the FBI is after them.

Ancient shamans knew more—and knew better—than do we now.

A psychic warning of a crisis in the making:  In the early morning hours before my dad suffered the medical crisis that led, five weeks later, to his death, I dreamed of the upcoming sad time.  I dreamed that David and I had a daughter and son, both old enough to go off on their own.  The daughter was going on a “trip,” but she would be alright.  The son was taking a sailboat across the ocean solo, and I wasn’t sure he could handle it.  But he was very eager to go, and I realized this attitude was part of the male spirit of courage and adventure.  I realized that I shouldn’t be overly protective of either my daughter or son.

This dream was quite comforting during my dad’s illness, though I did not know the dream’s full import.  Several years later, I find that the sailboat motif is reminiscent of an anonymous parable of death, in which those on the opposite shore are welcoming, just as the sailboat goes out of sight on this shore.

When someone treats me badly, especially for no apparent reason, I think, “I did this to someone once.”  And it brings me ever closer to forgiveness.

In Italy, I smile more, and my eyes light up when I greet people.  I am as friendly as the wonderful Italians.  Is that why I feel so welcomed and positively received?  Or is my physical appearance more attracting to an Italian (men and women) than to a typical American?

Twice on our vacation I was mistaken for an Italian woman by Italian people.  Maybe my “type” is seen very favorably there.

That night, cuddled with my head on David’s shoulder, I felt that in Fiesole, overlooking San Domenico, I had come “home”–maybe even Home.

Yes, this place, overlooking Florence, is for me a little bit of Heaven presaged.  Bene!

Chapter 11: After Walking Away from the Garden of Eden

Our life scripts will constantly present a counterpoint to egotism.  The individual most puffed up with pride will also be the one most vulnerable to ego-deflating humiliations.  The melodrama of life never lets the ego win out, but instead we find it constantly being undone.

We do this.  We execute our plan–made before birth–to guide us as swiftly as possible toward Reunion.

I have sometimes been fearful of turning over a problem to the Holy Spirit entirely and decisively (what Catherine Marshall calls “relinquishment”) because in the short term the outcome has seemed painful.

As I think of it, though, it is always pain to the ego, not the real self, and the Holy Spirit cares not at all about soothing my ego; He wants it gone forever, and as quickly as possible.

When I was too scared to relinquish completely, I found the Holy Spirit to be like any good Counselor–willing to work with me in my confusion, willing to take me as far as I would go.  I would say to Him, “I will still work with this (i.e., the problem),” and He would abide with me on my slower timetable.

Now I do seek simply to relinquish a problem, knowing that the swift action that ensues is less painful in the long haul—something akin to ripping off a band-aid rather than squeamishly removing it slowly.

I have been too afraid for a long time just to relinquish anything to God, because in the short run I seemed to suffer ego pain when I do.

My biggest problem being that ego, I did decide recently to risk a prayer that the ego just wither away.  This time there was no immediate pain.  (I had also prayed the coward’s prayer—that I not learn through pain.)

A little later my pride (ego) was wounded at work in several fairly minor ways.  This suggests to me that I have let egotistical desires rule in that arena.  (After all, years ago I had dreamed, “Going into work means too much to you.”)

I’m doing a fair amount of talking to myself now about what my priorities really are.  What I’m trying not to do is to rush to the defense of the ego.  Maybe in our imperfect world (and with my imperfect self), the ego must be wounded before it can die.

On self-centeredness:  “I am convicted by the fact that I have wasted more mental energy over a fingernail that keeps breaking than in praying for an ease to the suffering of people halfway around the world.  Distance in space is an illusion; those people are my own flesh-and-blood, neighbors with whom I share Oneness.

How can I be so obtuse as to cast their troubles out of sight?

Was the fall of man (and woman) fortunate?  Do we have to learn what evil is all about, and soundly reject it for the good?  I once intuited in a waking dream that someone told me, “Your con-cept of sin is not mature enough.”  Did this mean that I only understood the superficialities of “sin”—not the blackness of real evil?

How deep does one have to go into insanity before saying, “Enough!”?

I once knew a man who was not particularly well-integrated.  He seemed to advance and then retreat, marshaling his resources for repeated assaults on life.  Then he went away, and I didn’t talk with him for a couple of years.

When we met again, he was a changed man—”solid as a rock.”  When I asked his secret, he replied with the most powerful sermon I’ve ever heard.

“Prayer,” he said.

One word, but what a difference hearing it has made in my life!

There have been mysteries in my life for which I can never realistically expect answers.  Sometime, somewhere, I must have said, “Let’s do this on faith.”

Viewing life events metaphorically is a little straining at times, but it is a highly instructive way to live.  In such times, prayer will center and calm one anew.

It could be argued that all our problems stem from flaws in the earthly replay of Heaven’s cosmic drama.  How so?  Our relationship to our earthly parents forms the basis for our earliest view of our heavenly Parent.  As we progress through childhood and the teenage years, we struggle to find our own authority.  Usually long before we have resolved that dilemma, we perpetuate the drama by having our own offspring.

All along the way are pitfalls to avoid, too little love, and, oh, so much pain and conflict.  Yet in this reenactment God has placed the keys to the Kingdom.  Love your way through the life cycle, and you are home.

Before Jesus, the boomerang of karma was the best thing that we had going for us.  But I believe karma never worked very well as a corrective device, because it seems to create cause for grievances.  It’s a little like thinking that television violence might be cathartic, when it actually promotes more violence.

Maybe people never truly learn by suffering because it doesn’t teach the way of success, the positive way captured by the trite expression, “Nothing succeeds like success.”

On why I can be quite contented with my religiously skeptical husband:  “David has been wonderful lately–so considerate.  I hope that we can grow ever closer.  He doesn’t share my relig- ious life, but at the base of it I’m not so traditionally pious as engaged in a quest to learn how to “live well”–sanely, rationally, in the “real world” (to use terminology from A Course in Miracles).

“There has to be a way to escape all this suffering we undergo as we try to get back on the right track.  We need to live the Law of Grace opposed to the Law of Karma.  Like David, I’m really rather skeptical and see skepticism (albeit imperfect) as a more intellectually sound position than much of superstition that masquerades as religion.”

I once imagined an internal message that identifies to my mind how the classroom earth works:

“You wanted a world where nothing could go wrong–control.

“I wanted freedom.

“Therein lies the salvation of us all.”

Surely we have wandered away from God, and because we have wandered away, we find correction.  We can find correction through pain and suffering or through more benign ways.  And in my experience a willingness to try a better way always brings relief.

At my dearly beloved great-grandmother’s funeral, the minister happened to look right at me when he said, “If Miss Ellie couldn’t say something good about somebody, she didn’t say anything at all.”  His gaze sharpened the image of this truly saintly lady who always loved the Lord.

My husband David told me much later that this comment was actually Thumper’s mother’s advice from the motion picture “Bambi.”  Even the Disney classics can point the way to religious truth.  At times the whole world seems shaped to lead us back to God.

Basically, I know I wouldn’t have been shortsighted on the other side in planning my life.  I hope I felt the Holy Spirit’s guidance in making my plans.  I certainly feel the guidance now in large and small things.  The problem is not so much that I lack guidance as that I have sometimes been afraid to follow it, lest my subconscious overwhelm the rational mind.  I have upon occasion done objectively irrational things while following a feeling about what I should do next.

The Course says the “partly innocent are apt to be quite foolish at times.”  But the Holy Spirit judges even these foolish things differently from the way we do.

As Emily Dickinson knew, “Much madness is divinest sense.”

From time to time, over many years, I have had dreams of trying to keep an intruder from coming into the door of my apartment or house.  The dreams always seemed very immediate because the door visualized was always physically located in my real, current surroundings.

Sleeping late on a Sunday morning, I dreamed that there was a rapping at the bedroom door.  Still in the dream, the door opened, and someone came in, but I knew it was all alright.

My husband David asked, “Is that [X] trying to get in?”

“Yes,” I replied, and thought (but did not say), “Don’t worry about it.  It is OK.”

Upon awakening, I spontaneously remembered the dream, and immediately interpreted the One at the door as my spiritual Christ.  I felt very peaceful.  And in the years since, the old version of “keeping somebody out” has never recurred in my dreams.

Postscript:  Upon arising, I went downstairs and found the front door unlocked and open, with only an unlatched screen door between the world and me.  But in my sleep I had dreamed an peaceful result.  A good sign.

An “Eve” mini-drama:  One late spring day, I intuited that something major would be shown me.  That evening I seemed to be a bit of a different person—experimenting with new hairstyles, trying to find a new personal style, abnormally “up” in demeanor.

In the early part of the night, I awoke with the sense that the “secrets of the universe” might be seen on a visionary screen, and I wondered (briefly) how good that might be before silently but forcefully screaming, “Oh, no!”

Then I hallucinated a hangman’s rope, bound in a knot with nobody’s head in it, the knotted rope freely swinging.

I think I was saying “no” to the apple—the “knowledge of good and evil.”  But then I “saw” that nobody would die—the hangman’s noose was empty.  Later, I analyzed that this had been Jesus’ part—to make the noose empty.  Symbolically, the resurrection has happened for me.

What joy!  Likewise, the resurrection has happened for everyone because time, whether 2,000 years ago, now, or in the future, is not a genuine separator of persons.  Everyone will be freed in his own right time.

Chapter 12: Trying to Merit God’s Favor

When I was a child in a Protestant denomination, summer “revival” services—a week of evening church services—were standard.  I couldn’t have been more than ten years old when the preacher announced in advance these sermon topics:  One night it was going to be “How to Get to Heaven,” to be followed the next night by, “How to Get to Hell.”

That second topic struck me as totally unnecessary, because (as I told my great-grandmother), “The way you get to hell is just not to do anything.”  I never have known if she agreed with me, but she (the most loving person I have ever known) found my answer amusing and told the preacher what I had said.  (I never knew his reaction, except that he laughed.)

So here was my childhood myth:  Heaven was something you did!  You did something to get into heaven, and if you just didn’t do anything—you went to hell!  Clearly I was in a biblical camp: “Faith without works is dead.”

This specter has followed me even into the present, as I all too often try to do things to justify my existence (i.e., make this life count by making tangible progress back to God).

Yet I think I’ve only gotten a partial understanding, one that is not truly Jesus’ idea at all. Love of God and love of one’s neighbor were, in His words, the “greatest commandments.”  Surely living these commandments will best dictate how one spends one’s time.  And surely if one’s love is not genuine enough, no amount of service to others will redeem.

I had it all backwards in my childhood and youth.  What I can now call “individual achievement” was all-important; the social was unimportant, and with it went what I now call “interpersonal caring,” or love.  While I loved my family, it may have been to some extent because I needed security.  Now in my idle moments, I wonder if in another life I might also get it all wrong in the beginning.  Getting it all wrong certainly cost me a happy childhood and youth.

What setback has it also given me in my progress toward Enlightenment?

It is easy for achievers to fall for the delusion that superlative work is necessary to merit God’s approval.  Such an assumption is usually the bane of first-born and only children, who got kudos from their parents for bringing home “A’s.”  We can usefully see God as our heavenly Parent only if we don’t project conditional love onto him.  God always loves us as only the Perfect Parent could, without any preconditions or second-guessing at all.  I alternate between thinking that love, caring interactions with people on a daily basis are the best meaning of life, and believing instead that something more is required of me.

The “sometime more” is usually envisioned as work of some type, creative or otherwise.  St. Paul said, “For by grace are ye saved through faith. . .Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  Ah, but the Protestant work ethic dies hard in modern-day America.  And is it not possible, as Freud thought, that a synthesis of love and work best defines a fully-functioning adult?

Why is it so hard to understand that we are more important to God than any contribution that we might make?  He doesn’t love us for what we can do for Him.

How important is it to learn how to work well?  Do we retain our skills for eternity, or is competence ephemeral?  In Heaven all talents are shared, but on this side of the veil ought we not to develop what comes naturally for us, our particular gifts from the great Storehouse?

It is an error to chase after mirages of difficulty that just ever recede into the mists.  One might even call it masochism.  Cultivate instead your little plot of land—your green garden planted with all your favorite flowers.

Related questions teasing me out of thought:  Why has “success” been the elixir of life for me?  Is it that I think I need another’s stamp of approval?  Will God love me more if everybody else thinks I’ve really hit the jackpot?  (Surely not.)  Could it be I think God will love me because I achieve?  What does it take to make “A’s” in life anyway?  And what if it turned out that real life isn’t something you do at all?

The coward in me doesn’t want to suffer anymore.  I dreamed of a staircase that could be climbed, but it seemed a struggle and in the dream I realized, “It didn’t have to be like that,” meaning that finding my way back to Heaven doesn’t have to be a struggle.  In the past, all too often I’ve taken the quicker (?) and harsher route.  Only my own militancy dictated this life course.

In my days of wanderlust, I used to alternate between “low status” and “high status” jobs.  Then there came a time when I knew intimately that the status of a job had absolutely no bearing on living under God’s grace.  The job also, not incidentally, said nothing about whether I was succeeding in life.  After that realization, my vocational pathway smoothed out.

Had God been trying to get through?  Had I listened more intently, would the vicissitudes have eased sooner?

Once, in an altered state of consciousness (hypnotic, dreamlike), I had a fantasy of my own Last Judgment.

In what seemed to be an age regression to the age of two, I answered a lot of questions asked by my animus alter-ego.  I had a great sense of humor at the time, even admitting lying in the answer to one question, and then saying, “How do you expect me to pass this test otherwise?”

At the conclusion, rather than being admitted to Heaven or cast down to hell, I was directed to do a long list of things in this lifetime, most of which I don’t remember.

But at the conclusion, I responded, “That’s a tall order,” and I remember in my heart of hearts thinking I could not do them all.

My alter-ego replied, gently, several times, “Try.”

I have wondered if my flirtation with library administration as a career path is really because in this dreamlike state, administration was one of the directives.

A hypnotic state can confuse or clarify the way ahead.  I can’t continue to refuse administration because I am afraid of it; I can’t let fear win out on any level.

But I also can’t respond to what might essentially be ego-based, and not part of a Higher Directive at all.  More pondering is definitely ahead.

I once had a dream about my function on the Other Side.  In the dream I had gone to a counseling session with an old friend’s mother.  I wanted to get help on deciding the next step in my life.  Suddenly, I interrupted the session to exclaim, “That’s what I did!  I helped other people plan their lives.”  Then I added, “Why didn’t I become a guidance counselor?”

If this was an experience of the numinous, it would explain my own preoccupation with determining “God’s will” in my life, my sometime rigidities (especially against making mistakes), and my early adult emphasis on striving to be “perfect” (unrealistic though that might be).

Maybe I lamented any deviation on the part of my “advisees” from the plan that we had devised.  If true, though, I don’t think I was a very proscriptive counselor.  When I was a college advisor early in my career, I always wanted my student advisees to take what they wanted—not what maybe might be a better choice from my point of view.

I do honor, in my better moments, the Holy Spirit’s guidance as present in the understanding of another.  I can’t discern that for anybody else, only for myself.

On the value of individuality:  “I’m very much trying to do what is ‘me’—the karma of individuality.  Be the best Elaine I can be.  God won’t ask if I did somebody else’s task.  To build a bridge for God is not the way to go if it’s somebody else’s bridge to build.”

The Holy Spirit has been trying to turn me outward more and thereby convicting me of my self-centeredness.  The only time recently that this conviction has not been upon me was when we visited David’s parents over the Christmas holidays.  I felt a true relationship to them, and genuinely entered into the conversation with an attitude of love and care.

But now, back home in my daily routine, even my prayers for others seem to have too much “I.”  I think overweening ambition is the culprit here.  If it isn’t my job, it’s my writing.  Jesus’ “light yoke” is love of others, and I actually enjoy being with other people.  Why do I think something more by way of work is required of me?  And why do I get so enthralled by the work?  There is some ego there!

Always it is best to combine work and play—indeed, to make work “play,” if that be possible.  I love studying A Course in Miracles, and I adore writing about it  (and other similar musings) in an attempt to help others.  What more could I ask?

This place we call earth isn’t the best of all possible worlds, but it becomes Heaven indeed when one’s state of mind is in harmony with the music of the universe.  (How I long for that peace to be omnipresent!  But I have not arrived home yet.)

Why do I always want to do the “right thing”?  What will happen if I err?  Mistakes are not sins (as the Course declares).  But some part of me fears the karma of wrong action.  Don’t I live in the Age of Grace, and don’t I have the Holy Spirit as my Guide?  Be gone, timidity!  As the biblical quotation has it:  “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Certainly if I lived in the “real world” of the Course all the time, I wouldn’t have such a fear of doing the wrong thing.  And just as surely do I know that forgiveness (of myself as well as others) is the cosmic lamp by which the real world is lit.

Catherine Marshall felt that “love of others” has always been Jesus’ way—the way that makes the burden light.  She felt this to be an interior word from Jesus himself.

Ruth Montgomery’s Guides counsel “service to others” as the Way.  Certainly love will lead naturally to service, and take any unwillingness out of it.

I have long believed that the interactions are everything, though I do not always live this.  So ingrained in me is the impetus to succeed by achievement that I wonder (falsely) that I am miss-ing the boat if I’m not pushing Sisyphus’s rock up the hill.

As the Course says, “Prisoners bound with heavy chains for years, starved and emaciated, weak and exhausted, and with eyes so long cast down in darkness they remember not the light, do not leap up in joy the instant they are made free.  It takes a while for them to understand what freedom is.”

Certainly I am happier when I relax into enjoying my relationships.  Indeed, life isn’t like Sisyphus at all when I keep the proper focus.

If more people found contemplation an immensely enjoyable pursuit, everyone would be better off.  It is our fast-paced world again; we are addicted to thrill-seeking.  But real soul satisfaction comes only in quietness.

How much are risk, excitement, growth, challenge, of the ego?  God’s peace is very quiet.

On the folly of too much striving:  “I don’t want to do something that will create fear in me.  I risk not achieving enough, or not striving hard enough, to take the easy pathway–to peace.”

The path to peace is found in what we really want to do.  But what we really want to do must first be informed by the Holy Spirit.  And this listening requires abundant flexibility and volition.  Yet, as the Course asserts, following the Spirit’s guidance is our “way out of hell.”  Dare we do any less?

Chapter 13: Living under the Gift of Grace

Once when I was particularly stressed, I internally intuited, “Play with me,” from whom I perceived to be Christ.  Also, “Don’t lean on me so hard.  You will knock me over.”  Now I can imagine “playing” with the Holy Spirit in thus this way.

Following His guidance takes a flexible attitude, but it doesn’t have to be somber.  Actually, the hallmark of Spirit-directed living is the joy that it elicits.

As the Course says, “Salvation can be thought of as a game that happy children play.”  Therein lies a total abandon that is tremendously liberating.  The real universe is not nearly as ponderous a place as I have sometimes imagined.  When I take myself too seriously, I project this outward.  But the light touch wins out every time.

I’m still trying to justify my existence by doing “spiritual” things–like writing this book.  Although I enjoy my job at the library, it seems so tangential to true loving service to others.  I’m careful to take time for people (including other staff members) at work, but that isn’t enough to quell this void in me either.

What is God trying to tell me?  I can quiet myself only by the knowledge that He will tell me in His own time and in His own way.

Once I developed a huge “floater” in one eye and wondered one long, stressed-out night (before going to a physician the next day) if I were going to lose my eyesight.  I realized then that if this loss happened, I would spend a tremendous amount of time in the darkness in meditation and prayer.  I also realized that I’d probably never spend that much reflective time with eyesight.

And it occurred to me that in centering and loving God, in companionship with Him, I’d be doing far more what God might want than my ceaseless, off-the-mark “good works.”

In the long years when God’s will seemed irrational to me, I prayed, “Lead me to want what God wants for me.”

Now that I have studied A Course in Miracles and appropriated its tenets unto myself, I know that my real understanding, coming from the Holy Spirit, would assert that God’s will and the will of my higher Self are identical.

It is the ego’s madness to believe that my will can only be asserted when in rebellion against God.

I can right this madness by quietly discarding the ego in every situation where I can identify egotistical motivation.  But a frontal attack won’t work because the force field of madness will only seem stronger.  Just gradually withdraw support from the madness that is the ego, and it will slink away.

In our overly busy world, it is hard to find time to stop and smell the roses.  If we don’t, though, we begin to feel that we are on a treadmill.

I have an idea that the human mind and spirit were not meant for the speed of modern-day life.  We all have a need to reflect, to center our minds—and for many that takes the form of prayer and/or meditation.

When I was a child, I sometimes lay across my bed during the daytime, with the sun stream-ing through the windows, for at least a couple of hours at a time.  I called it just “thinking.”  But it was truly nourishment for my soul.  I had found a solution to a fundamental need of living that made all the rest of my hours worthwhile.

Those lazy days of childhood are a thing of the past.  Now I look for chunks of time during the day that can be made free just to think, and I try to resist (not always successfully) the urge to open a book to read.  The Holy Spirit needs to reach me directly, too—not always does He want the mitigating presence of another’s words (however spiritual those words may seem to be).

My greatest regret is having verbally attacked another when he didn’t express the love that I wanted.  I certainly played out the role of the shrew that needed taming.

But it was left to God Himself to soften my rough edges—God working through Norman Vincent Peale and Catherine Marshall and Jesus himself (A Course in Miracles).  And the one I attacked?  He, by example, led me to the healing touch of deep prayer.

Seeking through reading, finding through prayer—a combination that in the most pragmatic (as well as idealistic) sense works.

Psychic pain has brought me closer to God.  Sometimes I think I chose this pain to show me the Way.  Certainly my moments of greatest peace have come in the deep prayer that sets aright my little window on the world.

I sometimes believe that physical spaces have vibrations as real as any encounter with a living human being.  Twice I have experienced overwhelming peace while spending time in an area previously occupied by a sincere practitioner of prayer—one, a nun; the other, a seminary student.

The nun had sublet her apartment to me, but the seminary student had rented the upstairs room in my great-grandmother’s house fully 50 years previously (and it had been largely unoccupied since).

By contrast, for the most stressful year of my life, I lived in an apartment previously occupied by a couple conflicted by abuse and violence, and who separated at the point of moving out.

In the first house that my husband and I owned, the previous owner left bright and shiny copper pennies in various places.  It is pleasant to think that her expression of good luck got our residence off to a happy start and colored all the joy that followed.

I don’t think I have always, throughout eternity, been a very religious person.  I am more comfortable with expressing spiritual truths in secular terms.

If love, wherever it is found, is good and true, I don’t think that worship in the traditional sense is a requirement of right living.  As the Course says, praising God hardly means to tell Him how wonderful He is.

Surely He does want us to commune with Him, and there is a sweetness and peace about contemplative prayer that we can experience no other way.  But then we return to a very secular world not ready to hear religious truths in the manner of an all-encompassing world view (contrary to the Middle Ages).  We have to express our truths in the language that our generation is ready and maybe even eager to accept.

Confessions of someone struggling to meditate:  “I’m not yet experienced enough in medi-tation not to feel bored by it.  But it works!  And its efficacy will get me over the boredom.”

One of the best techniques I’ve ever run across to observe spiritual growth is Catherine Marshall’s “prayer log.”  She and her husband, Leonard LeSourd, described and dated each dilemma in daily life, then recorded and dated the answer when it was received.

A prayerful reading of the entries in a prayer log, accompanied by writing down ideas that come as intermediate steps, leads more easily to the receptive mind that can accept God’s answer when it arrives.  If sincerely listening, you may not have to wait long!

God’s answer is always ready to come immediately, but you will hear it only when finally prepared fully to listen.

Journal writing is a form of prayer as well as a cathartic release.  What I write is intensely reinforced in me—the Course’s definition of teaching what we would learn, but to an audience of one.

Blessings are powerful catalysts.  I once prayed for someone in a very forgiving spirit—something I had not always been able to do, and this time it was truly genuine.

Within the hour, I had experienced an epiphany that assured me that God wanted to help me in my life; I didn’t have to struggle all alone to prove anything.  God would smooth the way.  It was like Coleridge’s great poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:  I blessed the water snakes and the albatross fell from my neck.

Dream work:  What you pray about just before going to sleep will very frequently be illumined by a dream in the morning just before awakening.  And this dream will be easily recalled.

On struggling with trust:  “The Holy Spirit always works things out better than I would myself.  So why do I still resist?”

I’ve been thinking that “just” turning an issue over to God doesn’t work well if, in effect, I “give up”!  That “giving up” may be a crucial point.

I had wondered why relinquishment seemed to turn out badly for me.  I need, with God’s help, to “work with” the problem.  If I truly give up, I may have already failed and know it intuitively.

Then the inexorable law of cause and effect may inevitably force bad repercussions.  Only if I act to cooperate with the miracle awaiting me will I know peace.

Is life really a dream, as the Course says?  I feel very strongly sometimes the divine in and through me.  Partly this is remembering the flow and sparkle of the world when I am in vulnerable states of mind.  But there is absolutely no way to communicate in words what this experience is all about.

Once lived through, though, there is no turning back to an agnostic view of life.