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 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 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.