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 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 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 14: An Ever-Closer Walk with God

A journal, updated with comments on past entries, will show what will appear to be miraculous problem-solving.  It’s a great faith-builder as well as a powerful learning tool.  One entry from my journal that illustrates this thought:  “Realizing that rationally I can see answers arrived at helps me to know that reasoning is a legitimate way to make decisions.  I am amazed at the high percentage of correctness I see from the vantage point of over a year later.”

My journal for the first year of our marriage is filled with a desire for more time of my own.  Then I was not yet accustomed to the many demands (and privileges) of a husband and home.  The desire for more time peaked again several years later.  But then I revisited an old affirmation of mine from many years previously:  “There is always time for what is needful.”  And what is needful may vary from time to time.

Right now my strong desire is to find the time to write.  And, almost magically, our morning activities have readjusted to give me that time.  God’s watchful care extends to every priority, when the timing is His Own.  Just be sure that how you want to spend time is also what your Creator  wants as well.

Repeatedly in my writing I have intuited (and sometimes outlined) the next project fully five years (or longer) before I began it.  The idea goes underground in my subconscious mind and there germinates.  I’ve read of this phenomenon in others who write, but surely it has wider implications than for this one activity.  It is a form of the “waiting prayer” that Catherine Marshall extols.

Keep a record of your deepest longings and then reread the list some months (or years) hence.  The longing may have been placed there by God, and then surely if we do our part at the right time, He will bring it to pass.

I’m pushing the limits in wanting to write this book “for God.”  But my inner sense is that I’m trying to rush ahead when He would have me hold back.  It is all well and good to want to build a cathedral for God, but if the timing isn’t His Own, the construction had better wait.

Recently I realized that the academic book I wrote a few years ago got me off balance and disturbed my peace.  And just last night at bedtime, in my mind’s eye, I planned another academic book.

The Course says, “The first obstacle that peace must flow across is your desire to get rid of it.”  How true!

The prophet Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh to warn the people to repent, although he knew God wanted him to do so.  So he ended up in the belly of a whale for three days.  Then he went to Nineveh.

Like Jonah and as part of my personal rebellion, I have been, for much of the time, unable to see that God’s will for me could be what I truly wanted as well.  (The Course asserts that God’s will and our real will are always identical.)

I stayed true to the pathway on which I was walking because I had numerous indications that I was, however strangely, following the will God had for me.  Surely something good must have transpired in my drama, though I cannot see the whole picture.  It is enough, for now, to know that my part was to follow the way of obedience, without swerving.

I know that sometime later, maybe beyond this lifetime, I will know why.  In the meantime my nocturnal dreams tell me as much as I need to know.

Jonah and the whale dies hard.  Is my troubled view of the right pathway as the work-oriented, hard way a projection of the unforgiving aspects of my own personality?  Probably.

We project our view of God and God’s will from what we are like.  I think I’m too con-trolling and therefore see God that way.  And then doing what I “should” do—the “right thing” (whatever that might be)—becomes coercive.  To believe that God backs people into corners to do “His will” is simply projection borne of a faulty self-concept.

I am learning that the “should” and “ought” of my life reflect the degree to which I have projected my controlling tendencies onto God.  I am too tied to Old Testament religion, which emphasizes a God who orchestrates the world stage from without in sometimes very directive (and even nefarious) ways.

I need more of the loving spirit of the law that Jesus exemplified.  He was not afraid to reject authority if it didn’t seem caring or nurturing enough.

He likewise rejected “success” in the eyes of the world.  Jesus was directed by the inner Spirit in all he did.

As David said a couple of days ago, the locus of control needs to be within—not given away to others (even God) perceived as outside one’s self.  (And God is not “outside,” but within, not an “Other,” but the blooming of Creation made manifest even in creatures such as myself.)

I have long had an agreement with my innermost Self to get agitated if the action I am contemplating is wrong for me.  Conversely, when I turn my pathway over to God, saying, “I will go wherever you say, doing whatever you ask of me,” I have felt the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”  When these two emotions are found in conjunction with one another—agitation
followed by peace—I know that what I think God wants of me is truly what He does.

For many years I felt a directive to “go to Washington” (D.C.).  It was a metaphor, because I didn’t actually have to go there geographically.  But every time I considered abandoning what I had perceived as “God’s will” for me, I became overwrought.  When I reaffirmed to God my desire to go wherever He asked, do whatever He wanted, real peace always descended upon me.

Useful advice from an old saying:  “If in walking along a hallway, you try to open a door along the way, and you do everything to open it that you can, and it still won’t open—God has closed that door.  Keep walking, and you will eventually find another door that opens easily at a touch.”

Delays are hard to take.  God’s answer may have come immediately to any dilemma (He is outside time and space), but in our world the answers seem to take time for their working out.

I used to get so hung up on wondering what was God’s will, and then feeling that if I correctly discerned it, how could I be anything except a puppet?  Even when I think I have resolved the issue by affirming that God’s true will and my real will are the same, I walk back into the dilemma.

In our insanity we think we choose freedom when we rebel–a typical adolescent response. Surely Jesus is the only truly mature soul in our midst.

At times I have had a delicious sense of “God is taking care of me.”  This feeling invariably comes when I relax and let Him time everything properly.  As Catherine Marshall says, “It’s good to remember that not even the Master Shepherd can lead if the sheep do not follow Him but insist on running ahead of Him or taking side paths.”

When I was a new student of A Course in Miracles, I taped favorite passages for listening during my commute.  On a crisp and clear but very hot Southern day in summer–our wedding day—my husband-to-be and I experienced an event full of wonder that I have called a “miracle.”

About mid-morning on our special day, David and I decided to go on an errand together in my car, and because we were in my familiar hometown, I planned to drive.  As I unlocked the pas-senger side of the car for David, we both heard my voice reciting from A Course in Miracles.  Once inside the car, I retrieved the tape recorder and cut it off, remarking that the recorder couldn’t have been running very long or the tape would have run out.

What had started the recorder?  No one had been in the car yet that day.  Like all tape recorders, this one was operated with fairly stiff push buttons.  So it is a mystery.

I deduced from this, my wedding day miracle, that if I followed the principles of A Course in Miracles, our marriage would turn out all right.  And this modest directive has played out a thousand times over–a thousand times better—in the days, months, and years since.

On life’s real security:  “It very liberating to decide not to depend on myself.  There is no way of life that I could choose that would keep me safer than living in absolute dependence on God.”  I’m actually emotionally not very strong.  I’m sure I chose this weakness to learn how liberating dependence on God is.”

Accepting help freely takes much pressure off.  I live better.  I also feel very loving toward the people who treat me kindly.  And my ego is less involved when I accept help.  Certainly this bogeyman, the ego, has always tripped me up; frequently there were things I wanted to do and couldn’t–and my ego would hurt over it.  Responding to help beyond me takes the pressure off, and helps me to know that if “it” doesn’t get done, it probably wasn’t meant to be done.

It’s akin to that epiphany I had in Chicago one night:  God’s help is a gift, freely offered, a desire to smooth the pathway for His loved ones.  Our part is only to be open to His guidance.

If prisoners loosed from their chains after long years in captivity do not immediately leap for joy (A Course in Miracles), is it any wonder that we don’t fully enter into a new life upon learning the truth?

We, like they, need time to become accustomed to our new freedom.  We have been frozen by an imprisoned will, because to protect the All, God had to put limits on our ability to create inappropriately and insanely.

Once we find ourselves once again with a clear mind, part in harmony with the Whole, we will know that it is only an adolescent temper tantrum that ever made us feel that to be free we must have a will different from God’s.

It is a paradox of the universe that we are only free when we are truly joined, in our right minds, with God.  We see a partial parallel in earthly life; when we lay down our arms against our parents, we are finally free to be real people, not responding repeatedly in reaction to them.

Laying down our arms against God means that we live in the fullness of our Being and at peace with the universe. Only then have we truly “grown up.”

I have not always trusted promptings:  “My ‘feelings’ have been notoriously unreliable.  Most of those decisions that I made by intuition were probably right to the degree that they also were rational decisions.”

But can anyone really believe that divine guidance is irrational?

As Emily Dickinson penned, “Much madness is divinest sense/ To a discerning eye.”

On following the sixth sense:  “Many times now I half-consciously say to myself what to do next (or not do), and it turns out to be ‘Oh, so right!’  When I test my hunch by not doing my directive, I see what the problem was.  And sometimes I see what the problem would have been if I hadn’t followed my intuition.”  All of which–sixth sense, hunch, intuition—I see as indicators of the Holy Spirit at work (and play) in my world.  And when I am aware of my real will, the prompt-ings of the Holy Spirit do not seem coercive.

An example from real life:  “I bought a luxury item today when I realized the indication was that I should not, and Paul objected when I got home.  When I don’t follow the psychic prompting, I virtually always find out later why life would be smoother if I followed the prompting.”

All visionary experiences are not psychotic, but, on some level, all psychotic experiences are visionary.  Even the especially muddled ones.

Every time I follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance for my next step, I find a blessing–usually immediately.  Then I silently praise God and affirm, once again, that I will not doubt my inner Guide.  (My consistency is still not perfect.)
The dynamic is especially apparent in guidance that on the surface appears to contradict common sense.  Because it is uncommon sense.

How should I make decisions?  In retrospect, that appears to have been very difficult for me.  Once I just followed a “feeling” (what I called “intuition”).  And I did some rather foolish things.

I am now somewhat mollified by the rejoinder of the Course, “The partly innocent are apt to be quite foolish at times.”  To what extent should reason enter in?  Would intuition lead astray or even lead to an undesirable mental state?

Questions still teasing me out of thought.

Actually, there ought to be no conflict between intuition and reason.  What we call “reason” is frequently really judgment, and that is the sticking point.  A Course in Miracles counsels the giv-ing up of judgment, because we can’t know by judgment the best course to follow.  It is always “of the ego,” the really bad guy.  Follow instead the still, small Voice within—and know peace.

God deals differently with different people, and differently at different times with the same person.  When I became fearful of following my feelings in deciding what pathway to take, He gave me a new way to hear His Voice.  Distinct thoughts come into my mind from the Unconscious that calmly suggest a way to go that turns out amazingly well.  And there is never any fear that my personal subconscious will overwhelm my rational mind.

Even if the initial reaction from others to an action precipitated by intuition makes that intuition appear misguided, be patient and wait.  The final response is likely to be much more positive, and therefore yet another reinforcement for following one’s inner nudges.

I get a lot of psychic help in knowing what and how to do things–how to make decisions.  Others might call it intuition, or the Holy Spirit, or “help from the Other Side.”  Catherine Marshall called this phenomenon the “Helper.”

But a friend of mine, in a moment of envy perhaps, or maybe irritation at my upbeat attitude, asked me, only partially in jest, “Do you live a charmed life?”  This question even suggests some alliance with dark forces, so misguided can we be in our madness.  We think what God wants for us “for our own good” could only be a spanking, much as we sometimes discipline our children.

“. . .In milder forms a parent says, ‘This hurts me more than it hurts you,’ and feels exonerated in beating a child.  Can you believe our Father really thinks this way?” (A Course in Miracles).  No!  God deals only in win-win situations.

On following intuition (or the Holy Spirit):  “I need to have patience with myself.  Often I feel ‘guided,’ and if I follow the feeling or impression of what I should do, the way ahead is smoothed.  Things turn out well (or better) because I have followed this guidance.  This dynamic usually means that I am feeling flow at work and home.”  In short, don’t second-guess the Holy Spirit.  Take the action that intuition prompts:  Alter your direction to fall in line with His Own.

And if you can’t seem to do this immediately, follow as soon as you can.  The Holy Spirit will work with us as we bring more and more of our steps in sync with reality.  I find that I resist changing directions when I am being way too stubborn.

As an old boyfriend used to say when met by my irritation (my irrational irritation): “Lighten up!”

Indeed, “Let it rest lightly on my mind,” has at times been a constant refrain.

It is a highly liberating experience to feel in command of one’s life.  Paradoxically, this liberation arrives when one is listening most closely to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.  If one follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit, what ensues is never going to be bad.

From A Course in Miracles:  If you don’t ask the body to do too much, it will remain a “serviceable instrument.”  I have an idea that I get sick (usually with colds) when I have failed to follow this dictum.

But the Course also says that Atonement “takes away the guilt that makes the sickness possible,” and if we follow the Holy Spirit, we will be absolved of guilt:  “. . .of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them.”

“Do not, then, think that following the Holy Spirit’s guidance is necessary merely because of your own inadequacies.  It is the way out of hell for you.”

If, as A Course in Miracles says, what one experiences is a dream, then it should not surprise us that our minds can create signposts along the way.

A signpost can be a word, a phrase, a recalled song lyric—almost anything that recurs and gives pause.

The signposts are created by one’s mind and spirit to increase insight and speed one back to God.  Be prepared to note what follows in the dream.  If God is trying to speak to us, he still cannot get through unless the raw materials of the revelation are already there.  We cannot have an other-worldly experience unless the language—the words themselves–are already in our minds.  This then is one reason to read widely, to be ready for new combinations of creative thought to arise.

On choice:  “Surely there can be more than one ‘right’ choice; there is still room for personal inclination.  For example, is it better to wear a red or blue or green sweater?  What difference does it make?  Ultimately, everything may be planned in every detail, but within the dream we have the illusion of choice.”

On the folly of superstition:  “You can always find a ‘sign’ to support what you want (or don’t want) to do.”

I am suspicious of offers that seem too good to refuse.  It’s a reminder of the movie, “The Godfather”:  “Make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

If my analysis is actually like this, there are powerful motivations compelling the action or choice, but perhaps (on many occasions) a still, small voice (easy to overlook) counseling “no.”  This is a time for great prayerful consideration of exactly what should best lie ahead.

When the ego isn’t motivating, what takes its place?  A Course in Miracles says that every-one who sees the light realizes the paradoxical truth, “I need do nothing.”

But that isn’t a license for laziness.  The Awakened will eagerly (but peacefully) seek to awaken others in every task of daily life on which they are sent.  And being finally motivated by something worth doing, they will truly accomplish for the first time.

What does it mean in the New Testament to have to pay the “uttermost farthing”?  A farthing, after all, is just a tiny fraction of money.  I think our minds, through and through, have to be perfectly attuned to God.  One cannot finally be even a “wee bit” insane.  And our immediate problem is discerning the best (and quickest) route back to sanity.

I think I’ve finally read enough to reassure myself that doing what I really want to do is the pathway back.  Finally, I can say “no promotions” at my job and mean it.  The Course acknowledges the difficulty of reaching this understanding.  Speaking of the “teacher of God,” the Course says, “And now he must attain a state that may remain impossible to reach for a long, long time.  He must learn to lay all judgment aside, and ask only what he really wants in every circumstance.  Were not each step in this direction so heavily reinforced, it would be hard indeed!”

Yet I think, to be right, that this type of decision-making must draw on the informed intuition of the Holy Spirit—the intuition that His will and my true will are actually the same.  Anything less than this is likely to be the whim of the ego, and probably get one in all sorts of trouble.

If this life is only a dream, a play, a shadow drama, how much does it really matter if we create a bad dream?  Would God ever ask one to play a villain?

Joseph Campbell confronts this question obliquely in his first meeting with a well-recognized guru.  He asked him, “Since all is Brahman, all is the divine radiance, how can we say ‘no’ to ignorance or brutality or anything?”

And the master responded, “For you and me, we say ‘yes.'”

Secondhand, Campbell learned that the guru had told his students that Campbell was on the brink of illumination.

But what are we to make of this?  Morality plays illustrate the triumph of good over evil; at first glance, it appears that the good needs the evil to show the value of contrast.

But isn’t there already enough evil?  Do enlightened people really have to create more to keep the plot interesting?  I think not, though it is quite possible to plan a life based solely on this question.  At base, though, what we may have here is a particularly insidious form of madness perpetrated by an ego not yet conquered.