Chapter 11: After Walking Away from the Garden of Eden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Prayer,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wanted freedom.

“Therein lies the salvation of us all.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 12: Trying to Merit God’s Favor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 13: Living under the Gift of Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Chapter 15: Experiencing the Happy Dreams the Holy Spirit Brings

An entry that says diversity is good:  “Nobody is any more ‘special’ than another.”  What are the values that people have which reflect different choices and are just as good as my choices?”

When we are doing the wrong kinds of things, or (more aptly) not enough of the “right” things—the things truly meant for our doing—we sometimes think our existence needs justifying.  So we try, at first, doing more and more of the same.  But, finally reaching an impasse, we learn that it is the way we are spending our life that is at fault.  We take a look at what we really want to do (i.e., the true pathway is found in our real will), and take the first faltering steps toward accomplishing the right “new goals,” and peace reigns again.  We realize that maybe we need to do some different kinds of things—not “more,” but “what.”  And finding peace may be the whole answer.

Even love (with a little “l”) is not enough. Karen Goldman says, “If we were to find our truest loves and define ourselves by them, we would not find Peace. . . Peace lives beyond the point of earthly happiness.  It is the very fabric of the great Beyond that exists within us all.”  In short, we need a pathway that has a heart.  What pathway is that except those things done in peace?

My great-grandmother didn’t need to understand psychologically why it is wrong to attack others.  She just kept on loving, and others learned from her example.  But there was more rebellion in me.  If I were attacked, I felt justified in attacking back—a state of mind that made me ripe for the psychology of A Course in Miracles.

An attack is always distress based on error.  An interpretation that leads easily to forgiving the illusory bad dream that one is witnessing.  A sane interpretation, leading to sane behavior–finally.

A very wise, though not well-educated, woman once told me, “We have to learn to see Christ in everyone.”

An instructive day could be had by anyone who imagined that Christ was merging with the various personalities that she met.  Even an impossibly cranky person could be seen as Jesus having a bad day.  Would we not quickly forgive, knowing that this person truly in deepest heart means us well?

If I have had a very busy (“busy” equals stressful) day, I am likely to awaken that night with a coward’s heart.  We experience God in quietness—not frantic activity.  And so the fears come back, drowning out the love, when we have followed the way of the world too closely.

There is a longing for Hestia in me.  Hestia was the Greek goddess of the home and hearth, the one who felt centered in the inner rather than the outer, the now rather than the past or future.

What does “home” represent to me?  I’ve identified several aspects:  safety, refuge from the world; the warmth of love and companionship; being taken care of (whether by myself, David, or the safety of the environment).  A large indefinable component is a sense of unconditional love, i.e., being loved regardless of achievement in the world.  It is the same safety that I felt in my grand-parents’ home as a child.

I never had any schoolwork to do there (often being on vacation or celebrating a holiday), so the impetus to make good grades could be forgotten for awhile.  It has been hard for me to realize that salvation is not something you do, so deep does the impetus to achieve reside in me.  Hence the desire for Hestia, at home with one’s center, where God Himself resides—where no earthly de-mands are made upon me and I can live in the eternal present.

On wanting God alone or, conversely, wanting things of the material world:  “As I read A Course in Miracles, I see that wanting a husband and home and profession are things that the world offered that I wanted.”  And I see these wonderful blessings that have come my way as part of the happy dreams that the Holy Spirit is able to provide when we are ready to walk more closely with Him.
Yet the Course also says, “The world I see holds nothing that I want.”  It is the intangibles made possible in and through material blessings that I want and feel I have a right to have.  It is not the materialism per se that beckons me.

Will this truth about my inner motivation be what saves me from finding security in the things of the world—saves me to find security in God alone?

There is a call to art and joy in us that won’t be stilled.  In college, I remember hearing Rubenstein in one of his last piano concerts.  While sitting there in the balcony, utterly enthralled, I decided, “This was what I was born to do!”  Hearing the best classical music played by a virtuoso is art at its best, but it was the joy instilled by the experience that brought on my internal remark.

In looking back to the time when I was in my first job, I thought I had found in my private wonderings a greater purpose worth sacrificing happiness.  But the central myth was all a mirage.

Like everybody else, maybe I really did have a “greater purpose,” but it would have been better carried out if I had never lost sight of my happiness.

Then, though, I remember being quite judgmental about a student who professed (unabashedly) to seek happiness as her greatest good.  Maybe the problem is that we simply, in our madness, don’t know how to seek in the right places and in the right ways.

In the midst of everyday life, that tap on one’s shoulder signifying happiness always comes from the Holy Spirit.

Blaming another for one’s unhappiness is a dead end street.  Saints have remained serene under the most adverse conditions.  It is what is within a person that ultimately determines one’s state of mind.

The Course unabashedly counsels that happiness, being that which we all seek anyway, is worth seeking as an end in itself.  If this is true, why does seeking “happiness” as a veritable good seem fraudulent to me?  Is it because many people invariably look for pleasure instead (and usually in all the wrong places)?  If more of us found happiness in the intangibles of the Spirit, wouldn’t happiness seem worthwhile after all and therefore valuable to be pursued for its own sake?

Yet happiness does seem to be elicited as a byproduct of right living and right thinking (indeed, this too is a premise of the Course).  It is true that students of the Course (like everyone else) frequently find happiness elusive and just waiting over the next hill for its full fruition.

In actuality, though, perhaps only the truly happy can help other people learn how to live.

“My way” may be gratitude.  From my favorite biblical passage as a child:  “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and unto His courts with praise.”  God doesn’t need my praise, but I do:  I need to acknowledge that all this goodness doesn’t originate with my all-too-often ego-oriented self.  Indeed, the ego fades in the presence of thankfulness.

I’ve come to feel that it has been better to have the good years follow the lean.  Now I know how to appreciate these blessed “happy dreams” that the Holy Spirit weaves.

A Course in Miracles says, “There is no need to learn through pain.”  My prayer for the last several years:  not to learn through pain!  But somehow I had overlooked that promise in my favorite book.

The Course means that to follow the Holy Spirit is to be absolved of pain because His gui- dance knows all the outcomes that any given action would bring and He chooses the painless route.

Does this mean that we will know no suffering?  That depends entirely upon how close a walk with the Spirit one can endure.  It takes a particular kind of courage to give up one’s own, im-perfect, judgment and follow guidance that may be impossible to scrutinize.  We have to be very flexible, able and willing to change directions at an instant’s notice.  Most of us can’t do this con-sistently.  But when we do, we are blessed with joyful living, able to overlook pain entirely.
Overlooking is, of course, not the same as never experiencing.  But from my life I know that the pain lessens dramatically when one is following the footprints of guidance.

A Course in Miracles says, “Anything in this world that you believe is good and valuable and worth striving for can hurt you, and will do so.  Not because it has the power to hurt, but just because you have denied it is but an illusion, and made it real.”

Constantly I am pulled back to realize that better living comes with doing less rather than more:  “My bronchitis slowed me down and showed me that more happiness may be in relaxing, doing less, slowing down to read, etc.”

One of the affirmations of the Course reads, “Above all else I want to see.”  This very strong statement is then elucidated twice more:  “Vision has no cost to anyone.”  “It can only bless.”

Having true vision would mean, like the female character in the movie, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” that I had “gotten the madness out.”  (The Course says that this world is actually a place of madness–madness borne of guilt.)  Sometimes I think I really want to be well and think rightly so I can be of real help to others—even more than I want it for myself alone.

This sounds laudatory, but is it really evidence of ambiguity about the goal?  Is there still attraction in me for the forbidden, the “sin”?  If so, I need to see “sin” as only a mistake, and every-one wants mistakes rectified.  Maybe the best thing that I can do in this life is get my act together–get “well” in a karmic sense.

Several years ago, in one of my more self-centered moments, I listed nine answers to the question, “What do I really want?”  I am chagrined to notice now that there is nothing directly said about love and service to others, except for my husband (who heads the list).

But the Holy Spirit takes us where we are and leads us as best He can, given our blindness.  Just as Maslow said that safety must precede satisfaction of higher goals, maybe I needed these nine prayers answered before I could turn outward.  And they have been answered–all nine–gloriously:

What do I really want?  This is my list:  (1) love and companionship with David; (2) peace of mind and tranquility; (3) satisfying daily work; (4) contentment, happiness, and gentle joy; (5)  good emotional and physical health; (6) a “centering” that leads me to the goals of A Course in Miracles; (7) satisfaction in the present; (8) strength to cope with any and all changes in my
life; and (9) good sense of style and attractiveness.

I have been in a bad mood because I have been stressed out.  I never get mad unless I am stressed.  Since I know this about myself, I ought to reduce stress so that anger just doesn’t happen.  After all, learning how to live in the “real world” is what we are here for.

Basically, I think I know enough from the Course to live well (i.e., appropriately).  Now I just need to put its great principles into practice.

On how to live peaceably:  “I realized recently that maybe I am trying too hard in regard to living by the Course.  My best teaching and my best speeches have come when I am at ease, relax-ed, and poised.  Isn’t it quite likely that living well demands (i.e., requires, asks) the same?”

I think the Course, at its heart, is only structuring the dream so that we can awaken.  “Salvation can be thought of as a game that happy children play.”

A favorite biblical quotation:  “Ask, and you will be given what you ask for.  Seek, and you will find.  Knock, and the door will be opened.”

I accepted that Scripture as a promise years ago.  Now I am deeply aware that Jesus’ words are true.  But my questions have found answers only in a gradual unfolding.  As Catherine Marshall says, “Waiting works.  It is a joining of man and God to achieve an end, and the end is always a form of the Easter story.”

From my journal, the obvious but maybe not so obvious:  “The Holy Spirit is very good at working out everything so that it is a win-win for everybody.”

Joseph Campbell’s dictum, “Follow your bliss,” is not unlike the New Age thought of Ruth Montgomery’s “Walk-Ins”:  “Go with the flow.”

There are very few times that one must go through life (as Hugh Prather describes) “being pulled through it kicking and screaming,” and for many that better way to live is delineated in A Course in Miracles.  The key point, forgiveness of others, sets aright one’s relationships and leads one to Michael Drury’s dictum, a “settled good will toward humanity.”

Following the Holy Spirit’s direction, as advocated in the Course, creates the flow described by Montgomery and leads inexorably to a proliferation of life possibilities, unique and perfect for oneself, that Campbell believes will ensue from following one’s bliss.

The ideas shift and turn with each writer, befitting his or her unique inspiration, but the process of learning how to live well is a universal experience.