The following story is my attempt to capture the essence of “The Lessons of the Holy Spirit,” the important section in Chapter 6 of the Text that describes the spiritual journey according to A Course in Miracles. The overall picture painted by this section is difficult to piece together. Yet it’s worth doing so, because it yields a distinctive view of the spiritual journey. It is a view in which the journey consists of making a single, gradual choice between two completely opposite ways. This means that the early stages of this journey will be characterized by a sense of inner conflict, as we feel torn between the two ways. It is my observation that we typically try to live with this conflict, and find various ways of ignoring it and explaining it away, rather than taking the needed steps to get out of it. I suspect that most spiritual journeys get stuck at this precise point along the way.
Anyway, see if you can see your own journey in the following story, and see if you can identify roughly where you are in the story at this point.
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You are living in a house with an extremely overbearing and controlling housemate. Using a skillful mixture of repetition, pressure, persuasion, and threat, he has come to entirely control your way of life. His philosophy is that happiness comes through getting, through sucking the marrow out of life, and in the pursuit of this, the only sin is getting caught. Your body is central in his program. He has taught you to use all your brain’s intelligence and cunning, and all your your physical energy and prowess to compete and intimidate and thereby grab the brass ring. Under his guidance, you pursue all forms of pleasure and you take immense pride in your physical appearance. He tells you that this is the good life.
Yet for all the pleasures this way of life holds out, it is anything but peaceful. The moments of pleasure are followed by stress and anxiety, as well as fear of your housemate. The more time goes on, the more you carry a lingering feeling of guilt in the pit of your stomach. Something is definitely not right.
Then one day a holy man comes to your door and says to you, “I know that you are not happy, and so I have an offer for you. I can teach you a whole different way of life, one that will lead to true happiness. Whereas your current way of life is all about getting, my way is all about giving. It will take time to move into this way of life. It consists of a series of three lessons, which I will guide you through carefully. The first lesson is ‘To have, give all to all.’”
You object that this lesson sounds too extreme, but he assures you that by choosing something that you cannot complete alone, you will no longer be alone. Your choice will invite him to come live with you in your house, and with his help you can learn this lesson.
Given how ready you are for something new, you say yes, and the holy man comes to live with you. You are full of hope and excitement about this new way, yet the problems begin almost immediately. For your old housemate has not left, and fearing he is losing control of you, he ramps up his efforts to persuade you and bully you into following his way.
So now you are listening to both guides and trying to follow both ways. This entails tremendous stress. You feel torn in two. You have no firm ground on which to stand. You don’t know who you are or what you stand for. Your peace is gone completely.
In order to solve the sense of inner conflict you feel, you tell yourself that you just need to live with the situation. You can’t imagine asking either guide to leave; each one is just too important to you. So you say to yourself that you just need to be more tolerant about this state of affairs. It’s not so bad, after all, you think. Each guide is there to provide a vital contribution to your life. Each holds a piece of the larger puzzle. Indeed, it’s not clear that they are really all that different. Maybe they are more in agreement than you think. Perhaps their different lessons are each suitable for their proper time and place.
As a result, you stay in this situation for years, doing your best to make it work with all three of you, as if you were a single messy but ultimately joined-at-the-hip family.
Slowly, however, you awaken from this state of denial. You let yourself face the unworkable nature of your situation. You admit to yourself just how in conflict you feel and have felt ever since you invited the holy man into your home. You decide that you just want peace. And you notice that the holy man’s way is peaceful. You realize that when you are giving toward others, there is an afterglow of tranquility. And that in contrast, when you follow your original housemate’s guidance and get from others, after that brief moment of pleasure you are stuck with a sinking feeling of guilt.
So after thinking it through, you come to the holy man and say, “I think I am ready to go on to your next lesson. I haven’t learned the first one, not by a long shot. But I have learned that I feel more peaceful when I give than when I get. And I’ve admitted to myself that I need to resolve this situation in which I feel so torn between the two of you.”
The holy man says, “You’re right. You are ready for the next lesson. Your focus now will be on peace. This peace will come through choosing only one of your guides and refusing to listen to the other. And if you really want peace, you will have to give it to others, for as we learned in the first lesson, giving is the way to have. Your second lesson, therefore, is, ‘To have peace, teach peace to learn it.’ Your goal, then, is to give a message of peace to everyone you know and everyone you meet. By doing that, you are choosing my way of peace, and you are getting out of the conflict you feel between me and your other housemate.”
Realizing this is your way out, you really throw yourself into this. Your original housemate responds by getting louder and more strident in urging you to pursue what he calls the good life. And you do at times listen and heed his counsel, but you notice that when you do, you feel worse. So you increasingly follow the way of the holy man. You spread peace wherever you go, and thereby you experience more and more peace yourself.
Because this way pays off so well, you finally reach a crucial turning point: You ask your other housemate to leave. He argues and argues, growing alarmingly heated, but your resolve is firm, and so he has no choice but to go.
Once he’s gone, the holy man comes to you and says, “You now are at last ready for the third lesson. You have been going through a process of throwing more and more of the weight of your mind behind my way. The first lesson was aimed at just pulling you out of the getting concept. Yet this placed you in terrible conflict between two guides. After realizing you couldn’t live with this conflict, you then slowly shifted your commitment over to my side, to the point where you have asked the other guide to leave. But the process isn’t over. You now have to make complete your commitment to my way, which is also God’s way.”
“Your third lesson is therefore ‘Be vigilant only for God and His Kingdom.’ By ‘His Kingdom,’ I mean both His Kingdom inside you, which is ruled by peace, and your brothers and sisters, for all of you together are God’s Kingdom.”
“So being vigilant for God and His Kingdom means two things. It means guarding your mind so that all of your thoughts reflect my way, and so that you allow no thoughts whatsoever that reflect the advice of your old guide. And it means giving to the Kingdom in the form of your brothers and sisters, always and without exception.”
“In this third lesson, then, you are at last learning how to give all to all. Another way to put this is that you are learning that there is no order of difficulty in miracles. Each miracle you give is in essence exactly the same. No matter what form it takes, in each case you are giving maximal love. And love is effortless because love is what you are. How can it be difficult to be what you are?”
So you set about learning the third lesson with complete focus and dedication. You find it’s not as easy as it first sounded, because your former housemate hasn’t truly left. He’s no longer living with you, but he is constantly hanging around the outside of the house, knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell, banging on the windows, phoning you, and watching you from the street. You have to train your mind to ignore him completely. Rather than answering the door and reasoning with him, or even telling him to go away, you learn to not answer at all.
As you choose only the way of peace and give only peace to everyone without exception, you experience a depth of peace you never thought possible. And this makes it easier and easier to ignore the man outside the house. He starts hanging around less and less, until one day you notice he is gone completely. The only thing left in your mind is the way of the holy man. The only thing you give is maximal love and peace to everyone you meet. Your thoughts and your actions are 100% pure light.
The holy man comes to you and says, “You have now learned all three lessons and your learning is complete. Now you are ready for the Kingdom itself. You have believed so perfectly that you are ready to go beyond belief. You have given your effort so single-mindedly that you are ready to go beyond all effort. And you have been vigilant for the Kingdom so fully that you are ready to discover that you are the Kingdom. You have taken your three steps, and now you are ready for the last step. But this is not a step that you take. Rather, it is one that God takes. In this step, you do absolutely nothing, for you have already done your part. What will it be like? I cannot tell you, for words cannot describe it. But I can tell you this: It will be the fulfillment of everything you have ever wanted. It will be infinite happiness.”