A. Only One Holy Instant
A Course in Miracles uses the term "holy instant" in two different ways. In the larger sense of the term, "the holy instant" refers to the instant of creation, which we continually experience once we have become right-minded and are living in the real world. When we have ceased entirely to listen to the ego, when we have dropped our last defense, and our trust in the Holy Spirit is total, "this life becomes a holy instant" (W-pI.135.19:1). A life that is one holy instant is lived constantly in the present, and it constantly shares the Holy Spirit's perception of the world.
The holy instant is a miniature of eternity. It is a picture of timelessness, set in a frame of time (T-17.IV.11:4, 5).(The Two Pictures)
There is really only one holy instant. It is the "eternal instant" of God's reality. It is what has always been and always is and always will be.
In the holy instant nothing happens that has not always been. Only the veil that has been drawn across reality is lifted. Nothing has changed (T-15.VI.6:1-3).
The experience of a holy instant, then, is simply the experience of that changelessness. "It is a picture of timelessness, set in a frame of time" (T-17.IV.11:5). It is what happens when, for a moment, our mind peels away the layers of illusion we have superimposed on reality, and we see the reality that has always been there. We "tap into" the One Holy Instant.
1. The Little Breath of Eternity That Runs Through Time
In Chapter 20, the fifth section, "Heralds of Eternity," there are two paragraphs that state very clearly that only one holy instant exists. (Page 405-406/435.) There, the holy instant is called "the little breath of eternity that runs through time." Let's look at the fifth paragraph, beginning with the sixth sentence, "Why should it take so many holy instants…?"
The subject here is the holy relationship. It is talking about learning to see our relationship partner as not being a body, and seeing that bodies are not needed to communicate. And it says,
Why should it take so many holy instants to let this be accomplished, when one would do? There is but one. This little breath of eternity that runs through time like golden light is all the same; nothing before it, nothing afterwards (T-20.V.5:6-8).
There is only one holy instant. It is a "breath of eternity" that runs through time like a thread of golden light. Every time we experience a holy instant we are experiencing the same thing. It is "all the same." We are simply re-experiencing the eternal and changeless state of reality, now in this moment of time, now in another. But it is all the same instant of reality, the same "breath of eternity."
You look upon each holy instant as a different point in time. It never changes. All that it ever held or will ever hold is here right now. The past takes nothing from it, and the future will add no more. Here, then, is everything. Here is the loveliness of your relationship, with means and end in perfect harmony already. Here is the perfect faith that you will one day offer to your brother already offered you; and here the limitless forgiveness you will give him already given, the fact of Christ you yet will look upon already seen (T-20.V.6).
One of the wonderful things about the Truth with a capital "T" is that it always is. One of the indescribable things that comes into awareness in a full experience of the holy instant is that nothing has ever been wrong, nor ever will be wrong. What you are is "unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable." All experience to the contrary is illusion. There is absolutely no way to describe the peace that comes in such a holy instant, the joy of knowing the utter invulnerability of what you are.
2. The Holy and Unholy Instants
One way of thinking of our life in this world of time and space is that every instant we spend here is the re-enactment of one of two "instants," either the Unholy Instant or the Holy Instant. There is actually quite a lot of material in the Course that tells us that our ego experience is nothing more than a constant reliving of one unholy instant.
For instance, the next section in Chapter 20, "The Temple of the Holy Spirit," describes our choice between the two instants quite clearly. Start in the eighth paragraph, sixth sentence:
The instant that the mad idea of making your relationship with God unholy seemed to be possible [referring to the tiny, mad idea, the idea of separation], all your relationships were made meaningless. In that unholy instant time was born, and bodies made to house the mad idea and give it the illusion of reality. And so it seemed to have a home that held together for a little while in time, and vanished. For what could house this made idea against reality but for an instant? (T-20.VI.8:6-9)
That describes the unholy instant quite clearly, the birth of the mad idea of separation. Time and bodies house the mad idea, and every moment in time is meant by the ego to be an expression of that single idea, that single instant of madness.
Idols must disappear, and leave no trace behind their going. The unholy instant of their seeming power is frail as is a snowflake, but without its loveliness. Is this the substitute you want for the eternal blessing of the holy instant and its unlimited benificence? (T-20.VI.9:1-3)
There our choice between the unholy instant and the holy instant is very clearly highlighted. In every moment we are choosing between the two, the unholy madness of separation or the holy joy of union with God. Two instants, and every choice is a choice between the two.
Is the malevolence of the unholy relationship, so seeming powerful and so bitterly misunderstood and so invested in a false attraction your preference to the holy instant, which offers you peace and understanding? Then lay aside the body and quietly transcend it, rising to welcome what you really want (T-20.VI.9:4-5).
[In the holy relationship] the unholy instant is exchanged in gladness for the holy one of safe return (T-20.VI.10:4).
For another instance in which the Course speaks of the unholy instant, turn to Chapter 26, the fifth section, "The Little Hindrance." (Page 511/549.) We'll start with the third paragraph, third sentence.
Time lasted but an instant in your mind, with no effect upon eternity. [Time here is the unholy instant; eternity is the holy instant.] And so all time is past, and everything exactly as it was before the way to nothingness was made. The tiny tick of time in which the first mistake was made, and all of them within that one mistake, held also the Correction for that one, and all of them that came within the first. And in that tiny instant time was gone, for that was all it ever was. What God gave answer to is answered and is gone (T-26.V.3:3-7).
The tiny instant [the unholy instant] you would keep and make eternal, passed away in Heaven too soon for anything to notice it had come. What disappeared too quickly to affect the simply knowledge of the Son of God can hardly still be there, for you to choose to be your teacher. Only in the past,—an ancient past, too short to make a world in answer to creation,—did this world appear to rise. So very long ago, for such a tiny interval of time, that not one note in Heaven's song was missed. Yet in each unforgiving act or thought, in every judgment and in all belief in sin, is that one instant still called back, as if it could be made again in time. You keep an ancient memory before your eyes. And he who lives in memories alone is unaware of where he is (T-26.V.5:1-7).
Each day, and every minute in each day, and every instant that each minute holds, you but relive the single instant when the time of terror took the place of love. …Such is each life; a seeming interval from birth to death and on to life again, a repetition of an instant gone by long ago that cannot be relived. And all of time is but the mad belief that what is over is still here and now (T-26.V.13:1, 3, 4).
Our life, apart from the holy instants we experience, is nothing but a repetition of the unholy instant, calling back the ancient memory of the mad idea of separation and trying to make it real again in time. All of our life, apart from holy instants, is a reliving of that time when "terror took the place of love."
In the Manual for Teachers, the second section, the identical idea is restated, although in the context it is talking about how teachers of God and their pupils come together in time.
The instant the idea of separation entered the mind of God's Son, in that same instant was God's Answer given. In time this happened very long ago. In reality it never happened at all.
The world of time is the world of illusion. What happened long ago seems to be happening now. Choices made long since appear to be open; yet to be made (M-2.2:6-3:3).
Time really, then, goes backward to an instant so ancient that it is beyond all memory, and past even the possibility of remembering. Yet because it is an instant that is relived again and again and still again, it seems to be now (M-2.4:1-2).
All of time is a remembering of that single instant, both unholy in the idea of separation and holy in the reality of God's Answer. We live that one instant, "again and again and still again."
Our choice—or what seems to be our choice—is which adjective to apply to the instant. Holy, or unholy? Joy, or pain? Heaven, or hell? Do we focus on what we think we made, or do we listen instead to God's Answer?
B. Many Experiences of the One Instant
Let's look now at the second sense of the term, "holy instant:" a moment in time in which we experience, to a greater or lesser degree, the reality of the eternal holy instant.
When we experience a holy instant, what we are actually doing is tapping in to that one, eternal, holy instant. The Course uses the term "holy instant" to refer both to that one eternal instant and to the many different experiences of that instant we may have in our lifetimes. Like anything eternal, "the" holy instant is formless, but it appears in this world in many different forms and expressions. The holy instant contains the whole thought system of Heaven, and so it can take on appearance as any aspect of that thought system showing up in our lives.
For as the whole thought system of the ego lies in its gifts, so the whole of Heaven lies in this instant, borrowed from eternity and set in time for you (T-17.IV.11:8).
One way of thinking of it is that at times we just touch lightly upon the holy instant, and other times we enter in more fully. Some of the descriptions of the holy instant in the Course sound like a full-fledged mystical experience that totally overwhelms your consciousness; other descriptions sound more like something we might not even be consciously aware of at the time. For instance, Helen and Bill's initial joining, in which Bill said "There must be another way" and Helen agreed to help him find it, is often referred to as the holy instant which initiated their holy relationship and totally changed its purpose, although they were not aware of that at the time. It was hardly a time when the heavens opened up, the body receded from awareness, and time gave way to eternity—at least it was not that consciously. But apparently, in some part of their minds, exactly that really did happen. In their right minds, they responded completely to the presence of God with a joyous "Yes!"
Why is it that the holy instant appears to us in different degrees, aspects, strengths and intensities? The Course explains that we can bring some of our illusions along with us, and that they weaken the full experience. In "The Light in the Dream," T-18.III, our first brush with a holy instant is compared to "A little flicker of the eyelids, closed so long" in dreaming. We just let in a flash of light and can barely sort out any images from it. That little flicker, Jesus says,
…has not yet been sufficient to give you confidence in yourself, so long despised. You go toward love still hating it, and terribly afraid of its judgment upon you (T-18.III.3:4-5).
The shreds of illusion we cling to filter out the pure light of the holy instant and diminish our experience of it. But the pure bliss is always there; only our awareness of it is limited.
For a time you may attempt to bring illusions into the holy instant, to hinder your full awareness of the complete difference, in all respects, between your experience of truth and illusion. Yet you will not attempt this long. [Jesus has a different perspective on time than we do; "not long" to him may seem long to us.] In the holy instant the power of the Holy Spirit will prevail, because you joined Him. The illusions you bring with you will weaken the experience of Him for a while, and will prevent you from keeping the experience in your mind. Yet the holy instant is eternal, and your illusions of time will not prevent the timeless from being what it is, nor you from experiencing it as it is (T-16.VII.7:1-5).
The pure holy instant is pure bliss. But it is a mistake to sit down with the intent of having an experience of bliss, and then getting up frustrated after fifteen minutes when we don't get it. The bliss is there whether you experience it or not. That is what we should be reminding ourselves about. We are advised to "practice the mechanics of the holy instant." The experience is just an experience, it is just my conscious mind allowing itself to connect to the bliss that is always there. "The holy instant is eternal." It IS, always. Our failure to experience it does not diminish it; our right mind is in that bliss right now. "Spirit is in a state of grace forever" (T-1.III.5:4). Or as it says in Chapter 11, "The universe of love does not stop because you do not see it" (T-11.I.5:10).
Let us look, now, at several passages in the Course which offer a definition or description of what the holy instant is.
1. An Instant Offered to the Holy Spirit
An instant offered to the Holy Spirit is offered to God on your behalf, and in that instant you will awaken gently in Him. In the blessed instant you will let go all your past learning, and the Holy Spirit will quickly offer you the whole lesson of peace (T-15.II.1:6).
One simple definition of the holy instant is simply that it is an instant that you offer to the Holy Spirit. Offering the instant to Him entails taking your own hands off of it; letting go all your past learning, and putting Him in charge. As the final Workbook lesson has us say:
This holy instant would I give to You. Be You in charge (W-pII.361)
Another way of saying the same thing is that in the holy instant you let go of your independent will and accept the Will of God as all there is:
For the holy instant is given and received with equal willingness, being the acceptance of the single Will that governs all thought (T-15.IV.8:6)
This aspect of giving the instant to the Holy Spirit, and letting Him make the decisions and judgments in place of your own, can also been seen in another passage. Here the picture begins with a new aspect: accepting the idea that "I am responsible for what I see" because I am the one responsible for deciding to give the instant to the Holy Spirit or not.
This is the only thing that you need do…Say only this…I am responsible for what I see…[The Son's] power of decision is the determiner of every situation in which he seems to find himself by chance or accident…Suffer, and you decided sin was your goal. Be happy, and you gave the power of decision to Him Who must decide for God for you. This is the little gift you offer to the Holy Spirit…In the holy instant is this exchange effected and maintained. Here is the world you do not want brought to the one you do (T-21.II.2:1-3;3:3,5-7; 4:5, 6).
The "world you do not want" is the result of deciding for the unholy instant, while the "one you do" want is the result of giving to the Holy Spirit the power of deciding for you. That "exchange" is brought about in the holy instant, and it is maintained by continuing to enter holy instants with Him.
As we said before, when you stop projecting blame outside yourself, you pave the way for the holy instant.
But grant that everything that seems to stand between you and your brother, keeping you from each other and separate from your Father, you made in secret, and the instant of release has come to you (T-21.II.13:3).
2. Remembering Your Union with God and the Sonship
One description that really says it all is that the holy instant is an instant in which you remember God. You unite directly with Him, and since all the Sonship, all our brothers, are also united with Him, you unite with them as well.
d Yet in the holy instant you unite directly with God, and all your brothers join in Christ (T-15.V.10:8).
In the holy instant God is remembered, and the language of communication with all your brothers is remembered with Him (T-15.VI.8:1).
What is the holy instant but God's appeal to you to recognize what He has given you? (T-21.VIII.5:1)
In the holy instant you may feel the unity with God and your brothers that is always there, given us by God's gift of creation.
What is the face of Christ but his who went a moment into timelessness, and brought a clear reflection of the unity he felt an instant back to bless the world? (W-pI.169.13:3)
3. A Moment of Shared Faith in the Sonship
In the holy instant we share our faith in God's Son because we recognize, together, that he is wholly worthy of it, and in our appreciation of his worth we cannot doubt his holiness (T-15.VI.2:5).
When you remember God you remember His Son. You recognize the Holy Spirit in your brother. I think this might have been a central factor in Helen and Bill's holy instant, when they joined in a common purpose. Bill somehow recognized something in Helen that would respond to his appeal; Helen recognized in Bill a heart like her own. And they joined together. In that moment they believed in one another, they shared a faith in the Sonship. That was a holy instant.
4. A Moment in Which Desire for Vengeance is Gone
Against the ego's insane notion of salvation the Holy Spirit gently lays the holy instant. We said before that the Holy Spirit must teach through comparisons, and uses opposites to point to truth. The holy instant is the opposite of the ego's fixed belief in salvation through vengeance for the past. In the holy instant it is understood that the past is gone, and with its passing the drive for vengeance has been uprooted and has disappeared (T-16.VII.6:1-4).
Chapter 27 refers to "an instant of your love without attack" (T-27.V.4:2). That is one way of describing the holyinstant. Your desire for vengeance is gone because you understand the past is gone. Most experiences of forgiveness fall into this category, and an experience of forgiveness is therefore a holy instant. I remember a close friend of mine who had been in an abusive relationship for years, and had been filled with bitter hatred and resentment, her sleep bothered by dreams of vengeance in which she stabbed her husband to death. After experiencing a deep holy instant of forgiveness she was astonished at what had happened inside her. "I'm not even angry at him any more," she said. "I used to hope he'd rot in hell, but now I really want him to find happiness and peace for himself." "The drive for vengeance" had simply disappeared.
5. A Moment in Which Self-attack Ceases
A dying world asks only that you rest an instant from attack upon yourself, that it be healed (T-27.V.5:5).
For in that instant does the Son of God do nothing that would make himself afraid (T-28.I.12:6).
I don't think we have the slightest idea of how constantly our minds are attacking themselves. We exist in a sea of self-judgment. We earnestly believe that large chunks of ourselves are despicable. The Course says you lack "confidence in yourself, so long despised" (T-18.III.3:4).
When that self-attack ceases for a moment, that is a holy instant. When you let yourself love yourself, that is a holy instant, because it is getting in touch with the eternal truth about yourself, instead of looking at your track record. Marianne Williamson has said, "You are not your resumé."
6. A Time of Perfect Communication
The holy instant is a time in which you receive and give perfect communication. This means, however, that it is a time in which your mind is open, both to receive and give (T-15.IV.6:5).
A holy instant can be a moment in which your mind is perfectly open to another mind. You are willing to receive, or to give, as the moment calls for. Your mind, therefore, "seeks to change nothing, but merely to accept everything" (T-15.IV.6:8).
7. A Recognition of Love in Yourself
In the holy instant you recognize the idea of love in you, and unite this idea with the Mind that thought it… (T-15.VI.5:3).
The holy instant is not an instant of creation, but of recognition. For recognition comes of vision and suspended judgment. Then only it is possible to look within and see what must be there (T-21.II.8:2-4).
When pressed to distinguish between the terms miracle and holy instant, Ken Wapnick once said in a workshop that the miracle is that moment of suspended judgment that leads to the holy instant, while the holy instant the recognition of the Love of God within, the joining with the Love of God in our minds. When we withdraw the projection of guilt, and realize that we are responsible for what we see, that is what enables the holy instant to "happen." But in a larger sense, remember, the holy instant is not "happening" at all. Being eternal, it always is. What "happens" is that we remove the barriers to experiencing it.
On the other hand there are passages that seem to imply that the miracle happens in the holy instant, and other passages that seem to say the miracle follows the holy instant or comes from it.
In the holy instant, you are your brother stand before the altar God has raised unto Himself and both of you….There will you see the miracle of your relationship as it was made again through faith (T-19.I.14:1, 3).
Seek and find His message in the holy instant, where all illusions are forgiven. From there the miracle extends to bless everyone and resolve all problems…(T-16.VII.11:1, 2).
The miracle comes quietly into the mind that stops an instant and is still. It reaches gently from that quiet time, and from the mind it healed in quiet then, to other minds to share its quietness (T-28.I.11:1, 2).
I don't think, therefore, that you can establish some kind of temporal order here. The miracle brings you to the holy instant; in the holy instant you see the miracle; and the miracle extends from the holy instant to other minds. It seems to me that the holy instant, being eternal, is always present; the miracle is what allows us to tap into it and share that experience with others. The holy instant is what we experience; the miracle is the lifting of the veil that allows us to experience it.
Your judgments are the root of your seeming desire to attack. When the judgments are gone, attack is gone, and when that happens you discover that, in the core of your being, you are love. You recognize the idea of love in yourself. You experience yourself as love, because that is what you are. When you experience love, free from attack, flowing through you, that is a holy instant.
8. A Miniature of Heaven and Eternity
The holy instant is a miniature of Heaven, sent you from Heaven….The holy instant is a miniature of eternity. It is a picture of timelessness, set in a frame of time (T-17.IV.11:1,4).
In the holy instant, you experience now, in time, what is true in eternity. You catch a glimpse of Heaven. You get a foretaste of eternity.
9. A Shift to Vision
As the ego would limit your perception of your brothers to the body, so would the Holy Spirit release your vision and let you see the Great Rays shining from them, so unlimited that they reach to God. It is this shift to vision that is accomplished in the holy instant (T-15.IX.1:1, 2).
The holy instant shifts you from perception to vision. You see past the limits of the body to what lies beyond the body. You catch a glimpse of a reality that transcends everything you thought was real until then. It could be a very brief recognition of the Christ in one person. It could be an extended, mystical experience of the oneness of all beings. Both would be a holy instant.
10. A Way of Reaching Another State of Mind
Chapter 27, Section IV, "The Quiet Answer," contains one of my favorite definitions of the holy instant. The holy instant is a "state of mind in which the answer is already there." It speaks of how our normal state of mind is conflicted, and in that state of mind no answer is possible to our problems. And yet, there is another state of mind in which the answer exists already. The holy instant consists in reaching to that other state of mind. We'll read pieces of the first two paragraphs.
A problem set in conflict has no answer….You are in conflict. Thus it must be clear you cannot answer anything at all…Yet if God gave an answer there must be a way in which your problems are resolved, for what He wills has already been done.
Thus it must be that time is not involved and every problem can be answered now. Yet it must also be that, in your state of mind, solution is impossible.
One side of the coin is that every problem can be answered right now. The other side is that, in our state of mind, "solution is impossible." The resolution obviously must be a different state of mind.
Therefore, God must have given you a way of reaching to another state of mind in which the answer is already there. Such is the holy instant.
The holy instant is that "way of reaching to another state of mind." The holy instant, then, is a moment in which you connect with a state of mind in which all your problems have already been answered. It must be that, if you just think for a moment. We associate peace of mind with the holy instant, but how could you be at peace if your problems were unanswered?
The holy instant is the miracle's abiding place. From there, each one is born into this world as witness to a state of mind that has transcended conflict, and has reached to peace (T-27.V.3:2).
The Workbook, in Lesson 50, is talking about the holy instant when it refers to this same state of mind:
Only the Love of God will protect you in all circumstances. It will lift you out of every trial, and raise you high about all the perceived dangers of this world into a climate of perfect peace and safety. It will transport you into a state of mind that nothing can threaten, nothing can disturb, and where nothing can intrude upon the eternal calm of the Son of God (W-pI.50.3:3).
The thing to notice is that this is speaking about a state of mind that already exists. It must exist already if, in it, your problems have been answered already. This is your right mind, and it is part of you. It exists within you and you are, in the holy instant, connecting with it, becoming aware of it. You are letting go of all the ego's defenses against peace and accepting the peace that is always, already there, an inherent aspect of your being.
In the sixth paragraph there is a very clear definition of the holy instant in just these terms:
The holy instant is the interval in which the mind is still enough [that is, sets aside the ego's noisy thoughts for a moment] to hear an answer that is not entailed within the question asked (T-27.IV.6:9).
11. A Moment of Stillness
The preceding quote says the mind becomes still enough to allow the answer to be heard. Stillness, or quiet, is another aspect of the holy instant that is frequently mentioned. Our right mind is naturally quiet and calm; it is the ego that is noisy, raucous, and filled with shrieks of terror. The ego is constantly busy, frantically in action; when we connect with our right mind in the holy instant, the noise drops away and we are still.
The miracle comes quietly into the mind that stops an instant and is still (T-28.I.11:1).
Let us be still an instant, and forget all things we ever learned, all thoughts we had, and every preconception that we hold of what things mean and what their purpose is. Let us remember not our own ideas of what the world is for. We do not know. Let every image held of everyone be loosened from our minds and swept away (T-31.I.12:1-4).
Then let us wait an instant and be still, forgetting everything we thought we heard; remembering how much we do not know (T-31.II.6:4).
Be very still an instant. Come without all thought of what you ever learned before, and put aside all images you made. The old will fall away before the new without your opposition or intent….Nothing will hurt you in this holy place, to which you come to listen silently and learn the truth of what you really want (T-31.II.8:1-6).
You won't always feel that stillness or experience it. But it is always there, within you. There is a place within you that is always at peace.
There is a place in you where this whole world has been forgotten, where no memory of sin and of illusion lingers still….There is a resting place so still no sound except a hymn to Heaven rises up to gladden God the Father and the Son….The changelessness of Heaven is in you, so deep within that nothing in this world but passes by, unnoticed and unseen. The still infinity of endless peace surrounds you gently in its soft embrace, so strong and quiet, tranquil in the might of its Creator, nothing can intrude upon the sacred Son of God within (T-29.V.1:1-3; 2:3-4).
Sometimes when I sit down to practice my Workbook lesson, looking for what the Workbook calls a period "of wordless, deep experience," —which is one way it describes the holy instant (Part II, Int.11:2)—my mind will be just filled with thoughts. I can't get still. I can't seem to quiet my mind and let go of its busy-ness. I may practice some meditation technique like focusing on the breath; sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't. The point is, it doesn't matter. The Holy Spirit is grateful for my effort. The gift of the holy instant is always given to my right mind, and my right mind is grateful to me also. "Give thanks to every part of you that you have taught how to remember you," the Text says. My right mind is grateful for my efforts. I receive the benefit every time I practice the holy instant, whether I feel it or not, whether it seems like anything happens or not. The bliss is there whether or not I experience it. The spirit is in a state of grace forever.
When there is a storm at sea, the surface of the ocean may be violently agitated. The waves may crash and clash together. Foam may spray up into the air. But deep, down deep, there is a placid calm. Our mind is like that. On the days when I cannot seem to get beyond the whitecaps of my mind, I remind myself that the peace is there; I'm just unable to be aware of it.
One image that often helps me drop through the clouds of fear and into peace is the image of "going home." "I will be still an instant and go home" (Lesson 183). "Be still an instant and go home with Him, and be at peace a while." I think of going home to my Father's house and just resting there a while. I don't try to have any feelings or thoughts; I don't try to not have any feelings or thoughts. I just picture myself walking in to a place and feeling at home, and sitting down to rest. I'm not trying to accomplish anything. I'm not trying to achieve anything. Just for a moment, just for a little while, I am resting, here at home.
12. An Interval of Light, Knowing Yourself
Thus what you need are intervals each day in which the learning of the world becomes a transitory phase; a prison house from which you go into the sunlight and forget the darkness. Here you understand the Word, the Name Which God has given you; the one Identity Which all things share; the one acknowledgment of what is true (W-pI.184.10:1-3).
This is, perhaps, the best single description of what a holy instant is in the Course, although it does not use the phrase. A holy instant is an interval in which you leave behind the prison house of the world and "go into the sunlight" for a while, forgetting the darkness. You don't stay there—the next sentence in the Workbook says, "And then step back to darkness…", and we will discuss that later—but just for a moment, just for a brief interval, you allow yourself to experience the freedom that is ours beyond the body and the world.
The holy instant is an experience of grace, an instant in which we set aside some or all of our identification with the ego and our belief in the reality of the world it has projected, and allow the reality of our true Identity to shine through.
The Experience of the Holy Instant
A. Aspects and Attributes of the Experience
These notes are unpolished speaking notes from a workshop given in June, 1994. Please excuse any mistakes or unexplained references to previous sessions of the workshop. In this session we're going to be discussing different aspects and attributes of the experience of the holy instant. We've talked about what the holy instant is. It is a moment in which we accept, now, in time, all or part of what we already are and have in eternity. It is a moment in which the veils drop away, or are laid aside, and we see what they have been hiding all along. It is a foretaste of Heaven in the world of time.
Now we are going to take a closer look at some of the things we may experience when the holy instant happens to us. Let me make it clear up front that not all of these things happen in every holy instant. In fact, for some of us, certain aspects of the holy instant may be predominant in our experience, while certain other aspects seem never to come up. One person may experience a deep connectedness with all living things; another person may be flooded with feelings of love; someone else may have something like an out-of-body experience. They are all just different ways of looking at the same thing, and the formless will always take form in whatever way is most meaningful to us.
1. A Suspension of Time
We do not look to past beliefs, and what we will believe will not intrude upon us now. We enter into the time of practicing with one intent; to look upon the sinlessness within (W-181.5:6, 7).
There is no fear in the present when each instant stands clear and separated from the past, without its shadow reaching into the future (T-15.I.8:3).
One aspect of experiencing a holy instant is that "each instant stands clear and separated from the past" and from the shadow of the past extending into the future. There is just now.
Workbook Lesson 194, "I place the future in the hands of God," is mostly about this aspect of the holy instant: the suspension of time, the experience of being in the present moment.
In no one instant is depression felt, or pain experienced or loss perceived. In no one instant sorrow can be set upon a throne, and worshipped faithfully. In no one instant can one even die. And so each instant given unto God in passing, with the next one given Him already, is a time of your release from sadness, pain and even death itself (W-194.3:1-4).
Depression, pain, loss, sorrow and death are all aspects of time. In the holy instant you escape them all. Life is meant to become a string of such holy instants, one following the other, bringing us the experience of release.
You are not asked to understand the lack of sequence really found in time. You are but asked to let the future go, and place it in God's Hands. And you will see by your experience that you have laid the past and present in His hands as well, because the past will punish you no more, and future dread will now be meaningless (W-194.4:3-6).
In the holy instant, the sin of the past is gone and the guilt that comes from it has no basis; because of that, fear of the future vanishes as well. In that moment, perhaps just for a brief flash of time at first, but longer and longer as you experience it more and more, you break free of the ego's cycle of sin, guilt and fear. You just let the future go and place it in God's Hands, and rest at peace.
Release the future. For the past is gone, and what is present, freed from its bequest of grief and misery, of pain and loss, becomes the instant in which time escapes the bondage of illusions where it runs its pitiless, inevitable course. Then is each instant which was slave to time transformed into a holy instant, when the light that was kept hidden in God's Son is freed to bless the world. Now is he free, and all his glory shines upon a world made free with him, to share his holiness (W-194.5:1-4).
…he who has escaped all fear of future pain has found his way to present peace (W-194.7:6).
That is the holy instant. Present peace, free of fear of future pain, free of guilt. When the present instant becomes the holy instant, your light is free to shine upon the world and bless it. You are free, and you spontaneously share the freedom with the world.
The holy instant brings an experience of timelessness, or in other words, an experience of being outside of time. As it is stated in Lesson 157, "Into His Presence would I enter now," we "have come far enough along the way to alter time sufficiently to rise above its laws, and walk into eternity for a while" (W-157.3:2). That is what happens in the holy instant.
2. Freedom From the Body
Freedom from the body is an aspect of the holy instant that is mentioned frequently.
In the holy instant…the Great Rays replace the body in awareness (T-15.IX.3:1).
When the body ceases to attract you, and when you place no value on it as a means of getting anything, then there will be no interference in communication and your thoughts will be as free as God's As you let the Holy Spirit teach you how to use the body only for purposes of communication, and renounce its use for separation and attack which the ego sees in it, you will learn you have no need of a body at all. In the holy instant there are no bodies, and you experience only the attraction of God (T-15.IX.7:1-3).
When A Course in Miracles says "there are no bodies" in the holy instant it does not mean that your body literally vanishes. Your awareness of it may vanish. Your concern with it will vanish. Your absorption in the body as a means of getting what you want will vanish. Your involvement in the way the ego uses the body for separation and attack will vanish, and you will learn from the Holy Spirit how to use the body only for communication. But the body does not literally, physically, disappear.
The holy instant breaks your identification with the body. In the holy instant you understand, or begin to understand, what "I am not a body" really means.
Section VI of Chapter 18, "Beyond the Body," expresses the shift in awareness about the body very clearly. It tells us that "Minds are joined; bodies are not" (3:1). We have made the mistake of confusing body and mind, of thinking that the mind is contained in the body and limited by the body; it isn't. We see bodies separate, fragmented and alone and think that our minds are separate, fragmented and alone. They are not; they are joined.
The body was not made by love. [It was made by the ego's rage and attack.] Yet love does not condemn it and can use it lovingly, respecting what the Son of God has made and using it to save him from illusions (4:7, 8).
The body is what seems to separate us from other minds, it is what limits us and keeps us apart.
This thing you made to serve your guilt stands between you and other minds. The minds are joined, but you do not identify with them. You see yourself locked in a separate prison, removed and unreachable, incapable of reaching out as being reached (7:3-5).
The holy instant teaches us the opposite. It teaches us that the separation is an illusion. In the holy instant you experience mind joined as one; you let go of the limits the body seems to impose. It isn't that you experience your mind reaching out to other minds, as if the minds were separate and trying to be joined. You experience that they are already joined, already one.
The body is a limit imposed on the universal communication that is an eternal property of mind. But the communication is internal. Mind reaches to itself. It is not made up of different parts, which reach each other. It does not go out. Within itself it has no limits, and there is nothing outside it. It encompasses everything. It encompasses you entirely; you within it and it within you. There is nothing else, anywhere or ever (8:3-11).
That universal communication of mind is what you experience sometimes in the holy instant. The apparent limitations of the body just fall away. If this seems difficult to understand or to imagine, the Course hastens to show us that we have all had some experiences that were at least like this, if not the actual holy instant itself.
Everyone has experienced what he would call a sense of being transported beyond himself (11:1).
This is going to be expanded on in the paragraphs that follow, but stop here and take note that the Course is talking about something which is says "everyone" has experienced. It isn't talking about the holy instant here, but about something that is like the holy instant that everybody has experienced in one form or another.
[Read all of paragraph 11 AND 12, making comments along the way.]
11:4 —The feeling of being transported beyond yourself is really "a sudden unawareness of the body, and a joining of yourself and something else." He says later, in 12:3, that this "something" could be "a sight, a sound, a thought, a memory, and even a general idea without specific reference." This is talking, I think, about the sort of thing that might happen in listening to some music, or the "opening up inside" that can happen as you gaze up at the stars or look out across the ocean. There is, suddenly, a sense of being much larger than your body. More properly, you become "unaware" of the body as a limit.
12:2 —You join with something that may be past or future. You may read a poem by Robert Browning, for instance, and feel a connection to him; or the words of a saint in the Bible. This experience, whatever it is, isn't limited by time or space; the body does not limit you.
Once again, remember this is talking about something everybody has experienced to some degree. These kinds of experiences may not be actual holy instants, and yet again they might be. What these experiences and the holy instant have in common is that sense of joining with something beyond your body.
Read paragraph 13.
Notice the four characteristics that are attributed here to the holy instant:
- The lifting of the barriers of time and space
- The sudden experience of peace and joy
- Above all, the lack of awareness of the body
- The lack of questioning whether or not all this is possible.
Read paragraph 14.
We come to the holy instant, this "place of refuge," "Not through destruction, not through a breaking out, but merely by a quiet melting in." That is very descriptive of the "meditation technique" given in the Workbook—a kind of sinking down into oneself. There is no striving and struggle here, but a relaxing, a falling back into God's arms, a kind of letting go.
If joining in your mind with anything beyond the body such as a sight or a sound can produce this lack of awareness of the body, along with all the rest, what must it be like to join with the vastness of the Sonship or the infinity of God? It is the same experience magnified thousands of times over.
3. A Sense of Love
In the holy instant you recognize the idea of love in you, and unite this idea with the Mind that thought it, and could not relinquish it (T-15.VI.5:3).
Also read 5:1-2, 4-7.
When the barriers to love are removed, love is spontaneously manifest. We are asked to "Teach only love, for that is what you are" (T-6.I.13:2). What we are is love, and that is what you see and remember in the holy instant. You do more than simply remember this idea; you experience yourself as love. You remember that "God is but love, and therefore so am I" (Workbook, Review V).
What occurred within the instant that love entered in without attack will stay with you forever (T-27.V.11:4).
That "instant of love without attack" is the holy instant. (See also 27.V.2:11).
With love in you, you have no need except to extend it. In the holy instant there is no conflict of needs, for there is only one [one need, to extend love]. For the holy instant reaches to eternity, and to the Mind of God. And it is only there love has meaning, and only there it can be understood (T-15.V.11:3-6).
The holy instant is characterized by a sense of oneness. Mystics of all religions down through the ages have spoken of this. Frank Buchman (?) called it "cosmic consciousness" in a book by that title he wrote at the start of this century.
In the holy instant the Sonship gains as one, and united in your blessing it becomes one to you (T-15.V.10:2).
Yet in the holy instant you unite directly with God, and all your brothers join in Christ (T-15.V.10:8).
There is no exclusion in the holy instant because the past is gone, and with it goes the whole basis for exclusion (T-15.VI.8:3).
There is a falling away of barriers, an absence of reasons to exclude anyone or anything from your love. But more than simply feeling love for everyone and everything, in the holy instant you realize that everyone and everything is part of you. You realize that "Your relationships are with the universe" (T-15.VIII.4:4). In this universe, "all its parts are joined through Christ, where they become like to their Father. Christ knows of no separation from His Father" (T-15.VIII.4:6, 7). The Course tells us, "Yet your minds are already continuous, and their union need only be accepted and the loneliness in Heaven is gone" (T-15.IX.4:7).
This kind of experience is not something you experience every time you turn your mind to God. Yet it could be. The oneness is inherent in the holy instant; it is our mind that is not ready, and not willing, to accept it. If it were forced upon us, it would probably terrify us. Sometimes, I think, God grants us a quick, unexpected preview—a foretaste, a teaser. I had one such experience. I don't know how it happened, and it has not happened since. But the memory of it lives in me.
Helen had an experience of oneness on the subway in New York. (Relate story.)
The last paragraphs of "The Forgotten Song" in Chapter 21 describe the vision she had at that time. (Read 21.I.8-10).
5. A Sense of Joy
One of the characteristics we saw listed in "Beyond the Body" was "a sudden experience of peace and joy." I don't have other quotes that connect joy with the holy instant, although there may be some. But in the Manual, Chapter 16, on "How should the teacher of God spent his day?" Jesus says,
There is one thought in particular that should be remembered throughout the day. It is a thought of pure joy; a thought of peace, a thought of limitless release (M-16.6:1, 2).
Remembering joy is definitely part of the holy instant and its experience. "The only possible whole state is the wholly joyous" (T-5.In.2:4).
Sometimes when I am with God in a holy instant, joy simply washes over me. It may last only for a split second. I can't seem to make it happen; it just happens. It's a gift. But I always identify that with the holy instant. And I often remember those instants of joy even in moments when I am not actually feeling that joy; to me, they are reminders of what is the truth, and reminders that any state less that wholly joyous is not whole, and therefore not real.
6. Perfect Communication
Read 15.VII, paragraph 12 to 14.
By removing guilt, which disrupts communication, perfect communication is re-established in the holy instant. There is no concealment and no private thoughts. Everyone is invited and made welcome.
In the holy instant God is remembered, and the language of communication with all your brothers is remembered with Him (T-15.VI.8:1).
God and the power of God will take their rightful place in you, and you will experience the full communication of ideas with ideas (T-15.VI.8:6).
7. The Vision of Christ
In the holy instant you see Christ in all your brothers; or perhaps it would be better to say you see all your brothers in Christ. "The Great Rays replace the body in awareness" (T-15.IX.3:1), that is, you see the light of God shining in everyone, and not the body, which is the symbol of the ego. This "shift to vision…is accomplished in the holy instant" (T-15.IX.1:2).
There is a passage in the Workbook that seems to imply that the holy instant takes you beyond even true perception and gives you a foretaste of the knowledge of Heaven. The knowledge is not something you can bring back with you because it would be impossible to exist in this world with knowledge. But we can bring back a vision, something we can share with our brothers and sisters, not in words, but in experience. It is something we can demonstrate to them by the changes in our attitude. Here is the relevant Workbook passage, from Lesson 157, "Into His Presence would I enter now." This lesson, although it does not use the term "holy instant," is one of the most powerful "holy instant" lessons in the Workbook.
This day is holy, for it ushers in a new experience; a different kind of feeling and awareness (1:4).
This is another crucial turning point in the curriculum. We add a new dimension now; a fresh experience that sheds a light on all that we have learned already, and prepares us for what we have yet to learn (2:1-2).
This lesson basically introduces the practice of holy instants into the Workbook curriculum. There have been previous lessons that were directed at having an experience with God or a holy instant, but this lesson makes it a permanent part of the curriculum. It emphasizes the experience that we will have, and tells us that this experience will shed a whole new light on all the lessons that we have already learned, and will prepare us for what is to come. In the second half of the Workbook, the part that is supposed to instill the new thought system into our lives, every lesson, every day is meant to be the practice of having holy instants. This lesson prepares us for that.
It brings us to the door where learning ceases…
That has to be a door between true perception and knowledge, between earth and Heaven.
…and we catch a glimpse of what lies past the highest reaches it [that is, learning] can possibly attain.
Again, what lies past the highest reaches learning can attain? Heaven. It can't be anything else.
It leaves us here [at the door to Heaven] only an instant, and we go beyond it, sure of our direction and our only goal. (2:3-4)
It seems to be saying that the holy instant not only brings us to the door to Heaven, but actually takes us beyond it, or at least lets us get a glimpse of what lies past the door. What it is talking about is clearly what the Course calls, elsewhere, revelation. Listen.
Today it will be given you to feel a touch of Heaven, though you will return to paths of learning. (3:1)
This is something beyond learning, higher than learning can go. It is a "touch of Heaven." In the holy instant we experience that touch of Heaven, and then we "return to paths of learning."
Yet you have come far enough along the way to alter time sufficiently to rise above its laws, and walk into eternity a while. (3:2)
"Eternity" is not something in this world; it belongs to the realm of Heaven. The holy instant can sometimes bring you to that point where you have an experience which is, quite literally, out of this world. You "walk into eternity a while." This is revelation; this is direct experience of knowlege and of Heaven.
This you will learn to do increasingly, as every lesson, faithfully rehearsed, brings you more swiftly to this holy place and leaves you, for a moment, to your Self. (3:3)
The goal of faithfully rehearsing the Workbook lessons is so that they will bring us, more and more swiftly, to "this holy place," this experience of the holy instant, in which we are left, "for a moment, to you Self" with a capital "S". Holy instants are intended to be such "high" experiences, more and more, as you go on. They are meant to transform your mind.
For your experience today will so transform your mind that it becomes the touchstone for the holy Thoughts of God (4:3).
Your mind becomes "the touchstone," that is, the experience of this instant will set a standard or example in your mind against which you can measure your thoughts; it becomes the measure of truth. Because of this experience you will know how to tell illusions apart from truth.
The lesson goes on to say that we will return to share our vision with the world. We cannot share the experience directly, but we can share the vision that it leaves in our minds. We share that vision so that everyone else "may come the sooner to the same experience in which the world is quietly forgot, and Heaven is remembered for a while" (4:3). Our continuing and increasing experiences of holy instants will bring the world a little closer to the end of time, each time we experience the holy instant, until eventually "you will not return in the same form in which you now appear," that is, in the body.
In the final paragraph there is once again a clear intimation that the holy instant can take us beyond all learning, beyond perception and even beyond the vision of Christ, into a remembrance of knowledge that can never be translated into the perceptual realm. Listen:
The holy instant brings you perfect understanding. This may be implied in the Workbook lesson we just read. I only have a few scattered references about this aspect, but it is one I know to be part of the holy instant. In the holy instant you simply understand and know things you didn't know before. Your questions disappear; your doubts disappear. When you consider the truth there is a kind of "Of course!" element about it all; the truth seems obvious. How could it be otherwise?
We will make every effort today to reach this truth about you, and to realize fully, if only for a moment, that it is the truth (W-pI.67.1:6).
In the holy instant there is a kind of breakthrough into knowledge. It may last "only for a moment" but it is there. The section on "Beyond the Body" spoke of it when it referred to "The lack of questioning whether or not all this is possible".
9. Removing the Blocks to the Awareness of Love
If you look at each of these different aspects of the holy instant, you can see that every one of them could be expressed as the absence of something.
- Timelessness: the absence of fear of the future
- Transcending the body: absence of bodily limitations
- Love: the absence of judgment and attack
- Oneness: the absence of separation
- Joy: the absence of pain
- Perfect communication: the absence of defenses and barriers
- Vision of Christ: the absence of projected perceptions of guilt
- Understanding: the absence of questions
Every aspect of the holy instant can be understood as the absence of something the ego has made. The holy instant does not bring something into being that was not there before. It is not a creation but a recognition of what has always been there. Reality simply exists. The truth about us simply exists, eternally. But we have superimposed all kinds of things on top of the truth and we have covered it over. The holy instant is what we experience when we remove those coverings, or some of them. It is the absence of something that the ego has made.
We experience the holy instant when we are willing, to some small degree, to drop the ego's defenses, to let down the barriers, to stop clinging to our doubts, to let go of fear, to let go of the body, or to let go of our judgments and of what we think we know. The holy instant is, very simply, remembering God; remembering the truth.
IV. Entering the Holy Instant
The conditions for entering the holy instant.
- relinquishing current beliefs and wanting it
- Forgetting the past and future, or focusing on the present
- Giving the holy instant of release to your brothers, or in other words, forgiveness.
I'm going to continue now with three more points:
- Letting go of the search for littleness & desiring magnitude
- Letting go private thoughts & desiring communication
- Letting go focus on bodies and belief the body can contain you
4. Letting Go of the Search for Littleness
For this theme we are going to be looking mainly at Chapter 15, Section III, "Littleness versus Magnitude," which is page 285/306, and the first part of Section IV, "Practicing the Holy Instant". As we will see as we go though the opening paragraphs, "littleness" refers to the separated self we have made for ourselves, and everything associated with it. "Littleness" is trying to make the ego identity enough to satisfy ourselves. "Magnitude" represents our true Self, or Christ, and our function to extend the Will of God, and everything associated with that. "Littleness" is who you think you are and the self you are trying to protect; "magnitude" is who you really are, which needs no protection.
In Section IV, which talks about "The Practice of the holy instant," the second paragraph states plainly: "Your practice must therefore rest upon your willingness to let all littleness go" (IV.2:1). So the holy instant is very much connected to this contrast between littleness and magnitude. We need to read Section III, however, to have a better understanding of what it means to let go of littleness.
Read paragraph 1.
We need to understand what littleness is and why it can never content us. The sentence that best helps us understand, in a practical sense, is sentence 6:
When you strive for anything in this world in the belief that it will bring you peace, you are belittling yourself and blinding yourself to glory.
Littleness is thinking that something in this world will bring us peace; that something in this world will satisfy us or content us. When we choose to go after something in this world, believing it will bring us peace or happiness, we are expressing a certain evaluation of ourselves.
The fourth sentence is worthy of note in relation to the holy instant, because it states one of the conditions of the holy instant, although it does not mention the term:
It is essential that you accept the fact, and accept it gladly, that there is no form of littleness that can ever content you.
As Workbook lesson 128 puts it:
Nothing is here to cherish. Nothing here is worth one instant of delay and pain; one moment of uncertainty and doubt. The worthless offer nothing… Today we practice letting go all thought of values we have given to the world. We leave it free of purposes we gave its aspects and its phases and its dreams. We hold it purposeless within our minds, and loosen it from all we wish it were. (W-128.4:2-5:3).
The lesson hints at the holy instant when it says,
Pause and be still a while [that phrase, "be still," is always an invitation to have a holy instant], and see how far you rise above the world, when you release your mind from chains and let it seek the level where it finds itself at home. It will be grateful to be free a while. It knows where it belongs (W-128.6:1-3).
Coming back to Chapter 15, Section III, the third paragraph expands on the idea that has just been stated: every choice we make is our evaluation of ourselves. It says,
You who have sought and found littleness, remember this: Every decision you make stems from what you think you are, and represents the value that you have put upon yourself (3:3).
It goes on to say that if we think "the little" can content us, if we seek something in this world believing it will bring us peace, we are limiting ourselves. We are choosing littleness. And then it adds: "Your function is not little, and it is only by finding your function and fulfilling it that you can escape from littleness" (3:5).
The next paragraph goes on to discuss what that function is. Jesus says we don't have to strive for it because we already have it.
All your striving must be directed against littleness, for it does require vigilance to protect your magnitude in this world. To hold your magnitude in perfect awareness in a world of littleness is a task the little cannot undertake. Yet it is asked of you, in tribute to your magnitude and not your littleness (4:4-6).
This is leading up to the section on practicing the holy instant. Practicing the holy instant is how we exercise vigilance against littleness. Notice what is being asked of us: We are being asked to hold our magnitude in perfect awareness in a world of littleness. That is no small task, no small function. But that is what is asked of us. In the holy instant, we experience our magnitude and let go of our littleness; we remember who we are and forget the ego's message about what we are. Practicing the holy instant, more and more, until we learn to hold our magnitude in perfect awareness, is the path to which we have been called.
Skip to paragraph 6:
The Holy Spirit can hold your magnitude, clean of all littleness, clearly and in perfect safety in your mind, untouched by every little gift the world of littleness would offer you. But for this, you cannot side against Him in what He wills for you. Decide for God through Him. For littleness, and the belief that you can be content with littleness, are decisions you make about yourself. (6:1-4)
It is possible, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to hold our magnitude in perfect awareness in our minds. The condition of doing so, however, is that we don't fight against it. If we hold on to littleness we are fighting against our magnitude. (I realize it still is not clear exactly what "magnitude" means; it's coming, don't worry.) The next sentence gives a very clear picture of what it means to hold on to littleness:
The power and the glory that lie in you from God are for all who, like you, [here comes the description of people who are holding on to littleness] perceive themselves as little, and believe that littleness can be blown up into a sense of magnitude that can content them. (6:5)
We believe in the littleness and then try to puff it up, like a blow-fish, to give ourselves the appearance of magnitude. The same thought comes through in the section titled "Grandeur versus Grandiosity" in Chapter 9, where it says:
Self-inflation is the only offering it [the ego] can make. The grandiosity of the ego is its alternative to the grandeur of God….Grandiosity is always a cover for despair. It is without hope because it is not real. It is an attempt to counteract your littleness, based on the belief that the littleness is real (T-9.VIII.1:5-2:3).
What, then, is magnitude? Paragraph 7 gives a pretty good idea.
Read paragraph 7.
God wants to give Himself through you. That is your magnitude. He wants to reach out "from you to everyone and beyond everyone to His Son's creations." He wants to extend forever through you.
The greatness that is in you is love.
You know not what love means because you have sought to purchase it with little gifts, thus valuing it too little to understand its magnitude. Love is not little and love dwells in you, for you are host to Him [God]. Before the greatness that lives in you [God and His love, which wants to extend forever], your poor appreciation of yourself and all the little offerings you give slip into nothingness (8:5-7).
This is our greatness; this is our grandeur; this is our magnitude. We are extensions of the love of God. We are host to God; He lives in us and wants to reach through us to the world. That is our function, and fulfilling it is our glory. Compared to that all the puffed-up glory of the world is nothing. And it is this magnitude, this function, this love, that we connect with in the holy instant.
Jump now to Section IV. The first paragraph tells us that the holy instant is "this instant and every instant. The want you want it to be it is. The one you would not have it be is lost to you" (1:3-5). What would make us choose not to have it? And the answer is: Holding on to our littleness, or to our plans to puff up our littleness into something that seems impressive.
You cannot bring it [the holy instant] into glad awareness while you do not want it, for it holds the whole release from littleness (1:9).
If we are holding on to our littleness, and the holy instant is going to release us from littleness, we won't want the holy instant. And that is exactly why we don't have it.
Your practice must therefore rest upon your willingness to let all littleness go. The instant in which magnitude dawns upon you is but as far away as your desire for it. As long as you desire it not and cherish littleness instead, by so much is it far from you. By so much as you want it will you bring it nearer. Think not that you can find salvation in your own way and have it. Give over every plan you have made for your salvation in exchange for God's. His will content you, and nothing else can bring you peace. For peace is of God, and no one beside Him. (T-15.IV.2)
Remember that holding on to littleness means any goal we pursue in the world that we believe will bring us peace. In other words, any plan we have for finding "salvation" on our own. Basically, letting go of littleness means letting go of all our plans. All of them. Letting them go and receiving the plans of the Holy Spirit for fulfilling our function. Because fulfilling our function, entering in to the magnitude of being God's extension in this world, releasing every mind around us to their own magnitude, is the only thing that will ever bring us happiness and peace.
I call you to fulfill your holy part in the plan that He has given to the world for its release from littleness (IV.3:4). Call forth in everyone only the remembrance of God, and of the Heaven that is in him. For where you would have your brother be, there will you think you are (III.12:1, 2). Join with me in His [plan], that we may release all those who would be bound, proclaiming together that the Son of God is host to Him. Thus will we let no one forget what you would remember. And thus will you remember it (III.11:3-5).
If you want to live in the holy instant you have to let go of littleness, and that means letting go of your plans and letting the Holy Spirit make all your decisions for you. It means giving up on trying to find peace in your own way and accepting the only peace there is, the peace God offers you in finding your function in Him and fulfilling it.
That's what you need to do to live in the holy instant. But the thing is, we can practice doing this. We can make little trial runs. We can, in a way, experiment: What would it be like to do this? What would it feel like? Let me, just for now, for a minute, try letting go of my plans. Let me imagine how it would feel to have no plans of my own and to trust in God's plans. Let me just for a moment allow myself to be the love God says I am, and to accept extending love as my only function. How does that feel?
In practicing you don't worry about what happens ten minutes from now or tomorrow. You don't change your life all at once. You try on the new state of mind for size. See how it feels. Let yourself experience it. If you do, I can guarantee that you will like it. Being the loving Son of God and extending love feels good. And before long the contrast between how you feel in the holy instant and how you feel the rest of the time will begin to convince you that you want to feel this way all of the time. That's how the transformation happens.
Read paragraph 4:4 to paragraph 5.
5. Letting Go of Private Thoughts
The next condition of entering the holy instant is letting go of private thoughts. We've seen earlier that in the holy instant you experience perfect communication with all minds and with God. It's obvious, then, that if you don't want perfect communication you will hold back from entering the holy instant. And if you have thoughts that you want to keep private—well, the conclusion is unmistakable. Holding on to private thoughts will keep you out of the holy instant.
You can almost say this is common sense. I mean, you aren't going to experience many blissful moments of total communication with someone if you are hiding your thoughts from them—right?
We can continue our reading right in the same section, 15.IV, starting where we left off, with paragraph 6.
Read paragraph to 7:2.
To want the holy instant, you have to want "the perfect communication that makes the holy instant what it is." You have to be willing for your mind to be open, both to receive and to give. You must be in a place where you are willing to "seek to change nothing, but merely to accept everything."
I love reading science fiction. I've read a dozen novels at least about telepathy, and what it would be like for a group of people to know, effortlessly, what everyone around them was thinking, and what it would be like to know that you had no private thoughts. Some authors theorize that it would drive you nearly insane. Others theorize that if private thoughts were impossible, minds would very quickly be healed. If you thought an unloving thought you would immediately experience the pain that thought caused in the mind of the person you were thinking about. I tend to be of the latter school; I think a lack of private thoughts would be very healing.
I think that is pretty much the position of A Course in Miracles as well. It teaches us, right here, that "all minds are in communication." It says that perfect communication is what makes the holy instant holy. In other words, private thoughts are an illusion. Listen to Lesson 19 in the Workbook:
Today we are again emphasizing the fact that minds are joined. This is rarely a wholly welcome idea at first, since it seems to carry with it an enormous sense of responsibility, and may even be regarded as an "invasion of privacy." Yet it is a fact that there are no private thoughts (W-pI.19.2:1-3).
So the Course is not asking us not to have private thoughts. Rather it is asking us to realize that we do not have private thoughts. Minds are joined, and my thoughts affect everyone, even the ones I think are private. They aren't private; that's the point. There is no such thing as private thoughts.
If we object and think that the only thoughts we are aware of are private thoughts, that all the thinking in our minds, so far as we know, goes on in separation from every other mind, the Course turns the argument around on us to demonstrate that what we think of as our thoughts do not even really exist!
I have no private thoughts. Yet it is only private thoughts of which I am aware. What can these thoughts mean? They do not exist, and so they mean nothing. Yet my mind is part of creation and part of its Creator. Would I not rather join the thinking of the universe than to obscure all that is really mine with my pitiful and meaningless "private" thoughts? (W-pI.rI.52.5:2-5).
In the holy instant, we "join the thinking of the universe." In order for that to happen we must, if only for a moment, be willing to give up the illusion of having private thoughts, and the desire to have them.
Read 15.IV.7:3 to 8:6.
"Am I willing to let everything go that interferes with perfect communication? Does breaking communication still hold value? Are there thoughts I want to keep hidden?" Those are the questions, and if any answer is one that chooses against perfect communication, even the readiness of the Holy Spirit is not enough to make the holy instant yours. (8:4).
Jesus goes on to say that our thoughts don't have to be completely pure; we just have to be willing not to keep the impure thoughts, that is, willing to let the impure thoughts be exposed and to let go of them. We have to be willing for the Holy Spirit to shine them away. If we protect them and try to hide them, He can't help us. He says, "Try only to be vigilant against deception" (9:7). Don't try to fool Him; don't try to fool yourself. That's all that is asked in our practice. We'll come back to this point tomorrow morning.
6. Letting Go of the Focus on Bodies
In the holy instant, where the Great Rays replace the body in awareness, the recognition of relationships without limits is given you. But in order to see this, it is necessary to give up every use the ego has for the body, and to accept the fact that the ego has no purpose you would share with it (T-15.IX.3:1, 2).
In order to recognize relationships without limits, which is what happens within the holy instant, we have to give up "every use the ego has for the body." That is pretty clear. The same principle applies as with littleness and with private thoughts: If the holy instant consists in relationships without limits, then in order to experience it we have to let go of limits. And the body is a limit on love, so we have to let the body go. Unless we are willing to leave behind the limits, which means the body, we can't experience relationships without limits.
The ego made the body for its purposes and wants to use the body for its purposes, which are always purposes of separation and fear. If we continue in thinking the body has a purpose, that it serves us for our good in some way, we are still being deceived by the ego into pursuing its goals. The Course teaches that, to the Holy Spirit, the only purpose of the body is for us to communicate with other minds that think they are limited by the body. If we think it has any other purpose, we are setting limits on the holy instant.
When the body ceases to attract you, and when you place no value on it as a means of getting anything, then there will be no interference in communication and your thoughts will be as free as God's. As you let the Holy Spirit teach you how to use the body only for purposes of communication, and renounce its use for separation and attack which the ego sees in it, you will learn you have no need of a body at all. In the holy instant there are no bodies, and you experience only the attraction of God (T-15.IX.7:1-3).
What the Course is talking about is not a negation of the body, not a hatred of the body or a mistreatment of it. It is talking about giving up the ego's use of the body for separation and attack. We all know that being attracted to someone simply because of their body is selfish, small-minded and indicative of a terrible short-sightedness. Yet we still find ourselves giving in to it, don't we? That kind of short-sightedness will keep you from experiencing the holy instant.
Likewise, valuing your own body as a means of getting something is equally short-sighted. Bodies as such are limits on love and interfere with communication. If we want Him to, the Holy Spirit will teach us how to use the body only for communication; that is the renunciation of the body that is being called for. Not the body itself but the ego's use of it.
What does it mean to use the body for communication? It can be as simple as taking someone else's hand:
You can stretch out your hand and reach to Heaven. You whose hand is joined with your brother's have begun to reach beyond the body, but not outside yourself, to reach your shared Identity together (T-18.VI.10:1-2).
The Course wants us to see the body as a means, not an end; a means of joining minds, and not an end in itself. To see the body as a means means that we utilize the body to achieve something else—union of minds. To see the body as the end means that our goals involve the body itself—keeping it safe, pleasuring it, and so on.
Read 18.VII, paragraph 1 and 2.
The feeling I get from these paragraphs is that in the holy instant, for just a moment, we literally lose awareness of the body. I repeat that we are not attacking the body, saying it is evil, or abusing it in any way. We are just ignoring it. And to enter the holy instant we have to be willing for that to happen. We have to be willing for the awareness of the body to just fade out; for the body to become unimportant to us.
Freedom must be impossible as long as you perceive a body as yourself (W-199.1:1).
That is the opening line of Workbook Lesson 199, "I am not a body. I am free." This is one of a set of twenty lessons, from 181 through 200, that emphasize practicing the holy instant.
The mind can be made free when it no longer sees itself as in a body, firmly tied to it and sheltered by its presence (1:4).
Letting go of our focus on the body also includes beginning to realize that the body is not you; you are a mind, and your mind is not in a body, firmly tied to it and sheltered by it. Instead, your mind is "unlimited forever…beyond the laws of time and space." It is the ego that is tied to the body—not you.
The body disappears [when you declare your innocence], because you have no need of it except the need the Holy Spirit sees. For this [for His purposes] the body will appear as useful form for what the mind must do. It thus becomes a vehicle which helps forgiveness be extended to the all-inclusive goal that it must reach, according to God's plan (W-199.4:3-5).
Jesus clearly does not mean that the body literally disappears. In one sentence he uses the word "disappears" and in the next he says "the body will appear." Again, it means that the ego's use of the body is given up, and the body is given to the Holy Spirit as a vehicle for the extension of forgiveness. To experience the holy instant we must be willing for that to happen.