"If You Do It, You Will See That It Works": An Experience of Universal Love

by Greg Mackie

Powerful inner experiences of illumination have been an integral part of the spiritual journey from time immemorial. While I don't think that such experiences are necessarily the strongest evidence of spiritual progress—the ability to love and forgive others is a better standard, in my view—they can give us glimpses of where we are heading and inspire us to deepen our commitment to our path.

I have always been inspired by reading about the spiritual experiences of others, especially when they teach me something I can apply to my own journey. So, I would like to share the most powerful spiritual experience of my life, in the hope that this sharing may be helpful to others on the path. It happened in the last year, and can perhaps best be described as a brief experience of universal love for God and His creation. This experience taught me that the lofty, transcendent states of mind the Course describes are real, and that following the Course's program really can bring those states to us. In short, the Course delivers what it promises. In its own words, "If you do it, you will see that it works" (T-9.V.9:2).

The background: "a slowly evolving training program"

I have never had a propensity for dramatic inner experiences. While I've had a few that were powerful and even life changing, they were the exceptions to the rule. My spiritual history has generally fit the mold of my earlier avocation as a long distance runner: instead of spectacular leaps, my path has been one of slow, steady progress. My successes have come not through prodigious natural gifts, but through patience, self-discipline, and endurance. Instant enlightenment has never been an option for me. I'm in it for the long haul.

My history with the Course has followed that same pattern. I've tried my best to bring the same self-discipline to the Course's mind-training program that I used to bring to my distance running. It has paid off tremendously: though I have a ways to go, slowly but surely my inner peace has deepened, my relationships have blossomed, and my heart has become more forgiving. Yet the spectacular kinds of enlightenment experiences reported in so much spiritual literature have for the most part eluded me; for me, the Course has definitely been a "slowly evolving training program" (M-9.1:7). This pattern made the experience I am about to describe all the more surprising.

The retreat: "I will accept my part in God's plan for salvation."

This experience happened during a personal retreat that I took on February 18-21, 2002. I had several goals for this retreat, all centered around a desire to deepen my commitment to the Course's path of salvation. I wanted to get a clearer understanding of my specific part in God's plan for salvation, and really commit to doing it. I wanted to learn more about the Circle's function in that plan, and mentally join with my Circle colleagues in committing to our function. Finally, I wanted to gain, through extended prayer and meditation, a deeper personal experience of the peace, joy, and love that the Course promises. I wanted this experience both for its own sake, and so I would be more motivated to follow through on my commitments.

To facilitate these goals, I did a number of different activities during the retreat. I sought Jesus' guidance on questions concerning my and the Circle's function, and wrote down what I received in a journal. I read Course sections pertinent to my questions. Since the focus of the retreat was on committing to the goal of salvation, I listened to a tape set of the Circle's workshop on goal setting (entitled Seeking and Finding: The Course's Approach to Setting and Reaching Goals). And I did a process of mentally joining with my Circle colleagues, visualizing all of us joining arm-in-arm in a circle and committing to our common purpose.

I used a variety of Course practices during the retreat. Above all, I did a lot of meditation. The main form of meditation I used was the standard Workbook style of meditation, in which you slip past your surface thoughts and try to sink deeply into your mind. As a focus for my meditations, I mainly used Workbook lessons on the theme of committing to our one true function of salvation: Lesson 65 ("My only function is the one God gave me"), Lesson 98 ("I will accept my part in God's plan for salvation") and Lesson 100 ("My part is essential to God's plan for salvation"). I meditated in one-hour sessions for the most part, with short breaks for rest, writing, and meals. This added up to a lot more meditation than I usually do. I'm sure this contributed greatly to the experience I ended up having.

The experience: "I love you, Father, and I love your Son"

At first, my meditations were pretty much what they usually are: a mixed bag. There were positive, peaceful moments mixed in with plenty of mind wandering. But over the course of the retreat, the peaceful moments increased, and the mind wandering decreased. I began to feel a real connection to God and to my brothers and sisters at the Circle. My meditations went deeper and deeper. By the afternoon of the final full day (February 20), I was entering into uncharted territory for me. Here is what I wrote in my journal immediately after completing a one-hour session that afternoon:

This technique has never worked so well for me as it is today. I am tapping into a place of deep peace and joy, just as the Course promises….I feel the Love of my Father. Wow!

This feeling of peace, joy, and love continued to grow as the evening progressed. At bedtime, I did a final round of meditation using Workbook Lesson 109, "I rest in God." This is what I wrote immediately after that final round:

Wow! I just had a great final meditation!….I felt really great joy and thankfulness to God, and caught a glimpse of a deep ocean of peace and joy. I was smiling at the end, and close to tears.

But as wonderful as this was, it was only a harbinger for what was to come. I went to bed a little after ten o'clock, but couldn't get to sleep; it felt like I wasn't done for the night. So, I got up at about half past eleven and did another round of meditation.

This was when the full-blown experience of universal love really started. It's difficult to describe exactly what happened, but it's as if the love and gratitude that I was already feeling toward God suddenly expanded outward and encompassed all of creation. Here is part of what I wrote during the height of this experience:

I unconditionally love everyone and everything with no reservations! I love God, my Father!….I am basking in a sea of love. Thank you Father, Jesus, the Course, everyone! I can scarce refrain from kneeling at everyone's feet. "I love my Father and I love His Son!" This is indescribable, wonderful, very intense, spectacular, mind-boggling, I'm free, I love, I am one with all, I love everyone….This is awesome! Words fail to describe it!

I basked in this radiant love for the next couple of hours. Yet oddly, even when I was in the midst of the experience, a part of my mind stood "outside" of it and witnessed it. So, I started doing mental experiments to test it. I brought specific people to mind and extended this deep love to them, starting with those who are closest to me. Then I brought to mind people I normally have grievances against—everyone from those who have personally "wronged" me to "evil" world figures like Hitler and Osama bin Laden. I wanted to see if I truly felt this love for them as well. I did.

I remembered that Course line that says if you were to see people truly, you could scarce refrain from kneeling at their feet (W-pI.161.9:3). I asked myself if that was true for me now, and amazingly, it was. I didn't actually kneel, of course, but I saw such holiness in these people. In thinking of the ones I normally hold grievances against, I remained fully aware of the negative things their bodies did, but it just didn't matter what their bodies did. The negative things were merely calls for help, which didn't change my love at all. I loved these people anyway, without reservation. I even loved animals and inanimate things when I brought them to mind. And I loved God with a deep, intimate, grateful love that I had never felt for Him before. It seemed that I was partaking in the Love of God Himself, a Love that enabled me to "see the world anew, shining in innocence, alive with hope, and blessed with perfect charity and love" (W-pI.189.1:7). It was an experience I never wanted to end.

The lesson: "If you do it, you will see that it works"

But alas, it did end. Over time, the experience faded, as all peak experiences do. My Course practice continued to go well once I got home from the retreat (certainly I had the motivation for it), but I could no longer meditate for hours a day, and my mental state gradually went back to "normal." For the most part, I'm now back to my usual slow and steady distance runner mode. But I do believe that the level I've retreated back to is a higher level than I was at before the retreat. I still remember my experience fondly, and still catch glimpses of it on occasion. I'll never be the same person that I was-the memory of that incredible opening of my heart has remained with me, and continues to inspire me to the present day.

I learned many things from that experience. As I reflect back on it, two things in particular stand out, both of which I mentioned at the beginning of this article. First, it convinced me that the higher states of mind the Course describes are real. Certainly I had believed they were real before the experience-indeed, I had entered into less dramatic versions of them at other times in my life, and I knew that others on the path reported similar experiences. But the sheer intensity of what happened at my retreat reinforced my conviction tremendously. Now, when I read in the Course about the "holy instant," "true perception," and the "vision of Christ," those terms are much more than vague abstractions. For me, they describe a state of mind that is tangible. It is something that I have actually touched, something that I have experienced in some measure and can remember.

Second, it convinced me more than ever that the Course's program really works. I believe strongly that the foundation for my experience was all the work I had done with the Course for years prior to the retreat. And once I was at the retreat, everything I did-asking for Jesus' guidance, reading Course sections, studying the Course's approach to goal setting, committing to my part in salvation, mentally joining with others in a common purpose, doing Workbook-style meditation, and more-came straight from the Course itself. The entire experience of those higher states the Course describes grew directly out of following the Course's program of study, practice, and extension as given. Of course, there are many ways to spiritual experiences, but this is the way that worked for me. And I am truly amazed that anything could possibly bring an experience of such magnitude to a career non-experiencer like me. This is miracle enough to convince me that the Course isn't kidding when it says that if we do it, we will see that it works.

As remarkable as it felt to me, the experience I've described in this article was, of course, not anywhere near as deep as it is possible to go. I think it was just a glimpse of what the Course promises us; the briefest, shallowest foretaste of the end of the journey; "the faintest glimmering of what love means" (W-pI.127.7:1). But what a glimmering! Now I am more motivated than ever to follow the Course's path, because I feel certain that it can take me all the way home to God. It gave me an experience I never expected to have in my lifetime, and I know that if I can experience it once, I can experience it again. All I need to do is take the Course Jesus has given me, and I will one day live forever in universal love.

2 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Dear Greg,

    I enjoyed this article immensely and it came across my path at the perfect moment. It is always wonderful to be freshly reminded of the efficacy and validity of ACIM. I really loved what you wrote and it inspired me immeasurably. I have another perspective on this I would like to share and speak to the aspect of your article that addresses the matter of whether the Course can truly deliver what it says it can.

    I once was a doubter of spiritual paths/experiences. I was not a doubter of God mind you but only of these pathways. I scoffed at “New Age” and laughed aloud at best selling books that were meant to help a person along a spiritual journey that at the time I could not comprehend. I was not inspired when I read stories of people’s accounts of their spiritual experiences, rather I was like, “are you kiddin’ me with this?” I was once the sort of person who would have flipped through ACIM and never picked it up again. I probably would have made fun of it too (hey, I’m just being honest here). I admit this because my route to the Course took the flipped version of yours and attests to the strength and truth of ACIM from one who might have actively doubted its claims without seeing the fruit before the seeds. When I say this I am speaking from the perspective of a person that would have thought ACIM was absolute BS twelve years ago.

    My experience of God came before ACIM while I was on vacation. I believed in God, I had a good amount of faith but never before had I felt the need to know any more than that God was fact and I could trust Him. But I had come to a crossroads where, though I didn’t know it at the time, it was either my way or God’s way. I was trying to control every aspect of my life and was doing badly at it. None of my “plans” were working out and I had pretty much made an oblivious disaster of my life. The dissatisfaction and pain of this left me running on a deserted beach crying out (literally) for Him. I fell to my knees (then my face) in tears begging God to help me….help me…help me….in exactly those words silently repeated within me like a mantra. And He did. With His gentle answer I was absorbed into His Love in ways I could have never imagined. Words cannot begin to describe how this felt. I had no idea exactly what had happened to me at the time. It was that immense. It was that profound. But without that morning on a deserted beach I would never have accepted ACIM otherwise or allowed its truth to touch me.

    The Course came to me when that feeling from the beach began to fade months later (yes, months) and I prayed for Him (I quote) “to return me to that place of peace so that it could never be lost again.” I am sure that you will agree that a prayer using a term with God like never be lost again would not yield small results. When we say never we ordinarily mean it in some superficial temporary way but these worldly half hearted commitments are not the way God works. I used the word never and He took that seriously and got right on it. And most striking to me was that of all the paths I could have received the Course is what came.

    Ideas like surrendering the ego, or the notion of forgiving being anything other than pardoning someone for wrongdoing were not in my realm of understanding then, let alone the idea of special relationships and the havoc we can wreak with them. I did not have the terms above in my vocabulary at the time. Only later when I began the Course could I begin to comprehend what happened and how it all came about. I had direct experiences (under both the tyranny of the ego and the peace of God) to relate to the ideas of ACIM as I read it. In so doing I saw that coming to forgive (by the Holy Spirit’s definition), shedding the ego, and letting my special relationships be transformed to Holy ones, had all led up to that morning on the beach. This is how I knew the Course was for real. This is why I could trust its work and no matter how much at times I resisted I could still press on. Otherwise I would have been tempted to think I was twisting my life to fit the Course rather than the Course showing me the Truth of my Life.

    It is my belief now that God not only knows where we’ve been and where we are…He knows where we are going. He knew my heart would have been positioned against what ACIM presents. He knew I would have never given it a chance. When He sent the Course in response to my prayer, it was as if I was getting a blow by blow explanation of what had already happened to me on that beach, what had gotten me there, and what could place that peace forever in my awareness. Not only that, he also shared the ways in which I could pass it on to others. I could only trust this Course because God had shown me that all it teaches is for real. It is true.

    Though at times I would love to live perpetually in that awe inspiring state of bliss with God as you described, as a student of ACIM, and now as a novice teacher of it, I have had to learn to be gentle with myself and others, to earnestly ‘give God my day’ and let Him decide what is most appropriate. Sometimes that is the stunning awareness of Him in my life, at others it is no more complex than planting a mustard seed of faith where doubt reigns.What is essential and never changes day after day is that step by step I heal any separation from God where I can and share it with others in ways I am guided that may be of service.

    I know this is a long story but I share it to encourage other Course students that struggle, that doubt, that wonder if this Course can really do them any good and are tempted to lose their motivation. Some students might even find these accounts of intimacy with God depressing if they have not yet had their own. But this Course does work and does deliver on what it promises. I know this from experience. This Course will speak to you in the form best for you and guide your mind gently along until you are ready to proceed with the Holy Spirit leading the way. No matter where a Course student starts if one is called to this path it will meet them wherever they are and take them far beyond the measure of their hopes.

    Thank you for another great article Greg.

  2. Thor Griffin
    Posted November 18, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the article, Greg.

    If we make God and ACIM our priority we will find that transcendental experiences will occur. We just have to lift ourselves out of the mire of the ego consciousness.

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Printer Friendly Version

Free E-Newsletters: A Better Way (Monthly)  Circle News (Weekly)