“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
I had spent the long Fourth of July weekend mostly solo, my husband away attending the wedding of a long-time colleague’s daughter, our daughter, now home working for the remainder of the summer after studying abroad, again unexpectedly AWOL. I was still battling some kind of sinus-throat attack, and mostly refusing to side with my puny little s self’s continuing assertion that another summer was once more failing to live up to its promise, slipping through my helpless little hands. Paling sadly in comparison to summers past when my daughter was little. Those lazy, crazy, hazy, elongated days filled with hiking, biking, camping, and outdoor concerts. Barbecues and vacations spent at real beaches, tow-headed child skipping beside me swinging my hand, thinking I hung the moon. But one of a variety of such seductive scenarios for which I can offer actual proof in the form of photographs arranged in neat little frames adorning various walls and surfaces of our home. All miraculously scoured via the magic Brillo of memory of the imperfections, conflicts, and occasional disasters that had made them, in truth, no more, or less challenging than lying on the couch together (something we’ve managed to squeeze in quite a bit of this summer) attempting to share a remote remains to this very day.
And yet, my discontent continued to fester as discontent will once seeded by my decision to listen to the inner teacher of discontent. Conveniently available 24/7 to remind us that these mortal bodies come complete with unknown-to-their-owners’ expiration dates. Each breath I drew might prove my last and then freaking what? As I tried to veer away from the thought beneath every nagging other here in the human condition we think we’re in, masking the original guilty thought of separation realized in the form of mortal bodies, my daughter continued to repeatedly assert—in case I was beginning to lose my hearing as bodies eventually do–that this would probably be her last summer spent at home. Suffice it to say the heat to prove our lives together as a successful family unit lovingly joined was on.
But the harder I tried to obey my mind on ego’s orders to seize the day along with special companions to exhaust it with, the more elusive the conditions for joyful union became. Despite my considerable herding, organizing, and planning abilities, each passing minute, day, and week failed to deliver yet another opportunity to document so much as a fleeting nanosecond of family union nestled within a suitably photogenic, seasonal backdrop. Incompatible work schedules, unpredictable deadlines and demands, competing agendas, uncooperative weather, a complete cornucopia of irreconcilable differences seemingly continued to conspire against my personal wishes. Reinforcing the illusion of past happiness gone forever missing and all but guaranteeing a future of looming loss. Worse, I couldn’t even seem to muster the energy I once had so easily summoned to manifest my desires.
And so it was that I pried my misty eyes away from a picture of my daughter riding on my back at age five on a visit to Disneyland and instead cracked open the big, blue book to Chapter 17, III. Shadows of the Past, paragraph 2, in which I read, as I inevitably do whenever I open A Course in Miracles to any page, exactly what I needed to learn:
“It is these shadow figures that would make the ego holy in your sight, and teach you what you do to keep it safe is really love. The shadow figures always speak for vengeance, and all relationships into which they enter are totally insane. Without exception, these relationships have as their purpose the exclusion of the truth about the other, and of yourself. This is why you see in both what is not there, and make of both the slaves of vengeance. And why whatever reminds you of your past grievances attracts you, and seems to go by the name of love, no matter how distorted the associations by which you arrive at the connection may be. …”
Alas, the ego’s convincing body of evidence to the contrary, there are no real relationships between bodies in this imaginary world, imagined as they are to defend against the truth of our only real relationship with all-inclusive, abstract Love. According to the creation myth A Course in Miracles uses to explain the ego dynamics that fuel all our interactions in an imaginary world of many bodies vying for survival, we are always unconsciously born back to the moment in which the idea of a past seemingly arose. The instant in which we took the “tiny, mad idea” that we could separate from our Source or would want to seriously, spawning our belief in a guilty present and a fearful future in which we deserve punishment from a vengeful God created in our ego’s image. I know.
We enter into special relationships with specially imagined other bodies to robotically act out our belief in this ego thought system of sin, guilt and fear in an ultimately futile attempt to prove we actually exist but it’s not our fault, it’s theirs. While I think I want you to meet my needs, I secretly want you to fail me that I might attribute my suffering to you, thereby casting the body I think I am in the role of unwitting victim. As long as I choose the ego as my teacher over the inner teacher of kind forgiveness ACIM-style, I cannot experience the only real Love available to me in the condition I think I’m in, that unwavering Love for all, the reality of our only real Self, still abiding in our one right mind.
A Course in Miracles likens our experience in this world to a dream in which we have forgotten we are the dreamer and instead believe we are the dream figure to which things happen. From the moment we dream up a special relationship of any kind, having imagined the attributes necessary for it to satisfy our apparent personal needs, it begins to unravel. We imagine another to meet our needs without regard to their ability or desire to do so and eventually hold them responsible for failing to measure up.
“Time is indeed unkind to the unholy relationship. For time is cruel in the ego’s hands, as it is kind when used for gentleness. The attraction of the unholy relationship begins to fade and to be questioned almost at once. Once it is formed, doubt must enter in, because its purpose is impossible. The ‘ideal’ of the unholy relationship thus becomes one in which the reality of the other does not enter at all to ‘spoil’ the dream. And the less the other really brings to the relationship, the ‘better’ it becomes. Thus, the attempt at union becomes a way of excluding even the one with whom the union was sought. For it was formed to get him out of it, and join with fantasies in uninterrupted ‘bliss’.” (Paragraph 4)
Anyone who has ever been involved in a long-term, intimate relationship of any kind (and anyone born to other bodies has been, whether or not he or she ever chooses to subsequently engage in another “special relationship”) must recognize the unfortunate truth of these words. We fall in love with an idea of what a partner of any kind must do or not do to satisfy our needs and the less of their needs they bring to the table the better things go. But, since nothing outside the mind can ever fill the lack we feel within over our belief that we have thrown the only real Love there is away, it never works. Whether we deny it or acknowledge it, our sense of loss just seems to increase over time along with our need to blame it (covertly or overtly) on a special relationship’s failure to ever realize the potential we’ve assigned them.
We can’t always get what we want, as the song goes, but our secret need to be unfairly treated is always met. And, within the illusion of time, we fill scrapbooks documenting the meteoric rise and inevitable fall of special relationships to support what the Course calls the ego’s “serial adventures.” We look to the past to justify our pain or pleasure in a present that doesn’t exist for bodies, since the only real present is eternal, the all-inclusive loving union with our Creator in the mind. That oneness joined as one we can’t understand as a body programmed to deny its true reality and support a lie. But can remember and reflect in all our relationships when we’re willing to choose a different inner teacher that knows only our shared need to awaken from this dream of individual exile (played out in an illusion of linear time), to our indivisible reality as one Child of God. Released from the bondage of the past through our moment-to-moment decision to see clearly, we recognize that experiencing a love that will never fail us is always available through our willingness to give it, regardless of “where” we or anyone else seems to be in the dream. And, in that giving, remember we are only loved and loving.
It is not what we do with those we love or where we do it, but with which inner teacher, the teacher of sameness or specialness, all-inclusive, eternally need-free Love, or perpetually needy, vengeful fear. Love has no seasons, only an eternal warmth and beauty so far beyond any markers in this world that the brain grinds to a welcome halt once its exhausting grasping to know reveals at last what can only be understood with our one forever-beating heart.
And so I find myself once more willing this morning to entertain the possibility that I am wrong about all I think I am and need and want, and turn once more toward an inner relationship that includes and supports and sustains everyone and everything. Within which I find myself presently savoring each precious moment with my family members—past, present, and future—absolved of the need for them to act out a script I have written, to go somewhere, do something, or be anything at all. A little more willing to share the couch and, who knows, maybe even the remote.
Susan Dugan’s books Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and Forgiveness: The Key to Happiness are available at RMMC and on Amazon. She writes about ACIM based on Ken Wapnick’s teachings at ForaysInForgiveness.com and teaches Tuesday nights at RMMC.