Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Letter to my Son, Stephen: Learning from Dogs

A few days ago my son, Stephen, 37, called from where he is now living, Aspen Colorado, to tell me of an incident that occurred regarding the three dogs he is looking after for a friend. The dogs are of a mixed breed, Australian sheep dog and border collie, black and white, weighing about 40 pounds each. Sarah, the alpha female, is the mother of Hula, a male, and sister to Haily.

Suddenly, and completely out of character, Sarah attacked Haily, her jaws clamped tightly shut on her throat, drawing blood. Stephen’s adrenaline hit, picking up both dogs by their necks and separating them, throwing Sarah outside, incurring a bite on the arm, and during the melee Hula bit him on the leg.

It was over in a flash, and Stephen went and sat down, his heartbeat slowly returning to normal.

The reason he called me was to talk about a question forming in his mind that, since he is the cause, what is going on in his mind that would make up a world of vicious dogs? Now, Stephen is a serious student of A Course in Miracles. He spent a period of time in residence at Endeavor Academy, and he does the lessons daily, determined to train his mind systematically to a new way of thinking. He had spent enough time at the Academy to know that a “brother” (a resident at the Academy) would often glibly answer his question with, “It’s your mind, Dear One.” Actually that’s not very helpful, if you just stop there.

We talked on the phone for a while, and after we hung up, I just couldn’t get it out of my mind, and I finally grabbed a notebook and began to formulate a more thorough answer to his question. This is the letter that I e-mailed to him.

Wednesday 31 January, 2007

Dear Stephen,

I am so grateful that you are taking a look at everything that happens from the perspective of mind-training. You’re right, a brother is likely to say it’s your mind. Usually, it is said when I am upset, and it pisses me off because it seems so glib, and at the time not very helpful. What, exactly, does it mean, anyway?

It does say in today’s lesson, the inner is the cause of the outer. (Lesson 31, I am not a victim of the world I see) My favorite expression of this occurs in Chapter 21.

I am responsible for what I see.
I choose the feelings I experience, and I decide
upon the goal I would achieve.
And everything that seems to happen to me
I ask for and receive as I have asked.

Let’s start with the idea that embedded in your mind is a motion-picture camera. It is located in a few square centimeters in the back of your head where the holographic universe is formed. Now, this camera just does what it does, automatically; it simply records what its lens, your eyes, rests upon, glances at.

No two cameras are the same. You project one thing and another person standing beside you projects another. What is projected is all meaningless. Nothing I see means anything. Now, here’s the deal.

Not only do you see images flooding your mind, but you are hearing constant commenting. This is voice of the ego, lulling you into a constant state of judgment.

What you choose to focus on in the panorama is entirely up to you. This is where mind-training comes in because to an untrained mind, there is nothing to see other than what you are looking at, and how you respond seems to be your only choice. Your ego-mind, your self-concept, is completely allied with what you see. That is, what you see, the world, appears to be the cause, and you are the effect. You seem to be a victim of the world you see.

That’s the value of the Zen idea, “What we are looking for is what is looking.” That is why I always go to state of mind to understand what is looking. Before mind-training, there is no differentiation between the ego state of mind and the world you see. The ego is the director. And what you see is an exact projection. This is an unexamined premise completely taken for granted. This is what the inner refers to. The inner state of mind. Thus, the inner causes the outer, truly.

Much to our surprise, as we persevere in mind-training, we learn that there is another state of mind, in fact, the only state of mind, and this state is the True Self, the Christ mind. For I am still as God created me. Of course, it is a joke of cosmic proportions that we manage to keep our True Selves hidden from our awareness. But we do learn that we have choice. What we end up seeing, then, is either a projection, or a reflection, a projection of your limited self-concept, your ego, or a reflection of your True Self.

. . .and I decide upon the goal I would achieve.

I, the mechanism of decision, am always in a position to decide between seeing either through the eyes of the ego, the self-concept, or through the True Self, the eyes of Christ. I can choose crucifixion or resurrection, separation or salvation. In every moment, I can ask only for help to let go of, to forgive, the state of mind of the ego that is in alliance with the camera showing me a meaningless world, an illusion, a dream, a holographic universe that simply does not exist, in spite of its apparent solidity.Images seem solid.

I am seeing vicious dogs attacking each other. I am the cause. What’s going on in my mind that would present such a world to me. “It’s your mind, Dear One.” Yes, but, the real meaning of the inner causes the outer is that you can choose what you want to see. Your awareness of the inner state of mind is either the truth of what you are; or the falsity of what you are.. The choice is to see with the ego’s eyes or with Christ’s eyes. Through the eyes of Christ you always see only the reflection of your peaceful state of mind. You look through the images to peace. Now, you can’t actually see peace; it’s more of a feeling, a slipping into another frequency. Real vision is not only unlimited by space and distance, but it does not depend on the body’s eyes at all. The mind is its only source. (Lesson 30.5:1,2)

In this state of mind, there is, of course, no ego-commentary. There is only stillness. For I am still as God created me. It turns out that the constant noise of the ego state is a preoccupation that serves as a defense against seeing through the eyes of Christ.

Now you can see that you are definitely on the mark because your mind is trained, sufficiently, to stop and be still and ask, what’s going on in my mind that would cause vicious dogs? Humans around you whose minds are untrained are incapable of asking such a question.

This recognition that what seems natural and real is not so is the miracle.

So, you caused the vicious dogs only in the sense that your camera was running. You took action and did what you had to do. Then you sat quietly for a moment. You became still. (Lesson 155, I will step back and let Him lead the way.) And then you began to formulate a question that would guide you to your True Self, and you asked for help.

“Good onya, mate.”

Now, read Chapter 21, Section 11: The responsibility for sight. It will kick your ass.




* * *

Last night, Stephen called to tell me the happy, tail-wagging end to this tale. He said that he walked around for a couple of days holding a grievance against the dogs, even though they were all-friendly to him, acting as if nothing had happened, when of course, nothing had happened for them, being blessed by not being egos, having no past to hold onto. So, he sat down with each of them and loved them up and forgave them, laughing at the foolishness of holding a grievance against dogs. They simply remained in their loving presence, reminding me of this poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997), Come Into Animal Presence.

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track and into the palm brush.

What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

The rabbit and the llama and the armadillo are simply present, not having to contend with a false state of mind. They don’t have a choice. They don’t have a decision to make. They are always, already, present, now.

Those who were sacred have remained so.

In this sense, they provide a perfect analogue, a similarity to our peaceful state of mind. Their animal presence is sacred, holy, whole. The title of the poem, Come Into Animal Presence, is an invitation to the reader, an invitation not to be with them physically, but letting them be a reminder to enter into our own peaceful state of mind. Animals do not falter; they don’t have a choice. Only we, observing them, could turn away from our natural presence, deciding for another state:

only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it

What always draws me back to this poem is the word insouciant, meaning “light-hearted unconcern.” I love to walk through the world feeling insouciant, my heart filled with light.

“Lightheartedness” does occur once in A Course in Miracles. It appears in the Manual for Teachers where Jesus is describing to the teacher of God what it means to relinquish the valueless.

Through this, he learns that where he anticipated grief, he finds a happy lightheartedness instead; where he thought something was asked of him, he finds a gift bestowed on him. (M-4A:5:8)

And now I know why I have always liked the name of the main character in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly.