Your Personal Invitation from Mari Perron
It has always struck me that the only way to say what this Course of Love is, is to say it with heart. It’s not so easy to express the heart; to talk to you like you’re a good friend, and as if I’m simply being me. That’s the whole conundrum of A Course of Love in a nutshell. It requires this easy thing that’s not so easy. It requires us to be who we are.
“You can only be who you are by sharing who you are.” (C:31.17)
All that we’ve learned has not been able to still our yearning to know who we are. We long to know and be known, and for the intimacy of the heart. A Course of Love is an invitation to each of us to explore and fulfill this longing.
I’m a writer, and you have to know that about me because it is central to who I am and how I live. I knew for sure I was a writer in fifth grade. This knowing followed me into my twenties when, as a young single mom, I’d stay up way past the time at which I should have been getting some rest to keep a journal. In those days, I felt as if writing kept me sane, and I still feel that way. A lot of my writing ended on a note of, “Oh Lord, what am I going to do?” It sounds plaintive, but it was relieving. It was relieving to express what I could say nowhere else, and to ask for the kind of help I could get nowhere else. It was a way of hearing my heart.
I wrote then, and I’ve written through every phase of my life. Writing is like prayer. Writing is like checking in. It helps me see my changes, and keeps me oriented toward my heart.
Being a writer has shown me a lot about what A Course of Love is. For instance, when I try to write, I lose myself in the trying.
This is what Jesus helps us see in this course: How we lose ourselves; how to quit.
When I lose myself, I can still write a proper essay, maybe even one considered well done. But I won’t be satisfied, just as I’m never satisfied with the writers who don’t shine though their writing. Writers can show themselves to you without saying a word about who they are. It’s a mysterious quality, often called “voice.” What they’ve said feels honest, real, true, and as if there’s a spirited “person,” rather than a technical writer, behind it.
When I’ve tried to write about this course, and I sound as if I’m writing promotional copy, or as if I’m passing on information, it just won’t do. I can bring everything I know about writing to bear on this kind of task, and it’s no good.
The same is true of taking A Course of Love. No skill, no technique, no amount of trying, no lesson, is going to get you anywhere with it, or serve you if you think you’ve gotten somewhere from it. This, basically, is the nature of the inner earthquake that has shaken me to the core since this course entered my life. The old ways don’t work.
Granted, when you’re starting out as a writer, you have skills to learn. But once you’ve learned them, you have to find something no one can teach you. The same is true with our spiritual work.
That’s the whole conundrum of A Course of Love in a nutshell. It requires this easy thing that’s not so easy. It requires us to be who we are.
The rattling and shaking of the earthquake is the new arriving, the realization of what can’t be taught, and that startling awareness that it’s really true…what you most need to be is you.
It’s a way of hanging loose, which, for those of us who have been control freaks, isn’t so easy. A friend told me once, “Of course you’ve learned to be controlling. As a single mom, you had to have control.” We’ve all had those things in life that made us feel the need to be in control, and we’ve also had those things in life that made us feel under the control of [expand title=”Read More” swaptitle=”Read Less”]internal and external forces. This course, like writing, has helped me to break free, and can help you too…not alone…not simply by reading it, but by the way Jesus loosens those controlling forces, by the way that, in relationship, he frees you from the old ways.
Even when information is necessary, there’s something more necessary. It’s some kind of combining of the truth of who we are with the truth of what A Course of Love is…another nutshell description of this experience.
This is so important with A Course of Love because it’s a course about being your Self. Do you know how hard it is to “be your self?” Have you ever felt it? Maybe in writing a letter, maybe in your interactions at work, maybe in your family—or maybe even when you’re having coffee with a friend? She or he leaves and you think, ‘Why did I say that in that way? It’s not what I meant. Not how I really feel. I gave the wrong impression,’ and you hang your head at an opportunity lost. We don’t have to go anywhere or be taught to see these moments when truth calls to us. We know where they live. They’re there in us and in the everyday and ordinary that is our common ground.
What the heck is so hard about being who we are? It’s not only in the expression of who we are that we ask ourselves this question. We ask it with our seeking too.
This is what A Course of Love addresses. It’s Jesus talking, so of course he says it will be easy, easy to discover who we are and to be who we are. He says things like, “Just quit trying, just quit learning, just quit seeking, just remove the barriers to love, just let go of the ego.” Oh…just that!
Being who we are is the major emphasis, from the first chapter of the first book, to the last chapter of The Dialogues. But in between, we’ve changed. (I talk of this change on the Center for ACOL website: www.centerforacourseoflove.org)
Are we told how to be who we are in A Course of Love? Sort of. It’s not a “how to” book. It’s not a “self-help” book. I’ve thought of it at times like a map because Jesus keeps saying “this is where you are now.” He starts out telling us who we’ve thought ourselves to be, then begins to describe who we truly are, and then—as if he’s walking with us, showing us the way—he says, “this is who you are now” … or “this is the choice before you now,” and finally, “you’re leaving behind all that’s been before…are you ready to be new?”
It’s an encounter that has something to do with means and end being the same. For instance—a course that talks of the end of learning, and says right up front that we are to learn in a new way—would be inconsistent if what happened was the same: a course is provided, some teach, some learn. We study. We achieve something. A course that says it’s not for the mind would be inconsistent if it taught to the mind.
I’m talking about how tough it is to be a person, a true human being, carrying around our higher consciousness, and our lofty spirits like duffle bags…as if they are add-ons. A Course of Love is about putting those burdens down. They’re not going anywhere without us. They’re fine. It’s not them we need to work on. It’s this self that keeps trying to carry them.
This course is consistent, and so our mental orientation to learning is replaced. I can’t tell you how that happens or even that it will happen for everyone, because Jesus doesn’t say it will. He says that this course can be read like other books. We can get out our highlighters, breeze through it, and go on to the next book, and that might be that. We can try to put mental effort into studying it, and we’ll get what we put into it. But…if we listen with our hearts, if we leave ourselves open to receive, something different will happen. Something new. Something that comes in, you might say, through a side door.
This feels screwy at first. You might not feel that anything is happening. You can’t even remember what you read. You can’t tell your friends what it’s about. It’s not, finally, about what it says; it’s about us. It’s not about its wisdom or about its principals, or about it at all…it’s about something that happens in us. We’re simply not learning skills or information, or a way, or some new rules, or even the laws of God that replace them. They’re all there, but learning them, remembering, quoting them, talking about them…that’s not what we’re called to. This course is about your experience, about what Jesus says to you about who you are. You and nobody else. It’s about the way you receive what’s given and how you carry it and are meant to carry it into your particular life and all the relationships of it, all the circumstances.
Because of this way that it is about you, and you alone—you and Jesus and what’s happening between you—you may find yourself, pretty soon, rebelling against the rules, any rules, that seem to say they are more important than who you are and what you’ve come to know. You start to have feelings of integrity, of needing to be a person who stands for something.
Simply feeling that you matter as a person can feel odd when so much training has gone into making our personhood inconsequential. When you start feeling that you are of consequence, you might rally to stop those feelings, sure that they are guided by ego thoughts.
When I entered the “new” spiritual culture with the publishing of A Course of Love, I knew this course was different in its approach to who we are, and that our unique selves were being invited back. This went against known truths. People had their ego detectors “on high” and this “self” I would speak of sounded an awfully lot like ego to them. I really didn’t know what to do, or have the confidence I needed to do more than I did.
It took me a long while to realize that I have a right; that we each have the right, as daughters and sons of God, to be true to ourselves. It’s a God-given right. It’s also a responsibility. It has far-reaching effects.
This course returns us to ourselves, and the funny thing is, it takes a while to accept this strange turn of events, as if it is the opposite of what we thought we were doing…as if we were fleeing these old flesh and bone bodies, and our flawed personalities, for some ideal state of being, one far superior. Jesus unveils all of this slowly, moving us, in one book to the next, from our old ideas to new ideas about who we are. He’s not, of course, advocating a reversion to our surface/social/pretending/egoic selves. In my view, he’s just saying the false is false and the true is true. Period. If you’re true to yourself, you’re true. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, you get to be real.
You can see that if you were to have a response similar to mine, what a revolution this could be. I don’t know if each of you will feel the same way, but I thought I’d tell you as best I can about my experience because it took me a long while to see the effects. We have let ourselves get trained, and fairly easily, to accept new rules, to go along with the prevailing wisdom…and it can be tough to shake free of “known wisdom” and find the wisdom that’s our own.
People used to tell me, for instance, that I couldn’t think of myself as a writer. They’d say, “That’s just what you do.” They’d tell me “You have to just be.” At first I thought, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, they’re right. That’s what everybody says. That’s the way to think. There must be something wrong with me.’ But writing didn’t ever feel like something I did in the way I did anything else. It felt as natural as breathing, as if I needed to write just as much as I needed to breathe, as if it was a love affair I couldn’t abandon.
This is very much like the “being who we are” that is asked of us in this course. It’s something you feel as if you have to do. You might say you’ll still be writing a dozen drafts of your life, but getting to the truth is your goal. It won’t come easily until it is your only goal, and you let go of everything else for its sake. Then you find your voice. No matter how many “drafts” you may need to attempt, you can’t quit doing it. You can’t quit doing it because of love.
The challenges you experience then are challenges to be true, and to live by the heart of truth. When this is your challenge, and your only challenge, you know that what Jesus says in “The Treatise on the Personal Self” is true: the ego is gone. That old, false identity, so uninterested in the truth, can claim you no longer. You won’t always “get it right” but you’ll always be headed in the right direction.
It’s great to have the courage to head in your own direction, but it’s also great to know you have company—to not feel alone.
Again, I can relate this to writing. I can know all that I know from writing most of my life, and from courses taken, and from reading dozens of books on writing, all of which admit to the same struggle, and still feel as if I’m alone with my struggle, and as if it shouldn’t continue to happen. The advice in the writing books, (after the admissions of ‘banging one’s head against the wall’ dry spells, reams of crumpled drafts, and total and complete uncertainty), is almost word-for-word the same as the advice in A Course of Love: just be who you are. Okay. Tell me something I don’t know.
All that matters is being true to yourself. You feel like a wimp. You feel in need of courage. You keep getting humbled. The ground keeps moving beneath your feet.
So, you keep at it. You come, at first, to recognize what doesn’t feel right. With writing, you can think you wrote the greatest essay you’ve ever written. You turn off the computer, go to bed, and the next morning can’t believe you thought it was good at all. It’s awful. It’s being on the freeway and not being able to tell if you’re in Memphis or Portland. It’s got nothing that distinguishes it from what anyone else on the planet could have written: no heart, no guts, no gumption, no shine. With the desire to be a true, and mature, and spirited self, you become aware of something that feels like an obligation. Suddenly, “I wasn’t being myself just then,” feels awful. You hate it. You wish you weren’t even aware of it. But you are, and painfully so.
“I wasn’t being myself. I wasn’t being true.”
It grows and grows, out of all proportion to the seriousness of the situation in which you weren’t true. You can’t stand it …even if the way in which you weren’t being yourself was just in being overly nice. If you were writing, you’d be glad to have the chance for a do-over. You wouldn’t care if you had to do fifty drafts first. Not being true, you feel like a wimp. You feel in need of courage. You keep getting humbled. The ground keeps moving beneath your feet.
This is A Course of Love.
You kind of forget everything but being true. Here I am, talking about writing instead of telling you what A Course of Love is about. But when I say I’d like you to know how it’s been for me with A Course of Love, I mean I’d like to talk about the challenges we share…the challenges that go along with being who we are. This is what A Course of Love invites us into, and the best way for me to explain it is to tell you what it’s felt like to me.
I’m not talking about higher consciousness or spirit, or at least not that alone. I’m talking about how tough it is to be a person, a true human being, carrying around our higher consciousness, and our lofty spirits like duffle bags…as if they are add-ons. A Course of Love is about putting those burdens down. They’re not going anywhere without us. They’re fine. It’s not them we need to work on. It’s this self that keeps trying to carry them.
I’m not talking about the ego either. When we were kids, we used to say someone who “thought too much of themselves” had a big head. Our parents would say, “Who do you think you are, the Queen of Sheba?” We had no idea who the Queen of Sheba was, but it was obvious thinking too much of herself was very bad. I wasn’t aware of thinking too little of myself being of the ego until I read A Course in Miracles. Then I couldn’t believe it…not so much that the ego was also the mean and belittling voice, but that apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had that voice within me. (Who knew?)
I’d read A Course in Miracles seven times before there was even a hint that a new “course in miracles for the heart” was going to come to me. The first hint was a dream I had, about a year and a half prior, that told me I could no longer sell my mind for money, my mind now belonged to God. I was pretty sure I was being told that if I’d leave my job, some new work for God would show up, but I wasn’t eager to do it. That’s when I first began to feel a new mental incapacity, as if I was being made so incapable that I would have no choice but to leave my job. After I did, it was eight months more before the next clues came, and then only when I got desperate. In my desperation, I turned to ACIM, which I’d put away for a while, and opened it at random. The first words I saw, in the Course’s Manual for Teachers, were “Help is here.” The teachers of teachers then began to guide me toward the announcement of what it was Jesus wanted my mind for, and this guidance was then aided when my soul sister, Mary Love, told me of a dream she’d had about a new course in miracles.
The way Jesus chose to get past my defenses to the real me, was by replacing the thoughts of my mind, letting that incapacity broaden, and letting a new capacity come. The departure of those thoughts that weren’t me, and their replacement with “thoughts I didn’t think,” left the way open for my heart to be captured by the relationship…a relationship of love that felt very personal in that “closer than breathing” way.
Then there was “what Jesus said.” He said the time of the Holy Spirit (our helper) is behind us, and that the time of Christ (our identity) is upon us. It’s time, he said, to elevate the Self of form, to end learning, enter dialogue as who we are, and create the new.
As A Course in Miracles reader, I knew from the onset that my thinking needed to change, and that I was being shown some ways that could happen. I considered ACIM the greatest spiritual text I’d ever read. But I didn’t feel like I had to “get” every part of it, any more than I felt I had to know the Bible backwards and forwards to be Christian. So, I never did identify every struggle I had as caused by the ego, and I didn’t even when Jesus repeated much of his cautionary tale at the start of ACOL. But Jesus moves us along, (really, you have to read the Combined Volume cover-to-cover to experience the movement), and addresses us differently as we begin to return to our true nature.
Being true is no cake walk. I feel as if I’ve experienced every pitfall known to humankind. I felt called to a way of solitude about two years after receiving the course. Even with time and quiet and an absence of external influences, I still got caught up in one thing and another. I was told once (by the great voice) to quit strewing garbage before myself and this course. I was also told to quit being lofty and to fall to the ground like a leaf. I’ve been down in the dirt a lot, and having gotten used to it, I’m planning to stay.
It gets easier. Knowing when you’re not being true, you won’t even have to challenge yourself to be more aware. You’ll be so aware that you’ll let fewer and fewer people, feelings, and situations control you. Your roles won’t hold you. Your guilt won’t exert the same influence (if any). You may still listen when people say, “You can’t think of yourself that way,” but you might eventually shoot back, “Why can’t I?”
You’ll find yourself to be the truth you must be true to. The end of the story is the same. When the false is gone, the true is left in its place. The false isn’t “out there” it’s in you, and the “true” isn’t “out there.” It’s you. When you are who you are, there is an acceptance, not of something gained, but of something given being finally received.
Freedom to be who you are is a peculiar thing. As soon as you begin to realize it, and to realize it comes of being true, you also see that being true becomes an obligation in the best sense of the word. It still makes me a little nervous though, and I still get anxious when talking about this work. Our selves are so precious, so unique. It feels so inappropriate sometimes to talk of who “we” are. But you might say I know just enough to know that you get to be you, and I get to be me, and that this is the only combination that can combine into a new we.
I know we’re free to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to err and grieve and turn to love again. I know we’re free to be friendly and personal and to laugh until we cry and love until it hurts, and that by just admitting it, we can give each other lots of solace, make room to be fully who we are and, at the same time, open space for new knowing to come.
Acceptance, rather than rejection of who we are, is the path. . . .
The only one who can stop you now is yourself.
The only permission you ever needed was your own.
(The Dialogues, Day 9.3-4)