"When I realise that some part of my life is acting to distract me from hearing God's guidance or following that guidance wholeheartedly, it is time to simplify my life by subtracting that distraction." (Lloyd Lee Wilson, Journal of the North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative))
I'm fortunate in that I've never had an addiction to alcohol or drugs, and I don't smoke. When it comes to chocolate and other indulgences, I'm good at rationing myself. I do like my oatcakes and green tea – but as food 'addictions' go, they're not exactly the worst. If I do have a vice, it's been to spend too much time on the internet.
After a busy day at work, or sometimes at weekends if I'm at home, I find it tempting to switch on my laptop and go online. It doesn't happen very often, but on occasions I might still be sat there three hours later. It's not that I'm necessarily doing anything 'worthwhile' – like researching a new novel or booking on a workshop. Rather, the longer I'm at the computer screen, the harder I find it to drag myself away. Do I really need to know the latest Polish third division football scores? Effectively, I'm wasting the day.
As an antidote to this minor addiction, I've recently decided to put my laptop away at the end of each session. I disconnect the mouse, put the computer and its power lead away in their case, and hide the case in my cupboard.
I find that, if the computer is put away out of sight, I'm less likely to succumb to a casual whim to log onto it when I'm feeling stressed at the end of a long day. Going onto the computer now requires a little more effort – even the simple act of having to retrieve the laptop from its case in the wardrobe makes me think twice before going ahead. When I do choose to log in now, it's because there is something specific I need to do. It's become a more conscious choice. I'm mindful as I open the cupboard door; as I unzip the laptop case; as I place the machine on my desk. I've found that going through these simple actions with full attention prevents my mind from wandering – and from being distracted by soundbites or diversions when I am on-line.
"We are each obliged to use our time, abilities, strength, money, material possessions, and other resources in a spirit of love, aware that we hold these gifts in trust and that we are responsible for using them wisely." (Inter Mountain Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, 2009)
"...The capacity to apprehend the One in the many constitutes the special responsibility of those who would dwell in love."
(Faith & Practice. A Book of Christian Discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Extracts 37: Daniel A. Seeger, 1994.)
I always sleep with a pen and note-pad by my bedside table. They were called into action in the small hours of last night as I woke with these thoughts, prompted by my study of Chapter 14, Section III of A Course in Miracles the previous evening… (I had to get up half way through, as my biro ran out of ink. Note to self: In future, keep two pens by my bedside table!)
Though we wear masks of innocence and see our occasional transgressions as justified, at an unconscious level, we feel guilty for the seeming act of choosing, through separation, to cut ourselves off from God. Our sense of guilt is reinforced each time we look at another with even a hint of judgment or condemnation, and do not see them as a Child of God. Every day, even before the cock crows, we deny the Son of God in our thoughts, seeing him or her as a body and not as part of our Self. But our errors - be they unkind (untrue) thoughts, or words or deeds - cannot harm the other person and do not affect the truth of Who they are. Our ‘crime’ is therefore an imagined one that takes place only in this dream of forms.
Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time I was writing the novel, Escape to Redemption is an exploration of these same ideas. Josie inadvertently shoots someone. Initially, she tries to justify what she did. Soon, though, she is overwhelmed by guilt. Kogut (a student of A Course in Miracles who himself has a shady past) attempts to reassure her that, since “nothing real can be threatened”, even her serious crime does not alter the truth of Who she is.
Can a part of God be guilty? Is there anything that is not a part of God?
If the answer to both of these questions is ‘no’ then, as a part of God, I (that of God in me, my True Self) cannot be guilty. I must be innocent.
How will I come to accept this? By seeing my brothers and sisters as innocent too. By looking past their mistakes (which are simply calls for love) and seeing only the Christ in them. In other words, it is through forgiveness - over-looking others’ seeming errors and beholding only the eternal truth of Who they are - that I can set aside my own feelings of guilt.
“There is nothing to forgive. No one can hurt the Son of God. His guilt is wholly without cause, and being without cause, cannot exist.” (A Course in Miracles, Text, Chapter 14.III.5-7.)
The expression "to answer that of God in everyone" is well-known in Quaker circles. But what does it mean? This is what came to me in a quiet time recently:
To "answer that of God" is to experience a moment of joining with another person, a holy instant in which, at some deep level, we recognize that 'other' as our Self.
The start of the year is traditionally a time to make resolutions and to refect on our goals for the coming months. A Course in Miracles suggests that we have only one function here. It describes this function variously as "forgiveness", "healing", "happiness", "peace" and "accepting the atonement for ourselves" - all these being essentially the same thing. Forgiveness gives rise to peace; and true peace is impossible until we accept our oneness with All That Is - which equates to healing or remembering our Wholeness. Happiness cannot be our enduring experience while we see ourselves as separate, bound within a body, and at the mercy of forces outside ourselves.
What would it mean to accept the Peace of God as my only goal? How would I organise my time?
As I'm beginning to understand, I wouldn't do so much organising! I'd step back and let my Inner Guide (the Holy Spirit, in the language of the Course) lead the way. There are several things which I would like to do this year, but if I notice I'm becoming attached to outcomes (a sign of this is getting flustered, or doing things in a rush) it means I've given the task itself greater importance than my primary goal of Peace. When I notice this happening, it's time to pause.
Am I doing this activity for my self, or for the good of the Whole? If I'm doing it largely for my own agrandisement, I probably shouldn't be doing it at all. If I am doing it for the greater good, I need to remind myself that the results of my actions are up to the Holy Spirit, not up to me. It may be my part to facilitate a workshop, or to write a book or a blog post, but how it's received is not for me to fret about. It's the ego that asks, "What feedback will I get? How many copies of my book have people bought this month?". Releasing attachments to results will return me to Peace, my primary goal.
I wish you all Joy, Peace and healing in 2017.
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)
My favourite music, books and films tend to be those I find uplifting or inspiring... I prefer things which complement my good mood if I'm already feeling happy, or perk me up if I'm feeling a little down. I've never understood the attraction of violent movies (especially gratuitously violent ones), or books that lack a message of hope. Why would I want to spend my time watching or reading something that will depress me? (That's why I don't tend to read the newspapers either - apart from the refreshing positive Positive News.)
It's a similar story with music. I thought I'd share a few of my favourite tracks and pieces of music... They're a mixed bag, from classical to modern, but what they have in common is a 'high-vibration'. I find them life-affirming, and a few minutes of listening to these invariably lifts my mood. In no particular order...
Hymn by Vangelis (have a listen to this version on YouTube).
Enya: Only Time; Trains and Winter Rains
Katrina and the Waves: Love Shine a Light
Sandra: Everlasting Love
Midnight Oil: Beds Are Burning
Housemartins: Caravan of Love
Elizabethan Serenade by Ronald Binge
Cecilia: Silver Wings
Forgiving and Letting Go (free CD available from Inner Talk)
Stand by Me (Song Around the World version)
The Beatles: Let It Be
John Lennon: Imagine
Mr Mister: Broken Wings
Texas Lightning: No No Never
What are your own uplifting favourites?
Thanks to YouTube, I've discovered the joys of Slow TV. Over the past couple of weeks, I've been experiencing a driver's eye view of the 9-hour train journey from Trondheim to Bodo in northern Norway.
Originally filmed for Norwegian television, it's an epic without a word spoken - where the only drama is when the sun breaks through the clouds. (Having said that, the train does skip a few red lights, so I suppose there's always the possibility of a head-on collision - though five hours into the journey it hasn't happened yet.) I simply sit. And watch. And enjoy the stunning winter-wonderland scenery without worrying about the destination, or how long it's going to take to get there.
Programmes like this - or the two-hour reindeer sleigh ride I watched over Christmas - are an invitation to slow down, take a deep breath, and forget for a while the stresses of fast-paced modern living.
At work, there are usually 101 things to do, and I find myself having to cut corners, to accept 'good enough' when my instinct is to be thorough. From what I gather, it's a similar story in most workplaces. Even in the so-called caring professions, doctors or counsellors are asked to see more clients in less time. As they battle to meet targets, how present can they be? How much time is allowed for them to stop to listen to their clients' needs - spoken or perhaps unsaid? How much loving attention can they give?
Outside of work too, there's a danger in us taking on too much - in filling our leisure hours with so many activities and responsibilities that we're always dashing from one to the next, and never fully present where we are. Rushing seems to me like a subtle form of violence. How much consideration do we show to others when we're so focussed on our never-ending lists of tasks and goals? Is there a risk that we'll end up like the Priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan - both busy men on important errands, no doubt - and pass by on the other side?
I'm now discovering that 'less can be more'. That one unhurried conversation with a close friend nourishes both of us more than any number of rushed chats. That joy is not related to the number of things I do or to how many places I visit, but is a function of my inner state - my being present in the moment whatever I'm doing and wherever I am.
So I take a break. Board again the slow train to Bodo. And let myself enjoy the views.
Peter Parr: Quaker, writer, A Course in Miracles student and former member of the British minigolf team. (Actually those are all just roles I play. Words can't describe who any of us really are.)