Susan Dugan

Come With Nothing to Find Everything

by Susan Dugan*
[as it appeared in the September 2010 Newsletter]



Catching a quick bite to eat last weekend our daughter informed us that a friend’s older sister, a college sophomore, had been killed that morning along with her boyfriend in a rollover car accident on a lonesome stretch of highway. Waves of emotion washed over me. I vividly recalled sitting next to the girl’s mother at a soccer game two years ago when she received a call on her cell phone from this same daughter who had just been involved in a fender-bender in a nearby shopping center parking lot. Her hushed voice on the phone attempting to calm her new driver down, the worry lines deepening on her forehead seemed to offer a preview for me–then mother of a high school freshman–of the potholes that lay but a few twists and turns down the parenting road.


I recalled running into her husband and their younger daughter at Starbucks, chatting about the latest failure of the refs to call dangerous illegal moves on our daughters’ basketball team, violations that resulted in a variety of injuries. He ordered a latte, I think, a double chai for his little girl, completely unaware of the minefield awaiting them a scant two years down the highway, when a huge chunk of all he most valued abruptly and inexplicably vanished.


I do not know these people well. Even so; I could barely get a grip on myself the other night. I am at an age where random, brutal things are beginning to attack the bodies of my contemporaries, at an age where signs of physical deterioration are just beginning to gain on me, where the mirror seems daily to reveal further proof of my impending demise. Where every goodbye to my daughter as she takes off in her little blue car feels like a wrenching leap of faith. Because like everyone else on the planet I am at an age where a momentary lapse in focus made by brains designed for lapses can trigger tragedy and the “premature” death of two children four parents loved with all their hearts. 


I have been a bit a crybaby lately, unable to “deny the denial of truth” as A Course in Miracles would have us do. To deny the idea that we exist only as finite beings striving to survive in a competitive world in which our every gain means another’s loss. To deny that original denial of truth we made when we followed the ego into a fragmented world made mad by the illusion of guilt over the preposterous idea of separation from our source. Where pleasure comes in temporary packages that—like treasures enclosed in children’s birthday presents–fades almost immediately upon opening. Where our self-worth springs from unreliable external affirmation rather than what we are. Where the “love” we experience through bodies usually fails us over time but sometimes violently combusts without warning. Where our days are numbered and our passions all too quickly burn away.


That is what I am struggling to accept this morning as I attempt to embrace A Course in Miracles workbook lesson 133, “I will not value what is valueless.” The shocked faces of this mother and father and their daughters flashing slide-show like in my brain, interspersed with images of my own daughter who has seemed so distant and elusive lately and will all too soon be heading off to college if all goes well. Looking at just how much I value the ego’s story. How deeply I identify with this horrible tragedy that has seemed to envelop this innocent family. How real it seems. How its brutality nonetheless preserves the notion of separate, special individuals vying for happiness and survival in an impossible world. A notion I can more easily accept and forgive when it involves looking at my attraction to receiving acknowledgement for hard work or lusting after a trip to Europe, for example. But find much harder to accept when it involves the bodies of a family that too closely mirrors my own and brings me face to face with a loss I doubt the self I still think I am could recover from.   


When I allow myself to accept the help always available from our loving inner teacher I remember that A Course in Miracles does not ask us to forfeit the world’s pleasures or deny that we treasure our children and our own bodies and psyches above all else. It does ask us to be honest about how much we depend on those bodies to feed an inner sense of peace, or blame them for disrupting it. A fragile peace a single moment of distraction on a high-speed freeway can obliterate. To begin to understand that a world made as a literal projection of the guilt in the one mind over the belief that it separated from its creator is based on the lie that eternal loving wholeness could be divided against itself.


There is no safety here. The lesson, too, does not mince words about the impossibility of ever finding enduring happiness in this world.


“This course does not attempt to take from you the little that you have. It does not try to substitute utopian ideas for satisfactions which the world contains. There are no satisfactions in the world.”


The Course offers us criteria by which to measure all things we think we want and value, versus the one unified, indivisible, stable love we think we forever pushed away, the one love that will solve all our problems and heal all our apparent losses.


“Each choice you make brings everything to you or nothing. Therefore, if you learn the tests by which you can distinguish everything from nothing, you will make a better choice.”  


  1. Does it last? If it doesn’t; it is of the ego; a projection of the guilt in the one mind designed to keep us searching outside ourselves for the innocence we think we lost. Instead of returning to the one mind where the original choice for the illusion of separation began and choosing again for an inner teacher that remembers our innocence for us.
  2. Can I really get it from outside myself? For a little while; maybe. But no one or thing can ever fill the hole in our proverbial hearts we carry over our perceived loss of God’s eternal love, calm our fear of punishment, or mend our tattered mind. In this world based on the unconscious idea that we have destroyed love we must constantly seek outside ourselves for a substitute, giving to get, and further enhancing a sense of guilt over literally getting away with murder.
  3. What is its purpose? To further the ego’s case for separation and prove I exist at your expense or to return me to the mind where I can choose to remember my true, one, loving self that could never triumph over another or lose the innocence it has never left.
  4. Does it induce guilt? Informed by the ego mind we will value that which increases our disquieting sense of getting away with something–reminiscent of the horrible guilt we feel over that original choice for separation—because it appears to prove we exist. And we will attempt to get rid of our guilt by blaming it on someone or thing outside ourselves to prove ourselves the innocent victim, still autonomous but worthy of our creator’s forgiveness.


Over and over again A Course in Miracles tells us our peace of mind depends on which inner teacher we choose: the advocate for separation, fear, guilt, death, and punishment, or the advocate for the truth that we remain resting in God, dreaming of exile. I know this to be true. I know that I will find the solace of my real self when I am willing to get out of the way and receive it because I have found it before.


“Heaven itself is reached with empty hands and open minds, which come with nothing to find everything and claim it as their own.”


Again and again I have experienced the peace of mind forgiveness brings while looking with our inner teacher at illusions. But this one just seems too close for comfort. There is this sense of having somehow dodged a bullet meant for me and mine; this time, anyway. I am afraid for myself, afraid for my daughter, afraid for us all. Feeling the pain of these parents grieving two lives just getting started cut short I am a crybaby this morning. Resisting the truth that only my thoughts can hurt me when confronted by such graphic “evidence” to the contrary. Fused in my fear with their grief in this dream I continue to dream.


There is too much “something” in my mind at the moment to find everything. Too much guilt; too much fear. This does not make me a bad A Course in Miracles student, I remind myself; just a frightened one. And it shows me just how attached I still am to what the Course calls this “special self.” This finite individual identity I think I have mistakenly traded for infinite, indivisible love. Something I must observe with help from our inner teacher to learn I want to let it go. And so once more pleading with a voice outside the dream to want to find a better way, I wait.


*Susan Dugan is a student and teacher of A Course in Miracles living in Denver, Colorado. She shares her journey practicing the Course’s extraordinary forgiveness in an ordinary life on her blog: A collection of her forgiveness essays has been accepted for publication by O Books. 

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