Susan Dugan ~ Runaway Bunny


Runaway Bunny

by Susan Dugan*
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 [as it appeared in the June 2011 Newsletter]

“Read it again, Mama,” my then two-year-old daughter would chant night after night at bedtime. And regardless of how tired I was, I would start over, vaguely conscious even then that my own little bunny would all too soon be running away as all little bunnies eventually do.

“Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away,” I read.

“So he said to his mother, ‘I am running away,’” my daughter would chime in. She loved that part.

“’If you run away,’ said his mother,” I continued, “‘I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.’”

Like most young children, my daughter loved this tale by Margaret Wise Brown concerning a little bunny’s fantasies about striking off on its own, assuming various identities and hell-bent at trading the security of a safe, toasty warren and a parent’s adoration for more alluring horizons. Becoming for example a fish in a trout stream that tries to swim away only to have its mother come after him and fish him out with a pole. My daughter would clap her small hands as the little bunny became a rock on a mountain, a crocus in a garden, a circus performer, and a sailboat in its frenzy for freedom and laugh as the patiently indulgent mother followed in hot pursuit, morphing into a mountain climber, a gardener, a trapeze artist, and a steady wind to blow him back into her loving fold.

“Read it again, Mama,” my daughter would command each time I attempted to close the book. Because, in truth, she liked the descriptions of the bunny’s adventures and the Mama’s chase much more than the ending where the bunny gives up and comes home. She has always been like this. In daycare, instead of clinging and pitching fits like normal children, she would wiggle down off my hip and toddle bravely off toward the playroom calling out names and dispensing hugs like a politician working a fundraiser. I would stand watching as the other parents labored to pry their writhing, wailing spawn from their calves, trying to convince myself that this was a good thing. I had raised a confident child. Still, it was all I could do to resist casting a line and reeling her back in.

Fast forward 16 years and my daughter is mentally and emotionally preparing to leave the family den without so much as a backward glance as all brave bunnies eventually will. Chomping at the bit to forge a new, improved, and more exciting life for herself. I am acutely aware–as we begin her final semester in high school and final varsity soccer season; as we start filling out graduation announcements and planning a celebration for family and friends–that my days as a live-in parent are numbered. As she studies for her final IB exams and weighs final college offers, I am also conscious that the story of The Runaway Bunny is everyone’s story, a story of taking the “tiny mad idea” that we could flee our Father’s all-encompassing, eternal Love and play hide and seek with him in a hallucinated world of which he—remaining thankfully, unalterably sane–knows nothing.

I’m OK with this, I tell myself as I set about whipping up another comfort food classic—macaroni and cheese and tuna noodle casserole and my famous spicy turkey meatloaf—she is, ironically, rarely around long enough anymore to eat. I know I am really trying to assuage my own persistent sense of loss. A nagging regret that defies my growing faith in what A Course in Miracles is saying. Its take on the nature of our closest relationships and the enduring specialness of this specific relationship in particular I still think I want more than the perfect, all-inclusive Love all the seeming fragments of the one child of God continue to pretend to push away.

Then, too, I catch myself watching my daughter sometimes with a deep sense of longing, wishing I could impart what I am learning in A Course in Miracles about our universal authority problem, the ego’s journey into an invented world wherein it continually seeks but never finds itself.  A reenactment of the original journey away from the mind we embarked on when we forgot to laugh at the thought of separating from our creator, choosing instead to follow the ego away from the one mind and then forget we ever had a mind. Assuming bodies–intent on competing both for survival and divine attention and approval–and forging deeper and deeper into a dream of self-imposed exile from perfect, eternal, all-inclusive Love. Cutting deals with others to get our needs met that never work for long enough while continuing to try to entice the ego’s God to follow us into this world and validate our illusions.

But I know we cannot fix or change or spare any of the inhabitants of this world what the Course calls their “curriculum,” not even the ones we literally bring into it. This comes as a particular affront to parents and yet, we can only choose love over fear whenever an opportunity to do so presents itself. We can only choose for the inner teacher of love; thereby teaching love; the inner teacher of invulnerable strength; thereby teaching invulnerable strength.

On the level of form, I find myself grieving what still sometimes feels like my daughter’s impending defection, even as I recognize the time has come for her to give this world’s illusions her best shot. We have outgrown my long fantasized ability to protect and control her and I realize that the faster she experiences all the world has to offer, the more quickly she will learn to resign as her own teacher as we all must eventually do. Still, a part of me wishes I could somehow intervene, somehow spare her the time and disillusionment that eventually propels us to finally plead for a better way.

Sometimes I still wish I could just convince my daughter to accept the ending to The Runaway Bunny, wherein the little bunny realizes it might just as well stay put and reap the benefits of maternal nurturing and the mother rewards him with a big, fat carrot. But I know too much about how this dream works now. Besides, that would require me to accept it myself and I am not quite there yet, still invested in this world at least when it comes to the fate of my little bunny as I swallow another spoon of baked mashed potatoes in her behalf and wait with my little dog for my daughter to come home.

~*~

*Susan Dugan is an A Course in Miracles student and teacher blogging about practicing ACIM’s extraordinary forgiveness at www.foraysinforgiveness.com. Her collection of personal forgiveness essays, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness was recently published by O-Books and is now available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-Ordinary-Forgiveness-Susan-Dugan/dp/1846945585. She appears in the documentary A Course in Miracles: The Movie along with premier Course Scholar and Teacher Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, best-selling Course Author Gary Renard, and Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Vieira, Take Me To Truth: Undoing the Ego.

 

Susan Dugan ~ Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness

Crusader Rabbit Retires
by Susan Dugan*
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 [as it appeared in the March 2011 Newsletter]

By far the most popular of the humiliating nicknames I endured in junior high (Susan of Arc, Susan of Troy, etc.) was “Crusader Rabbit;” in honor of the TV cartoon character of the same name whose efforts to save the day from his nemesis Dudley Nightshade in constant reruns enthralled my brother Michael and I  when we were little. Like Crusader Rabbit, I seemed to have come in with a keen eye for folly and an insatiable appetite for justice that belied mild-mannered first impressions.

I spent my childhood taking on neighborhood bullies and rescuing injured birds and animals.  In fifth grade I organized our class to remotely “adopt” a Korean child. By junior high, I attempted to launch Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests within a community then referred to as Nixon’s “Silent Majority” for reasons that defied logic given the frequency and volume of their opinions. Although I theoretically had access to persuasion through my role as student council president and newspaper editor I had yet to learn that no amount of cajoling, educating, or bargaining could necessarily convince someone to change his mind. And I did not yet understand that morality in this world exists only in the eye of the beholder.

I spent another two decades seeking and never really finding justice in one way or another–through political activism, volunteering, and the written word–an exhausting and ultimately isolating experience. I couldn’t figure out why people of my generation—even some of my friends–did not share the same perception of the world’s troubles let alone solutions I did. More importantly, I didn’t comprehend why nothing I worked for ever seemed to make a lasting difference, or why even when participating in groups in which members shared a common mission conflict and divisiveness reigned.  It wasn’t until I found A Course in Miracles 7 years ago that I began to realize I had been looking for justice where it can never be found, but with a little willingness to admit it wasn’t working could begin to seek and find a better way.

And yet, here I am again this morning bemoaning injustice; contemplating, for instance, the many ways in which lives appear to be randomly plucked from this world for no apparent reason. And wondering again how to answer the question of why when it comes to the subject of physical and emotional suffering. Culminating in death as it inevitably does for every embodied one of us who first get to witness its seeming brutality in those we love and finally confront for ourselves.

I suppose I found myself once more seduced into believing the ego’s world could offer any sane answers based, as it is, on the insane idea of fragmenting invulnerable, perfect wholeness. The “tiny mad idea” A Course in Miracles tells us the one child of God took seriously at the very beginning thereby seemingly fracturing invulnerable oneness and propelling itself into an entire hallucinated universe of forms competing for their very survival. Programmed to sooner or later self-destruct to prove they existed at God’s expense in the first place but completely unconscious of that original belief. I mean, really?

And yet, in grappling with the sudden death of a healthy, young person close to someone I love this past week, struggling to console the seemingly inconsolable; I discovered anew just how invested I still am in what A Course in Miracles refers to as “the hierarchy of illusions.” The idea we share that some problems are greater or lesser than others. That the injustice of someone cutting in line at the supermarket or on the highway for example pales before the injustice of a terrorist attack; the death of an elderly person in his sleep after a long, full life somehow makes more sense than the loss of an innocent child or an admired, generous person in the prime of her life.

Within the ego thought system, of course, such logic holds, along with the belief that God works in mysterious ways and has his own reasons for calling us home. But the ego’s God–like the thought system that engendered it—is; how to put this nicely: seriously disturbed. Unconsciously informed by and invested in it as we are, the only solution–regardless how trivial or conversely painful, unfair, and catastrophic the problem appears—remains calling on the sane part of our mind for help. Actively engaging the memory of eternal, perfect, all-inclusive safety and wholeness that followed us into the dream and patiently awaits our call to heal our mind in every circumstance.

“It is not difficult to understand the reasons why you do not ask the Holy Spirit to solve all problems for you. He has not greater difficulty in resolving some than others. Every problem is the same to Him, because each one is solved in just the same respect and through the same approach. The aspects that need solving do not change, whatever form the problem seems to take.” (A Course in Miracles, Chapter 26, II. Many Forms; One Correction)

And there’s the rub, from the ego’s point of view. What happens if we begin to depend on the part of our mind that sees beyond all illusory problems to the same old story of separation taken seriously at the beginning and offers us the same deeply comforting answer: it never happened; we remain awake in God dreaming of exile? Our blind and deaf allegiance to and belief in the ego eventually weakens while its frightening story that always ends the same heart-breaking way disappears into the ether from which it sprang.

Note to self: Crusader Rabbit needs to retire. He will never vanquish Dudley Nightshade. But the child within all of us that screams out for justice in the perceived face of this world’s bitter ways can find true, enduring, inalterable solace where it always resides. Patiently waiting in our one mind, providing healing instants of relief and release each time the injustice of the ego thought system in all its guises rears its ugly head and we remember to ask for help in seeing truly. We will be in pain until our confusion about where all seeming problems lie is healed. Then we will awaken to find ourselves eternally united within the perfect Love we never really left; fused with an infinitely living and loving God that is, thank God, oblivious to our silly dream of individualized, finite banishment.

“The one mistake in any form has one correction. There is no loss; to think there is, is a mistake… You who believe it safe to give but some mistakes to be corrected while you keep the others to yourself, remember this: Justice is total. There is no such thing as partial justice…Think, then, how great your own release will be when you are willing to receive correction for all your problems. You will not keep one, for pain in any form you will not want.”

When we look with the part of our mind that can truly see all problems reveal themselves for the ravings of a terrified mind tortured by guilt over a crime that never occurred. In gently accepting the certainty of shared innocence and protection the Holy Spirit offers for ourselves, we can confidently comfort others. Without speaking one word about this Course, allowing words filled with compassion for the injustice of the condition those of us in bodies all find ourselves in to simply flow from our forever indivisible heart. Internally resolved to awaken through forgiveness by changing our inner teacher again and again until all lingering guilt over the thought of separation dissolves and we open our eyes together on our true, invulnerable nature.

~*~

*Susan Dugan is an A Course in Miracles student, teacher, and writer. She posts weekly about practicing ACIM’s extraordinary forgiveness in an ordinary life at www.foraysinforgiveness.com. A collection of her forgiveness essays, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness is being published March 25, 20011 by O-Books and is available at amazon.com. Pre-order here.

Susan Dugan

 

Some Things Will Never End
by Susan Dugan*
*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
[as it appeared in the February 2011 Newsletter]

This essay was excerpted from her book of personal forgiveness essays, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, being published by O-Books March 25, 2011.

My teenage daughter had been chosen to sing a duet in her high school’s end-of-the-year POPS concert. In his fifteen years in the role, the choirmaster had only chosen freshman for solos once before. It made my daughter feel special. I am sorry to say it made me feel pretty damn special, too.

As a very young girl I had written plays and coerced my brothers, neighborhood children, and even an aging Labrador Retriever into performing for the adults in our basement and backyard. By the time I got to high school, however, stage fright prevented me from ever auditioning for a leading role again. I resigned myself to lead singer and dancer in the chorus, all the while pining away for the spotlight I once relished. Now my karma had come full circle—enabling my daughter to make the debut my descent into shyness had preempted.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those neurotic Stage Mom’s consumed with winning a spot for their weary spawn on American Idol. I had never pushed my daughter into anything–on the outside, anyway. In my parallel ego universe, however, I sat at a Singer sewing machine stitching imaginary costumes, my daughter’s musical theatre career spinning bobbin-like out in my twisted little wrong mind.

She rehearsed at school over the next couple weeks while continuing to play her starting position on the JV soccer team through the trials and tribulations of what passes for spring in Colorado. A sky lobbing handfuls of slush one minute, unleashing a faucet of pollen the next. At one of her games the wind tossed the goal into the air like a candy wrapper. Girls from both teams stormed the field to the rescue, wrestling it back into place like Circus acrobats. The losing season forged on.

My daughter had inherited my severe tree allergies among other special qualities. Her eyes had taken on the haggard look of our neighbor’s hound. Just days before her performance, I took her to her voice lesson. Ten minutes in her voice failed and her teacher called it off. With all these voice metaphors floating around you’d think it might have registered on me which voice I had been listening to. But seduced by our promise of specialness, I had already sided with the voice for fear.

For the next three days I obeyed the ego’s instructions like a marionette, flailing and hovering over my daughter, pumping her with tea and honey, vitamins, Chinese herbal concoctions, and salt water gargles as she continued to rehearse, play ball, and struggle to complete final school projects. Two days before the first night of two consecutive evening performances, the choirmaster yanked her from soccer practice to attend the dress rehearsal. The soccer team had a game scheduled the next day three hours before the performance. That night, my exhausted, nerve-wracked teenager climbed into bed with me, something she had not done in years. I tossed and turned in sympathy with her seeming plight.

That Thursday dawned with temperatures in the 20s. Schizophrenic moisture—alternating from snow to rain to sleet and back again—doused fields, lawns, and blossom-swollen trees. I fretted over my daughter as she left that morning. Even though I do not believe in interfering at school I emailed the choirmaster and asked him to yank her again should the league go through with the game despite the weather. He politely explained that only performances trumped games and since she had time to do both his hands were tied.

The big night came. I sat in the audience agonizing through the entire first act, the program balled in my sweaty palm. I could barely breathe as she stepped on to the stage and began performing “Some Things Are Meant To Be from the musical Little Women. The song recounts the end of the relationship between Jo and her younger sister Beth, who is dying.

Some things are meant to be,
the clouds moving fast and free.
The sun on a silver sea.
A sky that’s bright and blue.
And some things will never end.
The thrill of our magic ride.
The love that I feel inside for you.

Talk about special. I could see my daughter was nervous. She did not reach for the notes during crescendos as she normally would. Still, her voice did not crack once. She did not forget her lines or burst into tears, or, thankfully, scan the audience for my anxious eyes. She got through it. It was just a performance, after all. Nothing inside her had changed because her mouth went dry and her leg shook and her voice met her only seventy-five percent of the way. Her magnificence—the truth in her that had temporarily slipped my puny mind—remained intact.

I sat humbled, watching at last with my right mind, the truth in us both. Our specialness faded along with the spotlight on my daughter and her friend as their lovely young voices grew still. Concluding a song about the body’s thrill ride and inevitable demise. Unrelated or fettered by the real love we are.

Some things will never end.

The next morning I congratulated her again, longing to say something to make up for the seeming error of my ways.

“I’m sorry if I’ve been kind of an idiot lately,” I began.

She set her glass of juice down on the counter. Here comes Psycho Mom again, I could almost hear her say.

“It’s just that I’ve never had a fifteen-year-old daughter before, you know?”

When she was little she would crawl into my lap, sandwich my face in her small hands.

“Remember when I was the Mama, and you were the baby?” she would say, sending shivers down my spine. She still gave me shivers.

She smiled. “Fifteen-and-a half,” she said.

~*~

*Susan Dugan is a writer, student, and teacher of A Course in Miracles. This essay was excerpted from her book of personal forgiveness essays, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, being published by O-Books March 25, 2011. She chronicles her journey applying the Course’sextraordinary forgiveness in an ordinary life at www.foraysinforgiveness.com.

 

 

 

Susan Dugan

 

The Snake Goes Blind

By Susan Dugan*
~*~*~*~*~
[as it appeared in the November 2010 Newsletter]
  

 

They say the snake goes blind

while shedding its skin

and in its blindness finally sees.

Do I need you like

the snake needs grass

to conceal itself

as it grows a new hide?

Or the ice needs dust

the pearl, a grain of sand

to form around, a speck

of rust to find another

hand to clasp

a heart to trust?

The musician speaks of silence

packed between the notes

the space between the phrase.

May my words long used

as weapons now give your days

the silence of your true self

not yet worn; dying to be born.

 

*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:http://www.foraysinforgiveness.com. A collection of her forgiveness essays has been accepted for publication by O Books.

 

 

 

 

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: http://www.foraysinforgiveness.com. A collection of her forgiveness essays has been accepted for publication by O Books. 

Susan Dugan


THIS is the WORK
 

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

 

            The first Lent following my First Communion I got the hare-brained idea of attending 6 a.m. mass every day before school at the Holy Name church about a mile down the road, and somehow talked my brother into joining me for the sake of his rotten soul. I would set my little windup alarm for 5:15, slip into a jumper, pull on my winter coat, and start down the big hill from our house with Michael, doing our best to avoid killing ourselves on the ice. Working a pink plastic rosary inside a white rabbit muff I had gotten for Christmas along with a matching cap.
 
         In my memory it was always sleeting or spitting snow those dark, hollow mornings; trees groaning and rattling in despair. For once we never spoke, as if the sound of our own voices in the stillness might alert lurking predators. Surely God would take note of such sacrifice, I reasoned. Surely such devotion would whittle years off the sentence in purgatory our constant bickering and vying for parental attention had already cost us.
 
         I am thinking about the practice of sacrificing ourselves in a pathetic effort to win back God’s love, the love we think we squandered when the tiny mad idea of individuality dawned in the one Son of God’s mind and we believed it. Thinking about the sin, guilt, and fear at the core of the ego thought system described in A Course in Miracles.  A thought system that drives our behavior in this illusory world and eliminates the possibility of ever experiencing enduring, unconditional love.A thought system engendered by a false belief in differentiated selves unconsciously mired in guilt over the “sin” of separation, terrified of punishment, and literally hell-bent on holding someone else responsible to prove their relative innocence. I am thinking about all this because my parents are visiting from upstate New York and as I dropped them off at the Catholic Church near our house (aptly named Most Precious Blood) several distinct memories from my Catholic youth resurfaced for reconsideration.
 
         “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault,” I would chant, along with my fellow parishioners, kneeling on worn red velvet-covered kneelers, banging our fists to our chests in our efforts to make the sin of separation from God and the need to atone for it real. I passed out a lot in church back then. Partly from the heat (for mysterious reasons no one removed their coats), partly from low blood sugar (you could not eat before Communion), and partly from extreme anxiety over accidentally nibbling on Jesus.
 
         Sister Scholastica had instructed us before we made our First Communion to make stunt wafers by mashing that squishy white bread everybody ate back then with our palms, cutting it into rounds with a juice glass or cookie cutter, and allowing it to melt on our tongues without touching it with our teeth. This was Christ’s body after all and people who wanted to get into heaven didn’t go around chewing on bodies, especially holy ones. It took practice. Like the real wafer, the stand-in stuck to the roof of your mouth and required robust tongue scraping to remove and eventually swallow. 
 
         I am thinking about the idea of sin, guilt, and fear alive in the Catholic ritual of converting Christ’s body and blood into bread and wine that we might literally partake of his innocence versus the Course’s concept of communion in which we remember our essential innocence by recognizing our mistaken belief that anything outside our mind can jeopardize it. As we turn that error in perception over to Jesus/the Holy Spirit/right mind our dark projections disappear in the light of true awareness that knows we remain healed, whole, and eternally loved.
 
         We do this through forgiveness, the process through which we learn to identify the hidden motive of guilt behind our addictive urge to blame others for our suffering. And to turn our attacking thoughts over to the part of our mind that remembers there is no one to blame because wholeness remains whole. We remain resting in God’s mind as we always have and will, dreaming a silly dream of exile from which we can awaken once we have generalized the lesson of forgiveness to everyone and thing. Remembering we are not broken as we acknowledge you have not broken me.
 
This is the work.
 
         I have been asking lately (OK, begging) for Jesus (that symbol of the awakened mind) to help me remove the blocks I have erected to keep the one and only real love that exists-an all-inclusive love that has nothing to do with this all-exclusive world–away. To help me remove all the chatter I have generated to prevent me from hearing that voice, all the clutter I have projected to obscure that vision. The answer I received?
 
This is the work.
 
         The last few days as I entertained my parents, fought a bad cold and a bad back: I kept hearing that phrase over and over as I caught myself beginning to react, to make something external responsible for my internal state. This is the work of forgiveness. This mother, this father, this daughter, this husband, this body, these friends, this table of 24 in a Chinese restaurant in Boulder that all asked for separate checks. This waiter who forgot our condiments, a napkin, the water, this man on the mall folding himself into a 20 x 20 inch plastic cube for money. The goose feces in the park the dog kept trying to eat, the bald eagle landing on a tree in the middle of a frozen lake that took our breath away, these keys locked in a running car by an ego mind driven to distraction. This runny nose and sore throat; these children growing up and away.
 
         As I sat listening to one of my husband’s stories at another restaurant that failed to live up to its reputation a wave of appreciation shuddered through me. I lost track of myself and experienced a sense of oneness with everyone at the table, in the restaurant, and passing by the glass outside. I had experienced something similar a couple weeks earlier at our neighborhood Starbuck’s as I passed a homeless man warming his hands around a paper cup of free coffee and leaning his elbows on a table. I could feel his exhaustion and recognized it as my own. That recognition somehow spawned a sense of utter completeness and comfort.
 
         A few days later while pulling out of a parking lot a woman walked in front of my car diagonally without looking. Just a few years ago I would have rushed to judge such behavior but this time I didn’t react.  I could only see her from behind, her back bent under the weight of satchels on both shoulders, nearly buckled by the weight of this existence. As I stepped on the brakes I lost track of which one of us I was. Her burden (symbolic of the guilt we all carry over the bogus “crime” of separation) became my own for an instant before vanishing in the incredible lightness of our right mind as the car ground to a halt and I caught my breath at the wonder of it. 
 
         This is the gift the work of forgiveness brings. Recognizing how much I want to project the guilt I’m seldom even aware I’m carrying over having pushed God’s love away onto someone else and choosing again for a better way I become more and more right-minded. More and more willing to see only common interests. More and more aware that I lose nothing by giving up what hurts me. Until sometimes, forgiveness just seems to spontaneously happen. I recognize my right-mindedness as I reach for the muscle of judgment I have spent most of my life building only to find it happily disabled. 
 
         By practicing forgiveness every time I catch myself holding someone or thing external responsible for my internal state the judgment muscle weakens, the forgiveness muscle strengthens, and I experience moments where I am truly watching with Jesus above the battleground. Having lost track of this false self and its special agendas. This is the true communion I am more and more ready to swallow, the healing of our seemingly split mind the work of forgiveness brings.  

  ~*~
 
*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: http://www.foraysinforgiveness.com. A collection of her forgiveness essays has been accepted for publication by O Books. 
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