Transcending Choice

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Course Ideas

One of the core concepts of A Course of Love is contained in the statement, “There is no loss, only gain.”  While there are a number of contexts in which this sentiment offers an opportunity for a deepening understanding of what is meant by the term unity within the Course, recent events in my own life as well as events observed in the lives of those around me have led me to reflect upon its relevance to the types of changes that threaten to strip away a particular way of life.

It is one thing to speak of being fearless and taking on the challenges we pick out for ourselves, and another to apply it to changes that seem to strike without our consent and dismantle core elements of our lives– changes such as the closure of the local mill in which a person has spent the better part of his or her adult life working, the loss of the family farm in the face of drought and the pressures of worldwide commoditization, the dissolution of a child’s family as his or her parents pull away from one another, or the forced abrogation of one’s cultural heritage by the ruling authority.

Where is the gain in these events?

How does one assert trust in what is, when the particular vehicles that once served as conduits of sustenance, love and meaning crumble around us?  Sometimes I think it’s even worse when they but threaten to crumble, and manage to cling to an indeterminate state, teetering and gasping, their fate held in some invisible balance.  That’s when the certainty so easily proffered during a boon starts to feel real dry in the throat– hollow and parched.  Should we accept what is coming, and just move on?  Or is this the moment we’ve read about… the time to make our stand?

What does trust even look like in these moments?  Does it look like unshakable trust in a particular outcome?  Is acceptance of what seems apparent in the trends a lame resignation, the first in a series of sliding tumbles that reinforce our limitations?  If we were fearless, committed and clear in our intentions, could we turn the tables?  What if we gave ourselves wholly to the pursuit of an outcome, and failed?  What if we bet the last resources at our disposal, and came up empty-handed?  What does trust mean, when suddenly one is encircled by a platoon of such risky alternatives?

Don’t the wise people we admire avoid these situations altogether somehow…?

All of these questions, I think, lie on the near side of embracing the statement offered at the outset, “There is no loss, only gain.”

My inner responses of late to the rather minor wobbles in my own life highlight the extent to which the experience of separation, as opposed to the experience of unity, leverages the ever-changing flow of creation into the deep-seated feeling of crisis– usurps the ever-present stream of grace and twists it into the mirage of existential threat.  When we find ourselves facing life in the arena of risk and threat, egoic perception has established home field advantage.  With the whole stadium clamoring for a decision, for an identity-forging act of will, it is all but impossible to hear the gentle whispers of unity.  This is the state from which the ego, or the experience of separation, derives its (non-existent) power.  This is when its offer of seeming protection is most tantalizing and attractive.  This is when the insane idea of forging a truly independent existence, an identity born of its own efforts and accomplishments, is most alluring.

Do you see what your trust has brought you?  Is it not time to give up these fool games and idle dreams of freedom, and buckle the @#$% down?

Never mind that you’re already about as buckled as buckled gets…  Seldom does the drive to succeed and accomplish– to strive and overcome, to engage and outwit, to assert our strength and will– burn brighter than in these moments.  We can come under incredible interior pressure to make a decision of magnitude, and while it is entirely true that our relationship with the heart of creation begs for a response, the distortion of the moment precludes any genuine response, leaving only the barren field of choice.

Choice… barren?

In A Course of Love, Jesus describes the experience of unity as being one that is free of choice.  What is the difference between offering a response, and making a choice?  Everything, I am discovering.

Choice is the means of navigating the experience of separation, the primary mechanism we use to establish ourselves as the cause of who we are, the evidence that we are responsible for our own lives, a power unto ourselves.  Choice is what we are faced with after eating that psychedelic fruit in the Garden, the fruit that turns our vision of the world upside down by shifting the experience of meaning and identity from the seamless expanse of being to the stories told by our personal histories and accomplishments.  Choice and blame arise together, as everything occurring in such a world must be the product of someone’s choice, and if the choices are not the right ones, things go wrong.  And loss is epidemic in a world based upon choosing.

A response is not a choice, but a communication, an act of relationship, a movement rooted in trust.  Trust is implicit in offering a response because in relationship each response is a movement that alters the stance of all participants.  All of what is moves together.  A response shifts the totality into new terrain.  One response evokes another.  What arises from response cannot be known in advance, and responses don’t have the same repercussions as choosing.  A response isn’t an attempt to make something of ourselves, with the possibility of success or failure, but the offering of what one has to give.  In this there can be no failure.

Choice has no place in unity, where the nature of our being has already been determined.  How could choice matter, when our identity is no longer up for debate?  Fueled by the recognition that there is no loss, only gain, and freed of the need to make the right choices, thereby demonstrating our prowess at navigating this upside down realm of separation and loss, what response would we offer?


  1. Wow! What a powerful and unique perspective Michael. I’m liking these posts that are more instructive and clear, rooted in life insights. I’ve never heard this view of choice. You might be turning my world view on its head. Or more accurately, turning it back to heart and unity. Thanks!


    • Hi Brad,

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Brad! That “unique perspective” was given to me, and now is given to you! While posts such as these may seem instructive, I think of them more as research notes to my friends and colleagues, as one voice in a flowing conversation. Sometimes writing is a way of working with ideas that brings in a combination of additional insights and self-reflections that helps me understand the whole process better. I’m glad in such cases they are helpful to others, whose insights are always helping me…


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael, this is so beautiful and you are so articulate. I was enthralled (and had big body rushes).

    The line that stuck out for me was “And loss is epidemic in a world based upon choosing.” This is spot on for me. Thank you.



    • Your welcome, Sarah. Thank you for reading all that! Yes, it is difficult to accept/realize that loss is an idea, or an interpretation– a mode of experiencing. We want to be “right” about these particular ideas or interpretations most of all sometimes. It is not necessarily the idea of our germinating inner genius that we will refuse to release, but the idea that loss has struck before, and will strike again.

      There is discussion about “breaking the chain” within various recovery communities, and though I have only participated peripherally, I can see how at times it must feel like we are each carrying the accrued weight of generations. And this is true, I think. Changing one’s very mode of perception– such as adopting and working internally with the awareness that loss and lack are but ways of perceiving– can almost be a revolt against history. While shifting out of false modes of perceiving is truly the shift away from isolation to unity, ironically it seems to involve a certain standing on our own… a reclaiming of our natural selves.



  3. At the considerable risk of being perceived as a bit of a wind-bag, may I make a few observations here on your quite lengthy and detailed article Michael? None of what follows ought to be seen as taking issue with your stance, such as I perceive it, but merely how things appear through my own prism of experience. In fact, what follows is very largely in accord with your own conclusions and which you set out so eloquently and thoroughly in this most interesting and perceptive article.

    The statement ”There is no loss, only gain”, whilst true at the level of ontological or supramundane knowledge accumulation, is not true at the consensus or mundane level of our supposed reality. This is why in Eastern philosophical traditions it is repeatedly stated that we gain absolutely nothing in actualizing the apogee of any doctrine contained in those traditions. The reductive and analytic methodology of some such doctrines is a ’via negativa’, or discriminating way referred to in Sanskrit as ’neti, neti’, meaning ’not this, not this’, wherein all mundane concepts of self and the world come to be understood as manifestations of a nondual noumenon and as without having independent existence. So this is a very different approach to a faith-based system, though arguably, and in some instances, both may be seen as having the same aim.

    Coming back to notions of gain and loss, we see that we gain nothing by cleaving to these mundane concepts of self and the world, all of which are devoid of substantiality and independent existence – they cannot produce lasting satisfaction or understanding of our true nature; they are empty of self-nature, are dependently arisen and impermanent. So the consensus reality that is the mundane perception of things cannot ever offer any gain in terms of a unicity, which alone issues by means of transcendence or immanence. One way of looking at it is as if we were reversing away from the conditioned world of thingness, and in a sense, leaving it all behind as effectively a loss. The ‘loss’ however, is beneficial, as it is the abandonment of erroneous thinking. And once all erroneous thoughts are abandoned, what remains is the unconditioned, or if you like, a supramundane unicity. Here then, there is in another sense a gain, though it is a ‘gain’ occurring as a result of loss or negation. It is not a gain made by any imagined self, as the ‘self’ itself is lost as a concept both in regard to our own being as well as to all external phenomena.

    You ask: ’How does one assert trust in what is?’ and further speak to the question of certainty. I think one way of responding here is in the full acknowledgment that our notions of selfhood as agents of choice and control are fundamentally misplaced. To trust in something implies that we might have some control over it, or control over its occurrence as it relates to us, that could otherwise be exerted should we not have that trust in it. The ‘trust’, the ‘control’ and the ‘choice’ are only psychical appearances though. They are in essence processes that are entirely conditioned by myriad phenomena yet are not produced by any agent of selfhood, which itself is illusory. Whilst we firmly believe that we (as the self-entity) consciously make choices as we go through life, controlling our circumstances as we go, we do not. All apparent choices are conditioned; and it is an illusion borne largely of our proprioceptive sense (somatosensory perception), and intra-psychic experience, that give the self to believe it is an agent of choice. In fact, the limbic system largely determines the outcome of these apparent choices. This means that we ‘feel’ our way into the apparent choice from an array of known alternatives which themselves exist dependent only upon conditioned factors of experience and which therefore, together with our pre-existing and innate proclivities, lead only to one outcome. No self makes any choice; no self can exert control; no self has any efficacy whether asserting trust or in mistrusting. There are only the responses of which you speak Michael.

    Thank you for this wonderfully comprehensive and clear article.



    • Hello Hariod,

      Thank you for adding your perspectives here, which I think are clearly pointing to the very same insights. Approaching them from various angles is always helpful to me, and presumably to others, and I appreciate your taking the time to add them as it adds so much to the discussion here.

      Clearly there are particular modes of perceiving in which any given change would be perceived as yielding loss, and other modes of perceiving in which the false notions of self, and most if not all attending ideas of what is valuable or desirable, fall away. From the latter mode of experiencing, the loss is precisely as you say: the beneficial abandonment (loss) of falsehood, to be replaced with the experience of unity.

      In reflecting on what you have written here, I think one area of fertile ground for further dialogue from which I may benefit would be in the area of trust. While I can understand the discussion you provided regarding trust, and the notion that it is a moot point if one considers trust to be intimately related to “our notions of selfhood as agents of choice and control”, this leaves some questions for me. If you are so willing, it seems an interesting thread to follow.

      First, I am drawn to consider the role of trust in human relationships. I don’t believe that trusting another implies control over them per se, but I do think trust is one of several fundamental determinants affecting the experience of being in relationship, and the range of pathways the relationship is enabled to pursue. It is not to say that if I trust another, they will provide more of what I desire, or behave in ways that I prefer. Rather, I am inclined to suggest that without trust, behaviors and communications will be misperceived and misinterpreted, the ability to be vulnerable in the relationship will be undermined, authenticity will be difficult if not impossible to sustain, and ultimately the ability of the relationship to provide one or both participants with a vehicle for deeper modes of being, self-discovery, and self-expression will be compromised.

      I would like to suggest that as creative extensions of that which creates, and as beings in unbreakable relationship with all that is likewise, there is a manner in which the relationships that give rise to the field of creation may also be stunted through lack of trust. In a sense, there is a way in which lack of trust affects that which arises within experience. I think that as one completes the shift from identification with the egoic self to the experience of unity, the issue of trust indeed becomes moot, but trust strikes me as a most potent catalyst. And while the self has no more agency over creation than over one’s partner in a relationship, I think trust can engender modes of perceiving that enable the flow of creation to pass more readily through us without distortion or conditioning.

      So, in writing this I have moved in circles, and discover I agree with what you have written in your paragraph on trust, though it may not be obvious. Clearly trust does not exert any agency, but in its absence, our freedom to be participatory expressions of the unified field of what is, is hindered. And in its presence, creation blooms for fully. And as the constrictions and shackles of the ego are lifted entirely, it may not be meaningful to speak of trust at all.



      • Hi Michael, you say ‘I don’t believe that trusting another implies control over them per se.’ and this of course is perfectly true in so far as we believe we are agents of that same trusting and controlling. I hope you didn’t think I was stating otherwise. What I said was ‘To trust in something implies that we might have some control over it, or control over its occurrence as it relates to us, that could otherwise be exerted should we not have that trust in it.’ So this means that the control is only exercised, apparently by the self as agent, in the absence of trust; though as we both accept, the self has no autonomous agency! So what is this ‘control’ then if not exerted by any agent of selfhood? We can only reliably say that it comes back to valencies (or active forces) of the nervous system and the psychical conditioned tendencies that arise upon the system’s given state or condition. So as I said, ‘trust’, ‘control’ and ‘choice’ are only psychical appearances, the origin and effects or outcomes of which in fact having their origination completely outside the realm of the meaning of those terms, each of which implies an active and conscious agent for their exercise. This isn’t speculative philosophy; it’s been tested for over 40 years ever since Benjamin Libet came up with his ‘Time On’ theory of conscious choice. Neither is it an escape into an unhelpful reductionism. It is just what can be reliably said, and is evidenced both in the lab and in transcendent experience.

        So I think we have to bear in mind in this discussion Michael, that on the one hand we’re playing with ideas which make perfect sense in the consensus reality – the place where we all agree that ‘I choose’, ‘I trust’ and ‘I control’ – and the ultimate reality in which the ‘I’ as a self is rendered meaningless. So in your 4th. paragraph, and for some of the 5th., you’re talking in terms of the consensus reality wherein we can happily talk about ‘choosing’, ‘trusting’ and ‘controlling’. However, in any experience of non-duality/ unicity/noumenon/God/Moksha (call it what we will), such terms are redundant, or at least are seen as constructs of the mind which issue as a result of a false belief in an enduringly instantiated self-entity.



        • Hariod,

          I do think I misinterpreted your earlier statement. It sounds to me now as though you are saying trust is a prerogative of those who have the ability (or incorrectly perceived ability as the case may be) to exercise control over someone or something else, and that if one in such a position did not trust that other someone or something, then they would exercise that prerogative. While I can understand how that would be a form of trust, it wasn’t the type of trust I was entertaining inwardly on this end. I thought originally you were suggesting that trust was an empty promise, in the sense that if we think giving our trust to another will be rewarded with some sort of reciprocity we may be seeking, then such a proposition would merely be a delusion of one’s psyche to link trust (or faith) with the experiences that arise in our lives.

          It seems we were thinking precisely opposite about the recipient of such trust in our equally valid formulations. In your statement the “receiver” of the trust is one whom the “giver” of trust presumes they have some control over, and in my statement I was imagining the “giver” of trust having no control over the “receiver”, though if there is a genuine relationship between the two parties, trust is sort of a tacit acknowledgment that the two parties will mutually respond to one another in ways that are in keeping with the nature of the relationship. Trust in the sense I was envisioning it implies a level of mutual knowing, and mutual responsiveness.

          And so in the context of this piece, I am suggesting it is possible to experience relationship between oneself and creation, and that trust is a determinant in deepening the experience of mutuality, of recognizing giving and receiving being the continuous flow, or interchange, of creation in which needs are ultimately met regardless of the types of changes that appear to threaten the conduits of love, meaning, or sustenance to which one might have temporarily “attached”. I will even go so far as to suggest that relationship and unity are integral and do not stand in an “either or” position with one another.

          I am not familiar with Libet’s work, and a quick perusal of the web seems to indicate that particular forms of brain activity associated with powering up the movement of the body have been proven to temporally precede other forms of brain activity associated with becoming aware of the will to move, suggesting the lack of agency or choice, as the moment of cognitive decision comes after the initiation of the movement. This is an interesting thread I would love to follow, but I fear I have already prattled on too long, so another day perhaps…

          Much Love


  4. I find these words, “A response is…a communication, an act of relationship, a movement rooted in trust. Trust is implicit in offering a response because in relationship each response is a movement that alters the stance of all participants,” echo improv philosophy. I think choice in the art of improv may be equated with when one actor has a plan, an idea, an agenda, and he/she begins steering instead of discovering with a partner. Response is the act of offering while not knowing what comes next. We all know of loss, fearful controlling, bottomless bottomless sorrow of separate, the slow dawning realization that the death grip on the rudder is not even steering the boat, and the realization our improv partners have moved on because we weren’t even present in the scene. The phrase, “there is no loss, only gain,” seems advanced — does it ever sting and twist some up inside? The gain, after experiencing it, is apparent, yet years and years in dawning. Moving, man, the way you get it down; I am a monkey with a keyboard (which is fun, most days), watching picasso paint in his sleep. 🙂


    • Marga,

      I don’t really know anything about improv, but trying to imagine it, this makes complete sense to me. I cracked up at your question, “does it ever sting and twist some up inside?” I don’t know. Uhmmm… every day? They are a series of red pills, I think. In thinking about this, and in looking back to my experience of reading and responding to Hariod a few moments ago, it strikes me as important to recognize that these ideas planted in A Course of Love, and all the other places they are given and reside, are temporary aids. Like vehicles that allow experience to modulate until it converges upon that which is free of distortion and suffering.

      On the electric grid, generators that are coming on-line vary their speed and frequency until they coincide with all others, and then they can “synchronize” with the entire system and pick up a portion of the load. Then they’re more or less “locked in” to the movement of the whole, though always able to vary their own contribution within certain functional boundaries. But trying to function while being slightly out of phase with the whole causes a generator to labor considerably, and every aspect of its basic function becomes less efficient (more difficult). I think it is like this with us… We’re just tweaking these inner settings, and noting the way experience shifts, and being nudged into alignment with a wholeness from which we are able to be who we are with far greater ease and freedom.



      • Michael,
        The machines synching up has my woo woo meter clicking 😉 Such is the prerogative of one who stands on square one in the learning curve in so many topics. Square one is great fun – everything is learnable and most things are interesting and I gain the kindness and sympathies of some who have experience and know how. I wander Home Depot and gather tools and knowledge given very lovingly from strangers. My tool chest is growing at least for the temporal 🙂 ! Strangely, I think I had a bit of an experience with this synching up this week; if I am incorrect, I hope that you will correct me. On the boat, there are two levers (one for each engine) to increase/decrease the rpms. If the motors were aligned exactly alike, you would move the levers along together to increase speed, but when i did that, they sounded like they were out of synch and straining. I had to move one up a bit further so that they could exactly match in their rpms(I think- but I have in my mind also, vibration, and frequency) and then the motors sounded happy. Is this similar. Logically, why would it not be okay for one motor next to the other to be slightly higher or lower, but it just sounded wrong. I might blush a bit if I’m totally off, but square one here lets me wonder out loud and laugh. Nudging, winking, synching up with the motors I wish to align with. Thank you so much Michael for letting me participate from square one! marga


        • Marga,

          I am standing in square one with you as it relates to what I presume to be outboard engine controls? Your situation I think is the same as, but different than the electric grid analogy. Sometimes operating in synchrony is good, like the grid, and sometimes it can be not good, like when an excitation resonates with a vibratory mode of a solid object and causes it to shake apart.

          Not knowing anything more than I do, it could be that when the two engines are at close to the same running speed, but not exactly matching, there is a slow rolling “beat” frequency that develops, that may sound like the two are straining. But it may simply be that because one is firing just slightly faster than the other, a lower frequency rumble can be heard as they come in and out of phase with one another. When they are precisely out of phase, there is a cancellation, and when they are precisely in phase, there is an augmentation, and because one is slightly faster or slower than the other, they move in and out of these states with regular rhythm– fairly quick, but obviously slower than the normal engine noise. The resulting pulsation may sound as if they are straining or laboring. Shifting the relative speeds you may find operating modes where this effect is far less pronounced. But I could be completely off.

          Whenever you have to reciprocating pieces of machinery in close proximity there are all kinds of things that could be going on… Vibrations can cause all sorts of unexpected phenomena…



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