On Looking Back, and Beginning

comments 23
Christ / Course Ideas

This year I realized that in so many ways, I have scarcely begun.  The difference this time, is that having orienteered my way around the mountain in a great and unwitting circle– riding out storms and then reveling in the graceful vacuum of their departure, plotting the next day’s course based on a strange mash of signs, principles and self-argument, being nourished by glimpses of colored bird and flower, by moments of heartfelt communion with the vision of a snowy summit– this discovery of my old bivouac site is a reason for laughter.

A yearning that once meant everything to me has been seen through entirely.  The punchline is plain to see in the cold ashes of last year’s fire.  The once hot embers have mixed with the vastness of night, with the compulsions of day, with wind, mud and rain, and now seedlings of grass are poking through like stars in an underworld sky.  I have returned to find this place already taken back from me by the embrace of life’s unshakable ebb and flow.  I have a memory of a place that is no longer.  It was given for a moment, and has been dancing with the whole of the universe ever since.  I danced, too, that night, with everything, and then I too, felt the relationships and pulls of life move through me.

Returning to the start, I realize I have always been there.  I realize how carefully I was held in my imagining of everything else.  I realize how far I aim to reach, how meaningful each heartfelt feeling truly is, how each one touches every point in the galaxy.  Returning to the start, I realize also how filled with notions I was, and remain, and how those notions spun around and flipped over and moved in and through one another all year long, as if responding to a chaotic magnetism.  Yet here I am.  Back at the ashes of last year’s beginning.  Building a new fire.


Walking in a circle isn’t a bad thing.  Walking in a sacred circle around our Self is the ceremony of one year.  We walk through hopes and fears, through dreams and desires, through choice and consequence.  Walking through the doubts and trials of experience is the way we catch a glimpse of what was never at risk, as if our notions must be perturbed by the baton of experience in order to vibrate far enough from their protective posts at the periphery of our world to reveal a glimpse of what was always invulnerable within us, quietly tucked inside.  Walking in a great circle through seasons and storms is the only way to understand we carried the entrance to the heart of the mountain with us, inside of us, with every step.

Having moved through such transient experience, only to arrive at the beginning, we see it.  Without guilt or blame or shame, we laugh with it.  Because we see it without the baggage of what has already been, and perceive what is truly offered, it is a joyous discovery.  It… is the truth of us.

How many glimpses does it take, though, before we willingly trade all that we have made for all that is offered?  What led me off the trail, into the trees perhaps, in search of some wisp of magic?  What fears kept me from walking the next bend, and caused me to set off backcountry on my own, avoiding what I merely thought lay ahead, but was truly always within me?

In A Course of Love Jesus talks about the laws of man and the laws of God, and how our hearts are the cause of experience itself, but our notions– the constructs and beliefs of our minds, which adhere to either the laws of man or the laws of God– determine their felt character.  The thought system to which we adhere defines the boundaries of our experience.  The thought system to which we adhere defines what is for each of us, real.

Thus, what is needed to eclipse suffering is an experience of the reality of the thought system of truth.  For with this experience we would at last discover, and accept, the solid ground on which we have always stood, knowing it not.  No more circling, looking for signs.  No more wondering if it could be, or have been, another way.  No more uncertainty and doubt, as our notions are flipped up, down and around by the weather of circumstance.  Only truth.

Getting beyond a thought system can be harrowing work.  We may wander around the mountain a few times, returning to the beginning.  With each return, however, we see the gifts that have accrued in our pack: the gift of seeing what our allegiance to a particular thought system has brought us.  I see now how frequently I was pulled into dilemmas of thought this year: how I compared my experience to others, how certain I was at times that I would be more fulfilled through certain accomplishments, how my thoughts provoked me into feeling wronged or on the outside of what I deserved, how the laws of man demanded that I take particular types of action against another, how the laws of man goad us into feeling we are not living if we’re not risking it all for something, how the laws of man provoke us into moving swiftly to protect an advantage, an insight, or a dream, how the laws of man compel us to protect and defend– in short, how the laws of man insist we must always be on the look-out, always vigilant, always seeking for the moment or achievement that will make us into something true, to protect against that which could destroy us.  Neither concern is meaningful within the thought system of truth.

The beginning is a point, a marker, and each time I return to it from one wild goose chase or another, I have the chance to remain.  I have the chance to sit with the fire for a little while, to remember after a few long nights of thoughtless detoxification how to hear its whispers, how to commune with every point in space at once.  I have a chance to remain, and keep the embers hot, and make a place for friends to gather.  For I know that in the end, the experience that shatters the past somehow involves a fresh vision of everyone, a sharing back and forth of the truth, like the passing of a cup of living waters.  None of our responses to the laws of man matter, or make us who we are in the least.  Compassion is knowing no one is who they think they are, or are trying to be or not be.

When we remain by the fire, others show up.  They literally materialize out of the night.  They were already there, waiting.  In the laws of God, our secret realities merge, and one by one we realize we’ve all been circling back to the same fire, looking for one another, looking for the only reality that matters, for the spark we find alive in each of us.  It is not that the laws of man limit the actions we would take in this world– that the world would be a better place if we were all fit for a Nike commercial– but that the laws of man blind us to one another, blind us to the certainty that can only be found in the reality flowing through every single heart.


  1. Brilliant Michael, just the reminders and signposts that I needed today. Focus on what truly matters, quit chasing jobs, money, doing and even being. Simply look for the divine in all and share our living heart waters.
    Thank you….


    • Thank you, Brad. Part of what is written here is about realizing a deepening peace with what is in front of us, with what is given us to do, with what must be done. It is about less chasing of images, less being run by the world’s imperatives, and a deepening satisfaction with what is here now, by which we find a greater ability to share ourselves with it, to engage it in its beautiful entirety, and thereby to deepen and expand it…

      Glad you resonated with it, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Having moved through such transient experience, only to arrive at the beginning . . . the beginning is a point, a marker, and each time I return to it from one wild goose chase or another, I have the chance to remain.”

    A very beautiful and open-hearted article Michael, in which my mind seemed pleasingly to link your thoughts to those of Eliot’s in Burnt Norton:

    What might have been and what has been, point to one end, which is always present. . .
    . . . Only through time, time is conquered.


      • Oh, thank you so much Eric; I am delighted that you approve. There does seem to be a connection between what Michael is pointing to and that which T.S. Eliot did in Four Quartets. Let’s wait and see what the creator himself says though. All best wishes to you dear Eric.


    • Thank you, Hariod. I did very much enjoy the piece of that poem from T.S. Eliot. It defies commentary, though, doesn’t it!? 🙂

      I like that phrase: only through time, time is conquered. There is a beautiful opportunity this life affords us, to reconcile time and timelessness, to discover what resides at their intersection. Part of what A Course of Love suggests is that we can come to embody timelessness within time, and by doing so, to enable a world to arise in which life continues to express through our various forms, but freed of the suffering with which it has for so long been attended.

      Movement into this space feels like a mode shift of sorts. A shift in perception enabled by grace.

      Love to you, my friend.


  3. Thanks Michael, it happens that I’m thinking about something similar right now; returning to the beginning only to discover there’s nothing there except a marker left the last time I visited; no beginning, no end, just the cycle. Parallel thoughts at this time of year, coincidence… and I liked this: ‘When we remain by the fire, others show up… literally materialize out of the night… were already there, waiting.’ So I’ve found my way here through the darkness to be by your fire for a short while; the curious fascination of it. Also the fire that’s gone out, extinguished, a nibbana symbol:
    [ http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/nibbana.html ]
    It was the daylight view of it, returning to the ‘cold ashes of last year’s fire [and] the seedlings of grass are poking through’. There’s some kind of deep memory or something about this image – thanks for all of it, nowadays in these tropical places I hardly ever experience the glowing embers…


    • Thank you for being here, Tiramit. I’m trying to imagine a climate in which fire doesn’t belong, while staring down an ice storm on the docket for tomorrow. There is something great about a good fire, the flutter of light across the face of the coals as oxygen washes past, the sparks that spit, hover and dance, the warmth. Fire has a way of going to work on you. I’m thankful to have found my way back to one… to the newness that rises from the ashes…

      Much Love


  4. Your writing here has me just wanting to dwell sipping from a cup by the fire, resting from the circling a bit, floating on words: “The thought system to which we adhere defines the boundaries of our experience. The thought system to which we adhere defines what is for each of us, real.” I’ve just spent a whole semester trying to articulate these two sentences, often unsuccessfully, according to the laws of man, but oh what a learning for the teacher. (Will circle around this truth again next semester with the aid of hariod’s connecting poem!:) I also am drinking from this cup of compassion, recognizing this truth; it is this seeing finally, through, where compassion is so beautifully accessible without efforting toward it! Thank you Michael!


    • Thank you for sharing this cup, Marga, for materializing as it were. Sit and rest for a bit before returning to your newfound seas. I can only imagine the challenge of trying to teach such knowings in the classroom, and can see what great opportunities would arise from extending yourself in such a beautiful way. I am sure your students benefit tremendously, whether they are entirely grokking it or not… We take for granted too often it seems those ones who are sent to offer a smile and a deeper direction as we circumnavigate the mountain…



  5. This writing has reminded me of a poem by Rumi,

    Out beyond ideas
    of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
    there is a field.

    I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down,
    In that grass,
    The world is too full to talk about.

    Ideas, language,
    Even the phrase ‘each other’
    do not make any sense.

    I think you have found that field my friend, in your fiery and ashy Beginning. The fire, to me is both alive and destructive, while the ashes seem more not alive, yet are used as potent fertilizers in gardens. Thus, both are alive and not alive, constructive and destructive; a song of life and death and renewal and return, in unison.

    I like where you are. I, like Marga, wish to sit by your fire, or even its ashes, and undefine every experience. Rather, just to feel, just to live, just to be, just to flow from fire to ash and back again.

    Beautiful writing, and very poignant to wrap the year in lessons and blessings. Perhaps the in our journey round the sun, or round the mountain, in the coming year, we shall all carry a lighter load, dropping our unnecessary belief systems into your fire. Good fertilizer for the next time we come complete the circle, to the spot we never left. 🙂


    • Bring on the Rumi! I am quite certain he will be seated at more than a few fires as we roll around the sun towards the season of introspection. Fire is amazing, really. And of course it has a primal calling during this time of shortened days and frigid nights. Now is when we realize the way it tethers us to all of life. I have pulled a few all-nighters seated by the fire and after a time you start to realize it’s a window into things, a whirling heart, a contented radiance.

      Undefining experience is the key to moving beyond the laws of man I think. So many things I thought meant one thing or another, threatened one thing or another, signified one thing or another– have simply passed. That field Rumi describes is perhaps what truly remains. When all experience has been undefined…



  6. Dear Michael,

    So lovely! …and especially this:

    “Walking in a great circle through seasons and storms is the only way to understand we carried the entrance to the heart of the mountain with us, inside of us, with every step.”

    It’s just sometimes hard to see or remember such immediacy is always ours, it cannot leave us, but we can think we leave it.

    Here’s to the fire, it is alive and your mention of it is perffectly synchronous to the retreat I just returned from. Yes, others showed up, seemingly strangers at first, but only to find out that we have never been apart. Through the smoke and fog, I thought I saw you there too.

    Much love and blessings for the coming new year,


    • Thank you, Debra. The retreat sounds lovely, the way you describe discovering timeless connections with seeming strangers. I think we have that possibility with just about anyone if we share an alignment of thought and an openness to truly witnessing one another. So much of the daily bustle precludes this. It is a strange dynamic when I stop to think about it.

      Finding that immediacy in daily live is where we find the beauty and meaning tucked away in the core of life. Thanks for your presence here, my friend. It is always a joy.


      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so lovely Michael. I tried walking the path with you using my inner vision and the labyrinth came to mind as well as the spiral. Perhaps you were also waiting for me by the fire when you appeared ” out of nowhere” to volunteer for my blogging challenge. I am really enjoying your blog. You are such a gifted writer with an open heart clearly guiding your musings.



    • Thank you very much, Linda. I like the labyrinth image, and it never came to mind while writing, which makes the recognition that much more of a sweet ‘aha’… There is a lot of imagery in A Course of Love about learning through unlearning, of moving forward by stepping back, of retracing old haunts with new vision, and I think the labyrinth is a perfect visual “map” of the process. Thanks for keeping a seat open by your own fire, and for taking the time to read here with presence.


      Liked by 1 person

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