Choice and Consequence Part 4: Benevolence

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Course Ideas / Reflections

Part 3 of the series is here.

Last time I wrote about the distinction between unity and separation—the two possible cornerstones of our individual thought systems. Each of these serves as the organizing factor for all that follows in our perceptual navigation of experience. In describing the transition from the state of perfect communication within the primordial state of being—which is unity—to the condition of separation, I noted that “the experience of being separate was granted, but this did not change the nature of reality.”

There are far-reaching implications of this statement that I want to further unpack here, all of which hinge upon the understanding that while unity is the fundamental nature of reality, and thus of ourselves, we are free to have experiences to the contrary. Further, and most importantly, no experience can change what is truly so. This fact establishes benevolence as integral to the structure of reality, and I want to explore why this is the case.

As I noted last time, “something [indeed] went wrong” as a result of the choice for separation. It’s not all fun and games in this world. In order for the consequences of the choice for separation to be experienced without undermining or destroying the fabric of unity, something akin to dreaming had to occur. I don’t wish to imply this is as simple as a fairy tale, but I do wish to suggest that a means of generating experiences arose in response to the choice for separation that allowed for the fulfillment of the request without the possibility of any impacts whatsoever to the primordial state of being. As we are integral to and in unity with the primordial state of being, this means that we were granted the opportunity to experience “unreality” without the possibility of any lasting impacts on our true and given natures.

We call such an adventure illusion, and the theater of such dreams is space and time—the transitory dance of form. As I alluded to in the previous post, the condition of separation involves is a loss of communication with the primordial state of being. It further involves the formation of an identity based on “something else.” The something else that coincides with the separation is an identity within the transient world of form, and specifically, on an individual level, a near complete identification as individualized beings with particular forms. Our bodies. Without such a vehicle, the choice for separation simply couldn’t be experienced. I think this particular point is pretty obvious. Without a localized, finite and seemingly independent vehicle for experience, we couldn’t experience separation at all. (Note it is also possible to identify with unity and to express this knowing in physical form, while maintaining a name and address and occupation and all the unique predilections and loves we hold, but this is to have unity as foundation of one’s thought system, and this is not what I’m attempting to suggest is the root of suffering.)

The existence of suffering in our world is often considered the strongest refutation there is of the notion that the universe is fundamentally benevolent. But I want to present one way of viewing things in which this is an incorrect interpretation, and to show that, in fact, an intervention of the sort many people imagine a benevolent universe would offer is nothing but a projected affirmation of the choice for separation. Were such forms of intervention to be “granted” or “given,” in other words, they would in fact be far more damaging than the alternative forms of difficulty that exist today.

The logic is straightforward but it’s a lot to accept and wrap one’s mind around. First, the experience of separation requires the formation and acceptance of an identity other than the primordial state of being, as noted above. Though this can never be our actual identity, it can be the identity we experience. Second, suffering is the nature of this illusory condition. Suffering is simply a word, and we generally use it to describe the worst-seeming consequences of this choice we’ve made. We’d very much like to argue that while there is indeed suffering, and it’s terrible and unfortunate and quite often incomprehensibly random, there’s also a lot of really great things about the modality of experience we’ve adopted. In other words, we’d like to avoid saying the whole shebang of separateness is related to suffering. But it is. We want pleasure without pain, but this is like wanting warm without cool, youth with age, electricity without magnetism. Pleasure and pain are just points we define along a common spectrum of experience—the particular form of experience derived through body identification, or what I’ve termed “image.”

What happens is we imagine, while still inhabiting the thought system of separation, that if the universe were benevolent, portions of this experience would be filtered out or removed while others remained. The problem is this is tantamount to asking that the illusory identity we’ve adopted be granted the same stability and freedom as unity—that each of us be a kingdom unto oneself. To perhaps oversimplify this, imagine someone decided to stop breathing and then insisted that all the hard parts of that experience be removed so it was really quite pleasurable. One problem is that a body in this condition would die, and the pain that results of this choice is actually intended to be helpful: the consequences of not breathing lead quickly back to breathing. To ask that benevolence simply remove the pain of not breathing is to double-down on the choice not to breathe—to request that we be allowed to enjoy our naïve decision to harm ourselves. Clearly, there would be no benevolence in the granting of such a wish.

But what actually is the problem with a world where no one gets cancer and no one goes hungry and no one is less talented and no one goes without? The answer is nothing. We’re just going about creating it the wrong way—like the hypothetical person in the paragraph above who asks why he or she cannot be allowed to live without breathing. We’re going about the achievement of our desires in a way that is not in accord with the conditions of reality. There are consequences of this, just as there are consequences of releasing an egg from the top of a building. That is all. The perplexing thing is that if we knew how to answer the question of why what we’re doing cannot work, we’d probably stop doing it. But we don’t know the answer, and this makes it difficult to explain.

An aspect of this is that the primordial state of being is sovereign creative freedom. To create is to extend this sovereign creative freedom in novel ways, and so we, too, are sovereign creative freedom. This is our identity in unity. It is who and what we are. Now, in our choice for separation—our question about what it would be like not to breathe—certain consequences arose. They have arisen in the framework of an experience that, while all too real in a sense, is not able to impact the actual state of being we share. We are still sovereign creative freedom, we just don’t know it in a sense. We think and believe we are something else, and our experiences support this conclusion. In this state, the consequences can be difficult, harrowing, horrible, depressing, evil, etc. So why not simply undo what has been done? Or assuming it was possible, simply filter out the parts of this experience we do not like?

These are difficult things for us to understand from the viewpoint of separation, but I think there are two really important answers. The first is that to simply change what we have chosen would be to take away the very sovereign creative freedom that is our genuine nature. This would deprive us of the opportunity to learn and in essence result in our being less “real.” Sure, we could imagine being made into automatons or something that were only allowed to make certain choices, but this would extinguish the very essence of the life that we are. This would destroy our sovereignty and our creative freedom. Such “beings” would no longer be participants in the type of communion and communication that is the hallmark of unity.

Second, and related, we could imagine each of us being allowed to truly be separate from one another and perfectly free to imagine and enjoy whatever we desired. In such a scenario, there’s no one else with a free will in the entire world of our experience: we get whatever we want. It’s just “me.” The problem is we would truly be separated then. We would be lost from one another forever. This wouldn’t simply be a temporary loss, an experiential-illusory-dreaming one, but an eternal one. From the perspective of unity this would be a permanent loss of an element of ourselves—of who we truly are. I just don’t think this is permitted, or even “possible”, aside from the fact I don’t believe it’s truly desirable.

So to suppose that benevolence, if it were in fact a quality of reality, would grant us these strange wishes is insane on the one hand. But I concede it’s not too crazy from the vantage of separation, because from the perspective of our illusory identities we don’t understand there is in fact another resolution to our difficulties. That solution is to stop holding our breath. To breathe again. To place unity at the foundation of our thought systems. The solution is not to be allowed to hold our breath while experiencing only the macabre joy of our expiration, but in a sense this is what we are asking for whenever we try to resolve the issues before us without examining the fundamental choice for separation.

16 Comments

  1. There are some things we know without realizing that we know them. Sometimes they reveal themselves to us, if we are ready. We come into this life with the capability of perceiving existence with our unique perspective. Because of the various kinds of conditioning we are subjected to from birth, this is lost to most. I’m so incredibly fortunate to know people who are reclaiming it, piece by piece, interpreting it, and sharing it with others. I get gloriously lost in the luminous wilderness of your writing, Michael. I’ve been mostly silent for this series, but I’ve been here, and have passed it along to others who have the ability to appreciate it. Keep on shining, my friend.

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    • Julie, I appreciate that you have “witnessed” even in your silences, my efforts here. I cannot explain myself. But we have these things sometimes that–yes–we know without realizing that we know them. And maybe a series like this can help unearth them. I only know I have a desire to share what has arrived in a lifetime to date of questioning and searching…

      Peace
      Michael

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  2. Lee Roetcisoender says

    It is very healthy and productive for you to write about these things because the teacher is the one who learns the most from any lesson plan and equally important, the educator is also the one who keeps an abundant supply of erasures on hand. Over time, I think that you will come to see that even though the schemas of ACIM and ACOL contained useful truths that were instrumental in your transformational process, they are artifacts of that transformation, do not reflect the true nature of reality and have therefore outlived their usefulness.

    Without exception, even though schemas contain fragments of truth, none of the prevailing schemas within human culture reflect the true nature of reality because they are all essentially constructs that are the products of our own making and yet, those same schemas can be productive for some and offensive for others. So, keep it coming my friend and good luck….

    Peace

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lee! I do believe I resonate with your note that what is instrumental in a particular moment, may later be integrated and even transcended. A Course of Love literally encourages this! Haha. But there are truths here I don’t think I would be dissuaded from without considerable evidence to the contrary, and one of them you wrote about in The Immortal Principle: the reality-appearance distinction. Or “reality-appearance metaphysics” as you described it. This is a notion I find to be consistent across multiple/numerous cultural schemas, and while the specific vocabulary in any particular instance may be found lacking–I mean, you can never actually put “it” into words–this notion is one I feel is universal and in some sense valid. I don’t view this as a schema as much as a genuine insight into the nature of things. But how do you see that?

      As to whether or not there are other things in ACIM and ACOL that do not reflect the true nature of reality, I tend to think those things would be contingent things. Particular vocabularies or cosmological notions or ideas about the hierarchy of beings or–I don’t know–culturally specific words for things that live and move in other cultures by other names and maybe even swim in different pools. I’m on board with all of that. But I will confess I find it hard to imagine that certain core tenets will be cast aside. And my intent at some level is to focus on those.

      The notion of “the fall” and the descent into form, though, is an area I can freely, at some level, call a schema or a “story” to tell ourselves to address in short what may actually be something much bigger or different or beyond a particular comprehension at a particular time. This is one I can see evolving or being set aside. But I think it serves the purpose of telling a consistent metaphysical story, even if it is incomplete or in some sense a caricature, of the fundamental psychological and perceptual elements that lead to suffering.

      Did Lucifer rebel? Or did someone get distracted by virtual reality? Or did an innocent question lead to an unexpected set of circumstances? Or did some great cosmological battle between forces I can’t even imagine occur that I don’t have the pay grade to even fathom? These are all things I can’t be sure about. But I do feel sure about the reality-appearance distinction, and the fact that misplaced identification in that strata of being leads to difficulty.

      Appreciate your comments as always, Lee!
      Peace
      Michael

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  3. Lee Roetcisoender says

    I agree with you 100% that the reality/appearance distinction is a genuine insight into the true nature of reality and not a schema. It is a grounding metaphysics or as you would say, an original assumption upon which any reliable, structured form of knowledge is based. Furthermore, I also agree with your assessment that: ” the fact that misplaced identification in that strata of being leads to difficulty.”

    There is no question in my mind that this misplaced identification in that strata of being is responsible for the difficulty of which you speak; it is the Achilles heel of our primary experience. Our primary experience is an experience of isolation where the solipsistic self-model sees itself as separate and distinct from the unification of the whole. “First there is me; that is one thing, then there is everything else.”

    I wouldn’t use the term separation to express our primary experience because the notion of separation is misleading; separation implies a condition that is not a natural state of affairs so to speak. If our understanding is rooted in the reality/appearance distinction, then a state of isolation can be seen as a natural paradigm. it is a natural condition which causes us to invent schemas to explain our existence. In contrast to actively developing schemas, one should be listening to the still heart of persuasive reality and then being persuaded by that reality. Of course, this is easier said then done because our primary experience is predicated upon a paradigm of control whereas being persuaded by the still heart of reality is not grounded in control.

    I think this experience of isolation is best expressed by the Cartesian syndrome where the only thing any and everyone claims to know for certain is that “I exist”. This is a “natural way” of perceiving ourselves and the world around us but nevertheless, it is a “way”. Now having stated that, there is another “way”, and I think what you and I are after is how to best express that “way”. Now this is where I’m going to reference a watershed moment in the history of western civilization and that moment is the Christ event. Long before individuals were identified as Christians, they were known as followers of “that way”. Much of the vocabulary of that watershed moment in history has been preserved but the meaning underlying that vocabulary has been lost plus, the original story has been replaced with another narrative that really has nothing to do with “that way”.

    Peace,

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve just made this whole series worthwhile, Lee, and vanquished any of my former trepidations! I take your points and it seems the areas where words don’t quite mesh are somewhat peripheral. And you write so crisply on these topics!

      I’m curious to know more about what you perceive as the “Christ event” as I think I largely agree with your notes there as well. But I don’t entirely follow them in a specific way as yet either. This may seem foolish to say but I feel a genuine resonance to what you describe as “that ‘way’ ” even if I don’t completely understand the particulars you are describing around the “Christ event.”

      I think when you way “long before individuals were identified as Christians…” you are keeping with the notion that Jesus’ life was the Christ event, but that for a while there wasn’t a structure around it. And yes! I agree… The structure has diluted the original content I feel… But I’m curious what you’re driving at so interested in hearing more.

      Thanks, Lee!
      Peace
      Michael

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      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        The historical figure we recognize as Jesus was the Christ event. More likely than not, he was an individual much like yourself who was interested in sharing his own unique experiences. In a closed religious society, it doesn’t take much to get sideways with the ruling hierarchy of entrenched traditions, especially if one is challenging their metaphysical position and physically turning over the tables of the money changers in their sacred temple, Ha…… But it is clear from the historical texts which contain some of Jesus’ sayings that this individual was on to something.

        One of my favorite saying’s is Mark 1:15. If one substitutes “the kingdom of God” with the word “Reality”, then we have a message that is secular. Repent is the Greek word for change but the mystery remains; change what?. And then finally, believe the good news. The good news is that Reality is at hand; but one has to change the way one thinks or one will not believe it. I mean, this is clearly a message that explicitly implies that we should look to Reality for meaning and not embark on making our own meaning and then attempt to bend Reality to fit that schema.

        In short, this particular text corresponds with the reality/appearance distinction by asserting that we are indeed not the Reality which implicitly implies we are merely the appearance. Yeah, there’s all kinds of interesting nuggets in these narratives. Another interesting story is when the religious leaders asked Jesus to “show us the Father and it will satisfy us” His reply was simple: “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father because we are one.” What this profound assertion leaves out of the narrative is that in order to see Jesus, one has to see what he sees. We can share ideas but unfortunately, we cannot share experiences……

        Thankfully, we live in a more tolerant age so we don’t have to worry too much about being invited to a burning at the stake party where we are the guest of honor.

        Be at peace my friend……

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Lee!

          Yes it is interesting how one can discover these “hidden gems” in these various texts. And I feel that coming to the sorts of conclusions we have involves this subtle but pervasive shift in perception. It’s like you flip one domino the other direction and there is a cascade as all the others flip over with it. This is why a “change” like a metanoia, a change of heart, can be so all-encompassing in terms of its impacts upon our experience of the world.

          There was a blogger I read a long while ago now who wrote extensively about this sort of perspective on Jesus and the Biblical literature. I wish I could find it but I haven’t been able to. If I dig it up I’ll send it along…

          (Lots of scrounging through my comment history…)

          Found it! So maybe it’s a little different but definitely there are elements here of what you described Lee.

          Thanks for the additional info… We’re on the same page about this…

          Michael

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  4. Lee Roetcisoender says

    I hope you don’t mind if I add some additional thoughts here Michael. It can easily be demonstrated by deconstruction theory that facts are of absolutely of no significance in themselves: it’s just as easy to get lost in facts as it is to get lost in fiction and that all of our facts, like all of our reasonings are just a façade. They hide something more essential behind them. And this “something” is reality: pure stillness, a realm in which nothing ever moves or changes, a reality in which everything is intrinsically connected to everything else as an indivisible whole, a whole where no time but the eternal present exists. This is the very reason that pure logic is a mystical lure drawing us into that oneness, drawing us back to reality.

    But what is the metaphysical ground for this reality? The metaphysical ground for this reality is a metaphysics known as the reality/appearance distinction.

    Mind is a pattern recognition system where patterns themselves become the universe of distinguishable things. Rationality is a tool used by this system where those patterns are contrasted against each other in an attempt to derive meaning, a meaning that is absolutely essential for control of any kind. But what happens when all of those patterns burned into our memory are contrasted against that stillness of reality where nothing ever moves or changes? Rationality breaks down at this intersection. As a tool, rationality can take one to the precipice of that impasse but no further…

    However, once the great mystery of the unknown is manifest and therefore made known within us, one then has a tangible reality to contrast against. At this stage of transformation, rationality then once again becomes a useful and productive tool. This is because the stillness of reality becomes a persuasive force within us, united as one in an equal partnership of shared power. It is at this convergent consensus point that unification is complete and our experience including the world around us is seen in its proper context. Being at one with this heretofore unknown reality is a “way” that is systemically different from the “way” expressed by the Cartesian syndrome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lee. . . beautifully and concisely said. I don’t mind at all your additional commentary and were I to try and highlight any particular point I’d end up quoting the whole thing. I have nothing but joy in my heart to add to these words!

      Michael

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  5. galenpearl says

    Fascinating series. The older I get the more I experience the interconnectedness of, well, everything. I can feel it. Sometimes, in rare moments, I can see it. This year I want to be more singularly dedicated to paying attention to alignment, for lack of a better word, with this divine or sacred union. You’ve given me lots to think about. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Galen! Witnessing the way(s) in which this interconnectedness manifests–the way it breaches our normalcy and pokes through the skin of daily life–can be such a lovely experience. Sometimes it overtakes us, and other times I’m certain it flows right by without our noticing the slightest thing. But to behold it is a beautiful experience. I hope you have great success this year, and thank you for reading and sharing your kind words!

      Peace,
      Michael

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  6. Pingback: Choice and Consequence Part 5: Free Will, Learning and Determinism – Embracing Forever

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