I’ve mentioned A Course in Miracles (ACIM or The Course, henceforth) before, and we return to it here with Lesson 5 of the workbook: “I am never upset for the reason I think.”
We are asked to take a few moments each day to notice what is upsetting us and apply this lesson. For example, “I am not angry about police violence for the reason I think” or “I do not hate this sticker on my apple for the reason I think.” The upsets can be big or small and cover all manner of forms (anger, worry, hatred, jealousy, depression, etc.). Although we perceive difference in size and manner of upset, the Course insists that “form does not matter” and that “Applying the same idea to each [upset] separately is the first step in ultimately recognizing they are all the same.” In other words, even the smallest upset is as disturbing to our peace of mind as the largest.
My initial reaction to the lesson was anger: it sounds too similar to that parental accusation of overreacting. It’s not that bad, Cindy. You’re not thinking clearly. But I trust ACIM, so I dove in (after all, I am not angry about this lesson for the reason I think). Here’s a sampling of what I learned:
Upset #1 (“small”): Brushing my teeth.
I do not like to brush my teeth. I do it anyway, twice a day, and I do it well. Nine out of 10 dentists are cautiously impressed with how well I clean my teeth. Impressed at the lack of plaque and cautious because apparently I brush so vigorously that I have caused my gums to recede. For this reason, they (the dentists) have convinced me to invest in an electric toothbrush that stops when you press it too hard against your teeth. But the electric toothbrush forces me to brush for two solid minutes before it shuts off. Kimmy Schmidt advises taking difficult situations 10 seconds at a time because “you can stand anything for 10 seconds.” Some might argue that 10 seconds of waterboarding or other torture seems longer than 10 seconds of teeth-brushing, but I don’t know—maybe the suffering we endure fills our capacity for suffering, whether it’s teeth-cleaning or being repeatedly brought to near-drowning.
Anyway. I deal with my annoyance by moving around. If I can use that two minutes to accomplish something other than cleaning my teeth, it feels more bearable. So I wander from the bathroom to the living room and open all of the blinds (or close them at night). I straighten piles of books or papers. I’ve tried to water the plant but end up spilling either water or glops of toothpaste. Still, every morning and evening I have a moment of soft despair, knowing I will have to brush my teeth again.
I am not annoyed by brushing my teeth for the reason I think.
If you tell me I’m not upset for the reason I think, I’ll immediately feel challenged to list all of the possible reasons. See? my list will say. Nothing gets past my unconscious!
So here’s why I think I’m annoyed, starting at the surface and going deeper:
1. Teeth-brushing adds up to four minutes a day of complete boredom (four and a half, if you include flossing, which I do, by golly!).
2. There is no end. I will have to brush my teeth every day and every night until the day I die with all of my teeth intact.
3. My annoyance covers up a fear that I’m not doing it right, based on a childhood experience of not being able to brush away the red stains from the dental-education pills they gave us in school.
4. Brushing my teeth forces me to be in the moment, reminding me of my fear of the moment, of getting stuck there and never having fun again.
5. Brushing my teeth is, at its most basic, my effort to be good. I have labored under the call to goodness my entire life. I loathe obligation and yet am too fearful to break the rules.
Knowing ACIM, the real reason probably has most to do with number 5. Fear comes from lack of love and is the root of all negative emotions. I only brush my teeth because I think I have to brush my teeth in order to be good, but in truth, I am already perfect, even if my teeth fall out. Better yet, my teeth are part of the illusion of form, and although I may think I’m bound by this illusory world’s rules of cause and effect, in reality I can transcend them. If I believe in my perfection fully, I can think my teeth into perfect health. But because I still labor under the delusion that I have to brush my teeth, I have to brush them, and this inability to transcend form feeds my unconscious anger and fear, which surfaces as an ongoing annoyance.
Done and done.
Upset #2 (“large”): A video going around Facebook:
It’s a Candid Camera-type video of a man pretending to be homeless in LA and offering people money as they walk by. The actor, a healthy, fit-looking man wearing a muscle shirt/hoodie, holds a cardboard sign that says, “No one has ever gone poor by giving.” Several people swear at him when he offers them $10 and tell him, in various ways, to piss off. One woman engages with him politely at first and then seems to get upset when he offers her money, “Are you kidding?” she says, and walks away. Two people kindly try to give him money instead. He almost gets into a fight with a passerby at the end, who gets miffed when actor accuses him of being pretentious.
The point the video wants to make is that people are mostly greedy and arrogant and should instead be giving and humble. My reactions to it cycled quickly through the following:
1. Holy moley, people are mean!
2. What an interesting sociological exercise!
3. I’d better make sure I’m nice to everyone all the time.
4. Um, this guy pretending to be homeless is kind of self-righteous.
5. Yes, this guy’s just being a confrontational jerk.
6. Stupid video.
I’ve remained stuck on reactions 4-6. If I’m not angry about this video for the reason I think I am, then why do I think I’m upset?
· I think I’m angry because self-righteousness in all forms puts me in attack mode. It makes me close off and become argumentative even when I agree with something on principle. For example, I agree that generosity is great, but if you tell me I should be more generous, I’ll suppress my urge to kick you in the shins by laying out an airtight case for being selfish.
The man in the video has a self-righteous message on his cardboard and has that infuriating attitude of “look-at-me-being-so-humble.” Plus, he’s aggressive with people (in that “I’m-not-tryin-to-hurt-anybody-so-if-I-make-you-want-to-fight-me-that’s-on-you” way). In other words, he’s out to get a reaction. He created this video to deceive people into revealing their “true nature,” anticipating, clearly, that people would respond negatively. When you go into the world expecting confrontation, that’s probably what you’re going to get.
· I think I’m angry because I worry that someone will secretly tape me someday and that I’ll reveal my meanness.
· I think I’m angry because if this ‘homeless’ person had tried to offer me money, I would have half-smiled and murmured ‘no thanks’ without making eye contact; if he had kept pushing me to engage with him, I would have felt angry and guilty the rest of the day.
· I think I’m angry because I wish I were better than that. I wish I could fearlessly engage, like the woman in the video who immediately kneels down and talks to him. She’s not afraid that she’ll be mugged, harassed, or stuck in a conversation that will keep her from getting to work on time. Some might say she acted foolishly, without thought for her safety, but I admire her. She didn’t expect to get hurt, so she didn’t. She didn’t separate ‘my’ world from ‘your’ world; she jumped right in.
· I think I’m angry because I don’t want to have to be perfect all the time in order to be considered good.
I would never tell someone to “F*** off” for trying to give me money, but that doesn’t mean that the men who reacted that way are bad people, either. Most people don’t like it when a stranger accosts them, no matter the reason. Most of us don’t like being preached to or made to feel like we aren’t good enough. Some of us are able to swallow our impatience and be polite, some of us aren’t—and this probably changes for each person depending on the day and time.
· I think I’m angry because the actor is trying to vilify people for having a genuine, honest reaction. Their reaction represents where they are on their journey, how they feel about themselves, what they are afraid of. We don’t have to judge it. We don’t have to feel morally superior. We can just let it be.
· I think I’m angry because the actor’s self-righteousness brings back childhood anger at a self-righteous church, at self-righteous Christians. I think I’m angry at self-righteousness because it makes me feel guilty, even when I haven’t done anything particularly wrong (see footnote #5).
· I think I’m angry because seeing people in conflict reminds me, maybe, of the lack of love that I fear in myself and in others.
These seem like pretty good reasons to me, but let’s look at this ACIM-style.
A Course of Love says, “All fear is fear of relationships and thus fear of God.” Thus, the actor is afraid. The men who swore at him are afraid. Watching the video, I am afraid. None of us are connecting with the other. None of us truly want to connect with the other. Our fear begets anger.
I don’t want to give up my anger at this actor because I don’t want to try to understand him. If I try to understand him, I might be sucked into believing his view of people, including me: that we are greedy and proud. So, in the end, I’m angry because I’m afraid I’ll be judged and will deserve judgement.
Only when I believe myself and others beyond judgement will I be able to respond to videos like these with neutrality and non-judgement.
There. Take that, Lesson 5. I will humbly receive my A+ now.
Final analysis: I may have a slightly antagonistic approach to some of these ACIM lessons. Also, I have about 5 more hours until I have to brush my teeth again.
 Pronounced ACE-em.
 Of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” now available for streaming on Netflix. Quick review: After 3 episodes, I’m not sold. But I like Ellie Kemper and Tina Fey enough to give it more time.
 That means the opposite of what I mean, but you know what I mean.
 When in doubt, feel guilty. (That’s my default. I’m working on it.)
 A sequel of sorts to ACIM.
Last Thursday, I came home after a therapy session knowing that something old had awoken, something dark and shifty and vague, and I knew that its massive bulk would surface soon, but all I wanted to do was eat dinner, watch Call the Midwife, and read myself to sleep with an easy, fun Jennifer Crusie novel. Don’t get into this before bed, I thought.
I slept fitfully, knowing I’d have to confront this thing the next day, knowing I’d have all day at home alone to let it rise and beach itself, stinking of depths and slime.
I woke tired and heavy at 6 a.m. and spent the whole day crying, journaling, crying. It kept coming up and coming up, like waves of nausea. It brought with it some actual nausea, too, my body trying to pull reaction from my gut, trying to get it out, get it out, get it out and wash it up on the sand for a closer look. Allow it, I thought—but my rationality was slipping fast, and allowance began to feel like powerlessness, like I had lost control and couldn’t find my way back. It was awful.
I’ve cried before, I’ve felt hopeless before, but I can’t remember that I ever let it go so far; usually, I stop myself, afraid of getting lost and afraid of that inner critic telling me to shake it off and stop being pathetic. This time I surrendered (that’s a nice word that doesn’t quite capture the violence of the process—but on some level, surrender is what was happening). I even, as shameful as it felt, called my therapist and asked if we could meet again. Two days in a row?? Who does that? You’re going to waste money because you’re too weak to fix this yourself?
What was all of this about? It’s not important. I’ll just say that a 2-minute phone conversation with my boyfriend as he was driving home from work cleared it all up. Two minutes, people. Two minutes. To sum up: 4 hours of pre-crying, a bad night’s sleep, 12 hours of crying, pages of journaling, a throbbing headache, a bunch of money on extra therapy, [INSERT: 2-minute conversation with boyfriend], another day and a half of recovery from headache, exhaustion, and an undoubtedly shredded aura.
You suffer until you realize you don’t have to suffer.
Buddhists say that, A Course in Miracles says that, my boyfriend says that, I say that, my therapist would certainly agree with that. But by golly, there’s nothing to make you feel more like a failure than seeing the truth and knowing it’s the truth but not being able to reach it.
I told my sister about the ordeal. “Yep, that’s how we are,” she said.
And that is also true, but again, only partially comforting. It might be how I act sometimes, but it’s not who I am. That suffering mess is all ego; it’s all part of the illusion. But again, that’s truth without comfort, truth without love.
Why am I writing about this? Why am I revealing some of my worst? I guess I’m hoping/betting that I’m not alone. When I was in the middle of my crying day, I felt so completely isolated (I’m such a mess! Something is wrong about me! I’m beyond help! I’m the only person like this in the entire world! etc.). It’s a pretty rotten place to be. It would have been nice to read something like this, to know that I'm not off the charts in terms of being human.
Case in point: after the last time I had a slight overreaction to something in our relationship, my boyfriend showed me this meme. Maybe I should have felt angry that he would make light of my feelings. But this simple, silly, fake diary excerpt made me feel so much better. You’re not alone, it said. So this blog post is for anyone out there who might have similar breakdowns from time to time. It’s okay. It’s not ideal, but it’s part of the process. Honor the process if you can. But even if you can’t, don’t worry. We’ll all eventually, even if it takes several more lifetimes, grow into enlightenment.
Speak truth in love, we’re told. So here’s my attempt: yes, it’s my ego that creates and perpetuates such messes, that wreaks such havoc. Ego causes the pathetic suffering mess, and ego wants me to use words like “pathetic suffering mess” to describe myself afterward. The truth is that I don’t have to suffer if I don’t want to, but the truth in love is that it’s okay to suffer if that’s all I know how to do sometimes—if I am choosing to suffer, it is only because I do not yet trust love or understand it. And that’s okay, too. Because life is about experience, and wherever we are is exactly where we need to be.
 The voice of the ego. More on the ego/soul/spirit trio later, if I feel like it.
 Well, not all of it, but if we stick with the beached sea animal metaphor, I can say that the creature lost enough weight that I could easily pick it up and toss it back into the sea, knowing it won’t go as deep this time or seem quite so frightening the next time it visits.
 More on auras later, perhaps. As of recently, I like talking about auras.
 More on A Course in Miracles later. Maybe. Expect nothing.
 When I say “love” here, I don’t mean romantic or relationship love. I mean the all-abiding love that is in and around and of me, all the time—the love that IS me and IS you and is the only real thing in this world.
This past week, trees were massacred in my backyard, which now looks decimated, plucked, ruined. Massacred and decimated are strong words. But you’re supposed to be angry when trees get cut down for no good reason, right? You’re supposed to send them Reiki or something. You’re supposed to call the borough and voice your moral outrage.
The tree-cutting took place last Friday, and since the trees covered several properties, I’m guessing the tree-cutting crew was borough-hired to clear the wires that swoop from the sides of this house through and beyond the neighbors’ yards behind us.
Wires matter. Healthy wires are, I realize, essential to the modern world. But the wires and trees have peacefully co-existed here for years; in the year I’ve lived here, the electricity has never gone out for more than two seconds, and branches have never fallen.
Regardless, the men came in and cut, and chainsaws and shouts shattered the air all day. Trees and pieces of trees fell on the wires, slapping them against the side of the house; they fell on and broke the clothesline; they clattered and banged on the plastic roof over the outside stairs. By the end of the day, the yard was littered with tree scraps and 18 (yes, eighteen) fresh stumps.
It’s not my backyard. I’m just renting, and I’m moving in a month. Plus, I never sit on the back porch from which the picture was taken. But anger lies in wait for a bandwagon, even if that bandwagon is rumbling through an alternate reality. If I DID live here, if I DID sit on the back porch…!!! Plus, I can be angry on behalf of the neighbors, who have lost all privacy and shade and beauty. I can be angry on the behalf of the trees, who have lost their glad green lives.
I could hope, in this anger, that those men feel the loss of light in their lives that murderers must feel. I could picket the borough to protest the killings. I could use words like “killings.” But trees come and trees go, and the men were just doing their work, swearing and yelling and laughing and being in the sun and the fresh air of it all. What’s the point of adding anger to the world?
Instead, when I went to the hairdresser’s today, I asked her to trim the back to its usual boy-short length but keep the front a little longer. I wasn’t thinking about trees at the time, but let’s pretend I was. Let’s pretend the lesson of the trees was this: think twice about how much you value convenience over beauty. Don’t raze the landscape when you could just trim it back now and then. Because of the trees, let’s pretend, I’m growing my hair, inviting some hassle back into my life.
That’s a fake lesson, but the anger feels fake, too. I’m not that angry. Here’s the thing: I like trees very much. I even like to put my hands on them when no one’s watching and try to feel their life energy. But when I’m preoccupied, I don’t notice them. When I walk up the stairs to my apartment, rushing to get home, I barely see the backyard.
And so it comes down to this, perhaps the only truth here:
Chainsaws cut down 18 trees.
Tall and lovely trees?
I wish I could remember.
Welcome to my blog. If you’re expecting (as you quite reasonably might) a blog about Reiki, Tarot, and/or kooky spirituality, you’ll be disappointed at least half of the time. If you’re expecting a blog that has any kind of coherence in tone, theme, or content, you’ll be disappointed all of the time. In fact, it’s probably best that you don’t even read this blog at all. If you do, I suggest you approach it as you would that cliché box of chocolates, not knowing what yer gonna get. Case in point: I’m suddenly reminded of an ex-boyfriend and his pals who would send each other pictures of their latest dumps (yes, the kind that you make in the toilet). Approach this blog as you would your latest dump: with a mixture of trepidation and fascination. Know that although I am shy-ish, I do not shy away from the crass. But don’t expect crass, either. Don’t expect to be fascinated. Expect nothing.
You can expect that at some point I’ll talk about my thoughts on energy healing, angels, aliens, miracles, channeling, the astral plane, etc. (to paraphrase Kanye, I’m weird and I do weird shit). You can expect a book review now and then, maybe, or maybe juicy details about my relationship. Don’t expect juicy details about my relationship; that’s not what this blog is about, and I value my relationship. Maybe, in the end, this blog is mostly about me figuring out life on this planet and, in that sense, about radical self-acceptance. Yes, that sounds good: radical self-acceptance. We all need to work on squashing the voices that tell us to zip it, that no one needs to hear that. If I listened to those voices, you wouldn’t be reading this (and wouldn’t that make you sad?). Those voices give PowerPoint lectures similar to the excerpt below.
Reasons Not to Start a Blog
· Why start yet one more thing that you’ll probably give up after a few weeks?
· You don’t have enough ideas yet. You should write at least a month’s worth of posts ahead of time so you have time to revise them over and over before you publish them.
· People might read it.
· If people read it, they’ll lose all confidence in your healing ability. A healer is calm, bland, and serene. A healer expresses only love. A healer would never, for example, reference “dumps.”
· You have no theme. Blogs need themes!
So there you have it. This blog is about me ignoring those voices.
The thing is, once you decide to ignore one set of voices, another set clamors in: the voices of ideas. These are not necessarily good ideas, mind you. They’re just ideas. For example, when I began to think seriously about a blog, I tried to think of a good title for it. The challenge of titling an un-themed blog is another potential reason to not write a blog at all. Having some self-esteem left after the idea-voices kick out titles like the ones below? That’s a miracle.
They Call Me Cindy. (This was also the title of my 8th grade autobiography, and it shames me to this day.)
My Extra Bits. (I believe in muses. I also believe that some of them are tricksters.)
This Week in Cindy. (I might reserve this one on the off-chance I get pregnant.)
Jet-Pack Warrior. (I have no idea. Like a jet-pack warrior, this one came out of nowhere.)
Blogged Down In Flotsam. (While this has many excellent literary qualities, it is the worst title in the world.)
A Blog. (We reach it at last: resignation.)
For now, the blog will remain untitled. And that’s okay. Radical self-acceptance, right?
Next time on [Title: TBD]: Trees, a book that made me angry, more title ideas, or something else. Expect nothing.