Miracles for the Spiritually Challenged
The human opportunity is to transform
flashes of illumination into abiding light.
– Huston Smith
The problem is how to turn a rocket scientist into a human being – because a human being can experience more meaning in life and more peace of mind than a rocket scientist.
After more than sixty trips around the sun, I awakened one day to find my motivation box completely empty. I could hardly find the energy to open my eyes. It was not exactly my dark night of the soul, but I realized I had been riding my motorcycle through the Northern California foothills without a helmet – with the idea that if I were killed it would somehow not be my fault. However, in spite of my congenitally terrible vision and my ever more suicidal driving, something intervened with a wake up call before I did myself in. The nature of that “something” is the subject of this article.
I have been a professional scientist for more than forty years, in the fields of both laser physics and parapsychology research. Although I was trained as a physicist, over the past twenty-five years I have co-authored five books – all of which have mind in the title. Physics attempts to reveal the mysteries of the material universe, but it has little to say about mind or consciousness. Over the years I have become passionate about understanding the nature of consciousness and how it allows our awareness to transcend space and time. For it indeed does.
My purpose in writing this article is to be helpful – to help find peace. I’ve tried to describe the path I followed to move myself from the wage-slave mentality of fear and desperation to a life that is focused increasingly on gratitude and love. I should note that after several years of separation I recently lost my wife, so we are not talking here about love of a partner. Though I know it may be hard to imagine, the significant love available to us transcends even “girlfriends”, “boyfriends,” romance or sex. The love that I’m talking about is the love that exists at our core.
Our mind, when it is quiet and open, has the opportunity to be overwhelmed by this love. In Christian terms it is known as the “love that passes understanding.” Buddhists call it undifferentiated awareness. Just as love is the core teaching in Christianity, experiencing our unbounded and undifferentiated awareness (sunyata) is one of the principle teachings in Buddhism. However, I am not encouraging you to believe in any doctrine, since I know from my own experience that a scientist would rather suffer fear, anxiety and depression, than believe anything he thought might be silly or doctrinaire. Silliness for a scientist is a fate worse than death.
I met Helen Schucman in 1976, when A Course in Miracles was first published by my friend Judy Skutch. Dr. Schucman was an astute, caustic, and humorous woman, who even after seven years of transcribing the Course from the dictation of an inner voice, was sure that she didn’t understand it all. I myself had an unopened first edition of the Course on my shelves for more than fifteen years before my friend and co-author Jane Katra recommended that I actually read it, which I did with the help of a little Miracles study group. I finally took the Course off the shelf when it had become obvious to me that my life wasn’t working or bringing me the happiness that I felt was possible. In fact, I was miserable and very sick. It is often such suffering that eventually brings people to a spiritual search.
What I discovered is that A Course in Miracles is not just a map of the metaphysical landscape; it is, when internalized, a vehicle of transformation. The language in the Course is beautiful, poetic, and often very difficult to understand. Familiar words are frequently used in unfamiliar ways. The Course explains that as Jesus teaches us to “love your brother as yourself,” we are able to do this because our brother is ourself That is, our separation from each other is an illusion – something believed to be real, but is not. This precept or observation is precisely the same as is taught in the Vedas, the oldest spiritual books of India. The highest Vedic teaching is the non-dual, Advaita Vedanta. It teaches that although our bodies appear to be separate from one another, our consciousness is not. Our consciousness is what physicists call non-local – transcending time and space, and expanding to fill the universe.
In addition to having some strong common roots with Vedanta, A Course in Miracles has several significant commonalties with the very non-religious philosophy of Existentialism as taught by Jean-Paul Sartre. As in Sartre’s thinking, the Course teaches that we ourselves give all meaning there is to everything we experience. In this same line the Buddhist would say that pain cannot be avoided, but suffering is optional – that suffering comes from attachment to our stories and our fear, and confusing our bodies with our true selves. Similarly, the Course says that bodies are only for learning and teaching, because we are not our bodies. As we become increasingly attached to our things, our body, and the bodies of other people, we open ourselves to endless suffering. This is because, even when we win “the prize,” whoever or whatever it is, happiness comes and goes in a microsecond, and we return to our previous state of unfulfillment and desiring. Until I started studying the Course, I was continually disappointed to learn that no thing ever made me happy. Happiness, it seems, ensues unintended from our lives, often in unexpected ways; rather than being something we can pursue.
What I have learned as a student and facilitator of A Course in Miracles is that a miracle is just such a shift in perception, not magic. Changes in our perception change how we experience events in our lives, and remove the blocks to our awareness of love’s presence, as we will describe later. A Course in Miracles says that miracles occur naturally, and as we change our point of view we alter our perception of time and space. The non-local connections that physicists talk about were actually experienced and described in detail twenty-four hundred years ago in India, and recorded as the Sutras of Patanjali. These early teachings, which are remarkably consistent with modern physics, are reiterated in A Course in Miracles, as well as in other esoteric traditions. I see the Course as an experiential path for Judeo-Christians, similar to how Sufism is for Muslims and Yoga for Hindus.
Jewish Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl spent several years in a German concentration camp, but nonetheless was able to see that each day the choice must be made to either to open our hearts or to perish. In his inspiring book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he tells us that even under the torturous conditions of the death camps, people had the spiritual freedom to choose the attitudes they wished to embody. He writes “It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”
He also believed that life’s meaning comes from experiencing something greater than one’s self. This “something” – this experience of unitive consciousness, unbounded by bodies or distance – is often called God, or limitless love. It is an experience, not a belief. The Course has helped me realize that we find purpose and meaning by surrendering our ego or separateness to the love that is at our core, and helping others to do the same. This is The Meaning Of Life that Monty Python didn’t tell us about in his popular film of the same name. This teaching of helpfulness is a constant objective throughout almost all spiritual teachings – Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Christian. A Course in Miracles says:
“I am here only to be truly helpful …
I do not have to worry about what to say, or what to do,
because He who sent me will direct me.” (T-2.A.8:2)
The capital He – in this case God – in the previous sentence has presented great difficulties to scientists, feminists, existentialists, and many others who have given some thought to life’s meaning. For many people, it is the greatest stumbling block to a spiritual life. If God is merely a man, then the rational mind is driven to look for meaning in another place. However, if God is the experience of Oneness, the oceanic connection that the mystic feels when meditating and overwhelmed by love, then we might consider exploring the path.
Both Christianity and A Course in Miracles talk continually about this love. Alas, this is not romantic love, but rather the transcendent love of God – the experience of which is called ananda, or spiritual bliss, in the Hindu scriptures. This is love without an object. Surrendering to this love is more like being in a lovely syrup, than desiring something from another person. This surrender opens a free-flowing conduit to the love of God. We can reach this experience through meditation, Christian contemplative prayer, or through the assistance of a gifted teacher.
The Course also teaches that we cannot find love, or anything else outside ourselves. But rather, we must look inward for the barriers of fear that we have erected against love, which is the timeless and often subliminal experience of God. A person might feel it, but be unaware of what it is. The Sufi poet Rumi reminds us that we see our own beauty in others. In all the mystic paths, the experience of God is celebrated, rather than the belief in God or the ritual. Rumi has written:
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
We forgive people whom we imagine have harmed us, because for our own mental health we want to heal the separation from that “elsewhere” and put down the burden of the past that we carry into the present. Carrying a grudge is like giving the person who hurt you a lifetime of free rent in your mind. Why would you want to do that? In some families grievances and resentment are held for years, or decades.
The great Hindu mystic Shankara taught that the most important thing for us to learn is the discrimination of reality from illusion. We would then discover that most of what we thought we were experiencing was, in fact, illusion. The Buddhists teach that there is virtually no objective reality to our judgments, so they usually lead to errors, and often to suffering. In our personal lives, judgment of others always separates ourselves from the loving connection with God. For me, it seemed like a day without judgment was like a day without sunshine. My judgments of others and my attachment to material possessions and cherished outcomes resulted in fear and desperation. In the past, through my attachment to control and judgment, I used to defend and puff up my ego with nothingness, but it never worked. Since my goal has become to reside in love, I no longer want to pollute my environmental mind stream with judgment and gossip. Teachings as diverse as advaita and Kabbalah instruct us to transcend our limiting ideas of who we think we are as separate egos and entities if we are to have freedom. Our desire to be recognized and noticed is childish and the enemy of a peaceful heart.
The Course has taught me to check my premises and choose again to find peace. Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand taught me in the 1950’s that every person must be a philosopher, and continually check his premises for contradictions. Harboring contradictions makes us crazy and makes our lives incoherent, preventing us from reaching our life’s objectives. A friend told me recently, ”I want to live with loving friends, and I want to be in nature.” What could be wrong with that – unless your home in nature is at the end of a ten mile dirt road in the middle of a field, requiring a four-wheel drive vehicle. The Course teaches:
“I must have decided wrongly, because I am not at peace.
I made the decision myself, but I can decide otherwise.” (T-5.VII.6:7)
The Course is continually encouraging us to “choose again.”
I believe in heaven and hell. But they are both in my head. When I am joyful and peaceful, I am in heaven. When I am angry and fearful I am in hell. And every moment I get to choose again. The poet John Milton put it perfectly: “A mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
A Course in Miracles is not about self-improvement; it is about self realization. We awaken each morning in gratitude for another day of limitless possibilities. The longing for God that our heart experiences is in fact a reflection of our actual connection with God. Resting in God is like the Christian idea of “Prayer without ceasing.” It doesn’t mean going about all day pleading and mumbling prayers. It means going about with an awareness of our connection to God and each other. It is an awareness of gratitude, for each breath, and each green leaf. I have learned to be grateful even for red traffic lights. They give me an uninterrupted minute or two, in which there is no other thing that I must do, except experience gratitude for my entire situation, including the beautiful surroundings — the canopy of trees, the golden light of a California afternoon. Or I can choose to pound my handlebars and curse the slowness of the light in changing. It is entirely my choice.
The Course has the following to say about the life changing power of transcendence packed into the idea that “I rest in God”:
This thought will bring you the rest and quiet, peace and stillness, and the safety and happiness you seek. … This thought has the power to wake the sleeping truth in you whose vision sees beyond appearances to that same truth in everyone and everything there is. Here is the end of suffering for all the world, and everyone who ever came and yet will come to linger for a while. … Completely undismayed, this thought will carry you through storms and strife, past misery and pain, past loss and death, and onward to the certainty of God. (W-pI.109.2:1)
Russell Targ is a physicist and author who was a pioneer in the development of the laser and laser applications, and was co-founder of the Stanford Research Institute’s investigation into psychic abilities in the 1970s and 1980s. His work in this new area, called remote viewing, was published in Nature, The Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1997 Targ retired from Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space Co. as a senior staff scientist, where he developed airborne laser systems for the detection of wind shear. He now pursues ESP research in Palo Alto, California, and is also publishing special editions of classic books is psychical research.