by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff
Author Karen Casey once told a story about the Dalai Lama that really stuck with me. It seems he had been invited to speak at a high-priced fundraiser. After dinner, it was time for the main event. The Dalai Lama walked to the microphone and slowly looked around the room, and then said, “Love one another.” Those important words hung in the air, and then he turned around and sat down.
An uncomfortable hum filled the room as people wondered if they had paid all this money for three words! All of a sudden, the Dalai Lama rose again from his chair, appearing as if he had forgotten something. As he made his way back to the podium, the crowd sounded a collective sigh of relief as they anticipated his next words. He leaned into the microphone, again slowly gazing around the room, and said, “And, if you can’t love one another, at least don’t hurt anyone.” With that, he was done and sat down for the final time.
Truth is profound and simple. If it is not, then it probably isn’t the truth. For many students of A Course in Miracles, its message seems profound, but it also seems to be anything but simple. And yet, while it is very simple, that doesn’t mean it is always easy for “complicated” minds to understand.
What the Course is asking us to do is simple …. it is asking us to love one another. That is simple enough, right? After all, the people at that high-priced fundraiser knew that and expected more for their money. But how many of us are really practicing that simple truth?
When I first came across A Course in Miracles in 1977, I was not planning to dedicate my life to it. My goal at that time was to pursue an acting career. I had achieved some success in Oregon with my acting and broadcasting skills, so I thought Los Angeles would be the natural next step. Of course, the Course became my constant companion as I ventured out of my comfort zone. I took it on casting calls, interviews, meetings, and jobs. I was always discreet about showing the cover, but I was constantly working those principles behind every line I delivered or meeting I took.
It was interesting that my first year in Los Angeles was quite successful. I appeared in a number of national commercials, became a member of the Screen Actors Guild (a pretty big deal), and had two agents. I was told that now I needed a personal manager. I wasn’t so sure about that, but I didn’t think there was any harm in talking to someone.
I set a meeting with a personal manager at a very busy restaurant in Hollywood. I got there early so I could get a booth, but the place was already packed. I decided I would sit at the counter and wait for a booth to open.
As a young actress in Hollywood, it was not uncommon for men to flirt with you. I was not up for that on this day, so sitting at the counter was not high on my list. But, the counter was pretty empty, so I situated myself at a seat that would allow any courteous person space to leave a seat between us. Well, as you can imagine, someone walked in and sat right next to me. And so began my list of grievances with this person. Grievance #1: He sat next to me.
Grievance #2: He lit a cigarette. This was when smoking was still allowed in sections of the restaurant and certainly permitted at the counter, so he was not doing anything unheard of or rude. But, I cannot stand the smell of cigarette smoke! To me, it was a total insult. Plus, have you ever noticed that smoke from a smoker’s cigarette will always go directly to the nose of a non-smoker? So Grievance #2 was really on fire!
The next thing I noticed was this guy smelled of body odor. It was so bad that even the smell of smoke didn’t do much to mask it. So, that “scent” Grievance #3 on its way.
Grievance #4: He spoke to me. I used every body-language position possible to show him I did not want to be interrupted, but he did not or chose not to “get it.” He said his name was Timothy and asked what mine was. I begrudgingly answered. Then he asked me what I did. I thought, Oh, great, now I’ll say I’m an actress and then this guy will start flirting. But, to my surprise, he glossed over what I did and told me he worked with children.
As my mood began to soften, Grievance #5 stepped up to the plate: He did not speak well. But, somewhere between a mispronounced word and dangling participle, I was touched by his tone. I turned to him and asked what kind of work he did with kids. He said he helped kids who were having a lot of trouble fitting in. I can’t remember his exact words, but it went something like this, “People sometimes judge us by what we look like on the outside and never take the time to find out what is going on inside. I try to help kids know that and help them to focus on what is real. I think we are all connected to this same light no matter how we look or appear. That’s what we need to remember.”
Well, his words hit me between the eyes. I had been one of those “judging people,” and I wanted a reprieve.
As he spoke, something happened inside of me. Those grievances that had stood as immovable blocks began to fall away.
I didn’t seem to mind he was sitting next to me, and I didn’t even notice the smoke or his body odor. The fact he was speaking to me, with his mismatched verbs and nouns, was no longer a distraction. I became fully present with him. I wanted to find out more, but at that moment, the personal manager I was waiting to meet showed up and pointed to a booth we could sit in a few feet away. I told Timothy I would be right back, after I set my things at the booth.
When I came back to the counter, after only a few seconds, he was gone. I quickly looked around the restaurant, but there was no sign of him. The ashtray where his cigarette had laid was gone and so was the coffee cup he had been using. The waitresses at this restaurant don’t move that fast, so it was as if it all had disappeared.
I went back to my meeting, but in the back of my mind was the thought of what had happened to Timothy. It wasn’t until later that night that the thought came to me that Timothy was an angel.
Some 40 years ago, the idea that Timothy was an actual angel was more interesting to me than it is today, but he certainly was an angel to me in the sense that the Course refers to angels. The Course indicates that angels are the thoughts of God, which to me means anything that reminds me of my oneness with my Source and the truth of who I am.
Timothy gave me an opportunity to find myself by not reflecting back to me my grievances, but rather the truth. His defenselessness shined into my mind and allowed me to be willing to let the blocks be lifted from my awareness. Did the form of the blocks really matter? No, because they were easily passed by. What mattered was the willingness to pass them by and that willingness is always a potential in us because of who we are and Who our Father is.
I think of the story of Timothy often because it reminds me of a couple of things. First, it reminds me that everyone is my angel and has the potential of helping me to be aware of the presence of God in me. Secondly, it reminds me that when my grievances start to arise, I have a choice: to find myself or lose myself. When I find the Christ in another, I am found. If I pass the opportunity by, well, I will be given another chance. But, do we really want to continue waiting?
As we enter this season of “peace on earth, good will toward men,” may we hold fast to the potential that is within us to heal this world. As the Course tells us,
“Each little gift you offer to your brother lights up the world. Be not concerned with darkness; look away from it and toward your brother. And let the darkness be dispelled by Him Who knows the light, and lays it gently in each quiet smile of faith and confidence with which you bless your brother. …On your learning depends the welfare of the world.” (T-22.VI.9)
The words of the Dalai Lama echo in my mind, “Love one another. And, if you can’t love one another, at least don’t hurt anyone.” That really isn’t much to ask, is it?
Let us remember this when we turn on the television, read our new feeds, or get out of bed in the morning. Our habit may be to judge and condemn, but it is now time to practice the awareness of love.
We may not be very good at this awareness yet. We may feel very justified in our judgments, but there is a better way to live in this world, and we can find that way as we practice love, compassion, and willingness. We are given Help every step of the way as we start again on our journey to salvation. As the Course lovingly assures us…
“The infancy of salvation is carefully guarded by love, preserved from every thought that would attack it, and quietly made ready to fulfill the mighty task for which it was given you. Your newborn purpose is nursed by angels, cherished by the Holy Spirit and protected by God Himself.” (T-19.IV.C.9)
May your holiday be filled with the awareness of love and the angels that always hover ever so near.