|Liz's Relationship With God|
Often, students want to know the details of my spiritual development. Below, I detail my relationship with God, pointing out the stages of my “Development of Trust”, referring to the stages mentioned in the Manual for Teachers of A Course in Miracles (T-4.I.A). It’s important to understand that, with the exception of stage 5, I only recognized each stage in retrospect. I share my experience as a specific example of the stages mentioned in the Course. But everyone will evolve at their own pace and in their own way.
(This is very long).
When I was a child there was no God in our home. When I was very small my parents identified themselves as Christian but they never went to church, or read the Bible or practiced Christianity, except, perhaps, in attitude (do-unto-others…). My mother was thoroughly versed in the Bible, however, because she and her sister went on a rotation of Churches in their neighborhood in San Francisco when she was growing up. Her own mother had been raised Roman Catholic, but she left the Church when they told her they would ex-communicate her for divorcing an abusive husband. When she died in 2003, Mom was an agnostic.
My father grew up in a small town in Montana and attended a Presbyterian church because that was the only church there. The minister was dry and boring and gave long sermons comparing the Greek classics with the Bible, which was completely irrelevant to the rural congregation. Dad’s first wife was a devout Roman Catholic and he converted for her, but after her death he had nothing to do with the Church. Just before he died in 2005, Dad said he believed there was a God, but that religion had nothing to do with God.
The God I knew about as a child belonged to other people. This God was grandfatherly, judgmental and stern. I heard about Him from Sunday morning preachers, in books and movies and from kids in school. The only time I remember praying was sitting on the toilet with terrible stomach cramps! Then I only hoped there was a God to take away the pain. But, frankly, God just seemed like something for others.
Christianity never made sense to me. I couldn’t get my mind around the idea of sin. I had done nothing wrong, so why was I a sinner? If I asked Christian kids, they told me I was a sinner because my parents had sex to have me. This was just absurd, because how else were they supposed to have me? The crucifixion of Jesus seemed horribly cruel. The Jesus story was quaint at Christmas, but I couldn’t see how someone dying a horrible death a couple thousand years ago was supposed to wash me of sins I never committed.
The guilt seeped in, however, just from living in a Christian culture. Intellectually I couldn’t grasp how it was supposed to work, but I felt a sort of superstitious fear of a possibly-existing God. I would hardly admit this to myself. Sometime in adolescence, when I was particularly tormented by the usual teenage questions about sex, sex roles, my purpose and the meaning of life, I began writing down my questions. I always received an answer, which I also wrote down. These question-and-answer sessions were rare but the answers always helped and comforted me. I was learning to hear the Holy Spirit, but didn’t realize it. I thought of whatever was answering me as an older, wiser me, a sort of inner-adult. Sometimes I thought of it as a loving Higher Self, but I couldn’t relate it to the God others were talking about. I was also learning to pay attention to my intuition. Both my mother and one of my sisters were intuitive and I learned that following one’s intuition was a viable and comfortable way to get through life.
As a teenager I considered myself an atheist. One day, when I was 15 or 16, at recess in school, my friends were discussing God and Jesus. That anyone would take the Jesus story literally was unbelievable to me. I argued with them briefly. I had the sense that they did not so much believe in God and Jesus in a positive way, but that they were superstitiously afraid to not believe in Them. I fell silent and let them talk together. Then it occurred to me, with absolute clarity and certainty, that what Jesus was we all could be. The bell rang and as we walked to class the still, quiet Voice asked me, “Then why don’t you become that?” – meaning, like Jesus. I thought, “I am not so ambitious” and dismissed the idea. I didn’t recognize the Voice then. But looking back, this was the moment that I made the decision, on some unconscious level, to let the Truth into my consciousness.
The first time I heard the Holy Spirit and knew Who I was hearing was about six weeks before my 18th birthday. It was the moment when I came out to myself as a lesbian. I found myself infatuated with a woman – again – and I said to myself, “You know this means you are a lesbian” and the still, quiet Voice said, “Yes, I know.” By this time in my life I was beginning to sense that the loving Presence I felt within sometimes – the Answerer to my questions – was the spiritual me, my Higher Self, and that It was connected to God. I was beginning to believe that there was a God, but that God was Something I experienced within, not the vengeful, angry, separate God of the world.
Because of the matter-of-fact nature of the Voice I never had any spiritual conflict over my sexuality. On the surface, I had to work out my relationship to a larger, heterosexual culture that didn’t want me to exist. But what really rattled me about my coming-out experience was the awareness that I could successfully deny for so long an essential truth about myself. I had been emotionally moved by women since I was at least five, but I didn’t have a label for my feelings. And I had had real inklings I was a lesbian since I was 11 or 12 and had to work harder at not seeing it as time went on. This ability to hide me from me scared me, and I wondered, what else was I denying about myself? This led me into a path of self-examination and self-discovery. I hungered for the Ultimate Truth about myself so I could not be blind-sided again. I was particularly drawn to psycho-spiritual ideas and to finding my authentic self. But there was a nagging sense this was not enough, I felt there was something more, something deeper to be found.
My first girlfriend, M, received A Course in Miracles in the mail while we were dating. This was in 1984 and the three hardcover books came together in a set. She gave me a copy of Jerry Jampolski’s Love is Letting Go of Fear, which I ate up because I was an anxious person. She took me to an A Course in Miracles study group. M was moving to another city soon and I resolved that when she was gone I would attend that study group. I mail-ordered the books, which were $40 at the time – a lot of money for me at 20 years of age. But I knew I should get them and pay full price. For years I carried them in a back-pack with me wherever I went.
When I got into the Course, it felt familiar, as though on some level I had written it. I was overwhelmed by it and felt that it was the whole reason I had come into the world. I knew that one day I was going to do something with it beyond studying it, but I didn’t know what. I began the Workbook lessons immediately and read both the Text and the Manual for Teachers simultaneously. It became the focus of my life, though I was so resistant to it at first that I would fall asleep after reading a paragraph.
I attended the study group and was joined there by a friend of my former girlfriend. “E” was also a lesbian and we became friends. We connected on every level and I fell in love with her. I began to have spiritual experiences that reinforced what I was reading in the Course. I had my first revelation just after a study group meeting one night. I heard the Voice clearly on a couple of occasions. And I began to see my Self reflected in E. These experiences of Oneness – directly with God through revelation, with the Holy Spirit’s Voice, and through the miracle of the holy relationship with E – turned my world upside down. These experiences showed me that everything the Course was saying was true.
I had entered the first stage of development of trust: The “period of undoing”. I was very conflicted and very confused. After a few months, E left my life, though she had told me she had never connected with anyone in everyway as she had with me. I felt the holy relationship was a complete blessing and an absolute curse. It was an experience of pure joy for me, but I was angry that it robbed the special relationship of meaning for me. I was drawn to and terrified by the Oneness it revealed to me. I was certain E had experienced the holy relationship too, was as afraid as I was, and wanted her to come back so we could go through it together. I was angry with God – why would God give me that experience and then take it away? I was angry with E for running when we had such joy at our fingertips. And I was angry with me for inviting this experience, which I knew could not have come to me without my acceptance on some level. I felt robbed. I was only 21, I hadn’t yet begun to live, and the special relationship – the thing I valued the most -- was stripped away from me. I could never value the things in the world as I once did. They were stripped of their former meaning for me by these spiritual experiences I had had. But I still wanted them. I was miserable.
I left the study group because I felt that no one there would understand the experiences I had been having, especially the holy relationship. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that the students there only understood the Course on a superficial, intellectual level and were not getting the deeper purpose of the Course – to guide one to the complete relinquishment of the world. I both wanted my experiences to be validated and feared that they would be validated.
Despite my sense of loss, anger and grief I kept moving forward with my study of the Course. A year after becoming a student I started a house cleaning business. Cleaning houses gave me a lot of time alone for contemplation. During this time I entered the second stage of the development of trust: The “period of sorting out”. This was the time in which I took questions to the Holy Spirit. For a long time I didn’t receive immediate answers, but I would ask, let the question go, and always received an answer at some point. This is how I began to hear and to trust the Holy Spirit. I also learned I had not lost the holy relationship. Though eventually I learned that E had moved to another country, just thinking about her would bring the experience of Oneness to me again. In time I realized that if I could experience the holy relationship without E’s body/ego present, then I must be relating to Something in myself. The holy relationship, then, was really with the Holy Spirit and it is always with me.
This realization brought me both joy and anger. The experience was joyful, but I still felt I had lost something of value – the special relationship, which had been my former means of “salvation”. I vacillated between brief joy and ongoing grief and anger for my “losses” for many, many years. I also learned about the viciousness of the ego. Every spiritual experience or realization brought a “rebound” of fear and depression from the ego. Over time, though, this “ego rebound” helped me to sort out what was the ego and what was the Holy Spirit.
In my mid-twenties I began having panic and anxiety attacks. This manifested physically and I didn’t recognize them for what they were for a while. I saw a doctor who ran all sorts of tests but couldn’t find the problem. I figured out what was going on and realized I was going to have to get myself through this. I began to take my meditation periods more seriously and throughout the day I would stop what I was doing and connect with the Holy Spirit. This began a habit of meditation and connection that created an important shift in me and deepened my trust in the Holy Spirit. But I still wasn’t really practicing the Course so much as studying it and trying to understand it intellectually.
I seemed to reach a dead end quite often. I could understand the Course in parts, but I couldn’t see the whole picture. And my experience wasn’t changing. I was constantly conflicted. At one point in my late 20s I was in such an agony over this I spoke about my torment with an older acquaintance who I knew to be a student of the Course. She was the first person I spoke to about my experiences with E. I wanted to know how much longer until I had some relief. She got a far-away look in her eye, a look I knew meant she was listening to the Holy Spirit, and then she told me that I had a few more years to go yet. I didn’t like this because my own intuition consistently told me that nothing was really going to happen for me until I was in my mid-thirties. It was too far off. But on the other hand, she did seem to indicate that there would be relief. This was enough to keep me going.
By the time I met my life-partner, Courtney, in 1994, I had settled into a routine of a brief, superficial morning and evening meditation and regular reading of the Text or Manual for Teachers. I didn’t make any serious attempt to commune with God and I was still all in my head. Courtney is not a student of the Course but believes there are many paths to God and accepted that the Course was my way. I continued with my study of the Course after we met, but it soon tapered off. One day I realized I had not picked up the Course in months. I simply could not get motivated to crack it open and didn’t know why. We bought our home in 1997 and I put it up on a shelf there, baffled that what had once been so important to me no longer drew me at all. I felt done with A Course in Miracles.
For the next couple of years phrases from the Course would come to me from time to time, but eventually even these tapered off. I reached a point where I couldn’t even remember what the core lessons of the Course were. My relationship with the Holy Spirit faded as well. Sometimes I played with the idea of atheism, but I had had too many real experiences of God to make it stick. But I wasn’t interested in spirituality at all anymore. I re-evaluated my relationship with E and tried to explain it to myself as just an ordinary failed love affair.
As 1998 began I knew it was time for me to read the Bible through. I had read parts of it before, particularly the New Testament, but never the whole Bible in totality. Courtney had a study-Bible from her student-clergy days and I used that. It took me a year to read it through. I did not know why I had to do it, it was dry and tedious, but it was something I intuitively felt I was supposed to do. This intuition happened even in the midst of this spiritual “dry-spell”. I didn’t get anything out of it that I was aware of, but I enjoyed and related to some of the passages from Paul.
In the winter of ’99, when I was 35 years old (just as I had intuited years before), I was folding laundry one day and thinking about my life. Practically speaking, the pros of house cleaning outweighed the cons but I wanted to do something more fulfilling. So I put the idea out to the “universe” and let it go. By this time I was as far away from my spirituality as I could get. I no longer thought about my life in spiritual terms and I never thought about the Course anymore. But within a month of my asking the “universe” for more fulfilling work I read an article in a magazine about life-coaching. I knew that this was what I had asked for. I called some life-coaches and talked to them about it. Very soon after, even though I had to charge it on our credit card, I enrolled at Coach U.
One of the things they taught us at Coach U was to look at the communities we already belonged to for marketing our coaching practices. We were encouraged to build a coaching practice while in training. I’ve always been a loner and uninterested in joining groups, but I immediately thought of the gay community as an obvious place to market my practice. Eventually I thought of the A Course in Miracles community, too, and thought that it was a likely place to find people who were interested in life-coaching. So I decided to find a study group and pulled my books off the shelf. BAM! Once I opened those books again my life spun around. I was home. Nothing else mattered. I knew I was never going back. Coaching took a backseat and the Course took center stage. I again felt that the Course was why I came into the world and that I was going to do something with it. I knew coaching was related to this but I still wasn’t sure exactly how.
I was entering the third stage of the development of trust: The “period of relinquishment”. I felt the pull to follow my Inner Guide so strongly that it conflicted with everything I was being taught in coach training as the way to build a coaching practice. Moreover, I suddenly understood the Course as I never had before. The whole picture started to form. On a second reading of the Text I saw how every part fit into the whole. It was as if this clarity was a gift given to me rather than something I had attained.
What I was reading in the Course conflicted with what I was teaching as a coach. I didn’t want to teach people to “dream a better dream” because it wasn’t what I wanted to learn. I wanted to awaken. I wanted enlightenment. I couldn’t explain this to other coaches, even those who were students of the Course. I stopped having my own coach.
Over several months I tried one type of coaching after another. I called myself a life-coach, then a relationship coach, then a spiritual coach. I would get excited and passionate and run down one of these paths only to reach a dead-end within myself. Each time I sensed it wasn’t where I was supposed to go. I thought of life-coaching only students of the Course, but it seemed too small a niche, I couldn’t see how I’d make any money at it. During this time, while meditating one day, I felt the connection with God and I thought, “This is my purpose. This right here. My purpose is not something I do; but this connecting is it.” I began to see the distinction between my “purpose” (connecting to God) and my “role” (what showed up “out there” as the thing I do).
This experience felt so right and good it helped me to let go and just follow the Holy Spirit. I was relieved because it was easier this way, but I was also uncomfortable because I had no real way to explain this to others in my life or at Coach U. It was very impractical. In my last months at Coach U I was no longer trying to build a practice at all. And I was happier than ever.
It came down to just me and the Holy Spirit. But nothing was showing up. I knew I was supposed to go to Coach U, but I no longer knew why. I finished my training and from time to time I would come up with ideas of what to do with my training. But I quickly dropped them, having learned from my previous experience what happened when I tried to take charge. It was so much easier to step back and let the Holy Spirit lead the way that I started stepping back in all aspects of my life.
In what felt like continued “training” I began a Course study group at the Gay Community Center. Most of those who came were brand new to the Course. There was one student who was the only one to come each week for the two-and-a-half years I led the study group. She was often the only one to come at all and this was my first taste of working one-on-one with a student. It was far more satisfying for both of us because we were able to deal with her specific issues. In a group, it was hard to deal with specifics because students often won’t open up, or because specific answers for one student can be confusing to other students. It was while I was leading the study group that the thought “You are going to teach the teachers” kept going through my mind.
Then there came a time when I knew I was done with the study group. My mother died in ’03, during the time I was leading the study group; my father died in ’05. I had turned 40 in ’03 – which stunned me (as though I couldn’t see it coming!) – and in the summer after my father’s death I went to see my therapist to sort out what was grief and what was just typical middle-age crisis stuff. My therapist isn’t a student of the Course and I mostly steered clear of anything spiritual. One day I told her about this burst of creativity I had had. Since I liked to write fiction as a teenager and young adult I have always developed a lot of plots for stories in my mind. But this episode was something different. It was so intense I had to write some of the ideas down just to clear my mind. She got that far-away-listening-to-the-Holy Spirit look and said, “What are you not doing that you are supposed to be doing?” At first I thought she was saying I should be a writer, which I didn’t want to do. But a few days later it occurred to me that she had really just asked an open question. I knew that my purpose was to commune with God but grieving for my parents had made it hard to meditate for 2 years. I now refocused on my relationship with God.
That was in the summer of ‘05. Then in November of that year it came to me to put up a website for mentoring students of A Course in Miracles. I knew I was going to work only with students of the Course, that these were the “teachers” I had been told I was going to teach. I remember I’d had the idea of coaching only students of the Course before and thought it wasn’t feasible; now it seemed the perfect culmination of all of my experiences and training. It was natural and obvious.
In January of ’06 I started posting my blogs on the internet. I did this as a marketing technique, as a way to stay in front of people, but it developed into a way to teach and a way to learn. My blogs are written in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Every step I have taken -- the business aspects of the mentoring, the website and internet marketing, the writing of the blogs and booklets, the mentoring itself – all of this has just unfolded from within me quietly. I am told what to do when it needs to be done. My focus is still on maintaining my connection to God through communion and through following the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The writing and mentoring practice is the “role” the Holy Spirit plays out through me.
At some point after starting the mentoring I became aware that I had a constant peace that was unshakeable. I had entered the fourth stage of development of trust: The "period of settling down”. Whatever happened, this peace did not change. I realized I felt the Presence of the Holy Spirit with me always. I also felt done with the world in the personal sense. My only reason for being here is so the Holy Spirit can work through me. But I also knew I had not attained complete peace and I was definitely not consistent.
At the end of the summer of ’07 I had a revelation that caused a huge shift to occur within me. When I have a revelation it is as I come out of it that I learn lessons. It will take weeks to fully absorb what I have learned. This time I went from experiencing complete joy so powerful that I almost became the joy -- to the sheer terror of loss of individuality of the ego. I visited the split in my mind and learned that God Is and I need do nothing but let go of what is not-God – my seeming individuality. A few days after this experience I awoke one morning and knew clearly that I had entered the fifth stage of the development of trust: The “period of unsettling”. The peace of the previous stage has not left me – in fact, I could not have experienced what I did without this peace already being established. I have the feeling of getting down to the real work of letting go of ego. All the other stages taught me to hear and to value the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Now I must learn the ego has no value at all so I can be the Holy Spirit. I am grateful to finally be at the “core” of my obstacle to complete peace so I can let go of it.
I have come far since 2007. Reading through the end of what I wrote then it all seems rather quaint! I had not come as far as I thought, just as ACIM warns about the "period of settling". Despite hearing very clearly, "You have entered the period of unsettling", and being very certain that was what I heard, I was really entering or still in the period of settling. I wondered about this quite often because I did have "reasonable peace". On occasion I did feel "unsettled" but I was not experiencing the shifts I expected the period of unsettling would incur. I had a very "settled" feeling.
As I come out of a Revelation (only God/True Being) I have a "higher" miracle (an awareness that only God is real while still being aware of the world). That miracle always has a lesson that becomes the overarching, unfolding lesson for me for a while. As I came out of the Revelation I mentioned in September 2007 I rode a pendulum swing from the overwhelming joy of God to the extreme terror of the ego's fear of non-existence. This stark contrast has been an ongoing lesson for me as the line between Truth and ego has become more clearly defined. The period of settling was also a time of undoing the belief in guilt in my mind. My mind has become much quieter and has an amazing clarity.
Where before I had come to feel "in the world but not of the world" my experience shifted to "aware of the world but not in the world". I often felt very done with the world. There came a time when I wondered why, with the awareness of Truth and peace that I had, I was still aware of the world. The Holy Spirit said to me,"You have peace, what does it matter?" Of course! What does it matter if there is still a world in my mind if I am at peace? I was focused on the wrong thing.
My awareness of peace only grows as I attend to Truth rather than to the world. No matter what happens in the self's life in the world, no matter how upset it gets, I have an awareness of an unshakeable wholeness and essential happinesss and a deep sense of well-being. What is before me is to release my identification with the self so that my only experience is wholeness, happiness, and peace.
At the beginning of this process I thought of the Holy Spirit (the awareness of Truth in my mind) as "other". I "called on It" and made It my teacher, advisor, therapist, guide. It became my Constant Companion. During the period of settling the line between "me" and "Holy Spirit" blurred. I no longer think in terms of "calling on It." It is just the place in my mind from which I prefer to relate to the world.
Since 2007 I have published several books: The ACIM Mentor Articles, The Plain Language A Course in Miracles, 4 Habits for Inner Peace, and Releasing Guilt for Inner Peace. This was how I "consolidated my learning". Writing is the indication that I am putting the finishing touches on integrating the lessons about which I write. It is the sign for me that I will be moving onto new lessons.
The "period of settling" warns that the Teacher of God "has not yet come as far as he thinks". For me this took the shape of realizing that all that came before was only preparation. The real work of releasing the ego had yet to begin. And now for me it has as I've entered in the past year the "period of unsettling". The depth of the lessons and shifts I'm experiencing leave me no doubt about this. If I speak about what I'm learning to others I often hear, "But, Liz, didn't you learn this already?" Well, yes and no. My words may sound like lessons I've shared before but I cannot convey the depth of shifts occurring. They are completely experiential.
It is so clear to me now that all that I experience comes from my own mind. There is no god outside of me causing me to experience peace or conflict. There is no world outside of me causing me to experience peace or conflict. Only in the ego is there any sense that something is done to me. And if I feel that I recognize right away that I am thinking with the ego, that it is false, and I let it go.
I see the sharp contrast between Truth and illusion so I see the choice clearly. I no longer have a belief in guilt blocking my way. In fact, I wondered why, when I could feel there was no longer guilt in the way, had I not set myself free from the ego? It turns out there's something that comes after releasing guilt. I have found that I value the ego because I have invested myself in it. I have grown it. I have developed it. Sure, it's a horrible experience, but it's mine. It's my "creation", an extension of me, and I fear that I will not be whole without it.
Just as I overcame guilt by correcting, over and over again, my unconscious and conscious beliefs in a god that sat in judgment on me, I now must do the same with this false belief that somehow I need the ego to add to Wholeness. Because I do feel whole in Truth. There is no lack There whatsoever. So everytime I feel the lack and limitaton that is the experience of ego I remind myself that I am already whole in Truth. The ego does not add to Wholeness, it is not whole itself. I do not experience lack until I am in the ego. I do not need it.
I recently felt again the miraculous experience of my holiness (wholeness) that I felt 30 years ago in the Holy Relationship. This is a higher miracle, a vision of something not of this world. Of course I fully know now that it is in me and that I only saw it reflected then in the Holy Relationship. I feel that I have begun to close the circle that began with the Holy Relationship. I saw my holinesss then but was unprepared to keep it in my awareness. I have spent 3 decades undoing all that was in the way of my keeping it in my awareness. Now I feel this close to it.
The awareness has come over me again and again this past year that I am more advanced than I am willing to accept. I finally realized this was my feeling that my awareness of and trust in Truth has now developed enough to "replace" the ego as my "identity". But True Being is beyond "identity" because identity is about boundaries and Being has no boundaries. So it is time to shift my mind away from the limitation of "identity" and "self" and "self-concepts" to boundless Being. Another obstacle left is that when I experience True Being I feel I cannot contain It. I am used to the boundaries of "identity" and it scares me to be without them. But Boundlessness is a wonderful feeling of absolute freedom and I know that all I need is to allow myself to experience Boundlessness more often and I will become used to It.