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 The Ego Trap of Familiarity vs Attentiveness for Purpose

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited to bring clarification to certain points of the dialogue and for easier readability. For this reason, it does not match the corresponding audio mp3 word-for-word. However, the overall content and the expressed ideas remain unchanged.

Speaker: Is anything bubbling up or are there any specific questions that you have. We have suggested a few topics for this morning. Maybe we can just talk about familiarity and go over that briefly. There was an old song by Jack Jones who was a singer years ago, ‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face.’ The whole song is about growing accustomed to the familiar. It’s like you’re describing, there’s a little fluttering sometimes that goes on when you walk into a new setting or with new people because it’s not familiar. The mind seems to have surrounded itself with familiar faces, familiar surroundings and familiar environment. It seems to offer some security. Once you start getting into the Course and the mind starts to shift towards the present and to let go of the past it’s a whole different feeling. Once the past and familiar settings and surroundings seemed to provide comfort, safety and security, now they no longer seem to do that. You start to find out that you’ve constructed a haven around yourself and it’s a false sense of security.

You were saying before Mark died it was like you were gliding along and you had the perfect life. There was nothing wrong with it and then in an instant it just seemed to fall apart and shatter. A good thing to question for all of us is when those time periods come up, when things seem to fall apart and shatter did we really have the perfect life or did we fall asleep into what seemed like the perfect life. Jesus in the bible used the parable of ‘you can build your house on the rock or you can build your house on the sand.’ He told the parable of when the winds and the rains come and blow, if the house is built on sand, it just goes away. If the house is built on a rock then the house stands. That’s a metaphor for the house on sand is the illusion of safety. The illusion of security is really the ego saying, do something in the world and you’ll be happy, safe and secure; and then something comes up and it feels like your whole house gets washed away. The analogy of building our house on the rock is really changing our mind and really listening to the Holy Spirit and coming to clarity. So no matter how hard the winds blow, like the old nursery rhyme with the big bad wolf that says to the three little pigs, ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.’ We want to come to such a strong understanding of the Spirit of mind that nothing can shake our Peace.

So the issue of familiarity I know is a sneaky one. As I’ve worked with people over the years with anything, for example like church. You can go to church and you can feel something moving and then you get accustomed to it and before you know it you get lulled into a routine and there’s not the joy or that practice of really watching. Everyone’s going this way and you’re going the same way and you seem to have this sense of all moving in one direction, but again it’s really sneaky. I see it’s come up when we’ve gone deeper and deeper into things, at times the way to dismiss the Course or dismiss the power and the light of the mind training is to label and dismiss. ‘I know so and so and they do these things and they have these techniques that they use.’ The purpose of the Course is to go deep beyond all the techniques and to not stereotype things and to not make more boxes. Someone was talking yesterday about, ‘I don’t want to do that with the Course. I don’t want to feel dependent on the Course’ or ‘I don’t want to feel dependent on a group.’ That’s another way it happens that familiarity can creep in. You start something, it seems like there’s a lot of radical ideas and so you start to cling to a group, you don’t want to slide into all those traps of making groups special or making the Course special or any of those sneaky traps where the ego tries to sneak it’s foot in on the journey and just transfer, ‘Oh, this is just another group.’ You want to keep it at a mind level and bring it back to, ‘What’s my lesson in this?’

Participant 1: I think that a big part of familiarity is taking for granted. I need to be reminded of that. Just because David seems to be available I don’t want to take for granted anything about what’s available. I don’t want to be lulled into thinking, ‘oh, I don’t have to pay that much attention because he’ll keep saying it and he’s going to be around and I’m going to be around him and I’ll hear it another time if I don’t get it now.’ or ‘He’s always going to be around. It doesn’t matter if I talk to him now or if I talk to him tomorrow or the next day.’ The assumption there is that it’s always going to be available to me in this way. I can see where that’s the ego trap. What happens in that is there can be a sense of complacency that moves in. A sense of, ‘Oh, that’s just what David says. I know him. That’s just something he says.’

That’s not it at all. It’s like when the Spirit speaks, the Spirit speaks. I wouldn’t say to the Holy Spirit, ‘Oh, that’s just what you think.’ or ‘That’s just the way you talk about it.’ I don’t know if I’m making myself clear. I notice I don’t feel like I’m really clear in even talking about it. It sneaks in there that I start thinking I know what’s available. I think that it’s always going to be available and I don’t know either one of those things really.

Participant 2: You don’t know that it isn’t available always. You’re not going to miss any chances.

Participant 1: Well, it is available always. There is nothing that can be missed. But, I guess my point is that I want to take the opportunity that is at hand. I want to hear the Holy Spirit in a way that he’s speaking to me. I don’t want to think that there’s another way or a better way or a different way for me. If there was a better way or a different way or another way then that would be what would be what was in front of me.

Participant 3: If the Holy Spirit speaks to you in any voice, not just David’s voice but he gives pretty much the same messages to everybody. We all have to pay attention.

Speaker: It’s about paying attention and for me it’s about clarity. We go into things very deeply and at times it’s staying at attention. Like my friend Dorothy would work in the kitchen, she would see the workshop going on and she would listen as she was making salads, and then everybody would be asking questions, and really excited and they would be taking notes and then they would go, ‘ok, that’s the end of the workshop.’ Then they would go into the dining room and she would hear all the gossip and judgments, ‘Oh, this is too salty!’ or ‘This is not salty.’ And she would just observe. She said, ‘very interesting; workshop/dining room’ Then they would go back into the workshop and ask their questions and then they would go back into the dining room.

Participant 1: The mind was willing to be attentive in the workshop.

Speaker: It clicked back into familiarity in the dining room. That’s just a metaphor, but you can see that even with Course groups. You chit chat and then, ‘OK, time for the meeting to start.’ The whole point with familiarity and we’re not trying to say it’s got anything to do with David or anything like that, but it takes a lot of effort to stay attentive. It’s easy for the ego to have the mind compartmentalized and say I’ll be at an AA meeting or a Course group and when I’m not there, when I’m doing something else it’s different. To really stay attentive all the time is what gets past this familiarity thing. Because it’s so easy to fly back into the old compartmental way of thinking and compartmentalize the Course, to put it into a group meeting or a seminar or a workshop and to say, ‘Ok, now I need a break. I’m going to go do something else because it’s fun or whatever.’ That’s what the whole workbook is about, just to hold onto the thoughts throughout the day and to help the mind let go of this compartmental thinking.

A practical way of talking about it is like the significant other relationships with kids or whatever. This is that ‘I know’ part of the mind. ‘I know my husband. I know my wife. I know my kids. I know all their habits. I know what to expect from them. They surprise me occasionally but not very often.’ It’s all the past. All that familiarity and ‘I know’ is the past and when you start to go deep with the Course, it’s uncomfortable for the mind to think that there’s something beyond all this. It thinks it’s got this whole thing figured out fairly well and now these ideas start coming through and start turning everything upside down, and an ego defense for that is, ‘Whoa, so and so is nuts. They’re losing their mind.’ For our purposes, what we’re looking at is familiarity as the ego defense and the need to be attentive to it.

There’s a part in the teachers manual section of, ‘How should the teacher of God spend his day?’ There’s a sentence ‘Routines as such are dangerous because they easily become gods in their own right threatening the very goals for which they were set up.’ That line tells me again that’s what the ego always wants to do with everything. That’s part of its familiarity defense. The ego will even attempt to do it with the Course. Get neurotic about not missing a lesson or if he says repeat something five times a day, getting in a panic attack if you forgot one or you did one too many or something like that. There were some quotes from a book that Hugh Prather wrote about Joel Goldsmith and it was really wonderful to hear the approach. As he started the meditation he just thought, I’ll just sit in a chair and listen and I’ll just do it whenever I feel guided to do it. I’m not going to say I’ll do it X number of times a day or I’m not going to say I’ll do it at this time every morning and pick the times. That’s what we learned when we were in college about good student study habits. Pick your times and pick your spots as though if you don’t you’ll never get it done. This is an approach of trust and really just trusting how I feel. I think Joel Goldsmith was meditating thirty times a day just based on doing the moments of listening and quiet when he wanted to, without scheduling it in. He didn’t plan to do any certain number, some of them were rather short, but he made a pact with himself to say, ‘I’m just going to do it as long as it feels helpful and I’m happy I’m not going to try to go beyond that.’ What a gentle approach!

You can see what Jesus is saying here ‘Routines as such are dangerous because they can easily become Gods in their own right, threatening the very goals for which they were set up’ in this whole section, ‘How should a teacher of God spend his day?’ is saying initially when you’re first starting out it can be helpful to maybe do it at the beginning of the day, at the end and perhaps in between. But, it’s giving some structure because the mind is too untrained to just let it go. But, you can see that the whole point of the Course is to move away from structured time periods.

Participant 1: Some time last week, I got up in the morning and walked and had my head phones and was listening to a tape and then I did that the next morning and at some point I think that I decided that it would be good to do that every morning. Get up and walk and listen to a tape; as if I knew; instead of getting up each morning and saying, ‘What now?’ and then when that seems to wind down ‘What now?’ Who’s to say that I’m ever supposed to take a walk again and listen to a tape? I don’t know that.

Speaker: That’s what you work towards. Initially, it may feel comfortable to do something. That was another thing that was in the book that you were reading where he experimented. He actually planned out his day very tightly with all these activities very rigidly. He started to think, ‘Well, why should I call this a day where the sun rises and the sun sets? I’m not getting everything done that I want to’. So he ended up calling two or three solar days a day. He started redefining a day. Again, it’s that loosening to the point that you’re talking about where it’s more advanced.

Participant 1: This is more precious than anything any amount of money can buy. And the only way I lose sight of how precious the opportunity is it seems is by sinking into familiarity and taking for granted the opportunity.

Speaker: I have an image in my mind. One time I went to hear a very wise blind man Richard Shining Thunder down in Cincinnati speak. I remember going into this little bookstore and just sitting there and listening to him. He spoke very gently. He got into a lot of deep ideas and he kept going around and asking people if they experienced it too. They said, ‘let’s take a break.’ Immediately there was just a big hub bub and he had made some tapes and people were saying, ‘Where’s the tape?’ ‘Oh, here are the tapes.’ I remember just sitting there and just waiting and watching. Richard hadn’t gone very far and didn’t get involved in the hub bub. He just went back and sat down on his chair. I could hear this voice. ‘Please come back. Come sit down. Our time is so precious together. We don’t want to waste a minute of it.’ There was that little voice. I could hear it. He was attentive. There he was sitting there wanting to go in. As we really get into this, there’s a reverence for God that starts to come with it. A really reverent feeling; not reverent towards one another or even in reference to Jesus; that’s not appropriate; in that context reverence and awe is not appropriate.

There’s a real preciousness about the time we come together and of course that flies in the face of, ‘another day, I’ll do what I always do.’ That’s that kind of consciousness that’s very familiar and customary and to really stay attentive and to feel the excitement and enthusiasm of questioning these beliefs is the goal, as if the mind’s been sleeping for a millennium and now after a millennium of seeking for idols, this is the time of awakening. That’s like a time of rejoicing. That’s like the time at the end of the Prodigal son story, when he finally comes home and the Father runs out with a robe for him and he kills the fatted calf and throws a big party. That’s the passion that I feel right now is like the end of the prodigal son story. I’ve learned that I have to really nurture that. I can’t just expect, ‘Ok, where’s my passion switch? I want to turn it on today. Because if I think that I can turn it on and off, then what I find is that when I turn it off for a while and I go to turn it on….hey where’s that charge. It just seems like a rut again. It’s important. To me, it’s worth all the effort and the attention to keep the mind attentive and to keep the energy. You’re drawn to read this book now. It’s not like you read a few pages or a few sentences and you say, ‘Golly, I’m wading through this. What is this?’ But now it’s starting to get very meaningful and exciting, and with good reason when it starts to feel exciting. This is a homecoming.

Routines are like ego auto pilot. Instead of saying, ‘here Holy Spirit, help me steer’ clicking on the auto pilot and just cruising, and then something blows up! Hit the switch! Try to grab control of the steering wheel again and pull the plane out of a tail spin. He uses the metaphor of the homing beacon. I like that because it’s like you’re in a plane and you’re trying to come in for a landing. It’s foggy and you know you have the runway lights. You can think of a light house or a flashing beacon. If it’s foggy you can get off course but, then through the fog you can see this thing flashing and you can say, ‘Oh, I went off a little bit to the left or the right.’ The Holy Spirit is like that flashing light behind the fog. At times, it just seems like we lose it. Then we see it again ‘Oh, there it is over there. Come back.’ That’s a helpful metaphor to just stay focused on the homing beacon, to stay attentive.

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