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We have a picture that hangs in the Community Miracles Center. It was given to us by one of our ministers on the occasion of our 20th birthday. It's the picture of an older woman and on it is a saying of Ghandi's. "He who does not see God in the next person that he meets, need look no further." We need to see God in everybody who we meet. If you don't see God in the person in front of you, don't bother looking anywhere else. We need to see God in everybody that we meet.

Relationship Salvation (Khadijah, Darius & Neil – left to right)This reminds me of the saying from A Course In Miracles "Your brothers are everywhere. You do not have to seek far for salvation." (Tx.Or.Ed.9.38) Every brother and sister that we meet has the ability to be our salvation – to save us. "Salvation" is a loaded term. We ACIM students get used to it. It means to save us – to save us from our misery. The next two sentences of the passage read, "Every minute and every second gives you a chance to save yourself." It's obvious here that "salvation" simply means to save ourselves. "Do not lose these chances, not because they will not return, but because delay of joy is needless." (Tx.Or.Ed.9.38) We should take all the opportunities we have to save ourselves with all our brothers and sisters, not because if we missed them we would miss out on being saved but because there is no reason to delay our joy. The next sentence reads, "God wills you perfect happiness now." (Tx.Or.Ed.9.38) We can have perfect happiness now if we are willing to see our brothers and sisters as they truly are, as Ghandi said, as God, and also as our salvation – as the interaction that will bring peace of mind to us and save us from our misery.

I think it's important to ask yourself honestly, "What do I need saving from?" What do we as a society need to be saved from? Certainly we need to be saved from our misery and our misery can come in many forms. Frequently it comes in the form of our anger, our belief that we are being victimized. What is beneath that feeling is our fear. We need to be saved from this low level (and sometimes high level) foundation of fear that most of us function in, and that our society seems to function in, almost all the time. There are many other forms. We need to be saved from the boredom that we sometimes feel in our lives. We need to be saved from the feeling that we can't do things, our sense of inadequacy, our low energy. We need to be saved from the mild discontent we have with so many things. Sometimes I'm not aware of being angry or afraid but I am aware that I'm not as happy as I would like to be. I'm just discontent. Sometimes I think I need to save myself from the overwhelm that my life seems to be in much of the time. ACIM just told us who is going to save us from all of these things. Who will save me from my overwhelm? ACIM tells me that my brothers and sisters will save me from my overwhelm. This seems odd because, to me, they seem to be the cause of my overwhelm. How could they be my salvation from it?

ACIM says, "I trust my brothers, who are one with me. – Trusting your brothers is essential to establishing and holding up your faith in your ability to transcend doubt and lack of sure conviction in yourself." (Wk.Or.Ed.181.1) It is absolutely essential that we see God in all our brothers and sisters. It is absolutely essential that we see our salvation in all our brothers and sisters. The Course keeps on telling us it won't happen any other way. This is one of the unique teachings from ACIM. It stresses our relationships with our brothers and sisters, with all people, as the means to lead us to salvation. The previous passage continues with, "When you attack a brother, you proclaim that he is limited by what you have perceived in him. You do not look beyond his errors. Rather, they are magnified, becoming blocks to your awareness of the Self that lies beyond your own mistakes and past his seeming sins as well as yours." (Wk.Or.Ed.181.1)

I think it's important to take a closer look at that passage and see what it is saying. It says that we need to look beyond our brother's errors it does not say that we will not see his errors. I believe that students think ACIM is leading us to a state of mind where we would not see our brother's errors, our brother's problems or possible his sins. However I don't think this is what ACIM is teaching. I think ACIM is telling us that we will see these things like we always have – but that our perception will not stop with these. We look beyond the errors. We don't magnify the errors and make the errors blocks to the holy Self that the brother and sister truly is. That is what the ego does. It focuses on the error. It thinks about it over and over again. It gives the error intellectual analysis, meaning and depth. The ego magnifies the error. ACIM is not asking not to see the errors, but it is asking us not to magnify the errors because if we do we won't see the true Self that exists beyond them. Our society is habituated to looking at errors, magnifying them and not seeing the true Self.

I was meeting somebody for the first time the other day. I was discussing some things with this person and we were trying to see if we were going to work on a project together. During our short discussion it was clear that we would not be working on a project together. The person said that while our future dealings were unlikely that it had been pleasant to meet "a nice person." Those were the words. I thought about that a lot afterwards. I know that was meant as a positive thing to say, but it got me to thinking, "Who is not a nice person?" I meet nice people all the time. Isn't everybody "nice?" I generally come from the perspective that everybody is basically nice and usually this is my experience with people. They are usually nice. Not everybody that I interact with seems nice – but mostly I do have nice experiences with people. Doesn't everybody? When I thought about this person I had interacted with I realized that this was not true for this person. This person had called me "nice", and I appreciated that, but I realized that in this person's perception, nice people were not the norm. This person was not used to meeting nice people. I think this is one of the problems we have in our society. We are constantly on guard trying to find the nice people so we can interact with them and trying to stay away from the not nice people. We don't come from the ground of being that everybody is probably nice if we choose to see them that way.

I'm not recommending that we go too far with this. We, of course, have to be guided about what we do and who we interact with but I have basically found, for me living in San Francisco and its environment, most of the people I interact with are pleasant, socially cheerful, and I usually have nice interactions with them. It takes diligence to keep this perception in mind. The Course tells us, "You have learning handicaps in a very literal sense. There are areas in your learning skills which are so impaired that you can progress only under constant, clear-cut direction provided by a Teacher Who can transcend your limited resources." (Tx.Or.Ed.11.46.47) We have learning disabilities. They are so profound that we have to constantly work with ourselves and remind ourselves of the truth. We need, "... constant, clear-cut direction." I see that many people are willing to give themselves sporadic direction but most people are not willing to give themselves constant direction. They are not willing to stay centered on the truth and to be continually correcting themselves. They correct themselves on occasion, when they remember. They correct themselves when it fits into their schedules, matches their activities or mind set. However, they frequently slip back into other modes of being and do not correct themselves. The Course is telling us to constantly be on guard against the idea that people are not nice. Maybe it takes the form of, "We have to be careful because there's all kinds of bad people out there who are going to do terrible things to us!" We hear this kind of thinking all the time. Yet, my predominant experience of life is that most people are very nice a majority of the time.

The Course says, "The habit of engaging with God and His creations is easily made if you actively refuse to let your minds slip away. The problem is not one of concentration; it is the belief that no one, including yourself, is worth consistent effort." (Tx.Or.Ed.4.63) This is why we don't do the "... constant, clear-cut, direction." We don't actually think we're worth the effort. It's a self-worth issue. That's why along with the Course's important teachings on Holy Spirit guidance, and forgiveness, ACIM is always giving us a teaching about how valuable and holy we are – about how full of grace we are. We are God's holy Child. There is no one more valuable than us and it is a value that we share with all our brothers and sisters. These are more than just nice platitudes. We need to remind ourselves of this because we need to become so imbued with this sense of self worth that we will take the "... consistent effort" that we need to give ourselves, "... constant, clear-cut direction." We are worth the effort because we are God's holy children.

All of our brothers and sisters are also worth the effort. They are worth the effort we must make to not focus in on their errors but to look beyond them. They are worth the effort not to magnify their errors but to look past them to the Divinity that they are. I find myself caught in this trap frequently. All through out my day, my week, my life I am tempted to focus on the error that a brother or sisters is making instead of seeing beyond the error. Seeing beyond doesn't mean that I might not have a conversation about the perceived mistake and it doesn't mean that I wouldn't share my thoughts and feelings about my perception. It has more to do with an attitude and an energy I have when I communicate these things. Do I magnify those errors? Do I make them the most important thing in that moment, in that interaction with the person? If I do, then I am not giving my brothers and sisters the effort that is due them because of their worth and mine.

The Course tells us, "It is impossible to overestimate your brother's value." (Tx.Or.Ed.20.39) That's a very simple statement. No matter how high of a value we may think a brother or sister has for us, ACIM is instructing us that we are underestimating their value. We couldn't give them enough value. Our mind isn't capable of giving them their true value. No matter how high of a value we think we can give to a brother or sister we are still not valuing them enough. It's a challenge. "How can I value them even more than I currently am?" Certainly, when I am condemning someone I am aware that I am not valuing them. That's obvious. What isn't obvious is that when I am valuing them I need to remember that I am not valuing them enough. They have a greater worth for me; they are my salvation. They are what is going to help me and save me from all the problems I believe I have. If I then remember the very first ACIM quotation cited in this article "Your brothers are everywhere. You do not have to seek far for salvation" (Tx.Or.Ed.9.38) I can remind myself that my salvation is everywhere. I just need to see it thus and value the people in my life more.

ACIM also tells us, "Only appreciation is an appropriate response to your brother. Gratitude is due him for both his loving thoughts and his appeals for help, for both are capable of bringing love into your awareness if you perceive them truly. And all your sense of strain comes from your attempts not to do just this." (Tx.Or.Ed.11.6) I mistakenly believe my sense of strain comes from the fact that someone has done this thing that is hurting me. However, ACIM is saying my sense of strain is coming from the fact that I don't appreciate my brothers and sisters enough. I don't appreciate the valuable learning experiences that they are giving me by doing exactly that thing that I think annoyed me. They are bringing me the most valuable learning I need at that moment, and I can't estimate the value of this learning experience to me enough. It all rests on them doing exactly what they are doing. I need, "... constant, clear-cut direction" and "... consistent effort" to maintain this perspective. People will always do things that we think annoy us yet they are giving us the most valuable lesson that we need right at that moment and we could to be grateful to them. Appreciation is always the appropriate response and we can never appreciate them enough.

In our culture, especially here in crowded urban San Francisco, we tend to treat people as if they are disposable. This is a typical urban issue because there are so many people around all the time. If any particular person isn't doing what you want him or her to do, or meeting our needs as we have defined them, it's very easy to have the thought, "I don't have to see them again! There's somebody else that will meet my needs. I'll let go of this person." We can part as "friends" but definitely part. I've heard people say, "This person is toxic for me. I can't be near them anymore." Nobody is toxic. It's the thoughts we're choosing to have about them that are toxic. However those thoughts are our choice. They are not in the person. They're the thoughts we're choosing to have about them. People say, "I can't change my thoughts about them." You can change your thoughts about them. You may have habituated yourself into thinking a certain way about them. It's a bad habit of thought but you only have that bad habit because you've spun and spun thoughts around so much that they have now formed a deep groove in your mind. In order to change that groove you are going to have to spin other thoughts around and around until you get out of that old rut of negative thinking about that person. They are worth the effort. Our brothers and sisters are worth the effort that it takes for us to change our habituated, negative thoughts about them. Change the thoughts to more loving thoughts. Change the thoughts to thoughts of their value and of our gratitude for them. Ask the Holy Spirit's help to think of these people differently. Always ask for help when you sense that you are not in total awe and appreciation of all of your brothers and sisters everywhere.

I do a lot of counseling and hear people talking all the time and they tell me about how lonely they are. I'm usually amused at this because with all these lonely people that I'm talking to I would think they would get together. We have ACIM telling us that our brothers and sisters are everywhere. When I look out on the street I see them all over the place and I wonder, "How do people get into this perception of loneliness?" It seems so strange and distorted. "I am lonely." I think we've just rehearsed it so much it's become our habitual way of talking. People think the idea is meaningful. Perhaps it's not meaningful and it's only something that we say. If we say it, then we feel the effect of it. I believe it takes so little to shift this.

I hear people say that they have acquaintances but that they don't have any "meaningful relationships." They say they are not having any meaningful dialogue in their lives. I think that we're all having the dialogue that we're having but it's up to us to give it the meaning. Maybe the dialogue is, "Can I have a cup of coffee?" Maybe the dialogue is, "How much are these oranges?" These have all the meaning that we give to them. We can have salvation, connection and oneness around the simplest of conversations if we choose to imbue them with the right meaning. There are days when I can do this. I don't live with a significant other. I live with apartment mates who I don't usually interact with in the morning. I'm frequently up by myself and I get myself going in the morning. Sometimes the first conversation I have with another person, the first words I may speak for the day, are to an Arab man who runs the coffee shop around the corner. I say, "Small coffee to go." That's my first conversation. He looks at me, smiles, gives me the coffee and I hand him $1. A small coffee is still just one dollar there. I've known him for years, in fact he frequently has my small coffee already poured for me because he has seen me cross the street through the window so he knows I'm coming in the cafe.

I could think that was a superficial, totally insignificant conversation. However, there are times when the facts: that he has seen me, has my coffee ready for me, that he smiles with a bit of recognition and friendliness – have vast meaning for me. He's not the friendliest guy either, but I've known him for years. There are days when that little, simple interaction has such meaning for me that I could hardly communicate how meaningful it is. It represents oneness to me and salvation. That brother, and I don't even know his name, is giving me all the salvation that I could possibly need. My brothers are everywhere and I do not have to go far for my salvation. Right around the corner to the coffee shop will do it. That Arab man who gives me my morning coffee lets me know that I am connected to the universe, I'm one. That's all any of us ever needs. I feel great when I am choosing that perception of things.

We tend to be afraid of our brothers and sisters. I was watching the Michael Moore movie Sicko. He talks about the culture of fear we have here in our society. He has talked about this in his others movies. It was in Bowling For Colombine and Fahrenheit 9/11. I see that this is a recurring theme for Michael Moore and I appreciate that. He identifies the problem as our fear based society. That is his analysis; we're all just scared. We live in a culture that perpetuates this fear. When we're fearful we make bad choices. This is one the the profound messages of Sicko. Why haven't we changed the health care system? We're too scared to. We're going to have to push through this fear. The Course tells us to be, "... willing to follow the Holy Spirit through seeming terror." (Tx.Or.Ed.10.87) Michael Moore is very good with pointing out that fear is the problem. For the most part, the fear is an illusion. Even if it is based on something that seems quite real there is still only one solution, walk through the fear.

In Sicko Michael Moore talks about our fear of socialism. We have an intense fear of socialism. We're afraid of socialized medicine. It's so scary to our culture. We think it must be a terrible thing. However, he points out that we've socialized many things in this country which we not afraid of. We have socialized education. The education system is run by the government. Very few seem afraid of our socialized education. We have socialized law enforcement. That's run by the government. Many things are run by the government and we've accepted them – but for some reason socialized medicine has gotten our country very fearful. Michael Moore wants us to confront that and look at it. He goes to: Canada, England, France and Cuba. All of these are countries with socialized medicine and it seems very natural and appealing to those people. I thought it was a great movie.

I watch fear. I watch fear spread all over our culture and take on new manifestations. There is a new one that I am finding very amusing. It takes place in my gym. It's happened recently. I'm 55 years old so I have perspective on what gyms used to be like. I remember about 10 years ago they started enforcing a rule that you had to have a towel with you because you had to wipe down your machine, or equipment, after you were done with it. I had never carried a towel with me on the gym floor. It was cumbersome. I didn't want to have a towel with me. However, I was told that I had to have a towel with me. If you weren't told by the gym staff the other members would tell you, "Wipe your machine down!" About five years ago I hired a trainer for a few months. I was doing sit-up on an incline platform. I was exerting strenuous effort, trying hard to do them. I did them until I couldn't do another one – until muscle failure. I strained and did my last one. It hurt. After a few seconds I rolled off the platform. I was trying to catch my breath for a second and my trainer said, "Yeck! Wipe that off!" He was referring to a little bit of perspiration I had left on the inclined platform. I thought, "Woo! Give me a second here." I got the communication right then. It was no longer acceptable to leave sweat on anything! I was going to wipe it off I was just trying to catch my breath.

However, now this sweat aversion has gone further. Now it's not enough that you use your towel to wipe your perspiration off your equipment. Now we have the fanatics who have to get paper towels and spray disinfectant, which the gym provides, and then they wipe down seemingly clean and dry machines, and/or equipment, before they use them. I can't see any perspiration on these machines at all, but members are spaying the disinfectant on the paper towels and wiping everything down, every place they are going to touch. God forbid they should touch something that somebody else touched and it wasn't disinfected! Why? What is all this insanity that we have going on. We're afraid. We afraid of germs. We believe they are everywhere. I see people doing this and I think, "It's a gym for Christ sake!" That's why you go to a gym. It smells like sweat and that inspires you to work out harder. It all antiseptic now. They don't even smell like gyms anymore.

ACIM tells us, "The sick are merciless to everyone, and in contagion do they seek to kill." (Tx.Or.Ed.27.4) Contagion – we have to be careful to not touch a possibly sweaty hand grip on a cross trainer. I also remember this quotation from ACIM. "[The ego] dictates endless prescriptions for avoiding catastrophic outcomes." (Tx.Or.Ed.8.76) This tendency is endless. It will continue to be endless. All my life I've seen it. I'm sure I will continue to see this for the rest of my physical life. It's just one thing after another thing. There's always something I have to avoid. There always something I can't do, foods I can't eat. I can't have sex without latex. Whatever it is. There's something that is going to prevent the catastrophic outcome. Obviously, we have to pay attention to these things and ask for guidance about them. I'm not telling anybody to live recklessly. It is something that we all have to cope with. It's just something that I am aware of. I am aware of how we function in this culture. It is an endless fearful state that we keep perpetuating. We think there is something dangerous out there. Now the gym is dangerous. Sweat is dangerous. We can't touch.

Before September 11, 2001 happened when one went on a vacation people would say, "Have a nice trip!" Now we say, "Have a safe trip." Please don't ever wish me a "safe" trip. I am not going on vacation to be safe. I'm going on vacation to live at risk and have some fun. Tell me to have a good trip. Tell me to have a fun trip or even tell me to have a wild trip but I have no intention to be safe. I am not talking about safe sex here. I am just talking about traveling. Traveling is risky. You're in a new place. You don't know what is going to happen. You can't protect yourself from every little thing that is going on. That's part of the fun of travel. Things might happen. Things might not go well. Frequently they don't. That's the adventure.

People tend to isolate themselves. It's so prevalent. If you don't work on this, if you don't give yourself that, "... constant, clear-cut direction" and that "... consistent effort" as you get older, you will tend to isolate more and more and more. I believe that much of the ill health older people fall into isn't a genetic factor because of age but it's a byproduct of the isolation and of that perpetual fear people internalize year after year after year .... We've learned dark lesson in our past. We avoid this; we avoid that. We avoid people. That's the most tragic thing of all. We avoid people and people become scary. Relationships become scary. "I don't want to be in a relationship. It will be like that last guy. That was really awful! I've got to be careful that doesn't happen again." People will say, "I'm not ready to have a relationship yet. I need to work on myself a little bit more." If you don't start having relationships you're never going to be ready because that's the only way we ever can work on ourselves! We need to get in relationships because salvation doesn't happen in isolation.

In a mental health discipline that I practice named Recovery Inc. one of the therapeutic sayings is "We don't wait to get well to do things. We do things to get well." You can't wait until you're feeling peaceful in order to get out there and start living your life. You've got to start living your life, now, with whatever anxieties you've got and push through them. That's how the anxiety dissipates. We're never going to start seeing everybody as our family if we don't push through those times when they don't appear to be brothers and sisters. We have to choose this new perception. It may not appear that way to us but until we choose that, we're never going to have the salvation that we're looking for. We have to actively choose the perception that we want to have manifest. Remember again this quotation form the start of this article, "Every minute and every second gives you a chance to save yourself. Do not lose these chances, not because they will not return, but because delay of joy is needless. God wills you perfect happiness now." (Tx.Or.Ed.9.38) God isn't willing us perfect happiness after we've done the necessary work on ourselves. God wills us perfect happiness now and gives us all our brothers and sisters all over the world: to play with, to enjoy, to relate with and to piss us off sometimes. Yet, that annoyance gives us the opportunity to learn the valuable lessons that we need to learn and rise up in great awe and appreciation for everybody we interact with. We can not over estimate our brothers and sisters value. They are everywhere and they are our salvation. 

© 2007, Rev. Tony Ponticello, San Francisco, CA – All rights reserved.

Rev. Tony Ponticello
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114

This article appeared in the May 24, 2007 (No. 19) issue of CMC Ezine. CMC Ezine is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.