On June 7, 2015, Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA for the Sunday morning service. June 7, is Rev. Tony's birthday and on this day, as the world usually counts things, his body turned 63 years old. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
Thank you all for being here on my birthday. I'm so grateful and happy to see you all. I really appreciate you showing up. I'll try not to talk too long so we can get to the cake and champagne.
Rev. Larry and I formed the Community Miracles Center in 1987. I was 35 years old at the time. I considered myself a mature adult. (laughter) I still consider myself a mature adult. I believe I was a mature adult in 1987. I believe I still am. I was younger; the body was younger. I had been a dedicated A Course in Miracles student for six years at that time. This means I have celebrated several big milestone birthdays while at this job, and probably gave sermons on, or around, all of those birthdays. When I turned 40 that was a big deal. Turning 50, I remember, was a big deal. Turning 60 was a really huge deal. We had a big party here, when I was 60. There's a picture back on the bulletin board of the gathering at the pot-luck of my 60th birthday party. 63 is not considered one of those big milestone years, but birthdays are always interesting. If you ask Holy Spirit for guidance you can probably get some really interesting lessons or teachings that are significant for you on your birthday. I have been doing that and I encourage you all to do that when you come to your next birthday.
First of all, the whole idea of a "birthday" is rather strange. It's so arbitrary. It's always just an odd moment. I don't feel there's any real significance to the day itself. It's all arbitrary. It only means what we have decided to put on to it. My birthday is just a now moment in my eternal life. It really has just the meaning I want to put on it, which is actually a great thing. So let's put some good meaning on birthday, on my birthday.
There also were some other things that came into my mind. I am 63 years old, at least that's what the world tells me I am. June 7, 1952 is on my birth certificate. At 63 you get confronted with, or I have been confronted with, these thoughts. I like to call them "thought forms." I picked that term up in some other discipline. I don't really know where that term comes from. There are these thoughts that seem to exist out here in the world. They actually exist within the mind. They are thoughts that have been reinforced a lot, by countless people. So they have a certain strength; they have a certain spin, a gravity. They take on a life all their own, a form of their own. That's what I mean by a "thought form." It isn't just a random thought. It's a whole spin; it's a whole orbit of thoughts. It's almost like an entity. When you turn 63, or as you get a little older, you walk right into these thought forms and you just start spinning with them. It takes a little while to realize what has happened. They're strong and they're hard to fight! They're hard to walk away from. The thought form about "you're getting older" (laughter) – you have the things happening to you that happen to people when they get older – it's a challenge.
When Rev. Larry and I formed the Community Miracles Center I didn't wear glasses. I didn't need glasses. When Rev. Larry and I formed the Community Miracles Center I didn't dye my beard like I do now. Well, I didn't have a beard. But I didn't dye my mustache because it was dark, and now it comes in gray. True confessions now – I dye my mustache and my beard (laughter), and every once in a while I dye my hair on top of my head too. When Rev. Larry and I formed the Community Miracles Center I had more hair on the top of my head. (Rev. Tony points to a bald spot on the crown of his head.) So there are all of those things going on.
It seems I get a lot more confused now than I used to. I wonder if my mind is doing that thing minds do when they get older. I have those thoughts too. I don't seem to have the physical ability I used to have when I was 35 or 40. I guess that's just what happens when you get older.
You have thoughts like those. They're just out there, and you walk into them. They're – as I said – they are like entities. What I decided, and what I really know – I just know – is that I'm not to buy into those. I am to walk through those. They may spin awhile in my mind, but my challenge, as I continue on this journey, is not to make them real. My challenge is to walk right through them and not to give them any more spin. As a matter of fact, my task is to "un-spin" them. My task is to break them up – to be really active in breaking up the thought form that says we somehow lose vitality when we age.
I love this picture on the program. (See the picture on the cover of Miracles Monthly.) It really is just great. I mean, that's it! That's the thought form right there! A Course in Miracles says "Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end?" (OrEd.Mn.27.1) It's madness. It's insanity to think that somehow this is inevitable; that this is what is real. I looked up the word "madness." It is "the state of being mentally ill, especially severely mentally ill." So it's a severe mental illness to believe this, to believe this "arch of life," to believe that we're born young and then we grow into maturity. We are amazingly vital for – what – ten years. (laughter) And then we lose vitality. That's ridiculous! It's insane thinking. A Course in Miracles wants us to recognize that insanity and turn away from it.
I also like the word "madness" itself because it has the word "mad" in it. It's a form of anger. It's a lack of love. It's mad, and I'm mad as hell at those thoughts! I'm not going to have them anymore! (laughter)
I've said this often. I have a rant about nature. I know some here, don't like my rant about nature (laughter), and I said it at the New York City conference too. Nature just isn't "natural." This is not natural (pointing to the sky and clouds out the window, and then to his body). This is not what's supposed to happen. Nature just is not natural. Nature has things that it says about a 63 year old person. But the Holy Spirit is really giving me different guidance. I have to accept the Holy Spirit's guidance. Actually – all that beauty I think we sometimes see in nature is really a very seductive lie of the ego. You have to be wary of it, or I have to be wary of it.
Now you can see God in nature and a lot of people do. I can do that too. I want to do that from time to time. However, I really have to be vigilant against the ego voice that is in nature constantly telling me of this cyclical pattern that we seem to be caught in, that voice is only the thought form spinning around.
This is the quote from the Manual for Teachers that was read earlier in the service. It says, "Death is the central dream from which all illusions stem. Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end? We have asked this question before, but now we need to consider it still more carefully. It is the one fixed, unchangeable belief of the world that all things in it are born only to die. This is regarded as ‘the way of nature,' not to be raised to question but to be accepted as the ‘natural' law of life. The cyclical, the changing and unsure, the undependable and the unsteady, waxing and waning in a certain way upon a certain path – all this is taken as the Will of God. And no one asks if a benign Creator could will this." (OrEd.Mn.27.1)
If you take this as the Will of God then our Creator, God, is not benign. If you look up the definition of "benign" it actually means "gentle" and "kindly." So, if this is God's Will, God isn't very gentle, and God isn't very kind if this is indeed the world that He created and put us into. "Benign" can also means just plain, not harmful. We've accepted that definition for it too. However, here I think it means gentle and kindly. It's madness to not see God as gentle and kindly. It's insanity. I think we, as A Course in Miracles students, have to confront that insanity. We have to choose something else. And I find that, as my body goes through this thing that we call "aging," my mind encounters those thought forms with greater and greater intensity. I really have to dedicate myself to be vigilant against them.
You hear them all the time. People send you jokes. I've said many times don't ever send me those jokes about getting old and losing vitality. They are not funny. (laughter) You shouldn't be sending them to anybody. In fact, if people send those jokes, tell those people not to send you those things. You don't buy into that belief system anymore. Tell them you intend to retain your vitality. Not only retain it – you plan on getting more vital as you get older. You'll have more wisdom. You'll have more connection to the Divine. We should be getting more vital, not less vital. That's ridiculous. It's a ridiculous idea. We need to be vigilant against it.
It's not just casual either. It's not just that those thoughts are annoying. They're actually incredible destructive. A Course In Miracles says, "Are thoughts then dangerous? To bodies, yes! The thoughts that seem to kill are those which teach the thinker that he can be killed. And so he dies because of what he learned." (OrEd.Tx.21.85)
The only reason we go through a death experience is because we've learned it. We taught it to ourselves. We taught ourselves this just is what happens, and so we go through that experience. A Course in Miracles is calling us to do something else. People usually don't want to talk about this idea from A Course in Miracles. People choose to talk about some of the easier stuff, like relationships. Everybody else seems to want to talk about relationships. Before I was interviewed for the Unity FM radio show a couple of weeks ago the hosts asked me, "What would you like to talk about? Would you like to talk about relationships?" I said "Oh, please no. I just can't." (laughter) Maybe 20 years ago I could have a little bit – but "No." I'm passed that. We need to talk about something else."
That "something else" for me right now, is this thought form I said I am confronting. It is the liberating idea that this whole sickness/death thing is not the Will of God. It is not necessary. Even in this world it's not necessary. It's not that it is not "real" and it is just an illusion. So when we get out of this illusion sickness and death won't be there. No. It is more than that. This world is a manifestation of our thought, and it's our thinking that is putting that image of sickness and death in this world. We have to change our thinking so that image is not there and that's the message of A Course in Miracles. We need to embrace that truly challenging, profound message. Those thought forms are strong, and when you hit them you spin with them. But we are the Divine, holy children of God, and we can move through them and un-spin them. We can break them up; we can loosen them up. They may be really tight knots, but we can loosen those knots. "I loose the world from all I thought it was." (OrEd.WkBk.132)
I do think this is the message. A Course in Miracles says "Swear not to die, you holy Son of God! You make a bargain that you cannot keep. The Son of Life cannot be killed. He is immortal as his Father." (OrEd.Tx.29.39)
"Swear not" is a pretty strong statement. Make a dedication. Swear to it on a stack of A Course in Miracles books. (laughter) I will not die! The first time I read that I thought, "Wow! Jesus is really calling us out here." I remember thinking that. In another place it says "You were not meant to suffer and to die. Your father wills these dreams be gone. Let truth correct them all." (OrEd.WkBk.107.8)
We were not meant to suffer and to die. We were not meant to be sick and go through some debilitating death scenario. It's not what's supposed to be happening, and if it is happening, it's something we can change. It's our task to change it. It's why we're here! We're here to change that. That's our purpose of being here. It will take practice.
I saw something on YouTube and posted it on the Community Miracles Center Facebook page and groups. I don't know if you saw it. It's a really interesting video. It's about a man who has a bicycle that has a particular gear on the steering mechanism. When you move the handlebars in one direction, the front wheel turns in the opposite direction it normally does. It's conceptually very simple to see. It's very simple to see how it works and to logically understand it. He then says, very emphatically to the audience, "You cannot ride this bicycle. Nobody can ride this bicycle." He bets with people that they can't ride the reversed steering bicycle. He goes around and shows people the bicycle, explaining how it works to them. It's really simple, just turn the handle bars in the opposite direction that you want the wheel to turn. Then people get on this bicycle and they can not ride one foot. They just can't. He shows video after video of people not able to move, literally, one foot. It's not like they move a little, and then fall. And they know what's going on, how it's constructed. It's because our mind is so entrenched in a way of thinking. It's so habitual. We can't break out of our conditioning. We intellectually understand it, but we can't break out of it. I think that is a lot of the difficulty we all have when practicing our spiritual healing path. We intellectually understand what A Course in Miracles says. But that old thinking is so habitual, those thought forms are so strong, that we just can't break out of them.
So the man decided that he would practice and practice and practice. It took him eight months of practicing every day. Then he could finally – very shakily – ride that bicycle. The video shows him riding that bicycle. Then it shows something interesting. He's finally able to ride that bicycle, at least a little bit – but he's riding it. However, as soon as something distracts him – like his phone rings – he just loses it. He reverts back to the old way of thinking, the old habitual pattern, and he falls off the bike. It takes him much longer to really be able to master that. Then another funny thing happens. After finally learning to ride the reverse bike, he can't ride a regular bicycle (laughter) until he relearns that again. He does relearn it faster.
I think this is a great little metaphor (by the way that was a metaphor, or an analogy) of what is going on with us in this healing discipline that we're studying. We know the truth. People ask why don't we see more miracles of healing? Well, we know the truth, but that habitual thinking is like riding a bike. We have to reprogram ourselves, and it takes a lot of practice. It take a lot! But what else is there to do? That's what the game is. There is no other game.
A Course in Miracles talks about sickness being unnecessary, and it talks about death – at least the usual way that people pass – as being unnecessary. But it does, at least in The Song of Prayer, talk about a different way of exiting this realm. I do want to be clear that it does talk about this. It says, "We call it death, but it is liberty. It does not come in forms that seem to be thrust down in pain upon unwilling flesh, but as a gentle welcome to release. If there has been true healing, this can be the form in which death comes when it is time to rest a while from labor gladly done and gladly ended." (Sn.3.II.3)
So there is a way of exiting the realm but it doesn't have to come through some sort of sickness or painful death scenario. There have been enlightened yogis. There have been stories of how they enter into a final, "great" meditation – a "mahasamadhi" as it is called – and then just "go." They gather their disciples around. They testify. They say, "I'm leaving. My work here is done." They go into a meditation, and they never come out of it. That's it. They just exit the realm. That would be pretty cool. I'd be willing to accept that. (laughter) I think that's a pretty cool way to go. Maybe, I'll just pass away in my sleep. That would be good. I'm okay with that too.
Then A Course In Miracles goes on to say, "This is what death should be; a quiet choice, made joyfully and with a sense of peace, because the body has been kindly used to help the Son of God along the way he goes to God. We thank the body, then, for all the service it has given us. (Sn.3.II.3)
So it's a happy choice. It's been a good life, and we've learned what we needed to learn. It's now time to move on. We're grateful for our body and for everything that has served us. Now it's time to go on to a different lesson. Why not? I believe that. That makes sense. That's what a benign Creator might participate in, especially a gentle and kindly Creator – that definition of "benign."
As I hit this totally arbitrary moment of time in my life, in this now moment in my eternal life called my 63rd birthday, that's what I want to dedicate myself to. That's what I want to dedicate my life to now. That's what I want to dedicate my teaching to. I think many of us have been studying A Course in Miracles for a long time. Yes, there's a lot of good psychological work that needs to be done. There's a lot of good relationship work that needs to be done. I'm all for that. I still address that. But there comes a time when the big work needs to be done. The big work is confronting this illusion of sickness and death and swearing not to die.
I will not die! (pause)
That's it. Happy birthday to me!. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the July 2015 (Vol. 29 No.5) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly 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.