Lately I have been reflecting on the fact that A Course in Miracles is just that: a course. And so it implies study and all that goes along with that. Focus, discipline, a willingness to ask questions, to repeat when necessary. I’m not the best student in the world, but I have improved significantly in the past five or six years. Teaching helps. The best teachers are always students.
The Course emphasizes that to teach is to learn, so that teacher and learner are the same. It also emphasizes that teaching is a constant process. It goes on every moment of the day, and continues into sleeping thoughts as well (M-I.1:5-6).
This has been on the brain because I started reading Chapter Thirteen – The Guiltless World – about three and a half weeks ago, one section a day. When I finished I had two thoughts: a) there sure is a lot of critical information presented in some depth in that chapter! And b) I don’t think I really got much of it.
So I went back and started reading it again.
This kind of careful responsible study is not second nature to me! I tend to move quickly – both physically and mentally. And while there’s some cardiovascular and related health benefits to moving one’s body like an Energizer Bunny, I can personally testify that mental quickness – to be distinguished from mental acuity, say – is not so healthy. I tend to skip over sentences or even whole paragraphs that are a bit too dense. Or I compromise: yeah, I get in a general way what’s being taught here. Let’s move on!
Basically, I conflate learning with some end result – an A for a grade, a diploma reflecting completion of study. When does the next edition of the ACIM Alumni Magazine come out? But real learning – in particular the type of learning envisioned by Jesus in A Course in Miracles – is a process. It’s dynamic. Yes, when we get to Heaven learning will end. But up to that point, you just can’t quit. You can’t say you’ve got it. In a healthy way – forgive the cliche – you’ve got to stay the Course.
To approach ACIM in terms of study is to accept its curriculum. I know a lot of students who eschew the lessons. Or who are content to read some teacher’s representation of the text. That’s okay. It’s not wrong per se. But it is possible that it is not as helpful as a more direct and concentrated relationship with the material might be. The lessons and the text supplement one another, enabling us to grasp a radically new thought system as well as bring it into application.
For me, it’s a twofold path. On the one hand, I study the text. I take a difficult chapter or section and I stay with it. I ask Jesus for help. What do I need to learn here? What is being taught? How does it relate to what I’ve learned so far? Where does it suggest my learning might go in the days ahead?
The lessons in the workbook help me create space in my day in which to intentionally make contact with Jesus. And when I am doing them on the hour or half hour as instructed, they seep into my train of thought, redirecting it along tracks conducive to practicing the Course. Without the lessons, the text would just be a cool spiritual text to memorize and spout off about. Without the text, the lessons would be shallow and ritualistic.
Can one take this mode of study too far? Sure. We can make an idol of the Course, becoming so engrossed in our identity as good or better ACIM students that we lose sight altogether of the non-dualistic Heaven to which it points. We can use the Course to beat ourselves up. “I’ll just never understand what the Holy Spirit means when says to have, give all” or “I’ll never be as holy as so-and-so.”
Good teachers help. I have been helped immeasurably by Tara Singh. Though he is no longer here in body, I am both lifted and edified by his teaching on tape and in books. Kenneth Wapnick has frequently clarified difficult concepts or suggested ways to approach the lessons, the real-world application. Marianne Williamson and Gary Renard both helped make the Course accessible and loving at an early but critical stage of my learning.
Our real teacher is the Holy Spirit, as our real model is Jesus. When the going gets tough, don’t be afraid to fall to your knees or go for a long walk or drive and just open up. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to say something like “I don’t understand and I’m scared I never will” or “I feel like you must really be frustrated with me Jesus because I’m so wishy-washy about practicing the lessons.” It’s cool! It really is. Those prayers almost end in shared laughter, sooner or later.
Most days I’m grateful that I made it to this classroom. I’ve grateful that the Course is here with me, however bumbling or inelegant my practice of it seems. Some days I have to remind myself: I learned to write poetry over time, with a lot of study and practice. I learned to play guitar that way too. One step forward, two steps back. Sometimes a few steps to the left or right, too. You stumble here and pick back up there. That’s how it goes. We aren’t alone.