This website is essentially a not-always reliable collection of my writing on A Course in Miracles, broadly defined. I began writing in earnest about the course back in 2010 or so. As I’ve said elsewhere, writing is how I learn, and so that’s why I do it, and to the extent anybody finds it helpful, then great. And if it’s not helpful, that’s okay, too.
Sometimes, when I encounter a new ACIM writer, I wish I could pick their brain a bit to find out if I really want to invest any time and energy in reading their work. So I thought I’d lay out a few basic questions that come up from time to time when talking to other students, questions that seem to get into my approach to A Course in Miracles, its community, its teachers, and so forth.
I hope it’s helpful. It’s not intended to supplant longer and more thoughtful meditations on important subjects (though I’ve tried to link to where you might find those meditations on the site) so much as give you a sense of where I stand with respect to the course, how it plays out in my life, and whether you and I might helpfully share the way a little while.
When did you begin to study A Course in Miracles and what role does it presently play in your life?
I began to formally study A Course in Miracles in late 2009. When I say “formally,” I mean that was when I first read the text in its entirety and began to do the lessons (finishing them somewhat more than a year later). I have since re-read the text dozens of times, and am on my third – much slower now – go-round with the lessons. I don’t think anybody needs to practice ACIM that way, but it works for me.
I think it’s important to be attentive to what works and – as importantly – to be open to that changing with time.
A Course in Miracles is much closer to a contemporary scripture than anything I’ve ever read. Its internal consistency, its poetry, its revision of Christian imagery and theology . . . It is a work of art that is nothing if not inspired. I’m a lot less worried about its origins than I am in bringing it into application.
I practice A Course in Miracles daily, roughly as outlined above. I tend to spend several days on any given lesson, and read at least one section of the text. I never do more than one lesson a day, and I rarely read more than one section of the text. I used to gulp it in big chunks but my focus is improving considerably. Sometimes a single sentence will hold my attention for days on end. At this point, I don’t think I’d give attention to it otherwise.
I think of Tara Singh as my teacher, though I never met him, and in all honesty am not sure that I would have merited his intensity and discipline. Yet I love his books and video recordings very much – I learn a great deal from them, and I am both inspired and challenged by them. He is the only formal teacher of the course to whom I return regularly and attentively. My gratitude is beyond words, really.
Do you stand by everything written on this site?
Not at all. A lot of the material does not reflect my current understanding and practice of A Course in Miracles, which evolves.
In some cases, I delete the work that is no longer helpfully reflective. This happens when I judge the writing is wrong or so deeply confused it’s hard to imagine anyone being helped by it.
In some other cases, I use a 301 redirect (html code) to redirect the page to a related page about the same topic but that is more accurate, clear, et cetera.
In other cases, even my though my own thinking and sense of things have moved, I leave a given post where and as it is. Usually, I do this when a lot of people have commented on it over the years, and it seems to respond to some need for dialogue. This is an example.
In all these cases, there seems to be a time element involved. At some point in 2012 I began to really focus on my study, and the writing – even though it is sometimes confused and/or too willing to skip over the hard parts – feels more serious and attentive than that which went before. At that point, it is hard to get rid of things because I see in those early posts steps to some greater clarity. I do think it’s important to be honest about process, in part because it emphasizes the ongoingness of Life and helps undo that sense of ourselves as finished projects.
In other words, most of the deleted or redirected material is from 2010 and 2011.
As noted earlier, writing for me is akin to “thinking out loud,” and thinking out loud is how I clarify ideas and and relate them to my experience. You would think a point would come where some degree of certainty would be extant, but you would be wrong.
I am very much in motion, for better or worse. There are pros and cons to this, but it seems to be built into my experience, and so at this point I just do the best I can with it.
Please do read what I write carefully, testing it against your own experience and learning. If it is helpfully part of your own evolving learning experience, then great.
What is this “perennial philosophy” that you often write about?
My understanding that A Course in Miracles is a reflection of the perennial philosophy has emerged over time, through study and practice and observation. I find it helpful. I’m open to the possibility it won’t always be.
I am most familiar with the concept through the work of Aldous Huxley, though Ken Wilber (amongst others) has been an advocate of it as well. Basically, we might understand the perennial philosophy as a sort of ground common to all religious and spiritual practices. It presumes an underlying Absolute beyond appearances that can be known by human beings. If you drew a Venn diagram including all the major wisdom traditions – their beliefs and so forth – then the perennial philosophy would represent that segment where they all overlapped. That is quite a simplification, but does give a general idea.
The mystic Kabir once said, “Behold but the One in all things. It is the second that leads you astray.” That, too, gives us an idea of the perennial philosophy.
Bill Thetford observed that A Course in Miracles was “clearly in accord with the perennial philosophy underlying all the great religions” – a fairly progressive statement given the specialness that so many of its established teachers and students ascribe to the course. But Thetford was on solid ground: the course itself alludes to the perennial philosophy:
There is a course for every Teacher of God. The form of the course varies greatly. So do the particular teaching aids involved. But the content of the course never changes. Its central theme is always, “God’s Son is guiltless, and in his innocence is his salvation (M-1.3:1-5).
We can also see shades of this concept in the course’s admonition that “a universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary” (M-in.2:5).
Thus, A Course in Miracles characterizes itself as simply “a special form of the universal course” (M-1.4:1).
It was my sense for a long time before beginning my study of ACIM that while the major religions and spiritual practices differed greatly in form, one could discover considerable commonality amongst them: namely, that the person perceives his or her self as separate from a greater whole and longs to recover that wholeness. The way this wholeness is regained, and the explanation for why the separation occurred (and what it is in truth) are so diverse as to make your head ache.
But, in general, I perceived beyond the tangled web of comparative religion and spirituality, some ground that was common to all people. I sensed – not in an argumentative way but in a tentative way – that Jesus and the Buddha and others both known and unknown had made contact with this ground and it had transformed them in the direction of radical and inclusive Love. Was it possible to do this myself?
Soon after articulating that question, A Course in Miracles showed up in my life.
There are plenty of smart people – John Heron, for example – who reject the perennial philosophy in whole or in part. I am less interested in sustaining an argument in its favor than in finding out at the level of experience whether it’s real or unreal, helpful or unhelpful.
It seems clear to me that ACIM points towards a universal experience that transcends the limitations of form – ritual, theology, body and all of it. One can begin to glimpse this oneness as their practice deepens and, perhaps paradoxically, it admits multiplicity as a condition of its singularity. In the end, the absolute is not One but All; in it there is no other.
What do you think of the debate around which edition of A Course in Miracles to read? And which edition of the course do you read?
I don’t sweat that question anywhere near as much as I did a few years ago. Basically, I think students should give their attention to whatever edition is most helpful, and then just get on with their study. It’s nowhere near as critical as it can sometimes seem when you start listening to all the back-and-forth.
I’ve read all the published and publicly available editions at least once. My edition of choice is the one published by the Foundation for Inner Peace (currently the third edition – in hardback as I go through paperbacks way too fast). To me, that edition is the clearest and most consistent. I know it’s all kinds of controversial, but I actually think Ken Wapnick did a great job editing the text. It is also the edition that Helen Schucman actually wanted in the public sphere, and I don’t mind being faithful to her wishes. I’m pretty grateful to her (and Bill Thetford), too.
All that said, I find the urtext quite helpful, especially in its specificity. The early chapters really make clear just how practical the course is meant to be. I would be dishonest if I didn’t acknowledge that debt.
So, you know . . . find what works and then go for it. But if you are distracted by your edition – if you are always defending it, or attacking some other student’s different choice – then you might want to consider choosing another edition. Maybe.
Do you believe the historical Jesus wrote A Course in Miracles?
The historical Jesus, strictly speaking, is as much an illusion as you or me. The course doesn’t equivocate about this – all of God’s children are created equally, and all of them are illusions. So in that sense, I don’t even really believe in a historical Jesus!
On the other hand, Helen was clearly inspired and guided in a way that transcends ordinary composition. That seems clear to me. Ken Wapnick eventually came around to stating that he believed Helen was leaning on Jesus as a symbolic ideal (the highest western religious ideal, really) in order to write a book – create a course – that would otherwise have been far too terrifying. Jesus, in that sense, was a symbol, albeit a very powerful one.
I tend to feel guided in this respect by Saint John of the Cross, who discussed channeling (he didn’t use that word) in his book Ascent of Mount Carmel. His description of “intellectual locutions” seems somewhat a propos here.
There are some men whose intellect is so quick and penetrating that their conceptions, when they are self-recollected, naturally proceed with great facility, and form themselves into these locutions and reasonings so clearly as to make them think that God is speaking. But it is not so. All this is the work of the intellect, somewhat disengaged from the operations of sense, for it may do this and even more without any supernatural help whatever, by its own natural light. This is a state of things of frequent occurrence, and many delude themselves into the belief that… God converses with them: they write down, or cause others to write for them, what they have experienced. And, after all, it is nothing.
That may sound like I’m disparaging Helen Schucman, and that’s not my intention. All Saint John is saying is that a lot of us confuse our natural intelligence and creativity – especially when it is really on fire – with the Voice of God (or Jesus or the Holy Spirit or whatever). Since intelligence and creativity are gifts from God, their operation – their manifestation as such – doesn’t seem like such a big leap to me.
A Course in Miracles is – to me – not a normal book. It is much closer to a contemporary scripture than anything else I’ve ever read. Its internal consistency, its poetry, its revisioning of Christian imagery and theology . . . It’s a work of art that is nothing if not inspired. I’m a lot less worried about its origins than I am in bringing it into application.
That sounds like a cop-out.
Yes, it does. Kind of. Then again, see this post here on helpfulness. I am not as worried as I once was about being right. Figure out where you want to stand on this or that contentious issue and then get on with it. The real work is internal; the ACIM community and its various crises can take care of themselves just fine without us. And if it turns out you miss the conflict, trust me. It will be there waiting for you.
So you don’t believe in a historical Jesus? How about the resurrection? The miracles of walking on water or feeding the multitudes?
It’s not that I don’t believe a man named Jesus walked around lower Palestine two millennia ago, teaching and healing, and generally antagonizing the Roman empire. It’s that I don’t think he’s more special than you or I. But I also think – yes, yes, this is starting to get convoluted – that one can say that about Jesus, while also having a fructive and meaningful relationship with him. Jesus has been a part of my life since somebody pinned a Saint Jude medal to my cradle.
The essence of A Course in Miracles – what sets it apart from so many other spiritual paths – is its absolute, unequivocal and perfectly logical insistence that we do not wake up alone – cannot wake up alone – but only in relationship with our brothers and sisters.
Part of A Course in Miracles – a big part, really – is that it takes all those old ideas, such as resurrection and crucifixion and atonement and so forth – and gives them a whole new meaning. It’s not Christianity as many of us have known it, even though it bears similarity to a lot of strains – Christian Science, Gnosticism, even some of Thomas Merton’s work.
Believing in Jesus isn’t really the point – a relationship with Jesus, or with the Holy Spirit, is the point. That is the relationship to which we turn as we begin to see the futility inherent in the egoic self. That’s critical. We can’t do it alone, and we need a guide or a model, and so Jesus (the model) and the Holy Spirit (the guide) stand in to save us. They are both in our mind. You can spend years untangling the metaphysics of that – I’m not saying its not fun and interesting because it is – but you can also just decide you’d rather be at peace than be right or intellectually accurate – and give yourself to the new relationship. In that sense, Jesus is profoundly real – as real to me as the couch I am sitting on, the crickets singing outside the window, the stars winking in the night sky.
What do you mean by “illusion?”
Let me start with what I don’t mean: I don’t mean that matter is a hologram. I don’t mean that phenomena – that which is perceived with our physical senses – is somehow unreal. I think that is an understandable – if unfortunate – misapplication of A Course in Miracles. The course is not teaching us that our bodies aren’t real on their own terms – they are. Rather, it is suggesting that what we are in truth cannot merely be contained by a body.
At this point, we tend to step off into language of “soul” or “spirit.” Our bodies are infused with spirit, and spirit is somehow more valuable or important or Godly than our bodies. A Course in Miracles isn’t teaching that either.
Illusion arises in thought. Specifically, it arises in the attention we give thought – the nature of our investment in thought. Take a tree, for example. We can sit with the tree a while and our thoughts become very busy – it names the tree, describes the tree, describes (through judgment) our experience of the tree – it’s beautiful, comforting, inspiring, practical, and so forth.
Our thoughts about the tree are not the tree – yet we believe they are. We believe what our thoughts tell us about the tree – we think our thoughts are true. Tara Singh used to say that if we could ever see an orange without the mediation of thought, it would leave us in grateful tears.
This might not seem like such a big deal when we think of it in terms of trees (or oranges) but it becomes a very big deal when we think about it in terms of our parents or our neighbor or the President of the United States or whatever.
The more attention we give thought – just observing it, and observing how seriously we take it – we begin to perceive the importance of Krishnamurti’s insight (which was Bohm’s as well) that the observer and the observed are one. That’s fun to say and write but it’s utterly transformative to begin to experience the truth of it.
Thus, when I say Jesus is an illusion, or A Course in Miracles is an illusion, I am not talking about the man who lived and taught a couple thousand years ago, or the blue book published by the Foundation for Inner Peace. I am talking about my – and your – ideas and thoughts about Jesus and ACIM. Thought is the level of illusion.
A few years ago I attended an ACIM study group and as I sat down somebody called out – “be careful – that chair is an illusion!” Variations of that joke are uttered at every ACIM grop that ever met. I laughed because I’m a good sport, relatively speaking, but I was annoyed because the joke reflected such a deep misunderstanding of what the course is trying to teach.
In that example, the chair was not an illusion but my belief that the joke was dangerous because it was wrong-minded and contrary to A Course in Miracles was illusory. Does that make sense? I judged another person, I invested in this interpretation of the course over others, and so on and so forth. That mental or psychological activity on my part – while understandable in its way – fostered separation from my brothers and sisters.
In other words, always be attentive to what you are thinking – especially the thoughts that you don’t want to look at, don’t want to share. The material world – the phenomenal world – will take care of itself just fine.
Okay. What’s God then? Another illusion?
In A Course in Miracles, God might best be defined as the Source or Ground of all Life or Being whose essence is largely beyond human comprehension. In a sense, the course does not linger on defining God because God “takes the last step,” meaning that we are still doing the work of atonement, gearing up for that final union.
The problem with defining God as a Source, or a Ground, is that it implies a limit – a specific and contained beginning and so far as I can tell – as a person bent on “knowing” God, or the Absolute and a person committed to free thought and science and coherence – there is no such thing. You can play with the metaphysics – which is fun and interesting – but sooner or later you have to bring it into application. When you say you have reached “the ground,” it seems reasonable to ask what supports that ground – from what does it emerge?
There is also a problem of language here. “God” is a loaded word. I use it myself from time to time. I have moved in the direction of “Absolute.” Both represent the same problem we encounter when we define God (or the Absolute or whatever) as a ground or source. We are saying “this is it.”
There is nothing in my experience or reading – nor in their lived nexus – that suggests there is any one source or ground. Rather, there seems to be a flux – energy in a state of constant movement. We call it evolution but it strikes me more as a rising and falling with increasingly subtle layers that sooner or later fall beyond our capacity to measure or even know.
It is possible to make contact – to become aware of, through attention – with this flux, and to perceive oneself as that flux. I don’t mean a part of it, I mean it.
I don’t think this view, broadly understood, contradicts what we know at this point with respect to science – biology, chemistry, geology and so forth. Nor is it inconsistent with many contemporary (and some not-so-contemporary) philosophies and theologies. As impressive as it is, knowledge is always limited. It seems to me that getting too sure about God – however one defines God – is a tricky business.
Is God an illusion then? In the sense that most of us think of God – including me – yes. God is an illusion. It’s just another version of the notion that we can know something fully and finally. Even to call God a “mystery” or “beyond human comprehension” is a sort of passive aggressive way of having our divine cake and eating it, too.
I am interested in the dialogue – in the thinking and the material application of that thinking – that emerges when we put the question of “God” aside and look closely at experience. What is love? Charity? Truth? Knowledge? Can we answer those questions from the ground of our own being? Without referring to other definitions and ideas about God or religion or spirituality?
God – however one defines God, historically or presently – reflects our longing for certainty. The suggestion I am making – intimated in A Course in Miracles – is that certainty is not possible. What I earlier referred to as “flux” does not allow for certainty – we only have to give attention to life and experience to see the truth of this.
So start there. Put the quest for certainty aside. Put God aside. What happens?
What do you think the most important aspect of A Course in Miracles is?
Well, I would say again that answering this question is very personal. What works for me might not for you, and vice-versa. The course represents an individualized approach to awakening to one-mindedness. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.
So you know . . . grains of salt and all that . . .
Lately, I have begun to sense that the essence of A Course in Miracles – what sets it apart from so many other paths – is its absolute, unequivocal and perfectly logical insistence that we cannot wake up alone but only in relationship with our brothers and sisters. In fact, the course is quite clear that we don’t wake up per se – rather, we learn how to wake up our brothers and sisters and then, witnessing the joy we have given them, become aware of that joy and peace in ourselves.
When I first began reading the course, I was very resistant to this idea of helping my brother or sister. I still am though I am more aware of my resistance now. But it no longer seems negotiable to me. And, in fact, when I look at my own experience, it’s absolutely clear that only in relationship with you can I even begin to come close to God.
Tara Singh talked a great deal about service – I mean literally serving those who were less fortunate. Soup kitchens, clothing for the poor, ending war . . . all of it. Having come of age in a lot of ways through the Catholic Worker movement, and Peter Maurin’s poetic eloquence and clarity, Singh’s vision really resonates with me. I wouldn’t say that it forms the core of my practice, but it is very much humming in the same wheelhouse.
I feel that my practice of the course has become simpler, humbler – because there really was no way for it to become more proud – and more oriented towards kindness to my brothers and sisters. I have written about this here, here and here.
Do you ever formally teach A Course in Miracles?
Most of what I do with the course in a public way is offered on this site. Basically, I write a great deal, make videos from time to time, and record audio stuff every couple of months. It’s all here and – with the exception of the books – it’s all free. For a few months I tried teaching ACIM via phone and skype, but it felt awkward and so I stopped.
Sometimes I do teach more formally – but the teaching is less instructional and more in the nature of dialogue in the tradition of David Bohm. This isn’t the setting to do a long riff about Bohmian dialogue (read his amazing book On Dialogue if you’re curious – it’s short and easily one of the most influential and helpful books I have ever read). ACIM groups in the Bohmian mode – which is kind of my schtick – is less about a knowledgeable facilitator or formal teacher who runs the show, and more about everyone participating in a direct experience of truth, or God. Sometimes it’s amazing and sometimes it’s pretty pedestrian – just a bunch of people hanging out with tea, talking about God, Jesus, A Course in Miracles and so forth. You have to be open to the moment, the radiance of which tends to shift and evolve. Expectation isn’t helpful.
Talking about A Course in Miracles can be a useful exercise, but the course always leads to a personal experience of truth – a closeness to God that is tangible and real. Nobody can give you that. But sometimes when we are very attentive together, and very honest, and very willing to suspend judgment and support one another, we can come very close to the light.
Emily Dickinson and Thoreau knew awakening wasn’t about conformity but individuality – they knew that you had to turn inward and really set up camp there. You have to give yourself to it all the way.
Very close to the light . . . what does that mean exactly?
It means that we can come very close to remembering who and what we are – that we can actually remember that we are still and always as God created us. “The light” is a metaphor – helpful for some, not so helpful for others. Language is the primary way that we communicate with one another in the world of form – so you know, you do what you can with it. But when we are in contact with God, language falls by the wayside. That is part of what I mean by “deeply personal” and “nobody can give it to you.” It’s beyond words. It’s beyond form, really.
In my experience, you have to run the risk of gibberish if you’re going to talk about A Course in Miracles.
You talk a lot about Emily Dickinson.
A Course in Miracles refers to a “universal curriculum” and Emily Dickinson was one of its most devoted and eloquent students. Her poems are like lanterns that light the way to the deep interior. She went very very far into fear, death, solitude, God, love and all of that. I’d always admired her work and read it closely, but at some point in my ACIM practice a light went on and I realized that she was one of my teachers. In a way she is more influential than Tara Singh because she doesn’t actually reference ACIM. There is a kind of vitality in her work that both terrifies and delights me.
Sometimes when I read E.D. I feel like Hansel and Gretel – like an abandoned child in the wilderness – following a trail of white stones home, where her poems and letters are the stones.
She was part of a nineteenth century intellectual and spiritual movement in New England for which I have always felt an intense affinity and curiosity. Thoreau is its other bright light. They both gave intense and loving attention to their interior guide – their holiest self, the self they shared with all Creation – and you can feel it in their work. I think they knew it, too, and were trying in their way to communicate to the rest of us what it meant. They knew it wasn’t about conformity but individuality – they knew that you had to turn inward and really set up camp there. You have to give yourself to it all the way.
Does your wife practice A Course in Miracles? What about your kids?
No and no. Well, not really and it’s too early to tell. Chrisoula is a deeply spiritual woman whose spirituality almost never resolves to the slipperiness of language. She is a daughter of immigrants, English is her second language, and she has a real appreciation for how tenuous verbal communication is. That said, she is also has a gift for brevity (and concreteness) which I (obviously) missed. Often when I am struggling with a particularly difficult metaphysical concept in the course I will take it to her and she will just lay it out in a single sentence that would make sense to a five-year-old. She is very smart, very patient, and very attentive to the subtle levels of being.
That’s not to say that from time to time it would be nice if she and I could talk more openly and unabashedly about Jesus, God, ACIM and so forth. She is averse to Christian language and imagery, although when I really need her, she will work with me on it. At the same time, I think it is helpful to try and talk “about the course” without really saying anything about A Course in Miracles in particular. It helps to drill down past the specifics of this or that spiritual path in favor of the universal curriculum of love.
My kids are young still, though they are all aware of A Course in Miracles. It, more than anything, represents God and religion and spirituality to them. I don’t know if they will become formal students, but in some way its influence is operative in their lives. I’m grateful that they know it is important and helpful to me; I trust that in time they will find their own way – whether it involves ACIM or Buddhism or atheism or whatever helps them give attention to what is.
So are you happy? Are you at peace?
Yes. In a natural and serious way I am very happy and I am at peace. I have a long way to go, of course, but still. There was a time in my life – my late teens and early twenties – when happiness seemed altogether impossible, when any one day was dark enough to be the last. I am often quite amazed that I am here at all, much less aware that being here should be so beautiful and rich and amenable to wordiness. God is good.
Nah. I’m glad you’re here – more than you know, actually. So thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.