Becoming Responsible for Happiness

Helen Schucman wrote A Course in Miracles and projected responsibility for that project onto her ideal of Jesus. Because the course is so helpful to me, I am deeply grateful to her for seeing the work through, and am not especially concerned about the ethics and particulars of her writing process. You do what you have to do to express what you have to express. That is what healing is.

glass smoothed and polished by the river out back, where we walk and gather what is lovely, in one of many rituals of happiness . . .

However, once you disentangle the text (by which I mean all three primary volumes of the course) from a historical and agentic Jesus, then your own responsibility towards study, learning and application are clarified. You are called to meet the course where you see it (a corollary to the principle that the course meets you where you are). Being right or wrong about it, getting it or not getting it . . . these fall away as your attention is directed to your own experience of being a student, which is neither right nor wrong but simply is. Attention becomes the teacher and it is always instructive.

The question becomes: is the course helpful? Is a given teacher or approach helpful? And, of course, how are we defining “helpful?”

The course is “helpful” to the extent it makes us happy in a natural serious way. This should not be conflated with feeling good all the time. Part of being happy means accepting periods of struggle and confusion and grief with equanimity and honest inquiry; part of being happy means looking closely at interior material that is frightening or offensive in order to see past it to the love that is our “natural inheritance” (T-in.1:7). “This course has explicitly stated that its goal for you is happiness and peace” (T-13.II.7:1). Thus, the text observes that . . .

. . . delay of joy is needless. God wills you perfect happiness now. Is it possible that this is not also your will? And is it possible that this is not also the will of your brothers? (T-9.VII.1:7-10).

Happiness is not an object one has or doesn’t have. It’s not an event or outcome that meets our personal preferential standards. Rather, it is a process in which one finds oneself, an inclusive flow through which one’s living filters in helpful, nurturing and quietly joyous ways.

Note too that “happy” in this instance also means “having happiness to give.” In general, we know we are happy less by how we feel and more by how we make others feel. This can be a challenging shift in thinking for a lot of us – truly it was for me – but nonetheless, it matters. Happiness is what we share, not what we have. And paradoxically, it is only by giving it away without qualification or condition that we actually have it.

To gain you must give, not bargain. To bargain is to limit giving, and this is not God’s Will (T-7.I.4:3-4).

Again, I am talking about the deep happiness envisioned by A Course in Miracles, not the shallow ersatz imitation promulgated and sold by the world. The love we are given is not limited by formal constraints. It heeds none of the limits we impose on it; it doesn’t even notice these limits.

If we attend to this serious happiness, then it will in turn attend to us, and then everything will fall into place. Our practice, our metaphysics, our ideals, our understanding our unconscious drives . . . By this I mean simply that concepts of oneness, Heaven, awakening from the dream and so forth will naturally clarify. We already know what we need to know; we experience what we need to experience because that is the experience we are having. This is always unique to us, always perfect, and always helpful.

When we see our living this way, and live authentically from that seeing, then we are – in ACIM parlance – a Teacher of God. We no longer perceive another’s interest as separate from our own (M-1.1:2). All that matters then is the extension of love and peace, which are the fruits of forgiveness, which is itself a fruit of our reliance on a power that is – to paraphrase Saint Paul – in us but not of us.

A Course in Miracles is an invitation to live this life in a new way, one that is premised on love, simplicity, kindness, generosity, service, inclusiveness and trust. It is a practice of radical honesty and inquiry. The form this learning-to-live-in-love takes naturally varies according to context, but the content – to borrow a time-honored course trope – will be the same.

The form of the course varies greatly. So do the particular teaching aids involved. But the content of the course never varies. Its central theme is always, “God’s Son is guiltless, and in his innocence is his salvation” (M-1.3:2-5).

Thus, in my stumbling stuttering way I manifest simplicity and generosity and kindness by writing and homesteading – raising as much of our food as possible, contributing to local economic structures that undo pernicious national and global structures, etc. Somebody else achieves the same effect driving a cab. Somebody else by practicing medicine. Someone else with their saxophone. And so forth.

The question is not the form but the content, and so it is only that to which our attention is directed. One might think they are attracted to homesteading because the work is honest, the diet healthy, the economics more virtuous and the communal aspects more moral but, in fact, it’s simply because that homesteading is where love appears in this case most clearly and pragmatically, and so naturally one goes there. Naturally one does their living there. Naturally – indeed, inevitably – one brings forth love there.

And what does this bringing forth love teach us? That love, as such, is not limited to the homestead or to homesteading. It is everywhere. It spills and overflows and illuminates and slakes and blesses literally everything. It lights up our little self and our little world and in its radiance we understand that this beam reaches contexts we cannot even imagine.

Little by little we surrender to this love and, like a beneficent sea, it lifts us and carries us gently beyond our perception of limitations, our small designs and plans, our secrets and lies, and our fear of death and hell.

The work, then, is to simply attend our own gardens and not worry too much about what others are up to. Helen Schucman brought forth love in the form of A Course in Miracles through what one might reasonably call confusion about authorship. It doesn’t matter! What matters is that the course is here, and that it is up to us to contextualize it, to bring it into application in our own living that we might dream a dream of happiness and peace with one another and then wake up . . .

What is helpful? What makes you happy? To what life does your intuition direct you? Our responsibility is to our own surrender and our own giving of attention. That’s all. Things work out, and then things just . . . disappear, leaving only love. We are together learning – and living together as one – this very fact.

3 thoughts on “Becoming Responsible for Happiness”

  1. Sean, how is it that you think the course’s authorship is incorrectly attributed? How do you explain the large numbers of first person narratives about Jesus’ life and what that means? The author often corrects what is supposedly a misinterpretation on the part of church tradition? Do you think that Helen as Helen simply wrote what she wanted to portray, from her own beliefs, and ascribed it to Jesus? I suppose she wouldn’t be alone, as it seems to me that the early christian authors might have done some of that as well. Curious. BTW, my background is very similar to yours… Born, baptized, raised Catholic. Altar boy. Two years of minor seminary in high school. 17 years of Catholic schooling, altogether!

    1. Hi Wayne.

      Thanks for asking that; it’s a good question.

      In a general sense, the world of form is governed by laws by which the dead – as agents who make things happen – don’t come back. In the same way that I can’t breathe underwater, pass through brick walls, or compute pi to the millionth place in my head, death will be this organism’s end.

      So Jesus was executed and so far as that body as a causative force went, that was it.

      On the other hand, the ideas – about peace, love, community, forgiveness, nonviolent resistance, commensalism et cetera – which Jesus embodied did not die with him. They went on.

      “Jesus” became a symbol of those ideas in the world of form. But symbols aren’t causative; they are more in the nature of narrative tools. We use them to keep the story straight. But we also tend to get confused on this point – we project cause onto the symbol and then, usually, forget we’ve done so.

      Thus, Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day can credit Jesus with the Catholic Worker; Helen Schucman can credit Jesus for A Course in Miracles. And, countless medieval priest acting on behalf of Jesus and with his putative blessing condemned women to die as witches.

      So Jesus becomes the face of the love or the fear we are afraid to look at and become responsible for. Helen used it to go very deeply into the part of her mind that understood love and wholeness in order to create another comprehensive symbol – ACIM.

      Oddly, though Jesus appears as a narrator in the earlier parts of the text, the name as such is relatively rare in the text. The Manual for Teachers, which Helen wrote near the end of the project, when her comfort level in the material and confidence in the writing voice, was quite high, makes this observation:

      The name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol. But it stands for love that is not of this world. It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for the many names of all the gods to which you pray (M-23.4:1-3).

      And a little later in the same chapter:

      This course has come from him because his words have reached you in a language you can love and understand. Are other teachers possible, to lead the way to those who speak in different tongues and appeal to different symbols? Certainly there are (M-23.7:1-3).

      That whole chapter is helpful, both because it addresses the Jesus-as-symbol question, and because it speaks to the writing project itself. Helen’s confidence in the material and in her voice is such that she no longer needs to write as if Jesus is speaking through her in the first-person (hence the third-person references to Jesus in this section).

      She was becoming responsible for the love that was her natural inheritance, which is what we are all doing, in our way and in our own projects.

      I want to be clear that a) I am not being critical of Helen. I don’t think she was being malicious or conniving; I think she wrote the only way she could possibly write in order to bring the material forward. I am grateful to her, because that material has been helpful to me, but also because it is a helpful reminder that art serves love and healing, and so you do what you have to do to bring it forward.

      Also, I think Jesus can be a very helpful symbol! Certainly it has been in my life. The work is to be clear about what symbols are and what function they serve, and to give attention to the way that we project cause on them as a way of avoiding responsibility for the love and fear that resides in us. But clearly, Jesus can be helpful in looking into all that, and untangling it.

      As always, the question is what is helpful. If a first-person account of Jesus’ life is helpful, then great. If it’s not – if it’s more helpful to look into Buddha’s programs, or quantum physics, or Gendlin’s focusing techniques, or tarot, that’s okay, too. More than okay, really.

      We are where we are and sometimes Jesus is there, too.


      1. Sean,

        While Jesus died, he also was resurrected. Or WAS he? In order to have been resurrected, his essential self would have to have survived his death. There were issues recognizing him in his resurrected state, documented in the new testament. But the literature we have is pretty adamant about the resurrection. So if his essential consciousness survived death, why couldn’t he be the author of ACIM?

        So, what do you believe about that one? I guess it comes down to the same basic question that separates theists from atheists, that you have to make a decision about what is the prime mover of the universe, matter or consciousness. In other words, is matter without beginning (there is no God) or is matter a manifestation of consciousness (God is the ultimate source)? The one thing I can’t get MY head around is the idea that there might be complete nothingness and then, all of a sudden, there is matter, a big bang. I’m basically a scientist at heart, and that concept seems to me a violation of the whole “like comes from like” idea.

        Granted, a person can be anywhere on the spectrum from one pole to another. But I would have a really hard time granting primacy to the course if it is all a product of Helen’s mind and doesn’t actually involve Jesus. In that case it would be just another opinion, and a very wordy one at that…

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