Read by A Course in Miracles

One can make the argument that A Course in Miracles just means what it means – you get it or you don’t, and that’s it. It isn’t subject to interpretations. Certainly, this was Ken Wapnick’s position.

IP: You claim that you are teaching what the Course actually says. If you read a line from the book and then explain it, that has to be your interpretation, surely?

KW: I do not feel that the Course has interpretations. I think it says what it says. Now, you could ask who I am to say: “What I say it says, is what it says.” I think that is something people must decide for themselves.

IP: But you make that claim.

KW: I do. I say: “This is what it says.”

But this is very narrow view of A Course in Miracles specifically, and of human beings generally. I am grateful to Ken for a great deal, but that is a narrow view. It is narrow because you cannot separate the text from the reader: the text and the reader are in a relationship, the salient quality of which is its variability and mutability. This is true no matter who is reading or what is being read.

The suggestion I am making here reflects an ideal of reading – reader becoming creator by virtue of reading – essentially espoused (and perhaps bastardized in my own interpretation of it) by Roland Barthes.

To interpret a text is not to give it a (more or less justified, more or less free) meaning, but on the contrary to appreciate what plural constitutes it . . . the networks are many and interact without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are indeterminable . . . ; the systems of meaning can take over this absolutely plural text, but their number is never closed, based as it is on the infinity of language (S/Z 5 -6).

I am suggesting that to read A Course in Miracles (or any other text) with the idea that it has a fixed, immutable meaning is an error of magnitude that prevents us from seeing the text as it is: which is to say a dynamic and interactive process, that includes us because it desires us, because – in no metaphorical way – without us it does not exist.

I am suggesting that A Course in Miracles cannot be understood in terms of right or wrong. I am suggesting that the text you read today will be subtly different from the text you read tomorrow. I am suggesting that you are the text that A Course in Miracles is reading, the meaning of which emerges, or unfolds, from this very act of cooperative reading, which is not passive but creative, a sort of transcendent collective.

I am suggesting that truth is revealed not as a static final point in a book but as a fluidity, a textual flux that resists being known, so that the self, if we are going to speak of a self, is simply a divine emptiness perpetually flowing in and out of what is.

Charlotte Radler’s brilliant reading of Meister Eckhart (especially in Losing the Self: Detachment in Meister Eckhart and Its Significance for Buddhist-Christian Dialogue), moves helpfully – happily even – in this direction.

God is ultimately a projection of the human being’s wishes, desires and needs, and, thus, is an idol. The best way to honor God is, thus, to dive into a-theism and not to have a God, that is, to let God be nothing and exist in the same nothingness.

She goes on to suggest that Eckhart’s “mystical infrastructure” was not fixed but fluid, stable only in its instability.

God – and reciprocally the soul – is never statically frozen or enclosed as nothingness or One or Three or creation, but the Ultimate Reality is dynamically nothingness, One, Three and creation. This dynamic, dialectical movement, therefore, goes from absolute openness and liberation beyond being and nonbeing to an experience of openness and liberation in history and in creation, and back again.

So that is a way of thinking about God and reading that seems fruitful to me, that seems to get to the center of what we are doing, the center of the desire that calls itself spiritual.

Sometimes, the differences in our relationships with A Course in Miracles are small. Some people are happy to keep reading me because what I say is more or less consistent with their own understanding, or it confirms what they intuit about ACIM, or they like the emphasis on prose poetry, and so forth.

But sometimes those differences are very large – the way I don’t think the historical Jesus wrote or dictated A Course in Miracles, for example – and then we have to make a difficult decision. Are we going to try and force these other people into our personal way of thinking or can we just let it be? Just breathe and let be?

We need to be sensitive to the inclination – present in all of us to one degree or other – to proscribe readings of A Course in Miracles. If our ACIM practice is truly inhibited by what someone else is doing, then our attention needs to be redirected from the external – this person’s misreading A Course in Miracles – to our own unhealed perception that right and wrong exist and are meaningful and that we are responsible for applying them.

When we are settled on right and wrong and cheerfully applying those labels to people, places and things, we are taking refuge in the very lovelessness that A Course in Miracles aims to help us undo. It’s understandable, but it’s not exactly helpful. None of us are free from this impulse (to be right at another’s expense) but that is not an excuse for indulging behavior that is alienating and separative.

Please keep in mind that I am talking here about a relationship with a text. I am not saying that when someone says “all red lights mean go” you should hop into the car with them. I wouldn’t. But when it comes to reading, and understanding a vast tome of written, rewritten and edited words, and then bringing the resultant lessons into application, any possibility of black and white – this or that only – is just not possible. It’s like trying to read yesterday’s ripples in this morning’s lake; we deceive ourselves when we argue otherwise.

If you want proof of this, just have a conversation with anybody who seriously studies A Course in Miracles. Don’t get into what you think or what you feel, just make a big space in order to listen to their own practice and experience. Then do it with someone else. Then someone else.

By the time you reach the fifth or sixth person, you will see that A Course in Miracles is just a mirror into which we are all projecting our wishes, fears and desires. It’s like a picture of Ramana Maharshi, or the crucifixes I grew up with, or tarot cards. It’s just another object that people of a certain spiritual bent use to reflect back to themselves their preferred image of God and Heaven and inner peace and so forth.

Indeed, most of us don’t even have to inquire into other people’s experiences to see this. A close look at our own experience will reveal the mutability of the course. My own reading of A Course in Miracles has shifted substantially over the years. I don’t know many students (including Ken Wapnick*) for whom that’s not true. And once you observe the shifting nature of your own sense of the course, you realize that it’s not a holy scripture cast in Mosaic stone, but simply another spiritual text which can be brought to helpful or unhelpful application, depending on your readiness and openness.

Given that, why argue with anybody else’s interpretation? Or the way they choose to bring it into practice? Again, I can understand the impulse to argue because it springs from our shared belief in separate selves, which infects all of us, but that doesn’t mean we have to indulge it. If somebody wants ascended masters to lead the way, then go for it. If they want somebody who tells them “it’s this way or the highway,” then that’s great, too. We are where we are; there’s nothing to be gained by pretending otherwise. Indeed, pretending otherwise is the whole separation in a nutshell.

All we can really do is give attention to what works for us. Maybe A Course in Miracles is part of that and maybe not. Maybe it is now but it won’t be in a couple of months or years or decades. One of the affects of giving attention is the realization that we can’t give it for anybody else – all you can do is be as honest and open as possible with yourself, and what happens after that is out of your hands. Peace boils down to accepting that.

Over the years I’ve written stuff about ACIM that was true at the time – in the sense that it reflected my present understanding and inclination – but at which I now cringe. That is a lovely aspect of being a writer – you can see what you think, and you can also see what you thought. And it is very hard to take thought too seriously once you see how malleable it is and how often it changes. It’s like building a house on drifting sands.

One of the reasons I tried so hard in my early twenties to be a Buddhist, in the face of my ineptitude and stupidity, was because I had read that if you met the Buddha on the road, you were to kill him. I was so grateful for that at so many levels! I couldn’t even explain it. But it fed me in ways my native Catholicism (despite its relatively progressive flavor**) did not. It suggested to me that crosses and Bo trees were in the nature of waystations, not ends unto themselves, and that God – which even then I was trying to understand and perceive in terms of Meister Eckhart’s “unmanifest isness” – was not separate from anybody or anything but rather inherent in all of life, even unto non-manifestation.

It seems to me that as we become serious about encountering reality – whether we are doing this through Zen, ACIM, advaita vedanta, peyote, whatever – we sooner or later realize that we can’t place idols before reality. The truth won’t allow for it. And A Course in Miracles is an idol, a belief system that eventually we have to gently set aside.

Imagine that we have a broken tractor. For a long time, we ignore it. We are young and we think there is plenty of time to fix it. Then we decide we are going to get to it but first we have to pay off the mortgage on the farm or get the kids off to college. And then, when we are at last ready to fix it, we start reading about fixing tractors. We go to tractor-fixing workshops. Maybe we get a tractor-fixing guru. Time passes. Eventually we get around to holding the tractor-fixing manual (which is ACIM or the Mumonkon or Meister Eckhart’s sermons or whatever) in one hand while the other futzes around with tractor guts. But half-hearted effort yields nothing. We still aren’t serious. We still aren’t ready.

Then, one day, we realize that we know how to fix the tractor but we need both hands and our full attention to do it and it is time now to do it. So we put the manual down, and we stop thinking about fixing tractors, and we just go to work on the tractor before us.

My sense is that a lot of students who read Tara Singh, or who find my own half-assed study of the course helpful, are at the point where they are ready to put the manual down. In a sense, they already have – it’s on the ground by their knees – but they are  still thinking, should I just take one more look? You know that I do that, because I am always bringing someone new to the table: David Bohm, John Sherman, Meister Eckhart, Emily Dickinson. Just one more writer, one more text . . .  And it’s okay – it’s more than okay – but it’s not precisely the readiness that is required.

I am saying – as Tara Singh said with a lot more gravitas, clarity and poetry – that there is no point anymore in manuals or delay or resistance. It is time to fix the damn tractor. We know how to do it, we’re just scared. We’re not even lazy – we’re just scared, and our fear takes on all these different forms of resistance. But who cares? Fix the damn tractor. Just fix it.

The point – what I meant to say a couple thousand or so words ago – is simply that we can’t really fix anybody else’s tractor, and any time we spend trying to get others to fix their tractor, or switch to a different tractor care manual, is just another form of resistance. It’s another way of avoiding our own Massey-Ferguson. You can be the smartest person in the room, the one that everybody listens to, but if your tractor’s broken, then so what?

I can’t – because nobody can – possibly account for the unique form your story and journey assume. You have all these ideas about Jesus and the Buddha, and all these images, and you have done this and that as a faithful person and as a fearful person, and you have suffered in this way but not in that way, and you have made these mistakes and had all these different relationships through the years, all these loves and calls for love, and all of that shapes and colors the text that you read, whether it’s A Course in Miracles or Conversations with God or The Hobbit. The way the text arrives for you is so intimate that it is actually as if God were briefly manifest, briefly entering you, a slick line of mercury electrifying all your blood. You just have to meet it there, you have to let it happen just so, because – in a very literal way – it is letting you happen. It is all one movement.

There is no space between you, your reading of the text, and the text. We like to pretend there is, but there isn’t. If you look very closely at what is going on in an interior way, then you will see this. And once you do, the whole point of lecturing others because they aren’t hewing to the same intellectual spiritual line you are just evaporates. There’s no basis for it. And thank God! If there were, we’d spend all our time “helping” others and never getting around to fixing our own tractor.

We have to hunker down. When I say “we” I mean “me.” It is clear to me that the time for study is over, despite how good I am study, and despite how much I love it. It is at this point a form of resistance. I studied the maps not to draw them from memory but because I wanted to enter the territory and see what it looked like outside of cartography, outside of pictures, outside of someone else’s description. When you and I look at a mountain, we do not see the same mountain. Only by honoring our distinct visions can we climb it side by side, each in our own way reaching the summit together.


 

* I am aware of the potential for hypocrisy here. I am judging Ken Wapnick in order to write a post about not judging others based on their interpretation of A Course in Miracles. Physician heal thyself! But it is important I think to see that the problem isn’t really saying somebody is wrong. Rather, it’s believing that we’re right in doing so. That is, when we elevate our opinion or interpretation of a text to a settled “truth.” Agreeing and disagreeing are what interpretation is; it’s when we deny that – when we pretend that our interpretation is the real and only one – that we start to run into problems.

** When I say “progressive” here I mean my own particular application, which arose from a specific family and academic environment, both of which hewed to a fairly liberal understanding and application of Catholic doctrine. I am deeply grateful for that tradition and consider it a sound foundation, despite the considerable distance I have put between it and myself.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Eric November 30, 2014, 5:14 am

    Hi Sean,

    I was going to start off this reply by saying that I have always been a proponent that everyone interprets the course, but upon closer examination, I see that would have not been an accurate statement.

    I think when I first started reading the course and reading a lot of Ken Wapnick, I pretty much took his explanations as “2+2=4 fact.” It wasn’t until I started setting aside the books about the course and really diligently studying the course itself, that I began to realize and appreciate that everyone, including Ken Wapnick, interpreted the course.

    One of the things I found interesting about Ken was he seemed to have a knack from dissociating himself or exempting himself from the very topics he would discuss. An example is a video where he is speaking of the course being a self study course. In the video is emphatically stating to one of the many study/lecture groups that he held throughout his FACIM career that there is nothing in the course stating anything about groups.

    Everyone interprets the course, because everyone reads the symbols within the course with their perception, and perception IS interpretation. Ken seemed to exempt himself from this, but there are a few examples demonstrating this is a narrow view.

    Anyone who has read Ken’s earlier works (especially when Helen was still alive) to his later works can see some very stark contrasts to his ideas. This is why in some of the later editions of his earlier works, there are prefaces explaining why he no longer believed, or saw it the same way as what he wrote in the book. A couple of examples from Q&A’s with Ken are:

    Q: If the separation is an illusion, and the Holy Spirit came into existence to solve that, isn’t the Holy Spirit an illusion?

    A: No, because God created Him. It’s a good question though. The Course’s answer is that when the separation is totally healed and the Holy Spirit is no longer needed, He still exists because God created Him. ~Ken 1985

    Ken in 1997: So too must the Holy Spirit be an illusion as well, because He corrects (or translates) what is useless and meaningless [or illusory].

    Ken’s statements in 1983:

    Jesus sends us into the world, fulfilling certain functions….We are sent to certain people….If, for example, our work takes us to the inner city…If we teach suffering and neglected children…If we seek to help free those who are oppressed…

    Jesus needs us to be his apostles of peace, or teachers of God, because only through us can he complete the saving work he undertook to begin in his own life….He needs our eyes to see the suffering in the world, and yet see the light shining beyond it; he needs our ears to hear the calls for help of people frightened into responses of attack and violence; he needs our arms and feet to bring his hope and comfort to those who have forgotten him, he needs our voice to speak his message of salvation that all our sins have been forgiven. Most of all he needs our willingness to become his messengers of love.

    Ken’s statements later on:

    The teachers of God need merely accept the Atonement for themselves, and that salvation of the world depend on their simply doing just that and only that. This is not an insignificant point….The ego’s need to make the world and itself special will distort the words to mean that the Course student, now a seemingly advanced teacher of God, is asked by Jesus behaviorally to teach other students, heal the sick, or preach to the world.

    One does not heal others, minister to others, or teach others; one simply accepts the truth within oneself by realizing the illusory nature of the ego….

    Even more to the point, one cannot heal others because ultimately, if the world is an illusion, who is there to help?…Needless to say, the whole concept of helping presupposes a dualistic universe, of which God knows nothing….Passages like this poem [the closing paragraph of the Manual for Teachers] are meant to be taken as symbols of God’s Love, and not as literal truth.

    Eric: Now without getting into which statements one agrees with or disagrees with, I think it is quite easily demonstrated that Ken did in fact interpret the course like everyone else. The very fact that he stated a lot of it had to be taken metaphorically demonstrates that interpretation is needed to do so.

    If everyone interprets the course, why then am I focusing on Ken? Well I suppose the first reason is that I am replying within the context of this blog and it was already brought up. The second, and probably more important reason is going down the slippery slope of dogma and fundamentalism. We usually attribute these aspects to organized religion, but they can easily slip into the realm of “unorganized spirituality” when we make or accept a certain person or persons the authority of ACIM, and anyone who doesn’t agree with this authority is wrong and not really teaching or studying the course.

    “What’s the big deal?”, one might ask. Since if someone says they are really teaching the course and you are not since you don’t agree with them, that is just words and ideas. That’s not a big deal, and yes, that is not a big deal in the scheme of things. But I want to point something out though about how one’s ideas of being right may start off as ideas, but can become something much bigger.

    Ken thought he was right about the course (as many of us do). And when Ken’s organization, FACIM, got the copyrights to the course from FIP, FACIM began sending out cease and desist letters to organizations and/or internet groups telling them to stop using the “A Course in Miracles” title on their sites, and/or stop using quotes from ACIM (past the fair use law) or they would face legal action. Other course authors were refused the right to use ACIM quotes in their books they were writing, with FACIM attempting to quash any interpretation that did not align with its views. In essence, FACIM seemed to attempt to become a type of modern day Orthodox church to the course.

    Had FACIM not lost the copyright and ACIM thus becoming public domain, I’m not sure Sean you would be writing a blog titled, “Sean Reagan: On A Course in Miracles, Writing, and Coherence and God”, with a free range in the use of the course’s quotes, as it would have been FACIM’s way or the highway, and this just wouldn’t be an idea, but something put into practical application.

    As far as the ascended masters, well you already know how I feel. There are a lot of people out there making claims that the same author of the course is coming to them, such as Paul Tuttle (aka Raj), Carpenter, Haskell, Thompson, Fereni, etc. all of them with their little interpretations and twists on the course. While I do not believe these people’s stories or completely agree with their interpretation (I’ve read material from all of them), I usually pay them no mind.

    It when someone uses the mouthpieces of some supposed “ascended masters” (especially when it can be demonstrated over and over that in all likely hood they are literary devices made up to help sell books) to make dogmatic and fundamental statements and attempt to exalt the teacher or teachers above other teachers and the course above other paths, that I have a hard time being silent about, and so I tend to speak up about it, as I don’t think spirituality should be equated to gullibility or excepting every claim made as true, or being apathetic. Had people not stepped up and took on FACIM in court, we might not be having this conversation right now.

    Eric

    • Sean Reagan December 2, 2014, 12:25 pm

      Hey Eric,

      Any chance that you would be open to a phone conversation or skype or something? If you are, you could send contact info via contact page . . .

      I didn’t know Ken personally, so I have no idea what his most personal thoughts were with respect to his evolution and so forth. He was the public face of the course in a lot of ways, and its custodian in a lot of ways too, and that is a relationship that must have been quite hard to manage.

      But I have always been baffled by his insistence that his reading did not reflect an interpretation but the final word . . . and I agree whole-heartedly that this mindset was (and may yet be for all I know) pervasive in the litigation around the use of the name and all of that . . .

      In a way, it’s not surprise. People are people, even when they’re ACIM students!

      Your point about focusing on Ken is important . . . For me, it has a lot to do with how closely I have read him and the degree to which I am grateful to him, while also being aware of my conflicted feelings abbout him . . . looking closely at those feelings or perceptions necessitates to some degree trying to work through his whole approach to the course and to healing.

      As I mentioned to you in another thread, I have had to do the same thing with respect to Tara Singh and parenting.

      I hope that in doing this I am not being a total jerk, which is always a risk unfortunately!

      Thanks for reading & sharing.

      ~ Sean

  • Eric December 4, 2014, 8:03 am

    Hi Sean,

    I could be open for something like that, but I think right now, for me, it is not a good time. Between working overtime, working a side job, the holiday season, getting things ready for the baby, baby shower, refinancing the house, trying to get into shape with new exercises, while trying to keep my meditation and Qigong practice consistent, my available time is inconsistent and sporadic.

    You can email me if you want and when I get some time I can reply. This might be easier for me right now as then I don’t have to worry about being available at a certain time as things change moment to moment around here, LOL.

    As far as Ken, it is not my intention to demonize him. I do not know what I would have done if I had been in the same position and as you said, people are people, even course students. Actually, ironically, Ken called course students some of the worst people on the face of the earth many times, so it seems people are REALLY people despite being course students 🙂

    I had a dream about you last night. I had a dream that you and your wife came to my house. For some reason we were speaking Japanese and I kept remarking how surprised that you knew Japanese. I was about to show you all my course books and then I woke up.

    Kind of a strange dream, but it was the catalyst that brought me to your blog this morning to see this reply.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    Eric

    • Sean Reagan December 9, 2014, 7:58 am

      That is a nice dream! Your library would be well worth perusing, so a very generous impulse of you there . . . Re: talking, I absolutely understand and honor those constraints, so no worries. Perhaps one of these days . . . but I will try to drop an email soon . . .

      Ken is a complicated figure . . . I actually avoided talking about him for a long time for that reason . . . and a lot of people who I respect and consider friends, in that online ACIM way, are very devoted to him and I don’t want to be insensitive . . .

      Off to prepare for class today – I hope you and your wife are well!

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