The Absolutely Right Way to Practice A Course in Miracles

A year or so ago someone wrote me about a negative experience they’d had with a fairly well-known course teacher. They felt a lot of pressure to practice A Course in Miracles a particular way. The coercion bothered them but at a deeper level, they were also bothered by the idea that it was even possible to approach the course from such a black and white place.

If you pay attention to the course community – from its highest levels to its lowest and farthest-flung – you know this is a real problem. A lot of well-intentioned people believe that it’s their way or the highway. Or they present that way. And so beginners and sometimes even veterans find themselves engaging less with the course and more with someone else’s interpretation of the course.

So is thereĀ a right way to practice A Course in Miracles? An “only” way?

No.

However, I wonder if we could say that there are helpful and less helpful ways to practice it? And that the arbiter of what is helpful and the degree to which it is helpful is you, in prayerful conjunction with the Holy Spirit and Jesus?

That feels healthier to me, and more consistent with the overall tone and message of A Course in Miracles.

It is my experience that the course meets us where we are. That is, whatever our spiritual needs and abilities happen to be at a given time, the course will – if it is the path that we are choosing – naturally and usefully fit into them. We will be challenged and nurtured to the precise degree that we’re ready, willing and able to be.

And that is going to be a different experience for each student. Not only that, but that experience is going to change over time. It is a process and it changes and we change with it.

And the course shifts gear to be with us at all times.

I will give you a couple of personal examples. When I first encountered the course, I got quickly and intensely invested in the debate about which edition to read. The urtext? The sparkly edition? The Criswell? What?

As an English professor and professional writer, this seemed like a very reasonable issue. It appealed to both my personal and professional instincts. So I read a lot of blog posts on the subject. I got hold of every edition, read them and compared them to one another. It was very academic, very intense, very driven.

I dove right into the heart of the conflict. It was my early lens into the course community and A Course in Miracles itself.

These days, I am uninterested in that debate – or at least a lot less interested. When asked, I encourage people to just stick with the FIP edition. If they feel really strongly that there’s a better one, then I encourage them to go for it. The differences between editions are far less significant than what is similar. You’re going to get it regardless of the edition you read. The conflict – which can be quite intense – is a real distraction. The idea that one edition is superior to the other for all students all the time . . . it’s just crazy. Who would want to indulge it? You find what works and you stick with it.

But you know what? Even though I regret that early focus – because it indulged conflict and not peace – I still learned. I got a great crash course in the course community. I was exposed to some thinkers – Robert Perry, Kenneth Wapnick, Liz Cronkhite – who are helpful for many reasons other than their take on which edition of ACIM is authentic, or real, or condoned.

So what I am saying is that while the Sean of today would discourage the approach that the Sean of yesterday took, the Sean of yesterday was still learning. He was still making progress.

It was okay. It really was.

Here’s another example. Gary Renard’s book TheĀ Disappearance of the Universe showed up in my practice at about the time I let go of the ACIM edition question. It was a rough time. I had made a commitment to the course, but was also feeling quite lost with it. I wasn’t sure I understood it, wasn’t sure what teachers to read. I felt chastened by the fact that I’d indulged community conflict so much.

In that space, Renard was an accessible and incredibly supportive teacher. His attitude and style allowed me to breathe. I didn’t care about the whole Arten and Pursah debate. I just read the book several times through. It had a real calming effect on me. It was like talking to somebody who wasn’t invested in being brilliant or overly spiritual or anything. It was so refreshing that way.

Years later, I don’t really turn to Renard’s work. It was incredibly useful at a point in my practice, and then it stopped being so useful. It helped to create a fruitful learning environment in which other teachers appeared.

Again, what worked back then does not work now. But so what? This is a learning process, not a learning event. I know students who stay with Gary for years. He’s their teacher. He’s got it. And that’s fine with me. I’m happy for them. I don’t think I’m more right than they are just because I moved on.

Always ask: what is working? What is not? And then follow what works and gently and lovingly let go of what does not. It’s okay. And it’s going to get even more okay. Our teacher is the Holy Spirit. We are already what we need to learn. Be attentive and gentle. Be open. It works. It’s working.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • leslie schmidt September 12, 2012, 9:41 pm

    I have read your article on John Denver titled Annie Denver Today. I would like to read it again but can’t find it. Can you send it to my e-mail address. Thank you

    • Sean Reagan September 13, 2012, 11:26 am

      Hi Leslie,

      You can find that post here. Thanks for reading!

      Sean

  • Jake March 5, 2014, 10:46 am

    Unlike Urtext and HLC, FIP erased “soul”,except those directly quoted from the Bible.
    I don’t think this is insignificant. FIP disregards soul, as if it doesn’t exist. The reason they erased soul is, they say, ‘soul’ is ambiguous. It may be ambiguous to Helen and Wapnick, but to Jesus?

    • Sean Reagan March 5, 2014, 11:10 am

      Hi Jake,

      Thanks for your comment. As I said in the post, in general, I think that the course meets us where we are. If one feels strongly that earlier drafts of the course are more authentic for some reason, then great. Use them. I find it more practical to think in terms of what is helpful and not helpful, with the understanding that those standards may shift over time. So if at one stage of our practice we find Gary Renard’s work very helpful but subsequently find it less helpful, it’s okay. If we start with the FIP edition and over time gravitate to the urtext, great. Wapnick himself said at one point that students should study that draft of the course that most effectively minimized their guilt. The Holy Spirit can guide us with whatever material we offer it, and this is as true of the language that comprises ACIM as anything else.

      I don’t really know if the word “soul” is ambiguous to Jesus. My experience is that Jesus is not hung up on those details but is truly focused on the deep structural mind changes that facilitate our movement out of the dream of separation and towards awakening to the memory of our fundamental union with God. In that respect, I think Jesus is probably fine with someone who is adamant that this or that word is essential to ACIM, and fine too with someone who takes a different position. The question is always to what degree are we sharing these preferences and opinions with the Holy Spirit, and to what degree are we willing to allow them to be undone for us.

      Our goal is to wake up. The path we follow is highly individualized. What works and is helpful for one student may not be so for another. So I think the thing is to set our goal on Truth, be as disciplined and diligent as we can be in pursuit of that goal, and trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are guiding us – and our brothers and sisters – and that the course is being literal when it assures us that we are all going to make it.

      In my own practice, I am not overly concerned with the edits between drafts. On the other hand, if you take a look at some of my posts, you’ll see that I care a great deal about masculine/feminine pronouns, about God as God and not He or She, and so forth. It makes sense to me to write that way. I don’t edit the course – I don’t substitute my judgment for the course language, but in my own prose I always write “brothers and sisters” and refer to God as God, not He.

      Am I “right” to do that? I don’t know. I do it because it feels more inclusive to me. I do it because it resonates at levels of justice and equality which are – still – important to me. I did not always do that. And I am open to the possibility that someday I may change my mind and start calling God a “father” again, and refer to women as “brothers.” Again, it is a question of what is helpful now. Humility and willingness and a sense of humor go a long way!

      Thank you again for your thoughts.

      Sean

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