There is a funny scene in Big Bang Theory where Sheldon and Leonard argue about the roommate agreement that governs their cohabitation.
Sheldon’s point is clear. The roommate agreement transcends the individual. I want to suggest that general principle can be helpful in studying A Course in Miracles – that we don’t work the course so much as the course works us. Perhaps I am way off base, but maybe there is something of value to this idea. We’ll see.
It is a cornerstone of ACIM that we are undoing the ego, or the egoic self. This is the self we think we are – the accumulation of memory, culture, opinion, physicality, et cetera. The course suggests that what we are in truth is eternal and thus formless. Thus, the little self – the ego’s proposed self – is illusory. It’s just a crummy idea to which we’ve been giving credence for far too long.
One of the ways that little self manifests is through ideas of self-improvement. The ego is not averse to undoing itself, so long as the undoing remains an idea. It is perfectly happy to negotiate its demise, because so long as we are negotiating with it, we are confirming – and affirming, really – its existence. Thus, a lot of sincere students – and I am one certainly – get confused. In some times obvious ways and sometimes very subtle ways, the course becomes a means of sustaining rather than undoing the ego.
I have read extensively amongst the public teachers of the course, have chatted with many students, and have traded emails with dozens of students and can say with complete confidence that nobody is perfectly exempt from this mistake.
Somehow, we have to let go of the idea that the little self in whom we are so deeply invested has anything to do with A Course in Miracles. It doesn’t.
When I first encountered the course in a tangible, bring-it-into-application kind of way, I was incredibly diligent and sincere. I did a lesson a day. I underlined as I studied the text. I kept a journal with questions and observations. I began to collect secondary materials – websites, books, how-to’s, et cetera. My intentions were good, but the inherent selfishness remained intact. I would have denied it, but my efforts – and they were really effortful – were all about Sean.
That’s an example of how the course is readily subsumed by the ego. Be alert for it and don’t judge yourself when you see it happening. It’s okay. It happens to everyone who allows the course into their life.
Well, that’s an example of me working the course – an unfeasible learning situation that is doomed to peter out. Let me give an example of the course working me, and then try and explain what I mean by it.
A couple of months into that diligent study, I had a couple of very distressing spiritual encounters. The first was the realization that the God to whom I had spent my life praying was vindictive and judgmental and bore almost no relationship to the God inherent in the course. I was shocked by this. It brought with it a lot of pain and shame. I was confused and distressed and humiliated.
The little self did not benefit from that realization! And it did not bring it on itself. It came from some deeper place, some other ground. It was the first example I had of how the course is at work on us without our knowing until bam! We are blessed – that is the right word, no matter how much it feels otherwise – with some transformational insight.
The second encounter was similar and happened about the same time. I became aware one morning of Jesus in close proximity to me. He was crying. The mental imagery was very clear and I reacted very much as if he were there in the flesh. I got scared. I left the room. I tried to think of other things. This image persisted and kept showing up over succeeding days until at last I realized the only way to get rid of it was to actually comfort Jesus, to ease his tears. Yet when I made to cross the room to hold him, I was shocked to see him lift his head and glare at me with condemning eyes. “You killed me,” his eyes said. “Now you want to comfort me?”
Again, this was not of any benefit to the little self. It came from another place. The realization was so painful and embarrassing. All those years of professing a loving, gentle Jesus and this was what I had to show for it: an angry, bitter and condemning man.
I call these two realizations gifts because they basically cleared a lot of ground in which it was now possible to begin again, both with God and with Jesus, this time through A Course in Miracles. It was a massive undoing and the egoic self took a big hit as a consequence.
I could not have accomplished either of those undoings by myself. But let me be clear. The requisite knowledge was there – it was simply buried so deep and covered so well, it was never going to come up of its own. Obviously, I had constructed a brilliant and effective defense against a hateful God and a bitter Jesus. They were there in my thought system, but I had obscured them.
Yet the truth – that God is a good idea and Jesus a helpful model – was there as well. Something in the course allowed that truth to break through the defenses, or do an end run around them. You can call it the Holy Spirit if you’d like – that’s fine. The point is, relying on the egoic self to think its way to truth, or study its way to truth, or read its way to truth is a fool’s game. Some other power – one with which we altogether unfamiliar because we banished it long ago, hid its tracks out, and buried all memory of it – is called for.
So we have to relax into the course. We have to chill out with it. You aren’t really studying A Course in Miracles. It’s hard to accept that but it’s true. You are simply relaxing into a state of mind where the truth can dawn of its own volition. This may take lifetimes and it may take a few weeks. But the longer I “study” the course, the more I realize how little I have to do. Indeed, the more “doing” I do – no matter how course-focused, no matter how well-intentioned – the farther I drift from the truth.
Eventually, we are going to have to undo even A Course in Miracles – Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Helen Schucman, Gary Renard. All of it. Your favorite teachers and the teachers you secretly despise. Even God – the word game we play in lieu of direct experience – will have to be undone. You and I are going too, and you know why? Because we don’t matter – we only think we do.