I think it is natural that at some point in their practice, most students of A Course in Miracles have to step back and ask themselves what they’re doing. You read the text, you work through all the lessons in the workbook, you throw in a couple dozen books by both well-known and less well-known Course teachers and . . . you’re still having an experience of separation from God. Have we screwed up? Are we forsaken by Jesus? What gives?
The course frequently reminds us that it is easy (see, for example, T-23.III.4:1). Yet clearly this is a conditional statement. It may indeed be easy but something in us – call it resistance – seems infinitely capable of complicating it and keep separation alive and well. This may be especially noticeable when our knowledge of the course is quite extensive and our motivation sincere.
We burnish our reputation as healed people – noteworthy ACIM students – in the world, while not experiencing the end of the separation. It is as if we substitute the world’s standards for God’s. I think a lot of us have that experience. We’re the most knowledgeable member of the study group. People turn to us with questions. We must be awakened. But being admired in the world and being one with God are two different – indeed, irreconcilable – things.
Lessons 79 and 80 seem pertinent. The former is “Let me recognize the problem so it can be solved.” The problem, of course, is separation. One lesson later – lesson 80 – we are asked to learn that “my problems have been solved.” Where the problem is, there the solution will be as well. Indeed, the clear implication is that once we realize that our only problem is our perceived separation from God, then the problem is gone.
Yet what are we to do when it clearly is not gone? That is, all our knowing and our good intentions have not enabled us to recognize the separation – obviously this is so because we are still living a separation-influenced life. We are holding on to something. Despite our apparent progress – and I am happy to testify that there can be much progress shy of awakening – we are still “not there.”
I think this is a fructive state, one that we should not be in a hurry to get through. Recognizing that after so much hard work and study we are still in the ego’s grasp can be very enlightening. For one thing, it can help us to reconsider the value of our own efforts. The implication is that they may not be particularly essential. As the course says,
Put yourself not in charge . . . for you cannot distinguish between advance and retreat. Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success (T-18.V.1:5-6).
There is an Alice in Wonderland feel to that – what’s up is down, what’s down is up – that is usefully cautionary. It is not our job to evaluate salvation or the methods used to attain it because we cannot. Thus, progress in the world – the self-congratulatory pride after being especially humble and gentle and knowledgeable at a study group – may well be failure. We don’t know.
Letting go of the power of judgment is very hard. But it appears not to be negotiable.
The other thing that lessons 79 and 80 can do for us is point to a beginning, or a need for a new beginning. Gary Renard points out (in The Disappearance of the Universe, I think) that the last words of the epilogue to the workbook are very frustrating: “This course is a beginning, not an end.” We are apt to forget that. We pass through this big text and all these lessons only to learn that all that we’ve done is inch up to the starting line. Finishing it is not an accomplishment, except in the dubious way of the world.