A Course in Miracles is a spiritual self-study course grounded in the language and mythology of Christianity as well as certain Freudian concepts. It takes considerable liberties with these traditions, which can be confusing for folks who have some preexisting familiarity with them. The deeper one goes into the material of the course, the more patient and forgiving one needs to be with it.
The course aims to introduce students to their “inner teacher” (known in course parlance as “the Holy Spirit”). That teacher facilitates “miracles,” which are changes in the student’s mind about what they are, what the world is, and what the function of God as love is. It is not about awakening or enlightenment per se, though its language clearly intimates those sorts of spiritual peak experiences.
Although Helen Schucman never explicitly said the voice she heard which essentially dictated the course to her was Jesus, the first-person presence in the material clearly asserts that identity. Near the end of the writing process, this first-person voice shifts, adopting a sort of royal “We.” The personal poetry Schucman wrote after the ACIM material was finished is semantically and tonally identical to the later, more polished, writing of A Course in Miracles, suggesting that the writer in both cases was identical. I suggest that Schucman wrote the material herself, projecting responsibility for its creation onto her personal ideal of a loving Jesus, because otherwise the burden of it was too heavy to bear in a manageable way.
I do not believe this has to minimize the effectiveness or relevance of the material.
The question of authorship has caused a lot of confusion and conflict in the ACIM community over the years. Was Schucman actually visited by the historical Jesus who wanted to revise what had become of his first century movement? Was “Jesus” in this case basically a metaphor? Was Helen playing fast and loose with the truth? Was she delusional?
For me, the better question has usually been: who cares? The efficacy of the course has been consistent in my personal practice regardless of where I fall on the “who-actually-wrote-it” spectrum. This leads directly to the most important idea with respect to my experience teaching and practicing A Course in Miracles: does it work?
And that question cannot be answered in an abstract or objective way. You have to go into your own experience and understanding; you have to face and give voice to your own truth of it.
A Course in Miracles – because of its design as a self-study curriculum – is inevitably deeply personal. It meets the student where the student is and goes from there. Whether it goes far enough, or fast or slow enough, and whether it goes in the right direction . . . That’s for the individual student to decide, in her own way, and for her own self. For those of us for whom the course becomes a de facto spiritual path, our answers to those questions may very well change over time.
For me, the course was utterly transformational, especially in the early going, which is to say it was helpful to my experience as a spiritual human being. Although my relationship with the material has changed a lot over the years, to a point where a lot of course students might think I’ve wandered a bit too far afield, it continues to be a provocative solace. I side whole-heartedly with Francisco Varela: what’s true is what works. And I add: what works is what’s helpful.
If you stick with A Course in Miracles – especially if you are sticking because it is personally effective – then something is going to happen. It might happen gradually or suddenly, it might ebb and flow, and you might not even notice it happened until one day you look up and realize you and the world and the God to whom you credit the whole are . . . changed. Allowing for personal variations and expressions, you become a happier, gentler person because you see with increasingly clarity that love is the measure of our being, and nothing else really matters.
And, perhaps most miraculous of all, you don’t have to do anything to bring this state about and extend it to your brothers and sisters. Both the gift and the means to extend it are already given to you. All the course does is gently remind you of this fact.
That’s a nice outcome but it’s important to remember that A Course in Miracles is not for everyone. There are a lot of ways to have experiences that open our hearts and transform our outlook on living. Psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, traditional religious practices, meditation, running, Bohm dialogue . . .
There are many roads, none of them royal. The question is one of what fits, and what fits is always a question of what works and, again, what works is what helps.
If we want to know what works, then we have to know what problem we are trying to solve or what question we are trying to answer. If we want X, does spiritual practice Y bring X closer? If yes, then Y is helpful and merits our attention and effort. If no, then we need to shake the dust off our sandals and try another town.
Thus, when folks are just starting A Course in Miracles, or are thinking of giving it a try, or are stumped or stalled in their practice, then it is sometimes helpful to sit quietly and think about what it is that we want. Go deeply into your desire for healing, for peace, for love and see what’s there. See what happens when you give attention to it. See how it responds to your attention. See what happens next.
Generally, in some form or other, we want to be happy. Being happy means not resisting the wholeness that naturally inheres in the human observer that we are. Being ourselves is natural – what else could we be? But resistance in any number of forms (greed, fear, guilt, lust and so forth) permeates our being. We need help.
In the end, that is what A Course in Miracles is. It is a way of helping undo resistance to our own self in and as love. It is a hands-on curriculum designed to help us identify whatever blocks the free flow of love in our living. Identifying those blocks is synonymous with undoing those blocks. The result is an easier relationship with the love – broadly understood – that we are.