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Becoming Responsible for Happiness

Helen Schucman wrote A Course in Miracles and projected responsibility for that project onto her ideal of Jesus. Because the course is so helpful to me, I am deeply grateful to her for seeing the work through, and am not especially concerned about the ethics and particulars of her writing process. You do what you have to do to express what you have to express. That is what healing is.

river_glass

glass smoothed and polished by the river out back, where we walk and gather what is lovely, in one of many rituals of happiness . . .

However, once you disentangle the text (by which I mean all three primary volumes of the course) from a historical and agentic Jesus, then your own responsibility towards study, learning and application are clarified. You are called to meet the course where you see it (a corollary to the principle that the course meets you where you are). Being right or wrong about it, getting it or not getting it . . . these fall away as your attention is directed to your own experience of being a student, which is neither right nor wrong but simply is. Attention becomes the teacher and it is always instructive.

The question becomes: is the course helpful? Is a given teacher or approach helpful? And, of course, how are we defining “helpful?”

The course is “helpful” to the extent it makes us happy in a natural serious way. This should not be conflated with feeling good all the time. Part of being happy means accepting periods of struggle and confusion and grief with equanimity and honest inquiry; part of being happy means looking closely at interior material that is frightening or offensive in order to see past it to the love that is our “natural inheritance” (T-in.1:7). “This course has explicitly stated that its goal for you is happiness and peace” (T-13.II.7:1). Thus, the text observes that . . .

. . . delay of joy is needless. God wills you perfect happiness now. Is it possible that this is not also your will? And is it possible that this is not also the will of your brothers? (T-9.VII.1:7-10).

Happiness is not an object one has or doesn’t have. It’s not an event or outcome that meets our personal preferential standards. Rather, it is a process in which one finds oneself, an inclusive flow through which one’s living filters in helpful, nurturing and quietly joyous ways.

Note too that “happy” in this instance also means “having happiness to give.” In general, we know we are happy less by how we feel and more by how we make others feel. This can be a challenging shift in thinking for a lot of us – truly it was for me – but nonetheless, it matters. Happiness is what we share, not what we have. And paradoxically, it is only by giving it away without qualification or condition that we actually have it.

To gain you must give, not bargain. To bargain is to limit giving, and this is not God’s Will (T-7.I.4:3-4).

Again, I am talking about the deep happiness envisioned by A Course in Miracles, not the shallow ersatz imitation promulgated and sold by the world. The love we are given is not limited by formal constraints. It heeds none of the limits we impose on it; it doesn’t even notice these limits.

If we attend to this serious happiness, then it will in turn attend to us, and then everything will fall into place. Our practice, our metaphysics, our ideals, our understanding our unconscious drives . . . By this I mean simply that concepts of oneness, Heaven, awakening from the dream and so forth will naturally clarify. We already know what we need to know; we experience what we need to experience because that is the experience we are having. This is always unique to us, always perfect, and always helpful.

When we see our living this way, and live authentically from that seeing, then we are – in ACIM parlance – a Teacher of God. We no longer perceive another’s interest as separate from our own (M-1.1:2). All that matters then is the extension of love and peace, which are the fruits of forgiveness, which is itself a fruit of our reliance on a power that is – to paraphrase Saint Paul – in us but not of us.

A Course in Miracles is an invitation to live this life in a new way, one that is premised on love, simplicity, kindness, generosity, service, inclusiveness and trust. It is a practice of radical honesty and inquiry. The form this learning-to-live-in-love takes naturally varies according to context, but the content – to borrow a time-honored course trope – will be the same.

The form of the course varies greatly. So do the particular teaching aids involved. But the content of the course never varies. Its central theme is always, “God’s Son is guiltless, and in his innocence is his salvation” (M-1.3:2-5).

Thus, in my stumbling stuttering way I manifest simplicity and generosity and kindness by writing and homesteading – raising as much of our food as possible, contributing to local economic structures that undo pernicious national and global structures, etc. Somebody else achieves the same effect driving a cab. Somebody else by practicing medicine. Someone else with their saxophone. And so forth.

The question is not the form but the content, and so it is only that to which our attention is directed. One might think they are attracted to homesteading because the work is honest, the diet healthy, the economics more virtuous and the communal aspects more moral but, in fact, it’s simply because that homesteading is where love appears in this case most clearly and pragmatically, and so naturally one goes there. Naturally one does their living there. Naturally – indeed, inevitably – one brings forth love there.

And what does this bringing forth love teach us? That love, as such, is not limited to the homestead or to homesteading. It is everywhere. It spills and overflows and illuminates and slakes and blesses literally everything. It lights up our little self and our little world and in its radiance we understand that this beam reaches contexts we cannot even imagine.

Little by little we surrender to this love and, like a beneficent sea, it lifts us and carries us gently beyond our perception of limitations, our small designs and plans, our secrets and lies, and our fear of death and hell.

The work, then, is to simply attend our own gardens and not worry too much about what others are up to. Helen Schucman brought forth love in the form of A Course in Miracles through what one might reasonably call confusion about authorship. It doesn’t matter! What matters is that the course is here, and that it is up to us to contextualize it, to bring it into application in our own living that we might dream a dream of happiness and peace with one another and then wake up . . .

What is helpful? What makes you happy? To what life does your intuition direct you? Our responsibility is to our own surrender and our own giving of attention. That’s all. Things work out, and then things just . . . disappear, leaving only love. We are together learning – and living together as one – this very fact.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Wayne Essel August 14, 2018, 1:09 am

    Sean, how is it that you think the course’s authorship is incorrectly attributed? How do you explain the large numbers of first person narratives about Jesus’ life and what that means? The author often corrects what is supposedly a misinterpretation on the part of church tradition? Do you think that Helen as Helen simply wrote what she wanted to portray, from her own beliefs, and ascribed it to Jesus? I suppose she wouldn’t be alone, as it seems to me that the early christian authors might have done some of that as well. Curious. BTW, my background is very similar to yours… Born, baptized, raised Catholic. Altar boy. Two years of minor seminary in high school. 17 years of Catholic schooling, altogether!

    • Sean August 15, 2018, 4:57 am

      Hi Wayne.

      Thanks for asking that; it’s a good question.

      In a general sense, the world of form is governed by laws by which the dead – as agents who make things happen – don’t come back. In the same way that I can’t breathe underwater, pass through brick walls, or compute pi to the millionth place in my head, death will be this organism’s end.

      So Jesus was executed and so far as that body as a causative force went, that was it.

      On the other hand, the ideas – about peace, love, community, forgiveness, nonviolent resistance, commensalism et cetera – which Jesus embodied did not die with him. They went on.

      “Jesus” became a symbol of those ideas in the world of form. But symbols aren’t causative; they are more in the nature of narrative tools. We use them to keep the story straight. But we also tend to get confused on this point – we project cause onto the symbol and then, usually, forget we’ve done so.

      Thus, Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day can credit Jesus with the Catholic Worker; Helen Schucman can credit Jesus for A Course in Miracles. And, countless medieval priest acting on behalf of Jesus and with his putative blessing condemned women to die as witches.

      So Jesus becomes the face of the love or the fear we are afraid to look at and become responsible for. Helen used it to go very deeply into the part of her mind that understood love and wholeness in order to create another comprehensive symbol – ACIM.

      Oddly, though Jesus appears as a narrator in the earlier parts of the text, the name as such is relatively rare in the text. The Manual for Teachers, which Helen wrote near the end of the project, when her comfort level in the material and confidence in the writing voice, was quite high, makes this observation:

      The name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol. But it stands for love that is not of this world. It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for the many names of all the gods to which you pray (M-23.4:1-3).

      And a little later in the same chapter:

      This course has come from him because his words have reached you in a language you can love and understand. Are other teachers possible, to lead the way to those who speak in different tongues and appeal to different symbols? Certainly there are (M-23.7:1-3).

      That whole chapter is helpful, both because it addresses the Jesus-as-symbol question, and because it speaks to the writing project itself. Helen’s confidence in the material and in her voice is such that she no longer needs to write as if Jesus is speaking through her in the first-person (hence the third-person references to Jesus in this section).

      She was becoming responsible for the love that was her natural inheritance, which is what we are all doing, in our way and in our own projects.

      I want to be clear that a) I am not being critical of Helen. I don’t think she was being malicious or conniving; I think she wrote the only way she could possibly write in order to bring the material forward. I am grateful to her, because that material has been helpful to me, but also because it is a helpful reminder that art serves love and healing, and so you do what you have to do to bring it forward.

      Also, I think Jesus can be a very helpful symbol! Certainly it has been in my life. The work is to be clear about what symbols are and what function they serve, and to give attention to the way that we project cause on them as a way of avoiding responsibility for the love and fear that resides in us. But clearly, Jesus can be helpful in looking into all that, and untangling it.

      As always, the question is what is helpful. If a first-person account of Jesus’ life is helpful, then great. If it’s not – if it’s more helpful to look into Buddha’s programs, or quantum physics, or Gendlin’s focusing techniques, or tarot, that’s okay, too. More than okay, really.

      We are where we are and sometimes Jesus is there, too.

      Sean

      • Wayne Essel August 15, 2018, 8:04 pm

        Sean,

        While Jesus died, he also was resurrected. Or WAS he? In order to have been resurrected, his essential self would have to have survived his death. There were issues recognizing him in his resurrected state, documented in the new testament. But the literature we have is pretty adamant about the resurrection. So if his essential consciousness survived death, why couldn’t he be the author of ACIM?

        So, what do you believe about that one? I guess it comes down to the same basic question that separates theists from atheists, that you have to make a decision about what is the prime mover of the universe, matter or consciousness. In other words, is matter without beginning (there is no God) or is matter a manifestation of consciousness (God is the ultimate source)? The one thing I can’t get MY head around is the idea that there might be complete nothingness and then, all of a sudden, there is matter, a big bang. I’m basically a scientist at heart, and that concept seems to me a violation of the whole “like comes from like” idea.

        Granted, a person can be anywhere on the spectrum from one pole to another. But I would have a really hard time granting primacy to the course if it is all a product of Helen’s mind and doesn’t actually involve Jesus. In that case it would be just another opinion, and a very wordy one at that…

        • Sean August 16, 2018, 6:49 am

          Hi Wayne,

          Why would the body of Jesus be subject to different physical laws than your body? Or mine? Or the Buddha’s? A Course in Miracles emphasizes the neutrality of bodies, not the specialness of one or the other.

          As I said in my earlier comment, the ideas that Jesus shared lived on in his followers, and their followers, and mushroomed in the way ideas sometimes do. So there was – there is yet – a nontrivial continuity but it has to do with love, rather than with a particular body or bodies.

          Early versions of the Gospel of Thomas are interesting in this regard. They don’t use the term “resurrection.” They talk instead about about a “living Jesus,” a presence that cannot be interrupted or stymied by death.

          I think this understanding of Jesus – which perhaps you are alluding to when you use the word “essential” a couple of times – is closer to that contemplated by A Course in Miracles. Jesus is a symbol of what cannot be killed. He is a symbol of the love that transcends death because it is not itself a body. It is real and thus cannot be threatened (In.2:2).

          Consider again the Manual for Teachers. It defines the resurrection not as the reanimation of matter – the rising of one person’s body from its death – but rather “a change of mind about the meaning of the world” (M-28.1:2).

          It is the end of dreams of misery, and the glad awareness of the Holy Spirit’s final dream. It is the recognition of the gifts of God. It is the dream in which the body functions perfectly, having no function except communication . . . it is the relinquishment of all other purposes, all other interests, all other wishes and all other concerns (M-28.1:4-6, 9).

          Would the utility of the ACIM material really change if they were written by Helen Schucman and not Jesus? Do the Rules for Decision, say, suddenly mean something else? Reflect other principles? Incorporate other themes?

          If your answer is “yes,” can you imagine somebody else answering “no?” And if so, what does that mean about your “yes?”

          Emphasizing the divinity of Jesus is a way of making him special. But over and over the course emphasizes not the specialness of Jesus as such but rather his sameness – that is, it emphasizes the utter equality of all children of God because it is only on that view that we begin to actually be resurrected – that is, to experience a “change of mind about the meaning of the world.”

          Equals should not be in awe of one another because awe implies inequality. It is therefore an inappropriate reaction to me . . . “No man cometh unto the Father by me” does not mean that I am in any way separate or different from you . . . (T-1.II.3:5-6, 4:1).

          This change of mind – which inverts the purpose and function of self and world, body and mind – is radical. One of the radical steps is realizing that we are wrong about God and, by extension, Jesus, and so we have to allow new insights into our thinking. We have to go very deep into our belief system so the whole package can be dismantled.

          Of course, I speak only to my own experience and learning – how the course appears to me, what has been helpful, what has transpired along the way and so forth. The focus always must be on what is helpful, which is a deeply personal question, related to makes us happy in the most natural and serious sense of the word. To that end, I hardly have a monopoly on Jesus and the love that is brought forth in his name.

          ~ Sean

  • Wayne Essel August 16, 2018, 10:43 pm

    Sean,

    I am not saying that Jesus’ body was special. Quite the opposite. I think it’s pretty clear in the course that the Jesus of the course is saying that during the crucifixion he had the ultimate realization of the nature of illusion of life and was able to withdraw his support for his very ordinary body, paving the way for him to use a resurrected or spiritual body. And I think he claims that what he did, we could do. He paved the way, so to speak. I don’t believe that the resurrection involved the re-animation of dead stuff. But rather, represented a new and different way of interaction between the Kingdom and here.

    I think that the reason his story “mushroomed” was precisely because of what happened. It would have been / it IS extraordinary but not in the “special” kind of way to which you refer where it was unique to Jesus and not possible for others. It’s pretty clear, over time, though, that the Christian community morphed into believing that Jesus is special in a way that we are not. The course is geared at fixing that misconception. And, ironically, that appears to be why many Christians reject the course. They appear to not want that misconception fixed.

    And, yes, I believe that if the ACIM were a product purely of Helen’s mind, it would be a fraud. A fraud is NOT useful if truth is what you are seeking. I don’t think that to actually be the case right now, though. However, anyone who claimed to receive dictation from Jesus, but who actually drew the material out of their own consciousness would be mentally ill, not spiritually enlightened. At worst it could be dangerously misleading, and at best it would be just another opinion.

    If it were a fraud, it could still have useful bits in it. But I would go elsewhere, to see if I could find what rings true. I certainly can understand someone else’s feeling differently, but that doesn’t mean I agree. So far, though, ACIM seems to me to portray the authentic thoughts of Jesus. And because of that, I sometimes find myself viewing parts of Christian belief in a very different light from before ACIM. Possibly more Buddhist, so to speak…

    And I do believe that we survive death, and that we return to a place that is the seat of our being, with some continuity with this life and possibly other lives and beings. I believe that this life is illusion, albeit a VERY persistent one. But maybe that’s only because I’m not as fully aware as God would have me be. And that lack of awareness also probably prevents reception of guidance and communication from the other side. And maybe that’s a place where Helen was more capable, more gifted than most of us and actually did have a real conversation with the real spirit of the real Jesus for our benefit.

    • Sean August 20, 2018, 8:06 am

      Hi Wayne,

      I’ve been thinking about this comment of yours off and on for a few days. I think it reflects traditional Christian dualism – a “very ordinary body” AND a “spiritual body” with Jesus as the critical intermediary. But perhaps am I wrong!

      I have a question then: you suggest at the end of your comment that it is possible to have a “real conversation with the real spirit of the real Jesus.”

      I am curious about your use of the word “real” here.

      How do you believe there is a real Jesus? How do you distinguish a real from an unreal Jesus? How do you know you are not confusing one for the other?

      Note that these are “how” – not “why” – questions.

      Thank you!

      Sean

  • Wayne Essel August 21, 2018, 1:53 am

    Sean
    First, I want to let you know that I am enjoying this conversation and appreciate the fact that you are hanging in there with me.
    I wish I had known of your writing when I lived in CT. I lived in Hartland, CT for 25 years. Hartland is 10 miles due west of Southwick, MA, just outside the west edge of “the notch” that contains Southwick. We were almost neighbors back then. I am also a Red Sox fan. I had been away from the course for 15 years until a year and a half ago.
    This is interesting. As I write this and realize it is far too long, I moved the direct answer to your questions up here. The answer might not make sense unless you know how I view the world, but that discussion is put after the answers as I felt making you read the diatribe first would be discourteous.
    How do I know that this is exactly the way it works? I don’t. It’s like putting the pieces of a huge puzzle together. I am taking the course and its authorship at face value. So far, I do not have a reason to discount the course, or the author of it in his claim to be Jesus, and I can imagine a way or ways in which this works (the diatribe, below…). And if all of this came out of Helen’s mind, it could be genius or madness. But it seems bigger than what one person could create. I could be wrong.
    My understanding of reality is that we are immortal spirits having a mortal physical existence (more on that below). If we are all connected, one, how could Jesus NOT be accessible? Unless we pretend it to be so, which we are doing when we are creating badly.
    As far as distinguishing whether it is Jesus or someone else or nothing at all… my only tool is to ask if what is being offered is loving or not. The measure, as the course says, is whether a thing appears rooted in love or fear. I don’t have a better yardstick.
    So, in some ways I’m doing what you are doing. I’m asking myself if it is useful, does it help? This understanding is helpful to me. Blessings!

    PS. The diatribe:

    When the author of the course says that this world is all illusion, I accept that. It fits with many, many things I have read over the years. It seems almost as though the universe is a huge hologram. Not the laser hologram that you can pass your hand through, but something far more substantial. Imagine that the real us, the part that never knows separation from God is entering this illusion for any one of several reasons. And once entered this world, we participate from birth through death, interacting with others who have chosen to be here as well. The world has physical laws and rules and we appear to agree to be bound by those rules (gravity, magnetism, mass, velocity, speed of light, etc.). It seems possible that we create this world as or just ahead of when we experience it. One down side to this creation is the veil that St. Paul talks about, through which we see dimly. It seems to come part and parcel with our participation here. With enough love, though, maybe some or all those rules can be bent, and the veil can be seen through.
    “Conversations with God” by Neale Walsch talks about why anything exists at all. In it, God tells Neale that in the absence of what we are not, what we are is not. So, without physicality, we can have no idea what spirit means. Per Neale, according to God we create this world to have the experience of physicality since that is not our nature. We are spirit, consciousness having a physical experience (what we are not) to know ourselves. There is truth in understanding the world as non-duality. But there is also truth in entering duality as illusion to understand that which is non-dual from a different perspective. Perhaps we choose to enter duality to know ourselves. It doesn’t mean that duality is truth. More like it is an experiment.
    However, bottom line is that we create badly, apart from God. It is possibly the nature of this place that we create it, participate in it thinking we can do better and then we don’t. We get stuck in duality. That may be the reason why the author of the course keeps telling us that we don’t want to be here, we want better. Love is better. Through love, perhaps we create much closer to how God would have us create and with greater awareness. But to us it still appears dual because that is how we are choosing to know our non-dual selves.
    One book I read recently, “Dying to be me” by Anita Moorjani, discussed how during her near-death experience she could hear all communications from everyone she loved, and it was just a matter of where she focused as to who’s thoughts were prominent. I hope that is our destiny. I can’t prove to anyone. But it makes sense to me.
    I don’t really know how big or capable our soul, the real us, is. That soul, I think doesn’t dwell inside us. I think it is just manifesting us in this world. It is in intimate contact with all creation, all souls, God. I think we know our soul through the lens of our mind and body, limited by our participation in the world.
    I imagine that Jesus, another spirit self like us, really has taken on the assignment of the atonement for the world. So, it seems possible that the real Jesus can be available to all of us in ways we don’t understand. The real Jesus as another soul, like us, who incarnated years ago and maybe more than once.
    Given all of this, if I understand the course correctly, Jesus incarnating 2000 years ago could have been the first of us humans to realize his divinity while still incarnate. As such, he is the older brother whose task it is to lead the rest of us home. Most of this is discussed in the course. But as another soul, like us, he is available, as is the Buddha, and the spirit of God.

    • Sean August 24, 2018, 7:52 am

      Hi Wayne,

      I am happy to stick with it; it’s helpful for me. If you are ever back in the area, let me know. I’ll buy you a coffee.

      In thinking about this material, which coincides with some other dialogues I am having, albeit not on this website, I realize what a poor job I do with respect to describing how my own thinking works/is organized.

      Upstream of all this talk about bodies and spirits and beliefs and so forth, a fundamental decision is being made. It is continous and from it both self and world spring.

      The course actually points us in the direction of this decision, with the aim of helping us make it differently, or at least intentionally. For me, slow learner that I am, I needed the help of constructivism and second order cybernetics to really understand it.

      Anyway, what is actually helpful is traveling upstream so to speak to the site of this decision, and giving attention to it, and becoming responsible for it (rather than letting it function in default mode).

      Once we’ve reached the source, the spring, then the “helpfulness” of the various beliefs that float around downstream is clarified in the sense that it is no longer possible to be right or wrong with respect to them. Indeed, one sees clearly Seng-Ts’an’s point that right and wrong are “the sickness of the mind.”

      So to the extent I appear cavalier about Jesus or ACIM authorship, it is really because I know there is nothing I can do that would impair or improve on them.

      ~ Sean

  • Wayne Essel August 25, 2018, 1:20 am

    “Upstream of all this talk about bodies and spirits and beliefs and so forth, a fundamental decision is being made. It is continous and from it both self and world spring.”

    OK, so WHAT decision IS that? Who is the maker of that decision? And by upstream do you mean at a deeper, possibly out-of-awareness level of mind or such? And does that decision render it unnecessary to know the truth of something at the level of conscious awareness? Or is that also an “upstream” decision?

    Just curious. Hope that made sense…

    • Sean August 25, 2018, 9:09 am

      1. “WHAT decision IS that?”

      There are lots of ways to think about what the decision is. In one of my favorite spiritual formulations, A Course in Miracles asks: “Whose Kingdom is the world for you today?” (T-30.I.16:8)

      Lessons 79 and 80 are more pragmatic. The only problem we have is separation – which is to say, our belief that we are separate. Thus, Ken Wapnick liked to say: the only problem we have is that we think we have problems.

      See also the Rules for Decision et cetera . . .

      So if one is partial to Christian articulations, then the decision is about the Kingdom – what and where and how it is.

      David Bohm suggested the decision was to challenge the interior image of an observer who sees “the way things are” and then decides how to act accordingly (see his little book On Dialogue).

      Krishnamurti – somewhat linking Bohm and ACIM-style thinking (hence, for me anyway, Tara Singh’s utility) – pointed out that the observer is the observed and so the decision to perceive otherwise is the source of all conflict.

      And perhaps my favorite – because it was most helpful to me in the end – comes from Heinz von Foerster who points out (in Through the Eyes of the Other) that we are always making the following decision:

      Am I apart from the universe?
      (that is, whenever I look, I’m looking as through a peephole upon an unfolding universe);

      Or

      Am I a part of the universe?
      (that is, whenever I act, I’m changing myself and the universe).

      (Let me know if you’d like a copy of von Foerster’s essay – I can email you a pdf).

      2. “Who is the maker of that decision?”

      You are the maker of that decision! Though I stipulate the further upstream you go, and the more decisions you remake while up there, the more porous this “you” will become.

      I find the course and related spiritual thinkers less helpful on this point. Derek Parfit is an excellent resource on this question, though a very challenging read. Douglas Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop is also quite good.

      If you are interested in poetry, both Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson went very deeply into both the decision and who makes it and what happens “after” it’s made.

      3. “. . . by upstream do you mean at a deeper, possibly out-of-awareness level of mind or such?”

      I don’t mean “deeper” but only because “upstream” feels a little clearer in terms of the nature of the actual decision-making and its effects. What is done upstream is perceived downstream.

      In practice, what this means is that we are examining our thinking (how we think), finding the assumptions upon which our beliefs rest, and then looking for the assumptions upon which those assumptions rest. We repeat this investigation until you reach the Source which is often experienced as the impossibility of reaching a Source . . .

      Yes – a lot of this material is outside immediate awareness but it is readily recoverable through attention. “Awakening” (or enlightenment, Christ Mind, Oneness, whatever) is isomorphic – it happens to homo sapiens across time and space and culture. There’s nothing special about it, save that it’s not easy to do but easy to wax poetic/mystical about – so there is a lot of confusion and good intentions clouding the hard-but-manageable work involved in actually going upstream, so to speak.

      ACIM uses “holy spirit” here as the teacher that guides us. I think you and I differ here – which is no big deal! – in that I find/found the spiritual language less helpful in terms of moving upstream (at least after a certain juncture). Hence the utility of the cybernetic/second-order cybernetic/constructivist thinkers for me.

      4. “. . . does that decision render it unnecessary to know the truth of something at the level of conscious awareness? Or is that also an “upstream” decision?”

      I think the further upstream one goes, the more clarity attends what is going on downstream. If you really and truly believed that you and God are not separate, what would the world look like? How would your response to it shift?

      “Going upstream” is an analogy for learning – re-cognizing – that what you are and what God is is not separate but one. Or you and the universe.

      A lot of what plagues us downstream is fixed upstream. So we have problems here but they dissolve as such once we address the root issues upstream.

      Imagine that each morning our part of the river is full of trash and toxic waste. So each morning we clean it. But the next morning, it’s full again. No matter how efficient our cleaning is and no matter how expensive and newfangled our cleaning tools are, the river always refills with trash and waste. We try this, we try that . . . nothing works.

      One day we walk upstream a little and find that the fellow upstream doesn’t clean his part of the river. All his trash just flows right on down to us! So we work with him and teach him how to clean his part of the river. And he does his part.

      And every morning – a little less maybe, and a little slower maybe – our river is full of trash and waste.

      Eventually, we go all the way upstream – leaving home, roughing the over-nights, hacking through bracken, facing down bears and skunks – and at last reach the lake from which the river flows. And we find a company dumping toxic waste and trash into the lake. Now we know what the problem is and where it is (see, again, Lessons 79 and 80) and so we can actually solve it. We can shut the company down!

      Doing that means all our problems downstream – how to clean, what tools to use, how to persuade others to clean, how to coordinate our cleaning, how to travel up or downstream – are all undone.

      So, as per Ken, we think we have problems in “our lives” – money problems, family problems, marital problems, work problems, political problems. The list goes on and on. And from our vantage point, it seems quite reasonable to say this. Of course we have problems! Who doesn’t have problems?

      And we work to fix them – vote against Democrats or Republicans, go to counseling, change jobs, take vitamins, go to AA, pick up ACIM again . . . We work very hard to fix these problems but just like those whack-a-mole game they go on and on. . .

      Ken – and A Course in Miracles – and David Bohm and Krishnamurti – and von Foerster – all say in their particular way of saying it that those so-called problems are more in the nature of effects or symptoms of the one problem which is a decision we make “upstream” or “way down deep in the soul” if you like.

      Which takes us back to point 1 above.

      • Wayne Essel August 27, 2018, 8:54 pm

        Guess I’m the one struggling to be clear here… or to understand. Unity, as an abstraction, I understand. And accept. And that is not my experience. I experience leaks of awareness sneaking through, enough to give me hope in what might be beyond physical existence. But my experience is mostly very physical.

        This started as a discussion about whether or not an entity known on earth as Jesus was still available to communicate with Helen after his death So the options were: 1) Helen was receiving thoughts, communications from Jesus (even with this discussion, I don’t see that as unreasonable ) or 2) Helen fabricated the course in her own mind without help and ascribed its authorship to a no-longer-available Jesus. ( I don’t buy this one, at least not yet).

        If you go far enough upstream are you no longer embodied? Do you think there is life/consciousness beyond what we know here in this realm? I certainly could understand “I don’t know” as an answer. But from my perspective, all the discussion about upstream decisions seems like a non-answer. Unless I’m just not understanding something.

        I would love to know what that something is, described in more concrete, less abstract terms if you can… And it’s OK to stop here if that isn’t something you can or want to try.

        • Sean August 30, 2018, 7:16 am

          Hi Wayne,

          You list two options for authorship of the course:

          1. Helen received it from Jesus; OR
          2. Helen fabricated it.

          Looking into the way you frame this is a way of moving upstream in a concrete way.

          What happens if rather than “or” one uses “and” in that formulation?

          In the alternative, can we add other possibilities? Such as:

          3. Helen genuinely believed she received the material from Jesus, but she was wrong;

          4. Helen received part of the material from Jesus but other parts she wrote herself;

          5. Helen received it from an entity that identified itself as Jesus but was actually someone/something other than Jesus.

          What happens to “either/or” when the list of possibilities expands to include options we hadn’t considered?

          Finally, is it possible there are is an option – including even the “right” option – but we don’t know it yet? Is it possible there is a “right” option but we are not – and will never be – capable of knowing it?

          In my experience, it is important to see the way thinking fuctions. It was particularly helpful to see that a) there is a lot I don’t know and b) there is a lot that I don’t know that I don’t know I don’t know.

          (b) is particularly sobering. It is really hard to feel confident in one’s perception and thinking when you understand that at every step you are possibly embarrassingly wrong. It brings in a helpful humility and a tendency to go slowly and it absolutely mitigates a sense of investment in outcomes.

          I have been very grateful for it . . .

          Here is another way to look into these questions.

          Can you see how the original either/or formulation changes according to how one defines “Jesus?”

          Is there more than one way to define Jesus?

          Is there a “right” and a “wrong” way to define Jesus?

          If you are sure that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to define Jesus, how do you know this?

          If you are sure that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to define Jesus, how far would you go to correct someone’s “wrong” view?

          Once you figure out how far you would go (e.g., I would argue with them but I would not torture them), why did you draw the line there? Is it possible to draw it somewhere else?

          For me – and this is not necessarily true of everyone – there is value in answering these questions in a careful and studious way. I understand and respect that not everyone chooses this particular approach. The questions are easy to gloss over or answer in a shallow way only or even ignore but in my experience, if one goes deeply into them, they become a means of undoing certainty, and getting to that place where certainty arises so that we can investigate it.

          Certainty arises with the idea of a self and the self’s ability to know and understand. We could compare this arising to the power plant that is poisoning the lake and affecting everything downstream.

          It is relatively easy to “think” about this self and its apparent abilities. It is helpful to meet it in a concrete way. For me, adopting a relatively rigorous intellectual and scholarly approach facilitates that meeting.

          Tara Singh once said in a dialogue (I paraphrase) that to our bodies, other bodies will always be real and separate. That was very helpful to me. We can’t ask our bodies to be not-bodies, or to perceive beyond their range of perception, or cognize beyond their range of cognition.

          We see the sky as blue; to an ant, it’s purple. To a clam, there is no sky, nor even color. We think in terms of “democracy” and “justice” and “public service” but tigers don’t. Maple trees don’t.

          To me, this simple and obvious fact significantly obviates any argument that human perception and human cognition enjoy a 1:1 correspondence with external reality. Whatever is going on, humans don’t have any special or unique access to it.

          And this applies to everything that reaches my body – including Jesus, including unity, including spirit. None of it is accessible to me outside the perceptual/cognitive capacity of the organism.

          Thus, if I can’t even be certain that a man named “Jesus” actually existed, then how can I can be certain a woman named Helen enjoyed some special access to him?

          Really, what is the point of even asking a question like that?

          Consider something exponentially less loaded than Jesus.

          When I wake up in the morning I have a cup of Greek coffee. The cup appears at a distance from me. It’s white with red, yellow and blue flowers painted on it. Pale brown foam floats on the black brew; steam rises. At semi-regular intervals, I reach out, take it in my hand, carry it to my lips and sip some – it’s bitter with a hint of sweetness.

          That’s the experience. Is it “real?” Is there really and truly a cup of coffee out there that I imbibe? Is there really a body that imbibes it?

          Or is all of that just an interface generated by an organism – an interface that is helpful but not true?

          Again, I think these questions are worth answering in a serious and sustained way. For me, that required study, since I am a slow learner and relatively poorly educated.

          However, on the far side of looking into them, I began to see that what we are calling reality is not “real” in an absolute sense – it’s merely what’s showing up. And, after a little more reflecting, I saw that this was okay, despite the sense of panic and instability it inititated. And, after a little more investigation after settling down, I saw that nondualism is a better way of explaining what is going on than dualism.

          Dualism is nondualism looking at itself. You are the Whole briefly separating in order to gaze at the Whole.

          Now in a way that sort of thing is just semantic nonsense. It drives me nuts when folks indulge vague mystical spiritual lingo; I struggle constantly with this in my own writing!

          On the other hand, it is also true! And A Course in Miracles points to it quite clearly. But I am like Thomas in the upper room – I need to probe the wounds. In fact, I’m worse than Thomas. I need to probe the wounds, review the trial transcripts, interview bystanders, put the other apostles under oath, cross-check everything for inconsistencies . . .

          But it’s okay because it all leads to the same insight. The Thomases of the world just get there a little slower. Lucky me 🙂

          We tend to come at nonduality through religion, spirituality and poetry which I think obscure the structural simplicity of it, which is that the looker is what is being looked at which leaves only looking.

          Anyway, on the far side of all that – or on this side, if you like – “Jesus” is a helpful symbol or idea, the helpfulness of which is in no way impaired by the fact that it is impossible to say in an absolute rather than a relative way what “Jesus” denotes.

          What remains then is simply giving attention to bringing forth love. The big questions don’t press as hard because they aren’t different from the little questions. Blake saw Heaven in a grain of sand and William Carlos Williams a couple centuries later said that everything depends on a red wheelbarrow.

          I am saying that we can spend hours working through Husserl or one watch reruns of The Love Boat and . . . it’s all the same.

          I fear that I am not being helpful here! But I am very grateful for your patience in letting me ramble and think these things through in greater depth and more specificity.

          Sean

          • Sean August 31, 2018, 12:01 pm

            Wayne – somewhat belatedly – the sections The Dreamer of the Dream and The “Hero” of the Dream in Chapter 27 of the text are actually pretty on point with what I am trying to say viz. “upstream” and the one decision and so forth.

            Then let us look merely upon the dream’s beginning, for the part you see is but the second part whose cause lies in the first (T-27.VIII.5:3).

            And from there it goes into the “tiny mad idea” and the consequences . . .

            I hope you’re well!

          • Wayne Essel September 3, 2018, 5:38 pm

            Through much of this discussion, I have a sense of at least being close to the same page if not actually on it… but there are a couple of particulars that still feel squishy (a philosophical term…). So I’m going to jump down and respond to the more recent entries. Blessings!

  • Eric September 1, 2018, 9:33 am

    Hi Sean,

    You wrote: Helen Schucman wrote A Course in Miracles and projected responsibility for that project onto her ideal of Jesus.

    Eric: Not saying I disagree with you, but this is an assumptive conclusion without evidence.

    You wrote: I am happy to stick with it; it’s helpful for me. If you are ever back in the area, let me know. I’ll buy you a coffee.

    Eric: LOL, good to see that you’ve gotten past the “illusory cup of coffee” as you called it that you promised me one a few years ago.

    I see you’ve been playing with the conceptual ideas of non-dualism. I find all this progression very interesting. I believe the course says that we will make many concepts of the self as our learning goes along. I suppose these self concepts then will make or accept conceptual ideas that fit within the current perception.

    What do you think Sean? Do you think non dualism is the pinnacle or a stage? I honestly don’t know myself as you know I’ve never been a fan of the terms “enlightenment or non dualism” as they often seem misused to the point of platitudes.

    But if you ask me if I’m separate from the world, I’d say how could I be? My entire experience of the world is not “out there” but within me. I don’t even know if that is actually “spiritual” but a conclusion through contemplation, because it’s not mystical, but simply a fact. My entire life experience has been within, but often appearing without. Is that non duality? I don’t know, though again I don’t concern myself too much with the concept.

    What are your thoughts on the non duality conceptual ideas? It’s been awhile and I’ve seen you’re deeply into this now.

    Take care,

    Eric

    PS.

    And Wayne, I agree. If Helen wrote ACIM and falsely attributed it to Jesus, then what we have is just another opinion. Is it helpful? Well that depends on what it is helpful to.

    Is it helpful to developing yet another conceptual theology belief system? Because this is what has happened to a lot of course students. They believe that the course is “pure non dualism” and that theology is the pinnacle of all theologies. Much like organized religion, they confuse this theological conceptual idea as merely infallible fact.

    Is this helpful? I cannot say for sure. What I do know from people speaking of the course that it often times doesn’t appear to help.

    Ken Wapnick often called course students some of the worst people on the face of the earth. Hugh Prather reflected on an ACIM student dinner party and found to his horror that almost every course student he spoke to became so egocentric that they could barely hold a simple conversation, as he said they listened deeply to no one.

    I have found many course students in my own experience to be cold, apathetic, and aloof. I don’t fault the course itself for this, but I do lay responsibility on some of the interpretations of the course for this. Of course, it is very easy to use spiritual metaphysical ideas as a defense mechanism also. I think it is fair to say that probably all of us have done this “spiritual bypassing” at one time or another.

    And I do agree with Sean that at some point the course needs to be laid aside. Even the course itself says this and states that it is merely a beginning and not an end. Actually, eventually, all concepts probably need to be laid aside.

    Eric

    • Sean September 1, 2018, 4:49 pm

      Hi Eric,

      As I am using the word “illusory,” the cup of coffee is very much an illusion! But it is easier to just say coffee.

      Actually, on my view, there’s plenty of evidence for the fact that Helen Schucman is the author of A Course in Miracles! Dead people don’t cause anything except at the level of ideas or symbols – at which level, as I’ve said repeatedly, of course Jesus can be causative. And I think a careful reading of Helen’s work – including poems she wrote after ACIM – makes pretty clear that “Jesus” was an early crutch, readily discarded as her confidence and clarity increased.

      Is it mathematically possible that Jesus dictated the course? Sure. It is possible in the sense it is possible a unicorn is going to give me a ride to work tomorrow. Avoid absolutes! But it is not probable; the balance of evidence points in the direction of the course being a very human enterprise undertaken with Jesus as a helpful ideal.

      Pinnacles and stages strike me as dualistic ideas. They arise in and thus belong to the hierarchical “world” created by human perception and cognition. I think nondualism better explains human experience than dualism does; in this sense, nonduality is like gravity or mathematics. On that view, pinnacles and stages are just symbols – if they’re helpful in organizing one’s thinking, then great. If not, then that’s okay, too.

      For me, from a nondual standpoint, I think pinnacles and stages are distractions. But that’s me. I expect other folks would think about it differently.

      Note that I am not using “nondualism” in the spiritual sense that folks like Leo Hartong or Rupert Spira use it. My usage is closer to Francisco Varela or Chris Fields or maybe Humberto Maturana.

      With respect to the paragraph beginning “But if you ask me” I feel that it’s hard to be in dialogue about this stuff in writing. As I often say to you – and think often about saying to Wayne – it would be exponentially easier to have this conversation in person.

      So I’ll just say that I generally agree with you and most of what I have to say is in the nature of nitpicking. For example you say the life experience “appears without”. I would say “seems to appear without.” I think a good case can be made that the appearances are internal as well.

      But I wouldn’t raise that as an argument; more as just a way of clarifying my own thinking. I suspect in actual conversation we’d probably be on the same page with a lot of this material.

      I’m glad you posted here today. I have been thinking about you during this dialogue with Wayne and thinking he would appreciate your input, as it differs from mine in some nontrival ways.

      Guitar side note: my son is now playing. And it is a real trip to jam with your own kid! He’s into Tom Petty and Bob Dylan and writes a lot of his own stuff.

      I hope all is well with you too, Eric. Thanks again for sharing.

      Sean

      • Wayne Essel September 3, 2018, 5:56 pm

        Sean wrote: “Is it mathematically possible that Jesus dictated the course? Sure. It is possible in the sense it is possible a unicorn is going to give me a ride to work tomorrow. Avoid absolutes! But it is not probable; the balance of evidence points in the direction of the course being a very human enterprise undertaken with Jesus as a helpful ideal.”

        Kind of seems like an oxymoron to me… Sean, if you can provide a list of examples of Helen’s writings that cause you to feel this way, I would love to see it. Maybe in private message if it’s too long or distracting for here. I just don’t see it right now. This quote seems like you are promoting an absolute and then saying not to do that. Jesus as an author and unicorns don’t seem remotely similar to me. Without seeing the evidence, equating Jesus’ authorship with unicorns feels like an unsupported absolute and a bias on your part.

        • Sean September 3, 2018, 8:17 pm

          Yeah, the unicorn example was unnecessarily provocative. I apologize. It was a poorly-worded attempt to be clear that I do not – because I cannot – rule out the possibility, however small or slim, that Jesus really did write A Course in Miracles.

          However, I think the balance of the evidence – of probability – is that he was merely a powerful and influential symbol in Helen’s mind and she relied on that symbol to initiate a writing project that was otherwise too difficult to manage and it resonates in our respective minds because Jesus is a powerful and influential symbol for us as well.

          It’s not clear to me that what I mean by “Jesus-as-symbol” is not actually closer to what you are thinking when you think “Jesus.” I wonder – see below- if our differences here are not more semantic than substantive.

          The post-ACIM writing I am thinking of is the poems in The Gifts of God; Tara Singh used them frequently in his course-related writing. The ideas are very clearly those of the course, the formalism and voice are that of the course at its most precise.

          In his comment, Eric asked you how one could be separate – apart from – the world, and suggested it’s not possible. You seem to feel some resonance with that answer!

          I resonate with it as well – it is a very nondual answer, as I am using “nondual.” One cannot be separate from the world. But – and I wonder if Eric would agree with me here – one can think or believe they can be separate from the world and this idea/belief is the separation which the course aims to help us solve.

          I also want to point out that this is the very question Heinz von Foerster raises and which I shared a few comments back. Are we apart from the world observing it or a part of the world and in dialogue with it?

          Our experience of our living changed significantly depending on the answer one chooses!

          I am suggesting that one give attention to being a part of the world – arising with the world, in dialogue with the world – and see what happens. One thing that happens – or happened for me anyway – was the happy clarity that unity (nondualism) is the fundament and dualism merely a species-specific interface of that unity.

          So nondualism is not a spiritual pinnacle or peak, and dualism is not a flaw or a problem to be overcome; they neatly coexist.

          I think spiritual and religious writing/thinking – which was our primary vehicle for thinking through this issue – is somewhat obviated by the last century or so of logic and scientific writing and thinking. .

          Consider Chris Fields’ definition of a fully-entangled universe in Unitary quantum theory as a formal framework for a theory of consciousness:

          A fully-entangled universal state is a quantum superposition of all physical possibilities: all possible combinations of the values of all physical degrees of freedom. A fully-entangled universe contains no separable systems, and hence contains no systems that evolve independently of any other systems: a fully-entangled universe is a universe that evolves through time as a single entity. Indeed since the state of a fully-entangled universe is a superposition of all physical possibilities, its “evolution” only alters the relative amplitudes of these possibilities. No “new” possibilities are introduced, nor or any “old” possibilities removed from the mix.

          Yet that is not the universe we experience – we experience a classical physical universe. Fields again (in another context):

          . . . we nonetheless are all observing and recording classical information about the same (physical, quantum, real) universe. The interesting questions are whether this realist view is sane or insane, and if it is sane, how one can account, physically, for the apparent consonance of observations that allows different observers to (apparently) share both observational beliefs and the languages employed to communicate them.

          My experience of A Course in Miracles is that it is a helpful way of managing the divergence between the underlying fundamental unity and the experience of separation that apparently arises from that unity for homo sapiens. What arises for Sean – be it Jesus, Chrisoula, or a Bob Dylan concert – are simply symbols of the fundament or unity. I take them seriously but not literally.

          ~ Sean

          • Wayne Essel September 4, 2018, 10:12 pm

            Maybe this is the fundamental difference. And there is no proving “right” or “wrong”… I just don’t see Christ as merely a symbol, as a map is not the territory. I feel there is an underlying reality, a being, that is more than the illusion we live in as *we* are more than that illusion. Exactly *how* it is more is not something I can define. So it is an educated hunch. Or a stubborn misconception.

            As a being, and not just a symbol, there may be ways of communication between us and Christ, between Helen and Jesus. I just don’t see anything that strikes me as inconsistent.

            I did take a look at Helen’s writings in “Gifts of God”. At a brief look, it appears imminently consistent. It would not surprise me that a student of the course, and a more intimate one than I am, could eventually speak the concepts of the course in her own voice. I don’t see where she disavows the author at any point, as in “I know ACIM says that Jesus is the author, but actually, I am.” You are welcome to point out where if you know differently. What I see in “Gifts” are love songs to Christ.

            Anyway, I say these things simply from my own perspective, my own perception. Of course I can be wrong.

            Blessings.

    • Wayne Essel September 3, 2018, 5:47 pm

      Eric wrote: “But if you ask me if I’m separate from the world, I’d say how could I be? My entire experience of the world is not “out there” but within me.”

      That’s kind of one of my points. I feel similarly. Strongly. As an intellectual exercise, non-dualism has great appeal and appears to be one of the central teachings of the course.

      Be it my lack of progress, or my genetic makeup, I have zero experience with non-dualism. And non-dualism as an intellectual exercise for me is not necessarily any more helpful than dualism. As Sean seemed to say, perhaps dualism is a learning mode, stepping outside of non-dualism for the sake of learning.

      And the course seems to say that dualism is an illusion. And perhaps the stickiness of it is why the course also appears to say that if we are true to our real nature, we don’t want it.

      I don’t see how it is possible to claim non-dualism is real except in the case of having experienced it. And as I said, I can’t go there. Yet. And of those who actually HAVE had the experience, I am envious.

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