Behavior and A Course in Miracles

Ken Wapnick was fond of pointing out that A Course in Miracles was not injunctive with respect to behavior. One doesn’t have to be a vegetarian or a Democrat or go to church on Sunday or celebrate Christmas or donate to the poor in order to be a course student.

In an important sense, he is correct. The course bypasses a lot of behavioral directives that often characterize spiritual and religious practices and traditions.

Of course – and Ken acknowledged this, too – if one diligently studied A Course in Miracles, there were often external correlates tending in the direction of gentleness, kindness, moderation, et cetera. Those correlates were not why one studied ACIM but they were certainly pleasant perks (both for the student and those around them).

This distinction – between what it means to study A Course in Miracles is and what the effects of that study are – matters. Not being confused about that distinction also matters.

Strictly speaking, A Course in Miracles is a one-year self-study program that is Christian in language and imagery, modeled on a traditional twentieth century psychological paradigms and explores – with varying degrees of effectiveness – nondualism. It is not a spiritual practice per se, and so is not intended to supplant pre-existing practices.

It is not, in other words, the latest or the best or the most-improved method of attaining inner peace. It’s just another tool, helpful or unhelpful according to the context in which it is applied.

And indeed, as its author, Helen Schucman, made clear in the preface, its only objective is to introduce students to an “inner teacher” it generally refers to as the “Holy Spirit.” Once that student-teacher relationship is in place, the course is largely irrelevant. The Holy Spirit – such as it is – takes things from there.

Thus, a study of A Course in Miracles is more akin to taking a class than it is to going to church or meditating or whatever other spiritual behavior happens to be personally resonant. And, the measure of the course’s effectiveness is the degree to which it delivers a given student to their “inner teacher.”

You read the text, do the lessons, read the manual and . . . that’s it. For all ACIM-related intents and purposes, you’re done. You did it. You are either in touch with your inner teacher or you aren’t. In either case, the utility of A Course in Miracles is changed for you.

So knowledge about the course, time you’ve spent studying, and prestige within the course community are not hallmarks of course effectiveness. In fact – I speak from experience – they are often symptoms of distraction and confusion which inevitably generate more distraction and confusion.

Ken Wapnick, for example, often called himself the first teacher of the course but it is perfectly clear that he was actually its first student. Most of what passes for Ken’s “teaching” is really Ken’s “learning out loud in front of others.”

This doesn’t mean it’s not helpful. It can be, in its way. I am certainly grateful for Ken’s intelligence and devotion. But if we insist on seeing his course-related work as “teaching” – rather than as the student next to us who talks a lot, who is sometimes right and sometimes wrong, and whose experience of the course cannot ultimately be our own – then we are apt to get confused, possibly deeply so. There is no law that says you have to wake up before you die!

So a lot of the time, for a lot of students, what we think of as “the course” or what the course “says” or “means” is really just our personal recapitulation of Ken’s learning process. Other, lesser-known, students are also “learning by teaching” and the effect on their students – confusion – is the same. I have contributed to this problem myself. At its best, this kind of “teaching” simply generates more material that will need to be undone at some later juncture. At it’s worst, well, there is no law that says you have to wake up before you die. Or did I say that already?

It is helpful to note (to remember, really) that undoing is not something that “we” do – it is more in the nature of something that happens or, better, something that we observe happening. Or not happening, as it were. To the extent we are attached to undoing, then undoing itself becomes a thing to be undone.

For me – which is not say “for you” – there is really only observation left. Of course I screw this up – how could I not? And yet it is also possible to reach a space of relative stillness where one can simply give attention to what is going on without interfering in it. At that point, deeper stillnesses and quiets are revealed. Even the wordy and unworthy are welcome.

Also at that point, the course – and its teachers – are more or less irrelevant. I don’t think noticing and reporting this is controversial. And behavior – do this, don’t do that – ceases to matter as much. One is never not amazed at how much prattle and static passes for spirituality . . .

Really, it is good to be honest, because honesty precedes clarity, and clarity is what allows us to finally figure out what little to do and how, in the personal context of our living, to do it. So what is our experience? Who are we “following?” What “rules” are we obeying? What “rules” are we breaking?

It comes back to us; it really does. It comes back to experience: to this experience: this one right here and now. This this. What is it? What are its boundaries? Its seams? What is its source? How do we know? How can we say?

In my experience – which is not to say “your experience” – the course does not really answer those questions so much as gently (well, mostly gently but sometimes roughly) deliver us to a space where they can be answered, where “answered” means “undone” or “dissolved.” And that undoing or dissolution – which is inherent and ordinary! – leads readily to a quiet and natural happiness.

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