Fear and Love and Teachers of A Course in Miracles

I want to briefly follow up this post about teaching A Course in Miracles with a note going deeper into my study of Ken Wapnick and Tara Singh, both of whom functioned as formal primary ACIM teachers. Particularly, I want to criticize them and then explain how criticism is not fatal to love or gratitude.

Ken Wapnick

In The Most Commonly Asked Questions about A Course in Miracles, Ken tackles the reasonable question of why, if ACIM is a correction of Jesus’s message, it took Jesus some 2,000 years to get around to to correcting it. I mean, a lot went wrong in those centuries. What was he waiting for?

Ken’s answer is long and worth reading in full, but I want to focus on this part of it:

The fear that [Jesus] engendered – for it constitutes a grave threat to the ego’s thought system of darkness – led to the Son’s closing the door to protect his individual self, and this took the form of seeking to destroy Jesus, and then his message, as the history of Christianity attests. This is why the gospel writers changed the entire message of Jesus and rooted it in the crucifixion, which reflected the ego’s underlying plan to perpetuate its own thought system of betrayal, suffering and death (100).

It takes a lot of – what’s the word? Oh right – ego – to argue that one can speak to Jesus’s “entire message” and that almost everybody else for the past two thousand years has been getting only parts of it – and confused parts at that. Ken did this a lot; and it reflects a real failure of both humility and scholarship.

For me, the closer I come to Christ – which is an abstraction reflecting epistemic proximity to Jesus – the less willing I am to assert special or privileged knowledge. I notice this is true for many folks whose prayer life has brought them near to the heart of life. It’s as if the closer you get to Jesus, the more you see that Jesus isn’t the point at all. You can let him go.

Ken’s efforts to cast A Course in Miracles as a singular correction of Christianity arose as his own special learning project. I get that and I respect that. We’ve all got our baggage. But statements subtly implying you are in touch with the real true message of Jesus are . . . well, they’ve been around for a long time, too. And they are violent, not loving. And it doesn’t take a theological genius to recognize this.

Tara Singh

The other day I pointed out that Singh’s teaching is helpful in terms of application. Nobody has more deeply modeled for me what it means to live A Course in Miracles (though, in fairness, Marianne Williamson comes closer than a lot of us are comfortable admitting).

That said, take a look at these stanzas describing Singh’s first visit in decades with his biological sisters:

My sisters looked grey and wrinkled,
as if volcanic ash had shrunken them tremendously.

There was nothing to recognize in them.

. . .

There was not the character that distinguishes a person.

Most people in the world
are like manufactured toys, lacking individuality.
The wind-up toy does what’s particular.
And most of what they said all during my stay
was an echo of the past.

Most of us are second-hand people
with no voices of our own,
educated by insecurity and unfulfillment
to labor for what we own.
For we own not our own Voice and, without it,
each one is lost in the confusion of projected images

(Remembering God in All You See 127).

I wish that Singh had been able to see that this harsh depiction of his siblings was itself a “projected image” and thus reflected confusion, not clarity, fear not love.

When his nephews show him a video of their wedding, Singh comments that he was “demoralized to see everyone dancing about, shaking their hips,/rejoicing in their degeneration” (Remembering God 133).

I mean people dance, right? People can even be sexy without sinking into degeneration. Bodies gotta be bodies – why not dance? Why not shake your hips? They’re not there just so your knees and waist can be connected.

Singh manages to avoid casting that highly critical eye on himself, writing that for his family the “joy of meeting him . . . “

was like a furnace in the cold winter.
They began to rejuvenate.
I could see it
and in two days they noticed it in each other
and spoke of How revived they were
since I was in their midst

(Remembering God 128).

He also comments how much they all admire him:

It seems they had never heard a person
who could be so direct and non-accusatory
and not be swayed from his own integrity

(Remembering God 129).

I have struggled a great deal in my learning with this aspect of Singh – his moral arrogance, his self-satisfaction, his judgment of others, his certainty that his way is The Way . . . It’s been an enormous challenge in terms contextualizing the wisdom and insight that permeates so much of his thinking.

On Criticism

If you go very deeply into your criticism of others, you will find your own self and you will remember love.

Nobody can do this for you, and it is very much worth doing.

By “go very deeply into your criticism of others,” I mean that it’s okay to take yourself seriously. You are not a bad or shallow person; don’t be afraid of your judgments. Look at them; judge them. What do you see?

When I investigate my criticisms of Ken and Tara Singh, I find myself: I find my arrogance and my sense of entitlement, my interest in being right rather than happy, my grandiosity and stubbornness, and my willingness to marginalize others in any way possible in order to elevate my self.

But I don’t stop there. I keep going.

Another level down I find a confused child who is often hurt and confused by the utter lack of order that permeates his life. He hides a lot – usually in books but sometimes in showing off his facility with language. This boy grows up to be a judgmental man who’s way too good at overlooking his own judgment.

But I don’t stop there either. I keep going.

And then, another level down, I find fear.

When you reach fear, you nearly home. But note: if you are not actually terrified when you reach fear, if you are not literally scared, then you have only reached the idea of fear, an interpretation of fear.

You have to go all the way to the actual fear, and then you have to be ready to stand in it for lifetimes. The light will come but you do not bring it. You are empty-handed here. You are as nothing here. So far as I can tell, there is no other way.

When I describe the process of going deeply into my criticism of my teachers, I talk about dropping down levels. Each one of those levels can take years to fully see, let alone consent to go beyond. It’s work; it’s hard work.

But when you reach fear, when you can stay with your fear, when you can be empty-handed outside and desolate inside, then you have reached the Gates of Eden. You are at the far reach of the battlefield; one more step and you will know peace.

Ken Wapnick on Fear

Here is Ken talking about the eighteenth principle of A Course in Miracles and, by extension, the power of love to heal our fear.

. . . our worth is established by God. Your worth is the same as mine. If I see you as being worthier than I, or less worthy than I am – victim or victimizer – then that is an attack . . . It is a consistent teaching of A Course in Miracles that we are all the same, moving beyond the superficial differences of our bodies – physical and psychological – to the underlying unity of not only the Christ in us, but also our shared need to remember what we have forgotten and to escape from the prison of our own guilt (58).

He adds a little later,

We would never try to attack or hurt others if we were not afraid of them. By choosing the Holy Spirit instead of the ego, we are really choosing love instead of fear (71).

So it’s interesting, right? I see these differences between me and Ken, and I criticize him for it – justly, of course – and . . . He just so happens to have this deep insight into the power of love which heals my fear of him and everybody else. It’s like I go all the way into my criticism and reach fear and . . . the very thing I fear has the answer.

Tara Singh on Fear

Here is what Tara Singh has to say about fear and love.

Fear is a projection and not a reality. Fear comes when you deny your own potential to love, and to be honest and just. Honesty is never afraid. Lack of conviction creates an organization of lawyers, police forces and military powers to protect its own bondage, limitation and unreality. When you are with reality, there are no projections because the grace of the present brings you to the inseperable wholeness of your being (Nothing Real can be Threatened 104-05).

Earlier I was critical of Tara Singh for judging others – I judged him for judging others. What but fear would cause me to do this? And when I go into the fear, I see that Tara Singh is already there to teach me that my fear is not reality, but my potential for love in place of fear is.

In other words, through my criticism I find myself. I go all the way into that self and reach the fear. And I find that my teachers have done this, too, for they are here. At the last veil, my teachers stand – almost as if waiting for me – and say “together let us pull back this veil. Let us find out what lies beyond fear.”

Love is Always the Answer

There is nothing wrong with criticism. The brain judges; don’t worry about that. Simply give attention to the criticism, and allow yourself to reach all the way through it to the fear that underlies it.

You are not separate from your teachers; what you see in them is in you and this includes both what is confused in them and what is beautiful and healing in them. At last you see your connectedness; your teachers are joined to you, and you to them, in a union that is not premised on hierarchies of worthiness or knowledge. We are all fucked up; also, we are all full of light and grace.

It is a great relief to know that your teachers are human, and that the problems we have as humans can be solved, because they all arise from the fundamental confusion that we are separated from life. I give thanks for the ones who stood in the light a certain way, that I might remember how even my brokenness can be healed and brought to love.

After A Course in Miracles

Ultimately, A Course in Miracles points beyond itself, as all “solutions” and “methods” and “paths,” spiritual and otherwise, must.

I say “must . . .”

What I mean is, in this life as “I” have lived and observed it, all solutions, methods and paths have pointed beyond themselves. From that consistency I infer a law, neatly summarized by the story of the monk who confuses the finger for the moon to which the finger points.

Eventually, these various solutions, methods and paths exhaust themselves, like funeral pyres coming to rest in ashes, blowing away in winds I cannot control. And I am left without finger or moon.

Am I therefore bereft? Is suffering mandatory?

Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God (W-pI.189.7:3-5).

Listen: even the cross must point beyond itself, for it is only a symbol within the ego’s world, a plaything for those who need to play a while longer. When at last the ego dies, it takes the cross – and crucifixion – with it.

Imagine a world where we do not crucify ourselves or others, and then do what you are uniquely called to do to bring that world forth. Only then will you learn the truth inherent in “there is no world” (W-pI.132.6:2).

If you cannot imagine such a world, or cannot hear the call to participate in it, then give attention – through inquiry – to why you cannot. Find people who will support you in this inquiry by not letting you settle for easy or comfortable answers, and by supporting you in asking subtler and more provocative questions.

We are at peace but believe otherwise – why?

Agape Love and A Course in Miracles

Even into this vale of tears – this shimmering illusion of a world – does the Infinite find a way to reach us. Escher drawings, Nisargadatta ramblings, Mertonian insights on the streets of Louisville. Truly, to see a goldfinch in the garden in mid-August is to see the Face of God and live. Nothing is being kept from us.

And yet we are unhappy. We hurt each other, sometimes in terrible ways. We look the other way when our brothers and sisters choke on tear gas or go hungry or have no home in which to sleep. We overlook the goldfinch. What is wrong with us? And can A Course in Miracles help? Can living Christianly help?

Inasmuch as the problem is one of thought, then yes – A Course in Miracles, as a contemporary expression of Christianity, can help. When our minds change, our living changes. We leave the space of fear and isolation and enter the domain of agape love.

By “agape” I mean a love that subsumes all other loves, and by which we are personally transformed. Transformation in this sense is not a physical change, but a mental one. Our soul is enlivened and brought forth as a real force in the world. Love lays claim to us and the forceful presence of soul is our deep and abiding consent to union with it.

The fruits of this union are inner peace and joy, not as psychological extremes but as sustainable modes of living that shift but do not disappear. We dwell beyond the reach of abandonment.

Thus, this union includes our farewell to Ecstasy and Misery, the wild twins of our spiritual childhood, whose gifts fade in the light of the one who is light.

Ecstasy and Misery are processes of Eros – the love that inhabits a body and seeks its own reflection in other bodies. Erotic love matters, and I honor it. The happiness and pleasure it engenders – and even the sadness and loneliness it engenders – are not unwelcome. 

Yet I notice that erotic love lacks staying power. It is closer to lightning than fire. In it, every aspect of living intensifies to an almost unbearable degree. It is exquisite, both in its capacity for delight and its capacity for devastation. But it also takes me away from the world. It is harder to do the dishes, talk my daughter through grief, weed the garden, change the oil in the car, give attention to money problems . . .

Agape is the love into which eros is folded. It is our full, open-hearted and open-minded presence unto others in a way that sustains us as a collective, rather than individually or in specially-focused partnerships. Agape is mutual, a dialogue rich with honesty and sincerity. It is integral and congruent. It enables coherence; it undoes the disjointed, misguided emphasis on me, myself and I.

It can be helpful to ask: what sustains our “full, open-hearted, open-minded presence unto others?” What allows us to balance day in and out in a posture of attentive service? What is the natural, effortless flow of living that we name agape?

It is not hard to find this – indeed, it arises naturally and sustains itself perfectly. What’s hard about it – for me – is that it’s not sufficiently erotic. I resist agape because it celebrates us rather than me. Further, it expands “us” to include elephants and milkweed plants and stray dogs and people I’ve never even met.

It requires a love that is holy where “holy” is uninterested in the ongoing drama of Sean’s Personal Very Important Quest To Be Holy Through Oneness With God.

I want all my living to own the ecstatic psychedelic intensity of a heroic dose of psilocybin; I want big moves, dramatic answers, mirror balls on all the time. And yet, happiness, it turns out, is less lightning bolt than cooking fire, less God than simply home. And less home-as-place or home-as-other-body than a state of mind in which distinctions between others are irrelevant. I mean who wouldn’t you feed if they were starving? Can you really convince yourself that the God in Whom you are so mentally entangled wants others to suffer? 

So: what is the state that renders us maximally helpful to others all day every day?

The answer to that question may be glimpsed at the extremes – I do not deny the instructive value of Eros – but it actually lives in the stillness of the center, the quiet productivity of home and hearth, the soul at rest, the soul in creative repose.

Presently, the image that serves this sense of the divine – this soulfulness – is feminine. The father God’s run is coming to a close – not in the sense of death, but of correction. A Course in Miracles directs us not to ascended masters and light shows but to the sustainable peace of the maternal heart. Mother the cosmos, and let the cosmos mother you. It works just that way.

This was one of Tara Singh’s great insights (which I doubt he recognized): the Mother was absent from A Course in Miracles, and so he brought her in via Mother Theresa who, remember, Helen Schucman said was a real-world example of somebody living by ACIM  principles. Singh himself embodied a lot of cultural misogyny but his devotion to Mother Theresa speaks to a healing impulse – a correction through realignment of divine energy – that is worth attending.

The point is not that we should become Catholic nuns – Mother Theresa also embodied a lot of cultural misogyny. Rather, the point is to seek the model of living that allows us to bring forth a love that is inclusive, nurturing and non-discriminatory. One that expands beyond hierarchical modes of organizing being. 

Is the Infinite genderless? Of course. But our theological history has not handled that fact well and so we’re stuck with gendered imagery. I’m grateful to Tara Singh for his imperfect guidance; he knew, intuitively, there is One in whom all our errors – even the most violent and patriarchal, those in which our living is presently catastrophized – are gently corrected, as if they had never occurred, as if there were a love in which nothing but love endured.

Late March Musing

I sent out a newsletter this morning. Being the socially clumsy and poorly-organized man that I am, I don’t know the precise overlap between who reads what I post here and who reads there. If you’re not signed up and you’d like to be, please feel free. And if not, no worries.

I have been happy lately, in the natural way that sometimes visits, especially when I am not working overtime to force my point-of-view on the world. Chrisoula and I have been half-assed homesteaders for years; Covid-19 reminds us that a more committed practice not only helps our family but expands our ability to be helpful to others.

In dialogue and action, we are deepening our commitment to self-reliance and local relationship in terms of food production. And we are thinking, too, of how to work differently, and otherwise make our living more creative, sustainable, and service-oriented.

This is not for everyone! I hope you will forgive me if I sound preachy. Healing takes the form that is most helpful to us, that most readily reminds us that our identity is not yoked to a body, and that the world of perception is illusory (e.g., T-2.IV.5:2). For me, in part, that has always taken the form of rigorous study and writing.

But it also includes a relationship with the world premised on actively working to balance the scales of justice so that all people enjoy the modest material abundance (and comfort and safety) that characterizes our living here on our homestead. I don’t always know what that means, so I have to be in relationship with others in order to learn. Together, we think out loud about how to help each other and how our helping can naturally extend to others.

This latter work – as opposed to study and writing – is harder for me, because it evokes the body and the body always evokes relationship. I am happiest in the forest or pasture, alone with my thoughts. With others – since childhood – I can be impatient, insecure, haughty, overly-sensitive . . .

I am, as Chrisoula often gently points out, a high-maintenance guy.

So learning proceeds apace, in the company of those with whom learning and healing are presently most effective and, as I consent to the posture of learning, which begins in humility, it is given me to be happy.

Healing is never only of the world (its pandemics, wars, famines or tsunamis et cetera) nor only of the self (its fear, guilt, pride, greed, et cetera) but is rather about discovering – and then gently living in – the nexus that self, world and other is.

We give attention to the life that is given to us, in all its beauty and confusion and pain, and we learn that beyond the flux and chaos is a stillness and peace and that the means to that joyful state is service unto one another, in whatever form appears.

To that end, I hope you are well, and that your families and communities are well, and I thank you for reading and sometime sharing with me here. Truly, without you, it would not mean a thing.


Spirituality as Equality

This observation underlies a lot of my thinking and practice, half-assed as it is: “Spiritual” is in some important sense the equivalent of perceiving all being as “equal” or even “same.”

This is the miracle of creation; that it is one forever . . . Though every aspect is the whole, you cannot know this until you see that every aspect is the same, perceived in the same light and therefore one (T-13.VIII.5:1, 3).

Physical proximity matters to our species. We tend to care most for those who are near and dear. My kids are more important than the kids in the next town and I don’t even think about kids in China or Guatemala. Of course that’s not true – all kids matter. But my behavior certainly implies that it’s not true.

So “spirituality” opens up the idea that whatever love I offer my kids is the love to which all kids are entitled. I may not personally be able to love all kids that way, but I am going to look for ways to make it easier for all kids to know that love. Maybe I utilize resources differently (e.g., kids in Bolivia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo mine the metals for our phones), or vote for candidates with platforms that are more kid-friendly.

Spirituality asks me to look at the experience of love that I have locally – in this body, this family, this community – and then broaden it. It asks me to consider a collective in which all beings are worthy of love and then to act accordingly.

The other thing this leveling does is that it de-specializes folks. What I mean by that is that it undoes the emphasis on gurus or enlightened teachers as somehow not human. To call someone a “saint” or “master” is to subtly dismiss them, to place them beyond the periphery of self and world. It “others” them in unhelpful ways.

But if I don’t “other” Jesus or Saint Francis or Thich Nhat Hanh, if I insist that they are like me and what they experience I can experience, and what they extend, I can extend, then my responsibility changes. My relationships change.

If I can be radically loving, then I will be radically loving (which begins with undoing that which impedes the natural expression of radical love). And if I am not ready to be that loving, then I can at least see that clearly and be responsible for the gap.

That is the other way that spirituality matters – it undoes the hierarchy of achievement, of specialness.

A lot of this can be subsumed under the notion of “undoing self-interest.” Or expanding it infinitely. How shall I think about my being, such that sunflowers and ex-lovers and fireflies and kids in Africa are implicated in the love that is brought forth in my living?

We tend to measure ourselves against standards, right? Be this good, this generous, this activist. We have ideals of Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama. But “spiritual” as I am using the word, the idea, means not changing the standards but rather rethinking the value of standards altogether.

A big part of my thinking in the past two years – under the influence of Humberto Maturana, Ernst von Glasersfeld and Heinz von Foerster – has been coming to see the way that we are naturally structurally given to love and peace and that the work, so to speak, is clarifying this and facilitating its expression.

On that view, I don’t need to denigrate myself because I’m not the Dalai Lama nor praise myself because I’m not Donald Trump. I need to let go of reliance on standards – I need to see that the spectrum those opposites introduce is not natural and not helpful. I need to garden more, and bake bread more, and play more music – activities that naturally arise in my living as expressions of love, community, inclusiveness, nurture . . .

But I don’t garden because somebody said to and I don’t bake bread because of how it makes others think of me: those practices are just simple expressions of how I understand myself and my responsibilities to my family, my town, my planet and so forth. Other activities will arise for other folks.

In a sense, the point is not what we do but rather its source. How does it arise in us? What calls it forth?

I want to let love come forth in me the way it naturally comes forth. This requires attention, study and practice but it’s more like learning to ride a bike than becoming “a good person.” Riding a bike is mechanical. Yes there are psychological elements, but they are met in satisfaction of the mechanics. I get more confident as I get more effective at riding. This is true of love as well.

In the end, love does the work. This is the helpful insight. We don’t have to do much other than be present; love does the work. Love directs us, guides us, moves us, instructs us. Our job is to be gently attentive, to be open and willing. To be – as I wrote in this context – partners in our own healing.

Life goes on! The neighbors run their chain saw after dark and it’s frustrating. Chickens die and my daughter’s heart breaks. Teaching gets mired in bureaucratic mud. In life the bread sometimes doesn’t rise.

Beyond all of that is the gentle ongoing living that is not bound by form nor limited in expression. It bears us along and the work is to be okay with that, to see it clearly and be okay with it. To “perceive it in the same light” and know on that basis that what appears as many is in fact one.