Choosing between Two Teachers

I want to point out a two-step process that has been very helpful in my practice of A Course in Miracles specifically and, more generally, in my practice of becoming happy and peaceable to a Christ-like degree.

The first step is learning to discern between the Voice of the Holy Spirit and the voice of ego. They truly are two different teachers, and we are listening to one or the other all the time, and seeing this, and knowing the difference is incredibly helpful. Without knowing the difference, we can only stumble and flail about. A rigorous spiritual practice begins with our ability to discern between helpful and unhelpful teachers.

This “rigorous spiritual practice” is the second step because it is the step of choosing to listen to the Holy Spirit rather than the ego. That is hard to do. It is hard to do it once or twice a day, let alone retrain our mind to hear only and always the Holy Spirit. But that’s the path.

So those steps go together, like a dance or a recipe.

Sometimes people ask how do you tell the difference between the two voices?

Ego always argues and its case always involves the body’s welfare, one way or the other. Ego changes tone a lot – it cajoles, flatters, debates, teases, belittles, rages. Its only value is whatever gets the job done.

And yet.

The ego is nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself. Your other life has continued without interruption, and has been and always will be totally un affected by your attempts to dissociate it (T-4.VI.1:7-8).

Holy Spirit does not argue because it does not recognize any conflict. It does not try to force anything because it respects our decision-making power. It isn’t trying to sell anything because it knows we have everything. It is always calm and confident, and it will always share with us its confidence.

[The Holy Spirit] is in complete and direct communication with every aspect of creation, because it is in complete and direct communication with its Creator. This communication is the Will of God. Creation and communication are synonymous (T-4.VII.3:4-6).

Ego basically argues that you’re vulnerable and in need of help, and only it can help you, and it works frantically – without any consistent ethics or morals – to keep you scared and dependent.

The Holy Spirit always reminds you of your fundamental innocence as a condition of being Creation Itself, thus teaching you how to create like your Creator.

Ego breeds an endless cycle of conflict / temporary solution / conflict. The Holy Spirit blesses you with happiness and inner peace that is unconditional. You have to actively refuse it in order not to know it.

Therefore, it is natural to ask: why is it so hard to hear only the Holy Spirit? It offers us everything. Shouldn’t it be easier to give attention to it?

It’s hard because you and I are on the fence. We are willing to consider – mostly intellectually – that we’re not bodies and the world isn’t real, but we don’t actually believe it. Basically we are hedging our bets. And there is no middle ground in salvation (T-28.VII.2:7).

And the further truth is, we’ve been indoctrinated by ego. So the Holy Spirit’s suggestions and directives can seem illogical or even dangerous. We are so attached to ego’s endless litany of reaction, attack, defense, et cetera that anything else sounds alien and foolish. It feels right to ignore it.

So, you know, you lose your job and ego starts shouting “hire a lawyer! Beef up your resume! Polish that Linked-In profile! Call so-and-so and complain loudly about how you were treated! Revisit your anger at your father/wife/partner!”

And the Holy Spirit says, “do nothing.” Or “ask your neighbor if they need a hand with anything.”

Or maybe you’re fixated on ending war. Ego has ideas about this. “Tweet more! Argue with strangers on Facebook! Go to a rally! Tear down your neighbor’s political sign! Obsess about how wrong people can be! Pick a fight! Pick two fights!”

And the Holy Spirit says, “you haven’t gone for a walk with so-and-so for years – give them and call and see if they’re up for a hike.”

You are trying to save your house and family, or establish world peace, and the Holy Spirit seems oddly uninterested in these noble pursuits. It just nudges you to be a better friend or to sit quietly with tea watching birds at the feeder or wash the bathroom floor or whatever. Its priorities seem ridiculous.

It takes a long time to trust that the Holy Spirit is, in fact, the Voice for God, and that its suggestions always bring more peace both to you and all your brothers and sisters. But this is the way, and there is no other. “All other traits of God’s Teachers rest on trust” (M-4.II.1:1).

Right-mindedness listens to the Holy Spirit, forgives the world, and through Christ’s vision sees the real world in its place. This is the final vision, the last perception, the condition in which God takes the final step Himself (C-I.5:2-3).

Ego is still the default, which is why conflict remains so pervasive, and why happiness and peace are always coming and going. But ego is not inevitable. Violence and suffering are not inevitable. And there is something that is inevitable – our union with our Creator. “God is inevitable, and you cannot avoid Him any more than He can avoid you” (T-4.I.9:11).

Learn to distinguish between the two teachers, and you will see how only one offers anything you actually want. Then listen only to that Teacher and follows Its guidance, no matter how seemingly insignificant or silly. It asks so little of us, and offers so much.


  1. As Rupert Spira suggests, it is helpful to ask the question, Who, or what, benefits from this thought? You will know from the answer.

    1. Thanks, Amy. It’s interesting – and, I think, helpful – corrolating ACIM to contemporary non-dual teachers. I wonder sometimes at the fit – I’m pretty confident Rupert would not see any meaningful similarities in the two methods, for example. Which is different from saying there aren’t helpful similarities! I know there are students who benefit from inquiries along the lines of “who benefits from this thought” but I have also seen it become a very vicious circle for other students.

      I have recently been going back over John Sherman’s book “Look at Yourself.” Of all the neo-advaitists out there, Leo Hartong and John were the clearest and most helpful teachers for me. Leo, in particular, was very open-minded. John puts ACIM in the category of spiritual practice which is altogether separate from the work of looking at oneself, which is the only work that really brings peace (in his articulation).

      I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at the work of Abhishiktananda – he was a Benedictine monk in India, who went so deeply into the nexus between Christianity and Avaita Vedanta that it’s hard to breathe sometimes reading him. His work is hard to track down now (most of it anyway), but it has been for me essential reading in terms of understanding oneness in a Christian context. He was a very beautiful man.

      Hope all is well, Amy! Thanks for being here.


  2. I’m immersed in Chapter 24 this week and find myself not having to remember to contemplate a lesson, simply because it is following me around. I’m seeing every single decision that leads to non-peace through the lens of my specialness, and for now this is a more helpful name for that particular lens than ego. Specialness is specific and for me easier to catch maybe just a bit ahead of time.
    I’m also reading, at the suggestion of a brother, Henri Nouwen’s The Parable of the Prodigal Son. While I chafed for several chapters on why he had recommended it (what does he think I need to understand? who is he to suggest this? what does he even know about my spiritual life?) I am now getting from the book the power of deep, deeper, and really deep contemplation of an image or teaching, in this case the parable as reflected in Rembrandt’s painting and the author’s life.
    Now as I get into ACIM Ch. 24 and specialness, a chapter I’ve been through many times, I have the time – having retired last spring – and maybe even more the beautiful opportunity to see how my specialness has followed me into my quiet life, living alone, showing up in affronts at emails (1 -why’s she telling me that, doesn’t she remember I told her?, 2- oh, so you don’t have to answer my email, 3 – here we go again, another manipulative reach out followed by pull back, 4 – and on and on, not in the email but in the “special” mind that sends and receives.). I’m absolutely away from the constant provocations of the work world, but my specialness came with me. “When peace is not with you entirely, and when you suffer pain of any kind, you have beheld some sin within your brother, and have rejoiced at what you thought was there. Your specialness seemed safe because of it.” Oh yes. This teaching is my lifeline at the moment.
    At the same time, I’ve been realizing that the Voice for God may not cut through all the background noise, radio, news consumption, that dominates even this quiet space. I’m going for more quiet, just cancelled one online news source after a few days of prep which turned out to be painless. I’m heading for the quieter mind environment in which I can let the words and lessons take over more completely and can begin to turn to and hear the Voice for God as I make my journey away from specialness. Maybe it won’t be tougher to give up the special me (and believe me, I am, oh yes) than it was to unsubscribe. Maybe it’s the same thing.
    I will thank my brother, who did suggest exactly the right book it turns out, because it reminded me that my world is one of quick readings, ever new topics, breadth rather than depth, and demonstrated the richness and truth that we lose as a result.
    Thank you, Sean, for being right on topic for me with this article.
    (Quick question: I’m a recent follower and usually read the posts days later. If I read backwards to much earlier posts and want to respond, do you see those responses to older posts?)

    1. Thanks for your note Deirdre.

      The language that we use matters; it sets up deep levels of resonance. We are not so far from spell-casting as we like to think! Attunement to “specialness” is helpful, indeed; it drives so much of our behavior and makes for an unjust world. For me sometimes “ego” can feel to personified, as if it is another being altogether.

      Beyond ego and specialness – or beyond languaging these things – there is another level, which I think of as characterized by “me” or “mine” – a mute, pre-language drive to get, acquire without any regard for the other at all. At its best it resembles an infant; at it worst a hungry reptile. It is very hard to sit with this aspect of oneself and not resist it.

      Funny you mention that book of Nouwen’s; it was among the books that found their way to me from my father’s library when he died. I read it closely in grief. Nouwen can be a lot sometimes. His enthusiasm for learning and experience sometimes leans to the egoic. But in that book he reaffirmed for me the the value of giving devoted attention – of going deeply into things, whether they are works of art or memories or landscapes. Always in the end our inquiry cashes out either in Love or in the blocks to our awareness of Love, the response to both of which is Love, so . . . The world and the body are always teaching us, always giving us precisely what we need to move beyond world and body . . .

      I think screens ruined us in lots of ways. Getting away from them is hard but healthy. For me it has been. There is a lot of collective mind-hijacking going on these days, lots of non-consensual participation in mindless rituals that go nowhere and distract us from the real work of loving and undoing the blocks to love.

      So yes . . . Deep inquiry, deep listening, radical shifts of the heart, radical opening of mind, radical communion with brothers and sisters . . . radical as rooted, as real, not edgy or trendy . . . Thank you for doing that work, thank you for witnessing to it, truly.

      I do see responses to earlier posts πŸ™‚ And look forward to being in dialogue with you πŸ™πŸ™ Thanks for sharing, Deirdre.

      ~ Sean

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