I have always questioned the wisdom of explaining A Course in Miracles, given the implied premise of “explain” – to give an interpretation of some fact in order to make it easier to understand – and its Latin root – “explanare,” which means to smooth out and render intelligible.
If A Course in Miracles is your spiritual path, then there is no “explanation” – there is simply a relationship that shifts and evolves as our capacity to remember truth – and to discern the true from the false – deepens. It is like falling in love. You can’t explain it – you do it, and make sense of it as you go, as best you can.
Approaching the course in that spirit can be very helpful.
On the other hand, the inclination to “explain” A Course in Miracles – or to want such an explanation – is understandable. The course does not immediately present itself as being especially accessible or even comprehensible. One can feel drawn to it and yet still need assorted hands to hold while making it their practice and bringing it into application. That is simplifies and clarifies over time – not unlike a diamond emerging from carbon – is cold comfort to those still struggling to get some sort of manageable grip on it.
A Course in Miracles teaches that the separation from God is nothing more than the belief that our will and God’s will are not the same (T-9.I.7:9). If this is true, and if we are honest about the sometimes vicious and always shifting nature of what appears to our will, then it must follow that we are something other than what we think we are – these bodies with specific pasts and stories and dreams and all that. But what?
The answer to this question is actually less interesting and important than undoing that which blocks our awareness of what we are. Really, A Course in Miracles aims at undoing those blocks, first by giving us a Guide (the Holy Spirit) who can both see and see beyond those blocks, and second by teaching us how to give attention to those blocks, raising them into awareness where they are undone by our Guide.
The purpose of this Guide is merely to remind you of what you want. He is not attempting to force an alien will upon you. He is merely making every possible effort, within the limits you impose on Him, to re-establish your own will in your awareness (T-9.I.3:6-8).
What we are is not a mystery or a secret, but it is hidden. And we are the ones who hid it and who refuse to accept – through denial, through projection, through sheer stubbornness and so forth – responsibility for this decision. So in effect we are trying to solve a problem that we made, and trying to solve it without looking at ourselves.
So long as we still perceive a separate self who is acquiring some arcane knowledge or figuring out some obscure puzzle, then we are still confused.
David Bohm saw this very clearly in his essay The Observer and the Observed.
Somewhere “back in the back” is somebody who is observing what is wrong but he is not being looked at. The very “wrong” things which he should be looking at are in the one who is looking, because that is the safest place to hide them. Hide them in the looker, and the looker will never find them (On Dialogue 82).
It behooves us to be clear about this, because it is literally the end of our confusion and suffering. This is precisely what A Course in Miracles means when it teaches that the secret to salvation is simply that “you are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1). This is why the course can assure us that all problems, no matter what their form, are solved in the same simple way.
Bring, then, all forms of suffering to Him Who knows that every one is like the rest. He sees no difference where none exists, and He will teach you how each one is caused. None has a different cause from all the rest, and all of them are easily undone by but a single lesson learned. Salvation is a secret you have kept but from yourself (T-27.VIII.12:1-4).
Thus, inner peace lies simply in remembering our decision to think apart from God and then making a different decision. This decision to be separate was made – and is made – internally, and if we cannot “find” it, it is because we are still intent on hiding it. We are still intent on blaming the world for our problems, and making God a remote and capricious taskmaster.
It is okay to do that – the offense is not against God – but it will hardly make us happy, joyous or free.
This is why A Course in Miracles places such emphasis on our relationship with the Holy Spirit, the still quiet Voice inside that remembers wholeness and aims only to lead us back to it. The Holy Spirit begins this process by reminding us always what we want: inner peace, love, joy, ecstatic union, Heavenly unity, oneness with God, nirvana, et cetera.
If we are clear that we want to be happy, and see that we are not happy, then we can begin to inquire into whether there is a way to be happy now. The answer is “yes,” but it hinges on our willingness to accept a new way of thinking, one which brooks no division between our will and God’s.
It is easy to intellectualize this. It is easy to say “I get it,” without actually making the change. There is not really a “self” that “gets” anything. So long as we still perceive a separate self who is acquiring some arcane knowledge or figuring out some obscure puzzle, then we are still confused.
I have written about this before. The oneness that we experience when we drop the egoic self, and empty our mind of all but the knowledge of God, always ends when we try to make that experience our own. That is, there is a moment when I see the experience as separate from me, a thing to be desired, or an accomplishment for which “I” deserve credit, and then it is gone. It is over.
When Bohm pointed out that the observer and the observer were not separate in a meaningful way, he was not trying to be religious or spiritual. Quite the opposite. It was simply a fact one could give attention to, see clearly as a problem, and then solve. Jungian analyst and writer James Hillman was looking at the same problem (and imagining a similar solution) in his beautiful and provocative essay The Thought of the Heart.
The first person singular, that little devil of an I – who, as psychoanalysis long ago has seen, is neither first, nor a person, nor singular – is the confessional voice, imagining itself to be the unifier of experience. But experience can also be unified by the style in which it is enacted, by the images which form it, by its repetitive thematics and by the relations amid which it unfolds. It does not have to be owned to be held (34, emphasis mine).
A Course in Miracles is a deeply Christian and Freudian expression of the perennial problem of the separated or dissociated or divided self. It also envisions a solution. Pick any of the course’s central ideas – study any of its lessons, any one of the sub-sections of the text – and give the whole of your attention to it and you will at last see the problem you have made and, because you are at last seeing the problem as it is and where it is, it will be undone.
If we can imagine letting go and being happy, then we can let go and be happy. That is the Holy Spirit reminding us what we want.
But we do not need to limit ourselves to the course, any more than we need limit ourselves to Zen Buddhism or Hinduism or psychotherapy or walking every day in the forest before it is light. The form in which we look at the problem does not matter. Our willingness to look in a sustained and open way – without deviating, without wandering – is what matters.
Krishnamurti said that when we perceive the limitations of our thought – what in A Course in Miracles we would call the egoic self, what Bohm would say makes and sustains the division between observer and observed – some space opens in which it is possible to discover something new.
Thought is limited and whatever it does will always be limited because in its very nature it is conditioned. When thought discovers for itself its limitation, and sees that its limitation is creating havoc in the world, then that very observation brings thought to an end . . . then there is space, and silence (This Light in Oneself 108-109).
People object sometimes when I bring in these other sources and suggest that, allowing for different mechanics and semantics (e.g., Jungian psychotherapy is a mechanically different approach to separation than the workbook of A Course in Miracles, and Krishnamurti’s linguistic premise is different from that of A Course in Miracles) they are really saying the same thing. But they are! They are all saying that we have made and sustained an internal division, that this division is manifest in our thought, that it plays out in what we call the world, and that it causes us grief and pain almost beyond measure. We are doing it! And so we can undo it.
But we need help. That is the state of things. So A Course in Miracles comes along and offers us a way to see the problem and suggests – rightly, in my experience – that to see it clearly is to undo it. It is not the only way, but for some of us it is a very helpful way. The question is, are we ready? And if we are not, okay, we are not but then why not? What blocks remain? Can we give attention to them now – bring them to the Holy Spirit – so that we might be reminded again of the only lesson we need to learn:
This is the obvious; a secret you kept from no one but yourself. And it is this that has maintained you separate from the world, and kept your brother separate from you (T-27.VIII.13:4-5).
Part of the deception is that this is difficult, requires expert external interventions and takes lifetimes. Those things may be part of the awakening process but they are hardly prerequisites. Life will awaken us now if we are ready to awaken. Why? Because we cannot truly be unawakened. We can only think we are – we can only insist that we are, and hide or ignore all the evidence to the contrary.
Look then at what insists is must not be looked at: give attention not only to what arises but to what you pretend is not arising. The truth hides in plain sight, right where we left it. There are no mysteries and no secrets – and there is nothing to do. We are playing an old game and we are tired of it. We are like gamblers bored with cards but unsure what will happen if we abandon our so-called winnings and leave the table.
Here is the hint: if we can imagine letting go and being happy, then we can let go and be happy. That is the Holy Spirit reminding us what we want. That dim sense that joy is possible and peace is not a dream is the Voice for God calling us to choose again: to think with God: to be at last the home we always sought.