Explaining A Course in Miracles

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.

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  1. Hi Sean,

    You wrote: 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!

    Eric: I just want to say that I for one appreciate very much when you tie in other sources to what the course is saying, because it reinforces the idea of the universal curriculum. Whether it be Bohm, Krishnamurti, Jung, Sri Aurobindo, The Tao Te Ching, The Dhammapada, William Samuel, Thich Nhat Hanh, Emerson, etc. there is a universal truth being spoken here.

    The more I study the course, the more I appreciate these different mechanics and semantics. The more I embrace them. Yes, sometimes symbols are used in different ways, but it becomes easy to see they are still pointing to the same moon if the heart is open to seeing it.

    A Course in Miracles is not a religion that needs to be separated off from the universal curriculum. It is the path to inclusion, not exclusion.

    The course is special to me and in certain ways I have a special relationship with the course, but the course is not the end all in spirituality as some authorities pontificate it to be. It is not better or faster than other paths, it is the path that speaks to me in a way that I cannot ignore the call to God. I love the course. I think it is beautiful. I think it is profound, but it has also opened me up to seeing more beauty and profundness in other paths too. What a gift that is!

    Let me share a story on explaing the course that happened with me not so long ago. I was just surfing one day and I ended up on ACIM on Amazon’s website. I started reading people’s reviews and ended up on the 1 star reviews. I saw one that said that ACIM was 2nd rate quasi Christian mysticism and I began to read it. The reviewer claimed to be one of the most utmost authorities on Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, and Christian Mysticism and gave his “resume” to show his credentials. He mentioned that ACIM was one of the most poorly written books he had ever read. He then went on and made these claims how easy it was to debunk ACIM and then gave ashort list of examples with the reviewer’s replies to each example. As I read the review, it became apparent that this person didn’t really understand what ACIM was saying or how it differed in mechanics and semantics to Christianity while using Christian language.

    My first thought was how could anyone think ACIM is one of the most poorly written spiritual books? Are we reading the same thing? My second thought was how could someone who claims to be as well read in spiritual books not understand that symbols can and are used differently within different books and authors?

    Of course there were replies with defensive statements such as “Haven’t you even read this book?” etc., but no addressed what the reviewer actually said about what the course said. The reviewer didn’t really understand what the course was saying IMO, he was simply taking traditional Christian language as the parameter of his argument and arguing against the course within this narrow view parameter. Kind of like Dawkin’s book, “The God Delusion.” The reviewer replied to the replies to his review in an often condescending, argumentive manner towards the people who replied and also further criticizing the course in addition.

    I decided to reply to this reviewer with what I thought those passages meant that he criticized and I took his review line by line and replied to each part of it. His response to me wasn’t one of being condescending, but only that he stood by his review. He offered for me to read his book called, “Electric Christianity” to know what real Christian Mysticism is.

    I’m a bit of a bookworm and curious, so I decided to read it for the heck of it. I got it on Kindle, so it was fairly cheap. I have to say, and I might be a bit biased due to his critique of ACIM, but this book was poorly written. It was in question and answer format and felt so contrived that my intelligence felt like it was being insulted. The supposed questioners were so grossly ignorant of anything spiritual to the point of patronizing, that I was instantly reminded of those “As Seen on TV” commercials were they present a person as to being so inept at doing something as simple as folding a shirt in order to make their shirt folding product seem revelationary.

    But what I found amusing was the very fact that some of the things this person was arguing against with ACIM, he was actually agreeing with in the book. It was merely the mechanics and semantics that were a bit different. I smiled at this. I never finished the book. It just wasn’t very good and while he might have known some Advaita Vedanta phrases, the book felt very amateurish. I’m still scratching my head how he could think that ACIM is such a poorly written book, especially in comparison to his, but I suppose that is just part of my special relationship with ACIM talking 🙂

    1. Thanks, Eric.

      Yes, the similarities – call them echoes or resonances – between A Course in Miracles and other spiritual paths or healing practices is helpful to me as well. It is comforting for some reason, and also helps me to avoid slipping into making the course special.

      It’s funny because on the one hand I see and accept ACIM as merely one way amongst countless others, and yet if it is one’s path, then I think that we have to give all the attention and care we can muster.

      I think it can feel like a special relationship, but perhaps one that is evolving in the direction of holiness.

      I have always admired your willingness to engage with people around the course – some with whom you agree, some with whom you don’t. I think that kind of dialogue – when it is done respectfully, as in my experience you always do it – is very helpful! It can show us where there are gaps or blind spots in our practice or strengthen our conviction that this is our path.

      But there is a lot of resistance to this sort of sharing in the course community. It is very hard to say things like, ACIM is strong in this sense, but not so strong in this other one. But then I guess we all find our way, and the course meets us where we are . . .

      I agree entirely with the need to be responsible in our criticism. If I am going to criticize a spiritual path, then it behooves me to study it and learn about it, before I start running it down. Part this requires a kind of openness and patience that is hard to come by.

      It is my experience that the closer one looks at any spiritual path – Christian Science, A Course in Miracles, Buddhism, et cetera – then the more clear the similarities become. You start to see the wisdom that there is nothing really to do, and nowhere to go, because it is all done. Be a Buddhist or be a course student – it’s all going to the same place. The semantics often suggest otherwise – but if we can get past the specificity of form and glimpse the content beyond, the universality or sameness reveals itself.

      Thanks again for sharing Eric . ..


  2. Sean and Eric, I so enjoyed reading your heart’s words this morning. I (my ego) had a “discussion” with a religious friend yesterday, and as I walked away, I realized, plainly, that it was only in our words ~ how he described truth versus how I did~ that our discord sourced and remained energized. He and I had experienced the same thing and were trying to describe it. I knew we were trying to say the same thing but the words blocked and tackled us until we were both left breathing heavily. Ugh.

    To varying degrees, I think we all experience and remember the Presence of Love, but when we try to enuciate that, using symbols of symbols (words) to describe Truth, we can disconnect and divide. I happen to agree with the words written by you above, yet isn’t that simply because we speak the same language?

    Synchronicity being what it is, this morning I woke up and wrote about it myself (http://claudiatheodorethinks.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/the-tower-of-babel/) after looking up the story of the Tower of Babel. The story in Genesis has a jealous God dividing the people by language because God feared they would build a tower all the way to heaven if they were unified by one language. Notwithstanding the twisted interpretation of God inherent in that story, I think we can agree the people of the world have been “babbling” ever since.

    (And yes, I see the dilema of never talking or explaining ~ since the explanations of others ~ yours included~ frequently speed me along the course faster than if I had to puzzle it through alone.)

    So, my thoughts are centered around finding unity by removing the words, and the explanations (even while I explain myself~haha) and to focus on the experience of Love and presence that we all share. For then there is no basis for disagreement. One can’t argue about our mutual state of certain salvation without words. Perhaps that’s the real lesson of the Tower of Babel.

    1. Great insights, Claudia. I have two thoughts that I hope aren’t too far off of what is being talked about here.

      First, I think we have to share – or communicate – and that language is a viable and primary way of doing it. We seem to be hard-wired for it, and so I trust that impulse. I think it is part of what it means to be creative, in the spiritual sense of the word.

      Somehow, using words in thoughtful, careful, gentle ways seems to move us in the direction of love (just as using them thoughtlessly, carelessly, violently moves us another way).

      So maybe we avoid the chaos of babel when we are attentive to how we communicate? Or to slightly paraphrase what you said in your comment – to focus on the experience of Love without focusing so much on the specificity of the words that are being used . . .

      Second, an aspect of communication that is overlooked – certainly I overlook it all the time, wordy man that I am – is listening. I think the sense of babbling comes from not really perceiving or hearing what the other is saying – we hear only ourselves, and so we’re all talking louder and louder, more and more insistently . . .

      There is a theme in the text of A Course in Miracles that all we are ever doing is expressing love or a call for love. Sometimes – not all the time by any means, but I am getting better – I can give attention to what people are saying in terms of love. The specifics of what they are saying disappears and I hear the love they are sharing or the love they are crying out to have shared with them.

      That sounds awfully mystical and self-congratulatory, doesn’t it? I just mean that when I listen, I can hear better what people need, and then I can give it to them. I can even use their language because when I am really attentive, I see how attaching to my own language and vision and all of that is detrimental to Love.

      It is like you say in your post: “It is in the insistence that my words describe the truth, that the Truth is lost.”

      So . . . I think we have to share, and I think we have to remember that “sharing” includes “listening” – maybe more “listening” than we’d like to admit . . .

      Thank you, Claudia . . .

      p.s. I fixed the link to your post – it was showing up as an email address . . . hope that’s okay!

  3. Sean! That made me laugh out loud. It is exactly on point. And I saw myself in it. While I was “talking” with my friend yesterday, I stepped back several times in awareness that ego was talking and I needed to listen, be, experience, stay aware, and actively pay attention to what was happening, which really had nothing to do with the words being communicated. I consciously tried to be in a thought-less (in the sense of not thinking) space to listen to his call for love (yes, that is exactly how I thought of it) without trying to form my next thought to share. It was a very interesting exercise. I guess my downfall was in my ability to maintain it for an hour’s conversation. I fell down the rabbit hole, but I know it. Thanks for the lesson reminder and reaffirmation. (And thank for fixing my link. 😉

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