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.

3 thoughts on “Fear and Love and Teachers of A Course in Miracles”

  1. Thank you Sean,

    This was a beyond necessary read this morning. Especially this:

    “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.”

    (I feel the Truth of that in my bones)

    Also want to thank you for your kind words about Marianne Williamson, the much-maligned guide who lead me to A Course in Miracles. Took awhile though. A decade before beginning my study — I would listen to her tapes in my car as my younger daughter had her piano lesson.

    And when my older daughter graduated from high school in 2007, I printed out cards for her and her friends with these words from “A Return to Love”:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Perhaps we must dig in the soil of our fear . . .beneath our hubris and judgments, beneath our failings and sense of inadequacy, even beneath all hope and desire to come to the Gates of Eden you write of and find the light of love and truth and peace.

    P.S. As I was writing this, Alaina called to talk about all she had learned this week from teaching remotely and connecting with students and from reaching out to house-less people with the simple words “can I get you anything.” And what she says she is learning “We are all truly one.”

    And both your words and hers have opened my heart to let a little light into my mourning.

    Love,
    Cheryl

    1. Thank you for reading, Cheryl.

      I think there was – and remains – a lot of confusion about Marianne Williamson, especially in the course community. She seemed to move on from ACIM after that first book, as if the legal detente she reached with Ken and FACIM was amicable to all sides. But her recognition of our fundamental nature as happy and helpful was very much the recognition that Ken eventually reached in his own rabbinical way. I am deeply grateful for her.

      Also, more and more I think feminist and activist readings of the course and its first half century or so can be very helpful ways of reaching the deep and sustainable peace and creativity that the course implies is our inheritance. Nobody has to do that, of course, but the supernatural drama and all that is just . . . distracting from the actual peace and creativity that forms us forth.

      For me, the “digging” into fear became sinking, falling, toppling, flailing. There was no agency in it; not even surrender. I was defeated. I was powerless. Even my favorite metaphors – light and love and Jesus and God – disappeared. It was awful, and I don’t wish it on anybody.

      Past everything that Cheryl/Sean is and knows and believes and longs for and names and explains is . . . what?

      If I answer that question at all I am a liar.
      But if I don’t answer it, I die.
      Nor can the question be avoided or refused.

      Quite a predicament!

      1. You know Sean I have discovered that all I can do these days that find me so tight and grasping is to give space when and where I can, to unclench in an almost visceral way. Even though most days the fear still feels so very real, there are these moments (I know you know them and know them well), where the lightness of being just opens up and I float there for a minute or two or three.

        It feels like freedom. And so often it is completely unexpected. May you rest in that embrace today, Sean, if only for a brief but “light and breezy” interlude as my friend Michael likes to say.

        We are indeed in this together.

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