Imitation vs. Creation in A Course in Miracles

We can be creators or imitators. Most of the time we are imitators. But if we are truly interested in an experience of inner peace, in the transcendent Love that A Course in Miracles calls God, then we will have to become creators. It is not an impossible transition, but it can seem quite daunting.

What does it mean to be an imitator? To imitate is to use another thing as a model and then seek to replicate or simulate it. The imitator copies what they see or perceive. A poet, for example, might see a heron at dawn and then try to recapture the experience in a poem. A painter would do the same in her medium. In both cases, they are imitating a previous experience.

Imitation is not limited to artists. Many people have a comfort food – a bag of chips, a bar of dark chocolate, pizza from a particular restaurant, whatever. At one point in time, eating that food staved off some negative feeling, or kept us from toppling into an emotional abyss, and so now we imitate that moment. We repeat the gesture in an attempt to get the same result.

This is essentially how thinking itself works. Certain things show up in its field of perception: people, places, ideas, events, concatenations of those things. Thinking compares those things to its memory – of the same things, of similar things, of what it was taught about those things, categorizes it as good or bad, safe or dangerous, fruitful or draining and the dictates some action accordingly.

This happens very swiftly but if you look closely at the pattern of thinking, you will see that it works this way.

We see some intimation of this early in the ACIM text when we are encouraged to ask how the mind could ever have made an ego.

There is . . . no point in giving an answer in terms of the past because the past does not matter, and history would not exist if the same mistakes were not being repeated in the present (T-4.II.1:3).

In Moments Outside of Time, Tara Singh observed that what we are in truth is timeless and perfect and that knowledge of this reality is what ends the self-imposed separation from God. Psychology and other intellectual activity, he said, are of no help.

Brain activity gives validity to images of memory. In truth, it is mere illusion. The moments outside of time instantly dispel the illusion (19).

The suggestion is that there is another way to relate to our minds, that thinking – as we know it in terms of language, intellect, ideas and so forth – is not the way that we remember we are still one with God.

Eternity is one time, its only dimension being “always.” This cannot mean anything to you until you remember God’s open Arms, and finally know his open Mind. Like Him, you are “always”; in His Mind and with a mind like His. In your open mind are your creations, in perfect communication born of perfect understanding . . . God’s meaning is incomplete without you, and you are incomplete without your creations (T-9.VI.7:1-4, 7).

Thus, in course terms, creation is analogous to God’s creation of us: we are extensions of God. When we create, we extend – Love – in the same way that God’s extension of Love created us. There is really no way to meaningfully understand or appreciate this at the level of the body in the world. At that level, life is very specific: our needs are specific and the solutions to those needs are correspondingly specific. Yet true creation cannot be limited.

Anything made for a specific purpose has no true generalizability. When you make something to fill a perceived lack, you are tacitly implying that you believe in separation . . . Inventiveness is wasted effort even in its most ingenious form. The highly specific nature of invention is not worthy of the abstract creativity of God’s creations (T-3.V.2:3-4, 7-8).

The text points out that we labor to know what we are, forever inquiring of ourselves as to what we are, and yet the question is profoundly misdirected because it assumes that a) we actually know what we are and b) are responsible (let alone capable) for providing it to ourselves (T-3.V.4:1-4). What doesn’t know itself can’t meaningfully ask itself what it is. That is a recipe for madness.

The course then makes an interesting observation: we cannot perceive ourselves correctly, it says (and thus know what we are in truth) because we “have no image to be perceived (T-3.V.4:5).

That seems so profound and important to me: we have no image to be perceived.

An image requires that something go before it – it always stands for something else (T-3.V.4:7). Consider the photograph of a tree: it makes a very realistic looking approximation of the tree but it is not the tree. The tree went before it in time. The tree precedes the image of the tree.

Thus, our self-image is based on memory. It comes out of the past. Thus, it is imitative, not creative.

So we can make two ACIM-based observations about creativity: the first is that it is generalizable and the second is that it is not related to the past. Physicist David Bohm observed that memory is very slow to adapt to changing reality, especially when we are highly invested in certain outcomes (Changing Consciousness 131).

In other words, if I am driving to Boston to see a concert, memory will provide a reasonable set of driving instructions. That’s good and relatively innocuous. But say my wife asks me not to go: she’s tired, one of the kids is sick, I went to see Bob Dylan last year . . . what does memory do in that instance?

That is not black and white. I might feel put upon – I might feel spiritually challenged. Basically I will create images and respond to them: my wife as a nag, my children as flu-prone, Dylan as dying so this might be my last show, me as a man always asked to give things up for some greater good other people choose and so on and so forth.

It might not go that way – it might be completely different – but you take my point. No matter how it goes, I am always drawing images based on the past in order to justify a certain response to circumstances.

And the course advocates something different.

There is no link of memory to the past. If you would have it there, then there it is. But only your desire made the link, and only you have held it to a part of time where guilt appears to linger still (T-28.I.4:5-7).

In order for us to experience this sense of the present – this freedom from image which is freedom from the past – we are going to have to become very attentive. Fiercely attentive. As soon as our attention deviates – into need, into judgment (which always begins by taking the form of naming what we see or feel), into desire – then we have lost it.

Something important happens when we are this attentive, this devoted: we are restored somehow to gratitude and by virtue of gratitude, to service. It is hard to explain this exactly but it always happens. In the Holy Instant – in the present – we begin to experience, to know at a deep level, that we “get” by “giving” and that all we are really here to do is serve the spark of God we perceive in our brothers and sisters.

We begin to want to help people – however they need it. And we always know how they need it because it is our need as well. So it might be something big and dramatic like a financial gift or a place to stay for a few weeks and it might be something very simple, like just saying “hello” to someone who really needed in that instant to be reminded that they matter, that they are loved.

Service is how we achieve and sustain our awareness of the present moment in which both the past and the future simply dissolve.

Practice giving this blessed instant of freedom to all who are enslaved by time, and thus make time their friend for them. The Holy Spirit gives their blessed instant to you through your giving it. As you give it, He offers it to you (T-15.I.13:3-5).

Paradoxically, it takes time to learn that we are not bound by time. Yet as we learn it, we naturally master it because it reflects our natural state. We are reminded that what we are is without form and outside of time altogether. We need imitate nothing for there is nothing to imitate. We are creation. We are the Love that we call God.


  1. Boy, does this hit home. I’ve been married to the same man for 27 years and recently found out that he was not faithful for at least the last 3 years. I’m trying to go straight to a “mistake” instead of a “sin” when talking to or thinking about him. It’s taken a few months and I have been fairly successful in doing that very thing. I’ve jumped into the Course with both feet (every day for an hour or so), gone to counseling and to Reiki and meditation in order to get here. Yes, I’ve relied on magic.

    The thing is that I’ve addressed my suspicions about his activities 2 times over the course of our marriage because of evidence that I found. Both times he denied any activity, threw the guilt at me and announced that he wanted a divorce. Because of the way that he has behaved in the past, I’ve not addressed the most current affair because mentally, physically and financially I’m not in a very good position. And of course I think to myself, where is my faith?

    So, now my dad wants to “gift” me a small house (cabin) up north. It’s more of a vacation place but I could call it home if I found myself on that side of my marriage. My husband is not pleased that in the case of divorce the cabin would go to me and we would still split our assets down the middle (community property state). I feel like it is a gift from the universe to help ease my feelings about my situation. But at the same time, I feel wretched that my husband is feeling excluded and that he is challenging this (not legally).

    So how is this germane to the discussion? I’m bringing in my past and projecting it onto my future. I don’t trust my husband, which is the same thing as saying, “I don’t trust God.” I am having a really difficult time here and I don’t know how to reconcile it.

    Sidebar: During the last few years while my husband was considering divorce, the one thing that I did hold on to was that God would keep me safe, I also held on to the knowledge that my dad was going to give this asset to me upon his death. So even if this happened 20 years down the road and I am eating crackers when I am 76, I’d get a reprieve from my situation. To my surprise, it turned into a gift early.

    One of the things the course says is, “to have give all to all.” It also says to do whatever a brother asks you to do. So am I supposed to turn this into a joint asset?

    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Jeanne,

      Lots of thoughtful people pass through here so maybe somebody will chime in but let me offer a couple of thoughts.

      First, it’s no big deal to use what the course calls magic! No guilt allowed with respect to that! We all do it. I go for long bike rides because they clear my head. Magic. I drink a green smoothie loaded with raw garlic every day for energy. Magic.

      Those forms of health & wellness that help us to stay balanced and centered are important. When we are in that space, we are more receptive to the challenging intensity of the course’s message of non-duality.

      I am always happy when people talk about taking care of themselves. Being kind to ourselves often facilitates being kind to others and service really helps us to get close to the Love of God.

      With respect to your marriage and your father’s gift . . . a couple of thoughts.

      We have to live in the world. We can’t pretend that we’re enlightened and we can’t run around denying our problems with bumper sticker slogans from the course. We have to work out our salvation in terms of form. Maybe there are spiritual geniuses out there who just snap their fingers and get it but I’m not one of them. So it takes work and it takes attention and it happens here – in this life, this body, this world.

      I teach college students how to write research papers, right? A lot of them fail – it’s a community college in a tough city and through no fault of their own, a lot of the students just aren’t ready for college-level writing. They work hard but they get failing grades. And in a lot of cases, it really hurts them. They lose confidence, get discouraged about education . . .

      I always want to give them a higher grade in those circumstances – always. I want them to be happy and feel the power of love and I want to give them a C- so they’ll feel good about themselves and stay in school. Why not? It’s all a dream anyway.

      But I don’t. It seems like the loving thing to do, but it’s not. In the world in which I teach students earn a certain grade and they have to live with it. That causes certain feelings to well up inside of them and they have to deal with those.

      Everyone has their spiritual path – we are all here learning as we go. So some of my students have to learn what it feels like to fail. They have to face that and either give up or dig deeper and keep trying. You had to learn what infidelity feels like. Your husband has his path & his own curriculum. You can’t walk it for him. All you can do is make space so he can work it out with his own inner teacher.

      So what we do is we take care of ourselves – using “magic” if we have to – and then in that space of centeredness, we make contact with Jesus and the Holy Spirit and we allow them to guide us.

      Their voice is quiet and sure. The ego is loud and vexacious. That’s how we tell the difference.

      And really, in the end, the circumstances of our lives in this so-called world are really just opportunities to deepen our remembrance that we are One with God. I think it’s always good to hold that in the back of our mind: whatever else is going on, can I go through this with Jesus? Can I hold onto a shred of the Holy Spirit’s insights?

      Because Jesus is there. And the Holy Spirit is there. And you are not really a woman struggling on the down slopes of a marriage any more than I’m drinking decaf coffee and babbling on a website I run about A Course in Miracles. Rather, we are the “light of the world,” joined to mighty forces and bent on remembering God and Heaven.

      Not one light in Heaven but goes with you. Not one Ray that shines forever in the Mind of God but shines on you. Heaven is joined with you in your advance to Heaven (T-18.III.8:1-3).

      So, you know, stay close to Jesus. Stay close to what helps you stay close to Jesus. And don’t worry. You aren’t alone.

      Keep in touch, Jeanne.

      ~ Sean

      1. Hi Sean,
        It’s wonderful to hear from you. I thank you so much. The analogy of your college students helped a lot. I always want people to feel included and loved. When someone comes to me who is struggling I jump right in to help them as best as I can. And your words really helped me.

        Earlier today, a girlfriend of mine said something along those lines too. She told me that I couldn’t force my spirituality to blossom any faster than it is ready to. The impatient ego inside of me wants enlightenment now! lol In fact, it thinks it’s pretty darn smart about it most of the time. Maybe at times my cup is too full. But today, it is open. And again I appreciate the time that you took to give me your insights. They did shine a light on my situation, which helps to calm me.

  2. Hi Jeanne,

    I completely echo what Sean said about magic. I practice Qigong, myself. The course does not tell us to deny the body. In fact, the course says that the attempt to deny the body’s existence on this level is an unworthy form of denial. The course only attempts to teach us that we are not a body.

    I’m sorry to hear about your marital issues. I can understand as my ex-wife cheated on me.

    It can be very hard to trust someone once they “betray” us like this and I lost enough of this trust that I ended the marriage.

    I don’t follow Byron Katie, but I do recall watching a video somewhere on this issue of trust and relationships about the time of my own divorce (years before I came upon the course). I probably won’t relay this very well, but I’ll try. This is heavily paraphrased.

    The person was saying something about not trusting their spouse and as they talked about it, Byron asked the person, “So you don’t trust your spouse to act the way you want them to act?” The person said yes. Byron asked again, “So your spouse is not living up to your demands, so now you don’t trust them?” The person replied, “Well yeah.”

    Byron, asked, “What would have happen if you let go of these demands that the person act the way you want them to act or be the way you want them to be, and trust they are simply acting the way they are now?” The person was hesitant and said, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

    Byron went on to her 4 questions in which she calls, “The Work” and by the end of it, the person felt that they would/could let go of their resistance and demands that they had placed on their spouse.

    I applied this to my experience in my divorce. I had a pretty deep animosity towards my ex-wife. “How could she do this to me? How could I trust her anymore? How could I trust other women I would be in a relationship with?” Etc.

    As I began to apply this, I began to let go of this animosity. I began to see my ex-wife did what she did, because that is where her mindset was. Instead of not trusting her to act the way I wanted her to act, I trusted her to act as she did. I began to let go of my resistance to the situation and I began to let go of the anger and guilt, because my demands were not met by my ex-wife. This didn’t mean I condoned what she did or became a push over. Only that I stopped placing my demands on “what is”, believing that these demands and my resistance were going to change what already happened.

    That is not to say it was an easy-breezy process. I had to work at it and reel my mind back in when it went to the story of my demands. Thankfully, I met a wonderful woman and we have been married for 8 years now.

    As far as this cabin your dad gave you. I would try not to feel wretched in your husband feeling excluded in this. This is not about “winning and losing” in material values. This is a gift from your father to help you have stability in what seems to be in unstable times.

    As the course says, even in illusion we still have needs and as long as we believe we have needs, the Holy Spirit will provide them.

    You mentioned that the course says something about a brother asking you to do something, to do it. I believe the course even goes as far as to say something outrageous. But there is a follow up to this passage that says:

    We once said that if a brother asks a foolish thing of you, to do it. But be certain that this does not mean to do a foolish thing that would hurt either him or you, for what would hurt one will hurt the other. Foolish requests are foolish for the simple reason that they conflict because they contain an element of specialness. Only the Holy Spirit recognizes foolish needs as well as real ones. And He will teach you how to meet both without losing either. ~ACIM

    Take care,


  3. Hi Eric, Sorry for the slow response. I so appreciate your kind advice. I love Byron Katie! So good one. : ) I went to a Course meeting the same day that you wrote to me. It is taught by a 70 year old man who really gets it. He echoed what you and Sean said and between each of you and a few friends, I’m feeling better. I usually don’t stick up for myself. I really am about being “fair” to everyone. But this time I did stick up for myself. My husband was not pleased. And now he keeps referring to the cabin as mine. That bothers me a bit. Thanks again!

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