Leaving the ACIM Way Station

The other day I said to a friend that A Course in Miracles was sort of like the last way station before I set out for the summit. I hunkered down with it, I learned a lot, made contact with my inner teacher, made contact with some external teachers like Tara Singh and Ken Wapnick and . . . moved on. Went up the trail.

Historic postcard of Mount Ascutney in Vermont. Still and forever my favorite mountain, both to climb and to admire at a distance.

My point was that nobody lingers at the way station. You do what you need to do there and then you move on. Sure you can linger. Yes the company can be great. And yes, there’s no penalty for staying. You can spend your whole life at the way station – the world won’t end.

But it’s important to be honest. If we’re on the mountain because we want to reach the peak, then what is the point of making the way station our home, spiritual or otherwise?

Why not go where you want to go?

A Course in Miracles is a course – you take it, you take it again if that’s helpful or necessary, you study it carefully to be sure you’ve got it, you help other students and let yourself be helped, you listen carefully to your teachers . . .

And then you move on.

I was confused about this for a long time. I wanted the course to be my home, and I wanted course students to be my tribe, forever and always with a neat little bow.

But A Course in Miracles is not a spiritual path. It’s not a religion. It’s not even a community really, because it is so intensely personal. It’s just a self-study course that you can take or not take. So take it or don’t. But if you’re still dogging it twenty years later then it’s possible you’re indulging some confusion or denial.

If somebody wants a church or a meditation practice or something like that, there are plenty of options. There’s nothing wrong – and a lot helpful – with availing ourselves of them.

But that’s not what A Course in Miracles is about. You take the course and then you get on with your life. You make contact with your teacher, and that’s that. It’s like taking an accounting class. You learn the rules of accounting and the supporting math and then you go become an accountant.

If you are still taking accounting classes ten years later, and if you are struggling with the material, or if you’re taking them because you like the other students or whatever, then maybe accounting isn’t for you.

A Course in Miracles is no different. If it’s not helpful, then great. That’s good to know! But if you feel some calling or attachment to it, and if you read a line like “you make contact with your teacher, and that’s that” and you don’t know what it means then maybe you should ask some questions.

1. Why don’t you know?
2. Have you really and truly given the course all your attention and effort?
3. If not, why not?
4. If not, is it coherent to re-take the course?
5. If not, is there some more helpful course or tradition or practice of which you might avail yourself?

Always keep in mind that A Course in Miracles is simply one form of a given curriculum (e.g. C-in.2:5-6 and T-in.1:4) . There are others. Don’t sweat it if you’re being called to find out what those others are. Think of it this way: somebody in some other form of the curriculum needs you. Don’t waste time; find them. Help them. Be helped by them.

So that was what I meant: you take the course, you move on. But the friend with whom I was speaking asked a good question. He didn’t ask about the way station thing. He asked about the summit.

“So did you reach the summit?”

I laughed. It was a good question.

The summit (and the mountain and the way station and A Course in Miracles and the self and . . . ) are just analogies. They’re just a way of thinking, to those for whom thought is the mode. They are real analogies – real symbols – and they have some utility, but . . .

Nobody is really climbing a mountain at the top of which is God. Nobody is ascending a ladder to Heaven.

There is no God. There is no Heaven.

There is only this.

A Course in Miracles didn’t teach me that. It didn’t wake me up or enlighten me, as folks tend to use those terms. Really, it just helped me ask some very good and important questions (questions that were very personal to me and to where I was at with the whole God and Jesus thing) and then gently – with rare exceptions – pried me open so that I could receive the answers.

Those answers begat questions the course couldn’t answer – questions the course wasn’t designed to answer – and so I had to ask them elsewhere. Really, that is what it means to make contact with your teacher. You go where the questions say to go. In my experience, that is what the course does – it makes the next step or two clear.

There is no end to questions, and that is a nice thing to learn. When you learn it, you can relax about being right. You can relax about missing anything. You can relax about finding the One True Right Answer. Questions arise, answers arise, and then more questions arise. It’s okay. It’s more than okay.

No matter how intense you are, or how carefully you study, or who you allow to help you . . . questions arise. Answers arise.

In other words, there is no one answer that undoes anything. The undoing happens of its accord. In retrospect it sometimes appears as if there were some external cause – the temple bell going off just so, Jesus alighting on a nearby pine tree and setting it afire. But mostly it’s just the slow cessation of resistance, the emerging willingness to let be. You make a pot of coffee. You go for a walk. You write a poem or ride the horses or steam some broccoli . . .

There is nothing wrong with getting all intellectual and wordy about God and awakening and A Course in Miracles. I do sometimes, because it’s natural and fun and interesting. Better women and men than me have done the same, sometimes to a very helpful degree but still. It’s not right in any absolute sense.

A lot of people end up in a space of inner peace and stillness based on nothing other than common sense and simple attention.

Some folks get there because of religion. Or a good psychotherapist. Or the right combination of hallucinogenics.

Some people just get lucky.

That’s more or less what I said to my friend in response to his “did you reach the summit” question. And he replied – because he knows me and because he loves me and because it was the best thing to say in that moment – that I was full of shit.

And we both laughed then and kept walking. Our dialogue moved on to other subjects.

In a sense, it is true that I am full of shit, but in another sense, I am full of light. Whether it’s shit or light you see really depends on what you need. On my end, it’s all the same. Or rather, it’s shit or light depending on what I need – the I think I am at a given moment, engaged and interfacing the way I seem to be engaged and interfacing with the world . . .

Often when I write these posts I feel some sorrow that whoever reads them is not here to walk with me. It is often easier to talk through this material, which often just means seeing that there isn’t a lot to say. But walking and talking (especially on mountains) is fun. And really, when we are finished with the whole awakening and God and ACIM stuff, then we can move on to the real work: feeding hungry people, ending violence, learning and teaching sustainable ecological practices . . .

I’m here. I’m glad you’re here, too.

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  1. I watched a video* of “dancing” to the Truth (with words narrating it!), and it helps me appreciate the dancing of any form. I sure would like to take those walks with you, but I guess while I’m feeling that I’m not “in” how much I enjoy your posts, THIS form of dancing. [It’s great to be reading them again]
    You’ve helped me a lot with my post grad work of ACIM. There’s some really interesting work to be done by reclaiming teachings from there “ultimateness” (a new referring back to them if I do, and “talking” them with those communities since I’m able to “give back” from the “mountain top”) . The unconcious attraction to ultimateness is kind of what they’re for “fixing”, but doesn’t matter or especially because of, that’s what makes them possibly stickier. Like you say, they’re trying to show how to “move on” but that’s heard as “move like this” (and always refer to this holy cow for instructions). To see a new-ish movement go the same way as Christianity, AA, etc – I realized it was Me that chose to wake up – and so be able to see that they, AND a me using their “failures”, coud be used this way.
    I’ve reposted your “how to get to Boston, but we’re in NY” post, and so “others” have bennefitted from it extending outwards. I’m online with Fred Davis (AwakeningClarityNow.com) and he put in his resources link. I made a little website and put it there ( http://www.buddhacall.me/train-to-where ) , and use that link, like for a Facebook ACIM group. It’s one of the best teachings out there!
    I love you
    * https://www.facebook.com/BQhub/videos/1252046831579907/?fref=mentions

  2. Elizabeth, thanks to all for your thoughtful comments. I think I was on the verge of making an idol of ACIM. I am deeply grateful for it and feel like it came at a time when it would be helpful to
    me. I am pursuing it still. The thoughtful comments made have me to back off from an “all or none” mentality. Since God is infinite and so are we, I believe we will always be learning even when we Self Realize and know our eternal unity with God. Thanks again and blessings for all.

  3. Hello, Sean. I really enjoy using the hyperlinks in your posts and hopscotching my way around your thinking and feeling about ACIM and related matters. Somewhere, in another post, you mentioned “epistemic humility,” and that phrase really resonates with me. It’s a clearer, more succinct way of stating something that I’ve been reaching for in my own notes. So thanks for helping me with that.

    I’m relatively new to ACIM, but I imagine I could stay occupied at this particular way station for a long time—clarifying and deepening my understanding; following the “felt sense” of that (as well as whatever murkiness gets stirred); practicing alignment with Love; letting the Holy Spirit propel me into the world as is appropriate, day by day; and finding my ability to love “in the trenches” challenged in new ways. As you say, the practice is personal, and we can bring other skill sets and paradigms into the mix, too. And if the “journey [is really] without distance,” then the summit is already within us, wherever we happen to be.

    Well, it’s late, and the main thing I’m trying to say is that I really appreciate your thinking out loud with us—so eloquently and provocatively. Thanks.

    1. Thank you Margaret. It’s funny you commented here; I was thinking about this post last night, specifically thinking that I need to be less categorical about suggesting I’m over or past or otherwise finished with A Course in Miracles. It nearly always comes back to bite me. 🙂

      For me, either because I’m slow or perhaps because it truly is where I experience and thus extend God’s love most clearly, learning appears to be a perpetual activity. I keep waiting for the end and it keeps going, like a dog bringing the ball back one more time. That it’s always the same ball, same throw, same everything seems not to matter. Indeed, it seems almost to be the point.

      “Epistemic humility” has been a theme of the past year or so’s learning, though being clear enough to say so is newer. The concept that we do not know what we do not know is incredibly humbling; my resistance to it has been quite strong over the years. Yet paradoxically there is a lot of peace and even joy in simply accepting it. It allows me to truly assume the posture of the student (the disciple, the apostle) which in turn facilitates a much more loving openness, willingness et cetera.

      So, you know, thinking out loud matters! Mine but also yours (eg “the summit is already within us”), or all of us together for all of us altogether.

      Thank you again. I hope you have a lovely day!


  4. “That it’s always the same ball, same throw, same everything seems not to matter. Indeed, it seems almost to be the point.”

    “The concept that we do not know what we do not know is incredibly humbling . . . . Yet paradoxically there is a lot of peace and even joy in simply accepting it.”

    Amen to all of that, my brother. All good wishes.

  5. Sometimes I wonder whether people don’t make too much out of all this. Perhaps I’ve been a bit disillusioned, but I’ve seen people take ACIM, or non-duality, or whatever else, and make a religion out of it, make dogmas out of it. And you can either be right or wrong, and they’ll be happy to tell you why you’re wrong.

    I had someone basically try to guilt me for having financial abundance, with the response, “Have fun, it’ll all rot away.” Like, what is your motivation there? That doesn’t feel very loving or forgiving.

    I feel like when ACIM has become just another thing to bash people over the head with, we’ve gone too far.

    I like what you said at the end. What are we doing with all this? How is it affecting how we live our lives?

    But, I don’t know, sometimes the ACIM “community” feels too… stuffy. Perhaps I found the wrong people lol.

    1. Hi Brandon,

      I hear you. It’s frustrating in a spiritual community when folks behave in unkind ways.

      Still, from the perspective of A Course in Miracles, that unkindness can be valuable! Since our brothers and sisters reflect back to us our own interior condition, we are not really looking at problematic people but rather our own problems.

      When I am in ACIM meetings or 1:1 with folks, I often get frustrated. Why don’t they get it? Why don’t they see it the way I do? Then I remember: this is my projection. I’m doing this. This isn’t a problem of this other person being obtuse, it’s my need to be right (which always means someone else has to be wrong, which is . . . I think “loveless” is the word).

      Then I can address my own baggage; then I can be responsible. Also, then I can be grateful to the person in question because basically functioned as a teacher for me – “hey, Sean – take a look at your ego, your vanity, your insecurity, et cetera.”

      I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying people can’t be jerks. They can be. And yes, it’s frustrating when they are.

      But the peace that ACIM offers arises for us when we see past the level of annoyance and lean into the learning situation. Everything – without exception – in our lives can be an opportunity to learn that we are not separate from God or from one another.

      The nonduality material does seem to bring out a lot of intellectual philosophizing – and a lot of “I’ve got it and you don’t” energy. I think this is because it is fundamentally NOT an intellectual experience; it’s closer to an experience of absolute love, which is scary. Intellectualizing becomes a form of self-defense. I’ll talk about falling into oneness – I’ll quote everything from Lao Tzu to Krishnamurti to the Dalai Lama – but I won’t actually fall.

      As you point out, that’s a zero-sum game that hurts us and others. And eventually, we move past it. We have to. We want to be happy, and the way to happiness is through relinquishing judgment – especially as it relates to spiritual/religious right and wrong binaries.

      Thanks for reading and sharing Brandon. I hope all is well with you.

      ~ Sean

  6. Hi Sean. I’m a quiet fan of your work, a former student, a fellow writer who thinks your blog is the most honest and interesting thing Course-related I’ve read. Your balance of heart and head, knowledge and experience, openness to change, patience and grace; all of these and more bring comfort. You help in many ways. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Paul. They mean a lot. And I’m glad my writing here is helpful.

      Keep in touch,

  7. One thing I feel about ACIM is the idea of the Holy Spirit–for the mind, it probably can only imagine HolySpirit’s ego and then does everything (acim works) as if being bullied by Holy Spirit’s ego. Just a thought sharing as I stumbled upon this website now 🙂

    1. Thank you for sharing, Pretheesh. The ACIM frame is that mind chooses one of two teachers: ego or the Holy Spirit, both of which translate perception and thus interpret experience. The teacher we choose is simply a frame that eventually must point back at the mind which chooses. In time, the invitation is to rest in that mind – in which choice is an illusion – which effectively undoes the various mental/metaphysical/phenomenological struggles that obstruct knowledge of what we are in truth. It’s not for everyone! In the context of illusion – confusion, separation, fear – there are many healing paths and modalities. “Holy Spirit’s ego” to me would just be plain old ego, the same old trap as it always was.

      Thank you for reading & sharing, my friend!


  8. Thank you for the reply.

    You wrote a post “attention is the holyspirit”. I had read similar thing as “attention is soul” in book “Self Observation”.
    In my experience habitually losing or feeding attention to garbage thoughts is pain but our immediate reaction is to think more thoughts on how to escape this painful scenario ” loss of attention” as if we can get back attention lost in thoughts by thinking more thoughts on how to get back–some sort of error in the direction of function.

    My doubt is when acim says “thoughts of holyspirit” aren’t these thoughts taking our attention or is it that these thoughts comes to us as a result of being anchored in the right direction (in attentiveness)–like insights.

    Because if we are going after these thoughts –rather than letting them come to us as a result of being anchored here in the present– then it is the sane old error in new clothing (?)

    This is when things can get dogmatic or belief oriented.

    Just thought of sharing. Hope it is fine.

    Thank you.

    1. In my study and practice of ACIM, the “thoughts” of the Holy Spirit always direct me back to what the Course calls theh “holy instant,” but which is the present, or present moment awareness, et cetera. In that moment, one realizes their fundamental unity with all Life, and that realization cannot be forgotten.

      So the practice, as I understand anad live it, is to listen to the Holy Spirit, and consent to be guided, over and over, to the holy instant, where self dissolves, taking with it devotion to thought. For most of us, this is not a lightning bolt experience, but something gentler and more sustainable. It is like “waking up,” in the softest and sweetest sense of the word.

      You are correct, in my experience – one cannot undo thought with more thought. But thought CAN learn to look at itself, inquire into itself, how it is generated, how it operates. Beyond the content, beyond the operation generating the content is . . . what? The answer to this question is not another thought but an experience: like (while not at all like) how dawn slowly reveals a world that had been hidden in shadows and darkness.

      I am grateful to your for sharing – thank you.


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