Notes on Choosing an ACIM Teacher

You have no problems, though you think you have (T-26.II.3:3).

I want to point out two approaches to learning and teaching A Course in Miracles. Neither is right or wrong in an absolute sense. Nor do they comprise all possible teaching methods. But they can be more or less helpful (which is a relative, not an absolute, judgment) to our learning and so it can be helpful to see them both clearly.

I. Meaning

One way of teaching is to emphasize what the course means. So, for example, if you look at the sentence from The Transition quoted above, you might focus on what “you” means. You might say that understanding “you” is key to understanding the whole meaning of that sentence. Who is this “you?” What does the course mean when it says “you?”

It seems there is a correct answer to that question. Like, the course must mean something specific with “you,” so there must be a correct interpretation of that sentence, and so it must be better than not to know what that interpretation is.

Ken Wapnick is an example of this kind of teaching, especially in the early and middle stages of his career. Critics of Ken tend to overlook the evolution of his thinking which is reflected in his teaching emphases. Whether he was a good or bad teacher is a personal judgment one can make for oneself, but that he gave attention to his teaching, modifying and amending it with an eye towards its helpfulness, seems noncontroversial. I have been very grateful for him, over the years.

Ken Wapnick

Of the pronoun “you,” Ken said:

In the Course, Jesus uses the term Son of God in two ways: either to refer to Christ and our Identity as Christ as spirit, or to denote the Son within the dream.

While, again, Jesus never uses the term decision-maker, over and over again in the Course he is asking us to choose again — to choose between the ego’s thought system and the Holy Spirit’s thought system, between the crucifixion and the resurrection, between a grievance and a miracle. The part of our minds that he is continually appealing to in the Course, when he addresses us as “you,” is this part that chooses.

The risk in this kind of teaching is: what if you’re wrong? Like just flat-out wrong?

You might say right/wrong are not possible, and I get that in the absolute sense, but if somebody said the “author” dictating A Course in Miracles to Helen Schucman was Santa Claus, you’d say they were wrong (relative to ACIM and its process of creation). And you’d be right.

For example, Ken once said of the urtext that it was so-named for the birthplace of Abraham and was meant to symbolize a new beginning. In fact, “urtext” simply means “the earliest version of a given text.”

So on this method of teaching, if you’re right then it’s very effective. But if you’re wrong – as Ken was with “urtext” – it can be misleading. The challenge for students is knowing the difference, especially when they themselves lack the requisite information for discernment.

I think this mode of learning is good if you’re confused about what the course means by all the subtle shifts in the use of traditional Christian words and images – forgiveness, trinity, atonement, crucifixion et cetera. And I think Ken is a fine (thought not the only and certainly not an infallible) teacher in this vein.

How would you read the quoted sentence in light of Ken’s teaching?

II. Application

The other mode of learning is more like, how do I actually apply this material? Like, somebody can teach you what money is and how to add and subtract but in terms of knowing the difference between a helpful purchase and an unhelpful one . . . that’s another kind of lesson, another kind of teaching.

The sentence from chapter 26 of A Course in Miracles is a good example. Having an intellectual appreciation of that sentence, being able to repeat it and so forth, probably isn’t going to help us in our day-to-day living, where we have problems more or less consistently. Someone who just lectures us about the meaning of the sentence isn’t doing us any favors.

But somebody who helps us see how to use that lesson in a variety of contexts, eventually generalizing so it reaches all so-called contexts . . . that person has taught us something useful.

This was closer to Tara Singh‘s method of teaching. Singh would take a line from the course and then go everywhere with it – he’d bring it Abraham Lincoln and Thoreau, the Vedas and Krishnamurti, what Helen Schucman taught him about gratitude lists, maybe a bit about proper use of breath in meditation.

In Singh’s teaching, the course often feels like an ingredient in a recipe, and your goal is to learn how to cook and feed others.

Tara Singh

On that view, getting obsessed with literal meanings (much less “correct” meanings) is an error, because it distracts us from the broader purpose of learning how to consistently live in a loving way.

Here is Singh talking about “you” in one of his letters from Mexico. He is describing his first encounter with the great pyramid at Chichen Itza:

And you come to a point
where all things that are horizontal and of the earth
are no longer visible to you.
Then you understand!

The earth disappears
and there is only the blue sky
and, on top,
a temple.

It brings a concentration of energies to such a pitch
that something else spontaneously happens.
It brings you to an intensity,
to a power of stillness,
and to a silent mind.
Nothing could do it that way.

. . .

It is beyond intellectual.
But if you can’t come to the stillness
you won’t have the energy for the vitality
to see something you never knew before.
You’ll just go to take pictures.

But the very fact is that it blocks out the earth
and there is the temple.
There are you and there is the sky
absolutely unlimited.
You don’t even know who you are
and if you are.

That is not about getting a concept right, or ensuring you understand this or that definition. It doesn’t even mention A Course in Miracles! It is a call to approach your living in a certain way, a holy way, in order that you might wake up to the Love and Glory of God which is staring you right in the face.

How would you read the quote at the top of this post in light of Singh’s letter?

This kind of teaching can be inspiring. It can direct your attention to the nuts and bolts of your daily living, and invite you to go so deeply into it that you end up going past it – past even the one to whom experience seems to happen. If you understand what Singh means about seeing the temple clearly, then you will also know how to see the dishes clearly and weeds in the garden clearly and bills that need to be paid clearly. You’ll even see “you” clearly.

The risk with this method – and it’s a pretty big one – is that you’ll miss the teaching entirely and end up worshiping the teacher. I don’t know how Singh felt about this problem; I don’t see that he deliberately cultivated veneration. But the folks who followed him during his life are pretty insular. It matters to them that they knew Singh personally. It gets dangerously close to the lovelessness of “I’ve got it and you don’t,” which Singh always warned against.

III. Therefore . . .

Obviously we need all kinds of teachers. The two poles I’ve pointed to here are not the end-all, be-all of ACIM teaching. But I do think they broadly sketch the big space in which our course-based learning occurs.

Truly helpful teachers move effectively between the two poles according to what their students need. And our needs as students shift in time. I have been very grateful to both Ken and Tara Singh, even as I find both of them wanting in certain critical ways. I don’t criticism invalidates their helpfulness. Indeed, teachers who don’t teach in a way that aim to make themselves irrelevant are not really teaching; they’re indulging ego, however subtly.

The real point here is to be clear about what we need in our course study, and then to seek teachers who can fill that need. Are we confused about what the course is saying? Or are we confused about how to live in these bodies in the world, given what the course is saying? Read broadly and deeply: who speaks to your specific concerns? Whose teaching lingers in your mind in helpful ways?

That teacher is worth entering into a sustained dialogue with. What that dialogue looks like, I can’t say. Intense reading, correspondence, attending workshops, 1:1 . . . it varies by need and circumstance and opportunity. But if we have a genuine need, then it’s fit and just to attend meeting that need.

We are not traveling alone – on the ACIM path or any other. Choose good companions, and be good unto them in turn.

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