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On Ken Wapnick

So Kenneth Wapnick has died.

I’ve tried to write about Ken many times since I started this blog and it never works out. My feelings about Ken were always complicated, even as they increasingly leaned towards gratitude and respect. My debt to him is large.

Ken’s editing of A Course in Miracles always struck me as essential and useful. I know that’s a contentious statement in some circles, but still. Having spent a lot of time with early versions of the material, I truly believe that Ken’s contribution was transformative, completing a process that began but did not end with Helen and Bill. As a writer and editor, I am never not amazed at the breadth and quality of his work in that regard.

I didn’t always agree with Ken’s intense focus on western writers and thinkers and traditions in his teaching. It struck me as inconsistent with the course itself and perhaps a bit narrow-minded. However, as my own practice and understanding deepened, I began to understand what he was doing and why. I wrote to him a couple of years ago and offered my forgiveness. He was very gracious and kind.

My sense was that Ken had a vision of A Course in Miracles in relationship to the western spiritual and philosophical tradition, and I think in the end he was right about that. I often lean on Buddhist and Vedantic language and ideas – and my own ACIM teacher, Tara Singh, was well-steeped in Eastern thought and practice – but the structure of A Course in Miracles (its form) is western. ThatΒ isΒ its home. Ken’s intellectual discipline in that regard was admirable. Indeed, in the past year I have begun to appreciate more and more his fidelity to that aspect of the course.

Though I never formally studied with Ken, I have relied on his guidance more than any other teacher besides Tara Singh. I think his instruction (I am paraphrasing) to make our lives in the world about other people – being gentle and kind to everyone from our kids to our neighbors to the plumber – was brilliant. I think it perfectly summarizes how one should approach the course in terms of living in the world. When I am unclear about a particular idea or even a specific phrase of the course, Ken’s teaching always helped move me towards understanding. His book The 50 Miracle Principles of A Course in Miracles and A Talk Given on A Course in Miracles remain staples.

And it was Ken – through his writing – who taught me in a practical way that it was okay to make mistakes with respect to A Course in Miracles, okay to throw the blue book across the room in frustration, and okay to feel insane some days. Indeed, when I write about being honest with our brokenness as a means to healing, I am really just paraphrasing Ken. His vision of Jesus was deeply loving and forgiving, in all senses of the word.

I don’t mean in any way to suggest that I think Ken was perfect or infallible. I disagreed entirely with his reliance on masculine language and find his defense of it utterly unpersuasive. Some of his historical scholarship felt spotty to me (such as in Love Does Not Condemn). Some of the legal actions taken by the Foundation for Inner Peace made no sense to me.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I could have – or could have – done things differently. It’s always easy to judge another; what’s hard is forgiving them – in the sense of overlooking any seeming error – and getting on with our own learning.

My complaints about Ken feel like relatively minor quibbles, given the breadth of his helpfulness. If I wasn’t projecting some flaws onto the man, I wouldn’t have needed his assistance so much.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly, I admired Ken as a fellow writer. He maintained a remarkable level of production with a consistent and impressive (previous criticism notwithstanding) degree of quality over the years. That’s not easy to do! I might not have agreed with him all the time, but I never doubted his passion for or knowledge of A Course in Miracles. He wrote with gentle authority that was born, I think, of an authentic desire to be as helpful as possible.

That time I wrote to him, I sent a couple of blog posts for review. He was succinct and helpful – agreeing that Emily Dickinson was a wonderful poet, pointing out a couple of places where he believed I’d erred. He told me to keep writing, to have fun doing it, and to always remember not to take it all too seriously. Near the end of his letter he wrote, “always be true to your own truth, Sean.”

That was good advice. And he was a good teacher, and a lot of what he taught remains with us now he is gone. What more is there to say?

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • debbie mcdougall December 29, 2013, 2:58 am

    Thank you Sean
    As with the course, Ken is understood better through the heart than the ear. For me, my greatest help in keeping the course real and not taking it all too seriously. He didn’t fluff it up or use it for fame or fortune. He said it as it is with focus on kindness, which, in my opinion, many students simply forget to practice while they argue about who’s right and who’s wrong πŸ™‚
    I think his words to you are incredibly profound:
    β€œalways be true to your own truth, Sean.”
    As we each have our own truth and each of our truths are merely different paths that will lead us all Home anyway, so it’s a win-win situation πŸ˜‰
    We are lucky to have so many other different people’s ‘truths’ to dip into and explore for each one will help us to find our own
    with much Love & Light to all fellow students who are ready to put the foot down on the gas now to speed our journey Home xxx

  • Janice December 29, 2013, 5:42 am

    Thank you so much for sharing,especially Ken’s advice. “always be true to your own truth” is I feel is very meaningful. In my experiences, the mistakes I have made during the many years of my life was when I was not true to my own truth. Not taking all this too seriously is challenging , yet very helpful. Thank U

  • sally December 29, 2013, 11:04 am

    My mind has become a believer, in ACIM since I came easily to believe the ‘documentary-like-to-me’, story of how and why Jesus, gave his teachings to Helen and Bill and even more so after reading Robert Skutch’s ‘ Journey Without Distance’ and Ken’s ‘Absence of Felicity’. And since my mind always seems to see the writings of those people who were actually in the life of Helen and Bill, it automatically accepts, in spite of some resistance sometimes, that Holy Spirit was directing them too. I noticed Ken on YouTube in the recent past, with signs of a health issue, and was still shocked that he went so quickly since his diagnosis. I will always hear hs voice as I read his books. And I hope he will be one of the Invisible Helpers that seem to help us with our lives in this world of conflicts. With loving Gratitude to Ken for the Love he gave you Sean, in his final words to you, and for how his Love manifested to all of us as a teacher.

  • Eric December 29, 2013, 12:47 pm

    Hi Sean,

    I think writing/talking about Ken for me is also complicated.

    Looking way, way back to 5 or 6 years ago πŸ™‚ when I first began to read the course, the first author I read that discussed the course was Ken Wapnick.

    In the first 6 months of my study of the course, I had read the text at least 6 times and read the MFT and supplements a couple of times through. I didn’t start to do the workbook until after about 6 months. Anyways, as I continued to read each time, I felt I was grasping the material more and more, but felt I could use some help. I discovered Ken. I remember getting a $50 gift card for Amazon and blowing the entire amount buying Ken’s books. I was immersed in reading Ken and is “understanding” of the course.

    I also began to read other teachers/authors also. I started to become saturated with all of these interpretations and explanations about the course, that in some ways it became overwhelming. Thankfully in the midst of this, I discovered J. Krishnamurti. It wasn’t exactly his books or thoughts that I was thankful for (though I do appreciate Krishnamurti and have a number of his books), it was a particular conversation I read. A person asks J.K. what was truth. J.K. replied that the two of them should go into this question together to find out. The person though keeps interrupting J.K. with the question, “Yes, but what is truth?” After numerous times of this, J.K. finally asks the person, “Do you want truth or an explanation?”

    It was right then that I realized this is what I was doing reading all of these books about the course. I was looking for explanations. I decided that if I wanted to know what the course said, I would study the course itself. I took all of my books about the course and put them in a box. It was at this time I was also reading the last book I would read of Ken’s….”Love Does Not Condemn.” For me, this book was just too much about theology/mythology. Though, it should be no surprise as Ken almost became a Catholic priest or monk if I remember right, so I think he already had a love for theology.

    At this time, I also began to feel that Ken’s “pure non-dualism” was in fact quite dualistic and like the description in the course about the theologian, he always spoke about a light, but emphasized the distance. So I began to move away from reading Ken. As I began to really study the course and continually read, re-read, listen to it on my iPod, etc. I found there were some things I didn’t see eye to eye with Ken about some of his interpretations. Though looking at some of Ken’s early work and his later work, I think sometimes Ken didn’t see eye to eye with some of his interpretations either, LOL. Which is why I disagreed with his somewhat dogmatic stance that his interpretation was the correct one. Though, I think many of us feel this about our interpretation πŸ™‚ and like you Sean, the lawsuits and cease and desist letters made no sense, well made sense that Ken seemed to have wanted complete control of ACIM.

    But, I have continued to hear people say that when they met or conversed with Ken, that he was always kind to them and I think deep down Ken really wanted to be truly helpful, and to a lot of people he was truly helpful. Though I moved away from reading Ken, he was helpful to me also. I am thankful for that. I’m sure that if I had met Ken, I would have appreciated his kindness in general.

    I also appreciated Ken’s sometimes blunt statements that the course’s metaphysics were being misused by some students as a way not to deal with the world and that the very crux of the course was in fact dealing with the world. Listening/watching videos on this subject, I could often feel the passion and sometimes frustration in Ken’s voice when speaking about this. I think that Ken not only felt this was important, but absolutely vital when practicing the course and I couldn’t agree more.

    Though I didn’t always agree with Ken, I appreciate his writings on his thoughts of A Course in Miracles. I also am grateful for reading Ken, because he really helped me in my own study of ACIM. I think without reading Ken in my early days, it is quite possible that I might have put down A Course in Miracles after a while. It was reading Ken that helped me get through the initial study of A Course in Miracles and motivated me to keep going.

    Peace be with you Ken.


    • Friedrich Roelli January 18, 2015, 2:10 pm

      – thank you Eric! Very helpful post, especially the part that, after all, The Truth is in the Course, and to not in all its countless interpretations – (and, of Course, they have all their own value)

  • Bet Carbery December 31, 2013, 11:45 am

    I understand Ken Wapnick died of cancer. Why do so many people on the spiritual path die of cancer?

    • Ryan November 13, 2014, 12:05 am

      It’s not just people on the spiritual path… Lots of people die from cancer.

      • Friedrich Roelli January 18, 2015, 2:08 pm

        – so maybe all the people dying of cancer or really on the “spiritual path” – initially, this thought came to me as a “joke”, some, so-called “logic” – But now, as I put it on paper, I realized that that is actually The Truth, since we are all “on a spiritual path”, no matter if we realize this or not – we are all on our “journey home” –

  • Sandy January 2, 2014, 12:21 pm

    Kenneth has been my teacher for nearly 25 years. Through his words I learned to gently live each day looking for the good in each person I meet.
    Not always successful—I learned to be gentle with myself. The concept of “Oneness” fills my heart with joy. I am not my body—I am free.
    Thank you, Ken for your love in this world. I will continue to seek guidance from you.

  • nick January 2, 2014, 3:41 pm

    Sean. I learned just this morning that Dr. Wapnick had passed and then wandered onto your blog. I was fortunate to have heard Kenneth speak on a number of occasions in years past. I have often shared that in a moment in conversation when I was open to ‘hear’ he provided the best personal advice that I have ever received and it has made all the difference. Ken’s offer to me was a suggestion that I might benefit by not ‘taking myself so seriously’. Now whenever I make that choice, I’m free. Thank you, I smiled when I read your post. We are all Safe.

  • Ash January 16, 2014, 4:36 pm

    Got the chance to meet Tara Singh in Tokyo in the early 1990’s when he came to speak. Wish I had met Wapnick as well …

  • Alexandra June 10, 2014, 8:55 pm

    Sean I just want to take this chance to thank you … for the first of your writings I read which was a comment on Gary Reynard and struck me as a gently balanced and sane voice among much strident discord. I thought:”This is a voice I’d do well to keep listening to” and I guess reflects my need to hear God in whichever form speaks clearly to the little me I imagine I am! This morning I read ” Loving What Is” and was grateful for the palpable lessening of the distance between self and Self – if just for a moment – and the insight therein to be present to self-in-form as a way of welcoming Self-as-Love. It is a much forgotten and neglected practice.

    And then, because I have so much loved Ken’s work and found it very helpful over the years, I came here and have been grateful again to just hear his influence and see him spoken about. I’ve fortunately not had to battle too hard over conflict twixt the East / West theology thing and can flexibly enjoy batting both ways! I recognize that discomfort brought up by this is simply vestiges of attachment to form and not to be taken seriously but respected as the need of an individualistically chosen self – all good! Man you could find Christ in Enid Blighton and Noddy ( now there would be a challenge to sexist thinking and language! ) if you were genuinely looking! Which I think was your point in Loving What Is?

    In any case I’m very glad you write Sean, I need to be touched by the Voice for Love in tangible ways through form and words and you’re doing that most deliciously and I am very grateful.

    • Sean Reagan June 11, 2014, 4:01 pm

      A spiritual switch hitter! I love that!

      Thank you for the kind words Alexandra. Yes, that was my thinking in that post – God is everywhere (nothing unreal exists) and we perceive it when we are looking. But it is also given to us in those special places – Emily Dickinson poems, landscapes, baking, (Noddy!) or whatever. More and more I recognize those brief moments of insight as glimpses into reality itself.

      It’s funny you mention Ken. I have been thinking about him a great deal lately – just thumbing through some of his books but also thinking about the course through the lens I think of as his. It was very practical and down-to-earth and sometimes I really need that. It’s so easy for me to get pulled into spiritual drama and poetry and while there’s a place for that surely there are also times when I long to be grounded and guided. Ken always feels like that teacher to me.

      Thanks again Alexandra!


      • Ireen March 27, 2018, 2:57 pm

        Lovely!! I was googleing regarding questions (Ken Wapnick died because of cancer and does that make ACIM pointless etc) in need of answers and found this in Your comment: “God is everywhere (nothing unreal exists)” … This was exactly the missing piece! Way to go!! So many misinterpretations around “nothing unreal exists” regarding ACIM. With all gratitude ….

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