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. Thatย isย 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?

26 thoughts on “On Ken Wapnick”

  1. 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 ๐Ÿ™‚
    I think his words to you are incredibly profound:
    โ€œalways be true to your own truth, Sean.โ€
    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 ๐Ÿ˜‰
    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

    1. One truth for all – Oneness.
      It’s impossible to transform Reality into different versions of itSelf.
      The theme of our sameness, which is a reflection of our oneness in Truth, is one of the two major themes in ACIM. Acceptance of each other as a mere illusory fragment of the one spirit of love that we all are (forgiveness), is the beginning of the journey of awakening from our illusory ego’s illusory dream of seperation from Love. ๐Ÿ’œ

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. Hi Sean,

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

    Looking way, way back to 5 or 6 years ago ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

    Eric

    1. โ€“ 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 โ€“ (and, of Course, they have all their own value)

      1. โ€“ so maybe all the people dying of cancer or really on the “spiritual path” โ€“ initially, this thought came to me as a “joke”, some, so-called “logic” โ€“ 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 โ€“ we are all on our “journey home” โ€“

          1. Thank you for sharing, Stella. I have not read Louise Hay, but if in fact she makes this assertion, then she is confused. Cancer is not a symbol of anything; it’s just something that sometimes happens to some bodies. In and of itself it means nothing.

            We have a tendency to confuse the self with the body, and then – based on that confusion – start assigning value to the body’s function. Orgasms are good! Cancer is bad! And then we transfer those judgments to the self. We might say, for example, that cancer is a symbol of inadequate forgiveness and resentment. Or that healing from cancer represents a special relationship with God.

            All of this arises from our recognition of the body’s fragility and thus our fear of death. It’s a fact that bodies come and go, and that their dying appears conclusive. But it’s also a fact that we do not come and go, and thus do not die. But we forget this and end up inventing all kinds of sad and distracting stories about Heaven and hell, and what forgiveness is and isn’t, and what atonement is and isn’t . . .

            And the whole time we are free and whole, deprived of nothing that would obstruct joy which is – to paraphrase A Course in Miracles – our natural inheritance.

            We insist on crucifixion when there is literally no body to crucify!

            This error – confusing self with body – is not in and of itself a crisis. Love is unaffected by our confusion; peace is always at hand, awaiting remembrance. But the error does make the remembering harder. So why not let the confusion go? Why not discover that we are not bodies and are thus unaffected by the body’s apparent adventures and trials?

            Seriously: why not be happy, joyous and free?

            To our self, whatever happens to the body is all the same. The body defines and judges what happens, but we don’t have to. Cancer, stubbed toes, warm snuggles with puppies . . . All just bodies being bodies. No big deal. No deep meaning. Nothing to solve or fix. Nothing to cherish or covet.

            Salvation, as such, is simple. It’s natural; it’s given. It’s already the case. We can certainly make it complex – by inventing weird laws and logics (like cancer is a symbol of unforgiveness) – but we don’t have to. We can also relax into the natural extension of love, which is everpresent and does not require artificial explanations, defenses, descriptions and rules.

            I have no doubt that for Louise, cancer is a symbol of unforgiveness. But this is just fear speaking! It’s not a law of God or nature. It’s not a fact that applies to all people at all times. It’s just her personal experience of the underlying mistake of confusing body with self.

            Forgiveness is simply seeing the underlying error and letting it go. The problem isn’t cancer (or stubbed toes or snuggling puppies), it’s thinking that cancer (or anything else, be it apparently good or apparently bad) has any meaning that can affect the self. It doesn’t and it can’t. Therein lies the peace of God.

            Thank you again for sharing, Stella.

            Love,
            Sean

  5. 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.
    Sandy

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. 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!

      Love,
      Sean

      1. 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 ….

      2. “Nothing unreal exists. Nothing real can be threatened.” Christ – spirit of love.
        This illusory dream of the world is not of God. God knows nothing of what God did not Create, and What God Creates is permanent. It is within the Mind of God, because it is within our mind, and we are a thought of love within God’s Mind of Love. The only thing real in this dream of seperation from Love, is our memory of Love, of our true Self, spirit of love – Creation, which cannot be threatened, for we are perfect, eternal, and changeless, in Truth – Reality. The bodies (form) of us dream figures can be affected, yes, but the content of our mind cannot be touched, and that’s why nothing seemingly external to ‘ourselves’ is in any way responsible for our thought.

  8. Two comments, and both removed.
    It’s bad luck to be superstitious, but this third truthful comment will no doubt suffer the same fate as the other two. Sean, my comments may be in relation to comments by others who have since started to awaken, but they would be useful to others who may peruse this site, in relation to merely seeking information about Ken Wapnick’s death, probably being students/teachers of God’s Love. Spirit is about sharing, so perhaps you should think twice about deleting my comments, for they are only for the good of all.

    1. Good morning, Brett. Your comments were not deleted; they were held in moderation for approval because you’ve never commented here before. Welcome and thank you for sharing.

      This feels like a teachable moment, no? If you read back through your comments, you’ve clearly mastered the language and concepts of ACIM but when three comments were not instantly published on a stranger’s website you assumed the site owner had deleted them and had ignored “the good of all.” There’s a lesson in that about projection for you (which I know you already understand but – in this case at least – are still learning how to apply).

      There’s also a lesson about humility. Why do you assume that “Brett’s” comments are for “the good of all?” What if the Holy Spirit directed “Sean” to delete those comments for “the good of all?” How would you know the difference? How would you know the difference you perceived is “right?”

      Peace through ACIM study and practice comes when we release the need to be right or better than our brothers and sisters and instead lean into our radical equality. That’s easy to say and hard to do. You’ve clearly spent a lot of time learning the conceptual material of A Course in Miracles – and I am grateful to you for that work; it’s not easy and its not insignificant – but you fell into fear awfully quickly, Brett, and held another responsible for that fall. I wonder if you might think now less about the intellectual aspects of being an ACIM student and more about the embodied practice? It’s a big lift but the rewards are joy and peace that cannot easily be shaken. I speak from intimate – painfully intimate – experience in this particular regard (as did Ken, by the way). ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thank you again for visiting and sharing. I hope you’ll read more of what I write and share your thoughts with me and the folks who read more or less regularly here. We all have a lot to learn, smarties like you and me included, and doing it together is generally more helpful than not.

      In either case, have a good day!

      Love,
      Sean

  9. What exactly did Ken die of? I was thinking of looking into ACIM but have concerns as to why all three of acimโ€™s Central figures, Helen, Bill and Ken all died so relatively young. That just doesnโ€™t seem consistent with a spiritual path.

    1. Oh I don’t know. I mean, Therese of Lisieux was just 24 when she died. And Jesus died in his early thirties so . . .

      The connection between chronological longevity and spiritual acumen seems tangential. Ken’s death of ______________ at age _______ has what to do with his teaching?

      Certainly, A Course in Miracles directs our focus away from the body/spirit conflation. Really, any focus on the body and its adventures as a sign of spiritual progress or growth et cetera is misguided. Bodies come and go; what we are in truth – whether we call it love, spirit, being, life et cetera – does not. It is on that view that ACIM teaches that:

      There is no death. The Son of God is free (W-pI.163).

      In the absence of death, the duration of one’s apparent life in the world becomes dispositive of . . . well, nothing in particular, save as a brief item in a curriculum aimed at teaching us there is neither world nor body . . .

  10. I’m pretty new to the course. I have found Ken Wapanick’s videos and books invaluable guides.

    I wonder what his opinion of the plain language ACIM translated by Liz Chronkhite would have been. I have found that book very helpful for someone such as me new to the course.

    I enjoyed your piece on Ken. No, he was not perfect, but it’s hard to doubt his authenticity and sincerity. He seemed to be a truly living example of the course.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Brad. Ken did not give much attention to ACIM rewrites, and was not supportive of them. From his perspective, Helen scribed what she scribed and consented to editing and publishing in a very clear way. For Ken, deviations from that ran afoul of Helen’s intentions, and – in varying ways – compromised the course message. So I doubt he read Liz’s modified take on the course, much less thought it was a good idea.

      On the other hand, he did emphasize over and over the importance of working with whatever version was most helpful with one’s guilt. What helps? In the end, that is the real and important question. Once the copyright was lost, the horse left the barn and wasn’t coming back. I do think Ken made his peace with that, and taught accordingly.

      I don’t think of Ken as flawless – indeed, in a lot of ways he frustrated me – but I do think he cared deeply and worked hard to teach the course as he understood and lived it. I’m grateful for that.

      ~ Sean

  11. I’m begging to study ACIM with “a beginner’s mind” in the literal sense. Reading your comments is an experience that I’m thankful to all. Also I’ve been reading authors that explain/interpret the Course. Ken Wapnick feels to me the most reliable. Perhaps is better not to judge him, or anybody for that matter. With Krishnamurti I had a long friendship.
    All teachers have their own styles and approaches depending on their Path. The advise I give to myself is let them be. Pedro don’t get caught in your spiritual journey in the ego trap of discussion game with others. Let God be the Guide. And teachers be helpful in their own ways.
    As an ex Jesuit and professor of philosophy for fifty five years I’ve been there in the belly of intellectualizing.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Pedro. Letting the spiritual chips fall where they fall – to borrow a cliche Ken employed from time to time – is never a bad idea. In my experience, we are all – students and teachers alike – doing what we can. My sense of Ken was that he was a student who happened to learn most effectively while teaching, and that teaching has been helpful to me in different ways over the years. Intellect isn’t the problem any more than adoration or letting go is the problem. The problem is always our tendency to conclude that this or that – be it what it may – is The Answer, The Way, The Truth, The Life. Takes a long time to see that and then consent to its undoing. Or so it seems to me in what must be clear to all is foolishness.

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