A year or so ago someone wrote me about a negative experience they’d had with a fairly well-known course teacher. With this teacher, they experienced a lot of pressure to practice A Course in Miracles a particular way. The coercion bothered them but at a deeper level, they were also bothered by the idea that it was even possible to approach the course from such a black and white place.
If you pay attention to the course community – from its highest levels to its lowest and farthest-flung – you know this is a real problem. A lot of well-intentioned people believe that it’s their way or the highway. Or they present themselves that way. And so beginners and sometimes even veterans find themselves engaging less with the course and more with someone else’s interpretation of the course.
So is there a right way to practice A Course in Miracles? An “only” way?
However, I wonder if we could say that there are helpful and less helpful ways to practice it? And that the arbiter of what is helpful and the degree to which it is helpful is you, in prayerful conjunction with the Holy Spirit and Jesus?
That feels healthier to me, and more consistent with the overall tone and message of A Course in Miracles.
It is my experience that the course meets us where we are. That is, whatever our spiritual needs and abilities happen to be at a given time, the course will – if it is the path that we are choosing – naturally and usefully fit into them. We will be challenged and nurtured to the precise degree that we’re ready, willing and able to be.
And that is going to be a different experience for each student. Not only that, but that experience is going to change over time. It is a process and it changes and we change with it.
And the course shifts gear to be with us at all times – even, sometimes, to where it is no longer a viable spiritual practice.
I will give you a couple of personal examples. When I first encountered the course, I was quickly and intensely invested in the debate about which edition to read. The urtext? The sparkly edition? The Criswell? What?
As an English professor and professional writer, this seemed like a reasonable issue. It appealed to both my personal and professional instincts. So I read a lot of blog posts on the subject. I got hold of every edition, read them and compared them to one another. It was a very academic process, a very intense process and . . . a very ego-driven process. I wanted to be right. And for me to be right, others had to be wrong.
I dove right into the heart of the conflict. It was my early lens into the course community and A Course in Miracles itself.
These days, I am uninterested in that debate – or at least a lot less interested. When asked, I encourage people to just stick with the FIP edition. If they feel really strongly that there’s a better one, then I encourage them to go for it. The differences between editions are far less significant than what is similar. You’re going to get it regardless of the edition you read. The conflict – which can be quite intense – is a real distraction. The idea that one edition is superior to the other for all students all the time . . . it’s just crazy. Who would want to indulge it? You find what works and then you stick with it.
Still, even though I regret that early focus – because it indulged conflict and not peace – I still learned. I got a great crash course in the course community. I was exposed to some thinkers – Robert Perry, Kenneth Wapnick, Liz Cronkhite – who are helpful for many reasons other than their take on which edition of ACIM is authentic, or real, or condoned.
So what I am saying is that while the Sean of today would discourage the approach that the Sean of yesterday took, the Sean of yesterday was still learning. He was still making progress.
It was okay. It really was.
Here’s another example. Gary Renard’s book The Disappearance of the Universe showed up in my practice at about the time I let go of the ACIM edition question. It was a rough time. I had made a commitment to the course, but was also feeling quite lost with it. I wasn’t sure I understood it, wasn’t sure what teachers to read. I felt chastened by the fact that I’d indulged community conflict so much.
In that space, Renard was an accessible and incredibly supportive teacher. His attitude and style allowed me to breathe. I didn’t care about the whole Arten and Pursah debate. I just read the book several times through. It had a real calming effect on me. It was like talking to somebody who wasn’t invested in being brilliant or overly spiritual or anything. It was so refreshing that way.
Years later, I don’t really turn to Renard’s work. It was incredibly useful at a point in my practice, and then it stopped being so useful. It helped to create a fruitful learning environment in which other teachers appeared.
Again, what worked back then does not work now. But so what? This is a learning process, not a learning event. I know students who stay with Gary for years. He’s their teacher. He’s got what they want or need. And that’s fine with me. I’m happy for them. I don’t think I’m more right than they are just because I moved on.
Always ask: what is working? What is not? And then follow what works and gently and lovingly let go of what does not. It’s okay. And it’s going to get even more okay. Our teacher is the Holy Spirit. We are already what we need to learn. Be attentive and gentle. Be open. It works. It’s working.