Practicing A Course in Miracles requires what we might call pragmatic optimism. Most of us are a little confused by the Course – its language, its metaphysics. What does it mean that the external world is an illusion? How is it possible to leave thought behind? How can I love all people when it is obvious that I’m hard-wired not to love them?
Nor is it a simple read. The text is often abstract, overly poetic, highly artificial. Nobody talks that way. Certain paragraphs could easily have been converted to a single sentence. What is the point of a book that professes to aim for simplicity but is actually quite dense and even meandering at times?
And naturally, we screw up from time to time. We stop doing the lessons. We idolize teachers. We try another path and drop that one and drift back to ACIM and then this other path or teacher beckons. That can be quite a painful cycle.
Finally, often, it seems we just don’t make any progress, despite our sincere and disicplined and sustained efforts.
So I think that it can be quite difficult in many ways to be a student of A Course in Miracles. There are a lot of ways to become discouraged or distracted. There are a lot of side paths on which we digress and become lost and waste time.
In order to keep going in the face of this challenge, we need some optimism. And some faith. In a sense, even though we can’t see precisely how it’s all going to work out, we have to trust that it will. Otherwise we won’t be able to persist in a steady and disciplined way.
When trust is informed by optimism, it seems to work better. The alternative is resignation which tends not to inspire. The Course has some of this optimism built into it. Certain lessons will say things like today we’re going to substitute a few minutes of study for thousands of years of learning. Or that if we are really attentive to the lesson we are going to make a powerful and tangible contact with God.
So we can practice with a sense not of of panic but hopefuleness. We can say, “Today I am going to awaken from this nightmare. Maybe even before lunch. Surely by dinner.”
What are the grounds for this optimism, this faith? That is a good question, actually, and deserves our attention. Most of us have the capacity to believe that something good is going to happen even though it’s not immediately clear when or how it’s going to come about. What is the nature of that capacity? Where did that belief come from?
What will we find when we make contact with that sense of optimism and faith? What is its ground?
In order to experience separation, we must remember – dimly, vaguely – wholeness. We have to be able to compare this present experience with a prior one. So we contain the memory – tiny as a pinprick of light, faint as the faintest of distant stars – of God and our relation to God. This is why the Course can teach that we are already home. This is why we are asked to not seek fulfillment outside but inside. This is why we are taught that we have already been given the answer to the problem of separation.
Atonement is an accomplished fact within us. We cloud it over with nonsense and triviality, but beyond the machinations of our egoic thoughts and the lifetimes they consume, the Truth of our identity lies clear and still, waiting only on acceptance.
Thus, when we seek the ground of our faith that A Course in Miracles will eventually “work,” and when we seek the ground of our optimism that inner peace is both real and attainable, we are really drawing on the deep knowledge that the Course already has worked and that we already are peace.
We keep going – we keep studying and praying – we keep picking ourselves up after each mistake and setback – because we know at the deepest levels that there is nothing to forgive and nothing to improve. We are already home. Atonement is a fact. Oneness is a fact. It is finished.
And we can know that. We can make contact with that Truth.
This is why our hopefulness and confidence is not misplaced. Indeed, those feelings – far from being uninformed and shallow and naive – spring from the very Truth that we are so desperate to realize. There is no gap between what we are and what God is. There is no separation. And so the case for hope is powerful indeed.