The Death of Specialness

As our study and practice of A Course in Miracles continues, our sense of ourselves as “special” begins to erode. This can take many forms – we are more patient with others, we laugh more readily at our “mistakes,” we don’t sweat the little things so much – but at some point it is always experienced as fearful and so we resist it. We cling to some shred of self, some fragment of egoic belief because it seems to minimize the fear. Unfortunately, that little piece is sufficient to extend our suffering.

What would your life be like if you related to everyone you met, and every experience you had, without specialness?

Every attack on our peace, without exception, arises because we believe we are separate beings – separate from one another and separate from God. We believe that yesterday’s experience is separate from today’s which is separate from tomorrow’s. This division permeates our belief system, rending everything into fragments.

What perceives itself as fragmented will naturally defend itself: that is what pieces do. They know they are not the whole, they know there are other pieces “out there,” that some of them are bigger and stronger and maybe even vengeful at the original break and so they defend.

It can be helpful to nurture a space in which it is possible to give sustained attention to what is – our thoughts and feelings, our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, our goals as students, our answer to the perennial ACIM question “what is it for?”

In that space, I can see the way in which my sense of self is both perilously fragile and incredibly aggressive and vexatious. It is as if the faintest breath could brush it away forever and so it flails and rages up its own storm in a frantic (and ultimately doomed) effort to keep that faint breath away.

What does this look like? I’ll give you a personal example.

A couple of weeks ago, a student approached me after class. She’s never had me before, English classes aren’t her strong suit and so forth. She wanted to be sure she understood the poem we were discussing. We’re talking, it’s going fine and then she mentions that she shared the poem with another professor who made a simple comment that turned out to be very helpful.

I responded to that comment first with fear and then with righteous indignation. I watched my response happen (this is becoming much more frequent for me – the capacity to observe internal response to the external without actually needing to respond or engage with it). What if this other teacher thinks this is the wrong poem to teach? What if she thinks I’m an idiot? What if she talked to other faculty and right now they’re plotting to fire me because of this poem?

Then, in response to that fear, came indignation. If this student wasn’t happy in my class then fine. Let her take it with someone else. If some professor wanted to cop an attitude about the material I teach, then fine. I’ll teach somewhere else. Hell, I’ll go climb a mountain and eat nuts and drink rain water all while writing beautiful haiku in the mist.

This was all this very subtle. The tone of my voice didn’t change, my commitment to being helpful didn’t change. I never said a word about it to anyone. But it was there.

And that is what the ego is and that is how specialness works. If it can’t ruin us at the surface, it will percolate as far down as it needs to go so long as it can still be there. That’s what it means to cling to some shred of ego. It shows up very quietly, almost unnoticeable. But it’s still there. It is still operative.

The spiritual practice of A Course in Miracles is simply to see this and to offer it to the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to take it to a therapist or spiritual counselor, or act it out in the world of form, or write it down in our wellness journal. None of those things are bad or wrong. They can be very helpful in their way. They just aren’t required.

All we have to do is recognize specialness and see how it makes us miserable. That is all. And it will be undone for us because – even deeper than crazy, is our longing for peace and even deeper than that is our knowledge that peace is ours right here, right now.

It can be hard to hear this but it’s true: when we are ready to be done with specialness, then we’ll be done with it. Period. It’s not like dismantling a mansion with a toothpick – it doesn’t have to a long, tedious and arduous process. That’s just a choice we make. Naturally, we can make another.

So why don’t we just let specialness go?


In that space of sustained attention I mentioned earlier, there is often a dim sense of fear, as if something is terrified of being seen or exposed. It’s not rocket science. If I let go of this self – this ego, this specialness – what will remain? What will “I” be? The ego cannot answer that question (because it does not know the answer) and so it always responds “death.” But in truth, A Course in Miracles assures us that “the death of specialness is not your death, but your awaking into eternal life” (T.24.II.14.4).

So we have to trust that. Trust is a by-product of a personal relationship with either Jesus or the Holy Spirit (or both). That relationship is what allows us to take a deep breath, drop down into the interior miasma, take another look at the seeming horrors of the ego and allow them to be undone. Peace is the sure – the inevitable – result. Trust that.

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  1. Dear Sean,
    Thank you so much for sharing this honest and clear example. So recognizable!!! It really is so helpful to see and read this and to realize once more that we are all facing the same issues, nothing special!!! What a refief!!!

    much love janine

  2. Hi Sean,
    I can very much relate to all of this. In my experience it hasn’t even been being special so much as it is the identification with being anything at all, whether it is being a parent, a female, an American, a worker. I think in a sense when we identify with being something then the ego pops in whenever that identity feels threatened. As we become more aware we see it more clearly. Like you, I have the frequent experience of watching the little theatrics of the ego flit across the mind, and often I just have to laugh because its all a bit silly.

    Thank you for sharing your experience:)

  3. How Lovely to start my day with ‘gentle laughter’ at the blog Sean.

    Oh so true are your words, but what a relief to be able to laugh at ego more and more as we progress with our learning and not loose it on the world to cause even more havoc 😉

    Ego screams for attention and control at even the slightest thing and it doesn’t have to be a person of course. Even the old spilled milk scenario can give rise to ire and blaming anything but our self for the mess!

    What freedom to simply smile and know we don’t have to do the ‘ego thing’ any more 🙂
    Thank you for your honesty, wisdom and humour
    With much Love & Light & gentle laughter

  4. Hi Sean,
    Thank you for honesty, as it is great to know that I am not alone in these ego responses. I loved the fact that you could feel the ego rising but not let it surface. That is quite an accomplishment, one you should be proud of:) Ken Wapnick said once that the ego never goes away and what I find interesting is that even with all the hard we do with it, it can be just a vicious when it wants to be. What I think you message portayed was that we can acknowledge, even accept it, but we don’t have to believe it.
    Much Love Suzy x

    1. Thanks, Suzy. You definitely are not alone in that! It is nice to slowly begin to see that our relationship with ego can shift and be changed, that we can ‘choose again.” Hard to believe that – and maybe harder still to bring it into application (as Tara Singh might have said) – but what else can we do? Keep on keeping on, I guess. Thanks again for reading . . .

  5. This happened to today. I resisted so it was painful. Then I let go and felt peace. When the experience was over I googled what was on repeat in my head, death of specialness, and your post came up. Thank you for this article.

    1. You’re welcome, Nicole. Thanks for reading & sharing. I agree: resistance is so painful and so unnatural and the only fix is letting go. But we’re learning, so that’s good . . .

      ~ Sean

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