Who Was Helen Schucman?

Was Helen Schucman psychic?

In my view, that question functions as gossip – akin to speculating about someone’s sexuality. We are all intuitive to one extent or another. We all express our intuitions in deeply personal ways. Singling out one person’s expression for analysis – especially without their consent and participation – feels intrusive and unkind.

Here is how I would frame an inquiry into Helen’s so-called psychic or scribal powers: does it matter if she was psychic?

The way that we answer that question is interesting because it anticipates another – more interesting and fruitful – question: who actually wrote A Course in Miracles?

Helen Schucman (with an assist from Bill Thetford)?

Or Jesus (with an assist from Helen Schucman with an assist from Bill Thetford)?

The way that we answer that question speaks volumes to how we view the ACIM curriculum. If we believe that Jesus dictated it, then we are apt to believe that by embracing it we are ipso facto embracing Jesus. We become students of a course ordained by Jesus Himself. We get as close to being a contemporary disciple as one can get.

But since A Course in Miracles ultimately refutes the existence of separate identities, it also denies the identity of an itinerant peasant who was executed by the Romans a couple of millenia ago for carrying on the work of John the Baptist. If you carefully follow the course, you reach a juncture where there is no Jesus.

Nor, by the way, is there a Gary Renard (or an Arten or Pursah). Or a Ken Wapnick. Or a Tara Singh. Or a Marianne Williamson. Or a . . .

But those fine teachers are not the real sticking points! The sticking point is that there is no [insert your name here]. And most of us would cheerfully throw Helen Schucman herself under the bus rather than give up our own identity.

Helen Schucman – not Jesus – wrote A Course in Miracles. It expresses her lifelong fascination with Christianity (especially the healing implicit in Christian Science and the mysticism inherent in Catholicism), and its nexus with psychology and with emerging popular views of eastern spirituality. Critically, in order to effectively write this material, she had to pretend it wasn’t her doing the writing but rather Jesus.

In other words, I don’t think there was any way for Schucman to face the ACIM material other than to displace it. Or – to put it into course terms – project the material onto her projection of Jesus and then deny that’s what she was doing.

Most of us who read the course are de facto enablers of Helen, in the sense that we go along with her fantasy. We pretend that Jesus really is implicated in authorship of the course. I don’t think any of us get away from this aspect of A Course in Miracles. Saying Jesus wrote it is sexy. Saying that we are followers of Jesus through A Course in Miracles is righteous. And sexy + righteous = special. It’s our favorite equation.

I know that for many students to dismiss Jesus (and perhaps Helen Schucman and A Course in Miracles too) this way amounts to an assault on the sacred. Forgive me. But also, consider the possibility that denotations like “sacred” may themselves be an assault on that to which “sacred” points.

So here is another question. If A Course in Miracles was written by Helen Schucman, and reflects in part her confusion about Christian spirituality and identity, and in part the popular enlightenment zeitgeist of the sixties and early seventies (manifest to varying degrees of effectiveness in Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, et cetera), would that be okay? Why or why not?

Back when I was practicing a half-assed Zen in Vermont, I read Kodo Sawaki. He was a confusing teacher, largely because – especially back then – I preferred my spiritual teachers to radiate holiness. You could say chop wood and carry water but the actual chopping and carrying was for schlubs. To be spiritual was to be special, in a way that made you better than others (though, of course, you never admitted this).

Sawaki was – and is, really – good medicine for that kind of confusion and arrogance.

The asshole doesn’t need to be ashamed of being the asshole. The feet don’t have any reason to go on strike just because they’re only feet. The head isn’t the most important of all, and the navel doesn’t need to imagine he’s the father of all things. It’s strange though that people look at the prime minister as an especially important person. The nose can’t replace the eyes, and the mouth can’t replace the ears. Everything has its own identity, which is unsurpassable in the whole universe.

Sawaki recognized that his methods and style were controversial, especially for folks invested in concepts of “sacred,” especially as they applied to “identity,” ours or anyone else’s.

They say that my sermons are hollow, not holy. I agree with them because I myself am not holy. The Buddha’s teaching guides people to the place where there is nothing special . . . People often misunderstand faith as kind of ecstasy of intoxication . . . True faith is sobering up from such intoxication.

True faith is sobering up from such intoxication . . .

It is easy to become intoxicated with A Course in Miracles – the scribe was psychic, Jesus is its author, popular teachers are taught by ascended masters, we might see light shows or gain supernatural abilities . . .

If that’s your thing, then it’s your thing. Give attention to it and see where it goes. For me, its yield was more in the nature of an ersatz high one has to work harder and harder to sustain. But my way is not The Way, much less your way.

In my experience, it was helpful to treat the course as a course, allow it to function as if functioned, and then move on. A Course in Miracles introduces us to an inner teacher that it calls the Holy Spirit, and that teacher takes over the curriculum. It is deeply personal and deeply effective. One doubles down on their study and – when the times comes, which it does – lets the whole thing go.

Helen Schucman (by Brian Whelan)

Thus, beyond the high drama and supernatural special effects so many of us project onto the course, there is the simple promise of becoming peaceful and happy to an almost exquisite degree, simply by seeing the self for what is and thus ending our personal resistance to experience. That is the real promise, and the real joy. And for it, my gratitude to Helen Schucman is immense.

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  1. Great read; a significant addressing (healing!) of my specialness projection which has been confounded by questions like these. “Putting things in their place” is a great service when it needs to be expressed/heard. And hearing this quest-ion as similar to gossip hit home. Makes more sense of my controversy fetish too. I guess I knew I couldn’t make anyone or thing “the” special” so I kept my projection hopping by hiding it in the shopping amonst all the “special”ites out there. And lots of contemplation food in special = righteous + sexy ! The corollaries, like righteous = special – sexy, sheds new light on righteous and sexy. (I have a formula fetish too!)

    Would you say that Mind, experiencing Itself as Helen, continued to use the specialness of Its experiencing Itself as Jesus, as layers of specialness that actually were part of making a Helen identity? (And not just simple layers of course, for the specialness is being “turned in” on itself) Excuse my attempt at riffing the dreaming with you, if it seems like to convoluted an attempt at specialness! Just getting it out there was good for me, with someone who gives gentle attention.

    1. (Edited to fix a typo noted by Mike 🙂 )

      Ha ha! Those corollaries are fun . . .

      If we think of existence as a pool, Jesus (like Buddha) made big ripples. And those ripples begat other ripples: Paul of Tarsus, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Helen Schucman. And those ripples begat their own ripples, and on and on. So one can sort of mentally squint and see a vast pool glittering and shimmering and it’s hard to say where Jesus begins or ends, or Helen Schucman, or Sean or Mike . . .

      Behind the identity is the being, and the being is love subject in varying degrees to distraction/constraint/confusion/et cetera. In a sense, “identity” is the distractions/constraints/confusions animated by the love that is forever seeking and finding itself.

      I probably would not personally use “Mind” the way you are, but I would say sort of what I said above: Love begat Jesus, Jesus begat a way of helping clear the way for Love, and Helen reenacted a familiar drama in Jesus’ name. The drama is helpful or not helpful, but in either case, it is always animated by love – or Mind, if you like.

      It’s worth noting that while history privileges Jesus, there were certainly figures preceding him who were equally clear & loving & whose clarity and love are also ripples rippling in and around us even now. It’s just that their identities as such precede written text and preserved text. Seeing Jesus as an absolute beginning – the first one to complete the curriculum, in course lingo, THE way, THE truth et cetera – overlooks this fact. Love – or Mind – is not so limited!

      The work for me is really around letting the spiritual drama come and go, and staying with that which seems to not come and go, and letting it guide/teach/hold/illuminate me as it will, which it does, in its way. That, too, is love – or mind – seeking and finding itself, word by word.

  2. Sweet, thanks! (And I probably would have used “consciousness”, but reverted to “Mind” with the ACIM context)

    Ripples is a much more lovely image than layers. And thanks for “your” centering, it is valued on “this end” greatly. (I like playing right now with “One love field am I”, reversing the usual “I am” going first in the affirmation, with “i”s the points experiencing the “ends” of Its waves – ah!, or the ripples!)

  3. oh, and you probably meant “it’s worth noting”, and not “nothing”. It’s funny to me that ACIM is a “course correction” for Christianity, and was of much help to me that way, but there seems to be a doubling down on the specialness of Jesus as another tack some ACIMers can take.

  4. Exactly my philosophy Sean.
    If what you discover inspires you, let it inspire you.
    Have faith if it feels right, but BELIEVE only your own experience.
    Words inspire, experience confirms.

  5. Sean, I have been enjoying your writings immensly. You bring a very open and balanced approach to your topics.

    I do, however, take issue with Sawaki’s sweeping statement, “The Buddha’s teaching guides people to the place where there is nothing special.”

    Not so fast! The Buddha’s teaching makes extensive use of the idea of “specialness”. Describing something or someone as “noble” is a particularly strong expression of specialness. Buddhism begins with the Four Noble Truths. Then you get the Noble Eightfold Path. Finally, those who attain stream entry, and later full enlightenment, are all called the Noble Ones. Noble all the way! Meaning: not ordinary, exalted, pure. (Hardly Sawaki’s “asshole”!)

    The Zen view that ultimately there is “no one out there” has given birth to all kinds of selfish acts that supposedly “transcend” good and evil. These Zen scandals mostly relate to violence and sexual abuse. ACIM students should pay close attention, because taking the dream metaphor too far, so that nothing is ever seen as real on any level, has much in common with certain disgraced masters’ approach to Zen. Like them, we can cause immense suffering when we believe that we have overcome the ego/duality/dream and then think it’s okay to be unkind (or an asshole, as Sawaki puts it).

    The ego likes nothing more than reining free in the name of egolessness.

    1. Thank you for reading, Chris.

      I feel pretty harmonious with all your observations here.

      Sawaki is not for everyone; I suspect he showed up in my study when he did because I needed a little shock to steer away from attachment to spiritual purity, which have – will probably always be – a distraction for me. Just in my own learning experience, it has always been important to remember that the asshole’s production is as integral as the mouth’s or the brain’s.

      {Indeed, the asshole’s production – shit – is arguably more valuable than wordiness, as our compost operation here is a huge boon to our gardens & berries & fruit trees, the products of which we actually eat! I’m being a little facetious of course, but only a little . . . }

      With respect to “specialness,” I wonder if any differences here may be more semantic than substantive? That is, I think the “specialness” that you rightly observe in the Buddhist tradition does not mean “rare” or “given only to a few” but is rather indicative of a natural state of being, when it is not clouded by ego, grasping, yearning, guilt et cetera.

      That is, “special” does not mean “better than.”

      There are ACIM corollaries – i.e. “. . . without you there would be an empty space in God’s Mind (T-11.I.3:4). The course sometimes exalts the student, which could readily be interpreted as “I am special,” when the intention is more broadly “we are all special” which is another way of saying “nobody is special.”

      I agree whole-heartedly with your observations about ego’s cheerful embrace of “egolessness,” and how it can serve’s ego’s ends. Ongoing vigilance is never a bad idea, at least for me 🙂

      I also appreciate your sense of not taking the dream metaphor too far. I think one of the reasons I ended up studying Tara Singh so closely was because he did not embrace that metaphor. The key word is “metaphor” – i.e., it’s important to take the metaphor seriously – it’s a great pointer, helpful in that context – but not literally.

      Anyway, thank you again for reading and sharing. Read your comment and wrote back over morning coffee, a happy place indeed!

      ~ Sean

  6. Sean,

    Thank you for having taken a step back to your True Identity and sharing and extending the Light that we never left.


  7. Sean — You have no clue what you are talking about regarding Helen and the Course. However, you do want to sound rational and intelligent with all those words and all that phrasing.

    I’d asses you as being someone with low self-esteem working hard to be considered a someone.

    1. Hi Dawn 🙂

      Thanks for your note.

      If you have any specific concerns about what I wrote, I’d love to hear them.

      With respect to “all those words and all that phrasing,” I hear you! Nobody likes a know-it-all. Trust me: I’m working on it 🙂

      And so far as having low esteem and working hard to be someone goes . . . guilty as charged.

      Thanks again, Dawn 🙏

      ~ Sean

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