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A NHNE Special Report:

A Course In Miracles

Friday, December 2, 1994
By Robert Perry

 


Copyright 1994 By NewHeavenNewEarth
Published By NewHeavenNewEarth / nhne@nhne.com

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A Course In Miracles
By Robert Perry

 

How It Came To Be

What It Is

The Course's Life In The World

The Course's Role In The Transformation Of The Earth

What It Teaches

 

 

HOW IT CAME TO BE

A COURSE IN MIRACLES is, by all accounts, a remarkable phenomenon. It has now sold over a million copies without advertising. After 18 years its sales continue to increase. There are tens of thousands of devoted students, over a thousand study groups and several dozen organizations devoted to extending its message. Yet it is a massive, 1200 page book that employs its own unique terminology and is often wordy and impenetrable. In a society pursuing a materialistic American dream, it teaches that the world is a meaningless illusion and that the way to happiness lies in forgiving those things that don't go our way. And it claims that it was written by Jesus Christ.

Much of the Course's early popularity may be due to the unusual story of its genesis. The Course is a channeled book, "scribed" by two research psychologists, Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford. Helen, born 1909, had a youth dominated by a frustrated search for God. Though she was given to many unusual, even spiritual, experiences, she could never fully commit to God's existence. So she dropped the whole thing, postured herself as a "militant atheist" and pursued a career as a scientific psychologist. She eventually came to work for Bill Thetford at Columbia University's Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

There they worked closely together but experienced a stormy relationship in a conflict-ridden academic environment. After several years of this, one day in 1965, Bill suggested that "there must be another way," and Helen agreed to help him find it. This dramatic turning point triggered in Helen a series of inner visions. In these visions she saw what looked like past lives that traced her own spiritual journey and the history of her relationship with Bill. She also saw repeated visions of a mysterious black book. In addition, she began having a series of startling psychic experiences.

These experiences seemed to prefigure some significant event to come. Then, after several months, she heard an inner voice saying, "This is a course in miracles. Please take notes." So began the seven years of dictation that would result in the published work, A COURSE IN MIRACLES. Whenever she had spare time, Helen would begin to hear a rapid inner dictation which she wrote down in shorthand. She was in no special, altered state, and the voice could be turned on and off at will. Later, she would read her notes to Bill at the office and he would type them up. They both were clear that this was a collaborative venture and was somehow the "better way" they had asked for.

The author (as I will refer to the source of the material) saw it this way also. He was not just writing a book through Helen and Bill, but trying to school them in the way or path he was teaching. Therefore, interspersed with the Course dictation was a great deal of personal instruction, aimed at helping Helen and Bill integrate and apply this material to their lives and their relationship.

Helen was an extremely reluctant scribe. She felt deeply threatened by the teaching that was coming through her and by its claim that it was coming from Jesus. She clearly believed this claim, yet was reluctant to admit it. She obviously had a profound personal love for Jesus, yet also hated him. Several times she refused to take dictation, for weeks and even months. Yet she felt she had long ago made some inner agreement with Jesus to complete this, and never seriously considered not doing it. Throughout the process, however, she maintained a dramatic split. On the one hand, there was a side of her personality that resembled the "ancient priestess" that she had seen in her past life visions: simple, innocent, absolutely trusting and completely connected to God. On the other hand, there was her more conscious side which was often angry, rebellious and volatile. To all appearances, the more conscious side won out. To the end of her life, Helen remained untransformed by the Course.

In the beginning, Helen had trouble hearing the dictation clearly. The author of the book claimed that this difficulty arose out of Helen feeling threatened by the dictation process. Because of this block, the inner author would frequently have Helen go back and correct material she had taken down. Helen's "mishearing" apparently resulted in wrong wording and grammar and even wrong ideas and concepts. As she became "clearer," the ideas that came through her noticeably ascended in quality and profundity, reaching their peak after several hundred pages. At this point the material started coming in iambic pentameter, Shakespearean blank verse, and often came in poetic passages of great beauty.

The dictation of the Course's three volumes was completed in 1972, after which Helen and Bill tucked the Course away as their "guilty secret," afraid it might bring ruin on their professional careers. They did, however, show it to a few people. One of these was Judith Skutch, a prominent figure in the field of parapsychology. Judy was convinced that the material was an answer to a desperate prayer for help. She was so enthused that she immediately began circulating photocopies of the Course. These were copied in turn by others, and before long hundreds of copies of the Course were being circulated.

It was clear that the Course needed to be formally published. With Helen's blessing, Judy turned her parapsychology foundation into a publishing company and published the book herself. In the first six weeks they received orders from 23 states, having no idea how these people had heard about the Course. The story of the Course was finally "broken" by NEW REALITIES MAGAZINE (which consented to change its name from PSYCHIC MAGAZINE in order to not associate the Course with the realm of the psychic). The story resulted in 3500 orders, a full quarter of the magazine's readership. The Course's first review came from the Association for Research and Enlightenment (the A.R.E.), the Edgar Cayce organization, and read in part:

"The three books comprise one of the most remarkable systems of spiritual truth available today.... It is a 20th century book of revelation, the scope of which is virtually without limit. Anyone who is searching for God, and who has studied the literature of metaphysics, new thought or the mysteries of religion East and West, should read A COURSE IN MIRACLES."

 

WHAT IT IS

The Course's three volumes are designed to take its students through a complete reversal of thinking and perception. Each of these volumes symbolize a key aspect of the Course's path of development. Together, these volumes represent a progression that Course students pass through.

THE TEXT is the first and longest volume. It sets forth the Course's thought system, unveiling the thought system that we have been living and thinking by, and teaching a new thought system, the Holy Spirit's way of thinking. The Text symbolizes the first aspect of the Course: study. Through studying the Text, its truths make their first entry into our minds, making us ready to embody them.

THE WORKBOOK FOR STUDENTS is the second volume and is comprised of a series of 365 daily lessons. These lessons give instructions as to how to apply the Course's way of thinking to everything in our lives. Their focus is less on going apart from the world for long periods of spiritual practice and more on bringing our practice into our daily lives with great frequency. The Workbook symbolizes the second aspect of the Course: practice. By practicing its ideas over and over, in every possible context, these ideas penetrate into our minds and become increasingly operative in our lives.

THE MANUAL FOR TEACHERS is the third and final volume. Its assumption is that after we have diligently studied and practiced we become a teacher of God, one whose life is dedicated to extended healing and forgiveness to others. The Manual symbolizes the third and final aspect of the path of the Course: extension. Through extending these ideas to others, they receive their final reinforcement in our minds and finally become our dominant belief-system.

All in all, the Course's three volumes comprise a total path that is meant to satisfy all needs along the spiritual journey. For those who want to make the fullest use of it, the Course implies that it should be done alone, as one's primary spiritual path.

 

THE COURSE'S LIFE IN THE WORLD

Since its publication in 1976, the Course has spawned a small but significant phenomenon. As mentioned earlier, over a million copies have been sold. Further, the Course is currently being translated into a dozen languages. Spanish, German and Portuguese translations have been recently published, while other languages, such as Russian, Chinese and Hebrew, are in process. The translation process has involved a massive expenditure of resources, as great care is taken to accurately translate the Course's unique use of words and nuances of meaning. The translating has become the principal function of THE FOUNDATION FOR INNER PEACE, which is the publisher of the Course.

Since the beginning, people have been drawn to work with it as a serious path of transformation. There are now tens of thousands of people who consider the Course to be their life-long spiritual path. This is especially remarkable when one considers that the Course has no outer guru, official authority or central institution, and that many of its students are following the Course completely on their own, with no outer support whatsoever.

One of the first things that occurred once the Course got out was that people started gathering in groups to study it. These study groups have increased over the years until they now number at least two thousand. They are primarily located in this country, but also exist in dozens of foreign countries.

There is no central organization that governs the Course "movement." Yet there are dozens of small organizations dedicated to extending its message. These are founded and maintained by individuals who have been so deeply affected by the Course's teaching that they want to make it their life. The largest of these organizations is THE FOUNDATION FOR ACIM in Roscoe, New York. Occupying an old lakeside resort in the Catskill mountains, this conference and retreat center was founded by Ken Wapnick, a principal player in the Course's birth and currently the most respected interpreter of the Course.

The Course has also been popularized by many visible people. Early on, the books of psychiatrist Jerry Jampolsky, most notably LOVE IS LETTING GO OF FEAR, spread awareness of the Course, selling over 2 million copies in the process. More recently, Marianne Williamson, a Course lecturer since the early 80's, has become a media favorite, beginning with her 1992 #1 bestseller, A RETURN TO LOVE: REFLECTIONS ON THE PRINCIPLES OF A COURSE IN MIRACLES. Her guest appearances on Oprah Winfrey (herself a reputed Course student) were among Oprah's most watched shows. In addition to these best-sellers, the Course has inspired scores, perhaps hundreds, of books that are based on it.

The Course's life in the world has not has not been all roses, however. Course students and organizations can be just as judgmental and unwilling to forgive as anyone else. Since forgiveness is the Course's main teaching, the wide-spread tendency of one group of Course students to judge and condemn another is especially troublesome. Although the Course was first published less than tweny years ago, already there are a variety of approaches to the Course, with the result that the adherents of different interpretations are often quite uncharitable towards each other. Further, the majority of people that buy the books leave them on the shelf. And even the majority of those who become actively involved with the Course eventually move on to other things. Perhaps all of this represents a flaw in the Course itself. Perhaps those who study the Course have simply not yet learned how to fully apply the challenging material.

Another source of upset has been THE FOUNDATION FOR INNER PEACE's decision to tighten its policy on permission to use material from the Course. For many years the Foundation was quite liberal in allowing people to extensively quote from the Course as well as use the name of the Course. However, the Foundation has now decided that the public has been confusing works based on the Course with the Course itself, thus tarnishing the image (and the message) of the Course. They have restricted use of the Course's name, allowing no book cover, organization, study group or online computer discussion group to identify itself using the name of the Course. They have also restricted the right to quote from the Course to 5% of the length of any book containing such quotes. The Foundation feels it is protecting the Course. Many students, on the other hand, feel the Foundation is going against the Course's function as a spiritual path given to all humanity. As of now, it looks likely that this issue will eventually be tested in court.

Whatever its students or even its publishers do with it, however, the Course will quite likely survive and flourish, resisting all attempts to control how people will use it. For once it enters into someone's life it seems to have a life of its own. In fact, one of the Course's main qualities is its ability to speak to a variety of people from seemingly all backgrounds and walks of life. It has made a major impact in the New Age realm, even though it is not a New Age book. There are study groups in Christian churches and followers among the Catholic religious, even though the Course corrects basic tenets of Christianity. Many of its students are Jewish, despite its Christian terminology and claim to be authored by Jesus. It has an important following among psychotherapists who have a spiritual orientation, as well as a many adherents among those in 12-step groups. It seems to be able to speak to the traditional and alternative-minded, the believer and atheist, the Jew and the Gentile. At this point, with its growth showing no signs of letting up, it is almost impossible to predict what will come of it and how it will eventually impact the world.

 

THE COURSE'S ROLE IN THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE EARTH

The Course says nothing about what will specifically play out in history. It engages in no predictions, except one: it assures us that someday the world will vanish and we will all go Home. It has nothing specific to say about the long time between now and then. However, one can glean from its pages some tantalizing hints about our collective future.

To begin with, when Helen first started to hear "the Voice" dictating to her, she asked why this material was coming through. The answer is not printed in the Course, but has been reproduced elsewhere and has become a staple of "Course lore." The idea given her by the author was that the world was in a spiritual crisis; people were losing more than they were gaining. In response there had been a "celestial speed-up"--the heavenly helping forces had sped up their efforts in order to offset this earthly retrogression. As part of this, people all over the world were being called on to help, some of them before they were truly ready. Helen and Bill were two of these. The reason that the Course was so difficult for them to bring through and apply is that were being called on to do this task before they were fully ready.

Does this "celestial speed-up" idea support predictions of earth changes and imminent global transformation? It clearly does not support any specific predictions. Yet it does claim that we have been in a spiritual crisis and implies that this crisis will be eventually alleviated by the Spirit working through human instruments here. It claims that the Course is part of that overall plan, meaning that many of the other teachings and ideas flooding into our world are also part of it. Does it mean that humanity will soon enter a golden era of spiritual maturity? Not necessarily. It could simply mean that things will not be quite so dark as they are now. Yet this guidance is also not inconsistent with the notion of a "coming golden age."

One of the Course's other implications for the future of humanity lies in its relationship to Christianity. Although the author of the Course does not focus a great deal of attention on himself, there is no question that the author believed himself to be Jesus. From hints dropped in the Course and from personal remarks made to Helen and Bill, the author of the Course clearly saw the Course as another arranged appearance of Jesus to humanity. He likened the birth of the Course to Christmas and likened Helen's role to that of Mother Mary. One of the Course's major goals seems to be the correction of Christianity. The author even uses some of the foundational beliefs of Christianity (such as sin, sacrifice, atonement, divine punishment) as examples of the very insanity he is trying to dispel. Significantly, he does not simply seek to fine-tune some of the details of Christianity. He comes from completely outside of traditional Christianity and essentially begins an entirely new way, a new spirituality, a new tradition.

If this is right, if the Course is truly another appearance of Jesus on the historical plane, then we could reasonably expect its impact to be as great as that of his last appearance. The Course may thus be a phenomenon as far-reaching in its effects as Christianity. Just as Christianity transformed the world, so, too, may A COURSE IN MIRACLES.

More broadly than correcting Christianity, the Course may also be signaling a new era in human spirituality. It offers what appear to be new insights about the human approach to God. In the history of our pursuit of God there seems to be two things we have fastidiously avoided. First, we have avoided seeing our close, primary relationships as the heart of our path, the center of our transformation. Rather, many of the world's most radical paths have withdrawn their practitioners from society into a solitary, cloistered existence with a more vertical, heaven-ward focus. Second, we have avoided facing the heart of our inner darkness, choosing either to seek the light in prayerful and meditative pursuits or to chase our darkness away by labeling it bad and sinful.

The Course makes these two things--our primary relationships and the facing of our inner darkness--what its path is all about. And these two meet in the idea of forgiveness, for UNforgiveness is essentially what happens when our inner darkness meets our primary relationships. It is thus in our unforgiveness of those close to us that we can most fully discover our darkness, and so transform it. All religions have made forgiveness an ideal. But to make it the center of the path, the criterion for progress and the goal of the journey--that may be a crucial new twist.

The Course, therefore, contains a very clear program for a new world. Its ultimate goal is not simply individual healing; it is global salvation. The world has always been governed by attack, defense and counterattack. From the Course's standpoint, forgiveness is literally the only thing that can take away the attack of the world, for it is the only thing that does not respond with more attack. It is the only thing that in the face of attack does not judge, harbor resentment, play the martyr or point the finger. According to the Course, then, only forgiveness can put an end to the battle that has been raging on this earth since time began. If this is in fact true, then by giving us this message, A COURSE IN MIRACLES has brought a great gift into this world.

 

WHAT IT TEACHES

Although nearly everyone who is familiar with the Course tends to see it from different vantage points, and although the complexity of the Course's thought-system is difficult to encapsulate, what follows is a brief summary of the Course's main teachings.

The foundation of the Course is its vision of reality, also called Heaven. Reality, it claims, is not the physical world, but is a transcendental realm of spirit, beyond time and space and void of bodies, forms, limits or change. It is a state of grace in which literally everything is freely given us by God, without the need for striving or earning and without the threat of loss. In this state we are perfect beings, absolutely innocent and inherently united with our Creator.

To get a sense of this condition, the Course asks us to imagine the most happy, peaceful and secure moment of our life. Now imagine that moment being multiplied 10,000 times. Now imagine that moment becoming permanent, eternal. This, we are told, gives us no more than "the faintest intimation" of what Heaven is like.

Into this perfect state, says the Course, "there crept a tiny, mad idea." Somehow (and the Course never explains how) perfect, unbounded minds entertained the idea of being separate, limited creatures. As this idea was taken seriously it seemed to shatter reality into billions of tiny forms, breaking eternity into days and months and years. The result was the physical universe we now see, composed of separate locations and separate moments of time. And in this universe we are separate beings, encased in bodies, competing with other bodies and doomed to die. We seemingly have corrupted ourselves from perfect spirits to sinful humans; transported ourselves from the safety of God's Heart to the endless danger of this world's law of tooth and claw. The separation has apparently turned a Heaven of bliss into a universe of pain.

Yet the central teaching of the Course is that "The separation never occurred." It is impossible that Heaven could ever experience even the slightest change. "Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God." When we seemed to leave Heaven and change our nature, we merely fell asleep. We fell into a private hallucinatory fantasy. Nothing happened to Heaven, nothing changed. We simply closed our eyes and went crazy.

According to the Course, then, we never left home. "You are at home in God, dreaming of exile." We never corrupted our nature. We never sinned. We are still in Heaven, still perfect, still innocent, still one with God. Therefore, there are no real barriers to our return to Heaven. There is no real problem. There is only a psychological problem. In other words, it is all in our minds. We are like hypnotic subjects who have been programmed to believe that an endless distance filled with impossible obstacles lies between us and our goal, while in truth it has always been right in front of us. "The journey to God is merely the reawakening of the knowledge of where you are always, and what you are forever."

It can be tremendously freeing to hear that the problem is not in reality but only in our minds, because our minds we can change. The Course is therefore a path in psychological healing. Yet even though the problem is not real we believe in it very deeply; so deeply that nearly everything we currently experience is a result of our insane beliefs. These beliefs produce our emotions, perceptions, our words and behavior, our bodily conditions, our life events and situation and even the physical world and its seeming "laws." Our task, therefore, is to heal the beliefs that are the cause of all our pain.

Yet these beliefs are buried very deeply, under layer upon layer of denial. As a result, we think that the problem is outside of us. The problem, we think, is that we are not being treated right: people do not give us our due, life dealt us the wrong cards, luck never goes our way, God is out to get us. In the midst of this storm of injustice we seem to be the reasonable ones: nice, decent people making our way as best we can through a hard world.

According to the Course, this good self/bad world perspective is not true. It is a psychological defense against recognizing that the real problem is within our own minds, in our own insane belief-system. The Course's path is one whereby we strip away the disguises and look calmly at the beliefs that actually motivate us. We then bring these beliefs to what the Course calls the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be likened to a grand archangel, an extension of God into our dreaming minds to awaken us from our nightmare. Only He can look on our dreams and see them as neither desirable nor sinful, but simply unreal. He can do this because, unlike us, He is still aware of reality, which reveals our dreams to be meaningless. When we bring our dark beliefs to His light, our illusions to His truth, they become naturally shined away, as light shines away darkness. The result is that our minds become healed; old beliefs are dispelled and new beliefs emerge.

Our beliefs are manifest in our perceptions. The Course therefore seeks to change our perceptions. The key shift in perception is forgiveness. Forgiveness in the Course, however, is very different from the usual meaning of the word. Normally, forgiveness assumes that you have sinned against me and therefore deserve punishment; you have injured me and thus I am right in exacting restitution. By forgiving you I allow you to forego your rightful punishment. However, this only partially lets you off the hook, for my very forgiveness implicitly affirms that you are a guilty sinner. Normal forgiveness, then, has UNforgiveness built into its very essence.

According to the Course, all of us carry an ocean of subterranean guilt over the original separation, over the belief that we sinned against God. This guilt is driving us crazy inside. To seek relief, we project it onto others; we blame our world. We chalk up our problems to what the world has done to us and carry around a long list of past injustices. These past injustices seem to justify our anger and retaliation in the present. In fact, our basic stance is one of striving in the present to prove that the past was wrong about us, that we deserved better than it gave us. Thus, our way of life is one of vengeance on the past. This vengeance, however, rather than cleansing us of guilt, causes more guilt. And the more guilty we feel the more we fear punishment. We expect punishment from everywhere, from friends, family, jobs, weather, physical illness and from God. To protect ourselves we withdraw into further separateness. Yet separateness is our root illness, the thing that started the whole cycle in motion. It is indeed a hopeless cycle, for it promises that attack will be the solution to our guilt and fear, while in fact it merely feeds their flames.

The Course says that the only way to truly free the mind from this cycle is through real forgiveness. Real forgiveness is based on the idea that the wrong lay not in the other person, but in our perception. When we see another person as a sinner that is attacking and injuring us, we are wrong. When we see another person as guilty and deserving of just punishment, we are insane. Another person cannot corrupt our innocence. And we cannot be hurt. What seemed to be an attack was merely a call for love, a cry for help. What seemed to be someone sinning against us was only an innocent mistake. The injustices that seemed to be inflicted on us by another person never really happened; they occurred only in a dream. Thus, we forgive others for what they did NOT do to us.

Course-based forgiveness, therefore, is a shift in perception, a transformation in the mind of the "injured party." It reaches down and brings healing to the heart of one's sick belief-system. It affirms that other people are not what is keeping us in misery; it is our own fixed and rehearsed perception that others sinned against us and deserved our revenge. That was the source of our anger, guilt and fear. Now that we release that perception we are free, free of guilt and free of fear.

On a more profound level, forgiveness is the direct application of the idea that the separation never occurred. For that idea IS forgiveness. It says that we seemed to sin, but nothing really happened. We are totally free of what we did because it was never done. There is thus no guilt to harbor and no punishment to fear. The good news is that we are powerless to really corrupt our nature or damage Heaven. Forgiveness thus undoes the primordial guilt that has plagued humanity since the dawn of time.

Forgiveness does more than heal our own minds, however. It is an extension of healing to others. For they, too, carry an enormous burden of guilt. To communicate to them, through our defenselessness and invulnerability, that they did not sin is to set them free. Therefore, forgiveness unleashes what the Course calls our function, that of setting others free. Each one of us, we are told, has a special function, a special way of serving the awakening of humanity, a special form of forgiveness, planted in us by the Holy Spirit and waiting to stir to life.

Forgiveness also heals the separateness between people. Unforgiveness is what separates us. It is what justifies distance in the name of personal safety, what causes us to recoil from each other, lest we be wounded. Therefore, the Course says, "forgiveness takes away what stands between your brother and yourself. It is the wish that you be joined and not separate." In Course terminology, forgiveness transforms "special relationships" into "holy relationships." Special relationships are based on the search to make ourselves more special. We do this by trying to extract special favor from others through laying guilt on them. A special relationship is not really a relationship at all, but "a state of isolation, which seems to be what it is not." A holy relationship, on the other hand, is a real joining of minds, a union of two minds joined in a common purpose.

Forgiveness, then, is a liberating change of mind that sets us free from the past, free from guilt and fear, that awakens our natural function of healing others and that takes away the barriers between ourselves and others, allowing us to join. As we become more and more practiced in this change of mind, we become increasingly freer and happier. We emerge out of anxiety and into peace. And we awaken peace and happiness in others, through our words, deeds, and even through our mere presence. More and more people are drawn to us, with whom we join in holy relationships. This process increases, with ourselves and others, until (to paraphrase the Course) all we sought before to crucify are resurrected, by our side, as we prepare with them to meet our God. The world is shined away in light as we open our eyes in Heaven and realize that we never left.



Robert Perry has been involved in A COURSE IN MIRACLES since 1981. In 1986 he began teaching the Course and is the author of THE ELDER BROTHER: JESUS IN A COURSE IN MIRACLES and several Course-based booklets, including AN INTRODUCTION TO A COURSE IN MIRACLES, which has sold over 100,000 copies. At present, he publishes regular Course-based newsletters and booklets, presents Course-based lectures and workshops around the world, and is President of THE CIRCLE OF ATONEMENT (an organization based in Sedona, Arizona that is committed to teaching A COURSE IN MIRACLES). Robert is also a core member of the NewHeavenNewEarth staff and regularly writes articles and Special Reports for our work.

For more information about Robert and/or his Course work, you can write: CircleOfA@sedona.net or visit their home base on the World Wide Web at: http://www.sedona.net/nen/circleofa



 

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