Almost all seriously committed students of A Course in Miracles at several points in their practice encounter what might be summarized as disappointment. The seeming simplicity of Jesus’ plea to see no separate interests, to offer lilies to our brother where we tended to offer thorns, in the realization that no-one and nothing outside of us has any power over us if we so choose, turns out to be not so easy after all. Can you recall the last time you caught yourself in ego mode because something happened, or someone did something that was totally unacceptable? No matter how many times I vow to be more right-minded next time, sometimes it seems my spiritual progress is so slow that I’ll probably need a dozen more lives before I’ll truly make the choice that Jesus made. It may be a valuable insight to learn that I’m much, much more intensely attached to my little self than I thought possible, but the experience is one of disappointment, not of joy.
A Course in Miracles is not primarily a course about love; it’s a course about undoing the barriers we have built within ourselves against it (T-16.IV.6). These are not barriers that were unwillingly thrust upon us. We deliberately raised them ourselves, in an insane attempt to usurp the place of our Creator; to shut out God forever and rule our own little universe. Since we projected our guilt over this attack, we expect and experience attack all the time. Amidst our ongoing search for total happiness in our tiny little kingdom (which of course we never find), pain is never far away. Rather than trying to minimize pain (at which we have become very skilled), Jesus invites us to honestly look at the worthlessness of what we are hallucinating about, and choose the ‘better way’, as Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman decided in 1965, thereby inviting Jesus’ curriculum to come across.
Jesus in A Course in Miracles asks us to relinquish everything that up to now we thought we held dear. Step by step, we are taught that we really cannot tell the difference between the valuable and the valueless (W-pI.133). “Seek not outside yourself. For it will fail, and you will weep each time an idol falls”, we read in (T-29.VII.1). Patiently, Jesus invites us to shift figure and ground: all our possessions, passions, and special love-hate relationships that we focused on most of the time will not bring us peace, and so should recede to the background. Our deeply buried, but still fiercely burning desire for the love of God, expressed by perceiving everyone in the same loving, non-judgmental way, should be foremost in the mind during any day. Jesus promises us this is the way to the inner peace of the ‘real world’ wherein we choose not to hold on to “one dark spot in the mind to hide the face of Christ from anyone” (T-31.VIII.12:5). The real world is the gateway to Heaven, our Home. According to Jesus, at the end of this ‘journey without distance’ we will “disappear, not to be lost but found; not to be seen, but known” (T-19.IV-D.19:1).
Can we imagine what Heaven (which is “not a place, nor a condition, but merely an awareness of perfect Oneness”, T-18.VI.1:4) is like? No, our linearly programmed brains cannot picture this. Jesus makes one attempt in (W-pI.107.2): “Try to remember when there was a time, perhaps a minute, maybe even less – when nothing came to interrupt your peace; when you were certain you were loved and safe. Then try to picture what it would be like to have that moment be extended to the end of time and to eternity. Then let the sense of quiet that you felt be multiplied a hundred times, and then be multiplied another hundred more. And now you have a hint, not more than just the faintest intimation of the state your mind will rest in when the truth has come.” That’s all very nice, but the ‘price’ to pay for this is the relinquishment of all that I hold dear. Am I willing to pay that price? If I am truly honest, my answer is still “no”: I still prefer my own idols in duality, painful though it may feel at times.
If I feel Jesus takes away everything I hold dear, with only vague promises of something better, I will not be motivated to follow through on his course. Depression is likely to result. To fuel my motivation, a much deeper desire needs awakening and brought into awareness. The challenge Jesus faces as a teacher is that this deeper desire seems so terribly abstract. The ego has no difficulty in luring us back into the concrete world of petty wishes to continue to seek (and not find) fulfillment in time and space. This is why Jesus gave us a Manual for teachers, an important part of which is about developing trust. We need complete trust in Jesus to be able to take on our role as Teacher of God, one who exemplifies and demonstrates, in the dream, the right-minded way of living from day to day. Again, if I am to follow Jesus’ advice and relinquish all that I hold dear in exchange for something vague, I will only do this if I fully trust him and his message.
How does Jesus guide us in developing the trust we need, to feel motivated to follow through on his Course? First, by emphasizing that trust is not about intellectual understanding, but about experience: “The teachers of God have trust in the world, because they have learned it is not governed by the laws the world made up. It is governed by a power that is in them but not of them. […] It is through this power that the teachers of God look on a forgiven world. When this power has once been experienced, it is impossible to trust one’s own petty strength again.” (M-4.I.1:4) Jesus then proceeds to describe the stages that induce students to “make the shift” in figure and ground, as mentioned above. The development of complete trust happens in stages. These are not strictly linear or sequential. They express the general path or process of how the experience of the relinquishment of idols turns from painful to grateful. Let’s briefly review these stages.
Jesus describes the first stage as a period of undoing. Although spiritually attentive, we are still deeply affected by what seems to be loss – a loved one’s death, illness, war, you name it. “It seems as if things are being taken away, and it is rarely understood that their lack of value is merely being recognized. […] The plan will sometimes call for changes in what seem to be external circumstances. These changes are always helpful.” (M-4.I.3) The lesson in this stage, therefore, is to accept that all changes can be seen as helpful, if we look at them properly. This is where the course’s metaphysics enter the stage, which bring us in a position to sort out the valuable from the valueless (stage 2). “Valueless” is everything that keeps us rooted in the dreamworld of time and space; “valuable” is anything that helps us end our identification with the ego’s dream world. And so we learn to re-evaluate the body with which identify so deeply, although we still cannot picture, let alone experience, what our reality as spirit is like.
In stage 3, “a period of relinquishment”, we tend to define relinquishment as ‘giving up the desirable’. “Few teachers of God escape this distress entirely. […] The period […] is apt to be one in which the teacher of God feels called to sacrifice his own best interests on behalf of truth.” (M-4.I.5). This is an all too-familiar feeling for most students of A Course in Miracles. In the workbook lessons, we are urged to practice the exercises in spite of this obvious resistance: “You need not believe the ideas, you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. But do not allow yourself to make exceptions in applying the ideas the workbook contains, and whatever your reactions to the ideas may be, use them.” (W-pI.in.9). The major eyeopener is that by doing so, contradictory to what we expected, we find inner peace: “Through this [following through] he learns that where he anticipated grief, he finds a happy lightheartedness instead; where he thought something was asked of him, he finds a gift bestowed on him.” (M-4.I.5:8) Perhaps you recognize the feeling of peace that enveloped you once you really let go of something you previously felt attached to but now realize it really doesn’t matter. This course really does work!
This hails stage 4, “a period of settling down”. Through this experience, we come to see what is truly valuable. “Its potential is literally staggering, and the teacher of God is now at the point in his progress at which he sees in it his whole way out. ‘Give up what you do not want, and keep what you do.’ How simple is the obvious! And how easy to do!” (M-4.I.6). Inevitably, though, we now come to realize that we still hold on to our desire to be an individual. Now we slowly become ready for a new level of understanding about what is valuable and what is not. As Kenneth Wapnick frequently pointed out, A Course in Miracles is not about bolstering our sense of self, or becoming a happier person. The personality we think we are is inherently valueless. What is valuable is learning to truly relinquish the ego, which means letting go of all judgment. At first, this can be a deeply depressing stage, sometimes known as “the dark night of the soul”, because the true nature of our Identity as spirit is still so abstract. However, the experience of inner peace that comes through diligently doing the workbook lessons reinforces our trust. As Jesus comments: “Were not each step in this direction so heavily reinforced, it would be hard indeed.” (M-4.I.7:9). This experience of peace results in a tranquility that is the final stage of the development of trust. It is this trust that allows me to relinquish my cherished special idols and personality without becoming too depressed all the time. To conclude: keep practicing the workbook lessons daily, not just for a year but for the rest of your life. By their fruits shall ye know the inner peace which proves that trust in Jesus’ guidance is fully justified.
Also see my seven “guidelines for living in an illusory world” in “Miracles or Murder: a guide to concepts of A Course in Miracles“. This guidebook, endorsed by Gary and Cindy Renard, was published in March 2016 by Outskirts Press and is available at Amazon.com: