Climbing the ladder

First-time readers of A Course in Miracles often express their confusion about their initial acquaintance with Jesus’ curriculum in terms such as: “All nice and well, but what must one actually do to master this Course?” The answer Ken Wapnick usually provided in his workshops, which boiled down to “You non-judgmentally watch just how judgmental your thoughts still are, and then you choose once again”, wasn’t exactly what they expected. “Yeah, but what do you then do in practical terms? Please tell me what to do.” They do not yet understand just what Jesus means when he assures us in chapter 18 of the text that we “need do nothing” (T-18.VII). We don’t have to change the world, we merely need to change our mind about the world (T-21.In:7).

One thing that Jesus in his Course makes abundantly clear is that you and I struggle with a split mind. First, there is the part of the mind that likes to be my special me. This part does not want the seeming separation from God healed at all. This part of my mind is needy, uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear. This is because this special self feels guilty about the seeming separation from God. To drive this guilt out of sight and out of mind, I project it onto everything I perceive outside of me. This part of the mind, therefore, is constantly blaming and judging, even though it usually wears a mask of seeming innocence to ‘prove’ that it is kind and loving. It’s the part of the mind that indulges in chasing after idols and special relationships to find fulfillment. Again, everyone shares this part of the mind. It’s known as the large ‘iceberg’ under the watershed of conscious awareness.

The other part of the mind does want the seeming separation healed, and in fact understands that the seeming separation never happened in reality. This part of the mind sees everyone as the same, sharing the attributes of Christ, the Son of God Who is one with God in a ‘oneness joined as one’ (T-25.I.7:1). This part of the mind realizes that time and space are unreal and that perception lies. Therefore, anger is never justified,  fear is utterly unnecessary, and forgiveness is the ‘royal road’ to the experience of our natural state of lasting inner peace. This part of the mind regards the world as a useful classroom for learning the Holy Spirit’s Lessons of love (T-6). This we refer to as right-minded thinking, as opposed to the wrong-minded thinking of the other split part of the mind, which focuses solely on its own little egotistic self.

Finally, each seemingly separated split mind comes with a decision maker, which constantly chooses between these two split aspects of the mind. In A Course in Miracles, we read that this ongoing choice between two voices is the only choice we ever really make. When looking at our daily activities, this does not seem to be the case at first. It is only when we look at the purpose behind our daily decisions that the content of the split mind becomes apparent. Everything I do during the day is driven by either one of two purposes: to induce further separation, or to further undo separation between me and my brother. This is why Jesus says in the clarification of terms that our one remaining freedom is the freedom of this choice (C-1.7), and it is the choice between hell and heaven respectively.

To depict the spiritual maturity of the decision maker in choosing right-minded thinking ever more often, Jesus in A Course in Miracles uses the imagery of a ladder. At the bottom rung of the ladder, the decision maker constantly chooses selfish, wrong-minded thinking. This results in a daily dirge of constant problems and misery, the purpose of which is to show that (a) the separation from perfect oneness was indeed accomplished in reality, and (b) I cannot be held accountable for that, since evil is obviously in everyone and everything that I can point at. On the other hand, at the top of the ladder the decision maker constantly chooses right-minded thinking. Here there is no condemnation at all. Everyone and everything is perceived as the same, and I experience the real world, which is the gateway to Heaven, where the door to our Home is wide open.

In a sense, the purpose of the curriculum that is A Course in Miracles might be summarized as guiding the decision-making part of the mind from the bottom of the ladder to the top of the ladder, step by step (i.e., rung by rung). In other words, it’s a structured training program to help us totally undo wrong-minded thinking, and bring the mind to a state in which there is only right-minded thinking. The ladder as such is of course only a symbol. It is, however, a very helpful symbol in the sense that it illustrates that reaching the top of the ladder means there are quite a few rungs to take on the way up, and we can skip none. Differently stated: going from the ego’s darkness to the light of the real world is a slow process with many steps (rungs).

So what is a Course student to “do” to reach the next rung on this ladder? The work might be summarized in two words: looking and forgiving. “Looking” means constantly monitoring my thoughts for non-loving content, and then not judging what I observe. At the same time, it is crucial to understand why I engage in wrong-minded thinking that obviously results in misery. Again, I secretly revel in misery because it “proves” that the separation was accomplished in reality and therefore I exist, apart from God. Forgiving, then, is only about forgiving myself for every non-loving thought that I chose to this end.

The difficulty in this process is our fear of losing our deeply cherished unique, special, autonomous individual self. Each higher rung on the ladder heralds the loss of my self, or so the ego (the voice for separation) counsels. Since in our dualistic state of experience we cannot really imagine what the real world is like, let alone the state of the oneness of God, it’s no wonder we so often choose the seemingly safer option of wrong minded thinking. Who would I be without my problems? Since giving up my precious individual self is too fearful, I’ll cope with the misery that comes with it; day after day, year after year, life after life.

The conflict, or dilemma, lies in the wish to experience the peace of God, but on my own terms. I want the best of both! However, since the two parts of the mind are diametrically opposed, and the conflict becomes increasingly intolerable, sooner or later I will have to make a choice. Jesus presents us this choice as follows: “Do you want to be right or happy?” (T-29.VII.1). As we progress with the Course, we come to realize that it isn’t a choice at all, for: “…still deeper than the ego’s foundation, and much stronger than it will ever be, is your intense and burning love of God, and His for you.” This is what every seemingly separated life form will choose sooner or later. And since time is itself illusory, the right choice has already been made. The attainment of the real world is guaranteed for everyone. Only to the extent that we still wish to experience time, does this seem a long way off and does the ladder seem very, very high.

It’s quite understandable that from this point of view, we’d like to reach the top rung of the ladder as soon as possible. But as Ken Wapnick often remarked, we cannot skip steps. The fear and resistance are simply too great to easily lay aside. A Course in Miracles guides its students at their own pace. As Jesus explains as early as chapter 1 of the text: “It would be unwise to start on these steps without careful preparation, or awe will be confused with fear, and the experience will be more traumatic than beatific. Healing is of God in the end. The means are being carefully explained to you.” (T-1.VII.5:8-10). You and I don’t get enlightened overnight. We may tell ourselves we want to, but in the iceberg under the watershed we do not.

So that’s why it is so helpful to monitor my own thoughts, to see which guide I choose. “‘Who walks with me?’ This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace.” (W-pI.156-8:1). To consistently choose against darkness in my mind requires, above all, that I fully realize the extent of that darkness. This requires that I look: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all of the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” (T-16.IV.6:1). Therefore, even noticing that I do not really like this or that person is a clarion call for mind training, by forgiving myself for my non-loving thought, and then choose once again the teacher of Love. This I repeat again and again, slowly making my way up the rungs of the ladder, until I reach the top where “…not one spot of darkness still remains to hide the face of Christ from anyone” (T-31.VIII.12:5). So give yourself some slack, and practice peaceful patience. You and I will reach the top of the ladder together!

See also my “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


See also my Feb. 2019 Course workshop at called “Farewell to your self, to find your true Self”. (English captions/subtitles available)

Dutch visitors may also be interested in this Dutch page:

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