If you have spent much time exploring spirituality, you have probably heard about A Course in Miracles. Maybe you have even “done” it. A huge number of spiritual seekers—New Age, Christian, Buddhist—have read the Course or at least have it sitting on their bookshelf. It has become a familiar part of the landscape.
And yet that familiarity masks what a unique and unconventional document A Course in Miracles is. The Course falls into the category of channeled material, yet most such material seems to ride the waves of popular currents of thought, telling us more or less what we expect to hear: “You are God.” “You create your own reality.” “You can have it all.”
While the Course echoes countless themes from the world’s spiritual traditions and from modern psychology, what is perhaps most striking about it is how original it is. Just when you think that you know what it is going to say, it heads off in some completely unfamiliar direction, one that seems to have no parallel in any other teaching, ancient or modern.
Therefore, if you want to hear the old familiar truths, A Course in Miracles is not for you. On every page, it is trying to overturn the taken-for-granted assumptions on which your world is built.
For instance, all of us naturally want to distinguish ourselves through noted achievement, ability, and recognition. We all want to be special. Yet the Course points out that you can only be special by being better than others, and that trying to make others worse than you is an attack. It says, “Specialness is triumph, and its victory is [another’s] defeat and shame.” Trying to defeat and shame another, it says, just leaves you burdened with guilt.
Similarly, all of us try to fashion a positive image of ourselves, by adopting pleasing appearances and responsible behavior. Yet the Course says that this image we have so carefully crafted is really an idol, a false god that we worship in place of our true identity, which no image can capture: “You have no image to be perceived.” The Course claims that we don’t need a polished image or special attributes, for underneath these superficial things lies an ancient identity that is the same as everyone else’s yet has infinite worth.
Finally, we all assume that if there is a God, the world was created by Him. Yet the Course reminds us of what we all know, that the world is a place of suffering, disease, war, and death. Then it says, “You but accuse Him of insanity, to think He made a world where such things seem to have reality. He is not mad. Yet only madness makes a world like this.”
If you have ever suspected that there is something deeply wrong with the world, that there is an insanity that has seeped into everything, including perhaps your own heart, then the Course might be for you. For it is in the midst of this bad news that it delivers its good news.
It promises, “There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be.” In this way, the distressing appearances of life no longer govern our state of mind, nor dictate our response to others. We can find “quiet even in the midst of the turmoil” of the world. We can respond with open-handed generosity, even when others try to hurt us. We can let go of the past even when its residue lies all around us. We can walk through our day with “no cares and no concerns…no fear of future and no past regrets” even if we have failed to manifest the life of our dreams.
How do we reach this unshakable peace? We get down to business and set about retraining our minds. We practice seeing things differently. In this process, the Course provides abundant help. It contains hundreds of exercises aimed at shifting us into a new perception—exercises in forgiveness, entering the present, seeing ourselves differently, and experiencing God.
Yes, the process takes effort (how did effort become so unpopular?). And yes, it promises to turn our inner world upside down. Yet perhaps we have grown tired of our inner world, maybe even a bit sick of it. Perhaps we have noticed that as mercurial as it is, it is remarkably resistant to real change. Perhaps, then, we are ready to try something new, or to take something off the shelf that we only thought was familiar. Perhaps A Course in Miracles is the thing we have been looking for.