If you haven’t read Absence from Felicity, by Ken Wapnick, I strongly encourage you to do so. I think Ken does an excellent job of telling Helen Schucman’s story. For me, however, the real gem in this book is the personal guidance that Jesus gave Helen and Bill, guidance which was edited out of the Course according to Jesus’ instruction.
For years Course students have wondered what it would look like to really apply A Course in Miracles. The Course can seem so general and nonspecific. What would it look like fleshed out, applied in an actual human life? For many years Course students did not know that the author of the Course had actually given a very long answer to this question, in the form of extensive guidance to Helen and Bill on how to apply the Course in the particulars of their lives.
If you really want to know how to “take” this course, read this guidance very carefully and take it at its word. In order to do so, I suggest that you take many of Ken’s explanations with a grain of salt. For he often attempts to reinterpret the guidance, explaining that what it appears to say is a metaphor, which veils what he feels is a truer meaning. I suggest that you read the guidance and draw your own conclusions.
If you read this guidance carefully, the Course will suddenly take on flesh and blood, so to speak. Rather than a set of distant truths, it will become a living, breathing path of practical salvation. The following are things I noticed in this personal guidance.
Jesus really does mean for us to study the Course, if we want to “pass” it. He repeatedly told Helen and Bill to study the “notes” Helen took down. He asked them to look for solutions to their problems by carefully reading his words. He placed untold value on the ideas he put in the Course; he considered them to be incredibly practical and transformative. And he cared deeply about getting them written down as accurately as possible. In this personal guidance, Jesus is anything but an anti-intellectual. He even carries on profound discourses about conventional intellectual disciplines, from Freudian psychology to Cartesian philosophy.
He really does want us to practice, to train our minds. He truly believes that salvation or damnation lies in every thought, each subtle turn of mind. Over and over he stressed the importance of Helen and Bill watching their minds,saying that, “The unwatched mind is responsible for the whole content of the unconscious” (p. 257). At one point he dictated six pages of material in which he tracked in intimate detail Helen and Bill’s misthought over the course of a day. He repeatedly gave Helen and Bill Workbook-like phrases to practice. He urged them to meditate, in no uncertain terms. And he gave them prayers to use.
He really does mean for us to devote our lives to helping others. Unless he told Helen and Bill one thing and put another in the Course itself, this is not a course in accepting the Atonement for myself and ignoring all of you. Jesus repeatedly told Helen and Bill to help each other, and gave them particular assignments to help others, both in prayer and in very active, bodily ways. This help quite often looked less like a mystical extension from my timeless mind to yours, and more like common human courtesy—about making lunch dates and helping people out of the cold. Jesus even gave them specific physical roles in which they could express helpfulness, roles which included teaching Course principles to others.
Jesus really does mean for us to join with other people, joinings which are in essence mental, but which find expression in plain old-fashioned physical cooperation. Jesus, in fact, was very concerned about even minute details of Helen and Bill’s cooperation, seeing in seemingly insignificant acts signs of love or hate, which resulted in efficiency or wasted time.
The Holy Spirit really does have a plan for our lives, for the big things and the tiny things, for the overall shape of our lives and for each hour of everyday. This plan has to do with our thoughts, of course, but also with the most minute physical details. Jesus constantly reminded Helen and Bill to ask for guidance, and in turn gave them concrete guidance, at times unsolicited. He even comes down on what is usually considered the “flaky” side of the parking space question: Does the Holy Spirit supply parking spaces? For Jesus told Bill that if he hadn’t engaged in misthought and misbehavior, he and Helen would not have had to wait so unusually long for a cab (p. 261).
The Course really does apply to everything, every thought, every situation, every decision, every remark, every detail. The Course’s talk about our insanity, darkness and hatred is not about some far-removed unconscious realm; it is about the choices we make, the thoughts we have, and the feelings we feel in each hour’s seemingly innocuous events. The Course’s talk about love and forgiveness also apply, in radical and totally unexpected ways, to all the little details of our daily situations.
Finally, Jesus really is an ever-present personal helper and teacher, who cares about one thing and one thing only: the liberation of our minds. One could write an entire book on how he deals with Helen and Bill: how intimately he is concerned with their thoughts, their behavior and their relationship; how hard he tries to reach them in ways they would personally consider meaningful; how many devices he uses to get their attention and engage their interest; how he encourages their every gain and frequently thanks them for helping him with his Course; how he tries to make the Course practical and meaningful by adapting it to their individual personality patterns; how often he assures them of his love and care for them—the list could go on and on. Here is a being who seemingly knows everything: from the Heart of God Himself, to Helen and Bill’s every thought and the entire span of their journey through repeated lives, to where to find a particular winter coat. Yet he enters into Helen and Bill’s lives and jokes with them, makes puns to them, quotes to them their own past remarks as his current counsel. Rather than distant and aloof, he acts absolutely familiar with them, truly like a brother whom they knew since they were born. Yet he clearly means business; he pulls no punches. He is not at all shy about calling them to task and identifying certain thoughts or behaviors as outright hatred and attack. He never forgets that before them is a task of awesome magnitude: the awakening of two minds that have endured centuries of self-imposed misery, and through them, the awakening of a weary, agonized world.<
In short, what I learn from this personal guidance is that the Course really means what it says. Its statements are often so extreme that some valve in the back of our minds automatically discounts them. We take refuge in the lofty language, assuming that it must be speaking poetically, or exaggerating for the sake of dramatic impact. In this personal guidance to Helen and Bill we discover, to our astonishment, that the Course means exactly what it says. Every word.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]