In this final part of this material on the Course’s program, we will explore some of the issues one might face in one’s journey with the Course, from the beginning all the way to the end. I will focus especially on issues the Course itself mentions, as well as on ones we have not yet covered.
The question of finding a teacher
As discussed at length in Part 3 of the “Manual/Extension” section and Part 1 of the “Teachers of This Course” section, the Course seems to assume that a new student of A Course in Miracles will be a pupil of a Course teacher. I also mentioned that this just isn’t the way things are done now, and that finding a qualified teacher may be quite difficult at this time.
Given all this, should a new student of the Course look for a teacher or not? My suggestion is this: Realize that a good teacher could transform your whole experience of the Course. Rather than a book you read for a few months, the Course could be for you a road map to God that changed your life forever. Realizing that, try to be open to the possibility that you are meant to have a teacher, and keep your eyes pealed for such a person. I would also suggest reading the section in Part 1 of the “Teachers of This Course” section entitled “Finding a teacher.”
Which volume should one begin with?
While one can gain a great deal from the Course by attending meetings or reading books based on it, serious work with the Course begins with the use of its volumes. Before one can use them, however, one must decide which one to begin with. There are two very different perspectives on this, and both are from the Course itself. The first one is: Begin with the Text and go through the volumes in order. Doing so carries one through a definite and logical progression. The Course’s thought system initially enters the mind through Text study, then penetrates more deeply through Workbook practice, and finally becomes the thought system one lives by as one extends its principles to others (guided in part by the Manual).
Up until the final section of the Manual, the entire Course assumes that you started at page 1 of the Text and are going through it in order. The early chapters of the Text say that they lay the groundwork for what follows. Studying the Text is said to be the foundation for doing the Workbook. Finally, doing both the Text and the Workbook are necessary for becoming a teacher of God, the person for whom the Manual was written.
The second scenario, however, is completely different. At the very end of the Course we are told that a new student of the Course can begin with any one of the three volumes:
In some cases, it may be helpful for the pupil to read the manual first. Others might do better to begin with the workbook. Still others may need to start at the more abstract level of the text. (M-29.1:5-7)
While this second scenario may sound liberating, it does raise some real questions. The main question I have is in regard to doing the Workbook. The Workbook’s opening line states that the Text is needed to make the Workbook exercises meaningful. Therefore, if a student goes straight to the Workbook without first studying the Text, the lessons will not have anywhere near the depth of meaning they would otherwise have had. In addition, many lessons are likely to be seriously misunderstood. My own experience is a perfect example. I began with the Workbook and found it largely devoid of meaning.
I have two possible answers to this issue. First, if you begin the Course with the Workbook, realize that at some later point you will need to go back to it. Once your understanding of the Course’s teaching has deepened, you will find that the lessons will take on a far greater richness, relevance and impact.
Second, the passage we just quoted has been greatly misunderstood. I argue this at length in Appendix 4. Here I will merely state my conclusion. For years, Course students have thought this passage meant that the student could begin with any volume, and that he should ask the Holy Spirit which one. Instead, however, it says that the pupil can begin with any volume, and that his teacher should ask the Holy Spirit which one.
In short, this passage assumes that the new student is the pupil of a teacher, and this changes the picture significantly. Having a teacher makes starting the Course with the Workbook a more reasonable possibility. For then, even though you have not read the Text, you will have the tutoring of someone who has. The explanations of your teacher can fill in many of the gaps in your understanding.
Here, then, are my answers to the question of which volume to begin with: If you have a personal teacher in the Course, it is his or her job to advise you, based on listening to the Holy Spirit, on what volume you should begin with. If you do not have a teacher, the most logical thing is to begin with the Text. Be open, however, to beginning with the more practically-oriented Workbook, or the more bite-size, easy-to-read Manual.
How much belief and commitment does the Course require up-front?
The Course confronts one with ideas that are so wild and unfamiliar as to boggle the mind. Does one need to swallow all of these ideas in order to begin the Course? Absolutely not, says the Course. In speaking of “the beginner,” it says: “He need merely accept the idea that what he knows is not necessarily all there is to learn. His journey has begun.” (M-24.5:9-10)
The Course eventually asks for everything: “total dedication all the time.” (W-pI.181-200.In.1:2) How much dedication, however, does it require at the outset? The Course’s answer is “not much.” The Workbook’s early lessons, for instance, ask for about two minutes of practice a day.
All the Course asks from the beginner, therefore, is a slightly open mind and a little willingness to experiment. Out of this small investment, the Course hopes to prove itself to us. It hopes to show us from the benefits we receive that it deserves our effort and our trust. As it says, “If you do it, you will see that it works.” (T-9.V.9:2) Trying it out and seeing that it works—this is meant to be the wellspring of our future dedication to and belief in the Course.
In this way, the Course hopes to escape the age-old pattern in which God seems to be forcing us to make sacrifices on behalf of His mysterious Will. This can only lead to resistance, as the Course here reminds us: “You will not [gain true perception] if you regard yourself as being coerced, and if you give in to resentment and opposition.” (W-pI.20.1:6) Thus, by approaching us gently and gradually earning our trust, the Course has a definite purpose in mind: “This works against the sense of opposition, and reminds you that help is not being thrust upon you but is something that you want and that you need.” (T-30.I.9:3)
Give yourself time to learn the language
Students invariably report that when they first pick up the Course its language is virtually impenetrable. Yet just as invariably, this changes with time. Gradually, the Course’s language and thought begin to seem quite natural and familiar. The Course refers to this process. It likens our learning of it to an infant learning language. (T-22.I.6) As with the infant, what at first sounds to us like mishmash we will eventually recognize as our native tongue. This idea is discussed in the beginning of Part 3 of the “Text/Study” section.
Expect that your ego will have difficulty with the Course
The Course makes a pregnant comment while explaining why reincarnation should not be taught as part of its thought system. Referring to the new student, it says, “His ego will be enough for him to cope with, and it is not the part of wisdom to add sectarian controversies [like reincarnation] to his burdens.” (M-24.3:5) The picture this paints, though brief, is quite clear. The new student’s ego will be having a hard time with the Course, giving him a lot “to cope with,” loading him with “burdens.” His ego will be challenged to the core, and for good reason. Why, in the midst of this, should we pile on even more burdens, especially unnecessary ones like sectarian controversies?
From this we can see that the Course expects to shake you up, to unsettle your reality. Do not be disturbed, therefore, if it is disturbing you. That is what it wants to do. If it is not, perhaps you should read it more carefully.
Give yourself time to fully accept the Course
The line that immediately follows the sentence we just quoted is this: “Nor would there be an advantage in his premature acceptance of the course merely because it advocates a long held belief of his own.” (M-24.3:6) Whereas the previous line referred to someone who is undecided about (or perhaps even against) reincarnation, this line refers to someone who has “a long-held belief” in it.
What interests us here, however, is the idea that there is no value in “premature acceptance of the course.” If the Course promoted reincarnation and if we quickly embraced the Course for that reason, then we would be accepting it prematurely. Why? Because reincarnation does not reflect the heart of the Course. And as we delved deeper into the Course, we would discover that at its heart are radical ideas which, rather than being comfortable and familiar, throw our whole reality into disarray. Then we would have to go through an additional process of accepting these ideas, the ones that really count. Only once we did embrace them could we truly join our will with the Course’s goals; put our minds behind its program. What are these core concepts? Lesson 132 says it supplies the central one:
There is no world! This is the central thought the course attempts to teach. Not everyone is ready to accept it. (W-pI.132.6:2-4)
“Not everyone is ready.” Yet for those who are ready to learn that there is no world, “their readiness will bring the lesson to them in some form which they can understand and recognize.” (W-pI.132.7:2) Some will find it on the brink of death. Others will find it in transcendental experiences. “And some will find it in this course.” (W-pI.132.8:1)
Let’s apply these thoughts to our current issue. If the Course is truly for you, it has been sent to you because you are ready for the lesson that there is no world. The Course has been sent as the particular form in which you will learn this ultimate lesson, the form that is perfectly geared to your individual needs. Thus, in order to truly embrace A Course in Miracles, you will also need to embrace its “central thought” that there is no world. To really learn from this course, you must be willing to learn the lesson it is meant to teach you.
Reaching this willingness is probably going to take time, and there is no point in rushing it. Trying to learn a lesson you are ambivalent about learning can only produce avoidance and frustration. The Course seems to expect that you will go through a process, perhaps a difficult process, in order to really accept it. Putting together several of the passages we have examined, we can glean the following portrait of that process.
Students initially come to the Course not knowing what to make of it. As they begin working with it, they experience many things. They find their egos stretched to the limit. But they also discover real benefits, perhaps even breakthrough experiences of peace and joy. They discover that it works. All the while they are pondering the question of the Course’s authenticity. Is this book really right about life? Is this book for me? Even though it threatens their egos, some students will realize that it brings them peace and joy precisely because it threatens their egos. Gradually they will come to the conclusion that the Course’s ego-shattering program is actually the road to happiness. Now they can accept the Course for what it is. Now they can join themselves to its program realistically and sincerely, and maintain this joining through both the highs and the lows, as they push on toward its goal.
Be willing to honor the Course as its own unique system
New students of the Course are usually excited about how similar the Course is to other teachings. It is common to hear from them that the Course is “just like” their favorite teaching of the past. These similarities can become an almost consuming fascination. This was certainly true for me. I remember giving a copy of the Course to a friend and excitedly filling the inside front cover with tiny writing describing the Course’s parallels to Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Neoplatonism. Further, I was adamant that the Course was “just like” my favorite teaching, the Edgar Cayce readings.
The first day that I seriously considered that the Course and the Edgar Cayce readings were not saying the same things, I felt like my whole reality had been undermined. I laid around depressed for two days. Yet, as painful as this was, it was good for my spiritual journey. For now I could approach the Course on its own terms. It could treat it as its own unique system, rather than as a seamless component of a vast web of compatible teachings. This ultimately allowed me to derive far more benefit from it than before.
If you are relatively new to the Course, I would say this: Beware of the need to believe that the Course is just like other teachings. Be open to the idea that the Course is an integrated system, one that heads off in radical directions all its own, and one that needs no augmentation from the outside. If you will be willing to approach it on its own terms, to honor it as it is without reference to other teachings, I believe that it will take you much farther.
Realize the initial high will not last
For many students, the first days, weeks or months of their relationship with the Course are like a period of grace. They enter into an uplifted state in which what they are reading and what they are feeling seem to be identical. Many conclude that they have “got” the Course and are in an advanced state of spiritual realization.
These initial highs, however, inevitably end. And if the high led you to believe that you are a highly developed spiritual being, this ending can feel like a terrible fall from grace. I believe that the wisest course is to realize, during the high, that it will be temporary. Try to see it as a beautiful glimpse at the beginning of the journey, not as the glorious sunset of the final homecoming. And once it has passed, try not to conclude that you abandoned God or that He abandoned you. Rather, if you can, be grateful for the ray of light you glimpsed. See it as a gift that can spur you on in your efforts to reach the endless light permanently and completely.
How long should one be involved in the Course?
The Manual has an interesting section on the three levels of the relationship between a pupil and his teacher. These three levels, I believe, can also be roughly applied to the relationship between a student and the Course. If we apply the section in this way, we get something like the following.
The first level “consists of what seem to be very casual encounters.” (M-3.2:2) These are apparent chance encounters that have the potential to become much more. One “happens” to come in contact with the Course, on a friend’s coffee table, in a bookstore, in the pages of another book. “These are not chance encounters,” (M-3.2:3) the Course says flatly. They have been arranged by the Holy Spirit for a purpose.
Some will then move on to the second level. Here, a student enters into a fairly intense relationship with the Course for a time and then puts it down. Clearly, the majority of those who study the Course will fit this category; they will eventually put it down. Why has the student moved on from the Course? It is not because he has graduated, nor because he has sinned. It is because he “has learned the most he can at the time.” (M-3.4:5) Yet if the Course really is his path, this ending of the relationship will not be a real end. The student will one day pick up the Course again. (M-3.4:4)
The third level is where one’s relationship with the Course is lifelong. Recall that the second level relationship ended because the student was unable to learn any more from the Course at the time. Conversely, if you are with the Course for life, it is because you can keep learning from it. You have reached some perfect balance (M-3.5:3) in relation to the Course where it can continue to reach you exactly where you are. In this light, it is understandable why only a minority of Course students will be with the Course for life.
Being a lifelong Course student, however, means more than that it can keep teaching you. It means that it presents you with “unlimited opportunities for learning.” (M-3.5:2) It does not mean, however, that you will recognize this. In fact, you probably will not. (M-3.5:4) You may even carry hostility toward the Course “for some time, and perhaps for life. Yet should [you] decide to learn it, the perfect lesson is before [you] and can be learned.” (M-3.5:5-6) No matter how lethargic and despondent you have become about the Course, the perfect lesson still awaits you and can still be learned.
These three levels, I believe, are a realistic picture of how it will go with students and the Course. The majority will casually encounter it and go no further. A minority will actively study it, but most of these will eventually put it down. This leaves a minority of the minority to become lifelong students. Yet even most of these will fail to see the priceless opportunity that stands before them. Thus, only a tiny circle within a circle within a circle will truly decide to learn the perfect lesson the Course holds out. We may think this means that only a few will really “get” the Course, and we would be right. But this need not be depressing. As the author of the Course says elsewhere, “Yet only few are needed. They suffice for all the rest.” (The Gifts of God)
Our relationship with the Course as depicted by the Course
The Course contains many references to itself. Together, these sketch an entire picture of our relationship with it. In this picture, the Course is presented as easy, simple, direct and ever practical. It asks almost nothing of us. And in return for this small investment, it offers us everything: peace, happiness, freedom and the memory of Who we really are. As it says, “It is impossible to imagine [a course] that asks so little, or could offer more.” (T-20.VII.1:8)
We, however, are wrestling with it. Like Israel of old, we are fighting with God. (1) We complain that the Course is too hard, (T-31.IV.7:3) that it is impossible to learn. (T-22.III.2:1) We think its goals are simply too different from ours. (W-pI.181.4:2) We doubt that it will deliver on its promises. (T-21.I.3:5) The Course, however, views all of our complaints as false fronts, behind which lie the real, hidden causes of our gripes. We only complain that it is not specific enough because we refuse to do what it specifically suggests. (T-11.VIII.5:1-2) It seems unclear to us, but only because our resistance to it blurs and distorts what we read. (T-11.VI.3:1-2) We see it as inconsistent, yet only because we are inconsistent; what we say we want conflicts with what we actually pursue. (T-20.VII.1:3-4) We say it asks too much, and indeed it does ask us to give up all that we hold dear, but only because we hold dear the things that crucify us. (M-13.6:1-2)
According to these passages, the real reason the Course seems so hard is that, ironically, we are afraid of the gifts it offers us. We are afraid of the peace and happiness it holds out, (T-13.II.7:1-5) the love (T-13.IV.1:1-2) and freedom from guilt (T-13.II.6:4) it offers. In short, we are afraid of its gift of remembering Who we really are. (T-9.I.2:4) Our trouble with the Course, then, comes because we are clutching tightly the source of our misery, and the Course is trying to loosen our grasp. Somewhere inside we sense that the Course spells the end of the self we have laboriously kept intact for countless eons. We complain, then, not because the Course is ineffective, but because it is too effective; not because we sense that it won’t work, but because we fear that it will.
The Course, therefore, has no illusions about how its students will relate to it. It knows that our journey with it will not be a pleasant stroll through a peaceful rose garden. It knows that, subtly or overtly, we will be wrestling with it; that we will experience ourselves as in a tug-of-war, a life-and-death struggle, not knowing that we win life only by letting go of the rope. Thus, if you have been with the Course for many years and you still find yourself resisting it and fearing the total relinquishment it calls for, do not worry. You are exactly where it expects you to be.
Immerse yourself as much as you can
As we can see from the above picture, the Course expects us to really engage it, to take it seriously, to directly face its core challenge and feel its full brunt. In short, it expects its students to enter into an intense relationship with it.
The Course claims to deliver the happiness you want but never found. “The world contains it not. But learn this course and it is yours.” (M-13.8:9-10) If you take this claim seriously, what else would be your response but to enter into an intense relationship with the Course, to immerse yourself in it? That is how you respond to anything that you think promises genuine happiness. My suggestion, therefore, is to treat the Course as a literal handbook in becoming happy. Take it as a foregone conclusion that the things you strive after all day will not yield authentic happiness. Romance will not do it; work will not do it; neither will money nor success nor physical health. But in the pages of the Course are direct instructions for entering into a permanent state of joy, the joy you sought in all of those things but failed to find.
If you see the Course as your personal handbook for finding happiness, you will immerse yourself in it. You will study it every day. Its words will be precious to you. Its practices will occupy your mind every morning and evening, every hour, and eventually every minute and second. When problems arise, you will still deal with them on the outside, but on the inside you will take them to the Course, to the thought system it has taught you, to the practices it has trained you in. And it is there, on the inside, that you will look for the real healing. And when you look forward to a better future, you will envision this coming not from a new mate or a better job, but from the healing of your mind as taught to you by the Course.
This picture may sound wonderful, but most students will find it difficult to plunge into the Course so fully. Realistically speaking, then, how much should you immerse yourself in the Course? Once you see it as your path, how much should you try to do it exactly as it outlines (and as I have attempted to outline in this book)? I like answering this with a passage from Lesson 193 which says how much we should give to that day’s practice:
Devote what time you can to serve its [time’s] proper aim, and do not let the time be less than meets your deepest need. Give all you can, and give a little more. (W-pI.193.10:6-11:1)
Do not let what you give to the Course be less than what meets your deepest need; not because you want to win God’s favor and stave off His anger, but simply because you want to be happy.
Resist the temptation to feel like a failing student
Because the Course calls us to such lofty places, most students eventually start feeling, to one degree or another, like failures at the Course. They feel that they either are not doing it right or are not making quick enough progress. This leads not only to guilt, but to a sense of despair about ever achieving the Course’s goals.
This is an understandable reaction, yet the Course provides a different interpretation of it. It says, in Lesson 95, that such a reaction is actually an attempt to give yourself an excuse to stop trying. After all, despair leads directly to giving up, either partially or entirely. The proper response, it says, is to forgive yourself and try again:
When you fail to comply with the requirements of this course, you have merely made a mistake. This calls for correction, and for nothing else. (W-pI.95.9:1-2)
From the Course’s standpoint, the important facts are these: You can learn the Course; you will learn the Course; and at this moment (and every moment) you can decide to learn the Course. And whatever you decide right now, eventually you will make this decision and you will achieve the goal. And on the day you do, all your mistakes and half-hearted efforts along the way will be absolutely irrelevant. All that will matter is that you have finally made it; you have passed the final exam. A line that Jesus gave to Helen and Bill captures this sentiment perfectly: “Midterm marks are not entered on the permanent record.” (Absence from Felicity)
Be in it for the long haul
Although the Course is designed to heal our individual upsets, its purpose is not to be a quick fix for isolated problems. It is not meant to lie dormant until a specific crisis arises in our finances or love lives. Its aim is to transform the overall condition of our minds.
This is a long-term aim. Except in the rarest of cases, this will not happen overnight. Our journey towards the Course’s goal will be a long one. It will be punctuated here and there by breakthroughs, by miracles, but these will occur within a larger process of gradual development. The Course itself makes this point:
The miracle shortens time by collapsing it, thus eliminating certain intervals within it. It does this, however, within the larger temporal sequence. (T-1.II.6:9-10)
Once you have decided the Course is your path, therefore, settle down for the long haul. You have embarked on the greatest and most rewarding of journeys. You are not simply trying to have a satisfying human life. You are trying to heal the fundamental disease behind human life. In an insane world, you are trying to become sane. This is not a short-term goal. As the Course says, “it requires patience and abundant willingness.” (M-17.8:3-4)
Therefore, be patient with the process. Fervently hoping that you will rocket out of the world tomorrow can not only sour you on the whole process (when your rocket engines fail to fire), it also stems from the very condemnation of the world the Course is trying to cure. According to the following passage, it is all right if it takes a long time, for you have already made the one truly important decision: You have decided to point your feet toward home.
If the way seems long, let him be content. He has decided on the direction he wants to take. What more was asked of him? And having done what was required, would God withhold the rest? (M-22.2:6-9)
Elsewhere, the Course expresses the same idea in this wonderful line: “Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait, and wait without anxiety.” (M-4.VIII.1:1)
Increasing peace and increasingly healthy relating with others
How, then, can you tell if you are really getting somewhere on the Course’s path? What are the indicators? While there are perhaps many indicators we could extract from the Course, I would like to focus here on two.
The first is an increasing sense of peace. This peace does not come because we finally succeeded in insulating ourselves from external turmoil. It comes over us and envelops us in the midst of our lives just as they are, with all of their chaos and turmoil. It comes like an aroma that hangs in the air regardless of what is happening in the room. It comes because of the one central fact that nothing has succeeded in altering God’s eternal reality.
In Part II of the Workbook, our ability to experience a day of peace is presented as a gauge of our development. This can be seen in a series of lessons that occur over a month’s time. First, there is Lesson 255. The lesson’s title is, “This day I choose to spend in perfect peace,” yet it begins by expressing our doubts that such a day is really possible for us: “It does not seem to me that I can choose to have but peace today.” (W-pII.255.1:1) Then there is Lesson 273, “The stillness of the peace of God is mine.” It opens by implying that we might have made progress since Lesson 255: “Perhaps we are now ready for a day of undisturbed tranquility. If this is not yet feasible, we are content and even more than satisfied to learn how such a day can be achieved.” (W-pII.273.1:1-2) Finally, there is Lesson 286, “The hush of Heaven holds my heart today.” It portrays us as actually experiencing this day of peace, and this demonstrates that we have “travelled far” along the path: “The stillness of today will give us hope that we have found the way, and travelled far along it to a wholly certain goal.” (W-pII.286.2:1)
Our ability to experience days of peace, therefore, is one gauge of our development. Yet I see this gauge, by itself, as insufficient. For we can think we are at peace when we are really just experiencing denial, smugness or the pseudo-serenity that comes when our ego feels safe and amply fed. So I would combine this internal gauge with a more external one, which can provide us with a sort of “reality check.”
This second gauge is how healthy our relating with others is. This has many aspects to it: How we feel toward others, how generous, patient and forgiving we are, how loving are our long-term relationships. This is obviously difficult to evaluate, but the Course provides a couple of measures. The first one is how we affect others and how they react to us; or, to use the Course’s words: “if you inspire joy and others react to you with joy.” (T-9.VI.1:4) Several times the Course mentions this measure, saying that how others respond to us can tell us the exact direction in which our internal choices are pointing:
It is easy to distinguish grandeur from grandiosity, because love is returned and pride is not. (T-9.VIII.8:1)
And you will recognize which you have chosen [the ego or the Holy Spirit] by their reactions. (T-15.II.4:6)
Another way to discern the overall health of our relating is by looking at our long-term relationships. The Course suggests that as we ascend the path, we will increasingly learn how to genuinely unite with others. We will enter into more and more holy relationships and will carry these further and further toward their goal of perfect union. Thus, we will know that we are really getting somewhere when our long-term relationships are something more than prisons of bargaining and obligation; when they are characterized by real mutual giving and joining, by seeing past our differences to a common goal, by letting go of the past and throwing away our laundry lists of demands; and when such relationships grow in number, when we no longer keep the world at arm’s length while seeking to disappear into that one special, private union.
If these are in fact the signs of advancement, most of us will no doubt conclude that we are not very far along. And we will be right. But these are the things that await us. These are the things we will have as we persevere on this path. Eventually, says the Course, we will perfectly fulfill both of the above criteria. We will reach a place in which we experience perfect peace and in which others respond to us with the same perfect peace. And it is only then that we will recognize that we have learned God’s lesson:
You have one test, as sure as God, by which to recognize if what you learned is true. If you are wholly free of fear of any kind, and if all those who meet or even think of you share in your perfect peace, then you can be sure that you have learned God’s lesson, and not your own. (T-14.XI.5:1-2)
The above passage brings us to the subject of graduation. When do we pass this course? Although the Course never uses the word “graduation,” it is clear about what its goals are and when its part is done. As it says, “No learning aid has use that can extend beyond the goal of learning. When its aim has been accomplished it is functionless.” (T-27.III.5:7-8) When, therefore, does this particular learning aid, A Course in Miracles, accomplish its learning goal and become functionless? I perceive two different answers to this, which amount to two graduations, an initial one and a final one.
The initial graduation: reaching advanced teacher of God status
The Course, in form, amounts to a very long string of words. These words are needed to teach us its thought system and guides us in its practical exercises. Yet they have a planned obsolescence. To borrow an old Buddhist image, these words are woven into a raft whose only purpose is to ferry us to a distant shore on which we leave both words and rafts behind.
We can see this especially in the Workbook. After drawing us in with its initially light practice, it then yokes us to some fairly demanding structures. We are told to practice regularly and frequently, at particular times and for pre-set durations. We are given specific instructions for how to practice and told to rehearse particular words. However, over the final half of its one-year program, the Workbook progressively withdraws these structures, for we no longer need them. Our practice periods eventually become durations of our choosing, whose content is guided by the Holy Spirit. We introduce these times with a few simple words, and then we sink into “wordless, deep experience.” (W-pII.In.11:2) Eventually, we reach a place in which we can enter this experience without any words at all.
We not only outgrow using words in our practice; we also outgrow reading words of teaching. This is made clear when, in the Introduction to Part II, the Workbook says, “One further use for words we still retain.” (W-pII.In.11:1) This remaining vestige of reliance on words is reading the teaching in the “What Is” sections of Part II. Clearly, therefore, the Course expects us to go beyond the need to read its teaching, even if that is one of our final uses of words before we transcend words altogether.
If we step back and survey these developments in the Workbook, we can see a definite process. The Course is slowly trying to transfer us from reliance on its words to reliance on God and the Holy Spirit. Reading a page outside ourselves gradually ushers us into a direct experience of the Spirit within. The external book carries us to the inner altar of our God. Once this has been permanently accomplished, the book becomes unnecessary. As the author of the Course says, “His Teacher will take him on from there.” (P-1.In.5:3)
We can see this in how the final two volumes end. The Workbook ends by saying it is no longer needed, and by then placing us in the hands of the Holy Spirit. (W-E.4:1) The Manual ends by placing us in the Hands of God. (M-29.7:11) These endings signify the end toward which the Course is geared. Its whole goal is to carry us within and set us down in these unseen hands, so that we no longer need the Course or any book at all.
When do we reach this point? The Workbook talks as if we reach it by the end of its one-year program. However, although this is possible, it is highly improbable. Later, in Section 16 of the Manual, the Course reveals what it really expects of us. If you have just finished the Workbook, it says, you are a beginning teacher of God. As such, you will still need some support from words and structures. (M-16.2:2)
Thankfully, this section also identifies the one who has transcended the need for any structure. This is the advanced teacher of God. The advanced teacher is exactly like the person described at the end of the Workbook. Both have gone beyond the reliance on external programs, assigned lessons or set patterns for the day. Instead, both rely directly on the Holy Spirit within them. As they face the challenges of each changing situation, He constantly directs their efforts, “telling [them] exactly what to do, how to direct [their] mind, and when to come to Him in silence.” (W-E.3:3)
This, then, is the initial graduation from A Course in Miracles— the attainment of advanced teacher of God status. The advanced teacher embodies a very high state of being. From what I can see, he is roughly analogous to what other traditions would consider a saint. What else would one expect of someone who has outgrown the need for words? If, without repeating a single word, you can simply turn within and enter into “wordless, deep experience,” then you do not need all the outer trappings and favorable circumstances that sustain the rest of us. You do not even need A Course in Miracles.
The final graduation: Salvation
Even after graduating from reliance on the book, however, it will probably be a long time before the teacher of God fully reaches the goal of the Course. This goal, as the Course says many times, is complete salvation, total right-mindedness, the perfect embodiment of true perception.
This is an extremely exalted goal, which I believe very few individuals in history have reached. Once this state is achieved there is literally nothing more for you to learn. There is not the slightest error in your thinking, not the remotest trace of anger or anxiety. Your mind has become “a spotless mirror, in which the holiness of your Creator shines forth from you to all around you.” (T-14.IX.5:1) As this spotless mirror, your mind receives God’s light without flinching, welcoming it with a calm receptivity and a perfect openness. There is not a single shred of fear in you to make you shrink from His advance. And therefore He comes to you and lifts you out of time and into His Heart forever. “Here He leans down to lift you up to Him, out of illusions into holiness; out of the world and to eternity; out of all fear and given back to love.” (C-4.8:3)
The final graduation, then, is reaching the perfect readiness for God’s last step. It is not only a graduation from A Course in Miracles, but from all of the Holy Spirit’s teaching, and from learning itself. You have at last passed the Course and you are free to leave the classroom of this world.
(1) “He who fights God” is one possible meaning of the name “Israel.”
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]