We will now cover the other form of being a teacher of God outlined by the Manual. As discussed in Part 1 of this “Manual/Extension” section, the Manual focuses on two forms that our function may take. Several sections discuss the healing of patients, a topic covered in Part 2 of this “Manual/Extension” section. And several sections discuss the teaching of pupils, in which Course teachers play the role of mentor to newer students of the Course. If the implications of the role of spiritual healer are vast, as discussed in Part 2, the implications of the role of spiritual teacher are even more so. I will not discuss these implications in this article, however; these implications are discussed in depth at the beginning of Part 1 of the next section, “The Teachers of This Course.”
The role of teacher of pupils is, you could say, the title role in the Manual. The title, Manual for Teachers, has a kind of generic meaning: It is a manual for those ready to devote themselves to extending forgiveness to anyone and everyone. Yet this title also implies a much more specific meaning.
Manuals for teachers, of course, already exist in conventional education. Thus, we already know what a manual for teachers is for. Its purpose is not to help the teacher in the generic function of being a good teacher. It is designed to specifically aid her in teaching the particular course of which the manual is part. She is teaching her pupils a certain educational course. Her goal is to make its body of ideas a part of them. In the process she must, like a jungle guide, lead them through the strange and unfamiliar (and often dense) terrain of that course’s text and workbook. She helps them study and understand the text, and she helps them work through the workbook exercises. The manual for teachers is there to aid her in this very particular function.
The same is true of the Manual for Teachers of A Course in Miracles. It is designed to help its teachers teach this particular course. This tells us a great deal about what a teacher of A Course in Miracles does. Like the conventional teacher, she helps guide her pupils through the unfamiliar terrain of the Text and Workbook, with the goal that they learn this course, that they make its ideas a part of them.
She helps her pupils in the study of the Text. She helps them understand its vast and unfamiliar thought system. She answers questions, clarifies new ideas and shows how these ideas relate to everyday experience. She may suggest particular sections or chapters to read. She may point out certain passages as answers to particular problems a pupil is facing.
She also assists her pupils in doing the Workbook. She helps them see the importance of practice and strengthens their motivation to practice. She helps them understand specific lessons and recognize their practical value. And she helps them past particular hurdles in their practice—problems with remembering the lesson, with sustained concentration, with finding the time, with Workbook meditation, etc.
To further clarify the teacher’s role, we can see it in three levels:
- Teacher of the Course’s concepts. When one first hears “teacher of A Course in Miracles” one generally assumes this means “teacher of its concepts.” There can be no doubt that this is an important part of the role, simply because of how central those concepts are in the Course. However, this is only the topmost layer of the teacher’s role.
- Guide through the Course’s program. This is a fuller meaning of “teacher” in the context of the Course. The pupil is working through a pre-planned program of study, practice and extension. The teacher serves as mentor or tutor, guiding the pupil through this program.
- Demonstration of the Course’s way. This is the deepest layer of the teacher’s role. More than anything else, pupils need to see a living demonstration of the way they are following. They need to feel its light shining from the eyes of their teacher into their own eyes. This is the primary meaning of “teaching” in the Course: the transmission of true perception from one mind to another. We will emphasize this repeatedly throughout this article.
The form the relationship takes
The relationship between teacher and pupil may take many forms: The two may sort of fall into the roles of teacher and pupil without ever openly acknowledging it. The pupil may be one of many students in a study group led by the teacher. Pupil and teacher may only have one brief interaction and never meet again. Or they may never meet; the pupil may merely read the teacher’s writings or listen to his tapes.
Yet the Manual implies that the most useful and significant teacher-pupil relationships will be more substantial than these examples. It implies that they will be long-term and one-to-one. (1) And both for the same reason: because the relationship is the key ingredient. The relationship itself, more than any specific information that passes between them, is what propels the forward journey of both pupil and teacher. Ideally, then, the two need to have an actual relationship; they need to directly interact with each other and matter to each other. And they need time to go through a process of development in their relationship. They need time to gradually reconcile divergent goals and lose sight of separate interests. The Psychotherapy supplement, though speaking about the therapist-patient relationship, makes the same two points. It speaks of the need for an “extended relationship,” (P-In.1:7) and it says, “A one-to-one relationship is not One Relationship. Yet it is the means of return; the way God chose for the return of His Son.” (P-3.II.4:6-7)
Therefore, my definition of the Manual’s preferred teacher-pupil relationship is this: an extended, one-to-one relationship in which a more experienced student of the Course shepherds a newer student in walking the path of the Course.
The Course and the concept of a spiritual teacher
Unfortunately, this concept is almost completely alien to students of A Course in Miracles. And when they encounter it, most seem to feel that the Course simply could not teach such a thing. However, what it supposedly can or cannot teach clearly pales in significance to what it does teach. This issue, therefore, hinges entirely on whether or not the Manual actually teaches this idea. I have dedicated an entire article, The Evidence in the Manual for the Teacher-Pupil Relationship, to presenting what I consider clear and overwhelming evidence that it does. If you want to look more deeply into this topic, I recommend that you read that article.
If you think about it, it is completely natural—and even arguably necessary—for the Course to adopt this way of passing itself on to new students. What do you do when you have a spiritual path with a deep, subtle and radical teaching as well as a challenging practice, a path which aims to completely reverse the way its students currently think, feel and perceive, a path which aims for the highest heights of spiritual development? How do you pass such a path on to new students?
First you realize that a book alone will not do it. And then you do what the deepest spiritual paths have done for thousands of years: You take someone who is already experienced on this path, someone who has already scaled its mountain trails, and have him serve as personal guide to those less experienced. According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, all contemplative and esoteric traditions have stressed the necessity for such a guide:
Since ancient times, the figure of the spiritual guide has stood at the center of contemplative and esoteric traditions. It would appear that all such traditions stress the necessity of a spiritual preceptor who has immediate knowledge of the laws of spiritual development and who can glean from the adept’s actions and attitudes his respective station on the spiritual path as well as the impediments that lie ahead. (Volume 14, p. 29)
Indeed, the author of the Course smiles on this ancient practice. He calls the Holy Spirit’s plan for the entire salvation of earth “the plan of the teachers,” (M-1.2:10) in which different teachers are called upon to teach particular paths to certain pupils. In the Psychotherapy supplement he implies that the temple of true religion on earth is not institutionalized (or “formal”) religion, but the holy relationship between a spiritual teacher and his pupil. (2) If all of this is true, then we can safely assume that the teacher-pupil relationship has historically been the most significant conveyor of enlightenment in this world.
That is a dramatic statement; and a true one, I believe. Yes, there have been obvious and widespread abuses of the spiritual teacher’s role throughout history. However, those abuses are surely overemphasized in a society such as ours that is highly individualistic, highly suspect of authority, and currently on a culture-wide witch hunt for all sources of abuse and victimization. We should remember that the role of spiritual teacher is an ancient and universal pattern, and should not simply equate it with certain contemporary Indian gurus who come to America, get indulgently wealthy and sleep with their disciples.
However you cut it, the idea of the personal teacher in the Manual, though containing significant new elements and emphases, is simply one variation on the ancient and universal archetype of the spiritual teacher.
The following are 25 principles which seek to define how the teacher of God can carry out this role. Similar to Part 2 of this “Manual/Extension” section, this is meant as a kind of mini-handbook for those who will step into this role. Many of the principles are drawn from the Manual for Teachers itself. Others are drawn from the Text, the Psychotherapy supplement and also from personal guidance given to the scribes of the Course (which is recorded in Absence from Felicity, by Kenneth Wapnick). Of course, many of the principles of healing from Part 2 apply here. But I have tried not to repeat any of those principles here, except when absolutely necessary.
25 PRINCIPLES OF TEACHING
1.You teach primarily by being a living demonstration of Course principles, both in your life and in your relationship with your pupils.
A common misconception is that to teach is to talk about a subject really effectively. Yet right in the Manual’s introduction we are told otherwise: “To teach is to demonstrate.” (M-In.2:1) The teacher is there to be a living demonstration of right-mindedness. This reminds one of a couple of statements from the Text. The first is about teachers: “Teaching is done in many ways, above all by example.” (T-5.IV.5:1) The second is about psychotherapists: “The only meaningful contribution the healer can make is to present an example of one whose direction has been changed for him.” (T-9.V.7:4)
Thus, our function is to be a living example of someone whose mind has been healed by the Course, someone whose burdens have (at least partially) been lifted by forgiveness. In the absence of this, how much can we really give? Are a stream of well-crafted words really enough to impart to salvation? And even if these words helped our pupil, would they save us?
The importance of actually living what our mouth teaches is emphasized in this passage:
Yet we have learned that behavior is not the level for either teaching or learning, since you can act in accordance with what you do not believe. To do this, however, will weaken you as a teacher and a learner because, as has been repeatedly emphasized, you teach what you do believe. (T-7.V.2:4-5)
In other words, your actions can reflect higher principles that you do not really believe in. But this will send a mixed message, because what you really do believe will still seep through, underneath your words and behavior.
As the teacher, you must demonstrate Course principles not only in your life in general, but also in your relationship with the pupil. This means that you forgive the pupil. When you see the pupil you look past his limited body and flawed mind and see only the face of Christ shining in front of you. (M-22.4:5)
2.You are to join with your pupil in the common goal of learning (realizing) the Course; join so fully that eventually all sense of separation is transcended.
A teacher-pupil relationship is simply one kind of holy relationship. Therefore, as with all holy relationships, it is made holy by the two sharing a common purpose or goal. What is this goal in the case of teacher and pupil? This sentence from the Manual makes it unmistakable: “Those who would learn the same course share one interest and one goal.” (M-2.5:7) Their common goal is thus to learn the same “course,” which means the same spiritual path. In the case of a Course teacher and pupil, their common goal is to jointly learn this course, A Course in Miracles.
This may sound easy, yet for the two to genuinely share this single goal may require a lengthy process of development. For they will not go into the situation with the same goal. The pupil will probably not want to undergo the complete thought-reversal which constitutes “learning” the Course. Instead, he will probably want to use the Course to magically remove his suffering, to give him far-out powers, to grant him unusual knowledge, or to enhance his status as a spiritual seeker. The teacher, too, will probably have other goals, such as “fixing” the pupil, enhancing his own status as a “special” teacher of the Course, or gaining gratitude and recognition.
Yet slowly the teacher and pupil will both learn to relinquish these original goals and instead join in the single goal of waking up via the Course. As they do, a wonderful transformation will take place in their relationship and in their minds:
The demarcations they have drawn between their roles, their minds, their bodies, their needs, their interests, and all the differences they thought separated them from one another, fade and grow dim and disappear. (M-2.5:6)
The relationship between you and your pupil, then, can become one of the most beautiful, egoless things on this earth. At its highest point you and your pupil will realize that there is no dividing line between you. You will discover that you are the same Self. This is a priceless opportunity. Yet to fulfill it, you must constantly remind yourself that what is important is not how your bodies, personalities or views mesh, but the relationship itself. This is underscored in guidance that Jesus gave to Bill Thetford about a class he was teaching:
If you become concerned with totally irrelevant factors, such as the physical condition of a classroom, the number of students, the hour of the course, and the many elements which you may choose to select for emphasis as a basis for misperception, you have lost the knowledge of what any interpersonal relationship is for. (Absence from Felicity“)
3.Your major lesson is to respond without anger to your pupil’s attempts to find salvation outside of the Course and its goal of mind healing.
Two entire sections are devoted to this issue. They are Section 17, “How Do God’s Teachers Deal with Magic Thoughts?” and Section 18, “How Is Correction Made?” They both discuss the same issue: What do you do when your pupil comes to you with a magic thought?
Magic is the attempt to find happiness through something other than inner awakening to God. So your pupil coming to you with a magic thought means him subtly suggesting, or perhaps excitedly reporting, that he is going to find happiness through something external, through a ’55 Chevy, through adopting the habits of highly effective people, or through a babe named Heather.
This goal of finding salvation outside oneself is diametrically opposed to the goal on which the teacher and pupil have joined: that of finding salvation within oneself through the Course. It seems to represent a direct violation of the purpose of their relationship and of its sanctity. It would be like a medical intern coming to his supervisor and saying, “I have discovered the most wonderful thing: True healing comes through voodoo!”
If you get the picture, you can see how a teacher would be tempted to react: with anger. The pupil seems to be screwing up, to be destroying everything they have worked for. This is a major issue, for in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, the pupil almost always seems to be screwing up. Therefore, disapproval of their pupils’s progress is an essential stance of many, if not most, spiritual teachers. For a teacher, this is the form that unforgiveness takes.
And your unforgiveness has a powerful effect. Now matter how excited he may be by his magic thought, its underlying effect is to awaken his “sleeping guilt.” (M-17.7:2) Deep-down, it simply reinforces his bedrock belief that he is guilty in the eyes of God, that God is angry at his supposed sins. When you get angry at his magic thought, you, as God’s messenger, are confirming this belief…in spades. Your forgiveness, on the other hand, can release him. Hence, this direct statement from the Manual: “God’s teachers’ major lesson is to learn how to react to magic thoughts wholly without anger.” (M-18.2:1)
4.Learn how to react with forgiveness and defenselessness to your pupil’s attacks on you.
One way for your pupil to respond to the threat of what you are teaching is to seek the escape route of magic. Another way is to attack you. The following passage is about psychotherapy but also applies to the teacher-pupil relationship:
A madman will defend his own illusions because in them he sees his own salvation. Thus, he will attack the one who tries to save him from them, believing that he [the savior] is attacking him. This curious circle of attack-defense is one of the most difficult problems with which the psychotherapist must deal. In fact, this is his central task; the core of psychotherapy. (P-2.IV.9:1-4)
If we put this passage together with the Manual’s comments about dealing with magic thoughts, we see an important fact: Whether the context is psychotherapy or the teacher-pupil relationship, the central issue is how to appropriately deal with the recipient’s resistance.
So what do you do? We have already seen that anger is inappropriate. Another tempting response is to be long-suffering and thereby show how holy you are in the face of your pupil’s rottenness. The author of the Course explicitly rejects this, saying, “I do not call for martyrs but for teachers.” (T-6.I.16:3) How, then, do you handle your pupil’s attacks on you? Let’s return to Psychotherapy:
The psychotherapist, then, has a tremendous responsibility. He must meet attack without attack, and therefore without defense. It is his task to demonstrate that defenses are not necessary, and that defenselessness is strength. This must be his teaching, if his lesson is to be that sanity is safe. (P-2.IV.10:1-4)
In other words, this apparent glitch in the teaching-learning situation is really a powerful opportunity for teaching and learning. If you can respond defenselessly (and really feel that way), you teach your pupil that he no longer needs to defend himself against sanity.
5.When you feel even faint irritation at your pupil, your job becomes attending to the healing of your own mind.
So what do you do when you find yourself unable to carry out the previous points, when you find that you are angry and defensive? Section 18 answers this:
If he senses even the faintest hint of irritation in himself as he responds to anyone, let him instantly realize that he has made an interpretation that is not true. Then let him turn within to his Eternal Guide, and let Him judge what the response should be. So is he healed, and in his healing is his pupil healed with him. The sole responsibility of God’s teacher is to accept the Atonement for himself. (M-18.4:2-5)
Remember, everything you can give your pupil flows out of your personal realization of the Course, out of your acceptance of the Atonement for yourself. When this acceptance is shaken, don’t make the mistake of trying to teach from a state of anger. Instead, realize your mind is what now needs teaching.
We see a nearly identical idea in Part 2 of this “Manual/Extension” section, in Principle #24. There, the idea is that when you are worried that your patient hasn’t properly received your healing, your own mind is what now needs healing. Likewise, when you are irritated with your pupil for screwing up your joint endeavor, your own mind is what needs teaching.
6.Never forget that the Holy Spirit is the true Teacher; you are merely His messenger.
The whole basis for the teacher’s function is his reliance on the Holy Spirit. “For the teacher is not really the one who does the teaching.”(M-2.5:2) The Holy Spirit is the real Teacher. Your job is simply to allow Him to teach through you. By going through the Workbook, you hopefully established some ability to contact Him in some form, since a great deal of the practice was geared toward just that.
Having to constantly consult the Holy Spirit can seem to be a massive burden. Yet in truth it is a massive relief. Why? Because the real burden is thinking that you are the one responsible for guiding and overseeing your pupil’s progress. Somewhere inside you know that this function is way over your head.
Such a function presupposes a knowledge that no one here can have; a certainty of past, present and future, and of all the effects that may occur in them. Only from this omniscient point of view would such a role be possible. (P-2.VII.5:4-5)
Thinking that you have to shoulder a responsibility that only an omniscient mind could successfully fulfill must lead to guilt. Yet if you are merely the messenger, not the one in charge, you are off the hook. What a relief! Your job is merely to rely, with ever-increasing depth and frequency, on the omniscient Mind Who is fully equal to the job. Several of the points which follow will discuss this crucial point in more detail.
7.When speaking to personal problems that your pupils bring, let your words be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Section 21, “What is the Role of Words in Healing?” paints a picture in which the teacher of God is speaking to someone’s “presented problem.” (M-21.5:3) This appears to be directed both at healers working with their patients and at teachers working with their pupils. (3) We can assume, then, that pupils will bring personal problems to their teacher, to see what light the Course can shed on things.
So, your pupil has laid his thorny problem before you and is waiting for your wisdom. What do you do? This section’s counsel is two-fold. First, let your “prayer of the heart” be for the pupil’s healing. Many of the healing principles in Part 2 of this “Manual/Extension” section elaborate on this. Second, let your words be guided by the Holy Spirit:
Gradually, he learns how to let his words be chosen for him by ceasing to decide for himself what he will say….The teacher of God accepts the words which are offered him, and gives as he receives. He does not control the direction of his speaking. He listens and hears and speaks. (M-21.4:5-9)
Note that learning this is a gradual process. My personal technique is to try to listen with two ears, so to speak; to listen to the person’s words, but try to do so deeply enough that I hear past the words to some higher response to them. My experience is that, as I listen thus, some response that feels right will take shape inside me as the other person continues to speak. Sometimes this will not happen, in which case I will need to take a few minutes of silence in which I focus exclusively on asking within. I never hear words, but I usually receive distinct impressions, images and ideas. Wherever these come from, they do seem to come “out of the blue,” and they definitely seem far more helpful than the thoughts I come up with on my own. They are often so surprising that I question their validity (which the final paragraph of Section 21 speaks to quite powerfully). No matter how surprising, though, they still seem to prove helpful. As a result, I have found this process to be an absolutely indispensable one.
8.Transcend your own limitations by turning to Jesus and allowing him to teach your pupils through you.
As a teacher, you will probably be painfully aware that your own limitations restrict how much you can give your pupils. Is there any solution to this? Section 23 in the Manual is meant to provide one:
There have been those whose learning far exceeds what we can learn. Nor would we teach the limitations we have laid on us. No one who has become a true and dedicated teacher of God forgets his brothers. Yet what he can offer them is limited by what he learns himself. Then turn to one who laid all limits by, and went beyond the farthest reach of learning. (M-23.6:4-8)
Let me try to paraphrase this passage. Our learning is limited at present. This not only limits what we can offer our pupils, it lays on them our limitations. What can we do about this? “Then turn to one” whose learning far exceeds “what we can learn”—at least anytime soon. This one’s learning was so unlimited that he went beyond both limits and learning. What he has to offer our pupils is literally without limit.
This “one,” of course, is Jesus. We are mere student-teachers, still struggling to master the very course we are trying to teach to others. Yet the one who designed this course and wrote all of its textbooks is always available, ever-present. Why not turn to him? We may not experience specific and verifiable communication with him, yet it still helps to think of him as intimately present, as the real professor in the situation. And we can develop our connection with his guiding presence. We can work on trusting that he is there, practice seeking out his advice, focus on absorbing his strength and feeling his presence within us. We can continually try to raise our eyes up to join with his and let his teaching flow through us. Just as we gradually learn to let the Holy Spirit guide our words, so we can gradually learn to teach with Jesus. Thus we fulfill the Manual’s injunction: “Do you, then, teach with him, for he is with you; he is always here.”(M-23.7:8)
9.Your function does not require you to be perfect. Whatever stage you are in, there are pupils who need you just that way.
As we see our own imperfect development constantly limiting what we can give our pupils, it is easy to give in to guilt and despair. If only we were perfect, we think, we could give our pupils so much more. Until then, we assume, we are more or less useless bunglers. Yet there is a usefulness that stems from the precise level we are on right now. The Manual says this:
Do not despair…because of limitations. It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them. If you would be heard by those who suffer, you must speak their language. (M-26.4:1-3)
As this passage says, in order to fulfill our current function we need to have limitations. For these enable us to reach our pupils in their limited framework, to “speak their language.” A passage from Psychotherapy makes this even more explicit:
But whatever stage he is in, there are patients who need him just that way. They cannot take more than he can give for now. Yet both will find sanity at last. (P-2.I.4:5-7)
How comforting! No matter what level we are on we can be useful, for there are people who need us in that exact place.
10.Part of your role will be to clarify the Course’s stance on various issues, stepping away from all issues and ideas that detract from the Course’s central aim of complete thought reversal.
Your pupils will come to you with many questions, about everything under the sun. Given today’s crowded marketplace of paths, philosophies and therapies, many of their questions will concern concepts from outside the Course. Section 24, “Is Reincarnation So?” gives essential counsel on how to answer these. It is an extremely important section which I believe merits repeated study.
In brief, this section says that reincarnation should not be taught as part of the Course. Why? Because the Course’s only aim is “a complete reversal of thought.” (M-24.4:1) It is therefore interested only in those ideas that inherently contribute to this reversal, that are the very stuff of it. Reincarnation is not one of those ideas, because it can be used both to facilitate this reversal (by affirming that “life and the body are not the same” (M-24.2:9) and to delay it (by seducing one into absorption with the past and future).
But the issue is not reincarnation per se, but reincarnation as one example of a broader category. This section classes it among a host of “theoretical issues” (M-24.4:5) and “sectarian controversies” (M-24.3:5) —issues that, because they are not inherently transformative, tend to be merely controversial and divisive. It then instructs us to take the same stance toward all members of this category: “The teacher of God is, therefore, wise to step away from all such questions, for he has much to teach and learn apart from them.” (M-24.4:4)
Thus, when your pupil brings up reincarnation, or astral bodies, or Atlantis, or kinesiology, or chakras, and asks where the Course stands in relation to these, there is, in essence, one response. Step away from them. Explain that the Course aims at a complete reversal of thought. It is therefore only interested in ideas which, when taken into one’s mind, by their very nature move that mind toward this reversal. These particular ideas do not do that, and that is why they are not a part of the Course’s curriculum. This does not make them false or true. It just makes them not directly relevant to the finding of salvation.
11.Your role is to guide your pupils through the Course’s program, being guided yourself by the Holy Spirit. This includes such issues as which volume the pupil should start with, and whether the pupil is even ready for the Course.
We have already said that your job is to guide your pupils through the Course’s program, through the Text and Workbook. Section 29 gives us a glimpse into what specifics this might entail. Most Course students are aware of this section’s first paragraph, where it says that a new student can begin with any one of the Course’s three volumes. However (as I argue more closely in “The Evidence in the Manual for the Teacher-Pupil Relationship”), what it actually says is that the pupil of a Course teacher can begin with any volume,depending on the guidance of her teacher. The teacher is the one whose guidance is meant to answer the following questions:
Which [volume] is for which? Who would profit more from prayers alone [than from the Course]? Who needs but a smile, being as yet unready for more [meaning, for the Course]? No one [no teacher of God] should attempt to answer these questions alone. Surely no teacher of God has come this far without realizing that. (M-29.2:1-5)
The Course does not expect the pupil to receive guidance on whether she should begin with the Text, Workbook or Manual, or is simply not ready for the Course. How could she make such a decision? First, she has no familiarity with the Course and its volumes. Second, unlike you, she has not gone through the Workbook and been trained in seeking the Holy Spirit’s Voice. You are the one who has come far enough to know the crucial importance of taking these questions to the Holy Spirit, and you are the one who has the training in doing that.
A great deal of responsibility is therefore in your hands. You may ask within and hear that this pupil should begin with the Text, even though she is eager to do the lessons. More extreme yet, you may hear that she is not ready for any volume. You are not asked to be an autocrat; the pupil, of course, is always free to decide against your counsel. But you are still responsible for offering it. This may seem like a responsibility too great to bear. That is why it is so critical to turn it all over to the Holy Spirit.
12.You must specifically apply the Course (again, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance) so as to meet your pupil’s specific questions, needs, personality traits and level of development.
In the beginning of this article we saw that the traditional spiritual guide is one “who can glean from the adept’s actions and attitudes his respective station on the spiritual path” and presumably gear his teaching toward that particular station. The passage we examined above assumes the same thing about the Course teacher. Your role, as teacher, is to tailor the Course’s one-size-fits-all program to the particular level and specific needs of your pupil. This tailoring is, of course, meant to guided by the Holy Spirit: “The curriculum is highly individualized, and all aspects are under the Holy Spirit’s particular care and guidance.” (M-29.2:6)
You also will be answering a lot of questions. We have already seen you getting hit with questions about reincarnation and about which volume to begin with. With all such questions, the answer is “to refer the questions to Him.” (M-29.2:10)
Thus, your approach is meant to be highly responsive and adaptive. It seems that you will usually be responding to something in the pupil, rather than merely dictating. Your pupil asks a question, or brings a presented problem, or shares a magic thought, and you respond. You are thus not authoritarian taskmaster, but a responsive helper. The spirit of this is captured perfectly in this passage from Psychotherapy:
No good teacher uses one approach to every pupil. On the contrary, he listens patiently to each one, and lets him formulate his own curriculum; not the curriculum’s goal, but how he can best reach the aim it sets for him. (P-2.II.7:2-3)
As this passage says, you do not enforce a preformed approach on all your pupils alike. You deal with each one differently. You therefore do a great deal of patient listening, trying to tune into your pupil’s special needs, issues, concerns, problems, and level of advancement. And as you listen deeply to your pupil, you listen just as deeply to the Holy Spirit.
13.Speak in your pupils’ language; use whatever will reach them.
One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ teaching in the Course and in personal guidance to his scribes was his willingness to speak in whatever way would reach his pupils. In crafting the language of the Course he claimed to incorporate the “special language” of his first two pupils: Helen and Bill. Then, when they seemed deaf to his guidance, he would pull out some technique designed to grab their attention.
At one point, for instance, he gave them this miracle principle: “Miracles rest on flat feet. They have no arches.” (4) This was obviously meant as some kind of riddle. Helen made a stab at it, to which he said, “No—it’s all right: it’s the arch of time. There isn’t any. So it means ‘miracles rest on eternity.'” Helen strongly objected to this, saying “I’m sure this could have been done more directly.” He responded:
I just thought I’d give you this one in a way you couldn’t overlook it. It’s an example of shock effect sometimes useful in teaching students who won’t listen. It compels attention.
At another point he gave Helen a prayer which was a modified version of a prayer she had written. It read: “If you will tell me what to do, only that I will to do.” (5) She responded: “I object to the doggerel sound of this, and regard it as very inferior poetry.” To which Jesus quipped, “It’s hard to forget, though.”
From these examples we can see that Jesus didn’t care if his way of reaching his pupils resulted in the lowering of his approval rating. The important thing was not his image, but his effect on their minds. This should be our value as well. Our goal is not to dazzle our pupils with lofty metaphysical truths that are just beyond their reach but make us look really deep. Likewise, our goal is not to please their egos. Our goal is to reach their minds in a meaningful and lasting way.
14.Pray for your pupils.
In Principle #11 I quoted this line: “Who would profit more from prayers alone?” (M-29.2:2) It means: “Which pupils should you merely pray for, since they are not yet ready for the Course itself?” If you are praying for those who you are not guiding through the Course, certainly you should also be praying for those who you are. These prayers, however, should be in harmony with the Course. You merely send your pupils your true perception of them, in the trust that this opens a gateway through which God can give the gifts that have always been waiting. An example of such a prayer is given in the Workbook:“Let peace extend from my mind to yours, [name].” (W-pI.RII.82.2:2)
15.Emphasize what must be approached, not avoided or stopped.
It is very easy to fall into emphasizing the “don’ts” with your pupils, either what they need to avoid doing or what they need to stop doing. The Course has this to say: A wise teacher teaches through approach, not avoidance. He does not emphasize what you must avoid to escape from harm, but what you need to learn to have joy. (T-6.V.3:1-2)
This emphasis on what will bring joy is “wise” simply because it is practical. When one is focusing on avoiding something, one’s mind is still on that thing. And the best way to move in a direction cannot be to focus all of one’s mind on the opposite direction.
Along these same lines the Course has this to say: “The Holy Spirit never itemizes errors because He does not frighten children, and those who lack wisdom are children.” (T-6.V.4:1) Listing your pupils’ errors not only puts their attention in the wrong place, it frightens them.
Teaching through approach, however, is a matter of emphasis. It does not mean you never mention what your pupils must avoid doing or stop doing. Dealing with these are part of teaching. Jesus once dictated to Helen and Bill five pages of material about their errors in thought over the course of a day. Yet he prefaced his remarks with what amounts to a series of fences around this act of teaching through avoidance:
The following is the only detailed description which need be written down as to how error interferes with preparation….There is nothing of special interest about the events described below, except their typical nature. If this is a true course in mind training, then the whole value of this section rests only in showing you what not to do. The more constructive emphasis is, of course, on the positive approach. Mind-watching [which apparently is the positive emphasis] would have prevented any of this from occurring, and will do so any time you permit it to. (Absence from Felicity)
16.Teach gently; never harm or terrorize your pupils.
The Course makes this point very strongly:
Good teachers never terrorize their students. To terrorize is to attack, and this results in rejection of what the teacher offers. The result is learning failure. (T-3.I.4:5-7)
No teacher of God but must learn,—and fairly early in his training,—that harmfulness completely obliterates his function from his awareness. It will make him confused, fearful, angry and suspicious. (M-4.IV.1:8-9)
This point sounds completely obvious. Yet there is a tremendous temptation to confuse terrorizing your pupils with being helpful. They can seem so mired in their insanity. The only solution appears to be to jolt them out of it, to forcibly shatter their entrenched egos and catapult them into a breakthrough. Even though there is a long tradition of this among great spiritual masters, the Course does not approve. Its idea of the advanced teacher of God is almost the antithesis of what is often called “crazy wisdom”—bizarre, unpredictable behavior aimed at flouting convention and offending listeners. Instead, the Course sets forth a standard of radical integrity, in which everything the teacher says, does or even thinks should be completely consistent. (6)
17.Fear of your role and its authority is not humility. It is as much an ego defense as abuse of your role.
The previous point dealt, in essence, with the abuse of authority. Yet because authority is so often abused, it is often thought that the holiest attitude is to reject any kind of teaching role. Many Course students cite Bill Thetford, co-scribe of the Course, as an example of this “holy” attitude. Even though he was intimately familiar with the Course, he never felt it was his place to put himself forward as the teacher. His ego didn’t need to assume that role.
Yet, as is made clear by personal guidance that Jesus gave to Bill through Helen, what his ego did need was to avoid that role, a role that was actually meant for him. This guidance said that Bill was meant to be a teacher of students (at least in the university setting). Yet Bill was afraid of this function and wanted desperately to wriggle out of it. According to this guidance, his fear came from his own authority problem. In this case, he was afraid of stepping into the role of being an authority, for at least two reasons. First, he was afraid of the impact his ego would have on his students’ egos. (7) Second, he unconsciously saw stepping into this authoritative role as an act of replacing the ultimate Authority, and he feared that this Authority would punish him. “You, Bill, really believe that by teaching you are assuming a dominant or father role, and that the ‘father figure’ will kill you.” (Absence from Felicity)
In short, Bill saw teaching as playing God, and he feared the impact of this on his students and the punishment this would call down from God. Hence, it was only Bill’s misuse of teaching, only his perception of it as playing God, that caused his fear. According to Jesus, his fear would disappear if he ceased to misuse teaching “as an ego involvement.” (Absence from Felicity) It would vanish if he realized that “the role of teacher is not the role of God. This confusion is all too frequently made, by parents, teachers, therapists, and the clergy.” (Absence from Felicity) In truth, the role of teacher is a holy function, not a sinful one:
The role of a teacher, if properly conceived, is one of leading himself and others out of the desert. The value of this role can hardly be underestimated, if only because it was one to which I very gladly dedicated My own life. (Absence from Felicity)
This can be a lesson for all of us who are too “humble” to enter into the role of teacher. If we are called to that role (and we all are in one form or another), this “humility” really means that we plan to subtly misuse that role as a way of playing God. In fact, we are already playing God, for we have decided that we know better than God: He called us into the role of teacher, but in our superior wisdom we know it is a bad idea. As Jesus said tersely to Bill, “This is not humility.” (Absence from Felicity)
18.Your worth does not come from teaching, but from God. You should not be concerned with the effect of your ego on other egos.
Both the abuse of authority (Principle #16) and the fear of authority (#17) come down to the same thing: Your belief that in the act of teaching your worth is on the line. This is one of the most fundamental and continual temptations a teacher will encounter. The Course has this to say about “the ego-oriented teacher”:
He is concerned with the effect of his ego on other egos, and therefore interprets their interaction as a means of ego preservation. I would not be able to devote myself to teaching if I believed this, and you will not be a devoted teacher as long as you believe it. (T-4.I.6:3-6)
The answer to this self-concern is given just two sentences later:
Your worth is not established by teaching or learning. Your worth is established by God. (T-4.I.7:1-2)
This, I believe, is one of the most crucial things for a teacher to remember. What teacher would not benefit from reminding himself of this at all times? I recommend turning these lines into first person statements and occasionally repeating them to yourself while teaching: “My worth is not established by teaching or learning. My worth is established by God.”
19.As the teacher, you temporarily have more than your pupils. But this is only on the plane of illusions. In reality, you are absolutely equal.
Closely related to the previous principle is the temptation to regard yourself as superior to your pupils because you are their teacher. Most anyone can spot this as a mistake. Yet the solution is harder to identify. Many think that the solution is to find a way to see the teacher and pupil as equal on this level: “Well, the teacher has certain strengths, but the pupil has other strengths in other areas, and so it all balances out.” “The teacher may know more about the Course, but that doesn’t mean he is more spiritually advanced.”
Aside from the pettiness implied in these comments, they look for equality in the wrong place. Equality, according to the Course, exists on the level of who we really are, on the level of our true Self. The false selves that walk around in this world are not all equal; some are further along in time. As the Course says, “Equality does not imply equality now.” (T-1.V.2:5) Yet if the selves we appear to be in this world are just illusions, who cares if they are equal or not? If you go to a costume party, and a friend wears a Moses costume while you go as Attila the Hun, does that really make you inferior?
Your pupil had better hope that you are more spiritually advanced than he. If you are not, how much can you really give him? You can give him your familiarity with the Course, but can you really instill in him the Course’s way of salvation? Can you present to him a living demonstration of that way? Can you shine forgiveness from your mind right into his heart? Giving these things is the very meaning of “teaching” in the Course. If you are not more advanced, your pupil will have a lot of extra work to do. Let’s return to Jesus’ comments to Bill about teaching:
At the beginning, since we are still in time, [teacher and pupil] they come together on the basis of inequality of ability and experience…This process has all of the miracle conditions we referred to at the beginning [of the Course]. The teacher (or miracle worker) gives more to those who have less, bringing them closer to equality with him, at the same time gaining for himself.
The confusion here is only because they do not gain the same things, because they do not need the same things. If they did, their respective, though temporary roles would not be conducive to mutual profit. Absence from Felicity)
This passage bears some scrutiny. In essence, it says that it is a good thing that the teacher has more right now—more ability and experience in the area he is teaching. It is precisely because he has more that “all of the miracle conditions” are present. For now he can give what he has to those who need it. And by doing so, he fulfills their need to receive what he has, and fulfills his need to give it. Thus, only because one temporarily has more can both sets of needs get filled. If they both needed the same thing, neither one could supply it and they would both be left in the lurch.
Thus, it is a very good thing for the teacher to have more advancement on the way to God, for then he can impart this to the pupil and so gain more for himself. It is a good thing, that is, if both teacher and pupil remember that this says nothing about their ultimate worth; if they remember that in reality they are complete equals.
20.Your goal is to give away all you have, thus eliminating the need for a teacher.
If you are really in the enterprise of teaching not to embellish your self-image, not to gain superiority by standing atop a pile of pupils, then your “one true goal” (as a passage below says) will be to eliminate the need for your role. So important is this principle that the author of the Course repeats it several times. He first says that “every good teacher” holds this goal:
Every good teacher hopes to give his students so much of his own learning that they will one day no longer need him. This is the one true goal of the teacher. (T-4.I.5:1-2)
To show us he means this, he then says that he himself holds this goal and that even the Holy Spirit does:
I will teach with you and live with you if you will think with me, but my goal will always be to absolve you finally from the need for a teacher. (T-4.I.6:3)
Like any good teacher, the Holy Spirit knows more than you do now, but He teaches only to make you equal with Him. (T-6.V.1:1)
Thus, even though you and your pupil come together on the basis of an inequality, you do so in order to wipe away this inequality. That is the whole goal of your teaching. As Jesus told Bill, “They meet in order to abolish the difference.” (Absence from Felicity)
21.You receive by giving to your pupil, whereas your pupil gives simply by receiving your gifts. In this way, you both learn that giving and receiving are the same.>
It looks like you, the teacher, are doing all of the giving and that your pupil is doing all of the receiving. Consequently, there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with the situation. This, however, is an illusion, for whatever you give your pupil, you receive. Furthermore, your pupil is giving to you simply by receiving your gifts. If you really do receive from giving to another, then someone who allows you to give, someone who accepts your gifts, is giving you perhaps the holiest gift of all. Just by taking in your teaching, your pupil is blessing you.
If you truly believe that by giving you are receiving and that by receiving your pupil is giving, you will be filled with a sense of how blessed this situation is. Both are giving, both are receiving; and so the place where giving ends and receiving begins blurs and becomes indistinguishable, as does the place where you end and your pupil begins. As the lines between giving and receiving are erased, so are the lines between you and your pupil. This is exactly what the Manual says, in this important passage I have already quoted more than once:
In the teaching learning situation, each one learns that giving and receiving are the same. The demarcations they have drawn between [them]…fade and grow dim and disappear. (M-2.5:5-6)
22.Believe in your pupils and their ability to achieve the goal of this course.
This principle is a basic element of good teaching, no matter who the teacher or what the course. Every teacher must carry the belief that his students can really make it, and exude this belief so that it gives them strength and shores up their own doubts. The Course puts it succinctly: “A good teacher must believe in the ideas he teaches, but he must meet another condition; he must believe in the students to whom he offers the ideas.” (T-4.I.1:4)
This principle is no less vital when teaching A Course in Miracles. Yet because this particular course’s goal is so lofty, it may seem harder to believe that your pupils will actually make it. That, however, is precisely why they need your faith, for if you are tempted to doubt that they can make it, think of the crippling doubts they must have. The foundation for your faith must simply be this: The Holy Spirit knows better than you, and He knows they can make it. This is the same basis for your faith that you yourself will learn the Course: “[The teacher of God] need merely trust that, if God’s Voice tells him it is a lesson he can learn, he can learn it.” (M-14.4:6)
23.Be patient with your pupils. Be willing to repeat your lessons until they are learned.
Patience with one’s students, of course, is a major issue for any teacher. It is so easy to fall into frustration over how long it takes them to learn. I recall once trying to teach my son that to multiply any number by ten, you just add a zero onto it. He did beautifully with adding zeros onto 1 through 13. But he got stuck at 14. I would say, “You added a zero onto 12 and got 120. You added a zero onto 13 and got 130. So you add a zero onto 14 and get…?” And he would say, “114.” So I would switch tactics: “OK, we had 110, then 120, then 130 and now…?” The same answer: “114.” Over 10 or 15 minutes of this I worked myself up to a fever pitch. I had thoughts like, “My God, my son has brain damage” (even though he was advanced for his age). The point is that my barely disguised rage was certainly far more harmful than any failure of his to instantly grasp some trivial principle of mathematics.
Just imagine how we look to the author of the Course, as we come up with the same wrong answers again and again. 114 is far closer to 140 than our judgments are to forgiveness. Yet despite how long it takes us to really learn his course, he tells us this:
Teachers must be patient and repeat their lessons until they are learned. I am willing to do this, because I have no right to set your learning limits for you. (T-4.I.7:4-5)
In other words, “I have no right to set a limit on how long you can take to learn something.” Picture yourself silently saying this to your pupils in moments of frustration. Imagine how healing it would be for them to feel this attitude coming from you. This in itself would surely speed their learning. The Course supports this idea: “Now you must learn that only infinite patience produces immediate effects.” (T-5.VI.12:1)
24.Your one goal is to strengthen your pupil’s motivation for change.
As a Course teacher, your goal is to help your pupil change her thinking. How do you do this? Of course, you give her the tools and tell her how to use them. Yet if she really has no desire to change her thinking, of what use will they be?
All good teachers realize that only fundamental change will last, but they do not begin at that level. Strengthening motivation for change is their first and foremost goal. It is also their last and final one. Increasing motivation for change in the learner is all that a teacher need do to guarantee change. (T-6.V(B).2:1-4)
A specific example of this idea comes in an exchange between Jesus and his two scribes (recorded in Absence from Felicity). He has just commented on Helen and Bill’s need to formulate a goal and keep it clearly in mind. He then mentions the goal Bill has suggested they set, “the goal of really studying for this course.” He affirms that this would be wise “for any student who wants to pass it.” However, something is missing from this goal:
But, knowing your individual weaknesses as learners, and being a teacher with some experience, I must remind you that learning and wanting to learn are inseparable. (Absence from Felicity)
Bill wanted them to get going, to really start using the tool, start studying the material. Jesus, however, knew that the prerequisite for this was truly wanting to learn. The implication was that for Bill and Helen to really benefit from and stay with this study, their motivation needed strengthening.
25.Be grateful to your pupils, for they are truly your saviors.
On the plane of illusions, you are the teacher, who temporarily has more and who is doing most of the overt giving. This almost inevitably leads to an insidious sense that your pupils owe you something. This resentment blinds you to your own salvation, for they are your salvation. They are quite literally your saviors. “This is the spark that shines within the dream; that you can help him waken, and be sure his waking eyes will rest on you.” (T-29.III.3:1-5,5:2,6) Your pupils’ waking eyes will rest on you and spark your mind into full awakening. Seeing their transformation and receiving their gratitude will supply the final reinforcement to your faith in your own innocence.
As long as we are not completely awake, giving will still seem to involve at least a hair of loss. For now, then, our pupils are the carriers of the joy contained in our giving. They hold the secret to the true nature of our giving. And they will reveal this secret to us, as this wonderful line says: “For the joy of teaching is in the learner, who offers it to the teacher in gratitude, and shares it with him.” (T-16.III.7:4)
Therefore, the most appropriate stance toward your pupils is a profound gratitude. Psychotherapy says this same thing about a therapist’s attitude toward his patients:
Meanwhile he must learn, and his patients are the means sent to him for his learning. What could he be but grateful for them and to them? They come bearing God. (P-3.I.4:3-5)
Rather than seeing your pupils as dragging their feet in their own salvation, see them as speeding your feet onward to the gates of Heaven.
* * * * *
The teacher as bridge
I find the foregoing 25 principles to sketch a beautiful vision of the teacher’s function and of his relationship with his pupils. Who of us would not be blessed by having such a person in our lives, guiding us through the Course? Who of us would not love to be such a person?
If we step back and look at the entire picture, the teacher’s function is essentially that of a bridge. On the one hand is the world of the Course, with its vast thought system, its volumes, its program and its goals, along with its author and the Holy Spirit. On the other hand is the pupil, with little familiarity with the Course, little realization of its goals, little sense of contact with the author and the Holy Spirit, and a large array of specific needs and questions. The teacher, very simply, is meant to bridge this gap, to stand in between, having one foot in both worlds. Across this bridge can flow the Course’s wisdom, geared specifically to the particular pupil standing on the other end of the bridge. And across this bridge can walk the pupil, entering ever more deeply into the realization of the Course’s goals, until he has crossed over and no longer needs any bridge at all.
How can you know when you are ready to become such a bridge? I mention in Part 1 of this “Manual/Extension” section that you qualify as a beginning teacher of God when you have studied the Text and completed the Workbook, when you have sufficiently mastered this course to pass it on to others. Yet I would suggest another gauge. For when you have done this, says the Manual, your pupils will start to look for you, eventually coming to the right place at the right time to meet you and join with you in the goal of learning this course. (8) And this, I believe, suggests the best answer: Let your pupils come to you. When people approach you to become your pupil, not because you have subtly billed yourself as a spiritual giant, but because they see something real in you they want to have, then you just might be ready to assume this role.
In other words, announcing to someone that he or she is meant to be your pupil is probably a bad idea. True, Jesus did not wait for others to come to him. He went out and called his disciples to him. And when you have reached the level of an advanced teacher of God, perhaps you will do the same. Until then, I personally suggest that you attend to your own walking of the Course’s path and wait for the honor of being a teacher (in the sense I have outlined in this article) to approach you.
And it is indeed an honor. There is nothing in the world that is holier.
Nothing in the world is holier than helping one who asks for help. And two come very close to God in this attempt, however limited, however lacking in sincerity…A brother seeking aid can bring us gifts beyond the heights perceived in any dream. He offers us salvation, for he comes to us as Christ and Savior. (P-2.V.4:2-5:2)
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
(1) The Manual assumes that these relationships will be personal, one-to-one relationships. In regard to long-term, see “the third level of teaching”: Manual, p. 7; M-3.5. Clearly, according to this section, the greatest benefits flow from lifelong relationships between teacher and pupil.
(2) This is my condensation of comments made in Section II of Chapter 2, “The Place of Religion in Psychotherapy.”
(3) I say this because, even though the main focus of the section is on healing, there is a reference (in 4:1) to the teacher God using “words in his teaching” (emphasis mine). The functions of teaching pupils and healing patients clearly overlap in the Manual, and this idea of speaking to a “presented problem” seems to be one of those places where the overlap occurs.
(4) All of the quotes from this exchange can be found in Absence from Felicity, 225-226.
(5) All of the quotes from this exchange can be found in Absence from Felicity, 244-245.
(6) This is an encapsulation of the Course’s definition of honesty, the second characteristic of God’s teachers.
(7) “Bill, you are afraid to teach only because you are afraid of the impression your image of yourself will make on other images.” Absence from Felicity, 278.
(8) The themes in this section are all drawn from Section 2 in the Manual, “Who Are Their Pupils?”)