This article was originally written for a column I did in Jon Mundy’s Inspiration magazine.
This column is about ACIM dialogue, and since it’s pointless to dialogue about things that we already agree on, I thought I would bring up something that hardly anyone agrees with me on: my contention that, for a relationship to be holy–as A Course in Miracles defines a holy relationship–two individuals must both join in a common goal. They don’t need to both be Course students; the common goal need not be spiritual or even articulated; but both need to have joined in it. The majority point of view is that a relationship is holy when one person forgives the other; no cooperation from the other person is required at all.
I can say with confidence that most Course students do not agree with me on this. Whenever I discuss my view with an audience of Course students, I am usually greeted by what feels like a wall of resistance. Ken Wapnick openly teaches that a holy relationship takes place in the mind of one (although the earlier editions of his Glossary-Index said differently, defining the holy relationship as “the joining…of two people who once perceived each other as separate”). I was once told by an author that he had polled five well-known teachers of the Course and that the other four–despite their other differences–were unanimous in saying that a holy relationship requires only one person. I, along with Allen Watson and my other colleagues here at The Circle of Atonement, are clearly in the minority.
For years I have contended that, in the pages of the Course itself, the nature of the holy relationship is totally unambiguous. It is simply not an issue. In the Course, the holy relationship is always talked about as involving two people who are mutually joining with each other. It is never talked about as one person who forgives the other. There is not one single passage in which the Course says, “When one person forgives another, a holy relationship is established.” Yet there are a great many that say something like this:
God’s Teacher speaks to any two who join together for learning purposes. The relationship is holy because of that purpose, and God has promised to send His Spirit into any holy relationship. (M‑2.5:3‑4)
This passage tells us what we are told in many, many places: A relationship is made holy because two people have joined in the same purpose.
If we stick with the words of the Course itself, there is no issue. There is nothing to debate. Why, then, is there a problem? Why is there so much consensus that a holy relationship only takes one? The problem, it seems to me (based on conversations with Course students over the years), is that the idea that it takes two just doesn’t fit with us inside. It doesn’t fit our idea of the Course’s thought system; the Course just can’t teach such a thing, we think. It doesn’t suit our desires; we don’t want our journey to God to have to wait on some uncooperative jerk. It doesn’t jibe with our experience; people become enlightened all the time by meditating in a cave. For one reason or another, the idea just doesn’t gel within us. And so, regardless of how many times the Course says it takes two, regardless of the fact that the Course never says anything else, we just can’t make the idea work for us.
Therefore, I would like to devote the rest of this article to trying to make the notion that a holy relationship takes two make sense to us.
Let’s start with the basic premise of the Course. All of us are one. Oneness is our natural state. We experience ourselves as separate minds, yet that experience is the product of a false belief in separateness, which the Course calls the ego. Our task, therefore, is to give up that false belief. Once we do, we will stop experiencing ourselves as separate, and even stop experiencing ourselves as being in this world of separateness. The illusion of living outside of Heaven will vanish.
How, then, do we really give up the belief that we are separate? How do we become convinced that we are one? Can that happen through inner experiences in which we experience our oneness with God and all things? Maybe, but the Course seems to deny that it can occur through private experiences alone:
It is impossible to remember God in secret and alone. For remembering Him means you are not alone, and are willing to remember it….If you undertake the search together, you bring with you a light so powerful that what you see is given meaning. The lonely journey fails because it has excluded what it would find. (T‑14.X.10:1-2,6-7)
We are trying to remember oneness with God. This seems to have little to do with other people. But, according to the above passage, unless we undertake the search for God with others, then we implicitly shut God out. Apparently, if we exclude interpersonal oneness, then we have also excluded divine oneness. We can rephrase the final line this way: The lonely journey to God fails because, by excluding oneness with others, it has excluded oneness itself.
Why is interpersonal oneness the gateway to divine oneness? Because the ego lives on the level of this world, which is also the level of our interpersonal relationships. That level is its home. That is the level, therefore, on which it must be faced and undone. That is the level on which we must become convinced of our oneness, so convinced that as we go about our day, eat our food, handle our money, and do our business, we no longer look out for separate interests, but operate from the standpoint of perfect oneness.
Will solitary experiences of union with God accomplish this? As a rule, I don’t think they will, even though the Course acknowledges that they are incredibly helpful along the way. It is quite possible to have a solitary experience of oneness and soon after find yourself behaving like a selfish, separate entity. I remember reading that people who had deep transcendental experiences of oneness through hallucinogenic drugs could, within a few hours, be back in a shouting match over who should do the dishes. The mystical experience of oneness can easily leave the operating belief in separateness intact.
What will undo this operating belief in separateness? Will forgiving my brother within the privacy of my mind do the trick? Forgiveness is the means for getting home, but forgiveness, we are told, will inevitably lead to the experience of mutual joining. If forgiveness were to never lead to this, if it stayed a solitary experience in the mind of one person, I don’t think it would be enough. It would be just like the experience of God, something that occurred within the privacy of my mind–the very framework of separation. If I am forgiving him and he is not forgiving me, my brother and I are still having a separate experience. We are doing two separate things, having two separate experiences, living apart in our two separate worlds. On the level of the world, the level on which the ego lives, separateness is still being lived out.
If all we see in our lives is the acting out of separateness, will our minds really become convinced of oneness? If all I ever experience is that I forgive and you don’t, will my deep skepticism about our oneness ever really be lifted? The place we are going to is pure, mutually shared oneness. How can I reach this place except through its reflection on earth? This, I believe, is why the Course says things like this:
Salvation must reverse the mad belief in separate thoughts and separate bodies, which lead separate lives and go their separate ways. One function shared by separate minds unites them in one purpose. (W‑pI.100.1:2‑3)
To really become convinced of oneness, all the way to our marrow, we must experience oneness on the level on which we live. Two separate minds must share one function, and thereby find their separate thoughts becoming shared thoughts, their separate bodies leading united lives, going the same way. This, says the author of the Course in a startling passage, is literally the only way to get home:
…the same requirement salvation asks of everyone. Each one must share one goal with someone else, and in so doing, lose all sense of separate interests. Only by doing this is it possible to transcend the narrow boundaries the ego would impose upon the self. (P‑2.II.8:3‑5)
Let’s do a thought experiment. Try for a moment to get in touch with your deep-seated belief in separateness. Notice the things you keep secret from others because you don’t trust them. Notice how quickly your trust, even when present, can turn to mistrust; your love turn to displeasure. See how you make sure you aren’t taken advantage of with your money or your body. See yourself in an argument with a loved one. Note your exasperation; note how impossible it seems that this person will be reasonable and cooperative. All of these things are symptoms of your deep belief that your brother will always operate independently of you. He will always be a potential threat to your interests. You will always have to keep your eye on him. You can never totally trust that you are two fingers on the same hand.
How can this deep-seated belief best be healed? First imagine a relationship in which you alone forgive. You are always the one choosing to see things differently; your brother is always the one staying stuck in his perceptions. You see the Christ in him; he doesn’t see the Christ in you. You extend him the gift of your love; he doesn’t even seem to unwrap it.
Now imagine a relationship in which “each forgives the other, that he may accept his other half as part of him” (T‑27.II.16:7). Imagine a relationship in which we “give redemption to each other and share in it, that we may rise as one in resurrection, not separate in death” (T‑19.IV(D).17:5). In this relationship, we give to each other and receive from each other so fully that each interaction becomes a giving/receiving. We lose the ability to tell giving and receiving apart. Our cooperation and sharing become so complete that we literally do feel like two fingers on the same hand. We gain and lose so totally in tandem that we relax and stop looking out for our separate interests. Our separate worlds begin to blend. We start thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same feelings, experiencing the oneness of our minds.
This is the function of your holy relationship. For what one thinks, the other will experience with him. What can this mean except your mind and your brother’s are one? (T‑22.VI.14:1‑3)
Yet reason sees a holy relationship as what it is; a common state of mind, where both give errors gladly to correction, that both may happily be healed as one. (T‑22.III.9:7)
Both of the relationships I just described would be powerful teaching devices. Both would be extremely useful on your journey home. But which one would be a more effective earthly mirror of heavenly oneness? Which one would convince you more deeply that oneness was not a theory, but a Fact?
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]