As of my birthday last May, I have had A Course in Miracles for twenty years. I thought it would be an appropriate time to reflect on what the Course has become in my life. This is not an easy task, because it has become so central and so deeply woven into everything in my life that it is hard to step outside of it and see it as just a part.
At the most basic level, I relate to the Course as a book, but a book like none other. I have become convinced that it was actually written by Jesus of Nazareth, that in the Course he has appeared once again to the world. I know how outlandish this can sound and I reexamine this conclusion on an almost continual basis, but I don’t seem able to seriously question it anymore. It seems to have become a permanent part of me below my reexaminations. In my mind, following the Course is a modern version of walking behind Jesus on the dusty roads of ancient Israel.
I remain stunned by the level of thought in the Course. I have come to realize that its writing, which at first seemed wordy and repetitive, is instead a tight and complex symphony of thought which is profound, incisive, radical, sublime, and original. Every section is its own rich web of ideas. Every paragraph has depths to be plumbed. I see the Course as an ocean of wisdom, and I believe that, in the end, humanity will spend centuries delightedly exploring its depths, without ever fully fathoming it. I know I will spend the rest of my life doing that.
Whereas originally I related to the Course as I just described–as a collection of great ideas–that has significantly changed over the years. Now, I increasingly relate to the Course as primarily a manual or handbook. To put this differently, I see it as a path, a path with many facets. I know of paths which are focused on one simple technique, but I have come to see the Course as almost the polar opposite of that. There are many facets it wants to train us in, many aspects of the overall act of walking its path. Unfortunately, I feel, this runs against the prevailing wisdom about the Course. Many students think it primarily amounts to “doing nothing,” or to just looking at your ego with the Holy Spirit, or to putting the book down and just living it, or they are simply mystified about what to do.
Instead, I slowly came to see one activity after another that the Course wanted me to incorporate into my life. And so, over time, I have tried–with mixed success–to do just that. There are many aspects of the Course I still feel distant from, but let me share about those that I have managed to some degree to incorporate into my life.
The foundational activity, I believe, is study. So I try to make time each day for some study of the Course. This really has two aspects: One side is more intellectual, the other more personal. On the intellectual side, I love to dive into the Course and gain new insights, make new connections, and see new patterns. I love drawing diagrams and little pictures at the top or bottom of the page, writing explanatory notes in the margins, collecting multiple references to the same idea, or using my colored highlighters to highlight a section’s repeating terms. It really does feel like I am an explorer diving into an ocean and discovering new flora or fauna.
On the personal side, more than ever I try to read the Course as if it were written to me. When the Course says “you” I see that as referring specifically to me, and I’ll often mentally fill in my name. This not only heightens the emotional impact of the material, it also reveals new dimensions of meaning. It will often open my eyes to the fact that a passage is subtly addressing some particular condition in me, even though that is not mentioned. Reading this way has also required that I go much more slowly. This has been difficult, since I am a habitually sloppy reader. If you are used to walking briskly and carelessly it can be hard to slow down and become conscious of every step. But with the Course it pays off.
The practice the Workbook has taught me is another major aspect, one which has become a real cornerstone for me. I never envisioned my life as being so focused on spiritual practice, but now I cannot imagine my life without it. This facet of the Course’s path itself has many facets. Let me share about a few of the ones that have become particularly important to me.
I now see the Workbook as teaching three basic methods of meditation (which I call Standard Workbook meditation, first taught in Lessons 41 and 44, Name of God meditation, taught in Lessons 183 and 184, and Open Mind meditation, taught in Lesson 189, Reviews V and VI, the introduction to Part II and the Final Lessons). With each one I went through a process first of identifying the method, then understanding what that method really involves, and then having it begin to work for me. These methods have turned my meditation life around, from being generally foggy and spotty, to being far more consistently rewarding (even though I am still not an accomplished meditator).
The prayers in Part II of the Workbook have become a deeply meaningful staple in my spiritual life. I love sitting down and spending time praying them. Sometimes on a long drive by myself, I’ll spend hours with them. They have opened up a sense of God’s nearness and care like nothing else I have encountered.
What I call frequent reminders–brief repetitions of the lesson between the hour–are a tremendous source of sustenance for me. I am still amazed at how dwelling on the lesson just a few times an hour can lift my state of mind. If I had to pick the practice that has most improved the quality of my life, it would probably be this.
Response to temptation–repeating the lesson in response to upsets–has become a true life-saver. I have a collection of practices drawn from all over the Text and Workbook that I use when I need emotional relief. Strange as it may sound, I have found more emotional relief from repeating these words than from anything else. It is like rubbing a healing balm on my mind. Because of this medicine, I just don’t tend to stay upset about particular events for long. I regain my peace and move on much more quickly than I used to.
Another major facet is what I call extension. As I understand the Course, I really “am here only to be truly helpful” (T-2.V.18:2). That is a remarkable line. It says that I am on earth to help others. This mainly means perceiving them as innocent and worthy, but that perception will usually need to get expressed outwardly if it is going to do much good. I have always found this calling attractive in theory but extremely threatening in practice. I end up thinking, “What about me? What about my needs?” So years ago I set a long-range goal of gradually devoting myself more and more to the welfare of others. I still have so far to go, but I really think I have come a long way. An increasing amount of my day is devoted to helping individuals. I feel less drained and more energized by it than I used to. I am less selective about who I help–last year I emphasized trying to help non-Course students in my area. And I also feel that I have grown in my effectiveness as a helper. I feel that I am more accepting and tolerant of people’s egos, while caving in to them less. But I still feel very young in the entire enterprise of being truly helpful.
The Course talks about our help taking a particular form, which it calls our special function. Many students wonder if there really is a special function selected just for them. Others see the whole concept as an invitation to delusions of “spiritual specialness.” For myself, even if I questioned everything else, I still couldn’t question that the Holy Spirit has given me a job to do. Too much of my experience has demonstrated this to me. My guidance has consistently given me a specific idea of what my function is, and my life circumstances have consistently supported that idea. It is not the job I wanted for myself, and for that reason it took me years to accept it, but it does make perfect use of my strengths, and it does make me stretch in new directions I would never have chosen. I really don’t think it pumps me up with delusions of specialness. Instead, it fills my life with meaning and purpose. It gives me something to live for.
The Course asks us to turn to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for all our decisions. I do not claim to have some amazing pipeline to the Most High, but I can say that I would be utterly lost without the guidance I receive. I have worked on forming the habit (which is stressed in all three volumes of the Course) of asking for guidance many times throughout the day. I don’t hear a voice, but I do get an inner sense (usually), which is definitely not infallible but is far more wise and practical than my own unaided thoughts. My most trusted guidance, however, comes from meaningful coincidences, that I call “signs,” which I have developed a way to interpret over the last twenty-five years. This form of guidance is not talked about in the Course, but the early story of the Course was replete with examples of it–only there the interpretation was often provided by Jesus himself.
Finally, my relationships. I really believe that our ability to be loving and forgiving and to join, both with strangers in the moment and with “significant others” over decades, is the measure of our progress on this path. Few are fooled by the “spiritually advanced” who can’t get along with anyone. How am I progressing? Definitely very slowly, but I can see that I am progressing. I see this as primarily due to the Course. It is slowly teaching me how to look impartially at my ego as well as how to forgive others for theirs (with no small help from its many forgiveness practices). The ego is inherently unfair. It always wants to make me more pure, more right, and more important than you. What the Course has taught me about the darkness within my own ego and about the divinity within others is, I believe, slowly balancing the scales. I think everyone in my life would tell you that I am a much better person to be in relationship with today than I was several years ago.
Even though it has been twenty years, in some ways I feel as if I am just starting down this path. But I do feel so deeply blessed by it. After all this time, the Course feels more alive, more relevant, and more transformative than ever. My relationship with it now is something I could not have foreseen at the beginning. I would never have imagined that this book could become my way of life.
[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition. This article was written in 2001.]