[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
There is a passage in the introduction to Lessons 181-200 that has always fascinated me. Speaking of those lessons, it says:
Each contains the whole curriculum if understood, practiced, accepted, and applied to all the seeming happenings throughout the day. One is enough. But from that one, there must be no exceptions made. And so we need to use them all and let them blend as one, as each contributes to the whole we learn.(W-pI.rVI.In.2:2-5)
This passage, I believe, gives us a picture of how Jesus wants us to use the entire Course. It also suggests to my mind a visual metaphor for the Course: a many-faceted diamond in which each facet reflects the single light of truth in its own distinct way, each contributing to the radiant jewel that shines away the darkness of the world. In the points that follow, I will flesh out the picture I see suggested by this passage.
Each lesson contains the whole curriculum—we could get salvation from just one lesson
I’ve often heard Course students say that if you totally got any one lesson you would get the whole Course. This passage certainly supports that view: “Each [lesson] contains the whole curriculum” (2:2; all references in this article that contain only a paragraph and sentence number refer to this passage) and “One is enough” (2:3). (I believe the principle here can be applied to the whole Course, not just to Lessons 181-200.) The Course offers us “a unified thought system” (W-pI.42.7:2) in which every idea is connected with every other. Each idea implies the others, and so every idea contains the others—each part contains the whole. This idea that each part contains the whole is said to be basic to the way God thinks:
The recognition of the part as whole, and of the whole in every part is perfectly natural, for it is the way God thinks, and what is natural to Him is natural to you. (T-16.II.3:3)
This sentence refers to the nature of ultimate reality, but the principle it expresses also applies to the Course. And if the whole curriculum of the Course is in every part, it follows that learning any part perfectly would give us the whole curriculum. Grasping any one lesson fully would give us salvation.
But to get salvation from just one lesson, we would have to understand it, practice it, accept it, and apply it to every aspect of our lives without exception
In other words, we must immerse ourselves in that one lesson so deeply that it becomes a part of our very being. It must be allowed to shine into every corner of our lives. Absolutely nothing must be hidden from its healing light; “there must be no exceptions made” (2:4). This “no exceptions” rule is one of the two basic rules of Workbook practice given in the Workbook’s introduction. After telling us that “one exception held apart from true perception makes its accomplishments anywhere impossible” (W-In.5:3), it says:
Be sure that you do not decide for yourself that there are some people, situations or things to which the ideas are inapplicable. This will interfere with transfer of training. (W-In.6:3-4)
We aren’t likely to apply any single lesson to everything without exception; therefore, to help us make no exceptions, we need to use all of the lessons
Though we could in theory apply one lesson to everything without exception, in practice this is a daunting task. For instance, if the one and only lesson I have at my disposal is “Sickness is a defense against the truth” (Lesson136), how does that apply to my situation if I’m getting mugged? All by itself, that sentence doesn’t give me much help. It is very useful when I’m physically ill, but what good does it do me when someone’s pointing a gun at my head? Now, I’m sure there’s a way this lesson does apply to my situation, but the connection is extremely difficult to see, which means I would be tempted to make my situation an exception. “And so we need to use them all” (2:5).
How does using all of the lessons help us to stop making exceptions? I think the answer is rooted in the Course idea that just as the separation was a single mistake that splintered into many different forms, the Holy Spirit’s answer was a single correction that took many different forms (see T-26.V.3:5). From this idea, it follows that since the ego’s thought system takes a variety of specific forms in our lives, we need a variety of specific lessons to deal with those specific forms. Indeed, practicing with “great specificity” is the other basic rule of Workbook practice given in the Workbook’s introduction:
The exercises [should] be practiced with great specificity, as will be indicated. This will help you to generalize the ideas involved to every situation in which you find yourself, and to everyone and every-thing in it. (W-In.6:1-2)
I think that in this passage, “great specificity” means applying the lessons to our specific life situations. Having a variety of specific lessons helps us in this process. The key point I want to make here, though, is that practicing with great specificity allows us to generalize the lessons to everyone and everything. In other words, this basic rule of practice helps us to follow the other basic rule: practicing with great specificity helps us to make no exceptions. This is why we need all of the lessons. Applying a variety of different lessons and practices with great specificity to a variety of different situations helps us see the relevance and universality of the Course’s ideas much more effectively than applying only one lesson would do. Using many different lessons builds the connections in our minds that help to make each specific lesson more meaningful and impactful. The Course often emphasizes the importance of seeing how all its ideas fit together, as in this statement in Review I about Lessons 1-50: “We are now emphasizing the relationships among the first fifty of the ideas we have covered, and the cohesiveness of the thought system to which they are leading you” (W-pI.rI.In.6:4).
Having all of the lessons at our disposal also helps us to develop a “problem-solving repertoire” (W-pI.194.6:2):a repertoire of Course lessons and practices that enables us to counter our specific problems with practices that specifically address those problems. For instance, if my problem is fear of a future event, I might counter it with a repetition of Lesson 194, “I place the future in the hands of God.” In fact, the Course says that the twenty lessons to be reviewed in Review VI are intended to deal with specific problems; they are “direct approaches to the special blocks” (W-pI.In.181-200.2:1) that keep us from salvation.
Using a variety of lessons, then, helps us to make no exceptions. It enables us to deal with our problems very specifically using a variety of lessons, practices, and ideas. It is this that will ultimately enable us to apply what we learn to everything.
If we use all of the lessons, they will blend into one, and we will learn the whole curriculum
This is where everything comes together. Our problem is that while each idea contains the whole curriculum, we don’t see how this can be so. In our state of insanity, we are blind to the Course’s interconnectedness. We don’t see how the idea of forgiveness contains the idea of asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. We don’t see how the idea of being unaffected by outer happenings contains the idea of caring about our brothers. We don’t see how the idea of the world’s unreality contains the idea of having a special function in the world. So, what we must do is first learnt he ideas separately, and then slowly see how they connect. As we build up this network of connections, we see more and more how each idea is connected to every other. Finally, we reach a point where we see with perfect clarity that each idea really contains all the rest. Every part really does contain the whole.
The very goal of the Workbook, and by extension the entire Course, is “to increase your ability to extend the ideas you will be practicing to include everything” (W-In.7:1). Our only job in this is to study the various lessons Jesus offers us and “apply [them] as you are directed to do” (W-In.8:3). If we do this, the lessons will “blend as one, as each contributes to the whole we learn” (2:5). We will learn the whole curriculum. We will find salvation.
The many-faceted diamond of A Course in Miracles
As I mentioned at the beginning, I think the passage we’ve just explored gives us a picture of how Jesus wants us to use the entire Course, a picture that counters the way many students use it. There is a tendency in Course circles to boil down the Course into one or two simple ideas and practices. Just choose love instead of fear. Just look at the ego with Jesus. Just turn everything over to the Holy Spirit. Just remember that you need do nothing. The idea that you could get the whole Course from one lesson is often used to support simplifications like this. If one lesson is all it takes, why bother studying all that dense verbiage? Why work so hard at practicing all those different lessons? I once had someone ask me, “Why does it take the Course hundreds of pages to say what it could have said in only one?”
I think we’ve seen the answer in our passage. Yes, we could theoretically get the entire Course from just one lesson. Yes, it is ultimately very simple. But because our minds have turned the single idea of separation into a vast and complicated ego thought system that takes a dizzying variety of forms, the author of the Course needed to give us a thought system equal to the task of undoing it. So, he gave us the Course, which communicates the single idea of salvation through a comprehensive, systematic, multifaceted teaching and program. In this teaching and program, each form of ego deception is answered with the corresponding form of truth. Jesus clearly expects us to use everything he has given us; he reminds us that we “are studying a unified thought system in which nothing is lacking that is needed, and nothing is included that is contradictory or irrelevant” (W-pI.42.7:2). We need it all. We need those hundreds of pages in order to fully embrace the message given to us on each one. Ironically, it is only through understanding, practicing, accepting, and applying the Course in all of its seeming complexity that we come to recognize its ultimate simplicity.
This is why I find it helpful to view the Course as a many-faceted diamond. The light shining into the diamond is the light of truth. This light is simple, clear, and unambiguous. The facets of the diamond are all of the different aspects of the Course: its great diversity of ideas, topics, lessons, and practices. All of these facets reflect the light of truth into our minds, but not in a uniform way. Rather, through them the light is reflected from many different angles, each giving us a distinct window into truth, each shining into a particular dark corner of our lives. But though each facet is distinct, it does not stand apart from the rest. All of the facets blend as one, each contributing to the whole: a radiant jewel with the power to turn our gaze from the ugliness of the ego’s darkness to the beauty of God’s holy light.
Just as a diamond’s beauty is only fully revealed by looking upon it as a whole, so it is with the Course. Boiling the Course down to one or two ideas or practices is like looking at only one or two facets of a diamond—interesting, perhaps, but far short of the vision of beauty a diamond is meant to give us. By instead letting the many-faceted diamond of the Course shine upon us in all its splendor, we will see the vision of beauty it promises us. It will reveal to us the real world; each of us will see “beyond all ugliness into beauty that will enchant you, and will never cease to cause you wonderment at its perfection” (T-17.II.2:6). And in the end, we will leave even this beatific vision behind and lose ourselves forever in the glorious light of God.