Volume 23 Number 4 December 2012
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
LIVING A COURSE IN MIRACLES
As Wrong Minds, Right Minds, and Advanced Teachers
Part 1 of 3
From the very beginning of my reading of A Course in Miracles, I was impressed with the way it integrated a profound metaphysical view of the world—a pure non-dualism—with very specific guidelines that are rooted in Freud's monumental work in understanding the dynamics of the ego (his psyche). It is this integration that allows for living fully in a dualistic world, yet at the same time reflecting the reality of Heaven's perfect non-dualistic oneness. Indeed, I would argue that this integration of a Vedanta-like non-dualism with a sophisticated psychology is what, more than any other characteristic, establishes the uniqueness of the Course among world spiritualities, ancient and contemporary. Further, it is the practice of its principle of forgiveness that makes the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles more than mere "philosophical speculation" (C-in.1:1). As the Course says of itself, regarding the relationship of the workbook's exercises to the theoretical text:
A theoretical foundation such as the text provides is necessary as a framework to make the exercises in this workbook meaningful. Yet it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible (W-in.1:1-2).
After all, the Course's teachings on the illusory nature of a world that is not here mean nothing to us who live—rise, work, and go to sleep—by its temporal/spatial laws (W-pI.169.10), unless we reflect its truth by living everyday with kindness and compassion for all living and nonliving things. This article will discuss the differing modes our lives can take as seeming bodies that appear to interact with other seeming bodies: wrong-mindedly as special egos, right-mindedly identifying with Christ's vision of forgiveness, and finally as those advanced teachers who have progressed to a life dedicated to having His healing Love extend through them to other minds.
As the ego speaks first (T-5.VI.3:5), we begin with a look at how its thought system of separation and specialness guides our daily living, remembering how very tricky the ego is, so cleverly sounding like the Holy Spirit. Yet there are specific clues we can look for that would help us penetrate the ego's spiritual veneer to reveal its hidden purpose of reinforcing illusions, and thus allow us to move beyond its subtle facades to the truth (e.g., T-11.V.1).
How Wrong Minds Live in the World:
The Ego's Curse of Specialness
There are of course the obvious wrong-minded ways of living in the world: anger, judgment, separate interests. These follow the core ego principle of one or the other: one wins, another loses—I cannot have something without taking it from you. This reflects the ego's fourth law of chaos, you have what you have taken (T-23.II.9:3). We all know too well these expressions of what A Course in Miracles terms special hate relationships—in ourselves and others in our personal world, not to mention in the world at large—and so we need not dwell on them here.
However, difficult to discern are the ego's insidious reactions that seem so spiritual and Course-consonant, the special love relationships that are far more devastating than special hate. As my wife Gloria, a former history teacher, would often say: "You do much better with a Hitler than a leader who only purports to be democratic, because at least you know where you stand." After all, it was not Hitler's fault that the world did not take seriously his Mein Kampf, a hate-filled treatise of ego grandiosity he wrote as a young man while in prison.
Students of A Course in Miracles often associate "Course spirituality" with form, the behaviors they believe reflect the principles of forgiveness, not paying heed to Jesus' warning in The Song of Prayer about setting forgiveness "in an earthly frame" (S-2.III.7:3). This means not understanding that the process of forgiveness does not truly occur with anything bodily or external.
I remember many years ago during the 1991 deployment of American forces in Iraq (sometimes referred to as the first Gulf War) that a couple proudly announced at a Foundation workshop that when the news came on with audio and video accounts of the fighting, they beamed light from their minds to the television set, battling the ego thought system of war they were observing. Their mistake, of course, was that this otherwise well-meaning behavior merely strengthened the reality of the ego's hateful principle of one or the other (good vs. evil), making it real by virtue of having to defend against it ("defenses do what they would defend"—T-17.IV.7:1). It would have been much more consistent with the Course's teachings of forgiveness for them to have recognized the guilt and judgment in themselves that caused them to be upset about the egos being portrayed on the news—victims and victimizers. This would have opened the door to their minds, allowing them to deny the power of the ego to affect them. They would have forgiven their minds' resistance to letting go of the insane notion that the ego was the problem, accepting instead that the problem was their mind's decision to believe in the ego and the power of its thought system of hate and death.
Incidentally, this seemingly well-meaning practice of beaming light not only is common in students warding off perceived evil, but also in its more "positive" form of sending light to troubled areas of the geopolitical world or of individual bodies. Again, these forms merely reinforce belief in the reality of the ego's thought system and its world of separation, a persuasive cover to the true problem, our mind's belief in the ego:
Only your allegiance to it gives the ego any power over you.… The ego is nothing more than a part of your belief about yourself.…It depends on your mind, and as you made it by believing in it, so you can dispel it by withdrawing belief from it. Do not project the responsibility for your belief in it onto anyone [or anything] else, or you will preserve the belief (T-4.VI.1:2,6;T-7.VIII.5:2-3).
If the Course believed in sin, which of course it does not, the most egregious one of all, tantamount to the blasphemous sin against the Holy Spirit that can never be forgiven (cf. Mark 3:28-29), would be making the error real. As Jesus exhorts: "Do not see error. Do not make it real" (S-2.I.3:3-4). The error is never outside us because there is no outside us! Jesus again: "Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world" (T-21.in.1:7).
Another form of how the ego guides our daily living, concealed by the veil of conscious sincerity, is when Course students seek to avoid the forms of ego involvement in the world, believing that by doing so they are weakening the ego's thought system. Students with good intentions often will not participate (and unfortunately look down on those who do) in professions that involve the body or thought systems of opposition. These include, though this is hardly an exhaustive list, anything medical or legal, or different types of insurance.
These sincere students may, similar to many proponents of Christian Science, repudiate medical care (traditional or alternative), claiming they do not wish to give power to the body. They sometimes refuse to serve on juries, using the Course as the reason, or cancel insurance policies on the grounds that this "invites" ego calamities to occur, reinforcing the ego's belief in the reality of linear time (past, present, future). What makes this even worse, again, are the judgments against others who commit such "unspiritual acts," thereby strengthening their own special place—in their self-perception, at least—of being true students of A Course in Miracles.
To support their positions, these students may well cite Lessons 136 ("Sickness is a defense against the truth."), 153 ("In my defenselessness my safety lies."), and 194 ("I place the future in the Hands of God."). Such citations are infelicitous, to say the very least, because students unconsciously seek to camouflage their often unkind and judgmental behavior behind the Course's words, the ego's content hiding behind the Course's form.
The mistake in all this "spiritual activity," putting it in different words, is that it places the emphasis on the external that is perceived to be a threat, ignoring the power of the mind's defensive system of denial and projection. To reword Jesus' comment on Christians: "Many sincere Course students have misunderstood this" (T-3.I.1:3). What has been forgotten is that since there is no world out there (see, e.g., W-pI.132.4-6), there can be no hierarchy of illusions, despite the ego's first law of chaos (T-23. II.2:3). The ego continually argues for its truth by claiming that some things in the phenomenal world are truly significant (read: spiritual), according higher or lower values to people, places, objects, and activities. Our need to make the world and bodies real, important, and efficacious, can so easily trump the decision-making mind's becoming aware that it is the only truth within the dream of separation.
Just as we should never underestimate the power of the mind's belief in the ego (T-5.V.2:11), we should never underestimate the power of repression to deny our mindful self, having us believe instead we are mindless bodies, individual persons on a spiritual journey. We need remember that projection makes perception (T-13.V.3:5; T-21. in.1:1): what we see outside is always and only what we have projected. We wish to perceive and make real in the mindless world of bodies the separation that we do not want to acknowledge as the mind's decision for the ego.
We can therefore discern a method in the ego's decided madness of having us actually believe there is a hierarchy of illusions (spiritualities, professions, behaviors). Such belief, and the experiences that inevitably follow from it, well serve the ego's purpose of keeping our attention rooted in the world of time and space, so much so that we never remember that our self is a decision- making mind. And all this madness is cleverly concealed behind the veils of specialness that differentiate us from others, therein reinforcing the perception that the fragmented Sonship is alive and well, and very real. To make this important point once more, we underestimate the seductive aura of specialness at our own peril, for the triumph of form over content so easily buries the real problem (and solution) that is found in the decision-making mind, thus making correction impossible.
Because of the dangers of spiritual specialness, Jesus urges his students to beware of the ego bearing gifts of judgment, seeing in all of them, however tempting their frames of specialness may be, the hidden picture of separation and guilt (T-17.IV). It feels so good to judge others, most especially when we can hide the attack behind veils of spirituality. The reader may recall this passage about the allure of the special relationship frame that conceals its true gift of death:
The special relationship has the most imposing and deceptive frame of all the defenses the ego uses.… Into the frame are woven all sorts of fanciful and fragmented illusions of love.… Let not your gaze dwell on the hypnotic gleaming of the frame. Look at the picture, and realize that death is offered you (T-17. IV.8:1,3; 9:10-11).
No one can truly deny this attraction to specialness, and nothing is more alluring than spiritual specialness. It has the power to convince even the most sincere and serious students to believe that their judgments of others have a spiritual foundation, and can even be Jesus' will. The clue that responses like these are of the ego and not the Holy Spirit is not only that the world is made real, but that meaningful differences are perceived in the Sonship and the various circumstances that befall us.
Christ's vision of peace for all, in some sense the goal of A Course in Miracles (T-8.I.1:1-2), is predicated on the truth—the reflection of Heaven's perfect oneness—that we are all the same; that the differences in form are insignificant for they conceal the sameness of content that is found in everyone's mind: ego, Holy Spirit, and the decision-making power to choose between the two. This is why Jesus enjoins us to share his vision of forgiveness with all we see (T-31.VIII.8), without exception. His unified perception becomes the guideline for how his teachers would live in the illusory world of separate bodies.