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Best Viewed in Landscape
Echoing A Course in Miracles, this book [Absence from Felicity] reflects a particular point of view; namely, that the conflict in Helen between these parts of her self—wanting to return to God and the fear of such return—is the predominant theme in everyone’s life, independent of familial and/or hereditary circumstances. This was a conflict that symbolized both sides of Helen’s personality, and reflected the same ambivalence we all share regarding our relationship with God and with the person of Jesus, whose love for us was the closest the world has come to experiencing the resplendent Love of God, our Source.
In chronicling the development of this personal conflict, and its ultimate resolution, I thus am writing everyone’s story. The drama of this aspect of Helen’s inner life reflects the inner life of all people, seemingly trapped in a Godless world and wandering “uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear” (T‑31.VIII.7:1), yet all the time yearning to hear the Call of the loving God that would lead them back to Him. I therefore, for the most part, do not dwell on Helen’s worldly life—the form—except insofar as it reflects the underlying content of this conflict. Analyzing the ego is fruitless, as the Course repeatedly instructs us. On the other hand, understanding that the entire ego thought system is a defense against our true Self is extremely helpful. Thus, for example, Helen’s clear ambivalence towards her parents and organized religion—providing a goldmine of data for a psychologist seeking to find psychodynamic causes for her inner experiences—is here seen as reflective of this deeper God-ego conflict, not its cause.
The ultimate origins of this conflict, however, lie buried still deeper midst ancient scars, born on a raging battlefield of a transtemporal mind far greater than its tiny expression we call Helen Schucman. It is the mind of a larger, post-separation self (called the split mind or ego by A Course in Miracles) that is the source of our experienced personal self. Understanding Helen’s life therefore provides a model for this ontological God-ego conflict that rages inside all people. As the two sides of this battle are recognized, they can be brought together and transcended at last.
Helen, thus, not only left the world A Course in Miracles—in my opinion the world’s most psychologically sophisticated account of the mind’s subterranean warfare, along with teaching the means for undoing this war against God through forgiveness—but her own life provided a model for its teachings as well. Very few, if any at all, knew fully these two sides of Helen—Hamlet’s “Things standing thus unknown”—and it is this complex combination I hope to capture in this book. While Helen would not have wanted what I am to write to have been public knowledge during her lifetime, for reasons that form one of the important themes of this book, I know she would be pleased that I am at this time presenting her story and that of the Course’s beginnings. I therefore hope that this book will restore to Helen’s reported experience a balance that has been heretofore lacking, and that will record for posterity the wonderful if not painfully human story of a woman who remained absolutely faithful to Jesus, the one she both loved and hated above all others.
And yet, all this being said, the love and hate but veiled the Love in her that existed before time was, and will continue after time ceases to be. For beyond the personal and ambivalent side to Helen, rested a totally different self. In fact, “Self” may be a more appropriate spelling, for this part of her inner life was totally impersonal, and transcended the love-hate relationship with Jesus that in effect was her personal self. Almost always hidden in Helen, this other-worldly side nonetheless was the ultimate foundation for her life, and gave it the meaning from which all else must be understood.
Excerpted from Absence from Felicity
Q: “I do not choose God’s channels wrongly” (T-4.VI.6:3). This line has always had a strong emotional impact on me (it made me cry, boosted my confidence, etc.), but sometimes I think this line perhaps was meant only personally for Helen?
A: It must always be remembered that A Course in Miracles came for Helen and Bill in response to their joining together to find a better way of relating. Therefore, many of the comments—especially in the early chapters—were meant for them; but clearly they can be seen as applying to all of us who struggle with the same issues with which they struggled. The statement you refer to, therefore, in no way implies that they were special, a meaning our egos would immediately see in it, as the ego knows only of separation. Helen did not see herself as specially blessed in any way, and very quickly corrected anyone who regarded her as special.
Connecting this statement with two other key statements further clarifies the meaning: “All my brothers are special” and “All are called” (T-1.V.3:6; T-3.IV.7:12). While using the language of the Bible, Jesus clearly corrects the traditional view that singles out certain special people: “many are called, but few are chosen,” or groups of people: “the chosen people.” He is basically telling us that we are not mistaken in thinking that we are dear to him.
At the beginning of Lesson 93, he describes the horribly negative self-concept we harbor deep within our minds—sometimes not very far beneath the surface. And then he tells us that we are so convinced that this is the truth about us that it is difficult for him to help us see that it is all based on nothing (W-pI.93.1-2). That explains why we would tend to think that Jesus was referring only to Helen and Bill, not us, a trend of thought he later calls arrogant. When we think that way, we ought to stop and reflect on where those thoughts are coming from, and how in feeling unworthy we are really telling Jesus he is wrong about us.
Then, too, we must remember that although our experience at first may be that of being chosen, that is not the reality. As we get further up the ladder, our experience will be that we are really allowing ourselves to experience love more and more, and resisting it less and less.
Excerpted from Q & A
Q: I read in Absence from Felicity about how Helen used shopping as a defense against Jesus. It almost totally preoccupied her, and succeeded in keeping Jesus safely away from her attention. My work and commitments are doing the same for me. Although I never thought I was using them as a defense—only being normal. Can this be avoided?
A: A major focus of the teaching and training of the Course is to get us to think in terms of purpose. “What do I want to come of this? What is it for?” (T-17.VI.2:1-2); “The test of everything on earth is simply this; ‘What is it for?’ The answer makes it what it is for you. It has no meaning of itself, yet you can give reality to it, according to the purpose that you serve” (T-24.VII.6:1-3). There are only two purposes that are open to choice in our minds. Either we have chosen to reinforce our belief in separation or to undo this belief, and there is never an instant when we are not making this choice. Another way of stating this is that we are always choosing either to push the love of Jesus away, or to join with it. This means that it is never the activity that we are engaged in that is the problem or the reason we are not peaceful, it is the choice we are making to use the activity to keep us separate or in conflict, etc.
The Course teaches that we made the world to be a distraction and a smoke screen, so that we would forget entirely that we have a mind that at every instant is choosing to identify with the ego’s or with the Holy Spirit’s thought system. We become preoccupied with our work, our families, etc., never realizing the underlying purpose that has been chosen in our minds. We justify our immersion in our lives in the world by saying, “Everyone does that” or “It’s normal.” But it is all very purposeful, as reflected in this statement: “Every special relationship you have made has, as its fundamental purpose, the aim of occupying your mind so completely that you will not hear the call of truth” (T-17.IV.3:3). We, of course, are not aware that this is going on, which is why the Course is so helpful.
In view of this, your question regarding how to avoid using work, or anything else, as a defense against the love of Jesus in a sense is the wrong question, or focus. As the above quote indicates, that is the very purpose of our being in the world with all of our obligations and commitments—to be preoccupied with what is outside our minds so that we will forget entirely that we have a mind that is choosing at every instant. In that sense, then, we can’t avoid using the world as a defense, because that is why we are here! So what would help you most is simply to be honest about this as your underlying intention in being busy. The purpose is not what you think, just as Jesus informs us in Lesson 5 that we are never upset for the reason we think.
Helen knew this clearly. She knew that her shopping was a way of keeping Jesus away. If you can be clear about that, the problem will not be worsened by guilt over the dishonesty. Being afraid to get close to love is not sinful, therefore, shame and guilt are not justified. Fear is not a sin, and it has no effect on Jesus’ love for you. When Helen knew she was ready to accept Jesus’ love, her experience was that he told her she didn’t have to go shopping anymore, and there was no sense of sacrifice. She was always clear about the purpose of what she was doing. That is what we all need to aim for. We are never busy for the reason we think!
The correction comes when we first recognize the purpose we have chosen in our wrong minds, and then ask Jesus or the Holy Spirit to help us shift our purpose so that we would use everything as a means of undoing the separation and seeing our interests as shared with everyone else’s rather than in conflict with them. The challenge is learning how to do both—how to be aware of what is going on in our minds and at the same time conscientiously fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities in the world to the best of our ability. It is possible to do this, but it takes a great deal of practice. That is what the exercises in the workbook are designed to do. We learn how to function in the world effectively, while learning that we are not of the world.
Excerpted from Q & A
… Helen’s life cannot be truly evaluated from the outside, without doing violence to her mind’s true purpose. Helen’s ego experiences, when we look at her life in total, amounted to nothing. When another part of her mind chose to join with Bill and Jesus—reflecting the choice to rejoin her Self and become Its instrument of love and peace, rather than the ego’s instrument of hate and power—that choice canceled out all the others. It makes no difference whether one has a monstrous ego or a sliver; an illusion remains what it is, and all of them can disappear in one true holy instant. This principle was in fact enunciated by the recorder in Helen’s dream (see above, p. 73), who told Helen in response to her question about how well she was doing
I never indulge in speculation. … In my work it would be a waste of time. Over and over I’ve seen a person suddenly decide to do something very unexpected,—something that changes the whole picture of his accounts. He’s quite likely to do it up until the very last minute.
Helen’s continuous efforts on behalf of others can therefore be understood as a reflection and ongoing reminder of this deeper presence of love within her. It is not the form of her behaviorally helping those in need that is the significant factor, but the content of joining with Jesus and therefore with others in a love that totally transcended the superficial ego thoughts of her worldly self. This presence of love more properly belongs to the symbolic identity of the ancient priestess, who in Helen’s vision helped all those who came to her, totally indiscriminately and with equal love and devotion. And we may recall this same content expressed in Helen’s recurring “dream” of standing by the gate of Heaven, greeting those returning with the words: “In the Name of Christ, pass through this gate in peace.”
When Jesus told Helen that the next time she came she would be different, he was reflecting Helen’s having finally resolved the “Heaven-Helen” conflict. As one does with an old garment, she discarded her ego, leaving only her true Self present. This is the state of mind A Course in Miracles refers to as the real world, the reflection within the separation dream of the reality of our true Self. In this sense, therefore, Helen’s ego was a shield that hid her holiness, as well as expressing her ancient conflict. The final piece in her Atonement path of undoing the ego was accomplished when she chose to join with Bill and collaborate on A Course in Miracles (symbolized by the last vestige of chain on the priestess’ wrist, reflected, again, in the dream of “The Recorder” with its shoehorn symbolism). Although more could have been done in the world, on completion of the scribing, Helen’s task was indeed complete. And now has the garment slipped off, revealing the radiance of the ancient priestess and spiritual companion of Jesus. This resplendence alone is what remains.
Excerpted From Absence from Felicity
Q: I have a question about Helen Schucman. I have noticed a lot of negative comments made about her final years. And the implication being that she died with an unhealed mind. And to me it seems that there is no way anyone could accurately determine what was going on in her mind, as we always judge by external appearances. And A Course in Miracles does tell us: “Nothing so blinding as perception of form” (T-22.III.6:7). Could you address this issue, and give your own feelings on this?
A: Yes, it is not usually a good idea to make judgments about anyone—including oneself—based on form or external appearances. We really don’t know our own or another’s path or where one is on it. A very moving account of Helen's final months and days appears in Ken Wapnick’s Absence from Felicity, Chapter 18 “Helen’s Final Months and Requiem.” As he did for the last eight years of her life, Ken spent considerable time each day with Helen and her husband Louis during her final days. Ken knew her well—especially the internal conflict between what she herself described as Heaven and Helen, and beyond even that dimension, her trans-human priestess Self. That priestess Self is the key to understanding everything else about her life. Ken thus states, “And yet even though it did not appear to be so, I was certain that at the actual moment of her death Helen finally reached a peaceful resolution to her lifelong conflict with God” (p. 471). He was with Louis when the call came from the hospital telling them that Helen had died.
“We returned to the hospital, and Helen was still in her bed. Her face had a remarkably quiet expression of peace, so different from the tortured disquiet we had grown so accustomed to seeing these many months. I suddenly recalled what Helen had shared with me on several occasions, a thought that always brought her great comfort. Jesus had told her that when she died, he would come for her personally. Who can really know what was in her mind in those closing instants? Yet her peaceful face was unmistakable, and spoke convincingly for an experience of knowing, at the very end, that her beloved Jesus had indeed kept his promise, as she had kept hers. The priestess had returned home” (pp. 471, 472).
Helen never thought of herself as a model to be emulated by other people. It made her most uncomfortable—to put it mildly—when people approached her in that light. She was never really a student of the Course—she knew it from within, as Ken has observed. She always directed people to their own inner guidance as their main source of strength. And that is Jesus’ emphasis throughout his teachings as well. We can decide right here and now in this present instant to accept the Atonement. Nothing and no one outside us can deter us unless we want it so. In that sense, it should make no difference whether Helen got past her ego or not. Jesus tells us that “our success in transcending the ego is guaranteed by God” (T-8.V.4:4). The ego would seize any opportunity to invalidate anything that has the potential to expose its lies and deceptions. What holds us back is not Helen's or anyone else’s seeming failure, but our own fear of the power of our minds to accept full responsibility for our condition of separation, and then to correct our mistaken decision and return home to God. What other people do or do not do should not influence one’s own spiritual advancement.
Excerpted from Q & A
Helen came to refer to A Course in Miracles as her life’s work, yet disturbingly found herself in the impossible situation of professing not to believe in it, “a situation as ridiculous as it was painful.” And yet as Bill once pointed out to Helen in regard to Jesus: “You must believe in him, if only because you are arguing with him so much.”
As for me, I could neither account for nor reconcile my obviously inconsistent attitudes. On the one hand I still regarded myself as officially an atheist, resented the material I was taking down, and was strongly impelled to attack it and prove it wrong. On the other hand I spent considerable time in taking it down and later in dictating it to Bill, so that it was apparent that I also took it quite seriously.
It is clear, however, from Helen’s letters during this period, not to mention her notes prior to the Course, that her faith was very strong, and that her belief in Jesus was quite tangible. It was also clear that the conflict she was experiencing was totally internal.
External circumstances were surprisingly favorable. The writing was apparently timed so as to cause minimal disruption, and in spite of his own conflicts Bill offered me consistent positive reactions and remarkably sustained support.
However, as psychologists, Helen and Bill could certainly explain Helen’s most peculiar situation of fighting against what on another level she obviously believed in. They understood the dynamic of dissociation, wherein one splits apart the two parts of the self that are in seeming conflict, thereby allowing them to continue to coexist in the mind. The two selves of course are the parts of the mind containing the thoughts of the ego and the Holy Spirit. When brought together the ego must vanish, just as darkness disappears in the presence of light. Therefore, the ego’s defensive system protects its thought of fear by dissociating the love that threatens its existence.
Excerpted from Absence from Felicity
Q: My question relates to page 155 of Absence of Felicity where Kenneth states that people experience Jesus differently and that Helen knew Jesus was talking to her because “He told her the opposite of what she wanted to hear.” I understand that Jesus speaks to each person in an individual way, yet how could something that speaks against someone's peace be benign? I believe that Jesus would never speak for such things.
A: It is important to know the context of Helen’s comment in order to understand it properly. On the same page you cite in Absence from Felicity, Kenneth states that Helen was keenly aware of her inner conflict—between “Heaven and Helen,” as she described it. Within this framework, “Jesus’ will and her own were always separate,” and therefore she would be aware of what was coming from her—meaning the part of her that was terrified of accepting his love—and what was coming from that loving presence she knew to be Jesus. She was aware that she was resisting the emotional acceptance of what she had accepted intellectually from Jesus. “Helen did believe in the truth of the Course’s teachings, not to mention in the existence of its author. However, she was not able emotionally to accept its truth into her own personal life” (p. 156). This is a crucial distinction. She knew that she would be better off doing what Jesus asked of her; she was just afraid of the consequences of accepting his will unconditionally at all times. Jesus was not speaking against her peace, as you have interpreted her comment to mean. Quite the opposite—she knew she would be better off if she integrated into her daily life what she knew to be the truth intellectually. Kenneth concludes that this integration came “all at once at the moment of her death” (p. 157; see also Chapter 18 where Kenneth describes her final days and death).
Every student of A Course in Miracles is bound to run into this same dilemma. We all have minds split between wanting Jesus to be the central figure in our journey, and a fierce resistance to letting go of the self we think is our identity but which is a false self determined to keep the true Jesus as far away as possible. This intense fear will inevitably cause us to have a distorted experience of his love. That is why he emphasizes so much the need to become aware of these two parts of our minds. It is vital to our progress with the Course to come to know and respect our fear of the truth about us, so that we will not erect even further defenses against it, thus burying it deeper and deeper in our minds. This is what Jesus wants to help us with more than anything, if we will let him. If we do let him, we will be more peaceful, more often, as together we walk the pathway home.
Excerpted from Q & A