Excerpts from the Workshop held at the
Foundation for A Course in Miracles
Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
What Are the Characteristics of God's Teachers?
1. Living A Course in Miracles
What makes the Course so challenging to live is that it says we should remain in the world and do what one typically does in the world, but with a different attitude. So, for example, if I am in the role of a supervisor with responsibilities anyone in a similar situation would have, then that is what I would do. The difference is that there is a part of me that does not lose its peace because members of the staff have not done their job right. I would still do what every other boss does. But if I am doing it right, I do it with the awareness that my workplace is a classroom in which I follow all of the rules and procedures of the classroom, at the same time recognizing that they do not really matter. That is very difficult to do. It involves being in the world yet not of it, to use the biblical line that the Course frequently paraphrases and adapts (T-7.XI.1:3; T-26.VII.4:5). It is much easier, as people on spiritual paths have done for eons, to separate oneself out from the world and just meditate on the eternal truths. That is one spiritual path, but it is not that of the Course.
The Course's path, with very rare exceptions, asks us as its students to remain just where we are within our roles—whether parent, teacher, supervisor or whatever—and to do what the role calls for, because that is the role we have chosen. That is our classroom. But we do it while learning the lesson that, in reality, it does not matter. Then we can do whatever our roles call for and still be peaceful. I can raise my voice and still be peaceful. I can fire someone and still be peaceful. I can not fire someone and still be peaceful. None of it makes any difference.
What makes the process clear is the experience of peace, and this experience deepens over a period of time through realizing that the lesson consists in learning to see no one as a victim—myself or anyone else. As another example, let us say that I am running a large kitchen, and there are many people who all have to be fed at a certain time. But some of the kitchen staff are not doing their jobs. As a result, although the food is supposed to be ready by half past six, it is already twenty-five after six, the food is not ready, and it obviously will not be ready for at least another twenty minutes. So if I am sitting there impatiently waiting for all this to happen, thinking, "Oh, my God, these people are not going to be fed on time," I am trapped. I am saying the people to be fed are the victims, and the staff who have not done their job are the victimizers. At that point, no matter what I do, it will be wrong.
But if I recognize that my lesson is to realize that no one is a victim, that people make mistakes, but no one is a victim and no one is a victimizer—and I really want to learn that—then that will always bring me back to the central issue and the central goal. So when I start to get upset about all the people who are not going to get their food on time, I want to say to myself, "I've fallen into the trap—I've made the error real. I believe that there are going to be victims, which means there are people who have sinned against them who deserve my anger." Then I step back and say, "I've chosen the wrong teacher, because that's the ego talking about sin." It takes a lot of practice to be able to do this without falling into denial about my reactions.
We want to be careful that we are not trying to make ourselves perfect by doing the "spiritual" thing. We want to learn the lesson so that we will feel more peaceful, so we will feel God's Love much more present to us. We want to see each situation as a means for achieving the goal of learning what forgiveness is, which is the theme of the section "Setting the Goal" (T-17.VI). And specifically this means learning that this is not a world of victims and victimizers. It is helpful to see that whatever is upsetting me always has something to do with victimization—without exception! Either I am a victim, or I identify other people out there as victims. What really helps me move along my path of forgiveness is realizing that there is another way of looking at every situation, while still functioning within it.
As I have said, the problem is not the tiny, mad idea of separation. The problem is taking it seriously. The problem is not the people who are not going to get their food on time. The problem is that I am making the situation into a big deal. I am making it into a sin, a whole replay of a victimization scenario. And if I change my mind about that scenario, then a different way of seeing it becomes possible.
Thus the first step is at least to recognize that there is a different way of looking at the situation and to understand what that different way is. Living the different way obviously takes a lot of practice. It is crucial that we not abdicate our responsibility to our role as the world sees it. We do what the role is asking of us, as lovingly as we can. But we know that the role is now serving a different purpose, and that makes it different. That enables us, over time, in many situations, to be even more effective and efficient in what we are doing, because we are more peaceful. There is less interference, less anxiety, less tension, less impatience, and less of a need to demand that others do what we want them to do.
2. The Holy Spirit's "Plan"
In light of our discussion of these characteristics, and particularly with regard to patience, it may be helpful to look at a sentence from the workbook that is frequently misunderstood: "What could you not accept, if you but knew that everything that happens, all events, past, present and to come, are gently planned by One Whose only purpose is your good?" (W-pI.135.18:1). It is important always to keep in mind that the basic approach of the Course is to correct the ego's misperceptions. The context of this lesson is found in the earlier lines: "A healed mind does not plan. It carries out the plans that it receives through listening to wisdom that is not its own" (W-pI.135.11:1-2).
The Course repeatedly discusses the Holy Spirit's plan of the Atonement, contrasting it with the ego's plan, which is always to attack God and His Son. The Course also sometimes speaks as if the Holy Spirit has consciously drawn up a plan that includes one for each of us individually, with everything in our life planned. The Course speaks to us at this level because Jesus knows we think like little children and are comforted by words that reassure us that God plans for us, that He loves us and takes care of us.
As we have seen, however, God does not do anything. God simply is. If He did anything, then He would be acting in the world as if it were real. And in fact, when we plan, we are obviously talking about time. But there is no time for God, so God cannot plan. This passage is really talking about a process in which, when the separation seemed to occur, all of time also occurred within that one instant and, in fact, is still occurring within that instant—what the Course calls the "tiny tick of time" in the section in the text called "The Little Hindrance." And all the mistakes, it explains, occurred within the first mistake. (T-26.V.3)
The original mistake is the thought of being separate from God. That thought fragmented out into billions and billions of pieces, which spread out over time. It was as if the tiny tick of time were smashed down on a long table and it spread out. And the spreading out is what we call the beginning of the world and the eventual end of the world, with the whole process of evolution in between. But all of time occurred within that one instant. All the different forms in which we manifest our belief in separation—all of our special relationships—occurred within that one instant.
That is what the Course means when it says that "the script is written" (W-pI.158.4:3) and it has already happened. That is the script—that one mistake blown up or exploded into billions and billions of fragments. Each of us, as a separate self, is a part of that fragmentation process. And all of our experiences are part of it—all the different expressions of the ego thought system. But side by side with the ego thought in the split mind is the Holy Spirit's correction thought—what the Course calls the Atonement principle or the memory of God's Love. That thought was also in our mind as it fragmented out. So the Holy Spirit's thought of Love is the answer or the correction for the ego's mistaken thought of fear—there is a one-to-one correspondence between the two. As the ego thought of fear fragments out, writing a script with billions and billions of ways of expressing fear, guilt, and attack, correspondingly there is the Holy Spirit's correction script for each of the ego's thoughts.
In other words, each and every fragmentary ego thought of specialness, attack, separation, and guilt in our minds has a corresponding thought of forgiveness and joining from the Holy Spirit. That is the correction, corresponding one-to-one to each special relationship. That is the Holy Spirit's script, referred to in the workbook as salvation's script (W-pI.169.9:3). Now the Holy Spirit did not write the original script. In fact, the Holy Spirit's script is nothing more than the ego's script, but now with the Holy Spirit's content of correction or forgiveness. So that is the plan being referred to in the sentence quoted. It is not a plan that the Holy Spirit got together with Jesus or God and worked out for each of us. Rather, it is the inevitable and automatic undoing of the ego's script or thought system.
So then everything the ego has made to attack us becomes a classroom in which the Holy Spirit teaches us how to look at it differently. The ego writes the basic script and the Holy Spirit gives it a different content or interpretation. Understanding this leads to patience because we realize the outcome is as certain as God—for it has already happened. In other words, the Holy Spirit has undone the whole ego thought system and that undoing, which is the acceptance of the Atonement for ourselves, is already in our minds. All we have to do is choose it—that is the acceptance referred to.
The Atonement has already occurred. Jesus says at the end of the Course that we were with him when he arose (C-6.5:5). In other words, when he awakened from the dream we were with him because minds are joined. The problem is that we take that thought of resurrection, of awakening from the dream of death in our minds, and we put it aside and silence it, so it gets locked away, and we never look at it. But it is there and it only requires our acceptance of it. Patience comes from the certainty of knowing that this dream has already ended. So then why would I be upset or impatient about anything that occurs within the dream, if I know that it is already over?
When I know that, I am like what dream researchers refer to as a lucid dreamer—someone who, while asleep and dreaming at night, is aware within the dream that it is a dream. So I am observing myself having a dream. Training my mind to be a lucid dreamer can be very helpful, especially if I am having a bad dream or a nightmare. Within the dream then I can tell myself, "Oh, this is only a dream. Nothing's really happening."
In a sense that is what the Course is training us to do. In the Course's language, to be a lucid dreamer is to be living in the real world. So I am living within the dream, but I am aware it is a dream. That is why I do not get upset. And that is why I can be patient—I know there is nothing to be upset or impatient about. I know there is a part of my mind that is already finished with all of this and has awakened from it. But if I am not quite ready to accept that reality yet—to be in the real world—well, then I am not quite ready to accept it yet. But it is there when I am ready—it is not going anywhere.
Our impatience with situations in our lives may also carry a feeling that if something doesn't happen right now, it will never happen. And this is just a shadow of the underlying ego thought that I will never get back home—I am banished from Heaven, I have thrown it away, and I will never get it back. And so my impatience is really the fear that if I do not have it right now, I will never have it. So patience comes from recognizing that I have not thrown Heaven away. I have misplaced it in my mind, but the Holy Spirit is still holding it for me—it is not lost. I cannot see it at the moment, but that does not mean it is not there.
When we find ourselves acting in these seemingly little impatient ways in the world, they are just a cover-up, a smokescreen, for the deeper ego judgment against ourselves. Everything in the world is a smokescreen—everything. It is helpful to remember that there is no time and that everything is happening simultaneously. So whether we are considering the original ego thought or a thought I am having right now, it is all the same. There are only two possible alternatives. What I am thinking and doing is a reflection either of my ego thought system—which I will know when I am not at peace—or the Holy Spirit's thought system. And if it is of my ego, it is a smokescreen. I may think I am upset because I do not like the way somebody is dressing or what somebody has said or what is happening around me, but each situation is a smokescreen to keep me unaware of what I am really upset about. As the Course says early in the workbook, "I am never upset for the reason I think" (W-pI.5).