The Perennial Wisdom of ACIM

I’ve been uncertain as to whether I want to continue ACIM into 2020 because I find the language excruciatingly frustrating, but Roger Walsh’s article, “The Perennial Wisdom of ACIM” has convinced me to continue. (I came across it while cleaning out my OneNote for the end of the year.)

I met Walsh in the 1990s at an ACIM conference in Anaheim. He is (was?) a much acclaimed professor of religious studies at the University of California Irvine. He and his now deceased wife, Frances Vaughan, were friends of Ken Wilber. They were both active in launching Transpersonal Psychology and helped influence Integral Spirituality. I respect his opinion.

Walsh was introduced to ACIM by Frances Vaughan and said at first he wanted nothing to do with it because the language frustrated him, too. But once he was able to get past the language, he recognized it as “a truly extraordinary work”. Each time he goes through it, he says he finds higher levels of significance and believes it is on par with any other spiritual discipline he’s seen. (Ken Wilber, who Walsh claims is more widely read in terms of the world’s psychologies and spiritual traditions than almost anyone in the world, also says ACIM is on par with anything he’s come across.)

Walsh says that ACIM is unique in that it is so well integrated. Most spiritual traditions are passed down to us as a mishmosh of teachings from sages of various periods. For example, only a few 100 lines are attributed to Jesus and only a few 1000 to Buddha. The rest of the teachings come from disciples, followers and students. (Or people like Paul who never actually met Jesus but had a vision that inspired him to teach his interpretation of Jesus’ message.)

ACIM meets the four paths in Hinduism:

The Path of the Intellect (Jnana yoga). ACIM is an extraordinarily powerful Jnana yoga. Walsh says it is the most sophisticated cognitive behavior modification program he has ever come across. It says the world is a creation of the mind and echoes the Buddha:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make our world.

According to ACIM: Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be …. and while you see it you do not doubt that it is real. Yet here is a world, clearly within your mind, that seems to be outside …. You seem to waken, and the dream is gone …. and what you seem to waken to is but another form of this same world you see in dreams. All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all.

Our waking state is an unhappy psychotic dream. The fundamental message of ACIM, like all great spiritual traditions, is to “Wake Up!” It provides an alternative thought system we can use which is likewise a dream, but it is a happy dream from which it is easier to awake.

Waking up involves disentangling ourselves from the culture-wide illusion. Charles Tart calls this illusion a consensus trance. What we consider normal is really a culture-wide hypnosis. ACIM provides a thought system that helps us dehypnotise and thereby awaken to reality.

The Path of the Heart (Bhakti yoga). Bhakti yoga is the yoga of love and devotion which involves the transformation of emotions. ACIM also focuses on the transformation of emotions and the cultivation of love. It emphasizes a universal, non-exclusive, unconditional form of love known as agape love to early Christians. (ACIM refers to it as the Love of God.)

ACIM uses relationships (especially peer relationships) as the primary vehicle for awakening. We are asked to practice forgiveness which is seeing each other as mirrors and mutual saviors. We recognize the divinity in each of us, take joy in one another, and let go of grievances. ACIM acknowledges our interdependence.

ACIM divides relationships into holy and unholy ones. Walsh writes that the “closest equivalent I know to this would be Maslow’s distinction between motives which are deficiency and sufficiency based. When we are motivated by a sense of deficiency and lack, we enter relationships to get something. However, in sufficiency-based relationships both people already have a sense of well-being and wholeness and desire to enhance and share that through a relationship.”

ACIM: An unholy relationship is based on differences, where each one thinks the other has what he has not. A holy relationship starts from a different premise. Each one has looked within and seen no lack. Accepting their completion, they would extend it by joining with another whole as themselves. They see no difference between these selves. For differences are only of the body.

Each of us is both teacher and student; patient and therapist. The divine core each of us embodies is transpersonal and no one person can encompass it.

Christianity has always emphasized forgiveness, but ACIM takes a psychological spin on it: When we forgive others, what we are forgiving is our shadow self and the projections we are unwilling to acknowledge in ourselves. ACIM teaches that forgiveness is a remarkable healing process and “the key to happiness”.

The Path of Service (Karma yoga). Karma yoga is the path of service and work in the world. As in Mahayana Buddhism, ACIM emphasizes that final liberation for any of us depends on liberation for all of us. We must do service for others in order to awaken.

ACIM emphasizes the difference between sacrifice and service. If we serve out of a sense of sacrifice, we breed resentment and anger which is contradictory because it makes us see ourselves as separate from the other. True service is the realization that what we do for others, we do for ourselves.

The Path of Meditation (Raja yoga). Raja yoga emphasizes meditation and mind training. ACIM is a course in mind training. The untrained mind is unable to concentrate, is driven by desires and aversions, and is overcome by anger and fear. The Course provides methods in bringing the mind under control.

Concluding the comparison with the four yogas, Walsh writes:

Naturally, because the Course is such an integrated system, the four yogas overlap and are mutually supportive. For example, as we replace unskillful beliefs we are less likely to feel angry. This makes it easier to forgive and with forgiveness greater love arises which in turn enhances the desire to serve. All these leave the mind less agitated and easier to control, thereby making it easier to change beliefs, forgive, love and serve. Of course, this is not to deny that progress can seem very slow at times, but ACIM also teaches patience.

Other Therapeutic Strategies:

  • When making major decisions, authority and guidance is not “out there” in someone else, an authority, or even ACIM. We have an inner guide. Wisdom is within.
  • ACIM devotes a lot of time to working with fear because our minds are so dominated by fear. Where love is, fear is not and vice versa. Instead of examining the fear and what caused it, ACIM says that if there is fear, something is causing it now. Examining the past to understand it is self-limiting and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Silvano Ariete calls it “the genetic fallacy”. Transactional analysts sometimes call it the game of “archaeology.” When we fall into this trap, we fall into what transactional analysts call the “until game”. We tell ourselves that we can’t be happy until we do something, such as find the original cause of our fears or problems.
  • There is an emphasis on relinquishing attachments which is central to many traditions. (The Buddha’s 2nd Noble Truth: The cause of suffering is craving.)
  • Walsh says spiritual paths can be divided into recognition and attainment. Paths of attainment assume we are deficient in some way so we must work to change ourselves into something different before we can awaken. ACIM is a path of recognition. Ken Wilber calls it a path of always/already truth. We are always/already who and what we’re trying to become. The fundamental spiritual task is therefore recognition, not attainment. Wilber says the always/already paths are the height of spiritual teaching.

Cons

  • A lot of people find the language of ACIM problematic.
  • Christian language and masculine pronouns can be off-putting for some. People often end up translating the language to make it work for them. (Changing “Christ” to Buddha Mind; salvation to enlightenment, etc. Some women have marked out all the masculine pronouns and replaced them with feminine ones…)
  • The profundity of ACIM can make it very difficult to understand and make some parts seem nonsensical. Open-minded patience is required. The more it is read, the more it makes sense for most people.

Pros

  • It is very well integrated using multiple approaches (as explained in the four yogas above).
  • Despite being so intellectually sophisticated, it appeals to a wide audience.
  • It is intellectually satisfying, psychologically sophisticated, positive and loving. It points beyond all dreams to the Self we share.

I’ll keep plugging away!

Well-being

I’m taking a break from the ACIM Lesson today to work through a strong emotion I had late last night after talking with my son. He’s going through a difficult period which includes a lot of soul searching and some difficult lifestyle changes. I thought I’d find a movie to watch about how mothers enable their grown children because I know there are a ton of them out there. During the search, I came across Sia’s “Elastic Heart” video.

I ended up watching the video over and over again because it resonated so deeply with me. Central to the video is a large cage that takes up the entire screen with a man and a little girl “trapped” inside. For me, the cage represents being trapped with mental illness. The man in the cage may be a mentally ill father figure but it works better for me to think of him as a personification of the lure of mental illness. The little girl is battling for her sanity. I know that feeling.

I can totally relate to the cage and the intimate struggle going on within it. You get on the other side of it and want to help release the people you love from the cage, but they are too scared to leave. If you want to be with them, you have to be willing to get back in the cage.

I grew up struggling with depression and frequent thoughts of suicide so sought help in my 20s at my husband’s insistence. I’m not sure I would have otherwise, because I had no idea how serious my issues were. I honestly believed my family was much more balanced than most. My parents weren’t divorced and they were financially stable. I had a friend whose mother once expressed her concern about my mother’s treatment of me. But otherwise, if anyone thought we were “weird”, I didn’t know about it.

The psychologist, however, thought my family dynamic was seriously messed up. I went to every session sick to my stomach because the psychologist focused almost exclusively on my relationship with my mother which felt like a betrayal. Yes, my mother’s behavior was incredibly confusing and upsetting, and while I agreed that how she treated me might be a little harsh, it’s what I’d grown up with. It didn’t feel abnormal to me. My mother was an amazing, intelligent, strong woman. She wasn’t “crazy”.

The psychologist told me the only way I was likely to gain objectivity was to move hundreds of miles away from my family. I didn’t share that advice with my husband and convinced him to move into a home just a short walk from my family’s home after our first child was born. But after our second child was born, my husband was offered a job in California and convinced me the move would be beneficial for all of us. He and the psychologist were right: the distance allowed me to gain a much healthier perspective.

We eventually moved back to Texas, but remained hundreds of miles away from the family dynamic and only ever made short visits back home a few times a year. I sought psychological help again in 2005, the year my father died. My marriage was solid, my relationship with my kids was good. But when I had to regularly deal with my mother and siblings, especially without my beloved father, I felt as though I couldn’t cope. I was assured, again, that I dealt with difficult situations logically and with emotional maturity. The struggle I was experiencing was a normal reaction to a crazy situation.

The most severe psychological diagnosis I ever received was “mild anxiety” but I think I’m probably more than “mildly anxious” these days. My mother was diagnosed with dementia 6 years ago and I’ve been spending a significant amount of time with my mother and siblings since her diagnosis. It’s such a difficult situation and it’s incredibly complicated.

I started having panic anxiety attacks for the first time in my life. My daughter came to me in tears, begging me to quit worrying so much about my family. She’s afraid I’m going to cut my life short or end up with dementia like my mother and she wants me to be around and healthy when she has kids.

I’m afraid she might be right to worry. I feel as though I’ve aged 30 years during the past six! I wake up worried. I go to sleep worried. I worry about the decisions we make for my mother.

I’m not sure what my role should be with my mother, siblings, or my mother or my son. How involved should I be? How much responsibility should I take? Have I taken too much responsibility already? Too little?

I honestly don’t know what I “should” be doing for others, but my daughter is right. I’ve been so stressed out about everyone else’s well-being that I haven’t been taking care of my own. My personal well-being isn’t just about me. It’s about my husband, my kids, and potential grandkids! It’s probably better for my siblings and mother if I’m healthy, too.

One of my biggest fears is that I’ll get dementia and my kids will have to take care of me. Chronic stress and anxiety may be the leading cause of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I don’t want them to have to go through what we’ve been through with my mother (and my husband’s father). It’s heart-breaking and so terribly difficult.

I think females, in general, have a difficult time taking care of themselves. I know men struggle with it, too, but I don’t think they are made to feel as selfish about it as women. But it’s all the same, really. When you begin to set healthy boundaries, people who don’t want to respect those boundaries get angry, even though it is probably better for them, too. It’s a societal mental illness.

That’s why I’m making my way through ACIM again and I’m finding Kenneth Wapnick’s interpretation incredibly helpful. Specific problems are much easier to solve when you can generalize them because it all boils down to the same thing: we see ourselves as separate so we constantly make judgmental demands on each other and ourselves instead of offering non-judgmental compassion. If you can just reach that non-judgmental space in your mind, even for just a moment, your decisions are much more likely to be aware, unifying and healing.

The way to know why a boundary is in place (or not in place) is by keeping tabs on the ego. Is it there because I’m afraid of what someone is going to take from me? Or is it there because it is healing? Did I not put up a boundary because I genuinely want to help, or because I wanted to be pleasing and “special”? What drives the intention behind the decision? Fear or compassion?

I’ll keep practicing!

ACIM Reading Schedule

There are no exact directions for how to coordinate the reading of the ACIM Text with the Workbook Lessons, so it’s up to us to set our own reading schedules.

There are 666 pages in the ACIM Text broken into 31 Chapters and 365 Workbook Lessons. That equates to about 2 pages/lesson or about 12 lessons/chapter. The chapters are of unequal lengths, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll plan to read 1 chapter every 12 lessons and readjust as necessary:

  • Chapter 1: Lessons 1-12
  • Chapter 2: Lessons 13-24
  • Chapter 3: Lessons 25-36
  • Chapter 4: Lessons 37-48
  • Chapter 5: Lessons 49-60
  • Chapter 6: Lessons 61-72
  • Chapter 7: Lessons 73-84
  • Chapter 8: Lessons 85-96
  • Chapter 9: Lessons 97-108
  • Chapter 10: Lessons 109-120
  • Chapter 11: Lessons 121-132
  • Chapter 12: Lessons 133-144
  • Chapter 13: Lessons 145-156
  • Chapter 14: Lessons 157-168
  • Chapter 15: Lessons 169-180
  • Chapter 16: Lessons 181-192
  • Chapter 17: Lessons 193-204
  • Chapter 18: Lessons 205-216
  • Chapter 19: Lessons 217-228
  • Chapter 20: Lessons 229-240
  • Chapter 21: Lessons 241-252
  • Chapter 22: Lessons 253-264
  • Chapter 23: Lessons 265-276
  • Chapter 24: Lessons 277-288
  • Chapter 25: Lessons 289-300
  • Chapter 26: Lessons 301-312
  • Chapter 27: Lessons 313-324
  • Chapter 28: Lessons 325-336
  • Chapter 29: Lessons 337-348
  • Chapter 30: Lessons 349-360
  • Chapter 31: Lessons 361-365

Kenneth Wapnick Interview

In trying to get a feel for who Kenneth Wapnick was, I came across an interview with Kenneth Bok that was recorded in 2012, almost exactly a year from Wapnick’s death in December, 2013. It begins a bit rough but is quite informative. My notes follow…

Kenneth Wapnick was raised a secular Jew. He went to Hebrew school but didn’t like the language or the Jewish religion. It just didn’t resonate with him. What did interest him when he was young was music. His first real introduction into the world of classical music was at 16 years of age when his mother joined a Classical Music club. I imagine that’s one of those record clubs that existed back in the day? He was very moved by the music, especially Beethoven.

Around that same time, he read a a Primer on Freud by Calvin Hall which inspired him to read actual books by Freud. He did this while still in high school. That prompted his interest in Clinical Psychology. He never wavered from that interest and went on to get a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology. However, he would cut classes to go to the opera and to Carnegie Hall. Music was still what he most loved.

Music awakened something in him that he realized was more true than what he was studying in Psychology. It kept him spiritually honest at a time when he had no interest in spirituality or religion. He also loved great literature which functioned the same way for him, especially Hermann Hesse and Thomas Mann (esp. Doktor Faustus).

He went on to get a job as a clinical psychologist, got married, and subsequently got divorced. After the divorce he decided he would become a Trappist monk. He had been reading Thomas Merton who inspired him to live a life alone with God. In order to become a Trappist monk, however, he had to become Catholic, so he was making those preparations when he met Bill and Helen.

As far as Jesus goes, he really had no conscious feelings about him but used to sneak the New Testament into his room when his was much younger to learn about Christianity. Also, in the 1960s he bought a picture of Jesus that deeply moved him. It was a powerful portrait. Had his parents known their Jewish boy was doing these things, they would have been angry.

He wrote his thesis on mysticism with a focus on St. Teresa of Avila. She had an inner experience he could relate to based on his inner experience with music. He had many dreams, not necessarily of Jesus, but of God and inner experiences. One dream was of Thomas Merton telling him that Jesus was coming. He knew the dream was somehow significant.

His Jewish parents knew nothing of his decision to become Catholic and were very upset when they found out about his work with A Course in Miracles, despite his explanations that ACIM had nothing to do with Christianity. However, when they met Bill & Helen, they felt better about the decision because they were so impressed with both of them.

Wapnick met Helen and Bill in 1972. They both had very spiritual sides, but they didn’t “look” spiritual. They were academic and professional. They did project a lot of anger onto one another, however. Helen often knew she was projecting anger onto Bill, but Bill didn’t always recognize that he was projecting anger onto Helen, which could be very uncomfortable. They only really got along when they were working on ACIM, together.

Apparently, Helen believed in past lives and thought she had once been an ancient Jewish prophet. When asked what lives Wapnick might have led, he says that was nothing he ever got into. Not that it isn’t true, but that it just didn’t seem like something he should bother with.

He wasn’t with Helen when she was scribing ACIM, but met her just as she had completed the first edition. Wapnick was given the Hugh Cayce version to read. It had been carefully edited by Schucman, but was full of inconsistencies and bits of information that clearly had not come from Jesus. Helen’s ego had gotten in the way during the first 4 chapters. After that, the information she received was much more focused and clear.

An example of the ego getting in the way: Bill was a homosexual which was a problem for Helen. She wrote, during dictation, that homosexuality was abhorrent behavior. That was definitely Helen, not Jesus. She also wrote that Jung was psychotic, also not something Jesus would have said. Not everything Helen wrote down came from Jesus, some of it was just Helen.

Helen said she didn’t “hear” an inner voice, she saw words and wrote them down. She never took the words to be sacred. The “voice” never said it was Jesus. Helen said it was Jesus. In Helen’s experience, Jesus was the form. But being form, Jesus is an illusion and should not be confused with the content. Jesus is a metaphor. Helen went to some abstract area of her mind that we all have, and out came ACIM. In that space she went into, call it abstract non-specific love, she identified with Jesus so Jesus appeared to be the source. It has nothing to do with the Biblical or Historical Jesus. It isn’t literally Jesus.

That’s why the form of ACIM is so much like Helen. It is written in English, not in the language of the historic Jesus. She was heavily influenced by Plato, Shakespeare, Freud and psychology. So is ACIM. People try and make ACIM “special” and Helen “special”, but you have to be careful about specialness. Don’t put form over content.

Backing up a bit, Helen and Bill gave Wapnick the Hugh Cayce version which Wapnick read. He mentioned the many inconsistencies to them and they agreed. People often think that Wapnick was the sole editor of ACIM, but he and Schucman went through every single word together. (There is no way Schucman would have let him edit it by himself.) The bulk of the work took place in the first four chapters of the text because there were so many gaps from the not so nice egoic stuff they had taken out (like Jung being psychotic and homosexuality being abhorrent). It didn’t read well and it was difficult to edit.

In general, capitalization was the greatest struggle. They would have to decide how to use capitalization on certain terms to make them stand out. Commas were another problem. Sometimes Helen would decide to change her philosophy on commas or capitalization and they would have to go back through the entire text and redo all the commas or capitalization.

Wapnick began teaching ACIM when he and Helen were traveling through Oregon. She would give the talks, but then decided it would be better if Kenneth told the stories about she and Bill. After one of these sessions, he was asked if he’d be willing to teach a group of people. He agreed and never stopped teaching. He says he never saw himself as a public speaker. He saw himself as a teacher of teachers, which potentially explains the denseness of his writing.

He says that ultimately, teaching the course is not teaching metaphysics, it is a demonstration. If people really understood the first principal of miracles, they wouldn’t need to read anything else. ACIM is lengthy because it is repetitive. Learning is a process.

The reason he wrote Love Does Not Condemn, a work that Kenneth Bok admitted is just a tad too scholarly for him to understand, was to help put ACIM within the context of other western traditions. People were constantly attacking ACIM as being Gnostic so Wapnick began reading some of the Gnostic texts and was blown away by how similar they were to ACIM. Much of Love Does Not Condemnis about showing where ACIM is Gnostic and where it isn’t. It also resurrects the Gnostics. Like ACIM, Gnosticism is also very Platonic. 

People often wonder how one woman could come up with ACIM, but ACIM wasn’t just written out of the blue, it comes out of a long, Western tradition. Neoplatonism wanted to now how you get from the Perfect One and end up with this world. ACIM gives us a context from which to understand that. It solves the Platonic problem.

When asked what ACIM’s role is in the evolution of Christianity on Earth, Wapnick replies that he is not a good prophet. He then goes on to say that nobody knows anything about the historical Jesus. Whatever his message was has gotten very messed up. The reason ACIM is written in Christian lingo is because we live in a Christian world. Even the East has become much more Christianized. However, Christianity isn’t very “Christian”.

ACIM is an attempt to set the record straight. It will be helpful in changing the world’s thinking, but we’re not there yet. It won’t happen in Wapnick’s time and probably not Kenneth Bok’s time, either. (I think Bok was under 30 years old at the time of the interview.) The world isn’t ready for it right now, but when it is, ACIM will be there and people will have access to it in it’s original form.

ACIM is not THE book. It doesn’t make sense to take it seriously in that way. To do so makes it “special” which is what happens in Christianity, too. Be kind to everyone and everything. That is ACIM.

Hugh Prather’s Deep Thoughts

The Thinker Auguste Rodin

Continuing with the 4 teachers closely associated with ACIM who had a major impact on my thinking, today my focus is on Hugh Prather. I just finished his book, How to be Happy and Still Be in the Worldwhich was wonderful. Surprisingly, it’s the only book I’ve ever read by him! I’m going to read Notes to Myself, next.

I met Hugh Prather in the early 1990s at an ACIM event in Dallas when I was in my mid-20s. He had given a hilarious, moving talk about marriage and I felt inspired to ask him a question afterward. He thanked me for my question, suggested I walk with him to get some water, and spent close to 30 minutes talking with me. He was very down-to-earth and one of the nicest people I have ever met!

I encountered him again at a conference in California. Marianne Williamson had given a talk that was not well-received. I have notes on it somewhere so could probably give better specifics if I could motivate myself to find them, but based on my sketchy memory, I think it had something to do with India not wanting Pepsi (or some other huge American Corporation) to come into the country because it would bring with it an undesired American cultural aspect. I wasn’t at all offended by what she had to say, but a lot of people were extremely upset. Unfortunately, she responded a little too defensively and the very large group of attendees split in two and yelled at one another as well as at Williamson. So much for forgiveness and peace!

I don’t remember who directly followed Williamson’s talk but it had to be uncomfortable. Every speaker that followed acknowledged the split. When it was Hugh Prather’s turn, he lightened things up with his great sense of humor, but he was very direct saying that all spiritual teachings inevitably incur division so the division within ACIM was to be expected. (Apparently this was an already well-established division.) I remember that I was very impressed with both Frances Vaughan’s and Hugh Prather’s responses. They were compassionate toward all involved and not judgmental toward Marianne Williamson, or those standing against her, even though I’m sure they landed on one side of the divide or the other.

Prather’s lectures and the short meeting I had with him in Dallas were my only experience of him. I’m not sure why I have never read any of his books until just now, especially since I was so impressed by him. That is (and was) very unlike me. I never attempted to find his radio broadcasts, either. The only thing I knew about him was that he was a fellow Methodist and that he was somehow involved with the ACIM gurus. I had no idea that he had grown up in my hometown of Dallas, that he played tennis, went to SMU, or that his father was the real estate tycoon who developed Highland Park. I also had no idea that he attended the University of Texas in Austin for graduate work. These are all things I am very familiar with.

It sounds like he had a somewhat complicated childhood because both of his parents had several marriages which gave Prather seven parents. According to the NYT article below, of the seven parents there were two alcoholics, a drug addict, an institutionalized mentally ill patient, a convicted murderer (one of his father’s wives) and a convicted embezzler (one of his mother’s husbands). Thank goodness he turned to humor and introspection rather than drugs, alcohol and crime!

His early book, Notes to Myself was internationally famous and has sold millions of copies in over 10 languages despite Prather not particularly liking the book. (He claimed it was “too self-absorbed”.) The SNL parody, “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy”, was based on that early book and the famous vegetarian restaurant, Moosewood Restaurant, was named after Hugh Prather’s dog which was also mentioned in the book 

In the 1970s, The New York Times called him an American Khalil Gibran. He and his wife, Gayle, were very close to Jerry Jampolsky and Diane Circincione. He was also good friends with William Thetford. Some people claim Prather was Thetford’s ACIM successor because they were both so gentle, compassionate, and focused on spreading peace.

Prather died at 72 years of age in 2010 from an apparent heart attack.

Gerald Jampolsky and Healing the World

Years ago, I read a book by Gerald Jampolsky called Love is Letting Go of Fear that had a profound influence on my thinking. Jampolsky was among the handful of people who read ACIM before it was published. Judith Skutch gave him a photocopied version she had received from Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman.

In looking for Kindle books by him on Amazon, I found Finding Our Way Homewhich Jampolsky co-authored with his wife, Diane Cirincione. I purchased it and finished it one sitting. It was a very enjoyable read! The idea that love is our goal and forgiveness is our single function fits perfectly with my idea of ACIM (and spirituality in general). I was somewhat bothered, however, by the heavy focus on receiving guidance about trivial things like asking what you should do about your car being blocked in a hospital parking lot.

I agree that we receive inner guidance when we silence our screaming egos long enough to listen, so it’s very practical advice. I don’t think that is what ACIM is ultimately about, however. So I decided to check out another book by Jampolsky called Poetry and Notes to Myself: My Ups and Downs with A Course in Miracles which was also a very quick read. Again, quite enjoyable but much of the focus was on receiving guidance so I finally re-read Love is Letting Go of Fear,the book by Jampolsky that had so much influence on my understanding of ACIM decades ago,

I can see why Love is Letting Go of Fear was so influential for my younger self 30 years ago. I used to believe that religion/spirituality was about saving the world. The possibility that we could save it single-handedly through love and forgiveness was especially appealing. Then I read Nietzsche and the other existentialists and found that I agreed with the idea that the western focus on a future, more perfect world, is problematic. This world is viewed as faulty and so rather than being here, in the world now, the focus is on some future world that has been perfected through missionary religions, the “right” political thought system, futuristic technology, an escape to heaven…

Spiritual traditions claim that they have received their wisdom through divine guidance. If you believe your choice is “right” because you were guided by something beyond yourself/ego to make that choice, then it feels justified. But ACIM says nothing about the outcome of our practice being a perfected world and I think Wapnick would probably agree. It’s message is existential. Our thoughts create our reality. Change our thoughts, our reality changes. But to expect a perfect world to be created by perfect thoughts is the stuff of the ego.

Let me try to explain… if our thoughts are merely projections, then isn’t the choice to listen for inner guidance just a projection, too? Granted, it is undoubtedly healthier, cognitively speaking, to feel happy with your choices, but your decision to be at peace with your decisions and to view the outcomes of those decisions as positive is likewise a choice, not some sort of absolute truth reigning down from on high.

ACIM is about non-dualism which helps people have the courage to accept things as they are. In some ways, I think this was one of Gerald Jampolsky’s primary goals in working with sick children. He created the Center for Attitudinal Healing, which now exists all around the world, to help children who were suffering from cancer and other illnesses let go of their fear of being sick and dying. He modified the principals in ACIM to help children discover joy through a shift in perception. (Thus, the name: Attitudinal Healing, not bodily healing.)

So why does Jampolsky’s writing (and that of his wife) place such a heavy focus on inner-guidance and healing the world? I think it’s probably the same reason Robert Solomon says Sartre, who coined “bad faith”, was ultimately in “bad faith”, too. Sartre was so mired in the Cartesian philosophy that he didn’t realize he had dropped God but maintained the guilt. All of Western society remains trapped within that “Christian guilt” mindset because it has been an integral part of Western thought for thousands of years. It is such an integral part of our thought system that we don’t even realize it is there. The world “out there” continues to be viewed as guilty and in need of perfection.

I genuinely appreciate Gerald Jampolsky because his approach to dealing with personal hardship through healed relationships with ourselves and others is very practical. And while I do agree with Jampolsky that all of life is relational, maybe we need to quit insisting that the world needs to be peaceful? That it needs to be healed/saved? Everyone has their own idea of how that salvation will come about and many of the ideas are in direct conflict with one another. Perhaps we need to forgive our misperceptions of the world, too?

Jampolsky constantly says that you can’t simultaneously be fearful and loving. But if you believe the world needs to be healed/fixed, isn’t that belief based on a fear that something is justifiably wrong with the world? How can you forgive the world while simultaneously fearing it? I am hopeful that Wapnick can help me figure that out this time through ACIM. According to Wapnick, ACIM is more specifically about letting go of the guilt that causes our fear.

I’ll try to read something by Hugh Prather before I begin the lessons because he was another person who very much influenced my views on ACIM and it looks like he was close friends with Jampolsky.

A Course in Miracles: Teachers

My experience with ACIM is limited to a very few teachers. I am not at all familiar with the current, more popular ones like Gary Renard or Gabby Bernstein. A few years ago, I read one of Robert Perry’s books and was definitely not on his philosophical wavelength. I also read something by Alan Cohen that I didn’t care for, either.

Around that same time, I read a book by Ken Wilber about his wife who was dying of cancer called Grace and Grit. That had a completely different effect on me. Treya Killam, Wilber’s wife, was a devout ACIM practitioner. She developed breast cancer and became uncomfortable with all of the new age promises that if she just had the right thoughts, she could cure her cancer. What she came to realize was that cancer was not her enemy. By embracing it, it became an opportunity for self-understanding and growth. That is what I think ACIM is about. It helps us have the courage to embrace what we fear. 

I’d like to learn more about Ken Wilber and Integral Spirituality, but lest I get too thrown off track, I’ll stick with ACIM for now.

The people who most influenced me when I was first involved in ACIM were Jerry Jampolsky, Hugh Prather, Marianne Williamson, Francis Vaughan, and Vaughn’s husband, Roger Walsh. With the exception of Jerry Jampolsky, I met each of these people back in the 1990s.

Despite almost single-handedly bringing ACIM to the multitudes in the 1990s, my understanding of ACIM didn’t quite mesh with Marianne Williamson’s. I should probably go back through some of her work to clarify the disconnect, but for now, I feel more strongly about reconnecting with the works of the other four.

Jerry Jampolsky: Jerry Jampolsky’s Love is Letting Go of Fearis the first book I read based on ACIM principals and it had a HUGE affect on me. Jampolsky was a Psychologist and graduate of Stanford’s School of Medicine. He founded The Center for Attitudinal Healing which offered free support services to people facing catastrophic life events. His philosophy, in a nutshell, was that you can only have peace of mind when you forgive rather than judge. What needs to be healed is not your sick body, circumstances, or the world, it’s the judgmental mind. 

Hugh Prather: I don’t think I’ve read anything by Hugh Prather. I only know him through his lectures and a short conversation I once had with him. His first book is what the SNL Skit “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey” was based on, so his writing may have been a little “new agey”, but he just seemed so honest and grounded in person. He didn’t make claims that you could potentially change external material circumstances with the power of the individual mind. (That’s not the point of ACIM, in my opinion.) What was necessary was a change in cognition. It’s not about what’s happening to you, it’s about what you think about it. And if what you think about it is that you can change it by how you think about it, you’ve missed the point. I noticed that his wife has made some of his lectures available so I will plan to make my way through some of those in the future, and maybe some of his books as well.

Frances Vaughan and Roger Walsh: I’ve personally met both, but only really know Frances Vaughan And Roger Walsh through their lectures. Both are probably better known in the Integral Spirituality circles these days than through ACIM. Vaughan died in 2017. She was a Stanford graduate, clinical psychologist, professor, and founding faculty member of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Walsh is a professor of psychology, philosophy and anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. I have his book, Essential Spirituality, and I’m fairly certain I have a few by Vaughan as well. Both are worth revisiting.

I’m sure there will be others that I recall or that I will learn about in the future.