The Introduction to the ACIM Text

Wapnick says the first 4 chapters are a summary of the entire ACIM text. Chapter 5 on is beautifully written, poetic even. But the first 4 chapters are extremely clumsy. The information the first 4 chapters contain, however, is immense.

The reason the writing is so clumsy in these chapters is because the scribing process was not a matter of direct dictation as may ACIM students seem to think. It was a collaborative effort. Helen Schucman was essentially in conversation with an inner voice that never provides a name, but she assumes to be “Jesus”. Her colleague, Bill Thetford, encouraged Schucman to write down everything the voice said. She would bring it to Thetford and read it to him while he typed.

According to Wapnick, the problem with what was written down is that much of it was a conversation. The voice would say something and Helen would ask a question about it and there would be tangential questioning on the part of Helen until the voice nudged her back to the topic at hand. In the case of the first 4 chapters, this was the introductory stuff, both in terms of the text and in terms of the conversation.

Schucman was very upset and embarrassed about the first four chapters and did not want to publish the text the way it was first edited. Wapnick said he facetiously told Schucman to ask Jesus to dictate the first 4 chapters more clearly, but she said she couldn’t go through the process again so agreed to let Wapnick edit it as best he could and to publish it as is.

That ACIM is “scribed” is my biggest block to it. I don’t know what I think about scribing. Artists, poets, musicians and novelists often talk about having a sort of genius that comes to them from time to time. Elizabeth Gilbert has an excellent Ted Talkon how artists do not have genius, genius comes to artists. Perhaps Schucman’s scribing was artistically similar. She did not want to be identified as the writer until after her death, which is interesting. Perhaps she was worried about what it would do to her reputation as a psychologist? Society isn’t particularly kind to people who hear voices.

The introduction to the text did not exist when they were first organizing the text. So Schucman told the voice that they couldn’t simply begin with the first principal, the voice had to come up with something better. Here is what it provided:

This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time. The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.

This course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists. 
Herein lies the peace of God.

Wapnick compares this introduction to Beethoven who, after submitting the greatest of all his piano concertos, Sonata No. 29, added two chords that now open the exalted third movement.

Wapnick says the two themes expressed in the introduction are:

  1. The course is an undoing. It is meant to remove the interference to our remembering Love’s purpose.
  2. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, ACIM is non-dualistic.

So, the first 4 chapters do not read well, but what they contain is remarkable.

As Wapnick says, let the symphony begin!

(But first, I must get through the rest of the Introductory Materials…)

Explanatory Information for A Course in Miracles

I have several versions of ACIM, including the controversial “Hugh Lynn Cayce text”. ( This is a version of ACIM typed by Helen Schucman that she gave to Hugh Lynn Cayce in confidence. It came into the public domain after Schucman’s death.) I plan to use the Third Edition of ACIM that was published by Foundation for Inner Peace as the primary version.

These are my notes/summary of the precursory information to the Third Edition…

How it Came to Be

ACIM came out of a common goal of Helen Schucman and William Thetford to work through their strained and difficult relationship. They were professors of Medical Psychology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. The head of their department told them he was tired of their angry and aggressive attitudes exclaiming, “There must be another way.” A voice soon after came to Helen which showed them another way.

Helen says the voice made no sound, but just gave her a sort of inner dictation which she took down in a shorthand notebook. It wasn’t automatic. It could be interrupted and picked back up again at any time. It made her very uncomfortable, but it seemed to be a special assignment she had somehow agreed to complete, so she continued.

It became a collaborative experience between she and Bill Thetford. She would bring her shorthand notes to him and he typed them as she read them aloud. The entire process took over 7 years and without his collaboration, she would never have finished.

What is It?

ACIM is a spiritual practice that emphasizes application rather than theory, and experience rather than theology. It’s aim is thought reversal. The Text is largely theoretical and explains concepts upon which the Course’s thought system is based. The ideas in the text contain the foundation for the Workbook’s lessons. Without the practical application of the Workbook, the Text would remain a series of abstractions. The Text and Workbook are meant to be used in tandem.

The Workbook contains 365 lessons, one for each day of the week. It is not necessary to do one lesson a day, however. The instructions only say that not more than one lesson should be done a day.

The Course is not an end, it is a beginning. At the end, the reader is left in the hands of her own Internal Teacher who will direct subsequent learning.

What it Says

Nothing real can be threatened,
Nothing unreal exists,
Herein lies the peace of God.

The world we see reflects our own internal frame of reference. “If we are using perceptions to justify our own mistakes – our anger, our impulses to attack, our lack of love in whatever form it may take – we will see a world of evil, destruction, malice, envy and despair. All this we must learn to forgive, not because we are being “good” and “charitable”, but because what we are seeing is not true. We have distorted the world by our twisted defenses, and are therefore seeing what is not there. As we learn to recognize our perceptual errors, we also learn to look past them or “forgive.” At the same time we are forgiving ourselves, looking past our distorted self-concepts to the Self That God created in us and as us.”

The Self That God created needs nothing. It is safe, loved and loving. It seeks to share rather than get – to extend rather than project. In contrast, the world uses special relationships as a final weapon of exclusion and to prove separateness. The Holy Spirit, however, transforms those relationships into perfect lessons in forgiveness and in awakening from the dream.

The body responds only to the intentions of the mind. If the mind wants to use the body for attack in any form, it becomes prey to sickness, age, and decay. If the mind accepts the Holy Spirit’s purpose for the body, it becomes a useful way of communicating with others. Forgiveness reverses the thinking of the world. When we hold no one prisoner to guilt, we become free.

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.

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.