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!

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. 

The Naked Now by Richard Rohr

Rohr says the overall message in his book, The Naked Now, is that:

  • All saying must be balanced by unsaying, and knowing must be humbled by unknowing.  Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent.
  • All light must be informed by darkness, and all success by suffering. St. John of the Cross called this Luminous Darkness,  St. Augustine, the Paschal Mystery or the necessary Passover, and Catholics proclaim it loudly as the mystery of faith at every Eucharist.  Yet it is seldom an axiom at the heart of our lives.

A few interesting points…

True spirituality is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world; it is a search for divine union now.  The great discovery is that always what we were searching for has already been given! I did not find it; it found me.

What makes Jesus different than founders of other religions is that he found God in disorder and imperfection and told us that we must do the same or we will never be content on this earth. Hope and union are the same thing.  Real hope has nothing to do with certitude.

Much of religious seeking today is immature transcendence which is dualistically split off from any objective experience of union with God, self or others.  If it is authentically experienced, Christianity is overcoming the split from God’s side, once and for all.  (“Why do you waste time looking to one another for approval when you have the approval that comes from the One God?”  John 5: 41, 44)

Faith is often clarified and joy-filled hindsight – after we have experienced our experiences.  But the path ahead will always be a mixture of darkness and light.

The essential religious experience is that you are being “known through” more than knowing anything in particular.  Yet despite this difference it feels like true knowing.  This new way of knowing is called “third eye” seeing.   We do not pray to Christ, we pray through Christ.

Many are convinced that the correct Hebrew YHWH is an attempt to replicate the sound of inhalation and exhalation.  When you breathe, you are speaking God’s name.  It is our first and last word.  There is no Islamic, Christian or Jewish way of breathing. There is no American, African, or Asian way.  There is no poor or rich way.  The playing field is utterly leveled. Breath, wind, spirit and air are precisely – nothing.

The word mystic simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. This was Jesus’ entire point.  Jesus was the first non-dual religious teacher of the West.  One of the reasons we have failed to understand his teaching is because we tried to understand it with a dual mind.  Nondual thinking was consistently assumed, implied and even taught in Christianity for 1600 years before it went underground.  Balance is the name of the game. Not perfection.

Theism believes there is a God.  Christianity believes that God and humanity can exist in the same place.  These are two utterly different proclamations of the universe. Most Christians are very good theists who just happen to have named their god Jesus….  We think of ourselves as mere humans trying to be spiritual when the Christian revelation is that we are already spiritual.

We do not see things as they are.  We see things as we are.

Three levels of conversion:

  1. Intellectual – moving out of the world of sense perception into the universe of being.
  2. Moral – purification of motives
  3. Religious – transformation into love.  Changing ourselves and letting ourselves be changed by a mysterious encounter with grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Metanoia  – change your mind.  Jesus’ first message in the gospels.

Paul’s word for “ego” was “flesh”.

The “kingdom of God” is not about a place or afterlife.  It is about a way of seeing and thinking now.   The kingdom of God is the naked now.

Prayer is “resonance”.  Prayer is about changing you, not about changing God.

The struggle to forgive reality for being exactly what it is right now often breaks us through to nondual consciousness.

Christianity became rational in order to oppose rationalism, which made it lose it’s secret wisdom.  [Perhaps Wesley understood this and that’s why he’s called the "Rational Enthusiast"?]

God is the one whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.  St. Bonaventure

Religious people today are much more invested in either/or thinking than scientists.

Although Ken Wilber would largely identify as a Buddhist, he is our post-modern Thomas Aquinas, and one of the best friends and loving critics religion has ever had.

We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward unity with God.  We became a religion of belonging rather than a religion of transformation.

The Integral Vision

I’ve read two books by Ken Wilber:  Grace and Grit and BoomeritisBoomeritis was my first introduction to spiral dynamics and integral theory.  I read Grace and Grit primarily because of Wilber’s wife’s interest in ACIM. Both offered a bit of an explanation of the Integral Approach, but I just got a much better all-round introduction by reading a tiny little book I picked up at the HalfPrice Bookstore called The Integral Vision.

This was chock full of helpful stuff and was presented in a very non-intimidating way.

The very basics (which won’t make sense unless you already have some background)…

There are five elements called quadrants, levels, lines, states and types. These provide the Integral Map which is just a map, not a territory.

IOS stands for the Integral Operating System.

States are temporary, but stages are permanent. Stages are also referred to as levels or waves. Stages tend to move through I, we, it/me, us, all of us/ body, mind spirit/the beautiful, the good, the true/egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric.

Multiple Intelligences (cognitive, moral, interpersonal, emotional, psychosexual, kinesthetic, self, values, needs etc.) are developmental lines that unfold in progressive stages. (They grow.)

Quadrants are the inside and outside of the individual and the collective (I, It, We, Its).

States and types occur in all quadrants. Types are female or masculine and healthy or sick.

The book goes on to show how the map can be applied to various aspects of life, including medicine, business, spirituality, etc.  I feel exhilirated after reading this little book and am sure I’ll be referring back to it frequently.

But for now, it’s in my husband’s custody because I got him excited about it, too. This just makes so much sense to me!  I’m going to have to learn more.

ACIM Lesson 248: Whatever suffers is not part of me.

Whatever suffers is not part of me.

I have disowned the truth. Now let me be as faithful in disowning falsity. Whatever suffers is not part of me. What grieves is not myself. What is in pain is but illusion in my mind. What dies was never living in reality, and did but mock the truth about myself. Now I disown self-concepts and deceits and lies about the holy Son of God. Now am I ready to accept him back as God created him, and as he is.

Father, my ancient love for You returns, and lets me love Your Son again as well. Father, I am as You created me. Now is Your Love remembered, and my own. Now do I understand that they are one.

—————————————

When I first started studying ACIM, I thought this meant that human beings could somehow, miraculously, not suffer. The big question that every newbie asks – does that mean if a Mac Truck hit me in the road I’d remain in the road, unscathed?

The answer to that question, of course, depends on what you mean by “me”. Are you referring to the egoic “me”, or the real “me”? The egoic me believes there is a truck and a road and a body standing in the middle of it and yes, that body will likely suffer some trauma. But in reality, there is no mac truck, road or separate “me”. The “me” that transcends the ego doesn’t suffer.

If you decide to go out and test the theory – you are doing so from the perspective of ego, so don’t test it! It’ll likely be fatal.

I don’t think that ACIM points this sort of stuff out for us so that we can figure out how to pass through Mac Trucks or walk through walls, it points it out so that we can overcome our fear. It is in the overcoming of fear that we have the courage to forgive which allows us to recognize who we are. In this recognition we become able to transcend suffering. The body suffers, but it isn’t real. I always go back to Ken Wilber’s wife with this – she is dying of breast cancer and a lot of her ACIM buddies sort of condemn her for suffering which is a gross misunderstanding of ACIM teachings. Her thoughts are producing her suffering – change her thoughts. But slowly but surely, she begins to realize that she is not her suffering body. Changing her thoughts will not end the suffering of her body because the body never stops suffering. But the body isn’t real – so finally she is able to transcend the suffering by seeing it for what it is – unreality. Which isn’t the same thing as saying she got rid of the suffering because she didn’t. Her body died. But she didn’t.

ACIM Lesson 136: Sickness is a defense against the truth.

ACIM: Defenses are not unintentional, nor are they made without awareness. They are secret, magic wands you wave when truth appears to threaten what you would believe. They seem to be unconscious but because of the rapidity with which you choose to use them. In that second, even less, in which the choice is made, you recognize exactly what you would attempt to do, and then proceed to think that it is done.

Wow!! I never thought of it in that way, but it makes sense to me. On the surface, I can easily see sickness as a defense against truth. It’s a matter of the mind/body connection. What we deny is going to come out in some way and very often comes out as sickness.

But then what is it we mean by sickness? I immediately think of Ken Wilber’s book about his wife who had cancer. Her preferred form of spirituality was ACIM. He said she practiced it every day. But rather than take the new age belief that her cancer was caused because her thinking was off and that she had created it as a defense against truth, she fully accepted her cancer. That’s how she finally found peace in her situation and how she helped others find peace in similar situations. The frantic search to “perform the right procedure”; eat the right things; or think the right thoughts she said were based on fear, not love. Which isn’t to say she gave up on life. What she did was regain her life even though her body was failing. What she gave up was the idea that she was sick. As long as she thought of herself as sick, she was frantically searching for a cure. But when she came to terms with the truth of her situation, she was able to calm down and enjoy life again. She started living in the present rather than in the future frantically trying to control or ward off what was to come. She faithfully followed a very strict diet, exercise plan, and medical advice. She didn’t give up trying to do what would give her body strength. What she gave up was an attachment to the end result and that allowed her to focus on living rather than on sickness and death.

ACIM: Sickness is a decision. It is not a thing that happens to you, quite unsought, which makes you weak and brings you suffering. It is a choice you make, a plan you lay, when for an instant truth arises in your own deluded mind, and all your world appears to totter and prepare to fall. Now are you sick, that truth may go away and threaten your establishments no more.

Our bodies are not meant to last forever. Dr. Weil says that we need to come to terms with the fact that we will from time to time have to deal with diseases and other bodily issues. He says the best way to overcome illness is to surrender to it. That the body suffers does not mean that the whole of our reality is sick. To say, “I’m sick” is perhaps a form of blame because we don’t think it is how things are supposed to be. I don’t think ACIM is trying to say that if we have the right thoughts, our bodies will never undergo disease. That sort of thinking creates fear, pain and suffering. Sickness is a psychological response – it’s a value judgment. It doesn’t exist so it doesn’t “happen” to us. It is a meaning we have created as a form of defense against the truth.

ACIM: Healing will flash across your open mind, as peace and truth arise to take the place of war and vain imaginings. There will be no dark corners sickness can conceal, and keep defended from the light of truth. There will be no dim figures from your dreams, nor their obscure and meaningless pursuits with double purposes insanely sought, remaining in your mind. It will be healed of all the sickly wishes that it tried to authorize the body to obey…If you have been successful, there will be no sense of feeling ill or feeling well, of pain or pleasure. No response at all is in the mind to what the body does. Its usefulness remains and nothing more.

I have forgotten what I really am, for I mistook my body for myself. Sickness is a defense against the truth. But I am not a body. And my mind cannot attack. So I can not be sick.

Spiral Dynamics

Bumped into this breakdown in the Holons Blog. It has to do with the levels used in Ken Wiber’s Integral Spirituality. I’ve read Boomeritis and Grace and Grit and hope to go deeper into Wilber’s work soon so am posting this for motivation…

Beige: Archaic-instinctive—survivalistic/automatic/reflexological

  • From 100,000 BC on
  • “Express self to meet imperative physiological needs through instincts of Homo sapiens.”

Purple (or Magenta): Animistic-tribalistic magical-animistic Tribal order

  • From 50,000 BC on
  • “Sacrifice to the ways of the elders and customs as one subsumed in group.”

Red: Egocentric-exploitive power gods/dominionist

  • From 7000 BC on
  • “Express self (impulsively) for what self desires without guilt and to avoid shame.”

Blue (or Amber): Absolutistic-obedience mythic order—purposeful/authoritarian

  • From 3000 BC on
  • “Sacrifice self for reward to come through obedience to rightful authority in purposeful Way.”

Orange: Multiplistic-achievist scientific/strategic

  • From 1000 AD on (as early as 600 AD according to Graves and Calhoun)
  • “Express self (calculatedly) to reach goals and objectives without rousing the ire of important others.”

Green: Relativistic-personalistic—communitarian/egalitarian

  • From 1850 AD on (surged in early 20th century)
  • “Sacrifice self interest now in order to gain acceptance and group harmony.”

Yellow (or Teal): Systemic-integrative

  • From 1950s on
  • “Express self for what self desires, but to avoid harm to others so that all life, not just own life, will benefit.”

Turquoise: Holistic

  • From 1970s on
  • A sacrifice self-interest system which is still forming