A Course in Miracles

levels of the mind

A Course in Miracles‘ (ACIM or simply the ‘Course’) is a book written and edited by psychologist Helen Schucman, with portions transcribed and edited by psychologist William Thetford, containing a self-study curriculum of spiritual transformation. It consists of three sections entitled ‘Text,’ ‘Workbook,’ and ‘Manual for Teachers.’ Written from 1965 to 1972, some distribution occurred via photocopies before a hardcover edition was published in 1976. The copyright and trademarks, which had been held by two foundations, were revoked in 2004 after a lengthy litigation because the earliest versions had been circulated without a copyright notice.

Schucman believed that an ‘inner voice,’ which she identified as Jesus, guided her writing. Throughout the 1980s annual sales of the book steadily increased each year, however the largest growth in sales occurred in 1992 after spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson discussed the book on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show,’ with more than two million volumes sold. The book has been called everything from ‘a Satanic seduction’ to ‘The New Age Bible.’

‘A Course in Miracles’ was written as a collaborative venture between Schucman and Thetford. In 1965 Schucman began her professional career at a medical center as Thetford’s research associate. After a time of their weekly office meetings becoming more contentious, Thetford concluded that ‘There must be another way.’ She believed that this speech acted as a stimulus, triggering a series of inner experiences that were understood by her as visions, dreams, and heightened imagery, along with an ‘inner voice’ which she identified as Jesus. She said that on October 21, 1965, she believed that the ‘inner voice’ told her: ‘This is a Course in Miracles, please take notes.’ Schucman said that the writing made her very uncomfortable, though it never seriously occurred to her to stop. The next day, she explained the events of her ‘note taking’ to Thetford. To her surprise, Thetford encouraged her to continue the process. He also offered to assist her in typing out her notes as she read them to him. The transcription the next day repeated itself regularly for many years to come. In 1972, the dictation of the first three sections was completed but the dictation of the last two sections of the material lasted until November 1977.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel, a Roman Catholic priest who had studied under Thetford and worked with Schucman, arranged an introduction of psychologist Kenneth Wapnick to Schucman and Thetford in November 1972. Groeschel was given a copy of the ACIM manuscript in 1973 and testified that he was instructed by Schucman not to distribute the manuscript; however, with Schucman’s permission, he made it available to Wapnick. Wapnick then reviewed the draft and discussed, with Schucman and Thetford, further revisions that he felt were needed in order to place the book in its final copyrighted and published form. Thetford then made a few further editorial decisions and stipulations about the ‘Principles of Miracles’ section, and soon afterwards opted to withdraw from being directly involved with any further major edits to the material. Wapnick and Schucman continued to edit the manuscript, which was completed by 1975. Wapnick subsequently became a teacher of ACIM, a co-founder and president of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM), and a director and executive committee member of the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP), which became the book’s publisher.

The ‘Textbook’ presents a thought system about truth and illusion on two levels: The metaphysical level, which in this case is ‘strictly non-dualistic,’ (i.e. everything involving time, space, and perception is regarded as illusory). This nondualism states that God is the only truth and reality: perfect, unchanging, unchangable, extending only love, though not in time and space, which can not really be comprehended from a dualistic perspective. The theory further states that all life as we perceive it is actually one life (because God has only one son, sometimes called the ‘collective sonship’), dreaming of separation and fragmentation. Since eternity is outside time and space, this dream never occurred in reality and is ‘already over,’ though not in our (illusory) perception. When addressing the question of how such an illusory dream could arise from a perfect and unchanging God, the Course merely states that to ask that question is to presume that the time-space dream is real, which it states is not. ‘A Course in Miracles’ states that to think we exist as individuals is the fundamental error. However, since we experience ourselves in time and space, reading these pages, the course presents its thought system on a second level: The time-space level, or perceptory level, which is referred to as ‘the dream.’

The Course states that this level was ‘made’ by the ‘sleeping Son’ as an attack on God, implying that God did not create time, space, the Cosmos, and homo sapiens. Furthermore, the ‘Son’ is regarded as not just Jesus, but as all collective life. On these points the Course diverges fundamentally from Christianity. In this time-space dream, perception is continuously fueled by what it originated from: separation, judgment and attack. This results in what the Course calls the ‘sin-guilt-fear’ cycle: we sinned by rejecting God and making a universe of time-space (the Big Bang); this results in guilt over our rejection of our Creator, and subsequent fear of God’s wrath. The cycle is described as too horrendous to face, and therefore subsequently projected out, so that to homo sapiens it seems that evil is everywhere except in himself. The world becomes a threatening place, in which we are born only to fear, fight, and die. The thought that keeps this process going is referred to as ‘ego,’ or ‘the wrong mind.’ The Course concludes that happiness cannot be found in earthly time-space life, and urges the reader not to commit suicide but rather to make a fundamental mindshift from ‘condemnation-out-of-fear’ (mindlessness) to ‘forgiveness-out-of-love’ (mindfulness), since our ‘right mind’ is outside time-space and cannot be harmed by worldly attacks. According to the course, seeing ‘the Face of Christ’ in all living things is the way to ‘accept the Atonement,’ awaken from the dream, and return to the eternity of God. Ultimately, this means the end of individuality and of the ego. In this respect, there are parallels with the Indian concept of karma and the Bhagavad Gita scriptures, which Helen Schucman was not familiar with, though William Thetford was.

The ‘Workbook’ presents 365 lessons, one for each day of the year, to recondition the mind from ‘condemnation-out-of-fear’ to ‘forgiveness-out-of-love.’ The Course defines ‘miracle’ as the conscious choice to make that mindshift, including its ‘non-observable effects on the minds of others.’ The workbook lessons attempt to train the reader to see oneness in all living things for a steadily increasing time of the day. The lessons aim at convincing by experience. The core message of the workbook is that, to forgive oneself completely, a person must (a) forgive all living things, and (b) do this by instruction of the Holy Spirit (i.e., the ‘Voice for God,’ ‘right mind,’ ‘Inner Teacher,’ or ‘intuition’) since we are too identified with our ego to choose ‘right’ all the time without help. At the end, after one year, the workbook states that it is ‘a beginning, not an end,’ implying that the workbook is a lifelong practice of learning to hear the Holy Spirit’s ‘voice.’ The ‘Manual for Teachers’ is a collection explaining some of the more obvious questions a reader might ask. It aims at motivating the reader to become a ‘teacher of God’: a human being living in time and space, but at the same time seeing oneness in everything, having let go of all individual and separate interests, and being fully guided by the ‘voice’ of the Holy Spirit. Again, there are parallels with Indian Buddhism: the state the manual promotes closely resembles Bodhisattva (a Buddhist who has attained enlightenment, but who as a selfless act, delays his or her entry to Nirvana for the sake of others). Proponents of ‘A Course in Miracles’ therefore laud its integration of Eastern spirituality with Western psychology.


One Comment to “A Course in Miracles”

  1. I’m a psychiatrist, age 68. I’ve been using ACIM since it came into my life in 1981, some 34 years ago. I also spent a number of years visiting at Ken Wapnick’s retreat when he was located in the Catskills in the early 1990’s.

    My story of personal mental distress began when my wife was invited to go to medical school, starting my third year (of med school, 1970), at which time I suddenly started having feelings of sadness and fear. I now know this was the result of her starting to grow away from me, the pain inducing me to head into a psychiatry residency, so that I’d have time for analysis.

    My first year in analysis was with the President of the Baltimore-Washington Analytic Association and their Chief Training Analyst, a kind old man I got to “see” four times a week. He challenged my thinking, which was full of “shoulds,” taught me how to identify feelings, taught me how to “process” a feeling — move through something painful to a state of grace.

    At the end of this year, as my wife was about to move out and away, and looking “not so good,” one of the physicians in my community (a dear friend) insisted I change analysts. I then spent two years with another kind old man, one trained by Harry Stack Sullivan. The orientation here was on “connecting,” on realizing I had gotten disconnected from my Inner Self, and from the Self of others.

    Working as I was at the time with many patients myself both at my residency job and at a private practice job, focusing on feelings with patients taught me how this strategy cuts through a lot of therapeutic nonsense and brings rather rapid relief.

    Also at this time I met a Methodist minister at one of my part-time therapy jobs, a PhD candidate in psychology, who taught me that all mental illness (except “organic”) is spiritual labor. Of late, I’ve made a joke of this, based on the teachings of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, for they can take Prozac.” Why is it blessed to be sad or otherwise in emotional distress? Because, in my experience, inner distress pulls me inside, away from the world, and by processing such feelings (by praying, asking the Holy Spirit to help me), I move through pain to peace, Divine Guidance, and wisdom.

    When my wife asked for a divorce, then remarried a month later (Jul1976), feeling suddenly despondent, I started hearing the Holy Spirit, what ACIM calls “The Voice for God.” The despair lifted, although those around me thought I had l lost it.

    Having my own money, I moved to Aspen, where lots of sunshine, great skiing, and a great small library helped me deepen my understanding of what was happening to me spiritually. I was also invited into a community Bible study, where I met a psychologist / ski instructor who led me to ACIM (again, this was way back in 1981, some 34 years ago).

    Having been through what was considered an “eclectic” residency (one where I was free to pursue whatever theories I chose, reading them, finding a psychiatrist on the faculty to coach me, using that particular theory with my patients), I had by this time already been through most of the prevalent theories — both intellectually and in clinical practice. And doing so, had come to see that various writers / psychologists had pieces of the puzzle, but no one had put the whole thing together.

    Just looking through the Table of Contents of ACIM the evening my copy of the then three volumes of ACIM was delivered by UPS, I immediately perceived that “the whole thing is here.” Back then, there was no preface, no author listed in the front of the book, so I wondered who had written this amazing book. Started reading, soon coming to the phrase: “This is how I could demonstrate there is no death.” Ah, I thought, so Jesus wrote this.

    That first year with ACIM, I tried every trick I knew to read the damn thing, but it was like Teflon to my mind. Finally I had an experience with Jesus, where he told me: “It’s time to come off the Cross.” It was a short but poignant experience with a Presence I could not see, but could feel and hear. Afterwards, I found a way to work with this material: to go to it when in pain, and only then. For my ego wanted to master the stuff, but my Spirit would have none of this.

    Within short order I was going to the material 3-4 times a day, simply opening the book (sometimes the Bible as well) wherever intuition led me, almost immediately finding a word or phrase that would leap into my heart, under the pain, at which point an inner unfolding process would begin, a process of looking at all the ego junk this thought would dredge up, processing this until what seemed serious and real became simply silly. This process went on for some 25 years, some 25,000 “lessons” — until (so it seems) I’ve gotten pretty good at moving through painful feelings (including anger), as well as moving through physical illness (for as ACIM teaches, “all illness is mental illness.”)

    Perhaps I should add that around three years ago the Holy Spirit (through a retired attorney I briefly met while on a cruise) led me to clean up my diet, to maximize the nutritious food I consume, and minimize the toxins, and that this has seemingly made a huge difference in the amount of weight I carry and cleared up several medical problems that I was watching prayerfully (meaning, trusting that the Holy Spirit, and not “medical science,” would eventually heal.)

    I met my last wife some 27 years ago (1988). Because of her alcoholism, and needing a support group, I started attending AA meetings (also other related recovery groups). I was always too sensitive to alcohol, and having seen people die of alcoholism during med school (and identifying), I had more-or-less stopped drinking when the Holy Spirit first came into my life (1976).

    Nonetheless, because of my distress about having a child with this woman (part of the initial “vision”), I was accepted by the older God Conscious men into this community of recovering drunks. There I found a thought system much like ACIM, although often ideas stated much more simply.

    The central idea in AA (so it seems to me) is that we recover (get help from the Holy Spirit) by trying to help others, that what I try to give others, God / Jesus / Holy Spirit gives me.

    So now with over 25 years and perhaps as many as 10,000 AA meetings under my belt, and all these years of “working” with ACIM, I am usually at peace, usually pain free, (on no medication, not for any medical or emotional problems), and can usually access the Holy Spirit’s Voice as I go through my day, constantly asking, when “agitated or doubtful,” for help.

    The “child” my wife and I were to conceive is now a strapping 25 year old young man, doing well, while his mother (wife #3) went to college and grad school, starting when our son was five years old, and so went from being a maid to being a therapist, now employed in a university community here in Colorado, And of course, along the way, I’ve gotten to help many people, and many people have gotten to help me.

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