For nearly three decades, I’ve been a student of the contemporary spiritual path known as A Course in Miracles (ACIM).
I’ve written two books on the subject, not to promote it, but instead to gather and publish accurate information about a remarkable path that is often misinterpreted—sometimes even by its students.
ACIM is exceedingly difficult to understand, and since its publication in the mid-1970s there’s been a growing cottage industry of writers and teachers in its wake, many of whom have promised to deliver its effects in a friendlier, quicker, more easily grokked package than the original.
Hence a plethora of 40-day programs, “plain English” rewrites, popular weekend conferences, and even a book promising a way to do the Course in five minutes. I certainly understand the desire to make things easier or more fun, but after all these years I prefer the original, unadulterated version of ACIM, in all its confounding glory.
And I prefer it precisely because I often don’t like it very much.
I’m certainly not alone. Over the years I’ve interviewed many students who have recounted a creative variety of fits of anger with the Course, leading them to burn their copies, toss them off bridges, or merely throw them against the wall a few times (I’m in the latter club, which I like to call the Pitchers).
My favorite story came from a student who reported destroying six copies of the Course only to end up with the seventh lurking on his nightstand. “I keep waking up and hoping it has disappeared overnight,” he reported, “but it’s still there.”
Why all this addictive antipathy toward a self-study spiritual curriculum, contained in one book stuffed with often impenetrable language, that no student is forced to study by any guru or religious establishment?
In theological terms, the Course is a modern-day via negativa, that is, a way to God that focuses on recognizing what God is not rather than what He, She, or It might be. God is probably not a lot of things, but one thing that the Course makes clear is that the typical human ego is absolutely not God (even if some egos do volunteer for the position from time to time).
The Course never gives the ego a break. “The death penalty is the ego’s ultimate goal,” it charmingly reports, “for it fully believes that you are a criminal, as deserving of death as God knows you are deserving of life. The death penalty never leaves the ego’s mind, for that is what it always reserves for you in the end. Wanting to kill you as the final expression of its feeling for you, it lets you live but to await death.”
And that’s when ACIM is being kind.
Since most of us have fairly strong ego identifications, it’s easy to understand how a teaching that informs us we have murderous intentions toward ourselves can be infuriating. So the question is why A Course in Miracles continues its slow but steady path of growth and acceptance, published in twenty languages around the world and totalling over two million copies in circulation?
The answer is that the Course is a genuine transformational discipline.
For those who can hack it, this discipline delivers a progressive series of revelatory experiences that helps students understand how to live without being ego-driven—or at least, not as ego-driven as most of us are used to. This means living with less guilt, less fear, less suspicion, and more creativity, more love and more open-mindedness.
Such goals are the destination of any genuine spiritual path. But it is possible to make a serious mistake in the choice of a path, and then end up drinking the purple Kool-Aid, having your last supper at Marie Callender’s before hitching a ride on the nearest passing comet, or signing one-billion-year contracts with a sci-fi religion.
It’s a jungle out there, spiritually speaking.
What I’ve always liked about the Course is its take-it-or-leave it presentation, which effectively divorces it from the destructive tendencies of cultism. Nobody says you must study it, and if you do but get bored or confused or just tired of its constant haranguing, you can always put it down (by any method that feels good).
What I’ve often disliked is ACIM’s uncanny and relentless capacity to remind me that the source and solution of all the problems I perceive is within my own mind. Try as I might to blame my parents, or God or fate or the world at large, the Course reminds me that I can always choose to see things differently…and that shift in perception is what ACIM defines as a “miracle.”
Merely shifting your perception—changing your mind, that is—may not sound like much of a miracle. But it’s a miracle that I ever changed mine, that’s for sure.
The Course is clearly not for everyone, and I think it can safely be said that having any spiritual discipline is not for everyone. If you’re getting along in the world and things seem to be going more or less all right, there just may be no need to surrender your ego. People tend to reach that fateful decision after they’ve bottomed out in one way or another, and that’s never pleasant. I’d avoid it if you possibly can.
But if you can’t, and afterward you find yourself seeking some kind of spiritual discipline to help you change your mind and find a new way of living, I do recommend two precautions.
Regardless of the teaching you choose, make sure you can bad-mouth it, rip it to pieces, or grind it away in the garbage disposal without getting excommunicated, ostracized, or killed.
And whatever path you follow, don’t start liking it too much.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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