I first encountered the Course through the now-famous article published in New Realities Magazine in 1977. I had been looking for answers to only vaguely defined questions for many years, reading endlessly and gradually getting in touch with feelings, looking more honestly at the motivations for my life. I was fascinated with this article and when I read the Introduction to the Text, something in me responded. I simply could feel the power and the truth and life coming through the words.
I ordered the books and as I held the newly-delivered, unopened package, I knew without question that this was my way home, not having a clue about the enormity of the shift that was bound to take place. I only knew that my search was over. The Course was literally irresistible and, second only to raising my children, reading it became the most important aspect of my life. Endless reading and studying continued for several years, which sounds amazing when I hear myself say it!
What I did not grasp in the beginning, twenty-four years ago, was the basic approach the Course requires. With a college degree in mathematics and my background as a systems engineer with IBM, my normal entry point into any new material was primarily an intellectual one. After a tremendous about of time devoted to “understanding” and a long search for the strategy or technique this Course was offering, I realized that it does not present intellectual material to be learned and incorporated into life as usual. Its purpose is to completely disrupt “life as usual” because it is not in our best interests to live the egocentric, unexamined life.
One of the most pointless endeavors is to read any given sentence and try to figure out what it means. I was touched intuitively rather than intellectually and the power and grace of this message rode on a fullness of spirit, a majesty that rose up through the words that is completely missed if you attempt a worldly “understanding” of this Course. I cried my way through the first two or three readings of the text, simply from being moved.
Secondly, I had no clue in the beginning of the seamlessness of the ego’s influence in my/our lives and how mindlessly and obediently we follow its internal directives. Nor did I have any real understanding of the incredible power of belief and the inevitable train of thoughts, feelings, actions, and ideas that stem therefrom. I didn’t know I was in a prison of my own making. Practicing the lessons and ideas set forth in the Course has allowed my mind to become clearer where everything seems self-evident and easy. However, I hope in five years I’ll look back and be amused at the awareness I don’t yet have.
The Course IS my professional life. However, I need to be clear that my current full schedule of Course-related teaching, writing, and counseling was never my intention or plan. Because I am a communicator at heart and with the advantage of twenty-three years hindsight, I can see the inevitability of my teaching and the perfect arena it has provided for my own practice at changing my mind. The lesson entitled, “When I am healed, I am not healed alone,” says it all. On countless occasions, I have heard myself clarify a point, design a meditation, answer a question, or provide a metaphor for someone and in the back of my mind clearly recognize that this answer is for me. I cannot over emphasize the importance of hearing my own answers through giving them to someone else – we surely do learn what we teach!
To reflect on the history of my current profession –after reading the material for a few months, I entered my proselytizing period and after about nine months of badgering, finally convinced enough people to read it to start a study group with a friend and myself facilitating. What a big surprise for “Ms. know-it-all!” So many important, upsetting, and humbling lessons came of that nine or ten month-long experience. The Course was already at work undoing all my ideas and I was neither fully aware of what was happening nor very happy about it.
As that first group experience drew to closure, a life-changing event occurred. In May of 1978, I met Bill Thetford and we soon became dear friends. Through him, in November of that year, I met Jerry Jampolsky, Judy and Bob Skutch, still married at that time, and the several others to whom I fondly refer as the ‘first family” of A Course In Miracles. Beginning in 1979, Bill and Jerry and I, often accompanied by others, presented a number of day-long or weekend workshops on the Course. My ACIM-presenting life was just beginning.
During that same time, several of us established an attitudinal healing center in Denver, my home for many years, based on Jerry Jampolsky’s Center for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, CA. As part of its outreach, I developed and taught overview classes on the Course out of the recognition that many people wanted to read it but could not. They tried but found it incomprehensible or upsetting. Without my having planned it, clarifying the principles of the Course was apparently my mission.
Presentations expanded to include on-going study groups, retreats, and workshops. Then another level emerged — teaching these principles without using Course language or making any reference to it, which has become one of my specialties. Now I present these ideas through business consulting and to medical or other special interest groups. Each next aspect of teaching came as a response to a specific request or a very obvious need.
In addition to class work, I also engaged in “on the job training” with private counseling. I practiced with class participants, friends, family members, and anyone looking for help with practical application of Course principles to challenging situations or relationships. I now consult with people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all ages, and from everywhere in this country and beyond. Many with whom I have a professional relationship are in the “helping professions” themselves, which guarantees that these ideas will continue to spread far and wide.
As a natural adjunct to lecturing, we have created many audiotape sets, a professionally produced videotape set on the Course‘s approach to relationships, and several books. The latest book, “Healing the Hurt Behind Addictions and Compulsive Behaviors,” I never intended to write. I presented a workshop on Course principles, without divulging that source, at a recovery retreat. They loved it; I presented it again in Florida and was requested to put that workshop into written form. I did and added many interviews with Course students who had moved beyond a wide range of addictions into much happier and more productive lives. The book truly is an account of the healing that occurs when the Course is practiced.
Our most unique Course outreach, born out of my partner’s and my natural inclination for abstracting and our building and arts and crafts skills, has been to create five interactive discovery models that demonstrate, visually, the way we think. These large, three-dimensional copyrighted models, all based on a major teaching or concept of the Course, are presented as the centerpiece of workshops and retreats. The first one came from reading this sentence from the last chapter, “Salvation can be seen as nothing more than the escape from concepts.” I sensed an inner directive to create something that people could see and touch that would clarify how our relationships reveal to us our own self-concept, our fears, why relationships are mirrors and the tremendous gift of self-awareness and healing available through the difficult ones. A tall order but it succeeded. Subsequent models followed when, in answer to a question, I drew pictures with language to demonstrate a point and I would get a hit to literally build that metaphor for anyone to see and experience. The other topics for which models have been built are “Forgiveness – The Only Approach to Problem-Solving,” “Acceptance – The Gateway to Transformation,” “Guidance – The Dance That Leads Us Home,” and “Choice – The Truth About Cause and Effect.” A sixth one has been designed but not yet built. These models address our non-verbal, visual modes of learning and have been great aids in hastening participants’ insights and motivation for change of mind.
In summary, each new form of outreach has come out of intuitive guidance and a natural inclination — a perfect example of specialness being transformed into special function. I’m happy to say that ideas and ways to reach people are still ongoing. It’s very exciting to see what next project may present itself, what technology may become useful, or where on the planet I may go.
A primary Course message is salvation through relationships, so had my relationships not been profoundly affected, I would have entirely missed the point! Even before the Course, most of my relationships were very satisfactory, but a handful of them were a real challenge. It seemed so real that the “other person” was the problem and that if he/she would just shape up, all would be fine. The worst ones, the incredibly important ones, were those where I finally had to face up to beliefs about myself and the worth or value I feared I didn’t have. Now it’s very obvious that close relationships are always the testing grounds because we inevitably arrange to have as our daily companions, whether personal or professional, those most suitable for mirroring our fear, guilt, and general “unfinished business.”
Changing the purpose for relationships, as the Course requires, has not always been easy because my fantasies about how life is supposed to be die as hard as anyone else’s, certainly in terms of those “special” relationships. However, I’ve been at this long enough to realize that wonderful changes are permanent and that I’m in charge of my experience in all relationships, period. My partner, Robert, still occasionally pushes buttons and that’s good because I’m determined to find every last piece of nonsense I still hold on to and let it go. A different perspective on life operates across the board and cannot effectively be compartmentalized. Either I bring my own personal agenda and points of view from the past or I do not. Either I value the person in front of me and make the choice to love or I do not.
I’m delighted to say that now virtually all my relationships are easy, fun, appropriate, non-demanding, and satisfying. Not surprisingly, my children have been my greatest teachers. What I learned about myself through them throughout the years would fill volumes. And it was not always a pretty picture! Many of my responses to them in their early days were egoic and inappropriate. However, as I took more and more responsibility for my own inner experience and vowed to change my mind as per the Course, everything worked out wonderfully. Now grown men, they have matured emotionally and so have I. We have such a good time together and I count them among my greatest friends and supporters! They even call sometimes and make “official” appointments with me. They know I can take off my “mother” hat and put on my “counselor” hat and be with them in an unbiased manner as they explore issues that may be coming up for them.
I have not looked for another path, as this one has delivered what it promised. As the workbook instructs, we learn to follow our own inner guidance and I’m here to tell you that that really works. Occasionally a book might “reach out and grab me” or I might attend someone else’s workshop. My intuition leads me in these matters and always the book or conversation or class triggers a new dawning, new awareness, more clarity on a Course teaching. Anything I am led to pursue always supports or clarifies the Course position. I had done a great deal of exploration before it came into my life and everything seemed a precursor, making the Course easy to comprehend. From a place of greater experience I can look back and see the similarity of many paths, realizing that all of them are maps to the same territory. However, from my biased perspective, nothing comes close to having the power and compelling energy of this miraculous work.
I have never had any complaint about the Course, whether it be the structure, the language, or its fundamental premise. Many have spoken of the complex sentence structure or incomprehensible ideas, but that has never been my experience. For me, the words create an energetic experience and are self-evident rather than needing to be figured out. On the other hand, I believe I have had all the same experiences in undoing that every other conscientious student of the Course has had and I’m glad for that.
I don’t think of the Course as having “parts” because the same simple message is repeated throughout. I believe it is so repetitious because we are so stubborn! I have not singled out some part as preferable or more comprehensible, but for sheer poetry, I am most drawn to the last six chapters of the text and of those the last one is my favorite.
I am not currently in a study group, per se, although I have been in many and have facilitated more than I could begin to count. All the world seems to be a study group now. I am divorced from a non-Course person, although his lack of interest in the Course was not the reason for our changing the nature of our relationship. We had learned as much as we could together and it was time for us to move into the next chapter s of our lives. My “next chapter” has been eleven years of non-stop teaching, writing, development of materials, counseling, consulting, lecturing, and networking related to the Course. My current “significant other” is very much involved with this enterprise and I can’t imagine it any other way. It’s a reward for which I am truly grateful.
As for explaining the Course to non-students, I do that all the time. Many private or business clients have never heard of the Course and that in no way hampers their putting it into practice or gaining their own insights. I have presented Course principles to organizations whose by-laws or mission statements strictly forbade any involvement with the metaphysical – from fundamentalist Christians to corporate boards. Yet, when presented in a language they found familiar, they readily accepted these ideas, found them tremendously helpful, and asked for more. After all, the profound reassurance and wisdom of the Course can speak to any soul.
To summarize for the non-students, I would quote from my web site: A Course in Miracles is a primarily a guide to accepting, through daily practice, a fundamentally different attitude and approach to life, based on love and equality rather than fear, guilt, and “who’s to blame.” The acquisition of this life-affirming attitude requires looking at, and then trading in, all our unexamined presumptions about how life is “supposed” to work. The Course serves as a private tutor to help us look at our current mind set, beliefs, notions, and opinions, and motivates us to change our minds out of enlightened self-interest. It clarifies, in unmistakable terms, our own self-centeredness and connects that to our unhappiness. Thus, its purpose is our change of mind and heart about ourselves and others, resulting in more happiness, freedom, and opportunity than ever before imagined.
Far and away the most dramatic experience related to the Course was my “night of terror” that occurred several months after I started with it. It was mid-December, I had been immersed in my Course study for several months and life was rocking along just fine. One night after a perfectly lovely day of Christmas-related activities I went to bed, meditated as usual, and fell asleep. About an hour later I awoke in the grip of the most horrendous terror imaginable. I had never been more than a bit nervous in my entire life, did not know what anxiety was about, and would never have dreamed that such an experience was even possible. No matter what I did, I could not connect with the bedroom around me, my husband sleeping beside me, or even with my children. I was alone in all the universe. Nothing worked to regain a sense of normalcy and I was frantic. I kept repeating to myself that I was not guilty and tried to remain in the moment. I cried, prayed, meditated and resisted with all my might and everything got worse. The hours passed and it felt like something inside me was trying to choke me to death. I truly was beside myself with fear. Around 5am I fell asleep for a couple of hours only to awaken to waves of terror sweeping over me. I managed to make it through the day and told my bewildered husband that evening that I guessed I was dying and made requests about how he would finish raising the children. The poor man didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because nothing had happened to bring about this most extraordinary circumstance. Our outer life was exactly the same — lovely holiday season, many friends, plenty of money, precious children, and no particular problems or worries.
However, with what little sanity I retained, I was clearly aware that what was happening was the undoing of the ego structure, as if the roots were being cut away and the full impact of the ego’s legacy of unmitigated terror was coming up unhindered and unmasked. I was on my knees with despair wondering how such a horrible thing could happen after all my years of work and trying to find a better way. Yet some small part knew this was going to turn out to be positive. It’s difficult to convey my astonishment when many months later I came to Workbook Lesson 196 that states, “There is an instant when terror seems to grip your mind so wholly that escape appears quite hopeless. When you realize, once and for all, that it is you you fear, the mind perceives itself as split. —– Now, for an instant, is a murderer perceived within you, eager for your death, intent on plotting punishment for you until the time when it can kill at last. Yet in this instant is the time as well in which salvation comes. For fear of God has disappeared. And you can call on Him to save you from illusions by His Love. —- Pray that the instant may be soon — today.” That had been my exact experience!
A few days later the terrifying part was over with the exception of a few minor “after-shocks” over the next few weeks. That was twenty-three years ago and nothing like that week has ever happened since. For me, that direct experience of the terror that drives everyone and to which the Course frequently refers was utterly life changing and essential for true compassion. And out of that has come my life work – clarifying the message of the Course, helping people walk through their own fear to the peace that awaits, because facing that fear is a lot easier with someone who’s been there.
The profound effect the Course has already had in its first twenty-five years is incalculable. I believe it’s entrance onto the world stage, if you will, was effected not just by Helen and Bill’s decision to find a better way to live, but by a willingness and desire on the part of human consciousness to come of age. It has manifested in accordance with the deepest urgings of our common mind to move through the fog of egocentricity into the clear and precious experience of unity.
Bill and I spoke of this matter of the Course‘s longevity shortly before his passing in 1988. At that time, we agreed that it would come to many more before its zenith was reached and that we could simply not fathom its on-going influence. We both felt that those who had encountered the Course up to that point were the pathfinders, the psychological pioneers who had volunteered to take unprecedented steps in challenging the old precepts on which most of human experience has been based. Throughout all ages, there have been seers and masters who have comprehended the human condition and its hypnotized state, but this modern group of pioneers represents a grass roots movement. These are “ordinary people” who are questioning the status quo and claiming their right to be free of psychological bondage.
I trust the time will come when the Course is recognized as one of the foundational writings of this millennium, one of the standards against which other writings are measured. Perhaps the Course‘s introduction to large numbers around the globe will not be in the form we recognize as the blue book, but in some variation that can be comprehended and embraced. It’s future will be in the people who are transformed by it, the way it infuses their work, resulting in the inevitable change of collective consciousness. There will always be a recognizable response to mankind’s growing desire to be whole and at peace. As the last sentence of the workbook states, “His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure; that I will never leave you comfortless.”
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