A Course In Miracles
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) is a self-study system of ‘spiritual psychology’ contained in a 1250-page, three volume book, which was first published in 1976. The Course combines profound spiritual teachings with far-reaching and practical psychological insights.
The Course aims to help us remove the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence and to start listening to our inner teacher, the ‘Voice for God.’
“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.” (From the Introduction to the Text)
A Course in Miracles has already touched the lives of more than one million people around the world.
WHAT IT SAYS: There is no separation between God and ourselves or, therefore, between us. God is love, eternal and infinite, and all there is. We are God’s one creation. God only creates like Himself, so we remain as God created us, innocent and whole. Only what God created is real. God did not create pain, death, guilt or fear, so although they exist in our experience, they are not real. The Course aims at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence. Rather than trying to change external circumstances, the Course teaches us to change our perceptions about the world. The peace of God is reached through the practice of forgiveness.
A Course In Miracles – What it says
Principles of The Course
Although A Course in Miracles contains many well-known Christian terms, it usually gives them a very different meaning and specifically reinterprets established Christian teachings. The Course calls this the correction of “upside-down thinking.” The theoretical framework of the Course is summarised in the Introduction to the Text:
“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.”em> (Text, Introduction)
The above statement is one of many which make the Course look deceptively simple on first reading — the only reality is of God, everything else is an illusion, a dream. However, as we study the Course, we become aware of our strong resistance to these teachings. Our immense investment in the world of separation, in our ego (i.e. our concept of individuality, of being a separated self, and a separated body) will hinder our acceptance of the truth.
Together, we make this world of illusion seem real. We will experience fear and pain as our belief in our collective illusion is challenged. These feelings come from our resistance to experiencing the reality of God’s love. Our ego will see God as a threat, because the ego will be relinquished when we finally accept our true inheritance.
When we feel that fear, the Course will always remind us that we can choose again between the ego and God. We have been given help that comes from beyond this world:
“In every difficulty, all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says: ‘My brother, choose again’… He would not leave you comfortless, alone in dreams of hell, but would release your mind from everything that hides His face from you.” (T-31.VIII.3:2-5)
In many ways, we are like little children who do not understand what something means and so ask our parents for an explanation. We accept the answer given because it is given by someone we trust, someone with greater wisdom and authority, and who has never failed us. This is the position in which we find ourselves when we read the Course. We do not have the answers ourselves, but we are grateful to God Who has sent us His messengers, His teachers, to guide us safely home.
It is by listening to the answers which God provides that we will experience true happiness. We will find that our feelings of unease, emptiness and indefinable sadness are diminishing, to be finally replaced with everlasting joy and peace.
The world began when “a tiny, mad idea” (T-27.VIII) crept into the mind of God’s Son: ‘What if something could exist apart from God?’ In that moment, the world was made as a place where we could hide from our Creator. The ego came into being. The ego is our mistaken belief that we are still separate from God and from each other.
Thus, the world reflects what is within us: the two emotions of love and fear, the latter of which often manifests itself as hatred and attack. Nature shows us intricate designs which inspire us with their loveliness, as well as scenes of unspeakable cruelty and waste of life. The same sun which makes the drops of dew on a spider’s web sparkle like diamonds causes relentless droughts leading to the deaths of millions.
Therefore, A Course in Miracles diverts sharply from the Christian thinking that God created the world. What started with the one thought of separation became more complex and divided in time. We can see that in our society, in which life appears to become more complicated with every new development and scientific discovery. However, there is only one error at the root of all this, and what we see are merely different forms of that single, original mistake. As the Course explains:
“You … made but one substitution. It has taken many forms, because it was the substitution of illusion for truth; of fragmentation for wholeness. It has become so splintered and subdivided and divided again, over and over, that it is now almost impossible to perceive it once was one, and still is what it was. That one error, which brought truth to illusion, infinity to time, and life to death, was all you ever made. Your whole world rests upon it. Everything you see reflects it.” (T-18.I.4:1-6)
We would have little cause for hope if we relied upon our ego to sort out all the problems which we encounter. The ego’s existence is maintained by our belief that this world of separation is real, and will not present us with a solution that will ensure its fading away. Therefore, at the same time that the separation occurred, God gave us His answer: the Holy Spirit.
Much of the material in the Course is focused on showing us the insanity of the ego, contrasted with the love of the Holy Spirit. The Course makes it clear that in every moment, we choose between the two. And this choice is literally one between hell and Heaven.
The Course considers itself a very practical path. To understand this comment and relate it to the choice between the ego and the Holy Spirit, we first need to look at the concept of projection, then at forgiveness, and finally at what a miracle is.
The Course makes a fundamental distinction between extension, which is of God, and projection which is of the ego. The product of the first is always love, and that of the latter is, just as inevitably, always guilt and fear.
We all feel guilty about our self-imposed separation from God, although we are not usually consciously aware of it. Instead, we attempt to get rid of our pain and guilt by projecting our hurt onto others. In doing so, we believe that we have disposed of the guilt inside us. We feel instantly relieved, but only temporarily. The other person is now the focus of our displeasure, or even our outright hatred.
“It is X [my partner, spouse, parent, boss, the government, etc.] who is making me feel unhappy, and they are the cause of all my problems. If only they would be different, then I would be happy.’ The Course uses the term ‘special hate’ for this ego-motivated approach to relationships, both with people and with material possessions.
And so the world winds wearily on! Political parties blame each other for the economic recession and criticise their opponents bitterly. A husband and wife accuse one another of losing interest and causing a rift in the marriage. True solutions are never offered, and the separation is maintained. We feel vindicated for a while, until the next transgressor comes along to disturb our peace.
The relief we feel when we believe we have disposed of our guilt by projection is only temporary. The feeling is soon replaced by guilt once more. In fact, the effect of projection is actually to make us feel even more guilty; guilty for having condemned our brother. As we condemn him, we condemn ourselves.
The ego uses ‘special hate’ to keep us separated from our brothers and sisters, and we may be willing to acknowledge these feelings in our own lives. More painful and challenging is the recognition of the reverse side of the coin: ‘special love.’ This is far more subtle in its workings than ‘special hate,’ but it is equally devastating in its outcome.
In the case of special love, instead of openly attacking someone, I claim to love that person. Following my separation from God, I have perceived a lack within myself which only they can fill. As long as the other person acts in accordance with my expectations, I love them dearly and I may even speak of a match ‘made in Heaven.’ In return, I offer them what they are looking for — their expectations! Yet this ‘love,’ as the world calls it, can easily change into hatred when such a fragile coalition is disturbed.
It is not really love at all but imprisonment: we trap the other person with our expectations, conditions and demands — and whoebetide them if they break any!
However, our relationships can be transformed into ‘holy relationships,’ as the Course calls them. With the help of the Holy Spirit, these relationships (long-term or short-term) can then become opportunities for learning forgiveness and setting ourselves free.
A Course in Miracles calls us to become aware of ‘special hate’ and ‘special love,’ and to choose differently. The projections of the ego offer merely darkness, while a lasting solution to our problems can come only from God’s love:
“Make way for love, which you did not create, but which you can extend. On earth this means forgive your brother, that the darkness may be lifted from your mind.” (T-29.III.4:1-2)
By forgiving ourselves and each other, the separation is undone and the way Home is clear before us. Our function is to learn how to express forgiveness in this world, so that we may finally move beyond the world. We learn this in our relationships, and in each decision we make in this life.
Forgiveness is fundamental to the teachings of the Course, and Ken Wapnick has pointed out that the Course identifies three steps which make up the process of forgiveness:
Step one is the recognition that the problem is not outside but rather inside us. The problem is not in another person’s actions, but in our perception of such actions and in our evaluation of ourselves. We believe that we are vulnerable and that we can be hurt by external circumstances. If we continue to believe that the problem is outside us, we will be engaged in a fruitless search for a solution.
At the core of the Course’s teachings is the view that all errors occurred within the mind, not outside it. When the separation occurred, God placed the answer in our minds: the Holy Spirit, Who speaks for God at all times. Thanks to Him the answer and the problem can be found together in one place, so a true solution is achievable.
A Course in Miracles points out that we hide behind a multitude of apparent problems, so we do not have to face the real issue of separation. We may even believe that we need these problems because they supposedly help us to grow stronger. It is indeed true that the ego gains in strength because of this, but certainly not the spirit.
This may not be easy to accept. It often appears far more satisfying and dramatic to blame others for our troubles, while we play the heroes who bravely struggle on in the face of unfair treatment and outright attacks on our innocence.
Step two may be even harder than the first one. We must recognise that it is our decision to keep the problem — the guilt — in place. We do not want to end the separation. It forms the basis for our individuality, our specialness, our ego. Ironically, letting go of that framework of guilt and attack is very frightening.
The Course challenges us to look at what we have chosen and assess whether this really gives us happiness:
“Consider the kingdom you have made and judge its worth fairly. Is it worthy to be a home for a child of God? Does it protect his peace and shine love upon him? Does it keep his heart untouched by fear, and allow him to give always, without any sense of loss?” (T-7.XI.3:1-4)
We have done a good job of making a hell on earth, where happiness is an uncertain and fleeting occurrence; yet we still cling to our version of reality and insist that we know better than God. At this point we realise that it is our choice and, therefore, we are free to choose again and, this time, choose the Holy Spirit rather than the ego. In numerous places, the Course makes it clear that we do not know anything at all, and that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Step three, the final one, is taken by the Holy Spirit himself, at our invitation. Having decided that we want God’s peace, rather than our poor substitutes, we ask the Holy Spirit for help. He responds by taking away our guilt and undoing all its effects. Let us be grateful that we do not have to reach perfection before help is offered:
“Never attempt to overlook your guilt before you ask the Holy Spirit’s help. That is His function. Your part is only to offer Him a little willingness to let Him remove all fear and hatred, and to be forgiven.” (T-18.V.2:3-5)
It is also helpful to accept the Course’s view that another person’s action is either an expression of love or a call for love. Often, the aggressor is simply frightened and is waiting desperately for someone to shine light into his darkness. The miracle is a clear demonstration of a perception based on love instead of fear.
The Course teaches us that nothing exists outside our minds. It is our perception which requires healing rather than any external situation.
This certainly does not mean that we can — or should — ignore the suffering which we see in this world. We can offer assistance to our brothers and sisters on a level at which they can accept and receive help. Someone who is dying from hunger should be given food, not a metaphysical discourse on the illusory nature of the world. Our aim is to decrease his fear, not heighten it. Once he has recovered, he can then look at the underlying issue: the problem of separation.
Some people may be able to ignore the surface issues and go straight to the real problem — the separation. For most of us this will take time. We have spent many years (and, some would say, many lifetimes) building up our belief in our ego and the world.
This collective illusion is not undone by spending just ten minutes a day reading A Course in Miracles. The change only comes when we apply faithfully the lessons of the Course to each situation we encounter.
When we offer help, we should question our motives honestly: do we help because it makes us feel wanted and/or increases our self-importance? Or do we offer assistance because we feel inspired by God’s love and want to extend this to others? Only when the latter is the case can we speak of a miracle. The Course asks us repeatedly: “Why are you doing this, what is it for?”
In simple terms, a miracle is an expression of love, just as forgiveness is. By means of the miracle, we extend God’s love to others. The real miracle is the change in perception: from the ego’s view, to the certainty of the Holy Spirit.
A miracle will not always have an observable effect, and we should not be disappointed by that. It is not for us to judge whether God’s love has been accepted, and in what way. Our only function is to be a channel for this love, and we trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in the best way possible.
It may be tempting to wish for a particular miracle, but this could be an indication of ego involvement in the desired outcome. When we experience that, we are encouraged to take a step back and hand the situation over to the Holy Spirit. He is infinitely better at solving problems than our egos will ever be.
Many students will be able to share their first-hand experience of the way love can change us. The miracle is a sign that a long period of darkness is coming to an end:
“Miracles fall like drops of healing rain from Heaven on a dry and dusty world, where starved and thirsty creatures come to die. Now they have water. Now the world is green. And everywhere the signs of life spring up, to show that what is born can never die, for what has life has immortality.” (W-part II.13.5:1-4)
The immortality which the Course mentions actually refers to the mind, not the body. According to the Course, the body is not really alive and, therefore, cannot die. It is merely laid aside when it has served its purpose on earth (to be a means of communication and a vehicle for learning).
The concept of sin is dismissed by the Course as invalid. Sin assumes that something can exist outside God, and can attack Him, which is impossible:
“When you are tempted to believe that sin is real, remember this: If sin is real, both God and you are not. If creation is extension, the Creator must have extended Himself, and it is impossible that what is part of Him is totally unlike the rest. If sin is real, God must be at war with Himself. He must be split, and torn between good and evil; partly sane and partially insane. For He created what wills to destroy Him, and has the power to do so. Is it not easier to believe that you have been mistaken than to believe in this?” (T-19.III.6:1-6)
Sin and guilt always go together. If guilt is not real (and the Course states that is not), then sin does not exist either. Sin demands punishment, but without guilt there is no need for sin. The ego uses its own logic to try and prove to us that sin is real. The ego claims that: “We have sinned against our god, who demands retribution. However, in exchange for the death of his only son, god is willing to overlook our sins, and forgive us.”
The concept of sin forms the cornerstone of the ego’s thought system. Without sin, we do not have to fear God, or each other. Without sin, there is no need for the ego’s defences. Without sin, anger and attack have no justification. Without sin, retribution and sacrifice lose all meaning. Without sin, we finally see ourselves and one another as we truly are: the children of a loving Father, created perfectly in His image.
Only God and His Kingdom are real, and we have always remained a part of that reality. Therefore, we were merely mistaken about our true identity. One of the central themes of the Course is that we are still as God created us. We have made errors, and we have tried to stay separated from God, Who gently reminds us that we are wrong and calls us to awake.
The dream of separation, guilt and sin seems so real in time. Yet in eternity, it has never occurred. A Course in Miracles reminds us of this truth and guides us Home to God.
The ideas represented herein are the interpretations and understanding of the Miracle Network and are not necessarily endorsed by the publishers of A Course in Miracles.
Extracts from A Course in Miracles reproduced by kind permission of:
The Foundation for A Course in Miracles
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