10 Reasons Why It’s Challenging to Understand A Course in Miracles
It’s challenging to understand a Course in Miracles because…
1) Text & Context
It’s helpful to begin at the beginning of the Text, not skip around. The problem with skipping around is that, even though the Course is very much a holographic presentation (as we’ll talk about), it also presents things in a linear way, too. For instance, there are terms and ideas that are clarified in the first several chapters, and if you haven’t read them carefully, you will not get what is being said later on. For example, Jesus explains the difference between “knowledge” and “perception” early on and then basically assumes that you know what the distinction is whenever he discusses these terms later.
2) Jesus Is the Narrator
Jesus is presenting the teaching throughout the entire Course — Jesus is the sole narrator of the Course. So when someone says, “The Course says…” what’s really meant is “Jesus says…” This makes all of the difference in understanding what is happening, especially when you recognize that not only does Jesus quote the Bible quite often, but he puts a new spin on it, and that spin is almost always a complete 180 degree reversal of what the Bible says. Jesus is essentially saying: You know, I told the apostles 2000 years ago that they weren’t going to understand everything I taught them, and they didn’t. They got a lot of it wrong, they got it twisted. They ended up bringing truth to the illusion, instead of illusion to truth. So I’m back, baby! And I’m going to set the record straight…
3) Symbol & Metaphor
It’s also challenging to understand the Course if you don’t realize that much of what Jesus is saying is metaphorical in order to help us relate to the content more easily. For instance, when he says that God or the Holy Spirit does this or that, that God is lonely or sad, that the Holy Spirit calls you, etc , these are all just metaphors to help us grasp the situation a little better, and also to motivate us and inspire us. If you don’t understand this point, you are going to see contradictions in the text. If God is perfect Oneness and does not even know about the separation (because it is not real), then how can God know about us, be lonely, be sad, and so on? So it’s essential to recognize that Jesus is putting things in ways that we can understand, given that we are currently so identified with the ego to the point that we can’t even think about God without a body, or without human qualities (the anthropomorphization of God). Even saying that God is Light or Love is also just using symbols that we can understand, but God is even beyond what we currently understand by these words, too, and can only be experienced, not intellectually understood.
4) Thought Reversal
Connected to the last point, many of the Christian-sounding terms used are the complete opposite of what the Bible and Christianity means by it. Take the word “miracle.” The Course is not by any means talking about a miracle as a supernatural event that a holy person does, such as to magically heal the sick or resurrect the dead. Nor is it talking about even “minor miracles” like that finding your long lost keys, or something like that. For the Course, a miracle does not have anything to do with changing anything in the external world or our behavior in regard to it, but rather it has to do with changing our mind about the world. That involves joining with the Holy Spirit or Jesus in your mind for help in seeing things in the light of true forgiveness, which is to recognize that “nothing happened,” there was never a separation from God and so anything we see which is creating a disturbance is of the ego and is nothing to be disturbed about.
So forgiveness is also not forgiveness as the world has come to think about it, where I forgive you even though you hurt me and I feel you were wrong for what you did; forgiveness, for the Course is recognizing that you didn’t do what I think you did, because in fact, there is no “you” or “me,” this is all a projection of the Mind due to the original supposed separation from God, a separation which, again, never really happened. Which brings us to the next point…
5) Theory & Practice
It’s difficult to grasp the deeper intention and practice of the Course without understanding the underlying metaphysics of the Course, which helps clarify WHY, for example, Jesus emphasizes forgiveness, and WHY we don’t truly forgive until we forgive totally. The Course is actually presenting a unique metaphysics that really cannot be combined with other systems of thought, such as New Age thinking. Take the idea of the original apparent separation from God (apparent separation – it didn’t really happen), which led to the Big Bang and apparent creation of the universe as we know it…Other systems will say that God created the world and that the world is essentially good, being a creation of God. To this, the Course says that not only did God not create the world, but God could not create the world, because God did not even recognize that a separation from God ever occurred or could occur. But if the separation never occurred, and God did not create the world, who created it and where does that leave us? Right, the ego created it and so we got nothing! So Jesus is gently, patiently leading us to this recognition, and because it’s so scary to us, and Jesus is so kind, he uses just the right mixture of literalness and metaphor to awaken us from our long slumber gently. This brings us to the next point…
6) Threatening to I-dentity
Perhaps the main reason we don’t understand the Course because what it’s saying is too threatening to the ego. “When the student is ready, the teaching appears” means that we will only understand things when we are ready, willing, and able to understand them. Which is why we can read the same book several times over the Course of our lifetime and get that much more from it each time we read it. We will understand it on a much deeper level as we deepen and mature. With ACIM, the more we are invested in the ego, the less we will understand the finer points of Jesus’ presentation. Jesus is ultimately leading us to the understanding that the “individual” we take to be so real, what it calls the “hero of the dream” (me!) is a complete fiction. Who wants to hear that? We’d rather at least hear that God really did create us and loves us and will re-connect us with our loved ones when we die, etc. But the Course is bringing us to the realization that ultimately only Perfect Love remains, and as “perfect love casts out all fear,” and fear is of the ego, no individual identity can remain intact and fully return to God. Everything must go! We can be okay with this intellectually, but experientially? Very scary.
7) Language Barrier.
One of the biggest reasons we don’t understand the ACIM is because we can’t figure out the language of the Course, or find it unappealing. On the surface, the Course is decidedly not cool, nor very fun — pretty dry, far from juicy. This connects with some of the other points already made about language. At first blush, the Course looks very biblical, “old school,” patriarchal and patronizing, hierarchical, elitist, etc. This initially turns many off to it. If you can get past this initial superficial reading of it, though, you will be greatly rewarded. It’s been suggested that Jesus purposely chose to express things as he did in order to help us understand the symbolic nature of language, and also to help us to transcend the “form” of things, and to see only the “content.” And the content, again, is the perfect love that inspired the Course, which is beyond language, beyond all symbols, beyond all form.
8) More Holographic than Linear.
Even though as noted, Jesus’ presentation of the material of the Course is linear and methodical, it is also holographic. This means that each individual part of the presentation includes the whole message. How can that be? Well, for one reason, because the message of the Course is so simple: Only God is real, the separation from God never occurred, forgiveness is the way back Home… so get with de-program! Jesus is “Johnny One Note” – it’s the same essential message over and over and over again, expressed in so many various ways to make it all more understandable, and more importantly, to motivate you to take it all seriously.
Now, this also means that if you don’t understand any part of the Course, or are in disagreement with any part, you don’t understand any of it, because the message is a very coherent and unified message. This is a complete and internally consistent “thought system” (Jesus actually calls it that), and as such, you either believe all of it, or you believe none of it. Similarly, Jesus says you either forgive totally, or not at all. You either identify totally with God, or you identify with ego. Jesus says a number of times there can be “no compromise” in this, even though, again, we are told from the outset that we do have free will to decide how fast or slow you want to take this whole process, especially if you don’t feel ready for it, or parts of it, yet. But ultimately, you’re going to realize there can be no compromise when it comes to truth.
9) Intellect & Heart
It’s difficult to understand the Course if you approach it only with the intellect, and not also with the heart. This is a confusion of Form and Content, a theme that is played on greatly throughout the Course. On the level of form, the Course is like a Textbook you read in school, and it indeed all looks very heady. Yet on the level of content, which is the deeper level at which we are to read it, the Course is a manifestation of Perfect Love to awaken that same love within you. It is actually meant to appeal to both head and heart, because most of us are so caught up in thinking, and are conditioned to favor linear, rational thought. So Jesus uses thinking/thought to gently, gradually lead us beyond thinking. Looked at this way, there’s a sense in which we could feel very devotional and in our heart even reading the most intellectual-sounding passages from the Course. Yet there are also such beautifully poetic passages all throughout the Course, too! Here is but one:
All Your Past Except Its Beauty is Gone
“How can you who are so holy suffer? All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing. I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance. They are beyond destruction and beyond guilt. They came from the Holy Spirit within you, and we know what God creates is eternal” (T.5.IV.8:1,2,3,4,5,6).
10) It’s Helpful to Have a Good Interpreter/Translator
And finally, we are challenged to understand the Course because we rely too much on our own powers of understanding when there are some who have devoted their lives to studying, practicing, and teaching the Course whose perspectives could save us a lot of time and agony, if we would just let them help us. For me, the two most important guides in this respect are Gary Renard and Ken Wapnick, though more the latter. I have said elsewhere that Ken Wapnick is my “go to” guy for help in understanding the Course. In fact, much of what I have written here is influenced by his writings and talks. I highly recommend to everyone wanting to understand what the Course is saying to check out Ken’s videos (Youtube) his writings (many of them on the Foundation for a Course in Miracles website facim.org ), and his books.