Interviews from The Holy Encounter
These interviews appeared in recent issues of The Holy Encounter.
Interview with Beverly Hutchinson McNeff conducted by Ian Patrick
The following interview took place in March 2009 in Anaheim, California. It was conducted by Ian Patrick and first appeared in the U.K. magazine, Miracle Worker, published by www.miracles.org.uk
Ian Patrick: Beverly, you have been running Miracle Distribution Center for more than 30 years now.
Beverly Hutchinson McNeff: Yes, we started it in 1978, so last year we had our 30th Anniversary. I’ve been studying A Course in Miracles since 1977. I read a saying once that said a coincidence was an event in which God has chosen to remain anonymous. In looking back on the events that lead us to start Miracle Distribution Center in 1978, it is clear to me that God’s purpose was in every event, even though they just seemed like coincidences to us.
IP: What were you doing before the Course came along?
BHM: I was a child! No, I was living in Portland, Oregon, where I was born. In looking way back, it was a ‘coincidence’ (from our new definition) that I was born into my family. There could be no better place for me to grow in my spiritual journey. My parents were very supportive and encouraging. The church that they were brought up in was all hell-fire and damnation. And my dad hated it. He could not understand a God that would condemn, so we stopped going. Even though we did not attend church much in my early years, my parents were always reminding my brother and me of the power, presence and love of God in our lives. Their truly unconditional love was one reminder and so was my Mother’s favorite saying: “With God, nothing is impossible!”
It was my parents’ quest for this loving, caring God that brought us to our first Unity Church in Portland. My father began reading some of their books and talking to the minister and he loved what he was told, so he started supporting the church and loved the idea of tithing and everything to do with it.
IP: What about you?
BHM: At 10, I trailed along with everybody, doing whatever my parents told me to do, so I went to the church. I liked that Unity was very accessible, even for a child. I felt very much at home. I was deeply drawn to this loving, compassionate, ever-available God of which they spoke. God became a friend, who was always there to help and love me. They have little prayers for kids, little student prayers, and I was always a very good student. So, I would say the student’s prayer for taking a test, and I remember it to this day. It’s beautiful, and I’ve taught it to my son:
“Let me know that you are near
When I must go to face a test
Erase my every doubt and fear
Help me, Lord, to do my best.”
I thought it was such a great thing, and I said it all through high school and college, every time I had to face something. Then I realised it wasn’t just about taking a test, it was that life could be a test and that I just needed to apply that all the way along. So that was really my entry point into my spirituality. It started in Unity and became a part of everything that I did from then on.
So, one could say that finding Unity was a ‘coincidence’, but I cannot leave out a very important part of my spiritual education: my brother Richard. The whole family felt that Richard was our spiritual ‘Columbus.’ Like Columbus’ radical approach to a flat world, Richard was always exploring alternative thoughts and approaches to life. Everything from ghosts and UFO’s to Eastern thought and Christian mysticism, Richard’s alternative thinking fell on fertile ground with me. As a matter of fact, at a very early age, he was the one who showed me an alternative approach to the bars of my crib. He showed me that they could be thought of as a Jungle Gym for ease of escape! That was just the beginning of his ‘direction.’
My goal was to be an actress, so I started out doing community theatre, commercials, modelling – anything that I could do that would promote that. But, in the midst of all this searching in the world, my spirituality was always underlying everything that I did.
IP: Did something make you switch from Unity to the Course?
BHM: I think Unity was my stepping stone. I began to feel that there had to be something more, and the Course came at the right time to fill that ‘something more’. It just became the natural progression. I realised that the world ‘out there’ was never going to satisfy me, and a lot of this New Thought was about manifesting and manipulating the world. I began to realise that I didn’t know what was in my best interests.
It was Richard who found the Course and showed it to me. I opened up the Text to the Introduction and it was as if it answered all the questions I never really knew I had, that I had never articulated. Then I looked at the Workbook, and it looked just like Unity’s Daily Word, in that it gave a daily thought, so it was like home to me. That’s how I felt an affinity with the Course and just started doing it. I had very little resistance to it. Both Richard and I were fascinated by it and by its story.
It was a series of ‘coincidences’ that brought me to Southern California, at the age of 22, with the Course as my constant companion. With my background in theatre arts and broadcasting in Oregon, I set out to take Hollywood by storm. I did very well in my first year in California. I found an agent, became a member of the Screen Actors Guild, which is not an easy thing to do, and did five national television commercials for companies like Lipton Soups and Quaker Oats. But those never seemed to bring me quite as much joy as my study of the Course.
IP: How did MDC begin?
My brother had already moved down to California. We had started a study group at a local Unity church where we met with just a handful of interested people. At that time there, there was no Marianne Williamson writing about it and no Oprah talking about it. There was very little peripheral material on the Course to help students study and very few stores actually carried the Course. So we began ordering cases of books for interested students.
Richard and I had our own worldly work and then spent evenings and weekends doing the work we were committed to do with the Course. Somehow, though, there was no question that we were supposed to do this work. Of course there was doubt along the way, but there was always a feeling that what we were doing was right and needed.
One day, Richard walked into my office. As he sat down, mentioning that he had just ordered another case of Course books, he chuckled to himself and said: “You know, we’re like a miracle distribution centre!” I groaned in response to his comment and thought nothing more of it. Two days later, he again walked into my office and proudly laid business cards on my desk that read: Miracle Distribution Center. I was stunned! “What a dumb name!” I said. “Why did you do that?”
“It’s what we do, so I thought we should make it official,” he said with a grin.
Thinking back, now, I don’t know why I just didn’t say: “Let’s pick another name” – it is a long name to say and quite a mouthful! Not to mention the confusion we have with people thinking we are a food distribution company, the Miracle-Gro plant food company or Miracle Ear hearing aids, to name a few. But, for some reason, when Richard brought in those business cards with that name on them, I felt it was done – as if a power greater than I had said: “This is it. Now heal your perceptions and carry out my plan!”
So, in 1978, we began Miracle Distribution Center. The Center really had no form; we worked out of our homes, did meetings at churches and shared office space. It was apparent at that time that the form of MDC was not the primary focus. It was the content of our work and the dedication that was the centrepiece of what we did. We only knew one thing: the Holy Spirit was directing us to be of service and meet the needs of those who were directed to us – how that looked was not our concern.
Little by little, people would ask where there was a group closer to them, so we started co-ordinating lists of study groups. And one thing led to another. We didn’t start out saying: “We’re going to co-ordinate this thing.” We just started out being students of it, meeting the needs of students of the Course,and it grew into this. Every service that we’ve started is based on that idea.
The Center provides many ways for students to deepen their experience of the Course, much as the Miracle Network does in the UK. It does a lot of things people don’t know about.
The Holy Encounter is the Center’s 16-page magazine that offers practical Course application and inspirational support from numerous authors. It is read monthly by over 10,000 people around the world. We have the Miracle Prayer Ministry, with a daily prayer joining time of 4:30pm (Pacific Time) – although the time doesn’t matter. We also have a very active country-wide Prison Ministry, where we are able to support those in prison with books and services. Supporters send in donations which allow us to send books into the prisons.
A very popular aspect of the Center is our study group listing. We have over 2,100 groups from around the world that we know of and keep in contact with. It’s a mighty job to keep it updated and accurate. That’s why we have Conrad Hanson, who has been doing that for 27 years.
Despite that, we still find that there are lots of people who live in an area without a group. For nearly 20 years we have been recording our study group meeting, so that they are accessible to anyone. The meetings are available by mp3 download, for immediate listening, or we send them out on CD or, even, cassette. We also have an online listener board, so people can talk to each other, wherever they are, and keep the conversation going. These meetings are the Course in action in the world – these meetings are a way of connecting without the form.
We also have conferences on the west coast and, in the past four years, on the east coast, too.
IP: On the west coast, your conferences are near Anaheim, opposite Disneyland. It’s ironic, isn’t it?
BHM: It is, isn’t it! I think it’s perfect that we have the Center in Orange County. In the state of California, Orange County is very conservative, politically and religiously, and L.A., immediately to the north, is very liberal, of course. They always say that we are behind the ‘orange curtain’ here, in one of the most conservative areas, doing what we do. It’s funny, as you say, we’re next to Disneyland – fantasy land.
IP: You also produce the Wisdom Cards, the new Flip Calendar and Course words set to music by Steven Halpern.
BHM: Yes, Steven and I had a series of six recordings and after a seventeen year hiatus, last year we did a new recording together, A Touch of Heaven. It was exciting to do that again and to see the interest people had for these recordings and especially this new one. We felt very honored
IP: I have to say that when I started the Miracle Network, I used the MDC as my model for how I wanted it to be – the groups, the newsletter, conferences, the mail-order, etc.
BHM: Imitation is a wonderful form of flattery! I think it’s great. We learn from each other and we take the best and learn how to put it into the ways that we do it.
IP: So that’s your work. Rather like me, A Course in Miracles has taken over your life. What difference has it made to you, personally?
BHM: You know how it is, you look back on your life and you are such a different person when you are 22 than you are now in your 50s. It’s hard to even recognise that person any more. But, I can say that the Course has made an incredible difference. It has totally transformed my life. It’s made me realise who I really am. It’s made me a much more patient, tolerant, understanding and forgiving person.
My son, Jeffrey, is ten years old. Having him in my life, and the Course alongside, has been a wonderful tool. It’s helped me to be in the world, but not of it. You don’t escape the world. People say: “You run a spiritual organization. I wish I did that, because it would be so much easier!” With a spiritual-based organization you still have to work in the world, with the Post Office, businesses, lawyers, accountants – everybody, just like everybody else does. So, you escape nothing.
IP: I’m sure there are easier organizations to run!
BHM: I’m sure there are a lot easier! And more lucrative! I read that, on average, non-profit organizations make at least 20% less than other businesses. And, I say, in this economic climate, way less than that.
One thing I do know is that we are all in this together. We all feel a deeper purpose in what we do. But I think in any business you could feel that way. The purpose of being an accountant, a lawyer, a teacher, a cleaner or a waiter is to be of service. Why can we not just focus on that? You don’t have to run a spiritual organization to be spiritual, or to extend that spirituality. You are still going to work with people and it’s how you deal with those people as to be benefit you receive back.
So, there are days when I’m frustrated, angry or judgmental. The nice thing is I know those days, that they do not have to be, and I can choose another way. That, to me, is great power. If I choose to let God guide me in this, I can experience miracles.
IP: Yes, I experience that, too. And sometimes, I decide not to choose something different.
BHM: Absolutely, but you know that you are doing that. Frankly, I am reminded by my husband that I’m not! So I get a wonderful opportunity to say: “You’re right, I’m not. But you know what? Today, that’s what I’m going to do!”
IP: Yes, “I just want to be angry right now.” And that’s my choice.
BHM: And you have every right to do that. And when you do it, you realise it didn’t do you much good. So, then you get to choose again. The fact is that we know we have the power to do it. That’s the key.
IP: Tell me about raising Jeffrey. Has the Course made a difference to that?
IP: Has it made a difference to him?
BHM: Oh, he has no idea.
IP: These ideas must have become so much a part of him that he doesn’t know any different.
BHM: He doesn’t. I’ll see it come out, even in his school writing. For example, I told him that when people die they live on in our heart. He was writing something the other day about a book he was reading, in which a grandma died. Jeffrey tied it up by saying: “It’s okay, because grandma lives on in their hearts. She’s always there.” I realised that the things we had talked about life and death had made them accessible to him and not scary – a natural part of him. I thought that’s what our spirituality should be – nothing unusual, but just integrated into our being.
IP: Are there any specific ways that you’ve adopted in raising him? When he’s naughty, what do you do?
BHM: I beat him! No, but, of course, he has to deal with consequences for his actions. I think you should be normal in this world. He’s a very good boy but, like any child, he’ll push the boundaries. So, he goes ‘on time-out’. He has to sit down and think about what he’s done. And it’s my time to go and think about “Your patience with your brother is your patience with yourself. Is not a child of God worth patience?” (T 88) And, when he’s done 10 minutes thinking about it, we’ll sit down and talk about it. “Did you enjoy that? Was it fun? If it wasn’t, what could you do differently in the future to not make this happen again?” Every parent does that. You don’t have to be a spiritual guru to know that you are trying to get your child to understand the ramifications of an action in a way that’s not punitive but positive and constructive. The Course has given me, as a parent, more patience — to take a breath and not just react. You know, it’s like the old saying ‘Count to Ten’.
The Course is not unique, and thank God it isn’t because, if it was, it probably wouldn’t be true. As Roger Walsh would say, it’s part of the perennial wisdom that’s out there. Because it’s “as old as dirt,” and these thoughts are found in every great philosophy; they’re the truth. The only way the Course differs at all is in its form. It’s form is contemporary, like it says it is a “celestial speed-up”. If you really do those Workbook lessons, you are facing your guilt, you’re being responsible for your actions, you realise you have to be a bit more accountable in the situation, you have to be coming from the truth instead of your illusions. When you’re coming from your illusions, you’re doing absolutely nothing – and would you rather be doing nothing, or helping the universe along? I believe the world is coming to a paradigm shift, you see all the things are lining up.
IP: You mean 2012?
BHM: Oh yes, the end of the Mayan calendar. The Mayans didn’t think of it as a bad thing. Maybe it’s just the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of the world as it shall be, as it can be. Maybe it’s the birth of a time of consciousness. I believe what we have thought of as ‘New Age’ is becoming commonplace in the world today. Everyone is talking about it – from Brad Pitt, to Bono, to Barack Obama, so what’s the big deal? So, when I’m raising my child and I’m offering him the awareness that the way he treats “little Jordan” over there, he is not going to be able to escape the effects, he gets it.
When I was growing up, we didn’t talk about it that way, but now we talk about it at a young age. And it’s not just me, it’s everyone. The new thing, too, is the Indigo kids, who are coming. You know why they’re all enlightened, don’t you? It’s because you and I are enlightened. Let’s not make them special. It’s because we did the work and these kids are benefiting, because we’re reacting in a new way. And, they are resonating to it. The ideas of forgiveness, love and compassion makes sense to them. They get it and they “teach it” back to us because it makes sense to their hearts.
Jeffrey teaches me all the time but, I believe, that’s because we all did the work. We made fertile ground for these kids to grow. We are coming to this paradigm shift, because you and I worked on ourselves. So, thank God for Helen Schucman, for Bill Thetford. Thanks to all who led the way. And those who follow us will say: “Thanks, Ian. Thanks, Bev. Thanks, Marianne. Because you guys made it so that we could take the next step.” We stand on each others shoulders.
IP: Speaking of Helen and Bill, we are sitting in your office, Beverly, and the walls are covered with photos of you with Bill, Judy Skutch, Jerry Jampolsky, Marianne and many others. It’s like a spiritual family.
BHM: It is. I’ve known them for so long, since 1978. That was the first time I met Judy.
IP: Did you meet Helen?
BHM: No. Helen died in 1981. We were just so involved with the Course. I met Bill, because he lived out here. Helen was in New York, and she was not well. I just didn’t feel I had a need to meet Helen. Bill was a wonderful guy – funny, dry sense of humour. He loved puns. He was a mild mannered, sweet man. When I talked to Judy, she said he changed so much from when she first knew him. The Course created an incredible difference in Bill. And the way he died was just a reflection of that – such a release.
IP: You, obviously, have a good ongoing relationship with Jerry Jampolsky and Marianne.
BHM: Yes, Jerry and Dianne Cirincione are wonderful people, doing a lot of work with Carlos Santana now. They really live these principles and make a difference in the world. Judy is like a sister, but a lot like a mum to me. Marianne is a great sister. Any time I need her, she’s always there. She has never faltered. Any time we have a big celebration, like our 30th anniversary, she says: “Absolutely, I’ll be there.” She’s a very loving person. She has a radio show on Oprah.com and there was a time, recently, when her mother died, and she called me to ask if she couldn’t do the show — would I do Oprah for her. So, I said: “Well, OK”! It didn’t happen, but I was so honoured that she would think of me. She’s lovely. And she has a beautiful daughter. She’s a great mum, doing the work like we’re all doing.
IP: Now to be slightly controversial: That’s all the good, positive stuff, but I’m also aware that in the Course community there are some divisions, even rivalries, and people being not as nice to each other as they could be. Could you say something about that?
BHM: Well, isn’t that the world? Don’t people’s egos and judgements come up? I don’t think anyone should be surprised that it happens all over. I hope that what everybody is doing is becoming aware of it and realising that it doesn’t benefit you to hold on to it, and to move on. That’s our goal here. I’m way too busy to get caught up in judgements. There’s too much to do. And I hope everyone else feels that same way. The average person that we minister to has no idea what’s going on, and they don’t care. All they care about is how they apply these principles to their lives and how best can we help them.
IP: I think it does concern people. Emails that go out, do go around. And people wonder about rumours and such like.
BHM: Even though you are out on the big web, it’s really only a small number of people who are that concerned about it. We service so many people and we hardly hear about these things. What we hear is that people are interested in learning how they can apply the ideas of forgiveness to their wives, husbands or their kids that they are estranged from. I hear more about that than I do about in-fighting with the Course.
IP: I think the spiritual teachers, however wonderful they are, are still doing their work.
BHM: Absolutely. Why should it be so unusual to people? It shouldn’t be. I’ve had people say negative things about me, but I look at it and ask: “What can I learn from this?” And if there is something I can learn, that’s what I need to apply. If it’s just silliness, then I need to let it go. I’m not in high school, where I am crushed by what people say. Not everyone is going to like what you do or agree with you, so you have to let it go.
IP: You really do strike me as someone who is really living what they teach.
BHM: Thank you. As you said, we are all growing. Giving each other a little grace and realising why you are really here – not to hold on to grievances, but to experience the love of God, which you are entitled to – that’s what it’s all about.
IP: Thank you.
Exclusive Interview with Judith Skutch Whitson
Another “Journey Without Distance”: Translating A Course in Miracles
Since A Course in Miracles‘ publication in 1975 there has always been one person at the helm providing the energy and dedication that was needed to bring the Course to the world. That person was and still is Judith Skutch Whitson. As president of the Foundation for Inner Peace, publishers of A Course in Miracles, a sacred trust and responsiblity was given to her. It was in her hands to nurture and bring the Course to the world. As a student of the Course then and now, she knew that she was merely its caretaker and that she and her staff would be guided each step of the way. That guidance has brought much exciting change to the life of the Course as the Foundation for Inner Peace now steps into the arena of translating A Course in Miracles into the languages of those awaiting students around the world. In this exclusive interview for readers of The Holy Encounter, Judy shares with us the enormous task that faces them and how they feel the Holy Spirit’s guidance each step of the way as they begin another “journey without distance.”
HE: Why is The Foundation for Inner Peace translating A Course in Miracles into different languages?
JSW: As the Trustee of the Course and owner of its copyright, the Foundation for Inner Peace is committed to the dissemination of its message to everyone. Obviously, only a small percentage of the world’s population speak English. Even so, if there had been no demand from foreign students for translations, we might have postponed the translations until a larger audience appeared. But English-speaking foreign students began to teach the Course to those who yearned to read the Course in their own language. To facilitate their teaching, some people began to translate portions of the Course. It became clear that such informal translations might misinterpret the original meaning of the Course. We could not permit a chaos of amateur translations to confuse both the principles of the Course and the foreign students who would be drawn to those profound ideals. It was therefore inevitable that we would embark on the translation project both to fulfill our mandate and to respond to the growing demand.
HE: Would you consider the translation effort the priority focus of the Foundation for Inner Peace now?
JSW: Unquestionably. Most of our financial and human resources are committed to that effort now.
HE: Does a single person have general responsibility for the translation effort?
JSW: Yes. Dr. William Whitson, the Executive Secretary of the Foundation, is also the principal administrator of all translations. He shepherds a translation from the initial selection and evaluation of a translator through contract design and successive revisions to final typesetting for publication.
HE: What factors have dictated your choice of languages?
JSW: We have certainly been conscious of student demand. And we have felt the passion of those who seemed to be inspired to dedicate themselves to the very difficult and time-consuming task of a translation. But as with all of our corporate and personal decisions, the Holy Spirit has guided our sequence of translations.
HE: Are most of the translators students of the Course before they start the translation process?
JSW: Yes, without exception. In fact, most translators are students who were so inspired by the English version that they felt compelled and guided to volunteer their services to render a translation.
HE: Do you accept such volunteers automatically?
JSW: No. We have learned to follow a very strict protocol of testing to insure that a translator is fully qualified for at least a five-year commitment to the task. We begin by asking for a sample translation of a difficult chapter, usually Chapter 13 or Chapter 23 of the Text.
HE: How can you possibly evaluate such a sample?
JSW: We are interested in two, often conflicting criteria: idiomatic fluency and accuracy. The unqualified translator who is only an amateur or is not thoroughly familiar with the English will often render an initial translation that is a word-for-word version of the English. Such a flawed effort immediately warns us that the student, as a teacher of God, lacks confidence to heed the guidance of the Course itself “…a good translator, although he must alter the form of what he translates, never changes the meaning. In fact, his whole purpose is to change the form so that the original meaning is retained.” (T106/115) Furthermore, word-for-word translations are usually incomprehensible to native speakers of the foreign language. So such an amateurish effort will be all but useless anyway.
HE: So who judges the adequacy of a sample translation?
JSW: Normally, we give the sample first to an experienced professional translation corporation in Washington, DC. Since they are not experienced students of the Course, we use them to evaluate fluency. We also ask another student of the English version who is also fluent in the target language to evaluate the sample.
HE: Does that end the qualifying process?
JSW: Not at all. If the evaluation is promising, we invite the candidate to Roscoe, New York, for an interview with Dr. Kenneth Wapnick, President of the Foundation for A Course in Miracles. Ken will interview the candidate for a more thorough evaluation of his or her understanding of the Course. He also uses a week of interviewing to assess the maturity of the candidate. After all, if chosen, that person will enter into at least a five-year dialogue with Ken to explore all the more subtle meanings of the Course line by line. If a translator doesn’t understand a sentence, he or she must ask Ken for clarification. So we ask Ken to insure that a translator is already relatively sophisticated about the Course before such a dialogue begins.
HE: By dialogue, do you mean that every translator must live at Roscoe?
JSW: Generally that is not convenient-or necessary. But since Ken is primarily responsible for insuring that each translator truly understands every detail of the Course in English, some translators have lived at Roscoe to study with him in order to accelerate their understanding of the Course. In any case, we expect each translator to raise any and all questions about meaning through constant correspondence and telephone conversations. Then, at least once a year, we like a translation team to visit Roscoe for face-to-face discussions and workshops.
HE: But there are so many levels of understanding! No student ever can be said to have “finished” with the Course. Each year of study deepens one’s understanding. When is a student ready for the task of translation?
JSW: Good for you! You are touching on one of the most complicated issues that confronts all of us. No translator has come to Roscoe fully qualified to translate the Course. Invariably, the very process of translating deepens one’s understanding because it evokes questions of interpretation that are not easily answerable. Such questions challenge any translator’s deepest knowledge of philosophy, metaphysics, theology, psychology, pedagogy and the Bible. For example, at what cultural level should the Course be translated? Should it be street language? “Pop” language? Heavy intellectual, Biblical, Shakespearean or academic language? We have learned that some prisoners in San Quentin prison call Holy Spirit “Spook.” Is that the kind of language that a translator should use?
HE: So by “understanding the Course,” you also mean a candidate’s sense of respect for the material as well as its accessibility to people in the target language?
JSW: Absolutely! If we have enough confidence in a candidate translator to sign a contract, we will still monitor their work through their first draft to be sure that we haven’t made a mistake. We do not want major errors to go uncorrected too long, even during the crafting of a first draft.
HE: But you don’t correct all errors immediately?
JSW: No. We urge the translator to forge ahead through a first draft for several reasons. We know that only after they have met the challenge of the entire Course will they have reached a necessary level of understanding of the task itself — even if they may not yet have fully grasped the profundity of the material. Also, simply as a matter of technique, if a translator tried to correct each chapter in order to render a perfect chapter, they would inevitably be dissatisfied with their work by the time they reached the end. That has happened over and over to translators who tried to be perfect before they had really struggled through the entire work.
HE: So what happens after the first draft is finished?
JSW: That’s when a reader and maybe even an editor join the team. They too must be thorough students of the English material. But we will often bring on an editor or a reader who is especially qualified in the literature of the target culture. By working with the translator and with Ken Wapnick, they struggle with specific problems in the target language, problems that we had advised the translator to postpone until he or she was more familiar with the entire range of such problems.
HE: Can you give me an example?
JSW: Of course. In French, there is no word for the highly ambiguous English word, “mind.” In Hebrew “Holy Spirit” is feminine. Thus, the translator had to be very sure that “He” in a sentence referred to Holy Spirit before revising the sentence to the feminine gender. In Chinese, there are several different ways to say “God.” How do you render capitalization of certain words in languages which don’t use capitals, like Chinese? How do you translate our highly evolved language of psychology into a culture which may not yet have acquired the American sophistication with human motives?
HE: What do you do when the target language has no equivalent to the English word?
JSW: That is precisely the case where a word-for-word translation breaks down. The translator’s obligation is to translate the idea of a sentence and a paragraph in words that least distort the vocabulary and syntax of the target language. So the team must convey that idea in ordinary language. However, it has sometimes been necessary to invest a pre-existing word with a new meaning, which must then be used consistently throughout the translation. Twelve years ago at the beginning of the Hebrew translation, we learned that there was no word for “mind” at all. Finally, a new meaning for an ancient word was introduced into the language that means the “font of thought.” Sometimes, we may permit a footnote in the translation to explain the translator’s choice. But we prefer to minimize footnotes, which tend to divert the reader’s attention.
HE: My goodness, a translator must be very courageous!
JSW: Unbelievably courageous and daring! Most translators work essentially alone. Of course, we provide him or her with aids and human resources like Ken Wapnick and readers. But finally, we must trust the translator personally to make thousands of decisions of interpretation.
HE: For example, the syntax of the English version is often very awkward because of the iambic pentameter. Do you expect the translator to echo or mimic that meter?
JSW: No. In fact, we warn the translator to avoid such a pitfall. There is no obligation for a translator to mimic ambiguities and awkwardness that result from Helen’s metric style. If the English meaning is very clear and without any ambiguity, the translator must only render that meaning into the target language. That doesn’t mean that a translation can’t be beautiful, even poetic. Parts of the Spanish and the Russian translations are in blank verse and are quite moving, according to highly competent readers.
HE: But what if several alternative meanings are possible?
JSW: That’s when the skill and courage and confidence of the translator face a supreme test. That’s when we want the translation to be just as ambiguous as the English. One of our primary rules is “Don’t try to improve the English.”
HE: Does each language present special challenges?
JSW: Yes. We thought the Spanish, our first translation, would be easy. But we learned that Spanish takes on different cultural variations in each Spanish speaking country. To settle that problem, we decided that Castilian, the purest form of Spanish, would be required. We were indeed lucky that one of the original translators was a professional translator from Spain.
HE: How about Asian languages?
JSW: They pose two very special problems of both content and form. With respect to content, we have advised our Chinese and Japanese translators to translate for the tens of millions of Christians in their countries. At least they would already have a belief system consistent with western thought. With respect to format, the People’s Republic of China uses a simplified font or character while the Republic of China (Taiwan) and most overseas Chinese use traditional characters. We must still decide which font to use.
HE: What languages have already been published and how many volumes are now in print?
JSW: Since its publication in 1991, we have printed over 60,000 Spanish books. Since the Gen-man translation was first printed in 1992, over 50,000 copies have been distributed. Since we first published the Portuguese last year, we have distributed about 5,000 copies. The Hebrew was published this past summer with about 2,000 copies in print.
HE: What translations are in process now?
JSW: The Russian should be finished by the end of 1996. Chinese and French should be finished in the autumn of 1998. By the end of 1998, our translations will permit nearly 90% of the world’s population to study the Course in their own language. Over the next five years, we expect to publish another sixteen languages. In alphabetical order, they are: Bulgarian; Croatian; Czech; Danish; Dutch; Farsi; Finnish; Greek; Hungarian; Italian; Japanese; Norwegian; Polish; Rwnaniati; Slovene; and Swedish.
HE: Are the translations numbered in the same way as the English?
JSW: Yes. One of our goals in numbering the English version was to facilitate comparison of the same sentence in English and the translated language. If a reader or foreign student finds that the translation is not clear, he or she can refer to the same numbered sentence in the English for clarification.
HE: Have computers been useful in the translation work?
JSW: Not simply useful. Computers were essential. At the time we put the entire Course on computer with a search program, we did not know that the computer would be such a vital aid in translation work. But we soon discovered that only with a computer could a translator swiftly race through the entire Course to check a key translated word in all its uses. Indeed, one measure of the importance of a word is the frequency of its appearance in the Course. Such key words are like code words in the philosophical structure of the course; they must be used consistently throughout the Course.
HE: Can you give me an example?
JSW: Of course. God “creates.” Egos “make.” “Atonement” has a special Course definition which hides within the ambiguity of the English word. Thus, translators must develop a lexicon of key words that they will use consistently throughout their work.
HE: Can you tell us what an average translation costs?
JSW: The cost ranges from $300,000 to $500,000 for each language, which will usually require between seven and ten years to complete. When we first approached professional translation companies like Berlitz, we described the standards of excellence that we require and the multiple drafts and study visits to Ken Wapnick needed to meet those standards. They finally advised us that we were attaining our standards at much lower costs than the industry could have achieved.
HE: But those costs are very high. How can they be supported?
JSW: We put all profits from our book sales into the translation effort. We allocate all excess funds from our royalties to translations. But we finally realized last year that, for the first time in the twenty-year history of the Foundation for Inner Peace, we would need outside help.
We prayed for guidance and felt inspired by a plan based on the realization that in this ethnically diverse great country of ours, many of us have connections to other languages through our grandparents, our parents and our spouses. Why not appeal to that rich heritage? Why not let students of the Course make a direct contribution to their own cultural heritage that now yearned for the ideas of the Course in their own language? We started our “Adopt A Language Program.”
The program appeals to students of the Course for assistance. We mailed an announcement about our need to those we knew who cared about the Course. We invited them to contribute in any way they could afford. They could either select a specific language to support or they could donate to our general fund.
HE: Can students still “Adopt A Language?”
JSW: Absolutely! Contributions can be sent to the Foundation for Inner Peace, P.O. Box 615, Tiburon, California 94920.
HE: Do you have any personal stories about translators?
JSW: Often people expect that these unusually committed folks must be extraordinary people. But in truth, they are just like Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford: ordinary people performing an extraordinary “assignment.” They are mid-wives birthing the blue books for untold numbers of students of future generations. But to answer your question, I would rather let them speak for themselves.
Japanese translator Yuriko Tanaka
As I studied A Course in Miracles, at least I could recognize that there is another way to see things around me and in me. It took me over a year to read the whole book through twice. By then I strongly felt that this is the message I really would like to share with people in Japan.
One day it dawned on me, that for me to keep saying that I have been searching for the Peace of God, I am saying that I still do not have it or not being in the Peace of God, where in fact, God has already given me everything I want.
Chinese translator Chiao Lin Cabanne
I have been searching for the meaning of life since an early age…. I continued my search for years for a psychological line which could make concrete sense of what and where I am, and allow me to integrate every aspect of my mundane life into my spiritual pursuit.
Then an invitation came. I happily accepted the call to further my spiritual journey through the translation of A Course in Miracles. It shows me a way to transform my worldly relationships into a holy instant. It reminds me of my true self, the heaven that I never lost. It rests my mind after long restless searching, so that I may be able to live simply a life of grace.
Portuguese translator Lillian Paes
As many of us when I found A Course in Miracles in 1985, I had been searching most of my life. Finally I could see. I studied as much as I could and struggled to learn its thought, its lessons, its new language and I couldn’t believe I was so blessed to do what I most wanted to do in this world. When I understood that after three years of hard work I had to start all over again reading dictionaries to keep my own interpretations out, I was humbled and inspired. But when the book was finally published in l995, that’s when the real learning started.
I am no administrator and to this day I do not understand how come I am doing this. As Helen, I often ask, “Why me?” All I can say is that without Him I could never have come all this way. I feel very inadequate to this role and keep asking for Help over and over.
Hebrew translator Avi Yasur
It was obvious that to introduce A Course in Miracles to Israeli students I would have to translate the Course into Hebrew. During those days I was translating films so the translation did not seem impossible. I heard the call and answered it gladly. It seemed the commitment to the Course was an ancient and deep one, more than I could remember at the time. Much later I realized that indeed that decision had been made many years back. I found my life mission and purpose, I did not know then that twelve years of translation will be needed. And even if I were told I wouldn’t even consider whether to answer the call or not. I didn’t ask any questions, I had no doubts, I did what I was asked to do. A Course in Miracles had to be published in Hebrew and I followed the instructions.
Many spiritual and deep experiences took place during those twelve years, I cannot describe their immensity. I always found an answer to every conflict in my life. Sometimes while studying the Course, trying to comprehend it, reading it over and over, a radiant figure would suddenly appear before me explaining gently and lovingly the text and how it touches my life at this very moment.
I cannot envision my life without A Course in Miracles, as if it has its own personality. The Manual for Teachers tells us that unity is certain, “… all who meet will someday meet again.”(M7/8) I felt I had met an old friend, an ancient love. An ancient love I cannot keep only to myself. I must share it with the whole of humanity. For this privilege I am grateful. Through my response to the Call others came and created more holy encounters, and more healing. I cannot envision my life without this holy encounter that introduced me to the Course and with those that were with me and were partners in my life dream.
An Interview with Steven Halpern, Ph.D. and Beverly Hutchinson
In 1983 the Center received a letter from a composer named Steven Halpern. In it he expressed his desire to combine the words of A Course in Miracles with the peaceful music for which he had become well-known. This letter produced a “miraculous” joining which resulted, a few months later, in a tape entitled You Are Entitled to Miracles. Five hundred copies were duplicated as a experiment to see if anyone would find this collaboration beneficial. Nothing could have prepared us for the enthusiasm which greeted that tape and the five that have followed it. Now over 100,000 copies of the recordings have been sold and the Center has received thousands of letters which elaborate on the healing effects the series has had on people. Since Steven and Beverly have never really spoken publicly about how the series came about or how their collaboration took place, we thought it might be nice to spend some time with the two of them and explore the creative process that produced these healing tools.
The following is an interview excerpted from The Holy Encounter, with Steven Halpern, who holds a Ph.D. in the psychology of music and is a pioneer in the field of sound health, and Beverly Hutchinson, who is the president of Miracle Distribution Center and an international lecturer on the principles of A Course in Miracles.
Holy Encounter (HE): You both have created a beautiful and healing series of recordings. How did you come up with the idea for a series?
Beverly Hutchinson (BH): Well, first off, we had no idea that this was going to be a series. Steven first approached me and the Center with the idea of a doing a tape with thoughts from the Course and his healing music. The idea seemed so perfect to me because I had a background in acting and broadcasting. I love the spoken word and had done quite a bit of theater. Shakespeare was a favorite, and, as you know, A Course in Miracles is written in iambic pentameter which is the same blank verse Shakespeare used, so to have an opportunity to present the beautiful words of the Course as a “soliloquy” was a great honor.
Meeting Steven was in the world’s terms a coincidence, but the Course tells us that all things are gently planned by One whose only purpose is our good. And it was quite clear to me that our meeting was a “holy encounter.” I’ll let Steven tell you more about that.
Steven Halpern (SH): The idea for a recording using the Course and my music literally came to me. I often play gentle, relaxing music like my album Comfort Zone in the background when I read. The first time I studied A Course in Miracles I noticed that the music helped me slow down and really “hear” the message. I remember receiving a thought, that just popped into my head, that others might also benefit if the words and music were made audible. I also had the clear sense that this was a project that was now on my recording agenda.
I discussed this idea with Judith Skutch-Whitson and Jerry Jampolsky who both expressed support but had other priorities. Then, while I was presenting a workshop at the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, Virginia, I met Beverly at the home of a mutual friend, Milton Friedman. Milton was a student of the Course who worked in Washington and had the distinction of having been a speech writer for President Gerald Ford. The recording idea naturally came up and there was an immediate recognition and the “ah-ha” reaction. The rest, as they say, is history.
HE: How do you two create a recording?
SH: The folks at Miracle Distribution Center decide on a focus and choose the passages. Beverly records her voice in a studio in southern California and sends the voice masters to my studio in northern California. I meditate with the words and sense what music would be appropriate, or in some cases, which music has already been composed. We’ve had so many cases of “cosmic coincidence” where the narration lasted exactly as long as the music. You couldn’t get it any closer if you tried for days! At other times, I’ll compose then record the music spontaneously, on piano or synthesizer, as I listen to the words for the first time. In both situations, however, it was pretty obvious that we were co-composing the music and we were not alone in the studio.
BH: Steven was really our teacher in this process. We had no idea how to do a recording like this, but we trusted his advice and followed his direction. There is a line in the Course that says, “Trust would settle every problem now.” (T558) And, that is what we did – we trusted Steven and we trusted the Holy Spirit to guide us in the passages that we were to use.
Many people are surprised when I tell them that Steven and I are not in the same studio when we record. They always comment on how perfectly the words and music blend. Like Steven, when I go into the studio, I pray that I may step back and “let Him lead the way.” It is remarkable what happens.
I remember when I was recording the passages for our latest recording, Looking Within, one of the recording engineers (who is not a Course student, but he is familiar with our work since we have worked with the same recording studio for the past 10 years) had a terrible migraine headache. He came into the engineering booth and laid his head down on his arms on the table. The recording took over an hour to complete and when we were done he raised up his head turned on the microphone into the recording booth and told me how his headache was gone and he felt refreshed. Now I’m not saying that our recordings are a substitute for aspirin, but I do think they allow your mind to relax and be at peace and according to the Course, “Health is inner peace.”
HE: Is there a benefit to putting the words of the Course to music?
SH: The music seems to allow your brain to shift effortlessly in the beneficial alpha brainwave frequencies. This evokes our built-in “relaxation response” and also allows the music to take the words deeper into your consciousness.
BH: That really is true. I am probably the hardest person to sell on brainwave frequencies and so on, but ever since our work with Steven on these recordings, I am a believer. Whatever it is, it works, and it even works on me. I remember one time in particular when I was not feeling well. I was very tired and experiencing heart palpitations – I was afraid! The words from the Course came to me, “The presence of fear is a sure sign that you are trusting in your own strength.” (W77) So, I asked for Help, and what came to my mind was to put on The Holy Instant, which has a 30 minute meditation on one side. I turned on the recording, laid down, closed my eyes, listened and fell asleep. It was the most peaceful sleep and when I woke I had a “hunch” I should investigate some herbs I had been taking and found out that excessive amounts of one particular herb could cause tiredness and heart palpitations. That recording gave me the willingness to open my mind to hear God’s Voice – it is not the recording that is holy, but the Holy Spirit did use it as a vehicle for me.
HE: Do you have a favorite recording in the series, and why?
SH: The one I’m working on at the time. I find each one has a special timeless quality that speaks to me in different moods at different times. Each is perfect in its own way.
BH: I guess I’m the wordy one in this partnership! Each of the recordings in the series has its own particular focus. You Are Entitled to Miracles was our first recording. It really is a general overview of the Course’s ideas. It is wonderful for people to get a feel for the Course and its power. Because it is the first we did together it will probably always be a favorite of mine. The next recording was The Forgotten Song. This recording has seventeen longer passages from the Course which highlight the entire journey the Son of God undertakes. It starts with reminding us of our true identity in God and then takes us through the world we think we live in, with all of its pain and suffering. It goes on to say that the dream of pain can be replaced as we accept a gentler dream and follow the Voice for God which will show us the answer to our suffering, which is forgiveness. The Forgotten Song beautifully shows us the gift that forgiveness gives and the peace that we will experience when we accept our true identity as God’s Holy Child. The last passage on the recording is one of my favorite passages. It is from the pamphlet The Song of Prayer entitled, “Come Unto Me.” It is so moving and reassuring as the last lines say, “Your Father needs you and will call to you until you come to Him in peace at last.” Steven’s music throughout The Forgotten Song is truly powerful and unique to each passage.
I have already mentioned The Holy Instant, which has a 30 minute mediation on one side and four actual forgiveness lessons from the Course on the other side. These lessons are very helpful because they are done in such a way that you can close your eyes and have time to actually follow the instruction of placing a person who you are having a challenge with into the lessons. If we had an hour I could tell you some stories about this recording!
The Ark of Peace and The Invitation to Healing are two recordings that highlight specific concepts in the Course: relationships and healing, respectively. My husband, Paul, loves listening to The Ark of Peace – we’ve been married twenty years, so maybe that will tell you something about that one! The Invitation to Healing was the recording I was doing right before my grandmother died. I was very close to her and as I was recording this recording on healing, she was in my mind and heart. I have had many tell me that this recording has a very powerful feel – it certainly was meaningful to me.
In regards to Looking Within, I had wanted to do one like this for a long time, and I use it practically everyday! It’s subtitled, “Affirmations from A Course in Miracles.” We actually used the word affirmations in a non-Websterian way, if you will. It is not the normal affirmation recording. Each thought from beginning to end has a planned progression and is repeated twice with enough time between repetitions for one to repeat the thought aloud or silently. Interspersed within the thoughts are slightly longer passages that highlight and summarize the previous thoughts. I use this recording everyday when I drive to the Center on those “good old” California freeways and it is amazing to me how many times I don’t want to listen to the recording because I don’t want to be happy! I find if I can just get my ego out of the way long enough to turn on the recording, I find my salvation! No, the recording is not my salvation – but it seems to be the “little willingness” that the Holy Spirit needs to bring my sanity back!
HE: And now your latest is A Touch of Heaven.
BH: After studying the Course for thirty-five years, I have marveled at the beauty and power of its words and thoughts, but I feel the real power of the Course is getting past those symbols and fully living and expressing the Course principles in our daily lives. And, that is what I wanted this new recording to move the listener towards. I selected a few of my favorite workbook lessons and presented them as I do when I lecture on the Course. I make them very personal, often repeating thoughts that I feel are very empowering and transcending.
The recording’s title comes from a paragraph within Lesson 157 in the Course that says: “Today it will be given you to feel a touch of Heaven, though you will return to paths of learning. Yet you have come far enough along the way to alter time sufficiently to rise above its laws, and walk into eternity a while. This you will learn to do increasingly, as every lesson, faithfully rehearsed, brings you more swiftly to this holy place and leaves you, for a moment, to your Self.” This passage is just so powerful to me. It’s telling us that in our busy, crazy lives we can experience a touch of Heaven, right now! Wouldn’t we all want that? It tells us that we will have these moments even though we’ll return to the crazy world – but we won’t return quite the same. We will have been healed, lifted for a moment and because of this, we will come back to the world as a gift of
healing. That’s what I wanted this recording to do for people: break them away from the insanity of the world so they could experience a touch of heaven. From all the letters and emails we have received, it seems to be working!
HE: It is helpful to hear the focus for each of the series. Now, Steven, how do you create or write your music?
SH: Much of the music writes itself. I make an appointment with the recording studio, enter into a meditative state, and the music flows through my fingers. Of course I have had 35 years of training and experience and it perhaps would not work like that if I hadn’t been doing my homework on “tuning my own instrument” first.
HE: What makes your music different or healing?
SH: There is a unique sense of time and space in this music that truly allows the listener to relax, to merge and become One with the music. The spaces between the notes are as important as the tones themselves, and the actual quality of each instrument is chosen for its soothing, uplifting effect. There are not jagged rhythms, no hard edges in this music.
Because of the open-ended nature of the compositions, you can listen to them over and over again and they’ll always sound fresh and new.
BH: That is really true. The open-ended nature of Steven’s music really does make it easy to listen to over and over again. We play only his music at the Center and we never tire of it – as a matter of fact it even seems to energize us. And with the activity level of the Center, we need all the extra energy we can get!
HE: Steven, you have coined the term, “Inner Peace Music.” What does that mean?
SH: This is music that creates an experience of inner peace and tranquility when you hear it. It’s so different that the name is trademarked. Originally I called it “Anti-Frantic Music” but I’ve become more comfortable with the positive orientation of “Inner Peace Music” rather than the negatively termed “Anti-Frantic Music.”
HE: How has your series helped people?
SH: I think Beverly hears most of the stories, so I will turn it over to her.
BH: I first want to say, and I’m sure I speak for Steven as well, these recordings are not our creations, we are merely the instruments. The they have been a wonderful example to me of how the Holy Spirit can use anything and any idea to teach us lessons in healing, if we let Him. The stories of how the series has touched people are many and varied. Any where from people using them during major surgery and recovery, to prisoners feeling a sense of oneness in the midst of a world of isolation. One lady wrote to tell me how her 7 year old and 9 year old children have memorized some of the passages and use them as prayers. They find them more helpful than the traditional prayers. We even received a letter from a Course student in Germany who said that even though her husband understands only a little English, he enjoys them!
The power of these recordings is beyond the physical, because their purpose is beyond the physical. They are really an excuse for holy encounters!
The Perennial Wisdom of A Course in Miracles
An Interview with Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D.
Interest in comparative religions is at an all time high. The recent PBS series “The Wisdom of Faith” with scholar Huston Smith is one example of this quest for understanding. In this article we explore the perennial wisdom found in A Course in Miracles. Roger Walsh has been a student of A Course in Miracles for 18 years and is particularly interested in the relationship of the Course to other spiritual traditions. He is professor of psychiatry, philosophy and anthropology at the University of California at Irvine and his publications include the books Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision, The Spirit of Shamanism and Gifts From A Course in Miracles.
When Frances Vaughan showed me the Christian mystical teaching, A Course in Miracles, I was hardly open minded. I opened the books, saw the words “God” and “Holy Spirit,” and refused to have anything to do with it for two years. But over those two years I kept running into people who would drop fascinating ideas or interesting one-liners. I’d ask, “Where did you get that?” and they’d say, “From A Course in Miracles.”
Eventually I weakened and took another look at the material. After a month or so, when I got past my resistance to the Christian language, I began to feel that this was a truly extraordinary work. During the past ten years I’ve studied it intently and my appreciation of it has continued to grow.
One of the hallmarks of a profound teaching is that when you go through it again, you find what philosophers call “higher grades of significance.” This seems to happen each time I go through the Course. I’m now at the point where I feel it’s on a par with any other material or discipline I’ve seen. Other people who are wiser than I agree. For example, Ken Wilber, who has read more widely in the world’s psychologies and spiritual traditions than anyone I know, says the Course is on a level with anything he’s run across. So I’m inclined to think that this document may be a spiritual masterpiece.
The Course and the Four Yogas
One of the Course’s unique features is that it seems to be especially well integrated. Most paths are the result of a variety of sages speaking extemporaneously to various groups with disciples taking down some of their sayings and forgetting others so that the collected writings are not terribly integrated. From the life of Jesus, for example, we have a few hundred lines; a few thousand may be directly attributable to the Buddha.
The Course, on the other hand, is clearly a well-integrated system starting with a beginning on page one and systematically running in a logical progression to the end. The sequence of lesson’s also has a logical coherence. They first run through a process of deconstructing our usual way of perceiving and then substituting or reconstructing a healthier way. Along the way all four key elements – ethics, concentration, emotions and wisdom – are given due attention and skillfully combined.
The Course seems to be the perennial wisdom (the common core underlying the world’s great religions) in Christian form. It embodies the millennia-old teaching about the nature of the universe, of humankind, of waking up – in Christian language.
Within that, it employs a variety of different techniques. One way of comparing the different religions is to use Hinduism’s division of spiritual paths into “the four yogas,” four types of paths that emphasize different aspects of training. The four classic yogas are Jnana yoga, the yoga of intellectual discrimination by which we use the intellect to pare away illusions and to see clearly; Bhakti yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, the emotional approach for those people who have a heartfelt stance toward religion, spirituality and life; Karma yoga, the yoga of work and service in the world; and Raja yoga, a primarily meditative path. The Course clearly has sophisticated elements of all four of these yogas or paths.
The Path of the Intellect
The Course is a Jnana yoga of extraordinary power. In fact, it is the most sophisticated cognitive behavior modification text I’ve run across. There are descriptions of the nature of identification, psychological defenses and perception that are on a par with anything in contemporary psychology or the traditional wisdom teachings. In my lectures at the university on these topics, I find some of the ideas from the Course very useful, although I don’t usually confess this.
The Course lays out a precise thought system, which it says is an optimal thought system for awakening. According the the Course, our thought system creates our world view and our sense of self and reality. Thus, our perception is a reflection of our states of mind and our thought system and we project onto the world much of what is within us. Ultimately, in a radical ontological sense, the Course says that the world is a creation of the mind. In this way it echoes the opening of the Buddha’s teaching (The Dhammapada), which begins by saying:
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make our world.
The Course, like Buddhism and other forms of the perennial wisdom, says our thought systems are insane and that we consequently create and are enmeshed in dreams and illusions although we don’t realize it. In other words, our dreams and illusions are self-masking and we mistake them for reality.
To help us understand this, the Course asks us to reflect on our sleeping dreams. These show us that our minds have the capacity to literally create worlds and bodies that seem totally real to us while we’re dreaming. We run into tables and they seem hard. We identify with our dream bodies and assume we will cease to exist if they are destroyed. Other than rare lucid dreams, we never recognize that we’re dreaming until we wake up. Yet, from our usual waking state, we can look back on our former dreams and see that our dream state of consciousness has less ontological validity or reality than the one we’re in now. Thus the Course suggests that:
Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be …. and while you see it you do not doubt that it is real. Yet here is a world, clearly within your mind, that seems to be outside …. You seem to waken, and the dream is gone …. and what you seem to waken to is but another form of this same world you see in dreams. All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all.
The Course says that our usual waking state is also a dream, in fact an unhappy psychotic dream. It therefore offers an alternate thought system which can replace our negative dream with a happy one. It’s still a dream, but it’s the happiest dream we can create and one from which it’s easier to awaken.
But the Course’s ultimate goal lies beyond all dreams and aims at awakening. Its message is that there is another state of consciousness which is to our ordinary waking state of consciousness as our waking state is to our sleeping dream state. This is salvation, liberation, enlightenment or moksha. Hence, the fundamental message of the Course, like the other great spiritual traditions, is “Wake up!”
This waking up involves disentangling ourselves from the culture-wide illusion in which we live. This culture-wide illusion, or consensus trance as Charles Tart calls it, can be seen as a form of hypnosis. What we take to be normality is actually a form of culture-wide hypnosis. So say the great spiritual traditions (though they use other terms for it) and contemporary thinkers such as Charles Tart, Willis Harman and Ken Wilber.
So the Course urges us to wake up from our collective trance. The means it offers for this follow logically from its claims about why we’re hypnotized. If we are entranced by a collective deluding thought system, then obviously the solution is to substitute – à la cognitive behavior modification – another thought system: a thought system that dehypnotizes and awakens. This is what the Course claims to do. It claims to offer an alternative thought system that we can substitute, if we so choose, for the cultural system instilled in us from birth that has so successfully entranced us.
The Path of the Heart
The cutting edge of Bhakti yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, is this transformation of emotions. The Course also focuses on the transformation of emotions and the cultivation of love. In fact, it says that “this is a course about love” and that any course that seeks to teach us who we really are must teach us about love. The type of love that the Course emphasizes is a universal or nonexclusive, unconditional love, which the early Christians called agape and the Course calls the Love of God. Lessons that clearly focus on this include the one titled “I feel the Love of God within me now”. another example is, “Today the peace of God envelopes me and I forget all things except His love.”
One feature of the Course, which I have found in no other tradition, is its use of relationships – specifically peer relationships -as the primary vehicle for awakening. Bhakti yoga also uses relationships, but not so much peer relationships. Rather, Bhakti yoga usually emphasizes devotion to, or love of, a god or guru. It’s usually not a love relationship between equals. Many paths acknowledge the divinity in others, but the Course’s emphasis on using our peer relationship for awakening is unique in its detail and sophistication. It fills dozens of daily lessons and hundreds of pages with very precise instructions on healing relationships, practicing forgiveness, seeing each other as mirrors and mutual saviors, recognizing the divinity within each of us, letting go of grievances, taking joy in the joy of others, acknowledging our interdependence, relinquishing expectations and demands and cultivating the desire to love and serve. Many people, myself included, feel that it is perhaps the most sophisticated and profound approach to relationships they have seen.
The Course divides relationships into holy and unholy ones. The closest equivalent I know to this would be Maslow’s distinction between motives which are deficiency and sufficiency based. When we are motivated by a sense of deficiency and lack, we enter relationships to get something. However, in sufficiency-based relationships both people already have a sense of well-being and wholeness and desire to enhance and share that through a relationship. According to the Course:
An unholy relationship is based on differences, where each one thinks the other has what he has not. A holy relationship starts from a different premise. Each one has looked within and seen no lack. Accepting their completion, they would extend it by joining with another whole as themselves. They see no difference between these selves. For differences are only of the body.
The Course specifically advises us to take each relationship and view it as a means of awakening both people. It says that each of us is both teacher and student, patient and therapist. It advises us to approach a relationship with the realization that just as we embody the Divine within us, so does the other person. The Course says it is easier and more skillful to look for the divine core within both the other person and oneself because this divine core is transpersonal and no one person encompasses it.
The Course contains a number of very practical relationship techniques. For example, it suggests that any time “the holiness” of a relationship is threatened, such as in an argument, to proceed as follows:
Whoever is saner at the time the threat is perceived should remember how deep is his indebtedness to the other and how much gratitude is due him, and be glad that he can pay his debt by bringing happiness to both. Let him remember this, and say:
“I desire this holy instant for myself,
That I may share it with my brother, whom I love.
It is not possible that I can have it without him, or he without me.
Yet it is wholly possible for us to share it now.
And so I choose this instant as the one to offer to the Holy Spirit,
That His blessing may descend on us, and keep us both in peace.”
This leads to another major emphasis of the Course: forgiveness. While Christianity has traditionally emphasized forgiveness, the Course gives it a more psychological flavor. When we forgive others, it says, we are actually forgiving our own shadow and the projections that we have been unwilling to acknowledge withing ourselves. So the Course skillfully reframes forgiveness to make it apparent that forgiveness serves the person who forgives as much as the person who is forgiven. In fact it claims that forgiveness is a healing practice of remarkable power and that “forgiveness is the key to happiness.”
The Path of Service
Karma yoga is the path of service and work in the world. This is a strong emphasis of the Course, which says we don’t have to retire into a monastery to practice it. Indeed the Course emphasizes that the peace, love and joy we cultivate can be taken out into the world and increased by sharing. Indeed, the Course says that if we try to practice for ourselves alone, our efforts are actually counterproductive, because we are reinforcing the belief that we are separate from other people and denying the deeper reality of the unity of the One Mind. Thus the Course has parallels with Mahayana Buddhism. Both suggest that final liberation for any of us depends on liberation for all of us and advocates doing service to others as our essential means for awakening.
However, the Course draws a distinction between service and sacrifice that I have found extremely useful. It warns against serving out of sacrifice, because sacrifice breeds resentment and anger. The very idea of sacrifice is contradictory because if we’re doing something for others and viewing it as a sacrifice, then we’re again seeing ourselves as separate from them. The ideal is to understand that whatever we do for another is also for ourselves.
The Path of Meditation
Raja yoga emphasizes meditation and mind training. The Course states, “This is a course in mind training.” Like other meditative traditions it points out that the untrained mind has a mind of its own; it’s labile, has little ability to concentrate, is driven by desires and aversions, and overcome by fear and anger. The Course therefore lays out a variety of techniques for bringing the mind under greater control. One lesson affirms:
I have a kingdom I must rule. At times it does not seem I am its king at all. It seems to triumph over me and tell me what to think and what to do and feel. And yet it has been given me to serve whatever purpose I perceive in it. My mind can only serve … Today I give its service to the Holy Spirit to employ as He sees fit. I thus direct my mind, which I alone can rule, and thus I set it free to do the will of God.
Naturally, because the Course is such an integrated system, the four yogas overlap and are mutually supportive. For example, as we replace unskillful beliefs we are less likely to feel angry. This makes it easier to forgive and with forgiveness greater love arises which in turn enhances the desire to serve. All these leave the mind less agitated and easier to control, thereby making it easier to change beliefs, forgive, love and serve. Of course, this is not to deny that progress can seem very slow at times, but the Course also teaches patience.
Other Therapeutic Strategies
For guidance the Course recommends turning inward to our own deeper selves because the ultimate source of wisdom is within us. When making major decisions, the Course advises us to ask our inner guide what we should do. We thus gradually relinquish shallow egoic decision making and turn to deeper levels that tap more profound wisdom. Authority and guidance are not “out there” in someone else or even in the Course. Rather, the ultimate source of wisdom is within. This bears some similarities to other spiritual and psychological systems. For example, psychosynthesis advocates contacting the “higher self.” Jungians the “Sage archetype,” Hindus the “Sadguru,” the Naskapi Indians “the inner man,” and the Quakers “the still small voice within.”
The Course also devotes considerable attention to working with fear. Like many other paths, it points out how much our minds are dominated by fear and says that love and fear are two fundamental and mutually inhibitory emotions. Where love is, fear is not, and vice versa.
The Course emphasizes working with fear in a somewhat different way from the traditional psychotherapeutic methods in which we tend to examine the fear and what caused it. According to the Course, the only time that’s real is now. If there is fear, something must be operating now. It must have a present cause and can only be released in the present. To believe that we have to understand the past, go back into the past or remedy something in the past before we can release fear is self-limiting and a self fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, psychotherapists are beginning to better appreciate this trap. Psychoanalysts such as Silvano Ariete have called it “the genetic fallacy” and transactional analysts have called it the game of “archaeology.” When we do fall into this trap, we also fall into that transactional analysts call the “until game” in which we tell ourselves that we can’t be happy until we do something, such as find the original cause of our fears or problems.
An emphasis on relinquishing attachments is central to many traditions. The Course is very clear that attachment is a key cause of suffering. In this way it echoes the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth that “the cause of suffering is craving.”
One lesson states, “I will not value what is valueless.” Another says, “The world I see holds nothing that I want,” pointing to the idea that value is not something which inheres in objects or things outside ourselves, but is something which we project onto them. The true source of joy and well-being, it says, is within, because the mind is the source of both suffering and joy. To become attached to outer things is therefore to lose sight of the source of joy and to suffer when things change, as they invariably do.
An unusual feature of the Course is the perspective Ken Wilber has called “always/already truth.” One can divide the world’s religions and spiritual paths into two main types: paths of attainment and paths of recognition. Paths of attainment assume that we are fundamentally deficient in some way and/or presuppose that life is fundamentally a dilemma. Naturally they therefore assume that we must work to change ourselves into something different.
The paths of always/already truth start from the assumption that we are always/already who and what we’re trying to become. Consequently they view the fundamental spiritual task as one, not of change and improvement, but of recognition. As the Course says, “Enlightenment is but a recognition, not a change at all.” According to Wilber’s map, the always/already truth religions represent the acme of spiritual teaching.
Pros and Cons
I should point out several criticisms of the Course. The language is traditionally Christian and many people may find it a problem at first. The talk of God and the Holy Spirit may be difficult for some and many women find the exclusive use of masculine pronouns irksome. Some people translate for a while. I originally changed “salvation” to “enlightenment,” “Christ” to “Buddha mind” and so on. Some women have gone through scratching out His and replacing it with Hers. The Course is also objectionable from the fundamentalist perspective in that it disagrees at points with the Bible. In addition the profundity of the ideas makes some parts of the Course difficult to understand or even appear nonsensical at first. However, most people report that as they continue to study the material their understanding deepens and more and more of the obscurities become comprehensible. An attitude of open-minded patience may be the best stance.
As for its strengths, the Course is, as already mentioned, very well integrated. Many religions focus on one path, such as service or the cultivation of love. The Course seems to be particularly adept at using multiple approaches. Given how intellectually sophisticated it is, it is remarkable how wide an audience it appeals to. To date, it has sold more than a million copies by word of mouth alone to people ranging from the university educated to those with very little education, and to all sorts of personality types. It’s currently being translated into more than a dozen foreign languages. In a recent survey Common Boundary readers rated the Course the most influential book they had read.
The Course is intellectually satisfying, psychologically sophisticated, positive and loving. It never judges, never condemns, never attacks and continually points us back to ourselves and the recognition that, at the most fundamental levels, we are always/already loving, joyous, free and divine. In short it says we are always/already not only more than we dreamed but more than we can dream. Ultimately it points beyond all dreams to the Self we share, to the Christ Mind, to God and to the recognition that They (We) are One and that this Oneness awaits our recognition in this moment and every moment.
“Let me remember I am one with God,
At one with all my brothers and my Self
In ever lasting holiness and peace.”