My Introduction to A Course in Miracles

You Are A MiracleMost people who develop a long term relationship with this remarkable work have a story to tell not only about their first encounter with it but also about the conflicts that quickly develop once the initial infatuation wears off. If that sounds like a regular relationship, it’s no accident, for the book was written by a most unusual process which involved a psychology professor taking down dictation from a voice she heard internally, which she perceived as none other than Jesus. Anyone who is drawn to it then, is also inevitably drawn into a challenging relationship with this enigmatic figure of history regardless of their religious background, or lack thereof. Because the Jesus of the Course is a radically different figure from the one of conventional Christianity and the popular cultural image, it is a huge challenge to both the intellect and the emotions.

The book is essentially a spiritual path combining meditation practice with psychological techniques, the primary aim of which is to guide practitioners of it to a state of inner peace and thereby into an enhanced attunement with one’s own inner guidance. It employs an ingenious and methodical approach consisting of a theoretical foundation and daily exercises for practicing what it teaches. After 15 years of working with it, there is no doubt in my mind that it is from an inspired and wholly benevolent source. What that source is exactly is beyond my comprehension but my initial encounter with it led to a conversation with an inner voice myself and though brief, it was very compelling and had a deep impact on me. I have also come to believe that the vision I had 2½ years prior to learning about the Course foreshadowed my connection with it.

I first learned of it when a friend gave me a book to read called A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson but I have to say I was put off by her evangelical style and wasn’t tempted to look into it any further. I would occasionally come across quotes from the Course in other reading however and the different contexts in which it was mentioned would pique my interest but again I didn’t feel moved to look any further into it.

Then one night at a Jung Society meeting, which I had been attending for a bit over a year at the time, I bumped into a woman who had once worked at the vet’s where I took my cats. I was very surprised to see her there but she had come because she was interested in the evening’s talk, which happened to be on dreams. In the course of catching up with each other’s news, she told me she was about to start a group studying A Course in Miracles, so I said I would be interested in doing it. The meeting got going before I found out the details, so I planned to catch up afterwards. The talk went on and on and as with many of the Jung talks for me at that time, most of it went right over my head. I hung in only to see my friend afterwards but when it finally finished, she was nowhere to be found. Apparently it had gone over her head too. We had no way of contacting each other, so I assumed that was the end of the matter.

Four days later, amazingly, I bumped into her at my local shopping centre and she told me the group was off, at least temporarily, because the venue had fallen through. I offered to have it in my rumpus room and so we started on June 15th, 1999. My friend ended up not taking the group herself after all but handed it on to a friend of hers who I didn’t know and who was relatively new to it herself. As I knew nothing about it at all, this didn’t seem to be too much of a problem but as I soon found out, it was a case of the blind leading the blind and after 4 months I was ready to throw in the towel. In an attempt to revitalise my fast waning interest, I decided to find out a bit more about it and got onto the biography of how it came into being, Journey Without Distance.

The book described how those involved with it prayed for guidance about the publishing process. There were 4 people involved at this point and they would base their decisions on the information they received.  I wondered to myself if that would work for me, so, remembering the vision, I said, in my mind, “O.K. Jesus, you said ‘ask and you will receive’ so I’ve got some questions for you” and proceeded to ask questions. Instantly a voice, which was definitely not my own thoughts, began answering and soon the answers were coming before I had finished asking the question. Then it began giving me information without me even formulating a question. At one point I managed to get in ‘why the short sharp answers?’ and it shot straight back ‘it saves time.’  It also told me that I need to trust the process.  Because of the rapidity of the dialogue and the surprise factor, I have no idea what my initial questions were but did manage to record the last part. I had an appointment with my hypnotherapist next day, so I asked, ‘What do I need to work on?’ The voice in my head answered me:

‘Fear.’

‘Fear of what?’

‘Fear of abandonment.’

‘I’ve already worked on that.’

‘You haven’t worked on your fear of abandonment by God.’

‘What! I couldn’t go to Pat and say that. I would be too embarrassed.’

‘There’s no need to be. She will understand. I have sent you to Pat.’

The last statement left me dumbfounded but I gathered my thoughts enough to grab a pen and wrote down what I could remember. I had to admit that I did indeed find Pat through what seemed to be a series of orchestrated steps. This kind of thing had happened often through my life, as it undoubtedly does for everyone, so wasn’t particularly noteworthy but to be told by a voice in my head that he was behind it, was a bit unnerving. What is remarkable in this conversation is that there was no comment whatsoever on what I now see as an incredibly naïve and arrogant statement that I had worked on my fear of abandonment. When my short lived second marriage ended 3 years later, I would get to confront this issue in all its profound complexity and it wasn’t pretty.

The following day at my hypnosis session, I told Pat about the conversation and to my relief she was quite unfazed. She suggested we try a musical journey to see what came of it but I got absolutely nowhere and it was the most unproductive session I had ever had. Jesus showed up and tried to communicate something to me but I just couldn’t get it. At that point in my life I was still struggling with the whole notion of God, conflated as it was with the conditioning of the past and my own rebellion against religious ideas. My inner conflict created much resistance. Fortunately the Son had never suffered the same hostile reaction as I had towards the Father. As much as I harboured serious doubts about the validity of many of the stories, I was never quite able to shed the deep affection I’d had for Jesus as a child and for that I am grateful. I suspect now that children are able to intuit the truth within the cultural overlays.

The whole experience did serve to keep me persevering with the Course but only for another 4 months. My life was undergoing a lot of changes and since the group had started, the group leader had moved into a house close by, so the group continued at her home. The book sat on my shelf for the next 5 years and every now and again I would dip into it. Gradually, as I did wider reading and life’s continuing dramas had primed me sufficiently, it began making sense to me. I picked it up one day, began reading the text and decided to start the workbook from scratch again. It has been an everyday part of my life since and I have no doubt that it is a ’til death do us part’ relationship. The beauty of both the language and its message and the challenge of its thought system, has a depth that is ever unfolding and quite simply, I love it.

My experience of a voice that sounded very much like the kind of experience Helen Schucman, the scribe of the Course had, gave me greater confidence in and appreciation for what I was reading, although it would be several years before I began to fully trust it. The conversation I had was just a few minutes long, so I can only imagine what it must have been like hearing this voice over 7 years and taking down the dictation, then going through the transcription process with her colleague Bill Thetford as he typed it up.   All this while holding down very demanding professional positions and trying to keep the whole thing secret. Mama Mia!

When I came to type up the notes I had made, I put ‘Fear of abandonment of God’ instead of ‘by God,’ and then became confused about what I actually heard. I concluded at the time that it was probably both but in the intervening years I have learned from personal experience that we can neither be abandoned by God, or abandon God ourselves, because God is integral to all existence. This understanding is a far cry from my atheist days – ‘we are all accidents of chemistry, we live, we die, peaceful oblivion, end of story.’ I don’t mean to imply I know what God is because I don’t but I can say that when I was at my lowest point after the marriage break up, there was something other than my own little will to live keeping me going. This ‘something’ I am satisfied to call God. The Course offers the best definition I have come across: ‘We say God is… and then we cease to speak.’

One thing I learned from the confusion over what I heard was not to take anything I read as Gospel, no matter how trustworthy I believed it to be. There is no such thing as a pure channel. Even if the transmission is perfectly pure, it is still filtered through the receiver’s own mind and life experience and the transcription process, as in any translative endeavour, is not an exact science. As the Course itself puts it ‘…words are but symbols of symbols. They are thus twice removed from Reality.’

I find it ironic now that I was introduced to A Course in Miracles at a Jung meeting where the topic was on dreams. Jungian psychology, dreams and ACIM would eventually come to make up what I would refer to as my Holy Trinity of Healing and they complement each other perfectly. The Course has much to say on dreams, as does Jungian psychology and my worldview has had a considerable shakeup since that night back in 1999. I don’t nod off in Jung meetings anymore for starters and I have long since let go of the kinds of conflict I used to experience in trying to get my head around this extraordinary work. In fact it’s not something that can be understood with the head at all but has to be experienced through the heart. A statement from the introduction sums this up:

The Course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance.

These blocks are our psychological defence mechanisms and being based in protecting the identity we have built up since the year dot, they are not relinquished without a fight.

 

Dream or visit?

Two and a half years after my husband’s death I woke during the night with an impression of him having been present. The way I recorded it in my dream journal was:

Not sure if this was a dream or a visitation. Roger appeared and gave me a message which I can’t remember clearly but it was as though he thought his mother hadn’t let go of him and he wanted me to see if I could do something about it.

This was not a welcome message for several reasons.  Firstly, in spite of the many unusual experiences I’d been having which were pushing me into an awareness of a realm beyond the physical, I was in no way convinced that they had an actual reality beyond my own imaginative faculties. Secondly the relationship with my mother in law was strained at the best of times and I was most reluctant to deliver a message that I myself was unsure of.  Most of all though, with my psychoanalytical reasoning, I had to wonder if it was really meant for me and not his mother and worried that I was inadvertently holding him back, even though I didn’t really understand what that even meant.

Later that day I had another one of those synchronistic events that often accompany significant dreams. I bumped into a friend and when I asked how she was, she said she was feeling sad because it was the 7th anniversary of the death of her son, who had died tragically in a workplace accident. We sat down and chatted and I asked her if she thought she had let go of him and she said she didn’t think she had. I told her about the dream/visit, half hoping, I think, that I was going to get rid of the problem that way. When I got home, no sooner had I got in the door than my mother in law rang, so without saying anything about the incident I tried to gauge how she was dealing with her son’s death. She seemed to be doing fine but she wasn’t one to show any sign of not coping, so it was hard to tell. I was happy to have a reason to let the incident go but unfortunately it wouldn’t let me go and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be able to forget it unless I told her.

After several days of arguing with myself, I finally gathered the courage to ring her. To my surprise and relief she was not fazed at all about the possibility of a visit from her deceased son. She insisted that she didn’t have a problem but then in the next breath said that whenever she thinks of him, she is telling him off! I suggested that perhaps that was the problem and again to my surprise she didn’t argue the point. We chatted on a bit and then just as we were about to hang up, she suddenly burst out, quite vehemently, ‘well, that’s typical, isn’t it, they can’t tell you themselves, they have to tell someone else and then let that person tell you!’

When I put the phone down, I just sat staring at it with her words replaying in my head, hardly able to believe the conversation I’d just had.  Suddenly another voice, in my head but not my thoughts, said ‘I’ve tried to but she won’t let me in.’ Rather sheepishly and thinking it can’t get any weirder, I said ‘is that you Roger?’ With that I felt a very strong tingling sensation in the top of my head that hovered there for a few seconds, then it whooshed all the way down through my body to my feet, followed by a sensation in the room like a change in air pressure. A voice in my head is one thing but like the meditation experience three years earlier, these kinds of physical sensations are hard to ignore. What to do now? In light of her earlier openness, I thought it best to call back and tell her what I had just experienced. Again she was receptive, taking what I told her quite seriously and after discussing options, said she would lie quietly when she went to bed and ask ‘what do you want to tell me?’

I had many mixed emotions on hanging up the phone, among them surprise at what had transpired and relief that I had delivered the message. I was also relieved that the original experience had been validated and that the message did appear to be for my mother in law and not me. On the other hand it raised a lot of questions in my mind about the nature of the non-physical realm, which I now could no longer ignore or doubt the existence of. One thing that puzzled me for some time after this event was that it didn’t seem to conform to a typical ADC (After Death Communication) in that frequently the deceased person appears to reassure those left behind that they are okay. This seemed to be the opposite but eventually I came to the conclusion that each experience is unique and tailor made to the individuals involved. Apart from convincing me of the reality of ADCs, even if it did open up more questions than it answered, it certainly convinced me that our relationships do not end with death and that the potential for healing unfinished business is a very real possibility if we only take advantage of it. Dreams are a most effective avenue for healing all kinds of relationships and not just with those who have passed over.

I spoke to my mother in law a couple of weeks after the phone call and she said there was nothing to report. I asked her from time to time afterwards but the answer was always the same and eventually the subject was dropped. A couple of years after this she moved to Sydney to be near her daughter and eventually our sparse communication ground to a halt. She is now living out her days unhappily in a nursing home, so I can only assume that she was never able to make peace with life’s disappointments.

Roger’s visit was certainly the most dramatic experience I have ever had in terms of appearances, although I have personally had a lot of what I can only describe as interference, especially objects disappearing and reappearing and interference with electrical and electronic equipment.  These physical happenings are hard to ignore and I have heard too many stories from others to believe that they are all the results of my own fertile imagination. Who or what is responsible is anybody’s guess but that they are real events is unquestionable to me.

Dream, Vision or… What? Part Two

46037_1056302Some time after the meditation I wrote about in Dream, Vision or… What? Part One I was home on my own when I decided to meditate without the use of the tape. I had memorised the routine by now and was able to get into a relaxed state reasonably easily. I counted down and visualised myself walking through the expanded zero and imagined being in a parklike setting, sitting on a bench seat. Then the visualisation took on a life of its own, as if it were a dream, except that I was observing as well as participating. A figure appeared who I recognised as Jesus. As with the vision of my mother, I heard words spoken telepathically and he said ‘I am the way, the truth and the light. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.’ With that an image of a façade appeared. It had no boundaries, but a doorway with a door ajar and opening inwards. I saw myself go through the doorway and found myself in a place of light. There was nothing at all, just a very bright but also diffuse, light, kind of like a light fog. I watched myself dance around joyfully, like a child, then sit in a cross legged meditation position and after some time had passed, get up and walk back out through the doorway. As I did so, I saw that the light was attached to me at the back, from my neck to my ankles and it appeared that I was pulling it with me. Suddenly a very strong vibration ripped through my torso from left to right. This was something I physically felt, it wasn’t part of the vision and the impression I had was of a kind of lightning bolt of energy piercing my body from somewhere outside of me.

At this point the scene changed just as happens in dreams and I saw myself at a bus stop, a bus came along and I got on and sat down. A man sat alongside me, who as it turned out would appear many, many times in future dreams and asked where I was going. I said ‘nowhere in particular, I’m just along for the ride.’

With that the vision ended. I was still in a meditative state and aware of what I needed to do but the deep state of relaxation had been broken. I gradually counted up to bring myself out as I had learned to do, then sat somewhat stunned. There was no feeling of peace and tranquility as I had experienced with the vision of Mum. I felt very disturbed and in fact my initial reaction was acute embarrassment. My first thought, as silly as it sounds, was ‘I hope nobody saw that.’  I had the feeling of having been totally engrossed in watching a movie in a theatre and feeling disoriented when the lights come on.

I was completely bewildered, Jesus was not part of my everyday experience. I had not attended Church in 30 years, apart from the occasional wedding. I accepted the existence of the historical Jesus but I considered him an ordinary human being, not the son of a deity, certainly not the product of an immaculate conception nor living out an eternal life somewhere in the ether.

I suspect the reason I felt so disturbed was because I knew at some deep level that it had the potential to challenge the belief system that had enabled me to cope with my life experiences, especially the many losses due to deaths. Now I regard that belief system as more of a liability than an asset, a coping mechanism that was inadequate to deal with the imminent death of my husband and all the life changes that would entail. Eventually I began a spiritual journey, which continues to this day and came to terms with my antagonistic attitude towards the religion I had embraced in good faith as a child and ultimately rejected, as so many of us do and for very good reasons.

Life was much too chaotic following the vision for me to do anything about it even if I had wanted to, but I did have a book on Near Death Experiences come my way and was astonished to read about the descriptions of light that people saw. It seemed similar to my experience although I didn’t have the other phenomena that went with an NDE.

Following Roger’s death, things seemed to accelerate and I began to have other strange experiences, including precognitive dreams and a great deal of what I can only describe as electrical activity in my body. It was becoming increasingly obvious that not only my world view but my nervous system was undergoing a considerable shake up. It all seemed to stem from the two meditation visions but my left brained approach was having a hard time making sense of it all. The visions on their own didn’t pose much of a conundrum, I could explain them to my satisfaction as dream like phenomena but the very physical nature of the vibration and its after effects was not so easy to explain.

I would eventually learn, through experience and investigation, that such phenomena are very commonplace with meditation and have been known about and actively cultivated, it seems, forever. As I write this on New Year’s Day 2014 it is seventeen years later and there is now an impressive amount of scientific research data into the effects of meditation and other methods of altering states of consciousness but as to the mechanism behind the effects, it seems like the more we know the deeper the plot thickens. How can sitting quietly and relaxing the mind trigger such an event? There was a time when I would have had the attitude that it is only a matter of time before science has it all figured out but that is no longer either a very satisfactory, or satisfying attitude for me.

As for the message that was given me, it took me a long time to understand that it was actually a response to an unconscious longing for an abiding sense of inner peace. That this experience came after the initial one where I had a palpable taste of that peace I feel was no accident. Life had seemed like a continual struggle for as long as I could remember. It just seemed that that was the way things were. Apparently I was being shown that there is another way but the package it was delivered in was not altogether welcome. Though I respected the ethical teachings of Jesus, I was very anti the religion he represented.

Eventually I would come across the Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gospels that didn’t make it into the Bible and which was only discovered in 1945 as part of the Nag Hammadi collection.  In that Gospel the ‘seek’ quotation is very different. Jesus is reported as saying ‘He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds and when he finds he will be troubled and if he is troubled, he will be amazed and will reign over the all. ‘Troubled’ I could relate to and ‘amazed’ I could aspire to.

Something that puzzled me for a long time was the scene involving the bus ride and though I haven’t yet got to the stage where I feel I can just enjoy the ride, I wonder if it was perhaps a kind of precognitive dream that is still unfolding. I can live with that.

Dream, Vision or… What? Part One

When my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he took up meditation in an attempt to find peace with the situation and I joined him as moral support and in the hope that it would also help me cope better than I had been doing. He had brought home a tape from the Cancer Care Centre and it was basically a guided visualisation of going down in a lift, seeing the numbers of each floor in the mind’s eye and on reaching zero seeing the zero expand, imagine walking through it and visualising being in a tranquil scene. The tape would then go silent for a period of time and the voice would count up again.

At first I struggled mightily just to stay awake but after about six weeks the persistence paid off and I was able to relax and found the sessions quite enjoyable. One day I was in a relaxed state when I had a vision of my mother. Her face appeared to me as though it was above and outside of me and she looked very sad. She communicated telepathically to me ‘you don’t need to be here, Gloria. You’re needed back there.’ With that something relaxed even more deeply in me and I felt an incredible sense of peace such that when the tape finished I didn’t want to move. Roger had been on his stool in front of the lounge where I was sitting and after a while he stirred and glanced over at me. I smiled at him and he came and sat alongside me and we held hands with neither of us saying a word for a long time.

At the time I wasn’t coping very well and though I knew I wouldn’t do anything while Roger was alive, I wasn’t so sure about the future. I had always had a tenuous hold on life, even at the best of times and simply couldn’t imagine what I was going to do without him. I had no belief in anyone surviving death in any way, shape or form at the time and had no knowledge of altered states of consciousness and their effects. I presumed the vision was a kind of waking dream but the sense of peace it evoked had a profound effect on me in many ways. The suicidal thoughts abated and I eventually sought out a counsellor.

Roger’s impending death had brought up memories of my mother’s death and I realised I had never grieved for her when she died 12 years before because it had coincided with a very difficult and demanding period of our life. Eventually I was able to visit her grave for the first time and come to terms with much that had not been dealt with.

As far as what the vision meant, it didn’t change my belief that death meant anything more than peaceful oblivion and had no concept of it being anything other than an artefact of my imagination. The only explanation I needed was that it was like a waking dream and was happy to leave it at that – until the next meditation experience Dream, Vision or… What? Part Two really shook up my simplistic viewpoint.