Volume 13 Number 2 June 2002
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A COURSE IN MIRACLES AS A SPIRITUAL PATH
Looking Back and Looking Forward
In 1999 I, among others, was asked to contribute to an article for a special millennium issue of a journal. The request was to answer the three questions listed below. My answers highlighted the significance of A Course in Miracles as a spiritual path that points back to the 20th century and the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, and ahead to the century that has just begun, and perhaps to the centuries yet to come. The article, expanded for this newsletter, is reproduced below as part of a discussion of the significance of A Course in Miracles as a means of attaining what the questions referred to as spiritual realization.
A Course in Miracles is unique among spiritual and religious thought systems in its almost relentless emphasis on the necessity of looking at the ego thought system as the prerequisite for choosing the Holy Spirit's Alternative and remembering our relationship with God. What makes this emphasis all the more remarkable is its place in what is inherently a non-dualistic thought system. To state this another way: on the one hand, A Course in Miracles teaches that the phenomenal universe is an illusion, while on the other, its teaching is always focused on our looking at the illusory thought system we have made real as the way of moving beyond it to the non-dualistic truth.
In view of this emphasis on looking at the ego, or false self, I have through my many years of teaching often spoken of A Course in Miracles as resting heavily on the earlier work of Freud, so heavily in fact that the Course would indeed be inconceivable without it. Thus, a careful and psychologically sophisticated reading of A Course in Miracles' treatment of the ego—the equivalent of Freud's psyche— reveals its debt to the vast psychoanalytic structure that Freud established as the sine qua non for understanding how and why individuals (and therefore groups) operate in the world as they do. However, it would be equally clear to a spiritual seeker who is even a casual reader of Freud's monumental work, that however brilliant his discoveries and formulations, the psychoanalytic path does not lead beyond the ego to the truth of our reality as spirit. It has remained for A Course in Miracles to supply what the Freudian system lacked: the way out of the insane and vicious thought system of the ego.
My answers to the three questions thus reflect this understanding of Freud's work as one of the foundations of A Course in Miracles' teachings of forgiveness, teachings which then complete the healing process that Freud began. Here, then, are the questions and my replies, followed by further comments upon these ideas:
Question 1: In your opinion, what event or events of the 20th century contributed significantly to the world's progress toward greater spiritual realization—toward a closer collective relationship with the Divine? Why was the event significant?
I see two major and closely connected events of this century—the one at the beginning, the other near the end—that are among our world's most significant contributions to the awakening of homo sapiens to its true relationship with its Creator and Source. The first is Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1900, and his subsequent work. More than any other individual, Freud laid bare before our eyes the most unpleasant nature of the unconscious mind—the "dark side"—and how our buried thoughts and conflicts directly and indirectly influence our conscious experiences—individual and collective— of hatred, viciousness, and guilt. The second is A Course in Miracles, published in 1976, which continued Freud's work of uncovering this darkened duplicity of our lives, at the same time bringing to completion his incomplete portrait of the psyche by emphasizing our decision to identify with the thought system of sin, guilt, fear, and attack—all a defense against our choosing the Holy Spirit's thought system of forgiveness, healing, and peace. Thus, the Course provides us with a spiritual tool, based upon the psychoanalytic edifice, that does not deny the ego (or false self), but rather uncovers it so that we may look with open eyes upon its insanity, able finally to make the correct choice and move beyond the ego to the remembrance of our true Identity as Christ, at one with our Source.
Question 2: What event or events during the 20th century do you feel contributed significantly to a halt or a decline in spiritual realization, and why?
The widespread development, seen especially during the second half of the century in almost all the world's religious and psychological thought systems, of denying the ugliness of the world's thought system, substituting in its place a rose-colored portrait of seeming spirituality. This movement obviated, for all intents and purposes, the taking of the important first and necessary steps of confronting in ourselves the unconscious thought system of guilt and hate that truly motivates our lives. This has been significantly deleterious as it has fostered the denial of the underlying problem, and in place of the true answer has substituted an illusion of spirituality that has lulled the mind into a haven of false peace and happiness. Yet all the while the unconscious fear, guilt, and hate smolder silently until their inevitable explosive expression—both personal and collective—in conflagrations that prevent even further the emergence of an authentic spirituality that undoes the interference of the "dark side," without which attaining true spiritual realization is impossible.
Question 3: What do you feel must happen in the early decades of the 21st century if spiritual consciousness is to be further raised? What do you envision will happen in this regard?
The acceptance of the truths of these two thought systems—Freud's and A Course in Miracles'—by individuals who will look more closely and vigilantly within their minds, focusing on uncovering the negative and its undoing, rather than on an easy acceptance of the positive. Only in this way can true peace come—within and without. It is in the undoing of the darkness that we believe is present in ourselves that the light of God's truth and love can be allowed to be itself, and can joyously extend throughout the minds of all creation. I am not sanguine, however. The fear of such confrontation of the unconscious has firmly established pseudo-spirituality as the "real thing," thus merely reinforcing the thought system of denial and projection. I therefore believe quite some time may have to elapse before the spiritual insights implicit in Freud and explicit in A Course in Miracles are allowed to flower in the minds and hearts of all of us.
* * * * * * *
In the remainder of this article, I should like to elaborate on the issues raised by these three questions and answers, which essentially reflect three issues:
- The specific contribution of Freud and A Course in Miracles in looking at the ego.
- The resistance to looking at the ego.
- The future of Freud's and A Course in
Miracles' contributions in the face of this resistance.
1. Looking at the Ego
The "dark side" of humanity has certainly not been a mystery to observers of our species. In the Western world, for example, it is reflected in the Homeric and biblical tales, not to mention the philosophy of Plato, to name just three ancient sources. And Freud's immediate German philosophical predecessors, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, were both more than familiar with the seething mass of unconscious venom that courses through the psychological veins of homo sapiens. At the same time, however, the world has attempted to split off this unrelenting sea of troubles in the ostrich-like hope that, if not seen, the problem will magically disappear. Freud drove the final nails into the hope-filled coffins of this illusion by explaining how and why the unconscious does not simply go away, but rears its ugly head at any opportunity. Here are some representative comments that reflect this inner and upward thrust of the contents of the unconscious mind to express themselves in awareness and behavior, the psychodynamic known as projection:
But the repressed wishful impulse continues to exist in the unconscious. It is on the look-out for any opportunity of being activated…(Vol. XI, p. 27); [of bursting] through its banks at the weakest spot (Vol. XII, p. 62); [The untamed and indestructible instincts] are at every moment ready to assert their demands and, by hook or by crook, to force their way forward to satisfaction (Vol. XVII, p.260); it [the unconscious] has a natural "upward drive" and desires nothing better than to press forward across its settled frontiers into…consciousness (Vol. XXIII, p. 179).1
Though the master of motivational theory, Freud nonetheless failed to recognize the most significant unconscious motivator of all—the desire to remain not as God created us. It is this motivation to remain a separated and distinct individual, rather than the one Son in spirit, that is the ultimate source of our pain and the origin of all the psychodynamics that Freud so painstakingly investigated and categorized. Stated differently, Jesus teaches us in A Course in Miracles that this ongoing decision to be separate—from God and consequently from our brothers and sisters—is the cause of our guilt, and it is this guilt that is the maker and supporter of all the world's problems: individual and collective. Once guilt is projected outwards onto others as blame, we are able to see what we have first repressed, thus opening this guilt up to re-examination and eventual release, the essence of this process being called forgiveness by the Course. But unless the dark sideof our psyche is recognized, the motivation for true forgiveness will be lacking.
To the ego, looking at itself is hardly equated with "being carried down a quiet path in summer" (T-14.IV.6:2), but is almost always experienced as painful:
Undermining the ego's thought system must be perceived as painful, even though this is anything but true. Babies scream in rage if you take away a knife or scissors, although they may well harm themselves if you do not (T-4.II.5:1-2).
And yet it is precisely this pain that Jesus can use to motivate us in the end to choose the path that leads us beyond all pain:
Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way. As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning-point (T-2.III.3:5-6).
From Freud's time on, therefore, it was no longer possible for
the world truly to deny the existence of these unseen or
unconscious forces that indeed control our world and dominate our
actions. That does not mean, of course, that the attempt could not
be and has not been made to institute such denial, which is our
segué into Issue 2.
While I am not denying Freud's many personal (read: ego) reasons for criticizing his early followers for disagreeing with his theories, and subsequently leaving to form their own schools of thought, one essential theme runs throughout his critiques. This criticism, at least from the perspective of A Course in Miracles, has withstood the test of time in terms of its validity and contemporary relevance. In his staunch defense of what he referred to as the sexual theory, Freud was really attempting to protect his discoveries of the unpleasant side of human nature from dismissal and denial. He knew he had caught the "criminal" lurking in the hidden recesses of our psyches, and that unless brought to the "justice" of the psychoanalytic process of bringing the unconscious darkness to the conscious light of self-examination, it would remain free to commit its crimes of brutal and vicious irrationality against individuals and their world. To a shocked and disillusioned Freud, the First World War bore sad witness to the tragic collective effects when this criminal is not properly apprehended. And even though I am not aware of his specific application of the concept of resistance to his "errant" followers, the dynamic certainly does apply to the more general movement of attempting to deny the very real presence of this "villain" within the mind. Indeed throughout the course of the past century, carrying over into the present one, we can observe a quasi- carefully planned program of de-emphasizing the significance of the unconscious, not to mention a denigration of the work of Freud himself. Such attacks, though they would have certainly disappointed the great man, would most likely not have surprised him, given his understanding of the dynamics of resistance to looking at the dark contents of our subterranean lives.
The brief public life of A Course in Miracles has unfortunately seen the continuation of this process of attempting not to deal with the ego, often under the guise of not wishing to give power to an illusion of evil, darkness and sin, choosing instead to focus only on the light, peace and joy that abide in us (W-pI.93). Paralleling the fate of Freud's work, it is sad to observe that a spiritual text whose purpose is to undo the guilt that has been brought to light through our forgiveness, ends up being used as a defense against just such a healing process. As my wife Gloria and I have discussed previously in this newsletter (Volume 10, Number 2), Freud's concept of resistance helps to explain why instruments of the Holy Spirit—in this context I am specifically referring to Freud's work and A Course in Miracles—can so easily be rejected by those it was meant to help. The fear of having to move beyond our individual and special existence to the Oneness of the Christ, our true Identity in which no differentiation exists, is too overwhelming a thought to be accepted without a struggle. That is why throughout the Course Jesus refers to forgiveness as a process.
If the means of our awakening to the reality of Oneness is forgiveness, or the giving up of judgment, then it stands to reason that as long as we do not want the end, we shall avoid the means that will help us achieve it. Moreover, to restate this important point, forgiveness entails looking at the darkness of our unconscious fears and hate:
You may wonder why it is so crucial that you look upon your hatred and realize its full extent. You may also think that it would be easy enough for the Holy Spirit to show it to you, and to dispel it without the need for you to raise it to awareness yourself (T-13.III.1:1-2; italics mine).
Be not afraid to look upon the special hate relationship, for freedom lies in looking at it (T-16.IV.1:1; italics mine).
Near the end of the first year of dictating A Course in Miraclesto Helen Schucman, Jesus gave Helen and William Thetford the following message aimed at reducing their resistance to looking at the hate that concealed the love that bound them together:
You have no idea of the intensity of your wish to get rid of each other. This does not mean that you are not strongly impelled toward each other, but it does mean that love is not the only emotion.…You do not realize how much you hate each other. You will not get rid of this until you do realize it.…You do hate and fear each other, and your love which is very real, is totally obscured by it.…Look as calmly as you can upon hatred, for if we are to deny the denial of truth [a reference to T-12.II.1:5], we must first recognize what we are denying (Absence from Felicity, 2nd ed., pp. 297f).
Our resistance to looking at this hatred, which is at the core of our identity as separated creatures born of guilt, is reinforced by the ego's constant refrain: "Do not look within"—the heart of this resistance:
Loudly the ego tells you not to look inward, for if you do your eyes will light on sin, and God will strike you blind (T-21.IV.2:3).
And so in order to protect our illusory dream of individuality,
we simply choose not to avail ourselves of the very means we have
to awaken us from our nightmare of guilt and hate. Thus it is that
the work of Freud and A Course in Miraclescome to be
perceived as threats to be avoided, attacked, or distorted—anything
to preserve the ego and save it from the healing effects of looking
at its "secret sins and hidden hates" (T-31.VIII.9:2).
3. The Future
My less-than-optimistic view of the future acceptance of the Freudian and A Course in Miracles emphasis on looking at the ego as the means of attaining "spiritual realization" is based upon the concept of resistance that we have discussed above. One of the more insidious of the ego's forms of resistance (i.e., defenses) comes in the guise of spirituality. What better way to preserve the ego's individual identity than to cloak it in the highest mantle of respectability: religion or spirituality. Once spiritual seekers believe they have found the truth, they cease the search. And if what they have found is nothing more than a camouflage for the thought system of judgment and specialness, then the ego lives on happily, if not surreptitiously. And we all have seen the wide scale and tragic consequences of such defenses (T-3.I.2:3) in the religious hatreds and wars fought in past centuries, not excepting the current one, still in its infancy in years though hardly in violence. Denial leads to projection, and the ego's darkness that has not been brought to the forgiving light of truth has no recourse other than to envelop the outer world with the shadows cast by its inner hell of fear and hate, the "upward drive" described by Freud in our earlier quotation.
Thus it is that even the very tools of exposing this darkness to the light fall prey to the fear of such exposure. And in a world grown weary and wearier still, worn down by the hopelessness of hate (M-1.4:4-5), truth must stand aside and wait patiently for the fear to abate. Fortunately, our one responsibility is not to change the world, nor to heal it of its fear, but simply to accept the Atonement for ourselves (T-2.V.5:1). We do our part, asking for help to forgive our hatred of ourselves and therefore of others, trusting that the Holy Spirit 's Love will guide our thoughts, words, and deeds:
And if I need a word to help me, He will give it to me. If I need a thought, that will He also give. And if I need but stillness and a tranquil, open mind, these are the gifts I will receive of Him (W-pII.361-365.1:1-3).
Gratefully we come to recognize that it is not our responsibility norour concern how this Love is expressed, not to mention its efficacy in the world:
Extension of forgiveness is the Holy Spirit's function. Leave this to Him. Let your concern be only that you give to Him that which can be extended.…He will take each one [our "tiny gifts"] and make of it a potent force for peace (T-22.VI.9:2-4,6).
Thus, neither our hope nor our despair lies in the world, but in our minds alone, the seat of decision for guilt or forgiveness, conflict or peace, the ego or the Holy Spirit.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, A Course in Miracles is taught, not by words or deeds, but by example (T-5.IV.5:1). We exemplify the gentle truth of what we are learning by demonstrating the gentle patience that knows the difference between the hope of truth and the hopelessness of illusion; the true hope inherent in the mind's ability to change from darkness to light, and the hopelessness inherent in the magical attempts to change the darkness of an illusory world without uncovering its darkened source in the mind:
Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait, and wait without anxiety. Patience is natural to the teacher of God. All he sees is certain outcome, at a time perhaps unknown to him as yet, but not in doubt.…Patience is natural to those who trust. Sure of the ultimate interpretation of all things in time, no outcome already seen or yet to come can cause them fear (M-4-VIII.1:1-3,9-10).
And so, upheld by forgiveness and the Holy Spirit's Love we
rest, in peace and certain hope, knowing that out of the ashes of
guilt and hate "Christ has been reborn…and that the holiness of
this rebirth will last forever" (C-ep.5:1).
1. To avoid cumbersome references, I have included only the volume and page numbers of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 1953).