What is A Course in Miracles, which are its basic principles and how are they connected to different psychological approaches?
A Course in Miracles is a psychological and metaphysical theory which is described in a book written during the 70s by psychologist Helen Schucman through the process of inner dictation. Helen Schucman was sceptical and had no interest in such issues. One day however, her hand wrote the below phrase:
«Please write, this is a course in miracles.»
Thus began the writing which lasted 7 years and eventually became a book of 1300 pages. Under a lot of pressure, Schucman consented to publish the book but not in her name as she believed that it wasn’t her who wrote it but had only served as a median. Although she understood the greatness and the healing power of all that is described in what she wrote, she had difficulty in applying them in her life and therefore was in constant inner conflict with the relevant theory. It is said that just before she died she said: “I know it’s true but I don’t believe it.” The book has been translated in 17 languages and millions of copies have been published from the USA to India, from Turkey to Russia, from Africa to Europe. It is estimated that it is a study subject or psychotherapy work for more than 3000 teams internationally.
It consists of three parts: the Theory, the 365 Lessons –one for each day of the year– and the Manual for Teachers which, in essence, addresses all those who study the Course in Miracles, since with our behavior we all teach that which we are.
Although A Course in Miracles has a strong metaphysical side, even an atheist can approach it simply as a great psychotherapeutic tool and a method for training the mind. The basic theme of A Course in Miracles, and around which the book revolves and what it attempts in every way to develop, is forgiveness. This is the “ultimate” and most effective defense mechanism. However, the forgiveness A Course in Miracles refers to has not the moral meaning we usually ascribe it but is based in a different worldview, according to which forgiveness is the release of others from guilt, not out of kindness but because no harm has been made. This is because any kind of harm concerns the body or the ego when, in reality, neither of them exists. And right here enters the metaphysics in A Course in Miracles.
The Metaphysics of A Course in Miracles
According to the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles, our world is but a fabrication, an illusory dream created by the Son of God (that is, each and every one of us) when he believed the outrageous idea that he can be separated from his Creator. Our true self is pure consciousness, fully united with its Creator, changeless, unchangeable, invulnerable and eternal, just like Him. Anything experienced as world, body, etc., is only an illusion. A pointless dream that has already ended but we keep recollecting it as if it here, now, present.
According to the Platonic approach the real world, where the Actual Being, the world of Ideas, abides corresponds to the unaltered, unified Self, where Father and Son are one. At some point, within the mind of the Son, arose the idea to become the creator of itself and thereby he dreamt that he was separated from his Father. At that moment the original guilt was born, which corresponds to the Biblical guilt from the violation of the Divine Commandment by Adam and Eve. (We must remember that all this is only figurative representations of psychological conditions.)
To A Course in Miracles this world (natural) is in essence a psychological condition! It is merely the refuge of that part of the Sonship which dreamt that is was separated from the Father and projected onto God its need for punishment for the violation it dreamt it made, seeing Him as the avenger. To escape the divine wrath, it made the bodies in order to hide in them. This way, however, it was separated even more from itself as it distributed itself within the forms. Essentially, the “others” are it itself. Perfect unity is our own self, but we do not recognize this and so each one of us believes that his interests are separate from the interests of others. In this illusion there is the need to be different so that we project guilt to one another.
This is expressed in all forms of aggressiveness and judgment towards others. As we blame others what we are actually doing is trying to escape from the original guilt (about our separation from God) and hold them responsible. In this respect the natural world is fictitious and functions only as a projection of our guilt. It exists solely through the mind of the Son of God, of which we are all a part.
Forgiveness in A Course in Miracles
When A Course in Miracles calls for forgiveness, in essence it asks us to realize that the so called harm does not exist, because it concerns a body and a world which are part of a dream and are not real. In A Course in Miracles all negative behaviors have no real return. We do not have negative qualities, only positive, like joy and peace. A great axiom of A Course in Miracles is that every “negative” behavior is fundamentally a cry for love by those who have forgotten who they really are.
Nothing is as it seems. Everything we see around us is only the interpretation we have rendered it. By changing this interpretation we change the world. To A Course in Miracles there is no sin, only an incorrect perception and each and every mistake can be corrected. This is achieved by total forgiveness, total absolution not by the person who has been hurt, but by the one who remembers his true identity and thus escapes from this world. Basically, he escapes from his psychological condition which he perceived as a world of pain, of decay, of death, of attack, etc.
Some principles of A Course in Miracles:
“We see only the past.” We understand something only when it is known to us and to be known to us it has already been recorded in our memory therefore it belongs to the past. In this sense, we see the present through the eyes of the past and this is the reason why we don’t really see it. The challenge is to make space in our consciousness so that a new interpretation and a new meaning can be rendered.
“Our behavior is either a call for love or a cry for love.” This is a new way to understand a meaning of the past according to which we would call the aggressive behavior a cry for love.
“What we give, is given to ourselves.” As the other person is basically part of our own Being, what we seem to give to him we receive through him. At the same time, as we give something we affirm that we have it, and thereby reinforce it. For example, if we offer courage to someone at that moment we reinforce our own courage and thus by giving we receive.
“If I defend myself others will attack me.” This is one of the most abstruse principle of A Course in Miracles, which points that “in the absence of defense we become strong and thus we learn what lies hidden behind our defenses.” What is meant here is that he who needs defense is somebody who certainly does not feel strong but vulnerable and woundable and believes he is being attacked.
A Course in Miracles also states that the moment a part of Sonship believed it became separated the Father bestowed the healing for the so called separation. This healing is the voice of the Holy Spirit in our mind. It is experienced as the voice of our consciousness but must not be mistaken for the exhortations of the Superego which are strict and oppressive and attempt to “advice” by force. In reality, the healing resembles more to what we call “the voice of our heart,” which urges us to unite, to love, to forgive. It does not judge, nor does it compel, rather it waits patiently for us to choose it. And here begins the process of choice, which the Course in Miracles tries to awaken through the 365 lessons.
A true choice is not mechanical, half-unconscious, or coercive. To exert free choice we must first awaken and realize that what we call our choices is a kind of transfixed behaviours, which are either mimicry or a defense mechanism. Awakening is the moment of detachment from the body and the ego. To A Course in Miracles the ego is an ailing part of the mind, identified with the body, that part which carries in it the “original guilt” caused by the separation from the Divine Self.
A Course in Miracles and psychological approaches In several parts A Course in Miracles reformulates terms of psychology. Let us examine some of them:
According to Adler all children are born with a deep sense of inferiority or disability because of their small size, their physical weaknesses and lack of knowledge and strength. According to A Course in Miracles all children are born with a sense of guilt because of separation. This is the original guilt. Adler’s view about subjective perception and interpretation of reality, which he calls “private logic”, is in accord with that of A Course in Miracles which states that “nothing has meaning because I have given everything all the meaning it has for me.” This happens because we judge based on the past.
According to these two theoretical psychotherapeutic approaches:
A. When the person understands the subconscious motives and conflicts that created the problem, he changes his attitude and his behavior (psychodynamic theories). A Course in Miracles says that the person changes when he realizes his true Divine Identity. The problem – the cause of conflict – is the “fall”, the separation from the original state of unity and the oblivion of our real identity when we segregated to individual egos. This resulted in deep guilt and fear of punishment, thus the need to “hide” inside the body.
B. The person changes when he examines the circumstances that created the problem and which sustain the incorrect learning (learning theories). A Course in Miracles says that what we teach is what we believe we are. We taught ourselves and one another to identify with the body and the ego and because of this also the belief that our interests are separate.
In the Psychology of Conflict of the Psychoanalytic theory which Freud observed in the dual nature of man and defined as biological and social, A Course in Miracles says that basically the conflict is and remains only within the mind, between its “healthy” and its “separated” part which identifies with the body and the ego. But in reality everything happens within the mind because the external world is only its projection and does not exist as an objective being.
The pleasure principle of the psychoanalytic theory (according to which man has the tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain) as stated by A Course in Miracles acquires the following dimension: There is a distorted pleasure that dictates: I will prevail, I will attack, I will condemn the others and in this way I will become “innocent.”
According to Freud’s dynamic view about the explanation of the personality, the libido – “Eros” and the mortido – “Thanatos” coexist in the soul. These polar opposites of Eros – Thanatos in A Course in Miracles could correspond to our natural state which is joy and love (Eros) and guilt and aggressiveness of the ego (Thanatos).
To the psychoanalytical theory the defense mechanisms develop when the person is crushed either by the impulses of the “Id” or by the demands of the “Superego.”
A Course in Miracles sees the defense mechanisms as attempts to return to that which has been lost because of the separation from the original innocence. They are attempts to render the person guiltless. In essence, they are inefficient attempts to either heal the separation or to deny it. For example, in the denial of a threatening diagnosis to the life of a person hides not only the fear of death but also the denial of accepting the vulnerability of the body, which is a declaration of its guilt against God. Sickness and death are the just punishment of God towards the guilty, separated Son, as the ego would perceive it. Thus, denial in this case is an arbitrary attempt for guiltlessness. The same applies for regression. Superconscious in A Course in Miracles resembles Jung’s collective unconscious, we could however divide it to the higher and identifying with the unaltered Mind, and the lower where all our collective memories and experiences lie after the separation. Jung says that the integration is achieved through the union of the opposing powers within us (animus, anima, shadow, etc.). A Course in Miracles states that the reconnection to the Whole, the retrieval of the mind at the state before the separation is achieved by the recognition that the polar opposite is not equivalent and existing, but false because only one is real. This way “good” and “evil” do not unite but as the real meets the false, the latter disappears and with it also the so-called polarity.
We could say that each mind is permeated by the Original guilt and originates in the illusion of the separation from God. This idea – of the separation – belongs to the metaphysical side of A Course in Miracles. However, its purely psychological side may stand on its own as we all feel guilty and we all make projections.
To A Course in Miracles, healing lies in guiltlessness or forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness that is not rendered by suspension but is the result of reinterpretation. When we change the interpretation we acquit and consequently withdraw the projection. Judgment stops, we liberate ourselves and with us the whole world is also liberated.