The Focus and Method of My Teaching
The Course Is Its Own Experience
It is just as impossible to summarize the course in a few words as to summarize a great poem or piece of music in a greater economy of words or notes. The course, like great poetry or music is only fully apprehended in its own direct experience. If there were other and fewer words that could communicate it, then they would be the course.
The most that supplementary material or teaching ‘methods’ can do is to assist in the course’s own self-stated goal of ‘removing barriers’ to the presence of Love which it equates with Reality itself, the truth and goal of all real spiritual paths or practices.
Forgiveness, Perception, Illusion and Non-Duality
The course is famously focused on the forgiveness of seeming attack in both others and ourselves; as well as how judgment, guilt and the various manifestations of the fear of God underlie projection and denial leading to attack. Nearly all presentations of the course rightly focus on these issues and such related concepts as ego, sickness and healing, since these concepts are central to both the course’s theoretical teaching and to the workbook lessons and suggested practices.
On the other hand, the course is rooted in an uncompromising view of non-duality or absolute and undifferentiated unity at the heart of reality. On the basis of this core of absolute oneness, the relativistic ideas of ego, guilt, attack, sickness and all the rest of the seeming suffering of the world have no real existence. It is, in the language of the course, a “bad dream”. However, this also means that all of the positive things in the course such as miracles, forgiveness, atonement and healing are just temporary images as well, since they appear as remedies for conditions that are, themselves illusionary.
This is the conundrum at the heart of a course in miracles, succinctly summarized by the two sentences: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists.
The World, Perception and “The Sense of Separation”
Hence the many statements in the course that the world in which separation and suffering seems real is the illusion. However, the course’s ideas of “the world” and “the illusion” are subtle. It says that the images that we see; of people, things, space and time are not the problem. The problem lies in the ‘projective’ nature of perception itself, in which, the images of the world are seen as if they are outside the mind, which the course assures us is an impossibility.
The only real problem we have then, it says, is this “sense” of separation with which we imbue the images of the world and most importantly of ourselves. This image of separation is the ego as well as the world we seem to be in. The view ‘through the eyes’ of such an ego is a world of complete separation; separation from others, from ourselves as well as separation from God or the oneness of reality itself.
The “Shift in Perception” to the “Real World”
The course, curiously does not council us to try to jump from this world of seeming separation to the oneness of God/reality itself, but to allow our perception to “shift” from this world to a Real World which completely reflects the one reality of God. From this Real World, which lacks any inherent sense of separation, the transition to oneness, which the course constantly reminds us is our only real and present condition, is easily made. This transition is not accomplished by us or anything we do or think, but by God, once we have let go of the barriers to God’s presence; once we see the Real World.
This final transition is, according to the course itself, outside the learning goals of the course. Only the transition from this world to the Real one is. This makes the course, again in its own words, one of “mind training” which gently guides us to “shift our perception” from the world of illusionary separation to the perception of another world that also exists completely within the mind, the Real World.
The Nature of Human Perception as a Model
For many years my teaching focus in the course has been on how the process of human perception can be seen as an extremely powerful and resonant model for how our mind creates and projects the images of the world that we seem to just see. And how understanding this mechanism, and perceiving its ability to make and shape our perceptions using the ego (who and what we seem to be) as its model, creates the illusion of separation. This illusion (or misperception), not of a seemingly physical world itself (which doesn’t exist), but of the very sense of separation the world is made to simulate is, according to the course, the only thing we need to correct.
By coming to a direct, personal and visceral realization of the internally created and outwardly projected nature of the world of perception, our barriers to seeing its fundamental unreality are greatly weakened, allowing our perceptions to be redirected to the Real World which accurately reflects the oneness and reality of God.
The “World as Illusion” vs. “The Separation as Illusion”
Two curious facts about this nature of the illusion of separation should be noted. First is that clarifying the difference between the ‘world as illusion’ and the ‘separation as illusion’ is extremely subtle and one of the most heavily defended of the ego’s premises. And it is one that many students have great difficulty in grasping or even retaining once understood. Many good teachers of the course as well, find it difficult to verbalize and consistently maintain this focus.
Many times the result is that a focus on the practice of forgiveness and miracles without coming to grips with how subtly the projective nature of perception continues to maintain the sense of separation, may not lead directly to the “shift in perception” from its inappropriate use to separate, to its appropriate use to unify.
My Decision to Take a More Public Teaching Role
All good teachers teach from the results of their own intense encounter with the course itself, filtered through their own unique life experiences. While this means that not all students will be able to relate to each teacher’s approach or interpretation, it also means that they speak with particular clarity and power to those whose own life experience is resonant with that approach. The course indicates that those students who can most benefit from a given teacher’s approach and realization will be guided to them when they take up their teaching function in earnest. This is true whether they take a formal teaching role or teach only through their daily life and interactions.
I have never tried to spread my particular approach beyond those individuals who show up in my classes and never try to convince them that my approach is either the only or even the best one. If it helps them to intensify their own encounter with and practice of the course then I feel that I am fulfilling my function to some degree.
In the past couple of years however, I have begun to notice that many expressions of the course, both from students and those who have taken a public teaching role, seem to minimize or even misunderstand the relationship of the illusion/perception aspects of the course and focus more exclusively on the forgiveness/relationship aspects. This can in some cases lead to what the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa has called ‘spiritual materialism’ and what the course calls ‘ego-based forgiveness’.
The Evidence in the Course
As a result, I have decided to make a more public statement of the focus on the perception/illusion aspects with the hope that this will provide models and guides to those who want to explore this material more deeply. I said earlier that there were two curious aspects to this lesser focus on the perceptual side of the course. The first is that it is curiously difficult to communicate and even to retain once grasped.
The second aspect is perhaps even more curious. That is, if you comb through the course book carefully, you discover that there is nearly twice the amount of material devoted to the perception/illusion focus of the Course, than to the more familiar issues of forgiveness, relationship, attack, guilt and so on. This certainly reinforces the thought that the perceptual aspect is uniquely difficult to grasp, communicate and retain and that focus on it has been, to one degree or another, minimized.
This is not to say that the more relationship-oriented issues are secondary, but rather that, from the course’s own perspective, they cannot be fully understood without a through grounding in the course’s understanding of the nature of the mind, illusion, perception and the sense of separation as well as the necessary ‘shift in perception’ between this world and the Real World.
Indeed, in examining the distribution of such material in the course, it is clear that much of it is focused in the early and mid-part of the text and workbook. This is of special significance when noting the strong statements at the end of Chapter One that:
“Some of the latter parts of the course rest too heavily on these earlier sections not to require their careful study. You will need them for preparation…Some of the later steps in this course however, involve a more direct approach to God Himself. It would be unwise to start on these steps without careful preparation or awe will be confused with fear…Revelation may occasionally reveal the end to you, but to reach it the means are needed.”
The introduction to the Workbook is even more specific about this two-step approach.
“The workbook is divided into two main sections, the first dealing with the undoing of the way you see now, and the second with the acquisition of true perception…The purpose of the workbook is to train your mind in a systematic way to a different perception of everyone and everything in the world.”
These statements, set as they are at the very beginning of the Text and Workbook, underscore my contention that the mind/perception/illusion issues in the course, as well as its primary goal being the shift-in-perception to the Real World are fundamental to its full understanding and use. The fact that these issues are less prevalent in many presentations of the course simply reinforces the idea that they are especially difficult to communicate, grasp and retain.
The Site, My Classes and Seminars
For these reasons I have decided to create this site announcing my classes and offer public seminars for those who might want to learn more about the perception/illusion teaching of the course. Some of my methods use visual images and other perceptual experiences to help students grasp their own perceptual nature. While any student of the course might find the material an asset to their own practice, my first aim is to provide it to those who, either formally or informally have taken up the task of communicating this shift in perception to others.
The tools and techniques that I want to incorporate into the seminars are ones that I have accumulated and tested over nearly forty years of formal course teaching. In using them with hundreds of students, I have added to and refined them from the feedback and results I got from hands-on use. Like any decent teacher, I like to think that I have learned from these interactions as much, if not more, than the students themselves. It is my hope that they might similarly benefit others engaged in this important work.