In the A Course In Miracles (ACIM) community we encounter many differences in teaching styles. I was recently asked to comment about another ACIM teacher who has a very different teaching style from mine. This teacher presents herself as an enlightened person, a person who continually lives in the awareness of the light. "Enlightened" is a loaded term and we should define it. For me, it means someone who is always, profoundly and intimately, deeply connected to the divine and very consistent in that awareness. When one communicates with such a person he or she will always tell you of their divine nature in one way or another. The enlightened teacher seems to never waver off of this position. That is not what I do. It is not my teaching style.
For me, the enlightened style of teaching would be repressive. I actually think it leads to a very unhealthy and inauthentic life. I believe it would for me. I also think that it frequently leads to an abuse of power. Those in that high position find it easy to manipulate others and possibly use and abuse them. The enlightened frequently do not even realize they are doing this because their enlightened viewpoint means they have ceased to question themselves or hold their own thoughts and actions up to doubt. The enlightened remain impervious to the feedback and criticism of others. I try to always be open to feed back and criticism as difficult as it is to sometimes hear it.
I have accepted that I am a teacher and a minister. I certainly accept that Community Miracles Center (CMC) is an ACIM church. Frequently this is a very challenging thing to accept. Recently I was communicating with a local CMC Supporting Member who we had not seen in a long time although this person used to come here frequently. It was time for this person to renew their membership pledge. After this person didn't respond to several standard emails I sent a more direct and personal email. I then got a response. This person told me that he was not going to renew and the reason was he no longer felt comfortable with ACIM being organized as a church. There has always been this feeling and communication from some, however the fact that this person had been comfortable with CMC being a church for a long time, but now wasn't, puzzled me.
There are also people who come here and they feel challenged because this place doesn't feel enough like a traditional church. They feel challenged because our numbers are small. If this was truly a church they expect to see more people and a more traditional setting. It doesn't seem to be church to them. Therefore, we get judged because we are a church and we get judged because we aren't church enough. Rev. Larry and I frequently feel caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It can lead us to feel challenged. I sometimes get into my own periods of questioning. When any member questions what is going on I take that question in and ask myself what validity their question might have. I can get into personal feelings of doubt, sometimes fear and maybe even depression. I freely admit to those negative feelings. I always have. If I was the enlightened style of teacher I would not admit to those. Supposedly an enlightened teacher never has those negative feelings. To me, it is healthier to admit to them then to try to do something mental with them and deny them. If I had to appear enlightened then I would be tempted to repress these feelings because I would have an image I had to live up to. Repression is never a good idea.
ACIM talks about depression a lot. It wants us to understand what it is. There are many quotations about depression I could write here. I choose this one at random. "Listen to what the ego says and see what it directs you see, and it is sure that you will see yourself as tiny, vulnerable, and afraid. You will experience depression, a sense of worthlessness, and feelings of impermanence and unreality. You will believe that you are helpless prey to forces far beyond your own control and far more powerful than you." (Tx.Or.Ed.21.50) Any time we feel depressed it is because of these reasons. It is thus an alarm. ACIM tells us this alarm has gone off to show us that our thinking is wrong and ego based. It is therefore a good thing to be able to recognize your fear, doubt and depression because if you don't recognize it you won't do what you need to do to correct it. It is not something that we should push away, deny or repress because it doesn't fit our image of ourselves. It is something that we have to see and acknowledge so that we can do the correction which is called for. This is the problem that happens when we feel we have to act enlightened. We don't allow the feelings of doubt to come up into awareness clear enough so that we can correct them. I do not think this is what ACIM is calling us to do.
ACIM is very clear that we get into doubt, fear and depression the entire time that we believe we are here in the world manifesting the body. If we appear to be here then we still have limitations and we still have to acknowledge them. "Forget not once this journey is begun the end is certain. Doubt along the way will come and go and go to come again. Yet is the ending sure. No one can fail to do what God appointed him to do. When you forget, remember that you walk with Him and with His Word upon your heart. Who could despair when hope like this is his?" (C-ep.1.1-2)
As we study ACIM and as we travel on the spiritual path doubt comes and goes over and over again. That's the process. The quotation also said that we will forget our divine nature at times. Then we remember it and then we forget it again. Once again, that is the process. I have to understand this process and be at peace with it so I can do the things I need to do to correct my mind.
Are we enlightened? Possibly being involved in the cyclical coming and going of doubt while being aware of it is enlightenment. Maybe enlightenment and doubt aren't inconsistent. Maybe the enlightened mind is enlightened enough so that it can be aware of its doubt and not have to repress or push the doubt aside. The truly enlightened should allow the doubt to be there in it's full energy so that the enlightened mind can correct it.
ACIM says a few things about enlightenment. "The peace of God is shining in me now. – Why wait for Heaven? Those who seek the light are merely covering their eyes. The light is in them now. Enlightenment is but a recognition, not a change at all." (Wk.Or.Ed.188.1) Could it be that we are enlightened now? Could it be we're enlightened when we have our doubts if we are perceiving those doubts correctly. An understanding of the purpose of the doubt might be enlightenment itself. I do not think enlightenment and doubt to be inconsistent. We can be enlightened and still have doubt and fear.
ACIM tells us, "Even the most advanced of God's teachers will give way to temptation in this world." (Mn.Or.Ed.23.1) We can be a very advanced teacher and still succumb to the temptations of the ego at times. Our doubt and fear causes us to sometimes make wrong decisions regardless of how advanced we may be. Our ability to be miracle workers is not stopped because of our occasional experiences of doubt, fear and depression. "Miracles are healing because they supply a lack in that they are performed by those who temporarily have more for those who temporarily have less." (Tx.Or.Ed.1.8) To work miracles we have to become aware of our divine nature in a moment, temporarily. In that moment, when we remember our divinity, we can perform miracles. We can have that manifestation of our enlightenment. "Learning is constant and so vital in its power for change that a Son of God can recognize his power in one instant and change the world in the next." (Tx.Or.Ed.7.47)
ACIM never says that we have to maintain our divine awareness all the time. In fact, it tells us we will not do that. "Sometimes a teacher of God may have a brief experience of direct union with God. In this world, it is almost impossible that this endure. It can, perhaps, be won after much devotion and dedication and then be maintained for most of the time on earth. But this is so rare that it cannot be considered a realistic goal. If it happens, so be it. If it does not happen, so be it as well. All worldly states must be illusory. If God were reached directly in sustained awareness, the body would not be long maintained." (Mn.Or.Ed.26.3) Consistent awareness of our union with divinity, or what is usually called enlightenment, is an unrealistic goal for us to have here. However we can, in any moment that we need to, come into the awareness of our divinity so that we can heal and be miracle workers. We can provide the light and energy needed by someone who has a little less than we do right in that instant. Maybe that same person will be the one who will have a little more an instant later when we have a little less and need it. That is how the miracle working process works. The process is not about manifesting an enlightened affect all the time.
I think it is oppressive to believe you have to live as a demonstration of what you believe an enlightened person is, every moment of your life. It would be very oppressive to me. I think it leads to psychologically unhealthy form of repression. As a counselor, I don't want to see people repressing their negative feelings and conflict. I want to see people being able to be comfortable with their issues, their fears and their doubts. They need to be comfortable enough to bring up these conflicts and talk about them with their counselor. It's impossible to be an effective counselor for someone who is repressing all these things. If these doubts can't be looked at nothing is going to heal. This passage from the Workbook states this quite clearly. "Conflict must be resolved. It cannot be evaded, set aside, denied, disguised, seen somewhere else, called by another name, nor hidden by deceit of any kind if it would be escaped. It must be seen exactly as it is, where it is thought to be, in the reality which has been given it, and with the purpose that the mind accorded it. For only then are its defenses lifted and the truth can shine upon it as it disappears." (Wk.Or.Ed.333.1) This is a basic truth for any counseling modality.
Here's a good ACIM definition of enlightenment. "Unless a mind is fixed in its purpose, it is not clear. Clarity literally means the state of light, and enlightenment is understanding." (Tx.Or.Ed.5.83) Enlightenment means understanding. We can have a true understanding of our doubt, fear and depression. We can be enlightened about those experiences. The previous quotation continues with, "Enlightenment stands under perception because you have denied it as the real foundation of thought." (Tx.Or.Ed.5.83) I always had trouble with that statement because I didn't correctly interpret the word, "under." I now see what it means is enlightenment is at a deeper level than perception. It's underneath perception. If we want to have understanding then we truly need to "stand under" and go to a deeper level than the surface level of the perceptions.
The Course repeatedly tells us that we will go through these periods of doubt or trials and that we will have problems while we are here. I have a current student who often tells me that ACIM spends a lot of time in the negative voice. To him, ACIM doesn't sound positive enough. It doesn't sound like he expects enlightened literature to sound. Why does ACIM speak of negatives so often? ACIM is that way because it wants us to look at these negatives with understanding so that we can correct and heal them. It is not about pretending that these negative things don't exist in our minds. It's about acknowledging that they do exist in our minds. This is another reason why I don't gravitate towards the seeming enlightened teachers who continually try to demonstrate the positive. I have nothing to learn from them. If I'm positive, I am positive. I don't need any help then. I need help when I am negative. To get that help I need to see how somebody else is handling their negative stuff. If they never give a personal demonstration of that then they are of no use to me. I don't need help understanding what's good. "Good" is understanding, in and of itself, by definition. I need to "stand under" what is not good, what is negative, so I know how to deal with it. That's when I am needy.
"Trials are but lessons which you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one and thus escape all pain which what you chose before has brought to you. In every difficulty, all distress, and each perplexity Christ calls to you and gently says, 'My brother, choose again.'" (Tx.Or.Ed.31.86) I need teachers who tell me of their trials. I need teachers who tell me of the times they made mistakes and wrong choices and how these lessons got presented to them again and again. These are who I can learn from. I certainly don't need teachers who manifest the affect of enlightenment. I need teachers who are enlightened enough so they can show me their dark side and how they are dealing with it.
"If you want understanding and enlightenment, you will learn it because your will to learn it is your decision to listen to the Teacher who knows of light and can therefore teach it to you." (Tx.Or.Ed.8.16) Again we see enlightenment defined as simply understanding. We need the most understanding about our issues, trials and doubts. We need to get underneath the perception of those things to see what brought them up so we can choose to heal them.
Here is another quotation that, again, equates enlightenment with understanding. "Remember what we said about the frightening perceptions of little children which terrify them because they do not understand them. If they ask for enlightenment and accept it, their fears vanish." (Tx.Or.Ed.11.17) Understanding our frightening perceptions is how they disappear and vanish. This is what I want to do in my life as both a teacher and a student. I have as many nightmares, fears and doubts as anybody has. I think we all have about the same amount of these. I believe even those who project the affect of enlightenment have the same number of fears and doubts as any of us do. The seeming enlightened may not be bringing their fears to the surface and witnessing them, but I'm sure they have them just like all do. I believe these negative things are fairly constant in the human condition. I want to experience people as they are, in their mess of the world. I believe this is how we heal together.
I am perfectly fine with teachers having whatever teaching style that they do. This is what I shared with the person who had asked me to comment about an "enlightened" teacher. It's a matter of style and different teachers with different styles reach other students. There are students who want that, and possibly need that. I can, truly, only speak for myself. There are many students who have trouble reading ACIM and they may need to hear enlightened, divine words coming from an enlightened, divinely centered person. There are students who need to consistently get the message of light and peace from a human mouth. I would not change any student or teacher from following their guidance to the best of their individual abilities. "It is not up to you to change him but merely to accept him as he is." (Tx.Or.Ed.9.6) It's all just fine.
However, for me, I remember what ACIM teaches me about my limitations and problems and how to hold them in my mind. I'm here to learn from them and not to be upset by them. "Do not despair, then, because of limitations. It is your function to escape from them, but not to be without them. If you would be heard by those who suffer, you must speak their language. If you would be saviors, you must understand what needs to be escaped." (Mn.Or.Ed.26.4) This is a very important passage and it tells us a lot if we have the ears to hear it. If we would be heard by those who suffer we have to speak the language of suffering. We have to understand that language.
I wrote earlier about being a counselor. I am a pastoral counselor, not a counselor with traditional training. I've been counseling for over 20 years. I have a lot of on the job training. Years ago, when I didn't have as much on the job training I was trying to get more perspective of the counseling field and how it worked. I had a couple of friends who were traditional counselors – one was an Licensed Clinical Social Worker (an LCSW) and another was a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor (an MFCC). That was what they were called at that time which was almost 15 years ago now. We used to meet once a month to discuss cases and get feedback. We would present the cases anonymously without giving the clients names. It was very educational. After these meeting we would have lunch and then discuss counseling more informally. I remember that there was a discussion about the difficulty they had in getting clients to open up and reveal deeper parts of their lives. There was universal agreement that this was an important issue in counseling. According to these traditional counselors it took many, many sessions to get clients to open up about their deeper issues. I remember sitting there, listening to them talk and thinking, "I don't have that problem at all." Usually, I can't get the clients to stop talking about their deeper issues. Then I realized how different the styles of counseling were. I can make a demonstration in a session of my own deep issues. When I share and witness to my fears, the clients feels comfortable telling me theirs. However, the paradigm that the more traditional counselor functions in doesn't allow this. They were supposed to present a blank screen and allow the client to project onto them. It was inappropriate for them to say anything about themselves. I am not surprised that it took these traditional counselors a long time to have their clients open up to them. These counselors were not presenting themselves to their clients as a fellow human beings with similar issues.
That is the traditional psychological modality. It has it's pluses and minuses. I am not trying to criticize that. I am only pointing out the differences in style. I never have difficulty getting people to open up about their lives. I talk about my life and doubts and they open right up. Sometimes it's just a matter of a smile or a little friendly laugh that lets them know they are welcomed and understood. I believe this is what ACIM is training us towards. I can be heard by those who suffer because I speak their language. I suffer as well. I am willing to be a witness to my suffering because I know we are all working on the same things. If I witness to my suffering and talk about how I use these principle to heal myself then I model healing for them. I have found this to be a very effective way to be a counselor, healer or teacher.
I do not think that doubt and enlightenment are antithetical. I think there is an enlightened way to deal with your doubts, fears and depressions. If we'd be willing to be a fearless demonstration for our deeper selves we would be a wonderful healing model that would help many, many people deal with their own issues in life. We are all healing together. ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the October 4, 2007 (No. 21) issue of CMC Ezine. CMC Ezine is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.