"A MIDDLE-AGED LAWYER"
I first met Helen Schucman on Saturday night, November 25, 1972. We met at William Thetford's apartment on the upper east side of New York City, and our meeting was arranged by our mutual friend Father Michael. The three of them, along with Bill's roommate Chip, had spent the afternoon at a healing service of Kathryn Kuhlman, the famous faith-healer, and had been impressed, if not worn out, by the intense sincerity of the service. I later learned how unusual it was for Helen to agree to go out in the evening, especially after a tiring day. Looking back on that meeting, I can see a certain inevitability in the circumstances leading up to it.
Brought up in a Jewish home and educated for the first eight grades in a Hebrew parochial school called a Yeshivah, I had left God and Judaism behind at the age of thirteen, determined never to think of religious issues again. There followed a long period of agnosticism that was coupled with a growing and passionate love for classical music, with Beethoven and Mozart heading my personal pantheon of guides that led me ever more deeply to internal experiences that I, in my ignorance during that period, scarcely would have termed spiritual. This period included my graduate education, and very .surprisingly, a doctoral dissertation on St. Teresa of Avila, the famous sixteenth century Spanish mystic. A couple of years later (1970), after the break-up of my first marriage, God "showed up," and I began to feel a personal Presence that was behind these non-spiritual" experiences. Two years later, after a chain of experiences irrelevant to this book, I found myself visiting a Trappist monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, very unexpectedly feeling totally "at home."
The pace of my life now seemed to quicken markedly. I decided while at the monastery that it was God's Will that I become a Trappist monk, as well as a Roman Catholic, though I had no interest in the Church whatsoever, nor any conscious interest in Jesus, its central figure. Upon my return to the hospital where I was employed, I spoke to the Catholic chaplain who baptized and confirmed me within three weeks. In preparation for entering the monastery -- Church law decreed I had to wait a year -- I decided to leave my job at Thanksgiving and spend the time quietly alone. I felt I should spend part of this time in Israel, and so arranged to go a few days after the holiday. But I am slightly ahead of the story.
Shortly after my baptism in September 1972, the chaplain told me that a priest in his religious order was very anxious to meet me. This was my introduction to Father Michael. The circumstances were far more interesting than this, however. Father Michael was a psychologist, and had done part of his graduate training under William Thetford and Helen Schucman at the Psychiatric Institute, part of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. The three of them became good friends, and in fact, Michael was one of the very, very few people with whom Helen and Bill shared A Course in Miracles, even as it was still coming through.
One day Bill was reading John White's The Highest State of Consciousness, an anthology in which an article of mine appeared. This was "Mysticism and Schizophrenia," a paper that was originally meant for my dissertation, and was first published in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. The article compared and contrasted the mystical experiences of St. Teresa with those of a schizophrenic, the principal point being that schizophrenics were not mystics, and mystics were not schizophrenics. Bill showed it to Michael as an example of a psychologist who took the mystical experience seriously, more of a rare occurrence in the mid-1960s than it is today. When the baptizing chaplain mentioned to Michael that he had recently baptized a psychologist (a phenomenon I think he equated with the imminent announcement of the Second Coming ), Michael recognized my name from the article and expressed interest in meeting me.
I called him, set up a time to get together, and he and I soon became fast friends. Shortly before I was to leave for Israel, Michael told me about two psychologists he thought I should meet. And so Michael, Helen, Bill, Chip, and I met that Saturday evening. Most of the time, as I recall, was spent in my telling how I came to be where I now was in my life. Helen shared a couple of her early experiences, and I remember feeling a particularly close connection with her.
At one point in the evening, someone -- I think it might have been Michael -- mentioned this "book" that Helen had "written," which had to do with spiritual development. Bill pointed to a corner in his living room where his copy of the manuscript of the Course was kept in seven black thesis binders. For some reason I did not feel I should look at them, although it would have been perfectly all right with Helen and Bill if I had done so.
The evening ended and I felt that I had just met two very holy people, although I obviously could not have recognized then the real importance they would have in my life. Michael and I drove Helen home to her downtown Manhattan apartment, and Helen mentioned that the name "Wapnick" was familiar to her, as indeed "Schucman" was to me. We then realized that Helen knew my ex-wife Ruth, who had worked for a while at the Medical Center as a research assistant. I recalled that Ruth had found her immediate supervisor to be quite difficult, and had spoken to Helen, a consultant to the project. Ruth had experienced Helen as very supportive and helpful, as she did Bill. Interestingly enough, this association was within the first year or so of the Course's transmission.
After we dropped Helen off, Michael and I continued to his residence where I spent the night. Before we went to sleep, Michael offered me a copy of "Helen's book" to examine, but again, I did not feel I should look at it. I then went to bed and yet could not fall asleep, a very unusual occurrence for me. Though tired, I tossed and turned for quite some time, trying to figure out why I was having so much difficulty.
Finally I remembered a dream I had had over a year before. In the dream I was with a group of people, who I felt were considerably younger than I. A very wise middle-aged lawyer then walked in, and took me to a different section of the room, which resembled a library, apart from the others. She then presented me with me three questions, only the first of which is relevant here. It asked what I would change, if I could, of any of my childhood experiences. My answer, which proved to be the correct one, was that I would not change anything, since all was the way it should be and the past no longer mattered. I awoke at this point, and then finished the dream in a semiconscious, hypnagogic state. In the dream (which I recognized to be a significant one), the woman-lawyer was a kind of spiritual teacher, for whom I had a great deal of respect, and whose respect and approval I had obviously gained as well.
Lying in bed at Father Michael's, I suddenly realized that the lawyer was Helen. I barely knew her, but at this point already recognized in Helen the powerful presence of a spiritual authority. Obviously, however, I had no way of knowing then just how complex an individual she was. I became quite peaceful, and instantly fell asleep. When I told Michael about it the following morning, he laughed: "Of course Helen would be a lawyer," referring to Helen's keen analytic and logically probing mind.
I left for Israel a few days later, and as it ended up, most of my time was spent in two monasteries. I wrote Helen and Bill separate letters in March, from the Trappist Abbey of Latroun, outside Jerusalem. My letter to Bill survives, but this first letter to Helen is missing. In it, Helen remarked to me later, I referred to my desire to read her book, and spelled it with a capital "B," something I never would have consciously done.
Moreover, while in Israel I had two dreams relating to "Helen's Book." In the first, I was standing on a New York City subway platform. I walked over to a garbage can and there on top was what I knew to be a very holy book, but not one with which I was acquainted. In another dream, I was walking along a beach, and found this same holy book in the sand.
I eventually left Latroun and went to Lavra Netofa, a small and physically primitive monastic community atop a mountain in the region of Galilee, affording a beautiful view of the northern end of the famous Sea. After two months, and feeling very much at home there, I decided to remain on this mountain top for an indefinite period of time. But before nestling in, I thought I should visit the United States to see my family, as well as to look up Helen and Bill. In my letter to Helen announcing my visit, I wrote:
Since I shall be remaining here quite some time, I have decided to come to the United States for about a month before returning here and settling in. I plan to arrive somewhere around the week-end of May 12 [19731 ... and I hope we can get together soon thereafter. I also look forward very much to reading your book [here spelled with a lower case "b"]² while in the States.I stayed with Michael on my arrival in New York, and shortly afterwards he drove me down to Columbia-Presbyterian. Helen's recollection was that I walked into the door and said, "Hello, here I am; where's the book?" While I know I was anxious to see this material, I doubt if I would have totally forgotten my good manners. I would have at least said, "Hello, how are you?" And then, "Where's the book?" But obviously I could not wait to see "Helen's" manuscript.
Helen and Bill had adjacent offices within a larger enclosed area, and they sat me down in Bill's office while he went into Helen's. Helen handed me her two favorite sections -- "For They Have Come" and "Choose Once Again" -- which thus became my introduction to A Course in Miracles. I read eagerly, and could scarcely believe what I was reading. Long a lover of Shakespeare, these extremely poetic sections were to me every bit as beautiful as anything the Bard had written, and yet I remember exclaiming to Helen and Bill that unlike Shakespeare, these words contained a profound spiritual message. I could not envision a more sublime integration of form and content, equaling in my mind the perfection of Beethoven's C-Sharp Minor Quartet.
My memory of the exact sequence of events is hazy, but as I began reading the text from the beginning I quickly recognized the Course as being the most perfect blend of psychology and spirituality that I had ever seen. And I am sure that it did not take me very long to realize that A Course in Miracles was my life's work, Helen and Bill were my spiritual family, and that I was not to become a monk but to remain in New York with them instead.
During this period, which seemed to have a life of its own, extending itself from the original four-week visit to ten, I was dividing most of my time between being with Helen and Bill -- together and individually -- and my parents. The latter understandably felt considerable discomfort and concern for their "nice Jewish son" who had joined the "enemy camp," and who they felt, moreover, had been abducted by a group of very suspect monks. I also traveled around seeing many friends, including a trip to the Abbey of Gethsemani.
I thus spent a great deal of time with my "new family," going over the entire course of my life, sometimes in great detail. Helen and Bill seemed happy to listen, and it was obviously important for me to share with them who I was, at least who I thought I was. In addition, Helen and I began spending a lot of time together, and it was clear that a real bond had been discovered between us. I also spent time alone with Bill, and felt a closeness with him as well. All in all, I was somewhat surprised by Helen's and Bill's openness to share with me their difficulties with the Course, and the general unhappy state of their lives, not to mention with each other.
Thus the honeymoon period for me did not last very long, as the other aspect of Helen's and Bill's lives also became -- painfully at first -- quite clear. Helen and Bill were far more complex people than they had originally appeared to be. My initial reactions to them were certainly not inaccurate, simply incomplete. The love I felt for Helen and Bill, their dedication to God and A Course in Miracles that I recognized from the beginning, never diminished in my mind. But another dimension in them slowly began to dawn on my awareness, that for a while I attempted to stifle. Here were two kind and wise people, clinical psychologists no less, with whom I was able to speak openly of my relationship with God and Jesus, and find total understanding. Moreover, they were, after all, the two persons responsible for this remarkable book that I was beginning to see was the center point of my life: the culmination of my past journey, and foundation for the rest of my time here.
But I could also see the enormous difficulty both of them experienced living in the world, seeming appearances and professional accomplishments to the contrary. And, above all, I could see the mess their interpersonal relationship was in. In short, the situation was hardly the spiritual Camelot I thought I had wandered into. Rather it was, I was beginning to recognize, a complex hotbed of pain and hatred, paradoxically coupled with Helen's and Bill's genuine dedication to God and the Course, not to mention a love and concern for each other.
This paradox in their relationship, to which I shall return in later chapters, was also reflective of the aforementioned paradox within Helen herself: a phenomenon exhibited in her dissociation of two almost entirely separate selves, what A Course in Miracles terms the right and wrong minds, representing God and the ego. This paradox, once again, is the central theme in this book, which itself has three parts. Part I details this conflict within Helen -- "Heaven and Helen" -- as it was manifest in her early years. It is based principally upon Helen's autobiography, which I present in as corrected a form as I felt the license to do, interspersed with my own comments.³
Part II largely describes Helen's meeting Bill and taking down A Course in Miracles, and I draw heavily here upon the personal material given to Helen during the early weeks of the Course's scribing. In addition, I cite relevant excerpts from Helen's dreams, as well as from letters Helen wrote to Bill, and notes from Bill's journal.
In Part III I return to the period of my association with Helen and Bill, which basically began in 1973, specifically calling upon my personal reminiscences of Helen to discuss her two sides, and the ultimate resolution of this conflict. Once this duality was transcended, only the unity of her one Self remained. Thus Parts I and II span Helen's childhood years to the fall of 1972 when she completed taking down the Course. Part III of the book covers the final period of her life, 1973-1981, when I was so intimately connected with her.