Interview with Kenneth and Gloria Wapnick
By Thomas Davies
LOVE AND FORGIVENESS: Do you consider A Course in Miracles to be scripture--God's word?
KENNETH WAPNICK: The first thing we need to define is what is scripture and what is God's word. Based on what the Course says and on our own feelings, to say that something is scripture (1) limits God and (2) sets up the whole mistake of spiritual specialness--that this is God's word and something else is not God's word.
GLORIA WAPNICK: Or that God's word is different in one book from another.
K: Basically in the Course the word of God is equated with the Atonement, or any aspect of the Atonement principle, which would be a correction, so that any right-minded thought would be an expression of the word of God, and that could come in all kinds of forms, among them the Course, but also including great works of literature, painting, or music. Otherwise you get into a type of worshiping of the word, as has been done with the Bible.
L&F: And with the Course.
K: Absolutely. Forgetting that it's not the form but the content. And the content of God's Will is present in everyone. The forms in which it is expressed are legion. To pull out certain ones as being more special than others or holier than others or more God's word than others is to make the mistake of spiritual specialness.
G: There is that line in the Course that says "words are but symbols of symbols, therefore they are twice removed from reality." I think we have to have that in the backdrop too when we think about this. I just don't like the word scripture, I guess. I grew up as a Roman Catholic, and scripture has that connotation that this is the word of God, that this is it, and there is no other word of God. This is kind of exclusive. I think this has very serious consequences. I was a history teacher all of my life, and the history of the world produced all kinds of hatred and religious wars in the name of God. I think we need to keep that in the backdrop also. So I don't consider A Course in Miracles scripture, in that sense.
L&F: In the sense of being exclusive.
G: Right. And I don't consider it as God's word, because God doesn't have words.
L&F: But is the Course the words of Jesus.
G: It is the words of Jesus, but Jesus is not God in that sense. People make this mistake. This is the Roman Catholic theology again--that Jesus is God. In the state of oneness there is no talk of Jesus or God. If we go into a room and that room is the room of oneness, let's say, and we just walk into it, there is no Jesus and God. But if we walk into the room of duality, then we have to talk about Jesus and God.
L&F: Yes, but if the Course is the words of Jesus, does Jesus speak for God?
G: Yes, he doesn't have a wrong-mind. He's only right-minded. He is beyond the right mind. He's in the real world. He doesn't need correction any further. He has no ego. What he speaks is truth. In another part of the Course it states that truth cannot be put into words. When we are trying to put certain concepts into words, I think it loses. So I would call the Course at best a reflection.
L&F: And so every scripture is an approximation of the truth.
G: I wouldn't say every scripture. There are parts of the Bible that are very inspired and written from the right mind. But I think that is rare, and most of it is filled with specialness. The whole thing starts off with the chosen people of God--the Jews are the chosen people. Well, that reeks of the ego. So I don't consider the Bible the word of God. On the first page where it says God created the world. That didn't set well with me even as a child.
L&F: And you would say the same about the Qur'an?
G: You know it's funny, I lived in a Muslim country for two and a half years. They practice their religion much better than most people in the West. When the muezzin, the crier, calls the prayer time from the tower, they literally stop what they are doing and pray. I was impressed with that kind of devotional attitude, but, again, what Muhammad did was say that the principal male characters in the Old and New Testaments were messengers and prophets of God, but that Muhammad was the last and the greatest of the prophets. What he did was say that there is a little more of revelation or inspiration to come through and now here it is in the Qur'an, and then he capped it. Just like the Church tried to cap the revelations of the Bible--there was nothing else.
What Muhammad taught led to persecution. If you look at the Baha'is--because I lived in Iran--they have been persecuted tremendously because they say that Baha'ullah was a prophet and that contradicts what Muhammad said, so that has led to severe persecution.
Again, I put the Qur'an in the same place that I put the Bible. I think parts of it are inspired and written from the right mind, but I don't believe it is scripture and the word of God in that sense.
L&F: But can't scripture serve a purpose for certain groups of people at certain times in history?
G: Yes, if you look at the history of Islam, he took the so-called pagans--idol worshipers--and he changed them to monotheists.
L&F: And wasn't that an advancement for the Arabs?
G: Yes and no. In one sense what Muhammad taught is closer to the truth--that there is one God--but what happens is that people take this and dogmatize it, forcing people to worship in certain ways, and you can have religious wars over what is the right time to worship and the correct way to pray and devote yourself to God, and all the rest.
L&F: Any scripture can be misused and made exclusive to a time and a group of people.
G: Right. You see what's happening now is you have the fundamentalist Muslims who are using the teaching of Muhammad in a political sense, which Christianity has also done for centuries, obviously. It is rather strange what happens.
L&F: Why the Course? People would like to know what they can learn from the Course that they cannot get from some other source. Why should they invest their time in studying the Course?
K: The correction comes in many different forms. The Course states at the beginning of the manual that the Course is only one form among many thousands. Your question seems to be, what does the Course contribute that the other spiritual texts don't. I think what it does among other things is it integrates a non-dualistic metaphysics, which says that God is the only reality--there is nothing else--with a very sophisticated and practical psychology that enables us to apply those abstract metaphysical principles to the very specific nature of our individual lives--forgiveness of our special relationships. I think it's the integration of that which makes the Course so unique.
L&F: And we can't pull those concepts from any other sources?
K: Not in the same way. There are very, very few spiritualities that are non-dualistic. All the ones that I know about are in the East. There is nothing in the West that teaches with the same clarity as the Course that God has nothing to do with the physical universe. Yet his love is reflected here through the Holy Spirit in our right mind, and that love then becomes the foundation for how we live here. But what the Course does that other spiritual systems don't, certainly in the Western world, is that it does not fall into the trap of making the world real. For example, in the Western religions it's an inherent part of their teaching that you pray for things in this world. Or you pray to God for specific help. The Course makes it very clear that the only meaningful prayer is for forgiveness, because you already have everything else.
I think what allows that to be clear is the underlying metaphysics of the Course. We always emphasize here when we teach that you can't let the metaphysics of the Course get too far away from you. Otherwise you tend to distort what the Course is teaching.
What the Course does that no other spirituality that I know of East or West has ever done is place so much emphasis on understanding the thought system of the ego. There is no other thought system that I know of, that spends so much time talking about intricacies of the ego--the murderousness of it, the hatred of it, the convoluted nature of it--as the Course does. The purpose of that--which is where the psychology comes in--is to really have its students pay careful attention towards their egos, too. The forgiveness of the Course means that you have to look at your ego and then let it go. You can't let it go and turn it over to Jesus in some kind of magical way and then hope that he's going to take it from you. You have to be looking at what you are doing and change your mind about it.
L&F: And so, as I believe Carl Jung stated, we first have to recognize our egos before we can give them up.
K: That's right.
L&F: We really can't expect to take a child from birth and raise it without an ego.
K: That's correct. This is why we say that this is really not a course on love, it's a course on undoing guilt through forgiveness. That's what the focus of the Course is.
One other point. Sigmund Freud said that the purpose of psychoanalysis is to make the unconscious conscious. I think in the Course Jesus would say the same thing. You can't make something conscious without being aware of it, by definition.
L&F: And so we do have to become aware of the ego before we can give it up.
K: If you're a student of the Course, you have to.
L&F: My limited experience has been that many people are attracted to the Course because they have heard that it emphasizes love and forgiveness, but when they actually start reading the Course, especially the Text, they find the going tough. Many become disillusioned, some even feel guilty that they are not able to understand it. Have you also found this to be the case, and if so, what do you tell these people? Should they stick with it or should they seek for something else? If so, what?
G: That's true. We have come across many people who have become disillusioned in their study of the Course. I don't know that they feel guilty more than they feel angry over not being able to understand it. Basically, the Course is not for everyone. What do we tell them? This is highly individualized. A person might be experiencing extreme resistance, an it is their spiritual path, or they might be experiencing an inner knowing that this is not their path, and they do not resonate to it, and they should go on to explore something else. We never make any blanket statements about what people should do. That kind of advice is totally irrelevant. You have to really understand that the Course is difficult, because it is turning over everything that we have been brought up to understand, everything that we have been taught--it just goes against everything.
Therefore, if you don't feel resistance to it, I don't think you are doing the Course. You have to have a lot of bumps as you go through it. I wouldn't say disillusionment. I would say you would feel that maybe you are not doing it right, or maybe there's something wrong with you. All of that comes up, but that's hidden guilt that you aren't aware of that comes up that now you can ask for help with. The Course process makes you go down to the very bottom of your mind and look at what's there. It brings up all the doubts you have about yourself and doubts about God and about your images and idols you've made of all the different concepts of God you hold in your mind, and of Jesus, and of everything. I've always said to Kenneth, the Course is like a giant eraser. It erases everything you ever held on to--any value, any belief, anything--and asks you to look at that. If in the end, you do look at it in your right mind, you'll see that it was built on nothing that could withstand the light of truth, as the Course says.
I think people go through that process and we do find people who get very upset while they do the Course. If you don't get upset, then you are not doing the Course.
L&F: Would you agree that for some people, the time is not right to do the Course, and for others, the time is never right?
G: I said at the very beginning that the Course is not everybody's spiritual path. But it's hardly my place to say whether or not it is someone's spiritual path. They have to make that decision within themselves. I would never tell anyone to give up the Course. I might tell someone that they might want to lay it down for awhile, especially if they're in a terrible state and they're using the Course as a crutch and think something is going to magically happen if they repeat words in the workbook of something, and encourage them to look at what they're really doing with the Course, but I would never tell anyone that it was his or her path or not.
L&F: Who have you found is attracted to the Course and who is not? Does understanding the Course require a particular personality type or level of maturity? Can children understand the teachings of the Course?
K: After seeing thousands and thousands of people, it's extremely difficult to say what kind of people are attracted to the Course and who are not. It is true that the Course, as it is, is written at a high intellectual level. I think more so than many spiritualities, but not all of them. I think we can assume that students should have at least average or above average intelligence. But that doesn't mean that somebody who's not an intellectual person can't benefit from it.
As Gloria just said, the last thing we would want to do is tell somebody that the Course is not for them. They may get something from it that was not anticipated.
G: Regarding whether or not children can understand the teachings of the Course, I think it's very difficult for children to understand projection. What they can understand is if the parents demonstrate kindness and fairness and forgiveness--this does not mean that they will not be strict--if parents are coming from their right mind, they can demonstrate the principles of the Course without saying words to a child. And then they can also pass on information that God is loving, in words, rather than having the child believe that God is fearful, or something to that effect.
L&F: Have there been attempts to modify the Course so that it is more understandable to children?
K: Yes, and I think that that is a terrible mistake. I think that the Course is what it is. One of the things that Jesus made clear in the early years is that the Course should never be changed, should never be abridged, should never be separated. I think it makes no sense to teach a child who is struggling to cope with his or her physical, psychological or social self to be taught that the world is an illusion, that God doesn't know about them, that they're not really here, that this is all a dream--that's not helpful. And yet without that teaching, the Course falls apart, as I mentioned at the beginning. Without the metaphysics, the Course ceases to be what it is. And I think that to change it around so it can be more understandable to children, why do that? Just do your own spirituality for children.
L&F: You are saying that the Course is taught to children mainly by example.
K: Absolutely right. To talk about A Course in Miracles for children is not right at all.
G: We've seen all kinds of personalities come through the Foundation, and we've taught overseas, too, so I do not think there is any specific personality type. But a level of spiritual maturity is required. If a person is still believing in magic and thinking that magic is going to happen, and you want something that is going to bring about magic, then you are going to be very disappointed by the Course. Although perhaps not required, I think that a level of maturity is helpful, otherwise you will have to go through a lot of undoing--of believing in magical forms of spirituality.
K: Plus, I think, if a person is immature, you end up doing what we refer to as level confusion, where you say, "The world is an illusion, therefore it doesn't matter what I do." People have used this as an excuse to be promiscuous sexually (i.e., this is only a body, and a body is an illusion), to hurt other people, to lie, to be dishonest--all under the guise of what difference does it make, it's all an illusion, and I'm going to demonstrate this for you. I think that comes from a level of immaturity.
L&F: More and more people are claiming to channel Jesus (Jeshua). Do you have any comments on this? Do you think their claims are legitimate?
G: I'm aware, having been a history teacher, that throughout history there have been people who claimed to be channeling Jesus. This happened during the gnostic era, and it happened all the way through. This happened not only in the Christian culture, but in other cultures you find that people claim they are channeling whoever the important personage is in that society. Whether people are channeling or not channeling, is not for me to say no or yes. If I resonate to it, fine. If I don't, that's fine. I do think what people are doing now is they're saying that they're channeling the Jesus of the Course, and what comes out is not the Course. As a result, people are becoming confused. We get lots of letters here asking about how a book that is supposedly channeled by the Jesus of the Course says one thing and the Course says another. There's a lot of that, and I think it is very unfortunate. I think people should say, if they're channeling, that they're channeling Jesus, and not make it the Jesus of the Course, in that sense, because when the message comes out totally different from the Course, everybody thinks that maybe Jesus had a bad day when he was channeling the Course or when he was channeling the other stuff, because it comes out differently, or maybe he's confused.
L&F: Is there more than one Jesus, then?
G: No there isn't. But what I think people are tuning into is--this is a personal opinion--I resonated immediately the night I opened the book for the first time in my life. I resonated, and I felt that Jesus was standing in the room in my house when I opened the book. For me, I feel a real resonance behind the words, a presence. I don't feel that when I read all this other stuff.
L&F: There are those who resonate to the Qur'an and those, such as yourselves, who resonate to the Course. Isn't it also possible that there will be those who resonate to this other "stuff"?
G: Oh, yes. What I'm saying is that there has been channeling that has gone down through the centuries. It can all serve a purpose. But it can also serve the purpose of confusing people, because if one bunch of channeling says one thing and another bunch of channeling says another thing, then a person becomes confused when it says it is doing it in the name of the Course. Take Bartholomew and Emmanuel and all of these people who are channeling them--they are not claiming they are Jesus. They're claiming there are these entities from the beyond, however you want to put it, who are giving some information to the receiver or the messenger. When you say that it is the Jesus of the Course or Jeshua, or you try to put parameters on it that way, and then the message comes through totally different, the student says, "Whom am I to believe? This Jesus or that Jesus?"
L&F: Don't we have that problem with all spiritual texts that are reportedly from an outside source?
K: Yes, but the Muslims would not say that their holy book is the Bible. They say it's the Qur'an and that it's a different message. The point Gloria is making, which I would certainly echo, is that we're not saying people aren't channeling, that people aren't receiving important messages, or that their messages are not helpful for people--obviously many of them are. What we are saying is, objectively speaking, the Course teaches this, it doesn't teach that. It says A, it doesn't say B. You have different religious faiths and different holy books, but they don't claim to be the other person's holy book. They say this is my book.
G: Just like Baha'ullah, when he was getting his messages, did not claim they were coming through Muhammad. He said they were coming directly from God. But people today are claiming what they are getting is from the same voice Helen heard. Well, it's not. Otherwise Jesus is totally confused, because what Jesus had her write down is totally different from what these people are writing.
K: That's not commenting on the validity of what they're doing or writing. It's simply saying that what they're teaching is not what the Course teaches. And because it's not what the Course teaches, why should they claim that it is? Instead they should say this is what I have heard--this is what my revelation has been and what my experience has been--and I am sharing it with the world. That's honest, and that's what they should do.
L&F: Ken, you knew Helen Schucman perhaps as well as anyone. You have written a biography on her life,Absence from Felicity. Briefly, how do you remember her? How should others think of her? I am thinking particularly of the reverence that is shown other messengers of God's word, such as Muhammad and Joseph Smith. Should Helen Schucman be revered? Should such things as monuments or shrines be erected in her honor? Did Helen voice any of her feelings on this?
K: I don't know how I can add to my book. One of the points of the book was to show that Helen was everyone. I think I say that in my introduction, that Helen's story is everyone's story--that of a split mind. And the Helen that the world knew, the personality and the body, was very much a split person. In her right-minded moments, I can't imagine anyone holier. When she was in a state of anxiety, of fear, and making judgments, she was just like anybody else's ego. I think that the way you want to remember Helen is that she's an example of how someone is able to lay aside her ego and really be totally dedicated to the love of Jesus and really do what she felt was his will. In that sense, she's a model for everyone. I mean, no one's going to hear the way Helen heard, in terms of writing down the three books we call the Course, but she was always quick to point out that people can have an experience of Jesus, and they can learn to choose him instead of the ego. I think her whole life is a testament to that--to how that works--as well as to the discomfort it brings you when you deny it. When you deny your right-minded self, when you deny Jesus' presence, you will be sick, and you will be unhappy. When you join with him, then you will be very happy and you will know the peace of God.
L&F: There is a tendency for us to look with awe on those who have supernatural experiences. Should we do this with Helen?
K: Helen was adamant that people not do that to her. One example. She was sitting on a sofa and somebody came and literally sat at her feet. She want to stomp on his head, and very sternly said, "Don't treat me that way." She was very clear that the only holy person was Jesus or the Holy Spirit and not herself.
L&F: In the Course, Jesus states that we should not look upon him with awe.
K: Absolutely. She was very clear about that. She was a remarkable person, and I think the purpose of my book was to show both sides of her. Not in a sense of awe or reverence, but I think both in gratitude as well as seeing her as a model both for how to do it and how not to do it.
L&F: Gloria, how is your approach to the Course different from Ken's? What has been your experience? Do women in general respond to (view) the Course differently than men? How have you responded to the exclusive use of masculine gender? Is there some significance to this, given that a woman was the scribe?
G: I don't think my approach to the Course is different from Kenneth's. When I first laid eyes on him and heard him speak, I was attracted to what he said because it resonated to what I felt was in me. It's the same approach. It might look different on the outside, when each of us speaks, but I think our basic understanding of the Course is the same. When you ask about experience, I don't know quite what you mean.
L&F: Do men and women respond to the Course differently? What has been your experience in that regard?
G: When I look back over the years that we've worked with students, I think women respond on a more emotional level. Men tend to not allow that part of the themselves to be touched or exposed. I know people say head and heart, and I hate to use it. Perhaps saying they are not as defended is a better way of putting it. I think women are less defended than men are, and so they are more open to the Course and its message. Men tend to be more analytical and skeptical in the beginning before they accept it, than I think a woman would be.
K: I think men tend to be more intellectualized. That doesn't mean more intellectual, but intellectualized. Women tend to be more receptive, not only to the Course, but to spirituality in general. There are, obviously, exceptions to this. In addition, what we have found over the years is that women by far are the majority of people coming here. Over the past number of years, more men have come, but still not in the same numbers as women.
L&F: What about the exclusive use of the male gender in the Course? I know some women who have been offended by that, even to the extent of changing every he to a she and him to a her.
G: That never bothered me, because I knew that the reference was to the correction of Christianity in the Bible and the usage there of Son of God, and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity being masculine also. And so I understood, having had a Roman Catholic background, what the terminology stood for. That never bothered me. What I think would be nice is if people could go beyond the him and the her, and see that God is neither a him or a her.
L&F: I've seen some who have tried to be politically correct by using him/her.
G: I think that is a reaction formation against the him. Now you have to get beyond the him and the her, the sexism, and all that kind of stuff that goes on, because God is not a him or a her. So you have to get into a different kind of space in your mind where you can understand that all of this is ridiculous. It has nothing to do with truth. If you get stuck at the level of changing all the hims to hers, you might feel vindicated that now females have a voice in the Course, but is that going to help your Atonement path?
L&F: I assume you've had women come through the Center who have had problems such as that.
G: Yes, like you said. People change all the hims to her, and they write letters, and they are very upset, and all that kind of thing. And I always remind them when I teach a class (I don't think Kenneth could get away with saying this) that this is one way in which when your button is pushed you can ask for help to see it differently. Obviously it is bringing something up from your unconscious that is really important for you to look at. And so you can use how the Course bothers you that way and you can also understand the corrections to Christianity. Finally, Helen had no problem with it because she understood the purpose of it. If the student understands the purpose and that they can use how it bothers them to get beyond that, and have that undone in their minds, it makes it easy for them.
L&F: How did the Foundation, Center, and Academy get started? Have you felt guided in what you are doing? If so, how have you known that it is the Spirit that is guiding you and not the ego? Others would like to know about this and how it might apply to the guidance they feel they receive.
G: One day not too long after we were married in 1981, I had this thought come to me that we should start a foundation. I discussed it with Kenneth, and that's how it started--the Foundation.
We were then living in Ardsley, New York, a suburb of New York City, and we had converted our one-car garage into a space for conducting classes, seeing patients, and various other activities. We realized at some point that we had to get a bigger place, so I started to look for different places. We finally found something further up in Westchester, in Crompond. We moved there. It was much bigger, with places for offices and also where we could hold classes. And then we grew out of that and people were having a problem with where to stay in the area. There was a lot of inconvenience in coming to the classes five days a week.
We started looking for a larger place. First we looked at archdiocesan properties which they were closing down, but everything was so expensive. Finally we discovered that New York had a program to try to keep businesses from leaving the state and would act as a real estate agent for finding desirable property. So actually New York State found the property here in Roscoe where we now have the Center. Even though we didn't want such a big place--we are both very private people--but we felt that this was our guidance to come here. Bob and Kathy Draper gave donations to by Crompond and Roscoe, and Dorena and Delph Gustitus made donations so we could put up two buildings and make substantial physical improvements on the property.
The Academy got started because I have been a teacher all my life. I use the Socratic method very much in my teaching. I was talking to Kenneth about doing something of that kind and that's how we started the Academy.
L&F: Please share with the readers some of the notable experiences that you have had in running the center. Experiences that you probably would not have had otherwise.
K: Actually, the difficulties that we have had here, with contractors defaulting, etc.--which are normal difficulties when you run a place like this--I think have been very helpful for us, the staff, and those who come here, insofar as they illustrate what the whole Course is about--that you don't try to make the world perfect and the world does not function perfectly. But how you handle what goes wrong is where the teaching and the learning is. In the beginning, the staff would get upset when a pipe would burst, saying, "This is a holy place. How could a pipe burst?" "How could a contractor default?" And our answer would be, "Well, that's how the world is." The proof of the holiness of the Foundation is not that nothing goes wrong but in the attitude of the staff. In that sense, I think it has been a very helpful experience, for everybody on the staff as well as students who come here and see it.
G: In terms of students, in the classes that we have taught over the years, people have had very enriching, deepening experiences. Sometimes they share them, other times they just say that they had an experience but that they can't talk about it. I'm very glad when I see that, because I think they're letting their guard down sufficiently to let the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus be experienced by them.
K: Also, over the years we have had students come from all over the country, even all over the world. I think it's always very interesting and enriching to have people come from different backgrounds, nationalities, and different religious faiths. Everybody grows from that kind of interaction. That's been a real plus for us as well as the students here.
G: Students have said to me over and over again that they meet people from other parts of the world, and it's a very enriching experience for them when they come here and can share with other people their journey, and talk with other students, and what not. They find this a very uplifting experience.
L&F: Ken and Gloria, if we may, let's talk for a minute about your relationship as a couple and the effect that the teachings of the Course have had on that relationship. In a marriage relationship, certain agreements are made and obligations assumed that make that relationship different from any other. In a sense, it is special, and yet the Course teaches that we should not form special relationships. Most people who are married would like to think that they are seen as special by their partner. How have you resolved this apparent conflict?
K: One of the things that we would get as a reaction in the early years when we were first married was, "You are both students and teachers of the Course. How could you be married and have a special relationship?" I think this clearly came from a misunderstanding of what a special relationship is. You can't be in this world without having special relationships. The key thing is what your attitude is towards it. Marriage is just another form of a relationship, just another classroom. In that sense, we don't see our marriage any differently than we would see a relationship with our family members and friends. Obviously it's different in the sense of intensity and that we're together all the time; so that the form is different, but in terms of content, I think it is a mistake to see a marriage as any different from any other kind of relationship.
G: When I first saw Kenneth and heard him talk at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel in New York City many, many years ago (1977), I knew there was something different about him, but I also felt that he was like a long lost friend, like someone very dear to me, and that has always been the backdrop of the relationship. I don't abide very much by the belief in marriage. We did get married legally, but I would have dispensed with it. I don't think marriage is important in your committed relationships. I think it's the commitment that he has to the Course and that I have to the Course--that I think is what the marriage is about. We're both committed to trying to be conduits for Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Concerning whether our relationship is special or not, it's special in the sense that I live with him and no one else lives with him. That's as far as the specialness goes.
L&F: Do you look at your relationship as a holy relationship?
K: I think that's another place where students of the Course get confused. I think a holy relationship is a process. In a sense, in this world, nothing is holy. The Course uses the term holy relationship as a reflection of the holiness of our relationship with God. And basically it's a process, a process of always letting go of your ego and selfish interests and realizing that we share the same interests. We love the same person--Jesus--and we feel a commitment to him and to his Course. And anything that would interfere with that is something that we would always want to set aside.
G: I never think in terms of whether our relationship is a holy or special relationship. People ask that question all the time. It's like a category. All I know is that we do the best that we can. We try to apply the Course and are always asking for help.
L&F: What is love? Can it be described as the Apostle Paul attempted to describe it in 1st Corinthians, or is it simply a given? How important is love?
K: From the point of view of the Course, Paul's description, which is a lovely one, would not be about love but would be about what forgiveness is. In other words, in the Course you really wouldn't say that love is patient and kind, et cetera. You'd say that it is a reflection of love in this world that is like that. In that sense, what Paul is describing there would really be what the Course would call forgiveness.
Love is beyond this world. Love is God. What we do here is reflect love. But it is not love, technically speaking. When you ask how important love is, love is our reality. So obviously it's the most important. If you ask, how important is forgiveness? I would say that is how we remember who we are, as children of love. Love is, and then you cease to speak.
G: I agree with Kenneth in what he says about Paul's statement in 1st Corinthians, but I had an experience of God's love many years ago which I tried to capture and express into words in our book Awaken From The Dream, but which became impossible. I would say that love is indescribable because it's totality and it's all encompassing. It was very clear to me from that experience, that it has nothing to do with anything we call love in this world. I'm a mother, I have two children, and I love them dearly. But the love I just mentioned that I experienced was a totality of oneness and a unity and had nothing to do with duality. It had nothing to do with me and God. You can't break up that oneness, and if you do, into a "twoness," then you don't have love any more.
L&F: What has convinced you that the teachings of the Course on love and forgiveness are true? Are you different people than you would be without the Course? If so, in what way? What changes do you see take place in others as they practice the teachings of the Course? Also, is a mother's love, love?
G: As far as I can tell, as the world recognizes love, a mother's love is very close. However, there are women who kill their children, too. But as far as caring for and being concerned about and wanting the best for and wanting to share with a child, a mother does that, in varying degrees.
K: The key thing would be in what the motivation is. Love as expressed in this world would be selfless. In other words, you're not thinking about your interests in terms of relationship, you're thinking what would be helpful to the other person. I think it's that selflessness that would be the reflection of God's love in this world. That would be true whether you are talking about a parent and a child, a husband and a wife, lovers, friends, whatever.
Surely, the Course emphasizes that there is only one love, but in this world it's expressed in different forms. But what would unify the different expressions of form would be that whatever it is you do in this world would be a reflection of Jesus' presence or the Holy Spirit's presence in your mind. That would be the unifying factor, regardless of the form of the relationship.
G: I think if one steps out of the way, as the Course says, and lets Jesus or the Holy Spirit work through you, you don't think about what is loving or what is not loving. It comes through you. Even though it appears to an onlooker that it might be very strict, if you are a parent and you are saying to your child, "Absolutely not. You cannot." And you are laying down regulations. The onlooker might say that that's being a very strict disciplinarian. But if you have truly stepped back and let the Holy Spirit come through you, then that is a very loving thing because maybe if you didn't have that encounter with the child, the child could go do something that's very self-destructive and hurt himself.
As stated in the Course, the Course does not teach what love is, because that's far beyond what can be taught. But it teaches that to get out of the way and be a conduit for Jesus or the Holy Spirit is the most loving thing that you can do, whether you are a parent, a student of the Course, or whatever you are, it doesn't matter.
Regarding the second part of the question, "Are you a different person than you would have been without the Course?" I can say for myself that I would be a different person certainly in the sense that I was a big cause person. In my younger years, I was against the Vietnam war, and I was very much for justice in the world, etc. I was always supporting the victims. After I got started with the Course, it took me a while to realize that it was a very special relationship that I had and that I would not be able to let that go very lightly because my whole life was predicated on that. It was a few years before I said to Jesus, "Okay, now I'm ready to look at this," referring to all the special relationships I had with my causes. The Course certainly did make me a different person. It changed me around 180 degrees, in that sense, because I had the whole world divided up into good guys and bad guys. I have a totally different view on that now.
I see the same changes happening in students as they come back here. A lot of students come back every year. They are able to look at some of the relationships they've been in and see a pattern that they hadn't recognized that was there or something that they're doing to sabotage themselves, or getting into relationships where they're always abused, whether emotionally or otherwise, so that the forgiveness aspect in the Course helps them tremendously.
K: If it wasn't for the Course, I would be in a monastery now. Which means I wouldn't be married. And so it has transformed my whole life in that way.
L&F: Most people, I think, believe that there are different kinds of love, while the Course teaches that there is only one love--God's love. Are these people who believe in more than one kind of love wrong in their belief? Are they not experiencing true love?
G: Again, we have to differentiate between what goes in the name of love and what true love is in terms of the love of God. It's totally abstract and therefore cannot be directed towards one person or thing. The experience can be a reflection of and lead to inspirational things, but it has nothing to do with what the love of God truly is. That was very clear to me after the previously mentioned experience. It's very hard to write about this kind of thing because you can't talk about this totality and oneness that's so abstract and put it into words because words are so specific.
L&F: But isn't the beauty of the Course the demonstration that we can experience that love--God's love--in our relationship with others?
K: The focus of the Course is a little different. The Course makes it very clear that forgiveness is undoing. Basically, what happens in a relationship is an undoing of all the ego thoughts of specialness and of selfish interests. When those interests are gone what is left is that experience of oneness in a person, which the world might call love, certainly, and would be a reflection of love, but the focus is that a relationship is an opportunity or a classroom which enables you to look at those parts of your ego self that you have repressed. Nothing brings out the worst in someone more than another person. In a sense, that's the beauty of a relationship. It enables you to look at something that you didn't even know existed, because it was so repressed. Forgiveness is the process the Course gives for the undoing of that, through asking Jesus' help in looking at those parts of yourself that you have buried.
G: One time I was very angry at a student who had come here for specific instruction in the Course. I asked for help, and there was a total transformation. I had to leave the room, because I started to cry. Again, it was that sense of love and that oneness. It was so overwhelming that I couldn't contain it. I realized, of course, that I was totally coming from my wrong mind in the way I perceived that person. It just wiped everything away. All my feelings about him, myself, and what he was doing--it was a total transformation. In that instant, what happened as I was sitting there is like everything just faded away and there was no more me and him anymore. I felt Jesus' presence right there in my mind. It's just like he came right through, and there was no blockage. That love knows no boundaries.
L&F: That, to you, was an experience of true love.
G: That was an experience of letting go of my judgment, because I was judging him a lot, right? It was like a holy instant. It was an experience that showed me I didn't have to relate to him that way. After that, he sensed the difference, because when I came back into that room, everything was different. Nothing was said, but I knew he knew that there was something in me that was different, because he related to me totally differently. It was a very transforming experience in that I was able to ask for help inside of me and let go of all those grievances that I was holding against him.
K: The key would be that the love in Gloria was always present, but her anger and judgment were blocking it. The effect of asking Jesus for help was the letting go of the anger. What remained was the love that was in Gloria, but wasn't of Gloria as an individual person. The Course's emphasis is always on undoing those blocks.
G: Right. That love had nothing to do with me personally. I'm glad you mentioned that, Kenneth, because I can remember now, as I'm talking about that experience, that it had nothing to do with me as Gloria. It was just something that overshadowed me totally and transformed me. And so, it was not of me.
L&F: Service is traditionally an important aspect of love. This is particularly true of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Does the Course place a similar emphasis on service? If not, how are people encouraged to express their love, according to the Course?
K: This automatically follows from what we have been talking about. One of the things that we always focus on here when we teach is that the Course is not about behavior. There's that famous line from the Course: "Seek not to change the world. Choose to change your mind about the world." There is nothing in the Course about service in the sense of doing things: helping the poor, going into prisons, and anything like that. It's not against it. It's irrelevant to the teachings of the Course. The philosophy of the Course, however, would be that once we let go of our ego thoughts (as in the example Gloria gave), the love of God, or Jesus, automatically flows through us, which may or may not reflect our doing things in the world. But the focus is not on doing things in the world but on whom you are doing it with. Are you doing it with your ego or are you doing it with the Holy Spirit?
There are at least three places in the Course where there are passages, one where the subject is the miracle, another where it is forgiveness, and a third, salvation, where the point is made that our job is simply to get out of the way--to choose the miracle, to choose to forgive, and the extension of that forgiveness through us is not our responsibility. The way that Jesus works through us should not be our concern at all. Our concern is getting our egos out of the way. If that's not understood, in terms of the Course, then very easily you could try to change your behavior and do good and loving and holy things in the world, but you're still holding on to the same thought system of specialness and judgment and separation. Your question is really an important one, because it demarcates how the Course is different from many other spiritualities.
G: If doing service is one's "dharma"--if that's the life's script--then one does service, but you have to do it from your right mind and not your wrong mind, because if you're doing service from your wrong mind, you're not helping yourself or anyone else. Anything that's done from the wrong mind doesn't help. Once you get into your right mind, and if you feel guided that you should do a prison ministry, or work with the homeless, or whatever the service might be, one should follow that guidance.
K: The key thing would always be, what is this for? If I'm not involved in the world, it could either be because that's how I am guided by the Holy Spirit or because I'm fearful. On the other hand, I could be involved with all kinds of charitable things in the world and I could be doing it just to enhance my own ego. Or I could be doing it as a loving extension of Jesus' presence. It all depends on what it's for.
L&F: Service is not always an expression of love.
K: Right. It could be a defense against love, under the guise of love.
L&F: In a similar vein, how should students of the Course respond to events such as the Holocaust, or the carnage in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda? When these and similar questions are raised there at the Academy, do you suggest that the students become actively involved in looking for solutions to such problems or do you teach them what you think is a better way to resolve these conflicts?
K: This is an issue that arises very often here at the Center. We've been here for almost nine years, and we've been through wars--the gulf broke out, I believe, in the middle of a class here, and the Yugoslavia holocaust. Very often people will comment on it.
G: And the Oklahoma bombing. Some students here were at the Oklahoma bombing.
K: Some nurses actually were ministering to the people who were hurt in the bombing in Oklahoma City. And so the issue is an important one and it's raised all the time. One of the reactions people have, as I think it was mentioned earlier in another context, is that they would say, "Well, it's all an illusion anyway, what difference does it make?" "Why should I read the newspaper or watch the evening news and contaminate my mind with all these terrible ego thoughts?" All that you are secretly doing is making it real, saying this is awful, I don't want to look at it. The issue is not whether one reads the paper or watches the news or not, the issue is why one does it or doesn't do it. Our classroom is not only our families and our close personal friends, it's the world. We all chose this as our script. We all chose to come here. What happens in the world is as much a part of our classroom as what happens in our workplace or in our home. How people react to it and the ego thoughts that are brought up from it, I think are very valuable for Jesus to use as teaching lessons.
G: I have something to say on this. As a history teacher, I always encourage students to look at the news and read the news. I do that in my teaching now, also, because I think it's a wonderful way. It brings up all kinds of things, when people watch or read the news, all kinds of unhealed thoughts inside of them. I think it's a wonderful way for them to look at where their prejudice lies, their bigotry, whom they're siding with, so to speak, how they're dividing up the sonship in their mind, and how they're following what the ego is saying, only it doesn't seem that way. That's what happened with the case of those two nurses. Some student made kind of a snide remark in the audience.
K: This was after the Oklahoma City bombing.
G: That's when the two nurses raised their hands. They said what they had to say, and that brought about a whole long discussion in the class. It's interesting, because the student was coming from a viewpoint of it only being an illusion anyway. But that student wasn't in the thick of it. But when the Course talks about the shared interest, which is so important--that's what makes you a teacher of God--that student was not trying to see that there's a shared interest here with these two women who had been involved in such a horrible experience. They needed an expression of kindness and of the right mind rather than someone telling them that it's only an illusion anyway.
This incident brought about a whole discussion that went on for days in that class about how you handle this and the denial. I think what came out of it is that a lot of people realized that they were in denial--that they didn't even want to bother with what happened. They were in total denial, and they didn't see their interests as the same as anyone else's on this so-called world or planet. Many of the students realized at that point that they were hiding behind saying that this was only an illusion or that it's your dream, not mine, which are words that can be used to kill with, in a sense.
L&F: How long should people hold on to the thoughts associated with these horrible events?
K: There's that important line the Course that says, "Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated." That would go not only with things that happen in your personal world but also people whom you identify with, such as thirteen million people who were exterminated in nazi Germany and the other atrocities. I think it's the same dynamic. When people hold on to the past, it's a way of justifying their thought system that says there are victims and there are victimizers. Ultimately it's a defense against the underlying thought that I am the great victimizer. I exist because I destroyed God in heaven. That's the basic thought of the separation, which we then project out and say that everyone else is the victimizer. It suits our purpose as an ego to justify our thought system and our individual existence to say that there are bad guys out there and they're not me. The more people I can get to agree with me and the more heinous is the crime, the better my ego likes it. That's what underlies holding on to the past. So you say, I'll forgive but I'll never forget, meaning that I will never forget the sin that you committed against me or my people. That keeps the whole thought system of the ego alive. There's no way, then, that Jesus or the Holy Spirit can heal, or help us change our minds, because we're so adamant that we are right.
G: When I was teaching in New York City, I had some students whose parents still had the numbers on their skin from the death camps. I spent a lot of time counseling them. They could not let go. I don't think it would have been helpful for them to let go at that point. They were just so overwhelmed. Their parents talked about it practically all the time. And then there was the part of the family that was lost in the death camps. There was a process I think they had to walk through in their growing process. There was one student who was more open whom I talked to about the Course, but she was not ready to let go of the victim script yet. When it comes to something such as the Holocaust, with people being alive yet that experienced it and then transmit that information to their children, it's very difficult for the children to let go and forget.
L&F: To force them to do it would be a form of denial.
K: Oh, sure, and very unloving. But I think over time, very often, you can help to begin to let go of their investment in being a victim. That's the key thing.
G: It's amazing to me that, on a lesser scale, the same thing that happened in the holocaust happened in Yugoslavia. The whole world watched on television, which you couldn't do in 1939, and no one did anything. It was a tragic joke to watch the inaction between the United Nations, the United States, and the European powers. They absolutely watched this whole debacle occur, and they did not do anything. So, to say that the holocaust is over, I think that it's still happening all the time, whether we're talking about Africa, Asia, or Europe. These kinds of atrocities and this kind of hatred is so deeply embedded. I mean, I've talked to Yugoslavians throughout my career, and the hatred is so intense: the Croatians against the Serbs against the Bosnians; the Eastern Orthodox against the Roman Catholics against the Muslims. Everybody hates each other. It's embedded, and unless they really work out a way to live together and realize that their interests are not separate, this will repeat itself over and over, as it has throughout history.
K: The value of the past is not that I hold on to it as a way of justifying my thought system. The value of the past is that it shows me that the mistakes that went on in the past I am still making now. Not just that other governments are making, as Gloria was just saying, but I'm still making them. That I'm still wedded to a thought system of good guy and bad guy and victim and victimizer, and that attack is what will save me. In therapy, helping a patient go back over the past is not to make the past real but to help them realize that what went on in the past is what they're still choosing now. The focus always is on bringing it back to the present moment where I can make another choice. Whether we are considering an individual past or an historical past, it can still serve a very helpful purpose in pointing out that I'm still doing it today, and I can change my mind about it.
G: If you look at the whole situation as it exists today in the world, if people are not taught, and if it is not put into the curriculums of the world that there are no separate interests, that we all have a shared interest, if that somehow isn't gotten through--that part of the message--then the slaughter house will keep going on, because I will always then be brought up to believe my interests are separate from yours, so then I'm justified in doing A, B and C, whatever that is. I think that the most important thing that we could put into curriculums for children all over the world is that there are no separate interests. If we could get that in and make them realize that if one country is doing something that's going to, say, deplete the ozone layer, or because of industrialization has a higher GNP and a higher standard of living but that means less oxygen for the rest of the planet, what's the good of that? Children, at that level environmentally, can be taught that principle and then we can move on from there. If the idea that there are no separate interests could permeate all the curriculums of the world, then it would be very hard for me to shoot you because you're Croatian and I'm Serb.
L&F: It means looking beyond these symbols that we use to separate us.
G: Yes, whether it's religious, political, demarcation borders, nationality, race, all of that.
L&F: Let's turn now to forgiveness. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, emphasis is placed on God's forgiveness or mercy. Without it, there is no hope for salvation. If I am not mistaken, what the Course teaches is quite different. Please explain.
K: The key thing in illustrating what the Course teaches about forgiveness and how it's different from the other religious faiths would be the teaching that we forgive our brother for what he has not done. Again, coming back to what I said right at the beginning of the interview, what makes the Course different is that forgiveness, which is a very practical concept, rests entirely on understanding the non-dualistic metaphysics of the Course. Without the metaphysics, the Course's teachings fall apart. Here you can see that. The statement, you forgive what hasn't happened, makes no sense if you believe that something has happened. What you forgive your brother for that he hasn't done is that he is not responsible for my lack of peace. Metaphysically, he's not responsible, because nothing has happened literally. But even on the practical level, you are not responsible for the loss of my peace because of what you've done to me or my family. If I'm not peaceful, if I don't feel Jesus' presence, it's not because of you. It's because of a decision I've made. So both on a metaphysical level and on a practical level, I forgive you for what you have not done. That's what separates the Course's teachings from the Biblical religions, Islam, and most others.
G: Also, in the Course it says God doesn't forgive because He never condemned. But in the Bible, he has condemned, therefore he has to forgive.
L&F: Health care professionals tell us that there are stages a person goes through in the grieving process: denial, anger, and eventually, perhaps forgiveness. For some, to forgive does not necessarily mean that the person forgiven should not be held accountable for his or her crime, thus a murderer can rightfully be executed. What does the Course teach? Do we go through stages in the forgiving process and is a person who is forgiven of a crime still held accountable for that crime? For example, how do you personally think murderers should be treated? Should they be freed from prison? Should they be executed? Should they be given life sentences? Should any attempt be made to rehabilitate them?
K: Again, the key thing in the Course is not what you do but why you do it. In the Course, Jesus says purpose is everything. The only question you should ever ask is "what is it for?" That goes for going to the grocery store or the way you react to a serial killer. The issue, as a general principle which would govern how one responds, is am I responding with the ego or am I responding with the Holy Spirit? If I respond with the ego, everything I do will be done with specialness intentions. If I respond with the Holy Spirit, everything I do will be done with love and kindness regardless of the behavior.
G: Love and kindness can also be strict, as we pointed out earlier; what people call "tough" love.
K: My early professional work was with disturbed children in the school system. It was very clear that the most loving thing I could help the teachers with was to be very strict and disciplined. The worst thing you could do with a disturbed child was to let that child feel that he or she could run around and have power over the authorities and the adults. The most loving thing you could do would be to contain that child. Sometimes to physically contain that child. But the attitude was all important. Did you do it in a spirit of anger and vengeance and hatred or did you do it really in a spirit of love and concern, knowing that the most help you could be to the child at that point was to stop that child from hurting himself or anyone else? That principle of discipline is absolutely crucial if you're raising a child, if you're teaching a child, if you're involved with children in any way.
That would also go for adults who are also children in the bodies of adults. Very often the most loving thing you can do is stop that person from acting in a way that hurts him or herself and others. That might mean prison. It might, in the extreme, mean execution. It's not the form that's important. It's what's behind it.
G: I would echo the same thing. I was dean for many years in my high school, and there was plenty of violence there: guns, knives, the whole gamut of it. I always found that teachers who came in and started joking around and ran a loose classroom, by about the second month of school they were almost thrown out--one was literally almost thrown out of the fourth floor window. I think you have to understand that there has to be a certain decorum in education and that there has to be certain propriety and respect. Respect is the most important thing. What people are not acknowledging is that if there is no respect, education can't go on, whether it's in a prison and you're trying to rehabilitate, which I think is very important, or outside the prison.
I used to be against capital punishment in my younger years. Now I realize I'm not for it and I'm not against it. I really don't have a position, in that sense, because again I think the curriculum is highly individualized. Maybe it's in that person's script to be executed and maybe it's not. Who am I to say? But I do think there could be a lot more rehabilitation effort going on in prisons. I also worked with students who came out of prison. They came out worse than when they went in. They met more criminals there and they learned more ways to do things they shouldn't be doing. There has to be a complete revamping of the system. The way they handle it now is to throw them in prison to get them out of our way. That's the attitude. Well, that doesn't solve anything, in the long run, because it's coming from something wrong within society, people, and the thought system. If the thought system is not changed, the people who are brought up in that thought system will manifest it. The Course says that the ego's goal is murder. We have evidence everyday, in front of our eyes, that that is exactly what's happening. What we have to understand is that there has to be a whole different world view when you talk about things such as murder, capital punishment, how people are to be treated, etc. What the Course teaches us is that there is a better way. There is another way of looking at all these problems, and it has to be to realize that we don't know the answers. We really have to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work through us.
L&F: How do we know when we are being guided by the Holy Spirit? People who claim they are often do or say conflicting things.
K: That's a very difficult question and I think a very important question. How do you discern? The Course gives one answer to the question of how to know which teacher you are listening to. The criteria are: (1) if you are wholly without fear, and (2) if everyone with you or who even thinks about you shares in your perfect peace. What that means is that if I am really peaceful and people around me are experiencing my peace, whether they like it or not, then that usually is a good indication I'm hearing the right voice, but at any given moment, I think it is very difficult to discern. There's a very important line in the Manual that I think practically nobody remembers that says, "Only very few can hear God's Voice at all." That's because everybody has an ego, and I think one has to be very careful and vigilant, and it's very easy to be fooled over the short run. Over the long haul, while I think one can fool one's self, it's much more difficult to fool those people who live with you and work with you--that you're really hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit, when obviously you're being angry and anxious and tense.
It's always a humbling thing. The focus should not be on hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. The focus should be on getting myself out of the way, so I can hear the Holy Spirit. So my focus should be on asking the Holy Spirit, on asking Jesus' help, to undo my ego. That's what my focus should be. And if I get myself out of the way, as we
we've been saying repeatedly here, then his love would automatically speak through me, and I don't have to worry about what it is. I don't need to have an investment in the outcome.
G: If you sensitize yourself to be able to monitor your thoughts, you know what you are thinking. That's why when I was angry with the person I mentioned earlier, I was very aware of what I was thinking and how I was feeling. That's why I asked for help, but if you're not aware, you can't ask for help. The point is to become so sensitive to every single thought that your mind entertains and to be able to monitor your mind to the extent that you know when you're having these angry thoughts, and then ask for help. It's a lot of hard work. It's very hard work, from the minute you wake up in the morning to when you go to bed at night, to constantly monitor your mind. That's the catch. Most people think it's a magical process. That the Holy Spirit is going to take it away from me (e.g., the anger) as if it's garbage. You have to do the hard work first, and then you ask for help. Most people don't do the hard work, and so they let these thoughts of anger and hatred just bounce around all day.
L&F: You are saying then, that people who are having negative thoughts, such as anger and hatred, are not able to experience the Holy Spirit's guidance.
K: But the problem is that they think they are. That's why I think an attitude of humility is always very important when one studies the Course. I think that's part of the maturity that we talked about earlier.
G: This is a full time job. It's like twenty-four hours a day, because when you go to sleep you ask for help, too. The Course requires that you pay a lot of attention to everything that's going on inside of your mind. And that's a lot of hard work. When I teach classes, and I say this kind of thing to people, they get resentful because they would rather just breeze through life, so to speak. Well, if you want to do that, that's not the Course. That's fine, but that's a different path.
K: Unfortunately, everybody thinks that just because they hear a thought in their mind, it's the Holy Spirit. They really don't have a proper appreciation of the ego. Like Gloria said, it's hard work, but it's the only work, which I think is really important to realize.
Reproduced in its entirety with the kind permission of Tom Davies
Love and Forgiveness Magazine, Volume 1, Number 2
Go to Interview with Gloria & Kenneth Wapnick conducted by Ian Patrick=>
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