Interview with Gloria and Kenneth Wapnick
By Ian Patrick, Miracles Network - U.K.
Ian Patrick: Ken, let us start by talking about your childhood, home background and
Kenneth Wapnick: I was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York and my family were Jewish. Like most Jews during that period, they were more Jewish in their cultural identification than in any kind of religious belief. That meant we observed the major Jewish holidays and we kept a kosher home, but there was no real feeling of God in the house. At elementary school, we studied Hebrew in the morning and the English subjects in the afternoon. By the time I realised how much I did not like Hebrew, I was already 11 years old. Basically, I resented all the stuff they were teaching us as if it were factual. It made no
sense to me that God would do the kind of things that were described. The way it was taught was really without any practical application or any real sense of spiritual feeling. It was just: "This is what the Bible says. This is what Jews believe, and this is what you have to memorise ..." etc.
IP: Was it things like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah that you resented?
KW: Yes, I didn’t like all the blood stuff, the killing. I remember once we were being taught how God had made the sun stand still so Joshua could win a battle. I leaned over to my friend and we both whispered "bull" to each other; this was nonsense. There was no sense of a living God, a presence in your life.
IP: Did you feel that was something you wanted to find?
KW: No. I had no interest in God whatsoever. I had learned Hebrew. To this day I can still speak and read it. I learned what the Jewish belief system is. We read the Torah three times in eight years, so I had a very thorough Hebrew education. But when I graduated at 13, I went to a regular public high school. I really felt that that was the last time I would ever think about God.
A couple of years later my mother thought it would be nice if her two sons developed an interest in classical music. She joined a music club, began to get records and I began listening. Very slowly I began to like it. For the next ten or 15 years of my life, I would say that music was my religion. Over a period of time, I began to have inner experiences as I was listening to Beethoven and Mozart.
IP: I can understand having an emotional response to music but, for you, it was more than that?
KW: Yes. There is an emotional element to the music and I felt that. But this was a much deeper feeling. I could hear in the music something more than that which I would normally feel. I did not know what it was, but I knew there was something. Without question, through the rest of high school, college, graduate school and beyond, music was the most important thing for me.
About the same time that I began to develop an interest in music, I started reading Freud. Someone had mentioned Freud in a high school class. I was in the library and it was almost as if a book fell off the shelf. It was a basic introduction to Freudian theory. I read it and I liked it. To this day, I do not know how much I understood. I was about 15 or 16. But something really piqued my interest and I began reading everything -- The Interpretation of Dreams, etc., and books by other theorists.
I decided that I would become a psychologist and I did not give it another thought after that. I went to college, I did my Bachelors in psychology, and never questioned it. I took more literature courses than psychology, but I took what I had to take. Somewhere in college, I became aware that there were now two parts in my life. There was the outer part that was studying psychology and preparing to become a psychologist, and the inner part: my Beethoven/Mozart part. That is how I thought of it. I never experienced it as a conflict, but I would cut classes and go into New York City to attend concerts and operas.
My interest in music was really deepening and I was more and more aware that there was something in this music, in the way I was experiencing it that was not covered in anything I read. As much as I liked and admired Freud and a lot of other people, I knew that they were not talking about this.
I graduated at 22, and I went to study for my Ph.D in clinical psychology. It was very easy for me. I had already read everything and I was a good student. I liked the subject and understood it, so I had a lot of time on my hands. I cut classes there too to go into New York to listen to music. I was really getting to the core of Beethoven’s music.
In my second year of graduate school, for the first time, I did experience a conflict. On one hand I did well in my courses and I liked working with people, but I believed in nothing that I was studying. The only thing that was important to me was music and getting to the depth of whatever it was awakening in me. For the first time, I began seriously to think I should leave graduate school and just do something with music. I realised, after a while, that I was not interested in studying music and my musical ability was very limited.
Gloria Wapnick: That’s not true. He conducts very well!
KW: Yes, I do have a baton and I conduct. I used to go to concerts with my baton and sit off in a corner and conduct! I play the clarinet poorly and I cannot sing at all. But I love music and I can hear very well.
I considered doing my psychology Ph.D. dissertation on Beethoven, as a way of trying to integrate these two aspects of my life. But I realised that there was no way to study my experience with music objectively.
I became more and more interested in mysticism, and the more I read about mystics the more I realised that they were writing about the same kind of thing. They called it ‘God’; I did not have a name for it. They described a process, and I could see a process in Beethoven’s music over the years. I could see that same process mirrored in myself: a process of getting closer and closer to ‘whatever it was’. That is what I was interested in.
I ended up doing my thesis on St. Teresa of Avila, the Spanish 16th century mystic. Of all the mystics, she is the only one who wrote from her experience, not theoretically. I took her experiences and analysed them from the point of view of the three major schools of psychology: psychoanalysis, behaviourism and existentialism. Then I gave my own interpretation. The thesis was: ‘The Psychology of the Mystical Experience.’ A section on schizophrenia had to be taken out. It would not have been approved, but I thought it was one of the best chapters. I rewrote it and published it as an article: ‘Schizophrenia and
IP: To what extent did your study lay the foundation for what was to come?
KW: I spent at least two years with St. Teresa, who was very Christian and, at that point, I had no interest in Jesus or in God. I used her experiences as a metaphor. She was writing about something that was abstract. I liked it, and really resonated with it. In retrospect, it was a way of getting me more comfortable with Jesus and God. In the process of
narrowing it down to Teresa, I read a lot of Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish mysticism, so I became aware and acquainted with the whole universality of this experience.
I read the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, most of the vedas. I read a great deal and I liked everything. I knew it was all true because of my own experience. It was not something that was ‘heady.’ I realised that this was the same thing Beethoven went through in his life. I was aware that Mozart did not, because he had no process. He was a direct channel, in the way that Helen [Schucman -- scribe of A Course in Miracles] was.
Living Like a Monk
When I had finished my thesis, in 1968, I realised that the significance of it was not as a body of work. It was all right, but I would write it very differently today. It was the whole process of doing it, of believing in myself -- that I could do it -- getting it accepted. It was the first major step I felt in integrating these two parts of myself. So I felt very pleased that I had accomplished something that was internal.
IP: Let’s move to your monastic desires.
KW: I was married at that point, but my wife and I were really growing apart. As I was becoming more comfortable with this inner side of me, Ruth was becoming more uncomfortable. We separated in 1970. I moved upstate, New York, and I became
assistant chief psychologist in a mental hospital, and eventually chief psychologist. That is when I began living alone and this monastic thing started.
I was working as a therapist, often with disturbed children. That was my first real work. I worked in a school, with parents, families and with children. I was always comfortable working with disturbed people, both children and then, in the mental hospital, with psychotics.
GW: You set up the whole programme.
KW: Yes, I did a lot in the hospital. Around that time, when my marriage was breaking up, I began to have some experiences that made it clear to me, at least at that time, that there really was a personal God. The abstract experience that I had been having and growing towards over many years culminated in that knowledge. This changed everything for me and, as I was living upstate, without knowing what I was doing, I just began living more and more like a monk. It was not a conscious thing. Jews don’t know much about monasticism. But I began spending less and less time with friends. I worked very hard at the hospital, but when my day ended I came home. I spent a lot of time quietly. I did a lot of work on my own dreams, which were helpful at that point. That went on for about a year or so. It was a wonderful time.
Presence of God
While I was living this way, I began reading Thomas Merton [a famous Trappist monk]. That was the first time I discovered what a monastery was. As I read, I realised that I was basically living a monastic life. So, in the summer of 1972, I made arrangements to go out to Merton’s monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky.
I went for just a week but I really felt that I was home. It was a strange feeling. I spent my time up in the church, crying. I felt a real, strong presence of God during mass. I cannot account for it, but that was the fact. So I added up two and two and got five. I said: "It’s obvious to me God wants me to become a monk." Obviously, in order to become a Trappist monk, I had to become a Catholic.
Back at the hospital, I spoke to the chaplain about becoming a Catholic. He didn’t know what to do with me. Here I was, a big-shot at the hospital. I was Jewish, a Ph.D, I had just come back from a week at Gethsemani. So he said: "Here’s a book. If you have any questions, I’ll answer them. Then I’ll baptise you." I read the book. I did not care what it said -- this was God’s will, so I was going to do it. So, he baptised me in two weeks and I became a Catholic.
I went back to the monastery, this time as a Catholic and the monks were very happy. You had to wait a year from the time you were baptised to the time you could enter the Abbey, so I had a year to play with. But there was no question: this was what I was going to do. I was a very odd Catholic, because Jesus was still not someone I was interested in and I did not believe anything that the Church taught. All I wanted was to become a monk and be alone with God.
I was not even a real Christian, but the idea of being in a monastery was not a problem for me. I was obviously a sincerely religious person, so nobody bothered to ask me any questions. I was only asked whether I had any problem with the virgin birth? It was irrelevant to me, so I did not have any trouble with it!
The priest who had baptised me was a member of the same religious order as Father Michael -- that is not his real name, but that is the public name we give him. Father Michael was a psychologist who had done his internship at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center with Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford. He knew Helen and Bill very well at the time A Course in Miracles was being taken down. He was one of the very few people they shared the Course with and he was very much impressed by it. He was really in awe of Helen, and Bill was his therapist. To him, the Course was a perfect example of beautiful, mystical writing. We later found out that though he had the Course he never really read it.
At some point, Bill had seen that article I wrote on schizophrenia -- it had been reproduced in a book. Bill liked the article and showed it to Father Michael as an example of a psychologist who took the mystical experience seriously. He was impressed by it and when the priest was bragging to him that he had just baptised a psychologist, and told him my name, Michael got excited and said: "I’ll have to meet this guy." We met in October 1972 and became very good friends.
Shortly after that, I decided that I was going to leave the hospital and spend a few months on my own in Israel, before entering the monastery. I had no idea why. Before I left, at the end of November, Michael invited me to meet two friends of his -- obviously, Helen and Bill. The four of us spent an evening at Bill’s apartment. Most of the evening was spent in my telling my story -- how I ended up where I was. At some point in the evening, someone said -- it was probably Michael -- that Helen had written a book on spiritual development. (That was how it was said to me.) Bill pointed to the corner of the living room, where there was a stack of seven thesis binders -- very big -- containing the manuscript. He offered me the opportunity of looking at it, but I did not think I should, because I was leaving for Israel, taking nothing with me, and I did not see myself taking these big things with me. I spent another evening with Michael and he also offered it to me to look at. Again, I did not think I should.
I ended up spending five months in Israel, at two different monasteries. I kept thinking of this book of Helen’s. I even dreamt about it.
IP: Had they said anything about it, how it was written?
KW: No, just that Helen had written it and that it was on spirituality; nothing about Jesus, or scribing. But I felt a bond with Helen, a real connection -- with Bill, too, but more with Helen, deeper. I wrote to them while I was in Israel. Once, in my dreams, I found the book in a waste paper basket on a subway platform. It was shining. Another time, I found it on a beach. Both times, I knew it was a very holy book that I had found.
IP: Those dreams were similar to Helen’s, such as when she dragged the book up from a river bed?
KW: Yes, in one way. At that point, however, I had decided I would stay in Israel. I had found a monastery that was on top of a mountain. It was very lovely. It had no running water or electricity -- just perfect. I could just be quietly alone with God. Before I nestled in there for the rest of my life, however, I did want to see this book and I felt that I should do something about my parents, who were very upset. They thought I had been abducted. They did not know what was going on with their son. I had written to them, but they did not understand anything. So, I went back to the States for what I thought would be three or four weeks. That is when I saw the Course for the first time. Helen’s and Bill’s offices were adjacent, so Bill went into her office and Helen sat me in his office with two sections of the Text.
IP: Do you remember the first bits you read?
KW: Yes, the first one was: "For They Have Come" (T521/560) and the other was the very end of the Text: "Choose Once Again" (T619/666). Those were Helen’s two favourite sections. I read them and was just knocked off my feet. The language was so beautiful and it was so meaningful. I said to Helen: "It’s the first thing I’ve read that is as beautiful as Shakespeare, but it says something."
IP: What is your favourite passage?
KW: It is also "For They Have Come."
I changed the rest of my life around. I decided that this was what I was looking for. I did not have to be buried in a monastery. One of the things that always bothered me was that if I had stayed in the monastery my skills as a psychologist would have been wasted. I knew that there was something wrong with that. When I saw the Course and began reading it, I
realised it was the perfect way to use all my background and skills. The Course was the perfect way of integrating both psychology and spirituality.
IP: Did you feel you were merely to study the material?
KW: The first step was to read it. I read it through very quickly the first time. Later, obviously, I read it much more carefully. I just knew that this was what I should be doing -- I should stay in New York with Helen and Bill -- and that this was my life’s work. It was very clear. I did not become a monk. My parents were greatly relieved, because they did not have to tell anybody that I was a Catholic. It did not show, you see? I was back in New York and I had a reputable job at the medical centre, or so they thought -- because I spent all my time with Helen and Bill. They subsequently met Helen and Bill and liked them very much. Helen became a good friend of my mother’s. And they were very respectable people!
IP: Helen was originally Jewish?
KW: Yes, but though her husband, Louis, was very Jewish in cultural identification, Helen was not. Her mother was half Jewish, but she was not raised as a Jew and so she had no Jewish feeling.
IP: Have you any idea why Jews seem to have had so much influence in the history of the Course --
yourself, Helen, Judith Skutch [Course publisher], Marianne Williamson?
KW: Also, the person who printed the Course was Jewish. In fact, we used to call Bill "our token WASP!" Do you know what a WASP is? Yes: White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant! It was very odd, but I do not have a clue why. People have all kinds of mystical ideas, but who knows?
IP: So you started working with Helen?
KW: Yes. After I had read the manuscript through for the first time, I told Helen and Bill that I thought it needed a little editing. Some of the personal material had been taken out, but there were still some things that I felt did not belong. The paragraphing, sectioning, chapters and titles were not very good and were inconsistent. Bill was not good at that.
IP: Had they done those themselves or under guidance?
KW: They had done it themselves. The text had come straight through, so they had done that afterwards. A lot of the dictation for a day ended at a natural pause, which was the end of a section or chapter, so it was not that difficult. But there were a lot of decisions that they made that I felt were a little arbitrary. Those were not channelled. They were told to take
out all the personal material, but there were still some things that did not quite fit. So I suggested that it should be gone over again. Bill was not the kind of person who had patience. So Helen and I spent the next year to 14 months on it.
IP: Was that done with Jesus’ guidance?
Beauty and Meaning
KW: Yes. We did not edit or change anything, except at the beginning, where things had been taken out. In the early months, the personal material was woven into the specific message that Jesus was giving Helen. So when they took that out, there were gaps. Those were where we had to fill in a word or phrase, in what are now the first four chapters. After that, the editing was purely punctuation, paragraphing, titles and capitalisation. Whenever there was something we were not sure of, Helen would ask. At a couple of places, I remember saying: "This is not a good title," so she asked Jesus and his answer was: "No.
This is what it should be."
IP: He did not say: "By the way, two pages back there was something you did that I didn’t like"?
KW: No. Actually, Helen’s experience was that Jesus did not really care about those details. So, she felt that was up to her. We did it as prayerfully as we could. Nothing was done that had any effect on the substance of it. Helen was very clear about that.
IP: I have never heard you talk about the impact of this material on you personally. Did you, in any way, resist it?
Straighten the Record
KW: No, I did not. I had never seen anything like it, but I just knew everything in it was true and I understood it. Part of that was my background as a psychologist and, having read a lot of Freud, it made perfect sense -- all the subtle psychological things. The idea that the world was an illusion, I was fine with. I had never thought about it very much, but I had read a lot of Hinduism and Buddhism. I had no trouble with it intellectually or personally. It was a little odd, in a way. Helen asked Jesus at some point why it was that I had no trouble with it. And his answer was: "There was no time for it. There was so much to do."
It was more that I had found what I was looking for. I had been a real seeker. I thought I had found the answer in the monastery but, obviously, it was not a good fit. Jesus had now become very central to me and I realised that the personal experience I had had over the previous two or three years was not with God, it was really with Jesus. So the Course was
the obvious next step for me and the material seemed absolutely right.
IP: Would you tell us a little bit about Helen: the kind of person she was and her response to this material?
KW: My book [Absence from Felicity] was really written, in large part, to put the record straight about Helen. So many stories about her -- that she was an atheist, that she did not believe in this -- were just not true. She was an example of someone who was very split. She deeply identified with the Course and believed in it, but she resisted it. There was never
any question about that. Jesus was the central figure for her, though she spent a lifetime running away from him, yelling at him and arguing with him. Her devotion to him, her love for him and her anger at him were all very clear to me; and they were all coexistent. Helen is a very hard person to describe, because you had to know her. She had impeccable integrity, and in editing the Course with her that was apparent. She knew this was holy, that it came from Jesus and that it should be kept as pure as possible. So she got herself out of the way.
IP: Is it true that she kept her anger till her death?
KW: Yes. In the last period of her life, it became more resignation than anger. She just kept Jesus away from her.
IP: The Course was of no help to her?
KW: I do not think Helen needed the Course. That was one of the things that was clear. She knew what the Course said, inside and out. The first teaching I ever did with the Course was to Helen. We read through every line. We would read something and Helen would start to laugh till tears rolled down her face. She had a very good sense of humour. She would say: "I don’t understand a word of this. This sounds absolute nonsense, to me." So, I would have to explain to her, knowing full well that, somewhere, she knew very well what it said!
IP: She couldn’t apply the principles?
KW: She could when she chose to, but most of the time did not choose to. She knew exactly what she was doing, that she was holding on to grievances and that this was the exact opposite of what the Course said. She knew her anger would not work, but that did not stop her.
GW: She was also very helpful to many people.
KW: Yes. She helped probably thousands of people over the years: before the Course, while it was coming through, and after. She did not usually like the people that she helped and resented the fact that she would have to help them. But she was very dedicated to that. She gave them advice. She was not a psychotherapist in the usual sense of the word. She would just tell people what their problem was.
IP: Did she say: "Read this book I’ve channelled"?
KW: No she would never say that! Very often I would be with her when she was giving people advice -- very good advice, based on the Course. Afterwards, I would say to Helen: "Did you listen to what you said?" She would laugh and say: "No, I didn’t hear a word of it!" -- and it was true. She was very specific about helping people heal relationships, especially with family members. She worked with parents of retarded children.
IP: Tell me about publishing the Course, the funding.
KW: As time was going ahead, I felt that Helen and I really should get on with editing the Course. Helen was stalling. It was making her very anxious. We took well over a year and it should have taken us six months. I kept pushing her to get it done. We finally finished it in the early part of 1975. Then it had to be retyped and proof-read. The latter was not done very well. That is why there were mistakes.
IP: Who did the proof-reading?
KW: Bill and I did, but we did not do it with each other. Helen said that if we were going to do it, we had to do it right. Bill did not want to, so we did not -- but we should have. It was finished and typed by spring 1975. But we did not know why. Shortly after that, Judith Skutch [publisher] appeared. That was also strange.
Judy was attending a conference on parapsychology in New York and Bill went to it. He had not really wanted to go, but he thought he should go. He and Judy met. Judy was interested in funding research on healing and psychic phenomena. Bill was interested and invited her to come up to the medical centre to talk. She had lunch with Helen and Bill, then came back to the office where I was. That is when we showed her the Course and Helen told the story of how it came. Judy was knocked off her feet, too, and took the manuscript back with her. We all became friendly and used to meet once or twice a week at Judy's
apartment. We went out to the West Coast in the summer of 1975 which was, basically, the ‘coming out’ of the Course. It was the first time Helen and Bill spoke publicly. It was easier for them to speak publicly 3,000 miles from home!
IP: I thought Helen’s name was not associated with the Course till after her death.
KW: Not in print, but she spoke. I used to refer to it as our ‘vaudeville show’. Helen would speak about her experiences and then Bill would speak. They would both speak about this ‘strange voice.’ Then, my part of the show was to come on and say: "By the way, you should know that the voice was Jesus." They could not say the word, so that was my part!
IP: You got the rotten tomatoes!
KW: Yes. On that first visit to the West Coast, a friend of Judy’s made 300 photocopies of the edited manuscript of the Course, which we copyrighted and distributed. Up to that point, Helen would let no one have it. She had been very protective of it. We began talking about the need to publish the Course. We spoke to several big publishers. I think one even produced a contract, but nothing felt right. Whenever we asked about it, the answer was always: no, we should not do it. Finally, Helen heard the answer that we should do it ourselves.
Judy and Bob Skutch, her then husband, had a foundation: ‘The Foundation for Parasensory Investigation.’ So, we changed its name to ‘The Foundation for Inner Peace.’ There was no money for it, but then Judy got a call from a man called Reed Erikson, who was living in Mexico. He said: "I’ve heard about the Course. It seems to me that it is the most important thing in the world and I want to pay for it." Basically, he wrote a blank cheque. He had made money in ship-building or something with boats.
IP: How many copies were printed?
KW: 5,000. We corrected the proofs as they came off the printing press! It was a disaster, and there were a lot of mistakes. But, it was done. That was in 1976.
IP: And that was the start?
KW: Yes. Those sold out within a year. We printed more and the sales of those funded the next printing. That is how it was done.
IP: At what stage after that did you feel you were ready to start going out to teach the Course?
KW: I only saw my role as teaching teachers of the Course, in small groups. None of us thought this Course would become that big. Nobody ever dreamt that there would be a newsletter in London, for example!
Very Deep Bond
GW: As for the others, Bill never wanted a teaching role.
KW: Yes. Bill and Helen never healed their relationship -- on the surface -- in terms of what anyone would know, or how they felt about each other. There was, obviously, a very deep bond there. Before Bill died, he thought he had resolved it and had forgiven Helen. Maybe he did. By then Helen had been dead for seven years. But, certainly, the idea of them doing anything together was out of the question.
GW: Bill was shy, too. He was reticent and did not want to take a position ‘out there.’
KW: I was not interested in being a teacher. I wrote my first book, Christian Psychology in A Course in Miracles. I started working on the Glossary Index and something that ended up being Forgiveness and Jesus. I gave talks to groups at various times, but while Helen was alive I devoted all my time to her. When she died, I still had no interest in teaching. Gloria and I were married in the fall of 1981. By that time I had a private therapy practice.
IP: Let me turn to Gloria. What is your story?
GW: I was brought up a Roman Catholic. My mother was very religious. I did not go to Catholic school, but I wanted to be a nun. All my mother’s family were in Italy and, when I was 13, we went there for a visit. My mother had a series of heart attacks, so we stayed for a year. During that time, I found out what World War II had wrought on all the people there -- all the horror they had experienced at first hand. I was severely traumatised by it. I wondered: "How could God have allowed this to happen?" I decided that I did not want a God who could have allowed this to happen, who had created this world. So, in a sense, I just signed off.
When I went back to the States, I went to see a priest and told him that I did not believe in God any more. He told me to have faith, but I did not. I left the Church -- my mother was very upset -- and I never went back. But I searched.
All through high school I read different books on spirituality and other religions. This whole world made no sense to me. I went to college. I still searched, but found no answers. I married an Iranian and we went to live in Iran. We had two children, but the situation was so oppressive I finally had to escape back to the U.S. with my sons. I later divorced my husband. I was a teacher. But, there was still this gap. I felt a deep connection with Mary -- always an important figure for me -- but I had a special hate relationship with God. I blamed him for the mess of the world and for everything that was going on.
One day, in 1977, someone in my department told me she had been to see a psychic. I didn’t even know what that was, but she said: "Why don’t you try it. It’s an experience." I was open-minded, so I went. The spirit guide told me that I should go to a certain New Age centre, and there I would find what I had been looking for all my life. I found that very intriguing, because I was not even sure what that was. I was baffled by the whole thing, but I called. They were holding some workshops on healing, so I went to register. Amongst my choices was something called A Course in Miracles.
IP: Had you any idea what it was about?
GW: No. But the teacher was talking about forgiveness. I talked to him and questioned him. I was very interested. I wanted to buy the books that night, but did not have any money with me. The teacher said that he trusted me and he let me take the books.
KW: That is very unusual in New York City!
GW: I stayed up half the night reading. It was like lightening bolts through me. I felt almost as if it was the voice of Jesus reading directly to me. When it said that God did not create this world, the whole puzzle of my life came together. It was the beginning of my healing with God. It was a ‘eureka’ point. I felt this material was so important that I would start a weekly group at my house. I called all my friends and told them to bring anybody they wanted.
IP: They were just your friends, not Course students?
GW: No. I just told my friends that this was an incredible book -- they might not want to come back after the first night -- but that they should listen to what it said.
IP: When did you meet Ken? Let us have a little romance!
GW: I first saw Kenneth when he was speaking in New York City in June 1977. Everybody was on stage: Bill, Judy, Jerry Jamplosky. Helen was not there, but everybody else. When Kenneth got up to talk, all of a sudden I saw this huge white aura on the stage, all round him -- and I do not usually see auras. I thought: "Whoah. That’s really interesting!" I did not know what it meant and said nothing to him.
By that time, I was having a lot of difficulties in our group. Practically every spiritual path was represented. The Catholics were having a very hard time with the Course. They thought it was talking about transubstantiation [the belief in the literal transformation of the communion bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus], and I did not agree with them. They were trying to fit this doctrine in with the Course.
Kenneth was walking up the aisle, after he had spoken, and I stopped him and said: "I have a question about transubstantiation." He looked at me, in surprise, and told me he did not have the time right there, but that he was in the phone book and could I call him. That felt ridiculous, so I did not.
Then there was a meeting a month or two later, near where I lived. He was speaking in the afternoon. I wondered if I could get my question, and a few others that had occurred to me, answered. He remembered me, but again said he did not think there would be time to discuss this, as it was very crowded and there were people all round him. Once again, he said: "Why don’t you call me?" I was very annoyed, so I did not.
There was a third meeting that year. I went specifically, because I knew Kenneth was going to be speaking. He came in and said: "Oh, there’s my Catholic girlfriend!" I will never forget that. I thought: "I’m not Catholic. If only he knew!" Later, walking to lunch, I finally got answers to my questions and I asked him if he could come to my group, to help resolve our
conflicting interpretations. Then I told him: "I have fears of heights and snakes." He said: "Those are not really what you are afraid of. You are running away from Jesus."
Five or Six People
It was like someone had turned on a tap. Out of nowhere, I started to cry. I got up from the table and went to pack. I cried all the way home. Then I knew I had to call him, because I could not stop crying. That is how we got to know one another. He came to my group. One thing led to another. And that is the romance!
IP: Ken, what were you doing at this time?
KW: I was not doing much teaching, even though Helen had died in February 1981. I was asked to speak to a lot of groups, but did not want to do that. Most of the groups were a little funny and I did not want to just go and do things, and hear things, that I felt were not helpful. Gloria’s group, and a couple of others, were exceptions. I knew Gloria was serious.
GW: It was very odd. I cannot tell you why, or what he said the first time he came. World War III was about to break out in the group, but everybody felt that their questions had been answered, and it was very peaceful.
KW: In 1982, we went out to California to stay with Judy Skutch for a while. She and Bob Skutch were speaking at a big miracles conference in the mountains of Washington state, so Judy invited us to go. I was not on the schedule to speak and was not interested in speaking. The first evening, Judy was talking about how the Course was written, etc. At the end, she said: "I’m not the person who should answer your questions. Here is the person who should." She invited me to go up and I spoke for a while. Then they invited me to give a talk the next day too. That was the first time I spoke to a large group about the Course.
IP: How did the idea for your foundation come about?
KW: I have always been on the executive board of the Foundation for Inner Peace. But they were on the West Coast and we were on the East, so it seemed much easier to have a separate organisation. We began our foundation at the end of 1982.
IP: Why did you think a foundation for teaching the Course was necessary?
KW: Helen had seen a big, white house, near water, with a wooden door, which said: ‘Foundation... peace.’ We had seen Bill, Helen, her husband and I living and teaching there, but the form was always very unclear. Again, we saw it as being about teaching teachers. We never envisioned anything big like this. You have probably heard the famous line Helen would always say: the Course was for five or six people!
GW: And the Course lends itself to teaching. I have been a teacher all my life. It is clear to me that the Course is curricular. There is a text, a workbook and a manual for teachers. It is geared that way.
KW: I am not really a public person. I may do a lot of public speaking, but I am basically monk-like in terms of how I live, in not wanting a lot of people around. But it was always clear that the Course needed teaching, that Helen was not going to, Bill did not want to, and that I would be the one who would do it.
GW: Earlier, in 1981, we had turned a one-car garage into a classroom, but could hardly fit everyone in there. We soon decided that we needed a bigger place.
KW: A patient of mine, an ex-priest, told a friend of his, Bob Draper, about the Course and about me. Bob started writing to me, asking questions and we became friends. I was due to do a weekend workshop in Tuscon, Arizona in 1982, but I had to cancel it because my father died. They pleaded with me to at least fly out and just do one day. I agreed, and met Bob and his wife, Kathy, there. Shortly after that, Bob called and said that they felt they should give us money. So they gave us $200,000, which enabled us to buy a place in Crompond, New York.
GW: That was the next place we went to. It was much larger. We had office space and two huge rooms where we could hold classes. Then we outgrew that, so Bob agreed to fund a new place. We looked at lots of places. We tried some former monasteries, but nothing seemed to work out. Then a friend told us about this place, here [Lake Tennanah outside of Roscoe, NY]. So we came up to look at it. We saw it on 8th December, which was significant to me because it is the date of the Immaculate Conception. The place was in terrible shape, but it felt right.
IP: It is very much like Helen’s vision of the white building by the water.
KW: Well, that was clearly a symbol. But, yes, it was a white building with a cross on top.
GW: We then fixed up all the buildings, inside and out: they were in very bad shape. We put in kitchens, heating, re-roofed, and put up two new buildings.
IP: You have classes, seminars and private study retreats?
GW: Yes. And this year  we introduced contemplative weeks. We have workshops, academy classes, intensives that last two or three weeks. We experiment with different forms as we go along.
IP: Ken, you are also working here on translations of the Course. How many have you
done so far?
KW: Four: German, Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew. The Chinese translation should be out next year . The Russian should be finished this year and out early next . The French is being worked on. A total revision of the Spanish one is in process. The Dutch and Italian will be done next year , the Danish a year or two after that. They go on and on.
IP: Looking back to your early life, what do you think you have gained from your
association with, and study of, the Course?
KW: I was always aware, even as a child, that there was more to what was going on. Even though I had a happy childhood, I always felt that I was not a part of things, that I was marginal to it all. I think what the Course has done is make everything come clear, in terms of the meaning of my life. I never really had a purpose. For a good part of my life my work was to get in touch with this thing inside myself, which I later realised was God. I always had trouble integrating that, and this has enabled me to do it. The inner and outer are one. You do not have to sacrifice God by being involved with people and vice versa. In my early years, I did not know how to do that. In that sense, this has made me a whole person.
IP: In a way, my question misses the point because the Course is not about changing you
as a person.
KW: No. It has changed me only in the sense that I now feel more integrated, more whole. And if I had not met the Course, I would not have met Gloria!
GW: ACIM made all the difference in the world to me.
KW: What you are supposed to say is that through the Course you met your loving husband!
GW: Before I met you, the Course started the healing of my concept of God, my projection onto God of all kinds of things and my being really angry with Him. It started that first night, and by its continued presence in my life. I cannot even imagine my life without the Course. It pulled together the pieces of the puzzle and integrated them. Of course, meeting Kenneth was important. I knew that this was very important work.
IP: I read that you have had problems here, like anybody else. You said: "Well, why not?
This world is never going to be perfect." The issue is, how you handle those problems as
they arise, not that you never have problems in a ‘holy’ place?
KW: This is the point.
GW: Yes. For our first ten years here, that has probably been the greatest learning. We had two contractors default, buildings left unfinished, etc. There was a lot of forgiveness. For me it has been one lesson after another. They have always been in relationships. If I knew then what I know now, I would probably have said: "That’s a very nice place up there, but I’m not doing this."
KW: Yes. In terms of the place, we had one major problem after another in the early years. Now things run pretty smoothly.
IP: I often feel that you are on a ‘mission’ to explain A Course in Miracles to the
KW: I do not think I would put it like that! I am not sure I would even use the word ‘mission,’ but I do feel that our purpose is to see that by the time we die, the Course has a solid foundation. The Course does stand on its own but, just as with a little tree that begins to grow, you have to nourish it and protect it. I think that we see our work as being to ensure that the Course grows the way it is supposed to, however that is.
IP: You do not think it has got that firm foundation yet?
KW: No. It is so easily misunderstood. As, over the years, the Course has become very well known it has become even more prone to misunderstanding. Not that that is a sin. People just misunderstand. I do not think I have felt on a conscious level that this is what I am ‘supposed’ to do, I just do it. Then, I look back on what I have done and say: "Oh, that is why I’m doing it." Just as when I write a book, I have no idea how the book is going to turn out. I just do the book. Then, when it is over, I say: "That’s what the book’s about." That first talk I gave, in Washington State in 1982, was not consciously chosen, but it led to one thing, then another. It became very clear, as I began to do it, how much misunderstanding there was. I do not care if people hear what I say, or agree with me, I just feel that this is what I do, so I do it.
IP: Do you think a firm foundation is even possible in the ego’s world?
KW: I do not know. I think the bottom line is that we just do what we do and whatever ‘purpose it serves,’ it does. There is no plan, as such. It is not that Jesus or God has a plan, and this is the role we play. Plans occur over time and time is an illusion.
IP: Are you basically doing what you like to do, given that there is nothing one needs to do
in the world?
GW: We are both very private people and, if we were doing what we wanted to do, we would not be doing this. We do not like the spotlight. I do not feel we have a mission, but I always felt, after I left the Church and studied history, that they got it all wrong. I felt that the Course corrected that and was the statement that Christianity should have been. I felt that I would devote my life to it. It was something inward. I think Kenneth feels the same way. If we had chosen, we would have been off by ourselves. He had already chosen to be a monk.
KW: I did not choose this. When I saw the Course, I just thought: "That is the next step."
GW: People might call it guidance, but I think it is going to our right mind. Then it feels like the next step.
The Way It Is
IP: You claim that you are teaching what the Course actually says. If you read a line from
the book and then explain it, that has to be your interpretation, surely?
KW: I do not feel that the Course has interpretations. I think it says what it says. Now, you could ask who I am to say: "What I say it says, is what it says." I think that is something people must decide for themselves.
IP: But you make that claim.
KW: I do. I say: "This is what it says." I think I would be dishonest if I kept saying: "This is what I think it says," but I really know it. I realise that people will say: "He is absolutely right," "That’s his opinion," "Who the hell does he think he is?" "He’s being arrogant," or whatever. I can only do what I know. It would be the same thing as, when Helen was taking the Course down, her telling Jesus she did not agree with what he just said. He would say: "I’m really sorry, but this is the way it is." That is not stopping anybody from saying: "Well, I read that same book and I get something totally different from it." But I feel that I would be being dishonest to myself and others, if I qualified it as my interpretation.
IP: You say that a lot of the passages from the Course are metaphorical and others are to
be taken literally. How is the reader to know if it is metaphorical or literal? Is it not
confusing? Maybe it all is to be taken literally.
KW: Yes, it is confusing. It cannot all be taken literally, because it is contradictory. In the Course, Jesus himself says that he is speaking in symbols, that the truth is beyond symbols. He says he is speaking of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as if they are separate, but they are not and that he is speaking that way because that is the condition in which we think we are. It cannot be literal that God weeps, that He has hands, arms, mouth or a voice, etc. You might ask: "Who is to say which is a symbol?" but nobody could argue that there are not parts of the Course that have to be taken as symbols, otherwise it is silly. The Song of Prayer clearly came as a correction for people who were mixing up symbol and reality.
How do you know which is which? My rule of thumb is that anything that speaks of a dualistic framework has to be a symbol, because truth is beyond duality. Anything that speaks of duality -- such as the Holy Spirit being a voice that speaks to you, or God having a plan -- that has to be a symbol, because it is dualistic. Truth, the Course says, unequivocally, is beyond all symbols. That, to me, is very clear. I do not think that is interpretative.
IP: Why do you think he says things like the Holy Spirit will help in any way you ask, if he
does not really mean it?
KW: I think he answers that. You have to read the whole Course, plus the Song of Prayer, because of that. He says that the Holy Spirit will answer "any specific problem" and "You have also been told that there is only one problem." (S2/2/3) Then he says: "In prayer this is not contradictory" (S2/2/3).
I think you must understand the concept of a ladder, and that the Course is written on many levels. It meets you where you believe you are. The Song of Prayer has the concept of a ladder. You begin at the bottom and you go to the top. Then you begin to understand why the Course says the kinds of things it says. This was very clear to Helen, Bill and me. We never even thought about questioning it, because it was obvious to us that these were symbols (and as psychologists, we could deal with that). It was very surprising to us that people began to take things literally, and to take them out of context. That is when I began to talk about level I and level II.
IP: Does the Course talk about levels? I have not seen it.
KW: It does, when you read it. When you are a psychologist -- and it was no accident that the three people closest to the Course were all Ph.Ds and, basically, Freudians -- you are very used to dealing with symbols and levels, and people not meaning what they say. It does not mean it does not have any meaning. It is just a symbol.
GW: I think it is a very comforting thought that the Holy Spirit will be with you, because the ego will rush in and say: "Watch out! The next step -- oblivion," etc. So it is helpful to be reassured that there is a presence with you.
IP: The first step is for people to know that the Holy Spirit is their friend.
GW: Right. To know that there is help that you can call on, within you, is very important in the process. The Course says that eventually an "experience will come to end your doubting." (W291/298). You will understand what is truth and illusion, what is real and unreal. Then, all the other stuff falls away.
KW: When people really understand what the Course says, then all these other issues fall into place. It takes time. When you understand the whole, you see how each part fits into the whole and the whole thing changes. If you do not understand the whole, then you take the individual parts and you say it means this. It is like the blind man and the elephant. Is the elephant the trunk or the tail? A lot of people get one piece and say: "That’s what it says and who are you to tell me it doesn’t mean that?"
IP: What do you think is the biggest error people make?
KW: Picking up the Course in the first place! [smile] Maybe, it is what we have been saying. It is not understanding symbol and metaphor. That is what leads people into thinking that the Holy Spirit gets them parking spaces; or that it does not matter what you do here, because it is all an illusion. That is the ‘mother’ of all other problems.
IP: ‘Blissninny’ is your word that we could define as people who deny the ugliness of the
ego and of the world. As we begin to see with the vision of the Holy Spirit, will our
experience of the external world not change accordingly? How do we know that the
‘blissninnies’ are not doing that? To them the world may be a lovely place.
Steps On the Ladder
KW: Oh, absolutely. But there is no way of answering that objectively. Speaking as a therapist, though, over the years, you become intuitively aware when people are denying. For example, many years ago a patient of mine was telling me about his holiday. He said: "On Tuesday I did this, on Thursday my father died and on Friday I did this." I said: "Hold on. What did you just say?" Now, I could have said that person was in the real world and his father’s death was nothing, or there was probably something there I should look at. That is an extreme example but, very often, when the ‘blissninnies’ talk, you can almost feel that there is something they are not dealing with. But I cannot objectively know that.
IP: There must be some people who are beginning to take a few steps up the ladder.
KW: I would hope so. Sure.
IP: But you are not aiming your remarks at them, are you?
KW: No. If you are that far advanced, you do not need this Course and, certainly, you do not have to be in a class or read this book. The Course is for people who are still in their egos... Ah! I got you there! [smile]
IP: Similarly, what do you think is the purpose of those beautiful, poetic passages that you
say are beyond our comprehension in the world? Are they ‘carrots,’ to encourage us
forward, to give us something to aim for?
KW: I think it is always hard to answer questions about purpose. It is that way and then we try to understand why it is. I think one reason is that Helen loved poetry. Helen felt that this was Jesus’ gift to her, on some level. That is how she expressed it to me. It does give the Course a certain dignity.
It is beautiful and, on a practical level, it does also demand that people read it very carefully and pay attention. You cannot speed read it. It is a wonderful way of integrating the sublime content of the Course with a form that is also so sublime.
IP: The Course says that it is only one of thousands of paths. Then it talks about the ‘ego’s
religions,’ which most of those other paths would be. Do you think those other paths work?
Can you get to God that way, if they foster judgment and guilt?
KW: Yes. You have to understand that in the Course Jesus is speaking from the Course’s point of view. From that perspective, almost every other spiritual path is of the ego -- certainly the Western religions are. But, if the Course is not the only spiritual path that will lead you home, then there are other points of view. If you are coming from another viewpoint, then the Course is seen in a different light. It might be seen as the work of the devil, the work of the ego, of Helen’s unconscious.
Example of Love
One of the values of someone like Mother Teresa was that she clearly transcended, in the love that she exuded, a spiritual path that is, on one level, filled with guilt and judgement. She followed that path perfectly, but you felt such a loving presence. I heard her speak on a number of occasions and knew her personally. When she spoke against abortion, you never had a sense of judgement. She was clear that abortion is bad but not that, if you have an abortion, you are condemned to hell. She could be a member of what the Course would say is an ego-based faith and yet she did it with such a purity of content that she transcended the form, and she then became a spokesperson for the love of Jesus. How many A Course in Miracles students would you want to put next to her, as an example of love and egoless expression?
IP: Concerning the Endeavor Academy vs. Penguin copyright court case, can you sue
someone without attacking them?
KW: Of course you can. It is the same thing as saying: "If I am a student of the Course and I say that the body is an illusion, why would I become a surgeon; how can I become a nurse; why do I go to the doctor when I am sick?" It is not the law suit that is the problem, it is the judgement, hatred, anger and separation that you foster. In fact, you can make a very strong case the other way and say: "This is a wonderful classroom." How do you go through something that, on the level of form, is obviously of the ego, and do it without anger, judgement and condemnation? I think it is a wonderful opportunity. It is the same as Mother Teresa: her religion expresses judgement and specialness, but she did it with an attitude that transcends that. Why is this different?
IP: Presumably you think that pursuing this court case is a loving act, to preserve the
integrity of the Course?
KW: Yes, and you have to use the things of the world, because that is where we believe we are.
GW: The question you should ask is: "Why are people breaking the copyright?" What are their motives? There is a valid copyright. Why do they feel that they have to steal and do this? Why can they not abide by the form they chose as their lessons in this world? They chose to come in, or incarnate, at this time, with these international copyright laws. So why do they chose to break them and not abide by them?
KW: The issue is that you do what you do, as best you can without the ego. To say that a spiritual person would not file a law suit is the "First Law of Chaos," that there is a hierarchy of illusions. That is no different from saying, when you are ill, that you do not go to a doctor because, "after all, it is all in the mind," or that the Course says you do not correct error and you are a school teacher whose pupil says: "Four and four is seven." People confuse levels. There is nothing that you could do or not do. It depends on how you do it. It is not the form that is important, it is the loving content that you supply. You can make the case the other way: "Why wouldn’t a loving A Course in Miracles® student be involved in a law suit?" It can be a wonderful classroom. I am not saying that is why you do it, but you do it because that is what is on the programme today.
IP: How do you apply principles Course in your daily life?
KW: I do it as I teach it and as the Course says. I try to live my day as ego-free as possible and, since it usually involves many people, there are lots of opportunities.
IP: Do you have a particular form of spiritual practice? I know you teach against ritual. Do
you meditate or anything like that?
KW: I do nothing in a regular, ritualistic way. I usually take a morning walk, but I have been doing that for 40-odd years. Meditation and other spiritual disciplines have value, but I think they are a two-edged sword. You can become too dependent on them. Anything that helps you become more peaceful and more focused is beneficial. The danger is only that it can turn into a special relationship. I used to meditate, but not any more, no.
IP: On your mountain top in Israel!
KW: That is right! I am often quiet, but not in any prescribed way.
IP: Thank you both.
Reproduced in its entirety with the kind permission of Ian Patrick.
This interview was conducted by Ian Patrick at the Foundation for A Course in Miracles,
Roscoe, New York on 11th September, 1998.
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