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A SPIRITUAL SOLUTION TO EXCESS WEIGHT: A Review of Marianne Williamson’s “A Course in Weight Loss”

Reviewed by Celia Hales.  Published in September/October 2011 issue of Miracles (publisher Jon Mundy).  To order, visit Marianne’s web site at http://www.marianne.com and click on “Books and Audio.”  Also available in bookstores internationally.

Title:  A Course in Weight Loss
Subtitle:  21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever
Author:  Marianne Williamson
Publisher:  Hay House, Inc.

Marianne Williamson’s A Course in Weight Loss is a magnificent contribution to the wrenching problem of being overweight in our society.  I see this book primarily as a loving instigator of a miraculous solution for the many who suffer from excessive eating and/or food addiction.  Weight Loss is affectionately dedicated to Oprah (Winfrey), who inspired it as a personal friend of Marianne’s and someone who herself has often spoken of problems with weight.  Marianne writes in the dedication of the book to Oprah, “To any reader who might feel that this book is a gift, please know that it was a gift from her.”

It is Marianne who writes of the solution, though, and her ideas are phenomenal.  We will appreciate that they are frequently, though far from exclusively, based on A Course in Miracles.  There is a solution to the never-ending cycle of overeating and dieting, Marianne says, and it is a spiritual solution.  She notes that if anything other than a spiritual solution had worked, those with a weight problem would be cured already.  She goes on to say that the problem originates in the mind, and this is what she calls the “fear-mind.”  (Here we see Marianne’s indebtedness to A Course in Miracles, though she uses a slightly different term.)  We need to turn to Divine Mind (again, a variation on terms from ACIM) for healing.  Nothing less than a full surrender to Love, or God, will solve the problem.

But we pray for a miracle, and Marianne herself has known one, and so she knows whereof she speaks.  Years ago she had a food problem, in that she would eat excessively and then starve herself to regain her slender frame.  Once she began working intensively with A Course in Miracles, and healed some of the neurosis that was causing her problems, she looked down at her body one day, and surprisingly, noticed that it was slim–and had become so without her starving herself.  She had not asked for a miracle, because she had not recognized that this was an area which she should surrender.  But God answered her.  And she says that He can do the same for any of us.  Indeed, none will know a permanent solution to weight loss until one does experience that miracle that only God can give.

We do prepare ourselves for a miracle, though, and Marianne’s book details a comprehensive program for a way to view ourselves differently, and thus invite the miracle for which we ask.  She includes exercises (especially writing letters to and from one’s “not-thin” and thin selves); rituals  (such as a ceremonial oil treatment for the body that will promote a love, rather than hate, for one’s body, and the buying of a single piece of fruit, a healthy food choice); ceremonies (in which we invite friends–an “inspirer” and a “permitter”–to help us along the journey); new cues in the environment (such as a home altar and a special table setting that, along with the other items that are meaningful to our journey toward weight loss, go on the altar, until these items are ready for use).

Marianne never tells us how rapidly to go through the 21 lessons.  Perhaps she realizes that the one driven to find a solution will read through the whole very quickly.  But then those with a weight problem will return to study the solution that she recommends.

She explains repeatedly that the mind is what must be healed, before the body will respond.  We are trying to find solutions to our distress in food, and food is not a good place to go.  The self-loathing of the compulsive overeater is described throughout this book; it is the body to which these emotions are attached, but the body is not the real culprit.  The body is only the place where these unprocessed emotions have been played out.  These unprocessed emotions are from a past that has had its share of pain, whether in traumatic events (such as rape or sexual abuse), or the word of our culture that the blossoming body of the adolescent girl is no longer appreciated by some with whom the girl has been most closely associated, such as her father (who is not accustomed to dealing with his little girl as a woman).  We should not underestimate the power of these emotions in dealing with weight gain.  We “hide out” in a big body to escape the pain of living in a thin one; we are afraid of being thin.  Marianne says that the fear of being thin is actually what keeps the compulsive overeating in place.

She stresses the importance of healthy food choices, recognizing that many with a food problem, paradoxically, do not appreciate food enough, but too little.  We are eating for comfort, to quiet the demons inside, but we are not truly tasting what we eat.  She counsels easing into healthy choices, giving an example of her love affair with grapes, which satisfied her longing for sugar gradually, as she also sometimes ate cake.  She emphasizes, in a comforting way and the way of one who knows whereof she speaks, that our best days with food are ahead of, not behind us.

A Course in Weight Loss is carefully written.  One can tell that much time and energy went into its compilation.  This is not an intuitive book; this is one that has been reasoned out for the maximal effect upon its desperate readers.  And those with a weight problem will not come away disappointed.  There are many who read everything that Marianne writes.  She is, in fact, often described as the one whose name is most recognized as a student/teacher of A Course in Miracles.  Marianne, once again, has come through in this book with an illuminating contribution to her canon and to her large audience of returning readers.

The book is both inspired and inspiring.  Weight Loss is first recommended to those with weight issues, but is also recommended to others who love Marianne and/or want to read some very practical applications of A Course in Miracles to the problems in our lives (regardless of how much we might weigh).  My secondary recommendation to everyone is not the intent of Marianne, though.  Her words of wisdom never leave the central thrust of helping those who have obsessive, compulsive eating habits.  In reading between the lines, though, we find gems that can help us all.

We can be sure that A Course in Weight Loss will be, and, indeed, has already been,  received enthusiastically and gratefully by individuals in our society with both weight issues and other urgent needs.

VISUALIZE; a Review of Shakti Gawain’s “Creative Visualization”

by Celia Hales

Gawain, Shakti.  Creative Visualization; Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Life.  ISBN 1-57731-229-5.  Available on the Internet and in bookstores internationally.  Originally published by Whatever Publishing, 1979.

This is a contribution that cannot be underestimated.  An early New Age book, Creative Visualization has remained in print and well-received for decades.  I personally knew most of it by heart at one point in my life, so taken with it I had become.  Its basic message is the same as another New Age author, Jane Roberts, who channeled an entity named Seth, proclaiming, “You create your own reality.”  If I had to sum up what Creative Visualization  says, that would be it.

Shakti tells us exactly how to “create your own reality.”  A thin book (my early copy has 127 pages), there are numerous short chapters, making skimming to find your desired passages an easy task.  She is heavy on affirmations as a way to create one’s own reality, and she gives many examples of positive, life-affirming affirmations that, if said silently, aloud, or written, will presumably have the power to do all of those wonderful things that she promises.  She does not overlook the power of negativity to negate any desired good, and she offer hints of what to do to find one’s own blocks to creating the reality that we desire.  Paper and pencil are not far behind for Shakti.  As much as she champions imagining, she also asks us to do the work of changing our reality by writing about what we want and why, as well as what we don’t want, and why we keep getting it.

There are five parts to this masterpiece:  (1) basics of creative visualization; (2) using creative visualization; (3) meditations and affirmations; (4) special techniques; and (5) living creatively.

In the beginning, Shakti emphasizes the importance of relaxation to effective visualization.  Once relaxed, she invites us to encourage the images to flow; if we have trouble doing so, though, she encourages us by saying that “seeing” is not absolutely necessary to the process.  Just thinking about the desired goal, quality, or object is enough.  She notes that many of us will be ambivalent about consciously creating for ourselves that which is good when so many in our world are suffering.  She affirms that we would not do harm to others by wishing for the good for ourselves; we will reach out to our brothers and sisters as well.  She calls this “outflowing,” and it is essential to effective creative visualization.

She provides a good number of exercises in the middle portion of the book.  These will help tremendously if one does them rather than simply reads about them.  My favorite is the “pink bubble technique,” in which we are encouraged to place our goal in a visualized pink bubble (pink being the color of the heart), and then imagine it floating away into the universe above, waiting to manifest on earth.  Never does Shakti recommend straining, or “efforting,” to reach a goal.  This exertion does actually hinder the manifestation, she affirms.  If we feel too much efforting, we are not ready, or the goal is not right, and we are counseled to hold off and to reconsider.

The paper-and-pencil tasks are found in the fourth part on “special techniques.”  My favorite here is the treasure map, which actually makes of our attempts a game.  We draw what we desire, making it as personal as possible, and placing an image of ourselves on the map itself.  Always, though, we say a mantra that we image this goal for the good of everyone concerned, that this or something better will manifest.

An important chapter is the short conclusion of the book, in which she says that her life is her greatest art.  We are trying to craft a life, not trying to just make a series of achievements to prove anything to anybody.  We are creating our reality.

A Course in Miracles had just been published (1975) when Creative Visualization first appeared..  There is no indication that the former influenced the latter.  But  both are part of the oft-quoted perennial philosophy that Aldous Huxley described so well in his book by the same title.

Shakti has done us a glorious service by bringing us this book, which she attributes to her inner guide.   While she never says that the book was channeled, she does make the “guide” comment.  It seems obvious that Shakti’s attunement with the universe helped to write this book.  Recommended without reservation, as so many others have said as well.

AN UNSEEN KISS

by Celia Hales

I don’t know if this experience is a miracle.  Sometimes it seems like one.  But maybe it is a departed one reaching back to the world she left behind.  That, in itself, would be a kind of miracle–one that science doesn’t understand as yet.

For many years,  I have felt, from time to time, the sensation of someone kissing the crown of my head.  This sensation always gives me a warm feeling, a feeling of being protected from all harm.  As I  look out on my day, my environment–especially when I am outside–suddenly seem clearer than before.  The sun seems brighter, or, if it is raining, I feel sudden gratitude for the moisture hitting the earth.  I feel touched by an angel.

I have a now-departed family friend named Mattie.  She helped raise me.  She had what she called my “sweet spot”–the crown of my head–where she always kissed me.  She said that this spot belonged to her.

“Come here, Child,” she would say, as I was running out the back door to go play with my little friends.

She would plant a firm kiss on the top of my head.

“That sweet spot belongs to me,” she would say, and then she would laugh happily.

I think, to my credit, that I nearly always, as a child, made her happy.  We shared lots of love between us.

Mattie has been beyond the veil of death for more than 20 years.  I wish I could say with certainty that these sensations on the crown of my head began after she died.  But I don’t know for sure.  Certainly the brushes against my hair began a very long time ago.

Has Mattie found a way to bless me from heaven?  Perhaps so.  Certainly we loved each other deeply, and love, I believe, always survives death.

Thank you, Mattie.  I’m going to believe that it is you.

ACIM IN ESSENCE: A Review of Jon Mundy’s “Living A Course in Miracles”

by Celia Hales.  Posted here with new title.  Reprinted from Miracles Magazine (publisher Jon Mundy).  Book is available on the Internet and bookstores nationwide.

Title: Living A Course in Miracles
Subtitle:  An Essential Guide to the Classic Text
Author: Jon Mundy
Publisher: Sterling Publishing

Jon Mundy begins his monumental task of writing Living A Course in Miracles by saying, “A Course in Miracles is the wisest, sanest, deepest book I know (p. 3).”  This first sentence in Jon’s book is one with which virtually any long-time student/teacher of ACIM would agree.  Jon concludes this first chapter (referring to studying ACIM intensively): “We are going for nothing less than enlightenment (p. 11).”

In Living A Course in Miracles, Jon Mundy, an esteemed ACIM writer and lecturer, does his most profound writing to date.  Living is an  essential read for any serious student/teacher of A Course in Miracles.

Organization of the Book

Living A Course in Miracles is a 259-page work in three parts:  (1) basic terms and concepts (a necessary prelude to what will follow); (2) the metaphysics of miracles (for those who want theory); and, finally, the most lengthy part, (3) living A Course in Miracles, the practical application.  Jon waits until the third chapter of the first part to truly introduce A Course in Miracles–an unusual feature, but one that works.  The second part tackles some of the difficult metaphysics set forth in the Text, and, characteristically,  Jon makes these difficult concepts much easier to understand.  The third part echoes ACIM‘s emphasis upon the practical, for we are told within the pages of ACIM that it is with the practical that we are most concerned.

Jon has his own narrative, which forms the backdrop for numerous quotations from A Course in Miracles and other readings.  Some of the very best passages from the Course are chosen.  Most are from the Text, with some from the Workbook for Students, and a few from the Manual for Teachers.

Jon’s commentary is voluminous, but in easy-to-understand prose with a logical progression.  His quotations, which are necessary to keep our minds on ACIM,  flow seamlessly throughout the narrative.  Nothing jars.  And neither does it simply seem a flow of quotations from ACIM and other sources.  The narrative has its own logic, well-planned and executed.  Jon is emphasizing, without saying so, that the Course is the latest manifestation of the perennial philosophy that Aldous Huxley wrote about so eloquently.  Jon too has eloquent writing, eloquent writing that is obviously heartfelt.   Living is a pleasure to read and an inspiration as well.

In addition to ACIM, Jon quotes many spiritual writers and other renowned figures in history, whether they were known as religious figures or not.   Jon is an expert in the history of mystical literature, and this expertise shows itself conclusively in Living.  In addition, Jon tells with his own lighthearted manner a number of personal anecdotes that illustrate his emphasized points from ACIM.  The tone of the book throughout is scholarly but not overly serious.  It has its own vibrancy, because we see some of Jon’s personality shine through, a fact that was probably unintended.   Jon keeps the light touch, a necessary prerequisite to having a readable book.

The Audience

As mentioned earlier, this work is an essential read for students/teachers of A Course in Miracles–whether one is new to the three volumes or is a long-time reader.  The interpretations are all true to the spirit of ACIM.   I have studied ACIM intensively for 30 years, and I found little in Jon’s interpretations with which to disagree.  Jon does not bring his own agenda to his writing.  He stays close to his chosen quotations, and so the reader may be reassured that he/she will not be misled by what Jon has written.

If I had to choose, I would say that Living is best intended for the new student, though there are interpretations of passages from ACIM that even the long-time student/teacher may have found difficult.  In his own inimical way, Jon makes the difficult understandable.  The quotations (set off in italics) are a gift in themselves; being among the finest material in ACIM, a reader would do well, once the Jon’s work has been read and his interpretations taken to heart, to turn through the pages just reviewing the selected passages from A Course in Miracles.

What Living A Course in Miracles Says

At its most basic, Living is a summation of ACIM.  But to say that is to miss a lot.  There is so much more weaved into the narrative by Jon.  He even includes an interesting take on difficult terms in ACIM in which he makes the terms come alive.  And he includes his own “lists” of interpretations, for those who want an overview without going back to ACIM itself.  Living is a fascinating read, never dull, always holding one’s attention and moving one forward to the next page and the next.

To give a flavor of what Living is like, I am going to quote from Jon on three puzzling concepts in the Course, all discussed in the first part of Living.  Jon’s history with the Course makes sure that he is the right person to make these assertions, and they illustrate what we find throughout the work.

Jon has picturesque writing, as exemplified in this quotation.  Here he characterizes the tiny, mad idea which started our illusions and our apparent separation from God (though not real, we perceive this separation as real):

“Like a mirror which is dropped and shatters, a kind of fractal splintering off of consciousness occurs, breaking repeatedly into trillions upon trillions of individual pieces of non-reality (pp. 48-49).”

What an inspired way to say this!

A common misconception about the Course is the following, which Jon explains brilliantly:

“Attack cannot occur without judgment; and ‘anger is never justified’ (T-30.VI.1:1).  The word is never, not sometimes.  The ego would love it if the Course said that anger was sometimes justified.  Then we could have debates about the times it was and the time it is not justified.  This does not mean we should never get angry; it just mean I have slipped into fear, something has gone wrong with my thinking, and I need another way to look at things (p. 53).”

Jon also succinctly explains a frequent problem of why we are innocent and never have “sinned”:

“If it really was possible to be separated from God, then sin would be real. It is precisely because sin is an illusion that it is not real.  It is actually impossible to be separated from God.  We just think that we can be and that gives birth to the ‘dream of sin’ (W-193-5:4).  Sin is not to be confused with error.  Error or mistaken perception calls for correction (p. 64).”

These are just three of the examples of outstanding interpretation by Jon.  The book is filled with such gems.  I chose these three because they occur early in Jon’s work (and will welt your appetite for more), and they are not easily found in explanation within the pages of the Course.  Jon has aptly synthesized the Course after years of continual study and teaching.

Jon’s Qualifications

We would need someone, like Jon Mundy, Ph.D., who has been “in” on the Course from the beginning,  to write such a cogent analysis.  He was introduced to the Course shortly after its scribing, and the scribe Helen Schucman was a kind of “mother figure” for Jon.  He has, through the years, been close to the well-known  scholar Kenneth Wapnick, who is an early principal with continuous lifetime contributions to ACIM.  Jon has also welcomed others students/teachers of ACIM over the years.  He is the publisher of Miracles, a magazine that is known for its inclusiveness.

Jon has not had an easy life, and this struggle has honed him and made him ready as one who has derived great benefit from ACIM in the course of the struggle.  He has had a number of near-death experiences.  He has “crashed and burned” (his phrase) several times, including being forced from the United Methodist Church because he was preaching A Course in Miracles.  Jon has written about this experience of forced resignation repeatedly, leading one to realize that this was a pivotal point in his life.

Jon lectures on A Course in Miracles internationally, and part of his lecture is a lighthearted persona that makes humorous remarks.  This lighthearted vein finds its way into this work, as we have noted, and Living is the better for it.

CONCLUDING

Living A Course in Miracles concludes with a favorite quotation of students/teachers of A Course in Miracles:

“Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God. (T-189.7: 5)”

In the final analysis, after finishing Living, we will want to do the same.  But we will have been made richer by our dipping into this absolutely extraordinary work.  An astounding contribution, recommended enthusiastically.

MARIANNE’S GRACE; A Review of Marianne Williamson’s “Everyday Grace”

Review by Celia Hales.  Revised with new title and reprinted from Miracles (publisher Jon Mundy).

Williamson, Marianne.  Everyday Grace; Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, and Making Miracles.  Riverside Books, 2002.  ISBN 1-57322-230-5.  Available from <http://www.marianne.com&gt;.

There is a passage in A Course in Miracles that spotlights the way of the seeker and the mystic in this world, a way of being in the world but not of it.  The passage reads, mysteriously,

There is a way of living in this world that is not here. . .you smile more frequently.  Your forehead. . .serene, your eyes. . .quiet.  And the ones who walk the world as you do recognize their own. (W-p1.155.1:1-4).

Marianne’s gift to us in this book first spells out her powerful view of the theory behind this way of living:  miracles happen; we are helped (Marianne says by angels); judgment blocks the way; love is the best means to get to a worthy end; we need to be in silence rather than do all the time.  She then moves on in the bulk of the book to a very practical application of her truisms:  She takes us through a mythical, hour by hour, day of practical effects, and she always follows through on the hard questions (never leaving us to wonder, what did she mean by that?).  Marianne concludes her manual of graceful living by heartfelt meditations on the value of meaningful ritual in our lives, really keeping the Sabbath, the real observation of holidays, a way through thorny relationship problems to the gem of a holy relationship, and, finally, the world as our community, the place for our spiritual activism.

How close does Marianne adhere to A Course in Miracles?  Very close indeed.  True, she uses the word “magic” to connote a sense of wonder (unlike ACIM), and she frankly appropriates the term “mystical” to the way of living in this world that she proposes (also something ACIM doesn’t do).  But I am reminded always in Marianne’s writing of the passage in A Course in Miracles:

There is a course for every teacher of God.  The form of the course varies greatly.  So do the particular teaching aids involved.  But the content of the course never varies. (M-1.3:1-4)

In Everyday Grace, published in 2002, Marianne returns to her roots as a student and teacher of A Course in Miracles more than any of her books to that point since her first, A Return to Love.  In content and tone (always prayerful, ever gentle), Everyday Grace is more akin to Illuminata than any other.  (She is appropriately billed  as the author of Illuminata on the book jacket.)

Marianne is now a mature woman, a “wise woman,” if you will.  She expresses a sincere humility with still a willingness to learn, but it is clear that she has now walked far along the mystic’s path.  She has seen darkness, but she has also seen some light, and it is her gift to us that she herein does not put her light under a bushel, but claims the power she now has through the understanding her pathway has thus far given her.  It is clear that Marianne’s Everyday Grace comes from the heart, a heart honed by prayer, meditation, A Course in Miracles, and the common bonds and wisdom of spirituality’s gentle messages.

A gem of a book–not to be missed!

A GODSEND: DISCOVERING “A COURSE IN MIRACLES”

by Celia Hales

It was July of 1981.  I had finished a disappointing year as a lecturer in library science at a university in North Carolina.  I did not yet know the right direction for the rest of my life.  And I had not found in my readings a faith that could see me through.  Then my copy of A Course in Miracles arrived in the mail.  Once I read those volumes, nothing was ever the same again.

In the spring of 1981, Psychology Today carried a feature about A Course in Miracles.  William Thetford and Helen Schucman were still maintaining their privacy as the individuals chosen to bring forth the Course, but Bill was tentatively beginning to speak out.  After reading the article,  I immediately ordered the volumes.  They arrived very shortly, and then, inexplicably, so did a letter from a friend in another city.

“Be sure to order A Course in Miracles!” Mike insisted, and then told me how.

When I wrote back that I already had them in hand, he was astounded.  “How did you learn of them at the same time I did?” he asked in wonder.

“Celestial timing,” I thought.  Mike and I had been seekers for some time, reading Ruth Montgomery and Jane Roberts, early writers of what would become known as New Age.

I devoured A Course in Miracles, all three volumes,  in less than a week.  Repeatedly throughout the reading, I would have a question arise in my mind, only to have it answered in the next paragraph.  One sentence followed smoothly into the next, and then one paragraph just as smoothly into the one after it.  The writing was more fascinating and more real than anything I had ever found.

One pivotal day during the week I took a walk in the backyard.  The sun was blazing.  Very suddenly, I felt as though the sun’s rays were coming down directly on my head.  I was terrified, and I ran to the house and the phone to call an old friend who had once told me how much prayer meant to him.

I told Bob what had happened in the backyard.  He listened respectfully, but he did not know that I was experiencing those Great Rays about which the Course speaks so eloquently.  (T322)

Desperate for help, I called Bob several more times in the course of a day.

“This is the Awakening,” he concluded.  “I’m not sure you will know what that means.”

I did know what it meant.

As it turned out, I was one of those called upon to change my life situation almost immediately.  (M26)  I felt led to go to Texas, where I quickly secured a position in a public library.  For six months I walked around in a daze.  I was tuned into another reality, and, as the Course warns about the partially innocent, quite foolish at times.  (T38)  But in the midst of it all, I knew intimately  the “happy dreams the Holy Spirit brings.”  (WB270)   Then this particular dream passed,  and I left Texas to return to North Carolina.

I was blessed to continue to know happy dreams,  as my study of the Course continued, but the Awakening did not last.  I have concluded that I was not saintly enough.  More charitably, the Course maintains that revelation may occasionally reveal the end to us, but to get there the means are needed.  (T16)

When I wed my husband Paul in 1986, the Course emerged as a tremendous asset to our new marriage.  From the Course:  Our minds hold only two orders of thought–  love and a call for love.  (T295)   Attack and anger are never justified.   (T638)  I have not always been able to live up to these lofty ideals,  but they have been the bedrock on which our marriage has rested.

“You are reading your ‘happiness’ book,” Paul observed one day early on.

I sat comfortably and contentedly reading the Course.

“Yes,” I replied.  “It is that.”

I have found it a lot easier to share my life when I have stayed close to my reading.

Five years ago Paul and I made the transition into an early retirement.  We partially remodeled our house in Minnesota, to ready it for the market, and we completely remodeled our new house in Mississippi.  There was a lot of stress, and in the midst of  this busy life, I did not stay close to the Course.  Finally I returned to it, clinging to its many reassurances as I had done before in happier times.  Life gradually returned to normal.  Now we live peacefully, the stress blissfully gone.

Before 1981, I knew something about guidance from the Holy Spirit, but the Course has taught me much more.  Most days, I follow the prompting that it describes so well.  When I do,  I know joy.  As time has passed, this joy has increasingly become a bedrock and beyond anything that I could imagine.  A Course in Miracles has been my lodestone, my godsend.

EGO DYNAMICS = “SPECIALNESS”

by Celia HalesReprinted from Miracles (publisher Jon Mundy).

A close reading of A Course in Miracles suggests that the basis for egotism is a search for specialness.  For all the years prior to discovering the Course, I think I was far too egotistical, and this desire to be “special” undoubtedly constituted a particular form of neurosis.   As I have studied A Course in Miracles over the years, its significant passages have gone a long way toward setting me free of the trials of the ego, the trials borne of my misdirected desires.

Because none of us want to see ourselves as neurotic, we usually can observe this intrinsic craziness in others more often than we can observe it in ourselves.  We see oscillations of personality that appear to twist and turn in the wind.  We see our brothers and sisters alternating between sweetness and hostility.  Until we study the Course, we seldom are reflective enough to see that this oscillation is actually our own problem, projected outward.  Yet these others can make our lives miserable if they have any power over us.  And if manifesting in a peer, a friend or significant other, these conflicting behaviors are puzzling in the least, and personally damaging (though illusory, as the Course says) in the most.  We need to realize that this specialness, the neurosis of these others, is not all “out there.”  The truth is that, to one degree or another, we all think we are special.

It is just to the degree that we ascribe to specialness that we are vulnerable to the ego’s assaults, whether perceived as assaults emanating from another or from our own inner demons.   It is then that we are most vulnerable to the world’s onslaughts.  We are engaged in a dance, one to another, interlocking our complexes to fit, however unpleasant the dance may become.  Usually we see our pride pricked at the point of most vulnerability  This is the ego’s greatest trial, a time of unique opportunity for us if we can only see it thus.  We are being shown what needs to be remedied in ourselves, how the ego needs to be undone.  If we listen, we will find a gift in the ashes of our former “triumphs.”  We will let the ego wither away at the point of specialness.

And so it goes with all points of neurosis.  As they are shown to us, we must let them slip away.  Jesus is able to heal a neurotic if she is cooperating with him.  One way to cooperate is to take the intellectual framework of the Course and marry that to our relationship to our brothers and sisters.  Then the mental and emotional meld as one, and we are on our way to full recovery as Sons and Daughters of God.

When this pathway back to God is begun, the way at first seems hard, because the ego is still strong within us, and it sniffs defeat in the air and would be violent to retain control of one’s mind and heart.  Consistently listening to the Holy Spirit, prayerfully considering the promptings of guidance, will eventually smooth the way so that one knows, deep in the heart, that a withered ego is one’s only salvation.  Then is one’s real Self actually strong, no longer a will ‘o wisp in the breeze, batted about by every foreign opinion thrust upon it.  And we see that it was always the ego that suffered defeat at the hands of its “enemies.”  Always being undone, for that is God’s way, the ego is abandoned by our real Self as well.  And then the way is paved for great and faster growth as the Sons and Daughters of God we truly are. We direct this growth, informed by the Holy Spirit.  Remember that A Course in Miracles tells us that the mind is very powerful.  It also says that the reason that we don’t believe this is because we are afraid of its power:  “You prefer to believe that your thoughts cannot exert real influence because you are actually afraid of them”  (T-2.VI.9:10).  The Holy Spirit’s guidance will take the fear out of the direction in which our minds take us.

Surely we are afraid when we look around and see a ravaged world.  Did we do this?  Yes, the Course counsels, but only in illusion and only in madness.  The Course says that faith, belief, and vision, shared with us by the Holy Spirit, are our way out.  As the goal of salvation replaces the goal of sin, our steps in the mist become clearer. Faith inevitably gives us the power of persistence, but we don’t recognize the tremendous power that is unleashed until we place our faith not in sin, but in love.  It is then that the power becomes the reliable lifesaver that it is meant to be.

I was once described by one of my professors, in a letter of recommendation open for me to read,  as having an “indomitable will to succeed.”  At the time, almost 30 years ago, I took this as a compliment.  Now I see in this a glimpse of the personal power that I (and everyone else) have.  I now know that the “indomitable will” of that era was far too informed by the ego.  It was a competitive bent that later would alienate some of my co-workers.  What had worked well in our educational system worked less well in a reference unit in a university library where cooperation was necessary to accomplish shared goals.  I had to learn how to cooperate for shared goals.

Now I know that this drive to succeed is laudatory only when it is not threatening to other people, as it had been in my first position as a reference librarian.  If there is even a hint of feeling better than others, this is an example of the ego’s goal of specialness.  Jesus says, “You are not special” (T-24.II.4:1).  If we think we are, we are mistaken.   The will to succeed must encompass our fellowman as well.  The will to succeed must also be bent in obedience to the promptings of the Inner Spirit, the Holy Spirit Who guides as far as we are willing, at any given point, to go—but  only as far as we express our willingness—no further.  When we listen to the Holy Spirit, then and only then is our power truly released to serve all of humanity.

When we are at peace, we are at home in God.  When we let conflict reside within our hearts and minds, it leads inexorably to fear.  Where peace abides, love is.  And, in the Course’s terms,  it is a love that knows no specialness in ourselves or others.

THAT RED PLAID SHIRT REAPPEARS – AFTER DEATH!

by Celia Hales

I had never seen my dad in a red flannel shirt.  I was used to white shirts with ties.  But there he was in my seventh grade classroom, setting up a space heater against the bitter cold of a winter day.

You know how 12-year-old children are.

“Is that your daddy?” a classmate asked.

I thought there was surprise in her voice.

“Yes,” I replied.  “But I have never seen him look like that before!”

I was embarrassed by his casual appearance, embarrassed as only a 12-year-old, poised on the brink of adolescence, can be.

I never told him, but I think my mother did.  She would have heard about it when she picked me up from school.  I can imagine how it went.

“Where did Daddy get that awful red shirt?” I would have whined.  “It looked terrible.”

“He has had it,” she would have said.  “He got it out because it was so cold.”

That would not have satisfied me.  I wasn’t ready to claim him as my father before my classmates, looking so different from usual.

Fast forward 35 years.  My dad suffered a ruptured aortic artery.  He survived surgery, but that type of rupture carries only a ten percent survival rate.  My husband Paul and I flew to his bedside.  We shared intimate moments

I remember saying one day, “I love you, Daddy.”

I remember that he replied, “Yes, I do know that.”

Then they put him on a respirator, and he couldn’t talk to us anymore.

We got through the funeral, which featured one of my dad’s last requests, a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”  I stayed in my hometown with my mother for two weeks, to help her get on her feet.  Then I returned to my work out-of-state.

About two weeks after my return to work, I retreated after lunch to the cot room, which was a part of the staff lounge. I was exhausted from the five weeks of my father’s ordeal and the additional two with my mother.  I drifted off to sleep.

I remember hearing the door to the cot room swing open.  I slit my eyes to let in some light.

There, kneeling beside my cot, was my dad, wearing a red plaid shirt.  He was smiling, a familiar, loving smile.

I wondered, still barely awake, “Why is he wearing that shirt?”

Then I smiled to myself as I thought, “So I can recognize him.”

I drifted back to sleep.

The memory of my dad’s appearance to me a month after his death has stayed with me all these 18 years since.

Why did he appear?  I didn’t know then.  Now I think I do.  I think he wanted me to know that he would always be near.

He didn’t hold it against me that I had been embarrassed as a child by his shirt.  He would have found it amusing at the time, just as I do many years later.  It is a private joke between us.

He has never reappeared.  I do dream of him from time to time, and my dreams tell me that he is looking out for my mother also.

It is reassuring to believe that my red-shirted dad has become one of my guardian angels.

WRANGLING CREATES BEAUTY; A Review of Neal Vahle’s “A Course in Miracles: The Lives of Helen Schucman & Bill Thetford”

A Review of Neal Vahle’s A Course in Miracles:  The Lives of Helen Schucman & Bill Thetford

Review by Celia Hales; reprinted with new title from Miracles (publisher Jon Mundy)

Note:  A book by Neal Vahle, published by Open View Press (San Francisco), 2009.  Available from Miracle Distribution Center, 1-800-359-2246, miraclecenter.org; or Community Miracles Center, 1-888-621-2556, http://www.miracles-course.org; or elsewhere on the Internet.  The price is slightly less than $20 plus shipping and handling.

The cover of this book tells it all:  Helen and Bill, holding hands affectionately, with smiles that suggest a deep and abiding friendship.  This is true despite the wrangling between them that never was healed.  This despite the fact that Helen and Bill sought together to find another way–a better way–to live and work together as colleagues and friends.

In the beginning, Bill and Helen saw the inner dictation that Helen was beginning to scribe as a way to heal their own relationship, which was professional and personal, despite the fact that Bill was gay and Helen, a happily married woman.  Bill was the supporter during the seven years, from 1965 to 1972, that Helen scribed A Course in Miracles.  He typed the words that she dictated, often in great distress, from her combination of shorthand and abbreviations.  Everything was done in utmost secrecy, because both were faculty members at Columbia University, and their endeavors would probably have cost them their positions.  Both were extremely successful psychologists, with great investment in the things of this world.  A Course in Miracles would eventually transform Bill and make significant changes in Helen, not all for the better.  The Course is available to us at great personal cost to both of them.

Neal Vahle does a commendable piece of work in writing this joint biography of Bill and Helen.  He ranges widely over the territory, not only telling us of the lives of these two principal figures, but also the others who helped them bring the Course before the world.  I say, “helped them,” but actually others did much of that task, for neither Bill nor Helen were interested in being gurus or in speaking for the Course as experts.  If we don’t live it, they said, how can we teach it?  Neal writes of the early life of Bill and Helen, covers the basics in describing how the Course came to be and to be published, and then concludes with two lengthy chapters on the legacy of these remarkable individuals.

This book was needed.  Vahle agreed to write it at the suggestion of Judy Skutch Whitson of the Foundation for Inner Peace.  Not a Course student in the beginning, he undertook to write an independent scholarly work, and he succeeded.  In the meantime, he studied the Course and became grateful for the opportunity to tell Bill and Helen’s story.
Vahle drew extensively on Helen’s unpublished autobiography, written soon after the scribing of the Course ended.  He also quotes very extensively from individuals such as Judy Skutch Whitson and Kenneth Wapnick, important figures in the history of the Course.  Wapnick’s biography of Helen, Absence from Felicity, would also be of interest to readers of this biography.

Bill’s importance to the scribing is not often noted, though his name always appears with Helen’s.  Vahle points out, quoting others, that A Course in Miracles would likely not exist without Bill’s support of Helen.  She was terrified by what she was experiencing, and she did not welcome the work at all, though she believed that somewhere, sometime, she had agreed to do it, and she never seriously considered quitting.   Bill and Helen did not often mention Jesus’s name in conjunction with the Course.   Wapnick, in the early publicity, was asked to make the point for them in their presentations that both experienced the voice (that Helen was receiving as inner dictation) as coming from Jesus.

Vahle makes clear the strengths and the weaknesses of Bill and Helen.  His biography is extremely frank, and sometimes painful to read, as we learn that Bill and Helen were very human individuals with real psychological difficulties, despite their obvious stature as spiritually advanced people.  His frankness is the most significant aspect of this biography, and it is a blessing for those of us who love and know the Course.  I recommend this book without reservation.

MY WEDDING DAY MIRACLE

by Celia Hales.  Revised and reprinted from Miracles (publisher Jon Mundy).

This is a true story.  Not only did inexplicable things happen with a battery-operated cassette recorder, but my mind and heart were changed for the better.  I feel blessed that my wedding day miracle happened at all.

In July 1986 my husband Paul and I were married in North Carolina, on a day that started out balmy but would turn very hot and humid by 5 p.m., the time of our outdoor wedding ceremony.

The morning was splendid, crisp and clear.  There was no hint of the humidity that would descend on my poor husband-to-be at 5 p.m. as he wore a monkey suit.  Paul and I left my parents’ home in mid-morning to drive around my town in order to pick out a suitable place to eat lunch with Paul’s sister and her family, who were expected shortly.

We strolled toward the car, lost in thought about what lay ahead.  I unlocked the door on the passenger’s side, for Paul.  Immediately my voice filled the air.  It was my cassette recorder, playing a cassette of my recording of passages from A Course in Miracles.

“That’s odd,” I said.

I walked around to the driver’s side of the car, got in, reached for the cassette recorder on the floor, and clicked it off.

“If this had been playing long, it would have already clicked off,” I said.  Paul didn’t say anything.

I started driving in a distracted fashion.  I was mulling over how the recorder could have been on.  Nobody else had a car key, and I had not yet been in the car that morning.  I sensed the day, the crisp and clear day, and I felt very, very safe.

The word “miracle” reached my awareness.  But why?  My immediate reading was that this strange occurrence was meant to say to me, “If you stay close to A Course in Miracles, your marriage will be all right,”

All right.”  Not “alright.”

“You did something to click it on,” Paul said.  He is my skeptic.

“How could I?” I replied.

We rode on in silence.

We were wed and went on our wedding trip to Pennsylvania.  Whirlwind days, I all but forgot the cassette recorder.  We returned soon enough, and then traveled back to Charlotte, where we would live for six weeks before embarking for Minnesota.

In Charlotte, I remembered the recorder.  Carefully I examined the tape, carefully lest I disturb anything.  The cassette was near the beginning of its 30-minute run.  When I replayed it from the beginning, I heard a “swoosh” a few moments into the tape.

“That was the intervention,” I thought to myself.

I mulled over the import of this miracle.  A lot had happened in a brief time, and much more would happen shortly.  I would learn, for example, that I never get angry unless I am stressed.  Marriage would teach me that.  I had never realized that in 39 years of the single life.

Once settled in St. Paul, I developed a pattern of going back to A Course in Miracles whenever Paul and I had a tiff.  Of course, I read it much of the time anyway.

He noticed this.  “These are your ‘happiness’ books,” he surmised.

It is true that I was much easier to get along with when I was reading them.

Several years ago, I told my story to Lynn, a friend at work, who also happened to be a licensed grief counselor.

“There was no way that I could have tripped the recorder on,” I said.

“I believe you,” she replied.  “I have heard similar stories from my grief clients.  One woman had a table lamp in the living room come on and off unexpectedly.  She felt sure it was her dead husband.”

“That’s really something!” I exclaimed, scarcely able to contain my excitement.

“Yes,” she said.  “It must be easy for another world to affect lights and that sort of thing.”

After 24 years of married life, I think my initial interpretation of this, my wedding day miracle, was accurate.  I do need to stay close to my religion to remain on an even keel in my life with Paul.  When I get away from my reading,  I fall flat on my face in our relationship.

One such time was five years ago as we headed into retirement.  Paul oversaw the partial remodeling of our house in St. Paul, to get it ready to go on the market, as well as the complete remodeling of our new house in our new small city in Mississippi.

There was little that I could do, because the contractors looked to him for their answers.

I have heard, “If you want stress, remodel a house.  If you want a lot of stress, build a house.”  Remodeling two houses is a lot of stress.

I never get angry unless I am stressed.  I was stressed.

Now, settled beyond that bad time, I remember asking Paul once if he would do it again, would he marry me again.

He paused, then said with a straight face, “Do I have to do it in 99 degree weather?”

I replied, “No.”

He said, “O.K., then I would.”

I grinned.  He chuckled.  I grabbed him in a bear hug.

A GIFT FROM MARIANNE; A Review of Marianne Williamson’s “The Gift of Change; Spiritual Guidance in a Radically New Life”

A Review of Marianne Williamson’s The Gift of Change; Spiritual Guidance in a Radically New Life (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004).  To order online, visit http://www.marianne.com.  Also available in bookstores nationwide.

Marianne Williamson has contributed more in the popular mind to advance the message of A Course in Miracles than anyone else.  Frequent readers of her books will find that The Gift of Change depends more heavily on ACIM than any book since A Return to Love, the classic that opened the eyes of many to the blessing of ACIM.  There is a difference, though, one which Marianne herself recognizes; she is now a mature woman, more buffeted about by the contrary winds of life, and she knows more fully how drastic is the message of forgiveness developed in ACIM.

The Gift of Change is structured (after an introductory chapter) into ten profound and fundamental changes that the serious student of ACIM will undergo.  Marianne’s chapter headings are worth highlighting in detail, for here one may gain an appreciation of the depth and breadth that The Gift of Change embodies:

–From Forgetting Who We Are to Remembering Who We Are;
–From Negative Thinking to Positive Love;
–From Anxiety to Atonement;
–From Asking God to Change the World to Praying That He Change Us;
–From Living in the Past and Future to Living in the Present;
–From Focus on Guilt to Focus on Innocence;
–From Separation to Relationship;
–From Spiritual Death to Rebirth;
–From Your Plan to God’s Plan;
–From Who We Were to Who We Are Becoming.

Marianne footnotes ACIM ideas either by stating her debt directly or by inserting an asterisk.   She does not stray far from ACIM, and the delightful images in her own words highlight why reading her books is edifying, whether one has studied ACIM or not.  As has been pointed out in the pages of the magazine, Miracles, Marianne’s audience reaches those also who have never been drawn to A Course in Miracles.

The thesis of the book is given in a succinct two sentences that, in essence, summarize all of the ten changes that Marianne goes on to elucidate:  “The online way the world can make a quantum leap, from conflict and fear to peace and love, is if that same quantum leap occurs within us.  Then and only then will we become the men and women capable of solving the problems that plague us.”

How do we do this?  Marianne says that we spend a committed part of each day in prayer and contemplation/meditation.  Then, ever so gradually, we present ourselves authentically to God all the time:  “not just every hour, but every moment of every day.”  Yet Marianne recognizes that virtually none of us can sustain Awakening; she says, “Sometimes we walk closely with God, and sometimes we sprint to the other side of the universe.”  But God’s mercy redeems; we fall on our faces many times, but He is always there to pick us up—and to move us through the changes that we need to embody.  Changing ourselves, we will thereby be led to change the world:  “The only thing that will triumph over evil is for enough good people to actually do good.”  Marianne says early on, “It is time to do what we know in our hearts we were born to do.”

The ten changes are applicable to ACIM students/teachers as well as to those who are not.  Marianne is very much attuned to the world in which we find ourselves, and there is a strong evangelical tone to her words.  In reading her, I find myself asking, “Will I be part of the problem or part of the solution?”  Marianne fervently hopes that her readers will sign on as part of the solution.  And in these ten changes, she details exactly how to do just that.

Marianne’s gift is a joy to read and a clarion call to change our world.  The call to change our world, though, is predicated on an inner shift in perception (in  ACIM terminology, a “miracle”).  Marianne belongs to a long line of ministers of the word who believe that outer change is misguided unless it is predicated first on inner shift.  In The Gift of Change she develops exactly how to effect that inner shift through changes with which everyone can identify.  The Gift of Change merits an unqualified endorsement.

_____
The reviewer is Celia Hales.   A former religion librarian, she lives with her husband in Oxford, Mississippi.  She has several blogs at the following addresses:

https://celiaelaine.wordpress.com

http://celiahales.wordpress.com

http://elainehill.wordpress.com