Are Miracles Only in Our Minds?

by Robert Perry

I received the following response to our last issue of A Better Way [issue #36], the special issue on miracles:

I have to comment on your "Miracles" issue….I disagree quite strongly with what you seem to be saying in it. I don't want to sound like a Course Nazi but any discussion about whether a miracle is "only in our minds" or "in the world, too" only makes the error real. Any discussion of extending help or healing to people who are suffering "out there" merely perpetuates separation. There is no "out there." Period. To try to understand why something does or does not happen "out there" is a trap which makes us focus on dualism ("in here" versus "out there") To my way of thinking, these are pseudo-holy thoughts—an ego trick to attempt to rationalize sense perceptions, apparent violations of the laws of chaos, a kind of New Age way of blurring the lines. In essence you are trying to bring truth to illusion. Principle 1 says all that really needs to be said here: "There is no order of difficulty." By "miracles" the Course means purely and simply "letting go of illusions," and since there is no order of difficulty among illusions, there is none among miracles. Any allusions the Course may make to miracles as something you do, or something which happens "in the world" are primarily very early in the text when Jesus was still addressing us on a simple metaphorical level we could accept and understand.

Having said that, let me add that I don't think one should ignore obvious suffering which seems to be in the world. Jesus did not ignore ours: he wrote a book about it. I do think, however, that our primary focus should not be on healing the world, not because it doesn't seem to need it, but because when we heal ourselves the world will take care of itself.

Warm regards,
Derek Best

I met Derek a couple of years ago when he was passing through Sedona, and he and Allen and I shared an enjoyable lunch together. I really appreciated receiving Derek's letter (which he has given me permission to reprint and respond to). Just as he disagreed with the ideas the Circle was espousing, so I disagreed with the views he expressed. But I thought his letter was a great example of ideas I often hear; specifically, of objections to the idea that we should extend miracles to others. I have chosen to respond to Derek's letter in the form of this article, simply because he speaks for so many people.

It seems to me that his letter can be boiled down to two basic points:

1. A Course in Miracles is only about letting go of illusions in our minds. It is not about helping people outside of us, for that would simply reinforce the mistaken idea that there is an outside, that an actual world outside us exists. The Course may at times speak as if miracles are things we do for others in the world, but such statements are meant as metaphors and are primarily early in the Text, before Jesus started telling us the straight story.

2. The idea that the Course wants us to help others does not come from the Course, but was cooked up by our ego. It is the ego's attempt to convince us that the illusory world seen by our senses is real. It also is an attempt to mix the Course with outside ideas (such as the New Age).

If you have been around Course circles long enough you have probably heard these very points. And they seem to have a great deal going for them. First, they have an inherent logic: If the world is an illusion, why should we help the people in it? Second, such views generally trace back to the influence of Ken Wapnick, and Ken carries a great deal of weight with many Course students. Third, they are repeated so often that that alone gives them a certain weight and plausibility in our minds.

These views have so much going for them that one would expect to find them echoed many times in the Course itself. Yet therein lies the problem. Nowhere in the Course does it say, "Beware of helping people out there, for that simply reinforces the illusion that there is an 'out there.'" There are a few warnings against trying to help others in our way (see, for instance, (T-12.I.6:10 and T-16.I.3), but these end up telling us to help them in the Holy Spirit's way. Their point is not, "Trying to help others makes the world real," but rather, "Others need your help, so do it in the right way, with the Holy Spirit."

In other words, point #1 above is not a point the Course makes over and over. Rather, it is a point the Course itself never makes—or must make so seldom and so subtly that someone like myself who studies and teaches the Course for a living has never spotted it. In contrast, the importance of helping others, extending to others, healing others, giving miracles to others, is one of the primary themes throughout the pages of the Course. I could give literally hundreds of examples of this theme. As an experiment, I just examined sixteen randomly-chosen pages in the Course. On eight of those sixteen I found clear mention of the importance of helping, healing, or giving to our brothers. If that rate holds roughly true for the whole Course, that means that about half of the pages in the Course mention this theme. To appreciate the significance of that, realize that we could not say the same about the ego—that, as major of a theme the ego is, it is mentioned on less than half of the pages in the Course.

Let me provide just one example of this theme of helping others, which I have chosen because it is absolutely clear. It comes from the Course supplement Psychotherapy:

Nothing in the world is holier than helping one who asks for help. And two come very close to God in this attempt, however limited, however lacking in sincerity. (P-2.V.4:2-3).

One could hardly imagine a statement that is further from "Beware of trying to help others, for that just makes the illusion real." Moreover, because this passage is discussing psychotherapy, we know it refers to a concrete, physical interaction in which one person is actively, behaviorally seeking to help another. It is talking about someone asking a therapist for help, and the therapist trying to help him by sitting down and doing therapy with him. Even if the therapist's attempt to help is weak and only partly sincere, it is still true that "nothing in the world is holier." Our reading of the Course, our study groups, our meditation and prayer—none of it is holier than a therapist sitting down with a client and trying to be of help. Hard to believe, but that is what the above passage is saying.

I could cite and discuss countless other examples from the Course along these lines. Further, they are not (as Derek implied) clustered in the early Text, after which they dwindle in number. They represent a strong theme throughout all three volumes, as well as in the two supplements: Psychotherapy and The Song of Prayer. On the other hand, as I said above, I honestly cannot find a single place where the Course says what Derek did, that trying to help others only serves to reinforce the reality of separation. If I knew of such a place, I would tell you. But I don't.

This leaves us in a strange position. We have two ideas, one that is mentioned in the Course hundreds of times and another that is never mentioned at all. Despite natural expectations, the second idea claims the scriptural high-ground. It is "pure Course." It claims to so closely reflects the Course's heart that it can authoritatively discard the first idea. The first idea is not only labeled false, it is said to not even be a sincere attempt to reflect the Course. Rather, it is the ego's crafty attempt to corrupt the Course, to water it down with New Age teachings and reinforce the very separation from which the Course is trying to awaken us. The first idea, in other words, is worthy, not of respectful discourse, not of being answered with evidence, but only of being dismissed as a trick of the ego. To say, "Your idea is just your ego trying to dilute the Course and block awakening," is, in a Course context, the ultimate dismissal.

Does this situation strike you as backwards? How can an idea never mentioned in the Course have the authority to dismiss as an ego ploy an idea espoused on every other page? Unfortunately, this situation is more the norm than the exception in current Course circles, which is why I am addressing it at such length here. I have seen it repeatedly in different forms over many years, and it never ceases to amaze me.

What I would like to see is a different kind of Course culture. Right now, opinions about what the Course teaches are, from what I can see, largely driven by what we have gleaned from our favorite authority, from our own logic, or from what we have heard from other students. In my experience, actually consulting the Course is not a high value in this culture. I would love to be part of a culture that put supreme value on setting aside personal bias and collective lore in order to come before a wisdom we recognize as towering above our current level, a wisdom from beyond this world: the Course itself. In such a culture, we could disagree about what the Course teaches, but we would respect each other's positions and then take our disagreements before the authority of the Course, not caring whether our prior opinions stand or fall, wanting only to find out what it actually teaches. Our disagreements would not only be free of the usual accusations of "that's just your ego," but we would learn so much.