I Love Them Both

By Michael Mark

[Editor’s note: The following, reprinted with the author’s permission, was first published on Amazon.com as a review on February 27, 2016.]

I offer you no credentials, no histories or justifications. The purpose of this review is to explain why I find no discord between ACIM and ACOL—and no justification for controversy or concern regarding these works—and to say why I love them both. It is an understatement to say that “I love” both ACIM and ACOL, because we say the same thing about movies and menu items and moments of drama, and then we forget them with but a few years’ time. I experienced both ACIM and ACOL as sustenance offered a mind and a heart that once were broken and confused, and I am full of gratitude for both of these books and what they have offered me. When we experience healing within ourselves, there can be no question of its value. 

I can understand completely why some readers of ACIM could be confused by ACOL. The challenge is always in how we work with words and symbols when coming into contact with something as vast as God’s eternal creation, as well as how to couch something that is living in static terms. This statement is not intended to argue against the idea that what is true and real is eternal and unchanging. But that which is unchanging in ACIM, is not without increase. “Only joy increases forever, since joy and eternity are inseparable. God extends outward beyond limits and beyond time, and you who are co-creator with Him extend His Kingdom forever and beyond limit.” (T-7.I.5) Creation is extending now. It didn’t extend once and then stop. It extends forever and without limit, and we are part of it. I think if we knew and experienced what it is to extend forever and without limit, these questions about ACOL’s connection to ACIM would fall away.

There is something over-flowing that is part of who we are, and that takes its cue from the changeless—something in which we are included always and forever but which we cannot experientially contact while our minds are conflicted. As noted in ACIM, the process of healing involves the reversal of entire thought systems. This is very difficult work for all of us, because it touches upon our very identity. We are not talking about learning to improve our golf score, or how to eat properly or advance our careers. We are not talking about doing something that would increase our sense of self-worth. We are not even talking about having the right answers to circumstance or trauma, or the right philosophy. We are not talking about being perceived as wise, gentle or kind. None of that matters if we do not find peace in our hearts.

We are talking about transforming the thought system within us that instantly overlays our sensory impressions of the world with meaning and interpretation. And we are doing this from the starting point of separateness, which means the thought system through which we work initially is one in which we are deeply vulnerable, prone to blaming and projection, and ambiguously guilt-ridden and uncertain. There is no way out by using what such a thought system teaches us. This is why we have to let go of the controls so the Holy Spirit can interpret for us, and modulate temporarily the means by which we assign meaning and interpretation to phenomena.

I found ACIM to be invaluable in helping me learn to differentiate properly between what is transitory and what is eternal. We find peace only when we identify with the eternal, which means that we shift our identification from the body to the spirit. It is not more complex than this, but simplicity and ease are not always correlated. Those of you who have read and studied ACIM know there are hundreds of pages devoted to helping us navigate this transition. It can be difficult to achieve even though it is simple to say. Our thought systems are deeply interwoven into our every experience, and they defend and justify themselves at the speed of light, if you will.

But let’s just say there is a miracle. Let’s just say there is a breakthrough. Let us say that we forgive radically our previous thought system and all of its attending interpretations, meanings and projections. Then what? According to ACIM, “Yet even forgiveness is not the end. Forgiveness does make lovely, but it does not create. It is the source of healing, but it is the messenger of love and not its Source.” (T-18.IX.10) Then later, “And when the memory of God has come to you in the holy place of forgiveness you will remember nothing else, and memory will be as useless as learning, for your only purpose will be creating.” (T-18.IX.14) We are given precious little to go on in ACIM as to what this “creating” business is or means. Statements such as these are all we have. And yet that is to be our eternal experience… For ever… What is it? What is its value? I don’t think the purpose or intent of ACIM was to touch upon this, and ACIM says as much throughout.

The central challenge I see in conceiving of ACOL as a teaching in the same tradition as ACIM is the premise some have stated that ACOL overturns the core teaching of ACIM—the core teaching of ACIM being that what is real is not of form, and that our chief error was to identify with form itself. Since what is real cannot be threatened, and all form is obviously ever-changing and temporary, form cannot be real. This insight is essential to healing because forgiveness is impossible while we view our safety or our happiness as relating in any way to the transitory coming’s and going’s of physical phenomena. If we think what happens in physical form ultimately matters—meaning that if events go one way we will be safe or happy or whole, but if they go another way we will not—then we are perceiving in an illusory matter. But I think it is essential to understand that the error we heal was our identification with what isn’t real, not the arising of transitory phenomena themselves. Physical forms and events are neutral. Meaning is what our thought systems supply to us. “Time is as neutral as the body is…” (T-26.VIII.3)

ACOL helped me tremendously because it met me at this point where peace was found, and joy began to fill me, and what I beheld was beautiful. And I felt the desire to “be it”, to share it with others, to know my life as the movement of this joy. I also knew from past experience that this was tricky territory—that moving creatively into the world often brought with it a desire for a particular outcome, a hope for success and a tendency to try to “know” when I was successful and when I wasn’t, and in short, the formation of a murky linkage between the eternal reality I felt within me and what I wanted that to mean with regard to the forms of which the sensory world is composed. I could return to peace by holding a view of phenomena free of attachment and such desires, and by deconstructing this linkage once again. In fact, we learn to take this “holy instant” instinctively and very quickly. But what I found was that the peace into which I returned as I forgave particular druthers on my part would inevitably yield to an inner experience of joy and beauty, that would inevitably lead to a desire to share and create—to experience this joy as a living reality.

Thus in my own experience, I don’t find ACOL to be contradictory in any way to ACIM, though I do find it to contain a shift in emphasis. I find a shift (as the Course unfolds) to discussing what lies beyond forgiveness, to new ways of contacting the experience of unity, as well as encouragement to recognize there is life after separation. We don’t go into peaceful freeze-frames. There is new life in unity.

The difficulty I think some have found in accepting ACOL is that it encourages us to bring the timeless awareness to which we have returned, into the physical world in which we presently live. We are encouraged to live what we have discovered within us. To make it visible. To have the experience of it. For me personally, this is not a return to the misperception of identification with form; rather I find it to be the holy use of form to communicate and express what is eternally alive within us. It is communication, not misperception or misidentification. We are painters, not the paintings. We are writers, not the words. We are builders, not the buildings. ACOL has helped me immensely with regards to stabilizing what I learned in ACIM, while living my life right now. My life, in fact, has become the locus of my healing.

There has been some discussion of the idea that ACIM is a non-dual teaching and ACOL is not. I had no idea ACIM was described as a non-dual teaching until I read about this elsewhere, because it is not discussed in ACIM itself. I didn’t know at the time what a valid non-dual teaching was, or would be, or why it was so important to establish that a teaching is or isn’t non-dual. But I have thought about this and it seems to me that non-duality is similar to wholeheartedness as described in ACOL, as well as to the experience the healed mind in ACIM beholds—e.g. the real world—because it means the loss of distinction between what is and what is not. It means that all we look upon is holy. It means the loss of distinction between what is self, and what is not self. It means the loss of distinction between what is God, and what is not God. It means the loss of distinction between what is inherently good and what is not, because we no longer perceive what is not as having inherent validity, or being of the same order of existence as the good.

I think the misperception of identification with form results in duality because it creates a mental construct in which there is heaven, over there, and earth, over here. This is me, this body, and God is timeless, out there. This is mine, and that is my brother’s, and if I have more of this finite quantity of material stocks, then he has less. I am not God and God is not me. This is duality. That is how I feel about this.

I will close with a line from ACIM. It says “‘Heaven and earth shall pass away’ means that they will not continue to exist as separate states. My word, which is the resurrection and the life, shall not pass away because life is eternal. You are the work of God, and His work is wholly lovable and wholly loving. This is how a man must think of himself in his heart, because this is what he is.” (T-1.III.2) Heaven and earth shall not continue to exist as separate states. I think this is where ACOL is taking us, to this holy union. I found ACOL to be a beautiful extension of all that I held most dear from reading and working with ACIM. It offered me a new fullness in the everyday, without compromising the bedrock of peace that I had discovered in ACIM.

ACOL is surely not for everyone. Neither is ACIM. They are both books that point to an experience different from the one we have so long been having—an experience of holy unity that is itself the only complete teaching there is or can be. The books are just pointers. Just words on paper. What matters is the experience they engender. For some, particular words help show the way. They correct and encourage. But nothing is gained without the experience within. I found ACOL to be beautiful, helpful and profound. It has led me to new types of experience that enrich every facet of my life. That is enough for me.

Michael is a utility systems engineer and a writer who recently published his first collection of spiritually-themed poems entitled A Cannon, a Heart, and Now This. He maintains a blog featuring his poetry, sporadic experiments with fiction and occasional Course related pieces at www.embracingforever.com.


The World We Behold

By Barry Cosme

The world we behold
is of our own making,
the facets we embrace…
and also those we reject.

While we are responsible
for our reality
this is not a judgment
upon us individually because,
despite appearances,
in Truth we are One
rather than individuals.

This seems
incomprehensible to us
only because
we see ourselves
as separate beings,
denying our unity,
and placing responsibility
beyond our “self.”

By practicing forgiveness
and laying aside
judgment of “others”
we open the door to Love
and the consciousness
of our Unity.
When this door opens
just a crack,
inspiration is the glimpse
of vision that comes to us.

As we move further into the
gratitude and
appreciation of
this vision and its Source,
joy and aliveness
blossom into creation
and we are drawn into
the embrace of Oneness.

Barry Cosme is a longtime student of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) and more recently of A Course of Love (ACOL). Besides working as a corporate executive, he is an avid photographer and an occasional blogger (Alternative Materiality) on the subjects of ACOL, ACIM, Christianity and related topics.