A Conversation with Jeffrey Seibert, Foundation for A Course in Miracles

JeffreySeibertWelcome to the second of my individual interviews with the staff that teaches the academy classes http://www.facim.org/temecula-schedule.aspx at the Foundation for A Course in Miracles in Temecula, California http://www.facim.org/. Rosemarie LoSasso, Loral Reeves, and Jeffrey Seibert have all worked closely with Kenneth and Gloria Wapnick for decades. Their devotion to Ken and Gloria’s work and commitment to living A Course in Miracles’mind-healing message of forgiveness shines in their teaching. They continue to present Ken’s material through the lens of their own forgiveness classrooms, truly teaching, to paraphrase the Course; that he did not die by demonstrating that he lives in them, and every one of us. I hope you’ll find their stories as inspiring as I have, and consider attending their transforming classes!

(Jeffrey Seibert has worked in various office roles since joining the Foundation for A Course in Miracles staff in November 1992. He currently oversees the foundation’s order department and performs a variety of other duties.)

Can you tell me a little about your life before coming to the Course and the foundation?

Well I was raised Catholic.

That’s always a good place to start.

(Laughs) Yes, I think it is. And I felt like I did have a relationship with Jesus through that, but by the time I was in college part of what I was dealing with was just an awareness of my own sexuality which I remained very private about and kept very hidden. And I felt judged by the church and finally decided to leave while I was in college. The church just didn’t make sense to me. I felt that Jesus was a very wise teacher but he was not God and I thought the church had somehow lost his message of love and forgiveness.

Where did you go to college?

I went to the University of Florida. I was originally from Pennsylvania but my family moved to Florida when I was six. I was an agnostic after college, not really expecting to find any answers. I thought I couldn’t know anything with any certainty about matters spiritual. I kept my sexuality hidden and I did get married to a lovely woman during graduate school at the University of Illinois, where I got my doctorate in developmental psychology. We moved to Miami and worked together in educational intervention and research for at-risk and handicapped infants and toddlers at the University of Miami, as part of  a university-affiliated program the Kennedy’s were funding around the country to do research and provide interdisciplinary services for children with disabilities.

My wife and I had a wonderful relationship, a wonderful friendship, we laughed a lot, but then she fell in love with somebody else and it kind of kicked open the door for me to just stop hiding who I realized I was sexually. And I thought that coming out, accepting myself, was all I needed to do to find peace but there was still this emptiness, a deep pain, and it felt like there was somewhere further I needed to go. I also had this sense from the beginning that it wasn’t just about a sexual opening, that there was also some kind of spiritual opening, but I really didn’t know what direction it would take me.

And that later turned out to be the Course?

Yes. I first heard of the Course from a person in one of my research programs at the University of Miami, who came back to see me some time later to tell me about A Course in Miracles. That planted a seed. And then about a year later a physical therapist on staff was telling me about A Course in Miracles, so I asked to borrow her copy over Christmas break when she wouldn’t be using it. That was in 1986. 

Were you captured by it right away?

Yes. I sat down with it and didn’t really understand everything I was reading. But I just felt this loving presence of Jesus coming through the words and I had this sense of recognition that this was actually what I was looking for, although I never really thought I would find anything like it. Still, I turned the pages with some trepidation. I knew this was Jesus and I was still expecting some kind of judgment or condemnation about the sexuality I was finally learning to accept in myself, much like I had experienced with the Catholic Church. But it was never there. It was always this loving, gentle, non-judgmental presence and I felt a great relief.

Very soon after that, I bought my own copy of the Course and learned about a group that was meeting in the Miami area. I only went to that group once but met somebody there who also only attended that group that one time, but was meeting in another group closer to where I lived. He had some audio tapes by Kenneth Wapnick and shared them. So, almost as soon as I started, I heard about Ken. And at the group I started attending there was a newsletter from the Foundation for A Course in Miracles announcing that they were opening a retreat center in Roscoe. So I was aware that was there and I had a sense I would be going there at some point but it just wasn’t the time.

There were all kinds of coincidences that were happening in my life at that time that ended up steering me in the direction of going out to Tiburon, California, where Jerry Jampolsky had his Center for Attitudinal Healing. Although I knew my path was the Course and not attitudinal healing, I was considering becoming a therapist and I didn’t want to follow the more traditional academic way. The center seemed like a good match for allowing me to do something related to the Course in an applied setting and there were just so many things pointing me in that direction that I thought, OK, I’ll go and see what happens. I took a one-year leave of absence from the University of Miami to volunteer at the center and shortly after my arrival in September 1988 I joined the center’s staff. I ended up leaving the university and staying four years.

But in the back of my mind, there was always this pull to go and attend some programs at the Foundation for A Course in Miracles. After I’d been at the center about two years, I joined  A Course in Miracles group of like-minded gay men in San Francisco who were studying the Course with Ken. They were going out to a psychotherapy workshop in Roscoe in the fall of 1990 and encouraged me to attend with them. Those couple of days were powerful in deepening my understanding of the Course and answering many questions I had been pondering. The following year I came back for a one-month retreat at the foundation and let the staff know I was willing to help with anything they needed while I was there. Ken told me they were proofing the Course against the urtext, getting ready to publish the second edition, so I spent some good chunks of most days doing that.

Before I returned to Tiburon I told Ken I was interested at some point in joining the staff. There were still things I felt I needed to be involved with at the center in Tiburon but I just wanted to leave the door open, and he thought that might be possible. It was another year before I joined the staff in November 1992. 

What was your initial role?

I didn’t have a fixed role for a while; I was kind of a floater, doing whatever needed to be covered. There was some work for the next edition of the Glossary/Index and duplicating audio tapes. Gradually I was doing more things in accounting and helping to back up Loral, and just whatever else as needed in the office, eventually answering phones, processing orders and program registrations.

I think I’d been there less than a year when Ken and Gloria approached me about teaching. I had never done a lot of teaching at the university. Since I was a kid I had a fear of public speaking. I felt at some point it was something I’d be involved in doing at the foundation but I thought it would be five or 10 years down the road. But I had to trust that if Ken and Gloria thought I was ready then maybe there was a part of me that was. And actually we went through a wonderful series of opportunities where all the staff members were involved in team teaching before I actually started teaching my own class at least a year or so later. That’s when Ken and Gloria developed the concept of the Academy and the staff was involved in discussion groups. The idea was drawn from Plato’s Academy.

I’m still a little confused about the Academy. Roscoe was before my time with the Course. I’m still only 10 or 11 years into studying and practicing and only started attending classes in Temecula about five or so years ago, once my daughter was older and I had the time and means to get away. Can you explain the distinction between seminars and workshops and Academy classes?

At Roscoe initially there were workshops and seminars of varying lengths and Ken, or Ken and Gloria together, were doing all the teaching in the workshops. Gloria and Rosemarie each taught the seminars. When the Academy classes were introduced, the intention was that they be more loosely structured and generally scheduled for longer periods.

And that’s when they became week-long and entirely taught by Ken?

In Roscoe, Ken, Gloria, Rosemarie, and I were all involved in teaching the Academy classes. Gloria retired from teaching with the move out here (to Temecula). Initially it was only Ken teaching workshops when we came out here in 2001 but then in 2002, the Academies were offered again, with Rosemarie and me once again involved. They initially ranged from two-to-five-day programs. But there were a number of people coming from great distances and communicating a desire for longer programs with Ken doing all the teaching, because, of course, he was the one they were really coming to hear.

To back up a little, in Roscoe, besides academies, we also began offering weeklong contemplatives, in 1998. We would meet with students in the beginning to give them the theme and readings and then they were really pretty much on their own and encouraged to keep conversation to a minimum and use the time for quiet reflection, until a closing session. We were available if they felt stuck, but we didn’t want them to use us just to distract themselves.

That sounds fascinating. I’m wondering what it was like for you personally to collaborate with Ken and Gloria, living at Roscoe, having that presence of Ken available to you and also trying to live this Course as a student.

When I joined the staff there was just this sense of coming home. That was how it felt when I was there. The feeling that this made sense and nothing else I had ever done had. I had this fear about teaching and it didn’t now simply go away because it was the Course but there was the sense that this was what I wanted to teach. And that I was probably really afraid of teaching it because of what it symbolized. It was just a great comfort for me knowing that Ken and Gloria were there. I just have this trust that they know what they are doing. The rest of it was just a sense of being so grateful to be there with that presence that Ken and Gloria reflect. I felt like this was what everything had been leading toward, this was where a part of me had always wanted to be, so it didn’t really matter that much what I was doing.

I had so many aha moments sitting in on the classes and attending the programs where I would think, now I really understand what the Course is saying. (Laughs) And then Ken would say something else and I would realize I didn’t. It just kept going deeper and deeper until I finally reached a point, after thinking now I know what it’s saying, where I just gave that up and recognized I really don’t. I’m just going to have to stay open to knowing that there will continue to be challenges and surprises along the way. Because it just keeps taking me so much deeper than I am consciously in touch with.

Yes. And admitting we don’t know, being willing to be proven wrong about everything we think is happening to us, is a good place to be, as Ken always emphasized and you all continue to in your teaching. 

To what extent were you living apart from the world in Roscoe?

Well, we were up on the mountain. You had to drive five miles to Tennanah Lake from the big town of Roscoe. (Laughs) It had a general store but if you really needed to do any shopping you had to drive 25 or 30 miles to Liberty, which still wasn’t a big town. So it was definitely remote, away from the world, and in that sense like being in a retreat setting all the time. I think that was some of the reason behind eventually making the shift out here, too. We had done as much as we needed to do there and it was time to go back out into the world. That was the sense I had when the move came in 2001.

What has it meant to live the Course in your life over so many years in these different settings? How has that shown up and evolved for you?

One of the biggest challenges for me has been since I got involved with a friend whom I met while I was still back in Roscoe. He’s had diabetes since he was eight and he had a stroke shortly after I met him when he was 38. He had been a heavy smoker and although he quit smoking ten years ago, he had already developed COPD and has had a number of very severe bouts of pneumonia over the last five or six years that have brought him close to death. It was at those times in particular that I realized how deep my feelings for him are. And he’s a very strong personality. Helene, who had been on our staff in New York, did our astrological charts and found we are just exact opposites. And we really are, in all the specifics!

It’s a great classroom!

Yeah; very challenging. I had never gotten as in touch with the intensity of my ego as I have since I met him, so I think that’s one of the really important reasons for me why we met. From the beginning Ken always seemed supportive in terms of my sustaining the relationship because there were times when I thought, oh, you know, this is just crazy, and I would ask him to help me explain what was going on here.

Since my divorce I hadn’t really had a committed relationship and it just felt like something I still wanted to experience. Nothing was ever leading anywhere with anyone else and after his stroke I was spending more time with him to help him as he was gradually regaining skills. And I always felt drawn to him even though I felt like the differences between us went really deep and the relationship would be challenging for both of us.

So I asked Ken at one point, am I just looking to have conflict in my life, because I’m thinking about asking him if he wants to be in a committed relationship. And Ken said he thought I’d always wonder what I missed if I didn’t ask him. So it seemed like a green light and I decided to go ahead with it. That was when it really became even more intense because I knew we were so very different and the commitment was almost certainly life-long. At the same time, Ken and Gloria were looking to move the foundation, first to another location in New York. But there were just so many obstacles that it ended up becoming apparent, by 2000; that the move was going to be out to Southern California. So I told my friend what was happening and asked if he wanted to move with me, and he decided he did.

We’ve been living together out here since then and I’d say that, aside from the lessons around my fear of teaching, our relationship has been my most challenging classroom and, at the same time, I guess I’d have to say my most fruitful. Fairly early on back in Roscoe, Ken just kept reminding me that whatever was going on, it wasn’t really about him. As he put it, “He’s not really part of the equation.” It took a long time to really understand what Ken meant. And I think the opportunity to teach what Ken was saying was very helpful in the process. One of the values of teaching for me has been that as I have gained a deeper intellectual grasp of what Ken has been saying, I become more aware of the gap between what I am teaching and what my life is reflecting. And that awareness can be so painful that it seems to always provide a motivation to try to bridge that gap.

That’s so true. And it also seems that Ken had such an uncanny sense of just tuning in to what would be helpful, or not, in each person’s journey. He would tell some people in difficult relationships that it wasn’t necessarily helping them. But in my relationship with my husband, and it sounds like he was kind of saying something similar to you, he told me he thought this was a really important classroom for me. And it has turned out to be. Over time, I really am seeing that the conflict and drama and stress in my life are not a result of him. And that’s huge.

It’s so huge. It doesn’t mean that I still don’t get caught but it takes much less time for me to realize what’s really going on here, that I’ve already chosen my ego as my guide before I’ve seemed to have my reaction. And the relationship provides frequent, seemingly endless opportunities to recognize how much of the time I am still wrong-minded.

Seemingly endless opportunities—exactly! 

I noticed with you and Rosemarie and Loral a kind of stepping up in your teaching at the March and July academies. You were always great teachers, but there definitely seemed to be a shift. It seemed to me that after Ken’s death you all just somehow reflected his teaching in a fuller, richer way. What I particularly felt from you is an openness and defenselessness that, I’m not saying wasn’t there before, but just seemed really much more complete. It must have been so difficult for all of you, in the middle of your own grieving, to step up and teach. What was that experience like for you? Did it feel transforming and, if so, how?

I’m not sure what word I would use, I haven’t really thought about it. It’s definitely been a great deepening. I think part of it is that in the past we just always knew Ken was there. He represented the teaching and we were there doing what we could to support that process. But we’re the instruments now, we can’t look to Ken in form to be doing this but he certainly prepared us for taking the next step. We all have had our fear and anxiety about it. It felt like jumping into the unknown. But at the same time I remember thinking it was going to be OK. It was kind of just taking one step at a time. And, of course, there was a sense of Ken still being there. Ken has at times talked about the orchestra with the staff. That was a metaphor that he used, asking us to think of ourselves as members of the orchestra.

He talks about that on a couple of CDs that I’ve listened to.

Yes. And in this specific case, the staff is the orchestra. Every part is essential and no one is any more important than another. Ken has always talked in the workshops and classes about Jesus as the conductor, but in terms of the foundation there has always been the feeling that Ken was the conductor. And that hasn’t really changed, even though he isn’t physically present. His presence is still here and I think that was part of it, too, at the March academy, the sense that we’re not doing this on our own. Ken still has the baton.

Beautifully put. And it really felt like that, both times that I attended, the sense that he is still here. You had said something I wrote down in my notes to the effect that we could only have experienced the comfort of our true nature in Ken because we have it within. It feels safer to attribute it to Ken but we’re all being asked through the experience of the death of his seeming form to really turn within to experience his presence. The first thing I thought about after he died was how he told us the last couple years to “stop with the baby business.” And just like he was always telling us that there was nothing Jesus has that we don’t, there is nothing Ken has that we don’t. He is still right here within us. That’s the awareness that we’re growing up to accept, terrifying as it still seems. I feel like you guys really demonstrated that for everyone in these classes. It was very, very powerful.

And of course, we can’t personally take credit for that. (Laughs) What we can take credit for is being aware of whatever our egos might want to become engaged in and being able to recognize it. That’s what my focus has got to be, not on what I’m going to do, but on what I’m going to allow to be undone.

Yes, absolutely. 

But I want to thank you again. You were all so open, present, and giving to everyone. Especially in the March academy when there was so much grief in the room from people who had come in from all over the world. And you just allowed it to be fully expressed while gently reminding everyone that this is our dream. Ken is still here, Ken is just what we will ultimately remember we are at the end of the journey.

Yes, just different symbols for the same thing.

What are your responsibilities right now at the foundation, Jeff?

I’m in the order department. I answer the phones and process orders that come in over the web from our online bookstore, along with other staff members who also help out, too, like Emmy and Karla. And I help handle any customer service issues around orders. I also manage some pieces related to production of CDs and DVDs and oversee the end-of-year inventory count. And the teaching has become a bigger part of our work. It had been increasing really over the last several years with the weekly classes we lead.

And what about the thrust of your weekly class?

Loral and Elizabeth Schmit have been leading weekly classes for a while on Wednesdays, with Loral focusing on the workbook and Elizabeth on various themes from week to week.  Rosemarie and I have been alternating leading the Thursday excerpts study group for the last couple of years where we assign and discuss parts of Ken’s publications including books, audios, and videos, and newsletter articles. Among the publications I’ve focused on recently in the classes are Ken’s little book, When 2 + 2 = 5: Reflecting Love in a Loveless World, http://www.facim.org/bookstore/p-329-when-2-2-5-reflecting-love-in-a-loveless-world.aspx where Ken beautifully draws on Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground as a jumping off point for the Course’s teachings on the undoing of the world’s/ego’s laws, and the newsletter article I Never Thought I’d See Those Trees Again: Recovering Our Innocence” (vol 20, no. 4, December 2009) http://www.facim.org/online-learning-aids/lighthouse-articles/archive.aspx , where Ken discusses a vision of Helen’s to explore our belief in our loss of innocence.

I should add that we are encouraging folks from out of town who come to our three-day Academies to consider extending their stay to attend the Wednesday and Thursday classes. The classes are also open to anyone from out of town who happens to be in the area on a Wednesday or Thursday. We’re currently on a summer break from the classes, but they will resume in September immediately after the September Academy.

What do you consider the value of the onsite workshops and classes here?

For me, personally, I find that the programs allow me to go deeper into my own process and practice of forgiveness, and for all that I will always be grateful to Ken and Gloria for inviting me to get involved in the teaching. In terms of encouraging people to come, I think that comes more through word of mouth from people like yourself in terms of sharing the experiences you have here and what you have found of value. I appreciate your interest and willingness to do that. And I really do believe that if these programs can be helpful to people, they will find their way here.

 

The Foundation for A Course in Miracles continues to offer illuminating classes taught by a talented, devoted, truly inspiring staff who shine with the light of living this work! I was so deeply moved and inspired by their presentations at the July and March academies, and can’t wait to return for more! Check out all their current offerings here:  http://www.facim.org/temecula-schedule.aspx

The Foundation has extended its 50% discount on all books written by Dr. Kenneth Wapnick (print version only) through September! Now is the time to add to your library or gift a friend as there will be no lower price this year! Shop for your English and Spanish-language translated bound books at our Online Bookstore. http://www.facim.org/bookstore/

The Foundation for A Course in Miracles could use our help as they continue to so gracefully teach and publish the mind-healing, life-altering work of our beloved teacher and mentor Ken Wapnick, who selflessly dedicated his life to helping us change our minds about the world and find our way home. You can express your support and appreciation for this ongoing work with a donation here: https://www.facim.org/bookstore/p-195-donate.aspx . 

Here’s a link to details about my ongoing Tuesday night class on the text here in Denver https://www.foraysinforgiveness.com/classes-events beginning in May 2014. 

I’ll be speaking in interview format, followed by a live Q & A session, at the upcoming Miracle Share virtual conference in October. You can find out more about the many speakers and register here: https://www.foraysinforgiveness.com/miracleshare-org-2014-virtual-conference 

HALF-HOUR, FORTY-FIVE MINUTE, OR HOUR-LONG MENTORING SESSIONS NOW AVAILABLE: Although A Course in Miracles is clearly a self-study program and the one relationship we are truly cultivating is with our eternally sane and loving right mind, mentoring can help remind Course students having trouble applying its unique forgiveness that the problem and the solution never lie in the difficult relationship, situation, behavior, health issue, etc., but in the decision-making mind. In every circumstance, without exception, we can experience inner peace and kindness toward all, unaffected by the seemingly random strife of a world designed to prove otherwise. By choosing to look at our lives as a classroom in which we bring all our painful illusions to the inner teacher of forgiveness who knows only our shared innocence beyond all its deceptive disguises, we learn to identify and transcend the ego’s resistance, hold others and even ourselves harmless, and gently allow our split mind to heal. Sessions are conducted via traditional phone or Skype (your choice). Please contact me to find out if mentoring is right for you before submitting a payment below. (No one is ever turned away for lack of ability to pay.) 

My good friend and gifted A Course in Miracles teacher and writer Bernard Groom has been posting beautifully written, heartfelt essays about living A Course in Miracles for years at http://www.acimvillage.com/. I found his recent, kindly right-minded contemplations there on the death of our beloved teacher Ken Wapnick deeply comforting! Bernard lives and teaches in France with his dear wife Patricia. You’ll find a wealth of information in French on his website http://uncoursenmiraclesenfrance.com/ including recorded talks available for purchase or free download: http://uncoursenmiraclesenfrance.com/audio/. 

My dear friend and wonderful teacher Lyn Corona continues to offer classes at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center through her School of Reason for Course students and teachers. You can subscribe to her website http://www.schoolofreason.org/ to receive information about upcoming classes.

My latest book, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want is available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. If you read and find the book helpful, I would so appreciate you posting a brief (a sentence or two is fine) review on Amazon. 🙂

Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and my previous book, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, are now also available from the ACIM Store: http://www.acimstore.com/default.asp.

Comments

  1. Thank you again Susan for another precious interview with a staff member of the Foundation, our dear friend Jeff.

    Love,
    Annelies

  2. You are so welcome Annelies. Jeff was a joy to interview! We are so lucky to have these teachers!

    Love,
    Susan

  3. Great interview … and reminder that ‘conflict and drama and stress in my life are not a result of’ … anyone or anything outside my mind! 🙂 Thanks, Susan! 🙂

  4. Thank you, Bruce. Talking with Jeff about his journey and process
    was a very healing experience. I hope readers feel that, too! 🙂

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