A Conversation with Ken Wapnick: be gentle with yourself

Ken OFFICIAL photoI was fortunate enough to sit down again recently with Ken Wapnick while attending a workshop at the Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM)  in Temecula, California. Many of my questions arose from listening to two of Ken’s newer CD sets: On Death and Dying and Cast No One Out, as well as from my moment-to-moment journey practicing the Course’s unique forgiveness in the classroom of my life. As always, Ken’s generosity, consistency, patience, and gentleness shine in his responses. I hope you will find them as illuminating and helpful as I did.

I’ve listened to your CD set On Death and Dying and have a few questions related to that. I think I know the answers to most of them but the Course has taught me to question all I think I know; to always make sure I know which inner teacher I’m really listening to. So, to start, if death is not an ending or release, is it possible to wake up in between lifetimes or do we need a body to do it?

You always have to come back to the basic idea that the body is in the mind. Everything is in the mind, whether you’re incarnate or discarnate; it doesn’t make any difference because the process is always the same—you become right-minded instead of wrong-minded.

But it seems like we use the form to get back to the mind. So after I leave this body–in between lifetimes; however that works–what would motivate me to choose the right mind? Because in the Course’s forgiveness we use what we perceive upsetting us seemingly “out there” to return to the mind and look at our illusions with Jesus/Holy Spirit. But if we didn’t have a body, how would that work?

It’s a good question. But it’s the wrong question because you’re never in the body. That’s why it’s a trick question in a way, an ego question. So questions about what happens when I die, what happens when I’m in between lifetimes are really meaningless because you’re never in a body. It’s always at the level of the mind. And you know there’s that line in the Course “all thinking produces form at some level” so there’s always some form because the thoughts in the mind will always be projected or extended. But we have a very limited view which basically is I’m a human being. I do my lessons. I live, I die, I go someplace else and then I have to come back into a body. But it just doesn’t work that way at all. And since time is not linear; that’s also the problem. Your question presupposes the linearity of time and it doesn’t work like that.

So, it’s very hard to try to understand it from a human perspective. I usually quote that passage from the beginning of Chapter 17: “Think you that you can bring truth to fantasy, and learn what truth means from the perspective of illusions?”  You can’t understand truth from the perspective of fantasy and you can’t understand non-duality from the perspective of duality. You can’t understand the mind from the perspective of the body; which is what those kinds of questions are trying to do but that’s why they just don’t work. There’s no satisfactory explanation which is why the questions keep coming. You can only understand it from a perspective above the battleground where there is no time and you realize that everything is in the mind. And since there is no time, it’s always a question at any given instant of do I choose the ego or the Holy Spirit as my teacher? So, it can’t be answered from this framework and that’s what those questions are always demanding.

I have a few more like that, too. 🙂

That’s all right.

Good; because here’s another one. There are many passages in the Course where Jesus speaks specifically about the body and the healing of the body as if it were real. And then yesterday in one of the staff-taught classes there was a statement implying that if there wasn’t any guilt in the mind we could not age and we could experience a healed body. So, if it would be most helpful to our body in the condition we think we’re in; could we actually experience a healing of our body?

See, you can’t; it’s the same thing.

Because the non-duality of the Course collapses if you try to bring it into duality?

Yes, it all collapses. And what you’re talking about is an example also of the few passages that advise asking the Holy Spirit for specific help. The Song of Prayer addresses that. And there are passages that seem to imply that the body is healed, just as at the beginning of the text it says miracles are things that you do. It talks about performing miracles. Well; that goes against everything the Course teaches. And the overwhelming amount of material says just the opposite: you don’t ask for help in the world, miracles don’t do anything, and the body is not healed because it’s not sick.

So there are passages in the Course that meet everyone wherever they are on the ladder. And that’s the only way of understanding this. Because otherwise the Course really contradicts itself. But it doesn’t if you read it as you would a great poem. (And I’m going to do a workshop on this later this year.) You can’t read it intellectually. It doesn’t contradict itself when you understand the content and you understand where a passage falls in the greater scheme of things and the idea that there’s something in the Course that meets people where they are.

Well, and does that mean that you would experience the body’s healing or not healing in whatever way would not increase fear for you and would be most helpful to your atonement path at that time?

Yes, absolutely! It talks in Chapter 2 about when you’re in a fear-weakened state the miracle seems threatening which means the healing of the mind seems threatening so you need that compromise approach. As long as you think you’re a body take care of your body in whatever form works. But at some point you want to realize this has nothing to do with the body. But since we’re so identified with the body it can be helpful to be told the body’s healed. But a lot of times the body isn’t healed but the mind can be healed. So you always need the greater context of the Course in which to consider individual passages and not take things out of context.

So, as a student reading passages like that you just need to reference and remember the Course’s basic metaphysics and if there is no body and there is no world then this is really not possible because there is no healing in the world.

Right. It’s a metaphor written at a level that people can accept where they are without being afraid.

It’s never about literally performing miracles in form?

No, that’s not what the Course is about and it’s obvious it’s not about that. But, at the beginning, (and in certain later passages) it says that. That’s why I always use the image of a symphony. A really great conductor has the entirety of the symphony in his mind. And then each of the different passages is conducted to contribute to the whole. But he never loses sight of what the whole symphony is about.

You really have to understand what the whole Course is about and then the way specific passages fit into that. Then you understand that some are being used for effect. Some are being used to meet people where they think they are; that we’re kind of being led up a ladder. When you have that understanding of what the whole Course symphony is then you don’t get caught in that trap because you understand the world is an illusion and the body is in the mind, the mind is not in the body. And how can a body be healed when it says over and over again that the body is not sick? But passages taken out of context would seem to suggest that.  So, it’s really important to understand the whole.

So, looking to the body for evidence of healing the mind is a retreat into fear?

Yes, and that retreat into fear then manifests itself by making the body real and trying to prove the Course wrong. And if my body is real—whether it’s sick or healed—the Course is wrong and I’m right. And that’s kind of the undercurrent of what most people do with the Course. It’s a subtle way to try to prove the Course wrong.

Is that almost part of the journey, though?

Oh, yes; it’s an intrinsic part of the journey. But what helps you keep on journeying is just knowing that’s what you’re doing. The awareness that your ego is doing this. Not that it’s terrible or your ego is bad. But that, of course it’s going to resist and of course it’s going to try to compromise and bring God into the world. But if you know you’re doing it, that kind of speeds you along.

A lot of us Course students seem to have these detours back into duality. We can know the Course very well and seem very far along in our journey home and then suddenly we’re trying to bring the Course back into the world again.

It’s just fear. Be kind. As I said this morning, Jesus told Helen in response to her distress about what some teachers were already doing with the Course: “Don’t take another’s path as your own but neither should you judge it.” People become afraid and they try and compromise the purity of the Course’s teaching.

That’s very helpful—thank you.

The Course says “Behold me brother, at your hand I die,” referring to the way we unconsciously use sickness to punish others and make them feel guilty. But it’s also a way to keep ourselves feeling guilty, to punish myself? But it’s the same thing whether I’m trying to get back at another body or the body I think I am?


You talked a lot on that same CD set about how there’s “nothing so blinding as perception of form.” A person can be dying of a terminal illness and still be perfectly at peace and right-minded. So, in a troubled relationship where you’re practicing forgiveness and not experiencing a change for the better in form, you can likewise still feel peace; that’s just the same idea psychologically?


So we should never look to form as evidence of healing of any kind?


I’ve also been listening to your CD set Cast No One Out and the whole “make it about them” theme you’ve been advocating. I had a lot of resistance to that. I thought I knew what you were talking about but what kept coming up in my classroom was the awareness of just how much I don’t want to make it about them; I want to make it about me. And you then say to make it about them but don’t be a doormat. And my inner feminist would like to make the point that all my life I was taught (like many women) to make it about everybody else and I’m finally getting over that and here it is again. So, how do you do that without being a doormat or a traitor to feminism?

The idea of making it about them is a correction for the ego that always wants to make it about me. You know; the idea that you have that special something, I need it, I’m going to get it from you so I’ll seem to be kind and selfless and understanding but I’m really cannibalizing and seducing you by whatever means so I get what I want from you. That’s what specialness is. So saying make it about them is the correction for that and has nothing to do with being a doormat or seeing yourself as not important. It’s just about seeing yourself as not important as an ego.

So, what’s helpful is instead of always thinking about getting my needs met, I think about you. Instead of me being the focal point, I make you the focal point. I think I said in that class too that it ends up that if I make it about you I’m really making it about us. It’s not a question of one or the other. If I really make it about you–which means I’m correcting my selfishness and always thinking about how you exist only to serve me–I see you as a person. And I see you and me as the same. That way, I’m making it about us.

Making it about the healing of our one mind.

Yes, it’s not seeing us as separate. But you have to begin where you are so we all begin in a relationship where we look at it as all about me. Even if you’re a doormat in a relationship you’re still getting something out of it. Because that’s how you keep the relationship. So in a sense it’s also coming from a position where I see myself not as an ego that’s filled with scarcity or an ego that’s coming from a place of neediness; I see myself as a right mind who is experiencing that love—that’s what it means to make it about the other person. It’s not only a correction for my self-centeredness and selfishness but it’s also representing a shift in which I see myself as someone who is capable of being caring and loving.

Regardless of what the other person seems to be doing.

Yes. It has to do with the shift in me away from making myself the center of attention because there is such a lack in me that I have to fill up to now seeing that I don’t have a need. And that frees me to think about you.

And that also means not coming from the past in your relationship. Coming to every moment in the relationship without need. I’ve had a real shift recently in a rocky special relationship where things were getting worse and worse and I came to a point of just letting all past issues go and treating him like a friend or somebody I didn’t have any expectations from. And there did seem to be a real shift in feeling that somehow everything was really OK. We were both on the same side. Making it about us, I suppose; as you said earlier.

That’s very good.

A related question is what to do in a troubled relationship when you feel that ego urgency to make some kind of decision in form. I had that experience recently where I kept asking to see right-mindedly that the problem is my unconscious choice to blame another person for my lack of peace. But I also was asking for clarity about what to do in form, even though I know it’s never really about the form. I didn’t get an answer in form. What I got was what I was just talking about. Just be kind from moment-to-moment and treat the person like a friend. So I’ve come to a point where if I’ve become right-minded and still don’t have an answer, I don’t do anything. I could do something, but I don’t have to. Is that correct?

Yes, absolutely, Susan. It’s a good rule of thumb–unless circumstances make it impossible—to not do anything if you’re not sure what to do. Just try as you said to become right-minded and when the time is right, whatever that means, you’ll know what to do. And maybe you do nothing, which is also a decision. Sometimes it’s impossible not to act but even then you can do so as right-mindedly as possible. Somehow at the same time you have to pay attention to the decision in form, another part of you realizes that no matter what happens I can be peaceful. That’s what you always want to do and not give the world power to affect that peace. And then trust that the answer will come. But the focus should not be on what the body does, but really on what teacher you’re choosing in your mind.

So, if it’s going on right now it’s just my curriculum and an opportunity to learn what I really want to know?

Yes, it sounds like it’s a really palpable classroom, an important one. So you want to be faithful to your teacher which means you want to be peaceful, which means you want to not justify your anger or your guilt.

In The Healed Relationship in Chapter 17, Jesus talks about giving our relationship to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But he then goes on to say that once we do that the relationship can become very disturbed because now its original goal of proving separation is out of alignment. So, the question is how do you trust that all is well when everything seems to be falling apart? Students in my Course classes will ask this and as they’re describing it I can hear that they don’t seem to have yet had an experience of the Holy Instant and so don’t know eternally present Love and peace is always waiting on the other side. I don’t remember how I had that trust in the first place except that it seemed like there had to be a better way of relating here and I was ready to find it. But how do people have that patience when they don’t know yet there’s something else waiting in the mind that offers everything they really want?

It is a question of faith and that section says “this is a time for faith.” And it’s really faith in the process. Sometimes I tell people who go through a stormy period, it’s like you’re on a boat and there’s a storm and just get through the storm and trust that your boat won’t capsize; it will be OK. Just ride the waves and you’ll reach calm waters; just trust that.

What helps at least intellectually is to realize this is a journey and it’s a journey in the mind. And while things happen in the world, the anchor is really that this is all in my mind and I could see peace instead of this. And to just ride the waves and trust that your boat won’t sink and if you want to take the metaphor further; trust the captain of the boat, that kind of thing. Because when you’re in a crisis—whether it’s a marital crisis, a job crisis, a health crisis—that becomes front and center. And it’s helpful to at least somewhere know that this seems to be out here but the real drama is playing out inside the mind and I could be peaceful even with all these things happening.

Even as this war between my opposing selves I seem to be experiencing rages.

The external wars in terms of your perception. So what you want to do is realize that there’s calm in your mind, too. You know there’s that line “You are not two selves in conflict.” You appear to be, we all appear to be, and that’s what gets projected. But we are not two selves in conflict. And learning that is what the whole journey is about. So you can learn to go through a marital crisis, a financial crisis, a vocational crisis, a health crisis and still be peaceful and not see the law of bodies as an enemy. You look at it from the perspective of the mind and not the body. That’s like I said this morning and I always say, you can’t read this Course as a body because you’ll get it all wrong. It’s inevitable that we do that, but that doesn’t make it right. You’re not going to understand what it’s saying.

So you just keep looking and asking.

And not trust your thoughts and feelings unless they’re completely peaceful and everybody is included in that peace.

You often talk about how it’s so important to see the horrible nature of the world and I’ve gotten really good at that.

You want to see it, but without giving it power.

Right. But you were also talking yesterday about the Development of Trust section of the Manual for Teachers and  there’s this really nice fourth stage that I seem to have either skipped or not gotten to yet, followed by the fifth stage where all hell breaks loose.

It’s not linear.

I know. But I do seem to have spent very little time in that fourth stage and a disproportionate amount of time in the fifth stage.  So, I guess my question is; how many dark nights of the soul does it take to heal my mind? I know that’s the ego talking but it just sometimes seems endless.

The six stages are meant to just give people a sense of what the process of letting go is. And so it’s not six discrete stages that you do and it’s over. The last stage is the real world but before that you kind of go back and forth. The first three stages are about learning how to let go, the fourth stage is relatively peaceful, and in the fifth stage all hell breaks loose when you realize what this is really saying.

About the self you see in the mirror?

Right. But it’s all circular, we always keep going around and around in the stages but the six stages give a sense of what the process is like; the letting go of everything, thinking that I’ve done a good job, and then suddenly realizing that what I really have to let go of is myself.

Your teaching around making it about them really helped me a lot after I got over being upset with you for it and I think I’ve been able more and more to practice that moment-to-moment kindness and relinquishment of my neediness and I have had lots of opportunities to apply it in many different situations which helped me see it’s all the same. I had people seemingly asking certain things of me and I saw that my first reaction was always not wanting to do what they asked, that this was not the way I wanted things to go. But then I asked for right-mindedness and saw that it was no big deal. Why did I need it to be my way at the cost of inner peace? What I’m seeing now is my attachment to my belief in Susan’s secret badness. Like a lot of students, I find it so much harder to be kind to myself, forgive myself. Do you have any insight on that?

Don’t stop what you’re doing. Have faith in what you’re doing and the process. I’m sure I said it last time, too, but be gentle and patient with yourself. One of your big handicaps is you’re not gentle with yourself.

I feel like it’s easier to experience myself as innocent when I’m teaching the Course or writing about the Course but in between, not so much.

But that’s the answer. To take what you know to be true when you’re teaching and writing into all areas of your life, especially your relationships. But you’re not kind to yourself, that’s your big stumbling block. And so, realize that yes; of course there’s fear. You don’t want to split off or disassociate what you know and feel to be true when you teach and write; that’s what you want to learn not to do. And you learn not to do it simply by wanting it and becoming more aware when you’re with another person that you really want to learn how to embody the truth you know to be true when you teach and write in this relationship. And be as gentle as possible with yourself as you learn.

NOTE: Renowned Psychologist, Teacher and Author Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, has been studying A Course in Miracles since 1973, and worked closely with Course Scribe Helen Schucman and Collaborator Bill Thetford in preparing its final manuscript. With his wife, Gloria, he is president and co-founder of The Foundation for a Course in Miracles in Temecula, California. Ken has devoted his life to helping Course students understand and apply its profound message.


  1. Thank you very much Susan for giving us this interview ! It put my day on the right track this Saturday morning !
    Love; Hedda

  2. “Can’t get there from here.” In the classic joke about the city slicker asking the farmer for directions, we find the same Zen-ish wisdom as Einstein’s oft-quoted “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”… There are some wonderful insights about being kind to yourself in this superb interview of Ken Wapnick by Susan Dugan – who speaks for all of us, regardless of the form of our issues. I enjoy Ken’s gentle, yet persistent reminders to ask ‘who or what’ is doing the asking; sage advice. If we try – as we all do – to solve ‘our problems’ from the level of ego, we’re never going to get ‘there’, not only because it was the ego that invented our made up problems in the first place, but every bit of resistance we have to actually solving our problems by returning to the level of mind where they never existed in the first place is from, we guessed it, ego’s threatened existence – the naked emperor who, like his attire, doesn’t exist either. 🙂

  3. J. David Rhoads says:

    So challenging to grasp and to remember – so wonderful to hear again! Thank you, Susan!

  4. Yes, David, a great reminder, but still so hard to put into practice, I find, too. Still, when Ken says it, it sounds doable! 🙂

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