A conversation with Ken Wapnick: Did I mention you’re too serious?

Ken OFFICIAL photoRenowned Psychologist, Teacher, and Author Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, has been studying, teaching, and writing about 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 Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) in Temecula, California.

OK, so admittedly I did most of the talking when Ken Wapnick once more generously agreed to answer some questions about practicing forgiveness and looking with Jesus. Along with the other characteristics of God’s teachers mentioned in the Teachers Manual, he also demonstrates honesty, defined in A Course in Miracles as consistency. I found his response to my overly complicated questions newly humbling. “Don’t take it seriously,” he answered, in response to every query. He has said this before and will likely have to say it again because eventually we begin to try to make awakening a goal and we’re not smiling with Jesus anymore but gritting our teeth with the ego, once more seeking and never finding our self. Thank you Ken, for reminding us to quit working so hard and simply :).

You talk a lot about forgiveness being a process of the decision maker looking with Jesus/our right mind. I’ve noticed lately in practicing forgiveness that I really want Jesus to look with me rather than look with him.

Oh, you’re pretty slippery. And here I thought you were a nice person.

Nope. I think I need a review because that’s what I’ve been doing and what it shows me is how resistant I am to really looking. Could you go over the process of looking and maybe speak to our tendency to deceive ourselves about what we’re really doing?

Well, the whole idea of looking makes sense when you realize it’s the correction for the ego’s not looking. That’s really the bread and butter of the ego’s thought system because if you don’t look it means you’re mindless. If you look you become a mind instead of a body and if you don’t look you can never see that the ego is really nothing. Forgiveness defined as looking is really just the correction for the ego telling you not to look.

When you want Jesus to look with you, then you want him to look at your body and your experiences as a dream figure. To look with him means you look at the world and see it as a projection of an inward condition which means you go back to the mind. That’s the key. That’s why nobody wants to do it that way.

Well, I want him specifically to see how awful these people are treating me.

He just smiles at that. That’s when I get a phone call saying, “You know what she just said to me?” And then he just bursts out laughing.

I knew you were going to say that.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t disappoint you.

I have been practicing forgiveness in a special relationship each time conflict arises and experience deep comfort when I look at what’s really going on with my right mind but sooner or later feel once more attacked. I get discouraged and I suppose impatient wondering if I’m ever going to heal my mind completely about this relationship.

That’s what trips you up right there. At that point you’re making it into something serious and real and impossible when all you want to do is just look at your ego and smile at it. Don’t try to let go of your ego. I kiddingly say that Jesus hates serious people and he especially hates serious A Course in Miracles students because all they want to do is let go of their ego. And if you’re so hell-bent on letting go of your ego you’ll never let it go because the ego is not the problem.

So that impatience I feel should clue me in that that’s what I’m doing?

Exactly right.

It amazes me how quickly I can go from right-mindedness to really feeling genuinely attacked and completely out of my mind. Even though I understand what the Course is saying and am committed to practicing forgiveness it feels like an ambush. Does it ever get easier?

Yes, when you stop taking it so seriously.   You’re such a nice person, Susan, but you’re so damn serious. That’s what trips you up. It won’t start getting easier until you give up the idea that there’s an “it” that has to get easier.

So, it’s still that idea of having to do this right that’s the problem.


That’s a hard habit to break.

Yes, it is. But the whole idea is to live lightly. As I quote all the time the problem was not the tiny mad idea but that the Son of God forgot to laugh at it. The problem is not anything of the ego; the problem is that we took it seriously.

So when we find ourselves taking it seriously the answer is looking with Jesus who only smiles?

That’s what looking with Jesus means. And he’s smiling at the silliness of ever having thought that this is important, which is silliness.

So not joining with an ego attack, just letting it all pass.

Letting it all pass which doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a behavioral response but it means you don’t get upset by it and you don’t want to change it.

And you don’t want to get upset with yourself when you do get upset.

Yes, absolutely.

I have found myself mentally complaining a lot about all the external demands on my time that seem to keep me from spending quality time with Jesus. It makes me laugh because even though I understand that A Course in Miracles is a path in relationship I still want to withdraw from relationships and just be with my right mind, be with Jesus. Does that make me a really bad student?

It makes you a really bad student only if you don’t laugh at yourself.

Because that’s really trying to take away the curriculum, right? So, don’t do that?

Not unless you want to get me angry at you. Jesus will laugh at you and I’ll yell and scream at you.

It’s just this desire to have a little time in between forgiveness lessons to breathe. Because sometimes it seems like there’s just this unrelenting, incoming barrage of lessons that just won’t quit.

(Internationally renowned priest and author) Henri Nouwen said something like I kept getting interrupted in my work and then I realized my interruptions were my work. So, if you want to spend time with Jesus, then see him in everybody; that’s the answer.

I fear sometimes that some really catastrophic forgiveness lesson is looming around the corner. I know there’s no hierarchy of illusions but sometimes it seems that the lessons are becoming more challenging.

It’s true that the lessons are getting more challenging because you’re becoming more and more serious.  So ego issues that you (unconsciously usually) held off; now you’re saying I can’t get it unless I look at all these spots of darkness. So these are the ones that we have the most fear and guilt associated with and so our experience is that they become more difficult.

So all of them have to come to the surface and those are just the ones we are the most frightened of?

Yes. At the beginning we tell Jesus I’ll look at this one with you and that one with you but I don’t know about this one. And after a while you say, well, I better start looking at this one because this is really starting to be a problem.

I was flying back to Denver recently in turbulence and suddenly found myself demanding to have an embodied Jesus holding my hand to protect me. I know you say we need to mature as Course students instead of relying on Jesus because we’ll never begin to see that we are one with Jesus otherwise. But when I’m really frightened I still need that thought of a hand to hold. Is that OK?

Yes, of course. You’re really too strict with yourself. Did I mention you’re too serious? Just do your daily stuff and be as normal as you can and try not to take your ego or the ego of others seriously. Be patient with yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Looking with Jesus really just means sharing that sweet, knowing smile. That’s what it means. He takes nothing here seriously because there’s nothing here. And when you get serious about something especially if it’s about the Course then you’re missing the whole point.

That’s a big trap; getting too serious about the Course.

Oh, God; that’s the worst trap. That’s why we already have the regurgitation of Christianity with the Course; it’s already happening.

Yes. I wanted to ask you about the proliferation of channeled and abbreviated and new and improved versions of A Course in Miracles that are cropping up all the time. I haven’t even looked at any of them because I came to this path after a lot of seeking and I don’t believe there can possibly be anything faster or simpler or more loving than the Course.

I think that’s very true.

Can you talk about this whole impulse to improve on perfection?

It’s the ego’s thing. We tried to re-write Heaven right at the beginning and we’re still trying to. If the Course is a reflection of the truth of God and the love of Heaven, which it is; then people are going to try to re-write it, too. And that’s just another form of a magic thought talked about in the Teachers Manual. The idea is to not get angry at it because that’s what people do and there’s nothing wrong with people doing it.

You often talk about how there’s no need to teach A Course in Miracles but is there anything wrong with teaching the Course?

No, I think I do that. The whole idea is not to identify with your role of being a teacher and to also know that the real teaching is to demonstrate what the Course is saying and the formal teaching is just another way of demonstrating. And that’s what you want to identify with. If you start to get serious about your teaching then you know you got caught in the trap. Just don’t take it seriously, that’s all.

What’s really important in practicing the Course or teaching the Course is not to work at it. If you’re working at it you’ll never get it. What you want to do at this point is not to work at it during the day which means don’t work on your ego, don’t work on anybody else’s ego, don’t work on your response to anybody else’s ego; just keep asking Jesus to remember to smile. The end of Chapter 27 is wonderful because it’s all about the importance of smiling and laughing. When you read it, though; read it seriously. J

A Course in Miracles, Chapter 27, The Healing of the Dream, VIII., The “Hero” of the Dream, paragraph 5, text page 586:

“How willing are you to escape effects of all the dreams the world has ever had? Is it your wish to let no dream appear to be the cause of what it is you do? Then let us merely look upon the dream’s beginning, for the part you see is but the second part, whose cause lies in the first. No one asleep and dreaming in the world remembers his attack upon himself. No one believes there really was a time when he knew nothing of a body, and could never have conceived this world as real. He would have seen at once that these ideas are one illusion, too ridiculous for anything but to be laughed away. How serious they now appear to be! And no one can remember when they would have met with laughter and with disbelief. We can remember this, if we but look directly at their cause. And we will see the grounds for laughter, not a cause for fear.”


  1. Yet another superb interview with Ken Wapnick; we all take our dreams so seriously and there’s no real need for it; looking at our made up psycho-dramas with our inner teacher of kindness is the easy way to undo what never was. 🙂

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