A Conversation with Ken Wapnick: making it the most important thing!

Ken OFFICIAL photoI recently sat down again to interview Ken Wapnick while attending a weeklong Academy class at the Foundation for a Course in Miracles (FACIM) in Temecula, California, in which Ken emphasized more clearly than ever the importance of looking at the ego’s guilty story of separation realized through the eyes of the part of our mind that knows nothing really happened. He also urged us to make asking that inner teacher of forgiveness to show us how he looks on everyone and everything our top priority, if we truly want to experience sustainable peace, not of this world.

While there, I also had the pleasure of interviewing Ken’s wife and Foundation Co-founder Gloria Wapnick, the first in what I hope will prove a series of interviews with her. Unfortunately, I had a new recorder and must have pressed the wrong button because the conversation did not record. Although Gloria kindly invited me to call her to flesh out the details missing from my notes (which I plan to), the incident offered me a fresh opportunity to look at the self-judgment that arises for us on this seeming journey home as we begin to withdraw our external projections and—in our unconscious fear–turn them on ourselves. 

Well, this isn’t where I planned to start this interview, but it’s where I am, so here goes. I’m having a bout of resistance flu. The last time I came here for an Academy class in August, everything you said seemed so easy to absorb and I felt totally supported and in sync with that quiet center within. But this has been quite an opposite experience. I’ve been really up and down emotionally, really flip-flopping between the right and wrong mind. When I failed to get the recording of my interview with Gloria, I heard this voice scolding that it’s not acceptable, I’m not acceptable. It’s not OK to do something so stupid, so unprofessional. It was the ego berating me, which is not uncommon, but it really had my full attention. In general, that’s been coming up lately. Since I was here last summer, I experienced some real healing in a long-term, difficult special relationship, but there’s also been a lot more of this self-hatred.

Well, actually that’s good. The unforgiveness hides that so when you can be more forgiving and healing in your special relationship, the (remaining) unforgiveness just rises to the surface.

Yes. Well, I know you say that looking at the ego without self-judgment is looking with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but there seems to be a real time lag for me between doing that and experiencing the comfort of that healed perception. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing a step. I can’t seem to get to the dropping self-judgment part.

OK. But, you will. I think that this is all coming up is actually wonderful. Just to repeat, the unforgiveness you were experiencing for a long time in this special relationship really masked the guilt. And so, as you have begun to let go of your attacks, forgive more, and allow the healing of your relationship, then what it was protecting now surfaces, which, in the long run, is actually very, very positive. It doesn’t feel very good. But then you have to realize that you’re not only addicted to being angry at this person, you’re also addicted to being angry at yourself, and the idea that you are the home of evil, darkness, and sin.

And that preserves the idea of me, however miserable?

Yes, absolutely. So, there is nothing you should do, dear, except just be patient. And you want to trust in the process, have faith that what took you this far will continue.

And that’s like in that description of forgiveness in the workbook where it says forgiveness “merely looks, and waits, and judges not.” It’s that waiting part?

Yes.

I guess a similar question that came up for me while here listening to you was that what we’re really doing when we withhold forgiveness is pushing God’s love away, Jesus’ love away. I have a lot of internal dialogue going on throughout my day with Jesus, even though I understand and believe that he’s not really a body, at least more than I understand and believe that I’m not a body. But I find that image of him helpful to bring everything to, even though he doesn’t really have anything to say back. But since I’ve been here, I can’t even remember to check in with him as I usually do throughout the day, to ask him to help me look at everyone and everything from his perspective.

And then, I woke up in the middle of the night after that happened with Gloria and instead of checking in again with him as I usually do which often helps me go back to sleep and even experience some really healing dreams, this time I had a sense of him sitting in a corner of the room. And I thought, what are you doing here? I didn’t invite you. I was really upset. And then I must have gone to sleep again and I had this dream where I saw Jesus’ face everywhere I looked. Around every corner and inside every door, on the bodies of every person I passed on the street. I even opened the refrigerator and there was a miniature Jesus, looking up at me from among cartons of food. And I was terrified, and started running and screaming. And I realized I don’t want to see him in everything, maybe I don’t want to see him at all.

Well, part of you loves him very much. But the part of you that wants to exclude him is the part that says; don’t take my life away from me. Don’t take Susan away from me. I may be miserable as Susan, but at least I’m Susan, and I like it. So what you want to do is don’t mess with it. Don’t fight against yourself, don’t feel guilty about wanting to push him away, just see that’s what you’re doing and recognize you’re just not there yet. That’s all you have to do. Just be easy.

Just sit with it? That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Just be with it, let it be.

Yes, just sit with it. It won’t last, dear.

Yeah, but are you talking about the Holy Spirit’s version of time, or our version?

Our version.

OK. I was listening to your CD set on intimacy where you talk again about how listening to Beethoven’s final quartets was your entre into beginning to really experience what we really are. But, it was a process for you, as well, over a decade or so. And you said you were conscious of the interference, the blocks within yourself to completely joining with that music. That’s what you had to grow into, and growing into it is what allowed you to have the kind of relationship you later had with the Course and Helen and Gloria.

Well, I never analyzed the block. When I started listening to the late quartets I was still in college and I said, I’m not ready for these yet. But I continued to come back to it and I wouldn’t have said that then, but, in retrospect, it was a way of charting my own spiritual progress. But I never analyzed it. I’m not like that. I don’t think it’s very helpful to do that. I just always knew the day would come when I would feel totally one with that music. And, I knew when that happened, that would be it, there was nothing else beyond that. And then, it happened.

So you had the desire for it, but not the striving?

Yeah, I wasn’t striving. I was working at a mental health clinic near the water on the south shore of Long Island and it was a ten-minute drive to the beach. At lunch time I would go and walk the beach with the score of the quartets, hearing the music in my head. It was always with me. It was more important to me than anything else, my marriage (which may be why my marriage fell apart) and my career. It was something not of this world that I knew was most important and I just knew it would happen. In a sense my interest in the world receded and this just grew and grew and grew.

It was as if I somehow knew there was a time table I was just following. It was almost like I was biding time, but I knew it would all come together one day. I didn’t know what form it would end up in, but I knew where it would end up. It wasn’t work, but I was aware of it as a process.

You know, I’m not a big Jungian, but I’ve read all of Jung and I remember reading his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections,  which, it ends up, is not so honest, but he talked about—I forget the exact words he used—but essentially that we live our lives on two levels. And I could identify with that. I was aware of living my life on the external track where I was in undergraduate school and then graduate school, my professional life, my personal life. And then there was the internal, Beethoven track, that process of joining with Beethoven’s music. And they were (then) totally independent of each other. And I knew that wasn’t right, but that’s how it was. Over time, the external track became less and less important and the internal track became everything. I was always good at functioning in the world, but hearing that music and eventually becoming one with it was always the most important thing.

And that’s what we’re trying to do in our relationships with each other, trying to hear that call to join with that love?

Yes. Trying to hear the call and respond to it and trust it. And, you know, the kind of thing I’m really saying, and emphasizing more and more these days as I teach, is that this has to be the most important thing in your life. And it’s not for people. But it has to dominate everything, even as you’re living your normal life with work and family and taking care of your body—whatever you’re doing—this has to be the most important thing. When I look back on my life, focusing on Beethoven’s music was the most important thing.

You know I’d studied and read so many things, so much psychology, and really, nothing was true. A great novel was true, or a great work of art, but really nothing I studied was true because it didn’t touch this. So, at the same time that I became very good at psychology, learning what I had to learn, learning to become one with that music was always the most important thing because it is everything. And so, I ask of Course students, don’t you want to go home? Because if you do, then everything in your day should be geared towards wanting to look at everything differently. Really wanting to recognize my ego, to take this love of Jesus or the Holy Spirit and bring it with me, no matter what I’m doing.

Well, and I feel like the Course is the most important thing to me and yet I still have this pain that comes up; this judgment, this self-judgment, this resistance.

But what you do which is wonderful, Susan, and you don’t give yourself enough credit for, is you know what you’re doing. You know when you’re resisting, you know when you’re running away from that love, and that’s everything. See, that’s what I was talking about this morning, you just need to know what you’re doing and trust that at some point, resisting will be too painful.

Well, and, one of the questions I was going to ask you is about that part of the Course that talks about how “trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one.” Lately, when the same lessons have come up again within my hierarchy of illusions from micro to macro, I’ve had this experience of knowing that I can’t do this again, I can’t respond by feeling victimized and then justifying it like I did before, it’s just too painful. I don’t have it in me. And as soon as I saw that, I was able to do what I had to do in form but none of the reactivity was there. I could take the steps normal people take to deal with things but there was no malice, no sense of anyone being guilty, and no pain. So, that’s what the day-to-day practice of forgiveness does over time. It just sort of disables that muscle of condemnation?

Yes. And it’s a question of trusting that a happy outcome is ensured and really knowing that, not just in some kind of abstract sense that we’re all really home. And then trusting that doing this religiously, with real commitment, especially when it’s rocky, when the ego gets viscous, to just know that it’s all part of the process, and not be afraid of it.

And each time, you can’t take it quite as seriously as the last time because you know this cannot really be. You’ve gotten to the peace on the other side before and even if the pain and the fear is there right now, you know you’re going to shift out of this and into all you really want.

Right.

I have a question around the idea of being normal that you talk about all the time and have talked about a lot this week. I totally understand what you mean by that in terms of still doing things in the world and taking care of your body, meeting people where they are, and not confusing levels. But, on the other hand, in living this, normal people don’t usually spend a couple thousand dollars to fly across the country and sit in a room five hours a day for a week to be told they don’t really exist. And in my life, except for the Course friends I’ve made since I found the Course nine years ago, my husband, my daughter, my friends, my very devout Catholic parents and relatives, this is not normal to anyone around me. It’s like the elephant in the room; that I’ve gone off the deep end. There’s an unspoken don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

This has completely become my major priority and, over time, the work of my life. I’m studying and writing and teaching all the time and no one ever asks me what I’m working on, including the people I live with. So there’s a sense of having a foot in both worlds, trying to be kind, and yet feeling sort of, well, not at all normal by the world’s standards, certainly.

Well, that’s true. I mean, taking you as an example, you’re a normal person, a wife, mother, daughter, friend, you’re very good at what you do, but you have a secret life. So you’re not normal in that sense, but you don’t act in a way that separates you from other people. That’s what I mean when I tell people to be normal. You know, I’m always making fun of Course students because so many of them; you can’t have a normal conversation with them. You can’t use the word special in front of them, for example. And, you know all the funny things Course students do and say and they don’t realize they’re separating themselves from other people. And so, when I say be normal, I mean look like everybody else. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a secret life and that your involvement with the Course in the eyes of the world would be very strange.

I was very normal in many ways when I was in graduate school. We had small classes and we were all very close. People would ask me about my secret life and I shared as much as I could, but it was obvious there was something different. I wasn’t walking around with psychology books, but reading great novels instead. I would cut classes to go to concerts and operas, but otherwise I was normal. So you have a secret life, but you don’t use it as a way of separating from other people. You’re being faithful to your secret life, the true love of your life, but at the same time you’re being faithful to all your various roles and responsibilities.

And then you should just watch when you try to make a feeling of them separating from you because of it real?

Of course. Look at any desire to use the Course as a way to justify separating from other people.

Along those same lines, I have friends who formally teach the Course who, from my perspective, appear to be deviating. Making real detours from the Course’s underlying non-dualistic metaphysics. When that happens and I go within to look at it, it seems the only response is to just be kind?

Yes, unless they specifically ask you. And, if they do, don’t hit them over the head with it.

But it’s OK to say, that’s just not my understanding. Can we just agree to disagree?

Yes, and that’s a perfect way to do it, just the way you said it.

I have a tendency at times to think that teaching the Course and writing about the Course is more important than, say, being a Congressman or gangster or plumber when, in fact, it doesn’t matter what you do in the world as long as you’re using it to learn to express love instead of fear. But then I am more and more aware of the pain any choice for specialness brings. And so I go back and forth, wanting to make sure I honor my desire to share my passion for practicing forgiveness and then judging myself as arrogant for believing I have anything worth sharing. So, it’s like the ego seems to get me hooked on specialness from both directions. Do you have any advice about the right-minded way to approach teaching and writing about the Course?

What keeps you honest is realizing that, in one sense, it’s true that teaching the Course and becoming part of whatever its role is in the world is important, but that doesn’t make the people who do it more important than people doing anything else in the world. So it’s not identifying with what you do, but with whom you do it, with that quiet center within. So that it doesn’t matter whether you teach the Course or not, the thing is not to get caught in the trap of judging that this is more important than that, which is just another way of trying to fill up the hole inside. I can’t feel important unless I teach the Course. What changes all that is just staying focused on that love inside. Then you’re identified only with that love.

Which, honestly, when I’m teaching, that’s where I am only focused.

Yeah, but then the ego jumps in and says, this is special.

And that feels yucky.

So when that happens, just say, enough already!

OK. Here’s another question about teaching that I’ve gone back and forth with and have friends who teach and go back and forth with and have talked to me about. I feel that your teaching has been the most helpful thing to me in terms of being able to really understand the Course and practice it, because if you don’t understand it, you can’t possibly practice it. And you have both. You embody it, and you won’t let us get away with all the worldly things we want to do with it. But it’s hard sometimes because my weekly class is open to anybody and I have a lot of beginners and sometimes spiritual dabblers show up and I try my best in terms of whatever we’re working on to review the metaphysics in as kind of way as I can, explaining that God didn’t make the world and this is all happening in our mind. But I sometimes wonder if there’s something I should be doing to make this easier for them. And when I take that question within, the answer I get is no. It’s not my responsibility to make it more palatable for anybody. They will find it when they’re ready. All I need to do is tell the truth in as loving a way as I can. Is that right?

Yes.

And I’m really teaching so that I can learn to follow our inner teacher and learn true forgiveness and the only way I know to teach is from my experience, from the inside out.

Yes. And that’s always the best teaching.

Thank you. I had something come up with my husband recently where I once again seemed to be very triggered by something that seemed to be going on with him and I was very upset, even though on some level, there’s always this sense that I’m making this up. And I watched myself trying to make it real and embellish it even. And I was conscious that I was doing this even as I felt victimized. Anyway, there was a time lag between this all going on in my mind and the time when I actually confronted him about it. When I finally did, he was really kind. He listened, which I didn’t feel like he used to do. I didn’t used to feel like I could express anger with him because he would get so reactive, and so I didn’t. But this time he sounded really right-minded and it just kind of stopped me. And I realized I was being insane and he was being the sane one. That had never happened to me before. He was even using language I would use, language you would use when trying to meet someone where they are. So, is that like the Holy Spirit, our right mind, talking back to me?

Yes. I think that what happened is your defenselessness and your being aware of what you were doing connected up with him. And, since minds are joined, he didn’t feel attacked; he didn’t feel the need to be defensive.

Even though I was angry?

Yeah, but you kind of knew what you were doing, you said. There wasn’t the venom that might have been there in the past and so, minds are joined. Remember, you don’t have to be ego-free; you just have to be aware of it. That cuts right through all of it.

I have a question about my daughter again. She’s in her second year at Colorado College only an hour away and they have a block program where they have a couple days off after each block. Last year she and her friends who are all from out of state would come to our house a lot so I didn’t really feel the brunt of her leaving so much. This year they all have cars and they go away on their block breaks and I’m feeling that sense of loss again. And I just kind of watch myself going into it. She was always one of those old soul-type kids, whatever that means. I always felt this really deep connection with her, even beyond the usual mother-daughter connection, and she has been a big comfort to me. I’m very aware she’s doing exactly what she needs to be doing right now to separate from me and I’m very supportive of it, but I still feel the loss. And I still fantasize that, in her presence, I will feel more love than I do when she’s gone.

It’s normal. You’re very close with her and she’s been a big part of your life, obviously, but at the same time you know she needs to leave the nest. So you want to be honest about your specialness need that she fill up the emptiness in you, but you don’t want to use that to hurt her. So just be aware of that and trust that the love within you will fill up that hole. And so while it’s normal to miss her, it won’t hurt. It’s the same thing I was saying earlier, just trust in the love inside you, stay open to the part of you that wants to feel abandoned or alone, know that that is not loving for you or your daughter, and trust the love will be there.

And that’s where that inner relationship becomes everything. The one thing I’m certain the Course has given me, at least when I’m right-minded, is the sense that I’m never alone, and that when I’m feeling alone, I can go to that relationship within.

Yes. So whether you personify it in terms of Jesus or you use any other symbol; that love, that stately calm within, becomes the center of your life. There you’re never alone and you feel your love and you feel his love and that helps you deal with all the external things.

Right. And that’s where that inner conversation comes in. In which we need to bring Jesus/Holy Spirit everything we believe would hurt us, has hurt us?

That’s right.

Thank you so much, Ken.

Renowned 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 beloved wife, Gloria, he is president and co-founder of The Foundation for a Course in Miracles in Temecula, California.

… Here is an audio recording with additional details and insights gleaned from the recent FACIM Academy Class:
Susan speaking at ACIM Gather March 23, 2013
[audio:http://dl.dropbox.com/u/4621838/SusanDugan032313.mp3]

I enjoyed talking with Dan Rosey about finding ACIM in an acim google hangout http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuHNCEaOB_A. I also sat down recently with my friends Lyn Corona (one of my first ACIM teachers here in Denver and a very clear and talented one!), and Bruce Rawles, author of The Geometry Code, to talk about our appreciation for Ken Wapnick’s powerful, transformative teaching http://www.acimblog.com/enthusiasts-of-kenneth-wapnick-facim/.

If you would like to receive these regular blog posts, please subscribe by providing your email as indicated in the upper, right corner of the www.foraysinforgiveness.com home page.

Although A Course in Miracles is clearly a self-study program and the one relationship we are truly cultivating is with our eternally clear and loving right mind, a mentor can help Course students apply its gentle forgiveness practice in their lives. In one-on-one phone sessions I help students identify and transcend the ego’s resistance to healing our split mind through forgiveness. By joining with and listening to our loving inner teacher we learn to release the unconscious blocks we use to push unwavering, all-inclusive Love away and gradually awaken to our true, whole, eternally innocent  nature. For information on individual ACIM mentoring; please click on the mentoring tab on this site.

Check out the recent questions and answers to my Q & A page on this site and feel free to ask an ACIM-related question there.

My collection of personal essays, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, about practicing ACIM’s extraordinary forgiveness in ordinary life is a finalist in the 2012 National Indie Excellence Awards http://indieexcellence.com/ and is available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-Ordinary-Forgiveness-Susan-Dugan/dp/1846945585.  If you read and like the book, please consider posting a review on Amazon.

If you enjoy these posts and like fiction, you might enjoy my collection of linked short stories, Safe Haven, http://www.amazon.com/Safe-Haven-Susan-Dugan/dp/0983742006 recently selected as a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in the literary fiction category: http://www.coloradohumanities.org/content/2012-colorado-book-award-finalists.

Comments

  1. My “mistakes” wee made when I was in separation from the Creator and so the behavior was dysfunctional. One of the difficulties I have found is coming into the present and trying to reconnect in the present and pursue those actions that help with that relationship. It bothers me when people say that separation is an illusion, because it is not. It can be a function of disbelief, being un”faith” ful, and behaving in ways that disconnect us from Him. He is very specific about that

  2. thank you so much for sharing this on the facebook

  3. Joerie Osaer says:

    Dear Susan,

    You have asked just questions I would ask when I would be with Ken, so thank you very much for that! Beautiful interview!

    Love,

    Joerie – Ostend, Belgium

  4. You are very welcome, Carla and Joerie. Ken is so very generous and helpful!

  5. Wow; so many insights in this interview and all very easy to relate to; each could be expanded into a whole article… What I appreciate from this interview – and also the most recent Lighthouse article from FACIM which ties in nicely – is that we merely need to keep mindfully forgiving ourselves when we find ourselves judging the dream we made up – all of it! – until we reach the tipping point where we’re spending more time free from condemnation and indulging in victimization mode – than not – and then the momentum will carry us home… I suspect that once we made the decision to be kinder, there wasn’t any turning back… and perhaps that’s the idea behind the concept that separation was over long ago (and we’re merely appearing to return home from a dream that never existed in Truth. 🙂

  6. Good stuff !!!!
    Well done Susan. I wish I could “get it” as clear as you do when I’m in the midst of the ego.

  7. Thank you, so much Pamela! I am saving up lots more questions for another interview with Ken when I go to the foundation for the September workshop! 🙂

  8. Bill Wickers says:

    Susan: Thanks so much for your interviews with ken. I have read most, if not all of them, and they are always helpful. This one (March, 2013) especially answered some prayers. The question and response about our “secret lives” with the Course and its relationship to our normal roles as parents, siblings, co-worketrs, etc, really struck a chord, among several other points that were brought up. I was also wondering how Ken W is doing. My brother was signed up for his September class but said it was canceled do an illness. I hope Ken is doing better.
    Thanks again and keep up the inspiring ACIM work.

  9. Hi Bill:

    So sorry it took me a few days to get back to you. I was in rural New York State visiting my elderly parents with very limited computer access.

    I’m so glad you found my March interview with Ken helpful. As you know, his gentle, humorous presence and kind responses to all our questions is always spot-on and deeply comforting, whatever condition we think we’re in. 🙂

    I was supposed to attend the September workshop in Temecula, too. On the http://www.facim.org website’s “Announcements” page they are posting any updated information re Ken’s condition. If you click on the monitor this page link on the upper right corner of the Announcements page, you can sign up to receive updates on his health.

    Hope to meet you in Temecula some time soon!

    Thank you for reaching out and kind regards,
    Susan

  10. Gabrielius says:

    Some time already passed, since this interview, but I was wondering if you remember the name of the Academy class of that time Susan? I would like to buy that class and listen to it 🙂

  11. Gabrielius says:

    Ok, found it out myself, it’s called “Weeding Our Garden” 🙂

  12. Hi Gabrielius:

    Sorry I did n’t see your previous post asking about the academy class. Yes, the March 2013 academy class was called Weeding Our Garden. I had a lot of weeding to do. 🙂

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