Being normal in an abnormal world

adirondack chairsMy parents are getting old. Well, not so much getting, I suppose, as already there. This wrenching revelation came to me on a recent trip to visit them in upstate, New York, where I was born, but never really lived. The place where they had gone to college, met, and returned to after I left home, where my father, a retired high school teacher, had launched a second career making Adirondack furniture. Although I had frequently entertained the probability of their advancing age from the relative comfort of my own home, two-thirds of the country away, missing them and fretting over their refusal to visit me (even though I have repeatedly offered to pay), the reality of the situation had remained largely theoretical. Until the moment the driver who had picked me up at the airport in Montreal and transported me across the border delivered me at their doorstep, and my eyes and arms took in the indisputable evidence.

My 81-year-old mother had aged dramatically. She seemed dangerously thin, severely hunched over from osteoporosis. My father—cancer-free since the removal of a cancerous kidney a decade ago—had been experiencing frequent bouts of dizziness for which no cause had yet been identified. Although I call them regularly, and they both seem—by phone and in-person, cognitively sharp–I had not seen them since they came out to Denver more than two years ago to attend my daughter’s high school graduation. A lifetime seemed to have transpired since then for us in Denver. Among many other major and minor developments in my hierarchy of illusions, my mother-in-law had unexpectedly died; my daughter had gone off to college, long since settled in. We had moved my aging father-in-law from their house in Maryland to a nearby independent living home in Denver, and my husband and I had tried to cope with the seemingly constant challenges of middle age while struggling in various successful and not-so ways to reinvent ourselves as empty nesters will.

Along with my brother, a year younger than me, who had driven six hours (bless his heart) to join us, we spent several days together as the leaves began to theatrically turn, for once sans the distractions of spouses and children, touring haunts from our past. Traversing the surrounding bucolic countryside and nearby Adirondacks as we had when we were little—a seemingly endless supply of gas and time to burn–where we had spent nearly every holiday and much of our summers visiting our extended maternal and paternal tribes. Stopping by the cabin our father built toward the end of my high school career we had later enjoyed reuniting at with our own families. Exploring the farmer’s markets where my parents sell my Dad’s furniture and meeting a lovely, entertaining group of fellow craftspeople who had obviously become their community. Allowing me to largely disassociate the bittersweet matter of deteriorating bodies until we stopped to walk around another town or grab something to eat and the physical limitations became once more all too apparent.

By far the most troubling of all the changes I observed during my encounter with the parental unit? A nasty-looking growth behind my mother’s ear I had noticed several years earlier and repeatedly urged her to seek treatment for to no avail had at least quadrupled in size. I had recently discovered via my brother, who had discovered it through our uncle (the standard mode of communication in my family more akin to fielding White House leaks than engaging in actual conversations), that my mother had not seen a doctor since giving birth to our youngest brother. My uncle had talked to her about seeking treatment, my brother had talked to her, my father, upon uncomfortable cross-examination, claimed he had talked to her. And I learned from my frightened, 90-year-old aunt that she, too, had talked to her, without success.

Following the whispered exchange initiated with me in a covert kitchen corner by said aunt on the last morning of my visit, frantically imploring me (the oldest child, after all) to do something, adrift in a sea of conflicting emotions (as if there were any other kind), I found myself face-to-face with the often confusing question for A Course in Miracles students of what it means to act “normal,” as Ken Wapnick often recommends. Within an illusory world, that is, born of our secret belief that the “tiny, mad, idea” of separation from our common, un-differentiated, eternally loving source had real effects. A mistaken notion that was instantly corrected and gently laughed at by our one real, abstract, forgotten Self, still seamlessly joined with our source.

How do we resist the temptation to sidestep the normal need to take action in form on behalf of the body (mine or my mothers’ or anyone else’s) when we are beginning at least to seriously entertain the Course’s assertion that we are not many bodies vying for survival in a threatening world of other bodies, but one, united mind?  While still experiencing ourselves seemingly here, marooned in bodies we believe we inhabit. Navigating a milieu of fragmented forms each experiencing a dream of separate existence realized, intent on denying responsibility for it by blaming it on another form?

The answer to this and every other question lies in changing the purpose of our lives from proving the ego’s macabre fairy tale of sin, guilt, and fear, to denying the lie at its root by looking at all its expressions through the eyes of a new, sane inner teacher.  Jesus, Holy Spirit, our right mind, are all terms the Course uses as symbols to represent the part of our mind that remembered to smile at the impossible dream of autonomy to begin with, whose healed perception remains available for us to connect with 24/7, thereby experiencing peace not of this tumultuous world.

Still, while we experience holy instants (with practice even elongated, right-minded periods) in which—through our refusal to attribute our fear, anger, anxiety, grief, pain, etc. to imaginary outside causes, however convincing–we open to that comforting awareness that all remains well, until we completely awaken, our daily experience remains that of a body. Born of and deeply entwined with the fates of other bodies, an innocent self to which unprovoked shit seems to happen. Therefore, to deny the body, as the Course itself tells us, is dishonest at best, at worst, unkind.

“…The body is merely part of your experience in the physical world.  Its abilities can be and frequently are overevaluated. However, it is almost impossible to deny its existence in this world. Those who do so are engaging in a particularly unworthy form of denial. The term “unworthy” here implies only that it is not necessary to protect the mind by denying the unmindful. If one denies this unfortunate aspect of the mind’s power, one is also denying the power itself.”  (From A Course in Miracles Chapter 2, IV. Paragraph 3)

We will not fully realize we are not vulnerable bodies until all the hidden guilt over the imaginary sin of separation and subsequent fear of punishment in our mind is undone through the moment-to-moment practice of true forgiveness in our daily lives. And so, we take a compromise approach, as the Course puts it, recognizing that the problem is in the mind, but nonetheless dealing with it as kindly as possible in form; in a way that would not push us (or anyone else) further into fear. With help from the inner teacher of kindness, who comforts us where we think we are in the condition we think we’re in.

We can’t allow ourselves to really feel the horrific nature of life as a body with a sealed fate while fully invested in the reality of bodies. But as we begin to seriously entertain the possibility that it’s all just a shameful dream, to review the insane idea of the body’s origin and grisly manifestations one by one with our inner teacher, we begin to really feel the suffering of others–the terror, grief, hopelessness and shame—and a new compassion for all simply envelops us, the precursor to the love shimmering just beyond our current albeit happily dissolving horizon of reference. Looking with Jesus has helped me see my parents for the first time as persons struggling for survival and salvation in a foreign land, just like me, instead of as persons especially charged with meeting or failing to meet my personal needs.

So what does it mean on a practical level to be normal in an abnormal world of our own dreaming? For me, it often comes down to asking myself how I would have dealt with this situation with my mother, before I became an A Course in Miracles student.  And then doing the exact same thing in form, while asking for help to remember that the problem is merely a reflection of a problem in my mind: my belief in separation from God. That led to my belief in separation from you and every other seeming body, and is not really a problem at all.  Silently reminding myself I’m not upset for the reason I think whenever any judgment of my mother or anyone else (including the self I still largely think I am) arises. Practicing forgiveness of what never was any time I notice attachment to whatever else transpires in form as a result, reminding myself again and again when tempted to judge otherwise that the only mind in need of healing in every circumstance, every relationship, is my own.

My mother and I, like every other seemingly vulnerable embodied fugitive from love attempting to navigate this impossible dreamscape, share the same right-minded purpose of healing our split mind through forgiveness, and are equally capable in all circumstances of choosing the inner teacher of invulnerable, uninterrupted, eternally enveloping peace over the teacher of sin, guilt, and fear. We will all do so when we are ready. After all, we all made it home. Only our undifferentiated union with real Love really is.

And so I did the “normal” thing, A Course in Miracles-style. I went within and asked for help in getting my ego out of the equation. Then I talked to my mother from my heart, explaining that we all love her and are worried about her. Offering to call a doctor for her, if that would help, to support her in any way possible, but firmly stating that I believed the kindest act for everyone involved would be for her to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Knowing I might be wrong, and fully aware that the decision remains nonetheless hers.

For some reason that is none of my business, this time, she agreed. She has an appointment next week. Whether or not she keeps it, whatever happens as a result, I will continue to work internally with my own reactions, using my fluctuating emotions as a guide to ask for help from our inner teacher whenever I think the problem is in her or anyone else, and continuing to ask to respond only with love.  Opening to true healing through my longing to open to seeing everyone and everything the way it is and not the way I set it up. (Chapter 27, VII. paragraph 2)  Joining with the part of my mind that knows that what never was still is not, no matter how emotionally hooking it may seem when I forget I am the dreamer of this dream, not the victimized protagonist.

I must admit I had a hard time writing this piece. I typed three excruciating pages about the difficulties encountered traveling to get to my parents—overbooked flights, lack of seat assignments, blood sugar plummeting and threatening to unleash my hypoglycemic evil twin due to unavailable sustenance, Canadian and US Customs debacles, a treasured watch lost in a Homeland Security line–before I finally realized the destination I was really having trouble arriving at. The realization that my parents are getting old, I am far away, and I don’t know how to deal with it. But at least I can act normal, fully present to my fear and, our inner teacher’s proverbial hand held tightly in mine, learn to truly forgive, and heal.

Thank you, Gary Renard, for adding my new collection of ACIM essays, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, to your Recommended Reading list: 

Honored that Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, is now available at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center in Denver, Colorado, where I teach regularly on Tuesday nights. Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want takes up roughly where my last ACIM essay collection left off, and conveys my growing faith that no matter how wrenching, wild, or wacky the dream of our lives may appear, we always have a choice about which inner teacher we are looking and listening with: the ego, the part of our mind that believed the “tiny, mad idea” of separation from our source had real effects. Or the “right mind” that remembered to gently smile at the bizarre thought of it. If you’re thinking about buying a book and live in Denver, please consider purchasing a copy from the RMMC to help support their great work. The new book is also available on Amazon.

Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and my previous book,Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, are now also available from the ACIM Store:

I enjoyed talking with Bruce Rawles recently about my new book; Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and the importance of cultivating a relationship with the inner teacher of forgiveness in our one mind. You can watch the video by clicking here: or on my home page. Other recent videos are available on my Videos 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 phone sessions I help students identify and transcend the ego’s resistance to healing our split mind through forgiveness. By looking with and listening to our forever kind inner teacher we learn to recognize and release the unconscious blocks we use to push unwavering, all-inclusive Love away, begin to see everyone and everything as the same in God’s heart, and gradually awaken to our true, whole, eternally innocent natureFor information on individual ACIM mentoring; please click on the mentoring tab on this site. (Please note that no one is ever turned away for lack of ability to pay.)


  1. Susan, I am very grateful for this post. It has spoken to questions I have been pondering these past few months with regard to a friend’s grief and to various family concerns. You have approached this theme with an insight that touched my heart and helped me to look at my concerns more calmly and quietly and more clearly. Thank you!

  2. Thank you, Donna! So glad to hear it was helpful to you. 🙂

  3. Thank you, Susan. It is so helpful to hear a clear example of how to live in the world with all of its demands, and be with the Holy Spirit at the same time. It is helpful when you say that you decided to do what you would have done before studying the Course, but do it with the Holy Spirit. Thank you!

  4. David Smith says:

    Susan, I appreciate your insights about doing the normal thing, ACIM-style. Very helpful, as usual. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for your kind responses, Audrey and David. I’m glad my experiments in being “normal” resonate! 🙂

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