Forgiveness ACIM-Style: No Big Deal!

Ken OFFICIAL photoI was fortunate enough to sit down recently to interview Ken Wapnick again while attending a workshop at the Foundation for a Course in Miracles (FACIM) in Temecula, California. I felt more than ever the radiance of Ken’s unwavering faith in an innocence that includes everyone and everything, even this mess of a Course student. 🙂 His responses to my often babbling questions reached far beyond their form to the fundamental content which is always some version of why can’t I stop pushing love away? His answer in all circumstances for all A Course in Miracles students remains the same. You can, you have, and you are. Just quit beating yourself up and making such a big deal about it. Just do what the Course is saying as best you can every single day with whatever appears to arise in the classroom of your life. And then forgive yourself when you forget or resist. The rest will take care of itself.

I’ve been recognizing lately how I can practice forgiveness in “normal” situations within the context of my structured daily life/classroom but not so much when things seem overwhelming. Over the past couple months my mother-in-law died unexpectedly, my daughter was leaving for college for the first time, and we had to move my father-in-law out to Denver among other things. There were a lot of stressful, emotional events and decisions, and uncertainty about the future. And so I felt very out of the moment and noticed how I couldn’t seem to stay as focused on forgiveness and then became very self-judgmental. What should I do?

You don’t do anything except say I’m doing the best I can. This is a challenging time and I will try to remember as quickly as I can and that’s all. And the problem as you know very, very well is not the tiny mad idea but the taking it seriously. And so the problem is not that you’re forgetting or getting out of the moment and caught up in the world’s moments, the problem is the self-judgment. That’s the bottom line.

I always quote the line about practicing the holy instant; that the holy instant does not require that you have no thoughts that are not pure, but that you have none that you would keep. In other words, you’re going to have impure thoughts, and you’re going to forget, and you’re going to get caught up in the world but if you judge it, if you feel guilty; then you’re keeping it. And that’s what having a relationship with Jesus or the Holy Spirit is all about. If you can look at it without judgment then you say, I’m doing the best I can. I still am tempted by my ego, and am using the world as a defense but that doesn’t make me a sinful person. And that’s all you do.

OK, this is a related question. At the end of that weekend where I was back in Maryland for the memorial service for my mother-in-law and helping empty out the house, the constant activity and emotions of people around me didn’t really disturb my sense of inner peace. I just thought, it’s all okay; I’ll reconnect and go within when I can. But then on the way home we had another really turbulent flight coming into Denver and I went into terror again and started bargaining with Jesus. I was saying, look; I know what the Course is saying. There is no world. There is no body. But I haven’t had any sleep and I’ve had a lot to handle. I was offering all these worldly excuses. And I said, I know you’re not really here in an illusion, but I need to feel like you’re here right now. I need you here to help me right now. And then, I really didn’t experience the turbulence. But is that okay? I feel like I was scrambling back down the ladder of prayer The Song of Prayer pamphlet talks about.

No, no, no; of course, it’s okay. Here’s the thing; as long as you think you’re Susan you need a symbol of someone who’s not crazy like Susan. Jesus is the greatest symbol you could have so what’s wrong with that? Yes, in the end, he’s a symbol and Susan’s a symbol and all that is true. But that’s at the top of the ladder. And as long as you think you are getting tired and being stressed out and being afraid of turbulence, that means you still think you’re a body. You’re in a body and the worst thing to do is to deny it. So as long as you think you’re a person you need a symbol of a non-ego, non-judgmental person and Jesus is perfect. And you can have conversations with him and a relationship with him and do anything you want. In the end, everything disappears.

It feels like I need him most when I’m at my least loving, most afraid.

Yes, and not only is there nothing wrong with it, there’s everything right with it; because you don’t want to skip steps.

I’ve let go of a lot of anger in one of my special relationships and that’s a work in progress and I feel a lot of gratitude for the classroom. But on the other hand I don’t feel like I’m really happy in the world’s sense, in the sense of (deriving) pleasure from the relationship. It seems to me that’s not important, what’s really important is my mind being healed and learning to be kind.

Yes, but if a person has lived a life of unhappiness and suffering and pain and depression, etc., then it’s very right-minded to have a life in which you’re happy in the world’s sense. As I’ve said for years, anger is not a basic human emotion and anger is not the be all and end all but if you’ve lived a life where you’ve repressed your anger an interim state of getting comfortable with being angry is very helpful. It’s normal and not only normal, it’s a right-minded correction because before you can let go of your anger you have to learn to not be afraid of it. And the way to learn to not be afraid of it if you’ve been afraid of it all your life is to learn to express it and say, well; terrible things don’t happen if I get angry. And so, that’s helpful.

I’m still afraid of it, sometimes. I grew up with that.

Okay. So, if you get angry, to be able to say to yourself; this is not a sin. Don’t listen to the voices of the figures you grew up with. Yes, it’s an ego reaction, but it’s not the end of the world. I eat three or four times a day, I breathe, I drink water. Don’t make a big deal about it.

See, that’s where you can get trapped. And I think people who listen to me can particularly get trapped because I emphasize the metaphysics and the truth that the world is an illusion. But I also emphasize that we still think we’re bodies. With that question you asked me earlier about Jesus; yes, Jesus is an illusion and everything here is an illusion but we’re bodies. Within the illusion we identify as bodies. And so while you’re here; you learn to be kind. You don’t deny your body, you don’t deny your bodily needs, you don’t deny your psychological needs; but you don’t make a big deal about them. That’s the correction; not making a big deal about it.

It’s not different from what I also say, that so much of this is written in symbolic language. And when the Course says God misses you, he’s incomplete without you, he weeps; well, obviously, that’s a symbol. It’s not true. But it’s a right-minded correction for the ego belief that God is angry. So there’s an ego myth and Jesus now gives his myth in response. So before you can realize that God doesn’t know about you, it’s very helpful to have the experience that God isn’t angry at me. God forgives me and he loves me. In the end, that’s not literally true but you can’t go from here to there without the intervening steps.

So, it’s not only being kind to other people, it’s being kind to one’s self. Kindness doesn’t appear in the Teachers Manual under the characteristics of God’s teachers but gentleness does. And kindness and gentleness go hand in hand. And it’s just a question of being kind and gentle with yourself. So to just recognize I’m not there yet, but I’m on the way. And what will speed you along is to not make a big deal about your ego; that’s the crucial thing.

And that leads into a couple of related questions. I’m one of those Course students who have done the first part of the workbook maybe ten times. But the second part of the workbook might as well be written in Arabic. I’ll do readings to open a class or something because there’s such beautiful language but I don’t have a direct experience of God. I think it’s making me more and more aware of how afraid of God I am. Is that part of the point of the second part of the workbook? I know it’s supposed to be about revelation, really.

Well, in part it is about trying to make God more accessible. But a lot of those lessons have real content. I think it’s giving you an overview of what will happen when you really let go of your ego more and more. That’s why the emphasis of the workbook (stated in the first line of the Epilogue) is “This course is a beginning, not an end,” so you can spend the rest of your life practicing. Part II is showing you what it’s like later on. I wouldn’t worry about it. Yes, you still have a lot of fear but you’re working on letting go of the causes of the fear. You’re learning to practice kindness toward others, kindness toward yourself. Not making your ego into a big deal, not making your fear a big deal. Don’t worry about the other part. It will take care of itself.

I think in the holy instant I have a more direct experience of our wholeness where I feel truly loved for the first time; and really loving. So that’s it, too, isn’t it?

That’s right, yeah. Just be easy.

That’s not really my forte, Ken.

Well, you’re getting better at it. But just remember the problem is not the ego, it’s the taking it seriously.

I think you may have mentioned that before.


I know that I experience peace when I redirect back to right-mindedness. And I’m very aware pretty much all the time now that I’m the decision maker. But sometimes I just feel paralyzed to make the choice. As if I’m a bystander watching myself at the scene of an accident, just fascinated with the illusion and unable to choose. So is that the same thing? Just wait it out. Don’t take it seriously.

I’ll give you a tickle feather before you leave to remind yourself of that. So you got stuck, so what? It’s when you kind of beat yourself up over getting angry, or fearful, or stuck. Then it solidifies. Otherwise it slowly dissolves.

OK. You use the analogy of DVDs to describe the movies of our lives we seem to be projecting out there and getting so involved in.  Lately I’ve experienced myself running the same DVD over and over in a special relationship. It’s the same argument. And I’ll stop, and turn to the right mind for a different interpretation of what’s really happening and feel peace and release and then a few days or weeks later, I’m playing the same DVD. I guess this is like the last question. Is it just my fear?

Yes. No big deal. What’s important in not taking it seriously and not giving it more power is just also to realize I’m choosing this because I’m afraid of love. I’m afraid of what would happen if I completely let go of my anger, my problems, and my fear. And then, just stop. You know the line I quoted yesterday about looking at the problem the way it is and not the way you set it up. That’s all you do. Don’t be so serious.

So it’s like that part of the manual “Should Healing Be Repeated?” I’m looking to form for evidence that I’m right-minded. Pretty silly.

Yes, and then you want to be ego-free and that will be the proof. What will show you your spiritual advancement with this Course is not being ego-free; it’s not making it a big deal.

Just more of that lightness, that gentleness.


Is it possible to catch ourselves before we become unkind to ourselves or others, before we project our guilt onto someone or thing seemingly out there, or onto the body we believe we inhabit/identify with?

Of course; that’s the goal. Usually, everybody’s playing catch up. But the idea is that the reaction time, the time between you’re projecting and your awareness of the projecting will begin to shrink so that instead of taking a day it will take an hour, instead of taking an hour, a minute or seconds. And eventually you’ll catch the thought. And the thought is not my getting angry with you; the thought is my being afraid of the love I’m feeling. And once that happens the guilt comes, and then the projection comes.

Let’s say you’re sitting in the class (at the Foundation) and you’re flowing with what’s being said and it feels so light and all of a sudden the fear comes up. That’s when you want to catch it. You suddenly feel yourself getting fidgety, or tense, or thinking about dinner, or thinking about your family. As soon as that starts to happen, you say I’m not upset because of this. My mind is not wandering because of this. I became afraid of the fact that I really heard what was being said and I was flowing with this which meant there was no ego. The more you can do this and not take the ego seriously the easier it will be to get closer and closer to that thought until you catch it right when it happens. And then after a while it won’t happen. But along the way it becomes more and more natural.

And the time that it takes to redirect diminishes. I find that I can’t hold onto a projection for very long at all mainly because it’s so painful. I have so much more awareness and I don’t have so many filters.

That’s wonderful. Because the more painful that thought is and the more painful the projections become, the easier it is to get back to the original thought and say, “I don’t want this anymore.” And it will happen like that, Susan.

I find that in teaching–when most of the time Susan’s out of the way which is why it feels so good–that sometimes when people are asking questions I become invested in whether I’m explaining it correctly and then I’m back in ego and that feels awful.

So, just be aware of that. And it’s not a question of your not explaining it correctly. The problem is you started doubting yourself, which is a decision. So it’s the Peter principle; you know? (Saint Peter walked on water a moment until his faith wavered.) All of a sudden you’re saying, my God; if I’m teaching, I’m walking on water. And then you become afraid. The doubt comes in and you wonder if you’re answering the question right, if you’re saying the right thing. And that’s after the fact. The fact is you just became afraid of that ego-less world.

In the workshop yesterday you were talking about Helen not choosing to do what the Course says even though she knew it was the truth, and how she was such an advanced wisdom teacher. So, why wouldn’t she do what the Course is saying? You said it was just her costume. What does that mean?

I think it was a costume. If she lived out what the Course was saying it would have taken away from the Course. It would have had people make her into a goddess, a holy person; and that would have been terrible. I think the purpose of her coming was to bring the Course into the world. Not to teach it. Not to exemplify it, but to bring it into the world. And if she had been who she truly was, it wouldn’t have happened. I mean, she would have brought the Course into the world, but it would have taken away from it.

She would have become the figure of it.

It started to happen anyway, but she didn’t do anything to encourage it; in fact, she actively discouraged it. And people who came to know her and talked to her for a while would say is this the lady who wrote this? I used to say to her, “Is this the face that launched a thousand courses?” Because she didn’t act like the person you thought would have taken it down.

And yet you always talk about her as someone who would pray with others.

She would never refuse anyone’s call for help. She was incredibly helpful and this went back years before the Course. She was a very private person and valued her time alone in her apartment with her husband but if someone needed help she would go out of her way. She would see the person, make phone calls, care for the person; she was incredible. In fact at her funeral– since I wasn’t allowed to talk about the Course because Louie didn’t want anything directly religious—I made reference to the many people present that Helen had helped. So she was comfortable doing that. Her ego stuff—her costume—didn’t get in the way. She was very helpful, very wise. She was not a therapist in the usual sense of the word. She just told you what the issue was. Do something about it. Forgive this person. She was very good at helping people to forgive their families. But she didn’t work with people in the usual sense.

I’ve noticed in this workshop that you’re really being very direct in challenging us to maybe kick it up a notch in practicing forgiveness. I don’t know how to put it, but I sense a shift.

That’s true. I think I’ve been doing that over the last year. It’s not something I have consciously chosen. I don’t plan what I’m going to do. But I’ve become aware for the last several months certainly that I’m stepping up the teaching. In the “On Death and Dying” Academy (last spring) and in the seminar just preceding it I talked about “Peace to such foolishness” from workbook lesson 190, and likened it to my grandson’s story about “stop with the baby business.”

Can you tell that story again?

About a year ago Gloria and I were visiting our grandson who was four at the time and we picked him up at nursery school. And he was telling us this story about this bully in the class named Becket. And Becket was picking on people because he was a year older or something. He was calling other kids “baby.” The teacher finally pulled him aside and said, “Stop with the baby business, Becket.” But the way my grandson said it was so adorable, and he kept saying it. And we would talk about it. It made a big impression on him. Basically, that’s what I’ve been saying to people since.

I think if you look at my teaching over time, over 30 years, it’s like a ladder. And while I’m not saying anything different, the presentation’s different. And I am aware it’s a way of saying, OK; enough already. It’s the same concept as “Peace to such foolishness,” it’s just a little cuter. But I am aware that my teaching has escalated in that sense. I’ve been telling people that if you’re really serious about this Course–and practically everybody who comes here is–then you have to really start doing it.

And I’ve been emphasizing two things: kindness, which I’ve always talked about; and the idea that you’re a mind, and not a body. And as I was saying yesterday; you really have to think about what the Course is saying and begin drawing logical conclusions. There’s no world and no body and no problem and the whole thing is made up.  So, yes, I’m aware (of a shift). I don’t know exactly where it started, I don’t plan it, but yes, it’s happening and I don’t know where that will lead.

Well, there is no time, but within the dream, I remember a reference in a video featuring Bill Thetford to a “celestial speedup.”

It’s not in the Course. That’s one of the Course’s myths. Helen wrote—and she never said Jesus said it—that there was a celestial speedup. And some time after that Jesus did say to Helen, don’t believe anything that comes in a temporal framework which I think meant to include the idea of a celestial speedup. He does talk about the Course saving time in terms of an individual can save a thousand years in his or her atonement path by forgiving and choosing the miracle. But there is no plan; that’s such a trap. And people have taken it out of context and then they’re the special ones who are part of the speedup. We’re so blessed to be Course students here at this time, and it’s all so special. But how can there be a celestial speedup when it’s all already over? There’s no plan. But again, Helen never said Jesus said that to her. I think she said it came to her or something. A lot of things that Helen heard in those early weeks and months are just not accurate.

Her defenses were still there?

Her defenses were still there, her sending and receiving set was still a little dirty. The metaphor is if you go away from your home for a while and you turn the water on, it’s rusty. You have to let the water run a while. Well her scribing ability was a little rusty. It’s obvious when you read the early material. Of course, the Urtext (original, unedited edition) is out; which is unfortunate because people think this is Jesus which is absolute nonsense—a lot of it is Helen. And that changed after the fourth chapter or so when the language becomes purer, and more beautiful, and you can feel it.

So that idea of the celestial speedup came really early. And Helen was influenced by Edgar Cayce, because Bill made her read Cayce and they went down to the A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment) and she was influenced by Cayce. Some of the early language was Cayce-like. A spiritualized Holy Spirit; that’s a Cayce thing; “the separated ones” is a Cayce phrase–they’re Cayce-isms. The idea of a celestial speedup would definitely be a Cayce-like thing.

Well, thank you for that; because there’s still so much talk like that in the Course community.

Well, that’s why I emphasize that the Course was written for one person.

I thought it was six?

That was Helen’s reference to the five or six people who understood it.

Can I be one of them? Please!

(Laughs.) But what Helen was saying is this Course was written for very few people because people aren’t going to understand it.

People want to understand it; but they’re just afraid of it.

Yes, terrified. So people are diminishing the Course, trying to bring it down to their size. So I guess in a sense what I’m saying is that you have to grow into the Course; don’t try to bring it down to your size. Yes, to say you’re afraid of it; that’s really honest and legitimate, but you don’t want to change the Course so you’re comfortable with it. And the celestial speedup idea just breeds specialness. It makes the world real, it makes salvation real, it makes numbers real and it makes people special and that should tell you it can’t be valid.

I have a related question that is probably just more ego analysis. But I truly love the Course. I love everything about it–the language, the teaching. I even really love The Obstacles to Peace which is kind of psycho when you consider what it’s saying about the person reading the book. So I sometimes worry that I’m developing a special relationship with the Course.

Don’t go there, Susan. Talk to Jesus, love the writing, love the Course, love what it’s saying. And then forgive yourself for being afraid.

OK. Do you have any kind of spiritual practice that you do yourself or recommend? The Course talks in the Rules for Decision and in the manual about putting the Holy Spirit in charge of your day or making learning from the inner teacher of forgiveness your primary goal each morning and checking in frequently throughout the day?

Sure. I’ve recommended that to many people, if I felt it would help them. It’s not necessary except in the context of the workbook. (I think it’s important to do the workbook pretty much as it says.) But there are people who really benefit from that and I think it can be very, very helpful. What I urge people who meditate and find that to be an enriching experience to do is make their entire day a meditation. Not just when they’re sitting quietly. But take that quiet and let it extend through them while they become very, very busy. So, in that sense, meditation can be very helpful.

It becomes the other side of the two-edged sword when it becomes a God in its own right and there’s no follow through. I have a wonderful experience in the morning and then I go out and hate this one or that one or this makes me anxious or fearful.

So, when it’s dissociated.

Yes, and there are passages in the manual that talk about how God’s teachers should spend their day, and kind of warn about that. But I think meditation is wonderful if it’s a comfortable and enriching experience. But if it’s torture, don’t do it.

And you don’t need a lot of time to go within.

No you don’t. It’s the willingness to question your projections. Again, as I’ve been saying recently, you only have to do two workbook lessons: five and 34: “I am never upset for the reason I think” and “I could see peace instead of this.” The ideas of both those lessons would take you through your whole day and that’s what the meditation, the practice would be. I start to get upset, anxious, fearful and I say I’m not upset for the reason I think and at this given moment I could choose peace instead of what I’m feeling. The “I’m never upset for the reason I think” brings me from the world to my mind and it’s the decision-making mind that can choose peace, instead of conflict. And that’s it; you don’t have to do anything else.

Because then the healing has happened–whether you immediately feel peace, or not.

Yes. That’s it. That’s the practice.

NOTE: 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 (FACIM) in Temecula, California.


  1. Hello,
    Thanks for this post. Love the last paragraph, even though I know I have heard this before. It is one of those times when it was the perfect time to get that message. Those two lessons just keep popping into my thoughts effortlessly.
    In gratitude.

  2. Hi Brett:

    You’re welcome. Ken was amazing in this interview. I didn’t think he could get clearer, but … I know what you mean about I’m never upset for the reason I think and I could choose peace. They are perfect in all circumstances. Or, “without exception” as Ken would put it. 🙂 We are so lucky to have him to help keep us grounded in the Course!


  3. Wow; what an outstanding interview! Great insights in how to gently return to a ‘kind mind’ by not making ‘big deals’ out of anything. 🙂

  4. Caryn McCloskey says:

    I really really appreciate the work you are doing, Susan, your honesty about your own life and process in regards to practicing forgiveness, and how much you are sharing with everyone else on this site. This was a great interview – somehow your conversations with Dr. Wapnick simplify things and make them far more understandable.

  5. Thank you so much, Caryn!

    Ken’s clear, kind answers and teaching almost make practicing forgiveness seem easy. 🙂


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