Ken Wapnick: Don’t Play In the Sandbox

Kenneth WapnickGrowing up in Brooklyn, NY, and turned off by organized religion and the messages of his family’s Jewish faith, Ken Wapnick nonetheless suspected something beyond a world of bodies. “I grew up in a family with a lot of sickness and it became very clear to me that sickness had nothing to do with the body; that it happens in the mind.”

His exposure to classical music as a teenager confirmed his suspicions. “That was my opening and then my window,” he says. “It allowed me to know that there was something more than you could see, than you could study, than you could understand. It was my entrée to spirituality.”

His interest piqued, Ken studied various spiritual teachings while earning a PhD in psychology and went on to become chief clinical psychologist at a mental hospital, all the while fielding an increasing pull toward a monastic life. After deciding to enter a monastery and converting to Catholicism, he met Course Scribe Helen Schucman and Collaborator Bill Thetford, who exposed him to Helen’s book and altered his life’s direction.

“I recognized that Helen and Bill were my family and I belonged with them and the Course,” he says. “I knew the monastery, though I was very happy there, was not going to be my home. When I started reading the Course it became very clear that this was a perfect integration of spirituality and psychology. I could feel as close to God as I had in the monastery and still retain my psychology in terms of the work I would do. The Course gave me a way of being in the world but still not being of it.”

Ken, Helen, and Bill became fast friends. With Jesus’ guidance, Ken worked closely with Helen in preparing the final manuscript of A Course In Miracles. Ken has written extensively on the Course and taught its message for 30 years. He and his wife Gloria established The Center for A Course In Miracles on the East Coast and later relocated their burgeoning teaching institution to Temecula, California.

“It started as an organization to support my teaching,” says Ken. “I never saw myself heading a large organization, teaching to large groups, doing all the writing I’ve done, or anything formal. That just naturally evolved. At this point I’d be hard pressed to say what a teacher of the Course is. It’s so amorphous and idiosyncratic and between the person and the Holy Spirit. The Course says what establishes someone as a teacher is they don’t see someone’s interests as separate from theirs. So it has nothing to do with anything in form or on a formal level. The idea of giving certificates for example would be anathema.”

His message has never deviated from the Course’s purpose: to heal individual minds. “It is a spiritual path for individual people,” he says. “Problems come in when people try to make it something more than that and want to do something with it rather than use it to help them live their own lives fully. It’s a way to help people get in touch with their own inner voice and follow it to become as kind, loving, and forgiving as they can be. If people did that and worked on themselves the world would be a much different place and the Course would have fulfilled its purpose.”

Ken believes ACIM students become confused when they fail to accept the Course’s foundation. “When the Course says the world is an illusion it means that literally,” he says. “The implications elude people simply because they don’t recognize how profoundly identified with the body we are. We see the Course through the lens of our body and we think Jesus is a body talking to me as a body telling me I should forgive you as a body. It has nothing to do with that since there is no body; it is all done in the mind. It’s the misunderstanding of the mind and the body, which in Chapter 2 is called Level Confusion. All misunderstandings—the role of the Holy Spirit, the purpose of the Course, hearing guidance, hearing a voice—stem from not understanding that there literally is no body, no world. Once you understand that, everything falls nicely into place.”

The Course asks us to turn our illusions over to the Holy Spirit, another bit of advice Course students often misunderstand. “The purpose of the Holy Spirit is simply to be the correction of our mistake. And the mistake has nothing to do with behavior. Use that loving presence in your mind to look at your decisions for the ego and see where those decisions take you. My problem is not with you; I made the wrong choice. There is only one special relationship and that’s with the ego; there is only one holy relationship, and that’s with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Once that relationship is healed all your other relationships become holy.”

Looking with the Holy Spirit’s eyes also means directly confronting the guilt our ego thought system would have us deny. Ken’s word for students who refuse to acknowledge that guilt? Blissninnies.

“A blissninny doesn’t want to look at guilt or what the world is really like,” he says. “A person will say, oh, the Course is changing my life, it’s going to change the world without really looking at the guilt the Course is trying to undo. A blissninny does not have a proper understanding or respect for the ego in terms of how ugly it can be and how attracted to it we are. If you don’t look at guilt, everything you do with this Course is going to be guided by that decision and you will totally misunderstand what the Course is saying.”

As for why the ego so often rears its ugly head in Course circles, Ken waxes philosophical. “You should have been around thirty years ago,” he quips. “People don’t want to look at their own guilt; it’s easier to project it out. It’s like children in a sandbox. It’s been like that for thirty years with the Course and two thousand years with Christianity and its in Judaism, it’s in Islam, it’s in every formal religion. That’s why it’s so much better not to see the Course as a religion, a movement, or anything like that. It’s just a spiritual teaching to heal your mind. If people used it like that you wouldn’t have groups fighting with groups and if you had a group you wouldn’t take it seriously, you’d just be a group of people hanging around together like family or friends. It wouldn’t be taken as a thing with an expectation.

“Once you start to make something formal you get into churches and we all know what churches do,” he concludes. “Don’t play in the sandbox. You don’t attack it, you don’t judge it, but you don’t play in it. That’s the answer, I think.”

Kenneth Wapnick, PhD, a clinical psychologist, has been working with A Course in Miracles since 1973, and worked closely with Course Scribe Helen Schucman in preparing its final manuscript. He is president and co-founder of The Foundation for A Course in Miracles (FACIM) in Temecula, California. This article first appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center Miracle Messenger, a newsletter I wrote and edited for several years.

Comments

  1. A great overview of how to best approach any spiritual practice, with useful commentary on “blissninnies” 🙂

  2. Hi Bruce:

    Glad you enjoyed it. This article was written more than six years ago when I was writing and editing the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center’s newsletter.

    In subsequent interviews with Ken, I abandoned the article style. He is just so amazingly articulate and quotable that I wanted to include almost every word he said. 🙂 I also hoped to create a real informal dialogue between an ACIM student and Ken as our teacher.

    Kind regards,
    Susan

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