New Realities Magazine, September-October 1984
By Robert Skutch
An exclusive presentation and behind-the-scenes story of how a profound spiritual thought system was channeled through two noted psychologists at a prestigious Eastern University. Considered one of the miracles of the Century, A Course in Miracles is now a phenomenal, quiet bestseller worldwide.
Between September 1972, when the “scribing” of A Course in Miracles was completed, and the following March, Dr. William Thetford showed the material to just four people – Hugh Lynn Cayce, President of the Association for Research and Enlightenment; Father Michael, a Catholic priest who was a student in one of the graduate psychology courses Bill taught; and two close personal friends.
Each had positive, but differing, reactions to the Course. The two friends found the material intellectually interesting, but had no desire to work with the lessons. Hugh Lynn felt the work was “tremendously important,” and that its absolute consistency indicated to him that the Course had the potential for changing “millions of lives.” The priest, whose background included the study of religions and mysticism, found the Course to be completely in harmony with the great mystical teachings of the East, and felt that the lessons were brilliantly conceived.
Since Bill had had a difficult time convincing the Course‘s “scribe” Dr. Helen Schucman that it was “all right” to show it to each of these four people, he didn’t try to further convince her it should be shown to others. the Course thus went back into the filing cabinet, safely locked away for whatever the future was to hold.
At the time of the Course‘s completion, Bill also coincidentally came in contact with Dr. Kenneth Wapnick, a young psychologist who had received his doctorate four years previously. Dr. Wapnick had been born and raised in the Jewish faith, but in mid-1972 had a profound mystical experience, which led him to “know” that he was to become a Catholic. As such, in October of that year he was officially baptized. Eventually, Ken was taken into Bill’s and Helen’s confidence, and shown the 1500-page manuscript of A Course in Miracles. After studying the Course for nearly three months, Ken concluded that his spiritual life was to be connected in some way with it. He was correct.
By mid-September of 1973 he began going every day to the Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, where Helen and Bill worked, carefully reading and re-reading each section of the Course, and then discussing with Helen his feelings about what he thought should or should not be capitalized, along with precise, proper headings. When he and Helen couldn’t agree on a matter, they would ask for guidance, and the answers each received always coincided. At the same time, care was taken not to edit any of the material, to ensure that it remained intact, exactly as Helen had received it.
By the end of January the work was done to each one’s complete satisfaction, and the manuscript that had originally been 500,000 words of run-on copy was now a self-study course that was easy to read and consistent in style. Helen finally felt a sense of freedom, Bill knew they had done their best, and Ken felt a keen sense of gratitude that he had been able to contribute to a work that he knew was of great spiritual significance.
During this time, the Voice that had dictated the Course to Helen was quiet, except for dictating to her what appeared to be technical information concerning some sort of electronic device that had something to do with healing. The dictated information seemed incomplete and not totally clear, but was supplemented by images that Helen had of the device itself, which she was able to describe in her own words. Neither Helen nor Bill understood the technical aspects of the information, however, and so they decided to put the material away until such time as someone with an engineering background might come into their lives. (In the ensuing years, the material has been shown to a number of eminent scientists, but no one has yet been able to supply the information necessary to construct the equipment.) Meanwhile, Helen and Bill continued their professional duties, while making little progress in healing their personal relationship.
In May 1975, Bill, through a friend, met Douglas Dean, a professor of engineering, whose interest in parapsychology had led him to do some exploratory research with Kirlian photography. Bill felt that it might be a good idea for Helen and him to meet personally with Prof. Dean to explore some topics of mutual interest. He therefore invited Douglas to have lunch with them at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, where he and Helen had their offices.
In receiving the invitation, Douglas immediately thought of his close friend Judith Skutch, who shared his interests and who was president of the Foundation for Parasensory Investigation. Judy, he knew, was also extremely anxious to talk to representatives within the orthodox medical community about holistic approaches to healing, and he thought it would be a perfect opportunity for her to present her ideas to professionals who were connected with one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the country.
The Foundation for Parasensory Investigation, founded by Judy and her husband Robert Skutch in 1971, helped raise funds and issue grants for investigation and research of paranormal phenomena. Running the Foundation was an eighteen-hour-a-day job for Judy, since its personnel consisted only of herself and Bob, and he had full time employment during the day as an investment counselor.
Because there were so many research projects that were in need of funding, Judy’s time was spent talking to those seeking funds, weighing the importance of the projects, seeking advice from her many professional friends in the field, and in general helping to put people with common goals in touch with each other.
The funds that the Foundation had to offer as grants were extremely modest, and initial research support was funneled through the Dream Laboratory at Maimonides Hospital, which was experimenting in altered states of consciousness.
During the early days of their Foundation, Bob had not only started working with paranormal healing, but had also become interested in the process called “automatic writing.” In the Course of his delving into the latter subject he had felt the urge to experiment with the concept himself. As a result, since February 1972 he had been taking down material every evening in a meditative state, and the large amount of inner guidance that he had received proved of great value to him not only in his healing work, but also as a reliable source for helping him reach decisions that seemed to need more than a logical basis.
Both paranormal healing and automatic writing were among the subjects the Foundation was interested in helping to research, and Judy and Bob felt the Foundation should also help bring such subjects to the attention of the public. The Foundation also sponsored a number of public conferences beginning in 1973, such as “Psychic Healing: Myth Into Science,” featuring people like Drs. Lawrence LeShan and Stanley Krippner, healers Olga Worrall and Edgar Jackson, and Sister Justa Smith whose pioneering research involved the effect of psychic healing on the stability of enzymes.
At Stanley Krippner’s urging the Foundation also sponsored the first two “Western Hemisphere Conferences on Acupuncture, Kirlian Photography and the Human Aura.” These were the first conferences that dealt with these matters, and the importance of them was significant enough for their proceedings to be published.
In addition, Judy kept watch over the numerous research projects the Foundation was helping to fund, including the breakthrough work in remote viewing done at Stanford Research Institute International with the Israeli psychic, Uri Geller. This project, the results of which were published in the prestigious British journal, “Nature,” plus a mini conference on psychic phenomena attended by 16 world renowned physical scientists, were tremendously important in helping to get worldwide recognition of the importance of investigating psychic functioning.
Judy continued taking on more and more responsibilities. She joined ex-astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s Institute of Noetic Sciences as a founding member of the board; she became a faculty member at New York University’s School of Continuing Education where she taught courses in experimental parapsychology and new dimensions in healing; she also accepted radio and television invitations to talk about the work she was involved in, and, as if that were not enough, she also began her doctoral work at the Humanistic Psychology Institute. Her external life thus began to resemble a company of whirling dervishes. And it was also beginning to cause her physical pain, as she developed a severe peptic ulcer.
“I well knew the effect the emotions can have on one’s physical well-being,” Judy recalls, “but the knowledge didn’t help the symptoms at all. In fact the knowledge that I was doing this to myself made me feel even more frustrated. I searched and searched for the answers that would help me out of the prison I had built for myself, but nothing seemed to help. All I knew was that with all the different aspects of the work I was doing, there wasn’t one project that didn’t leave me with a feeling that the answers were incomplete – that something was missing. I respected the scientific approach, supported it, and believed it was absolutely necessary, but we were not touching at all on any spiritual aspects, even though we were aware in all of our projects – and especially in the healing projects in which we were involved – that spiritual statements were being made over and over again.”
The void continued inside, as if splitting her apart. And one day, alone in her bedroom, she began to weep, and without even knowing how or where the words came from, she let out a desperate, wrenching cry: “Won’t someone up there please help me!” The words took her aback, for she had never used them before, or even had thoughts like that before.
It was on May 29, 1975, that Douglas and Judy drove to the Medical Center on upper Broadway in Manhattan. There she met Dr. William Thetford, a tall, handsome, quiet and gentle man, and Dr. Helen Schucman, a slight, short, late middle-aged woman who couldn’t have weighed more than 100 pounds, and who was Dr. Thetford’s co-worker. The four went into the cafeteria, where Bill led them to a relatively quiet table.
When the required small talk was completed, Judy brought up the subject she wanted to discuss with Bill and Helen, but somehow neither showed any interest in pursuing the topic of holistic health. Both kept talking about research in general, and the more they talked the more Judy wondered what she was doing there. As the conversation continued, however, Judy began to feel there was something on Helen’s mind that she wasn’t revealing, though for the life of her she couldn’t imagine what it might be. All she knew was that it didn’t have anything to do with the research designs she was discussing. And then, as they were eating their desserts, Judy found herself turning to Helen and saying something she couldn’t believe: “You hear an inner voice, don’t you?” Helen paled in response, and Judy felt apologetic and embarrassed for what she had spontaneously said.
Bill interrupted immediately by pushing his chair back from the table, and invited Judy and Douglas to his office. Once there he and Helen introduced them to their associate, Dr. Kenneth Wapnick. Bill then shut the door, locked it, and asked quietly, “You will keep what we say in this room confidential, won’t you?”
Bill and Helen spent the next two hours telling Douglas and Judy the story of the past ten years. The events they described did not seem bizarre to Judy, and she did not feel these people were strangers. In a way, she remembers but can’t explain, it appeared to her as if she were being reunited with her “real” family, and what they were telling her seemed very natural; as though it were a continuation of events with which she had already been associated.
Bill next unlocked his filing cabinet and took out seven large black binders,
the kind doctoral candidates use to hold their dissertations, and put them on the desk. “Here you are,” he said, “fifteen hundred pages. A Course in Miracles .”
Judy felt electrified, reached for the binder which contained the Text, and opened it to the introduction: “This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary…”
When she finished reading that first passage, a great sigh of relief welled up inside of her and she thankfully and silently said: “Finally. . . here’s my map home.” She also knew that this was the answer to her “call for help” to the deep-seated problem she was experiencing and which had made her depressed.
“Do you want me to not show the Course to any of my friends?” she asked,in response to the request of confidentiality.
“No,” Bill said. “We’re sure the Course is not meant to be kept hidden. It’s just that we don’t want our names connected with it in any way.”
“You see, dear,” Helen added, “it would be quite awkward trying to explain to our colleagues how it all happened.”
“More important than that though,” Bill said, “is the fact that this material stands completely on its own. It doesn’t need any personalities connected with it. God knows there are enough personality cults around, and this Course should not be the basis for another one. Helen and I don’t feel we can represent this material since we don’t adequately demonstrate it. As you’ll see, Judy, the material is a self-study course, and Helen and I are no more than students.”
When Judy returned home that day, she told Bob the entire story, and started reading the Text immediately. As she got further and further into it, a surge of gratitude engulfed her, for she knew her life was about to be changed in a way that was beyond her wildest hopes. The Christian terminology of the Course did not pose a problem for her, since Bill had explained earlier in the day that he felt the Course used such terminology because Christianity was the dominant religion of the West, and that such language would be the easiest for most people to identify with. He had also told Judy that much of the Christian language in the Course was used in a different way than traditionally. “For example,” he explained, “atonement in the Course means the correction of the misperception that we are separate from each other and from God.”
From the following day on, as long as Judy was not traveling, there were almost daily meetings she had with Helen, Bill, and Ken, in which they would discuss in depth the meaning and intent of the Course.
Two weeks after she received the Course from Helen and Bill, Judy was scheduled to go to California in order to attend some meetings related to the work of her Foundation, as well as to get together with her doctoral adviser, Dr. Eleanor Criswell of the Humanistic Psychology Institute in San Francisco. She asked Helen and Bill if she could take the seven binders containing 1500 pages of the Course with her to show to a number of close friends she knew would be interested.
“California’s three thousand miles away,” Bill said lightly. “Nobody knows us out there.”
On the plane that June day in 1975, she had six hours of quiet time to think about the Course and how to deal with the requests for copies she knew many of her West Coast friends were going to want. She didn’t have any idea how she would be able to accommodate their request, but she remembered the very first principle of miracles in the Text, “There is no order of difficulty in miracles,” and she realized that if her friends were meant to have them, somehow they would get them.
One of the first people she showed the Course to was James Bolen, editor and publisher of New Realities (then called “Psychic”). Jim naturally was interested in how the material had been received by a “scribe,” and when Judy told him about the content, showing him some of the specific sections, he recognized that she had come into possession of the most unique manuscript he had ever seen – one that he eventually became involved with at a deep personal level.
Another she showed it to was Dr. Gerald Jampolsky, a psychiatrist in Tiburon, California, with a highly successful eclectic practice. As a close associate and warm personal friend of Judy’s, Jerry was one of the first recipients of a xeroxed manuscript. (Jim Bolen had several copies made for himself and for Judy.) It came to Jampolsky at a particularly appropriate time, for he had recently gone through a painful divorce and was drinking heavily. He had begun to question his purpose in life, and to re-evaluate seriously his life style and values.
Jerry recognized immediately that this material could offer him a happier alternative than the road he was taking. As a result, he has been working continuously with the Course since that time, lecturing throughout the world on it, writing best selling books featuring its principles (Love Is Letting Go of Fear, Teach Only Love), and founding The Center of Attitudinal Healing, whose work is based on the Course‘s teachings. All of this has resulted in a dramatic, positive change in his professional and personal life.
Judy also showed the Course to Eleanor Criswell, who also – unknown to Judy – “happened” to have a small publishing company called Freeperson Press. Through Eleanor, Judy was able to reproduce the manuscript at a reduced size – five by seven inches – the first published effort of the Course. Though this greatly condensed the bulky size of the manuscript, it proved very expensive to produce at $50 per set. Besides, the print was quite small, which made reading difficult. Nevertheless, it was a highly portable work which came in four paperback volumes, a great improvement over the voluminous manuscript itself, and despite the cost, the sets were in great demand. Yet Judy knew that eventually a regular edition would be needed.
When Judy returned to New York, the regular meetings with Helen, Bill, and Ken resumed. A recurring subject for discussion was what was to “happen” to the Course. During the ensuing months, several publishers came forth who offered to publish the material, but each time that Judy and the others asked their inner guidance for direction the answer was “Not these people.” One day, almost in desperation, they asked: “Who is supposed to publish the Course?” The answer Helen heard was clear: “It is to be published by those who have only the Course as their focus.” They concluded that this could only mean Judy’s Foundation.
Judy’s mouth dropped open. She knew the Foundation (whose name by then had been changed to the Foundation for Inner Peace) had hardly any money,and that it would cost over $30,000 for the first printing.
“Let’s ask where the money’s to come from,” Helen said. As they closed their eyes Judy clearly heard her Internal Voice say, “Make the commitment first.”
And just as Helen and Bill had made the commitment ten years earlier to find a better way of living in the universe, so did Judy make the commitment to somehow publish A Course in Miracles.
As if on cue, the next day she received a call from Reed Erickson in Mexico, where he then lived, who was founder of the Erickson Educational Foundation, for whom Zelda Supplee, a friend of Judy’s, worked. Zelda had brought Reed up to meet Judy one evening two years before, and that was the only time either she or Bob had met him, or even spoken to him.
Zelda,it seems, had sent Reed a copy of the original manuscript a few months before, and he wanted Judy to know that his life hadn’t been the same since. He went on to exclaim about the beauty of the language, the truth of the ideas and the practicality of the lessons, and said he was already studying the Course with a group of his friends. He urged that this material be published now in a hard cover edition with the respect it deserved. Judy told him that she and her associates had coincidentally reached the same decision just the day before, and she regretted not having enough money to publish it in hard cover. He then agreed to pay the entire cost of that first hardcover printing – 5000 sets consisting of a Workbook for Students, a Text, and a Teachers Manual.
The first copies were delivered on June 22, 1976, and that evening a party was held at Judy’s and Bob’s apartment. Coincidentally, it was a book publishing event as well as a birthday – that of Douglas Dean, the link who was responsible for the first joining of Judy with Helen, Bill, and Ken.
The first 200 copies of the Course were sent as gifts from Reed Ericson to personal friends and acquaintances whom he felt would benefit by having the books. These people lived in all sections of the country, and many of them were leaders in their fields. As a result, the Course began to get excellent exposure almost immediately.
Others in the group also sent out complimentary copies, and Bill sent one to Hugh Lynn Cayce, who had been so helpful to Helen and him a few years earlier. And of course there were over 200 names that the Foundation had accumulated, of people who had requested information about the Course; these people were informed they could now purchase the hard cover books.
When Judy again left for the West Coast, she took 64 hardbound sets with her, and had an additional 64 sent so that she would have enough for all the people who might want to purchase them there.
The increased enthusiasm she met with in California was a harbinger of what was to come. Groups began forming to study the Course, and word-of-mouth from those involved created an increasing demand for the books. In addition, the Association for Research and Enlightenment had reviewed the Course for its large membership, and a hefty response was generated from that quarter.
Moreover, Jim Bolen featured an exclusive article about the Course, along with his personal interview of Judy, in New Realities’ first issue – April 1977. It was the Course‘s first public disclosure and presentation, and it created a phenomenal response, and a deluge of orders.
Three months after the New Realities article, orders had been received from all 50 states, as well as from numerous foreign countries, including Australia, India, and South Africa. In addition, letters of gratitude arrived daily from those who recounted how the Course had “already” helped them see and feel things in different ways, and helped them heal relationships that they had previously thought could not possibly be healed. For Helen and Bill, that was the so called “bottom line.” The letters were their reward for the ten long years they had spent in receiving, transcribing, and nurturing the material.
To date over 160,000 sets have been distributed, and A Course in Miracles is now in its thirteenth printing. The Foundation for Inner Peace, sole publisher of the Course, has also embarked on translation of the material into Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Hebrew – all at the instigation of Course students from countries that speak these languages. In addition, two video tapes – each one hour long – have been produced: one telling how the Course came, the other describing what the Course says.
To this day there still has not been any paid advertising of the Course. There are, however, numerous people in various professions who now work with the Course, and who speak about it in many of the lectures they regularly give. Thus a psychiatrist may address a holistic health conference, a futurist may speak in front of governmental officials, or a psychologist may talk at a seminar on personal transformation – each describing how the Course has influenced his or her life; each thus continuing to pass the word along about, as one lecturer describes the Course, “One of the most important documents of the century.”
Does the story behind A Course in Miracles have any special meaning in itself? Or is it just another dramatic account of something extraordinary that happened to two people who might somehow have been “different” than the rest of us? The birth of the Course can truly be considered a miracle as defined by the Course itself, for it was brought to life through two people, seemingly locked into an untenable relationship, who asked for a “better way” and, joined in this goal, worked in total harmony. the Course‘s birth then poignantly illustrates one of the Text’s “fifty principles of miracles” which states, “Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love. . . everything that comes from love is a miracle.”
What exactly, one might ask, is a miracle? “It is,” as Bill Thetford says, “the creative solution to a problem. When the Course says ‘There is no order of difficulty in miracles,’ it means there is no order of difficulty in problem solving. And since all problems are the result of our denying the existence of love, then a miracle can best be defined as a shift in perception that allows the removal of the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence.”
Those who study the Course recognize early in the lessons that what they are actually learning is how to perceive in a new way. They must un-learn a system that is based on the belief in a physical reality, for the Course states that our only reality is Spirit, and our conflict comes from vacillating between the two thought systems. One belief holds we are born into bodies for a shor time – to experience some joy, some pain, some happiness, some grief, and eventually death. The other belief – the Course‘s belief – is that we are created in our Creator’s image, which is Spirit. In truth we are not bodies; we are extensions of the Thought of God. Although our natural inheritance is a state of love, we have chosen to dream that we have separated ourselves from our Source, and in so doing we think we have sinned. Based on that misperception comes all our guilt, and out of guilt comes fear. We can learn to release this fear and undo our mistaken sense of sin and guilt only through the practice of forgiveness, for it is by forgiving others that we learn to forgive ourselves, and thus our illusions of separation can be healed. As the Course states, “All healing involves replacing fear with love.”
Was the Voice that Helen heard dictating the material really that of Jesus? Both Helen and Bill believed the material must stand on its own, regardless of its alleged authorship. At her deepest level, Helen was certain that the Voice was that of Jesus, and yet she still had ambivalent feelings on the subject. In her own words:
“Having no belief in God, I resented the material I was taking down, and was strongly impelled to attack it and prove it wrong. On the other hand I spent considerable time not only in taking it down, but also in dictating it to Bill, so that it was apparent I also took it quite seriously. I actually came to refer to it as my life’s work, even though I remained unconvinced about its authenticity and very jittery about it. As Bill pointed out, I must have believed in it if only because I argued with it so much. While this was true, it did not help me. I was in the impossible position of not believing in my own life’s work. The situation was clearly ridiculous as well as painful.
“But where did the writing come from? Certainly the subject matter itself was the last thing I would have expected to write about, since I knew nothing about the subject. Subsequent to the writing I learned that many of the concepts and even some of the actual terms in the writing are found in both Eastern and Western mystical thought, but I knew nothing of them at the time. Nor did I understand the calm but impressive authority with which the Voice dictated. It was largely because of the strangely compelling nature of this authority that I refer to the Voice with a capital ‘V.’ I do not understand the real authorship of the writing, but the particular combination of certainty, wisdom, gentleness, clarity and patience that characterized the Voice makes that form of reference seem perfectly appropriate.
“At several points in the writing the Voice itself speaks in no uncertain terms about the Author. My own reactions to these references, which literally stunned me at the time, decreased in intensity until they reached a level of mere indecision. I do not understand the events that led up to the writing. I do not understand the process and I certainly do not understand the authorship. It would be pointless or me to attempt an explanation.”
When A Course in Miracles began to come through Helen, no one could foresee what effect it would have on the world. But it seems clear that this material was given to Helen and Bill for a broader purpose than to help just two people find a “better way” to live in the universe. It has already affected too many lives in a positive way for it to have been given for such a limited reason. And so it appears that in its own time, and in its own way, it will spread to wherever it is needed.
The concepts of the Course are such that anyone who studies the material seriously must find that his or her perceptions are changing…that when one believes and follows the spiritual reality that the Course presents, ultimately only peace of mind can be the result. For when we release all of our fears we will be and feel what we really are in truth, which is total love. As the Course urges, “Teach only love, for that is what you are.” It is then that we will know that the journey to God has truly been a journey without distance.
Excerpted and edited with permission from the book Journey Without Distance (The Story Behind A Course In Miracles). Copyright @ 1984 by RobertSkutch.
Copyrighted material. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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