New Realities Magazine – August 1979
By Brian Van der Horst
What do the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, The Association for Transpersonal Psychology, The Astro-Consciousness Institute, est, The Association for Research and Enlightenment, The Institute of Noetic Sciences, Actualizations, Rebirthing, Loving Relationships Training, The Association for Humanistic Psychology, The Inner Light Foundation, and The Center for Attitudinal healing have in common? These are but a few of the diverse human potential groups which have either recommended “A Course in Miracles” to their memberships or have made the materials part of their own curriculum.
It is a persisting paradox that many of the disciplines in the consciousness movement often find each other’s philosophy inimical to their own. This is especially ironic since the bottom line of each of these organization’s intentions is to create a new vision of a planetary society imbued with compassion and a brotherhood of man. It is remarkable, then, to find a modern text like the Course that is accepted by them all. Many of the leaders of these organizations are actually participating in its different daily meditations, and teaching their precepts to their students.
Two years ago I wrote an article called “Simple, Dumb, Boring Truths – and A Course in Miracles” for the premier issue of this magazine. I described this new system of self-taught enlightenment and included a list of participants – from the presidents of Kent State University and the Detroit Tigers, to various researchers and authors – that read like a “Who’s Who” of the consciousness movement. In the three years since the Course has been available to the public (since June 1976), according to the Foundation for Inner Peace in Tiburon, California – who were the original sponsors and publishers of the materials – more than 30,000 sets of the three-volume Course have been sold or given away, with untold thousands of additional manuscripts photocopied or passed from hand to hand. The FIP also estimates that more than 50,000 people have become involved in the Course to date. While these are not best-seller figures by book industry standards, the impact of the Course has been felt widely among the millions of people who constitute the various spiritual, parapsychological, holistic health, and humanistic psychology networks in this country.
But what effect has the Course had on the lives of its students and promulgators? Is it still valuable to its earliest enthusiasts, or has it just become another spiritual flash in the brain-pan? And especially important in these cult-consciousness suspect times, when any inwardly-searching discipline has come under suspicion, how has the organization that published the materials related to those 50,000 individuals and made use of the $650,000 in potential gross earnings from the sales of the Course? Have the originators of the Course and others involved in it been able to avoid the institutional traps, the red-tape, egoism, and holier-than-thou syndromes that haunt most spiritual alliances that have grown this big?
A Course in Miracles was originally transcribed between1965 and 1975 by a research psychologist at the medical center of a major eastern University. She experienced the process as one of dictation from an “inner voice.” To this day, the author, identified by the Foundation only as “Dr. H.,” has preferred to remain anonymous. After a series of spiritual and psychical images, the inner voice began its dictation with: “This is A Course in Miracles, please take notes.” The abstractions of philosophies that followed over the next several years were published in the 622-page Text, the practical lessons in the 478-page Workbook for Students, and the clarification of terms and ideas in the 87-page Manual for Teachers.
Like many spiritual teachings, the Course posits that all of us are fundamentally joined beings who share a oneness of inexorable love and an inherent but obscured capacity for compassion, forgiveness, and peace. That all emotions, problems, decisions inevitably devolve down into a choice between love and fear. You either love, forgive, and accept, or you fear, resent, and deny. Rather than trying to reform the world, it stresses you must change yourself and how you see the world. It asks that you cancel out the past grievances when you interact with anyone. It also asks that we learn to love ourselves by projecting love to others and drop the illusion that the person who’s attacking you is unworthy of love. It also emphasizes that it is but one version that deals with universal spiritual themes. That there are many others, this one differing only in form. They all lead to God in the end. At first glance, however, its uniqueness lies in its “how-to” aspects.
The object of the Course is a total shift in perceptual reality, and its method is experiential rather than theoretical. The Workbook, for instance, is composed of 365 lessons – one to be studied for each day of the year – in seeing other people in the world as harmonious reflections of God’s perfection and love. Unconditional forgiveness, prayer, and the recognition of our shared oneness or at-one-ment are some of the concepts which students are encouraged to demonstrate in their own lives, rather than to merely believe. While the language of the Course utilizes such Christian expressions as God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the text and lessons emphasize that its form is only one approach to a universal spiritual curriculum, the secular variations of which all ultimately lead to the same experience of God.
Miracles are defined as shifts in perception that remove the blocks to the awareness of love’s presence. A little like positive thinking taken to the “Nth” power, and a lot like the enlightenment experiences so common to mystics.
Above all, the Course instructs students in the discovery of their own inner guidance, the revelation of a spiritual voice that counsels one in all situations. The Voice for God or Holy Spirit, as it is called, that gives everything from direction for making decisions on business, career, and life purpose, to advice to the lovelorn. The reason the Course seems to be gaining such currency among so many people already steeped in similar spiritual paths is its effectiveness. Personal accounts are rampant with soured relationships turned sweet, transcendent shifts to an inner peace, and even triumph over physical maladies.
A few examples:
- Jerry Starika, 46, owns a real estate corporation in Denver, Colorado. After studying the Course for 15 months, he’s given away 30 or 40 sets to others. ”I’m aware of who I am, and the Holy Spirit, and a greater being, even while I’m talking to you on the phone. I don’t lose myself in my daily interactions, or worry about lawsuits, investments. I just have an expanded awareness of who I am.”
- David Silva, 39, a photocopy technician in Queens, New York, says “My whole life has changed.” Where David used to be “an immensely angry person” who says he would chase other motorists and break their windshields if they cut him off in traffic in the past, now he simply doesn’t get angry anymore. He reports “miracles” in his life tantamount to a newfound ability for psychic healings, and cites examples from curing a friend’s tendonitis to rejuvenating his mother after a radical mastectomy.
- Ashby Pamplin, 40, is one of the 400 students who know each other in the Durham, North Carolina area. Two years after beginning the Course in October of 1975, he left his job as business manager of an automobile dealership to meditate on his future. Today he has returned to his former job, is doing the lessons of the Course for the third year in a row, and works with other students dedicated to the principles of the Course in dealing with customers. “Can you imagine an honest dealership?” He laughs. “But it is. We will fire a salesman for mickey-mousing a customer, now.” Perhaps the most conspicuous “miracle” in Ashby’s life was when a berserk gentleman pulled a loaded gun on him.”When he was about to pull the trigger,” recalls Ashby, “I just felt love for the man. Time slowed down. I could see him cock the gun. He pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Then he just said ‘Oh shit!’ and threw the gun away.”
- Judy Schwartz, 43, graduated from a College on Long Island, New York, last year with a psychology major. Shortly before she began studying the Course three years ago, she was hospitalized for depression, and was told to take lithium for the rest of her life. Six months later, reading in the Course that disease was a defense against the truth, she told her psychiatrist that she was terminating both her lithium and her therapy. She’s never had to go back to the drug or her doctor, and was able to handle re-occurrences of depressed states on her own.
- Eliot Goldwag, Ph.D., 55, runs a holistic health center in Houston, Texas. After more than two years with the Course, he says “Miracles have been coming at such a fast pace lately that I take it as the common course of life. Nothing seems to happen until we’re in touch with our higher selves. I’m not trying to manipulate my environment anymore ~ I’m just an instrument in a larger scenario.”
- Helene Jamarino, 57, of Farmingdale, New York, a two year student of the Course, saw a miracle happen when her son was rescued from a court case at the last moment, and says, “My whole outlook has changed. I used to have to fight for everything. Now I just give it over to a higher power. Things don’t anger me, I just don’t take them as an attack, anymore.”
- David R. Hawkins, M.D. in Manhasset, New York, has seen the Course help many of his patients. One woman who had been severely depressed for 20 years made a “miraculous” improvement after 60 days of study. Personally, he has cured conditions of Raynaud’s disease, diverticulitis, and hypoglycemia that had been plaguing him for years – and he only began the Course last September. A practitioner of Applied Kinesiology, he’s discovered that the reactions most people have to salt, sugar, and synthetic substances disappear in students after they have worked their way up to lesson #75 in the Course. “People seem to become immune to negative influences, as they are detected by Applied Kinesiology,” he says.
While testimonials are easy to find, criticisms of A Course in Miracles are relatively rare, most likely because of a peculiar spiritual Catch-22: only those who have some affinity for the works seem to complete or want to experience them; those who aren’t interested, or are cynical about its philosophy, do not read or study it and therefore do not have any basis to truly critique it. Yet one general criticism leveled against the Course comes from some women who often complain that the language of the Course is completely masculine and therefore sexist.
Eliot Goldwag notes that, “There’s a tendency to make this a new gospel among some people, but I think it’s just a good tool for personal growth.” Some might say that the Course is blasphemous by definition. Its author – the “Voice” – claims to be Jesus.
But two of the most frequent objections to the Course‘s teachings are its emphasis that the body is an illusion and that there is an inner voice that can be trusted to make decisions for us. In regard to the body, the Course teaches that it is a means and a vehicle for communicating love to others – not love itself. As for the inner voice, the Course instructs that there are only two inner voices that one can listen to: one speaks for the ego or illusion, and the other for Spirit or truth. Students who have worked with the Course gain confidence in experiencing the body as a means for increased freedom, joy and love. They also gain confidence in their ability to distinguish between the ego and true inner guidance. In fact, contact with students of the Course tends to encourage a vision of the essential goodness of humankind. Or perhaps this is just further evidence of the efficacy of the Course‘s ability to assist people in redesigning the ego.
But what of ego on the organizational level? Transcending the enmeshed egos of the leadership of those who wished to become spokespeople for the Course took a while longer than the 365 days required for the personal curriculum.
When the Course was first published, the central figure behind its growth was Judith R. Skutch, president and founder of the Foundation for Inner Peace. Formerly the head of the Foundation for Parasensory Investigation, during the early ’70s she was a veritable Judy Appleseed of the psychic movement, having helped fund and produce investigations like the Uri Geller experiments at Stanford Research Institute; taught courses in Psi at New York University; served on the Board of former astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell’s Institute for Noetic Sciences; and sponsored many seminal conferences on parapsychology and holistic health.
In 1975, after meeting Dr. H., and Dr. B., who helped transcribe the Course, Judy devoted virtually all of the next three years to publishing and disseminating the materials. (The first printing of the Course was funded by the Ericksen Educational Foundation.) Today, Judy Skutch is taking a back seat in the Foundation for Inner Peace. Instead, she has begun to work behind the scenes in national politics and the Federal government. Now living part-time in Washington, D.C., she has found a host of bureaucrats from legislators to members of the Pentagon unexpectedly interested in what she has learned from the consciousness and spiritual movements. Where in the past she has bubbled over with news of the spread of the Course, now she tells stories of congressmen who want to bring the concepts of love, atonement, forgiveness, and compassion into the government, and military brass who want to join a “spiritual conspiracy” as an alternative to global warfare. After all, she says, they are our brothers, too.
But long before Judy Skutch took to politics, Paul J. Steinberg became deeply involved in the Course and set out on his own independent activities.
Paul’s cousin, Saul Steinberg, was a printer, and had been asked by Judy to print the original hard-cover version of the Course. When he first met Judy in January of 1976, Paul had a swimming pool construction business on Long Island, New York, and had been a student of various esoteric traditions for 23 years. After he began doing the lessons, he quickly formed a group of his friends to study the works in concert.
Paul was not the first to create a social arena for the Course, but he certainly became the most successful, and claims to have personally started 30 study groups, which meet weekly or bi-monthly. At the same time Paul was helping to organize groups. By the summer of 1977, 62 other study groups in various parts of the country were being formed by other students. Ranging in size from eight to 65 people, they were meeting in 47 states, with others forming internationally in 15 countries. Later, Paul wanted to start a newsletter for all students, everywhere, and he suggested that the Foundation publish it – to be the official house organ of the Course.
It was a moment of decision for the Foundation for Inner Peace, which at this time was managed by Judy and her husband, Bob, with Drs. H. and B. acting as advisors. Most of the policy decisions were made by group meditation, from which answers came through joint inner guidance. By this time, Paul was not the only one asking the Foundation to sanction various projects connected with the Course. Requests ranged far and wide seeking permission for a variety of activities. Some regional groups had already been producing posters, tee-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons, Christmas cards, and even on one occasion some Chinese fortune cookies bearing epigrams from the Course.
The Foundation again sought inner guidance and was counseled that it was not to play any organizational role in any projects or activities of this kind, but was to maintain its sole position as publisher of the copyrighted Course. No one was to have a corner on the market for any of the spin-offs of the Course. Paul went ahead with a “Miracle News.” By way of what Judy calls an affirmation of their guidance, in the next few weeks six independent newsletters from various parts of the country came to their home – all originating spontaneously. The first issue of “Miracle News” was published in November 1977. In it, Paul announced he had begun producing introductory seminars for the Course – on his own.
Given on four consecutive nights, Paul’s seminars were co-led by Bette Martin, a young woman who, shortly after she began to study the Course in 1977, started to hear an inner “Voice” that dictated a series of pamphlets which have been printed by Paul’s new company, Miracle Life, Inc. Called “The Children’s Material,” it consists of Course-related stories, poems and thoughts for young people. Another, more ambitious writing of hers is entitled, “Life, The New Religion,” and contains statements such as “God is life. . . life is eternal. . . life is love.” Bette calls her work” Automatic Typing.” How does the Foundation regard this? Merely that people are free to do their own thing, since the Course exists as a separate and complete work by itself.
As prices run on the seminar circuit, Paul wasn’t charging much for his workshops – only $15 a head. If anything, the growth of the miracles seminars, which have now been held throughout the country, says a lot about the grass-roots nature of the consciousness movement. His groups may be making an end run around the middle-class cynicism for religion in America – back to this country’s fundamentalist roots. Paul has also been instrumental in coordinating regional conferences in California, New York, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina.
However, when Paul asked the Foundation for Inner Peace if it would want to sponsor his seminars, the answer that came back from group meditation was to set the tone for all further business decisions: The purpose of the foundation was to just publish the book. Period. As for Paul, “Help your brother, it is his way to fulfill his purpose.”
The final hurdle that the Foundation had to overcome was that of a national conference – the first such event was scheduled for July 7th, 1978 at Asilomar, California. The night before it began, 25 people gathered at the Skutchs’ home in Tiburon to discuss the future of the Foundation’s role in relation to organizational activities. Some wanted to make plans for expansion, or to form another non-profit organization to coordinate the groups. Some wanted to be organizers, others official lecturers. Finally the assembled held hands, closed their eyes, and asked for guidance. The message that surfaced in their combined minds was that their purpose was “To be with each other and love one another.”
“The concept of an organization just fell apart after that,” says Judy Skutch about the meeting. “Then we went to Asilomar and just shared our experiences. It was a beautiful example of non-organization. Who was in charge? No one. It was just a lot of loving people. At the end of the conference, no rules had been made, we just said let’s get together again whenever we can.”
That was the end of the “organizational” period of the Course in Miracles Groups, even though by 1979 the number of independent Course groups around the country had risen to 120. No institution, no monolithic group is directing their progress. In all, it’s a beautiful model for an anti-organization and practically limitless opportunity for self-expression in an affiliation.
It has created the opportunity for someone like Marilyn Anderson, who coordinated the two Asilomar conferences to date, to write her doctoral dissertation on the Course for the California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. It has created the opportunity for a reedy-voiced young lad named Maitreya Stillwater to put together Heavensong, a non-profit organization that offers the precepts of the Course in something called “A healing music ministry.” It has been an opportunity for the Mary Knoll Cloister to use an epigram from the Course on its annual Christmas card, which went out to two million people last year. It’s enabled Dr. “K.”, a psychologist who associated with Drs. H. and B. right after the Course was completed, to come out of the spiritual closet. Dr. “K.”, Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D., has published a monograph entitled “Christian Psychology in A Course in Miracles‘.” But perhaps most dramatic of all, it has given one of Judy and Bob Skutch’s closest friends a new lease on life.
Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D., was a prominent psychiatrist four years ago when Judy first gave him a copy of the Course. He was also coming out of a traumatic divorce, was a heavy drinker, and suffered from chronic and disabling back pain. A year later he founded The Center for Attitudinal Healing, in Tiburon, California having begun to find a new inner peace, and having begun to heal his problems with his relationships and his physical condition. The Center was created, he says, as “an opportunity to demonstrate the practical applications of A Course in Miracles.”
Demonstrate he did, and became the other individual besides Paul Steinberg to emerge as the most public figure exemplifying the Course‘s philosophy. New Realities readers should be familiar with Dr. Jampolsky’s work with children suffering from catastrophic and terminal illness from the cover story about the Center in Vol. II, Number 4. His work has also been applauded in People Magazine, on television’s “Phil Donahue Show,” and in countless other publications and programs – including an upcoming segment on “60 Minutes.” Later this year a made-for-television movie about the work of the center is scheduled to be made by 20th Century-Fox.
Recently, the Center has become a prototype for other holistic health centers opening around the country. Jampolsky has also edited a book by some of the children at the Center called There Is A Rainbow Behind Every Dark Cloud; authored an 18day “Mini-Course for Healing Relationships and Bringing About Peace of Mind”; and is writing a third work, Love Is Letting Go of Fear. He speaks openly and often about his involvement with the Course at medical conventions, hospitals, and medical schools across the country.
That only leaves the question: “How is the money used?” in regards to the revenues of the book sales. the Course originally sold for $27.00, including shipping. Now, three years later, it sells for $30.00. “The publishing industry says we should have always sold it for $40.00,” says Robert Skutch, who continues to act as unpaid business manager for the Foundation for Inner Peace. “We give away five to ten percent of all books, pay travel expenses for Course speakers, subsidize some conferences, answer a whole lot of telephone calls, but basically, the money goes to re-print the books.” According to the Foundation, no one is getting salaries from the proceeds, so the approximately $200,000 that the Foundation takes in every year isn’t directed to a large overhead and seems accounted for . . . especially considering that from other sources, I have learned that anonymous donations by the Foundation are occasionally made to worthwhile projects. There goes any ghost profit-margin.
But what about Dr. H., who initially transcribed the Course for all others? For two years after the Course was published, various poems and passages continued to arrive from her “Voice.” And as she continued her counseling at the Foundation, there were many requests for her to become publicly visible and to lecture on the Course. But the clinical psychologist, who had held an atheistic view and had always been skeptical of the very things that emerged through her, persisted in remaining anonymous, as she does to this day. She simply refuses to assume any public role, and feels the Course speaks clearly for itself. Despite this, perhaps the supreme irony for Dr. H. is that the Course is most exceptional because it has provided a “missing link” in consciousness and spiritual systems: it tells, explicates, and demonstrates how people can apply philosophy and enlightenment in their every-day, down-to-earth, concrete lives. Thousands now attest to this miracle: how to practice what you preach.
The books continue to sell at a rate of about 8,000 per year. Along with the dissemination the Course is getting from various groups and organizations, it will undoubtedly continue to grow, and influence people’s lives, and – Judy Skutch is hopeful – our government as well. And why not? As they say in all those groups and seminars and newsletters that have sprung from this uncommon set of books: “You are entitled to miracles.”
Brian Van der Horst is a former Playboy staff writer and columnist for the New York weekly newspaper The Village Voice. He is currently living in San Francisco and serves as a Contributing Editor for New Realities.
Copyrighted materal. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
© Foundation for Inner Peace • PO Box 598 • Mill Valley, CA 94942-0598