Questions and Answers
Below is a list of questions that I often receive about spiritual topics, including A Course in Miracles and my own writing. I have included some general comments here, and will add to this list in time.
General spirituality questions
Q: I'd like to begin a meditation practice. However, I find it difficult to sit still for more than a minute. Do you have any suggestions?
First of all, you're in good company. I know very few people who find meditation easy right off the bat. When I myself began a practice, I had a tough time sitting still for more than two or three minutes. However, things gradually (and I mean gradually) became easier.
Let me share a simple technique. If you're feeling restless during your meditation time, try to spend a few minutes simply "watching" your thoughts. This can take the wind out of the sails of the restlessness. By stepping back and calmly "watching" your restless thoughts, the thoughts will begin to lose some of their impact. Eventually your mind may relax enough to let in a little peace.
If you'd like a more structured approach, I have put together a simple meditation/prayer practice inspired by A Course in Miracles. It appears in Inspired by Miracles and can be found in the books section of this site (under "Focusing the Mind").
Q: I try to listen for "inner guidance," but I rarely hear anything. And when I do, it often turns out badly. Am I doing something wrong?
Let me summarize a few of the ideas that I cover on this topic in Inspired by Miracles. I'll leave it to you to decide whether they apply to your situation.
First, I think that it's best to aim for a sense of peace and open-mindedness rather than aiming specifically for inner guidance. I say that because peace opens the door to guidance. Placing peace first is like putting the horse before the cart.
If you can attain (even briefly) a peaceful, receptive state of mind, you clear the channel for inspired thoughts to come through. If you simply aim for guidance (bypassing the peace), you might not receive either.
One helpful acronym that I keep in mind is QOR — Quiet, Open, Receptive. When I myself am in need of guidance, I first try to quiet my mind (usually by clearing out interfering thoughts). Then I try to open my mind as wide as possible, and move into a state of receptivity. I have found it to be a good formula for receiving inspired thoughts.
As a related point, inner guidance can come through any number of forms. It may come as an inspired thought that pops to mind, as a comment from a friend or stranger, as a "pull" in a particular direction, and so forth. Once you reach a state of peaceful, open receptivity, you're on the right track. The key is to keep your mind open.
People often ask how to tell whether a particular idea or prompting is truly inspired. I myself often use a "feeling test." Does the idea or prompting feel reassuring? Does it feel warm? Does it produce a sense of peace for myself and others? If not, I try to stay open to something more warm, peaceful, and reassuring.
Questions about working with A Course in Miracles
Q: Why is A Course in Miracles written in such an unusual [abstract, intellectual] way?
This is one of the most common questions I receive about the Course. Let me offer a few observations.
First, a large portion of A Course in Miracles is written in Shakespearean-style meter. In many sections, you can split paragraphs into precise 10-syllable blocks. That accounts for some of the occasionally weird wording.
If you'd like an example of a "metered" passage, you can look at any of the Course's workbook lessons past Lesson 221. Large sections of the Text are also metered. Within these sections, words are sometimes put together in an unusual way in order to preserve the meter. (For example, a sentence may say, "He knows not," instead of the more ordinary, "He doesn't know.")
As for the abstract or dense nature of A Course in Miracles: the Course was penned by a professor of psychology who had a highly developed intellect and an intimate familiarity with psychological concepts. This probably accounts for the "intellectual" feel. The Course's language was certainly influenced by Helen's language and stylistic preferences.
Having said all that, the Course usually becomes clearer once a person understands various unique terms "holy instant," "holy relationship," etc. When I began to understand how the Course was using these terms, the reading began to flow much easier.
Q: I have been studying the Course for a while, but I've recently felt "stuck." I don't feel that I'm moving forward anymore. Am I doing something wrong?
Let me address one of my own tendencies in working with A Course in Miracles: the tendency to focus on the Course's theory at the expense of practice. This may be a "sticking point" for some people.
I used to believe that an intellectual understanding of A Course in Miracles was the important thing. Now I believe that the Course is simply asking us to let God comfort and heal our minds.
If you wish to move toward a greater sense of peace, here are a few helpful practices from the Course:
- You can set aside time every day to exchange your current thoughts for miracles experiences of divine love.
- You can identify any grievances that you're holding toward yourself and others, and ask God to replace them with an experience of forgiveness.
- You can take a minute at the top of every hour to receive a sense of inner comfort and assurance.
- You can take longer prayer times upon awakening in the morning and before falling asleep at night.
I find that these types of practices always produce some forward movement.
Questions about the three-step process from the book Inner Healing
Q: Can I jump right to step three (opening to a sense of divine love), or do I have to always do steps one and two (identifying and releasing blocks)?
Definitely jump right to step three if you can. Steps one and two are simply designed to clear away any interference. They can be helpful steps, but the focus of the three-step process is always on step three — receiving a personal, supportive, intimate sense of God's love for you.
One of the reasons that I often include steps one and two in my practice is that they help me to resolve external projections back into internal perceptions. For example, instead of saying, "That guy is a buffoon," I say, "I'm feeling angry because I am choosing to see that guy as a buffoon." That step (step one) helps to clarify my own inner blocks.
Step two involves dismissing that perception from my mind, or offering it to God to be swept away. This clears the way for step three — an experience of divine love for this person and myself. That is the real goal.
At times, I am able to simply leap to that final step. In a way, that's ideal. But when I feel stuck, I find it helpful to quickly run through the identification-and-release of the blocks, or misperceptions. I encourage you to use what works for you.
Questions about me
Q: How did you get involved with the Course?
When I was young, I came across a copy of Jerry Jampolsky's Love is Letting Go of Fear, a book inspired by A Course in Miracles and based on Dr. Jampolsky's work with ill children.
Although I couldn't quite grasp the whole book (simple and clear as it is), I was able to see value in certain ideas — the idea about living in the present, for example, rather than spending time obsessed with past mistakes and future fears. I decided that I would try to practice some of the simple ideas Love is Letting Go of Fear outlined.
Several years later, while searching for some firmer "structure," I was inspired to go to a local bookstore and pick up a copy of the Course. I read a few paragraphs in the bookstore, and immediately felt that this was what I was seeking.
These days, I don't work with the Course exclusively, but it is one of my primary sources of support. I have benefited greatly from its wisdom and encouragement.
Q: Other than A Course in Miracles, what books can you recommend?
It would be difficult to make a list of all the helpful books that I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy. However, I'm happy to mention a few titles. Below are several books that may not be widely known, and aren't specifically related to A Course in Miracles, but have nonetheless impacted me.
- The writings of Joel Goldsmith, including Living the Infinite Way and The Art of Spiritual Healing. Joel Goldsmith was a 20th century spiritual healer whose work, to me, is remarkably similar to the Course.
- The Game of Life and How to Play It by Florence Scovel Shinn. This book, written in 1925, is a true classic. I enjoy it because it presents things like listening for divine guidance in an extremely down-to-earth and practical way.
- The Mindbody Prescription and Healing Back Pain by Dr. John Sarno. Dr. Sarno, who is on staff at the New York University's Rusk Center, has developed a brilliant approach to healing chronic pain. I know several people who have benefited enormously by working with him.
- Agnes Sanford's The Healing Light is a heartening and lovely book. Agnes Sanford offers some of the most illuminating metaphors for spiritual healing that I have ever read.
Selections from all these books can be found on spirituality library SpiritSite.com.