Read an Excerpt
Psychology has been described as the science of mind and behavior. A typical dictionary definition is: "The science that deals with mental processes and behavior."
Essentially, it is the goal of psychology to help us understand ourselves: why we behave as we do; think, experience and feel as we do; what accounts for differences among us; and why we have the problems and conflicts that we experience. Hopefully, then, such understanding could help us resolve our conflicts and would be of use to those professionals who attempt to treat persons with what are regarded as psychological problems or disorders.
As a separate scientific discipline, psychology is relatively new in the world, coming on the scene in the late nineteenth century when the eminent German scientist-philosopher Gustav Fechner established that mind, as he understood it, could be studied scientifically, followed by Wilhelm Wundt's founding of a laboratory for psychological experimentation at Leipzig University in 1875, the same year that William James instituted a similar laboratory at Harvard University. Prior to this time, questions relating to mind and behavior had been the province of philosophy, and indeed both Wundt and James were regarded as philosophers though they were instrumental in establishing the science of experimental psychology.
About the same time, Sigmund Freud, who had been deeply influenced by the writings of Fechner, began his study of the human mind as he collaborated with the physician Josef Breuer in treatment of a female patient who began to manifest a series of symptoms with no apparent physiological cause. In 1895 that famous collaboration resulted inthe publication of a work entitled Studies on Hysteria, a landmark publication in Freud's career as he began to develop his comprehensive theory of psychoanalysis, a theory which he regarded as the basis for a new science of mind.
Experimental psychology has emphasized the study of human behavior and physiology, since such study lends itself to objective observation, quantifiable data, and scientific methodologies. While Freud was trained as a scientist, and regarded his studies as scientific, the object of his study was the inner life of individuals, including himself. His approach has been described as "clinical," as distinguished from the experimental.
Both approaches to psychological study, the behavioral/experimental and the clinical, have produced a wealth of theoretical formulations with their attendant concepts, and A Course in Miracles makes use of many of these concepts, while offering a system of psychology that is radically different from anything which has preceded it. It is
profoundly different from other psychologies of the world because it incorporates the spiritual dimension of human experience, and because it is grounded on a non-dualistic metaphysical foundation. At the same time, the Course's psychology is eminently practical, acknowledging that we believe in a dualistic reality and must therefore be helped within the context of what we believe, even though it is not the truth. Forgiveness is the core of this practical teaching, but in order to practice the Course's psychology of forgiveness one must be willing to accept that one's true identity is as spirit of which mind is the "activating agent," and that one is not truly separate from anything or anyone perceived to be other than self. Then, the practice of forgiveness is understood as a spiritual undertaking at the level of mind which requires us to engage in a process of undoing ego identity with its dualistic belief system that conceives of an individual existence separate from God, and of separate, individual beings whose differences are quite important and whose goals are often in conflict.
It is no accident that the scribe of the Course and her colleague were professional psychologists who had been schooled in both experimental and clinical traditions, and it is within the framework of traditional psychology that many of the terms and concepts of the Course are found. Indeed, it can be said that the language and conceptual form (though not the content, or underlying message) of the psychology found in A Course in Miracles depends upon the genius of Sigmund Freud and would not have been possible without the hundred plus years of development in western psychological thought that preceded it. However, as with terms and concepts that it draws from religion, the Course offers an understanding that is quite different from the traditional, beginning with the fact that its concept of mind is unlike anything attempted in traditional psychology, and no doubt unacceptable to traditional psychologists whose metaphysical premises are those of the ego's dualistic thought system.
Finally, A Course in Miracles is a "channeled" work-that is, it is a work whose inspiration and words come from a spiritual source in the mind of its "scribe," Helen Schucman. Schucman herself never used the words "channel" or "channeling" to describe the inspiration that produced the Course through her. Rather, she spoke of a kind of "inner dictation" that was very personal in nature. The personal identity of the inner voice she heard was that of Jesus. But this was a Jesus whose thought system hardly matches that of the Jesus portrayed in the Bible. In fact, the Course itself can be understood in part as representing a critique and radical revision of traditional Christian thought, which is also dualistic in its premise, and which has a quite different understanding of forgiveness.
So, the psychology of A Course in Miracles, which this book is intended to summarize and outline, comes from an authority at the level of spirit and mind. Speaking in terms of Course principles, ultimately all human expressions come from that level-all works are "channeled" or inspired at the level of mind, then to take form, whether as words, music, art, or some other human behavior. The issue of authority, then, is not spirit versus science, or God versus the human intellect. Rather, the issue of authority, from the perspective of the Course, has to do with which thought system in the mind is the source of human activity and expression. And, according to the Course, there are only two thought systems in the mind, of which only one is grounded in truth. Those are the dualistic thought system of the ego, which begins with the false premise that separation from God and from all else is real; and the non-dualistic thought system of the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus manifests, and which begins with the truth of oneness that separation is impossible. The hope of healing and escape from human suffering that the Course offers lies in the fact that as mind we have a choice between those two thought systems.
The source of A Course in Miracles is ultimately the truth that only Oneness is real, oneness being the essence of Love, or of God. Since, according to the Course, the Mind of God has no awareness of separation, and God did not make the world or the body, the Love of God is not, and cannot be, directly present in the mind that dreams of separation. Yet, because God is the only true reality, His essence-His Oneness and Love-is ever present and cannot be completely blocked out. So, a memory of God and His Love remains in our mind in spite of our dedication to the ego which has led us to dream of an existence apart from Love; separated out from Oneness and hallucinating a world and body.
But God and His Love are without form, ethereal and completely abstract; therefore the Memory which remains in our mind is amorphous. In the Course, that Memory is called the Holy Spirit Who can be understood as an abstract Presence of Love in our mind which is able to be sensed and to inform our perceptions in the world of illusions, but which for most of us is remote and impersonal. It is therefore very helpful when that amorphous Presence can be symbolized for us in a form that is more accessible-more personal. In the mind of Helen Schucman, Jesus was that more personal manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus thus serves as the voice whose words speak to us from the pages of A Course in Miracles, inviting us to take him as our internal teacher and guide.