Marianne's Journey

I grew up in a middle-class Jewish family. When I went to high school, I took my first philosophy class and decided God was a crutch I didn’t need. What kind of God would let children starve, I argued, or people get cancer, or the Holocaust happen? During college, a lot of what I learned from professors was definitely extra-curricular. I left school to grow vegetables, but I don’t remember ever growing any. There are a lot of things from those years I can’t remember. Like a lot of people at that time—late 60s, early 70s—I was pretty wild. Whatever sounded outrageous, I wanted to do. And usually, I did.

I didn’t know what to do with my life, though I remember my parents kept begging me to do something. There was some huge rock of self-loathing sitting in the middle of my stomach during those years, and it got worse with every phase I went through. As my pain deepened, so did my interest in philosophy. I always sensed there was some mysterious cosmic order to things, but I could never figure out how it applied to my own life. I believed other people were dying inside too, just like me, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about it. I kept thinking there was something very important that no one was discussing. I didn’t have the words myself, but I was sure that something was fundamentally off in the world. How could everybody think that this stupid game of making it in the world could be all there is to our being here?

One day in 1977, I saw a set of blue books with gold lettering sitting on someone's coffee table. I opened to the introduction. It read:

"This is a Course in Miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum."

I remember thinking that sounded rather intriguing, if not arrogant. Reading further, however, I noticed Christian terminology throughout the books. This made me nervous. I put the books back on the table. It took another year before I picked them up again—another year, and another year’s misery. Then I was ready. This time I was so depressed I didn’t even notice the language. This time I knew immediately that the Course had something very important to teach me. It used traditional Christian terms, but in decidedly nontraditional, nonreligious ways.

I was struck, as most people are, by the profound authority of its voice. It answered questions I had begun to think were unanswerable. It talked about God in brilliant psychological terms, challenging my intelligence and never insulting it. The Course seemed to have a basic message: relax. I was confused to hear that because I had always associated relaxing with resigning. I had been waiting for someone to explain to me how to fight the good fight and now this book suggested that I surrender the fight completely. I was surprised but so relieved. I had long suspected I wasn’t made for worldly combat.

For me this was not just another book. This was my personal teacher, my path out of hell. As I began reading the Course and following its Workbook exercises, I could feel almost immediately that the changes it produced inside of me were positive. I felt happy. I felt like I was beginning to calm down. I began to understand myself, to get some hook on why my relationships had been so painful, why I could never stay with anything, why I hated my body. Most importantly, I began to have some sense that I could change. Studying the Course unleashed huge amounts of hopeful energy inside me, energy that had been turning darker and more self-destructive every day.

The Course, a self-study program of spiritual psychotherapy contained in three books, claims no monopoly on God. It is a statement of a universal spiritual curriculum. There’s only one truth, spoken different ways, and the Course is just one path to it out of many. If it's your path, however, you know it. For me, the Course was a break-through experience intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically. It freed me from terrible emotional pain. A Return to Love is based on what I have learned from A Course in Miracles.

My prayer is that this book might help someone. I have written it with an open heart. I hope you’ll read it with an open mind.


"Some bitter idols have been made of Him who would be only brother to the world."

A Course in Miracles does not push Jesus. Although the books come from him, it is made very clear that you don’t need to relate personally to him at all.

As a student and teacher of the Course, I have learned much about the resistance that many people have to Christian terms. As a Jew, I thought it was only other Jews who would have a problem with the word Jesus. But I was wrong. It’s not just Jews who get nervous at the mention of his name.

Say the word Jesus to a group of moderate Christians, and there is likely to be just as much resistance. I understand why. As it says in the Course, "some bitter idols have been made of Him who would be only brother to the world."

It is time for a huge revolution in our understanding of Christic philosophy, and most particularly in our understanding of Jesus. The Christian religion has no monopoly on the Christ, or on Jesus himself.

Who is Jesus?

He was a thoroughly purified being. Jesus lived within this world of fear, and perceived only love. Every action, every word, every thought was guided by the Holy Spirit instead of the ego. Having been totally healed by the Holy Spirit, He has become one with Him. He’s not the only face the Holy Spirit takes. He is definitely at the top, but that’s not to say he’s the only one up there.

Jesus reached total actualization of the Christ mind, and now has the power to help the rest of us reach that same place within ourselves. To worship him is to worship the potential for perfect love which lies within us all. To think about him is to think about, and so to call forth, the perfect love inside ourselves. That is how he leads us out of hell and into Heaven.

Fairy tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are stories of transformation. They are metaphors for the relationship between the ego and the divine mind. The wicked stepmother, which is the ego, can put the beauty or Christ within us to sleep, but she can never destroy it. In every fairy tale, the Prince arrives. His kiss reminds us who we are, and why we came here. Prince charming is the Holy Spirit, and He comes to awaken us with His love.

He has many faces, and one of them is Jesus. He is not an idol, or a crutch. He is our elder brother. He is a gift. Many people claim they don’t need a crutch like Jesus. But he’s not a crutch; he’s a teacher.

If you want to be a writer, you read the classics. If you want to make great music, you listen to music composed by great musicians who have gone before. So it is with spiritual masters: Jesus, Buddha, or any other enlightened being. They were geniuses in the way they used their minds and hearts. Why not learn from them, follow their lead, study what they were doing right?

The Darkness

"The journey into darkness has been long and cruel, and you have gone deep into it."

When I was most desperate, I looked for a lot of ways out of my personal hell. I read books about how our minds create our experience, how the brain is like a bio-computer that manufactures whatever we feed into it with our thoughts. "Think success and you’ll get it. Expect to fail and you will," I read. But no matter how much I worked at changing my thoughts, I kept going back to the painful ones.

I would work on having a more positive attitude, get myself together and meet a new man or get a new job. But I would eventually turn into a bitch with the man, or screw up at the job. Sure, I could change my thoughts, but not permanently. And there’s only one despair worse than "I blew it," and that’s, " I blew it again."

My painful thoughts were my demons. Through various therapeutic techniques, I’d become very smart about my own neuroses, but that didn’t necessarily exorcise them. The garbage didn’t go away; it just became more sophisticated.

For me, no matter what hot water I had gotten into, I had always thought that I could get myself out of it. But finally I got myself into so much trouble, that I knew I needed more help than I could muster up myself. My fear finally became so great, that I wasn’t too hip to say "God, please help me."

The Light

"The light is in you."

So I went through this grandiose, dramatic moment where I invited God into my life. After that, nothing really felt the way I expected it to. I had thought that things would improve. It’s as though my life was a house, and I thought God would give it a wonderful paint job—new shutters perhaps, a new roof. Instead, it felt as though as soon as I gave the house to God, He hit it with a wrecking ball.

"Sorry, honey," He seemed to say, "there were cracks in the foundation, not to mention all the rats in the bedroom."

I had read about people surrendering to God and then feeling this profound sense of peace. I did get that feeling, but only for about a minute. After that, I just felt like I’d been busted. This didn’t turn me off to God so much as it made me respect His intelligence. It meant He understood the situation. If I was God, I’d have busted me too. I felt more grateful than resentful. I was desperate for help.

A certain amount of desperation is usually necessary before we’re ready for God. When it came to spiritual surrender, I didn't get serious, not really, until I was down on my knees completely. Nervous breakdowns can be highly underrated methods of spiritual transformation. They certainly get your attention. As painful as this experience was, I now see it as an important, perhaps necessary step in my breakthrough to a happier life.

For one thing, I was profoundly humbled. I saw very clearly that, of myself, I am nothing. Until this happens, you keep trying all your old tricks—the ones that never did work but you keep thinking might work this time. Once you’ve had enough, you consider the possibility that there might be a better way. That’s when your head cracks open and you let God in.

People are crashing into walls today socially, psychologically, emotionally and biologically, and more people have felt their heads crack open in some way, then have admitted it to their friends. But this isn’t bad news. It's good. Until your knees finally hit the floor, you’re just playing at life.

The moment of surrender is not when life is over. It’s when it begins. Not that the moment of eureka, that calling out to God is it, and it’s all Paradise from then on. You’ve simply started the climb. But you know you’re not running around in circles at the bottom of the mountain anymore.

How ironic! You spend your whole life resisting the notion that there’s someone out there smarter than you are, and then all of a sudden you’re so relieved to know it’s true. All of a sudden, you’re not too proud to ask for help.


"Enlightenment is but a recognition; not a change at all."

There are people who have lived on the earth, and perhaps there are people living here now, whose minds have been completely healed by the Holy Spirit.

In all religions, there are stories of saints and prophets who worked miracles. That is because, when the mind returns to God, it becomes a vessel for His power. The power of God transcends the laws of this world. Saints and prophets have actualized the Christ within them. They have been purified of fearful thoughts and only love remains within their minds.

These purified beings are called the Enlightened ones.

Light means understanding. The enlightened understand. Enlightened people don’t have anything we don’t have. They have perfect love inside, and so do we. The difference is that they don’t have anything else.

Enlightened beings, Jesus and others, exist in a state that is only potential in the rest of us. Jesus and other enlightened masters are our evolutionary elder brothers. The Christ-mind is merely the perspective of unconditional love. You and I have the Christ-mind in us as much as Jesus does. The difference between him and us is that we are tempted to deny it. He’s beyond that. His every thought and action stems from love. The unconditional love, or Christ within him, is the truth that sets us free, because it’s the perspective that saves us from our own fearful thoughts.

We are in trouble because we fight too much. We fight ourselves, each other, our planet, and God. A thoroughly loving person is like an evolutionary mutation, manifesting a being that puts love first and thus creates the context in which miracles occur. Ultimately, that is the only smart thing to do. The mutation, the enlightened ones, show the rest of us our evolutionary potential. They point the way.

The Ego

The ego is like a gravitational force field, built up over eons of fearful thinking, which draws us away from the love in our hearts. In Course terminology, our entire network of fearful perceptions is called the ego. The word ego is used differently here than the way in which it is often used in modern psychology. It is being used as the ancient Greeks used it, as the notion of a small, separated self.

It is a false belief about ourselves, a lie about who we really are.

Even though living that lie is a terrible anxiety, it’s amazing how resistant we are to healing the split in our mind about who we are. As uncomfortable as our life might be, as painful or even desperate at times, the life we’re living is the life we know, and we cling to the old rather than try something new.

The ego is our mental power turned against ourselves. It is clever, like we are, and smooth-talking, like we are, and manipulative, like we are. Remember all the talk about a silver-tongued devil? The ego doesn’t come up to us and say,

"Hi, I’m your self-loathing."

It’s not stupid, because we’re not. Rather, it says things like, "Hi, I’m your adult, mature, rational self. I’ll help you look out for number one." Then it proceeds to counsel us to look out for ourselves, at the expense of others. It teaches us selfishness, greed, judgment, and small-mindedness.

Holy Spirit

"The Holy Spirit is the call to awaken and be glad."

Free will means we can think whatever we want to think, but no thoughts are neutral. There is no such thing as an idle thought. All thought produces form on some level.

Taking responsibility for our lives, then, means taking responsibility for our thoughts. And praying to God to save our lives, means praying for Him to save us from our own negative thoughts.

The Holy Spirit was God's answer to the ego. He is God's eternal communication link with His separated sons, a bridge back to gentle thoughts, the Great Transformer of Perception from fear to love. Often the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Comforter. He comes to us in many forms, from a conversation with a friend to a serious spiritual path; from a lyric in a song to an excellent therapist.

He is the inexorable drive toward wholeness that exists within, no matter how disoriented or crazy we get. God can’t force his way back into our thinking, because that would be violating our free will. But the Holy Spirit is a force of consciousness within us that delivers us from Hell, or fear, whenever we consciously ask him to, transforming our thoughts from fear to love.

Something within us longs to go home, and He is that something. The Holy Spirit guides us to a different perception of reality. His correction of our perception is called Atonement. In asking the Holy Spirit to help us, we are expressing our willingness to perceive a situation differently. We give up our own interpretations and opinions, and ask that they be replaced by His.

When angry, we pray, "Dear God, I am willing to see this differently."

Surrendering a situation to God means surrendering to Him our thoughts about it. Some people think that if we surrender to God, we’re giving up personal responsibility. But the opposite is true. We’re taking the ultimate responsibility for a situation by being responsible for our thoughts about it.

Sometimes people think that calling on God means inviting a force into our lives that will make everything rosy. The truth is, it means inviting everything into our lives that will force us to grow, and growth can be messy.

The purpose of life is to become aware of our perfection. So, once we call on God, everything that could anger us is on the way. Why? Because the place where we go into anger instead of love, is our wall to the awareness of our perfection.

Any situation that pushes our buttons is a situation where we don’t yet have the capacity to be unconditionally loving. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw our attention to that, and help us move beyond that point. Our comfort zones are the limited areas in which we find it easy to love. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job not to respect those comfort zones, but to bust them. We’re not at the mountaintop until any zone is comfortable. Love isn’t real love until it’s unconditional. We’re not experiencing who we really are, until we experience our perfect love.

In order to ensure our progress toward the goal of enlightenment, the Holy Spirit has a highly individualized curriculum for everyone. Every encounter, every circumstance can be used by Him for His purposes.

He translates between our perfect spirit Self, and our worldly insanity. He enters into the illusion and leads us beyond it. The spiritual path, then, is simply the journey of living our lives. Everyone is on a spiritual path, most people just don’t know it.

The Holy Spirit is a force in our minds that knows us in our perfectly loving, natural state, which we’ve forgotten, but enters into the world of fear and illusion with us, and uses our experiences here to remind us who we are. He does this by showing us the possibility of a loving purpose in everything we think and do. He revolutionizes our sense of why we are on the earth.

Everything we do in our lives will be used, or interpreted, by the ego or the Holy Spirit. The ego uses everything to lead us further into anxiety. The Holy Spirit uses everything to lead us into inner peace and happiness.

Only Love Is Real

"God is not the author of fear. You are."

Love, or God, taken seriously is a radical outlook, a major departure from the psychological orientation that rules this physical world. It is threatening not because it is a small idea, but because it is so terribly huge.

For many people, God is a frightening idea. Asking God for help doesn’t seem very comforting if we think of Him as something outside of ourselves or judgmental. But God is love and He dwells within us. We were created in His image, or mind, which means that we are extensions of His love, or Sons of God.

The Course says we have an authority problem. We think we authored God, rather than realizing that He authored us. Rather than accepting that we are the loving beings that He created, we have arrogantly thought that we could create ourselves, and then create God.

We have made up a God in our image. Because we are angry and judgmental, we have projected those characteristics onto Him. But God remains who He is and always will be: He is the energy, the thought of unconditional love. He cannot think with anger or judgment. He is mercy and compassion and total acceptance.

We forgot this, and having done so, we have forgotten who we ourselves are. I began to realize that taking love seriously would be a complete transformation of my thinking.
A Course in Miracles calls itself a mind training in the relinquishment of a thought system based on fear, and the acceptance instead of a thought system based on love.

To surrender to God means to let go and love. By affirming that love is our priority in a situation, we actualize the power of God. Through a mental decision, a conscious recognition of love’s importance and our willingness to experience it, we call on a higher power. We set aside our normal mental habit patterns and allow them to be superceded by a different mode of perception. That is the meaning of miracles.

Once we get to the point where we realize that God is love, it’s not too difficult to understand that following God just means following the dictates of love.

The question is no longer "What is God?" The question we ask now is, "What is love?"

Love is energy. It’s not something we can perceive with physical senses. But people can usually tell you when they feel it and when they don't. Very few people feel enough love in their lives. The world is rather a loveless place.

We can hardly even imagine a world in which all of us were in love all the time, with everyone. There would be no war because we wouldn’t fight. There would be no prejudice, oppression, or violence of any kind. There would be no sorrow. There would only be peace.

Most of us are violent people, not necessarily physically, but emotionally. We have been brought up in a world that does not put love first, and where love is absent, fear sets in. Fear is to love as darkness is to light. We need love in order to live happily, as much as we need oxygen in order to live at all. It's not that mysterious, really. Without love, the world is simply not a great place to be.

So the problem with the world is that we have strayed from God, or wandered away from love. According to the Course, this separation from God (Love) first happened millions of years ago. But the important revelation, the crux of the Course, is that in reality it never actually happened at all.

The introduction to A Course in Miracles states,

"The Course can be summed up very simply:
Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God."

What that means is this: Love is real. It’s an eternal creation so cannot be destroyed. Anything that isn’t love is an illusion. Remember this, and you’ll be at peace.

The Course says that only love is real: "The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite." When we think with love, we are literally co-creating with God. And when we’re not thinking with love, since only love is real, then we’re actually not thinking at all. We’re hallucinating. And that’s what the Course says this world is: a mass hallucination, where fear seems more real than love.

Our craziness, paranoia, anxiety and trauma are literally all imagined. That is not to say they don’t exist for us as human beings, and need to be brought to light in order to be released. But they do not replace the love within us. They are literally a bad dream.

The Course explains that our mind has been split in two, with one part staying in touch with love, and the other part veering into fear. Fear manufactures a kind of parallel universe where the unreal seems more real than the real.

In A Course in Miracles, sin is loveless perception. The way out of sin or fear is through opening the mind to God or love. Love casts out fear the way light casts out darkness. The shift from fear to love is what the Course means by a miracle.

It addresses the real source of our problems, which is always on the level of consciousness. Thoughts are like data programmed into a computer, registered on the screen of your life. If you don’t like what you see on the screen, there’s no point in trying to erase it off the screen. If you don’t like the effects in your life, you have to change the nature of your thinking because thought is cause; experience is effect.

Thoughts of love in your mind produces love in your life. This is the meaning of Heaven.

Thoughts of fear in your mind produces fear in your life. This is the meaning of hell.

Our worldly problems are actually just symptoms of the real problem, which is always a lack of love. The miracle, a shift from fear to love, works on an invisible plane. It transforms the world at the causal level. Anything else is just a temporary palliative, a fix but not a healing, a treatment of the symptom but not a cure.

To say, "God, please help me," means, "God, correct my thinking."

"Deliver me from hell," means "Deliver me from my insane thoughts."

God Himself will not violate the law of cause and effect. It is the most basic law of consciousness. As long as we follow the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have done to you), we are safe. Adam and Eve were happy until she "ate of the knowledge of good and evil." What that means is that everything was perfect until they began to judge, to keep their hearts open sometimes, but closed at others. "I love you if you do this, but not if you do that."

Closing our hearts destroys our peace. It's alien to our real nature. It warps us and turns us into people we're not meant to be. Freud defined neurosis as separation from Self, and so it is. The real Self is the love within us. It's the Child of God. The fearful self is an imposter. The return to love is the great cosmic drama, the personal journey from pretense to self, from pain to inner peace.


"There is no time, no place, no state where God is absent."

There have been times in my life, when I have felt that sadness would overwhelm me. Something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, or there was some conflict between myself and someone else, or I was afraid of what was going to happen or not happen in the future.

Our lives in those moments can be so painful, and the mind begins an endless search for things that could make us feel better, or change the situation.

What I learned from the Course is that the change we’re really looking for is inside our heads. Our outer circumstances will always be in flux. One day they love you; the next day you’re their target. One day a situation is running smoothly; the next day chaos reigns. One day you feel like you're an okay person; the next day you feel like you're an utter failure. What can change, however, is how we perceive those experiences. And that shift in our perception is the meaning of miracles.

There’s a Biblical story where Jesus says we can build our house on sand or we can build it on rock. When our house is built on sand, then the winds and rain can tear it down. When our house is built on rock, then it’s sturdy and strong and the storms can’t destroy it.

Our house is our emotional stability. When it is built on sand, our sense of well-being is based on circumstances working out our way, based on fleeting things and passing moods. One disappointing phone call and we crumble.

When it is built on rock, we’re not so vulnerable to life’s passing dramas. Our emotional stability rests on something more enduring, something permanent and strong. When our house is built on rock, it means we're depending on the higher reality of God.

I had never realized that depending on God meant depending on love. I had heard it said that God was love, but it had never kicked in for me exactly what that meant.

As I began to study A Course in Miracles, I discovered the following things about God: He is the perfect unconditional love within us. Whether we follow Him, i.e., think with perfect love, is entirely up to us. When we choose to love, or to allow our minds to be one with God, then life is wonderful. When we turn away from love, the pain sets in. So when we think with God, life is peaceful. When we think without Him, life is painful. And that’s the mental choice we make, every moment of every day.


"The Thought God holds of you is like a star, unchangeable in an eternal sky."

The perfect you is the love within you. The perfect you isn’t something you need to create, because God created it. To remember that you are part of God, that you are love, is not arrogant. It’s humble.

To think you are anything else is arrogant, because it implies you created yourself. Your job is to allow the Holy Spirit to remove the fearful thinking that surrounds your perfect self. Love is changeless and therefore so are you.

Psychologist Carl Jung posited the notion of the collective unconscious. His idea was that if you went deep into your mind, and deep into mine, there is a level we all share. The Course goes one step further; if you go deep into your mind, and deep into mine, we have the same mind.

The concept of a divine or Christ mind is the idea that, at our core, we are not just identical, but actually the same being. "There is only one begotten Son" doesn’t mean that Jesus was it, and we’re not. It means we’re all it. There’s only one of us here.

We’re like the spokes on a wheel, all radiating out from the same center. If you define us according to our position on the rim, we seem separate. But if you define us according to our source, the center of the wheel, we’re a shared identity. At the bottom of it all, what we are is love.

The word Christ is a psychological term. No religion has a monopoly on the truth. Christ refers to the common thread of divine love that is the core and essence of every human mind.
The love in one of us is the love in all of us. There's actually no place where God stops and you start, and no place where you stop and I start. Love is energy, an infinite continuum. Your mind extends into mine and into everyone else's. It doesn't stay enclosed within your body.

A Course in Miracles likens us to sunbeams thinking we’re separate from the sun, or waves thinking we’re separate from the ocean. Just as a sunbeam can’t separate itself from the sun, and a wave can’t separate itself from the ocean, we can’t separate ourselves from one another. We are all part of a sea of love, one indivisible divine mind.

This truth of who we really are doesn't change; we just forget it. We identify with the notion of a small, separate self, instead of the idea of a reality we share with everyone.

You aren’t who you think you are. Aren’t you glad? You’re not your grades, or your credentials, or your resume, or your house. We aren’t those things at all. We are holy beings, individual cells in the body of Christ. We are who God created us to be. We are all one, we are love itself. Accepting the Christ is merely a shift in self-perception. We awaken from the dream that we are finite, isolated creatures, and recognize that we are glorious, infinitely creative spirits.

A lot of today’s most common psychological orientation is to analyze the darkness in order to reach the light, thinking that if we focus on our neuroses, their origins and dynamics, then we will move beyond them. But, we get in life that which we focus on. Continual focus on darkness leads us, as individuals and as a society, further into darkness. To focus on Christ means to focus on the goodness and power that lie latent within us, in order to invoke them into realization and expression.

"I accept the Christ within" means, "I accept the beauty within me as who I really am. I am not my weakness. I am not my anger. I am not my small-mindedness. I am much much more. And I am willing to be reminded of who I really am."

Return to Love by Marianne Williamson presents the principles of A Course in Miracles with simplicity and clarity.



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