Kenneth Wapnick - A Portrait of a Course in Miracles Student as an Artist

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A Kenneth Wapnick - A Course in Miracles newsletter
   1 Volume 16 Number 1 March 2005 A PORTRAIT OF A COURSE IN MIRACLES   STUDENT AS AN ARTIST   Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D. Introduction   In his early autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man,  James Joyce’s alter ego,  Stephen Dedalus, draws on Aristotle in a discussion of aesthetics, where he distinguishes between improper and proper art. The former is kinetic, meaning its purpose is to excite and elicit emotional movement in the observer, listener, or reader, as in pornographic or didactic art. The focus of the creator here is external, for it is on the audience’s response. Proper art, Stephen continues, is static,  insofar as it is interested only in the art itself—the internal—not its elicited or desired reaction. We may extend this understanding not only to artists as creators, but as performers. Whereas creators can be faithful to their inspiring Muse and not to the art’s effect on others, performers likewise can be faithful to the inspiration’s source, and not to their special ability to arouse emotion in their audiences. A discerning public can tell the difference between  proper   and improper   artists and performers; those who remain true to the genius of the inspiration as opposed to those who care only for the external gratifications—in Freud’s famous words regarding the artist: the pursuit of honor, power, and love. Analogously, we may say that Jesus is asking us in his course to be  proper   students; namely, to focus only on the right mind, the source of true inspiration, without concern for our special interests as means of meeting our special needs from special people, substances, or things, which always focus on the body. In other words, Jesus’ goal for his students is to have them become artists, or, to borrow the term from the manual for teachers, advanced teachers of God.  Some of these thoughts were the basis for my recent workshop, “Art and A Course in Miracles:  Reflections of Holiness,” and will be expanded upon here. Form and Content—Symbol and Source A great artist—creator or performer—is able to take the inspirational content   of the Holy Spirit and transmute it into the form  of artistic expression. It is this blend of form and content that is also the hallmark of a right-minded teacher of God, described for us in the workbook: It would indeed be strange if you were asked to go beyond all symbols of the world, forgetting them forever; yet were asked to take a teaching function. You have need to use the symbols of the world a while. But be you not deceived by them as well. They do not stand for anything at all ... [and] become but means by which you can communicate in ways the world can understand, but which you recognize is not the unity where true communication can be found (W-pI.184.9). The world’s symbols thus become the vehicle in which we express the content of forgiveness, much as creative artists use the specific forms  of their particular art—e.g., music, literature, painting—through which flows their non-specific inspiration or content  . Thus Jesus asks us to speak the language of our peers, dress in the style of the day, respond appropriately, as do most people—yet to do so   2 differently: There is a way of living in the world that is not here, although it seems to be. You do not change appearance, though you smile more frequently. Your forehead is serene; your eyes are quiet. ... You walk this path as others walk, nor do you seem to be distinct from them, although you are indeed (W-pI.155.1:1-3; 5:3). We are distinct because while our form  may be the same as others, the content   of our lives has become much different. This is an important point, for students of A Course in Miracles  are often tempted to change the form, magically hoping that would change the content. Thus they might seek to use the language of  “Course-speak” with people who do not understand the words, or behave in ways they believe are consistent with a spiritually advanced person: i.e., eat “right-minded” foods, choose “spiritual” professions, or associate with “holy” people. This confusion of form and content is the subject of a discussion early in the text on level confusion, in the context of sickness and healing: the world believes that sickness occurs on the level of the body, when it truly exists only on the level of the mind: Sickness ... is the result of level confusion, because it always entails the belief that what is amiss on one level can adversely affect another. We have referred to miracles as the means of correcting level confusion, for all mistakes must be corrected at the level on which they occur. Only the mind is capable of error. The body can act wrongly [e.g., become sick] only when it is responding to misthought (T-2.IV.2:2-5). Sickness, thus, has nothing to do with the form,  but only with the mind’s content   of guilt. Regarding form and content  , consider this example from the Italian Renaissance. Two of its greatest figures were Fra Filippo Lippi and his pupil Sandro Botticelli. Each painted— among the world’s great works of art—feminine figures of remarkably simple beauty, exemplifying a love that is not of this world; yet their subjects were as different as night from day. Lippi’s painting was of the Blessed Virgin (Madonna with the Child and Two Angels),  and Botticelli’s was of Venus, goddess of romantic love (The Birth of Venus ). Beyond the differences in form —what the world would term the sacred and the profane— lay the single content   of a love devoid of ego. The message for students of  A Course in Miracles  is clear: do not judge the form in anything, but look immediately to the content—whether examining the outer expressions of one’s life or those of others. Therefore, the true challenge for Course students is to retain the external form, but shift the internal content from the ego’s separate interests to the Holy Spirit’s forgiving vision of shared interests, from specialness to inspiration. This contrast between mere form and genuine inspiration is seen, for instance, in many Elizabethan authors who wrote in the style of the day, yet Shakespeare’s name, like Abou Ben Adhem’s, leads all the rest; or in the late 18th-century, where dozens and dozens of composers wrote music utilizing the classical forms of the period, but there remains only one Mozart. Without the content’s right- minded inspiration, form becomes sterile and empty. Thus, as students of  A Course in Miracles  we do not necessarily change our partners, professions, or lifestyles—although such changes in form may sometimes occur—but we do seek to change our attitudes or manner of thinking: Changes are required in the minds   of God’s teachers. This may or may not involve changes in the external situation. ... It is most unlikely that changes in attitudes would not be   3 the first step in the newly made teacher of God’s training (M-9.1:1-2,4). In discussing form and content  , we are really treating the all-important theme of cause and effect  , which runs through  A Course in Miracles  like a silken thread uniting the fabric of Jesus’ teaching. Cause  is synonymous with mind  , as it is with content;  while effect   means body   or form.  The relationship between these two distinct categories goes in one direction; in other words, cause  precedes effect  , mind   determines the body  , and content   inspires form.  The implication of this understanding for Course students is that the emphasis need always be placed on the cause , allowing the effect   to flow naturally from it, rather than seeking to change the cause  by modifying the effect.  Thus if the mind chooses the content of guilt, the effect must inevitably be pain and suffering. Change one’s mind to the Holy Spirit’s content of forgiveness, and the effect shifts to peace. It cannot work the other way around: effect does not generate cause; the body cannot affect the mind; form is not independent of content. Therefore, when one focuses only on the external level of the body, ignoring the mind’s thoughts, the effect will always be of the ego, for the decision to exclude the mind is  a decision for the ego. Examples confusing form and content abound in our world—on all levels, including the artistic and spiritual. In the world of art, for instance, we see this practice in what we discussed above as improper art  , where the emphasis is placed on the external effect, rather than on creation’s internal and inspirational source — proper art.  In spirituality, riveting attention on ritual and behavior to the exclusion of inner conversion—from the ego’s thought system to the Holy Spirit’s—denies the truth, which can only be experienced from within. Indeed, the world of externals was specifically made to conceal the truth of the right mind. Many passages in  A Course in Miracles —implicit and explicit—caution us against this practice. In discussing special relationships, for example, Jesus is quite pointed in his remarks about religious practice, and the context of the following passage, as well as many others, makes it clear he is directing his comments toward formal religion’s emphasis on ritual, so often to the exclusion of the love within: Whenever any form of special relationship tempts you to seek for love in ritual, remember love is content, and not form of any kind. The special relationship is a ritual of form, aimed at raising the form to take the place of God at the expense of content. There is no meaning in the form, and there will never be (T-16.V.12:1-3). While ritual and symbol can indeed have an important place in religious or spiritual practice, they must be seen only as means to lead beyond themselves to the reality of God’s Love— the path through form to the Formless: As nothingness cannot be pictured, so there is no symbol for totality. Reality is ultimately known without a form, unpictured and unseen (T-27.III.5:1-2). We therefore need the symbol to lead us back to the source; the effect to return to its cause. Only then can we remember our identification with the true Source. Once we rejoin the love in our minds, it naturally extends and appears as form, as the external figure of Jesus was the right mind’s manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s Love (C-6.1:1). Thus Jesus exhorts students of his course to be faithful to his message of forgiveness and resurrection, demonstrating it by having their very lives become a work of art that exemplifies his content of love: Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you (T-11.VI.7:3-4). In other words, we demonstrate Jesus’ loving presence in our minds, not by   4 our words or actions, but by joining with him there. That is our function, as it is the function of any true artist—uniting form with content, symbol with source. The Function of the Artist and Teacher of God In his notes accompanying the Artur Schnabel recording of Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas, music critic Irving Kolodin wrote: “Every great artist who appeals to the higher tastes and deeper instincts of the public is an educator.” Introducing the manual for teachers, Jesus explains that to teach is to demonstrate (M-in.2). By becoming one with his content of forgiveness and love, we educate the Sonship about making the right choice, reinforcing this lesson in ourselves at the same time. We demonstrate Jesus’ healing message of forgiveness through moving past the outer forms of our lives (the body  ) to the ego’s hidden content (the wrong mind  ), and on to the decision for the Holy Spirit’s Atonement (the right mind).  In the workbook lesson “I am among the ministers of God,” Jesus compares his messengers to the world’s: the latter deliver their messages only to others, while the former deliver them first to themselves: There is one major difference in the role of Heaven’s messengers, which sets them off from those the world appoints. The messages that they deliver are intended first for them. And it is only as they can accept them for themselves that they become able to bring them further, and to give them everywhere that they were meant to be. Like earthly messengers, they did not write the messages they bear, but they become their first receivers in the truest sense, receiving to prepare themselves to give (W-pI.154.6). Such acceptance ensures that our lives, to return to Joyce’s formulation, are lived  properly   rather than improperly  , thus allowing ourselves to stand before the world of darkness and reflect our decision for light, having come to stand for the Alternative, a reminder to choose again (M-5.III.2). Lesson 154 concludes with these inspiring words that summarize our function as God’s teachers and Jesus’ artists: The world recedes as we light up our minds, and realize these holy words [“I am among the ministers of God”] are true. They are the message sent to us today from our Creator. Now we demonstrate how they have changed our minds about ourselves, and what our function is. For as we prove that we accept no will we do not share, our many gifts from our Creator will spring to our sight and leap into our hands, and we will recognize what we received (W-pI.154.14). It is their accepting the message of Atonement that distinguishes true students of the Course from those paying mere lip service to it. As Thomas Merton wrote in his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain , speaking of his artistic parents: “The integrity of an artist lifts a man above the level of the world without delivering him from it” (p. 1). This wise Trappist monk well understood the importance of the true artist/monk’s integration of form and content, for only through integrating creative inspiration with life’s outer forms can artists or the spiritually advanced proclaim their authentic message of deliverance from the thought system of the world. Though his life was hardly a paragon of spiritual attainment, Beethoven nonetheless had an intuitive sense of the importance of his musical genius for others. He said of himself: Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. It is the wine of a new procreation, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for men and makes them
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