The time was the late 1950’s; the place, New York–Columbia University’s Medical Center, to be precise. Two psychologists, Dr. Bill Thetford and Dr. Helen Schucman, were working together in a psychology department that was full of dissent, suspicion, competition, and back-biting. Although they were clear about their being meant to work together, their own relationship was filled with conflict and tension. As the years passed, they found themselves in a worsening situation, surrounded by ever-widening circles of interpersonal conflict with each other, as well as with others in their department, with other departments, and with other medical centers.
Then, in June of 1965, came the moment that changed everything, for them personally and professionally, and, eventually, for millions of people all over the world. On their way to yet another meeting filled with the same anger and hostility that pervaded the rest of their lives, they stopped off at Bill’s apartment, where after several fits and starts, Bill delivered an impassioned speech to Helen. He told her that he no longer wanted to continue working in this way. He wanted something better for them and was willing to put forth the effort:
There must be another way of living in harmony rather than discord, of looking at all this differently… and I am determined to find it.
- He had decided to look at things differently;
- He was not going to get angry, and he would refrain from attack;
- He was going to look for the constructive in what people said rather than pointing out and focusing on their mistakes and finding fault with them;
- He was going to cooperate rather than compete.
Helen jumped up and told him with genuine conviction that he was perfectly right, and said that she would try this new approach with him. This was the turning point for them. They had decided to set aside their separate interests and join in a common purpose, trusting and forgiving each other in the process.
Soon after, Helen began to have visions, dreams, and psychic experiences, and on October 21st, she heard a now-familiar voice say to her, “This is a course in miracles. Please take notes.” In panic, she called Bill and asked him what to do. He calmly replied that if the voice was asking her to take notes, he suggested that she do so. He even offered to type out the notes. That began a seven-year collaboration, which culminated in the three volumes of the modern spiritual classic, A Course in Miracles.
What I find so fascinating about this story is that Bill and Helen joined together in finding another way–a better way–of relating ” in harmony rather than discord,” and the answer to their call was A Course in Miracles, which is all about that way! The Course, in its three volumes, teaches us what that other way is, guides us in practicing and applying it, and “trains” us in how to demonstrate and share it. The four points that Bill made in his impassioned speech to Helen are integral to the Course and the spiritual path it lays out. In making their joint commitment, Helen and Bill were actually asking for a miracle to help them transform their relationships, and the miracle they received was a whole course in miracles! Helen’s early notes refer to “miracle-inspired relating” as the basis for our relationships, and A Course in Miracles teaches us how to have exactly that sort of relationship; that is, one based on love, forgiveness, kindness, and trust. The benefits? Peace instead of conflict, joy instead of pain, harmony instead of discord, miracles instead of grievances–in short, Heaven instead of hell.
Helen and Bill’s decision to find another way had other implications. It led to significant changes in their personal and professional lives. They both undertook a conscious reform of their personal relationships, and, in addition, the whole climate of the psychology department changed for the better. Tensions lessened and antagonisms dropped away. In time, the department became smooth functioning, relaxed, and efficient. Where earlier they had been surrounded by ever-widening circles of interpersonal conflict and discord, now it was as if wave upon wave of healing radiated out from their joining, changing their own lives, healing their personal relationships, and turning around their work situation. In the words of Robert Perry, Course teacher, author, and founder of the Circle of Atonement,
Forty years later, those waves are still going, as the fruit of their joining, A Course in Miracles, reaches into new lives and into new lands, transforming people’s lives everywhere. For all we know, those waves will never stop.
Originally published in Tone Magazine, September 2009