Class #

Study Guide and Commentary
ACIM® Text, Chapter 12,
Section V

The Sane Curriculum

The overall message of this section ("The Sane Curriculum") is that the Holy Spirit's curriculum delivers all it promises, while the ego's curriculum is insane and leads to death. The ego teaches that we have attacked ourselves by sinning, and that we have destroyed ourselves. Because our attack on ourselves worked, we now need to attack others in order to survive. The ego's curriculum is depressing, but if you look at it, it is merely ridiculous (8:1). We are asked to resign as our own teacher, and to allow the Spirit of God to guide us in a new way. That new way is His judgment that our self-attack did not work! And that everything we see is either love or a call for love (T-14.X.7:2), and therefore the only appropriate response to anything—including our own attack on ourselves—is love.

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1.  1Only love is strong because it is undivided. 2The strong do not attack because they see no need to do so. 3Before the idea of attack can enter your mind, you must have perceived yourself as weak. 4Because you attacked yourself and believed that the attack was effective, you behold yourself as weakened. 5No longer perceiving yourself and your brothers as equal, and regarding yourself as weaker, you attempt to "equalize" the situation you [have] made. 6You use attack to do so because you believe that attack was successful in weakening you.

• Study Question •

1.     We first attack ourselves, perceive ourselves as weak, and then see ourselves as weaker than others. Why do we subsequently attack others, if we believe they are stronger than us?

The only possible reason you would use attack as a way to get what you want is if you believe, first, that attack is necessary, and second, that attack works. We do believe those things. We have the illusion that we have successfully attacked our true identity, and that as a result, we have become weak. (Of course, we cannot actually alter what God has created, so our weakness is wholly imaginary.) Perceiving ourselves to be in danger because of our weakened condition, we believe attack is a necessary means of self-defense. And, because attack successfully weakened us, we think we can use it to weaken others (1:1–4).

When God created us we were perfect and had everything. Now we experience ourselves as imperfect and lacking many things. That's just our perception, of course, not the reality, but it seems real to us, so we ask: "How did we get this way?" Deep down we are convinced that we did it to ourselves. We sinned, and we were cast out of Heaven. We attacked ourselves and it worked! Now, we are weak, and we have to attack to defend ourselves against people who are stronger than we are. We don't think of the attack as wrong because, in our eyes, we are just restoring a more favorable balance of power (1:5–6). This is what the ego believes with unswerving devotion.

Back in Section I, Jesus told us that, "There is nothing to prevent you from recognizing all calls for help as exactly what they are except your own imagined need to attack" (T-12.I.4:1). Now, he is explaining where that "imagined need" comes from. It comes from our belief in our weakness, and from our belief that our attack on ourselves worked.

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2.  1That is why the recognition of your own invulnerability is so important to the restoration of your sanity. 2For if you accept your invulnerability, you are recognizing that attack has no effect. 3Although you have attacked yourself, [and very brutally,] you will be demonstrating that nothing really happened. 4Therefore, by attacking you have not done anything. 5Once you realize this you will no longer see [there is no longer] any sense in attack, for it manifestly does not work and cannot protect you. 6Yet the recognition of your invulnerability has more than negative value. 7If your attacks on yourself have failed to weaken you, you are still strong. 8You therefore have no need to "equalize" the situation to establish your strength.

• Study Question •

2.     Give two reasons why, if you recognize your own invulnerability, you will no longer attack others.

We need to realize that our attack on ourselves had no effect. It did not weaken us; it cannot weaken us. If the imagined need to attack comes from our belief in our weakness, it becomes obvious why we need so very much to come to believe in our strength instead. If we knew our true strength we would not attack people. To let go of attack, we have to recognize our own invulnerability (2:1). That will free us to see the world as the Holy Spirit sees it, filled, not with threats, but with calls for help.

I realize that the idea of being invulnerable probably seems ridiculous to you. Invulnerability is a characteristic of Superman, and it only exists in comic books—right? Two nights ago I stubbed my toe in a dark bedroom and it hurt like blazes; I sure don't feel invulnerable! I know when I first read this idea in the Course it seemed like a joke. Intellectually, I understood what the Course was saying: that God creates only the eternal and therefore, if He created me, I must be eternal and changeless. Thus, anything that God creates is invulnerable. That makes perfect sense. The problem is, that isn't my experience in life. Like everyone, I've been hurt too many times in too many ways to easily accept the idea that I am, in reality, invulnerable.

The Course teaches that the "real me" cannot be hurt, and that whatever can experience pain is not me (see Lesson 248 in the Workbook: "Whatever suffers is not part of me."). Thus, instead of proving that I am not invulnerable, my experience of pain just demonstrates the extent to which I have identified with a false self-concept. My body suffers pain; therefore, my body is not part of me. This is why the Workbook has us practice with the words, "I am not a body" (Lesson 199 and many other places) and "I am spirit" (Lesson 97).

If you can accept the idea that you are spirit and as such, invulnerable, it leads to two extremely useful conclusions. First, any attack on an invulnerable person has to fail, which means that your attack on yourself failed. Attack doesn't work (2:2). Second, an invulnerable person cannot be weakened by attack. You are not weak (2:7).

When you acknowledge your invulnerability, you are admitting that attack has no effect. That must be so because, when you tried to separate from God, when you "very brutally" attacked yourself, nothing happened (2:2–3). You are still you; your spirit cannot be touched. What God created cannot be changed or hurt. "Nothing happened" (2:3, my emphasis). I like that the original dictation omits the word "really." To me, saying "nothing happened" is a much stronger statement than, "nothing really happened."

Now something that has no effects cannot be said to do anything (2:4). Our so-called attack on ourselves is no more than an empty gesture; we have not been affected by it. And if you haven't really done anything then there is nothing to be guilty about, and no reason to fear God's wrath. This is the message of the Atonement!

If all that is so, why bother attacking? What kind of protection can it offer if, in the primary example of your self-attack, it didn't work? (2:5). It is a useless gesture; it accomplishes absolutely nothing!

But more than this: if you are invulnerable then, despite any attacks you (seem to) have endured, you must still be strong! (2:6–7) So you have no need for attack because you are not weak (2:8).

Thus, recognizing your invulnerability removes both the belief that attack is necessary because you are weak, and the belief that attack works.

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3.  1[But] You will never realize the utter uselessness of attack except by recognizing that your attack on yourself has [had] no effects. 2For others do react to attack if they perceive it, and if you are trying to attack them you will be unable to avoid interpreting this as reinforcement. 3The only place you can cancel out all reinforcement is in yourself. 4For you are always the first point of your attack, and if this has never been, it has no consequences.

• Study Question •

3.     If you attack another person you won't realize that attack is ineffectual; why?

Probably our greatest fear, in terms of spiritual things, is that we have done something to ourselves that has permanently screwed us up. This is the fear that preachers of hellfire and brimstone prey upon. We don't realize how arrogant this is! We are attributing to ourselves the power to destroy what God created. The truth is, we can't screw ourselves up. God's creation determined what we are and what we will be forever. We can't change that.

Just pause and let the first sentence of this paragraph soak in! Nothing you have ever done to yourself, or think you have done to yourself, has had any effects. You have not destroyed yourself. You have not sabotaged your success. You have not corrupted yourself or weakened yourself. The real you cannot be harmed. Thus, nothing you think has been done to you by the world or by yourself has actually had any real effect. If you really believed this, you could forgive the world! It is your belief that you have attacked yourself, and that the attack worked, which is behind every thought of attack you now have.

If you believe your attack on yourself has worked, you will attack others because you feel weak. Your belief in the power of attack comes from your belief that it worked on you. Those other people will certainly react to your attacks, and inevitably you will interpret their counter-attack as a reinforcement of your belief in attack (3:2). The whole destructive cycle gets set in motion, starting from your belief that when you attacked yourself, it worked.

"The only place you can cancel out all reinforcement is in yourself " (3:3). It has to start with you. When other people see what you are doing as attack—as they inevitably will do, being caught in the ego just like you—you can't avoid thinking that your attacks have worked. It does no good to try to change their perception of your behavior; you have to change your own mind about attack's power to harm you. What needs to change isn't out there in the world, in other people; it is within your own mind.

You have to come to see that your attack on yourself did not work. If nothing happened when you attacked yourself, it could not possibly have had any consequences! (3:4). When you see that your self-attack did nothing, you have cut off the whole chain of attack and counter-attack at its source.

Another way of saying this is, when you have freed your own mind of guilt, you will see no guilt in anyone.

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4.  1The Holy Spirit's Love is your strength, for yours is divided and therefore not real. 2You cannot [Ur: could not] trust your own love when you attack [you have attacked] it. 3You cannot learn of perfect love with a split mind, because a split mind has made itself a poor learner. 4You tried to make the separation eternal, because you wanted to retain the characteristics of creation, but with your own content. 5Yet creation is not of you, and poor learners do need special teaching.

5.  1You have learning handicaps in a very literal sense. 2There are areas in your learning skills that are so impaired that you can progress only under constant, clear-cut direction, provided by a Teacher Who can transcend your limited resources. 3He becomes your Resource because of yourself you cannot learn. 4The learning situation in which you placed [place] yourself is impossible, and in this situation you clearly require a special Teacher and a special curriculum. 5Poor learners are not good choices as teachers, either for themselves or for anyone else. 6You would hardly turn to them to establish the curriculum by which they can escape from their limitations. 7If they understood what is beyond them, they would not be handicapped.

• Study Question •

4.     If you thought that your love for your romantic partner was your strength, what would this passage say about that?

5.     List all of the things you do not, should not and cannot do, according to these paragraphs.

The result of our self-attack has created an impossible situation (5:4). By attempting to separate from God, Who is Love, we have placed ourselves at odds with our own love. This makes it impossible for us to rely on it! How can you rely on something that you believe you have mortally wounded, and that now constitutes a threat? (4:1–2). You are "learning impaired" because you have a split mind (4:3; 5:1). We want to hold on to our power to create, but to use it to create something unlike God: the separation (4:4). "To establish your personal autonomy you tried to create unlike your Father, believing that what you made is capable of being unlike Him" (T-11.VII.3:7).

I think that in this passage, the Course is explaining why, although we are the very Love of God, we cannot teach ourselves to love; why, although we already have perfect knowledge, we need a teacher who is, in some sense at least, not us. Our very descent into ignorance has destroyed our self-confidence. We are afraid to listen to that inner voice when we think it is coming from us; the voice is suspect, and we are afraid it will deceive us.

You don't trust your own true Self! You have, therefore, a desperate need for something or someone who seems to be apart from or above you, to represent pure, invulnerable Love to you. That is the function of the Holy Spirit or Jesus (5:2–3). Left to our own devices, our learning disabilities would prevent us from learning. The Course expresses this same thought concerning our imperative need for "a larger Self" such as the Holy Spirit at least twice elsewhere, in other terms:

Yet can you find yourself in such a world? Without the Holy Spirit the answer would be no (T-13.VII.10:6-7).

The understanding that you need comes not of you, but from a larger Self, so great and holy that He could not doubt His innocence (T-25.VIII.12:4).

In talking about forgiveness, the Song of Prayer pamphlet says that our part consists primarily in getting out of His way (S‑2.II.2:6–7). We cannot learn without His help (5:2; 5:4).

The picture of us as developmentally disabled is striking, and it really is a good parallel. There is no question that the Course does not support the idea that, since we all know, we don't need any teacher. Its picture of the situation is miles apart from that: It says that without help we will never learn.

We absolutely need the Holy Spirit and His curriculum. We have utterly convinced ourselves that we are no longer perfect love. How can a mind so split possibly teach itself to love? The ego cannot see love when love stares it in the face; how can it ever give you love? The ego mind is trapped in the cycle of attack and counter-attack; it cannot see things any other way. It is a terrible teacher. (5:4-6) To teach love, we would have to understand it. If we understood it, we would not need to learn! To listen to your ego is truly a case of the blind leading the blind.

Imagine a classroom filled with "special education" students, all of whom have flunked the previous year of school. Would you allow these students to plan the course of study for themselves or for anyone else? (5:6). Of course not; they need informed guidance. No more would God expect us to set up our own learning program, which is why, through the Holy Spirit, He has set one up for us.

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6.  1You do not know the meaning of love, and that is your handicap. 2Do not attempt to teach yourself what you do not understand, and do not try to set up curriculum goals where yours have clearly failed. 3[For] Your learning goal has been not to learn, and this cannot lead to successful learning. 4You cannot transfer what you have not learned, and the impairment of the ability to generalize is a crucial learning failure. 5Would you ask those who have failed to learn what learning aids are for? 6They do not know. 7If they could interpret the aids correctly, they would have learned from them.

• Study Question •

6.     What specifically should you not try to teach yourself?

When we listen to our own interpretations of the world and accept them as fact, we are doing exactly what this passage talks about. We are trying to teach ourselves what we don't understand. It is simply impossible! (6:1–2). Our handicap is that we do not know the meaning of love. If you wanted to learn to read, would you ask a blind person? Of course not! Yet, that is what we are doing when we try to learn by ourselves what love is. Jesus urges us to stop.

In a certain sense, a huge part of the Course is aimed at getting us to recognize our inability to teach ourselves. Until we ask for help, we are going to remain ignorant.

The ego's goal is to seek for love and not find it. If the goal is "not to learn," how can we expect to learn anything? (6:3). And that is the ego's goal, for sure, because learning of reality will dissolve the ego; to survive, it has to prevent our learning.

To the Holy Spirit, everything in this world is a learning aid, like using blocks to teach addition in grade school. Would you ask someone who did not know arithmetic what the blocks are for? He would not know. But when we try, on our own, to figure out what bodies are for, what relationships are for, what the events of our lives mean, that is exactly what we do: we are asking a teacher who does not know. (6:5–6) If you already knew what these things were for, you would have learned from them. (6:7) Since you have not learned, you obviously do not know what they are for! You need someone to tell you. You need the Holy Spirit. We are being asked to acknowledge that, "I do not know what anything is for" (W-pI.25).

Learning in one specific situation leads to transfer. Once you have learned, for instance, what relationships are for by listening to the Teacher in one relationship, you can transfer that learning to other relationships. Once the Teacher gives you the key, you can go on to apply it to many different things. In school, once you learned that two apples plus two apples makes four apples, you could generalize the principle that 2+2=4, and then transfer that to other situations: two boys plus two boys equals four boys, and so on. That is how the Holy Spirit wants to teach us. In one specific situation, He shows us what the "learning aids" are for. We see the principle, we generalize it, and then we transfer that principle to one situation after another (6:4). But it must start with our setting aside our own ideas and listening to the Teacher.

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7.  1I have said that the ego's rule is, "Seek and do not find." 2Translated into curricular terms this means [this is the same as saying], "Try to learn but do not succeed." 3The result of this curriculum goal is obvious. 4Every legitimate teaching aid, every real instruction, and every sensible guide to learning will be misinterpreted, since they are all for facilitating the learning this strange curriculum is against [they are all for learning facilitation, which this strange curriculum goal is against]. 5If you are trying to learn how not to learn, and the aim of your teaching is [and are using the aim of teaching] to defeat itself, what can you expect but confusion? 6Such a [The] curriculum does not make [any] sense. 7This attempt at "learning" [This kind of learning] has so weakened your mind that you cannot love, for the curriculum you have chosen is against love, and amounts to a course in how to attack yourself. 8A supplementary goal in this curriculum [A necessary minor, supplementing this major curriculum goal,] is learning how not to overcome the split that makes its primary aim [which made this goal] believable. 9And you will not [can not] overcome the split in this curriculum, for all your learning will be [is] on its behalf. 10Yet your mind [will] speaks against your learning as your learning speaks against your mind [will], and so you fight against all learning [against learning] and succeed, for that is what you want [that is your will]. 11But perhaps you do not realize, even yet, that there is something you [do] want [will] to learn, and that you can learn it because it is your choice [will] to do so.

• Study Question •

7.     If someone came to you and said, "You know, I just can't seem to learn this forgiveness that the Course teaches. I try and I try, but I never become more forgiving," what would you tell them in light of this paragraph?

Sentence 1 refers to the ego's general principle as stated in the previous section (T‑12.IV.1:4). As applied to our attempts to learn (particularly to learn to love), this becomes, "Try to learn but do not succeed" (7:2). The result of such a rule is obvious: You never learn anything! (7:3–4). Sounds like your life, doesn't it? The ego's methodology results in your deliberately misinterpreting everything in your life that is meant to serve as an object lesson, every bit of spiritual teaching that comes your way, and every person who has the potential to offer you assistance on your journey (7:4). The ego's whole purpose is to keep you from finding what you are looking for! It knows if you find what you are looking for, the ego is done for. If you really want to learn anything, it obviously makes no sense to continue to listen to your ego!

In choosing the ego you have chosen a curriculum that is against love and against learning; it is nothing more than "a course in how to attack yourself" (7:7). I've always found that one of the more amusing lines in the Course. I recall one time listening to a tape recording of this section with my friend, Lynne, as we drove somewhere in the car. We began listing all the ways we had attacked ourselves, and somehow it was so ridiculous that we started laughing hysterically. You could take A Course in Miracles and invert the meaning of each sentence, and it would be a good description of what the ego wants to teach us.

"Everything real can be threatened, and illusions are real, too. You have destroyed what God created and are no longer innocent or loving. You are the victim of the world."

 The ego constantly teaches me that I am weak, I am no good, I am guilty, I am a failure, and I can't do it. Its teaching is designed to confuse and frustrate me—and it has worked pretty well! My mind is split and in turmoil, one part warring against the other, one part trying to learn and the other part deliberately blocking that learning, because that is exactly what the ego wants (7:9–10).

Yet there is yet a sane place in my mind that really does want to learn something, and because it is my choice to learn it, I can learn it (7:11). I have a Perfect Teacher, and I have a will to learn. That is all I need.

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8.  1You who have tried to learn what you do not want [will] should take heart, for although the curriculum you set yourself is depressing indeed, it is merely ridiculous if you look at it. 2Is it possible that the way to achieve a goal is not to attain it? 3Resign now as your own teacher. 4This resignation will not lead to depression. 5It is merely the result of an honest appraisal of what you have taught yourself, and of the learning outcomes that have resulted. 6Under the proper learning conditions, which you can neither provide nor understand, you will become an excellent learner and [and] an excellent teacher. 7But it is not so yet, and will not be so until the whole learning situation, as you have set it up, is reversed.

• Study Question •

8.     An honest appraisal of how well you have taught yourself will lead you to resign from the job. Should you, then, simply admit that you are incapable of being an effective teacher and learner, and just give up?

The picture of the ego thought system and its curriculum, teaching us what we don't want, is certainly depressing. But the message of the Course again comes through clearly: this is not something to be depressed about. Rather, we should "take heart." If you look at it, it isn't depressing; it's just ridiculous! Notice once again the imperative need to "look at it." (8:1) The ego and all the mess it seems to have created isn't anything to be afraid of or depressed about or guilty about; it is just silly, because it can't possibly work! Instead of being depressed, we should be laughing our heads off!

Anything that sets a goal and then strives not to attain it can't possibly work (8:2). We should give up the effort to teach ourselves. "Resign now as your own teacher." "Now!" Don't wait any longer.

In other words, stop listening to your ego. Stop taking it seriously. Stop being guilty about your ego. Laugh at it, or smile at it. Stop giving credence to your ego interpretation of things; you have no idea what they are and you can't possibly teach yourself. Assign yourself to the Teacher Who knows.

Look at what you have taught yourself and the outcome it has produced in your life. Has it made you happy? Have you found what you have been looking for? Make that "honest appraisal" and you will fire the ego immediately! (8:5) And you won't feel depressed; you'll feel inspired!

You have been a terrible teacher and a terrible learner, but it won't stay that way. Under the right conditions "you will become an excellent learner and an excellent teacher. But it is not so yet" (8:6–7). You are just at the starting gate. You have to learn first how to be a good learner; then you can become a good teacher. At this point you don't even know what "the proper learning conditions" are; you can't provide them and you can't understand them (8:6).

None of this will happen "until the whole learning situation as you have set it up is reversed" (8:7). You have to fire the ego and hire the Holy Spirit. You have to let Him totally reverse your learning goals. You've been trying to learn how not to learn, and you have learned very well. Now, you have to start by recognizing what you want to learn, what you will to learn. What you want to learn above all else is your own innocence, your own perfection as God's creation, your own Being as wholly loveable and wholly loving.

The purpose of the course might be said to provide you with a means of choosing what you want to teach on the basis of what you want to learn. (M-Int.2:5).

When you have that as your clear goal, you will learn it by teaching it to others.

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9.  1Your learning potential, properly understood, is limitless because it will lead you to God. 2You can teach the way to Him and learn it, if you follow the Teacher Who knows the way to and understands His curriculum for learning it. 3The curriculum is totally unambiguous, because the goal is not divided and the means and the end are in complete accord. 4You need offer only undivided attention. 5Everything else will be given you. 6For you really want to learn aright [For it is your will to learn aright], and nothing can oppose the decision [will] of God's Son. 7His learning is as unlimited as he is.

• Study Question •

9.     Your learning potential is limitless. You will be given all you need: a curriculum with an undivided goal, and the means to achieve the goal that are in complete accord with it. What must you give?

Give your attention to the Holy Spirit (9:4) and you will be lead to God. You have unlimited learning potential. All you need is the right Teacher. "Nothing can oppose the will of God's Son." (9:6)

I want to emphasize one line: You need offer only undivided attention. Part of the purpose the Workbook serves is to make us aware how divided our attention really is. All we have to do is to recall one sentence several times a day, and we can't do it. Our minds get totally distracted by the world we think is real, and we forget all about the Holy Spirit and His lesson. This is why we all need a training curriculum, in the form of the Workbook, for at least one year. It takes time to begin to form the habit of simply paying attention to our minds, noticing the ego's thoughts there, and turning them over to the Holy Spirit, while listening for His judgment. Don't get discouraged if you don't learn this in a week or two, or a year or two. Keep working towards that goal; that is all that is really asked of you. Jesus is saying here that you have "unlimited learning potential;" you can learn this. The deepest, truest part of you wants this; that deep part of you will awaken, if you keep the door open.

In all its imagery of teachers, students, curriculums, learning aids and class goals, this section has been repeating the same basic message: the way out of hell for us to is stop listening to our own egos and to listen instead to the Holy Spirit. Stop trusting our own interpretation of people and things, and ask the Holy Spirit to tell us what they mean and what they are for. He will always lead us to see everything as love or a call for love, and to respond to everything only with love.

Answer Key

1.              We attack them in an attempt to make them weaker and thus equalize the situation.

2.              You will realize that attack does not accomplish anything. Your undiminished strength will not need to be defended or bolstered up by attack.

3.              You will be manufacturing false evidence that appears to prove that attack does have effects. The people you are attacking, believing themselves to be vulnerable, will react as though your attack has injured them. Your ego will use that to convince you of the power of attack.

4.              Your love is unreliable because it is ambivalent or impure. Realize that you must allow the Holy Spirit to love through you.

5.              —cannot learn well without "constant, clear-cut direction" (5:2)
—cannot learn by yourself (5:3)
—cannot be a teacher for yourself or anyone (5:5)
—cannot establish your own curriculum (5:6)
—cannot see beyond your limitations or understand what is beyond them (5:7)
—cannot transcend your limited resources (5:2)

6.              The meaning of love.

7.              You might tell then that their situation isn't that unusual. Apparently, their ego has been doing its best to keep them from learning, since it is trying to maintain its attack on them and keep the split in their mind. We should not be surprised if learning what the Course has to teach seems difficult to implement, even when it is easy to understand.

8.              No. You will become an excellent teacher and learner, though only under the proper conditions, which you by yourself cannot provide.

9.              Your undivided attention.