In honor of his birthday: My Interview with Ken Wapnick

It was leaf-peeping season in Roscoe, New York in October 2000, when I drove up to spend the weekend interviewing Ken Wapnick (in between attending his workshops) at The Foundation for A Course in Miracles on Tennanah Lake. The trees along the winding upstate roads were raining gold and burgundy leaves.

The air was crisp. Plaid woolen jackets and red hunting caps were the local fashion statement.  Along with fishing rods and wading boots.  Known as Trout Town USA, the Roscoe visitor’s guide bragged, “Come cast a line in our waters–you’ll be hooked for a lifetime!!!”  Well, I was already hooked.  Hooked on God and His Message in  A Course in Miracles.  And I felt driven to ask Ken Wapnick, the first human teacher of the Course, some questions face to face.

Today, February 22nd, is Ken’s birthday, so I thought we could celebrate by receiving some timeless insights he shared with me almost 21 years ago.

While re-reading our conversation, it struck me that Ken exhibited a constancy of good cheer, unshakable faith and generosity that are signs of God-Mind. This quote from a section in Chapter 21 which Ken often referred to, “The Last Unanswered Question,” came to me:

“Happiness must be constant, because it is attained by giving up the wish for the inconstant. Joy cannot be perceived except through constant vision. And constant vision can be given only those who wish for constancy.” (T-21.VII.13:2-4)

Here is an excerpt from the 30-page interview that Ken was gracious enough to have with me over the course of an entire weekend in October 2000.  It was intended to be published in The Sun magazine, as a follow-up piece to Higher Learning by D. Patrick Miller, an interview he did with Ken and Gloria which appeared in Issue 231, March 1995.  For reasons I don’t really understand, my interview stayed between me and Ken … I lost the desire to publish it.  I would apologize to him about this from time to time, and he would always forgive me 😀

Now the timing seems right to surface some of the material, so here goes.

Amy:  Early in the Text, we’re told purification is necessary and it is our thoughts that are being purified. And we’re also told that “This is a course in mind training.”  Can you speak about purification and mind training?  It sounds to me like choosing to be brainwashed in the nicest sense of … washing your brain.

Ken:  Washing your mind.  Purification is not a word which is used very often.  What purification really means is to undo the guilt that’s in our minds.  The guilt is the impurified part of our mind.  The impurity.  And forgiveness is what undoes that.  It has nothing to do with purification of the body.

Amy:  It’s all about forgiveness.

Ken:  It’s all about forgiveness.  That’s the great purifier.  And guilt is the impurity.

Amy:  And when we reach the state of forgiveness, what happens to us?  Do we just evaporate in a sense?

Ken:  You remain Amy, just as lovely as you are now, the only difference is that you would be happy all the time, there would be no anxiety, there would be no fear, there would be no guilt, there would be no depression, there would be no concern for anything, and you would be happy and peaceful all the time.

Amy:  But does the dream evaporate?  The dream is an illusion …

Ken:  Yes, it does.  But it doesn’t do it immediately.  The Course has the concept of the happy dream and there’s one passage that says you could not waken from the nightmare into reality because the terror would be so enormous and therefore you have to take small steps and those are the gentle, or happy, dreams of the Holy Spirit.  So, in the very end when you totally accept the Atonement, and you’ve forgiven totally, then you do awaken from the dream.   Which doesn’t mean that your body goes “poof!”  It just means that you know for certain that you are not your body.

Amy:  And then do you stop dreaming?  Do you die?

Ken:  Well, physical death has nothing to do with it.  It’s totally irrelevant.  But before you reach that point you become less anxious, less fearful, less angry, less judgmental, less guilty, etc., etc., and it’s a process.  Within the illusion of time, it’s a process.

Amy:  Does the branching of the road come before the happy dream? [The Branching of the Road is section IV in Chapter 22]

Ken:  The branching of the road, in a sense, would represent your choosing the happy dream.  When you basically make the choice, “I’m not going back this way again, and I may still be afraid of the final awakening because I would lose this individual self but I’m really making a commitment now, not to go back to my old ego’s ways but continue to look forward.”

Amy:  Does the branching of the road correspond to that part in the Course where Jesus talks about how it may seem very painful that you have to let go of relationships or habits in your life?

Ken:  Well, yes, in the sense that when you make that choice, the branching of the road, you’re really making a commitment to really let go of yourself.

Amy:  The small self?

Ken:  Yes, the small self, and that’s where the pain and fear becomes more acute because your ego recognizes that you really mean business.  I’ll be discussing that in the workshop tomorrow. [The workshop was called “The Scissors of Duality”]

Amy:  Speaking of the small self, I’ve noticed in my own life that as I have developed ego strength that I’ve been able to relinquish my ego.

Ken:  Mm hmm, yes, that’s the way it works.

Amy:  Can you talk about that a little, because it’s so paradoxical.

Ken: If the person doesn’t have ego strength it’s because there’s too much fear.  Or anxiety, or guilt, or whatever form it takes.  So how could you let go of your ego which is all about guilt and fear anyway?  Developing what psychologists refer to as ego strength is really a way of letting go of a lot of senses of inadequacy, anxiety, fear of death, etc.  That’s how it works.

Amy:  So there’s a real logic to it.

Ken:  Oh, yeah.  You can’t let go of your ego until you first have one.

Amy:  You can’t let go of your ego until you first have one.

Ken:  Yes.  And not having ego [strength] is basically autism, ultimately.  And that’s really intense fear.  Because that’s what the ego is.  Jung talks about two stages of life and the first stage is developing an ego.  And Jung said that the second stage is that every problem over the age of 35 or 40 is a spiritual problem.  What he meant was that the first part of your life is learning how to adapt to the world and how to get by in the world.  And the second part of your life you spend learning how to let all that go.  I don’t agree with a lot of what Jung said but here I think he was right.  The East says the same thing.  With men, anyway, you spend the first part of your life raising a family and having a wife, and when the children are grown you leave, and you go on your spiritual search.  The form seems a little odd to us in the West, but the idea is that you spend the first part of your life developing your ego, which really means learning how to undo a lot of fear, and that’s the first step.  The second step is, you can now take a step beyond that, and let go of this ego stuff entirely.

* * *

There’s more to this interview, but I’ll stop here for now.  Happy Birthday, Ken!  Your personal identity and body was born into the dream on February 22, 1942.  And, hopefully, in the words of the East, you achieved moksha, liberation from the ego, on December 27, 2013.  You are alive and well in my heart and the Universal Heart.

Namaste~  Amy

Copyright © 2000 & Beyond. Amy Torres.  All rights reserved worldwide.