WORKBOOK PRACTICETo begin with, I'd like to share some thoughts about what Workbook practice really is, and what it is intended to accomplish. From my study of the Course, I believe the Workbook is intended to train us in the formation of a habit of spiritual practice. This habititual practice is meant to continue until we have nearly completed our spiritual journey. Let me try to explain what I mean by this habit of spiritual practice.
In the Manual for Teachers, Chapter 16, "How Should the Teacher of God Spend His Day?," the Course discusses what daily practice should be like for those who have completed the Workbook. This gives a clear picture, then, of the results of the Workbook's training program, or the kind of daily practice for which the Workbook is the training program.
The discussion of daily practice in this chapter becomes more understandable if we set it in the context of the various categories the Course discusses within its curriculum:
- teachers of God
- advanced teachers of God
- teachers of teachers
A teacher of God is anyone who chooses to be one. His qualifications consist solely in this; somehow, somewhere he has made a deliberate choice in which he did not see his interests as apart from someone else's. Once he has done that, his road is established and his direction is sure....He has entered an agreement with God even if he does not yet believe in Him. He has become a bringer of salvation. He has become a teacher of God (M-1.1:1-3, 6-8).By this definition, all it takes to become a teacher of God is a moment in which we realize we share common interests with another person. That common interest must, by implication, be "salvation," because in that moment we have entered an agreement with God and have become a "bringer of salvation." Another way of seeing this, perhaps, is that we have experienced a holy instant, or a moment of true forgiveness.
And yet, in Chapter 16, there seems to be a different set of criteria. The Manual states clearly: "He cannot claim that title [teacher of God] until he has gone through the workbook, since we are learning within the framework of our course" (M-16.3:7). So, although in general a teacher of God can be said to be anyone who has made a decision that involved common interests with another, within the framework of the course (that is, within this particular form of spiritual curriculum) a "teacher of God" is someone who has completed the Workbook for Students.
The Course appears to be making a distinction between a teacher of God in the general sense, and a teacher of God who is sharing with another person the specific goal of learning the Course. To be a teacher in that special sense, one needs to complete the Workbook. Since the Workbook in many places assumes we have studied the Text, we can therefore assume that completing the Workbook also includes completing the Text. To be a teacher of God in the framework of the Course, then, means having completed both volumes. It seems only common sense that one should complete a course--any course--before claiming to teach it.
I should note, for people unfamiliar with the Course, that it is all right to do the Workbook before reading all of the Text, if you feel guided to do that. I would say that the "normal" order would be to read the Text first, or at least most of it, before doing the Workbook, but that is by no means a strict rule. If you have been led to begin the Workbook, it isn't necessary to read all of the Text first. I would recommend beginning to read it as soon as possible, however.
Beyond the level of "teacher of God" lies "the advanced teacher of God" (M-16.1:1). That phrase describes someone who is nearing the end of his or her personal journey, living on the verge of or within the real world--that is, with spiritually clarified perception of the world--as Jesus lived while on earth. Every student of the Course is in training to become an advanced teacher of God; Chapter 4 of the Manual describes the characteristics of an advanced teacher (M-4:2:2), a list of ten very fundamental character traits, including trust, honesty, gentleness, patience, and defenselessness. This chapter also tells of the often long process a person goes through in developing these characteristics.
And even beyond that exalted level are the "Teachers of teachers"; beings who have "laid the body down merely to extend their helpfulness to those remaining behind" and who "retain no trace of worldly limits" while "remembering their own Identity perfectly"; beings who are "no longer visible" yet who "appear when and where it is helpful for them to do so" (M-26.2:1-3; 3:9).
With that understood, let's turn back to Chapter 16. It begins with describing what the day is like for an advanced teacher of God; to such a person, the question of how to spend the day "is meaningless." He or she lives without a program. They keep in constant touch with the Holy Spirit and are told, moment to moment, what to do (1:1-10). Of course, we all aspire to such a state, but few, if indeed any, have yet attained it. I don't know of anyone who has. So the chapter then addresses itself to the more common level of the less-than-advanced teacher of God, who is still in the process of developing those ten characteristics. It says:
"But what about those who have not reached his certainty?" (M-16.2:1) And now the chapter begins to discuss how a teacher of God (as opposed to an advanced teacher) spends his day. Unlike the advanced teacher, the day for a teacher of God is not entirely without structure: "They are not yet ready for such lack of structuring on their own part" (M-16.2:2). What is going to be described here is the post-Workbook practice, the habit of practice which the Workbook is designed to teach us. This practice is meant to continue until we reach the state of advanced teachers of God, where structure becomes meaningless and we live in a spontaneous partnership with the Holy Spirit. Even after completing the Workbook, we are not yet ready for complete lack of structure.
Workbook practice is very structured. Post-workbook practice is loosely structured. And the practice of an advanced teacher is characterized by lack of structuring.
The post-Workbook practice, in simple outline, is this:
- Begin the day right, as soon as possible after waking. "As soon as possible after waking take your quiet time, continuing a minute or two after you begin to find it difficult" (M-16.4:7). The goal in this time is to "join with God," and we should spend as long as it takes (the length of time is not a major concern) until it becomes difficult (4:4-8).
- Repeat the "same procedures" at night; just before sleeping if possible (5:1).
- Remember God all through the day (6:1-14).
- Turn to the Holy Spirit with all your problems (7:4-5).
- Respond to all temptations by reminding yourself of the truth (8:1-3; 10:8; 11:9).
If we follow the instructions of the Workbook carefully we will, at the end of the year, have formed the steady habit of daily practice the Manual speaks about. If we do not follow the instructions of the Workbook carefully, and simply "do it" however we feel like doing it, we will not develop that habit. Habits are formed by disciplined repetition, and no other way. Therefore, watch, as you read, for both the instructions for practice and for the passion with which Jesus urges us to really do the practice. He isn't casual about it at all! He pleads with us; he cajoles us; he sympathizes with our difficulties but calls us back to a renewed effort after failure. And at one point in the Introduction he tells us that, "...it is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible" (W-IN.1:1-2).
In the Text, in a section talking about daily practice, he says, "The speed by which it [the goal] can be reached depends on this one thing alone; your willingness to practice every step" (T-30.Int.1:3).
And in a passage that is reminiscent of a TV pitchman trying to sell us an amazing slicer/dicer along with a set of knives, he tries to impress on us the importance and value of the disciplined practice to which he calls us:
Is it not worth five minutes of your time each hour to be able to accept the happiness that God has given you? Is it not worth five minutes hourly to recognize your special function here? Is not five minutes but a small request to make in terms of gaining a reward so great it has no measure? You have made a thousand losing bargains at the least.To me, there is no doubt that the author of the Workbook really desires and expects us to make every effort to follow his instructions. As he says in the Workbook's Introduction:
Here is an offer guaranteeing you your full release from pain of every kind, and joy the world does not contain. You can exchange a little of your time for peace of mind and certainty of purpose, with the promise of complete success. And since time has no meaning, you are being asked for nothing in return for everything. Here is a bargain that you cannot lose. And what you gain is limitless indeed! (W-pI.98.5-6)
You are merely asked to apply the ideas as you are directed to do. ...It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true (W-pI.In.8:3, 6).As an aid to those who want to follow the practice of the Workbook, this book includes with each lesson a condensed summary of the practice instructions which apply to the day. (Often a set of instructions is given in one lesson and carries over for several weeks, without being restated daily.) These summaries were written by Robert Perry.
Now, I'm not saying that everyone who reads the Workbook has to engage in a disciplined practice of the Workbook. I'm not trying to tell you what you should do; that is a matter of individual guidance. But I do mean to point out that, if you want to make the Course your path, these are the instructions given by the author, and he heavily stresses their importance within the curriculum he gives us.
I do believe that the Workbook lessons were written in a particular order for a reason, and that there is an intelligently planned approach in the way they work cumulatively to transform our thoughts as we study them. Therefore I always recommend that people do the lessons in order, 1 to 365. Nevertheless, if the imposition of such minimal "structure" or the submitting of oneself to this very slight amount of authority raises the level of fear in us, then a compromise approach, doing it however you please, may be better.
I believe that the resistance we have to following Jesus's instructions in the book is nothing more than a manifestation of the basic "authority problem" that is said, in the Text, to be the root of all "evil." Even so, doing the lessons out of order, or ignoring the instructions for practice to do them however we feel comfortable, is certainly better than not doing them at all! And, if trying to force myself to follow the practice instructions disturbs me so much it threatens to cause me to stop altogether, then throw that approach out the window.
To summarize: I believe that the instructions in the lessons are very explicit for a reason. We are meant to follow these instructions to the letter, as much as we possibly can. We will not be able to do so, especially in the beginning, but the whole intent of the exercises is to form a habit of spiritual practice that will endure for a lifetime. You can't do that without some persistent effort over a long period of time.
And if you find resistance strong and dedication weak, you are not ready. Do not fight yourself. (T-30.I.1:6, 7).
The goal is clear, but now you need specific methods for attaining it. The speed by which it can be reached depends on this one thing alone; your willingness to practice every step. Each one will help a little, every time it is attempted. And together will these steps lead you from dreams of judgment to forgiving dreams and out of pain and fear....So now, we need to practice them awhile, until they are the rules by which you live. We seek to make them habits now, so you will have them ready for whatever need (T-30.In.1:2-5, 7-8).
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