I feel the first paragraph is one of the most important statements in the Course about the Course itself and about the purpose of its volumes. It tells us the purpose of both the Text and the Workbook, as well as how the two relate to each other.
First, it says that we need the Text. It is "necessary" because it gives us the "theoretical foundation." That foundation is a "framework" that allows us to make sense of the lessons. Without it, the lessons wouldn't be meaningful to us. So please don't think "theory" is a dirty word in the Course. In the sense used here, it is the very foundation of our practical application.
Yet we also need the Workbook. Notice what is said about it:
- Doing it makes "the goal of the course possible" (1:2).
- "An untrained mind can accomplish nothing" (1:3). In context, this means an untrained mind cannot accomplish the goal of the Course.
- The Workbook trains your mind to actually think according to the teachings in the Text (1:4).
Doing the Workbook, therefore, is absolutely crucial. Without it, we will have theory, we will have teachings. But we won't have the mind training that allows those teachings to come alive for us, that allows them to become the basis for how we actually think. With the Workbook, we can accomplish the goal of the Course, but without it, we simply can't.
So, as we begin the Workbook, let's keep this in mind. The Workbook is about actually doing the practice. The temptation will be to see the lessons as being shots of inspiration with which to begin the day. But they are really like the talk a coach gives the players as they are about to enter the game. It's not really how the talk makes you feel that's important. It's how you use it to play the game better—the game being your practice throughout the day, and ultimately your living throughout the day.
So this year is going to be about practice. The Workbook is going to try to draw you into a lifetime habit of spiritual practice, to which you turn for your basic emotional equilibrium in the midst of life's challenges. Ultimately, this practice will lead you into such unshakable peace that you will awaken to the peace of God. But that is far, far down the road. To get there, however, we have to start at the beginning.
So think of this year as a training. Indeed, "training" is mentioned seven times in this introduction. The Text says, "This is a course in mind training" (T-1.VII.4:1). (Originally: "This course is a mind-training course.") And the Workbook is where that training is most evident. Think of this year, then, as a "training period" (2:4). That way, you will be readying yourself for what's to come. It will start out easy, but what is asked of you will increase as we go.
A couple final remarks. Paragraph 2 says "They do not require a great deal of time" (2:2), which is perfectly true. What they do require is attention. They require you to be fully mentally present for short segments of your day.
Finally, the last sentence of paragraph 2 gives an important instruction: "Do not undertake to do more than one set of exercises a day" (2:6). This is as important for what it doesn't say as for what it does. For instance, it doesn't say that you can't repeat a lesson, either because you found it particularly valuable or because you basically didn't do it (in which case, strictly speaking, you aren't actually repeating it). One thing I don't recommend, though, is repeating a lesson until you get it perfect. Jesus is fully aware that you won't be doing the lessons perfectly (see 95.5 and rIII.In.9:1-2). So just give them your best shot-read the lesson and really give its practice a good go—and then move on.
This paragraph provides some basics. Part I of the Workbook (Lessons 1-220) is mainly about undoing our current way of seeing, whereas Part II (221-365) is about acquiring the new way of seeing. And you can see that in the lesson titles—they are on balance more positive in Part II. The difference, though, is not categorical. Rather, it is a difference of degree.
When it says, "Each day's exercises are planned around one central idea" (3:2), that obviously refers to the lesson title, which is usually called "the idea for the day," "today's idea," or simply "the idea." That idea is what you are meant to learn each day—"learn" here being meant in a much deeper sense than usual.
Originally, this paragraph included this line: "It is recommended that each exercise be repeated several times a day, preferably in a different place each time, and if possible in every situation in which you spend any long period of time." In other words, repeat the lesson a lot of times, in different places and all major situations. By the way, that second bit about "in a different place each time" is supported by research into learning. A September 6, 2010 article in the New York Times, "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits," says that "instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention."
For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room. Later studies have confirmed the finding, for a variety of topics.
The first sentence says it all: "The purpose of the workbook is to train your mind in a systematic way to a different perception of everyone and everything in the world." Doing the practice systematically trains your mind to perceive everything differently, and since how we perceive things determines how we experience them, the Workbook is meant to give us a different experience of literally everything.
The final sentence introduces the subject of the next three paragraphs: generalization of learning or transfer of training.
Transfer of training is a huge issue. You'll be practicing in relation to very specific things—"this table"—so how does that change how you see "everything"? You might find yourself thinking, "Fine, I learned to see this table differently, but how does that help me with my marriage?" In response to this, Jesus gives two important principles:
- If you achieve true perception in connection with one thing, then it will transfer to everything.
- If you hold true perception apart from one thing, then it will be held apart from everything.
The first principle is uplifting and hopeful, while the second is deflating and discouraging. Yet they really boil down to a single idea, one that will guide our practice throughout: A decision about one thing is a decision about everything.
Those two principles produce two rules for practice:
1. Practice "with great specificity" (6:1). Try to see one specific thing with true perception, and then sit back and trust it to generalize to everything. Don't try to achieve it generally. Seek for it specifically.
2. Don't make exceptions. This is a big issue and is repeated over and over. By saying that true perception does not apply in this one instance, you are saying that it doesn't really apply anywhere.
This is actually the opposite of how we might be tempted to think: "I'll just apply these truths to everything—I'll forgive all of humanity—and then if I make a few exceptions, they are just drops in the bucket. After all, if I've forgiven the earth's six billion people, does it really matter if I've held back five?" In other words, we tend to want to practice generally and then make allowance for "reasonable" exceptions. Jesus, however, asks us to practice specifically and make no exceptions. As I said, we will see this strategy shape our practice instructions throughout.
The reason all this is true of true perception is that it works differently than conventional perception (6:5-6). Conventionally, we can decide that Mark is charismatic or that Jennifer is witty without deciding that for everyone else. Conventional perception, in other words, is conditional. We wait to decide what something is until we find out the particular conditions it fulfills. True perception, however, doesn't work that way. It doesn't wait for the assessment of the particular conditions. It applies the same meaning to everyone, no matter what specific conditions are present.
If we just follow these two rules—practice specifically and make no exceptions—then the true perception we achieve will "extend…to include everything" (7:1). And it will do so effortlessly: "This will require no effort on your part" (7:2). What terrific news!
All of this gives us a useful summary of what Workbook practice is: applying the Course's abstract ideas to specific things in your life without exception.
Every student loves these two paragraphs, for obvious reasons. Let me try to summarize their counsel:
You may find the ideas "hard to believe" (8:1) and "quite startling" (8:1). You may even "actively resist" some of them (9:2). But that's OK. That doesn't matter. Your negative reactions to the ideas won't even "decrease their efficacy" (9:3). As a result, you don't need to "believe the ideas," "accept them," or "even welcome them" (9:1).
What you do need to do is use them. This is repeatedly stressed:
- "apply the ideas" (8:3)
- "use them" (8:5)
- "use them" (9:4)
Don't just read them. Use them. And don't let your adverse reactions to them lead you to "judge them" (8:4). Suspend your judgment and use them. And don't just use them; use them without exception (9:4).
Using them—doing the practice—will actually end up reversing those initial reactions. Where at first the ideas may have seemed meaningless and patently false, "their use…will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true" (8:6). And then you will believe them, you will accept them, and you will more than welcome them—you will embrace them as your most treasured possessions.