This is a very rich lesson and contains the Course's most important teaching about the lifestyle of a Course student. I'm going to try to present a linear, step-by-step account of its teaching.
We come to this world to escape our reality, to become an illusion. And so, while here, we wrap ourselves in illusions. We identify with them and seek happiness from them. We end up unhappy, because illusions cannot satisfy us. The more we reach out to grasp, the less our hands bring back to us. We don't know why we are coming up empty-handed. And so we feel deprived. What we don't realize is that what we really want is the truth, and of that we are depriving ourselves.
At some point, however, our deep desire moves us to seek outside the pathways of the world. And when we do that, we find that our reality is even here. We haven't managed to avoid it at all. So we step back, and let it lead the way. Now the truth is up ahead, leading us on, and illusions fall behind, no longer blocking our sight and leading us down their dead-ends.
When we do that, we face a choice: How will we position ourselves in relation to the illusions of the world? The most familiar choice is the path of sacrifice. This path says, "We must renounce the world. It is lower. It is unholy. It is not of God." The problem with this is that the renunciants still believe in the world's reality, and so they believe they are giving up something real (even if their formal beliefs tell them otherwise).
So while the general populace feel deprived of some nameless happiness (which is actually reality), the renunciants feel they have sacrificed the world. Their loss is less than the person immersed in the world, but they still feel loss, and so "have not been released accordingly" (4:3).
By sacrificing the illusions of the world, they set themselves clearly apart from everyone else. They thereby tell the world, "I am not like you, immersed in all those earthly temptations. If you want to follow my way, you will need to give all that up. It is not for everyone, but it is the higher way. You will need to withdraw from society behind the walls of a cloistered community, give up sex, give up the companionship of the opposite sex, give up achievement in the world, give up the recognition of your peers, give up children, give up everything except God."
Jesus clearly thinks the way of sacrifice is not it. He thinks it is ultimately a happier way than the way most everyone chooses, the way of deprivation. But he guides us down another road, a third way.
In this third way, we realize that we are not yet ready to give up the world, as we still believe in it. And we realize that, in order to lead others toward truth, we still need to wear the illusions of the world. And so we basically look like everyone else. We dress like everyone else. We may well live in the neighborhood with the picket fences and mown lawns. People think, "Yeah, that guy is just like us."
But they can also sense something different. If you look at paragraph 1, the difference is clear. It is not your clothing or hair or lifestyle. It is the expression on your face—your frequent smile, your serene forehead, your quiet eyes. There is something there that they want. Quite simply, it is reality, the very thing they feel deprived of. They sense it in you. And they think, "Well, he's just like me, so whatever worked for him will probably work for me. And clearly, he hasn't had to give anything up and get all weird. So I'm going to watch him for now and go the way he goes."
Now a chain is formed. At the head of the chain is God. That is where everyone on the chain is heading toward. (God is also, however, our Companion along the way. He is the One Who we should allow to "lead the way." All references in this lesson to uppercase figures, such as "One Who knows you," or One Who has "placed His Hand in yours," are references to God. The reference to "a Teacher Who perceives their madness" (3:4) is an incorrect capitalization—it was not capitalized in Helen's notes. That refers to you—you are the teacher they need.)
The next thing in the chain is truth. That is what we have our eyes set on. That is our guide. We are not following the illusions of the world. We are following the truth. The rest of the world can run anywhere it wants. It can run off a cliff. But we are going nowhere unless the truth takes us there.
The next thing in this chain is us. We are following the truth as we walk to God. Even though we follow the truth, however, illusion still appears to cling to us. This is crucial, for this means that they, our followers, "may see something with which they can identify; something they understand to lead the way" (9:4). You, in other words, must be that something—something that stirs their longing for truth yet something that looks like them.
Then, of course, come the followers. They are people who cannot really see the truth directly, at least not very well. They are still too wrapped in illusion. They are still too embedded in the path of deprivation—at least when left to their own devices. But with you around, they feel the scent of truth in the air, and they want more. And so they follow you. They watch which way you walk, and they try to walk that same way.
It probably seems to us rather ludicrous to think that we have followers. And perhaps we don't, not yet anyway. But it is also quite likely that we do. They will probably never say, "I am your follower." But it doesn't mean that your image isn't in the back—or the front—of their minds as they make their decisions in life. They may in fact be modeling themselves after you, without ever telling you.
This is why it is so important to "walk safely now, yet carefully" (9:1). When you step off the path, you may be surprised at how many people you take with you.
Morning/evening quiet time: at least 5 minutes; ideally, 30 or more
We are obviously getting fewer instructions for what to do during the longer practice periods. We are meant to increasingly rely on what has worked for us before and what the Holy Spirit inspires us to do in the moment. During today's longer practice, we are meant to mentally link up with God, Who will speak to us, telling us how much He loves us and how He has entrusted our brothers to us, trusting perfectly that we will lead them home to Him. So repeat the words given ("I will step back and let Him lead the way, for I would walk along the road to Him."), and then enter deeply into your mind, listening quietly for His Voice. Remember your training in how to do this: listen in stillness, in confidence, and in patience, repeating the lines when your mind wanders.
The purpose of the morning practice is to firmly take hold of His Hand, so that He can lead you, while you in turn lead your brothers. By preparing you to serve your brothers, the purpose of today's practice is essentially the same as that of yesterday's.
Hourly remembrance: 1 or 2 minutes as the hour strikes (reduce if circumstances do not permit)
Repeat the idea and then listen quietly for God's Voice. Ask Him how He would lead you in the coming hour, how He wants you to guide your brothers along the way to Him. And thank Him for His leading in the hour gone by.