I've always like the prayer for today's lesson. It has a neat little structure, where a key word or phrase from each line is repeated in the next line. You can see this by putting those key words or phrases in bold, as I've done below.
Father, today I would but hear Your Voice.
In deepest silence I would come to You, to hear Your Voice and to receive Your Word.
I have no prayer but this: I come to You to ask You for the truth.
And truth is but Your Will, which I would share with You today.
The theme of this beautiful little prayer is simple: I am quieting my own ideas and opinions and going to God so that He can give me the real truth. There is an old Zen story which you may have heard that makes a similar point:
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
Like this cup, Nan-in said, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?
We all know that if we are talking, we cannot hear. We probably also know that our ideas, judgments, and opinions are a similar kind of noise—they are blocks to hearing a larger truth. Our ideas have, at least to some degree, been cranked out by the cookie-cutter of our ego. Yet truth is ego-transcending. Its whole nature is that it does not bend to the distorting black hole of our ego's desires. Rather, it is equally true for everyone. To receive it, then, all those ego-shaped cookies in our minds have to be cleared out, so that we can receive something that is not ego-shaped, that has no shape at all.
There is an extra layer in this prayer that is not in the Zen story, given that Zen has no personal God. Since we are the authorities who have produced those ego-shaped ideas in our minds, the ultimate reversal of that condition is to bow to a greater Authority—God. That is the last thing the ego wants to do. It wants to say, "Come to me and I will tell what is true." There is something profoundly egoless, then, about saying, "I come to You to ask You for the truth."
This truth is not an alien truth, even though it may sound that way. It's not something that will make us squirm under its thumb. That, of course, is what we are afraid of. We are afraid that truth is a heartless, impersonal thing, a set of cold facts that cares not a whit if we live or die. Instead, however, truth is actually the Will of One Who loves us "with an everlasting Love" (W-pII.4.4:4). As such, it is a Will that we can share. It can become our will, too.
And when it does become our will, we have at last united two things that we thought would always be in competition: desire and truth. We may not realize it, but the friction between desire and truth virtually defines our lives. In each moment we are negotiating between these two things, deciding how much we can satisfy our desires vs. how much we need to bow to the dictates of truth. Do we get dessert or have to eat salad? This negotiation process is never absent from our minds. If you look inside with honesty, you will find it there right now.
The prayer starts out with us silencing our desires, and all ideas that come from our desires, in favor of a truth that does not bend to our desires. But the prayer doesn't end there. It ends with a truth that is also God's Will, and that Will then becomes our will. So now, what we want and what is true have stopped competing; not because they have reached a truce, but because at last they are the same. We have finally realized that a truth which yields not to our desires is actually the ultimate fulfillment of desire. And we can't imagine wanting anything else.
The second paragraph adds another important layer onto this idea of silencing our ego-based thoughts in favor of the truth. The natural question that arises in this context, of course, is "How do I silence my ego?" It seems to chatter on regardless. This second paragraph gives us an important solution, which I will lay out on separate lines so we can appreciate each step:
When such thoughts occur,
we quietly step back
and look at them,
and then we let them go.
We do not want what they would bring with them.
And so we do not choose to keep them.
They are silent now.
This idea of quietly stepping back and looking at them before we let them go is such an important instruction, one that is echoed in many places in the Course. We find it in early Workbook lessons that tell you to look at your stream of thinking as if "you are watching an oddly assorted procession going by, which has little if any personal meaning to you" (W-pI.10.4:6). And we find it in Text passages that urge you to look calmly on the ego: "Let it enter and look upon it calmly" (T-17.VII.5:4).
Usually, of course, our ego thoughts seem like part of who we are. We and they appear to be welded together. This makes us attached to them and ashamed of them, both of which get in the way of letting them go. The attachment views them as part of us, essential to our happiness, which makes it very difficult to let them go. The shame leads to covering them up, which makes it impossible to let them go. I think much of our unsuccessful Workbook practice involves trying to let ego thoughts go while still gripping them tightly. We are warring against ourselves.
What this lesson is giving us, then, is an intermediate step. Before trying to let them go, put them on the table, and take two steps back. Just this simple act means that we are not the thought. We are something separate from it, distinct from it.
Then, having stepped back, we can calmly look at this thought. We can get objective to it. And from this more objective standpoint, we can dispassionately evaluate it. We can shine the light on it and make a rational decision. Do we want what it brings with it? Well, we know from experience what it brings with it. And so in this case, no, we don't want it.
And so we choose to let it go. We do not choose to keep it.
And that is how our minds become silent, how our own voice becomes still, so that we can hear the Voice of our Creator, telling us what we really want.
Think of a recent situation where you reacted from your ego and wished you hadn't.
Try to trace back in your mind to a point just before the outer reaction.
Try to freeze the frame so that you are in that tiny split second where your ego thought hadn't yet given rise to the behavior.
Notice how identified you feel with this thought.
It feels like part of you, like one of your fingers. So of course you don't want to part with it.
But just for the moment, set this thought on a table in front of you and take two steps back from it.
For this moment, it's not part of you; it's just that thing on the table over there.
Now look at it, calmly, dispassionately.
Now you have a chance to make a rational decision about it.
Do you like what it will soon bring with it?
If not, then, out of simple self-interest, decide you don't want to keep that thought.
Choose to let it go, as you would let go of piece of trash you don't want cluttering up your life.
Let its voice be silent in your mind.
Indeed, let all your voices be silent in your mind.
Say, "Let every voice but God's be still in me."
Clear an open space where God's Voice can speak to you.
Say, "I come to You to ask you for the truth of this situation."
Let His Voice tell you how you could have seen this exact same situation.
How you could have seen it in a way that was both true and that made you happy.
Now unfreeze the frame, and see yourself expressing this new thought.
Notice its results.
Notice how much better the other person feels, and how much better you feel.
Realize that this is what you really want.
This is your true will, at one with God's Will.