This is a very difficult lesson to understand, one of the hardest in the Workbook. I spent years trying to figure out its message and finally, about ten years ago, felt that I really got it. Because it is important to grasp the whole picture, I am going to depart from my usual practice of commenting paragraph-by-paragraph and will instead simply try to lay out that big picture.
Our body is an attempt to replace God. God is what really surrounds us. He is our true container, that in which we live. Yet, in our experience, our body surrounds us. It is our container. It is what we live in. Therefore, it, rather than God, has our allegiance.
How does this tie in with holding grievances? When we hold a grievance, it is about what someone's body does. It is about behavior. Even if we are holding a grievance about a thought that person holds, that thought becomes revealed and relevant only as it is displayed in behavior.
Grievances, therefore, affirm that the other person is a body, and by extension that we are a body, and by extension that God is a body. This implies, in fact, that He is the biggest body of them all. As a body, He needs other bodies to obey His dictates, to treat Him right. When He is wronged, He will naturally nurse grievances and respond by exacting punishment (including the ultimate punishment of death). This is not how God really is, but it is how we unconsciously see Him. All we have done is to project our view of ourselves onto Him.
So grievances affirm an entire philosophic worldview. On one side is God's form (and we do generally conceive of God in a form; see T-18.VIII.1), representing, as God does, ultimate truth and justice, the ultimate standards to which we are to conform. On the other side is our bodies, constantly misbehaving, constantly sinning against truth and justice. We ought to be doing the right thing, conforming our behavior to God's standards of truth, but we aren't, and we know it.
What, therefore, must be God's plan for salvation? Well, if you've sinned, then the only way to reconcile yourself with truth is to pay for your sins, to pay your debt to truth. Only by paying for what you've done can you be reconciled to the truth that you've violated. Only when you've let truth exact the pound of flesh it demands from you are you in harmony with it, at peace with its dictates. So, if we are bodies, then to be "saved" we have to pay for our bodily sins. And if God is a body, then, like all other bodies, He can attack. He can punish us. He can make us pay in bodily form.
This payment takes many forms: we might experience misfortune or calamity in our lives, we might have to sacrifice bodily pleasures and comforts, and ultimately we will have to die for our sins. We end up seeing a God Who is out to get us for our body's misbehavior, in little ways and in the ultimate way (death).
This leads to mistrust of God. He says He is a good guy, the author of life. He says He's your friend, but you just know He is really trying to skin you alive. He sends you guidance, but you know it can't be trusted—it's going to ask sacrifice of you. In essence, you are holding grievances against Him. You are viewing Him through narrowed eyes. You see Him as a threat to your happiness. You know you have to put a distance between you and Him. After all, following His plan means your death.
So the ego steps in and says, "Look, you know you can't trust that Guy. So I have an alternative plan. Where He tells you to sacrifice all your bodily pleasures, I say, 'Take what the body can offer.' Go for it. Take everything you can get from it. Live it up. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die. God is not your friend; your body is."
This is the way that most of us have chosen. We see happiness as getting the pleasure, comfort and security the body can offer. And we see God's plan as something out to take our happiness from us, out to demand sacrifice from us.
But there is another route. Response to authority always has two sides (outside of healthy obedience): rebellion and placation. The first route was one of rebellion. This other route is the attempt to placate the big Authority by doing everything He asks. And so this tiny minority—the monastics, the ascetics—hate their body as the enemy of truth, and make it pay for its sins, deprives it of its pleasures, sacrifices its gifts, all in the hopes to win God's favor. Yet even this alternative is still an attack on God, because you don't really love and trust a cruel master. You respect and fear him, but you don't love him (except in a sick way).
Further, both routes are placing the body at the center of our self-concept. In one, indulging the body is what will make us happy. In the other, depriving the body is what will win God's favor. In both, then, everything revolves around the body. Which means the ego has achieved its goal for making the body in the first place: to replace God. If the body is our container and the center of our life, then it has replaced God as our container, the center of our life. It has shut Him out.
What fascinates me about this lesson is that it accurately describes two things, and then connects them in a very surprising way:
First, it accurately describes the fact that our grievances are about the misbehavior of other bodies.
Second, it accurately describes our suspicion that God's plan for our salvation involves payment, sacrifice, and ultimately death, a suspicion which sends us running into the arms of our body as our true savior. Even if we don't believe this is true intellectually, our behavior usually reflects this viewpoint.
Finally, this lesson implies that the second is the direct result of the first. That is the really interesting part to me. When I get ticked off at someone for misbehaving, I don't realize that that directly results in a worldview composed of sinning human bodies and vengeful God-body, which leads me to mistrust God's guidance and seek refuge in my body's offerings. One leads directly to the other. Grievances lead to a worldview of fearing God and diving into the body. They imply a picture of reality where happiness lies in the bodily realm and where God is trying to make us sacrifice that happiness for His sake. Given this view, we naturally run from Him. Or try to pay Him off with as little as we can get away with. And that is the cause of our slow progress on the spiritual path.
The practice in this lesson has the purpose of loosening and hopefully changing this whole picture within us. In the practice, we stop assuming what salvation is (sacrificing bodily goodies), admit we do not know, and then ask our Father (the very One we've been telling what it is) what it really is. We ask throughout the two ten-fifteen minute practice periods, and we spend a minute or so once or twice an hour asking even more. It seems to me that the point of all this is to really bring about a shift in our relationship with the spiritual path itself, so that we can shift away from seeing salvation as a threat to what life really has to offer, and instead see it as our only friend. If we could really experience that shift, it would change the entire way we journey on the path to God.
Purpose: to stop attacking God's plan by miscasting it as something it's not. To instead welcome it as it is, and realize it has already been accomplished in you.
Longer: 2 times, for 10-15 minutes
This is another exercise in trying to hear God's Voice.
In the practice period, lay aside your assumptions about what God's plan is and ask Him what it is. Ask, "What is salvation, Father? I do not know [try to mean this]. Tell me, that I may understand."
Wait in quiet for the answer. While listening, the attitude you hold is everything. Be confident that He will answer. Have a hope of success. "Be determined to hear" (12:6).
When you feel your confidence wane, repeat the question again, consciously "remembering that you are asking of the infinite Creator of infinity, Who created you like Himself" (12:1). It may help to vary the wording of the sentences. For instance, "What is Your plan for salvation? I let go of my assumptions. I really want to understand it."
Draw your mind back when it wanders. Listen for the faintest promptings. You may want to write down anything you feel you receive. Just having paper and pen in hand can increase the success of your hearing.
Frequent reminders: 1, maybe 2, per hour, for a minute or so
Say, "Holding grievances is an attack on God's plan for salvation. Let me accept it instead. What is salvation, Father?" Then wait in silence and listen for His answer, preferably with eyes closed.