This is a very important lesson, the intro to the Workbook's central idea ("I am as God created me") and the beginning of 18 lessons of the most intense practice in the Workbook, where we are asked to practice the first five minutes of every waking hour.
Today's idea sounds wonderful, and probably strikes the right note to ears that have been surrounded by contemporary spirituality. But do we really believe it? This paragraph says no. Against the lesson's trio of "light and joy and peace," our real belief is that another trio abides in us: "evil, darkness and sin."
This is a hard paragraph to read. Do we really think this? Do we really think that if we and others could see the real truth about us, the reaction would be one of intense horror, causing others to recoil and ourselves to commit suicide?
But he's not asking us, is he? He's telling us that this is what we believe. We may not see this place of profound guilt and self-loathing in our minds, but to him it's as plain as day. It's the dark place in our minds we are trying to hide, the place that haunts us, the place from which all our suffering wells up. We think we've managed to hide it completely, but he looks on it directly.
It's true that we've made mistakes, looked for love in all the wrong places, lied to ourselves and others, cowered from fantasies, and worshipped dust. We've done all this, that's true. But it still doesn't justify our beliefs from paragraph 1. Why not?
Our beliefs in paragraph 1—that the real truth about ourselves is unutterably horrifying—are wrong for one simple reason: God doesn't see it that way. That's it. That's why those beliefs are wrong. The beliefs are about "the truth about you" and God has a whole different view of that truth.
In our view, all of the mistakes that were mentioned in paragraph 2 were real sins. In our eyes, we did real damage. We tried to hurt others, and we succeeded. And this damage we did in the world constructed a damaged self. It sculpted a self out of the clay of sin, a putrid self, so unholy and corrupt that the sight of it undisguised could only inspire horrified recoil (in others) or instant suicide (in oneself). This is the big secret we are sitting on, the secret that we hope against hope no one ever finds out, especially ourselves.
Wouldn't it be the most overwhelmingly happy news to find out that this whole picture never happened? Our mistakes did no damage. No one was really hurt by what we did. They happened only in a dream, which means they didn't really happen at all. And so they weren't actual sins. And they didn't sculpt our self. They had no effect at all on who we are. Our real Self has been untouched by them. We should be dancing in the streets at news like this.
But isn't it odd that we hesitate, that we aren't sure how to greet this news? Maybe it's even bad news. Why? Because it means the self we have so carefully constructed, worried about, tended to, cared for, and worshipped is pure illusion, an illusion that will vanish in light of the truth. And this seems like annihilation to us.
The self we made, the self we identify with, the self we refer to when we say "I," is completely unreal. All the things it does were never done. It is a concept in our minds, nothing more. And it is a concept that totally contradicts what God knows us to be. How, then, can it possibly be true?
The line that this paragraph tells us to repeat, and that it itself repeats over and over, is the good news: "Your sinlessness is guaranteed by God." What news could be better than this? Notice the phrase "the self you made, evil and full of sin." What Jesus is implying with this phrase is that the beliefs described in the first paragraph actually have a certain rationality to them. That paragraph began, "You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin." That is obviously the same idea as what's stated here: "the self you made, evil and full of sin."
What he's saying is that if the self we made was our actual self, then those beliefs described in paragraph 1 would be true. If the self we made was our real self, then the sight of it would justifiably provoke a reaction of intense (even suicidal) horror. So, oddly enough, that dark place in our minds, full of guilt and self-hatred, is based on an accurate assessment of the self we made. Now that's a sobering thought!
And that's what makes this line ("your sinlessness is guaranteed by God") such a joyous relief. What it really means is that our identity is not in our own hands. We think our thoughts and actions constantly mold and shape our self, either building it up and bringing it low in shame. This line says no, you have no power over your identity. You neither enhance it or despoil it. It's in God's Hands, not yours. It's His creation, not yours. And as His creation, He keeps it safe. He guarantees its safety forever from all the clumsy crashing around you do in this world. It's on a shelf so high that you can never break it.
This paragraph re-introduces a thought from the Text, a thought that will become tomorrow's lesson and from there will become the central thought of the Workbook: I am as God created me. That is the thought that is really behind today's whole lesson. I am the product of God, not the product of my own actions. There could hardly be a more profound and liberating thought than this.
To feel some of its power, I recommend putting this paragraph in the first person and repeating very slowly to yourself, dwelling on each line.
Salvation requires the acceptance of but one thought:
I am as God created me,
not what I made of myself.
Whatever evil I may think I did,
I am as God created me.
Whatever mistakes I made,
the truth about me is unchanged.
[My] creation is eternal and unalterable.
My sinlessness is guaranteed by God.
I am and will forever be exactly as I was created.
Light and joy and peace abide in me
because God put them there.
PARAGRAPHS 8-11: INSTRUCTIONS FOR PRACTICE
Purpose: To go past your belief that you are sinful and evil, and to experience the sinless Self that God created as you.
Longer: every hour on the hour, for 5 minutes (beginning of 18 lessons that ask this)
- Repeat, "Light and joy and peace abide in me. My sinlessness is guaranteed by God." I find it helpful to pause briefly after each quality ("Light…and joy…and peace…") so that I can appreciate each one separately.
- The remainder is a brief meditation, in which you try to reach past the false self that you made, which includes your whole sense of self and all your self-images. Reach deep within to the Self that God created as you, which is filled with light and joy and peace. Try to experience Its unity, and to appreciate Its holiness and Love. "Let It come into Its Own" (9:6). Remember to hold an attitude of confidence, desire, and determination, and to dispel distracting thoughts by repeating the idea.
Alternate: on the hour, for at least 1 minute
Try to do the hourly five minutes whenever you can. When you are unable or unwilling, at least do the alternate:
- Say, "Light and joy and peace abide in me. My sinlessness is guaranteed by God."
- Close your eyes and try to realize this is the truth about you.
Response to temptation: whenever a situation or person tempts you to be upset
- If a situation disturbs you, quickly say: "Light and joy and peace abide in me. My sinlessness is guaranteed by God."
- If a person seems to anger you, tell him silently, "Light and joy and peace abide in you. Your sinlessness is guaranteed by God."
Encouragement to practice: Today is the beginning of a bank of lessons in which you are asked to practice five minutes every waking hour. To help you rise to this challenge, these lessons contain a huge amount of encouragement to practice. You can see that encouragement in the final sentences of this lesson, which tell you that by doing today's practice you can aid the world's salvation, bring closer your own part in that salvation, and gain conviction that light and joy and peace really do abide in you.
SOME REFLECTIONS THAT CAME OUT OF A PREVIOUS INSTANCE OF TEACHING LESSON 93
I was teaching the class this morning, so I read today's lesson, lesson 93, "Light and joy and peace abide in me." I took care to read it in a personal way, and out of that came some startling insights.
The lesson starts out by saying that you think that if you saw the truth about yourself, you would be horrified, recoil as if from a poisonous snake, and rush to death by your own hand. What it goes on to say is that, basically, you're right: the self you made is pure evil, full of sin. To put it differently, the level of your mind that is filled with guilt has accurately ascertained the nature of your human self. It is out for itself, at the expense of others.
We discussed this at length in the class. What came out of our discussion was the idea that all our lives we've been trying to defend the image of this false self, trying to make it look better, trying to convince ourselves and others that it is really a great thing. In the meantime, other people have basically been telling us the opposite—that this self cares only about one thing: itself. They've realized that it's out for its own benefit, out to meet its needs, no matter who it has to devour in the process.
What I realized is that I've felt misunderstood my whole life, but, in a way, I really haven't been. Other people may have gotten the details wrong—they are often wrong about the details of my personality—but they've gotten the gist right. I am out for myself, and I am against them. They get that. The essence of their point is correct.
So we've lived on these two levels. On the unconscious level, we hate ourselves, seeing quite accurately that the self we think we are, the self that operates in this world, is the essence of sin. On the more conscious level, we try desperately to defend against this notion, trying to convince ourselves that we aren't that bad, that this self is really quite decent, and that when it's not decent, it has good reason, it has a good excuse. We're afraid that if our minds are drawn down into that black hole of guilt that yawns below, we'll be doomed.
What we got this morning was a simple idea: Stop trying to stay out of that black hole. Give in. Stop struggling. The self we made, this human self, is an animal that eats others to survive. It is indefensible, so let's stop defending it.
The liberation doesn't lie in trying to make this self look better, to try to dress it up, put on some makeup, and give it proper lighting. The liberation lies in the realization that we simply are not this. We are another Self entirely. We are a whole different creature. This self is rotten, but I was never it.
The lesson really says all of this. It says that we aren't going to question this dismal view of yourself on this level. We're going to question it from a wholly different perspective: It's not the Will of God and so it does not exist. Yeah, it's evil but the good news is that it's not real. That's why light and joy and peace abide in us. That's why our sinlessness is guaranteed by God.
So what this implies about our guilt is this: Instead of trying to tell ourselves we didn't do it, let's just admit it. We did it. We tried to serve ourselves at the expense of others. We may not have done the particular thing that we are accusing ourselves of. We may have the details wrong (and others may too). But we have the gist right. The liberation lies in ceasing to try to defend ourselves from the accusations—admitting they fully apply (in the broad strokes) to this human self. The liberation lies in the realization that this isn't us. We are someone else. We are a holy being who has amnesia and has come to believe it's someone that it's not.