The introduction to Part II of the Workbook is the last set of practice instructions we will receive for the next 140 days. The final instructions will be for the last five lessons, and do not really change much. So, since we will be following this set of instructions every day for the next five months, we need to pay close attention and fix them in our minds.
Remember that the Workbook is designed to train us in practicing, and to help us form a habit of daily practice that will endure until engaging with God in our lives has become a moment-to-moment way of life, with no need for any further practice. For a very few, this happy habit might be formed in a single year of doing the Workbook, although I know of no one for whom this is true. For most people, it seems, the pattern of practice being taught is still poorly formed and sporadically practiced after only one pass through the Workbook. Many find repeating the Workbook very beneficial, and its clear structure a necessary support in continuing to develop the desired habits.
Before we go over what the desired pattern of practice is, though, let me encourage you with a few observations from my own practice and that of several friends. Do not be discouraged if, on reading over the description of the daily practice, you realize that you are still far from "matching up" to the pattern. The form of daily practice described in this introduction is the goal; being distressed because you don't match up to it right now is like being upset that you can't play Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto after only a few weeks of practice. Forming habits takes a lot of time. Just do the best you can each day, and practice forgiving yourself when you don't measure up to your intentions. Whatever you do, keep at it! Don't allow the ego to kill your motivation to practice by pointing out how poorly you are doing it. Failure to follow the instructions fully is not a reason to stop practicing; it is a reason to return to practice with renewed vigor, as soon as you realize you have slipped.
The goal of our practice is to completely retrain our minds. It is to become so habituated to listening to the Voice for God that it becomes natural, something we do without even thinking about it, the first response to every temptation. The goal is to respond to every ego thought without fear, and instantly bring it into the holy place where we meet with God in our minds. The long-term goal of our practice is to arrive at the place where life becomes one continuous holy instant (W-pI.135.19:1), in which we never cease to think of God (W-pI.153.18:1). The short-term goal of Workbook practice is to form the habit of daily practicing that will take us to that long-term goal (W-pI.rIII.In.11:2; W-pI.194.6:2).
What, then, is the pattern of daily practice that is set forth for the next 140 days?
- Spending time with God each morning and night, "as long as makes us happy" (2:6). The result we desire is "direct experience of truth alone" (1:3), or an experience of "rest" and "calm" (3:1), or experiencing the presence of God (4:1; 4:6). In sum, we desire to enter the holy instant; indeed, this introduction twice refers to our morning and evening practice times as "holy instants" (3:2; 11:4), or "times in which we leave the world of pain, and go to enter peace" (1:4). These experiences of holy instants are called "the goal this course has set" and "the end toward which our practicing was always geared" (1:5).
So, every morning and evening practice period is meant to bring us to the holy instant, and "we will use as much [time] as we will need for the result that we desire" (2:8). The time is flexible, perhaps even a half hour or longer if we need or want that much time.
- Hourly remembrance (2:9). Once each hour during the day, we will pause to remind ourselves of the lesson for the day, using the thought for the day to "calm our minds at need" (3:1). But the hourly remembrance is not simply a repeating of the words; it is a brief time in which we "expect our Father to reveal Himself, as He has promised" (3:3). Ideally this will be two or three minutes in which we can be quiet, perhaps closing our eyes, to refocus on our goal and regroup our thoughts, bringing any grievance or upset of the past hour to the Holy Spirit for healing (see W-pI.153.17 and W-pI.193.12). When such an extended pause is impossible, briefly turning our thoughts to God and reaffirming our goal is sufficient.
- Frequent reminders in between the hours, although not specifically mentioned in this introduction to Part II, were singled out in the introduction to the review period we have just completed, and we can assume they are meant to be continued.
- Response to temptation. Whenever we are "tempted to forget our goal" (2:9), we need to call to God. That the temptation mentioned is "to forget our goal" implies that all the rest of the time we are remembering it! So any time we notice our minds are about to wander from our goal, or have wandered, we call to God to help us return our minds to Him.
This is a rigorous spiritual practice. It demands considerable effort to form such habits. But the results are more than worth it. The goal of the Course, the whole purpose of Workbook practice, has been to bring us to this kind of direct experience of the truth. Without such direct experience, the concepts of the Text will be nothing more than empty concepts.
We are offered a little more detail about how to spend our extended morning and evening times. The specific words of the day's lesson, as it appears in the Workbook, are of diminishing importance. This is reflected in the fact that no more than a half page is given to them. The words of the lesson are not the focus any more (1:1); they are "but…guides on which we do not now depend" (1:2). The primary goal is direct experience of the truth, or the holy instant. Reading the daily lesson and repeating its main thought is only the beginning (2:1); having used the words to focus our minds, we spend our time waiting for God to come to us (3:3; 4:6). These times are called "periods of wordless, deep experience" (11:2). The bulk of our morning and evening times should be spent thus, in silent waiting and receptivity, without verbal thought.
If you look ahead at the lessons in Part II you will see that every one contains a short prayer to God the Father. There is no specific mention of these prayers nor how to use them, but I believe the following words give such instruction:
"We say some simple words of welcome, and expect our Father to reveal Himself, as He has promised" (3:3). "So our times with Him will now be spent. We say the words of invitation that His Voice suggests, and then we wait for Him to come to us" (4:5-6, my emphasis). Finally, the introduction itself shifts into prayer with a sort of un-self-conscious naturalness in 6:2-7:8; in 6:5 our prayers are called "little gifts of thanks" from us to God.
Those "words of invitation" suggested to us by God's Voice are, I believe, the prayers given to us in each day's lesson. They are words suggested for our use, to invite God to speak to us, to offer welcome to Him. Actually speaking these prayers, praying them, can be a powerful tool in bringing us the direct experiences with God these lessons intend for us.
Instead of words, we need but feel His love. Instead of prayers, we need but call His Name. Instead of judging, we need but be still and let all things be healed. (10:3-5)
So the morning and evening times are not intended to be spent in thinking about the concepts of the Course, nor in saying prayers for ourselves or for others, nor in making decisions about what to do or making judgments of how to solve our problems. They are meant to be times of experience and not thought. Simply feeling God's Love. Simply repeating His Name in our awareness of relationship with Him. Simply being still, letting go, letting all things be healed, like a patient lying still as the Healer does His work. "Sit silently and wait upon your Father" (5:5).
There are words of encouragement in this introduction, assuring us that we couldn't have come this far if the goal were not our true will; if, in our hearts, we did not want God to come to us and reveal Himself. This is our will, in case we are having any doubts, or looking at what is being asked of us and questioning whether or not we want it deeply enough. We do.
Jesus says, "I am so close to you we cannot fail" (6:1). "For now we cannot fail" (5:4). He reviews the way we have come, from our insane wish that God would fail to have the Son He created, to our recognition that illusions are not true. The end is near, he tells us. I think it is important to realize that he is speaking in the context of eons of time; "near" is a relative term, and probably is not referring to days or weeks or months. He says here that "the need for practice [is] almost done" (10:1). Yet in the Manual (Section 16) he makes it clear that some kind of practice is part of the lifelong habit of the teacher of God. "Almost done," as well, is relative to the billions of years we have spent in separation. We are very near the goal, in that context!
One last item about our daily practice for the next five months, which should be carefully noted: we are supposed to read one of the "What Is" sections every day, preceding either our morning or evening quiet time. Thus, each section will be read ten times. And each time we read it, we are asked to read it "slowly" and to think about it for a while (11:4).
Going along with this instruction, therefore, in the daily lesson comments that follow I will include my thoughts for that day about the current "What Is" section. I will comment, usually, on just a few sentences from the "What Is" section each day, covering the entire page over the period of ten days.