Again a review. Nearly everyone I know, especially when they first do the Workbook, finds the reviews either boring or frustrating. It's an interesting testimony to the orientation of our minds. Apparently we crave constant newness, and the idea of repeating practice with the same ideas, even for just the second time, seems lackluster and mundane. We want to get on to something new and exciting.
What we don't seem to grasp is that any one of these ideas could be the breakthrough for us. Toward the end of this review introduction, the reviews are called a "second chance with each of these ideas" (12:3). Now, if you are anything like me, you probably didn't rack up a perfect score in practicing the first time. You forgot the hourly practices, you did only a few each day, and perhaps missed days entirely. So, think of this as a second chance to get the benefits of each lesson. I know I'm thinking of it that way, and I need it.
The Review III introduction is one of the most important discussions of Workbook practice in the book. The attitude toward practice portrayed here is extremely informative. First of all, following the instructions literally as given, and doing the two five-minute practices, with short practices on the hour and on the half hour, is considered very, very important. We are "urged" to pay attention to the instructions and "to follow [them] just as closely as you can" (1:3). An attitude that says it doesn't matter how you do the lessons clearly doesn't fit with this admonition.
Second, the author is being very reasonable. He recognizes that it may be impossible for us to literally carry out the instructions in an "optimal" way (2:1). For example, a mother caring for very young children may not be able to stop every half hour and close her eyes; a clerk in a retail store may not be able to get away from customers for a minute every half hour. "Learning will not be hampered when you miss a practice period because it is impossible at the appointed time" (2:2). So if you miss because it is impossible to practice, that's okay. Notice, however, the word "impossible." It doesn't say "inconvenient" or "awkward," it says "impossible." The key to whether or not our learning will be hampered is not whether or not we actually do the practice, but why we don't do it. Is it because we can't, or because we don't want to?
Notice, also, that we aren't expected to make "excessive efforts to be sure that you catch up in terms of numbers" (2:3). To me that implies that making reasonable efforts to catch up is something that would be proper. So if I miss at noon because I'm talking with my boss, but I'm free at 12:15, it would make sense to stop for a minute and make up that missed practice period. But the goal is not ritual; it isn't about "doing it perfectly." The crux of the matter is our desire and our willingness, not the number of practice periods. We aren't to become obsessive about this stuff.
Third, the author obviously understands our ineptitude and resistance in regard to practice. Skipping a practice period because we don't want to do it (or don't "feel like it") will hamper our learning! (3:1). Again I say, this statement is hardly consistent with any thought that following instructions doesn't matter, and that it's enough to just read over the lesson in the morning. He takes particular pains to point out the ways we deceive ourselves, hiding our unwillingness "behind a cloak of situations you cannot control" (3:3). He points out that many of these have been subtly engineered by ourselves to "camouflage…your unwillingness," and urges us to learn to distinguish these from situations that are truly "poorly suited to your practicing" (3:4).
I have often found that the times when I "just do it" even when I don't feel like it are often the ones in which I have the deepest awareness of a shift in consciousness occurring.
Lest some of you feel offended by all this, let me say that it's perfectly okay to just read over the lesson in the morning and forget about the practice directions. Just be aware that this is what you are doing, and that it is your choice. Don't fight yourself. If you really don't want to do the practice now, don't do it. This type of disciplined practice may not be what you need right now. You may not be ready now, but you will be later. Or perhaps you'll find another spiritual path. But don't think you can pass judgment on the Course and say it didn't work for you, unless you do the lessons as instructed. If you do them, they will work.
Notice, too, that practices you deliberately skip because you "did not want to do them, for whatever reason, should be done as soon as you have changed your mind about your goal" (4:1). This kind of missed practice you should try to make up! Why? "Your practicing can offer everything to you" (4:5).
The middle part of the introduction gives us fascinating instruction in having faith in our own minds. We are supposed to allow our minds to relate the ideas we are reviewing to our needs, concerns, and problems. The picture you get is almost one of free association, placing the idea in our mind and then seeing where it leads us. Jesus asks us to give faith to our mind that it will use the ideas wisely. This seems to be designed to counteract our self-doubt. Perhaps we think that, left to range freely, our minds will wander off into the forest of ideas and get lost. But we are "helped in [our] decisions by the One Who gave the thoughts to [us]" (6:2), that is, the Holy Spirit. If we wander, He will guide us back.
In this kind of exercise we are learning to trust our own inner wisdom. "The wisdom of your mind will come to your assistance" (6:5). If what comes to mind is a paraphrase of the day's idea, let it come. Often, your own paraphrase of the idea will be more effective for you than the original form, and will stick in your memory much better.
The final portion of the introduction returns again to general practice instructions and what might be deemed a "pep talk." The emphasis in this part is on bringing the ideas into application in our lives, all day long (9:2-3). "These practice periods are planned to help you form the habit of applying what you learn each day to everything you do" (11:2).
"Do not repeat the thought and lay it down" (11:3). Sounds familiar to me! If nothing else, this review superbly exposes all the little tricks our minds have been using to avoid the benefits of the lessons! Don't let that discourage you. Just becoming aware of the devious ploys of the ego's resistance is a major advance in the curriculum. But don't stop there, either; now that you are aware of the ego's tricks, you can turn the situation around and begin to let the ideas of the lessons "serve you in all ways, all times and places, and whenever you need help of any kind" (11:5).
And just in case we missed the point, look how the review introduction closes. I've added a little emphasis here to make the point even plainer:
Forget them not…. (12:2) Do not forget how little you have learned. Do not forget how much you can learn now. Do not forget your Father's need of you, as you review these thoughts He gave to you. (13:1-3)