Preliminary Notes On Workbook Practice
To begin with, I'd like to share some thoughts about what Workbook practice really is, and what it is intended to accomplish. From my study of the Course, I believe the Workbook is intended to train us in the formation of a habit of spiritual practice. This habitual practice is meant to continue until we have nearly completed our spiritual journey. Let me try to explain what I mean by this habit of spiritual practice.
In the Manual for Teachers, Chapter 16, the Course discusses what daily practice should be like for those who have completed the Workbook. It gives us a clear picture of what sort of spiritual practice is meant to result from completing the Workbook's training program.
The discussion of daily practice in this chapter becomes more understandable if we set it in the context of the various categories the Course discusses within its curriculum:
- teachers of God
- advanced teachers of God
- teachers of teachers
We begin as pupils or students, those who have begun to study the Course. Next, after a certain level of "accomplishment," we become "teachers of God" (M-1.1:1). What qualifies us as a teacher of God? The opening lines of the first section of the Manual for Teachers make the qualifications rather broad (please read M-1.1:1-3, 6-8).
By the definition given here, it appears that all it takes to become a teacher of God is a moment in which my heart unites with the heart of another person in pursuit of the shared goal of salvation. Another way of seeing this, perhaps, is that I have experienced a holy instant, or a moment of true forgiveness. I believe that the mutual goal is salvation because sentence 7 implies it, yet clearly that aspect of the goal need not be conscious. Merely making a choice to see my interests as co-mingled with or identical to those of another person suffices.
And yet, in Chapter 16, there seems to be a different set of criteria. The Manual states clearly that a teacher involved with teaching the Course must have completed the Workbook (M-16.3:7). So, although in general a teacher of God can be said to be anyone who has made a decision that involved common interests with another, within this particular spiritual curriculum completing the Workbook for Students is also required.
The Course appears to be making a distinction between a teacher of God in the general sense, and a teacher of God who is sharing with another person the specific goal of learning the Course. To be a teacher in that special sense you must complete the Workbook. Since the Workbook in many places assumes we have studied the Text (for example, W-pI.153.6:3) and W-pI.156.1:3), we can therefore deduce that completing the Workbook also includes completing the Text. To be a teacher of God whose form of teaching is the Course, therefore, means having completed both volumes. It seems only common sense that one should complete a course—any course—before claiming to teach it.
I should note, for people unfamiliar with the Course, that it is all right to do the Workbook before reading all of the Text, if you feel guided to do that. I would say that the "normal" order would be to read the Text first, or at least most of it, before doing the Workbook, but that is by no means a strict rule. If you have been led to begin the Workbook, it isn't necessary to read all of the Text first. I would recommend beginning to read it as soon as possible, however.
Beyond the level of teacher of God lies "the advanced teacher of God" (M-16.1:1). That phrase describes someone who is nearing the end of his or her personal journey, living on the verge of or within the real world—that is, with spiritually clarified perception of the world—as Jesus lived while on earth. Every student of the Course is in training to become an advanced teacher of God; Chapter 4 of the Manual describes the characteristics of an advanced teacher (M-4:2:2), a list of ten very fundamental character traits, such as trust, honesty, gentleness, patience, and defenselessness. This chapter also tells of the often-long process a person goes through in developing these characteristics.
And even beyond that exalted level are the "Teachers of teachers"; enlightened beings like Jesus or Buddha who, having remembered who they really are, have left behind the limitations of bodily existence. Although these teachers have left physical existence behind, they in some sense remain in the world, like the bodhisattva of Buddhism, to help others who have not yet been enlightened. The Manual says they can re-appear whenever helpful (presumably in the flesh) (M-26.2:1-3; 3:9).
With this understanding of the various levels of teachers, let's turn back to Chapter 16. It begins with describing what the day is like for an advanced teacher of God; to such a person, the question of how to spend the day "is meaningless." His life is not externally structured; instead, because he is in constant communion with the Holy Spirit, he is told, moment to moment, what to do (1:1-10). Of course, we all aspire to such a state, but few have yet attained it. I don't know of anyone who has.
So the chapter then addresses itself to the more common level of the less-than-advanced teacher of God, who is still in the process of developing those ten characteristics and lacks that clarity of communion (M-16.2.1). This is more applicable to us. Jesus begins to discuss how a teacher of God (as opposed to an advanced teacher) should conduct his or her spiritual practice. Unlike the advanced teacher, a teacher of God still requires some structure in his day (M-16.2:2). What is going to be described here is what I call post-Workbook practice, the habit of practice that the Workbook is designed to teach us. This practice is meant to continue for teachers of God until we become advanced teachers of God, where structure becomes meaningless and we live in a spontaneous partnership with the Holy Spirit. Even after completing the Workbook, we are not yet ready for complete lack of structure.
Workbook practice is very structured. Post-workbook practice is loosely structured. And the practice of an advanced teacher is characterized by lack of structuring.
The post-Workbook practice, in simple outline, is this:
- Begin with a morning quiet time (see M-16.4:7). The goal in this time is to "join with God," and we should spend as long as it takes (the length of time is not a major concern) until it becomes difficult (M-16.4:4-8).
- Have a similar evening quiet time, as near as you can to just before going to bed. Settle your mind on God as you go to sleep (M-16.5:1).
- Remember God all through the day (M-16.6:1-14).
- Turn to the Holy Spirit with all your problems (M-16.7:4-5).
- Respond to all temptations by reminding yourself of the truth (M-16.8:1-3; 10:8; 11:9).
Developing the habit of this five-fold practice is the purpose of the highly structured practice of the Workbook. The practice given in its lessons begins very easily, with just a minute or two in the morning. Very quickly, it introduces the other practices: morning and evening times; hourly remembrances; frequent reminders between the hours; listening to the Holy Spirit for guidance; and responding to every temptation with the day's lesson. The Workbook verbally sounds a trumpet each time it introduces a new practice. The duration and intensity of these practices steadily increases as we progress. We meet first one, then another. There will be a brief period of intense practice, than an easing up, letting us catch our breath, before the pace picks up again.
If we follow the instructions of the Workbook carefully we will, at the end of the year, have formed the steady habit of daily practice the Manual speaks about. If we do not follow the instructions of the Workbook carefully, and simply "do it" however we feel like doing it, we will not develop that habit. Habits are formed by disciplined repetition, and no other way. Therefore, watch, as you read, for both the instructions for practice and for the passion with which Jesus urges us to really do the practice. He isn't casual about it at all! He pleads with us; he cajoles us; he sympathizes with our difficulties but calls us back to a renewed effort after failure. And at one point in the Introduction he tells us that "It is doing the exercises that will make the goal of the course possible" (W-IN.1:1-2).
In the Text, in a section talking about daily practice, he tells us that our willingness to practice controls the speed of our progress toward the goal (T-30.Int.1:3). In the Introduction to the Workbook, he says that the ideas will become more relevant to you as you put them into practice and experience the way in which they apply to specific situations. You will put the ideas to the test, and this will validate them for you, taking them beyond theory into certainty (W-pI.In.8:6).
And in a passage that is reminiscent of a TV pitchman trying to sell us an amazing slicer/dicer along with a set of knives, he tries to impress on us the importance and value of the disciplined practice to which he calls us. Take a moment to read (aloud if you can) W-pI.98.5-6 and you will have no further doubts about the importance Jesus attaches to our actually doing the Workbook exercises.
Beyond any doubt, the author of the Workbook really desires and expects us to make every effort to follow his instructions.
As an aid to those who want to follow the practice of the Workbook, along with each lesson this book includes a condensed summary of the practice instructions that apply to the day. (Often a set of instructions is given in one lesson and carries over for several weeks, without being restated daily.) Robert Perry wrote these summaries.
Many people jot the idea for the day on a card to carry with them. I advise you to also jot down the day's practice instructions so you remember just how you are supposed to apply that day's idea.
Now, I'm not saying that everyone who reads the Workbook must practice the Workbook in a rigid, disciplined manner. I don't presume to know what you should do; that is a matter of individual guidance. But I do mean to point out that, if you want to make the Course your path, these are the instructions given by the author, and he heavily stresses their importance within the curriculum he gives us.
I firmly believe that the Workbook lessons were written in a particular order for a reason, and that there is an intelligently planned approach in the way they work cumulatively to transform our thoughts as we study them. Therefore I always recommend that people do the lessons in order, 1 to 365. Nevertheless, if the imposition of such minimal "structure" or the submitting of oneself to this very slight amount of authority raises the level of fear in you, then a compromise approach, doing it however you please, may be better.
I believe that the resistance we have to following Jesus' instructions in the book is nothing more than a manifestation of the basic "authority problem" that is said, in the Text, to be the root of all "evil" (T-3.VI.7:2-3). Even so, doing the lessons out of order, or ignoring the instructions for practice to do them in a way in which we feel comfortable, is certainly better than not doing them at all! And, if trying to force ourselves to follow the practice instructions disturbs us so much it threatens to cause us to stop altogether, then let's throw that approach out the window. In such circumstances, the Course advises us:
You are not ready. Do not fight yourself target="blank">(T-30.I.1:6-7).
To summarize: I believe that the instructions in the lessons are very explicit for a reason. We are meant to follow these instructions to the letter, as much as we possibly can. We will not be able to do so, especially in the beginning, but the whole intent of the exercises is to form a habit of spiritual practice that will endure for a lifetime. You can't do that without some persistent effort over a long period of time.
The Introduction to Chapter 30 of the Text is meant to lead into the disciple of Workbook practice. I encourage you to read it now, particularly T-30.In.1:2-5,7-8.
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