Why is it that we so often miss the practice periods the Workbook asks us to do? In my experience, many of us will answer this question with spiritual-sounding answers, such as "I am staying in the present with the Holy Spirit rather than chaining myself to a clock." Perhaps the most often-quoted "spiritual" reason for not practicing is "The whole point of the Workbook is to screw it up and forgive yourself." Such statements make it sound as if, by not doing the Workbook practice, you are in a deeper sense truly doing the Course.
These sentiments have long struck me as out of accord with the Workbook's own statements about missed practice periods. Recently, however, I discovered two places in the Workbook that specifically address this phenomenon of our inventing Course-sanctioned excuses to not practice.
The first is in Lesson 9. This is one of those early lessons where we look around the room and apply the idea to anything our eyes alight on. The lesson urges us not to aim for "complete inclusion" of everything in the room, yet at the same time to avoid "specific exclusion" of objects we resist applying the lesson to (W‑pI.9.5:1). It then says:
Be sure you are honest with yourself in making this distinction. You may be tempted to obscure it. (W-pI.9.5:2-3)
In other words, we might want to blur the distinction between avoiding complete inclusion and engaging in specific exclusion. To understand this, let's say that there is a photo of our mother on the wall and we choose not to apply the lesson to it. The real reason we chose this was because we didn't want to challenge certain ego perceptions we have, but then we told ourselves, "Well, the Course did say to not try to include everything." This is what it means to engage in specific exclusion in the name of not trying for complete inclusion. We didn't practice due to our ego's resistance, but then we rationalized that we didn't practice because of some Course-sanctioned excuse.
The same pattern crops up a hundred lessons later in Review III. There, the Course tells us that when circumstances really do not permit, we shouldn't try to do our practice on the hour. It even says that our spiritual progress will not be hurt by missing that practice period. But then it talks about another kind of situation, where we really could do our hourly practice, but don't feel like giving the time to it. Missing that practice period, we are told, will impede our spiritual progress. Then comes this important counsel:
Do not deceive yourself in this….Learn to distinguish situations that are poorly suited to your practicing from those that you establish to uphold a camouflage for your unwillingness. (W-pI.rIII.In.3:2, 4)
In this case, you just don't want to do the practice period. You'd rather spend your time doing something else. But then you tell yourself that you are not practicing because you are too busy, or you are in conversation. And since the Course has told you that you don't have to practice under those circumstances, you are claiming that your lack of practicing falls under a Course-sanctioned excuse.
These two passages are amazingly parallel. Both have in common the following scenario:
• There are two categories: 1) not practicing due to unwillingness and 2) not practicing because in this particular case the Course excuses you.
• You need to carefully and honestly distinguish between these categories.
• Instead, however, you tell yourself that an example of category #1 (not practicing due to unwillingness) is really an example of category #2 (not practicing because in this particular case the Course excuses you).
• In doing so, you are being dishonest with yourself.
• You are hiding your unwillingness behind a facade of legitimacy.
It is amazing just how parallel the two passages are, isn't it? It is also amazing just how well the author of the Course knows us. We do not fool him for one minute. He sees right through our excuses. And while we are under the penetrating light of his calm gaze, perhaps we should be willing to look at ourselves with the same objectivity. Let us, then, ask ourselves: How much are we doing what he is talking about here? How much do we choose to not practice due to unwillingness, but then put some justifiable veneer on it? Have we even perhaps thrown a cloak of holiness around it? Have we made our lack of practicing a sign that we really "get it"?
Not practicing is not a sin. It will not make God angry with us. It will just deprive us of the benefits of practice. Thus, the more we can face our refusal to practice for what it is, the more we can remedy that refusal, and get back to experiencing those benefits.