I am not a morning person. The sunrise holds no charms for me. My natural inclination is to burn the midnight oil and drag myself out of bed sometime around ten the next morning. So, when Mary Anne Buchowski asked me to lead the morning Workbook group while she was away a few summers ago, my first response was "Eek!" The class started at 8:30 each weekday, which, given my normal morning routine, meant that I needed to get up at seven or even earlier. Now, I'm sure all the morning people reading this are laughing now, but for someone like me, getting up at seven feels like a real burden. I agreed to lead the group, but inwardly I dreaded the "sacrifice" of my precious morning sleep time.
Once I got into the daily routine, though, I discovered something that really surprised me. While getting up early was indeed a struggle, I found that working with the group was incredibly energizing. By the end of the group session each day, I had none of the grumpy grogginess that normally characterizes my mornings. Instead, I felt truly inspired, happy, and eager to go out into the new day. I lead the group three days a week now, and this phenomenon has persisted to this day. I still struggle with arising initially, but once I do and get things rolling with the group, the day goes really great.
What's going on here? I've been wondering about that for some time now. I think a clue lies in the following passage from the Course:
Devotion to a brother cannot set you back….It can lead only to mutual progress. The result of genuine devotion is inspiration, a word which properly understood is the opposite of fatigue. To be fatigued is to be dis-spirited, but to be inspired is to be in the spirit. To be egocentric is to be dis-spirited, but to be Self-centered in the right sense is to be inspired or in spirit. (T-4.In.1:3-6)
This passage presents a contrast between two states of mind: fatigue and inspiration. We normally think that fatigue is just a normal and inevitable part of life in this world. It sure feels that way to me when I'm rudely awakened by my alarm. But here, the Course says that fatigue actually comes from our incessant devotion to the ego. We wear ourselves out all day wrestling with the world to scrape together what we can to feed our separate self. This constant self-serving cuts us off from awareness of our true spiritual Self, the real source of the energy that moves us. Conversely, tapping into that source leads out of fatigue and into inspiration—a state in which we are immersed in our true spiritual Self, drawing all the energy and sustenance we need from the inexhaustible font at the heart of our being.
What specifically pulls us out of fatigue and into inspiration? This passage offers a striking answer: devotion to our brothers. The movement from fatigue to inspiration is a movement from the self-centeredness of looking out for number one to the Self-centeredness of serving the brothers who share our true Self. And this, I think, is the clue to what happens for me during the morning Workbook group. I may be groggy when my alarm goes off in the morning, but once I'm leading the group, I'm devoting my time and energy to my brothers. I'm making a real effort to help them find peace and happiness in their lives. The degree of effort varies and I'm sure the results are mixed, but I know of numerous instances when I've been truly helpful to someone in our group. Those instances have never failed to lift my spirits. Every lift I've given to someone else has uplifted me as well-progress truly has been mutual. To the degree that I've devoted myself to serving the group, I really have felt inspired.
This has led to an exciting insight for me: extension is energizing. Extending help to other people is what truly fuels my life and powers my journey to God. This insight is a dramatic reversal of the way I normally think. I'm a bit of a loner; socializing with others normally tends to drain me. But if the Course is right—and I'm sure it is—then the reason for this is simply that my socializing is all too often ego-directed. My experiences with the Workbook group, though, have given me a little taste of how it feels to interact with others in a spirit of true devotion. This, I'm beginning to find, is not draining, but exhilerating.
I certainly haven't fully internalized the idea that extension is energizing. All too often, I still let my ego drag me down into a tiring, self-serving life. Fortunately, the Course promises that "when you have given up this voluntary dis-spiriting, you will see how your mind can focus and rise above fatigue and heal" (T-4.IV.6:3). I've seen this happen in my own experience, and for that I am grateful. I look forward to the day when I will fully recognize that extending healing love to others is the golden pathway from the weariness of life in this world to the joy of life in the spirit.