If you are a student of A Course in Miracles and have completed the Workbook, what do you do afterward? The epilogue to the Workbook gives the impression that you just sail along under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For most of us this can sound so vague that almost anything could be done under that heading. And I suspect that almost anything is. For instance, after I finished the Workbook for the first time, I decided to focus each day on the message I gleaned from my dreams of the night before. That seemed to fit what the epilogue said.
However, we receive a much more specific picture of what to do after the Workbook in the Manual for Teachers. This is found in Section 16, "How Should the Teacher of God Spend His Day?" Recently, this section came to life for me in a way that it hadn't before, and I wanted to get what I saw down on paper, for my own sake as much as anyone else's. Even though Jesus tells us that he can only give general rules (since each one must focus on what works best for him or her), these general rules provide a great snapshot of how Jesus sees more mature students living his course.
Starting the day with God
He starts his account of how teachers of God should spend their day, quite naturally, with the morning. He asks, "What must they do to learn to give the day to God?" (2:3) and then answers that "it is well to start the day right" (2:6). How does one start it right? By taking one's morning "quiet time" (4:7), in which one "chooses to spend time with God" (4:3). It's clear that Jesus is talking about meditation, the very practice that the Workbook taught us to do in our morning quiet time in order to join with God.
With this meditation, the important thing is quality, not quantity. It's not about how long you spend—"One can easily sit still an hour with closed eyes and accomplish nothing" (4:5)—but about how deep you go—"One can as easily give God only an instant, and in that instant join with Him completely" (4:6). The point is to join with God, and to let the time be geared around that. If you need an hour, take an hour. If you need an instant, take an instant.
This joining with God is an end in itself, but it is also more than that. It is the way that we "give the day to God" (2:3). It is our preparation for an entire day spent with God. In our meditation, we are like an athlete joining with our coach before the game, readying ourselves to take our coach's plan into the game, rather than our own fickle agendas.
That is why this section spends so much time telling us to take our quiet time "as soon as possible" (this phrase occurs twice, in 4:3 and 4:7). It's ideal if you can take it the instant you awake. If you are "not in a situation that fosters quiet thought" when you awake (4:2), then take it just as soon as you can. If instead you miss your quiet time, then you have not "start[ed] the day right" (2:6). Rather, you have let "the day begin with error" (2:7). You have set off down a path of your own devising, a path on which you walk alone.
At this point, the only truly useful thing to do is to "begin again" (2:7)—to, in essence, start your day over by doing your quiet time right there and then. It may be 10 a.m., or 12 p.m., or 5 p.m., but whenever it is, that is when your real day, your day with God, begins. The time before that has been spent spinning your wheels. It has been wasted time. This is strongly implied when Jesus says that you save time by doing your quiet time first thing: "Time devoted to starting the day right does indeed save time" (3:4). It saves you from having to waste part of your day walking apart from God.
Remembering God all through the day
If you are catching the flavor of this, you can see that Jesus really is serious about our day being actually given to God. This seriousness continues as he speaks of the rest of the day. In typical Workbook fashion, he instructs us to remember a particular thought all day long:
There is one thought in particular that should be remembered throughout the day. It is a thought of pure joy; a thought of peace, a thought of limitless release, limitless because all things are freed within it. (6:1-2)
Clearly, this thought we are supposed to keep with us is a very happy one—a thought of pure joy, peace, and limitless release. Yet what is this thought? Whatever it is, it is clearly about our safety. The words "safe," "safety," and "protection" are mentioned nine times in paragraphs 6-8. To get a more specific idea of what this thought is, we can turn to paragraph 7, which describes the state of someone "who has accepted His protection" (7:1):
He is safe, and knows it to be so. He has a Guide [the Holy Spirit] Who will not fail. He need make no distinctions among the problems he perceives, for He to Whom he turns with all of them recognizes no order of difficulty in resolving them. He is as safe in the present as he was before illusions were accepted into his mind, and as he will be when he has let them go. There is no difference in his state at different times and different places, because they are all one to God. This is his safety. And he has no need for more than this. (7:3-9)
Let's look at this more closely. The person "who has accepted his protection" feels utterly safe because the Holy Spirit will solve his every problem for him. He doesn't even sort his problems into "harder" and "easier"; they are all labeled "no difficulty." Amazingly, he feels just as safe as he was in Heaven before the separation, and as he will be after the separation. And this experience of safety doesn't change with different times and places. Through all of them, his state remains the same because God regards all times and places as one.
His safety, then, does not come from externals. Its source is entirely internal. Rather than resting on outside conditions, it rests on the Holy Spirit, on Heaven, and on God. We can shorten this to a very concise statement: My safety lies in God. This thought (or some variation of it) is the thought that we are supposed to remember "throughout the day" (6:1). Variations on this thought can be found in many Workbook lessons, such as "God is my refuge and security" (Lesson 261) and "Your peace is with me, Father. I am safe" (Lesson 245).
This whole picture is actually very similar to something Jesus told Helen and Bill very early in the Course's dictation (as recorded in the Urtext). After telling them to "have a good day," he said, "You might remember that 'underneath are the Everlasting Arms.'" In other words, the way to have a good day is to remember that underneath you are God's Everlasting Arms, holding you up, giving you protection, keeping you safe. Remarkably, this is the exact same thing Jesus is telling us, in different words, here in the Manual. In both places, he is saying, "Have a happy day by remembering God's protection throughout the day."
Who isn't comforted by the idea "My safety lies in God"? This idea, however, takes on more of an edge when we add on a corollary: "My safety does not lie in my ability to deal with external problems." This section is clearly adding on this corollary. It refers to you trying to make "a place of safety for yourself" (6:3) and to the things you "did before in the name of safety" (7:2), and then asks you to "give up" (6:7) these foolish endeavors.
This is serious business. Our emotional sense of safety, minute by minute, rests on our estimation of how well we can handle the various stresses, dangers, and challenges thrown at us by the world. It rests on our perceived adequacy for the task of putting out all the fires. If we believe that we can put them out, we feel (relatively) safe. If we don't, we begin to panic. Jesus, however, is asking us to actually withdraw our sense of safety from our perceived adequacy and place it, instead, in God. He is asking us to give up the entire foundation on which our emotional equilibrium rests and instead establish a new foundation. If we actually carried this out, our emotional stability would have nothing to do with how well we think we are juggling all the balls, and everything to do with "underneath are the Everlasting Arms."
What Jesus is talking about, then, is spending the day in a very different state of consciousness. He is not talking about the way that most of us do the Workbook, where we go through the day in our normal state of mind and then occasionally drop in the idea we are practicing that day. He is talking about that idea becoming our state of mind. That thought isn't just a pebble that gets dropped into our normal stream of consciousness. That thought becomes the stream, and we spend our day simply floating on our backs down that stream.
Now we can see why it was so crucial that we start the day by giving it to God. How can we possibly walk around all day consciously resting in God without starting the day by joining with Him? How can we spend the day in this altered state without plunging ourselves into it first thing in the morning? Now we can appreciate Jesus' plan. We begin the day by giving it to God, through having a deep meditation in which we join with Him. And then we spend the rest of the day maintaining that state by remembering that our safety lies in Him, not in our own juggling ability.
Guarding our state of mind
A crucial part of maintaining this higher state is protecting it in the face of disturbances. We need a way to restore our sense of safety in God when it has been shaken by disquieting circumstances. This issue is so important that this section devotes three paragraphs to it (8-10).
We may assume that the threats to our sense of safety would be external difficulties. But that's not how they are framed in this section. Rather, they are framed as us returning "to earlier attempts to place reliance on [ourselves] alone" (8:5). In other words, the threat to the thought that "My safety lies in God" is not some external danger; it is the thought that "My safety lies in my own ability to handle this."
This section calls this thought "magic." But how does this fit the definition of magic? Magic is a cause that cannot really produce the effect it purports to produce. A magician waving his wand (cause) cannot really make an elephant disappear (effect). It can only produce an illusion of that effect. The same is true with us trying to secure our own safety. Our own separate will (cause) can never really make us safe (effect). Waving our wand at all the challenges we face us will never really make the elephant of our anxiety disappear. To believe otherwise is to fall prey to a superstitious belief in magic. We need to acknowledge that this magic has never really worked. It has never made us feel truly safe. Jesus puts great emphasis on this: "Magic of any kind, in all its forms, simply does nothing" (9:7). It just doesn't work.
To keep from throwing our peace away, then, we need to be vigilant all day long for the thought "I can put this fire out, and that's why I can feel safe." Rather than that thought causing a sigh of relief, it needs to alert us to the fact that we've stepped off the path. As soon as we notice it, we need to remember our real protection (8:1). We need to remind ourselves that our protection lies in God's Will, not in our small will (9:2).
To aid us in doing this, Jesus gives us a Workbook-like line to repeat (though he adds that we can use "other words, or only one, or none at all"—10:7). That line is "God is with me. I cannot be deceived" (10:5-6). Yet how exactly are we being "deceived"? By believing that we can make ourselves feel safe. We know from experience that our efforts never bring a true sense of safety. If we choose to ignore that experience, we are lying to ourselves. But if God is with us, we can see through this deception. That is the meaning of "God is with me. I cannot be deceived."
Yet in the middle of a busy day, how can we not only use this line, but actually succeed in shaking free of our deception? How can we genuinely lift our sense of safety out of our own hands and place it back in God's Hands? Jesus addresses this very question:
How can he do this, particularly during the time when his mind is occupied with external things? He can but try, and his success depends on his conviction that he will succeed. He must be sure success is not of him, but will be given him at any time, in any place and circumstance he calls for it. (8:2-4)
In other words, we need to repeat that line ("God is with me. I cannot be deceived") filled with the conviction that we will succeed, not because of ourselves but because we are calling on the Holy Spirit (by repeating the line). It is He Who will free our minds from the deception that our safety comes from our own efforts.
As a very small example—and our days are made up of such small examples—imagine the following scenario. You realize in a panic, "The Smiths will be here in only fifteen minutes! I don't think I can clean the house by then." You're feeling unsafe. Even if your body is not in danger, your image is. Then you think, "Maybe I can do it if I just tidy away the really visible stuff." Now you've restored a marginal sense of safety. Your anxiety level goes down to a reasonable level. What you need to do is first realize that you've replaced your true protection with a poor substitute. To remedy this, you tell yourself firmly, "God is with me. I cannot be deceived." This means, "With God by my side, I can't be deceived into thinking that my safety depends on my cleaning ability." You don't say this timidly. That would mean you are resigned to the fact that nothing can shake you from equating your protection with you cleaning efforts. Rather, you say it with certainty, knowing that this is a call to the Holy Spirit to release you from this deception, and that this call will be answered. (Incidentally, this doesn't mean that you don't clean the house—though you might not—it just means that you don't see the condition of the house as being at all related to your peace.)
Again we see how serious Jesus is about spending our day in a very different mindset than usual. The state we reach in the morning and then maintain all day is so precious to us that we remain alert to any threat to it, and deal with that threat just as quickly and decisively as if it were a threat to our physical body. This notion of spending our time in an uplifted state and then guarding that state so that we don't fall from it may sound like a new concept, yet it can be found throughout the Course. Here is one example:
When the temptation to attack rises to make your mind darkened and murderous, remember you can see the battle from above….When [this temptation occurs] leave not your place on high, but quickly choose a miracle instead of murder. And God Himself and all the lights of Heaven will gently lean to you, and hold you up. (T-23.IV.6:1, 5-6)
Evening quiet time
Finally, after beginning the day with God, renewing that connection all day long, and guarding it against all that would bring it down, we end the day with God. We do an evening version of our morning quiet time:
If possible…just before going to sleep is a desirable time to devote to God. It sets your mind into a pattern of rest, and orients you away from fear. If it is expedient to spend this time earlier, at least be sure that [at bedtime] you do not forget a brief period,—not more than a moment will do,—in which you close your eyes and think of God. (5:6-8)
Notice how Jesus wants to make sure that we end the day with God. Even if we do our quiet time earlier in the evening (since many of us would fall asleep if we did it right at bedtime), we should take an additional moment at bedtime and think of God. He really wants God to be the very last thing on our mind as we go to sleep.
Ending the day in this way has two purposes, I believe. First, it reinforces the fact that our day really was about resting in God's protection, for the way we end something is always a statement of what that thing really was to us. Second, "it sets your mind into a pattern of rest, and orients you away from fear" (5:7). It prepares you to spend your sleep resting in God rather than tossing in fear. It allows the sense of safety you rested in all day to continue throughout the night, so that when you wake you will be ready for yet another day of resting in God.
What do we do with this picture?
I find this picture of a day lived after the Workbook to be incredibly attractive. It is not a day in which we fit God occasionally into the cracks. It is a day that is all about God, in which we exchange the constant anxiety of trying to procure our own safety for the profound peace of resting in God's Everlasting Arms. Can you imagine a day in which your sense of safety was so deep that it couldn't be shaken no matter what happened outside you? Who wouldn't want a day like that?
Yet as you can see, it comes with a "price." It means starting and ending the day with a deep meditation. It means maintaining a higher state by remembering all day long that our safety lies in God. Perhaps most challenging of all, it means protecting that state by not hanging our emotional equilibrium on our own ability to make ourselves safe. It means taking a firm stand against this very deeply ingrained habit. If, however, we are willing to pay this "price," the benefits are incalculable.
Having this kind of day is admittedly far beyond where most of us are now. Yet rather than allowing this to make us feel guilty and inadequate, let's allow it to fill our hearts "with a stir of deep anticipation" (M-28.4:1), knowing that this is where we are going. And then let's think about taking the steps to get there. We are simply not going to get there without the mind training that the Workbook provides. It's just not going to happen. While doing the Workbook, let's realize that we are preparing ourselves to eventually take the training wheels off and, without the Workbook's support, experience this kind of day. And once we have finished the Workbook, let's see this day as what we are shooting for. If we then fall on our faces, let's go back to the Workbook, so that next time we finish we will be in a better position to succeed.
But let us not forget: Making this beautiful day with God our every day is where we are heading. This is our inheritance as students of A Course in Miracles. This is the gateway to receiving our real inheritance.