Willingness to Practice Every Step

by Allen Watson

This is a response to Robert's article, "The Spiritual Path of A Course in Miracles", which appeared in a "A Better Way". Working with The Circle of Atonement as a teacher and writer, I want my solidarity with Robert to be clear; I agree with what he said. In this article, however, I want to add some of my own thoughts on the same topic.

Study Is the Basic Approach

The general idea that Robert presented—that the Course is a path—was an idea I have held for years. In 1991, in a booklet I wrote about the Introduction to the Text, I said:

ACIM is a course. It isn't a quick fix. It is about learning to see this world as a classroom, and all of us as students who have only one purpose: to graduate.

ACIM is talking about an extended course of study: at least one year, followed by a lifetime of application.

The nature of ACIM as a course is what makes it different from many other forms of the spiritual path. There is a practical plan of study, exercises to do.

As this shows, I thought of the Course as a life-long path long before moving to Sedona. I find myself melding with Robert very nicely in this fundamental approach. It is the basis of all our work together.

Studying the Text has been my primary approach to the Course. I agree heartily with Robert that studying and understanding the teaching of the Course is the basic building block of its path. Jesus says quite clearly that, although reason is not salvation, it is the tool that "makes way for peace and brings you to a state of mind in which salvation can be given you" (T-22.III.3:1). This is why the Circle emphasizes serious, detailed study of the Course. Not just reading the Text (which is more than some people do), but careful study.

Robert recently ran across a quotation in Absence From Felicity by Kenneth Wapnick that shows that Jesus, in dictating the Course to Helen, agreed with this emphasis on study. Here is what he said in a personal communication to Helen and Bill (the scribes of the Course):

Bill has very intelligently suggested that you both should set yourself the goal of really studying for this course.

There can be no doubt of the wisdom of this decision, for any student who wants to pass it (Absence From Felicity, p. 285).

Practice Is Essential

Although I have studied the Course for just over nine years, it was only last year that I began to seriously consider its emphasis on practice. I was preparing to lead a study group in New Jersey on "The Rules of Decision," in Chapter 30 of the Text. As I read the Introduction to that chapter, what it had to say about practice struck me:

The new beginning now becomes the focus of the curriculum. The goal is clear, but now you need specific methods for attaining it. The speed by which it can be reached depends on this one thing alone; your willingness to practice every step (T-30.In.1:1-3).

As I read, the message of this passage became clear to me. The message is this: Once the goal is clear and you have a basic understanding of the ideas of the Text, something else is needed. Since you have almost completed your study of the Text, by now you must be clear about its goals. You know where the Course is trying to take you: to right-mindedness, to the memory of your Self, to a clear vision of the real world, and eventually to the memory of God. You have the idea of the goal already, "but now you need specific methods for attaining it."

This dovetails nicely with what Robert said in his article—that the sequence of the three volumes of the Course shows a progressive program for assimilating the Course's message. The Text presents the ideas for study; the Workbook follows with a specific program of practice.

The Introduction to Chapter 30 and the section that follows on "The Rules for Decision" are like a preview of the Workbook. They present a specific, daily practice. That practice is the "specific method" by which you can attain the goal of the Course. Very clearly, Jesus is assuming here that you have already absorbed the ideas. "The goal is clear," he says. To many of us, the goal of the Course may not yet be that clear. If that is the case, we need to continue to focus on the Text, reading and studying until the goal is clear.

What Chapter 30 teaches is this: The ideas of the Text are not simply going to seep into our lives through osmosis. We need "specific methods." Moreover, we need to practice these methods. Starting to put the new ideas into practice is "the new beginning" that will now become the focus of the curriculum. Practice is the new focus.

Very significantly, Jesus tells us that our "willingness to practice every step" is the sole determiner of the speed by which we can reach the goal. In other words, once the goal is clear our progress towards the goal depends upon practice and upon nothing but practice.

What "Practice" Consists Of

The "Rules for Decision" section explains exactly what the Course means by "practice." If you read it, you will see that it presents a Workbook-like kind of daily practice:

• A morning time in which you consciously adopt a mind-set in line with the ideas of the Text

• frequent, brief repetitions of the idea through the day

• A method for response to any ego thoughts that manage to intrude through the day.

"The Rules for Decision" is a prototype Workbook lesson. It seems to be presenting a generic pattern that would become the basis of all the Workbook lessons. That pattern consists of an intensive daily practice, involving a determined effort to turn our minds to God and to be vigilant against the ego thoughts in our minds. Without this kind of persistent, determined practice we will take a very long time getting to the goal the Course sets before us.

Not Practicing Does Not Make Us Bad Persons

The course does not imply that you are a bad person if you don't do this daily practice. Nor does it even hint that you won't reach the goal if you are not willing to do the practice now. The Course is very clear that the outcome is inevitable: "Ultimately, every member of the family of God must return" (T-1.V.4:1). All it says is that the speed by which it can be reached depends only on our willingness to practice.

Unwillingness to practice means delay, that is all, not ultimate failure. Although the Course says that everyone will eventually reach the goal, it is equally clear that to reach it we must participate in some kind of course or spiritual practice: "It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary" (T-In.1:2, 3). The inevitability of reaching the goal does not mean you can reach it without practice; it means that inevitably you will practice, now or later. Your practice may not be the specific form of practice advocated by the Course, but all of us will practice in some form. There is no other way.

Everyone will eventually do the practice, and thereby reach the goal. All that is up to us is how long it takes us to become willing. If reaching the goal means never ceasing to think of God, then obviously the process of getting to the goal must consist of giving more and more of our thoughts to God. That is what practice consists of: giving our minds to God with increasing frequency until our minds are totally transformed.

I believe that the goal of the structured practice presented in the Workbook is to train us to form a habit of such daily practice. Our use of the Workbook may end once the habit of practice is established, but the practice of turning our minds to God, more and more frequently, will continue for the rest of our lives, until we attain the real world and never cease to think of God.

Don't Force Yourself To Practice

If we continue to postpone our practice, reaching the goal may take a very long time-an expanse of time that may be measured not in years but in lifetimes. The tone behind these words is similar to the line in the Workbook, "Why wait for Heaven?" (W-pI.188.1:1). If we truly want Heaven, why wait to take the steps that lead us there? There is no condemnation, no attempt to shame or coerce you into practice here. That is not how Jesus is saying it, and it is not how I intend it, nor, I am sure, does Robert, in his article. In fact, the Text even says,

And if you find resistance strong and dedication weak, you are not ready. Do not fight yourself (T-30.I.1:6,7).

In other words, if you have strong resistance to a disciplined, daily practice, don't fight it. It doesn't mean you are a bad person; all it means is that you aren't ready. I think that "Don't fight yourself" applies as well to any resistance you may be feeling to Robert's article and to mine. Taking the Course as a serious path is definitely not for everyone, and even if it is for you, you may not be ready to actively pursue the practice the Course sets forth. If you feel strong resistance—don't fight yourself. When you are ready, you will know. You'll know because you find that you want to do it.

It has taken nine years for me to prepare for my first really serious pass through the Workbook, in which I am trying to follow the instructions it gives "as closely as possible" —a phrase repeated in the Workbook at least three times, as Robert points out. I've "done" the Workbook four or five times in the past, and yet never once did I really try to follow its instructions "as closely as possible"! Generally, I read the lesson in the morning. Maybe I spent five or ten minutes thinking about it, but rarely did I specifically follow the instructions for morning practice, and even more rarely did I recall the lesson during the day or spend another extended practice period before bedtime. Somehow, I managed to convince myself that Jesus didn't really mean what he says in his instructions. I felt as though what he was advocating was a good idea, but it seemed completely beyond my ability. Maybe it was, at the time.

I realize now that what I was doing was not "taking" A Course in Miracles; I was "auditing" it! I was attending the lectures without doing the homework. This year I am no longer auditing; this year, I am doing the practice. And yet, I don't look back on those previous nine years as wasted in any way, nor do I look back with guilt. I simply was not ready to address the serious, daily practice of the Course until this year.

What About "I Need Do Nothing"?

Many of you may be thinking: "I thought the Course said that I need do nothing. I thought it said the Course is easy." When the Course uses those words, "I need do nothing," it says that the realization of needing to do nothing is something that comes to you at the end of the journey! The goal is effortlessly living in spirit, that is true. But it takes a great deal of effort to achieve effortlessness. The goal of a pianist is playing a particular piece effortlessly, without even thinking about it; but how does the pianist get to that place? Practice, practice, practice! You and I are not going to undo thousands of years of ego thinking without a daily practice of vigilance against those ego thoughts.

The "I Need Do Nothing" section of the Text (T-18.VII) contains a strong appeal to us to use the means the Course provides for saving time. Now if the speed with which we reach the goal depends only on our willingness to practice every step, as Chapter 30 says, then this appeal to save time must be an appeal to students of the Course to practice. If so we would expect to find some instructions on practice right here in the "I Need Do Nothing" section—and so we do.

Doing Nothing Is What We Practice

What does it ask us to practice? It asks us to practice remembering that we need do nothing, to concentrate on this idea (T-18.VII.5:5-6). It asks us to practice the holy instant (T-18.VII.5:3; 6:7-8). In the holy instant, we forget the body and the "doing" associated with the body. The last two paragraphs of the section, the seventh and eighth paragraphs, describe the holy instant clearly as an instant in which we lay the body and its doing aside, and, in a moment of quiet, rest. The activity of the body ceases to demand our attention while we commune quietly with the Holy Spirit. In that holy instant we encounter the Holy Spirit. He comes with us as we leave that place of rest and "the body's activities return to occupy your conscious mind" (T-18.VII.7:9).

The description here is very similar to descriptions in the Workbook of its practice sessions. The Workbook practice sessions are times where we "withdraw" from "the business of the world" and "quietly sit by and wait on Him and listen to His Voice" (W-pI.153.16:4; 17:2).

Thus what you need are intervals each day in which the learning of the world becomes a transitory phase…Here you understand the Word, the Name Which God has given you; the one Identity Which all things share; the one acknowledgement of what is true. And then step back to darkness, not because you think it real, but only to proclaim its unreality in terms which still have meaning in the world that darkness rules (W-pI.184.10).

The ongoing, post-Workbook practice is the same: "Henceforth, hear but the Voice for God and for your Self when you retire from the world, to seek reality instead" (W-pII.Epi.3:2). Indeed, we could say that one purpose of each time of practice is to experience a holy instant of rest, apart from the world. In time we learn to bring that quiet with us back to the world for its healing (W-RI.3,4). When we talk about "practice" we are talking about holy instants, nothing more nor less.

The practice of the Workbook is exactly what "I Need Do Nothing" is describing—a daily habit of ceasing periodically from all bodily activity to enter into a holy instant. "I Need Do Nothing" does not preclude practice; quite the contrary, doing nothing is what we are asked to practice! So Jesus very pointedly appeals to us in this very section not to go on…

…neglecting what was made for you. Save time for me by only this one preparation, and practice doing nothing else" [latter italics mine] (T-18.VII.6:5,6).

Isn't the Course "Easy"?

As for the Course being easy—it does indeed say that about itself. Being easy does not contradict the requested disciplined practice. What is difficult about the practice it recommends? We give constant, 24-hour-a-day vigilance to our illusions; why can't we do the same for the truth? All the Course asks for to begin with is a tiny fraction of those 24 hours! In Workbook Lesson 44 it is this very practice that is called "easy"! Hear these words:

For this purpose, we will use a form of exercise which has been suggested before, and which we will utilize increasingly. It is a particularly difficult form for the undisciplined mind, and represents a major goal of mind training. It requires precisely what the untrained mind lacks. Yet this training must be accomplished if you are to see.

…The form of practice we will use today is the most natural and easy one in the world for the trained mind, just as it seems to be the most unnatural and difficult for the untrained mind (W-pI.44.3:2-5; 4:3).

The exercise does seem difficult "for the undisciplined mind" and yet "the most natural and easy one in the world for the trained mind." The practice of the Workbook seems difficult because our minds are not trained, but our minds cannot be trained unless we do the practice! Lesson 44 devotes a lot of space to talking about the resistance we will feel to this form of practice, the importance of the practice, and the need to try (yes, "try") to push past that resistance. Training must come before we can experience the ease that comes naturally to the trained mind. At first the practice will seem difficult.

Following God's Will is easy (T-7.XI.1:3). Recognizing truth is easy (T-7.XI.5:7). Perceiving with Christ is easy (T-9.VII.1:3). The holy instant is easy (T-18.IV.7:1). But "You make it difficult, because you insist there must be more that you need do" (T-18.IV.7:2). It is only our unwillingness to practice the holy instant that makes it seem so difficult (T-31.I.1:6).

Jesus Passionately Urges Us To Practice

Jesus urges us to miss no opportunity to practice all through the day. He says:

If He wills you to have it [salvation], He must have made it possible and easy to obtain it. Your brothers are everywhere. You do not have to seek for salvation. Every minute and every second gives you a chance to save yourself. Do not lose these chances, not because they will not return, but because delay of joy is needless (T-9.VII.1:1-7, emphasis added).

Isn't "Looking" All We Need To Do?

Another thought that occurred to me as I read Robert's article was, "What about those passages in the Course that begin with words like, 'All you need to do is…'?" For instance, what about these quotations?

All that is needed is you look upon the problem as it is, and not the way that you have set it up (T-27.VII.2:3).

The Holy Spirit asks of you but this; bring to Him every secret you have locked away from Him…Bring, therefore, all your dark and secret thoughts to Him, and look upon them with Him (T-14.VII.6:1,8).

Our task is but to continue, as fast as possible, the necessary process of looking straight at all the interference and seeing it exactly as it is (T-15.IX.2:1).

These passages are saying, as Ken Wapnick often points out, that all we need to do to obtain salvation is to look honestly at our own egos without judging them, which we do by looking with the Holy Spirit. That is absolutely true; this is a major emphasis of the Course. What we are saying about the need for study, practice and extension does not contradict this central idea of the Course. Study and practice are the context in which we look at the ego and allow its interference to be removed; extension then results naturally as the interference with love's outflow disappears.

We are being urged to "continue, as fast as possible, the necessary process of looking straight at all the interference." The principle is that simply looking at the interference will clear away all that interference. But how do you do that? And more to the point, how do you do it as fast as possible? The answer is, simply, practice, practice, practice!

That is what daily practice periods are. They are times in the morning, in the evening, and frequently during the day, when you stop and look at yourself in God's presence. That is the meaning of being vigilant. The practice the Course calls "response to temptation" and the practice of bringing all our dark and secret thoughts to the Holy Spirit are identical. The daily practice we are talking about and "the necessary process" of this passage are the same thing. Responding to your ego thoughts and bringing them to the Holy Spirit for healing is something you have to consciously choose to do, repeatedly, over and over, as frequently as possible during the day, until it becomes the habit by which you live your life.

When All Else Fails, Follow the Instructions

Please do not think that Robert and I are trying to shame you or anyone into some kind of rigid, legalistic practice of the Course. All we are saying is, "When all else fails, follow the instructions." If you are a student of the Course and you are clear about its goal for you, we're sharing some hard-earned advice: If you want to get to the goal faster, try following the instructions Jesus gave us! Why else are they there in the book? Let's at least admit the instructions are there, and stop pretending they aren't, whether at this time we choose to follow them or not.

Doing the Course Your Own Way

Perhaps you consider yourself a serious student of the Course and yet you feel guided to do the Course in your own way. You are being guided not to attempt to follow the instructions for practice that are in the book. That may be so; no one can judge the sincerity of your heart except you. At least be aware, however, of what you are doing. You are saying, in effect, "Jesus gave these very specific instructions about how to do his course. I believe he is telling me, personally, to do it differently."

There are several reasons I can see why a person might say that, some good, some bad.

1. You may not be ready to take up disciplined practice. We've already discussed this possibility in regard to the phrase, "Don't fight yourself." It is a perfectly valid place to be in.

2. You may be holding on to a form a specialness. You may be saying, "I don't want to be like everyone else; I want a special way of my own."

3. You may have resistance to placing yourself under the authority of the Teacher, the Holy Spirit. We all have this problem; the "authority problem" is the root of all evil (T-3.VI.7:2, 3).

4. You may not yet be clear on the goal and the way practice will get you there. You may not yet want the goal sufficiently or consistently.

5. You may need a custom-designed curriculum due to the nature of your particular form of fear and separation. (You might even be better off using a spiritual path other than the Course.)

If you have a strong resistance to the Course's form of practice, at least ask yourself quite seriously—Why? Here is a message from Jesus, someone who has reached the goal. He is saying, "This is the goal. Practice is the means for reaching it. Do this and you will get there more rapidly than in any other way." And you don't want to do it. Why not? You may be truly guided by God to do it differently, but before you accept that, at least consider that the odds are very good that it is not the means (the practice) you are objecting to, but the goal itself. The Course points this out:

To obtain the goal the Holy Spirit indeed asks little. He asks no more to give the means as well. The means are second to the goal. And when you hesitate, it is because the purpose frightens you, not the means. Remember this, for otherwise you will make the error of believing the mean are difficult (T-20.VII.3:1-5).

Extension and Its Form

Finally, regarding the matter of extension and the Manual for Teachers, I really feel Robert has said it well. The only thing I would add is that the form our function takes is not the issue at all; it is the content. "Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world" (W-pI.62) is true of everyone, but that doesn't mean everyone has to be a therapist, healer, or teacher in a formal sense. You can find and fulfill your function, practicing forgiveness, as a devoted mother or father, as a construction worker, or in almost any form you can think of.

The point Robert makes clearly and decisively is that each of us has "an appointed role…selected by the Voice for God" (W-pI.154.2:1), and we can know exactly what it is. Isn't that good news? Whatever form that role takes, if we are following the path of the Course, we will be a teacher of God in that form. We will be extending the peace from our hearts to those around us, releasing from guilt as we would be released.

I really don't think there is anything clearer in the Course than the idea that you cannot get to Heaven alone. To be complete in you, salvation must include everyone around you. Over and over the Course tells us that our function is to become saviors, and that the salvation of the world depends on us.

It is not our job to decide how to extend peace, for the Holy Spirit is in control of that extension.

Extension of forgiveness is the Holy Spirit's function. Leave this to Him. Let your concern be only that you give to Him that which can be extended (T-22.VI.9:2-4).

Our part is to uncover the limits in our minds that would hold extension back and give those ego thoughts to Him, allowing Him to lead us to those who need healing, and to lead them to us.

The Holy Spirit directs extension, but He directs it through us. We must consciously participate with Him and give ourselves to Him for the accomplishment of His plan; that is the very meaning of the famous phrase, "a collaborative venture."

That is why healing is a collaborative venture. I can tell you what to do, but you must collaborate by believing that I know what you should do. Only then will your mind choose to follow me. Without this choice you could not be healed because you would have decided against healing… (T-8.IV.4:8-11).

Jesus appeals to us constantly to accept our function, to stop resisting it. We must collaborate with him. He says clearly that we are his voice, his eyes, his feet and hands through which he saves the world. He needs us to hear His words and to give them to the world (W-rV.9:2,3).

He asks us to accept nothing else as the purpose of our lives. Removing the limits and allowing God's peace to extend through us is a crucial part of our reception of God's power, and of its use to free the entire Sonship (T-19.IV(B).9:1-3). "When you have accepted your mission to extend peace you will find peace, for by making it manifest you will see it" (T-12.VIII.11:1).

A High Calling

The longer I study the Course, the more lofty its goal seems. Ours is a very high calling, one we share with everyone. A Course in Miracles promises to save us time in reaching that goal, but also indicates that how much time it saves us depends on our willingness to study, to practice, and to allow the Holy Spirit to extend through us to shine His light into the minds of those around us. If you have read the wonderful promises the Course makes and you have wondered why you are not experiencing the things of which it speaks, perhaps the answer Jesus would give you is the one he gave so very clearly to Helen, and to us all, in the pages of the Course:

You may complain that this course is not sufficiently specific for you to understand and use. Yet perhaps you have not done what it specifically advocates. This is not a course in the play of ideas, but in their practical application. (T-11.VIII.5:1-3).

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