Recently, I was looking at some material in Helen’s notebooks about Bill:
You, Bill, have not made consistent efforts to change your mind except through applying old habit-patterns to new ideas. But you have learned, and learned it better than Helen has, that your mind gains control over itself when you direct it genuinely toward perceiving someone else truly. Your lack of vitality is due to your former marked effort at solving your needless depression and anxiety through disinterest. Because your ego was protected by this unfortunate negative attribute, you are afraid to abandon it. When you have exerted real efforts to give up this voluntary dispiriting, you have seen how your mind can focus, and rise above fatigue, and heal. But you are not sufficiently vigilant against the demand of your ego that you disengage yourself. This need not be. The [Helen originally wrote “new” here but then crossed it out] habit of engaging with God and His Creations is easily made if you actively refuse to let your mind slip away. Your problem is not concentration: it is a belief that nobody, including yourself, is worth consistent effort. Side with me consistently against this deception, as we have sided against it briefly already. Do not permit this shabby belief to pull you back. The disheartened are useless to themselves and to me, but only the ego can be disheartened.
That first sentence sounded tantalizing. Bill’s problem was that he was “applying old habit-patterns to [the Course’s] new ideas.” Could this be a problem that many students have? However, I couldn’t make out what those “old habit-patterns” were.
As I looked at the passage as a whole, it all became fairly clear. We have Bill trying to solve his depression and anxiety through “disinterest.” We have his ego’s demand “that you disengage yourself.” And we have the new “habit of engaging with God and His creations.”
What is being targeted here is what Jesus always targets as Bill’s primary issue: his disengagement, both mentally and interpersonally. In light of that, what this bit of guidance means, I believe, is something like this:
Bill in the past tried to solve his depression and anxiety through “disinterest”—basically, by mentally checking out. This mental disengagement was part of a larger pattern that also included interpersonal disengagement. This gave Bill the illusion of being insulated from life’s difficulties, and consequently he doesn’t want to give it up. But it also resulted in “lack of vitality” and “fatigue.” By checking out, Bill is draining himself. He is making himself, as Jesus says, “disheartened.”
This lack of vitality is clearly making it difficult to focus his mind and apply the Course’s ideas. He is so checked out that he lacks the mental energy needed to “concentrate” on really applying the Course. This, I believe, is how he is applying old habit-patterns to the Course’s new ideas. He is using the ideas in a checked-out, low-energy way.
The answer Jesus gives him is a multifaceted one. I can see three parts to it:
1. He needs to note his mental disengagement and pour mental effort into swimming the other way. He needs to be the opposite of checked out inside his own mind. He simply has to refuse to mentally go with the flow. Notice all the language to this effect: “your mind gains control of itself,” “exerted real efforts to give up this voluntary dispiriting,” “your mind can focus, and rise above fatigue,” “vigilant against the demand of your ego that you disengage,” “actively refuse to let your mind slip away,” “side with me consistently against this.”
2. A crucial aid in this process will be focusing his mind on “perceiving someone else truly.” That will help him gain control of his mind (see previous point).
3. He needs to consistently side with Jesus against the belief that no one, including himself, is worth the effort. That belief is at the heart of his disengagement.
Once he can engage in this way inside his own mind, he can then engage “with God and His Creations.” In other words, once he can reverse the mental disengagement, this will allow him to reverse the interpersonal disengagement, engaging not only with other people (“His Creations”) but with God Himself.
I feel there is so much we can learn from this little discourse for Bill. I suspect there is a bit of Bill in all of us.