Meditation is a hugely important topic in the Workbook. However, since the Workbook doesn’t call it “meditation,” but rather refers to it vaguely as “this form of exercise,” most students don’t realize they are being taught meditation. Lesson 41 is the first lesson to roll out this practice, but Lesson 44 is the follow-up and presents a more lengthy and thorough picture of Course-based meditation. Recently I was studying Lesson 44 and got a better grasp of its technique than I have before.
The basic thing you are doing in this meditation is trying to “sink into your mind” (W-pI.44.7:2). The idea is that you are sinking through clouds of insane thoughts (what we call normal thoughts), toward the very core of you, the quiet center where God abides. Lesson 41 had the helpful phrase, “Try to enter very deeply into your own mind.” I think I like even better the way Helen originally took it down: “Try to enter very deeply into your own self.” You are trying to sink down and inwards toward the still point at the very center of your being, the point that you contributed nothing to, the point where all your thoughts and actions are gone, because the only contributor to this still point is God.
Lesson 44, however, spends very little time on this basic motion, which was covered more thoroughly in Lesson 41. Instead, it spends almost all its time on two things. The first is mobilizing all of your mind’s energies in service of this down and inward motion. How does it do this?
To begin with, it tells you that this motion is natural. “Your mind cannot be stopped in this unless you choose to stop it. It is merely taking its natural course” (7:3-4). Just as sliding down on a slide is the natural motion of your body, so sinking down toward home is the natural motion of the mind. If you don’t arrest this motion, that is what your mind will do.
After that, it explicitly encourages a heightened sense about what you are doing: “a sense of the importance of what you are doing; its inestimable value to you, and an awareness that you are attempting something very holy” (8:1). This heightened sense is not peripheral, it’s central. We are told that the particular approach we take for sinking inwards is not so important. We might imagine ourselves going through clouds to the light (Lesson 69), or sinking through the choppy surface of water down to the still depths (Lesson 47) or being led by Jesus, who is holding our hand (Lesson 70). However, “what is needful” (8:1) is this “sense.” Jesus wants our minds filled with this sense that “I’m doing something incredibly important here, something valuable beyond measure, and something very holy.” If you really feel that way, your mind will move inward.
The second thing this lesson’s meditation instructions spend time on is emphasizing the powerlessness of the thoughts that would hold you back. While we are sinking toward that quiet center, we are passing by all our normal thoughts. What tends to happen, of course, is that instead of passing them by, we get snagged on them and all tangled up in them. What this lesson emphasizes in a number of different ways is that these thoughts don’t really have any power to hold us back on our inward journey.
- We are encouraged to focus on “quietly sinking past them” (7:2).
- We are told that the only thing that can stop this natural motion of our minds is our choice; our thoughts don’t really have the power to stop us (7:3).
- We are told to step back and merely “observe” our passing thoughts without getting involved in them (7:5).
- And then we are told again to “slip quietly by them.” “Slip” suggests that, rather than these thoughts being full of hooks, or maybe Velcro, they are smooth, even greased.
- Finally, we are later reminded of all this: “And do not forget that they cannot hold you to the world unless you give them the power to do so” (10:3).
As I was using this technique the next morning, the brilliance and simplicity of it hit me. What he has done is put all the mind’s energy in service of that inward motion, and then taken away the power of the things that would hold us back. The idea that “this is natural, this is important, this is priceless, this is holy” sets up a kind of gravity that pulls us toward that center. To “sink,” as he describes it, is to give yourself up to gravity. And this heightened sense I am talking about is what produces that gravity. And then the notion that “I’m just quietly slipping by thoughts are smooth, even greased, that have no power to hold me back”—that takes away the power of what would stop us in our sinking.
So what Jesus has done is very simple and also very effective. He’s built a slide and placed us at the top of it. Then he’s turned on the gravity, and finally he’s made sure we understand that anything we might grab onto to stop our sliding is, in and of itself, completely powerless. It’s as if he’s greased the sides that we could grip onto to stop ourselves.
I really encourage you to try this technique, or perhaps try it again with new understanding about how to do it. This technique is clearly designed to work, and as many of us can attest, it does.