This article originally appeared in the September 2001 issue (#35) of the Circle's newsletter, A Better Way. Since then, some of the details of my post-Workbook practice have changed, but the basic structure remains as it is described below.
We at the Circle believe that Course practice is meant to be a lifelong affair, a spiritual discipline which remains the cornerstone of our lives long after we have moved on from the Workbook. After going through the Workbook in the year 2000 (this was the third time I had gone all the way through the Workbook from start to finish), I personally felt guided this year to do what Robert Perry has called "post-Workbook practice." I had done this form of practice with positive results in 1999, and it seemed to me that the time was ripe to do it again.
A couple of people in our Workbook Support Group in Portland, Oregon asked me about my practice, and so I thought it might be helpful to share what I'm doing with a larger audience. That is the purpose of this article. In it, I will first explain what post-Workbook practice is, and where it fits in the Course's program. Then, I will describe my own personal post-Workbook practice regimen.
My goal here is not to present my personal regimen as some sort of ideal model for post-Workbook practice. My own practice is very much a work in progress, and as we will see, post-Workbook practice is loosely structured, so that no two people's forms of practice will be exactly the same. My goal is simply to share my own journey with post-Workbook practice, in the hope that it might help others who are doing this kind of practice themselves, or who will do so in the future. It is in that spirit that I offer this article.
What is post-Workbook practice?
What we call post-Workbook practice is based on the practice described in Section 16 of the Manual for Teachers, "How Should the Teacher of God Spend His Day?" (M‑16.Heading). Before discussing this section, however, I'd like to begin with some background from the Workbook, so that we can see where post-Workbook practice fits in the Course's overall practice program. In particular, I'd like to show where this practice fits in the Course's overall progression of the structure of practice.
Workbook practice is highly structured, as well it should be, since Jesus tells us more than once that our untrained minds need firm structure in order to learn (see, for instance, W-pI.95.6). As we progress through the Workbook and our minds presumably become better trained, the firm structure of the earlier lessons gradually drops away. But it never drops away entirely. Instead, starting with Lesson 201 and continuing through Part II of the Workbook all the way to the end, our practice settles into what Robert Perry calls "the four-fold structure of Workbook practice." This structure consists of the following basic elements:
1. Morning and evening quiet times. Extended practice periods of anywhere from five minutes to thirty minutes or more, preferably taken right after waking and right before sleeping, in which we practice the idea for the day.
2. Hourly remembrance. Brief practice periods of two to three minutes (if time permits), done on the hour, in which we remember the idea for the day.
3. Frequent reminders. Brief practice periods of a minute or less, done at least several times an hour, in which we quickly remind ourselves of the idea for the day.
4. Response to temptation. Brief practice periods of a minute or less, done whenever we are tempted to engage in ego-based thinking, in which we respond to that temptation with the idea for the day.
Eventually, of course, we come to the end of the Workbook, and wonder what to do next. The Workbook's Epilogue tells us the following in this regard:
No more specific lessons are assigned, for there is no more need of them. Henceforth, hear but the Voice for God and for your Self when you retire from the world, to seek reality instead. He will direct your efforts, telling you exactly what to do, how to direct your mind, and when to come to Him in silence, asking for His sure direction and His certain Word. (W-Ep.3:1-3)
It would seem from reading this that once we are done with the Workbook, we are to drop structured practice entirely. We are still to do some sort of practice, but no particular structure is given us. All we are to do, it seems, is turn our lives and our practice over to the Holy Spirit completely, and let Him take us the rest of the way home.
However, there is more to it than this, and here is where Section 16 of the Manual comes in. (Since I will be referring to this section frequently, all references to M-16 will consist only of paragraph and sentence numbers.) This section directly addresses the question of what our practice should look like—how we should spend our day—once we have completed the Workbook and, having done so, become teachers of God (see 3:7; I should also mention that in the Course's system, completing the Workbook assumes that we have also completed the Text).
The section begins by saying that "to the advanced teacher of God this question is meaningless" (1:1). It is meaningless because such a teacher "keeps in constant contact with the Answer" (1:9). In other words, he needs no practice structure at all because he has turned his life and practice over to the Holy Spirit completely. Does this sound familiar? It should, because the advanced teacher of God described here sounds a lot like the person described in the Epilogue of the Workbook. Apparently, it is at least theoretically possible for a person to become an advanced teacher of God—a very advanced person in the Course's system, one whose mind is almost entirely open to the Holy Spirit—just by going through the Workbook once.
Yet how many of us have actually accomplished this? Personally, I've never met anyone who has. It may be theoretically possible, but given our typical resistance to the Course's program, it is not likely. For this reason, Jesus devotes the rest of Section 16 to beginning teachers of God, those who "are not yet ready for such lack of structuring on their own part" (2:2). The remainder of the section gives beginning teachers a practice structure that will enable them to "give the day to God" (2:3), a structure that consists of the following basic elements:
1. Morning and evening quiet times. Practice periods of unspecified duration, preferably taken right after waking and right before sleeping, in which we devote our minds to spending time with God (2:6, 3:4-6, paragraphs 4-5).
2. Frequent reminders. Unspecified practice times "throughout the day" (6:1), in which we remember a God-inspired thought (the specific thought given here is the thought that we are perfectly safe and thus have no need of defenses) (paragraph 6).
3. Response to temptation. Brief practices to be done whenever we are tempted to engage in magic (the ego-based belief that a power other than God can save us), in which we respond to that temptation by using a Workbook—like phrase or whatever other response we prefer (the specific phrase suggested here is "God is with me. I cannot be deceived"), and by reminding ourselves of God's protection (10:4-8, 8:1).
These three things, too, should sound familiar. They are, of course, three parts of the four-fold structure of Workbook practice. The only thing missing is the hourly remembrance. The omission of the hourly remembrance is one of two major differences between post-Workbook practice and the four-fold practice we are doing at the end of the Workbook. The other difference is that while the Workbook gives us specific lessons to practice each day, in post-Workbook practice we ourselves choose which ideas we will practice each day. Various suggestions are given in M-16 but as a general rule, what we practice is up to us.
On what basis are we to make this decision? First, we are to consult the Holy Spirit for guidance, as the above passage from the Epilogue of the Workbook suggests. Second, with His guidance we are to choose ideas and forms of practice which are especially suited to our own particular needs: "After completion of the more structured practice periods, which the workbook contains, individual need becomes the chief consideration" (3:8).
Post-Workbook practice, then, gives the beginning teacher of God a loose structure upon which to build an individualized practice. It is a kind of transition between the firm structure of the Workbook and the total lack of structure of the advanced teacher of God. This is the practice I am doing this year. Now that we've seen what post-Workbook practice looks like in general, I'd like to share what this practice looks like for me.
My Post-Workbook practice
The following description of my post-Workbook practice is built upon the basic daily pattern described in the Workbook, which says we are to practice "in the morning and again at night, and all through the day as well" (W-pI.64.5:2). Before beginning this description, a couple of comments are in order. First, as I said above, my aim is not to present my own practice as a model for other people's post-Workbook practice, but simply to share my own personal experience. Because this kind of practice is meant to be geared to individual need, I think that within the loose structure of post-Workbook practice outlined above, the forms it takes will probably vary considerably from person to person. As will become apparent, those forms vary considerably even within my own practice.
Second, I don't want my description of my practice to give the impression that I practice on a high level all the time, with few or no lapses. On the contrary, what I'm presenting below is my personal ideal, an ideal that I come closer to on some days than others. I definitely have my share of lapses and poor practice days. I can honestly say that I've made real progress in practicing more consistently, but I still have plenty of room for improvement. I'll share some of my strong points and weak points as I go along. Now, here's what a good day of post-Workbook practice looks like for me:
Morning quiet time
The morning quiet time has generally been one of the strengths of my practice, at least in the sense that I do it pretty consistently. I don't take my quiet time immediately upon waking up, because I'm usually pretty groggy at that time. (Everyone who knows me knows I'm not a morning person!) Instead, I usually say a quick prayer right when I get up—something really simple, like "Good morning, God. Here I am." Then I eat breakfast, and have my quiet time immediately afterwards.
My morning routine has two basic aspects: study time and practice time. By "study time," I mean simply doing some reading from the Course. I read through the entire Text each year, and so I sometimes begin my study time by reading whatever Text section I'm currently on in my yearly read-through. Other times, I read the section we are currently studying in Allen's Text class, or perhaps another part of the Course that appeals to me. Then, I read the day's Workbook lesson, both because I find the Workbook to be a great resource for post-Workbook practice, and because I'm helping our group in Portland go through the Workbook.
After I'm done with my study time, I move into my practice time. The duration varies, but as a general rule, I spend thirty minutes doing some sort of Course-based practice. The first thing I do is ask God for guidance about what ideas to practice, and what forms of practice to do that particular morning. (Actually, I ask God, the Holy Spirit, or Jesus depending upon my inclination, but for the sake of convenience, in this article I will simply use "God" to refer to all three of the Course's guidance sources.) I often find that I am led to do something that applies particularly well to whatever life issues I'm facing at that time. What I end up doing varies from day to day, though sometimes I do the same thing several days in a row. Here are some examples of practices I might do, either singly or in combination:
- Course-based meditation. This is my number one morning practice.
- A prayer from Part II of the Workbook. I love these prayers, and often use them as a lead-in to Course-based meditation.
- The day's Workbook lesson. Sometimes my daily Workbook reading really appeals to me, so I do the day's lesson.
- Another Workbook lesson. I do this especially when I'm dealing with a life issue that a specific lesson addresses particularly well.
- A practice from the Text. For example, one morning when I was wrestling with guilt over a poor decision I had made, I used T-5.VII.6:7-11, the practice that begins, "I must have decided wrongly, because I am not at peace."
- A practice for forgiving a particular person. When I'm struggling to forgive someone, I often use a forgiveness practice from the Workbook, or use Robert's composite forgiveness exercise (see his article "How Do We Forgive," in A Better Way #24).
- Repeating the Name of God. This is a practice given in Workbook Lessons 183 and 184 (see Robert's article "Name of God Meditation," in A Better Way #32).
- A practice of my own invention. For example, I put together an exercise in which I took the lesson titles from Lessons 40-50, changed the pronouns so that they addressed God directly, and then spoke all of them directly to God (beginning with "I am blessed as Your Son" and ending with "I am sustained by Your Love").
Whatever practices I do, I generally end the thirty-minute practice period with a quiet, meditative time in which I try to connect with God. To conclude the morning session, I ask God for guidance on what ideas to focus on and what practices to do during the day, and then turn the day over to Him. One line I sometimes use to do this is from the Text section "Rules for Decision": "Today I will make no decisions by myself" (T-30.I.2:2).
Practice during the day
I've been fairly consistent with my daily practice, though there are definitely times when I let it slip. Like many people, I have difficulty keeping my practice up when my day is particularly busy. I find it especially difficult when I'm doing a big writing project, since I really tend to immerse myself and lose track of time while writing. But I'm making progress with this. Given the topic of this article, I've made sure to take time out for practice while writing it!
As with my morning quiet time, the practice I do during the day varies from day to day, though sometimes I do the same thing several days in a row. My daily practice can also vary a lot during the course of a single day, depending upon the needs of the moment. That being said, here are some of the basic elements of my daily practice:
- Frequent reminders. I usually don't have a set time interval for these; I just try to remember a Course-based thought as often as possible. I may use ideas from my morning practice, or use whatever comes to me in the moment.
- Response to temptation. Again, I may use ideas from my morning practice, or use whatever comes to me in the moment.
- Hourly remembrance. Even though M-16 does not specifically mention this, I do find this staple of Workbook practice to be very helpful at times. As with the frequent reminders and response to temptation, I may use ideas from my morning practice, or use whatever comes to me in the moment.
- Asking God for guidance about what to do. I've found this especially helpful when transitioning from one activity to another. This has been a real strength for me lately. I don't know how good my reception of guidance is, but I am asking a fair amount of the time.
- Favorite practices for particular situations. There are certain practices that I have found especially useful when faced with particular life situations, and so I use these whenever I'm entering those situations. For instance, when entering a teaching situation (like a Course class), I like to use the well-known prayer from T-2.V(A).18:2-6, which begins, "I am here only to be truly helpful."
- Practices for forgiving specific people. I mentioned this above. In addition to what I mentioned above, I have found the "Forgiveness Notebook" given at the Circle's forgiveness retreats to be a wonderful resource for this.
- Mentally blessing people that I meet. I really like doing this. What I do is simply extend love to the people I encounter by mentally applying a line from the Course to them. Two of my favorites for this purpose are "You stand with me in light" (W-pI.87.2:3), and "Let peace extend from my mind to yours" (W-pI.82.2:2).
- Practices of my own invention. For instance, lately I've found it helpful to do ten-minute "mini-meditations" as I transition from one activity to another.
Evening quiet time
Over the years, evening practice has probably been my biggest weakness. Since I'm a night owl, I tend to work on my computer into the wee hours of the morning (it's 1:45 a.m. as I'm typing this), and it is very tempting just to flop into bed without practicing once I'm done for the night. However, I'm pleased to report that I'm not bailing out on evening practice as much as I used to. This year especially, evening practice (or early, early morning practice, as the case may be) has become a much more consistent part of my practice regimen.
My evening quiet time is much the same as my morning quiet time. Often, I do some brief pre-bedtime reading from the Course. Then I have a thirty-minute practice period much like the morning one, in which I might use any of the practices I mentioned above in my description of the morning practice. More often than not, however, I spend this time in prayer and/or Course-based meditation. I find this to be a wonderful way to put my mind in a restful state. At the end of my practice period, I thank God for the day just concluded, and place my sleep in His hands (as T-8.IX.4 recommends). One Course line that I frequently use for this purpose is the title of Lesson 109: "I rest in God." Another favorite of mine is from the prayer in Lesson 232 of the Workbook: "And let me sleep sure of my safety, certain of Your care, and happily aware I am Your Son" (W-pII.232.1:5).
As I step back and look at what I've just written about post-Workbook practice, I am struck by just how comprehensive and varied Course practice really is. It is both comprehensive enough to address every problem we could possibly face, and varied enough to address specific problems in a way that is tailor-made for each individual. And post-Workbook practice, it seems to me, is the place where it all comes together. It is where we assemble all the pieces the Workbook has given us into a cohesive whole. It is where we make full use of the "problem-solving repertoire" (W-pI.194.6:2) that Workbook practice is meant to help us develop. Personally, this is something I really like about my practice. It gives me the opportunity to use all of the tools
in the Course's immense tool chest in a way that specifically
addresses my particular personal needs.
I hope that this brief tour through post-Workbook practice has been helpful to you on your own practice journey. I have personally found my practice this year to be immensely rewarding. I certainly haven't perfected post-Workbook practice, but I've made progress, and I'm coming to recognize more and more that my practice brings me peace and happiness in a way that nothing else can. I think Jesus really means it when he says that "your practicing can offer everything to you" (W-pI.rIII.In.4:5). Wherever you are in your own Course practice, I encourage you to give it your all, because the rewards are truly worth it. May your own practicing offer everything to you.