Question: I began the Workbook last November. I was going strong until I hit the last review of Part I and now I am having a tremendous problem focusing and doing the lessons correctly. I feel as if I have hit a brick wall and so, over the last few weeks, I have taken a break. Do you think we are sometimes led to rest from the Workbook or do you recommend to keep going and push through? I just feel like I need a break. Will I lose what I've gained over the past 200 or so lessons by taking a break?
Answer:I don't think that a break is always a bad idea. In tracking the stages of the "Development of Trust," the Course even talks about what amounts to a break. After depicting three very difficult periods, the Course speaks of a fourth, "in which the teacher of God rests a while in reasonable peace. Now he consolidates his learning" (M-4.I(A).6:2-3). Based on this, we need not think of a break as a failure. It can be a useful part of the process. If I were you, I would do what the Workbook has been teaching you and ask the Holy Spirit whether or not you should continue your break.
In the meantime, you might want to look at larger issues around doing the Workbook. Most of us have a strong association between discipline and sacrifice. This association causes us to feel drained while we do the Workbook's discipline. We think, "I am engaging in discipline. Therefore, this must be a sacrifice." The Workbook tries very hard to reverse this association, so that we eventually realize that its discipline is the way to freedom and happiness—the exact opposite of sacrifice. For instance, in the lessons between 93 and 110, where the Workbook asks us to practice for the first five minutes of every waking hour, it pours on the motivation. It gives us one pep talk after another about the limitless benefits of our practice. For example:
Is it not worth five minutes of your time each hour to be able to accept the happiness that God has given you? Is it not worth five minutes hourly to recognize your special function here? Is not five minutes but a small request to make in terms of gaining a reward so great it has no measure? You have made a thousand losing bargains at the least.
Here is an offer guaranteeing you your full release from pain of every kind, and joy the world does not contain. You can exchange a little of your time for peace of mind and certainty of purpose, with the promise of complete success. And since time has no meaning, you are being asked for nothing in return for everything. Here is a bargain that you cannot lose. And what you gain is limitless indeed! (W-pI.98.5-6)
It is crucial, then, to see our Workbook practice as something we rely on daily, even hourly, for peace, relief from anger, and freedom from fear, just as we rely on food for physical sustenance. Forming this new association—between this discipline and happiness—is especially important in the transition from Part I to Part II, where you are now. The reason is that in Part II we are forced to rely more fully on our own motivation to practice. In Part I, we had lessons with longer teaching, and most importantly, with new practice instructions each day. But as we enter Part II, this changes (actually, it has been changing for a couple of months, but it really changes in Part II). Jesus takes away the props that we had been relying on—the lengthy teaching and ever-changing practice instructions. As a result, our practice can easily dry up, or it can actually flower, all depending on the strength of our motivation. And the strength of our motivation is all about one thing: how much do we associate practice with happiness rather than sacrifice?
Also, realize that your goal is to form a long-term reliance on this kind of practice, one that continues to be alive and indeed to deepen, as it carries you through one veil after another on your way to God. In doing the Workbook, you are not just completing a regimen; you are learning a habit, a mental way of life. For this reason, you probably don't want your break to be too long, since habits are formed by consistency. The longer you spend away from the Workbook, the more the habits you have formed already will fade. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't take a needed break. Sometimes a judicious break can help us return with more vigor, motivation, and clarity than we could have had if we had just kept trudging on.