Do I really need to repeat those boring early Workbook lessons?

Question: I've recently been drawn again to A Course in Miracles. In the past, I've done Workbook Lessons 1-10 several times and am happy with my understanding (more or less). Do I have to start again at Lesson 1, or can I recap briefly and start again at Lesson 11? I must admit that starting again at Lesson 1 would bore me tremendously.

Answer:  I would strongly recommend repeating Lessons 1-10. Perhaps you do understand them intellectually, but I think very few have really come to a deep understanding of what they truly mean and just how completely life altering that meaning is. That understanding comes only through repeated practice.

The early lessons of the Workbook tell us some truly mind-bending things. To us, the things we see are soaked with meaning, but these lessons tell us that everything we see is meaningless. We believe our thoughts are certainly meaningful, but these lessons tell us that they too are really meaningless—they aren't even our real thoughts. When we're upset, we're sure that we know exactly what the cause is, but these lessons tell us that we're never upset for the reason we think. We're convinced that what we see with our eyes and think with our brains is a present reality, but these lessons tell us that both are not really there at all: We see only the past, projected from a mind preoccupied with past thoughts. Our eyes look upon nothing, and our minds are blank. We are completely blind to what is really there right now, both in the world and in our minds. We are like a person who is both insane and senile: seeing hallucinations everywhere, lost in memories of the past, completely out of touch with reality.

Perhaps we may have some intellectual understanding of these ideas, especially if we've done these lessons a few times. But have we really let them into our minds in a deep way? I don't think so. If we did, they would change our perception of everything on a fundamental level, and our lives would never be the same. Instead, what generally happens is that we read these ideas, say "Wow, that's really trippy" (or if we've been with the Course for a while, "Oh yeah, I've read that a million times"), and then pretty much go on with our lives as before. Now we have all these really cool ideas to discuss with our friends, but we don't really let them impact how we actually see and think about things, at least not to a significant degree.

So, even if we do understand the ideas on a superficial level, we don't really get them in the depths of our being. Lesson 9, "I see nothing as it is now," directly addresses this situation:

While you may be able to accept [this idea] intellectually, it is unlikely that it will mean anything to you as yet. However, understanding is not necessary at this point. In fact, the recognition that you do not understand is a prerequisite for undoing your false ideas. These exercises are concerned with practice, not with understanding. You do not need to practice what you already understand. It would indeed be circular to aim at understanding, and assume that you have it already.

It is difficult for the untrained mind to believe that what it seems to picture is not there. This idea can be quite disturbing, and may meet with active resistance in any number of forms. Yet that does not preclude applying it. No more than that is required for these or any other exercises. Each small step will clear a little of the darkness away, and understanding will finally come to lighten every corner of the mind that has been cleared of the debris that darkens it. (W-pI.9.1:2-2:5)

This passage gives us a great window into the teaching method of the entire Workbook (it obviously doesn't just apply to this lesson, since we are told it applies to "these or any other exercises"). Yes, we may be able to "accept [these ideas] intellectually"—we may understand them on a surface level. We may think we get it. But we don't yet have true "understanding," a word which here refers to deep understanding, a visceral grasp of what these ideas really mean to our worldview and our lives. For all practical purposes, we don't really get it.

Realizing we don't get it, however, is a positive thing, because once we admit that we really don't understand these ideas, we have the incentive we need to do the thing that will eventually give us understanding: practice the ideas as we are instructed to do. We need to do more than merely read the ideas; we need to train our minds to take them in all the way. Yes, really letting these ideas in may upset us. We may even actively resist them—perhaps in the form of the temptation to skip these opening lessons. But all that is required of us is to do the practices we are given in the lessons, no matter what.

Each time we do a practice period, true understanding draws a little nearer. "Each small step will clear a little of the darkness away"; each little one-minute practice period will clear away some of the "debris that darkens [the mind]." It's a process that will probably take a long time. But if we just keep practicing, the day will come when all the debris is gone and the light of true understanding will shine bright and clear into our open minds.

Therefore, to come back to your question, even if you are relatively happy with your intellectual understanding of these early lessons, there is every reason in the world to do them again. Diligently doing the practices these lessons contain has the potential to illuminate your mind with such a deep understanding that, as Lesson 12 tells us, "it would make you indescribably happy" (W-pI.12.5:3). That sounds anything but boring!

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