Which volume of the Course should I start with?

Question: Which volume of the Course should I start with? Do I have to begin with the Text?

Answer: While you can gain a great deal from the Course by attending meetings or reading books based on it, real work with the Course means using the book itself. This raises the question: Which of the three volumes should you start with?

The most logical answer, of course, is to begin with Volume I, the Text. This makes sense, because the Text lays the foundation for the other two volumes. Indeed, the Course seems to assume that you are going through its volumes in order, starting with the first. There are many places where a later volume will make reference to an earlier volume, clearly assuming that you have read the earlier one. The Workbook, for instance, says, "Bodies attack, but minds do not. This thought is surely reminiscent of our text, where it is often emphasized" (W-pI.161.6:1-2).

Many students, however, find the Text to be rough going, especially its early chapters. They feel more at home in the Workbook or Manual. Is it all right, then, to begin with one of those? The last section of the Manual says that yes, the new student can begin with any of the three volumes. However, there are a few things to bear in mind about this:

  • If you don't start with the Text, you'll eventually need to return to it and study it (that is, if you decide to stay with the Course).
  • Even if you don't progress through the volumes in order, you'll probably still progress through the stages they represent in order—the stages of study, practice, and extension. This means that in your early work with the Course you'll probably be in a "study phase," in which you'll be primarily absorbed in ingesting the concepts. That is where you'll get your "juice"—from reading those transformative ideas. If you do the Workbook while in this phase, then, you'll probably be most engrossed in reading the Workbook's teachings, rather than in doing its practices. If you keep progressing, however, you'll probably eventually transit into a "practice phase," where your main focus will be on doing the practice. At this point, the practice is where you'll get your "juice." Finally, you'll hopefully reach an "extension phase," where, even though you still study and practice, your real joy will come from extending love and forgiveness to others, and so that is where your main focus will be.
  • This means that if you start the Course by going through the Workbook or Manual (rather than the Text), you'll almost certainly need to return to those volumes again later on. The reason is that at that stage in your work with the Course, you'll probably experience them mainly as communicators of the teaching, as "little Texts." And that is part of their purpose. Yet each one has another purpose that is its real focus. The primary purpose of the Workbook is to guide you in doing the practice, and the primary purpose of the Manual is to provide instruction for teachers of God—mature students on this path. Therefore, you should return to each of those volumes later, when you are ready for what they are really about. (from Path of Light: Stepping into Peace with A Course in Miracles, p. 195-196)

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