In A Course in Miracles, the Workbook contains 365 lessons, one for each day of the year (not necessarily starting at January 1), with the purpose of transforming the theoretical basis of the Textbook into everyday experience. The general idea is that if you internalize and practice the Workbook perfectly, you’ll be enlightened. “Doing” the Workbook correctly is one way of deciding once and for all to fire the ego as teacher, and to assign the Holy Spirit as the only Teacher for the rest of your days on this planet. In the Workbook epilogue, after lesson 365, Jesus advocates his students to “Henceforth, hear but the Voice for God and for your Self when you retire from the world, to seek reality instead. […] And now I place you in His hands, to be His faithful follower, with Him as Guide through every difficulty and all pain that you may think is real. […]” (W-Ep.3). And a little before that: “No more specific lessons are assigned, for there is no more need of them.”
On the other hand, in the same epilogue Jesus makes it clear that having gone through the Workbook is merely the beginning of awakening: “This course is a beginning, not an end. […] In peace we will continue in His way, and trust all things to Him. […] You do not walk alone. […] His Love surrounds you, and of this be sure: that I will never leave you comfortless”. (W-Ep.1). Apparently, after finishing the workbook there’s still work to do. The Workbook is the gateway to your experiencing the Awakening process once you pass through it, but that’s not the same as being enlightened.
So what is enlightenment according to A Course in Miracles? The word itself isn’t often used, but it’s synonymous with the experience of what Jesus calls the real world. This is a state of mind wherein all judgment and condemnation has been laid aside, all illusions and false idols have been brought to truth (i.e., seen for what they are), all projections and defenses have been withdrawn, and no separation from any living thing is yet perceived any more. The ultimate consequence of such a state of mind (and a most horrible one from the ego’s point of view) is that united Being is finally preferred to individualized existence. What!? Experiencing the real world means that you are in no way attached any longer to your individual consciousness. The rest of your time spent in the duality of time and space is solely to gladly and freely help certain captive souls to whom you feel called to by the Holy Spirit.
If anyone talks to me about a friend who’s said to be ‘totally enlightened’, I can’t help but wonder if that really means the state described above. Certainly there are known cases of such people. We call them bodhisattvas; but these are so rare that its attainment can hardly be called a practical goal to most of us. Reaching the real world is usually a slow process that can take up to several lifetimes to reach. Jesus notes in the Manual: “There are those who are called upon to change their life situation almost immediately, but these are generally special cases. By far the majority are given a slowly evolving training program, in which as many previous mistakes as possible are corrected.” (M-9.1:7) “Slowly evolving” obviously implies that our practice will take many, many years, and Jesus certainly doesn’t expect us to do the Workbook perfectly in one time. Nor does he want us to feel guilty about that!
In several places in the Textbook and Workbook, Jesus gently though sternly points to the fact that almost all of us are novices at sustained mind concentration. One famous quote from the Textbook is “You are much too tolerant of mind wandering, and are passively condoning your mind’s miscreations.” (T-2.VI.4:6). In lesson 95 in the Workbook, we read “It is difficult [at this point] not to allow your mind to wander, if it undertakes extended practice. You have surely realized this by now. You have seen the extent of your lack of mental discipline, and of your need for mind training. It is necessary that you be aware of this, for it is indeed a hindrance to your advance.” So be assured that Jesus wouldn’t mind at all if you practice a mind training technique such as Presencing, Mindfulness, or Transcendental Meditation (TM). Most of us, including many ACIM students, have yet to experience what it means to be absolutely without mental thought, even for a minute. Just try it; if you’re not already familiar with the abovementioned techniques, you’ll find it almost impossible.
The point, again, is not to feel guilty about our spiritual infancy. Yes, we really want enlightenment; we really want to experience the real world. But if we are truly honest, we also want our ego’s cake. We want those special things that make us feel good about our day, about our actions, about our achievements. And we still have a long list of things, situations and people that we dislike or detest. We have a conflicted mind! ACIM teaches us to become aware of the part of our mind that Ken Wapnick calls the decision maker. It’s the part of our mind that Jesus really addresses whenever he uses the word ‘you’ in ACIM. Turning on the decision maker, from above the battleground, that is, without any emotional involvement, that is, from a neutral point of view, allows us to see just how conflicted our minds really are, every minute of the day. This is not bad news; it’s the best news you can hear on your journey to the real world. If we feel we truly want to undo the illusory ego, we must make sure we first realize in full that undoing the ego actually means saying “not no” to the Oneness wherein all individuality disappears, whereas in the ontological instant just before time and space began, the ego said “no” to Oneness. We are still attached to that “no” every minute of every hour, no matter how eager we seem to be about enlightenment.
If you are truly honest about wanting to experience the real world, then resign as your own teacher (for you were badly taught), and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you through your daily practice. As I repeatedly emphasize in my book “Miracles or Murder“, the principle of “Letting go, letting come” ought to be a central one in your days in time and space. Many Course students can verily attest to the experience that the more they succeed in letting go and letting come, the happier their days seem to be. So please don’t rush enlightenment, and don’t expect to do the Workbook perfectly in one year, or even in ten years.
Remember, in reality time and space are already over, and nothing happened to shatter the peace of the Son of God, the divine Identity we all share as the collective Sonship, which includes you and me, friend and foe alike, in fact every living thing. And of this be sure: it is no illusion to love your brother like yourself. Forgive him for what he never did in reality anyway, and you will have forgiven yourself the illusions of your unforgiving mind. Lessons 61 to 66 teach us that we are the light of the world if we so choose; forgiveness is our only function, and our function and happiness are not only related: they are one. So forgive and be happy, and learn to see every trial and setback in your life as another opportunity to learn a lesson (offered by the Holy Spirit) that you had previously failed to learn. Learn to interpret any apparent attack as the desperate call for Love that it is. With the “letting go, letting come” attitude we simply cannot fail.