A famous classic joke about music, usually attributed to violinist Jascha Heifetz, concerns a tourist who asks him politely: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” Upon which Heifetz replies without even a twitch of a facial muscle: “Practice, practice, practice!” Likewise, if we are to manifest the inner peace that A Course in Miracles promises in the book, we should practice, practice, practice the lessons in the workbook, for “…an untrained mind can accomplish nothing. It is the purpose of this workbook to train your mind to think along the lines the text sets forth.” (W-pI.In.1). This leads to “…a different perception of everyone and everything in the world.” This is not your average high school course; its goal is no less than a complete reversal of perception and a complete reconditioning (or undoing) of the way the mind has operated till now.
Although Jesus urges us to not do more than one set of exercises a day, he does encourage us to practice the workbook lessons every day. Any musician knows that such daily practice is a prerequisite for mastery. It takes only a few days of forgetting to practice for a musical performance to get ‘rusty’. And as we all know, a practice is hardly ever perfect; that’s why it’s an exercise. Jesus knows very well his students won’t do the exercises perfectly. There’s not a single ACIM student who hasn’t experienced the sudden realization of just how often or quickly a lesson was forgotten; sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. An important purpose of the workbook is to bring into awareness just how much we resist the message of Jesus, and just how enamored we are of our individual specialness with our special gods and idols.
On the one hand Jesus cautions us not to be too zealous about perfection in doing the exercises (“Do not attempt to apply it [the exercise] to everything you see, for these exercises should not become ritualistic.”, W-pI.1.3:5). On the other hand, Jesus does urge us to try to find the willingness to apply the ideas as indicated (“Do not allow yourself to make exceptions in applying the ideas the workbook contains, and whatever your reactions to the ideas may be, use them. […] It is their use that will give them meaning to you, and will show you that they are true.” (W-pI.In.9;8). Therefore, in practicing the workbook, we are to walk the ‘fine line’ between keeping up a certain discipline in remembering to do a daily exercise, and yet not making the exercise itself a compulsive obligatory goal.
Many students are known to focus much more on the workbook lessons than on the textbook. For one, Jesus’ language in the workbook is much more straightforward than the oftentimes abstract, difficult passages in the textbook. But perhaps more important, the workbook is generally much more lighthearted than the sometimes rather dark, painful or gruesome passages in the textbook. Attractive lesson titles such as “I am the light of the world”, “I am entitled to miracles”, “Salvation is my only function here”, “There is no cruelty in God and none in me”, and “Love is the way I walk in gratitude”, can quickly ‘seduce’ the student into merely focusing on the cheery parts of the curriculum which emphasize acquiring a mode of perception that sees only God’s love in everything.
However, this is only half of the message of Jesus. Merely delving into blissninnyhood, as Kenneth Wapnick sometimes named it, means assuming that the ego can be dismissed lightly. However, anyone who has studied the textbook will have noticed that Jesus goes to great lengths to illustrate just how terribly attached we are to the ego thoughts we made. We associate our very identity and safety with our special ego personality. If we’re ever to be convincingly motivated to choose to undo that conditioning, Jesus must be very clear about the vicious nature of the ego. As long as we don’t fully realize the enormous pain inherent in the ego thought system, we may diligently practice workbook lessons, but we won’t really change. Not really. Motivation for the kind of change Jesus advocates is only attained when you’re thoroughly fed up with what’s going on. We need to go through threshold. An often-heard quote from Jesus is: “Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way. As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning-point.” (T-2.III.3)
Let’s review one instructive example of Jesus, from chapter 19, that could be taken right out of a horror story. It’s Jesus’ way of illustrating the viciousness of the ego thought system, which we attempt to hide behind a mask of civilization. Behind that mask, however, everyone walks this world uncertain, lonely, and in constant fear. “Fear’s messengers are trained through terror, and they tremble when their master calls on them to serve him. For fear is merciless even to its friends. Its messengers steal guiltily away in hungry search of guilt, for they are kept cold and starving and made very vicious by their master, who allows them to feast only upon what they return to him. No little shred of guilt escapes their hungry eyes. And in their savage search for sin they pounce on any living thing they see, and carry it screaming to their master, to be devoured.[…] They will bring you word of bones and skin and flesh. They have been taught to seek for the corruptible, and to return with gorges filled with things decayed and rotted. To them such things are beautiful, because they seem to allay their savage pangs of hunger. For they are frantic with the pain of fear, and would avert the punishment of him who sends them forth by offering him what they hold dear (T-19.IV-A.12:3-7; 13:2-5).
If that’s not convincing enough, try studying chapter 23 about the laws of chaos once more. The way Jesus describes these systematic ‘laws’ of the world of time and space and perception, makes it crystal-clear just how deeply everything in this world is permeated with the “kill-or-be-killed” principle; if not physically, then certainly psychologically. No matter how much you invest in a mask of happiness, strife and disappointment are never far away. And although Jesus needs a happy learner, who has been shown both the illusory nature of this nightmare, and the ‘blissful’ truth of his true Identity as Son of God (and with him all his brothers and other life forms), Jesus needs to make sure this happy learner is properly motivated to really follow through. What do you think will motivate a student more: (a) Just telling him that there’s something better than his current perceived life, or (b) clearly and calmly unveiling all the pain that we’re constantly trying to push out of awareness, and then inviting us to take his hand to lead us to the real world, the gateway to Heaven?
If you would really master this curriculum, study the textbook (and manual) thoroughly, and do the workbook lessons diligently. Practice, practice, practice! The difference with music practice is that this is a practice that we shouldn’t try on our own. We need only find the little willingness to step back and invite Jesus or the Holy Spirit to guide us in our exercise. I don’t heal my mind; I allow my mind to be healed. But to be effectively healed, I must muster that little willingness from day to day. Only by having studied the textbook can I understand why this is so darn difficult. Thanks to Jesus’ instructive teachings, I am now aware of the enormity of the unconscious ego pain, and I have been shown the happy alternative. This provides the proper mindset for doing the exercises in the workbook. Sure, I know I won’t do the workbook perfectly, but I also realize that mastery of Jesus’ curriculum is inevitable: “The script is written. When experience will come to end your doubting has been set. For we but see the journey from the point at which it ended, looking back on it, imagining we make it once again; reviewing mentally what has gone by.” (W-pI.158.4:2). This a course out of hell which no-one can fail! Who would need a better motivation than that?
Also see my seven “guidelines for living in an illusory world” in “Miracles or Murder: a guide to concepts of A Course in Miracles“. This guidebook, endorsed by Gary and Cindy Renard, was published in March 2016 by Outskirts Press and is available at Amazon.com: