Guilty for not practicing

Each human makes minor and major blunders in life. It’s inevitable. Can you recall some particularly embarrassing situation in which you were just not paying attention, and something went terribly wrong? I know I can. It feels terribly uncomfortable. Every now and then such situations seem to knock on the door of awareness, seemingly unbidden. These feelings of embarrassment and unworthiness occupy the mind for a little while, until our daily business calls for our attention and we shake off the feeling. Sooner or later, however, we remember some similar occurrence. We repeatedly reactivate the past. This is obviously one of the many strategies of the ego to keep guilt alive in the mind. For who would our personality be without such guilt?

A Course in Miracles helps us see that all feelings of guilt, shame, and unworthiness that we seem to experience here, are but shadowy reflections of the ontological guilt that we feel for our sin of having separated from God, just before time began. We all know about this ontological mistake from the biblical story about Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. These archetypal prototypes of the ego sinned against God by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge. They realized that they had done something wrong, and felt dreadfully guilty and ashamed. And sure enough, God punished them harshly for their ‘blunder’. And so it is with all of us. By having demonstrated that we have a will of our own, separate from God, we are condemned to a life of suffering, pain, and death (as Cain and Abel demonstrated right after the sin of Adam and Eve), and we are bound to make the wrong choices at any time.

A Course in Miracles strips off the mythological imagery and shows us the psychological dynamics that rule the mind about this concept of sin and guilt. The good news is that it’s all illusory (since separation from God is impossible); we simply fell into an amnesiac sleep, and are still dreaming about time and space, in which we are autonomous and on our own. The bad news is that we’ve forgotten we fell asleep. Since the fear over being punished for this ‘cardinal crime of separation’ led the Son of God to hide in a multitude of bodies, we do not recall that this mistaken decision was a choice to fall asleep in an illusory nightmare of fragmentation, perception, and time. As Jesus says: “And it is here you find the cause of your perspective on the world. Once you were unaware of what the cause of everything the world appeared to thrust upon you, uninvited and unasked, must really be. Of one thing you were sure: of all the many causes you perceived as bringing pain and suffering to you, your guilt was not among them. Nor did you in any way request them for yourself.” (T-27.VII.7:2-5) That’s the delusion we hold on to.

We are bothered by feelings of guilt, but in our dream world we hallucinate that the cause of all distress and embarrassment is always external: unreliable people, Murphy’s law, the weather, parents, politicians, you name it. We are innocent; evil is outside of us. And yet, underneath this finger-pointing, there’s always this unshakable nagging feeling of our own unworthiness, and the fear that if we really looked at that, we’d find out that we are the evil, guilty sinner, not anyone else. As Jesus reminds us: “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think if anyone could see the truth about you he would be repelled, recoiling from you as if from a poisonous snake. You think if what is true about you were revealed to you, you would be struck with horror so intense that you would rush to death by your own hand, living on after seeing this being impossible. These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing.” (W-pI.93.1). It is nothing because the very dream world in which we think we live is nothing.

No-one here escapes that nagging feeling of guilt that we repress all the time and yet resurfaces every now and then, again, seemingly unbidden. That includes students of A Course in Miracles. The workbook provides ample test cases for this. For example, it is a well-known fact that virtually no student  ‘does’ the workbook perfectly in one year. In fact, Jesus set up the workbook so as to make us realize, in all honesty, that we’re not as enlightened as we thought we were: it requires a long, slow process of honest, diligent practice to allow ourselves to step back (‘letting go’) and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance (‘letting come’) in allowing the ego to be undone step by step. And yet, which student has not felt terribly guilty at one point or another for not having done the particular lesson for the day the way Jesus asked? It’s this same feeling of unworthiness that Jesus implores us not to deny and repress, but to calmly examine – with him.

Any time we notice we didn’t do a workbook lesson perfectly and start to feel ashamed, unworthy or guilty about that, we should realize – with gladness – that we’ve just given ourselves a wonderful forgiveness opportunity. Our guilt is a shadowy reflection of the guilt of Adam and Eve’s (i.e., the ego’s) separation from God, which is a “tiny, mad idea” that never truly happened. The ego makes us aware of this guilt only to ensure its existence as an individual personality. But it’s all an illusion. Our response ought to be something like “Ah, thank you, ego, for reminding me to call upon Jesus once again, so I can look at this differently.” And indeed, Jesus gladly complies: “No one can escape from illusions unless he looks at them, for not looking is the way they are protected.…We are ready to look more closely at the ego’s thought system because together we have the lamp that will dispel it…” (T-11.V.1:1,3, my italics).

In the Manual for teachers, Jesus provides some additional specific advice in this regard for his students, in section 16 called “How should the teacher of God spend his day?”. Although Jesus tells us that for the advanced teacher of God, this question is superfluous, since “he [knows he] will be told all that his role should be, this and every day,” (M-16.1:5), it is clear that most students have not yet reached that level of certainty. There’s still too much unconscious guilt! To them Jesus counsels to train the mind to start and end the day right, that is, spend time thinking of God, which really means spend time thinking about the purpose of God: a focus on forgiveness and non-judgment. Jesus gets even so specific as to advise us not to lie down, but to sit straight up while concentrating on this “quiet time with God” (agreeing with ancient meditation guidelines on this point, by the way). Quietly withholding judgment this way is the choice for the Voice for God, allowing our guilt to be undone bit by bit.

Jesus also cautions against zealous discipline in these exercises, since this would be an attempt to fight guilt, which will not work: “Routines as such are dangerous, because they easily become gods in their own right…” (M-16.2:5) And also: “Duration is not the major concern. One can easily sit still an hour with closed eyes and accomplish nothing. One can as easily give God only an instant, and in that instant join with Him completely”. (M-16.4:4-6) It is therefore the “quality” of our willingness to be guided that determines how successful we are in allowing our guilt to be undone, not the rational time planning that we invest in the practice. Guilt is undone first by letting go (of judgment), and then letting come (the voice for God, often experienced as intuition), and then following through. Do what your intuition advises you to do, and don’t do what it it tells you not to do. Happy practicing!

See also “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


5 thoughts on “Guilty for not practicing

  1. Thank you J.W. Van Alston for this beautiful reminder about guilt and its undoing! I have often felt so guilty about not doing the lessons perfectly. Now I can look at that differently as well with the HS. Really enjoy all your posts, so helpful. 💗💗

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the lovely comment, Johanna! Whenever I sit down to write, I usually only have the vaguest idea of what it’s going to be about. It unfolds as I type, so I suppose we should really thank the Holy Spirit 😉


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Schuldig omdat je vergat te oefenen – Ik zoek innerlijke vrede .nl

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