Reading versus doing

Although over three million people worldwide own a copy of A Course in Miracles, that certainly doesn’t mean that three million people have mastered its message. In fact, as scholar Kenneth Wapnick often remarked, many times when people say they are “doing” the Course, they are actually only reading the workbook lessons, and perhaps practice its instructions once or twice a day. This is not because people are lazy or stupid. After all, A Course in Miracles aims at reversing each and every belief that you and I hold about everything that we now consider to be of value in life. Jesus promises peace, love, and joy, but at the “expense” of our own ego-personality. No wonder there’s tremendous resistance!

Jesus wants us to want to study and “do” his Course. Like any learning theorist, he must nurture the motivation, or desire, in his students to follow up on his teachings. In doing so, he is of course fully aware of the ego-resistance against everything he presents us. As he states in the introduction to the workbook: “It is doing the exercices that will make the goal of the course possible. 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. […] Some of the ideas the workbook presents you will find hard to believe, and others may seem to be quite startling. […] Some of them you may actively resist. […] This does not matter. […]” (W-pI.In.1:2-4;8:1-2;9:2).

In several places in both text and workbook, Jesus addresses his students directly about the issue of their motivation. Usually the ego attempts to skip such sections, but they are worth reviewing from time to time. As early as Chapter 4 in the text, Jesus reassures his students: “You have very little trust in me as yet, but it will increase as you turn more and more often to me instead of to your ego for guidance. The results [of following through on my advice] will convince you increasingly that this choice is the only sane one you can make. No one who learns from experience that one choice brings peace and joy while another brings chaos and disaster needs additional convincing.” (T-4.VI.3:1-3).

As any good learning theorist knows, learning through rewards is more effective than learning through pain. So Jesus’ aim is to have us experience the joy and peace that applying his teachings will bring. It is this experience alone that will motivate us to practice even more, and more often. And so even after 180 workbook lessons, Jesus comforts and guides his students thus: “You are not asked for total dedication all the time as yet. But you are asked to practice now in order to attain the sense of peace such unified commitment will bestow, if only intermittently. It is experiencing this that makes it sure that you will give your total willingness to following the way the course sets forth.” (W-pI.181.In.1:2-4).

Again, the ego part of the mind senses – very acutely – that following up on Jesus’ instructions will ultimately mean its demise. Since we are all intimately identified with our own ego personality, unconscious fear about its undoing leads to all sorts of subtle self-sabotaging behavior. We might, for example, fall asleep while reading a workbook lesson. Or perhaps we’re suddenly distracted by tasks that we realize are overdue. Or perhaps the subtlety transforms into outright rage about the sheer impossibility of such “preposterous” lessons, and we throw the book at the wall. Or close it for a long time. There are many, many ways in which we can find justifiable excuses to not follow through on Jesus’ message. That’s why we need the experience of the peace and joy that doing the exercices will bring, if we are to ascend the “ladder of the Atonement”.

Jesus motivates his students by repeatedly assuring them that diligently doing the exercices requires almost nothing on their behalf: “Remember only this: you need not believe the ideas, you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. […] None of this will matter, or decrease their efficacy. […] The overall aim of the exercises is to increase your ability to extend the ideas you will be practicing to include everything. This will require no effort on your part. The exercices themselves meet the conditions necessary for this kind of transfer.” (W-pI.9:1-3;7:1; my italics). Again, Jesus appeals to the part of our mind that does want to experience the peace and joy he promises.

The core of what we should be willing to do is to give up judgment totally, if only for a little while: “You have no idea of the tremendous release and deep peace that comes from meeting yourself and your brothers totally without judgment.” (T-3.VI.3:1). And, again from the introduction to workbook lessons 181-200: “The experience of freedom and of peace that comes as you give up your tight control of what you see speaks for itself. Your motivation will be so intensified that words become of little consequence. You will be sure of what you want, and what is valueless.” (W-pI.181.In.2:4-6).

This is why Jesus assures us in chapter 20 of the text that “This course requires almost nothing of you. It is impossible to imagine one that asks to little, or could offer more.” What it offers is eternal love, peace and joy, albeit at the expense of our precious little individuality., which we’ll slowly come to realize we never wanted anyway, as it mostly leads to misery and pain. At the same time, Jesus admits that “It takes great learning to understand that all things, events, encounters and circumstances are helpful [if we give up judgment and ask the Holy Spirit for help].” (M-4.I-A.4:4). Therefore, no-one suddenly jumps (in his mind) from dualistic illusions to nondualistic truth in one leap; it’s a slow, life-long learning process.

So you and I can afford to be patient, and accept that the pace of the learning process does not seem very rapid. Jesus knows that a happy outcome is certain for everyone: “Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait, and wait without anxiety. Patience is natural to the teacher of God. All he sees is certain outcome, at a time perhaps unknown to him as yet, but not in doubt.” (M-4.VIII.1:1-3). Of course, the ego can use this assurance as yet another excuse not to practice the workbook lessons. So this is why we need to be “vigilant for the Kingdom” and do practice the workbook lessons as often as we can, no matter where we are. The more you muster the courage to give up judgment completely and ask for help. the more often you will notice that warm, peaceful feeling in your body and mind. And it is this experience that will increase “…your total willingness to following the way the course sets forth”. So don’t just read the exercises; apply them as often as you can, in spite of unconscious resistance. Happy practicing!


See also my “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


See also my Feb. 2018 Course workshop at

Dutch visitors may also be interested in this Dutch page:

Waking up in a dream world

When we dream at night, the wildest things can seem to happen. And while we experience ourselves in the dream, we usually do not doubt its reality. Scenes may abruptly shift from one place to another; people and creatures may pop up unexpectedly; and situations and happenings seem to come to us unbidden. We can experience ourselves as the hero of the dream, or as an innocent victim being chased or tossed about without any control. In some dreams we might even experience ourselves as the perpetrator, the murderer. The purpose of all this, or so psychologists would briefly summarize, is to be able to process repressed emotions that we installed in the unconscious part of the mind.

When we wake up in the morning we may or may not remember what we had been dreaming that night. When we do remember, regardless of whether the dream was pleasant or frightful, we remind ourselves that it was only a dream, having nothing to do with reality. We smile about the various impossible events that had seemingly occurred. Conversely, we do not even remotely doubt the reality of the world we just woke up to. We’re glad we found ourselves awake, safe and well in our own bedroom, and we prepare for another day in the world of time and space we call our life.

One of the great surprises that A Course in Miracles as a spiritual curriculum offers its readers, is the notion that what we call reality, is nothing more than just another form of dreaming. As we read in chapter 18 of the text: “What you seem to wake to is but another form of this same world you see in dreams. All your time is spent in dreaming. Your sleeping and your waking dreams have different forms, and that is all. Their content is the same.” (T-18.II.5:12-14). Thus, Jesus concludes in workbook part II:  “There is no world! This is the central thought the Course attempts to teach.” (W-pI.132.6:2).

People with a background in quantum physics can perhaps subscribe to this mind-boggling idea that ‘all our time is spent in dreaming’, as they also pose the fundamental theorem that time and space are ultimately unreal. For the vast majority of us, though, this notion is very, very hard to accept. If the world I work, eat, sleep and live in is merely a dream, why would I choose to be in such a situation, and how would I be able to wake up? And to what? In A Course in Miracles, Jesus asserts that not only is this material world a dream, we deliberately chose it and still choose it, because we want to be the God of our own universe: “Dreams are perceptual temper tantrums in which you literally scream, “I want it thus!” And thus it seems to be. […] Dreams show you that you have the power to make a world as you would have it be, and that because you want it, you see it. And while you see it, you do not doubt that it is real. […]  [Dreams] are your protest against reality, [they are] your fixed and insane idea that you can change it.” (T-18.II.4:1;5:1;6:3)

One of the main thrusts of A Course in Miracles is to bring the realization to our full awareness — slowly and gently — that each of us is keeping himself willingly in a nightmare because we believe we can usurp the throne of our Creator, and be the God of the universe ourselves. This is the fundamental characteristic of the thought we call the ego. It is the root cause of what we call the Big Bang, which set into motion the dream world of time and space. And just as we are perfectly capable of awakening from a nightly dream, so too are we perfectly able to end this dream world of time and space: “You are at home in God, dreaming of exile but perfectly capable of awakening to reality. [But] Is it your decision to do so? […]” (T-10.I.2:1-2) As a pep talk, Jesus adds: “You will remember everything the instant you desire it wholly, for if to desire wholly is to create, you will have willed away the separation, returning your mind simultaneously to your Creator and your creations. Knowing Them you will have no wish to sleep, but only the desire to waken and be glad. Dreams will be impossible because you will want only truth, and being at last your will, it will be yours.” (T-10.I.2:4)

Jesus repeatedly tells his students that his Course is simple, at least in principle: “Nothing at all has happened but that you have put yourself to sleep and dreamed a dream in which you were an alien to yourself and but a part of someone else’s dream. The miracle does not awaken you but merely shows you who the dreamer is. […] The miracle establishes you dream a dream and that its content is not true. This is a crucial step in dealing with illusions.” (T-28.II.4:6-5:1;7:1). And in chapter 27: “The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself”. (T-27.VIII.10:1). In a sense, the entire curriculum of A Course in Miracles is a motivation training for giving up the dream world of time and space, and accepting instead the real world of cleansed perception; wholly forgiven, devoid of any condemnation.

Inherent in this approach is the necessity of dealing with the huge resistance that such a complete reversal of all our values and beliefs must include. In his Course, Jesus never forces his students to think or do anything, for how could the Voice for Love employ any form of attack? And although Jesus does urge his students to reconsider everything their material, body-centered house of cards rests on, he also explicitly and honestly discusses the resistance that we inevitably feel against choosing the real world. If you think you don’t resist Jesus’ plea (“after all, I do want his promise of lasting inner peace, joy and love, do I not?”) it is because you want it as an individual — in other words, you want to have your ego’s cake and eat it too. Unfortunately for the ego, accepting the real world (the gateway to Oneness) and maintaining the ego (the choice for separation) do not go well together.

You and I need not fear that we will be rudely awakened from this dream world, and abruptly hurled into our reality as the one Son of God. We will only awaken from the material dream world to reality once we accept it without any fear. Following Jesus’ guidance in this process of undoing fear turns your everyday life into a much gentler dream, however often we seem to stumble and fall. The fifth workbook review (after lesson 170) can be a particularly helpful consolation in this regard: “We recognize we are preparing for another phase of understanding [about our reality]. […] Our footsteps have not been unwavering, and doubts have made us walk uncertainly and slowly on the road this course sets forth. But now we hasten on, for we approach a greater certainty, a firmer purpose and a surer goal.” Jesus then presents us with this lovely prayer:

“Steady our feet, Father. Let our doubts be quiet and our holy minds be still, and speak to us. We have no words to give to You. We would but listen to Your Word, and make it ours. Lead our practicing as does a father lead a little child along a way he does not understand. Yet does he follow, sure that he is safe because his father leads the way for him. So do we bring our practicing to You. And if we stumble, You will raise us up. If we forget the way, we count upon Your sure remembering. We wander off, but You will not forget to call us back. Quicken our footsteps now, that we may walk with more certainty and quickly unto You. And we accept the Word You offer us to unify our practicing.”

See also my “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


See also my Feb. 2018 Course workshop at

Dutch visitors may also be interested in this Dutch page: