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:

3 thoughts on “Reading versus doing

  1. I greatly doubt those statistics. I currently own 5 copies of the Course in various languages, as well as three in English, and I have owned at least 3 or 4 more, which I’ve totally worn out. My first book was the old 3-volume edition. In short, I doubt that the number of people who own a copy is much more than half the number that were sold.
    In my years of intensely studying at the foundation, I knew many, many people who’d owned the 1st, 2nd and 3rd editions, just like myself, and many more who would mark it up so much that every few years they’d start with a clean one.
    I agree with the rest of your piece 😉


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