A Course in Miracles is a mind-training curriculum for learning how to attain lasting inner peace. Students notice that during their Course study, they are asked to completely transform one firmly held belief after another: “To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning” (T-24.in.2:1-2). This seems to apply in particular to the aspect of planning. In chapter 18 of the text, Jesus assures me that “I need do nothing” (T-18.VII), since the purpose of all this doing, doing, doing is merely to keep myself convinced of the reality of the body and the world. Workbook lesson 135 in particular stresses that “The mind engaged in planning for itself is occupied in setting up control of future happenings. It does not think that it will be provided for, unless it makes its own provisions. […] The mind that plans is thus refusing to allow for change. […] A healed mind does not plan.” (W-pI.135.15:1,16:1,11:1).
This principle, however, seems most impractical in this world, if not outright impossible. How am I to make it through the day if I don’t organize my life to some extent? Am I really to give up planning for my groceries, my laundry, my general well-being? Does Jesus say that I should cancel my insurance policies and medical coverage, since a healed mind does not need to plan? Moreover, on a larger temporal scale, should I stop planning for my work career, for my retirement, and for how I will spend my leisure time? This seems to be a recipe for total disaster; more likely to lead to immense anxiety than to the promised lasting inner peace. So what does Jesus actually mean?
As course scholar Kenneth Wapnick often pointed out, Jesus by no means tells us not to make any plans. If we read workbook lesson 135 carefully, we can see that Jesus tells us not to make any plans on our own, but rather to consult with him (or the Holy Spirit) first. To continue with the quote from paragraph 11 in lesson 135: “A healed mind does not plan. It carries out the plans that it receives through listening to wisdom that is not its own. It waits until it has been taught what should be done, and then proceeds to do it. It does not depend on itself for anything except its adequacy to fulfill the plans assigned to it. […] A healed mind is relieved of the belief that it must plan [on its own].” (W-pI.135.11:1-12:1).
The bottom line, therefore, is not that we should stop planning, but that we should make plans with the right teacher. As all Course students know, there are only two: we always choose either the ego or the Holy Spirit as our guide. As we read in workbook lesson 156: “Who walks with me?’ This question should be asked a thousand times a day, till certainty has ended doubting and established peace.” (W-pI.156.8:1-2). Each time I decide with the ego as my guide, I am unconsciously asking for failure and misery (which does ‘prove’ the reality of the separation and individuality, but doesn’t bring happiness). It is only when I consult with the Holy Spirit (I like to call it true intuition) first, that things will work out best for everyone.
Since asking the Holy Spirit means stepping back, in the humble recognition that I do not know my best interests, this is usually not our favorite option, and so we rarely do it. Yet if we think about it, how could we ever plan and decide anything on our own, with absolute certainty of the outcome? “In order to judge anything rightly, one would have to be fully aware of an inconceivably wide range of things, past, present, and to come. One would have to recognize in advance all the effects of his judgments on everyone and everything involved in them in any way. And one would have to be certain there is no distortion in his perception, so that his judgment would be wholly fair to everyone on whom it rests, now and in the future. Who is in a position to do this? Who except in grandiose fantasies would claim this for himself?” (M-10.3:3-7).
We are all familiar with the experience of finding it difficult to choose between a rational option and a more intuitive (or “gut-feeling”) option. In retrospect, the intuitive option usually made the situation turn out best for everyone. And if it didn’t, one might well ask if the advice really came through intuition. After all, the ego loves to disguise itself as the voice of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, one of the most useful daily exercises is learning to discern between ego-advice and the counsel of the Holy Spirit. If there is the slightest strain, pressure, discomfort or anxiety involved in the decision, you can be pretty sure that the ego is in the driving seat. Luckily, you can always choose again.
A frequently occurring pitfall while planning with the Holy Spirit is that we think we ask from the place of true intuition, but we do this to solve something specific in the world. So, for example, we might ask Jesus which parking garage we ought to choose for our visit to a nearby city. The lesson in asking for specifics, though, is to learn to generalize such questions, because we slowly learn that forms (and therefore specifics) do not matter. In chapter 10 we read that “The Holy Spirit will answer every specific problem as long as you believe that problems are specific. His answer is both many and one, as long as you believe that the one is many.” In the Song of Prayer, Jesus adds: “[…] Forget the things you think you need. […] In prayer, you overlook your specific needs as you see them, and let them go into God’s Hands. There they become your gifts to Him, for they tell Him that you would have no gods before Him.” (S-1.I.4).
Despite this nondualistic truth, as with everything in the illusory dualistic world of time and space, the key thing in making plans is to remain a normal person. So you do not cancel your medical insurance, and you do take care of regular income and retirement deposits. Remember, “Even the most advanced therapist has some earthly needs while he is here.” (P.3.III.3). The key, again, is to learn to ask yourself with which guide you make decisions: the ego, or the Holy Spirit? For those who still find this difficult (which includes almost all of us), it can be useful to revisit section 1 of chapter 30 (“Rules for Decision”) once and a while: “If I make no decisions by myself, this is the day that will be given me.” (T-30.I.4:2). And should you feel upset, a great instant response is: “Perhaps there is another way to look at this. What can I lose by asking?” (T-30.I.12:3). Happy asking!
— Jan-Willem van Aalst