Sometimes it feels like the dance of A Course in Miracles could be called “one step forward, two steps back.” There are good days and bad days, and some of the good days are amazing to the point you can hardly talk about them with words, and some of the bad days are very bad indeed. You step back and look at the big picture of your progress, your life as a student, and it looks like you’re scrambling just to stay in place.
The truth is that a sincere practice of the Course can often feel quite discouraging. Nobody likes to talk about it in a serious way because we’re all supposed to be spiritual giants channeling ascended masters and leading our brothers and sisters out of the desert of loneliness and despair, but I think if we’re honest we can say that this is a hard path and sometimes the rewards seem few and far between.
The text and workbook are always quite clear that we have to pass through a darkness, a veil of shadows.
The fourth obstacle to be surmounted hangs like a heavy veil before the face of Christ . . . This is the darkest veil, upheld by the belief in death and protected by its attraction . . . This is the secret bargain made with the ego to keep what lies beyond the veil forever blotted out and unremembered. Here is your promise never to allow union to call you out of separation (T-19.IV.D.2:1, 3:1, 3-4).
And the thing is, you can stand and face that darkness for a long time – lifetimes, perhaps – before you finally agree to join with your brothers and sisters and take the hand of Jesus and step through. Stepping through itself is actually not a big deal – it’s like falling off a cliff. But convincing yourself to take that first step . . . that’s really what the darkness is. The ego tells us not to have faith – not to trust that we’re going to be held and kept safe – and we listen.
And the ego is no help in this. We really have to let go of the idea that we can reason our way to peace, or think our way to peace, or plan our way to peace. Our resources are insufficient; the ego wants to convince us that we can do it – we’re smart enough, wise enough, strong enough, lovely enough but it’s uninformed and prone to malevolence when threatened by our desire to know peace.
[I]t was surely not the ego that led you here. No obstacle to peace can be surmounted through its help. It does not open up its secrets, and bid you look on them and go beyond them. It would not have you see its weakness, and learn it has no power to keep you from the truth (T-19.IV.D.i.8:2-5).
In my conversations and emails with other students, I am sometimes amazed by the often implicit but quite often explicit belief that because they cannot just snap their fingers and look at this veil and pass through it, they are bad students. Somehow we get the idea that we aren’t allowed to take two steps back. Or that Jesus will abandon us if we hesitate or become casual. This is hard work! And the Course recognizes this, and acknowledges it.
To look upon the fear of God does need some preparation. Only the sane can look on stark insanity and raving madness with pity and compassion, but not with fear . . . And no on e reaches love with fear beside him (T-19.IV.D.i.11:1-2, 7).
This is why Rules for Decision, after carefully laying out the right approach to having a day of peace and joy, a day in which we are last able and ready to join hands with one another and simply pass through the last remaining shred of darkness that obscures Christ and complicates Heaven, immediately follows with what to do when we screw it up.
But there will be times when you have judged already. Now the answer will provoke attack, unless you quickly straighten out your mind to want an answer that will work (T-30.I.5:1-2).
It’s okay to take that literally. Notice that it doesn’t say “if there are times.” That “when” is unconditional. It’s understood that we are finding our way. It’s understood that despite our sincere and disciplined effort and our good intentions we are going to take those two steps back. Or one and a half steps back. And it’s okay. Jesus has us covered in that eventuality, too.
It is so hard to avoid judging ourselves. The ego isn’t an enemy of A Course in Miracles; it can use the Course quite well to serve its end. We compare ourselves to other students – the ones in our study group, the famous ones who write and teach. We set up an ideal, compare ourselves to it unfavorably, and then mope around like spiritual orphans. If only we were different . . .
We really have to come to a place where it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to feel dispirited. We have to see that experience is part of the process – it’s part of the preparation for facing the fear of God and seeing to the light beyond. Jesus knows this is going to happen. Indeed, if it’s not happening – if someone is feeling light and happy and everything is just roses and chocolates – then it’s possible they aren’t being entirely honest. And that’s okay, too – we are all getting there in time – but my point is, don’t deny the hard times. Don’t judge yourself on their account.
Rules for Decision teaches us that when we start to struggle, we can simply turn our minds back in the direction of the Holy Spirit. The other sections I quoted here (from The Attainment of Peace), suggests that we practice looking with love upon one another. Why not? The bottom line is that we aren’t alone. It’s not just you and your horrific ego. We are working on this together. We lift each other with kind words and hugs and advice and tea and all of that. And that lifting enables us to choose again – to decide again – to turn to the Holy Spirit and ask again to be guide Home.