Practicing in “crunch time”

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

This afternoon, I was counseling a new Course student who has been having problems with his ex-wife. The two of them have a contentious relationship, but still need to talk to one another weekly because they have a son. My friend was disappointed in himself because, as much as he tries to apply the Course to his encounters with his ex, he finds himself reverting right back to attack mode when something she says triggers him. His question: How do I apply the Course in “crunch time,” when the emotions are really intense and I need to find a way to keep my cool? I’m sure all of us can relate to this situation (I certainly can), so I thought I’d share the advice I gave him with everyone here in the CCC.

First, I think it’s critical to build a solid foundation by doing Course practice all through the day. The Workbook’s practice instructions are designed to envelop the entire day in practice. The pattern the Workbook eventually settles into consists of a long meditative practice in the morning and at night, hourly remembrances, frequent reminders, and “response to temptation” practices for difficult situations like the one my friend is experiencing.

The key is that for the “response to temptation” practices to really be effective, they need to rest on the foundation of all those other practices. I have found this foundation to be an absolute lifeline for me. Many of us tend to put off practice until we’re faced with a major crisis, but my experience is that if I wait until crunch time to practice, I’m toast. I find that my practice is cumulative. If I do a lot of it during the day, it grows in strength and power, as if I were constantly adding fuel to my spiritual gas tank. But without that regular practice, my gas tank is empty and I don’t stand a chance. So, frequent practice all through the day is a must.

Second, I think it’s crucial to have a specific “response to temptation” practice ready for use before going into a potentially tense situation. In my friend’s case, he knows exactly what day and time he is going to be talking to his ex, so I suggested that he prepare for it not only by practicing all day, but by choosing a particular practice, memorizing it, and making a commitment to use it immediately at the first sign of trouble. This is so important because let’s face it, if we don’t have something ready to use right when the trouble starts, the snowball of our old knee-jerk patterns will start rolling down the hill and stopping it will be next to impossible (sound familiar?). We have to have a plan and be prepared to follow through on it if we want to have a chance to respond to hot-button situations in a truly new way.

What specific practices should we use for this purpose? The Course is chock full of great ones. If you’re going through the Workbook, by all means use the “response to temptation” practice given in the day’s lesson. I highly recommend using a short practice (or a short version of a longer one) in these situations, because when things are hot and heavy you’re not going to have time for anything longer. My personal favorites are lines meant to be applied specifically to other people by name, like the ones in Review II of the Workbook. I’ve found these especially helpful: “Let peace extend from my mind to yours, [name]” (W-pI.82.2:2), “The light in you is all that I would see, [name]” (W-pI.88.2:3), and “You stand with me in light, [name]” (W-pI.87.2:3).

In my experience, building that foundation of practice and having a specific practice in mind for difficult situations has made a huge difference in how I handle those situations. I’ve experienced greater peace and calm, and situations have gone a lot more smoothly when I’ve remembered to do these things. I certainly can’t claim that I’ve mastered this, but I’ve definitely done well enough to know that it works. My friend says he will try this before his next encounter with his ex-wife; I look forward to hearing how it turns out. If you’re facing a situation where you have to keep your cool in “crunch time,” I hope you’ll find these tips helpful as well.