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My Favorite Study Techniques

I have a number of favorite study techniques. I love inserting my name frequently into the Course’s sentences. But the one I wanted to write about, inspired by John’s post, is writing in my book. When I read the Course, I feel like I am wading in water that’s over my head. I need some way to keep afloat, to keep my head above water. I find that writing and highlighting in my book does that for me–not sure I can explain why.I have fine point pens (I mainly use a Pigma Micron 005) and about 10 different colors of highlighters (I use Stabilo highlighters since they don’t bleed through). I also don’t use the rice paper versions of the Course. I use the hard-to-find Second Edition in three separate volumes. That way my highlighting won’t bleed through (if I use the Stabilo highlighters).

In terms of using my highlighters, I mainly highlight repeating words or phrases in a certain section. I find this extremely helpful. When you see a word from earlier in the section show up again, you know that the theme represented by that word is also showing up. For instance, today I have been studying Lesson 165, “Let not my mind deny the Thought of God.” I have highlighted cognates and synonyms of “denial” in green, including: deny, obscure, concealed, hide. I’ve also highlighted words relating to doubt vs. certainty in orange: conviction, sureness, sure, certain, certainty, uncertainty, doubting, doubt, doubts. That way I can see the theme of denial or the theme of doubt vs. certainty as they weave through the lesson. (By the way, the color scheme changes from section to section, since the important terms change. Otherwise, I would need thousands of colors for my highlighting, and the highlighter companies haven’t decided to fill that need yet. As it is, I have to combine colors to have enough for a given section.)

Also, I will highlight pronouns in the same color that I’ve highlighted the words to which they refer. For instance, I have highlighted “the Thought of God” in pink and also highlighted in pink the word “it” when it refers to the Thought of God.

I use my fine point pen a great deal as well. I write cross references in the margins, or make comments in the margins, or make little notes above a certain word, or underline important words or phrases I might otherwise brush over. I will also use white space at the beginning or end of a section or lesson to make more extensive notes, perhaps about overall themes in that section or lesson, or maybe about my personal reactions or reflections.

What is funny is that I often will have a discovery and then find I had already written it somewhere on the page in the past. For instance, today in studying Lesson 165, I started reflecting on the phrase “the Thought of God”-I believed for the first time. I wrote, “the Thought of God-like ‘the thought of Freud.’ The act of God thinking.” In writing that down, I felt a little sense of accomplishment. But then about a half hour later I discovered a note written some time ago nearby on the same page: “Not ‘a’ Thought of God-more like the thought of Freud or the thought of Marx-a continuing body of thinking, attention, care.” My new discovery wasn’t really new at all. In fact, I kind of liked my earlier twist on it better.

With the cross-referencing, when I collect more than a few references to the same thing, I will find one place to put them all, and then have all my cross references point to that place. For instance, in Lesson 161, paragraph 4, I have a long list of places in the Course that say there are things we can’t understand. When you go to each of those places, there is then a reference that points you to this “node” (as I call these) in Lesson 161, paragraph 4. I probably have a couple hundred of these nodes.

I also love drawing diagrams or pictures in available white space. For those I use both the pens and highlighters. So for Lesson 165, I have a kind of funnel of desire rising up from the ground, piercing through a bank of clouds (our denial) and reaching up to the Thought of God above the clouds. For Lesson 156, I have a king walking along on a special carpet of leaves or flower petals, with gifts laid at his feet, a palm branch shading his head, special fragrance filling the air, and people saluting him and bowing before him (capturing the imagery in paragraphs 4 and 5 of that lesson). For Lesson 161, I have a little cloud of fear projecting an image of a ravenous panther pawing the air and about to attack.

I am not suggesting that everyone do this the way I do. I’ve evolved this to fit my personal needs. But obviously a great many Course students do a similar sort of thing, using pens and highlighters in their own personal ways. I think what is so useful about it is not so much the fact that we then have this record for the future (though I do find that very useful). It’s more the fact that it makes us an active participant in the process. It’s a way to get us to slow down (crucial for me) and become actively engaged in reading the Course. Now we aren’t just passive readers. Jesus did his work in putting these words on paper, and now in response, we are doing our own active work on our side. That active engagement on our part is everything.

Indeed, I would love to hear from others about what devices they use to become more actively engaged in the reading process. I will bet there is an astonishing variety out there. If you have something, please let the rest of us know.