The power of discouragement to stop our practice

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

I have been noticing lately just what a major factor discouragement is in my practice, and I’m sure I don’t see the half of it.

What I’ve been noticing is that I will be going along well with my practice, staying consistent, feeling in a better place, and then something will go wrong. Either something will upset me or I’ll forget to practice for a while. And then after that, I often just want to avoid the whole thing. This is true especially if I get upset.

What is going on there? I think I’m basically getting discouraged. My reaction is something like the following: “If I’m practicing well like that, I shouldn’t have gotten upset. And then if I did, I should have noticed it and faced it; I should have responded immediately with my lesson for the day, and then kept with it until the upset went away. But I didn’t. I let the upset hang around, while I reinforced it in my mind.”

In short, I feel like a spiritual failure, which involves hopelessness. It also includes guilt and a sense of humiliation. There’s also the feeling that reversing my recent failing will take too much effort and involve too much challenging of myself. None of these feelings are particularly strong. But the whole package is just unpleasant enough that it is easier to just avoid it, just look the other way. Which means avoid the whole practice thing for a while, probably until tomorrow.

It may come as no surprise to you that the Workbook is fully aware of this tendency. Lesson 95 has an illuminating discussion of this very phenomenon. It says, “There may well be a temptation to regard the day as lost because you have already failed to do what is required” (W-pI.95.7:4). You can tell that Jesus totally gets it. One thing I find interesting is that this was written before anyone was doing Workbook practice. This happened in my own life for years before I actually saw it. How did he see it before it happened at all?

Anyway, as is typical with the Course, he then goes on to uncover what is really happening here. It turns out that discouragement is not the real story. I may experience it as “I feel so discouraged that I’d rather avoid the whole thing.” But he implies that is just a superficial mask, placed over what is really going on. After that sentence about regarding “the day as lost,” he says, “This should, however, merely be recognized as what it is: a refusal to let your mistake be corrected, and an unwillingness to try again” (7:5). So, it looks like discouragement, but what it really is is a desire to keep intact our initial mistake (the mistake of missing our practice period).

He revisits this same theme a few paragraphs later, saying, “Let all these errors go be recognizing them for what they are. [There again is the call to recognize the mistakes as what they really are.] They are attempts to keep you unaware you are one Self, united with your Creator, at one with every aspect of creation, and limitless in power and in peace” (10:1-2).

Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that my real reason for wanting to avoid my practice after I’ve screwed up is that I want to hang onto the screw-up. I want to keep the mistake. In a limited sense, that mistake is just missing my practice period (or, in my example above, just getting upset). But contained in that very specific mistake is the whole thought system of the ego, the whole denial of who I really am (one Self, united with my Creator, at one with every aspect of creation).

In other words, something in me doesn’t want me to do my practice. It threatens my whole sense of who I am. And then, out of that sense of threat, I conveniently forget to (choose not to) do my practice period. And then that same sense of threat tries to parlay that missing into even more missing. I tell myself “I’m too discouraged,” but my ego is whispering, “I’m too threatened.”

Ick. Could that really be what is going on—that we are just making up different excuses for missing our practice periods, none of them honest, all of them covers for being threatened by where our practice will take us? This lesson even uses the word “excuse”: “Do not, however, use your lapses from this schedule as an excuse not to return to it again as soon as you can” (7:3).

The solution given in this lesson – found in paragraph 8 – is basically:

  1. Forgive yourself for missing; be tolerant of your weakness.
  2. This deprives that weakness of power, so it has no power to delay you.
  3. Now that your resistance is disempowered, get back to practicing immediately.

I’ll be thinking about this in the days to come. Clearly, my “discouragement” is really just a way to give power to my resistance to practice. It’s very tricky, isn’t it? But if I see through the trick, surely I can refuse to be taken in. I’ll see how well I can do with that now.