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Designing Experiential Exercises for Your Classes

A vital feature of a Course in Miracles class is a Course-like exercise, which takes the material you, as the teacher, have been teaching and applies it on a personal level. If you are teaching the Course to a group, you will want to make this a regular feature of your classes or group meetings. The main kind of experiential exercise you’ll want to use is the main kind used in the Course itself. This is an exercise in which the primary work is done by statements that the person makes to himself or herself. Let me lay out the process as best as I understand it.

Teaching

Preceding the exercise will be teaching, either based on a Course section or lesson, or based on a Course topic in which you draw passages from all over the Course.

Purpose of exercise: apply the main thrust of the teaching

The exercise will then condense the teaching down to a main point and then apply that main point on a personal level. One can understand an idea, be engaged by an idea, even be mesmerized by an idea, without applying it to oneself. The purpose of the exercise is to take the teaching to that next step of personal application.

Therefore, the first step in designing the exercise is identifying the main thrust of the teaching you have given your class; particularly, the main thrust that you want participants to apply on a personal level.

The exercise is meant to shift participants from the place they are now to a new place, one that is more reflective of the teaching you have given.

The starting point

The exercise, then, will need to either explicitly or implicitly reference that starting point-where they are now, the way they see the world now. You see this in the Course’s exercises, which often begin with statements like “whenever you feel threatened,” or “whenever you question your value.”

Making the starting point specific

One of the key features of the Course’s exercises is specificity. They apply the Course’s ideas to specific things in our lives: specific people, events, and situations, as well as to ourselves. This, in fact, reflects the whole point of doing an exercise: to take an abstract idea and apply it on a specific level, to yourself and your life.

Therefore, it is usually a good idea to craft a specific starting point. A general starting point is just their overall outlook. A specific starting point could be a specific person, event, or situation they are currently wrestling with and upset about.

The statement(s): a reversal of the starting point

In most of the Course’s exercises, the work is done by a statement or statements that we repeat to ourselves. These statements are put in the first person, and carefully designed to shift us away from our starting point. They are a refutation of that starting point. They condense the teaching down to a fine point, a point which then refutes and overturns our starting point.

The statements should be:

  • In the first person
  • Succinct. Even if the exercise as a series of statements, each one should ideally be succinct and to the point (though every now and then the Course will throw in a really long one!)
  • It helps to use imagery
  • In terms of length, the statements (or series of statements) the Course has you repeat are between 3 and 126 words. So you have a lot of leeway!

Kinds of statements

If you look at the Course’s own exercises, there are several different kinds of statements:

Statements of truth
“God Himself is incomplete without me” (T‑9.VII.8).
Statements of intention, desire, or decision:
“I will not look there because I know these images are not true” (T‑4.IV.9:3).

Prayer requests
“Help me to perform whatever miracles you want of me today” (Urtext).
Rhetorical questions
“Do I want the problem or do I want the answer?” (T‑11.VIII.4).

Persuasive content
Because the whole objective is to shift the mind to a new place, these exercises are really tools of persuasion. Therefore, they ideally should include persuasive content. There are two kinds in particular:

Logic

Try to include in at least some of your statements reasons for the statements. These reasons will help shift the mind in the direction of the statement. For instance:

I do not have to worry about what to say or what to do,
because He Who sent me will direct me.

Note that the “because” gives you a logical reason for the first part-not worry about what to say or what to do.

Motive clauses

A motive clause is a part of the statement that gives you a motive to embrace the statement, that tells you the benefit that will come to you. For example,

And so I choose this instant as the one to offer to the Holy Spirit, that His blessing may descend on us, and keep us both in peace (T‑18.V.7).

The motive clause is “that His blessing may descend on us, and keep us both in peace.” That is the motivation for choosing “this instant as the one to offer to the Holy Spirit.”

Example: T-21.I.3

I chose this paragraph pretty much at random-I just happened to be reading it when I prepared for the class.

Never forget the world the sightless “see” must be imagined, and what it really looks like is unknown to them. They must infer what could be seen from evidence forever indirect, and reconstruct their inferences as they stumble and fall because of what they did not recognize or walk unharmed through open doorways that they thought were closed. And so it is with you. You do not see. Your cues for inference are wrong, and so you stumble and fall down upon the stones you did not recognize, and fail to be aware you can go through the doors you thought were closed, but which stand open before unseeing eyes, waiting to welcome you.

Here’s my commentary from the Text Reading Program:

Here we see Jesus’ skill at crafting a great metaphor. The first sentences are talking literally about the blind. They point out the obvious, that the blind have to infer their world from indirect evidence, and then revise those inferences as they encounter things they did not expect. But we all knew that. Why is he telling us this?

Then he says, “And so it is with you. You do not see” (1:3-4). Oh, this is about us. We are the blind. How can that be? We see the objects in front of us. Ah, but do we see meaning? No. This leaves us forever trying to infer what things mean based on indirect cues. But these cues are wrong, and so just when we think we can sail smoothly ahead, we stumble over unforeseen obstacles. And just when we think we are trapped, with no way out, we fail to see the open doorway standing right in front of us.

Seeing meaning is far more important than seeing form. Appearances can so easily deceive; what we want is the truth behind them. And that is precisely what we do not see. We can move through a room just fine, but we are terrible at moving through life. When it comes to the important stuff, we really are the blind.

Let’s go through a step-by-step process of turning this into an exercise.

1. Condense the teaching down to a main thrust, one you want them to apply personally
The main thrust here is obvious: “You are blind. You really are blind, in the most important sense of the word.” This is a great main thrust to make into an exercise, for the simple reason that it’s one people are prone to leaving on an abstract level, without applying it to themselves personally.

2. Identify the starting point
The starting point is the current mindset that the exercise is going to reverse. If the ending point is “you are blind,” then the starting point has to be the opposite. It has to be “you think you see,” right? So that’s pretty easy.

3. Design statements that shift them from the starting point to the ending point
You want statements that basically help them internalize the idea “I am blind,” statements that make that hit home.

4. Testing on yourself and revision
Once you design an exercise, always test it on yourself and revise based on what worked and what didn’t.

So the above are basic steps that you would probably want any exercise that applies this paragraph to include. Now I’ll flesh these out in a specific way. My way, however, is just one specific way in which to flesh this out.

Starting point

Look around you, and as you do notice that each thing you see comes along with the sense, “I see that as it is. I’m really seeing that.” Can you feel that sense?
Notice that most things you see come along with the sense, “I understand that. I know what it’s for and what it means. There’s no surprise there.”
Both of these senses add up to the feeling, “I’m really seeing what’s out there.”
Get in touch with your pervasive assumption of that.

Evidence for statements

(With this exercise, I feel like I need to add evidence that will make the statements go in. So I’m choosing evidence from the paragraph, evidence for the main thrust of “you are blind.”)

Yet even though you think you are seeing, the world regularly upsets your expectations, doesn’t it?
Think of a new relationship that you assumed would be clear sailing, where you crashed into an unexpected tree.
Think of a new job that turned out totally differently than what you assumed.
Realize that you go through life like a blind person.
You build a picture in your head of what’s out there,
and then constantly revise that picture as you bump into obstacles you hadn’t seen.
(I’m leaving out the open doorways image from the paragraph, because I think those instances are less memorable, and therefore less effective for the purposes of the exercise.)

Statements

Now repeat these statements to yourself:

Am I not just like a blind person?
I do not see the world.
I build a picture in my head based on indirect evidence.
And then constantly revise that picture as it proves inaccurate.
I am blind, in the most important sense of the word.
I am blind.
(Let that sink in.)
I am blind.
But I want to see.
I refuse to adjust to my blindness.
(The last line is inspired by later comments in the section and is designed to be at the least the beginning of a way out.)

Alternate versions

There are endless variations one could do.

You could, for instance, skip that whole middle part (“evidence for statements”) and have more work done by just the statements:

Yet doesn’t the world often thwart my expectations?
Don’t I often trip over obstacles I didn’t see?
Am I not, therefore, just like the blind person?
Am I not blind?
You could also ask them a concluding question, “When you really let it sink in that you are blind, how does that feel?”

Or in place of everything I have presented, you could just do Lesson 9:

These exercises, for which three or four practice periods are sufficient, involve looking about you and applying the idea for the day to whatever you see, remembering the need for its indiscriminate application, and the essential rule of excluding nothing. For example:

I do not see this typewriter as it is now.
I do not see this telephone as it is now.
I do not see this arm as it is now.

Begin with things that are nearest you, and then extend the range outward:

I do not see that coat rack as it is now.
I do not see that door as it is now.
I do not see that face as it is now.

It is emphasized again that while complete inclusion should not be attempted, specific exclusion must be avoided. Be sure you are honest with yourself in making this distinction. You may be tempted to obscure it.

Or you could do a variation on Lesson 9, designed to bring in more content from this paragraph. After the various statements of “I do not see this” and “I do not see that,” you could conclude with “I see nothing as it is now. I am blind.”

Or you could go even farther afield. You could have them look around the room, and with each object say:

I think I see that arm as it is now.
But I don’t really see it.
I am blind to what it really is.

 

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