[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
Question: How should I incorporate my daily lesson into my behavior? Let’s say I am in a situation where I am a china closet and it has a bull. I have been thinking I need to escort the bull out. As I practice the first bank of lessons, I wonder if instead, I should say nothing to the bull and work with my thoughts. Yet, as I consider doing this, it scares me. My lesson practice may not change my thoughts at a deep level right away. In the meantime, I am not sure how to be happy if the situation doesn’t change. What is the practical answer to this dilemma?
Answer: The key here is to realize that the lessons are trying to change your emotional response (via changing your perception). They are not meant to be direct guides to behavior (with the exception of those lessons in which we ask for guidance about what to do). When you do a lesson in which you repeat, for instance, “I am determined to see [name] differently,” a lesson which also implies that you are determined to let go of all anger towards that person, that certainly seems to imply that the right course of action is not to “escort the bull out.” But does it really?
The fallacy here is that you cannot use general principles to decide what the right behavioral response is in specific situations. You can use general principles to rule out certain responses (like running a sword through the bull). But you cannot say, “Well, if I believe in love, then I obviously should do this.” Each situation needs to be approached on a case-by-case basis. We don’t know how those general principles apply in this particular situation. That is why we need guidance. Only the Holy Spirit can really see how general principles should translate into specific behavior in a given situation.
Let me give an example that shows that we can’t use general principles to dictate what our specific behavior in a situation should be. In “The Investment in Reality” (T-12.III), Jesus sketches a scenario in which someone is insisting that you do something that seems foolish or even outrageous to you. You are then given this famous line as counsel: “If your brothers ask you for something ‘outrageous,’ do it because it does not matter” (T-12.III.4:1). This person’s insistence on you doing this exact thing shows that he is invested in the happenings of the world. And since the happenings of the world are worthless, he has invested everything he has in a company of no worth, a disastrous investment that has left him poor. Your job is to alleviate his poverty by showing him the example of someone who hasn’t invested in the same worthless stock he has, someone who is not so invested in what happens and can therefore comfortably comply with his nutty request.
But in the Urtext, there is a passage that is virtually the opposite. It is about Edgar Cayce burning himself out by doing too many readings. In the 1940s, Cayce’s fame spread, and he received far more requests for readings than he could possibly fulfill, many of them from the very people he had originally felt called to help: sick and dying children. His source had told him to do only two readings a day, yet he disregarded those limits and found himself doing many times that. His health broke down. His readings told him to stop until he was recovered or dead. A few months later he died at the relatively young age of 67. About this, Jesus said:
While what he did came from Me, he could not be induced to ask me each time whether I wanted him to perform this particular miracle [i.e., do a particular reading]. If he had, he would not have performed any miracles that could not get thru constructively, and would thus have saved himself unnecessary strain. He burned himself out with indiscriminate miracles, and to this extent did not fulfill his own full purpose.
Then, much later, we find the punch line that I’m interested in here: “Anyone who is unable to leave the requests of others unanswered has not entirely transcended egocentricity. I never ‘gave of myself’ in this inappropriate way, nor would I ever have encouraged Cayce to do so.”
Here we have two virtually opposite principles. The first: When someone asks you to do something outrageous, do it, to give him the gift of your lack of investment in the world. The second: When a dying child asks you for a miracle, if need be you should be able to leave this request unanswered. If not, you still have an ego. The first principle: Go ahead and comply with the outrageous request. The second principle: Feel free to not comply with the urgent and vital request. How do we know which one of these to follow in a given situation? Or how do we know there isn’t some other principle that applies to our situation?
The fact is that we don’t. Only the Holy Spirit knows. That is why we have to do what, according to Jesus, Edgar Cayce couldn’t be induced to do: ask for guidance about what to do. Only the Holy Spirit knows the behavior that fits exactly where we are at, and fits where everyone else is at, too. Of course, if we were much further up the spiritual ladder, a different course of action would be open to us and would then fit us. At that point, we might stay with the bull and transform him into a lamb. Or, on the other hand, we might escort him out far more quickly and less timidly than we could imagine now. But all this speculation is really useless. Right now, there are really just two priorities. One is doing the Workbook practice to move us further along the path. The other is asking the Holy Spirit what we should do in the situation that stands before us right now.