How to Listen for Guidance

How many times have you heard, or said, “I ask for guidance, but I just don’t hear anything”? Wouldn’t it be great if A Course in Miracles gave us detailed instructions in precisely how to listen for the Holy Spirit’s messages?

Thankfully, it does exactly that. There is extensive training in Workbook Lessons 71-90 in how to receive from the Holy Spirit. Significantly, every point in this training is echoed by dictation Helen Schucman received years earlier, on the day before the Text started coming through. This dictation can be found in Ken Wapnick’s Absence from Felicity (p. 197). I’ll begin by commenting on this dictation, which was meant to help Bill Thetford in his own listening for guidance:

I can’t answer where he asks amiss. When he asks right I have answered. He has a tendency to get part of an answer and decide himself when to disconnect. He should ask if that’s all. Since I don’t know when he’s going to ring off I have to be very short and even cryptic. It chops up messages too much.

Bill’s first problem is that he simply gives up too soon. This forces Jesus to make the messages “very short and even cryptic,” since he doesn’t know when Bill will suddenly decide to quit (this is a brief reference to the power of our free choice, which is so free that not even Jesus knows what choices we will make). Bill simply needs to be more patient.

Jesus then goes on to list “three major areas” of interference in Bill’s reception of guidance:

  1. He doesn’t have much real confidence that I will get through. He never just claims his rights. He should begin with much more confidence. I’ll keep my promises….
  2. He has to learn better concentration. His mind flits about too much for good communication. Suggest a very short phrase like “Here I am Lord” and don’t think of anything else. Just pull in your mind slowly from everywhere else and center it on these words. This will also give him the realization that he [Bill] really is here. He’s not too sure.
  3. Tell him to be sure not to mistake your [Helen’s] role. If he overreacts to or over-evaluates you as a person, both of you will be in danger.

The first of the three areas of interference is that Bill listens without real confidence that he’ll actually hear. Receiving guidance is one of his God-given rights. Bill, however, “never just claims his rights.” When I first read that line it hit me like a ton of bricks: “So I have a right to God’s guidance, and I should claim that right.” What a refreshing and empowering idea! Asking tentatively and sheepishly may seem courteous to Jesus, but it’s actually a subtle accusation that he is a liar, for he has promised that he will be there to answer us. If we believe that Jesus keeps his word, then we will listen with confidence.

The second area is that Bill has poor concentration. “His mind flits about too much.” He needs to learn how to still his mind so that it becomes truly receptive. Hearing the still, small voice with a mind full of chatter is like trying to hear someone whisper to you in a noisy room while you are still jabbering away. Bill needs to learn how to quiet his inner chatter, so that the room of his mind gets so quiet he could hear a pin drop. To help him enter this state of inner silence, Jesus gives Bill a meditation technique—one, in fact, that was used by the famous seventeenth-century monk Brother Lawrence, author of the spiritual classic The Practice of the Presence of God.

The third problem area is that Bill is over-estimating Helen’s role. I assume this means her role as receiver of Jesus’ guidance. Certainly, he needs to respect her role, but if he lets himself get too dazzled by her ability to hear Jesus, this will simultaneously undermine his confidence in his own ability, as well as weaken his motivation to try.

Overall, Bill’s approach seems to be, to put it simply, too weak. He gives up too soon, has little confidence that he’ll hear, doesn’t concentrate enough, and leans too much on Helen. When it comes to listening for guidance, in other words, he’s a bit of a wimp. That sounds harsh until you realize that Jesus’ critique applies to virtually every one of us. Surely you saw yourself in at least some of the above points. What, then, can we do to stop being “guidance wimps”?

The answer is to really go through the training provided in the Workbook. The Workbook has a bank of lessons, 71-90, designed to teach us how to listen to and receive from the Holy Spirit (almost all the quotes below will be drawn from these lessons). What I find amazing about the instruction in these lessons is just how closely it reproduces the private counsel given to Bill nearly four years earlier. Except for the caution about over-evaluating Helen’s role, every single point in Jesus’ counsel to Bill shows up as a main theme in these lessons. I’ll list the points in the same order as we discussed them above:

Listen in patience; don’t give up too soon

Once you have asked the Holy Spirit your question, “wait patiently for Him” (W-pI.75.7:8). And while you wait, periodically repeat your request, not to remind a forgetful Holy Spirit, but to renew your own attentiveness and your confidence that you’ll hear.

Whenever you feel your confidence wane and your hope of success flicker and go out, repeat your question and your request. (W-pI.72.12:1)

While you wait, repeat several times, slowly and in complete patience [your request]. (W-pI.75.6:7)

Listen with confidence; claim your rights

The instructions for listening repeatedly emphasize being confident that you’ll hear. The lessons are full of language designed to instill this confidence in you. They assure you that you have a “claim to God’s answer” (W-pI.71.9:10), that “He will answer” (W-pI.72.12:5), that “you will be heard and you will be answered” (W-pI.79.10:6). The attitude they encourage is captured perfectly in this quote, which sounds as if it could have been lifted straight from Jesus’ advice to Bill:

There is a message waiting for you. Be confident that you will receive it. Remember that it belongs to you. (W-pI.rII.In.3:2-4)

Listen in deep silence; wait for Him in quiet expectancy

According to the Workbook’s instructions, so much of the task of hearing the Holy Spirit comes down to one question: How still can you get your mind? The Course puts it plainly: “Learn to be quiet, for His Voice is heard in stillness” (M 15.2:12). This stillness, however, should not be passive and lax. Rather, it should be an alert, attentive, expectant stillness. Your mind should be poised, waiting for the answer with every ounce of your attention. Combining a quiet restfulness with a poised alertness is central to the inner art of listening. The following quotes capture this delicate combination:

Spend the major part of the time listening quietly but attentively. (W-pI.rII.In.3:1)

Hold your mind in silent readiness to hear the Voice That speaks the truth to you. (W-pI.76.9:2)

Wait in silent expectancy for the truth. (W-pI.94.4:1)

Of course, holding your mind in a state of alert, receptive waiting is something most of us can’t maintain for more than about half a minute. Just like Bill, our minds flit about too much. This is why the Workbook instructs us to draw them back again and again and again—as often as we need to. Review II, in which we listen for ten to fifteen minutes, urges us to be absolutely determined to keep our minds on track: “Do not allow your intent to waver” (W-pI.rII.In.4:1); “Refuse to be sidetracked” (W-pI.rII.In.5:2).


I hope you can see just how serious the Course is about us learning how to receive guidance. The last thing it wants us to do is fail to try in the assumption that we are unable to hear. Like Bill, we can be so dazzled by Helen’s ability that we neglect to develop our own. True, some people do have more ability to hear the Holy Spirit, but presumably this is only because, like Helen, they developed their ability in the remote past. We can develop ours in the present. If we will train ourselves to listen in patience, in confidence, and in silence, we too can begin to hear that sublime Voice with increasing clarity and with greater frequency.


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