Asking for guidance is a perennially difficult issue for most Course students. How do you ask? How do you know if what you heard was correct? How do you carry it out? Students are often perplexed about these questions. In what follows, I will share both what I have learned from the Course about this subject and what I have learned from experience.
Seeking guidance on a specific issue
Honestly examine your agendas
When asking about an issue, honestly examine your own agendas, attachments, fears, etc., and be willing to set them aside. These are the main thing that can derail the guidance process.
Trust the plan
Realize that there is a definite plan for this situation, designed by Someone Who knows everything and has everyone’s best interests in mind. Realize you can contact that plan and that doing so is your only goal here.
Explore the issue
If it’s a big issue, it can help to thoroughly explore the issue, discuss it and gather facts, not as a way of coming to a decision, but as a way of preparing your mind for receiving the guidance. The more a mind knows the facts and relevant issues, and ideally has some experience and ability in this area, the more likely it is to pull through high quality guidance (as long as that mind has set its own agendas aside). I imagine, for instance, someone like Mozart pulling through a higher quality musical guidance than someone with no musical experience and ability.
Framing the question
When you frame the question, start general (“What would You say to me about this situation?”). That places fewer limits on the answer you’ll get. If nothing comes, make your questions increasingly specific.
How to listen once you ask
How the Workbook teaches us to listen (in lessons 71 through 90):
- Wait in mental silence and attentiveness. Keep your own thinking silent. When chatter starts, draw your mind back to focus.
- Wait in confidence and determination. “Refuse not to hear” (W-71.9:8).
- Periodically renew your seeking and your confidence by repeating your question.
Does it have to come in words?
It doesn’t have to come in words. It can come in many forms: words, a picture, an inner sense. Jesus mentioned this to Helen: “Some people hear words, some receive feelings of inner conviction” (Absence from Felicity, p. 450)
Did you hear right?
How can you tell if you heard the right voice? Jesus told Helen, “Do not assume that you are right because an answer seems to come from Him” (Absence from Felicity, p. 463). This is an essential attitude to hold. Establish a confidence level based on the following factors:
- How did it feel? You want it to feel right, to ring a bell of truth, to carry an inner knowing, to come through strong and clear, to carry an underlying sense of peace, even if it feels threatening on the surface. It can look foul and feel fair. You don’t want it to look fair but feel foul.
- How different is it from what you were thinking beforehand? The more fresh and original it is, the more it approaches things from a new angle, the more it answers an unasked question, the more it plainly disagrees with what you thought, the greater is the possibility that it came from outside your ego.
- How much wisdom, insight, and sense does it appear to have? Does it see things from a broader perspective, place things in a broader context? Is it in keeping with your highest principles? Does it take everyone’s interests into account? Does it solve all the problems at once, including problems you weren’t even aware of? Does it even make sense?
Trust the core more than the specifics
Trust the core of it, be open about the specifics. Accurate specifics are much harder to bring through. As you move on it, you may well see the specifics fall away even while the core of it is borne out.
To the extent the guidance goes out on a limb, you’ll want to have a higher confidence level before you act on it. Remember, guidance can be just plain wrong, not because God is wrong, but because your ego distorted or manufactured the guidance.
Act with eyes open
If you are reasonably confident about your guidance, move to act on it. Be willing for the picture to change, but also be willing to persevere in the face of closed doors. Don’t automatically treat them all as messages from God. Sometimes the Holy Spirit wants you to get through those doors—knock, find a locksmith, break it down—rather than accept them as some sort of divine message from Him.
You’re not on your own
Try to trust that, in carrying out the guidance, you have Someone looking over your shoulder and helping you. Even if you screw up, He can make sure it all turns out OK.
Let the Workbook teach you the habit of frequent asking
You want lots and lots and lots of practice in asking before you make really big decisions based on it. It took you decades to develop your normal decision-making process. It will take lots of practice to cultivate a viable alternative. The Workbook trains you to ask all through each day. There is a bank of nearly fifty lessons in which you ask every hour. To turn guidance into a way of life, you need to be asking all through the day.
Form a track record
As you ask again and again over time, carry a sense of how trustable your guidance is. How good is its track record? Don’t make it into a sacred cow; look at it objectively. If it has repeatedly gone out on a limb before, only to have that limb break off, that should influence your confidence in its latest venture out on a limb.
Seeking guidance with a group
Asking for guidance with others can be extremely useful. Jesus mentioned the value of it to Helen: “There are joint decisions in which a unanimity of response is a good indication of authenticity” (Absence from Felicity, p. 444). In other words, the initial Course family had decisions to make as a group, and in seeking guidance about these, if they all heard roughly the same thing, that was a good indication that what they heard was the real stuff. Here is the process we use at the Circle:
- Discuss the issue in the manner of openly exploring it, rather than trying to make a decision.
- Formulate questions.
- Everyone goes off and asks within. We write down what we hear.
- Come back and share what we heard, along with our confidence level.
- Assemble a list of themes that showed up in at least two pieces of guidance. Assemble these repeating themes into a whole picture. That picture becomes our group guidance.
Guidance often comes spontaneously through coincidences and synchronicities, through a chance remark by a friend, through a song on the radio or a passage you come across in a book. I value this sort of guidance, but it can easily degenerate into superstition. I believe in going through a conscious process of evaluation in which you ask yourself if this was a truly inspired event, or just superstition or wishful thinking. Not every butterfly means something. Not every rainbow means something. If you think some occurrence outside yourself was real guidance, ask within about it and see if you feel a sense of confirmation.
Developing your guidance strong suit
If you know you have a talent for receiving guidance in a certain way, cultivate it, get as good at it as you can.
Asking someone else for guidance
If you trust someone else’s guidance, if you think they are a clear channel, it is OK to ask them for help. Just don’t do it all the time. Jesus told Helen, “You can ask for another and receive the Answer for him. But you can, and indeed you must, help him by offering your love and support that his asking be holy and his true need recognized. That is prayer; it is the same for yourself or for another. There is no difference. If only you received the answers for another, there would be a difference” (Absence from Felicity, p. 443).
Hold onto the nuggets
Hold onto those pieces of guidance that carry the stamp of authority and have stood the test of time. Make them pillars in your life. Refer back to them as new situations arise to see what insight they can shed. They will always carry more relevance than you suspect.
Deepen in your trust in and reliance on the Holy Spirit as the Architect of your life
Have a long-term goal of moving ever further into the guided life, so that your life is more and more an expression of the Holy Spirit’s plan. The goal is that He is the One directing every aspect of your life, both within and without. This is a very long-term goal. The section on the development of trust in the Manual is about this very process. The person in that section is going through a very long, often difficult process of learning how to trust the Holy Spirit to run his entire life for him. That is the journey we are on, and as with any long journey, you want to keep the goal in mind and keep moving.
An Exercise in Asking
Pick a situation that you need guidance on.
Ask yourself, “What are my agendas, attachments, and fears in this situation?”
Try to set these aside, realizing that there is already a plan for this situation, one that is in your best interests, and that these attachments may simply get in the way of that plan.
Formulate a question that is as general as possible, such as “What would You tell me about this situation?”
- After you ask, “wait in silent expectancy” (W-pI.94.4:1) for the answer. Hold your mind in readiness.
- Wait also in confidence. You deserve the answer and you are being answered. Even if you don’t hear it, you are bringing it closer.
- Periodically repeat your question. You may want to make your question more specific.
Write down anything you “hear,” whether it comes in words, in pictures, or in just a subtle inner sense.