Aspect II: Workbook/Practice: Part 4 – Meditation and Prayer

Meditation and prayer are probably humanity’s most universal and time-honored inner practices for making contact with the spiritual domain. Forms of these can be found in almost every religion, both East and West. It would be surprising indeed if the Course did not make use of these practices. And, in fact, both form a major part of the Workbook. Yet just as all traditions have their particular slant on meditation and prayer, so does the Course. In this article we will examine in some detail the Workbook’s approach to these two important spiritual practices.

MEDITATION (1)

“Meditation” is a very vague word, with many different meanings. “Meditation” as I am using it refers to a spiritual practice of clearing the mind and focusing its attention, either on a single mental object or on the mind itself and its arising contents. The purpose of this is to awaken in the mind a different state of awareness, the state that is the endpoint of the spiritual journey, the state of ultimate reality (whether conceived of in personal or impersonal terms).

Many students come to the Course after involvement in traditions in which meditation plays a central role. They naturally wonder, therefore, what place meditation has in the Course. They soon discover, however, that the prevailing wisdom is that meditation is either not part of the Course or plays only a very minor role. Therefore, it seems, if they want to continue meditating, they must import meditation techniques they learned from outside the Course.

This idea that meditation plays no significant role in the Course is a very unfortunate one, and absolutely untrue. I say this without qualification for a variety of reasons.

The first is that meditation is openly taught in the Workbook, where it plays a major role. The practice of meditation is introduced in Lessons 41 and 44 in the Workbook. It is not called “meditation,” but that is exactly what this new “kind of practice” (W-pI.41.8:6) is. It fits to a tee the definition I just gave and stands comfortably alongside many traditional forms of meditation.

These two lessons almost blare trumpets at the announcement of this important practice, which is billed as “a major goal of mind training.” (W-pI.44.3:3) They speak glowingly of “our first real attempt to get past this dark and heavy cloud, and to go through it to the light beyond.” (W-pI.41.5:3) They promise that this is a practice “which we will utilize increasingly,” (W-pI.44.3:2) and also promise that “We will go into more detail about this practice as we go along.” (W-pI.41.8:6)

The Workbook keeps these promises, making meditation an absolute staple of its program. It is easily the most common exercise for the morning and evening practice periods, the longest practice periods of each day. Just as the Workbook said, the focus on meditation increases as the Workbook progresses, rather than tapering off. By the time we reach Part II, we spend all of our longer practice periods waiting in inner silence for a direct experience of God. (W-pII.In.3:3,4:6,5:5,7:1)
This pattern continues even when one is finished with the Workbook. Post-Workbook practice is discussed in the Manual for Teachers, in the section entitled “How Should the Teacher of God Spend His Day?” According to this section, the foundation of post-Workbook practice is morning and evening “quiet time,” which are clearly the practice of meditation. (2)

And in case we assume that meditation, which did not end with the Workbook, is meant to end soon thereafter, we can turn to The Song of Prayer, a pamphlet dictated through Helen Schucman by the author of the Course after the Course was published. There we are told that prayer on the lower rungs of the ladder is characterized by supplication and entreaty, by asking God for specific things. True prayer, on the other hand, is “a stepping aside; a letting go, a quiet time of listening and loving…a giving up of yourself to be at one with Love.” (S-1.I.5:1,5) This quiet, receptive practice of uniting with God’s Love eventually culminates in a “formless state, and fuses into total communication with God.” (S-1.II.1:3) In short, according to The Song of Prayer, true prayer is receptive communion with God, the very state that meditation aims to achieve. True prayer, then, is meditation; or, more precisely, true prayer is successful meditation. Rather than falling away, this kind of meditation continues right into eternity. After all, meditation (at least in the Course and many other traditions), is merely the attempt to focus all your attention on divine reality. And, as the Course says, “To be in the Kingdom is merely to focus your full attention on it.” (T-7.III.4:1)

There is only place in the Course that seems to go against this positive stance toward meditation. There are some very pointed remarks made in the Text section, “I Need Do Nothing,” which is one of two places in the entire Course where the word “meditation” is used. There we are told that “long periods of meditation aimed at detachment from the body” (T-18.VII.4:9) are unnecessary and “very time consuming, for [they] look to the future for release from a state of present unworthiness and inadequacy.” (T-18.VII.4:11)

Yet I do not think that this implies what it seems to—that meditation is unnecessary or is not part of the Course. For what this passage advocates in place of these long periods of meditation is the holy instant, an instant in which you completely forget the body, its past and future, and the “need” to do something to earn your way into Heaven. This holy instant sounds very much like a meditative state of mind, and in fact looks a great deal like Workbook meditation. In fact, the meditation instructions in the Workbook are perfect mirrors of the holy instant discussions in the Text. They are, quite simply, instructions in entering the holy instant.

Therefore, I feel that the Course is cautioning us only against those kinds of meditation which seek, through long periods of strenuous effort, to scale the cliff that supposedly leads from sinfulness to worthiness. It is urging us to practice a different kind of meditation, in which we lay aside all our beliefs about God, ourselves and our supposed unworthiness, and sink in sweet forgetfulness into our natural condition of oneness with God.

This dual idea—that the Course values meditation yet with important stipulations—is clearly supported by some of the original dictation Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford received. Before the Course began coming through and for some time after, both Helen and Bill were practicing meditation. At Bill’s urging, they had agreed to meditate for a few minutes together during the day, and separately morning and night. In fact, it was during these times that Helen had the first of her inner visions which led up to the scribing of the Course.

Jesus approved of this practice, as is clear from a few comments he made to Helen (and as we will soon see). However, he twice stressed the danger of meditation as a solitary path, emphasizing that one must also join with others. Both of these passages made it into the Text, though in each the word “meditation” was changed or removed. One of these passages is quite famous among Course students, making its original wording a real surprise:

Your [Bill’s] giant step forward was to insist on a collaborative venture. This does not go against the true spirit of meditation at all. It is inherent in it. Meditation is a collaborative venture with God. It cannot be undertaken successfully by those who disengage themselves from the Sonship. (Absence from Felicity, (T-4.VI.8))

You [Helen] have made the mistake of looking for the Holy Spirit in yourself [alone], and that is why your meditations have frightened you. By adopting the ego’s viewpoint [of you alone], you undertook an ego-alien journey with the ego as guide. This was bound to produce fear. (Absence from Felicity (T-5.III.4:6-7))

Given the combined evidence from the Text (as originally dictated), the Workbook, the Manual, The Song of Prayer and personal guidance to Helen and Bill, we can conclude without doubt that meditation plays a major role in the Course’s pathway to salvation. Having established that, let us turn to the Workbook’s method of meditation.

The theory behind Workbook meditation

To do Workbook meditation, it is essential to understand the picture of the mind that it assumes. This picture is described in Lesson 41, the lesson which introduces meditation. It says, “Deep within you is everything that is perfect, ready to radiate through you and out into the world.” (W-pI.41.3:1) This place within you, however, “is hidden deep within, under a heavy cloud of insane thoughts, dense and obscuring, yet representing all you see?” (W-pI.41.5:2)

To grasp this picture, we can envision the mind as a sphere. At the center of this sphere is a place of perfect stillness and peace, a dazzling radiance which shines in the dark. This “quiet center” (3) is the dwelling place of God, of your true Self and indeed of everything that is real and true, including all your brothers. Reaching this place is the goal of meditation and of the spiritual path. This quiet center, however, is obscured by layer upon layer of your insane thoughts, often described as clouds. These clouds hide the quiet center. At best, the way to it seems blocked and the direction unclear. At worst, it does not seem to be there at all. “From where you stand, you can see no reason to believe there is a brilliant light hidden by the clouds.” (W-pI.69.4:2-5:1)

The point of your attention, therefore, is outside the light, in the cloud patterns. You can imagine your attention currently residing on the circumference of the sphere, where it spends most of its time peering out on the world outside. When it looks within, all it sees are its own foggy thoughts. When it looks without, it sees only the outer reflections of these same thoughts. For the world, too, is composed of the cloud patterns.

Yet if the cloud patterns are nothing but illusion, then the quiet center is the only thing in this whole picture that is real. Not only is the outer world an illusion, even your mind as you know it is an illusion of a mind. Thus, the center toward which you go is not one part of your mind. It is the only part; it is your real mind. (4) And you already reside there. You have merely placed your awareness in a false mind that lies outside your real mind, in the same way that you have focused your awareness outside of your so-called mind and onto the world.

This means that in going to this quiet center, you are really not going anywhere. You are merely allowing your awareness to return to the one who has that awareness. We will now turn to the actual meditation instructions from various lessons in the Workbook. I have organized these into three steps. The first is the skeleton, the basic process or motion. The second and third steps build upon this skeleton. The second is designed to keep the basic process clear and uncluttered. The third lights it up with a heightened intent.

Because of this, my recommendation is that you first read and then do the first step. Then read the second step and go into meditation again, repeating the first step and adding onto it the second. Then read the third step, go into meditation again, and add on the third, so that now you are doing all three steps together. To aid this, you may even want to read the instructions from the Workbook (which I will give below) onto tape and play them back to guide your meditation.

Step 1. Sink deeply into the center of your mind

The meditation exercise begins with you repeating the idea for the day a few times. For the purpose of this exercise, I recommend using Lesson 109, “I rest in God,” because it is brief and because it promotes the goal of the meditation. So repeat this idea silently a few times, then let go of it. Clear your mind of all normal thoughts. Then try to sink towards the center of your mind. Sink down and inward, toward the truth in you, the core of you, the heart of you. My favorite sentence about that is this: “Try to enter very deeply into your own mind.”

Rather than specific words or mantras, this sinking toward the quiet center is the focus of the Workbook’s meditations. This is what you do with your mind while meditating. Rather than just sitting there and trying to keep your mind blank, you focus on entering deeply into your mind.

Please note that this does not mean going to some place in your body or anywhere in physical space. It means going to the center of your mind. As an experiment, close your eyes, imagine that you don’t have a body, that you are just a mind, and say to yourself, “Try to enter very deeply into your own mind.”

Do you get a sense of where that is? Did that evoke any kind of feeling or internal sense? Personally, this sentence evokes a very specific sense for me, but not of a particular place in my body; rather, of a place that lies at the heart of whatever I am.

Because you are going toward your home, this sinking is also a resting, a returning to where you belong and are at peace. This is where your mind naturally wants to go. This is its natural motion and direction.

This sinking is also a listening, for your are tuning into the stillness where God is and where His Voice speaks in quiet.

Here are the instructions from the Workbook:

At the beginning of the practice period, repeat today’s idea very slowly.
Then make no effort to think of anything.
Try, instead, to get a sense of turning inward,
past all the idle thoughts of the world.
Try to enter very deeply into your own mind,
keeping it clear of any thoughts that might divert your attention. (W-pI.41.6:3-6)
Try to sink into your mind,
letting go every kind of interference and intrusion by quietly sinking past them.
Your mind cannot be stopped in this unless you choose to stop it.
It is merely taking its natural course. (W-pI.44.7:2-4)
Try to reach down into your mind to a place of real safety.
You will recognize that you have reached it if you feel a sense of deep peace,
however briefly. (W-pI.47.7:1-2)
Listen in deep silence.
Be very still and open your mind. (W-pI.49.4:1-2)/p>
Your Guide is sure.
Open your mind to Him.
Be still and rest. (W-pI.128.7:6-8)
Sink through the clouds of your insane thoughts.

What you are sinking through, of course, is the clouds of insane thoughts. One lesson even asks you to imagine that you are travelling through actual clouds: “Brush them aside with your hand; feel them resting on your cheeks and forehead and eyelids as you go through them.” (W-pI.69.6:4)

These misty thoughts are consumed with outer situations, events and objects. Therefore, by sinking away from them, you are also sinking away from the outer world.

As you sink past these thoughts, your mind will occasionally snag on them and start thinking them. The Course counsels you to merely observe these thoughts and pass them by, so that now they are behind you as you continue toward your goal. We will deal with these distractions more fully in Step 2.

Go past all the raucous shrieks and sick imaginings
that cover your real thoughts and obscure your eternal link with God.
Sink deep into the peace that waits for you
beyond the frantic, riotous thoughts and sights and sounds of this insane world.
You do not live here.
We are trying to reach your real home.
We are trying to reach the place where you are truly welcome.
We are trying to reach God. (W-pI.49.4:1-8)
From time to time, you may repeat the idea if you find it helpful.
But most of all, try to sink down and inward,
away from the world and all the foolish thoughts of the world. (W-pI.41.7:1-2)
Try to observe your passing thoughts without involvement, and slip quietly by them. (W-pI.44.7:5)
…sink below them to the holy place where they can enter not. (W-pI.131.11:7)
Let go all the trivial things that churn and bubble on the surface of your mind,
and reach down and below them to the Kingdom of Heaven.
There is a place in you where there is perfect peace.
There is a place in you where nothing is impossible.
There is a place in you where the strength of God abides. (W-pI.47.7:3-6)
Sinking past your thoughts means forgetting what you “know.”

By sinking past the clouds of your thought system, you are really moving past all that you think you know. “While you practice in this way, you leave behind everything that you now believe, and all the thoughts that you have made up.” (W-pI.44.5:4) You leave behind reality as you know it. Therefore, several of the Course’s meditation instructions include a kind of systematic letting go of what you think you know and understand.

Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside
all thoughts of what you are and what God is;
all concepts you have learned about the world;
all images you hold about yourself.
Empty your mind of everything it thinks
is either true or false, or good or bad,
of every thought it judges worthy,
and all the ideas of which it is ashamed.
Hold onto nothing.
Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught,
nor one belief you ever learned before from anything.
Forget this world,
forget this course,
and come with wholly empty hands unto your God. (W-pI.189.7)
Know that you have help in this

Though concentration is essential, it is also essential to not strain in this process. Try, therefore, to keep your mind in a position of unstrained concentration, relaxed alertness. The Course calls it a “gentle firmness and quiet certainty.” (W-pI.73.10:1) Part of this lack of strain is knowing that going to the quiet center is your mind’s natural direction. Another part is knowing that God, united with your own will and Self, will help you reach this goal. Several times the Course urges you, in the latter part of the meditation, to let the power of God, your Self and the Holy Spirit take over. Be receptive to this power. Let it give you an experience. Trust God to do His part.

If you are doing the exercises properly, you will begin to feel a sense of being lifted up and carried ahead.

Your little effort and small determination call on the power of the universe to help you,
and God Himself will raise you from darkness into light. (W-pI.69.7:1-2)
Try to pass the clouds by whatever means appeals to you.
If it helps you, think of me [Jesus] holding your hand and leading you.
And I assure you this will be no idle fantasy. (W-pI.70.9:2-4)
Relax for the rest of the practice period,
confident that your efforts, however meager,
are fully supported by the strength of God and all His Thoughts. (W-pI.91.10:1)

Step 2. Keep your mind free of distractions

Use concrete methods to gently pull your mind back from wandering. It is essential to keep your mind from wandering. Getting caught up in the cloud patterns means you will be stuck there. You will not reach that holy place in you. You will spend a lot of time accomplishing nothing. You must, then, be willing to constantly pull your mind back, again and again. “Do this as often as necessary. There is definite gain in refusing to allow retreat into withdrawal [drowsiness], even if you do not experience the peace you seek [italics mine].” (W-pI.74.6:4-5)

How do you pull your mind back to focus? What follows are twelve methods I have drawn from the Course for retrieving the wandering mind. Some of these methods are followed by quotes from the Course and/or my own suggested phrases to use (these are the ones not followed by endnotes).

  1. Concentrate on maintaining your focus and on keeping your mind clear of anything that would pull you off this focus.
  2. See quiet as your natural state; see your mind as a holy place in which idle thoughts do not belong.

Idle thoughts do not belong in my holy mind.

  1. Observe distractions dispassionately and slip quietly by them.

Try to observe your passing thoughts without involvement, and slip quietly by them. (W-pI.44.7:5)

When such thoughts occur, we quietly step back and look at them, and then we let them go. (W-pII.254.2:2)

That’s not where I’m going (I’m going to the quiet center).

  1. Repeat the first phase of the exercise (some lessons include an active first phase, which has the effect of readying your mind for a focused meditation).
  2. If your mind wanders, repeat the idea for the day.
  3. Repeat the idea and add a statement of your desire and intention to remember.

…repeat the idea [for the day] and add: I would remember this because I want to be happy. (W-pI.62.5:6-7)

  1. Affirm you do not want the distracting thought and replace it with the idea for the day. …say: “This thought I do not want. I choose instead [repeat idea for the day].” (W-pI.RVI.In.6:2)
  2. Repeat the idea and add some related thoughts (adding related thoughts is an important practice in the Workbook).
  3. Devote the beginning of the meditation to watching for and actively dismissing interfering thoughts one by one until your mind is a clean slate.

…dismissing each one by telling yourself: “This thought reflects a goal that is preventing me from accepting my only function.” (W-pI.65.5:6)

  1. Realize that distracting thoughts have no power, that you give them their power.

These thoughts have no meaning and no power.

These thoughts cannot hold me to the world.

  1. Assert the power of your will over all distractions; trust it to see you through.

My will has power over all fantasies.

I refuse to be sidetracked into illusions.

“I rule my mind, which I alone must rule.” (W-pII.236)

  1. Realize that controlling mind wandering is worth the (repeated) effort because you are worth the effort.

I am worth consistent effort.

I am worth the vigilance.

My suggestion is to pick three of the above techniques and try them out one at a time, using each one for a certain period of time. You may want to decide on three minutes each, for instance.

Step 3. Hold a heightened sense of intent

This step is the key. The Workbook’s method of meditation is short on technique, on form. But it is long on intention, attitude, purpose. Twice the Course explicitly says that the whole key is not the particular technique, but the attitude one holds about reaching the goal.

While no particular approach is advocated for this form of exercise, what is needful is a sense of the importance of what you are doing; its inestimable value to you, and an awareness that you are attempting something very holy [italics mine]. (W-pI.44.8:1)

For this kind of practice only one thing is necessary; approach it as you would an altar dedicated in Heaven to God the Father and to God the Son. For such is the place you are trying to reach [italics mine]. (W-pI.45.8:4-5)

The reason this third step is so critical is the same reason that elaborate technique is unnecessary: Your mind can go wherever it wants to and believes it can. If you really want to go to the quiet center in your mind and think that going there is important, achievable and holy, then you will suddenly find yourself there. It’s as simple as that.

The following categories are the particular mental attitudes most encouraged in the Course’s meditation instructions. To try these out, you might want to focus on a particular one at a time, holding that attitude in mind and even occasionally repeating the word that describes it. Then go onto the next. See if different attitudes have different effects on your meditation. See which ones seem to help you the most.

One warning: Trying to hold this heightened sense of intent can easily lead to straining. Therefore, again, try to hold a relaxed alertness, a quiet confidence.

Also, before going into meditation to try these out, I recommend that you decide which one of the 12 techniques from Step 2 you are going to use for recalling your mind from wandering.

CONFIDENCE, because you are uniting with God’s Will for you.

And we will also try to remember that we cannot fail in doing what He would have us do. There is every reason to feel confident that we will succeed today. It is the Will of God. (W-pI.45.5:2-4)

Try, as you attempt to go through the clouds to the light, to hold this confidence in your mind….Try to keep the thought clearly in mind that what you undertake with God must succeed. (W-pI.69.8:3,5)

DESIRE AND DETERMINATION, because this is your will, your only goal.

Let us begin our longer practice period today…with real determination to reach what is dearer to us than all else. Salvation is our only need. There is no other purpose here, and no other function to fulfill. Learning salvation is our only goal. (W-pI.69.3:1-4)

IMPORTANCE, because this is your salvation and the world’s.

Before we undertake this in our more extended practice period, let us devote several minutes to thinking about what we are trying to do.We are literally attempting to get in touch with the salvation of the world. We are trying to see past the veil of darkness that keeps it concealed….

After you have thought about the importance of what you are trying to do for yourself and the world, try to settle down in perfect stillness. (W-pI.69.2:2-4, 6:1)

HOLINESS, because trying to reach this holy place within is a holy attempt.
…what is needful is…an awareness that you are attempting something very holy. (W-pI.44.8:1)

…remind yourself that this is no idle game, but an exercise in holiness and an attempt to reach the Kingdom of Heaven. (W-pI.45.8:7)

This concludes our exploration of Workbook meditation. If you did actually try it, I hope it delivered results. I also hope you can see that this is a real and valid method of meditation. Remember, meditation is “a major goal of mind training,” (W-pI.44.3:3) one which the Workbook expects us to “utilize increasingly,” (W-pI.44.3:2) one in which it expects us to become increasingly proficient. When it is introduced, the Workbook says, “This exercise can bring very startling results even the first time it is attempted, and sooner or later it is always successful.” (W-pI.41.8:5) Sooner or later, it will work every time. It will consistently carry you into a place where you forget the world and lose yourself in God’s Love.

* * * * *

PRAYER

Prayer is one of humanity’s main responses to the apparent gulf between God and His children. The following quote comes from The Encyclopedia of Religion:

Viewed from most religious perspectives, prayer is a necessity of the human condition. When the human material world is accounted for in an act of creation resulting in a cleavage or separation from the divine or spiritual world, prayer is one means by which this gap of createdness is overcome, if but momentarily. (Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol.11, p.489)

Does the Course make use of prayer as a means of bridging the apparent gap between Creator and created? It does indeed. As most Course students know (and as I mentioned earlier in this article), there is a pamphlet about prayer, called The Song of Prayer, dictated by the author of the Course through Helen Schucman. It states specifically that the real purpose of prayer is to bridge this gap: “Prayer is a way offered by the Holy Spirit to reach God.” (S-1.I.1:1) It sets forth a profound teaching about the ladder of prayer, which begins with asking God for specific things and ends in formless communion with God Himself.

What has received less attention from Course students, however, is the nearly 150 beautiful prayers contained in the Workbook. What exactly are we meant to do with these prayers? There seems to be no explicit instructions attached to them. In the apparent absence of such instructions, I am aware of two main attitudes toward them.

The first is: We don’t know what to do with them. They are there on the page and they make for nice reading. Beyond that, they don’t seem to have any significance.

The second is: We should not take them very seriously. Since God does not hear our prayers (an idea I disagree with), these prayers must be some kind of metaphor, some sort of poetic concession to our childlike state of development.

Yet, as always, the Course itself provides the answer, if we look closely enough. There are instructions about the use of these prayers. These instructions are in the Introduction to Part II, since the vast bulk of the prayers are in Part II:

We say some simple words of welcome, and expect our Father to reveal Himself, as He has promised. (W-pII.In.3:3)

We say the words of invitation that His Voice suggests, and then we wait for Him to come to us. (W-pII.In.4:6)

Both of these passages say the same thing: We say some words of welcome or invitation to God and then wait for Him to come and give us the revelation of His Presence. What are these words of invitation to God? Certainly they are the idea for the day (see 3:1: “We will use that [central] thought to introduce our times of rest”). But they are also the prayers. We can be sure of this for two reasons.

First, the prayers, of course, are words said to God, just like those mysterious words in the above two passages. Second, the prayers speak as if we are using them to enter into God’s Presence. The very first prayer in Part II speaks of the same thing as the two passages above—of entering into a silence in which we wait for God to give us His peace:

Father, I come to you today to seek the peace that You alone can give. I come in silence. In the quiet of my heart, the deep recesses of my mind, I wait and listen for Your Voice. (W-pII.221.1:1-3)

Many of the prayers conclude with a statement of intention to enter directly into God’s Presence: “We come to You in Your Own Name today, to be at peace within Your everlasting Love.” (W-pII.264.1:7) One of the lessons makes it explicit that the function of that day’s prayer is to help us enter into a state of unity with God: “And with this prayer we enter silently into a state where conflict cannot come, because we join our holy will with God’s.” (W-pII.307.2:1)

So now we know what the Workbook wants us to do with its prayers. We say them to God. We say them as an invitation to Him to come to us. Once we say them, we wait in silence for Him to give us a direct, wordless experience of His Presence. (5) The prayers are highly effective in this capacity. When you do spend some quality time with them (I like to spend at least ten minutes with each day’s prayer), they lift your mind into a state of readiness to enter into silence and rest in God.

These prayers, then, are part of a one-two punch of prayer and meditation, of word and wordlessness, of invitation and encounter. We speak an invitation to our Love and then enter into formless encounter with Him. As such, these prayers are anything but trivial concessions to the childhood of our development. They are the Workbook at its apex, as it culminates in a direct approach to God. Yes, they are still words, and so are not the final state toward which our practicing leads us. But they are words leaping off into wordlessness, sailing into and disappearing in the Heart of God.

The why, what and how of Workbook prayer

These prayers, along with the Course’s comments about prayer, illumine the Course’s distinctive attitude toward prayer.

Why do we pray? As we said earlier, we pray simply to bridge the (illusory) gap between our mind and God’s. Prayer, in the Workbook, is a practice, just like the rest of the Workbook’s practices. As such, it has the exact same goals as those practices: the healing of the mind and the awakening from the dream. The Workbook prayers, therefore, are all about the mind. They contain almost no reference to the specific events of our lives, which are the focus of most conventional prayer.

For what do we pray? In the Workbook, we generally pray for two things. We pray for the healing of our perception, which includes the miracle, forgiveness and Christ’s vision. And we pray for awakening to Heaven, which includes the memory of God, experiencing His peace and Love, and realizing our true Identity. In short, we pray for salvation of the mind, since this is what we really want.

Does this mean that we cannot or should not pray for specifics, for particular events or circumstances, or for guidance on our decisions? This is a major issue, which is addressed at length in The Song of Prayer. The brief answer is that praying for specifics is acceptable and inevitable on the lower rungs of spiritual development. However, as we climb up the spiritual ladder, we realize that what we really want are neither propitious circumstances nor even specific answers, but God Himself. Therefore, we increasingly pray just to experience God, trusting that if we simply receive the song of His Love for us, all needed specifics will come naturally as echoes of that song. In the words of The Song of Prayer, “You have sought first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all else has indeed been given you.” (S-1.I.3:6)

We can see this very progression in the Workbook. Lesson 71 tells us to ask God “very specifically”:

What would You have me do?

Where would You have me go?

What would You have me say, and to whom? (W-pI.71.9:2-5)

200 lessons later, the prayer in Lesson 275 gives almost the exact same list of things. Now, however, instead of specifically asking for these things, we tell God that we are leaving all such matters in His Hands, confident that we don’t have to worry about them because His Voice will supply whatever answers we need:

Your healing Voice protects all things today, and so I leave all things to You. I need be anxious over nothing. For Your Voice will tell me what to do and where to go; to whom to speak and what to say to him, what thoughts to think, what words to give the world. (W-pII.275.2:1-3)

How do we pray? If you are at someone else’s house and you are hungry, you might say, “I’m a little hungry. Do you perhaps have something I could eat?” If you are really brazen you might say, “Do you mind if I grab something from your refrigerator?” But if you are in your own house, you would do neither of these things. You would just open the refrigerator and take the food. If you were to say anything, it would be something like, “I’m getting some food from the fridge.”

This is the spirit of the prayers in the Workbook. The Course says, “You are not a stranger in the house of God.” (T-23.I.10:4) And so you don’t act like one. You don’t tiptoe about, acting sheepish, asking permission and saying “please.” You just walk in the front door and say, “I’m getting some food from the fridge.”

Therefore, there is very little overt asking in the Workbook prayers. There is literally no asking in the form of a question. The only questions are rhetorical ones meant to question yourself, not God:“Can I be afraid, when Your eternal promise goes with me?” (W-pII.348.1:6) There is an occasional “I ask”: “Father, I ask for nothing but the truth.” (W-pII.278.2:1) More frequently, there is the ambiguous “let me,” a curious combination of asking something of God and stating an intention of your own: “Let me remember You.” (W-pII.231.1:5) And though there are a great many “thanks,” there is not a single occurrence of the word “please.” Not one. The Workbook prayers, then, are largely composed of direct statements. You state the truth to God. You simply speak in the absolute trust that everything that God has is yours, not for the asking, but yours already as His Son. The Song of Prayer puts it this way:

Prayer is a way offered by the Holy Spirit to reach God. It is not merely a question or an entreaty [to entreat is to earnestly beseech or beg]. It cannot succeed until you realize that it asks for nothing….True prayer must avoid the pitfall of asking [in order] to entreat. Ask, rather, to receive what is already given; to accept what is already there. (S-1.I.1)

There is also no formality about the Workbook prayers. God is addressed simply and intimately as “Father” or “my Father.” There are no long strings of divine names, no flowery ways to respectfully address God’s majesty. In fact, there is very little praise of God at all. This is in keeping with the Text’s statement that praising God “hardly means that you should tell Him how wonderful He is. He has no ego with which to accept such praise, and no perception with which to judge it.” (T-4.VII.6:2-3) The focus in these prayers is not on giving praise to God but on receiving His endless praise of us.

In fact, the whole key to how we pray lies in the relationship with God captured by these prayers. Imagine a God Who loves us as His very Life, His only joy, and Whose one intent is our happiness. Imagine a God Who makes no demands nor holds Himself aloof in any way, but instead is always there, always hearing, always giving us all His Love. Imagine a God Who is so near, so available, so completely loving, that He need not be addressed with any titles, nor asked in just the right way, only allowed to give us His infinite gifts. This is the God portrayed by these prayers. This is the God into Whose Arms these prayers lift us.

Some suggestions for making the prayers your own

Do we pray on our own or do we only use the prayers in the Workbook? We should use both, of course. However, my opinion is that the Workbook prayers are instrumental in teaching us how to pray in line with the Course, in harmony with its methods and goals. Without these prayers, would we automatically start praying in the way I outlined above? I sincerely doubt it. These prayers guide us into a new way of praying. They carry us into a new kind of relationship with God.

In using the Workbook prayers, however, we have the task of taking a prayer that someone else conceived and somehow making it our own personal expression. We must lift the prayer off the printed page and make it the prayer of our own heart. How can we do this? The following are six suggestions that I have found helpful.

1.Say it to God directly.

Believe you are actually communicating to Him and with Him. You are not just saying it to the air or thinking about ideas in the abstract. To feel more present to Him, it can help to say, “Here I am, Lord.” (6) It can also help to remember that, in truth, there is no one else to talk to. God is the only One there is. When my prayers feel as if they are floating out into empty space, I say to God, “I thought (wrongly) that there was someone else to talk to.”

Example: “This day, my Father, would I spend with You.” (W-pII.310.1:1) You are speaking directly to God Himself, to an actual Person.

2.Make it a communication from you.

Not just anyone is saying it to God; ;”you are. Make it a personal communication from you.

Example: “This day, my Father, would I spend with You.” You yourself are personally intending to spend this day with God.

3.Mean what you say, as much as you can.

Most of the statements in the Workbook prayers are things we do not fully mean as yet. Yet we can put as much sincerity as we can behind them, and we can imagine what it would be like if we really did mean them.

Example: “This day, my Father, would I spend with You.” As much as possible, genuinely intend to spend this day with God.

4.Make it as specific as possible.

Attach specific meanings to the words wherever possible.

Example: “This day, my Father, would I spend with You.” This day refers, obviously, to a particular day. Try filling in the particular day of the week and date. It makes a definite difference.

5.Imagine this line is really true.

Imagine what it would be like to experience what this line is saying. Realize, too, that what these prayers talk about is beyond your imagination, so leave room for the numinous, for what goes far beyond your mind’s current limitations.

Example: “This day, my Father, would I spend with You.” What would it be like to actually spend the day with God? What would it be like to have His infinite Presence beside you and within you throughout all the hours of this day?

6.Elaborate on the prayer.

It can be very helpful to add personal elaborations onto the line that express your feeling and help encapsulate what the prayer evokes for you.

Example: “This day, my Father, would I spend with You, and the joy of this day will far exceed the pleasure I could ever get from work, from conversation or television.”

An appreciation of the prayer for Lesson 232 (7)

I really want to encourage the actual praying of these prayers. To do so I want to dwell on an example. The prayer for Lesson 232 is probably my favorite one in the entire Course. I have used it innumerable times. If I am driving some distance I will sometimes spend the time praying it over and over. Over time each line has come to feel permeated with a beautiful meaning. I would like to share that meaning now, by going through the prayer, line-by-line, commenting on each line as I go.

I would strongly encourage you to go beyond merely reading the following material and actually pray the prayer with me as I go through it. To do so, I suggest the following form: Preferably do it in the morning, since, as you will see, the prayer assumes that. Read the line from the prayer and then read my commentary on that line. Then go back to the line I am commenting on and spend some time really speaking it to God. If you can, spend a full minute or two with it, dwelling on it, going over and over it, perhaps adding your own elaborations, until it really sinks in and registers in your feelings. Hopefully, my commentary will have enriched this experience, but see what new meanings come out of your time spent with that line. Then go on to the next line and its commentary, repeating the same process.

“Be in my mind, my Father, when I wake,”

Notice what a personal communication this opening line is. You are asking someone to be inside of your mind. In a way this is more intimate than asking someone to be in yourbed when you wake. And you are asking it of “my Father.” This is not the same as saying “God.” It makes this God yours. Being yours, you don’t really have to ask that He be in your mind. “Be in my mind” is not a question. There is nothing timid about it. There is no “please would you perhaps be in my mind, Your Greatness?” In saying this line you are assuming you have the right to walk up to God, address Him as your Father, and simply say, “Be in my mind.” You can even give Him a time—”when I wake.” You are not a servant in the fields, but a son in the household, with every right to his father’s presence.

How wonderful it would be to wake up in this state, to open our eyes in the morning feeling God’s Presence in our mind. Because we are not so alert when we awake, we usually have only the most basic and immediate things on our mind—making coffee, getting to the bathroom, being ready for an appointment. What if, instead, God was the most basic and immediate thing to us? What if, as soon as we came out of sleep, He was the foremost thing on our mind, and we felt Him within us? Perhaps we wouldn’t greet the new day with our customary sense of burden, our urge to turn off the alarm clock and pull the sheets over our head. Maybe we wouldn’t even be so groggy. Perhaps we would feel something like what the following passage says. It is talking about forgiveness, but we could also apply to God: “[He] sparkles on your eyes as you awake, and gives you joy with which to meet the day.” (W-pI.122.2:2)

“and shine on me throughout the day today.”

This line calls to mind an image of God as the perfect warm sun that feels just right, not too hot and not too remote. Like the sun, He rises on you in the morning and shines on you all through the day. Also like the sun, His shining is completely impartial. He shines without let-up, whether you are peaceful or angry, kind or cruel. He just shines. Yet what He shines is not physical light. For what is shining here is not a physical object like the sun. What does it mean for a person to shine on you? It means for that person to radiate on you the warmth of his love and approval. For God to shine on you, then, is for God to smile on you, as another one of the Workbook prayers says:

I am he on whom You smile in love and tenderness so dear and deep and still the universe smiles back on You, and shares Your Holiness. How pure, how safe, how holy, then, are we, abiding in Your Smile, with all Your Love bestowed upon us. (W-pII.341.1:2-3)

So, if you will, just imagine yourself basking in His sun, abiding in His smile, “throughout the day today”—at noon, at three, at five, as you sit at your desk, as you drive in your car. And imagine that happening today. As I said above, it helps to fill in the day of the week and the date.

“Let every minute be a time in which I dwell with You.”

Who would you say this kind of a thing to? Imagine walking up to a friend and saying, “Let every minute be a time in which I dwell with you.” If this person really thought you meant it, you might get slapped with a restraining order. To say this to someone you must not only have an all-consuming desire to be with that person, but you must have an extraordinary permission that removes the normal boundaries of politeness and courtesy.

Not only am I stating my desire to be with God every minute, being with Him seems to be what primarily characterizes each minute. Each one is not a time in which I am mainly doing other things, but am also somewhat cognizant of God. Each minute is entitled, “a time in which I dwell with You.” That is what defines it; that is what it is, even if other activities occur on its periphery. And what engrossing things am I doing with God as He and I pass the minutes away? Just dwelling. Just being together. Just resting our heads against each other. That’s all.

And so I ask you again, who would you say this to? It would have to be someone you wanted to be with so much that it would be completely satisfying to be together every minute, without diversions or other activities, doing nothing else but “dwelling” in each other’s presence. And it would have to be someone whom you knew would not reject you, but wanted to dwell with you just as constantly.

“And let me not forget my hourly thanksgiving that You have remained with me,”

Imagine a relationship that was so precious, so irreplaceable, that you wanted to sit down every single hour of every single day and thank that person just forremaining with you. Imagine doing this not because it was your duty and not because otherwise he would leave. Of your own free will you wanted to “not forget [your] hourly thanksgiving,” simply to experience the sweetness of your gratitude. If we had such a relationship, words could not capture the treasure it would be in our life. Little do we realize that we already do have such a relationship, and always have had it.

When I say this part of the prayer to God, my mind often spontaneously adds, “in spite of it all.” God has remained with me in spite of it all. We each have our own versions of what “it all” is. Yet all those versions come down to one thing: We left Him. We dumped Him for other lovers. Even while we drove away, however, He climbed in the back seat. Though we left Him, He remained with us. Therefore, we really didn’t succeed in leaving Him at all. And that is cause for endless gratitude. Thanking Him every hour of every day hardly begins to capture it.

“and always will be there to hear my call to You and answer me.”

Here are more reasons to thank God every single hour. If you are lucky, there have been certain people in your life who have always been there for you. What greater gift can one have in this world? How can you ever tell these people the depth of your gratitude? This line portrays God as a kind of perfect, omnipresent version of these people. So sure are you of His fidelity that you are thanking Him in advance. You just finished thanking Him for remaining with you up until now. Now you thank Him because you trust He “always will” remain with you.

Yet more than just remain, He will always “be there” for you. He will hear your every call and answer every one. What are these calls? They are not just confined to your intentional prayers. According to the Course, every thought and feeling, every bit of pain or pleasure, everything you experience or do, is a call to your Father, a call for His Love. This line, then, anticipates that He will truly hear every single call and will answer every one with His Love.

A great example of this is found in Lesson 267: “Each heartbeat calls His Name, and every one is answered by His Voice, assuring me I am at home in Him.” (W-pII.267.1:7) What a wonderful image. Each heartbeat, this says, calls on God’s Name. You are calling to Him 60, maybe 90 times a minute. And what is the call of your heart? Is it not to be loved, to belong, to have a home? Thus, for every single heartbeat, God answers you, assuring you that you are loved by Him, that you have a home in Him.

Of course, most of us do not really trust that God is hearing every call, and especially do not trust that He is answering. Yet imagine for a moment that the Course is right, and He has always been there, never leaving, never disapproving, infinitely patient, silently hearing every plea and instantly responding with all His Love? What if this is going on all the time and you have just turned a profoundly deaf ear to Him? Now imagine being in the position He is, being completely attentive to someone who rarely, if ever, noticed you were there. Could you have waited all this time in love, as He has done? Or would you instead have screamed at this person by now, or gotten bored and walked off? The fact that God has done neither is yet more cause to thank Him every hour.

“As evening comes, let all my thoughts be still of You and of Your Love.”

It is still going on. This dwelling with God has been going on all day, through every hour and every minute. And, “as evening comes,” it still goes on. The coming of evening we often associate with a peaceful time of rest. The day comes to an end and we can simply relax and enjoy that ending in peace, as we watch the sunset and the coming out of the stars. Evening can be a satisfying conclusion to a successful day, or a needed rest after a crazy day.

Here in this line of the prayer, evening is not a resting at home after our frantic activity out in the world. Rather, evening is a continuing of a resting, a deepening of an experience of being home that has been going on all day. It is the satisfying conclusion to a day of peace. We have spent all day resting on the porch with our Love. And now, “as evening comes” and we sit with Him still, our rest grows even deeper.

“Let all my thoughts be still of You and of Your Love.” Again, what person would you say this to? In our normal experience, is there anything that we could devote all our thoughts to without dying of boredom? Nothing seems interesting enough. That is why our minds flit around so much, sucking tiny droplets from one shriveled flower after another. Think of what kind of love we would need to feel before we could really say, “Let all my thoughts be about you.” Think how profoundly loved we would have to feel in order to really say, “Let all my thoughts be of your love for me.”

Something in us longs to say these words to someone. Yet who in this world could we say them to with sincerity? At least for very long? The impression I get from this line and from the entire prayer is that God can answer a longing in our heart that nothing here can. There is a relationship that our whole being calls out for, but which we cannot find with anything in this world. Yet we can find it with God.

Imagine that this very day you will experience an evening like this. Imagine that after an entire day of basking in the sunshine of God’s Love, you will reach the peaceful glow of sunset, and find that all your thoughts are still of Him and of His Love. If this really happened, would any evening you have ever had be better?

“And let me sleep sure of my safety, certain of Your care, and happily aware I am Your Son.”

It still goes on, even as we reach bedtime and the prayer concludes. We carry our resting with God right into our sleep. I believe these lines speak to a deep need in us, a need for a kind of sleep we always want but perhaps never experience. We all want sleep to be something more than just physical rest. We want our minds to be able to truly drop all cares and drift into a state of pure peace. We want to rest in some thought that is totally certain and endlessly happy. We want to drop off in some glad awareness, with a smile on our face and our arm around our love. That would be rest for the mind and not just for the body.

Yet how often do we experience this kind of sleep? We usually haul our cares right into sleep with us. Our mental fists remain clenched even while our body is inert. We have no thought that we can totally rest in, no thought that is happy enough and certain enough to put a smile on our face and keep it there while we drift off. Imagine, then, sleeping in the manner that this last line of the prayer speaks of. Let’s take the three final phrases one at a time.

“Sure of my safety.” Sleep is a time of physical vulnerability. While we lay there and drool on our pillow, anything could be done to us. And so something in our minds feels insecure about totally letting go. If we were completely sure of our safety in God, if we knew that while we slept our Love had His Arms around us, how could we not let go?

“Certain of Your care.” In the same manner, something in our minds is reluctant to completely relinquish our cares. If we don’t worry about them, who will? Yet imagine going to sleep absolutely certain of God’s care. If we knew we were enveloped in His care, what need would there be to hang onto our cares?

“Happily aware I am Your Son.” Another thing that keeps our minds from true rest is a sense of not belonging, of being alone. We can feel alone even with our arm around a mate. If we truly believed that we were God’s Son, the apple of His Eye, the object of all His Love, the heir to all that is His, could there be a happier thought? Imagine dropping off to sleep in that happy awareness. Is that not the kind of rest we have always wanted?

I have been talking about holding these thoughts in mind while we doze off. Yet the prayer says something even stronger. It speaks of abiding in these thoughts while we sleep. Although we think of sleep as total unconsciousness, it is not. Sleep researchers have found that even when awakened from deepest sleep, subjects report trains of thought. Of course, the thoughts that pass through our minds during sleep are generally bizarre and incoherent. Yet thoughts are passing through. What would it be like, then, to sleep all night filled only with these thoughts, “sure of my safety, certain of Your care, and happily aware I am Your Son”?

Now the prayer has concluded and you have spent the entire day with God. He was the first thing in your mind as you awoke. In every minute of the day you dwelt with Him and basked in the sunshine of His Love. As every hour struck you expressed to Him your undying gratitude. As evening came, your rest went on, as all your thoughts were still of Him. And even while you slept, it still went on, all through the night. Having passed the night in this way, can you guess what would be in your mind as you awoke the next morning? And what the next day would be like? It would still go on.

And that is how it should be, says the line immediately following the prayer: “This is as every day should be.”

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(1) My opening comments about the place of meditation in the Course are a revised version of an article I wrote for the Circle of Atonement’s newsletter, A Better Way (September 1994), which is also reprinted in A Workbook Companion, Volume I, by Allen Watson and myself (published by the Circle of Atonement).

(2) We can see this by looking at what the Manual says about this quiet time (in Manual, p. 38-39; (M-16.4-5):

* It is time we “spend…with God” (4:3),

* with our eyes closed.

* Its purpose is “to join with Him completely” (4:5).

* It is something that some might spend an hour doing, but the goal of which can be accomplished much more quickly (4:5).

* It is a practice that “sets your mind into a pattern of rest” (5:7).

* It is something we know how to do by virtue of “having gone through the workbook” (5:5).

(3) This phrase comes from Text, (T-18.VII.8:2,3). It is a very appropriate phrase to use for the goal of Course meditation for two reasons. First, it refers to a place deep within that you find in the holy instant, a place in which the Holy Spirit is present and the body is absent. Second, it refers to the quiet center of a storm, the eye of a hurricane, a place of stillness surrounded by turbulence and clouds.

(4) This, by the way, explains Lesson 69, in which you are asked to envision your mind as a vast circle of light surrounded by a layer of clouds. Hearing this, you would naturally imagine yourself inside the circle of light. But then you are told that you cannot see the light because you seem to be standing outside it. The solution is that the mind that is inside the clouds is your real mind. The mind that you currently experience is a pseudo-mind that is outside of your true mind.

(5) There is a significant objection to using the prayers in this way. Toward the end of the Introduction to Part II, it says, “Instead of prayers, we need but call His Name” (10:4). This is a very odd statement, standing as it does at the beginning of a string of 140 prayers. It seems to suggest that, though the prayers are there, you shouldn’t really use them. However, if one reads the context of this sentence carefully, its real meaning is revealed: “Now is the need for practice almost done. For in this final section, we will come to understand that we need only call to God, and all temptations disappear. Instead of words, we need but feel His Love. Instead of prayers, we need but call His Name.” In other words, by the end of this year the need for all practicing will hopefully be done (though the author seems to expect differently for the majority of students, as is revealed in the Manual for Teachers, Section 16). We won’t need to practice the words of the lesson. We won’t need to use them to respond to temptation. We won’t need to say prayers anymore. Practice will have been made perfect (at least hopefully) and will no longer be needed. Yet while we are still being given lessons, the assumption is that we still need to practice. And prayers are listed here as part of that practice, along with words and response to temptation. So until we can just mentally turn to God and drop into His Love, we will still need to practice, and prayers will still be useful.

(6) This is a practice given by Jesus to Bill Thetford to help him feel more present to God, not so cut off.

(7) This appreciation of the prayer for Lesson 232 originally appeared in A Better Way (December 1997), the newsletter for the Circle of Atonement.

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

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