For thousands of years, meditation has been considered by seekers all over the world to be perhaps the royal road to God. It has been sanctified by Hindu gurus, Christian mystics, Sufi masters, and by the Buddha himself. Because many of us have come to A Course in Miracles already steeped in traditions that stress meditation, we naturally wonder what role it has in the Course.
There seem to be many answers to this question floating around in the Course community. One says that the Course doesn’t teach meditation, but that you can still practice alongside the Course whatever meditation techniques you have picked up elsewhere. Another says that meditation is prevalent in the Course, since we can consider any sort of inner exercise to be a meditation of sorts. Yet another says that the Workbook does have you meditate, but that there is no need to keep up with it once you are done with the Workbook, for meditation is not a permanent part of the Course’s path.
I too wondered what role meditation played in the Course. Before I came to the Course I had tried out many different techniques. These techniques were all quite different, but they had some basic things in common. They all had to do with focusing the mind and clearing it of normal contents (or at least detaching it from those contents), so that higher states of mind could arise in the meditator.
Thus, when I came to the Course, I had my eye out for something like this. It wasn’t too long before I found it. It was introduced quite clearly in Lesson 41. This lesson first presents a picture of the mind. It explains that deep within your mind is “everything that is perfect, ready to radiate through you and out into the whole world” [CE W-41.2:3]. Yet this inner place of perfection is obscured by a “heavy cloud of insane thoughts” [CE W-41.4:2] that lies on the surface of your mind. To understand this, you might picture the mind as a circle. At a place on the surface of this circle is your normal, superficial awareness, filled with clouds of insane thoughts. At the center of this circle is your real Self and God.
After presenting this view of the mind, the lesson then says, “Today we will make our first real attempt to get past this dark and heavy cloud, and to go through it to the light beyond” [CE W-41.4:3]. Apparently, we are about to be introduced to some new form of practice, designed to access this deep place in us.
And that is exactly what follows. We are told to begin our longer practice period by repeating the idea for the day, and then clearing our minds of thoughts. We then turn inward, sinking past our idle thoughts, through their dense clouds, and towards that deep place in our minds where God abides.
This lesson is clearly an exercise in meditation. Like more traditional methods, it involves a focusing and clearing of the mind in an attempt to contact higher states of mind. And this technique is not an incidental sidelight in the Course, as you can see from these remarks, which come right after the practice instructions:
It is quite possible to reach God…The way will open if you believe that it is possible. This exercise can bring very startling results even the first time it is attempted, and sooner or later it is always successful. We will go into more detail in connection with this kind of practice as we go along. [CE W-41.7:1-6]
This more detailed instruction begins three lessons later, in Lesson 44. There, we find these words:
Today we are going to attempt to reach that light. For that purpose we will use a form of practice which we have suggested once before, and will utilize increasingly. It is a particularly difficult form for the undisciplined mind because it represents a major goal of mind training. It embodies precisely what the untrained mind lacks. Yet the training must be accomplished if you are to see. [CE W-44.3]
After these remarks, we are instructed in the same basic practice that was given in Lesson 41. We repeat the idea for the day, then sink down and inward, past all interference, toward the light in us. This same “form of exercise” is then repeated in Lessons 45, 47, 49, and 50. From there on, as the above passage promises, this exercise is utilized increasingly, becoming a staple of Workbook practice.
So the Course does teach meditation. This is not meditation defined so loosely that any sort of inner exercise can be considered meditation. It is a kind of meditation that stands comfortably alongside more ancient forms of meditation from the world’s great spiritual traditions.
Why, then, haven’t Course students noticed it? There are two reasons that I can think of. First, these lessons never use the word “meditation.” Instead, they speak of “this kind of practice” or “this form of exercise.” As a result, you can’t spot meditation in the Course by name. You have to spot it by concept. This leads to the second problem: I think that Course students often do not pay close enough attention to the practice instructions. If they did, they would realize that they are being taught meditation even though the name isn’t used.
It struck me as very significant that the Workbook has a particular method of meditation that it both teaches and greatly emphasizes. This prompted me to design an audio tape for Miracle Distribution Center back in 1986. The tape was called The Holy Instant and was read by Beverly Hutchinson with music from Steven Halpern. One side of it was a half-hour meditation exercise created from piecing together various Workbook meditation instructions.
I thought that having this tape would be just what I myself needed to really use this technique of meditation. Yet it didn’t work out that way. I found that as I listened to the instructions to sink down and inward, I would often end up feeling like my consciousness actually sank down into my stomach. It wasn’t a very spiritual feeling at all. In fact, it was quite uncomfortable and disorienting. So I stopped using the tape. I decided that I liked the feeling of ascending in my mind (the technique I had been using), rather than going down and inward (the technique taught by the Workbook). Going upward made me feel, well, more elevated and uplifted. It sure felt better than getting stuck in my liver.
Years passed by without me using the Course’s method of meditation. I assumed that it just wasn’t for me. Finally, about four years ago, I returned to it. I was practicing the Workbook more intensely, and my “ascending” meditation gave me tension headaches and made me irritable—not exactly what the Workbook is aiming for. So I thought I’d give this sinking down and inward thing another try. And it did cure my tension and irritability, but I remained somewhat confused about the technique. I had mixed results.
Then one morning about three years ago I had a breakthrough. I was going through the Workbook and had reached Lesson 41. I resolved to myself, “This time I am really going to get this method of meditation.” I read through the lesson and was drawn to a particular line: “Try to sink into your mind.” [CE W-44.7:2]. Something clicked in me. It is not talking about going down and inward in your body, but in your mind. I’m sure I knew that, but without realizing it I had been trying to sink down in my body, rather than inward in my mind.
“Try to sink into your mind.” I finally got it. There is a center of my mind, a core of me, the inmost part of my being. That is what I am trying to find. It really has nothing to do with my body. To get a sense of this, close your eyes for a moment and try to ignore your body. Focus on yourself as a mind and let your body fall to the periphery of your awareness. While imagining that, repeat these words over and over, “Try to sink into your mind.”
Did that work? Did you get a sense that you could enter very deeply into your mind whether or not you had a body? That morning, trying to practice Lesson 41, I finally did. As I closed me eyes and began my meditation, I had a very distinct feeling of gently pushing deeper and deeper toward the center of my being, what the Text calls “the quiet center.” It was a new experience, different from all previous meditations. And though it was nothing spectacular (I am not the world’s most gifted meditator), it was definitely a more profound and tranquil state of mind than I was accustomed to reaching.
I was pulled out of this state, however, by an unexpected phone call. It was from Roger Walsh, a well-known transpersonal psychologist, a respected authority on the Course, and, incidentally, a devoted meditator. He wanted to express his gratitude for an article I had written. This article recounted my long journey with the Workbook, telling how, after years of fumbling in the dark, I had slowly translated the Workbook’s instructions into a living practice in my life, one I found deeply fulfilling and transformative. Roger likened the Workbook practice (done as instructed) to the intensive spiritual practice found in other traditions, especially those of the East. We shared our personal difficulties in doing the Workbook and talked about how crucial we felt it was for Course students to understand the supreme value of practice.
I couldn’t help but feel that this phone call was a sign, a confirmation of the breakthrough I had just experienced. Here I had finally managed to turn the Workbook’s meditation instructions into a fruitful living practice. And I received a call (from someone who cares deeply both about the Course and about spiritual practice) thanking me for an article about how I had turned the Workbook as a whole into a fruitful living practice. I felt as if the Holy Spirit were saying to me, “Congratulations. You did it. You have made this part of the Course live in your own life.”
Since that morning, this form of meditation has become a foundation for my daily practice and for my life. A day without it is a very different, and much worse, day. I find it far more effective than the other techniques I have used over the years. If you haven’t already tried it, I highly recommend that you do. The following instructions, drawn from various Workbook lessons, are a great start. You might want to read them over and then close your eyes and do the exercise, or you may want to read them onto tape (leisurely, with appropriate pauses) and then play the tape back as a way of guiding yourself through the exercise. Either way, I hope your experience of Course-based meditation will be as rewarding as mine has been.
At the beginning of the practice period, repeat today’s idea very slowly. [I recommend using “I rest in God.”]
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 self,
keeping your mind clear of any thoughts that might distract your attention. [CE W-41.5:6]
Then try to sink into your mind,
letting go every kind of interference and intrusion by quietly sinking past it. Your mind cannot be stopped in this unless you choose to stop it. [CE W-44.7:2-3]
Try to reach down into your mind to a place of real safety. ²You will recognize that you have reached it if you feel a deep peace, however briefly. [CE W-47.7:1-2]
Try to experience the peace to which your reality entitles you. ²Sink into it, and feel it closing around you. [CE W-74.6:1-2]
Go past all of 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 sounds and sights of an insane world.
You do not live there.
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. [CE W-49.4:3-8]
From time to time, you may repeat the idea if you find it helpful.
[“I rest in God….I rest in God.”]
But most of all, try to sink down and inward,
away from the world and from all the foolish thoughts of the world.
You are trying to reach past all these things.
You are trying to leave appearances and approach reality. [CE W-41.6:2-4]
Try to observe your passing thoughts without involvement and slip quietly by them. [CE W-44.7:5]
Sink below them to the holy place where they can enter not. [CE W-131.12:7]
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. [CE W-47.7:3-6]