It started with my first big chemistry test. So much to memorize, so little time. I knew that my high-school GPA would factor heavily into my college opportunities, so I was determined to make it through these four years without ever getting anything less than an A.
So much pressure.
My first big test was coming – chemistry – and I knew I wasn’t ready. What could I do?
And then a miracle occurred.
Well, not really a miracle, but in retrospect, it changed my entire academic approach and allowed me to cheat my way through every test I took.
The day before the chemistry exam, the teacher announced to the class that each student could bring one piece of paper to the test. And on that piece of paper (no larger than 8.5 x 11”) we could write anything we wanted. Every formula, every equation, every periodic element, every constant – anything.
Not only did I learn how to write in the smallest of fonts, but I filled that paper (both sides) with everything I could possibly imagine might be covered on the test. Next day, I walked into the classroom and was shocked by the teacher’s recantation.
“Everyone, pass your cheat sheets to the front of the room.”
What was happening? Such cruel deception. How could I possibly pass, let alone ace this test without my precious page?
Then the test was handed out. Failure was imminent. Question number one – what is Avogadro’s constant? Hey, I know this one. It’s 6.02 x 10^23. Number two – name one of the Noble gases. Wow, another easy one – everything in the right column of the periodic chart such as Helium and Krypton. And so on the test went – every question had an easy answer. There was no doubt in my mind that I had aced the test.
What just happened?
And that’s when it hit me. The act of writing down all my chemistry thoughts the previous day had created a strong mental association between the idea itself and my knowledge of the idea. Not only that, I knew exactly where on the cheat-sheet each “answer” resided. Avogadro’s number was on the top right – the place where I stuck all the important constants. (Which is why, along with Boltzmann’s constant and many other associations, 23 is my favorite number.)
From that moment on, anytime I wanted to deeply learn anything, I wrote it down. All the facts as well as my thoughts about the facts. An internal process of discourse, so-to-speak, that helped me fully understand the subject matter and see the connection with my thoughts. So for any complicated test, I created a cheat sheet – which wasn’t really one sheet but rather all my study notes. Of course I never had them out during any test – I had no need. The act of “producing” the notes was all that was required to ace every test.
I didn’t appreciate it then, but this chemistry teacher was way ahead of his time. His goal was to help students learn how to think, not just how to memorize. How to make the connection between subject matter and one’s thoughts (or grasp) of the subject matter. Ideas and the application of the ideas. Meta knowledge. Meta awareness. The more we know we know, the more we inherently learn. Equally important, the Socratic paradox “I know that I know nothing” helps further guide our learnings in the most critical areas for knowledge.
One of the biggest challenges learning anything, particularly a thought system as abstract and inverted as A Course in Miracles, is moving beyond intellectual understanding into practical application. A willingness to look at those things we consistently aren’t learning.
Why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over? Why do we allow certain buttons to be pushed again and again? Why do we find ourselves repeatedly in similar situations?
The answer lies in not looking. Or, more accurately, in looking in the wrong place.
Knowing that I make the same mistakes doesn’t stop them from recurring. In particular, doesn’t stop me from making them. What is required is the little willingness to look at the purpose behind our choices. Once I understand the meaning behind the action, it’s a small step toward learning the true cause.
Unfortunately it is far easier to look elsewhere for the source of our strain. If my button is pushed, clearly the cause is the button-pusher. The last place I want to look is my subconscious desire to be victimized. As the Course poignantly states:
Beware the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated. (T-26.X.4)
The key words being temptation and perceive. Elsewhere we learn:
You cannot be unfairly treated. The belief you are is but another form of the idea you are deprived of someone not yourself. (T-26.X.3)
In other words, it is a desire (temptation) to see ourselves as unfairly treated. If I can feel like a victim, then obviously there must be a victimizer. Which keeps me focused on looking anywhere but within myself for the source of suffering. Looking in the wrong place (at other people, the world, government, weather, stock market, aging body, etc.) guarantees we’ll never find the true source of knowledge. Which means we’ll never learn. And we’ll keep making the same mistakes and experiencing the same button presses.
Until we finally choose to see the connection between the ideas and our thoughts surrounding the subject matter. That meta awareness allows us to ask the question, “Is there another way of seeing this?” To which the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
Recognizing that our true self isn’t this body but rather a decision making mind that chooses between a wrong-minded thought system of guilt, fear, separation, and suffering (ego) or the right-minded thought system of oneness, peace, and love (spirit) – from that point we can clearly and consistently make the choice for happiness.
A Course in Miracles gives us the ultimate cheat sheet from which true learning can proceed. One that helps us see the choice we all too often make (ego) and the opportunity to make a different choice in which we never feel unfairly treated – instead we feel total joy and peace.
Join us in Monday’s class where we’ll look at the “tests” we’re presented with every day – particularly the ones we consistently “fail” – and how we can use this cheat sheet to achieve remarkably improved outcomes. I look forward to seeing you then.