When it comes to our inner studies, it’s possible to pass all the tests and still fail the course! What does this mean?

Concerted efforts to increase self-knowledge can lead to more effective behavior. We can indeed gain greater control over events as we gain greater perception into our own and others’ motives. As a result, we pass many of life’s tests with flying colors as we never could before, including developing greater confidence and being less dismayed by personal difficulties. But unless we go beyond what are essentially surface changes, all the way to defeating the intimate enemy, our improvements show themselves to be little more than a refinement of existing images; they are merely the addition of more controlled behaviors. In either case, it’s still the old self trying to extract from its small world what it believes is valuable. We have “failed the course” because we have not learned the very real difference between being self-complacent and self-conquering. To illustrate the difference between this more common kind of self-control and the rewards of real self-change.

In this world, it’s possible for you to find physical gold, but without winning the war within yourself, this wealth could not do anything for you other than perhaps produce a more comfortable place in which to continue your struggle with old conflicts. However, there is an inner gold you can find whose possession fulfills you, regardless of your external circumstances. We can call this inner gold “real self-knowledge”: truths you know about yourself, for yourself and from yourself through your self-study. It’s yours because you’ve visited the world where this new kind of gold exists; you’ve mined it yourself, and you’ve put it in your pocket. This gold can never be taken from you. Its goodness is yours forever. This new inner wealth enriches you by transforming your very own ideas about who you are and what you really want from life. With it, everything gets simpler. And the nicest thing about this special spiritual gold is that you can have as much of it as you’re willing to pay for.

On the other hand, and it warrants this short warning, nothing is as easy — and even secretly flattering as it can be — than to read certain books that build our self-images as being wise and “spiritual.” These books, however, contain a subtle sort of spiritual “fool’s gold” that keeps us trapped in an imaginary world. By contrast, real self-knowledge can be a little difficult to take at first, delivering well-aimed blows to our vanity as it shows us how limited and artificial our self-created thought-world has been. But it also provides a glimpse of the expansive world that awaits us . . . if we will treasure the truth about ourselves that it alone can reveal.

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